Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Is For Moms

"A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world." – John 16:21

People always say that Christmas is for children. In many ways I agree with that. The sparkling lights, shiny decorations and stylish wrapping capture a child’s imagination in a way that few other experiences can. However, when you strip way the glitter and get down to the nitty gritty, I think Christmas is for moms.

A mom can understand the need to protect and support her husband, even if it means riding for days on a donkey while nine months pregnant. A mom can make any place feel like home for her child, even in a stable. Some translations of the Bible say that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths. Did Mary pack in anticipation of having her baby while on the road? The term swaddling implies that the cloths were meant for a baby.

Beyond the physical scene painted in Bethlehem, a mother can relate, in many ways, to Mary’s emotions as well. Every mother knows her child will be magnificent, even if an angel doesn’t come to tell her so. We all feel compelled to provide the best we can for our children, whether it comes in the form of accepting gifts from three strangers or working crazy hours to make sure there is food in his tummy and a onesie on his back. We go to great lengths to protect our little treasures, whether that means fleeing from an unstable king, or a pushy mother-in-law.

In the eyes of our babies, we see the future of the world. And while we don’t enter into motherhood knowing what role our child will play the way Mary did, the anticipation of what lies ahead keeps us hopeful from one Christmas to the next.

I pray that you, and your entire family, have a very blessed Christmas.

In honor of the holiday, I will take a break from blogging until the new year. I look forward to talking with you in 2009!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Faith in Those Around Us

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be Noah’s wife? She didn’t receive a message from God, yet her life was turned upside down by her husband’s mission to build the ark. She directly felt the impact of the long hours Noah spent building the ship. She got by with less when her husband used their resources for his project. She faced the ridicule of their friends and neighbors who didn’t understand why someone would build an enormous boat miles from any body of water. The Bible never tells us that God gave Noah’s wife any first-hand information. She had no choice but to trust her husband.

How do we respond to the calling of those around us? Had I been Noah’s wife, he would have endured a peppering of endless questions. God told you to do what? Are you sure it was God? How do you know? Are you sure this is what He told you? How do you know? Are you sure you are supposed to do this right now? How do you know?

My church is facing a situation where the elders have each received the same message from God (all nine of them), and the rest of the congregation is asking the questions. This is a dilemma we come across often in life. At what point do we trust another person to have accurately heard, interpreted, and understood a message from God, and when do we question? When God speaks to someone close to us, but leaves us in the dark, how do we respond?

I foresee having a hard time with this when my children get older and start telling me about their own callings. Will I trust that they have listened well to God and keep my hands to myself and my mouth shut as He uses them?

When God’s plans are directed at those around us and we struggle with knowing how to respond, the only thing we really can do is to pray. We can ask God to help us know how to react, how to participate, or to understand if any action is even necessary. When praying about our church situation earlier this week, God told me to hold the course. “You are right where I want you,” He said. “This is not a time I want you getting involved or rocking the boat.” Sometimes we have to be content in simply doing nothing more than having the faith to trust someone else.

Who is God calling you to trust today? What can you do to teach your children how to discern between trustworthy people and those who aren’t honest?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Heart Giving

Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. – Deuteronomy 15:10

Yesterday, I took Alyssa, my five-year-old, to visit my grandmother in a senior rehabilitation center. While we were there, a nurse came into my grandmother’s room and announced it was time for lunch. We decided to continue our visit in the cafeteria.

As soon as we came to the door of the dining room, Alyssa put on the brakes. A room full of elderly, wheelchair-bound strangers was just more than she could face. At my urging, she reluctantly entered the room, clinging to my leg.

Of course, the residents were entranced by the presence of a five-year-old in their midst. They all started whispering, “Oh look—a little girl!” “Isn’t she sweet?” “Isn’t her dress cute?” “Look at that hair!” They wanted her to come closer so they could get a good look and give her little pats on the head.

She was clearly terrified, but she politely greeted everyone who spoke to her and answered all of their questions with great poise and impeccable manners. The faces of the residents lit up as they sat starring at her, transfixed by her little voice. Her presence and her demeanor were gifts to the people struggling to recover from physical injuries. She was scared to be there and really had to work hard to give of herself to the residents, and this made her effort a true gift.

Her selflessness got me thinking about the way I give. I usually pick up simple material gifts that fit my budget and can be purchased at stores that are convenient for me and have hours that fit my schedule. What if, instead, I made an effort to give more of myself—more of my heart and more of my time? What if I gave sacrificially as Jesus taught us. What difference could I make in the lives of those around me?

This Thanksgiving, who can you bless with a gift from your heart?

In recognition of Thanksgiving, I will not post next week. Have a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Struggling To Reach The Goal

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. - Philippians 1:6

During the month of November, my writer’s group is having a challenge. Each member set goals at the beginning of the month, and we have thirty days to accomplish them.

I put serious thought into my goals. I wanted to set reasonable expectations while still stretching myself in meaningful ways.

Now, here we are, nearly halfway through the month, and I have made hardly a dent in accomplishing my objectives. My lack of forward momentum is frustrating, and as I cross off each day on the calendar, I feel the weight of a looming deadline pressing harder.

I am sure you’ve had a similar experience. In fact, our kids have them as well. One of my daughters is in the process of challenging herself to be more independent. We have always joked that her motto is, “Why do for yourself what others will do for you?” That is changing as we now hear, “Let me try it myself,” with increasing frequency (along with all of the tears that accompany her less successful efforts).

My other daughter is putting her energy into slowing down and doing nice, neat schoolwork. She is learning that often the correct answer is not enough, especially if the teacher can’t read it. She gets frustrated when her grades reflect her penmanship rather than her knowledge.

When I struggle with meeting my goals, it helps to have someone encourage me while also holding me accountable. We can be this “someone” for our children by cheering for each little step of progress they make and by not letting them give up when things get tricky, or when the thought of a different goal catches their fancy. For example, my messy writer knows that when she goes a whole week without needing to redo any of her homework, she will get a special outing with Mom.

Changing ourselves takes a great deal of self-discipline, but if we don’t take the challenge, we can’t grow. God tells us that He will see our work through to completion, but often that means we need to be open to learning new skills and developing in ways that allow Him to finish that work in us.

How is He stretching you today?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Book Meme

My friend Danica tagged me on her blog for a meme about reading. To check out the details, visit her blog at

So, here are seven things about the way I read...

1) I love a good mystery, especially crime novels.

2) Usually romance novels don't do it for me, but every now and then I find one I really like.

3) I am not a fan of profanity in books or movies. I generally figure authors make inappropriate word choices because they are not clever enough to come up with something better.

4) Because I typically only read for a few minutes before falling asleep at night, it takes me a LONG time to read a book.

5) Too often I find that the most critically acclaimed books are the ones in which I am most dissapointed.

6) I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be the father in the movie "Sabrina," who quit his job and became a chauffeur so he would have more time to read.

7) I like to have books around me, so I keep most of the ones I read. I should probably use the library more often, but item number 4 tells you why that doesn't work out too well for me.

Book Fair Economics

So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? - Luke 16:11

Are you glad the election is over? I sure am. I am thrilled to answer the phone and have a friend at the end of the line, rather than an automated drone telling me how to vote. Who ever thought toilet paper commercials would be a refreshing break from all of the political ads?

Interestingly, election season intersected with the annual book fair at my kids’ school. I think the constant chatter about the economy had me at a heightened state of alert when my kids asked for book fair money. Talk of recessions and bankruptcy rates had me looking for opportunities to teach my little spenders about money management. I told them I would supply five dollars for each of them, and if they wanted more, it would need to come from their own piggy banks.

Since they are kids, they immediately opened their banks, then began digging around for any spare change they could find. The first day of the fair, my oldest daughter came home reporting that she borrowed three dollars from a friend, therefore she had to do a little more searching in order to scrounge up the needed cash for a timely repayment.

I always enjoy the book fair because it offers such a great opportunity for kids to figure out the details of purchasing all on their own. The people working the fair are moms from the school, and they wait patiently while kids count out 100 pennies, or ask for the fifteenth time how much money to set aside for sales tax. I send my kids in with money, but don’t go with them to make their purchases. I figure these opportunities to explore their financial independence are few and far between for five and seven year olds, so I’d better make the most of them.

I also enjoy watching my kids contemplate over their decisions, wondering if they should have purchased something else instead, then reveling in enjoyment and pride over their choices. This year, five-year-old Alyssa painstakingly debated between a book called Pinkalicious and a stuffed lion. Limey the limeade-loving lion won out. Seven-year-old Lauren put a puppy-shaped pencil sharpener on hold, but forgot to ask when she needed to be back with the money. By the time she remembered to bring in the cash, the holding period had ended and the puppy had gone to another buyer. She bought two animal-shaped erasers instead.

Watching my kids learn lessons about borrowing, lay-away and making good choices is a delightful process.

My hope is that these early experiences with money management will lay a foundational understanding of how to be responsible consumers. Then, prayerfully, they may successfully weather life’s financial storms in a way that keeps them strong in times such as these.

What experiences have you found to help teach kids about money management?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Misadventures and Miracles

I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. – Isaiah 46:4

When something goes wrong in the medical world, doctors call it a “medical misadventure.” Tuesdays seem to be my family’s day for misadventures this month, and Wednesdays are our miracle days. This week is no different.

You may recall that last Tuesday I got word that my grandmother was gravely ill, but on Wednesday, I was blessed with the news that she made a turn for the better. She is still holding her own this week and I am going to Arkansas to see her next month.

This Tuesday, my phone rang at 10:00 at night. Phone calls at 10:00 p.m. rarely bring good news, and this one was no exception. My parents were in a horrible car accident. They were passengers in a friend’s car on I-25, the main highway through Denver, when a man driving at a speed the police estimate to be 110 miles per hour crashed into them. The impact sent the car that my parents were in spinning in circles across the highway until they hit a retaining wall on the side of the road and the airbags deployed. The other car flipped onto its side, and from this precarious position, the driver actually managed to open the exposed door and climb through, and ran off down the interstate on foot.

My parents were taken by ambulance to Denver General Medical Center, which is the state’s primary hospital for both the most severe traumas and people who don’t have insurance coverage. This combination makes for an emergency room very much like what you see on the television show “ER” when there is a citywide crisis, except that this emergency room is about four times bigger than the one on TV, and I got the impression it is always crowded and crazy.

When I got there, a security guard walked me into the building and to a reception area. The guard took my purse and handed it to a person working the main desk to be searched. This wasn’t the kind of search you get at a football game where the attendant sort of peeks in to make sure there is nothing big or obvious poking out. I am pretty sure this guy trained with the Transportation Safety Administration, because he really searched. I was beginning to wonder if I would be swabbed for explosives as he asked if I had any knives, pepper spray, or other weapons. He finally surrendered my purse and issued me a visitor’s pass that I was to keep with me at all times. Then another security guard escorted me to my parents. We left the over-stuffed waiting room and made our way through a maze of hallways where patients on gurneys were actually being treated in the halls because there were no more “curtains” available. One man was sitting up in a regular hospital bed in the hallway. I was relieved to find both of my parents resting behind the same “curtain.”

To make a five-hour story short, things didn’t look too good when I arrived at the hospital. My parents and their friends were involved in what very easily could have been a fatal accident. God was clearly holding them in his hands, because once the blood was washed away, the X-rays and CAT scans taken, the neck braces removed, and blood tests performed, my parents were discharged. My father left the hospital with no medical treatment of any kind. My mother had a large cut on her forehead, but the doctor who stitched it up said he expected of a full recovery. My parent’s friends were taken to a different hospital where the husband received four staples to a cut in the back of his head. His wife suffered the most serious injury—a cracked sternum. There is no treatment for this, so on Wednesday morning, all four of them miraculously went home to sleep in their own beds and work through the bruises, black eyes, swelling, aches and pains to come. Once again, Tuesday’s misadventure ended in Wednesday’s miracle.

It has not escaped my attention that God is probably trying to teach us something through these events, and He likely has a different lesson for each of us. For me, I think it has to do with not just understanding that He is in control of my life, but actively living in a way that acknowledges this fact. Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

My plans for the day suddenly seemed insignificant after spending the night in the emergency room. I had no problem bowing out of different responsibilities last week when I thought I would make an emergency trip to Arkansas. Seeing how insignificant my plans truly are gives me a new perspective on the time I dedicate to God. Activities that once seemed so important can now wait until I have prayed about what God wants from me during the day.

Perhaps I can teach my children this lesson before they have day timers and schedules. I think there is an element of pride in having a busy day, and business outside of God’s will is just a waste of effort and energy. If I can instill this truth in my kids before they get sucked into “planner prison,” it could be a blessing to them. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on how to do this, please share them.

I am thankful that I am now busy praising God for protecting my parents and for holding them during this accident. Please join me in praying for their speedy recoveries.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

False Alarm

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." - Zephaniah 3:17

On Tuesday, my mom gave me the news that my 90-year-old grandmother had fallen and cracked her pelvis. “They got a hospital bed for the house because she won’t be able to get up and move around,” my mom explained, “but it sounds like things are going okay.”

But later that night, I called my aunt who lives with and cares for my grandmother. I got a much more complete, and grim, picture of the situation from her. The report sent me packing for a trip to Arkansas. With a single phone call, I found that my life for the next six days would be different from what my daily planner outlined.

After gagging over the high price of last-minute airline tickets, my dad and I decided to make the fifteen-hour drive from Colorado to northern Arkansas. I alerted the people I had commitments to that I would be unable to uphold my end of the deal because I was heading out of town. I threw in loads of laundry and started making preparations to help things go smoothly for my family in my absence. Most of all, however, I prayed. I asked for comfort and protection for my grandmother, and that she would live long enough for me to see her one last time. I prayed for peace for my aunt, because I cannot begin to imagine the stress of providing full-time care for someone in my grandmother’s condition. I prayed that my dad and I would have a safe trip and not arrive too stiff to bend over and hug my grandmother.

When I spoke with my aunt the next day, my life changed again with one phone call. “I don’t know who I am looking at,” my aunt exclaimed. “Mom is suddenly doing great!” She was sitting up, feeding herself, even singing. And since so much family had already arrived in Arkansas, we decided to hold off on our trip for a few weeks. I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath for the past twelve hours until I finally let it out. My muscles tingled with release as I moved from physical action mode to mental processing mode in the span of three seconds.

This experience gave me a good reminder, yet again, of how quickly life can change. Our expectations for a day, or a week, or longer, can shift with the ring of the phone. The people around us can too. Those closest to us are like fine china—precious and fragile, and designed to be appreciated. There are a surprising number of “to do” items in my planner that are easy to skip over when something, or someone, more important needs attention. And if I really think about it, there is always someone more important who should get my attention, rather than the unnecessary distractions of modern life.

Who are you going to focus on today?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Unexpected Journey

Hello, faithful readers. I am sorry I have been a bad blogger for the past week. Life ran away from me last week and I never made the time to sit down and post. Today I am heading for Arkansas to see my grandmother who fell and cracked her pelvis. Unfortunately, she is not doing well, so my kids, my dad and I are packing into the car and making the 15-hour trek to see her. Please keep my grandmother's health and our safe travels in your prayers. I will be back next week with a regular post.

Thank you and blessings on you and your families,


Friday, October 10, 2008

Out In The Cold

Then God said, "I've given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth And every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food. To all animals and all birds, everything that moves and breathes, I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.” And there it was. - Genesis 1:29-30

You’ve no doubt heard the news this week that pharmaceutical companies are now acknowledging what pediatricians have said for years—cold medicines don’t work in young kids. The unnerving part is that they are also admitting that some remedies may even be harmful.

Reports seem to differ, but the information I most consistently find warns not about individual medicines given at recommended doses, but rather the risk of accidental overdose when giving different medicines that contain the same ingredients.

The other area where I find different recommendations is on the age at which children need alternative therapies. Most of the reports say to avoid over the counter cold medicines for kids ages four and under, but some suggest protecting kids under the age of six.

If you have identified a cold remedy that actually works for your child and she tolerates it well, I’d stock up now because it probably won’t be on the shelf for long. The stores in my area dropped most children’s cold products, with the exception of a few syrups, last year when pediatricians publicly spoke out against these treatments.

So without over the counter medicines, what can we moms do to comfort our littlest patients? I have had luck soothing sore throats and coughing with popsicles (avoid the cream-style type if your child has a lot of phlegm or mucus). Citrus flavors seem to cut through that yucky cottonmouth sensation the best. Try for varieties made from natural juices without added sugar.

Diluted or weak tea also feels good on sore throats. When I make my pot of tea in the morning, I pour a little in the mug of whoever is sick and fill the rest with cool water. This brings it down to a drinkable temperature and also cuts the caffeine to a kid-friendly level.

Grandmas, doctors, and patients everywhere agree that chicken soup truly is one of the best treatments for a cold. There is actual scientific proof to support this as well.

If your child is old enough not to choke on it, a natural, non-medicated throat lozenge can help control a cough.

When noses start running, a little Vaseline rubbed into the skin just inside each nostril can help prevent (or soothe) irritating chapping. When my kids were babies I used Little Noses brand non-medicated gel for this, but now they prefer old-fashioned Vaseline.

Tummies full of drainage are settled by toast and ginger ale or 7-Up. I try to avoid Sprite because it is a little on the sweet side and can further upset an unhappy tummy.

As in most things, I find our faithful God provides the main things we need to stay healthy and recover when we do get a cold. Our bodies use whole, unprocessed foods better than any other kind. If it looks like something Adam and Eve would have found in the garden (like an apple or a stalk of broccoli) than it probably is good at helping your body stay healthy. If it looks like a box (say of cake mix) then you are better off leaving it on the grocery store shelf this cold season. If it comes in a package and you recognize all of the ingredients as real foods, then enjoy it. If you have to sound out anything on the label, don’t add it to your cart. I really don’t even like foods with added vitamins—real, whole foods already have naturally occurring vitamins so I don’t want synthetic ones added in.

You undoubtedly have some home remedies of your own for fighting cold symptoms. Share what works for your kids. Here’s to staying healthy!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Getting Un-Stuck In The Moment

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:34

My poor husband is stuck. He recently spent three days rebuilding our snow blower, and now he can’t wait for the white stuff to start falling so he can test his handiwork. Every time the weather report comes on the television news he asks, “Any snow in the forecast?” He is so stuck in his longing for snow that he is missing one of the most beautiful autumns we’ve had in years.

However, I realized this week that he is not the only one in our family struggling with this issue. I have been so busy working with the publisher on the final stages of my book that I have been missing the reasons I started writing in the first place. The time I used to spend praising and worshiping God through the written word, and hearing His guidance and direction in the process, has been replaced by a preoccupation with sales projections and marketing plans. I’ve gotten myself stuck in the business of publishing and have been missing the gift of writing.

We all go through phases like this, especially with our kids. How many of us wished away days of early childhood waiting for something more exciting? We look forward to our child’s first step, first word, first day of school, first time we can leave him home alone, first time she drives herself to soccer practice. Before we know it, our kids are heading off for the first semester of college or first apartment. In between all of those firsts is the life we don’t want to miss.

I think tonight I am going to get my husband and kids to go on an after-dinner walk so we can enjoy the warm, golden autumn of the Colorado countryside. We won’t talk about snow, or publishing, or the concerns of tomorrow. We will just enjoy and appreciate the beauty of today.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What’s In A Name?

I couldn’t find an applicable Bible verse for this topic, but I am pretty sure someone can. If a verse comes to mind that goes with this post, please share it!

Ever since my after-school job as a day-care worker at Little People's Learning Center, kids have called me Miss Dianne. The children of my friends called me Miss Dianne, so I allowed my daughters the same informality of calling close adults by their first names with Miss or Mr. tacked onto the front.

That all changed when my brother-in-law brought up an interesting point. He said, “I think part of the reason why there are so many people charged with crimes committed by a ‘person in a position of trust’ is that we allow kids and adults to get too close. When kids call adults by their last names, the line between who is the child and who is the adult is less likely to become blurred.”

I think he is exactly right. The simple act of kids calling an adult by his or her last name clarifies that the two aren’t buddies. Roles are more clearly defined: teacher and student, coach and player, mentor and mentee.

When I called adults by their last names as a kid, I thought it was a sign of respect. I didn’t feel disrespected when my friends’ kids called me Miss Dianne, but I failed to see that there is more to the issue than respect alone. There is something valuable to our culture when there are clear definitions, or boundaries, in interactions between the generations.

What do your kids call adults? What contributed to that decision for your family? Share your ideas on the subject.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You Want Me To Show You What?

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven – Ecclesiastes 3:1

As usual, I am writing my blog post while watching my daughter’s weekly gymnastics class. The kids are all inside the gym while the moms wait in the hallway, watching through a wall of windows.

Here in the hall, it is impossible not to overhear the various conversations, and I am currently enjoying one between two moms whose daughters want them to demonstrate different acrobatic skills at home. Apparently, one mom used to actually try this for her child, but had to stop when she found out she was pregnant. The visual image I get of this mother cart wheeling across her living room to the applause of her awestruck five-year-old audience makes me smile.

The last time I tried to “demonstrate” a handstand, I pulled a muscle in my leg. While I am not what you would call a jock, I do consider myself to be in reasonable shape. I make a point of stretching thoroughly when I go to the gym, and I try to go hiking at least twice a month when the weather permits. So why can I not do a simple handstand without injuring (and embarrassing) myself?

I wonder if perhaps there are certain activities that are meant to be part of childhood (unless you happen to be that thirty-something-year-old mom who competed the Olympics for the German gymnastics team — but she doesn’t count). Maybe losing particular abilities keeps us from getting too cocky about our physical condition.

Or maybe kids feel empowered when they can finally do something their parents can’t. I think this might be the reason God allows us the foolish notion of even trying handstands in our mid-thirties – so we are forced to demonstrate our inabilities and shortcomings for our kids. It is so easy to go through each day seemingly in charge and having all of the answers for our children. It does both generations a bit of good to turn the tables and let the kiddos be the capable ones. When we let them teach us, it builds their confidence even more.

Sure, I may be able to drive the car and work the barbeque grill, but my daughter can do a straddle roll. To her, that is like gold.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dress Code For Life

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. – Romans 12:1

It is an issue that has kids groaning and parents singing for joy—school uniforms. The charter school my children attend requires its students to wear uniforms. The kids can only wear navy blue pants or shorts, and skirts and jumpers are only available in a blue and green plaid (which I personally find adorable). However, there are a number of shirts styles and colors available, as well as a sweatshirt, sweater, and sweater vest.

In addition to the uniform, the school enforces a fairly stringent dress code. Tops tuck into bottoms, hair stays neat and out of the eyes, and pants rest around the waist with the help of leather belts. Everything works together to give the students a neat, clean appearance.

I love the uniform and dress code because it makes mornings easy. There is no debate over what to wear or what is appropriate. As my kids get older, I will be free from the pressure to buy brand names, and we won’t battle over clothing that is too tight, too short, or too revealing because it is simply not allowed at school.

Recently, however, a conversation with a parent from the school made me realize another potential benefit of the uniform. “My hope,” she said, “is that by growing up in modest, neat clothing, my kids will become most comfortable when they dress that way. I hope this is how they will want to look when they move on from this school.”

She has a great point, and I see it happening already. My kids have play clothes for after school and on the weekends, but they like to stay in their uniforms. And when they do put on play clothes, the shirts get tucked in as a matter of habit.

Another thing to consider is how much easier it is to continue a good habit than to break a bad one. Toddlers are cute when they wear their ballet attire to the grocery store, but thirteen-year-olds don’t look so adorable when they go out in leotard-tight tops. This means I need to remember to bring a dress to pull over my daughter’s gymnastics outfit when we stop by the store after class so we get a good habit established now. Likewise, I smile when I see a little guy’s diaper sticking out of the top of his pants, but I feel sad for the teenage boys who wear their pants low to intentionally show off their boxer shorts. Teaching my kids about privacy now may help them avoid this “fashion trend” later. Let’s face it, establishing healthy guidelines for modesty is easier when kids are young. By the time they are teenagers, the battle in this arena is pretty much over.

Plus, growing up properly dressed is important in building self esteem and developing a strong, positive self image.

Every week I see a little boy, around age three, who wears his hair in a Mohawk. Sometimes it is green, others pink, but it is always colored. He typically looks nervous, as though he knows people are wondering why his hair is so unusual. He is growing up feeling out of place—like an oddball. And since he is so young, this decision clearly falls to his parents.

Thankfully, our world offers so many positive ways to express our individuality and creativity that we don’t need to resort to harmful or uncomfortable ways of exerting our uniqueness. Our kids don’t either. Opportunities abound to stand above the crowd in sports, music, art, writing, and serving others. The eight-year-old daughter of a friend of mine raced in a triathlon. Several elementary school students I know had their art displayed in a local museum. My nieces and nephew perform in full-length, professional quality plays at their church. One teenager actually writes plays for the dinner theater in his community. Help your kids find ways to excel and feel great about themselves, and encourage them to steer clear of behaviors that bring negative attention.

If I want the Holy Spirit to dwell happily in me, I need to provide a comfortable place for it. That means having a body I am comfortable living in—not one that attracts attention in ways that make me uneasy or self-conscious. The same applies to my kids. By teaching them today how to monitor their outer appearance, I hope to be building their inner confidence for tomorrow.

What “dress code” issue does your family face? Share your ideas or tips for encouraging individuality in positive ways.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Little Laborers

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… Colossians 3:23

The observance of Labor Day this week got me thinking about work—specifically kid work. The type and amount of work kids do around the house, as well as their compensation for it, are hot topics with moms. In fact, when I speak to moms groups, I get more questions about allowance than any other topic. And I don’t even give a formal talk on the subject!

I think chores are a grey area in parenting because we all have different opinions on what jobs are appropriate at what age. For instance, I have a friend whose seven-year-old is responsible for vacuuming out their car. That works for their family, but because I know how much trouble I have maneuvering that fat hose into all of the tiny nooks of my SUV, I don’t ask my seven-year-old to do it.

Another cause for the variation in chores is the fact that each child has different abilities. My five-year-old, for example, has a very short attention span. Trying to get her to clean her entire room in one sitting is an exercise in futility. However, her ability to focus lasts about the same amount of time as is required to clean a bathroom sink, making that the perfect job for her.

There is nothing that says your kids have to do certain chores at specific ages. There is also nothing that requires them to do the same jobs your neighbor’s kids do. You, as their mother, know what they can handle.

The next area of concern is how to pay kids for their work, if you pay them at all. I hear a lot of “experts” saying that kids should just work because they are part of the family and each member needs to contribute. I agree with that to a point. However, the benefits of an allowance are just too great to ignore.

In my family (recognize that I am not saying this is how you should do it), the kids have specific tasks they do in order to receive an allowance. They also help in additional ways because they are contributing members of our family. Both of my kids earn $2.50 per week if they do all of their allowance jobs every day. Allowance jobs include things like putting their shoes away, keeping their rooms tidy (at a level reasonable for their ages), making sure the dog has food and water, and cleaning their bathroom sink. If they do all of their jobs, they get all of their money. If they miss something, they miss their allowance until the following week.

Additionally, I will periodically say, “Okay kids, I’m doing the bag tonight!” This means they need to get all of their odds and ends picked up from around the main living area of the house before going to bed. Anything left out after bedtime goes into “The Bag” and they must buy each item back for $.25 at the end of the week. I pay my kids their allowance in quarters so they can buy back the socks that are left under the dining room table and the movie boxes that sit next to the DVD player. Everything must be purchased and then put away or added to the Goodwill pile. If someone needs something before the end of the week (like the time my daughter left her gymnastics leotard sitting out) it may be purchased early for $.50. Deciding to leave something in the bag rather than buying it back is not a choice.

This system works great for us because it really motivates to kids to keep things picked up and it helps add value to their allowance.

In addition to their allowance jobs, the kids also help clear the table after meals, help sort laundry, dust furniture, or do whatever else I ask them to help with. They are generally happy to help because they enjoy being part of family activity and my husband and I strive to show them work in a positive light. We never use added chores, or yucky ones, as punishment.

Even though it gets tiring and mundane, I consider the ability to do work to be a blessing. I am fortunate to be physically able to take care of my home, and I hope my children will grow to see it positively as well. And while no one likes cleaning toilets or taking out the trash, the house sure feels nice once it is done.

Tell us how you make job-sharing and allowance work in your family.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fighting For A Taste of Summer

He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. – Acts 14:17

For the past few years, I have lived the ups and downs of an amateur vegetable gardener. The first year, my plot grew such an abundance of gargantuan vegetables that I delivered bags of my wares to the local food bank because I had already overloaded my friends, family, and passing strangers with more produce than they could use. I felt like King Midas of the gardening world—everything I touched turned into zucchini.

The second year, cooler weather kept things smaller and slower growing, but I still ended up with a decent crop and tried my hand at freezing and canning my extras so we could enjoy the fruits of my labor into the winter.

This year, however, has been a disaster. King Midas is long gone and he took with him my hopes of filling my freezer in order to cut my grocery bill. Early in the season, some unknown critter managed to get through my eight-foot high, deer-proof fence, and helped itself to a salad bar made up of two entire broccoli plants, two entire artichoke plants, one entire eggplant plant, and all of the leaves off of my grape vine. When I say entire, I mean every scrap right down to the ground.

A few weeks after this invasion, I was cursed with a grasshopper plague of Biblical proportions. People would actually come for a visit at my house and say, “Where did you get all of these grasshoppers?” These pests devoured the corn, bean, cabbage, cucumber, raspberry and blueberry plants. In desperation, I abandoned my efforts at organic gardening and bought some grasshopper killer. It worked.

Interestingly, grasshoppers aren’t attracted to tomatoes, but apparently hail is. A mid-August storm battered my still-green beauties.

The bright spot in all of this destruction and disappointment (not to mention financial loss) came one day when I noticed two lovely, unscathed zucchinis growing amidst the weeds I’d given up pulling. This meant I had the key ingredient for my favorite summer-time treat—chocolate zucchini cake.

If you are growing zucchini this year or want to pick some up from the grocery store, give this recipe a try. It is sure to be a family favorite and, if your kids are like mine, may be the only way they will each zucchini.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

½ cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
½ cup evaporated milk + ½ tsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 ¾ cup flour (I use gluten free flour and it works just fine)
¼ tsp. cinnamon
5 Tbsp. cocoa
1 ½ cup sugar (I use about half this amount of turbinado sugar)
2 cups shredded zucchini

Cream butter, oil and sugar together with mixer. Add eggs and vanilla. Sift all dry ingredients and add alternately with zucchini and sour milk. Pour into greased and floured 9x13 pan. Sprinkle on topping made by combining:

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup chocolate chips

Bake at 325 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

Enjoy the cake and say a little prayer for next year’s garden while you eat!

Jake is the great nephew of my friend, Jan Parrish. He is only three years old and is having transplant surgery today. His mother, Heather, is donating one of her kidneys. Please pray for Jake, Heather and the entire family. To see a slide show of Jake or get updates on his progress, please go to Thank you for your prayers!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Let’s Talk Sunscreen

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. – Psalm 5:11

Late August may seem like a funny time to mention sunscreen, but I know that after months of enjoying the pool and the park, many of us are running low on the white stuff and need to restock. We easily have six more weeks of bright sun (and those of us in Colorado pretty much have it all year).

I had often wondered what all those chemicals listed on the sunscreen bottle really were, and what effect they might have on our bodies (or more accurately, on my children’s bodies). It turns out that many sunscreens are toxic once absorbed by the skin. Many even contain hidden estrogen.

Last year I found a list that rates different sunscreens not only by how well they protect from sun damage, but also how toxic they are once absorbed.

Here are the top five best sunscreens according to the Environmental Working Group, which studied 786 name-brand sunscreens:

1. California Baby Sunblock Stick No Fragrance, SPF 30+
2. California Baby Sunblock Stick Everyday/Year Round, SPF 30+
3. Trukid Sunny Days Facestick Mineral Sunscreen UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum, SPF 30+
4. Badger Sunscreen, SPF 30+
5. Vanicream Sunscreen For Sensitive Skin, SPF 60

These better-for-you brands provide the highest level of protection with the least toxicity. However, they can be tricky to find and even harder to pay for. Vitamin Cottage carries California Baby products, which I use, although the location near me only has a sunscreen lotion (number seven on the list). If you decide to try this brand, realize that a little goes a very long way, and getting too much will leave you with a very white, zinc-covered kid.

The names that seem to pop up most frequently on the list of the worst sunscreens are Walgreens and Coppertone. L’oreal, Elizabeth Arden and Nivea also find places near the bottom of the list. To find out how your sunscreen ranks, go to the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database at to get the list.

And don’t forget, we all need twenty minutes of sun exposure every day without sunscreen so we get enough vitamin D from the sun. I don’t put sunscreen on my kids when they go to school so recess takes care of their twenty minutes.

Enjoy the warm weather while it lasts—before we know it we will be talking about putting sunscreen in our ski packs!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

God Is Good – Even To Kindergarteners

NOTE: Now that I’m back on the school-year schedule, I am posting every week again. Also, I am now posting on Thursday mornings instead of Mondays. Thanks for reading!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. – 1 Chronicles 16:34

The calendar may say it is still summer, but life tells me the lazy days are over. My kids went back to school yesterday, officially ending summer in my mind.

My youngest started kindergarten. I could tell she was nervous because everything was a little off for her—her shorts were too loose; her hair wrap was too tight. The hook for her backpack in the classroom was too high; her nametag wouldn’t stick on right.

But then the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine brightened her day. She found her name printed on a colorful laminated tag stuck to the desk right next to her best friend in the class. I could see the feeling of comfort and relief spread over her face as she settled in next to a trusted partner.

God is good and He is faithful. He knows everything about us—even how to calm our first day jitters. And more often than not, He gives us a friend for the journey so we don’t have to battle our anxieties alone. There is nothing in our lives that is too small or insignificant for Him, nor are we ever too young to receive His grace.

How has God been good to you this week?

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Reward For Time Well Spent

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3

My project this week is staining my back deck. I worked on it all day Saturday and didn’t even finish the railing.

Granted, it is a very large deck, but what took so much time was slowly and carefully painting around each metal spindle, then wiping off the redwood stain that mistakenly ended up on the black poles. The tedious work required a steady hand, a keen eye, a strong dose of patience and attention to detail. Kind of like mothering.

When I get sloppy as a mom, I notice my kids don’t shine in their usual ways. When I get lazy, I let sassy talk slide, I give undue life to negative attitudes, and I leave my kids to figure things out for themselves when I really should give them guidance instead.

But when I am purposeful and intentional in the way I raise my children, they behave better, are more obedient, and frankly more fun to be around. I enjoy being a mom more when I take the time to do a good job with it, just like I know my family will enjoy our deck once I’ve finished taking my time with it.

In what ways do you notice your behavior affecting your kids?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Making It On Her Own

I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. – 2 Corinthians 7:4

This morning I dropped Lauren off at her first day of Girl Scout Camp. She didn’t know any of the other girls there, and I could tell she was nervous because my little talker was suddenly very quiet. Despite her nerves, however, she confidently found a spot to sit and got busy working on a craft. As I walked away, I knew she would be fine.

On the journey from birth to adulthood, kids develop and practice their independence in different ways and in a variety of settings. Some of these are scary for us moms, but some feel like the right step toward greater maturity and responsibility for our children.

The risky ones get a lot of attention. We fret and worry and confide in our girlfriends when our children take steps that make us uncomfortable. The easy ones, however, seem to get lost in the shuffle of daily life. We don't always recognize that feeling comfortable when letting go of our children is a true mark of development as a mom.

I challenge you to celebrate your own growth as a mom the next time you find peace in your child’s budding independence. It is a big deal for both of you! Congratulations!

If your child has found a new level of self sufficiency this summer, share your story with us.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Glad This Isn’t Renaissance England

I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High – Psalm 9:2

This 4th of July weekend, I had an unusual opportunity to gain a new appreciation for American life by comparing modern day festivities with those of historic England.

On Friday, July 4, my husband and I took our kids to a holiday celebration in the town where we live. We met up with some friends and the kids enjoyed bouncing in inflatables, playing games, and listening to live music while face painters and balloon twisters worked nearby. When it got dark, fireworks danced across the sky, choreographed to fit with the accompaniment of patriotic songs, including “God Bless America” and “God Bless the USA.”

Not only did we have a wonderful time, but I was filled with thanksgiving over having the opportunity to celebrate both my God and my country openly and publicly in a government-sponsored event at our Town Hall.

The following day, we went to the Colorado Renaissance Festival. The step back in time to the days of knights, nobility, and tournament jousting was enthralling. Alyssa was enchanted by the long, pretty dresses. Lauren liked the swords and the different games of skill.

And while we had just as much fun at the Festival as we did at the 4th of July celebration, I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference between the two lifestyles.

I am grateful that I don’t have a king trying to fight for God’s place in my life. While I don’t always agree with the way our government spends tax dollars, I am pleased the money isn’t used for jousting tournaments. I am thankful I can wear comfortable, sanitary clothes rather than dresses that skim the dirty ground all day. I am blessed to live comfortably without having to work a messy, backbreaking job just to scrape by. The life of a medieval washerwoman, for example, is a far cry from today’s dry cleaner.

Most of all, I am glad to live in a time and place I can be proud of. I am happy my children call this country home. Despite its issues and difficulties, I consider it a blessing to live in the United States of America.

Unlike the women of renaissance England, I can worship God whenever and however I want. I have the opportunity to change my circumstances through ingenuity and hard work without needing the permission of the president or anyone else. And best of all, I can gather with my family and friends in public to celebrate our good fortune.

God bless this country and the service men and women who fight to keep us free.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Is Your Brain Connected to Your Body?

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

For the past two weeks, my oldest daughter, Lauren, has been participating in a gymnastics camp. She has never taken a true gymnastics class before, and I decided that she really needed to learn how to do a cartwheel before entering the third grade in August. Of course, her sister and I tried to teach her, but the fact that we can both do cartwheels can’t make up for our “mom” and “little sister” status. Surely, we don’t know what we are talking about. I decided to send her to a professional.

When I signed Lauren up for camp, I told the coach, “My only goal for this is to get her cartwheeling!” He assured me he would work with her, but as the days passed, I wasn’t seeing the progress I hoped for.

Yesterday, the coach pulled me aside and told me he’d figured out the problem. “She’s left-sided,” he said, “but she wants to be right-sided. Her brain and her body aren’t on the same page.”

This must be a genetic trait because my brain and body rarely work in sync. My head knows it is time to write, but my body won’t sit still in the chair. My heart knows I need to spend time in prayer, but my mind wanders off on its own agenda.

Thankfully, God understands this weakness, and when push comes to shove, He strengthens my mind and body so they can work together to accomplish His purposes as He sees fit. Do you think His purpose includes cartwheels?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hopping Off the Merry-Go-Round

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:4

This weekend, I had one of those rare mothering moments where I realized I was standing squarely in the light at the end of the tunnel. I made it all the way through, and it was beautiful.

Our town holds an annual festival with carnival rides, funnel cake booths, live bands and craft vendors. It is a big event that attracts not only the entire population of our town, but visitors from neighboring areas as well.

Ever since our kids were tiny, my husband and I have held them onto merry-go-round horses during these yearly festivities. We’ve jammed our long legs into the miniature Dragon Wagon and spun around in cars shaped like elephants so we could help them through their early experiences with “thrill” rides.

This year, for the first time ever, my husband and I bought no carnival tickets for ourselves. We happily stood on the sidelines, watching our kids spin. We laughed at the way our oldest throws her arms in the air with wild abandonment, while her little sister holds on for dear life—literally “white knuckling” every ride. We waved every time they rode past us, and smiled and cheered for their successful adventures.

As we enjoyed watching the action swirling around us, we realized we have reached a beautiful stage of parenting. Our kids still enjoy doing things as a family, but they don’t need our constant companionship. They are secure in trying things on their own, but still like the reassurance of having us close. They aren’t yet embarrassed to admit they have parents, but are confident enough to enjoy the ride with some independence.

I bet God feels the same kind of joy as we hit developmental milestones in our spiritual maturity. I’m sure He smiles when we grow to the point of knowing He’s always there, sharing and enjoying life with us, yet we’re strong enough in our faith and in the Word to venture out while avoiding trouble. He probably thinks, “Phew! We made it to the end of this particular tunnel, and now I finally get to share my light in this area of her life.”

For my fellow mothers who are still jamming their legs into choo-choo trains and bumper cars, I say to you, “Hang in there. It is a lovely ride that is well worth the wait.”

Monday, June 9, 2008

Doing Great Small Things

“We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

When my first child was born, I quit my corporate job to pursue work as a full-time mom. I dreamed about how wonderful it would be to spend the day caring for my family and my home without the pressures of my office job looming over my head. Thoughts of afternoons in the park and play dates with other moms danced through my mind.

It was all perfectly lovely, until my husband and I went to one of his work functions and someone asked what I’d been up to lately. I faltered. Did she really want to know about my ongoing battle at mount laundry, or my pride and joy of the week—a new vacuum cleaner?

After spending so many years as the interesting woman with a story to tell, I suddenly realized what I became when I decided to stay home. Boring.

I recognized in that moment how my circle of influence shrunk exponentially when I left corporate America, and my impact on the world was now limited to my husband and my daughter. Yikes.

However, after giving myself about nine months to get into the routine of being a stay-at-home mom, I began reaching out of my own home. I joined a Bible study and a couple of mothering groups, and began connecting with my community in my own little ways. And over the years, my influence, as well as my friendships, has grown.

Yesterday, my pastor did a wonderful sermon on how God uses the little things we do to make a big impact for Him. He said the very word “ministry” comes from the Latin root for “small things,” as in miniscule.

Jesus gave us several examples of using small things for big purposes. In Luke 13:18-19, we read, “Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” From a tiny seed, about the size of a pinhead, comes a twelve-foot tree.

From our own tiny efforts in our own homes and communities, we can grow and encourage many believers. A friend of mine once said she was disappointed she didn’t have the opportunity to become a full-time missionary before having kids, until she realized she did have a mission field—right in her own home, to three little growing Christians.

You are more important and more valuable to God’s kingdom than you realize, mom. Enjoy your calling as a missionary to your own family and in your own community, and live it out in your own small, yet great, ways.

Monday, June 2, 2008

When Self-Control Goes On Summer Vacation

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. – 1 Thessalonians 5:6

Summer vacation is one of my favorite times of year. I love letting my kids stay up a little later than usual to watch a movie, then having them sleep longer in the morning. I appreciate the freedom from school uniform maintenance and sack lunch monotony. And while I am a person who thrives on routine, I enjoy the temporary lack of schedule summer offers.

The problem with this break from school-year life, however, is that I also seem to take a break from self-control. For example, last week I stayed in bed every morning until my kids got up. Since I am normally the first one up, this change meant I got very little writing done, and spent even less time reading my Bible. And while I managed to turn that temporary habit around and get up on time today, I stayed up so late last night that everything looks a little blurry this morning.

When school gets out, my brain seems to go somewhere with it. Last Tuesday I completely forgot to go to the Bible study meeting I have gone to every week for the past five years. How does someone forget a five-year habit?

Consistency with my kids seems to slip a little in the warmer months, too. Last night my youngest daughter didn’t eat dinner. I told her she did not need to eat if she wasn’t hungry, but that there would be no more food available until breakfast. My husband reminded me of this comment as we all sat at Dairy Queen and I wiped the chocolate dripping from my little one’s chin.

But perhaps that is part of the mystique of summer. Of course, we don’t want it to go too far, but maybe relaxing the standards a bit is part of what makes the long break special. More hours of daylight allow for more fun when we loosen up the reins and enjoy this season with our families.

I know myself well enough to know that if I make sleeping in a summer-time habit, then I will curse myself in the fall. That is an area where I can’t budge. However, I am pretty sure no one ever died from eating ice cream for dinner, so we will take another voyage to Dairy Queen next week. We will also have our share of late nights and blurry mornings, and enjoy every one of them. And not only will we have out-of-the-ordinary fun this summer, but we will happily look back on these memories when we need some mental refreshment to get through the school year ahead.

What changes does your family allow over the summer? If your kids are on a year-round school schedule, what does your summer look like?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Saying No

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. – Galatians 5:25

Are you the type of person who can’t say no? Whatever anyone needs, you take care of it whether you really want to or not? When I was in college, we called people like that joiners. They joined in everything and kept mind boggling schedules. I knew the ins and outs of this personality type because I was their ringleader.

Once my first child was born, however, the need to be all things to all people faded in the light of being all things to one tiny person. While I was still very involved in volunteer activities, the ability to say no was born right along with my baby.

Early in my mothering, I read a book that suggested identifying your primary, big picture purpose in life. In those first years as a mom, it seemed like my purpose was simply producing milk and changing diapers. However, deep down in my heart, I knew that I was to minister to other mothers. Armed with this knowledge, the book suggested that I only accept invitations to help in areas that related to this purpose. Any other offer, no matter how good or worthwhile it may be, needed serious consideration and prayer before accepting it.

This system proved to be very effective. Other than helping with things at my children’s school, my volunteer time is committed to helping moms. So is my writing and speaking. However, I currently feel the turmoil of uncharted waters. Someone asked me to lead a summer Bible study for mothers, and I feel God telling me no.

“But this falls under the umbrella of my primary purpose,” I argued to God.

“I know,” He answered, “but this is not how I need to use you right now.”

“Are you changing my purpose?”

“No,” He assured me. “I plan to use you in a different way to fulfill your purpose.”

Apparently, I need to write to the author of that book and give her an update. While well-laid plans can carry us for a while, God directs our paths in the end. We don’t get to simply figure out our purpose then go forth on our own. He is still in charge of our missions, our ministries and our lives, and we need His guidance at every step.

Is God calling you in an unexpected way? Share your experience.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Just What We Need

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19

With summer right around the corner, our thoughts turn towards one of my favorite words: vacation! Yesterday someone asked if my family has any trips planned while the kids are out of school.

“We are going camping a couple of times,” I answered.

“That’s not really vacation,” came the response. “That’s just a different kind of work.”

I love the way God creates His children to view and appreciate the world in different ways at various stages of life. Ten years ago, I didn’t consider something a vacation unless it involved taking an airplane to a sandy beach where I could sit with an umbrella drink in my hand watching the ocean waves roll in. I certainly wasn’t interested in camping. It did just sound like a different kind of work.

This year, however, with two kids, a dog, and soaring prices on everything, camping is right up my alley. What’s more, I asked my kids where they wanted to go this summer. One called out, “To the mountains!” The other shouted, “Fishing!” Camping perfectly meets our needs for mountains, fishing and cheap. Of course, my need for showering while on vacation will have to wait until we get home, but I can live with that.

Whether we spend our vacation in a borrowed tent or a fancy resort, my favorite part is always having uninterrupted time with my family without the jangling phone or beckoning e-mail. I also like taking a break from the normal routine. When we camp, somehow cooking outside seems less mundane than meal prep done in my kitchen at home. And while vault toilets typically stink, I am grateful that I don’t have to clean them. My kids enjoy the novelty of roasting marshmallows and the freedom of chasing chipmunks and eating tortilla chips straight from the bag. My husband lets out his inner cave man by building the biggest fire the park service allows. Plus, a long weekend of roughing it is often enough time for everyone to feel like they’ve gotten away for some restful fun.

What can your family do this summer to relax, renew and meet everyone’s needs? Maybe I’ll see you around the campfire!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What I Have In Common With Broadway

“…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6

For Mother’s Day, my husband took me to see the play, “A Chorus Line.” This show looks at 17 dancers auditioning to be part of the chorus line in a Broadway play. They each tell their stories of why they dance or want to be part of the show. They share their fears, anxieties and feelings of desperation over “making it” in theater.

And while I haven’t danced much in the past 17 years, I can still relate to those feelings. Later this week, I am going to a writer’s conference where I hope to catch the eye of a publisher for a new devotional I am writing (please say a little prayer for me). Many of my questions sound like those of the dancers in the play, but with a writer’s twist. Will the editors like the idea for my book? Will they think I write well? Will they buy? And if they do, will they pay enough to make a difference?

I think that no matter what field you work in, you run through a similar list of questions in your mind. It probably happens the most with mothering. Am I doing it right? Am I too strict? Am I consistent? While these questions stir the pot of anxiety within us, the one thing that keeps it from boiling over is our faith in Jesus. He knows exactly what we need the minute we need it, even if that minute comes later than we expected. He fully equips us to do the work He sets before us, even when we question our abilities. And best of all, He comforts us and quiets our hearts, whether we present for publishers, audition for a chorus line, or parent our children.

What anxieties stand before you today?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Moving Forward In Trust

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

Last week my youngest daughter and I went to her kindergarten orientation. I smiled as I excitedly led her into the school, assuring her that everything would be great.

But while I put on a good front for her, I knew something was wrong. I am not supposed to be a mom whose kids all go to school. My kids are babies who stay home with me so we can play at the park, watch cartoons, and go to gymnastics class in the middle of the day. Sending my angels out the door every morning just doesn’t work for me.

I know I love being with my kids and will miss them when they are both in school, but I think my apprehension is more than that. Perhaps I am afraid of missing too much of their lives. Maybe I am jealous of the teachers who will witness the “firsts” that I will miss. What’s more, with every passing year, friends become more interesting than parents and I don’t like the idea of being replaced.

Maybe my daughter will go through a rotten stage over the summer and I will want her to go to school, but somehow I doubt that will happen. I simply have to trust God to build on the strong family relationships we have already created, and believe that He will maintain those even when I can’t be there. He will remind me to tuck little notes into her backpack, and to make sure we have free time to play together after school.

And as she launches into a new phase of life, so do I. I look forward to discovering how God has prepared us both for our new adventure.

How do you handle your child’s growing independence?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Greasing The Squeaks

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

Prioritizing is often hard for me. I assume it is difficult for most moms. After all, what woman can put the needs of one of her children over those of her others? And who hasn’t, after a long and tiring day, had to decide between sleep and honoring her husband’s request to discuss the family budget?

We learn that the “proper” way to prioritize is to put God first, then our spouses, then our children. Unfortunately, life isn’t so black and white. If simply saying, “I’m sorry, angel, but I have to spend some time in prayer, and then rub Daddy’s back, then I’ll come find your pacifier,” would quiet a screaming baby, we would have peaceful homes. However, we all know life doesn’t work that way.

The saying about the squeaky wheel getting the grease didn’t become popular without reason. We give our attention to the loudest thing in our environment at any time, and while occasionally it is my husband, it is never God. Even if He tried to get my attention audibly, the clamor of my ever-talking kids would probably drown out His effort. Perhaps this is why most children are scared silent of thunder – it is God’s way of getting them to be quiet so He can talk!

Another place I have trouble prioritizing is in my quiet time. Since I write about God, I often compose during the early morning hours I devote to Him. Usually I find this time brings us closer together, but sometimes it is just work. That is not what this time is meant for, but if I don’t do God’s work during the time I set aside for Him, then I have to do it during my family’s time. Priorities, priorities, priorities.

I keep telling myself that this situation will sort itself out once my youngest child is in school all day, but that is not for another year. What’s more, I am certain that is not how God wants us to live. He does not mean for us to wish away the blessings of today while we anxiously wait for tomorrow. We all know the grass is never greener in another year, it is just different.

In the end, I decide there is no value in fretting over this question of priorities. God knows my heart, and when all is said and done, that is truly more important than whether I spent my time in the right place today or not. If I consistently get it wrong, I bet He’ll send some thunder to let me know.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Taking a “Sick” Day

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12

Today my seven-year-old came home early from school. When I answered the ringing phone, I heard a tiny voice say, “Mommy, I don’t feel good.”

“I’ll be right there,” I assured her.

I remember having sick days as a kid. That lousy feeling of being ill was softened by the anticipation of getting a day under the covers, in front of the TV. If I was lucky enough to have a tummy ache, I’d get a clear soda like 7-Up or ginger ale – an extra special treat.

Additionally, a sick day meant someone stayed home with me. Or even better, someone came to pick me up early. To hear the voice on the other end of the school office phone say, “I’ll be there,” made me feel better than any cold syrup ever could. It told me I was more important than work.

Now I don’t get sick days. No mom does. But every now and then, it would be nice to stay in bed and watch trash all day. Trash that isn’t animated.

I think I am going to declare a sick day. Well, at least a sick afternoon while my kids are at school. I’ll make some cocoa and curl up under a blanket, and let the vacuuming go for another day. I’ll ignore the kids’ socks that litter the family room floor, and I’ll let voice mail tell all of the charities and pollsters calling mid-day that I am simply not available. I’ll ask my husband to pick up dinner, and maybe he will come home early, just because I am important.

Even if I’m not really sick.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Loathing The Learning Curve

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge…” - 2 Peter 1:5

All week long, my 5-year-old looks forward to her gymnastics class. She enjoys the other kids and feels a strong sense of accomplishment when she masters a new skill. However, the period between the introduction of a trick and her successful performance of it causes a great deal of anxiety. This morning I asked, “Are you ready for a great day at gymnastics?” She replied with a rather glum, “I guess so.”

I can relate to her sentiment. There are so many times when I face a challenge I am eager to meet, but the learning process required to succeed is daunting. Sometimes I even know I am embarking on something God prepared for me and equipped me to do, yet my nerves still pull me back.

When fear grips my daughter, I give her a big hug and kiss before pushing her to a place where she has to try. I tell her it doesn’t matter if she does things perfectly. What matters is that she does her best without giving up. I am blessed to have friends giving the same encouragement to me.

What do you say to your children when a big learning curve stands between them and what they want to accomplish? What do you say to yourself in this situation?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What Are You Protecting?

“For the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you…” – Deuteronomy 23:14

I am something of a safety nut. When asked what I do for a living, I frequently joke that I am the Director of Home Front Security. I am the one who checks the locks on each door and window every night, makes certain everyone wears a seatbelt, and sees to it that every bicycle-riding head is under a helmet. However, this morning I read an interesting article suggesting that guarding the spiritual part of ourselves is of greater importance than protecting the physical parts.

This is not something I had considered before, but I see some truth to it. Our physical bodies are temporary, but our spirit lasts forever and is therefore our most valuable possession. It is what we must nurture, develop and safeguard at all cost. Perhaps more importantly, it is what we need to teach our children to grow and protect.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of giving up my well-earned job title. Protecting my spirit doesn’t mean I want to open myself or my family up to the risks or trauma of physical harm. But I do have a new perspective that expands my role from merely guarding our physical safety to reinforcing our spiritual defenses as well. Perhaps it is time to start teaching my kids to pray scripture in addition to telling God about each day’s events. Or maybe we could work a lesson into our weekly family hikes.

What ideas do you have for strengthening your family’s spiritual defenses?

Monday, March 31, 2008

How Is Your Resolve?

“May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” - Psalm 20:4

The end of March means it is time to wrap up the first quarter of 2008. It is a great time to take a quick assessment of how we are doing with our New Year’s Resolutions.

I set goals each year. Sometimes I do a great job of accomplishing what I set out to do, while other years I completely miss the mark. So far I seem to be on track for the latter in 2008. Here in the harsh light of March, I realize I set entirely unrealistic goals, even though I know better. I must have made them in a moment of extreme confidence. The year I did the best job keeping a resolution was when I made only one. With a singular focus, I accomplished my goal in May.

And while I may not be setting any resolution records this year, the good news is that I still have 9 months to get back on track. If I could grow a baby in 9 months, surely I can get my closet organized in the same amount of time.

Take a minute to review what was important to you on January 1. If you are well on your way towards accomplishing it, treat yourself to a bite of chocolate for a job well done. If your goals are still meaningful but you haven’t spent time on them, consider what might be getting in the way. What time-eater of lesser importance is getting more than its fair share of your attention?

Revise your resolutions as necessary, but do not despair. You still have ¾ of the year left. Besides, God doesn’t love you for what you accomplish. He loves you for your heart.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What Happens In The Dark

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mathew 11:29-30)

The raised hand of the fire fighter standing in the road stopped us from turning onto our street. “Where are you headed?”

I told him our address and he explained that a worker had accidentally pulled down a power line with his truck-mounted boom. When the boom hit the line, the driver lost control and crashed through our neighbor’s fence before rolling the truck. Thankfully, he walked away without a scratch, but the street was dark. The power lines were still hot so the fire department wasn’t letting anyone get too close.

As we pulled into our driveway, nervous tears began rolling in the back seat. My children cried, “What are we going to do?”

I gently guided them into the house where I found a flashlight for each of them before lighting every candle I owned. Since the accident happened only about twenty minutes earlier, I figured it could be a long time before the power resumed.

Illuminated by flashlight beams, the kids got ready for bed as they talked about their fears. When will the lights come back on? Why doesn’t the well pump work when the lights aren’t on? How long will it be until we can watch TV? Can I do puppet shows for the family until the TV comes back? It sure is dark in here.

I suggested we pretend to be pioneers who did everything by candle light. The idea helped a little bit, but the kids still wanted to sleep in my bed. We snuggled up and read storied with one flashlight highlighting the words and the other one bringing the pictures to life. We said our prayers, and just as I pulled the blankets up to their chins, the lights came back on. Relief. Although my little one wondered, “Can I still do puppet shows for everyone tomorrow?”

How often in mothering are we caught in the dark? The lights may be on, but we still feel blinded by the dim unknown. Should I put my child in kindergarten this fall or wait one more year? If she plays soccer and baseball this season, will it over-schedule us? Will my preschooler ever hold scissors the right way? The questions we worry over can trap us. Thankfully, we have the very best flashlight available in Jesus.

However, I often notice that He only gives enough light to make it from one step to the next. He rarely shines the beam out into the distance, giving us glimpses of the future, but rather He focuses it right where we need to be, in the present. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

I think Jesus knows that if we saw too much of the future, we wouldn’t turn to Him during life’s blackouts - during the scary and uncertain times when we tend to cling to Him the most. If we knew what lie ahead, we wouldn’t search for that beam of light that is Him directing us every step of the way. And in order for His light to be on my next step and for me to see it, we must be walking together, hand in hand. I think I like blackouts, for that is when His light is the brightest.

How does Jesus guide you through dark times?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Long Distance Memories

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. – 1 Peter 4:10

My wonderful aunt is in the process of giving me a gift. I don’t know that she planned to, but in this particular instance, it isn’t the thought that matters. The present she is giving me is a blog.

A couple of years ago, my grandmother moved from an assisted living center in Colorado to my aunt’s house in Arkansas. Bringing her mother into her home was not only very generous and loving of my aunt, but was truly a lifesaver for my grandmother.

The downside of this situation, however, is that I don’t get to see my Nana very often anymore. I don’t talk to her on the phone as much as I’d like to either, partly because there is something of a trick to catching her awake, and partly because her memory started living a life separate from her body several years ago and phone conversations seem to confuse her. One of my favorite things about my grandmother, however, has always been her beautiful voice. Even at 91, her voice still reminds me of a bell when it rings out, “Hello,” so sometimes I call just to hear her music.

Since living in Arkansas, I have missed out on the stories and the little day-to-day slices of my grandmothers life. That recently changed, though, when my aunt started her blog. She writes about the life of a caretaker, including little snippets of personal conversations and insights into my grandmother’s life that I otherwise would never get to share. Her thoughts give me snapshot memories that I can keep for myself or share with my children who may not have many of their own memories of Nana. Who knew that a cold, hard computer could deliver such a precious, heartfelt gift right to my desk?

You can visit my aunt’s blog at for inspiration to start writing down your own memories and experiences for your family. I remember to make note of the cute things my kids say and do, but keep no written history of myself or other family members. Amidst the business of raising kids, I encourage all of us to take a moment periodically to record an event or conversation that our children will cherish when they are grown. Share any ideas you have for doing this!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Growing To Serve

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men… - Ephesians 6:7

“Your children are wonderful,” a woman at church told me this weekend. “They are so willing and happy to serve.”

I hadn’t thought about it before, but she was right. My husband and I became deacons in our church when our daughters were very young. When we were ordained before the congregation, the girls stood with us and our then four-year-old repeated all of the vows along with us. The pastor chuckled each time she spoke, but we didn’t stop her because we knew our decision to serve the church in this way would have a big impact on her. We suspected she would spend many dark mornings quietly eating an egg McMuffin while her parents made coffee and prepared the sanctuary for the day’s worship services. She would spend countless hours playing on the church playground while we washed those same coffee pots and tidied up that same sanctuary.

What we didn’t consider was how much she would want to help. She enjoyed passing out bulletins as people entered the sanctuary, then picking them up once everyone else had gone to enjoy the rest of their Sunday. As her little sister grew, the two of them became experts at spotting the tiny, clear plastic communion cups that tuck themselves into the craziest of places among the pews. They found the jobs they could handle and enjoyed doing them. I didn’t consciously process the way my daughters were becoming deacons themselves – serving the church in whatever ways they could, without all of the fanfare of a title or a nametag.

I recently retired from being a deacon because I felt like the girls were getting frustrated with those early mornings, and always being the last ones picked up from their Sunday school classes because Mom was busy getting things ready for the next service. However, this weekend I realized I might have made a mistake. The girls went with me to a mother/daughter brunch at church. When the event was over, I began helping to clean up and asked the girls to gather up any extra programs left behind on the tables. Little did I know that while I was off putting away centerpieces, they not only cleared away all of the programs, but the plastic cups, trash, and decorations as well. Then they helped me finish boxing up the centerpieces.

I did not see, until someone pointed it out to me, how they had grown to know how to lend a hand. Helping has become part of who they are. It seems those early mornings were more valuable than I ever realized.

What experiences have yielded unexpected results for your family?

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Faith to Decide

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." – Jeremiah 29:11

I am going through a phase of life right now that is very difficult for me – decision making. I have several big, meaningful, financially impacting decisions to make and I can’t put them off any longer.

I hate making hard decisions. What if I make the wrong one? What if circumstances change and the choice that seemed right is suddenly all wrong? Worst of all, what if my choice inadvertently creates a problem for my children?

Yet, I know the time has come to make some hard choices. I know this not only because the stress of delaying is killing me, but also because I can clearly hear God saying, “Just pick something – I will be glorified in whatever you decide.”

The lesson before me has nothing to do with the choices I make, but rather having the faith to take the active step of making a decision and trusting God to handle the outcome. I can rest in the assuring words in Jeremiah, knowing that while I may not always see or understand God’s activity in my life, He truly does work all things for good.

Remembering this does not make the selection process any easier, but the act of choosing is less scary because the results of my decisions are in the very best hands.

What choices are you struggling with today?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Stepping Out For A Stretch

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7

This weekend, my daughter stepped out of her comfort zone and into a whole new world. My karate and baseball-loving tomboy went to a cheerleading camp. When a flier came home from school advertising the program, I asked if she was interested. “Sure,” she replied. “I’ll give it a try.” Just like that.

When presented with something new, I typically want to know what is involved, what is expected of me, and which of my friends will be there for support. My daughter didn’t ask any questions – she was just open to the new experience.

How many great opportunities do I miss because I simply do not see outside my comfortable little box? I remember when I first became a mom and everything was new and both exciting and scary at the same time. I didn’t need to look beyond my child for opportunities to stretch myself. I had my hands full just trying to keep my daughter fed and in a clean diaper! After a while, however, the daily care of a baby becomes routine. The time you spend simply staring and marveling at her sleeping body dwindles and the everyday caring of our families and homes can become drudgery.

This is precisely why we need to look for new things to try and new experiences to stretch our minds and our senses. I found lots of opportunities for this when I resumed writing and speaking after taking a four-year break when my kids were born. I continually face new challenges with both fear and a sense of thrill.

My daughter had these same sensations at cheerleading camp. When we first arrived, she grabbed onto my leg and quietly said, “There are a lot of kids here.” But when we picked her up five hours later, she said, “This was one of the best days of my life!”

What activities push you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to grow in new ways? Share your favorites.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dangerous Decisions

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. – Proverbs 16:33

Last weekend, my seven-year-old daughter went to a birthday party at a local fitness center. It is a brand new, and very popular, facility with several rock climbing walls and a swimming pool with two slides. It is a great spot for a party.

However, in order for my daughter to participate, I had to sign a waiver stating that the club was not responsible for negligence in training the staff, providing medical assistance or maintaining the equipment. We have all signed countless waivers saying those providing services are not liable for accidents or known risks associated with different activities, but I have never seen a document excusing someone from negligence. The wording of this form made me question the quality of the facility and its staff.

Suddenly I had a decision to make. Should I sign the waiver and take chances with my daughter’s safety, or subject her to the disappointment of missing the party and questions about why she didn’t attend after saying she would be there.

What would you do? At what point do we, as moms, say, “I know you are disappointed, but this is not worth the risk?”

In this situation, I spoke with a staff member at the facility who assured me that despite the wording of their waiver, all of the staff members helping with the birthday party were certified to work on the rock wall and all were trained in first aid and CPR. Asking some direct questions put my mind at ease and my daughter had a great time at the party.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

When Gaming Isn’t Fun

Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth… 2 Timothy 2:25

When I was a kid, a neighbor boy had an Atari video game system. We would huddle around his little TV screen, taking turns with the joystick to play Donkey Kong or Jungle Hunt. We had a lot of fun, and I thought it would be even better to have those games at my house. However, my mom was not in favor of owning a video game system.

Now that I am the mom, I understand why I didn’t have video games. My kids don’t have them either. Maybe it is because the cold weather has kids cooped up indoors, but I have recently had a number of conversations with other moms struggling to get their kids to unplug. What strikes me about this issue is how few of the moms I’ve spoken with are willing to set or enforce limits when it comes to gaming. One mom said she sets a time limit, but her son repeatedly asks to play “just one more level.” Before she knows it, he has played for hours. Another mom said her child cries when she says it is time to turn off the games, so she just lets him keep going.

What I find amazing about this is that these same moms have no trouble enforcing limits when it comes to other issues, such as what time to leave the park or how many bites of broccoli must make it off the plate. Why would video games be different?

While my kids do not have a Playstation or Wii, my oldest daughter does have a Webkinz and enjoys playing in Webkinz World online. Shortly after she received it as a birthday gift, I read an article about a mom who was so fed up with her child’s gaming addiction that she unplugged the system, gathered up all of the games, and dropped everything off the side of her second-story deck. That’s one way to make an impression on your kids! I figured I didn’t want to do that with my computer, so I decided to set some clear limits before we got to that point. When my daughter wants to play, I set the kitchen timer for twenty minutes. She knows that when she hears the buzzer ding it is time to log off or else I will simply push the off button on the computer and she won’t play again until she shows me she can follow the rules.

Another video-ish game I let my kids play is Dance Dance Revolution. If kids are going to be electronically engaged, they might as well be getting some exercise. However, this game needs to be limited too. My kids usually turn it off themselves after five or six songs because they get tired, but on occasion I have to step in and tell them it is time to find something to play with that doesn’t require batteries or an outlet.

Do your kids play video games? How do you handle the amount of time they play? What ideas can you offer other moms for conquering video game addictions?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Strength of the Word

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. – Isaiah 40:30-31

Today I am writing while watching my daughter’s gymnastics class. Six four-year-olds are attempting to do handstands. They all start well, but once their legs are overhead, their spindly little arms give way and they fall on their heads. They have not yet learned how to stay up, nor have they developed the strength to support themselves while upside down.

This is a dilemma I find I relate to, even though I haven’t done a handstand in about twenty years. When I encounter a struggle as a mom, I sometimes lack the skill to make it through the peak of the challenge and end up falling on my head. And for some reason, I usually have to take the tumble before I remember where to find the strength I need to hold myself up – God’s word. He equips us with everything we need to be the mothers He designed us to be.

How do you find strength during new challenges?