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.


September 5, 2017

You Will Get There

“My days are full of correcting, scolding, and disciplining.”

These were the recent words of a frustrated young mom, upset because her “almost five-year old” doesn’t make her bed without reminders, do other daily chores without help, and respond with first-time obedience every time it’s demanded. Knowing that many of her expectations are developmentally inappropriate, my heart ached for the mom...and her child.

Parenting is really hard work – and the first several years are especially physically exhausting and mentally draining. It’s not unusual to fall into the habit of feeling defeated, fearing that all the effort will never pay off. Maintaining hope that kids will ever choose consistently good behavior is difficult.

However, making the decision to pursue optimism is crucial in helping kids eventually reach the goal of having willing-good character. Through all the hard work and over the long haul, they must know we believe they can eventually choose to do the right thing even when it’s hard and no one else is looking.

One of my daughters was extremely impulsive as a little girl. She rarely meant to be “sassy.” But she was curious and failed even more than other young children to consider the consequences of her actions, so she tried things that were inappropriate or risky. For example, she crawled onto her highboy dresser when she was only two, and she put her fingers around the prongs of a plug as she was turning on Christmas tree lights – despite having been warned otherwise – because she wondered what it would be like to “be ‘lectrocuted.” Though she tended not to repeat the same “experiment” once my husband and I addressed the situation, I did worry that she’d never be able to think before acting.

That said, I also knew it would be wrong to make her think I didn’t believe in her. So I worked really hard to maintain overall optimism with and about her. I guarded my tongue when correcting her, sticking with the immediate situation at hand and avoiding global statements like, “You always...” or “You’ll never...” And if I found myself falling into a pattern of negative thinking about her, I scolded myself and shook myself out of it.

My child is 16 now and recently became a certified lifeguard after being recruited for the job at our local fitness center. Her new boss had noticed not only her strong swimming skills, but also the grace and gravitas with which she now carries herself, and asked her to pursue certification. Her new job requires both maturity and an ability to react quickly. So, interestingly, that means that both her childhood propensity to be always “on the move" and the ability she’s developed over time to think before acting impulsively have worked together for her good.

It was really hard work to regularly redirect her without crushing her spirit. I wasn’t sure all the time if I was doing things right – and I’m sure I didn’t always. But my focused intention was always optimistic consistency, and I’m so blessed now to be seeing fruit for my efforts.

You can see that too, in whatever way it will play out for your child. Focus on positive, pro-active training, and aim especially to guard your own heart in regards to your attitudes about your child, and you will get there.

August 22, 2017

Strength to Endure

Doing the right thing has never been easy.

Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, every human has struggled against his natural propensities to think and act in inappropriate, sinful ways (Jeremiah 17.9). But in some times and places, cultural norms have gravitated toward biblical values such that most individuals more often than not chose to act appropriately rather than suffer social sanction. And even when cultures have been more “neutral” toward biblical mores, there often existed a subtle, underlying understanding that principles like The Golden Rule were “just the right thing to do.” Thus, most people chose to behave accordingly in order to “fit in.”

However, in recent decades our culture has moved far from even the neutral stance. Thus, we’ve reached a sad cultural state in which “right” (i.e., biblical) behavioral choices are no longer supported, either overtly or covertly. In fact, a biblical worldview is now openly mocked and decried in many quarters. Just as the Apostle Paul lamented in Romans 1, “[people] not only continue to [sin], but also approve of [others] who [do].” 

In such an environment, it goes without saying that choosing to have a willing good character – deciding to do the right thing even when it’s hard and when no one is looking – takes, first, an inclination toward choosing non-conformity (Romans 12.2) and, second, the strength to endure in that commitment for the long haul.

It can be incredibly difficult to go against the cultural flow knowing that doing so may very well result in ridicule and marginalization. God has, after all, created us for relationship, so we desire meaningful connections with others. And if a decision to do right results in separation from those we love, the pain is real and deep. But God does tell us that he “is faithful, and…will not let [us] be tempted beyond [our] ability, but with the temptation…will also provide the way of escape, that [we] may be able to endure…” (1 Corinthians 10.13). Thus, we can purpose to rest in our knowledge of the truth that God is always with us and that he will provide the strength we need to continue to follow his ways.

Of course, these are hard truths even for adults to grasp because consistently choosing to see with “spiritual eyes” can be draining. And it’s even harder to help a hurting child who has, for example, been ostracized by a group of friends for refusing to go along with bad behavior. Our journey toward trusting God in all things – even when it puts us at odds with those around us – can only be taken one step at a time, day by day, in all its inherent messiness. But he is there with us, keeping his promises to strengthen us as we go. Let’s heed his call and encourage our children to come along with us.


August 8, 2017

New Every Morning

I wrote last time about how I’ve struggled with self-control in regards to respecting others. In thinking about my propensity to yell at fellow drivers from behind my rolled up car windows or to berate various customer service representatives via the relative anonymity of a phone call, I now see the sad reality – i.e., that I’ve demonstrated a disregard for those people in those situations. My actions reveal the fact that I struggle to see strangers for who they are – namely, incredible creations knit together in their mothers’ wombs by a God who loves them with His whole being. When that happens – when I essentially dehumanize another – it’s easy to treat them poorly. In other words, it’s hard to do the right thing when no one’s looking or when it’s hard – to have a willing-good character – when I fail to choose to see others as worthwhile human beings.

Put another way, if we want to develop a willing-good character in ourselves – and in our kids – we must decide to consistently choose to view other people – friends, family, strangers walking down the street, those with whom we differ politically, even “extra grace required” folks – the way God sees them, as revealed in the words and actions of Jesus. But how on earth do we do that?

Obviously, that’s part of our sanctification so it’s a process, not a one-time decision that “sticks” for the rest of our lives. And we can’t ultimately muscle it out in our own strength; indeed, regarding others positively really does take supernatural intervention in some situations!

But God tells us His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3.22-23). And I know it’s true for me – as well as for many others with whom I’ve spoken over the years – that when I purpose to spend time with Him first thing every morning, everything “goes better” through the day. That doesn’t mean my life is smooth sailing on days when I start out reading the Word and praying; goodness, sometimes those days have more “issues” than any other! But I’ve seen that I can manage life’s inevitable difficulties – including stressful interpersonal interactions – with grace and peace when I start my days in God’s presence. And I’m more able to help my children do the same when we all begin our days purposely focused on Him.

Our lives can feel so hectic at times that we might believe we don’t have time to devote to Him each morning. But, as the old saying goes, “If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy.” In other words, if we really do desire to respect others so we can demonstrate willing-good character toward them, we must set our priorities so we start each day with Him.

Photo Credit: Elis Alves

July 18, 2017

Self-Control: Can You Have It for Your Kids?

To say that I’m not a patient person by nature is a gross understatement. But ever since I became a mom, I’ve worked really hard at learning how to exhibit patience with my kids; it’s not always easy and I’ve failed much more than I’d like to admit. Yet I’ve made conscious decisions to apologize when I’ve blown it and so, by the grace of God, I know my kids see me as generally patient...with them.

However, just as when water spurts out a second hole in a hose when we plug the first, I used to allow myself to vent in other ways. In my case, I took great pleasure in ranting at “stupid” drivers – though, of course, only when my kids weren’t in the car with me – and giving “ridiculous” customer service representatives a big piece of my mind if they couldn’t instantly resolve the issue about which I’d called. As hard as it is to admit, it felt really good to blow off steam “anonymously” and I justified myself by making sure I only did it when my kids were out of earshot.

Until my one of my daughters called me out.

It turns out my “secret” rants were a lot louder than I’d thought. So when I’d believed my girls were occupied playing upstairs, they could hear me yell and, yes, even cuss out hapless company reps on the other end of my phone line. And a couple of years ago, one of them called me to account over my behavior.

I’m grateful she did. I couldn’t downplay or deflect because it was coming from my child. God used the commitment He’s given me to do right by my kids to get my attention. I had a self-control issue and despite my attempts to hide it, I was modeling inappropriate behavior to my children. It had to stop.

I admitted my sin and apologized to both my girls. Then – just between God and me – I committed to praying for self-control before making any potentially contentious phone call. And I could almost instantly tell a difference in my mood and demeanor when I did. I still lose patience at times, but now, more often than not, I don’t.

Several months after my daughter had first confronted me, she saw me hang up after one such call and said, “Wow, Mom. You’re doing so much better at that. I’ve noticed.”

One of the ways we help our kids develop a willing-good character is to model it ourselves. If we want our kids to exhibit the kind of self-control they’ll need to choose what’s right when it’s hard or when no one else is looking, we can teach them what self-control means, correct them when they fall short, and praise them to reinforce good choices. But we must also model in ourselves what we want to see in them, leaning into God and letting Him move through us in order to do so with consistency.

Can you think of an area in which you need to exhibit self-control? Perhaps realizing that your kids are watching will motivate you to work on it for the benefit of their ability to have willing-good character.

Photo Credit: lisaclarke

July 5, 2017

Baking Self-Respect

When my daughters were little, one of them regularly expressed her frustration over disagreements with her sister by biting. She’s since explained that after a certain age she unequivocally realized that verbally working out conflicts was right and more productive in the end – she was, after all, disciplined any time she bit her sister and usually had the very thing she’d wanted taken away for good. But she still bit because doing so was simpler and more satisfying in her young, immature way of thinking.

Of course, she doesn’t bite anymore and hasn’t for several years. But what ultimately influenced her to stop despite how “good” it felt to chomp at her sister’s arm?

Consistent discipline was critical. Brainstorming and role-playing alternative reactions had value. Fostering a spirit of cooperation between my daughters mattered. Modeling proper ways of responding to conflict helped. And praising her when she chose well was great reinforcement.

But all of those things were merely ingredients, the way eggs, milk, flour, and sugar serve as ingredients for cake. A bunch of eggs – even when cracked open and whisked – doesn’t transform into cake. A cupful of sugar cannot morph into a cake while it sits on the counter. In fact, we can have a ready supply of all those ingredients and use them liberally for various purposes. But unless we mix them together in the right proportions and then bake them – applying heat over time – we’ll never get the cake.

The same is true in regards to fixing childish behavior and poor choices our kids make. We do need good ingredients like consistent discipline and positive reinforcement. And we can’t skimp just because we’re tired; I had to keep at it with my daughter regardless of how her behavior exhausted me. But, honestly, just as a cake removed from the oven too soon will either ooze out of the pan or deflate before our eyes, we cannot rush the development of what it takes for kids to have a willing-good character.

My daughter is now an adolescent – a true young lady, not the stereotype of a “teen.” She would never dream of expressing frustration physically now. And, in fact, remembering her biting habit mortifies her. Why? Somehow – just like the mystery behind the chemical reactions inherent in cake baking – the combination of ingredients my husband and I chose “baked” in God’s “oven” of child development over time produced a beautiful “self-respect cake” in her.

My daughter knows right from wrong, but she knew it when she was still biting. The difference between then and now is that maturity has brought with it self-respect such that she now cares about the long-term ramifications of her actions within her own spirit. Being able to smile at herself in the mirror a month from now matters much more than instant gratification.

Again, working with good ingredients along the way is imperative; cake doesn’t get baked in an empty oven either! But the self-respect that has transformed our daughter into a young lady who is willing to make the right choices even when she doesn’t want to could only come over time.

As you’re “mixing up and baking” your child’s self-respect cake, anxious to taste it in all its glory, remember patience. Your child’s “cake” will be an amazing confectionary delight…in due time. 


Photo Credit: Peter Mooney 
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