February 20, 2018

The Olympics: Taking it Further

As you read this, the Winter Olympics are just days away from wrapping up for another four years. Perhaps you’ve watched the medal rounds for a few favorite sports. Or maybe you’re a diehard fan who’s streamed coverage during all your waking hours. As Kathy and I have discussed in the last few newsletters, the Olympic spectacle is a great object lesson for imparting to our kids inspiring lessons about important character traits like perseverance and graciousness. It can also be a tool – even as it wraps up – to help our kids expand their understanding of the world.

I have some friends who’ve jettisoned their usual homeschool lessons for the past month in favor of an in-depth Olympic-themed unit study. In the process, they’ve used the Olympics as a portal for learning in all content areas – language arts, science, history, geography, health, and even math, art, and music. But one needn’t be a homeschooler – or a homeschooler who dropped everything else in February – to use the Olympics in this way.

Because the Olympics showcases athletes from many countries, it presents a perfect opportunity to introduce our kids to other nations and people groups with – for Christians – a special emphasis on the missional mind of our God.

So here’s an assignment for you: Even if you haven’t watched any events up till now, set aside Sundaynight, February 25 – beginning at 8PM EST – as family time, and watch the closing ceremony together. Pray together first, that God would show you which particular nations He would like your family to be mindful of this year. Then, as the ceremony starts and you enjoy the pomp and celebration, ask each family member to make note of which flags and teams stand out, and keep a running tally, no matter how long. Choose to trust that the countries which your kids and you notice are the ones the Lord has for your family, and then use that list for weekly or monthly family study. 

Your activities can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like. Perhaps you merely use a wall map or atlas and a resource like Operation World or You Can Change the World  to read about and pray over the needs in one country once a week or once a month; even “just” that will begin to awaken your kids’ minds and hearts to the world and God’s plan for it. Or maybe you and your kids love to cook so you work together to research and then make a meal related to each country when you have a devotional time.

You could extend activities throughout the week by gathering picture books for each country in turn – most libraries have a good selection for many countries – to use as daily read-alouds with your young children. You could also research country-specific crafts and projects. And – no matter where they attend school – you might encourage older kids to find related books to use with literature assignments and during free-reading time. Additionally, as your school-aged children and teens get various assignments through the year – for research and writing, in particular – suggest using the Olympic country list for topic ideas.

When it comes to using an event like the Olympics for learning about the world, the sky’s the limit. Use the list you create during the closing ceremony all throughout the year to take it further in whatever ways strike you as you go. A year from now, you’ll all know a lot more about several countries and their people than you do today. And that can only be a good thing.


February 6, 2018

Be Intentional

Though both my daughters took dance lessons for a number of years and were once pursued by a local swim team, neither has an interest in competitive sports. They do, however, choose to participate in “Solo & Ensemble,” a competition-of-sorts for teen musicians that draws 100,000 kids from across our state every year.

Solo & Ensemble is a different type of competition, in that each participant is actually “competing” against himself more than anyone else. In other words, each musician aims to perform to the best of his ability at the festival, and the adjudicator compares his performance against a rubric designed specifically for that event. Performers have access to the rubrics as they prepare, so they know from the beginning what they’re shooting for if the goal is to receive the highest score, referred to as “a first.” Every participant can earn “a first” – but only if the clear, measurable parameters defined by the rubric are met. Judges fill out a rubric form during a performance and add specific notes as needed; most also take time to verbally “debrief” with the student.

As a parent who participated in Solo & Ensemble when I was a teen, I was pleasantly surprised to see this level of precision because the process was much more subjective when I competed. The rubric system is still open to some human error – my daughter was downgraded on one song for singing what her judge deemed to be “incorrect rhythms” even though her vocal coach knew from extensive research ahead of time that what my daughter had sung was actually correct – but it’s a vast improvement over what previously existed.

When our kids participate in competitive events of any sort, this type of objective specificity is incredibly helpful in terms of teaching them to lose – and win – well. When children and teens watch Olympic events, football games, and shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent, they only see the end result. And in our instant-gratification culture, they tend to want that same sort of success and fame for themselves without grasping reality – i.e., that it took years of sweat, toil, and tears for the “stars” to get where they are. It’s our responsibility to bridge that gap.

And we can do that by finding ways to provide specific, measurable feedback to them as they learn various skills and seek to improve. If a child doesn’t place at a skating event and can see it’s because she didn’t execute particular elements of her Triple Lutz, she can more readily accept the loss without giving up and know that she has a chance next time if she practices and ultimately masters specific moves. Likewise, if a team wins a basketball championship, they’ll be “good winners” – happy and humble, not arrogant – if they realize the victory came not by “magic” or “luck,” but, rather, because they chose to drill rudimentary skills as their coach directed.

Competition isn’t a bad thing; used correctly, it can motivate and inspire our kids toward excellence. But in order to compete well, they must know precisely what “success” looks like and how to get there. So be intentional about providing them with the specific, measurable feedback they need.


January 16, 2018

True Winners

This year’s Winter Olympics kick off on February 9. I’m unsure how much of it my family and I will watch, but I was often glued to the television during “Olympic season” as a kid. Stereotypically, my favorites were women’s gymnastics in the summer and figure skating in winter. And, though I merely watched gymnastics, I often pretended to be an Olympic ice skater when my brother and I went to the Saturday morning open skate at our local rink.

I can easily recall the names of several gymnasts and skating champions from my childhood. But now that I’m a parent, I wonder how many were actually winners?

If they were pursuing their own dreams – and eventually reached the pinnacle of Olympic excellence as a result – they were winners. But I believe those who got silver and bronze – or never even made it to the platform – were winners as well…if their Olympic experience was a personal passion fulfilled to the best of each one’s ability. On the other hand, I’d say that if any of them – even the medal holders – were not in it for the right reason, they weren’t winners at all.

I was the valedictorian of my high school class and graduated magna cum laude with my college degree. I do have an ability to learn well and retain thoroughly, so “academic achievement” came rather naturally. But I didn’t pursue those goals from a point of passion and joy, so I don’t consider myself a “winner” in that realm. I got my “good grades” out of fear – fear that I’d be rejected if I didn’t perform “well enough.” In fact, I was so consumed with perfectionism based on academics that I didn’t have any idea what God had actually wired me for until well into adulthood. I’m not stuck in regret – God uses all things for the good of those who love Him – but I do sometimes wonder how things might have been different for me if I’d not fallen into the people-pleasing trap of “perfect” performance.

As parents, one of our main jobs is to be “students” of our children. In other words, we must purpose to discover over time how the Lord has uniquely wired each one and then do everything we can to nurture and grow what we see as His orchestration, not our own machinations. Part of that involves helping our children see reality – for example, fewer than 2,900 men hold roster spots on NFL teams every year and only 704 are starters. But there’s a lot of room in between pipe dreams and extreme utilitarianism. It’s hard work, but it is possible to help every child find and develop his or her real gifts and talents and learn to apply them to real world reality as adults.

We must play our assigned role of “assistant coach” to the best of our ability, purposing to implement the Head Coach’s game plan, not our own. If we do that, each of our children will come out as true winners.

January 9, 2018

Live in Such a Way

I’m in the middle of what – for me – is the hardest season of parenting I’ve experienced so far.

I have teens, but it’s not that they’re “difficult.” Not at all. I actually enjoy these years for many reasons – when I was a classroom teacher, I chose to spend my entire career working with teens – and my daughters are – though obviously not perfect – very good girls who bring me great joy.

The problem is that I’m much closer than not to having to “give them up.” Of course, I’ve known that reality since before I had them; we aim to raise children into healthy adulthood precisely so they can eventually make their own confident way in the world. But now – as I navigate the tightrope of continuing to provide enough guidance and oversight on the one hand while letting go enough on the other – it’s hitting me viscerally. And it’s hard.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that other seasons of parenting life aren’t difficult as well. For some, the “baby years” are excruciating. For others, it’s the toddler and preschool time. And some wrestle most with having children in the “school-age” or ‘tween phases.

I’m not a moral relativist by any stretch of the imagination; when it comes especially to biblical precepts, right is right and wrong is sin. But I’ve learned over the years that when it comes to some matters of daily life – for example, the parenting experiences we each navigate – there is quite a bit of “gray.” Thus, some of my friends cannot understand why this “letting go” phase is hard for me because – for one reason or another – they didn’t struggle much with it themselves. Others only have young children and they’re convinced their current experience – filled to the brim with sleep deprivation, poopy diapers, and temper tantrums – is the hardest time anyone can endure.

In the context of my life – for me, with my kids – they’re all “wrong.” But I’ve determined I shouldn’t disavow any of them of their feelings. The fact is that each parenting journey – just like each of our individually-designed children – is unique. What’s hard for me is easy for someone else; what I can coast through is a deep struggle for another. The truth is that our perception of parenting life is as unique as our individual fingerprints.

As we begin a new year – at which time many set resolutions or goals of various sorts – what would happen if we decide to respect each other as parents? To put an end to the one-upmanship we too often indulge? To choose trust rather than skepticism in regards to others’ parenting choices? To uphold and build up instead of sniping and tearing down? What could we all say about our experience as parents – whatever the circumstances, good and bad, through which we’ll walk over the next 12 months – if we knew others would support and help us along the way rather than trying to convince us that they know better?

We can envision the beautiful results. Now let's live in such as way as to make that our reality a year from now.


December 19, 2017

Mary and Regular Joe

Mary was a young teenager when she gave birth to Jesus. Joseph was a bit older, but he was certainly as unprepared as she to raise the child thrust upon him. The angel who initially encouraged each of them announced that the baby would be “the Savior,” so they had a glimpse of how his life would turn out. But, of course, they couldn’t possibly have guessed the painful journey He’d need to take in the process.

Yet they managed, successfully raising Jesus to adulthood in the face of continual gossip about His paternity and despite living in relative poverty. How did they do it?

God didn’t give them the ethereal halos with which they’re so often portrayed in Medieval paintings. They were regular people, aiming to do their best – no doubt stumbling through plenty hard days along the way – without really knowing the “end game” for Jesus or their other children. They relied on the Scriptures available to them at the time, the Holy Spirit with Whom they’d been infused, and supportive friends, family, and community members. They lived by faith that God was with them and would guide them each day, week, month, and year.

Of course, none of our kids is destined to be the Savior of the world – that job’s already been taken! – but the Lord does have a unique, individual plan for each of them nonetheless. And He will guide us step by step, the same as He did Joseph and Mary, as we choose to walk by faith through the parenting process. Though His plan will sometimes differ from our expectations, He always works everything for the ultimate good of those who love Him. He did it for Mary and her “regular Joe” husband; He’ll do it for us, too.
Photo Credit: Charles Wiriawan

December 12, 2017

Can You?

My kids are old enough to stay home alone, but neither is yet driving for herself so I find myself living the life of a chauffeur. And one of the things I most enjoy about this “season” is the opportunity to have regular one-on-one time with each of my girls as I drive to and from various activities. We don’t listen to the radio, and they don’t text friends or surf the ‘net; we talk with each other.

On one recent excursion, my very sanguine younger daughter and I got on the topic of “philosophy of life,” and she optimistically said, “My philosophy comes down to not worrying. God knows everything that’s going to happen and there’s a reason for all of it, so why worry?”

Of course, she’s right, and we shouldn’t be surprised when wisdom comes from the lips of children (Matthew 21.16). In fact, her conviction – which I see played out daily in her life…and which humbles me greatly – is absolutely biblical (Jeremiah 29.11, Romans 8.28).

We might think she’s naïve because she’s “only” an adolescent – and one whose life has thus far been shielded from much of anything terribly traumatic. But truth is truth; it’s not less true when delivered by a young person (1 Timothy 4.12), and it doesn’t change even if some “more mature” people have allowed their hearts and minds to become jaded by life circumstances.

My daughter’s faith in a “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4.7) got me thinking about some of the many parents with whom I interact daily. These folks are anxious about nearly every aspect of their children’s growth and development. Not intentional, involved, and proactive – all of which are very positive parenting attributes – but literally worried. They fret over everything – sure they’re making all the wrong choices or not ever doing enough, and convinced that there’s something terribly abnormal with this child or that. They’re making themselves sick by attempting to control every outcome and stressing their children in the process.

Intentionality is good. Seeking wise counsel is…well, wise. But what would happen if we aimed to adopt my daughter’s philosophy of life in regards to our children, leaning into two very important corollary truths:

  1. If God’s in control, He knows absolutely everything about the unique, individual child He’s given me – all the child’s strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, inclinations and aversions – and He has a specific, unique plan for the unfolding of that child’s life;
  2. God entrusted that child to me…which means that He – knowing all of my strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, inclinations and aversions – trusts and will (daily) empower me (despite myself) to help the child uncover and fulfill His plan.

In other words, what would happen if we chose to truly walk in faith in regards to our children? To make our plans as they seem good and healthy, yes, but to also give God wide berth to redirect our paths as He sees fit (Proverbs 16.9) without reacting like Chicken Little when He does?

Think for a moment about one area of current “concern” for each of your children. Rather than unproductively worrying or fretfully micromanaging, can you, instead, give those issues to God and purpose to trust Him to work things out over time according to the unique plan He already has in mind? Can you decide to observe and facilitate rather than control?

Photo Credit: jonathan lopez

October 31, 2017

I Don’t Understand But I Trust You

I wrote last time about the reality that “only a child’s parents are ultimately accountable to the Lord for their [parenting] choices” and that “absent a direct request or a case of clear, imminent danger, we need to respect that boundary.”

I firmly believe in those principles. But another reality is that we do live in community, interacting daily with friends, family, and others in our congregations, neighborhoods, and towns. And, though feeling entitled to opine about others’ choices is one troubling side effect of “social media culture,” the opposite end of the spectrum – feeling paralyzed to broach any potentially sensitive topic for fear of “offending” someone – is just as irksome.  The fact is that we shouldn’t have to feel so bound by “political correctness” that we can never ask questions or express opinions in the context of relationship.

But how on earth do we begin to strike the right balance?

I’ve parented my children almost to adulthood, and along the way I’ve made some choices that exist far outside the box of conventional thought while also choosing at times to follow social “norms.” So I feel capable of providing some guidance on this topic. And I believe these principles apply regardless of the specific “concern” – whether it be how/where a child is educated, a parent’s vaccine choices, dietary preferences, disciplinary methods, or any other parenting decision.

First, relational proximity matters. Thus, while close friends and some family and community members have a “right” to engage in these discussions, acquaintances, distant relatives, and “random strangers” on the street do not. In other words, we need to choose to refrain from criticizing or even commenting on choices made by those with whom we don’t have a significant relationship. For example, though my mother-in-law might be justified in wondering why my children aren’t doing homeschool lessons on a particular day, the woman at the park with her grandkids was out of line when she approached me, demanding to know, “Why aren’t those kids in school?”

Second, tone matters. Even if we have a “right” – by virtue of a close enough relationship – to ask about a parenting decision, we must still do so with respect. Perhaps, for example, I have a concern about my best friend’s choice to put her family on a vegetarian diet. Because I’m part of her inner circle, it’s not inappropriate to ask. But how I broach the subject is important. It would be wrong to say, “Sally, you’re ruining your kids’ health by cutting out meat!” But I could say, “Sally, I admit I really don’t know about veganism. Can you help me understand why you’ve gone this route?” As the old adage goes, we catch more flies with honey than vinegar – and we maintain more relationships with kindness than contempt.

Finally, grace matters most of all. Sometimes, though we’ve approached a topic in the right way and engaged in a positive and thorough conversation, we’ll still disagree with another’s parenting choice. And we have to be okay with that. We must accept the other person’s right to choose differently than we would, both because it’s the right thing to do and because we want to give the same grace we hope to be granted. In such situations, there’s really only one appropriate response: “I don’t understand, but I trust you.” If you love the person in question more than you love being “right,” you can do it.

Photo Credit: Gareth Williams

October 17, 2017

They’re Not Your Kids

One of the many troubling side effects of “social media culture” is our propensity to believe we have a right to an opinion about everything.

Of course, we must deal with that on social media itself. If I choose, for example, to post on Facebook or Twitter, I must be prepared to receive “feedback” from whoever sees my words, including the inevitable negative responses. If I don’t want pushback, I should keep my thoughts to myself...and my fingers away from my keyboard. Like it or not, that’s the nature of social media.

However, the social media mindset seems, unfortunately, to have bled into real life. And coupled with what I see as a disturbing trend toward “collectivizing” every experience – i.e., the misguided notion that an individual’s decisions must be made or validated by “the group” – it seems that more and more people believe they have a right to opine about others’ personal lives even without being asked. And this misconception seems to run especially rampant when it comes to parenting.

Don’t get me wrong. If I consciously ask for others’ thoughts in regards to a parenting decision – whether online or in real life – it’s appropriate for them to express their views. And, while I remain free to take or leave what they say, I can’t get bent out of shape if someone expresses ideas with which I disagree. If I asked, I must be willing to at least give a hearing to all responses.

The problem arises when we don’t ask but are subjected to others’ unsolicited feedback anyway.

Simply put, it’s grossly inappropriate to muscle in on anyone else’s parenting decisions. The Lord gives to parents alone the right and responsibility to raise up the children with whom He’s blessed them. Family, friends, and those in one’s faith community might help. But, absent a direct request or a case of clear, imminent danger, we need to respect that boundary. We value the opportunity to parent according to our convictions, and we must grant that same respect to others. 

Thus, if my friend is led to homeschool but I argue against it, I’m wrong. Or if my cousin chooses to send her kids to the local public school but I lobby against her, I’m wrong.

If I’ve decided against vaccination but my mother badgers me about it, she’s wrong. Or if I’m convinced to follow my doctor’s vaccination schedule but my neighbor dumps anti-vax literature on my doorstep, she’s wrong.

If I co-sleep and decide on an all-organic diet but my father-in-law makes snide comments, he’s wrong. Or if I’ve decided my kids can have some Cheetos and a Coke now and then but my pastor pulls me aside to “talk about it,” he’s wrong.

As you can imagine, I could give countless examples. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we should all admit that we’ve inappropriately crossed the line with other parents. But that doesn’t make it right. And it needs to stop.

I have many dear friends and family members who have chosen different parenting paths than my husband and I. Sometimes I’m tempted to lob an unsolicited opinion – and I know I’ve occasionally failed to bite my lip. But I know the truth – that only a child’s parents are ultimately accountable to the Lord for their choices – and so I’ve learned to stay mum unless I’m asked...and I apologize when I cross the line. I make myself remember the bottom line – they’re not my kids – and I decide to grant to my loved ones the same grace I hope they’ll grant to me.

Photo Credit: Geoffrey Froment

October 3, 2017

The Breakwater Effect

I think we can all agree on principle that choosing to do the right thing even when it’s hard and no one else is looking is a good goal. And we’ve spent the last several months describing ways in which you might both encourage your children toward that end and move yourself down the road as well. But why?

Why is this a good goal?

First, it keeps us grounded, personally and spiritually. When we know we’ve violated the willing-good character precept in some way, we experience inner conflict we can accurately label as legitimate guilt. And if we don’t resolve the situation, that guilt spreads like a noxious weed in a garden, slowly but surely choking out inner peace, joy, and contentment. Likewise, if we understand biblical theology, we know that even when it seems “no one” is watching, God – in His omnipresence – is (Psalm 139.7-12). Thus, when we knowingly choose to do the wrong thing, we know we’ve hurt Him, and a barrier to spiritual peace stands as an internal obstacle until we actively resolve the situation. We avoid such discord when we choose willing-good character.

Second, a decision to embrace willing-good character protects our relationships. We all know people who openly and regularly engage in negative, abusive behavior towards others, and it often seems as if they face no consequences. After a while, we might even begin to despair at doing the right thing, feeling it makes no difference. But both common sense and Scripture tell us that the results of unrepentant sin eventually catch up (Psalm 1), inevitably wreaking sometimes-irreparable havoc within and without. In contrast, though we may experience some short-term relational angst if we always choose to do right, we will eventually find reconciliation and reward (Proverbs 14.14).

Finally, a decision to embrace willing-good character helps to stem the tide of cultural decay. We can all see the tragic and exponential growth of what we might call “willing-bad character” all around us in every sphere of life; in fact, it almost seems as if “everyone else” has given up trying to be good and so, we surmise, it won’t make a difference if we allow ourselves to be swept up in the cultural current.

But if you’ve ever stood on the shore of a large body of water where either a natural or man-made breakwater exists, you know that stemming the tide is possible. A breakwater serves, quite literally, to break up the power of the incoming water so that it either comes to rest in a harbor or tide pool or at least laps the shoreline rather than smashing into it. And, of course, the larger the breakwater, the more pronounced its calming effect.

Let each of us committed to developing and practicing willing-good character think of ourselves as one stone in a cultural breakwater. One stone stems the tide a little bit and that’s good in and of itself. But many stones melded together by the Master Coastal Engineer work together – each one breaking a portion of the tide – to create peace and calm for all at the shore.
Photo Credit: Chris Sorge

September 19, 2017

We Can Too

Kathy and I have spent the last several months talking about willing-good character – defining and describing it, and delineating ways in which you might encourage your kids to develop it. And then Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit – as of this writing, José and at least one other remain at sea – giving us all opportunities to witness willing-good character writ large in living color right before our eyes.

If you’ve been paying attention to any news coverage, you know what I’m talking about. People like:
  • The folks who held onto one end of a rope while a friend held the other and waded out into the middle of a flooded street, stretching as far as he could in order to grab the hand of one in a group of three men on the far side the road needing to get to safety;
  • The man who gently carried a woman not his wife through waist-deep water to safety, as she cradled her baby close to her chest;
  • The stranger who rescued my friend’s sister and elderly mother from their flooded home;
  • The Cajun Navy (need I say more?!);
  • The nun taking it to fallen trees with a chainsaw to begin the clean-up process in her area.

We saw these and other acts of willing-good character not because people were looking for publicity but simply because the ubiquitous news crews sent to document the events surrounding the storms happened to catch them on camera. As far as these and other heroes of the hurricanes were concerned, though, the cameras were invisible. These good folks were simply helping because it was the right thing to do. They didn’t care if anyone else knew; they just did what they saw needed to be done. They exhibited willing-good character without giving it a second thought. And, though we’ve heard of some instances of looting and price gouging, the prevailing narrative remains on the vast majority, who appears intent on doing right by those around them.

As scary as hearing about these uncontrollable natural disasters surely was for some kids and as difficult as recovery will be, we can find cheer in these people. And we can use the stories of the hurricane heroes as object lessons for our kids. If – in the worst of times – so many can so readily demonstrate willing-good character, we can too.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...