For Our Daughters

CBMW published an article I wrote today. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the rest.

“As the mother of three daughters, I’ve had lots of opportunities to think about what I want them to know as they grow into women. I want the truth of the Bible to be reality for them, not some foreign and unusual concept. The spirit of our age rejects the Bible as bizarre, backwards, and harmful to women. I want my girls to know that it’s none of those things—it is their life, the place they go to know their Savior. When they aren’t sure who to trust, I want them to trust the message and Person in the Pages.

Here are five things I want my daughters to know. All of them have been distorted by the world and must be recast for them—both as they see these truths lived out in the godly women around them and as they see them wisely drawn from the Scriptures.

ONE: Beauty is part of womanhood in a way that it isn’t part of manhood. It need not be your enemy nor should it be counted on as a friend. Accept the external beauty God’s given you as part of his particular design for you. Give thanks and move on, realizing that it is not the substance of your personhood, but simply a gift. Do not waste your time wishing you were other than you are and dishonoring your Maker. God made you and he made you beautifully so that he could give us a picture of what he wants our souls to be like. He wants you to cultivate a beautiful spirit. Spend your time on this, not looking in the mirror. There is only one mirror that will show you yourself: it’s the Word of God. Find yourself there—find yourself hidden in Christ.”

Read the rest.


Motherhood is a Means, or, Give Them a Beautiful Inheritance!

Motherhood is one of those things that we instinctually know is important. Yet it isn’t the end.

It is the mission field of the mundane. Daily giving up myself for the sake of my short people. Daily pouring out every truth and fact and shred of insight and wisdom that is stored up in me to impart it to little hearts and little heads and little hands.

Yet, I don’t control the end. I don’t write the story. I’m just a character in it. I know how I’d write it if I were doing the writing, but I’m not. And we (especially me) should all be very very grateful that that’s the case.

The end and final chapters for my kids will mostly likely be without their mom. I’ll be written out–dead. They will start, in a very short time, making decisions quite independent of me. The influence I’ve exercised over them, as all parents do, will be spent. I recognize that I can’t save my kids. Saving is God’s work.

But what is it all for–this motherhood that we all know in our gut is some of the most important work on the planet. Anyone with a good mom will attest–having a good mom is important! And anyone with a bad mom will doubly attest–having a good mom is important!

It’s because motherhood is a means. It’s a means to our kids’ salvation. It’s a (often THE) means to imparting wisdom and Biblical thinking and the anchor that will hold in the high and stormy gale. For a child, the authenticity of the Gospel story is played out in living color by their parents–their mom. Here’s an example: I believe that Jesus is God–He came to earth and lived a sinless life, died on a cross to take the penalty for my sin, and my old self died with Him. Then three days later rose again and I am raised to new life with and in Him.

So how does that play out before their eyes in my life? How about in line at Chipotle at lunchtime during a workday, when the restaurant is filled with professionals and we bustle in breathless with grins on our faces at the thought of food prepared with someone else’s hands! I’ve got the 2-yr old in my arms and the other three are swarming around my legs. We cheerfully bounce into a line about 4 deep and are followed up by 3 or 4 more hungry customers. I glance around with a smile surveying the temperature of the patrons.

It’s cool, to put it mildly. Directly behind us is a woman whose face is visibly annoyed. Perhaps she was concerned that our order would take a long time because she inches closer, willing the line to move ahead and willing us out of it. In front of us is a “young adult.” Older than a teenager, but clearly not out of the teenager phase of life. He pretends like we aren’t behind him. How embarrassing to stand in line by children.

My response to this says something about what I believe the Gospel to be about.

So, I quietly stand my ground with my kids–they’re mine. I look in their faces with love and happiness–happiness that they exist and that we are together. I do not look embarrassed or try to apologize for their existence. I hold my baby and kiss her head. When our turn comes I order with dignity and help my 4 yr old to see over the counter what’s happening. I explain what a carnitas burrito is and why guacamole will be their favorite when they’re old like me. I claim them, I value them, I protect them, I teach them and mostly, just by our sheer existence in that place, I say, these kids are mine, and they’re worth sacrificing for, they’re worth being poured out for, and I’m doing it. That’s what God does for us–claims us.

Also, these kids are not accessories. They’re people. I don’t “wear” them. They aren’t dogs either–there to love me unconditionally and perform some tricks. No, quite the opposite, I serve and love them. That’s what Jesus does for us.

It’s part of a Gospel picture. There are a million more that we paint for our kids by how we respond when they’re vomiting on Palm Sunday or at Christmastime or whether we yell and pitch a fit over the third cup of spilled milk, or chuckle and grab the paper towels. And I fail, don’t get me wrong, I fail. They even get to see how grace covers me when I sin and fail–another portrait of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Bottom line is that the Gospel story, the true story, must be told with words and it must be borne out in the moments of our lives. These are the means of motherhood to bring a child to trust the Trustworthy One. A trustworthy mom who stands her ground and loves her kids in a hostile Chipotle is like a line falling in a pleasant place for those kids and the line points to the Savior–it is a beautiful inheritance. It’s not guaranteed, the secret things are God’s, but it is my calling. May you do it, Lord, for Your Name, El Kana.

“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”
(Psalm 16:5-6 ESV)

hospitality and small children

I’ve been thinking about the joys and challenges of being hospitable with small children at home.

Having toddlers afoot amid home and meal preparations, while expecting a large or small gathering of people, can be a challenge. So much so that many people just don’t do it much at all. But it can also be a great joy and delight.

I have certainly experienced both the difficulties and delights of parenting kids while trying to keep everything picked up and in its place and keep enough gas in my tank so that I’ve got a truly warm welcome for the people walking through the door. The reality is, often I don’t have enough gas in my tank at the arrival of guests. But one thing I’ve always found to be true: God’s grace covers me over and over as friends and family and neighbors and guests enter our home. In my weakness, He is strong and He glorifies His greatness even more because of my tired, broken down reliance on him.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you pursue hospitality with small children at home:

1) Hospitality is a family affair. 2 and 3-year-olds can get a vision for it if you communicate it to them. So, be excited about serving others in your home and they will be too.

2) When you communicate the vision of hospitality to your little kids, make sure you let them know that it is an honor to receive guests, be it family, friends or strangers. Therefore, we seek to treat anyone who enters our home with special honor.

3) Start preparing early with the help of your children. If I know that we’re having a big group over, I begin preparations days in advance and engage the children as much as I possibly can. I let them know why we’re working on getting things in order, or getting food ready, etc. Often this brings on a plethora of teaching opportunities as your children may give you resistance, but it also gives them a wonderful sense of ownership in loving the people who come over.

4) Don’t let parenting and hospitality compete, let them complement. In other words, don’t sacrifice parenting for hospitality or vice versa. If you’re consumed with making your home perfect to the detriment and neglect of your children, that’s a failure all around. Hospitality is an opportunity to teach and better parent your children. Use hospitality to your children’s great benefit.

Or, if you abandon hospitality because it’s just too much work to do it alongside parenting, again, you’re missing the boat. If you’re not hospitable while children are afoot, you cannot bequeath that characteristic to them. And chances are you won’t magically start being hospitable when they turn 8 or 9 or 14 or 15. The pattern will be set.

5) While you can engage your children to help with many things, they can’t help with everything and that’s right and good. They learn by watching. Also, while you do the grown-up jobs, it is another time to teach them to play together peacefully (we aim high and fail often here!).

I often tell the kids they can each pick one toy or book to play with while I set about the grown-up jobs. This is good discipline for them. It helps them to explore all the fun ways you can play with ONE toy. And they often play together, because then they have access to the toys their siblings picked. This keeps messes to a minimum and creativity to the maximum.

6) Expect everything to go wrong. Because it will. You might think the children are playing quietly with their one-toy-a-piece when really they’ve just made a disaster area out of the basement. You may have the bathrooms polished a day in advance, only to have the three-year-old smear toothpaste on the hand towel, wall and floor, while the baby unrolls the toilet paper, again.

You may lay out the best, most inspiring vision for hospitality, only to have your child respond selfishly, with, “but I don’t want anyone else to sit in my chair!” All I can say is, persevere. It’s worth it. They’ll get it eventually. Not perfectly, not all the time, but in bits and pieces, they’ll start to love hospitality, they’ll love loving others, and hopefully they’ll love our hospitable God who inspires and commands it for His people.

7) Remember that it’s more important to do it wrong than not to do it. Say what?! Yes. Have people over, have everything go wrong with the kids not helping and the house not ready and the coffee unmade. Let people in. Turn down the voice in your head that can’t let go of all the things that are screaming at you as you walk through the house. The spot of who-knows-what under the kitchen chair; the smudges and handprints on the sliding door; the messy bed in your son’s room. Turn that voice OFF!

People have entered your home, you owe all your care and attention to the souls under your roof, not the dish left in the sink. It’s time to be Mary, not Martha.

8) Finally, make sure that even as you teach your children to be hospitable in your and their home, also be hospitable to them. While your children are not guests, they also are not going to be there forever. Take time to serve them and treat them with special honor, just as you want them to do to others. Children who’ve tasted what it’s like to be served and honored selflessly will have a better idea of how to do it for others. And more than that, they are worth it.

I hope you’re encouraged to be hospitable through the years of young children and messy parenting. Let the welcoming and tender care of your loving Father inspire you. He welcomes us because of His great love for us, love that comes at great and unthinkable cost to Himself. What a God we serve.

how children are provoked to anger, and what to do instead

Mark Altrogge at The Blazing Center had this insightful list of ways that children are provoked to anger. It was very helpful for me.

Here’s what he had to say about how children are provoked to anger:

“- By constantly criticizing them and not encouraging them.  When they feel they can never please us enough.
– By having double standards – Do as I say, not as I do.  Expecting them to do things we don’t do, e.g. ask forgiveness, humble themselves, etc.
– By anger and harshness
– By a lack of affection
– By telling them what to do or not do without giving Biblical reasons (e.g., Do it because I said to do it, or because it’s just wrong).
– By being offended at their sin because it bothers us, not because it offends God.
– By comparing them to others (Why can’t you act like your sister?)
– By hypocrisy – acting like a Christian at church but not at home
– By embarrassing them (correcting, mocking or expressing disappointment in them in front of others)
– By always lecturing them and never listening to them
– By disciplining them for childishness or weakness, not for sin
– By failing to ask their forgiveness when we sin against them
– By pride – failing to receive humble correction from our spouses or our children when we sin.
– By self-centered reactions to their sin (How could you do this to ME?)
– By ungracious reactions to their sin (What were you thinking?  Why in the world would you do that?)
– By forgetting that we were (and are) sinners (I would NEVER have done that when I was your age).

May God give us gracious, gentle, humble, affectionate hearts toward our children.”

Reading this makes me pray, pray and pray some more that Jesus would work in my kids’ lives despite their mom’s sins. I thought it would be helpful to turn this list into a positive “to do,” to go along with the “not-to-do.”  Sometimes I do better when I have a target to aim at, not only a boogey man to avoid. Both are good.

So, “Let us consider how to stir up one another (esp. our children) to love and good works.. encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24

Here’s the “how-to version” to stir up our children to love and good works:

– By encouraging them and letting them know how pleased and delighted we are with them. By pointing out the grace of God in their daily life.

– By setting an example in our daily walk with the Lord. Modeling humility. By expecting the same standard out of ourselves as we do out of our children.

– By being loving and brokenhearted when they sin. By sacrificing our own comfort and to-do list for the day to bring them back to fellowship with us and the family.

– By open and tender affection.

– By showing them examples from the Bible that they can understand and identify with to lead them towards the Lord.

– By being brokenhearted (not in a manipulative way) about their sin, because of its offense to God, yet being hopeful for their growth.

– By seeing them as uniquely formed and made by God for a purpose.

– By being consistent in our walk with God and our attitude toward them.

– By honoring them privately and, on occasion, publicly.

– By listening to their side and hearing the heart underneath.

– By bearing with their weaknesses and childishness. By being consistent in discipline for sin.

– By asking for forgiveness when we sin against them.

– By humbly receiving correction from our spouse or our children when we sin.

– By reacting to their sin with a concern for their soul.

– By graciously responding to their sin with firmness and lion-hearted love.

– By remembering who we were and who we are: fellow sinners with our children and (hopefully) co-heirs of Jesus with them as well.

teaching children to fear God and trust Him during a storm

We had severe thunderstorms with tornado sightings close by just a couple nights ago.

The kids know what the tornado sirens mean and are simultaneously excited and scared when they hear them.  On Saturday they rushed around grabbing their most beloved stuffed animals before racing downstairs to watch Dave Dahl and the weather radar on channel 5 (Dave is hands-down the best weather guy in the Twin Cities).

The sky turned dark and things seemed very still as we waited for the wind and rain.  Then it was upon us.  I could see our birch tree in front bent over practically in half.

Here’s an opportunity to help our kids fear God and trust Him.  And here’s a list of ways to do that:

1) Affirm that, yes, God is behind this storm.  He created and controls the weather.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Isaiah 44:24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself..

2) Affirm that, yes, the weather is scary and God is not a pansy God.  He is not gumdrops and sugarplums.  He is to be feared.  He holds our lives and tornadoes in His hands.

Psalm 66:16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.

Psalm 40:3 Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

3) This storm is an expression of God’s love and grace for those who are in Christ Jesus.  This is not God’s wrath on us, even if it were to topple our home and take our lives.  We are protected from His wrath, because when we trust in Jesus and His work on the cross, we are now counted righteous and beloved in Christ.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 5:9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

4) God is gracious, not only to His children, but to all people.  We can thank Him for His common grace in things like weather radars and tornado sirens and basements and cell phones and flash lights.

Psalm 145:9 The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

5) As we rightly fear God, we are pushed to trust Him and run to Him for refuge.  Our God is a refuge.  He is an ever-present Help in times of trouble.

Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

6) Our God, the ever-present Help, hears us as we call to Him in prayer.  What an opportunity for kids to find their comfort in God as they pray to Him amid strong feelings of fear.

Psalm 18:6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.

I think the temptation we have as parents is to say to our kids, “It’s ok.  Nothing bad is going to happen.  God will protect us from this storm.”  Which, on the concrete level that kids operate on, is unmistakably false and deep down they know it.

They know that we can’t guarantee that the storm won’t knock our house down.  They’re children, they’re not stupid.

On a deeper level, it’s true, but incomplete.  “Nothing bad is going to happen.. because we trust that even things we feel as bad, God is working for our good for those who love Him.”  And, “God will protect us from this storm.. because we trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and salvation of our soul even if we were to die tonight.”

My challenge as a parent is to gently show them the true God of the Bible and not make up a God that is palatable for them (or me).  They need to see that God is to be feared and trusted.  They need to be in awe of God as they run to hide in the shadow of His wing.

If they don’t get this when they’re young, making sense of the fearsome acts of the Old Testament may shake their faith as adults.  And Jesus’ bold and penetrating way of talking in the New Testament will be indecipherable for them.

Our children watch us to see how we respond in scary situations.  So, perhaps the biggest thing we can do is give them a peek at what’s going on inside of us.  Let them see that our faith is not theoretical, it’s real.

Here’s a photo of a bad storm from 2 summers ago.  We had to replace our siding, but the kids thought the hail was amazing!!!

what do you dream for your kids?

We all have hopes for our kids.  

Mine are very big and very small at the same time.

I want big things: that they will know God, love God, serve and worship God and His Son Jesus.

And on the smaller side, I want them just to be better than me.  I want them to master the things I’m not mastering.  I want them to be a better spouse, a better parent, a better person, than I am.  

The hardest and surest way to that happening is for me to be better than I am, by God’s grace.

And probably the majority of my parenting (75%?) is fear-based (mostly God-fearing, but some man-fearing too).  I parent to avoid what I don’t want them to be.  With fear and trembling I realize that without God’s grace and His strong tools of discipline, instruction, and love (ie their parents) my kids will be left to themselves and their sin nature.  

I want to keep parenting in fear (the Godly, right kind).  But I also want to dream great and Godly dreams for my kids.  I want to expect the best and be ready for God’s blessings in their lives.  He is a good God.  He gives good gifts to His children.  

It’s ok to eagerly hope for and expect God’s working in their lives.  And dream big dreams for them.

What are your fears and dreams for your kids?

is safety a virtue or vice?

Sometimes I will admit to people, “I’m not a real safety-oriented mom.”  

I hope you aren’t gasping in horror.  But it’s true (although mostly unintentional).  I just don’t think of safety a whole lot.  And it’s not because I’ve never been in proximity to people who have had bad things happen to them, like car accidents or other types of accidents.  I think it’s more of a combination of the way I was raised and what I hope is common sense.  Though I may be wrong on that.

Does knowledge require action?  If I know that kids are safer when wearing a helmet, am I then required (morally) to have them wear one?  And how often is often enough?  When riding bikes?  Scooters?  Running fast?  Always when on pavement?  When riding in a car?  In the home?

For me, I think of helmets as essential when on a high traffic street or when riding a motorcycle.  But it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me to let kids ride their bicycles without one in a neighborhood with minimal, slow-driving traffic.

But is this a legitimate moral line I’ve drawn?  Or just preference?  When does safety become a must?

Should I have child locks on my cupboards?  Should we have a barrier to our pond (although the tall grasses provide a pretty good one.)?  A fence around our yard?  The standard for safety seems to be getting higher and higher.  So much so that I believe our children will be in car seats until they are teens.  I wish I were joking about that.

Should I be viewing high safety standards as a bit of common grace from God that allows us to better protect our children?  Or is it a type of idol that we are enslaved to, giving us a false sense of control in regard to our children’s well-being?  Or maybe it could be either.  

Our parents certainly didn’t have the safety standards we do, but they also lacked the information and equipment.  So how much safety is enough to assuage our consciences that we’ve done enough?  

What are your must-do safety standards?  Do you think a high regard for safety brings glory to God?  What about those who are unconcerned with safety?  Can this view bring glory to God?