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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

“Hurry up or we’ll be late!” How many times have I uttered those words in agitation? Or “Hurry up and finish so we can ______.” All parents struggle with this on some level, because kids don’t necessarily operate on our time schedule, but some kids in particular are just…s   l   o   w. There is no rushing them. They will get there when they get there, and no amount of yelling, bribing, threatening, and pleading will hasten their arrival. If you have a child like this, you are keenly aware that activities that can be accomplished in 5 minutes by one child, take your child 10 minutes. It takes FOREVER (it seems) for your child to tie his shoes, brush his teeth, do an assignment, eat dinner – pretty much ALL THE THINGS.

Today I want to bless you to know that there is nothing wrong with your child. And there’s nothing wrong with you, either. Your child is simply wired differently by his Creator, and happens to live in a society that does not match his inherent values. However, this does not spell doom for the slow-paced child if you can help him understand those differences and see the benefits of society’s values that sometimes conflict with his. But before you can do this, you need to first understand and value what makes your slow-paced child tick. What God revealed to me – after much time on my knees, pleading for understanding – is that my slow-paced son is endowed by his Creator with the following gifts:

  1. A sense of pride in work and desire to be the best in everything he does, which means he works to please himself more than others.
  2. Total focus on whatever the work is in front of him, which often precludes an awareness of time.
  3. A drive for craftsmanship in every endeavor, stemming from an innate desire for creative expression.
  4. A capacity for deep thinking and desire to fully engage in something that is mentally stimulating.

These are all things to celebrate! Because of these unique qualities, he operates on a different time-table than the rest of us. God-gift #1 causes him to be careful and conscientious in all he does, which means he takes his time to do things well. (“Well” simply means it meets his standards, not necessarily mine.) Some kids are negatively labeled as a “perfectionist,” but this is insulting to the child who takes pride in a job well done. It seems contradictory to tell a child to “do his best” in one breath, then say, “Just hurry up and finish – it doesn’t have to be perfect!” in the next because if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well in his eyes. A job well done – or at least done to his satisfaction – is very important to the child, and this value carries the weight of a moral high ground. To surrender this high ground is to betray one’s very self, in the eyes of the child. So the first step in helping your child to function in a fast-paced society is to recognize and appreciate why he moves so slowly, and not devalue his good intentions. Before he will listen to your desires, you must respect his.

God-gift #2 means that he needs to shut out all distractions in order to do his best (which we established in gift #1 as not being optional). Not only does this child need a distraction-free zone to work, he wants to be fully engaged in his work and not limited by time-constraints. As we’ll see later on, this can be managed through strategic planning, but it is essential that this child feels like his need for an environment that is conducive for concentration is respected (even though it’s not always possible to accommodate).

God-gift #3 is a driving factor in the slow-paced child’s life because creativity is his life-blood. He is compelled to express creativity in all he does – whether the job demands creativity or not. My husband – who is cut from the same cloth as my son – could never just dash off a spelling sentence when he was a child in school. Every sentence had to be a creative masterpiece, so homework took a looooooooong time. Today, he can’t just send a quick email without multiple edits and creative expression. But you know what? He’s an awesome writer and it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him! If creativity is in your child’s blood, it’s important for you to value that and delight in it. Yes, it means everything will take longer because every assignment is an opportunity for creative expression, but that very creativity may one day be the gift that changes the world. Don’t quench the fire – fan the flame!

Why? Because stairs.

God-gift #4 contributes perhaps the most to the slow-paced child’s challenges because mentally-stimulating activities and deep thinking are incredibly satisfying. You may be raising a scientist or philosopher who is driven to ponder and work out complex ideas. This can present itself as an attention deficit, but it’s because the child is wired to pay more attention to the thoughts within him than to what’s being presented around him. The slow-paced child likes to take time and work the thing out fully – whatever “the thing” is – because the working-it-out part is what brings him satisfaction, not the completion of the job itself. These kids derive pleasure from the process of working on something mentally stimulating, not turning an assignment in. These are all good things. But they cause stress because we live in a world in which:

  1. There are time constraints on almost all activities, and the expectations are based on the time the job takes to be completed by someone who works quickly and likely gives the least effort.
  2. Most employers will say they value quality work, but in actuality, they value quantity of output more than quality because of the time constraints mentioned above.
  3. Not every activity is innately creative, so investing creative energy in every activity is wasteful in terms of productivity, and productivity is valued more than creativity in most places.
  4. Not every activity is mentally stimulating, so those that aren’t get avoided by the slow-paced child and put off in favor of more interesting activities, and this procrastination leads to additional stress as work piles up.

So what can we, as parents, do to help our kids function in a world that does not line up with their values? First, we respect their values. Then – and only then – are we in a position to explain why society’s values can also be beneficial. Ask your child to consider what the world would be like if we all operated on our own time-table instead of functioning within schedules. Chances are, he will jump at the opportunity to think creatively and ponder this scenario, so let his imagination fly! Help him to see that there are benefits to pleasing teachers and bosses – but focus on the direct benefits to him because these will have the most power to motivate him to change his behavior.

Once he has a desire to work within the constraints of someone else’s system – whether that’s a school or place of employment – you can discuss the following strategies that have proven helpful for us. I used these strategies to design the flow of our homeschool day – and this method was the only one that worked of the dozens I tried. Now that my son has successfully transitioned to public high school, we still use these strategies to organize our approach to homework or big projects. As a word of caution, though, these strategies are still not going to make him move any faster than he’s able to move, so you are still going to need to adjust your expectations for how long a particular activity should take, and adjust your schedule to accommodate your child. If he’s in public school, you may need to work with his teachers to find compromises, as well.

School/Homework/Work Strategies for the Highly Creative, Deep Thinker

  1. Make a list of all regularly occurring tasks. Categorize your tasks according to your employer/teacher expectations as either highly important or less important. (Talk to your boss/teacher to help you do this, if necessary.)
  2. Then further categorize these tasks as either requiring creativity, mentally stimulating, or neither of the above.
  3. Look at your schedule and block out what you think is a reasonable amount of time for each activity, allowing the least amount of time for the things that are not creative or stimulating. Don’t just look at the day’s schedule, but look at the week because some days are full of activities, and others are not. The goal is to accomplish everything you need to do in the space of a week – not a day – so that you can spend your weekend doing fulfilling things (even if that means work projects you happen to enjoy) instead of boring work that has been put off through procrastination. Also consider the environment when making a schedule. For instance, don’t plan mentally stimulating tasks for the same time as little sister’s trombone practice!
  4. Set a timer and then try to accomplish as many boring tasks that are important to your boss/teacher as you can during that block of time. The goal is to just get ‘er done so you can move on to something more interesting. The timer is important because it forces you to stay focused and keeps the end in sight. (If you use any rewards for motivation, this should be the only time to use them. Creativity is internally rewarding, so only offer admiration for creative projects. Physical rewards like my son’s favorite motivator, an M&M for every 2 math problems completed, are usually needed to motivate a child to just plow through boring activities.)
  5. Next, set a timer according to how much time you can reasonably afford to spend on a creative activity that is a high priority, then work on it until your time is up. Doing something creative is a reward for finishing the boring activities, and also energizes the highly creative person. However, you must still set a time limit because otherwise, you won’t want to move on.
  6. Set a timer for a small amount of time and then tackle some of the low priority, boring activities. Then do the same for low priority creative activities, etc. If you run out of time to complete them, they move up into the “important” category the next day. This keeps the little tasks from piling up as long as you commit to doing them as quickly as possible, according to the standards imposed by your boss/teacher (and not your own standards of perfection and creative expression).
  7. Lastly, reward yourself by allowing the last block of time each day to be spent on a mentally stimulating activity. If it needs to be a big block of time, adjust the amount of time you spend on the above activities accordingly. If you run out of time, jot down notes and plan to finish your thought later in the day. If you have a lot of important activities, you may need to wait until the weekend to do mentally stimulating activities, so you can give them your full attention and a larger block of time. Mentally stimulating activities are important because they keep you motivated and satisfied in your work, so block out a good chunk of time for this. Putting it at the end of the day or week means you don’t have other things hanging over you, and can fully dive into to the task with less pressure from time constraints.

Following this format, the highly creative, deep thinker should be able to get through tasks in a reasonable amount of time in a way that is still satisfactory because he is directing the most time and effort to the things that really matter to him (creativity and mental stimulation). It helps him to identify and acknowledge which things don’t require 100% in order to still be good enough for his boss/teacher. “Good enough” is a hard pill to swallow for those with an internal drive to excel, but so is stress, anxiety, and never having free time to do things that are truly enjoyable and satisfying.

As I’ve talked with my teenage son about how he will approach his job someday, I’ve tried to remind him that the goal of man is not to have a mentally stimulating job; the goal of man is to have a full life. Life is more than work. Life is work, relationships, recreation, and rest. If you try to satisfy all your needs through work, then work will take all your time. But when work is no longer the sole means for creative expression or mental stimulation, but more of a means to that end, then less time can be given to less important activities in order to make time for needs to also be met in relationship, recreation, and rest. It helps to see the bigger picture in order to embrace the small sacrifices he must make in his approach to daily tasks so that those tasks don’t take up his whole life.

It’s not easy raising a “square peg” in a world of “round holes.” But God has often reminded me of the verse he gave me for my son:

[He is] God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for him to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Every aspect of my son’s personality was intentional in God’s design. God has a plan for his life, and he is uniquely qualified to do those good works. My job is not to “fix” him, but cooperate with God in helping him be who God created him to be while functioning in a less-than-ideal environment. And the result, so far, has taken my breath away. When my freshman son left 6 1/2 years of homeschool to enter the public school system, I watched my square peg willingly fold in his edges and slide himself into that round hole. Glory to God! Let’s bless our kids to be all their Heavenly Father created them to be, and allow God to change our perspective to His.

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I’ve shared on this blog before how God gave me a new spiritual name in my 20’s to symbolize the different direction he was taking me. For the first 21 years of my life my name was Ability. Much of my life was on a stage singing, acting, dancing, or speaking. But then God began to take me off the stage so he could root me in my faith and deepen my relationship with him. During this season my name was Availability, which is my old name – Ability – with my literal new married name, Vail. For the past 21 years I have sought to simply be available to be used by God whenever and wherever he wants to use me. I have mostly done short ministry assignments in a variety of places in the church, as well as homeschooling my children and occasionally blogging.

However, around the time of my 42nd birthday, last summer, God began to move mountains in my life. He released me from homeschooling my oldest child which forced me to face every fear I’d ever had about him in the weeks leading up to his return to public school. The voice of the enemy was so deafening in my ear with shouts of fear, but because of how close God had been to me earlier in the summer during the 6 weeks my mom was on hospice before she died, I knew that if God could sustain me while I was taking care of her, he could certainly take care of my son in school. However, the power of God to silence that screaming voice of fear was not activated until the day before my son started school, when I taught my Sunday School class the lesson God had been teaching me on parenting out of faith instead of fear. God’s power in our life is often activated by our voice when we speak in agreement with him.

It was then that I first discovered the power of my new name, Avail. The “Ability” part of Availability has been dropped because, frankly, whatever abilities I bring to the table don’t matter to me anymore. I’m not interested in being praised for my abilities – a former stronghold of mine. As I move into this third segment of my life (which, interestingly, can clearly be divided into segments of 21 with 3 distinct seasons of 7 years in each), God’s priority for my life is that my words and prayers avail much for the kingdom. It’s not my stage; it’s His. The word avail means

to be of use; have force or efficacy; serve; help
to be of value or profit

The root, which happens to be my last name, Vail, comes from the Latin valēre, to be of worth.

It’s no surprise, then, that the enemy first attacked me in my youth with the stronghold of insecurity. If God intended for my words and life to avail much for the kingdom – to be of value or profit – the enemy needed me to question my worth, or at least link it to my abilities so that when I failed or was no longer in the spotlight, I would doubt my value. However, as I activated my new name by speaking the truth over my life – the truth that I am of worth because Jesus died for me, and I was created for a purpose that God will accomplish in and through me – the enemy lost his power to bind me with fear. You and I were created to avail much. Our words have efficacy, which means “the ability to produce a desired or intended result.” If God has given you a promise for your life, don’t just think it, speak it! When the enemy comes against you with fear, boldly speak the truth and promises of God with praise and thanksgiving, and the enemy will flee!

Speaking God’s truth and promises over my son – that he is God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for him to do (Eph. 2:10), and that God will finish the good work he started in him (Phil. 1:6) – silenced the voice of fear. It also activated those promises in my son’s life. I have never seen him thrive and flourish like he has since the school year started. God’s hand is on him in a mighty way, healing him and maturing him in every way. God is blessing him and our relationship with him. Hallelujah!

Parents, what I’m about to share may be a hard pill to swallow, but here is what God’s been showing me about our words. When we believe God and speak his truth over our kids, it activates his blessings in their lives. If you read through the Old Testament, you’ll find several accounts of parents speaking blessings over their children (Noah, Isaac, and Jacob, to name a few). People brought their children to Jesus so that he could bless them. These blessings had power and efficacy. However, when we listen to the voice of the enemy – which often comes as the voice of fear – and speak words over our children in agreement with our fears, we are unintentionally speaking curses.

“Stop acting so weird or you’ll never have any friends,” we say to our child in agreement with the voice of our fear. And so the child becomes fearful of other people, wondering if people are rejecting him. As a result, he withdraws and becomes overly self-conscious. And ends up with no friends. Cursed by our words of fear voiced over him. 

One of the hardest things God’s called me to do this year is apologize to my son for agreeing with my fears and speaking curses over him. God told me, when he was 4 years old and in the midst of major upheaval in his behavior, that he would be all right. (And because God is always consistent, he spoke that same promise again recently.) However, for the past 10 years the voice of fear has often gotten the best of me, and I’ve reacted and parented out of fear that what I was seeing was going to be a forever thing instead of just a phase. (How do you know if you’re parenting out of fear? You’ll know it’s fear when you feel like you need to control your child’s behavior. There’s a difference between teaching our kids self-control and being just plain controlling.)

When my son started public high school, I wanted to talk to his teachers about his Dysgraphia because I feared that his writing difficulty would hinder him from finishing his work on time, but my son didn’t want me to. The reason why God also said no was because he knew that phase was over and there is nothing hindering him in his writing anymore. I honestly believe that had I kept speaking it over him, it would have continued to plague him, which is why God said, “Enough! Start believing and acting like you trust Me that if I say he’s okay, he’s okay.”

God’s revealed to me that my son and I were meant to be 2 threads woven together in a beautiful tapestry for the dual purpose of teaching me how to love and accept someone who is unlike me, and also speak words of encouragement to other moms of kids who don’t fit into the world’s mold. He gave me a precious, quirky boy who was meant to be different – and we were to delight in it.

This is now one of our favorite photos, depicting our epic failure as parents to recognize that 4-year-old soccer was not our sons jam. He was so miserable, but we learned our lesson not to assume anything with this kid!

This is now one of our favorite photos, depicting our epic failure as parents to recognize that 4-year-old soccer was not our son’s jam. He was so miserable, but we learned our lesson not to assume anything with this kid!

However, the enemy also had a plan to spin a web of fear between my son and me, so that every time I ran headlong into fear I would attach that web to him and myself, thus tangling us up in a sticky mess. Every time I voiced my fear, and spoke words in agreement with it, we got more and more entangled in the web. But God, in his grace and mercy, has not only delivered me from the stronghold of fear through voice-activated faith, he has been untangling us from that ugly web. Glory to God!

Thankfully, the way into that mess was also the way out. When I apologized to my son for sticking that web on him, I said, “I revoke the curses I have unintentionally spoken over you.” I then laid my hands on him and began to speak blessings. I blessed him in every area of his life I could think of where I used to be filled with fear. I blessed his education, his friendships, his marriage someday, his work; everything God brought to my mind, I agreed with God’s good plan and spoke it.

I want my words to avail much for God’s kingdom and in the lives of my children. God’s word tells us that we will overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:20). Our words have efficacy, especially in the lives of our children. Oh God, consecrate our mouths so that we speak blessings, not curses. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You.

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Less than a week after my mom’s funeral, the countdown to sending my homeschooled son to public high school began to tick louder, drowning out one grief with the sound of another. I’m not ready! He’s not ready! I’ve somehow got to cram ALL THE THINGS into the few weeks before school starts. Otherwise, I may get my report card as a homeschooler and find an F!

Fear. It’s a powerful emotion – especially when the fear is that we’ve failed our kids. It makes us do crazy things like ruin the last few weeks of summer vacation undoing all the years of allowing your child to discover who he is apart from his peers by suddenly reversing course and trying to make him “fit in.” (Lord, have mercy.) Fear makes us bombard our children with criticism and so many instructions that they begin to second-guess all their instincts. Parental love that has been warped by fear often turns into toxic control of every aspect of our kids’ lives, robbing them of valuable opportunities to learn through trial and error. Thankfully, God gently smacked me upside the head with a copy of Parenting with Love and Logic from the thrift store, with the “knock off what you’re doing” messages conveniently highlighted by the previous owner. (Subtle, God.)

He also used a fictionalized account of the life of King Hezekiah (one of the good kings of Judah in the Old Testament) to show me that I cannot place my hope in the ways our culture tells kids to find success. When Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz (a bad king), paid tribute to the Assyrians (the cruelest army on earth) for protection, he essentially made slaves of his kingdom. All their resources were diverted to Assyria, including God’s tithe. I realized that, as parents, we’re essentially “paying tribute” when we buy expensive clothes, purchase the latest gadgets, sign our kids up for activities we can’t afford, all in the name of not wanting them to be “left out.” We fear the “Assyrians” – the popular kids, the bullies, whoever it is you think will reject your child for not being “cool” – so we place our trust in buying their favor. But once we choose that road, we and our children are forever slaves to it.

At one point, Judah tried to make an alliance with Egypt, hoping that would save them. As parents who’ve lived through adolescence, we know that loners are targets for bullies, so we encourage our kids to do whatever it takes to be popular or form alliances. We put our hope in academics or sports, believing that being part of the “right” group will save them. When I was a teenager, I thought that if I just had a boyfriend, that would make me okay. Alliances make us feel powerful – until they don’t. Until we get a bad grade or miss the winning shot or our boyfriend breaks up with us. Looking to allies to save us still results in us being slaves to our performance and the opinions of others.

Thankfully, there is another way. Hear God’s response to Judah (and me) in Isaiah 30:15:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.”

It is a stinging rebuke, but also a sign of God’s grace and mercy as he spells out how to repent and do this parenting thing right. When faced with a battle between the world’s desire and God’s desire for our kids, we choose to return to God and do it his way. We rest in his unique plan for our kids, which will sometimes conflict with our plan for them to have an easy, outwardly-successful life. What if we don’t “pay tribute”? Perhaps that $.99 shirt from the thrift store will make our child more approachable to the kid who really needs a friend. (After all, Jesus’ ministry was usually to the outcasts, not the in-crowd.) What if I stop forcing my kid to do activities he doesn’t enjoy, but has been doing because I don’t want him to be “left out” of alliances? Perhaps saying no to something good will make room in his schedule for something better, like developing the unique strengths God gave him. We don’t have to work so hard to make sure our kids have all the right stuff and amazing resumes by the age of 16. Rest in God, and he will show us what is best.

In quietness – not nagging, nit-picking, fault-finding – and confidence in God is our strength. It is not up to us as parents to “fix” our kids, placing our magnifying glass over their quirks and weaknesses. Our job is to help them become the beautiful butterflies God designed them to be. It’s scary to think about sending our kids out into the world, and yet if they’re going to fly (and not live in our basement forever), we have to put our confidence in God. We may fail our kids, but he never will. We can confidently send them out into the world, knowing that God will never abandon them (Joshua 1:9). On the first day of high school, I shared this promise from Isaiah 30:21 with my son:

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

Ultimately, the voice we want our kids to hear is not our voice, but the voice of the Holy Spirit. As they cross the bridge into adulthood and venture out on their own, He is the one we want to guide them.

Bridge

Have you blown it with your kids? Me too. But it is never too late for God to redeem the failures that we place in his gracious hands. We don’t have to wring our hands in worry, wondering what to do. When we place our hope and trust in God, he promises to show us the way (Proverbs 3:5-6). He invites us to come to him when we need wisdom because he is a generous God who does not find fault with us for simply having questions (James 1:5). As we learn to rest and trust in God’s perfect love, our love becomes perfected. The result of perfect love is that fear is no longer holding the reigns in our parenting!

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love…And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:16-19

Lord, thank you for loving us first. We surrender our death-grip on our kids because you love them and know them better than we do. We place our confidence in you, our loving God, not in alliances. Give us eyes of faith to see your vision for our kids so that we will train them up in the way they should go – not our way, but your unique way for them (Ephesians 2:10). May we return to you and find our rest (Matthew 11:28-29). Quiet us with your perfect love and cast out our fear as we confidently look to you for our strength (Isaiah 40:31). Amen.

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In one year he grew six inches taller and his voice dropped an octave lower. Welcome to the exciting – yet terrifying – experience of adolescence! The summer before he started 7th grade, I wrote my son a letter to give him a heads up on some of the changes he could expect in the coming years, challenges he would likely face, and insight into how to navigate them from one who’s been down that road. Honestly, I don’t think any of it sunk in at the time because it all seemed so far away, but a year-and-a-half later, some of Mom’s predictions have shown up in daily life. So I decided to print off the letter for him to read again as a way of reassuring him that while the challenges he’s facing are normal and to be expected – because I “called it” 2 years ago – he does not have to respond to these challenges like a “normal” teenager.  The world expects very little of teenagers, but why waste these years by sinking to everyone’s low expectations? (For more on this subject, I highly recommend having your teen read, Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. It has motivated my now 14-year-old to see this time in his life as a gift not to be squandered.)

I decided to share this letter with you today with the hope that my adolescence survival guide could be used as an instrument of grace, as I acknowledge the unique challenges of the teen years, and a launching pad for discussion with your teen on how we can rise above them to be more than just followers of the crowd. There is another way; the way of following Christ.

Some days it's an uphill climb...

Some days it’s an uphill climb…

Dear Son,

As your journey through childhood comes to an end and the journey through adolescence begins, I want to first tell you how proud I am to be your mother and how fiercely I love you.  (You know I would give my life for you, right?) I’ve watched you grow into a thoughtful, compassionate, creative, funny, talented young man who loves God with all his heart, and I am so thankful God gave you to me.  We’ve faced some challenges together over the last 12 years, and God has been faithful to help us through them.  Now, as I look ahead to some of the challenges you’ll likely face in adolescence, I want to share a few insights with you based on my own experience as a teenager (as you’re fond of saying, “waaaay back in the 1900s”).

Embrace Who God Created You To Be
The central focus of adolescence is often the pursuit of acceptance and approval by peers. Kids will do anything to be popular, changing themselves to become who they think others want them to be. Some kids get so good at being chameleons, fitting in with the crowd at all costs, that they reach their 20s having no idea who they really are. With the added pressures of presenting a perfect image on social media (like Facebook), teens fall into the trap of believing that image is everything. That is a lie. The truth is, you are uniquely created by God to fulfill a purpose uniquely suited to you, for “You are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for you to do” (Eph. 2:10). How can you fulfill your unique purpose if you’re putting all your energy into trying to be someone else, just to please others?  Don’t fall into this trap.  

You cannot please everyone, nor will everyone like or accept you. If you make popularity the goal of adolescence, you will enter adulthood feeling empty and uncertain of your purpose, because popularity may prop up your self-esteem temporarily, but once the whims of “the group” change, you will once again have to reinvent yourself. Instead of the exhausting pursuit of acceptance by peers, I challenge you to focus instead on loving God, loving others – whether they return your love or not – and developing the gifts God has given you. The world doesn’t need more sheep to follow the crowd. The world needs innovators and problem solvers who think outside the box, like you do. Hang onto who you are, and when you are uncertain of who you are, hang onto Jesus. He’ll remind you that you are His creation, His treasure, His beloved worth dying for.

Own Your Strengths and Weaknesses
During your teen years you will be tempted to compare yourself to others. There will always be someone who is smarter, more talented in a particular area, more popular, more athletic. If you attempt to define yourself as “The Best (fill in the blank),” you will try to cover up or make excuses for your weaknesses, suffer the rise and fall of your self-esteem depending on how you feel you compare to those around you, and continually live in fear of failure. I don’t have to tell you that the above scenario will bring you nothing but misery. Trust me, I’ve been there. Remember that it’s not usually the struggling kids in your dad’s college classes who cheat, it’s the top students who are so afraid of failure that they will do anything to keep from losing their status as “the best.”

The truth is, our weaknesses are a gift from God because it is in our areas of weakness that we most recognize our need for him and invite God to demonstrate his power in us. It’s better to learn to lean on God and discover that he is able to help us in our weaknesses, than to cling to the false belief that our worth is defined by our accomplishments. (If you don’t think you’re worth anything because of your weaknesses, read the gospels and see for yourself how much you’re worth. Jesus died for you while you were still a sinner.) So don’t fall into the comparison trap. Accept that you – along with everyone else – have weaknesses.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Learn from your mistakes and keep your sense of humor when they happen. If you can acknowledge your weaknesses freely and learn to laugh at yourself in a healthy way, it disarms those who would use your weaknesses as a weapon against you. Not only that, it lets others know they are safe to be themselves around you when embarrassing situations are funny rather than a death blow. (Just be careful with your sarcasm and don’t use it to humiliate others or get laughs at someone else’s expense. EVER.) Own who you are and don’t let accomplishments become your god. Learn now to turn to God to help you when you are weak, and you’ll be in a better position to face life’s disappointments than the kid for whom everything has come easily, because that kid will likely fall to pieces when he is dethroned by someone who is more talented than him someday.

Your Brain May Betray You at Times – And It’s Okay
There will be times when it seems like all the adults in your life, including me, are being too hard on you or expecting more from you than you feel like you can deliver. Please forgive us. You see, your body is about to go through some amazing changes, and you will soon begin to look like an adult. This can sometimes lead adults to believe that you are like us, but the truth is that your brain will not fully develop until you’re in your 20s. So there will be times when you exercise poor judgment and make stupid mistakes because your frontal lobe – the part that weighs consequences before acting on impulses – is the last part to develop. Your dad and I will try to remember to show you grace, but we will also allow you to experience the consequences of your poor decisions because part of growing up involves taking responsibility for your actions. 

So when you have the urge to do something dangerous or just plain wrong, remember that you can always talk to us and we will do our best not to overreact. But if we do discipline you, it’s because we love you and want you to grow into a responsible adult. That’s our job. While we look forward to relating to you as an adult, we’re not your buddies. We’re your parents, and we’re responsible to God to train you to do what’s right. So when it seems like we’re being tough on you, we’re just trying our best to do our job (and there’s no “How to Raise a Teenager” manual). We’ll make mistakes and so will you. Hopefully, we’ll show each other grace on this journey.

Your Body May Also Make Life Difficult
Unfortunately, it’s not just your developing brain that will make life tough for you at times, it’s your developing body and a whole host of hormones. Your growth spurts may not happen in all areas at the same time, so you may suddenly get bigger feet before the rest of you catches up, and feel awkward and uncoordinated for a time. Hang in there and it’ll pass. There will also be days when you just feel rotten for no good reason because of hormone surges. These feelings may make you overreact to little things or just want to be left alone. I want you to know that it’s okay to acknowledge these feelings, even if they’re not justifiable. But I wish someone had told me when I was a teenager that you don’t have to give in to these feelings or let them be your master. You can say, “Mom, I just feel down today,” and I will do my best to honor what’s happening inside you. However, I’m also going to encourage you to set a time limit on wallowing in your emotions, and then brainstorm some ways to redirect your thoughts (like reading a book, going for a walk, listening to upbeat music with positive lyrics, working on a favorite project, etc.). The sooner you learn to recognize negative thought patterns and emotions and take steps to turn them around, the happier and more successful you will be in your life and relationships. It takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I didn’t learn this valuable life skill until I was in my 30s, and my life would have been so different had I learned how to interrupt negative thought patterns in my teen years.

Everyone Around You Is Also Going Through These Changes
It’s important to remember, too, that all your friends will be going through these same changes. Their brains and bodies may cause them to say and do stupid or unkind things. (I don’t know any adults who have no regrets from their teenage years. We ALL did stupid stuff – just ask your dad…) In addition, your friends are trying to deal with their own desires to be accepted and liked by their peers. This strong desire to fit in often leads kids to reject anyone who doesn’t fit in because they don’t want to be associated with someone who isn’t like the crowd, for fear that they too would be rejected by association.

Listen carefully, son: If you follow God’s path for you instead of living to please others, you will likely face rejection because kids who don’t follow the crowd or stick to the status quo are dangerous. Be dangerous anyway! Friends may walk away from you simply because you’re different. Love them and pray for those who persecute you. It won’t make the pain of rejection go away, but the God who came to earth to die for you knows very well the sting of rejection and pain of betrayal. He will use these experiences to strengthen your character and develop within you deep compassion for those who are rejected.

If you follow Jesus through the narrow gate, it may lead to suffering and rejection at times, but it is the only way to become like Christ. And if there is one desire I have for you, it is to be like Christ. I don’t care how popular you are, how many awards you win, or how financially successful you are someday. I just want you to know how much God loves you – no matter what you do – and walk with him all the days of your life. I promise you that the time you devote to developing your relationship with God will never be wasted. He will always accept you, so look to him for your purpose. Find your self-image in the shadow of the cross, focusing on who God says you are, not on who other teens say you are. Listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, follow him, and you will emerge from adolescence as a confident, secure adult because you’ve found your security in the only One who can fill your heart’s desire for acceptance.

Be a Friend
The best thing you can do to navigate through the murky waters of teenage relationships is to just focus on being a friend. Be a good listener and do your best to take an interest in others. Look for the person who most needs a friend and be a friend to that person. You don’t have to be BFFs, but God will bless you when you make loving the “least of these” a priority. If your love is not returned, see all the stuff above. And speaking of love…

At some point, you’re going to start noticing girls and want them to notice you. Again, just focus on being a friend (and maybe wearing something a little nicer than sweats every day – just sayin’). Dating while your brain and emotions are developing can be dangerous because you will likely be more focused on how the other person makes you feel than on doing what is best for the other person. Real love is not making out with someone or giving in to lustful desires.  Real love is not what you see in the movies that would lead you to believe that love is a feeling or physical expression. Real love is about self-sacrifice and doing what is best for the other person. However, when your hormones are raging throughout adolescence, your feelings and physical desires will be hard to override (see above section on the adolescent brain). Since a high school sweetheart may not become your wife, how you treat her will affect her self-image and, potentially, her marriage to someone else someday. (Think about how you would want other guys to treat the girl you’re going to marry.) It’s a huge responsibility, and one that shouldn’t be rushed into.

So have lots of friends who are girls and learn how to be a good friend. Go out with groups and make memories with them. That’s how your dad and I came to fall in love. We went out with groups of friends for 3 years in college and have wonderful shared memories together, even though we didn’t date until our senior year. Our relationship is still strong to this day because it was founded in friendship. So don’t worry about finding Miss Right. Just be a good friend and enjoy life as it unfolds. There are blessings in relationships and blessings in singleness. Choose to live for God in whichever circumstance you’re in and you will be blessed.

No matter what, remember that your dad and I love you. There is nothing you can do that will make us love you more, and nothing you can do that will make us love you less. We look forward to watching you continue to grow into the wonderful man God created you to be. Welcome to adolescence!

Love,
Mom

...but the view from the top is amazing!

…but the view from the top is amazing!

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I was feeling agitated after watching what should have been a motivational video, but the message of “you were created for more than this” instead made me gripe at God. “Oh really?” I pouted, “What MORE would you like me to add to my plate?” I actually got out a notebook and filled the page under the title “Stuff I do” with all the things I do for other people on a daily basis. “Okay, God, the ball’s in your court!” I huffed.

“Get your coat on and let’s go for a walk on the dirt road,” was his reply. I was rewarded for my tantrum with a bitter, cold wind and shoes full of goatheads, but as I again voiced my frustration with all the messages I hear on a regular basis to do more, be more, serve more to God, he responded with, “Take a look at those ruts in the dirt.”

“You mean the ruts that are filled with ice because it’s REALLY COLD out here?” I snarked.

“Yes, child, those ruts. What have I been teaching you about your mental ruts and what you need to do to put an end to this spinning of your mind right now?”

I need you to appreciate that I did not have a camera on my walk, and had to go back and repeat the walk in the bitter cold to take this picture. Be impressed.

I need you to appreciate that I did not have a camera on my walk, and had to go back and repeat the walk in the bitter cold to take this picture. Be impressed.

RESET

I’ve been reading a fascinating little book called Habits, by Charlotte Mason, in which she likens the mental pathways we develop through constant use to ruts in a dirt road. Our brains take the path of least resistance, so once a habit or path of thinking has developed, it’s very hard to get out of that rut, in much the same way it’s hard to drive a bicycle or car out of a deep rut. To change a habit or rut, we need to intentionally substitute a different habit or insert a distraction that will cut across the path and allow a new one to be developed.

My personal take on this has been to visualize a distraction – squirrel! – as a mental reset button. When my thoughts take a nose dive and I begin the downward spiral (of dwelling on things outside my control, obsessing over how I measure up to someone else’s standard, fill in the blank with miscellaneous fears/hang-ups…), I can follow that well-worn path (developed over a lifetime of struggling with insecurity/people-pleasing) OR hit the reset button.

What is the Reset Button?
I can’t tell you exactly what the reset button is – well, at least what it is for you. For me, the reset button is any brief, pleasant distraction that shifts my focus away from the endless loop of negative thinking and gets me off the merry-go-round so I can start over with a more positive mindset. In the circumstance above, taking a walk with God was my reset button. (But watching a short, funny “Tonight Show” video also works!)

[Disclaimer: The reset button is not procrastinating and putting off things you should be doing. The reset button distraction is not a substitute for dealing with real problems that require attention.]

The value of the reset button is not that it solves problems, but that it changes your frame of mind from a negative one to a refreshed, more positive one, which then enables you to think more clearly and deal more effectively with whatever issues you’re facing. The reset button is especially useful when you’re having one of those “I overslept, then was grumpy with the kids who, in turn, were grumpy at me, and when I tried to salvage the day by making flatbread, it tasted…well…flat, so I tried to broil some cheese on top and ended up burning it, making the whole house smell terrible” kind of days. When nothing is going right, a reset button allows you to make a clean break and start over.

The Reset Button For Your Family
I recently taught this survival skill to my 14-year-old – and if anyone needs to learn how to reset a bad hormone/mood-swing day, it’s teenagers! After a miserable morning that climaxed at math time (shocker), I finally yelled (yes yelled), “Stop! Go outside for 15 minutes and get some exercise.” When he came back inside, we agreed on a reset button activity for him; he can set a timer for 5 minutes and read Calvin and Hobbes to get off the bummer train whenever his mood swings take him for a ride. (Longer than 5 minutes would likely lead to procrastination, and we discussed the difference between the two.) After his reset, we returned to math and were able to see the solutions to the problems that stumped him earlier. (I wish someone had told me that I did not need to be ruled by my emotions when I was a teenager, marinating my mind in depressing music and wallowing in my melancholy like a pig in the mud.)

The 2-part Reset
After my husband got separated from the kids and me at a crowded theme park and was ready to call it quits and go home by the time he found us, we were able to salvage the day with a 2-part reset. We did not say a word while we stood in line because if there’s anything I’ve learned after nearly 20 years of marriage, it’s that you cannot talk someone out of a bad mood. After a few minutes, however, I silently started handing out snacks, since it had been several hours since we’d eaten. Sometimes a reset button requires addressing a physical need like hunger, a need for exercise (in my son’s case above), or a good night’s sleep first.

After we started eating, I noticed some machines that looked like they were supposed to set off “explosives” along the edge of the ride, so I silently walked over and began turning the crank and pressing down on the lever until BOOM, we saw water spray up into the air along the fake canyon of the ride. Suddenly, all 4 of us were excitedly winding cranks and setting off explosions until we got on the ride and forgot the woes we left behind as we enjoyed the roller-coaster.

Part 2 of a family reset is setting an example by taking the first step out of the rut and engaging in an inviting distraction without prodding your family to join you. The 2-part reset button of snacks and a distraction enabled us to break from the negative mindset we were in and move on in order to enjoy the remainder of the evening. Contrary to the feeling of our momentary frustration, a bad circumstance does not have to equal a bad day! (Again, why couldn’t I have learned this years ago?)

A Reset for Routine
Sometimes the rut is simply a routine that needs to be shaken up. This year, my focus word is faithfulness, and I’ve realized that in order for me to be faithful to carry on the (sometimes monotonous) work of homeschooling and homemaking, I need to allow myself periodic breaks from routine to refresh and revive my spirit. Last fall, this looked like filling a backpack with fun educational games, activity books, and reading materials, then taking the kids for “park school” and a picnic as our reset.

"He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul." - Psalm 23:2-3

“He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” – Psalm 23:2-3

A Reset for Marriage
If there’s any area of our lives that regularly needs a reset it’s our marriage. But rather than wait until we’re in a rut, we’ve learned to be proactive in scheduling resets (a.k.a. date nights). If your whole relationship is consumed by the daily grind of life and raising a family, you’re in danger of bitterness and resentment carving ruts. (If you find yourself regularly dwelling on something that irks you about your spouse, then a reset is in order.) A weekly date night helps to reset our relationship by providing a break from our everyday routine in order to just have fun together. (I’m less likely to get hung up on the toilet paper being replaced the wrong way – and yes, there is a right way – if we’re still laughing over how the instructor for our weekly swing dance class keeps calling my husband by the wrong name.)

If you’re in a “we can’t figure out how to make a date night happen” rut, a weekly date night doesn’t have to be on the weekend, doesn’t have to require a babysitter, and it doesn’t have to cost money. Here are some of the variations we’ve tried, which I hope will inspire you to be creative and, most importantly, get a reset date on the calendar soon (and if you’re too busy to make time for your marriage, you are just plain too busy and need to look for some activities to cut, dear one):

  • Midweek Coffee or Ice Cream Date – Drop the kids off at church on Wednesday night, then head to McDonald’s for the cheapest cup of coffee in town – if there’s no climbing structure, it counts as a date restaurant. We order 2 cups of decaf for $2 (or in the summer, order ice cream sundaes) and chat about things we’re reading or big picture dreams (like what we’d do if we had no debt – a fun and motivating conversation starter). God cares about your marriage, so ditch the guilt over ditching Wednesday night church in order to nurture your marriage. (We don’t skip Sundays, however.)
  • Walk, Talk, and Sip Date – Take a walk together on Saturday or Sunday afternoon – put the kids in a stroller or on bikes to go with you if they’re too young to leave at home – ending with a cup of (hot or cold) tea or coffee WITHOUT THE KIDS at home. Since you’re saving money by having a date at home, splurge on some fancy cocoa, coffee creamer or flavored teas that you like. Our favorite homemade treat is a Rum Mocha: 3 c. (8 oz. each) hot coffee, 2 envelopes cocoa mix, 1/4 c. half-and-half (or almond milk or whatever milk is on hand), 3/4 tsp. rum extract. Combine in a saucepan over medium heat and pour into 2 large mugs. Top with canned whipped cream and enjoy in whatever nook of your home is clean and/or pretty. So long, Starbucks!
  • Bedroom Date – Set up a date night in whatever part of your home you feel is beautiful and/or clean. (We invested in an electric fireplace for our bedroom and bought extra twinkle lights at Christmas to put on a fake tree next to it. It transformed our boring bedroom with hand-me-down, 1970’s, plywood and veneer furniture into a cozy little getaway. Worth. Every. Penny.) If your kids are pre-school age or younger, put them to bed first. If they’re older, let them fix themselves a nutritious dinner of microwave corndogs and chips (God bless you Foster Farms, for giving us gluten free corn dogs), while you order take-out or heat up something easy but special for the two of you. (Costco and Trader Joe’s have lots of fun, gluten free, heat-and-eat options.) Put in a movie for the kids in the family room while the two of you enjoy a leisurely dinner and conversation together in your room or wherever you can carve out a date space. If it’s been a rough week, watch a funny movie or show together to unwind or give each other back rubs. Oh, and don’t forget the dessert!

Why Does the Reset Work?
Back to that picture I took of the ugly ruts. The next day, I woke up to blue sky with a blanket of snow covering the ugly, muddy ruts, reminding me that each day is a new day with fresh hope in a God who blankets us with his grace to start over (as many times as it takes in order to break free of the rut). As I headed back out to the dirt path, this time with warm sunshine on my face (and camera in my pocket), I was reminded of one of my favorite verses from the Bible, Romans 12:2 (NLT):

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but let God transform you by changing the way you think.

Those negative thoughts that sent my brain into a tizzy the day before were the pressures I – we all – feel to conform to the pattern of the world to be always striving, always comparing ourselves to others (and never measuring up). But by the grace of God I can exit the rut and start a new path. By the grace of God, my family and my marriage can move out of ruts as we continue to place our hope in God who makes all things new.

Marking a new path.

Marking a new path.

The walk I took with God the day before was the distraction I needed to remind me that God is not calling me to do more, but rather inviting me to live differently, to rise above the old patterns of thinking and knee-jerk responses to disappointments, and allow him to teach me to to be more joyful. Yes, there is more to this life. There is more joy, more love, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control that God wants to develop in me if I will stop looking down at the rut and instead look up.

Blue sky! Sunshine! A ditch! (Okay, ignore the ditch.)

Blue sky! Sunshine! A ditch! (Okay, ignore the ditch.)

Utilizing the reset button is one way that God is transforming me by literally changing the wiring of my brain as I cooperate with him when he makes me aware that I need to change the direction of my thinking. Just because certain neural-pathways have been well traveled for 40 years does not mean that I am stuck in a rut forever! God is able to transform me into a more positive, joyful person when I yield to the nudge to shift my focus off of whatever is irritating me – whether it’s the winter blahs, the pressure to conform to the world’s standard for (unattainable) success, a string of unpleasant circumstances, or a hormone-induced mood swing – and accept God’s gift of grace to choose to momentarily focus on something that brings me (and my family) joy and reminds me that God is the giver of all good things. The power to change comes from God, the reset button is the tool he’s given me to help me transition out of my ruts, and the result is a more joyful life that benefits both me and my loved ones. Glory to God!

God, examine me and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any bad thing in me.
    Lead me on the road to everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 (NCV)

 

 

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Yesterday, I wrote a version of 1 Corinthians 13 that reflected my view of what love looks like for me as a mom.  Oh, it was very creative and well thought out. This morning I erased it. Sure, I could try to describe for you what love should look like for a mom, but the truth is I’ll probably fail to meet those expectations by lunchtime.  The danger in comparing ourselves against a list of criteria meant to artificially define holiness is that we have one of two responses:

  1. Look at how good I am, according to that list. I must be a “good Christian.”
  2. I fall short of that list, so God must be disappointed in me. I should try harder, but what’s the point? I’ll never be good enough.

The first trap is self-righteousness that does away with the need for God (until our world falls apart or we blow it in some way). The second trap is legalism, attempting to define our worth in God’s eyes by our works and ability to follow our rules. Thankfully, we who are in Christ Jesus are saved by grace and no longer live under the “law” – which includes all my good intentions and “shoulds” that I’ve tried to live up to.  Grace is the doorway to freedom in Christ, but many devoted Christians refuse to walk through it because we can’t accept that God could love us as we are.

This morning, during my precious quiet time with Jesus, I was reminded that God is love.  To live a life that is characterized by love simply means staying connected to the Source of love. Rather than striving to live up to a list of expectations, the only way I can truly love others is to keep my eyes fixed on the One who gave up the riches of Heaven to die for me because he loved me while I was still in the depths of my sin.

So instead of sharing with you what I think love should look like, based on 1 Cor. 13, let me tell you Who love looks like.

God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud.  God does not dishonor others, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs.  God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God never fails.

To be filled with love is the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, because God is love. Do you want to know how to love others; how to be an effective parent, spouse, member of the Body of Christ? The answer is not in doing more and serving more and working harder to please God. He already loves you. All we need to do is come before him daily with a grateful heart, asking him to fill us with his Spirit, and thanking him in advance for loving us and providing us with everything we need to live a fruitful life. For “the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The trick is to not go back to the legalism of trying to define what “fruitful” looks like according to the world’s standards, or even well-meaning Christian definitions like the one I tried to write (or all those inspirational quotes on Facebook that constantly remind us that we’re falling short in some area where we really should BE MORE AWESOME).  Oh, I know the fear that creeps in when we dare to preach grace because “someone” might use it as an excuse to break the rules! Dear one, let God be the judge.  He made the rules, and he chose the way of love and grace and mercy when we didn’t deserve it.

God is love. Will you let go of the guilt of not measuring up and allow him to love you today?

 

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I recently wrote about the importance of struggle in our growth, and how we’re learning as a family to face our challenges and see them as beneficial.  I encouraged those who are in need of God’s wisdom to ask him for it, believing that God desires to give generously to all who ask.  This week, however, God showed me in a dramatic way that not only does he listen and respond to our prayers (even though that response may sometimes be a “no”), God’s provision for us is already in place before we even ask.

This week, I felt burdened by the struggles my kids are facing, as well as my own struggle that seems to surface around this time each year.  I’ll admit, I was pretty stressed out and grumpy at the beginning of the week.  But with the tiniest ounce of faith I could muster, I asked God to give me special insight into my kids and show me how to encourage them in their struggles.  Within minutes, the Holy Spirit gave me Bible verses for each of them, and soon I was on a treasure hunt around the house, gathering up items to give my visual learners a picture of how God desires to encourage them.  Not only did God have a word for them, however, he had a word and visual picture for me that I was to acknowledge before them.  Apparently, God felt like my kids needed to know that they’re not alone in their struggles.

Nov 2014 005

I bought this set of bags at the dollar store months ago.  I had a vague idea of how I would use them that never panned out, so they were just sitting in my closet.  I filled these bags with items for each intended recipient, and set them on the table before breakfast to pique the kids’ curiosity.  After breakfast, I told the kids that each bag represented a struggle one of us was facing, and how God wanted to help us face our struggles.

Hope
God gave me the word, “hope,” as a keyword for my son’s struggle with math.  Here are the verses God brought to my mind.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).  Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).

Inside his bag was a Lego pencil case (leftover from a failed attempt to make a Lego car Halloween costume a few years ago) filled with Lego-like candy bricks that I’d bought for his birthday, but never used.  We talked about how he gets overwhelmed and discouraged in math because the problems he’s doing now have multiple steps, so math feels tedious and exhausting to him.  He shuts down and just gives up because he feels hopeless that he’ll ever finish.  But the “God of hope” wants him to trust that not only can God fill him with joy, peace, and hope in the midst of his struggles, God will finish the work he’s started in my son.  (Any other moms need that word of encouragement today?!!)

Nov 2014 007

Just like the huge Lego creations he admires from master Lego builders that take hours of tedious, repetitive building, the work he’s doing now in math is part of God’s master plan for him some day (especially if he ends up being an engineer, which his innate spacial and mechanical abilities would suggest).  I told my son to take the Lego bricks upstairs to the computer where he does his math, and after each problem he finishes he can place a candy brick on top of another one, turning them into a creation.  At the end of the assignment, he can eat one of the bricks if he wants to (which means I’ll, obviously, be buying more).  When he gets discouraged by the tediousness of math, he can look at the bricks and visualize his own mental abilities growing one brick at a time, while being reminded that God is the Master Builder who will not give up on him.

Courage
God gave me the word, “courage,” for my daughter who came home in tears after her first practice in the new performance group she was chosen for at her dance studio.  Instead of being in the beginner group with the girls she knows, like last year, she was chosen for an advanced group with all older girls and no one she knows.  She felt like she couldn’t keep up with the steps and was in over her head.  This is my sensitive girl who doesn’t like to make mistakes or let anyone down, so being in the front row (which is a position of honor, but terrifying for her) is even more stressful, especially when the instructor had to stop and single out my daughter for help.  She wanted to quit because she feared failing and letting the group down.  As I’ve mentioned before, she’s a mini-me, so my heart went out to her.  But God reminded me of a verse I had my daughter memorize years ago, and I encouraged her to say it with me that morning at breakfast.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9

I asked her if she could face her metaphorical “wall of Jericho” at dance class, knowing that God was with her, giving her courage.  Looking up at me with her big eyes and tender heart toward Jesus she responded, “Yes.”  I then had her open her gift, a butterfly necklace.  I honestly don’t remember when I bought the necklace or why, but I know it was over 5 years ago and had been sitting in a jewelry basket ever since.  But God brought that necklace to mind, along with an illustration I shared with the kids about how a butterfly needs to struggle to get out of its cocoon in order for its wings to be ready to fly.  If someone breaks open the cocoon, in an attempt to help, it only hinders the necessary work of preparing the butterfly to do what it’s created to do – to fly.

Nov 2014 008

I shared with my tender girl that as much as it breaks my heart to see her struggling, she is in the process of becoming a beautiful butterfly, and I don’t want to hinder God’s intended process for transformation by pulling her out of her struggles.  I am who I am because of – not just in spite of – the difficulties I’ve faced.  God can use every obstacle we overcome to build our testimony and strengthen our wings to fly.  I then pointed to the word, “Best,” on the necklace, and told her that God doesn’t require perfection from her in order to be a beautiful butterfly; she only needs to do her best.  (Honestly, I think it was half of a “Best Friends” necklace, which is why it ended up at the dollar store, but she didn’t need to know that!)  I also pulled out some butterfly wall stickers that I’d bought months ago – again, for no apparent reason – and told her that we’d add one to the walls in her room after each dance practice, as a reminder that God is using the struggle to strengthen her to fly.

Strength
There was one last bag on the table, and the kids assumed it must be for Dad.  But it was meant for me.  As I promised, in my Pledge to blog the whole truth, I’ll be honest and confess that I’ve been dealing with my own struggles lately.  As I mentioned above, it’s nothing new, and seems to surface each year as the holidays approach.  My struggle is with contentment.  We’re approaching 6 years of being the gluten free weirdos, and 5 years of being the gluten free weirdos who homeschool, so the holidays always usher in the comparison monster who invites me to the pity party of Woe-Is-Me and It’s-Unfair.  We’re also approaching our first Christmas in 5 years with the freedom to actually spend money on gifts.  For ourselves.  That last one seems like it should be a good thing, right?  But when you’ve spent 5 years prioritizing needs, spending all gift money on the kids or repairing/replacing broken items, and ignoring all wants (due to years of unemployment/underemployment), figuring out when it’s okay to actually buy something you want is incredibly stressful.  In the midst of my misery, as I was trying to sort through feelings and get to God’s truth, God pointed me to an unlikely source of encouragement: my 3-years-ago self.  I read my post on Saying No to Materialism This Christmas that I’d written in the middle of my husband’s year of unemployment, and was reminded that the same God who gave me contentment during that difficult season of my life intends to give me contentment now.  The verses God gave me are:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

I was reminded, once again, that contentment in all circumstances comes from God who gives us either the strength to endure and be content with less when we are in times of want, or the strength to live an unselfish, disciplined life of contentment in times of plenty.  Contentment doesn’t mean never wanting anything for yourself; it means recognizing when you have enough and saying no to greed.  Whatever amount is “enough” is between you and God.  So if God can give us this strength, why do I so often feel weak?  Next, God pointed me to Isaiah 40:31 in the NET version.

But those who wait for the LORD’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired.

Simply put, when I surround myself with the noise of consumerism and comparison, and plow ahead on my agenda without first waiting on God and seeking his direction and help, I get tired and weary.  I get grumpy.  I snap at my family and whine to God.  But when I wait on the Lord, I find that just like he had the bags and gift items waiting around for me to use, his strength and provision are already available to me.  I simply need to quiet my heart and look to him to fill me up.

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To illustrate this, God even had a gift to go in my bag.  It still makes me teary to think about it.  God directed me to go out into the garage and pull out of the “emergency gift bin” a pretty box containing a Santa mug and plate I’d been given 5 years ago as a thank you gift for teaching my daughter’s Sunday School class.  Because money was tight, I had set is aside, in case I needed a gift for someone.  For 5 years, it sat in the bottom of that bin, and this week God revealed why.  Someone else needs to hear this message with me today.

Some things are not meant to be given away.  Some gifts are just for me because my Heavenly Father loves me and desires to bless me.

The cup represents my need to be filled by God with his strength in order to be content and do the work he’s called me to do.  The plate represents my gifts to others, and reminds me to make sure that I’m giving what God’s asking me to give, not just what others expect me to give.  I must be filled up in order to give, and carefully discern God’s still small voice amid the pressures all moms feel to be all, do all, and give all.  What God enables me to do and be and give is enough.  I can be content in whatever circumstances through Christ who gives me strength.

God is the giver of all good things (James 1:17), and he has already provided everything we need to live the life he’s called us to live (2 Peter 1:3).  Perhaps, what you need is even in your closet or emergency gift bin right now!  Ask God to show you what what he has set aside for you today, and trust him to give you hope, courage, and strength.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. – Ephesians 3:20

 

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