Dear Christian Parent–

family

Dear Christian Parent,

My heart aches for you as you try to raise your children for the Lord in a post-Christian country. Years ago, when I was a child, parents received some help from the culture. While most people were not genuine Christians, they did view the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule as truth to live by. This was what their parents had taught them and what their grandparents had taught their parents, repeating the pattern of many generations. The Bible was generally considered a guide for life and very respected among the general population. Of course, this changed forever about a generation ago.

This means that most of the advice you will hear currently on parenting will not be based on scripture, but instead will be advice that finds its roots in humanistic wisdom. This can be very confusing because the way you are being told to raise your kids is almost like night and day from the way your parents raised you or your grandparents raised your parents. How do we know what is the right way? As you might guess, I suggest we turn to the Bible for this. It teaches us the basics and then common sense fills in the gaps.

I have noticed a very disturbing trend among non-Christian and Christian parents alike: The kids are made the center of the family. Life revolves around these adorable little people. As infants, they decide when they will eat and sleep and even in whose arms they will reside. As they get older, for fear of squashing their “tender spirit”, many parents will let them choose what to wear, what to eat, and when they will go to bed. They will buy them everything they can possibly afford and rearrange their whole schedules around a child’s schedule. If what the child wants doesn’t line up with what Mom and Dad want, then cajoling and bribing will often take place. Most parents–and these are parents who want to genuinely want to do what’s right–truly believe that this is the best way to parent.

But have you given any thought to the possibility that it is not?

Before we can determine what is the best way to parent our children, we probably need to think about what our goals and hopes for our kids are. As Christian parents, our dearest hope should be to raise children who embrace God’s plan of salvation, walk in holiness, and grow up to honor and serve the Lord. If this is our goal, then this means that certain things need to take place to prepare the child’s heart for that choice.

First and foremost, they need to learn to live under the authority of their parents. God has set it up so that children first learn about living within boundaries at home. The problem is that few children have many boundaries anymore. From immediately answering the demands of an angry infant who cries the instant they are put in to the crib to cooking special meals for their finicky toddlers, Mom and Dad are actually living under the authority of their children.

This is how so many parent and, honestly, I don’t blame you at all if you parent this way. It’s what you have been told makes you a good parent by the world at large (and sometimes even by the church). But it doesn’t have to be this way. This type of parenting saps so much of the joy from family life because the parent is always tired and feels out of control. God never set it up this way. Proverbs 22:6 says that we are to train up our children. This means parenting is very intentional and not reactive. It also implies that the parent is in control, not the child. It is impossible to train a child who doesn’t first obey.

And, if we follow this pattern of parenting to its logical conclusion, we will realize that many parents today are training their children to be self-centered and demanding. This training will not magically dissipate when they become adults. No, instead, it is our job to start the process of godly training when they are old enough to start wriggling away from us on the changing table.

If you think through the obvious ramifications of child-centered parenting, I am sure that you will agree with me that when these children grow up they will become adults that —

1. Believe the world revolves around them. It will be a difficult transition into the real world when they realize that it doesn’t and I see many adults who can never quite get over this. They cause drama everywhere they go and think the world is falling apart when they don’t get their own way.

2. Believe that they are the final authority of their world and that what they say goes. Instead of turning to God’s Word in humility for life’s answers, they have been taught that they know best. They become prideful and arrogant. They are not teachable in any way because they believe they are always right. This is what Mom and Dad have taught them.

3. Believe they are entitled to the good life without working for it. These individuals sap the life out of society instead of building back into it. From Mom and Dad buying them a piece of candy in the store to keep them quiet to spending thousands on a club sport when they are a teen, many of these kids have never worked a day in their lives. Many don’t even help around the house with the chores. They have never equated material blessings with hard work.

I know parents don’t want this for their children. And it is downright hard to look into the eyes of a sweet, but defiant, child and demand that they obey you and then consistently provide consequences when they do not. It is especially difficult because magazines and morning talk shows and maybe even most of your friends tell you otherwise. And, yet to not do so, is a great disservice to the child. In fact, children thrive with boundaries. They actually are much happier when they have them. It is one of the most loving things you can do for your child.

Proverbs 29:17 Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul.

Second, we need to prepare our children’s hearts by teaching them the Word of God and then validating that teaching with how we live our lives. So often we want to rely on Sunday School and other church programs to teach our kids. But do you know how many children go to church and then end up walking away from the faith as twenty-somethings? Most of the kids that stay true to the faith are the ones that saw Christianity lived out vibrantly before their eyes. You see, anyone can take their kids to church. It takes humility to live according to God’s Word and transparency to set a good (never perfect) example of the Christian life. It takes dedication and hard work to have family devotions and/or to have family discussions about things like creation, abortion, sexual orientation, holiness, and sin. Teaching your kids to use the Bible as their grid for every decision will prepare their hearts to be obedient to God as they head off into their futures. Showing your kids that you use the Bible as your own personal grid when making decisions adds necessary validity to your words.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Third, make sure your kids know that there is nothing they can do that will keep you from loving them. Be an example of unconditional love to them, demonstrating– albeit in a very flawed and human form– God’s all-encompassing love for each one of us.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Fourth, find a family that has kids living for the Lord and find out how they parented. These families are getting harder to find, but there are definitely still some around. I know when I was a young parent, I learned so much from those that were a few steps or a whole lifetime ahead of me. These are the ones to listen to because these are the ones who have proven that their way worked! Anyone can write a magazine article or become a psychologist. Model your parenting after a family who has adult Christian kids who love and serve the Lord.

Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.

And fifth, and finally, dedicate to pray for the best thing. Academics, sports, and the arts are important enough. But, eternally, the best thing–the only thing–that will matter is the soul of your child. Be sure that you pray often and fervently for the souls of your children. I never cease to be amazed at how God’s grace covers the weaknesses of those who truly desire to raise their children for Him. My husband and I experienced (and continue to experience) that kind of grace in a myriad of ways. God is so faithful to those who pray for the souls of their children.

James 5:16b The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

In conclusion, I just want to encourage you to raise your children for the God who created them. Shut your ears to worldly counsel and study the Word of God. Immerse yourself in biblical child-rearing resources (you can find some that were helpful to me here). Godly parenting is certainly not easy but it is the best way–for your children and for you, too. Yes, we live in a crazy, mad world. Yes, things look bleak. Yet, none of this has surprised God. He is still in control. However, it does look as if your children are most likely going to have the opportunity to stand for Christ in a way that we did not have. Train them to do so! Instead of sending weak-willed, undisciplined eternal adolescents into this world, make it your goal to send your kids out as bold and strong soldiers for Christ!

Don’t lose heart!

signature

 

The New Church

new church

This Easter Sunday, thousands will attend church who rarely go to church. For those who call themselves Christians, this holiday still holds some significance, even though in everyday life few of these people practice Christianity.

But even attendance on Easter and Christmas is dwindling, as we move further and further away from Judeo-Christian values. Many things have been used to accomplish this cataclysmic shift in culture. And one of those things is sports. Yep, I said it. It is sports.

Last Saturday, I found myself in a huge sports complex for a trade show. As I walked through the building, I saw thousands of kids and adults worshiping the almighty “ball”– The Basketball. The Softball. The Soccer Ball. The Baseball. The Football.

Many years ago, when I was a kid, sports was just a fun thing to do. Kids could play three or four different sports without any worry of them overlapping. They generally had practice right after school so it would not interfere with family dinner. And while a commitment was necessary, you weren’t committing your entire life. There were no such things as tournaments every weekend or year-round seasons.

Fast forward to when my kids were little. This is when it started. I remember one time we made the decision to allow one of our daughters to play in a soccer tournament on a Sunday morning. As I sat there at the edge of the field, I remember being overwhelmed with guilt. What were we doing? Were we teaching our kids the values we wanted them to have by choosing a soccer game over church? Most certainly not. My husband agreed and that was the last time we missed church because of a sporting event.

While I am not judging anyone–everyone has their own reasons and this is between them and the Lord–I do wonder if we shouldn’t bring a little more discernment to this area of sports.

As I walked through that sports complex, it suddenly hit me that Sports has become the new church. It is where people go to catch up on the latest gossip, to watch their cute kids “perform”, to learn teamwork, and to socialize. It is there that parents help “teach” (coach) and provide snacks. It’s where people go to worship. If you doubt it, just watch fans and parents get passionate as they stand on the sidelines. Few of us bring so much feeling to our church worship. This weird new phenomenon of the “sports church” has left most families with little energy and even less free time to fit church responsibilities into an already too busy schedule.

Sports are not evil. They are a gift from God, given to us to enjoy. But when they lead to skewed priorities and are given idol status in our lives–ahead of God and even ahead of what’s best for our families then something is dreadfully wrong.

Now that I am on this side of it and most of my kids are grown, I find myself wondering if parents truly understand the sacrifice they are making to have their kids so involved in something that will not benefit them in the long run?

Sure, they can learn teamwork, but they will learn that same thing at home when they garden, clean, or play games with their families.

Sure, they will learn how to dribble or run bases, but is this really our long-term goal for our child or are there some things that are so much more important?

Sure, it will keep them “out of trouble”, but is it really worth all the lost time we are missing–time we could be spending eating together, playing together, and conversing about important life issues together?

Life is so short. The time we have with our kids is some of the most precious we will ever have in our entire time here on this earth. And while sports can be a wonderful part of family life, we need to be so careful not to allow it to become a thief–a thief of those precious family hours, a thief of the carefree, spontaneous childhood your children deserve, and a thief of the time spent in God’s Word on Sunday mornings. It’s not worth it.

This Sunday will find many extra people in church, but many of them will most likely be back on the sidelines next week. Are you going to be one of them?

 

The Truth About Rock Music

rockmusic

Wait! Before you write me off as being way out there, give me just a moment of your time. Please.

Let me first say that much of what I have learned these past few weeks isn’t really new to me. I had just conveniently located it to the very back of my mind where it wouldn’t inconvenience me. It is so disturbing and uncomfortable that it was just easier not to remember.

But then came a couple of Bible studies that required some investigation into the rock scene. And, suddenly, I found myself wading through all of this stuff again. Only in the last twenty-five years it has gotten so much worse that it is mind-boggling–and absolutely frightening.

In fact, I feel like I landed in a pit so full of satanic iniquity and such wicked depravity that some of the actual photos and footage that I saw in my research will be indelibly etched on the canvas of my memory forever–it was that disturbing and heinous.

Rock music has always had a satanic influence. It does not really take all that much research to figure that out. Just google the Beatles and Hinduism and you will see it almost immediately. They were very open about their Hindu activity and even secular websites confirm this. But, as wild as the 60s were, the society wasn’t quite ready for outright false religion and songs promoting open sex and drug use and so many of their song lyrics had double meanings and hidden agendas.

Of course, all the changes in the last 50 years have made hidden agendas and double meanings unnecessary. This has happened through a very systematic hardening of our consciences. And so evil and ungodly lyrics have been eagerly accepted by a fan base that doesn’t pay any attention at all to what they are filling their brains with.

(Again, as I mentioned in Love and Snakes–I find it not only inconceivable that so many Christians are  paying such little attention to the wickedness of this music, but I continue to be astounded that there are so few of us Christians sounding a warning and when we work up the courage to do so, we find ourselves marginalized, criticized, or ridiculed by fellow believers!)

I started my study on the Billboard website with some of the songs listed as Top Ten on the pop charts over the past month. What I found were foul, crude, worldly lyrics promoting all types of sin. While some were worse than others, not ONE was promoting God’s kingdom. All were instead varying degrees of darkness.

I then moved on to the artists themselves. Who were these people that were coming into our homes and cars on a regular basis through their music?

With the 80s influences of Madonna and Micheal Jackson– who were perhaps some of the first openly satanic artists to be played on the radio– the way was paved for many more to come. Recent rock stars such as Beyonce, Kesha, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jay Z, Eminem, and Nicky Manaj (just to name a few), have filled the American culture with an abundance of ungodly, crude, and sexual lyrics and, even worse, very graphic music videos. This, of course, I suspected before I started doing my research. What rather stunned me however was the plethora of satanic symbols and images. As I studied, I found that many of these artists claim to have sold their soul to the devil or to be possessed by demons. This was by their own admission, recorded on video or found in reputable sources.

Now keep in mind –this is the music that is playing on the Pop Charts of America. This is the music that is playing in our grocery stores, at our hair salons, and in our doctor’s offices. These are the artists that most American Christians are listening to.

It’s funny because when I heard Lady Gaga sing at the Super Bowl the other night, I thought, “Wow, she has a really good voice.” Sure, she looked a bit strange but she wasn’t too way out there, looking almost normal. However, unfortunately for me, I was aware of who she really is and some of the images I stumbled upon from her concerts and videos are the most disturbing I have ever seen in my life. If Satan can show himself as an angel of light then I guess Lady Gaga can also sing beautifully, even though what she has represented over the past decade in our culture is of such hideous darkness it is almost impossible to comprehend.

So why do I share this here? On a blog dedicated to spiritual growth?

I write it here because I think most of us are absolutely clueless regarding the danger this music presents to our spiritual health. We just allow this music to play in our homes and in our cars and in the ears of our kids–never giving it a second thought. The tunes are catchy and for some reason that seems to be all we need for it to get our seal of approval.

It is so easy to fall to peer pressure in this area of music. I know that I, myself, was quite guilty of this. Years ago, I learned quickly that if I mentioned my concern about rock music, I would be called narrow-minded, ridiculous, uneducated, etc. etc. Eventually, especially as my kids grew into teenagers, I got pretty tired and I let my guard down just a bit. Oh, we were still really careful, but it was truly exhausting and I didn’t want to come across as too out there for my kids’ sake and so I conveniently moved all of this to the very back of my mind. I just tried to forget all I knew. It was just easier. At the time.

I would definitely go back and change that if I could.

But fast forward my life to just a few weeks ago when I found myself up to my eyeballs in the lewd depravity of the rock music industry. I just can’t even begin to describe how awful it all is. And maybe worst of all–how precious and beautiful young girls and boys, many of them Disney stars as youngsters, are morphed into larger-than-life rock musicians that promote everything God abhors and how so many of their fans–usually tweens and teens– just follow them down into the dark pit.

How can we stand by as soldiers of the Light and not sound an alarm??

God is light. We once walked in darkness, but now we walk in the marvelous light! We are to walk as children of the light, which means we are to not only turn away from works of darkness but we are to expose them (see verses below).

If this music is something that beckons you or someone you love, may I encourage you to do your own research? I think you will be more than a little alarmed and shocked at what you will find out. And may we pray for deliverance of ourselves and our families from the evil influence of this demonic music.

 

Ephesians 5:8-13-For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit[b] is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.

John 8:12Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Acts 26:17-18I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now[a] send you, 18 to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

I John 1:5-7This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

I Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

Living in Stepford

robot-507811_1920

I can still remember the “made for TV” movie called The Stepford Wives  in the 1970s. It starrrd Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie fame and, for whatever reason, made quite an impact on me. Many years later, maybe in the 90s, they remade the movie but I never watched that version, so I don’t know how similar it was to the first one.

The original movie was set in the town of Stepford, where an evil thing was happening –the husbands of the town were replacing their real wives and children with perfect robotic versions of them. Barbara Eden’s character gets wind of this and the movie is about her and her children fighting for their lives. The plot is a bit vague in the back of my mind and I don’t remember much, but I do remember one thing–it was creepy seeing all that “perfection”.

Yes, dear.

No, dear.

What do you want for supper, dear?

It wasn’t…normal.

Sometimes in life we see families a little like this. Of course, we know they are real people, but from the outside all looks to be quite perfect–at least for awhile. And, yet, in so many of these families the kids walk away from the Lord when they grow up. Why is that?

I have spent some time pondering the effects of legalism on a family. Why do some families who live by a set of rules have their kids grow up practicing a vibrant faith, while other families, living by those same rules, lose their kids to the world?

I believe this is a very valuable discussion, because many of us have grown so afraid to lay down strict rules for our children because we are so afraid of losing their hearts. But I don’t believe that one leads to the other. In fact, I have seen as many kids walk away from the faith who had permissive parents as those who walked away from the Lord under the care of strict parents.

So what is the key to raising kids who love the Lord? If it isn’t a set of rules or not having a set of rules, what is it?

It can be puzzling for us to see these churches and families who look a little like Stepford, But, perhaps, some of them, like the Pharisees, have never been cleaned from the inside out.

And so perhaps that is the answer to my question–

Some families are only focusing on the outside set of rules–concerned for their reputation and outward appearance. These families leave little room for discussion and use terms like “because I said so” and “you’re grounded” quite often. But other families are more concerned about their children’s walk with God, and they focus on the heart, recognizing that this is the fountain from which a holy life springs. These parents spend just as much time communicating and discussing the Word of God and what to live a Christian life means as they do disciplining bad behavior.

Actually, if you really think about it, legalism is just another false religion, isn’t it?

Last year I wrote a post on this topic of false religion. Here are a few paragraphs from it to remind us what exactly makes a religion true or false–

False religion teaches that your eternal destiny lies in your hands in one way or another. It will teach that you need to do something in order to be saved. Oh, they all vary in what that something is and they might even throw in as part of their doctrine something about Jesus saving you from your sins, but false religion will always require something other than faith alone.

Ephesians 2:8-9 confirms this–

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

And so if we teach that we must add something to be right with God, we become heretics. This makes legalism damning–for it is a set of rules that needs to accompany saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Does that mean we need to toss all rules to the wind?

Of course not. Just as we need laws and policeman to enforce them to keep the public safe and secure, so we need to have some rules to keep our children safe and protected. It is our job. But we can never make the rules the heart of our parenting.

And, as our kids grow into teens, our rules should always have a reason based on the Word of God. For it is there we want our young adults to find their authority. It is there we want them to go with their questions and decisions.

Our family has been accused of legalism so often I can’t count. It seems in this culture, convictions and legalism equal the same thing. But I want you to know they are absolutely not the same thing.

Making a choice to do or not do something that is based on our love for Jesus and our desire to be like Him is not legalism. That is called a desire to be holy and pure, as commanded in scripture on multiple occasions (I Peter 1:15-16; Colossians 3:12)

And so, as believers, we shouldn’t pretend to be living in Stepford. And, honestly, who are we going to win for the gospel with that kind of Christianity, anyway? It looks impossible and the results are mixed, at best.

So let’s be real. Let’s make sure the world knows we aren’t perfect and that we continue to battle with sin each and every day. Let’s stop trying to look so perfect to the outside world–as if by becoming a Christian, our life somehow becomes perfect. But let’s also make sure we continue to strive to live a holy life, putting rules and guidelines in place that help us in our desire to be more like Jesus and to live a life that honors God, all the while keeping the focus on our hearts and the hearts of our kids, knowing that this is where all behavior is rooted.

And let’s remember the important difference between legalism and conviction, not allowing fingers pointed at us and voices calling us “legalistic” and “narrow-minded” to keep us from doing the right thing as we strive to live a life that is holy and separate from the world.

 

Reclaiming Our Brains

IMG_3642

The other day I was standing at the check-out line in our local grocery store and– out of habit– pulled my phone from my pocket to see what I was missing in the virtual world as I waited in line. At one point, I glanced at my daughter, and she, too, was staring down at the smartphone in her hand, checking on the things going on in her virtual world.

And that’s when it hit me–what are we doing?

Why do we feel so compelled to pull out our phones when even the smallest bit of unfilled time presents itself? Are we afraid of thinking? Are we afraid of standing around looking awkward?

I just can’t believe we are here–that this is the world we live in. A world where–

A child plays with an iPad in the car as they travel the short distance to school.

Grandparents pull out their phones to check their email at dinner.

Parents scroll through Facebook as they wait in the check-out line.

Where people view the news through 2 minute sound bites and you-tube videos at any time and any place they desire.

If we are older than thirty-five, we remember a world where all that we are experiencing now was a big, “pie-in-the-sky” dream. We watched shows like the the Jetsons, but never in our wildest imagination did we believe it would happen in our lifetimes.

But then, ever so subtly, life changed. Drastically. And, one day, we could see the person we loved on the other side of the world as we talked in real-time. And we could pull up any song, any sports clip, any movie on miniature screens before our eyes in our homes and on the bus and in the mall. Any information we needed about a medical condition, any bit of trivia, any sports fact, any scientific theory could be found within seconds on the internet. The only thing that stopped us was if we were out of cell phone range.

And that is when life changed forever.

And some of the changes are good ones. How nice to find out that the strange pain in our elbow isn’t anything to be worried about. Or to locate that actor that we just know we’ve seen on another movie somewhere before.

But with these conveniences come some pretty serious consequences, as well. Being able to communicate instantly with those you love and having access to any information at our fingertips at any time does come with a price.

Here are a few of the costs that come to mind–

Our Relationships

You’d think smartphones and iPads would help our relationships–and I guess they probably do help long-distance relationships. I have a daughter living in another state and it is such a wonderful blessing to see her while we talk via Facetime. But I am not sure the smartphone is quite as beneficial for the relationships we have with our spouses and our kids and our friends who we live and work with everyday.

I have two daughters that have worked as waitresses. They tell me it was not at all unusual for a family of four to be sitting in the restaurant, all of them staring at their phones as they wait for their dinner. Another common thing was to see a preschooler occupied by an iPad during dinner so mommy and daddy could talk. The saddest thing is that these families probably don’t even understand just how very tragic this is because this is the only world they know.

The TV really started the whole thing by dominating our dinnertime. If you drive by houses during the dinner hour in the winter time and glance in the windows, you will see that almost every home has that familiar blue light on within. So many people have stopped talking to each other during this precious time together and have replaced it with screens talking to them.

Have you ever been talking to someone and have them pull out their phone while you are talking to them? Have you done this? I have done this. I am ashamed to admit but I have. What is wrong with me? Why would I make my phone a priority over my family? If even just for a moment? I never want my family or friends to think my phone is more important to me than they are, but sometimes we can give that message if we aren’t careful.

Yes, our relationships are strained and stressed if we keep screens on 24/7. Communication and good discussion is limited. There is no denying it.

Our Concentration Capacity

We struggle so much to stay focused now that we are constantly being pulled in different directions by all this technology. We are becoming so used to a soundbite world since so much of our information now comes to us via two minute videos or 500-word blog posts. Twitter has trained us to think in even shorter sentences. I don’t really get Twitter, so I am not really familiar with it–except to know that there is a word limit on your tweets!

All of this is why pastors have shortened their sermons. It’s why we have such a difficult time reading a whole book or working at a hobby of great detail for any length of time. We have trained our brains to think in soundbites.

Dominate Our Attention

We have, quite freely and willingly, given hours and hours of  our own lives and also the lives of our children to these devices. Probably more than we can count.

Instead of playing outside, children sit in front of a screen. Instead of talking with mommy or daddy on the way to school or the store, children stare at a screen.

Instead of talking to the waitress or cashier, our eyes are on our phones. Instead of doing a puzzle, crocheting, wood-working, or playing a family game, we sit around watching TV or playing games on a screen. At the very least, we are wasting so much precious time.

Of course, it isn’t wrong to do these things in moderation. But many of us left moderation behind a long time ago.

 

There are more costs. These are just three. But perhaps we should spend a little time considering how we can reclaim our brains back from our smartphones. How can we learn to concentrate again? How can we focus on our family members instead of picking up our phone when a text dings or a notification comes in? I have a few ideas. Some have really helped me. Others I haven’t tried yet, but plan to. If you have some to add, please comment below. Please share with us how you reclaimed your brain.

Here are a few ideas–

  1. Do not have your phone in your pocket or laying on the table in front of you when you have your devotions, eat dinner with your family, or are talking with someone about something serious. And while you are at it, turn the TV off, too. Family dinnertime is so precious and we let the world invade that precious time when we allow the TV and our smartphones as part of it.
  2. Turn off notifications. This one really helped me. Instead of being notified about a new e-mail or facebook comment and let it interrupt me at any time, I determine when I will check my apps.
  3. Refuse to pull your phone from your purse or pocket while waiting in line or sitting on a bench at the mall or while waiting for an appointment. Instead, observe the world around you and take it all in. We have such a vibrant, interesting world with no two people the same. Look at those people. Some of them surely need the Lord. Start a conversation and plant some seeds for the sake of the Gospel.
  4. Read a book. A real book. Or a book on your Kindle. Whichever you choose, make sure you have no access to the internet or the opportunity for communication anywhere close by.
  5. Remember that no one needs you that badly. We panic when we don’t have our phones with us now. I can understand why those under 30 feel that way, as they’ve never known any other life, but I don’t really understand it for us older people. Why would we panic? I used to travel 12 hours to college in the snow with no phone (!!) My parents didn’t know if I was dead or alive until I would get around to calling them sometime after I arrived. And this is how we lived. We had no other options. Some of you can remember those days. Now we feel like if we don’t have instant access to our world in our pocket, we will miss a terrible emergency or something. I guess that’s possible. But it’s pretty unlikely.
  6. Put all smartphones in a basket before bed and leave them there for the night. If you have no home phone, then turn the volume up on just one of them and put it on a dresser far away from the side of the bed. This is a rule we would put in place if we had to go back and raise our kids. This whole new world of advanced technology hit us quite unawares and there are many things we would handle differently. This is most definitely one of them.
  7. Last, but certainly not least, ask the Lord for help. If your smartphone use or iPad use is out of control, then ask the Lord to show you how to get it under control. Search the scriptures for some helpful verses. Colossians 3:17 can get you started. We know that God cares for us–about every struggle and every burden. (I Peter 5:7) That’s the kind of God we serve.

I hope this helps. You may be rolling your eyes, wondering why I would even bother to write such a post. You may not have a smart phone or you may have one that you don’t feel tied to. However, I assure you that I have seen enough families not talking to each other in restaurants and I’ve seen enough people of all ages staring at their phones any time and any place (even in church–where some are using it to read their Bible app and some say they are and aren’t) to know that this is a real problem for a lot of people. If you are one of them, then I want you to know there is hope and freedom to be found from this modern addiction. We know God wants us to live lives that glorify Him and we can best do that when our eyes are looking upwards and outwards and not down at our smartphone.

 

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

plane-50893_1280

This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!

How to Know If You are Too Busy

love-746678_960_720

For many years now the Mommy Wars have raged. Should mothers work? Or shouldn’t they? Are kids better if their mom is at home or worse off? What if Mom has to work? Is it sinful? And what exactly are the acceptable conditions for a mother to work?

Truthfully, I hadn’t thought about all this in a long time. But a few days ago someone asked me to review an article on this very subject. And it got me thinking.

A brief walk through history shows us that mothers working outside the home is a relatively new phenomenon. It may have started during the World Wars–particularly World War II–when men went off to war and women were left to man the factories and businesses they left behind. As we moved into the sixties, women cried for independence and the feminist movement really got going and continued to rage through the 70s. The 80s taught us to want more and more stuff. And through all of these changes a new world was born. A world where most mothers work to support a lifestyle that is now deemed as necessary.

But this post is not really about whether women should work or not but, instead, about a common thing I see happening whether a mom works or not. This “thing” causes our kids to wonder if we care. It relegates our husbands and families to the background. And it turns our homes into unorganized chaos.

Any guesses?

It is busyness.

Maybe it’s a little unfair to talk about busyness during December. This seems to be one of the toughest months to reign in our activities. But coming off of two incredibly hectic weeks, I came face to face with the fact that I dropped a few balls. It is almost inevitable if we are too busy. And this is okay for a few weeks here and there. But when we live a lifestyle of being over-committed and involved in too many things, our families will suffer.

Scripture tells us that, as women, our homes and families are to be our main concern. We see this in Proverbs 31, Titus 2:4-5, and I Timothy 5:14.

So many of us, if asked to write our top priorities, would most definitely put God and family at the top of the list. But, practically speaking, this can sometimes be hard to live out, can’t it? People ask us to do things and we just can’t say no. We get our child involved in sports and music lessons and karate. We have birthday and holiday parties. We feel pressured to get involved in PTA and ministries at church. And, soon, if we aren’t careful, every night of the week has us going somewhere. There is little time left for playing games, doing puzzles, and cuddling on the sofa with our kids to read a story.

And this is tragic.

As I look back over my years as a mother, a few realities have become clear to me that I couldn’t see in the midst of the chaos. While I enjoyed sitting by the sidelines watching my kids play soccer, I miss the times reading stories and playing games with them far more. I miss the discussions with their big life questions that had me digging in the Bible for answers. And I miss the loud dinner conversations that made up our life here.

Last night, my husband and I had the wonderful privilege of having our whole family home for a spontaneous pizza night. It was a wonderful, chaotic time full of fun, laughter, and loudly-spoken opinions. But those times are now few and far between. And it made me think about something I heard my husband say to the Sunday School class he was teaching yesterday.

We are studying Shepherding a Child’s Heart (if you haven’t read this book by Tedd Tripp, I hope that you will. You don’t want to miss this book if you are a parent!) and the class has been learning some wonderful lessons about parenting. But my husband reminded them that changes with how we parent cannot be relegated to someday, like most other goals can. The future of our children and their children and their children rely on us changing now.

Life can become so hectic. We are all given just so many hours in a day. And it’s just so easy to say yes to too much. So how do we know if we are too busy? Here are five questions to determine if you are over-committed–

  1. Am I easily irritated by small things?
  2. Is my home chaotic and unorganized?
  3. Are my children defiant and disobedient?
  4. Do I miss my devotions and prayer time more often than not?
  5. Do I always feel overwhelmed?

I am not the judge, but if you have said yes to more than one or two of these questions, then you are probably over-committed.

So what to do if this is the case?

All I can do is tell you what I did when I found myself in that very same place many years ago. Let me back up and give context. At the time, I was homeschooling my four kids, doing all of the books for our company by myself, and was super-involved in church. My beloved family and home got lost in the shuffle of my over-commitment and I had to make some decisions. So I sat down with my husband and we decided what could go and what was non-negotiable. And then I started eliminating some things.

As a little side note here, let me just add that while I did discontinue a few church ministries, I did continue to be involved. It is incredibly important for our kids to see that church is a priority in our lives. Church should never be the thing that is eliminated from our schedules.

Sure, it was hard to pick and choose, but in the long run, it was the best thing for my family. Life will not stop if you step down from PTA. Your church will continue its Sunday School program, even if you cannot teach Sunday School for this season. And your children will not be permanently disadvantaged if they don’t take music lessons or play baseball. Know your limits and don’t let guilt or pressure from others push you into something you know is too much for you. Keep your family and home your priority–whether you are home full-time or find yourself at work everyday.

And someday, far too soon, you will have plenty of time to get involved in ministries and community groups. Take it from someone who knows!

What We Don’t Regret

baby

Yesterday we celebrated our oldest daughter’s 25th birthday. That means that my husband and I have been parents for a quarter of a century now– which is almost half of our lives. Now that our kids are grown (or almost grown), we can look back on our parenting with much clearer vision. Hindsight is always 20/20, after all.

And we find that there are a few choices and decisions we made that we would make all over again. Here is a list of eleven things we don’t regret doing with our kids–

      1.    We don’t regret the hours that we chose to spend playing games or reading stories, turning our backs on those incessant daily tasks sometimes.
      2.    We don’t regret standing firm about what the kids were allowed to watch, wear, listen to, read, and play. This was especially hard and was done amidst many cries of “but my friends are allowed to…”
      3.    We don’t regret the many conversations around the dinner table talking about God, His Word, and what being a Christian really means.
      4.    We don’t regret the time our kids spent with their grandparents. They have provided incredible support to our family and the relationships that were built with our kids are priceless.
      5.    We don’t regret being flexible with bedtimes and mealtimes. This not only taught our kids to be flexible, but provided evening hours to snuggle and play games with Daddy during those long years when he was building a business.
      6.    We don’t regret having Daddy lead bedtime devotions. This gave me a much needed break after a long day and Daddy precious time with his children.
      7.    We don’t regret pulling our kids from travel soccer and other sports when they threatened to take over our priority of going to church on Sundays.
      8.    We don’t regret homeschooling. In fact, that is probably the one thing I miss the most– homeschooling my elementary children. Even now, I can get a little misty-eyed about it. What an incredible joy and privilege that was.
      9.    We don’t regret taking our kids to the Bible for any and all issues they faced. This taught them to live by God’s Word and not by what we said. It taught them that they are accountable to God for their choices.
      10.    We don’t regret hugging our kids–even our teenagers– when they were really angry with us. While we are the kind of family that hugs a lot, we found out that teenagers can be awkward to hug. But we kept right on hugging through all of the turmoil and hard times. Some days it was quite difficult but we are sure glad we did it anyway.
      11.    We don’t regret the evenings and weekends away that were spent building our marriage. Sometimes it was just thirty minutes of conversation snatched after the kids were in bed as we tried to stay in touch in some of those very busy years. Our children needed unified parents and we needed to keep our marriage relationship strong during the hectic years of growing a family.

While we don’t regret these eleven things, there are so very many things we do regret. We failed in so many ways and often we can see the fruits of those failures in the struggles of our kids. We will often notice one or two of the kids following my bad example in one way and others following my husband’s bad example. We were (and still are) so far from perfect and find ourselves acutely aware of it.

And yet, most days I stand back in absolute amazement at the faithfulness of God to our family. How incredibly gracious and kind of Him to fill in the gaps of our weaknesses and watch over the hearts of our kids so that each one has chosen to follow Him. We feel incredibly blessed.

And then to be doubly-blessed, He brought new sons and a daughter into our family through marriage that also love Him.

And, now, life brings a triple blessing. For we are going to be grandparents! Our oldest daughter and her husband are expecting in the spring. Eric and I are so very excited about having little ones around again. We have both loved parenting — all of it. We have loved the baby and toddler years, the elementary years, and the teen-aged years. Okay– we didn’t love the middle school years, but it wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be. And we are loving this time, as well, as we learn to know our kids as adults and are finally able to develop friendships with them. And now to welcome a grandchild into our family and to start that phase of life where our kids experience the wonder of being parents– oh, what joy it will be!

I know I have said it before, but I just have to say it again– if you are a young parent, please treasure every moment that you can. Focus on the eternal and on the stuff that matters. Life is just so short and before you know it, you will be exactly where I am — expecting a first grandchild!

 

Pressing Through the Storm

download2

Raising kids is hard. Really hard if you want to do it right. It means saying no when everyone else says yes. It means setting boundaries, being consistent, and setting a godly example in all areas of life–at least giving it our best effort and then resting in the knowledge that God will make up for our weaknesses. It requires much prayer and lots of time in The Word.

Being an influence for good in the workplace is hard. It’s really hard if you want to not only be a good influence, but a godly one. It means forsaking popularity. It means that you may be teased, harassed, and targeted. It requires lovingly telling the truth when no one wants to hear it. And standing apart from the crowd, being lonely, and loving difficult people.

How about being a godly spouse? Or a blessing to your church family?

These are things we know are God’s will. We are supposed to be godly parents and spouses. We are supposed to be working for God’s glory in our church family and in our workplaces. But sometimes it’s just downright hard. We try so hard to do the right thing but it doesn’t always work out like we hope. People don’t like us. Or they get in the way of the good things we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes very intentionally. We are hurt. We are attacked. We are afraid.

It is at this point that many–if not most–of us cave. The storm rages around us and we grow frightened. We lose any bit of courage we may have had and we tuck our tail and run.

We go into hiding in our workplaces, staying quiet as a mouse when the subject of God comes up. We laugh at the dirty jokes and gossip by the water cooler. Anything to keep from standing out.

We stay at the fringes of the church family. Never really knowing anyone. Or offering to help in any ministry. It’s just easier and much less painful.

We become ineffective (or even negative influences) in our homes. We let our screaming toddlers and rebellious teenagers do whatever they want. We give up on our spouses and we stop praying for them. We become tired and hopeless.

But yesterday, as I read Ezra 4 for our G4L Bible Challenge, I realized anew the importance of pressing on through the storms of life. When the Jews were sent back to rebuild the temple, there was a group of people who plagued them constantly. They tried to discourage them, to frustrate them, to keep them from building (Ezra 4:4-5). And, yet, they kept on plugging away. At one point, they were required to stop working because of a letter filled with lies that this group sent to the King. But they didn’t give up hope. And, sure enough, they were back working at the temple years later.

God wanted that temple re-built, and so it was going to be re-built.

No man can stand in God’s way.

But that was then. And this is now. Those were God’s chosen people living that story and we are Americans living a world away and thousands of years later. If we don’t need to build a temple for God then what does God want for our lives? What is His will for us?

Perhaps we are supposed to be temple-building, as well–

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.(I Corinthians 6:19-20)

Our body is a temple– the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Our calling as believers is to keep our temples pure and holy, obeying and glorifying God. We are to be confessing and eradicating sin. We are to live apart from the world and shine as bright lights of hope.

Building our temple is giving our whole-hearted efforts to our roles as spouses and parents. It’s building up the church and being a godly example at work. As we build our temple, it will change every area of our lives.

When we grow scared or angry, we have to keep working on our temple. We weather through powerful storms with scripture study and prayer. We do this for the sake of our marriages, our kids, our churches, and for the lost who live and work beside us. We can’t become ensnared in human drama and give up. Like the Jews in Ezra, we need to keep building, placing one brick at a time until, one day as our eyes close in death, we can see the temple we have built before us– A lifetime of service to the one, true God!

Sure, we may be given a mandatory pause due to illness or some other unforeseen circumstance but then we get back at it again. And if it’s in our control, then let’s not pause for too long. Because when we stop using our muscles we atrophy. Our bodies grow weak and useless. And because kids don’t wait. Before you know it, they have grown and there is no more time for Bible memory verses or family devotions. And because people die and move away. And tomorrow, that co-worker may no longer be there.

We need to keep our eyes on the goal and let the rest go. Just let it go. The storm may howl around us. The winds may blow. But, through it all, we keep building, remembering what’s important–

To know God and to make Him known.

 

 

Joining the Dance

IMG_8119rev

On Saturday, I finally worked up the courage to clean my son’s room.

I knew it would be the very last time I would clean it for him. When he moved away, he had left a sundry of assorted items on the floor and on the shelves, along with a basketful of items that he said weren’t his. That, along with a few other things, have sat in that empty room since he moved out in June.

I told myself that I was just too busy to get to it and had reminded myself that it wasn’t really any hurry, but I knew full well why I was putting it off.

Cleaning that room was going to make me sad. And it was going to remind me that my life was never going to be the same again.

But Saturday was the day.

And so I gathered some garbage bags, the vacuum, and my courage, and opened the door.

As I glanced around the room, I could almost hear echoes of the past. A little boy’s laughter. A sibling argument. A middle-schooler pesting a sister. A parent-teen discussion. It was all in the past. A loud, trying, crazy, happy, chaotic past.

I tried to find perspective as I cleaned the room. I thought of the possibilities and what I could do with the extra space. I eyed up the closet and contemplated filling up its shelves.

And, yet, somehow it just didn’t seem right–this filling up of a space that had been–and would, in some ways, always be–our son’s.

In the midst of my melancholy, I recognized the importance of pushing on and of finding the good in the now. Of seeing the possibilities and potential of this time in my life. Yes, life is changing but it’s not all bad.

God is teaching me and drawing me to Himself in a deeper way right now, as I am able to spend more time in His Word. I cherish the relaxed time I have with my youngest child and husband. And I love spending time with all of my kids (this includes the wonderful kids that have joined our family).

And, so, as I cleaned the room, I was also trying to clear away the last vestiges of sad nostalgia that had taken up residence in my mind this past year as, one by one, I have watched my three oldest kids start their own lives. And I somehow grasp the importance of enjoying this moment. There is so much to take in and savor and to love about life right now. When we get hung up in yesterday–whether it be a good or a bad past–we miss so much.

Life keeps changing. Some changes are good and some are not. Some change we can control, but there is much we can’t control.

But there is always one thing we can control: Our attitude. We can choose to dance and move in step with the change or we can choose not to. Growing sad or depressed won’t keep change from happening, it will just make us miserable.

And so on Saturday when I finished that room, I was ready to join the dance of change. Oh, I know I will still have my moments of tears and sadness, but I am ready to intentionally grab hold of my new life with joy and expectation. I had prepared that room for new opportunities–just as I am becoming prepared for new opportunities.