Category Archives: Parenting

Five ways to celebrate Advent with children

The Advent season officially kicks off this week. Many churches celebrate Advent every year as a fixed part of the church calendar. But if you didn’t grow up in one of these churches or aren’t sure what Advent is all about, here’s a simple definition, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

I love this definition because it describes the season (December 2-24) as both a time of “expectant waiting” and a time of “preparation”. What a wonderful way to view the Christmas season! Not just as a time to prepare our homes with decorations, presents, and cookies; not only as a time to wait expectantly for the big guy in the red suit. But a time to prepare our hearts for Christ and for whatever God is calling us to do, as well as a time to reflect on the glorious gift He gave us, excitedly counting down the days to when we declare “for unto us a child is born”!

If you’re like my family, sometimes the other side of Christmas can get in the way of true Christ-centered waiting and preparation. But here are five ways you and your family, no matter what age your kids are, can celebrate Advent this year:

1. With a daily Advent devotion

A few years ago I bought Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift to read with my kids. It’s a beautiful book that takes your family through the journey of God’s people leading right up to the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day. Each day’s reading includes a story and related scripture, and it was a great way for us to all come together as a family each evening and focus our attention on the reason for this season. I would recommend this for families with children 8 years and up as the readings are a bit long for little ones. However, since buying Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Voskamp has come out with a pop-up book called The Wonder of the Greatest Gift that looks like it would be more suitable for younger children, although I personally have not seen it in person.

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Photo credit: “Reading” by Sarah Elizabeth Altendorf

2. A Jesse Tree 

I first heard about the Jesse Tree when reading Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. The Jesse Tree is an interactive way to tell the stories of the Bible that lead up to the birth of Jesus. Each day there is a scripture reading and an associated ornament to represent that day’s lesson. Your family can either hang the ornaments on your Christmas Tree or have a small separate “Jesse Tree” just for this tradition. There are lots of places to buy Jesse Tree ornaments, but you can also make them yourself. I especially love this tutorial from Faith and Fabric.

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Photo credit: Weihnachtsdekoration mit Rentier-Kissen und Weihnachtsbaum by marcoverch

3. With an Advent Elf or Kindness Elf 

By now we all know about the “Elf on the Shelf”; but if incorporating that little North Pole spy and all of his crazy antics into your Christmas traditions is not for you, here are some alternative ideas that stick close to the heart of the Advent Season:

  • My friend Lauren from Blacktop to Dirt Road has the Kindness Elf show up to her house each year, beginning December 1st and staying through the Advent season. This cute little guy encourages Lauren’s family to do something kind each day, reminding them of the kindness and character Christ first exhibited for us.
  • Another friend of mine, Anne from Once Upon a Mom has introduced the Advent Elves into her family tradition. These elves help her family with their Jesse Tree by showing up each morning with that day’s ornament. So cute!

4. Intentional prayer as a family

Sometimes something as simple as time set-aside each day to pray together as a family is all you need to keep your heart focused on what’s truly special about Advent. Ask each member of the family to report on how they saw Jesus in action that day, what they did to shine His light to others, and who they saw that needs help or is hurting. Then pray together, praising God for His faithfulness and action, and lifting up those in need. This is simple and requires no pre-planning or materials.

However, if you’d like something a little more structured, check out this Advent Prayer Guide from my friend Bailey Suzio at The Thin Place.

Family hold hands around the kitchen table before their meal

5. Seek Peace Together

Let’s face it, this time of year can be one of the busiest we face, and in our rush and haste it’s easy to lose focus on the real reason for the season, coasting into December 25th exhausted, grumpy, and stressed out. A simple way to combat that is to be intentional in seeking peace. This will look different for each family. For some it may mean cutting back on extra-curricular activities and/or saying no to certain events in order to be home more in the evenings and on the weekends. For others it may mean scheduling family dinners a few nights a week. For my family it means protecting Sundays as our day of rest, as much as possible.

Take it a step further and use that down-time to read what God has to say about peace. You can download my free 31 Days of Seeking Peace scripture calendar and use it as a guide for you and your family. The readings are short, so this can easily be incorporated into prayer time, a Jesse Tree, or other Advent tradition.

 

31 Days of Seeking Peace

Whatever you do, I believe by spending a little bit of time each day to come together as a family and remember the special gift that God gave us not only keeps us focused on the reason for this season, it prepares our hearts to celebrate and accept that gift today and throughout the year.

If you or your family have other traditions for celebrating Advent, I’d love to hear about them!

 

5

Is there a reason for everything?

When I was in college at Appalachian State University, I was super involved with the campus Lutheran Student Association (LSA). It was the first group I joined when I got to school and in many ways the friends I met in that group were a life-line during those four years. They were my people and they helped me get closer to Jesus. I loved being a part of the group and the larger church community that supported them.

Each year I became increasingly more involved — serving on leadership, helping to plan and lead events, mentoring other students, etc. By my senior year it came time to hold elections for the group’s leadership and I decided to run for president. There was another girl who was younger, had not been a part of the group for as many years, who also decided to run.

I remember sitting in the fellowship hall of the church after the voting process and hearing the announcement that the other girl had been elected. She had won and my heart sank. I won’t lie, my ego was bruised, but I also felt like the group that had been “my people” had turned away and said, “you’re not the one that we want, we choose someone else.”

I know a leadership position for a campus church group doesn’t sound like a big deal or something to get upset about, but at the time I remember feeling devastated, hurt, even cast-out.

However, I’ll never forget that moments after the results were announced the pastor of the church and leader of our campus group — who had become a great mentor and surrogate father to me during my time at Appalachian — came over and rested his hand on my shoulder, leaned down and whispered in my ear, “I really wanted that for you.” Then he gave my shoulder a squeeze and walked away.

In that moment it was like he said, “I see you. I see what your heart desires, and because I care about you, I want you to have it.”

I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the years and what it meant to know that someone saw me and saw my heart.

A lot changed for me that year. Partly because of the hurt I carried from that event, I pulled away from LSA and church. Some other really hard things had already been happening in my life and it became a bit of a perfect storm. I slipped into a deep, deep depression my senior year. I didn’t go to class, I started getting migraines and had to be taken to the emergency room because of one that was so bad I couldn’t stop vomiting. I even contemplated suicide at one point. As my friends struggled to understand what was going on with me and how to be around this changed person, I withdrew from them. I was angry, I was lonely, and I was scared.

But during this time I stayed in touch with that same Pastor. Even though I wasn’t going to LSA meetings or to church much, I would stop by his office every week and we would talk. He would encourage me and pray for me. In many ways he was the life-line that kept me from completely severing my relationship with God.

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We often say, “everything happens for a reason.” I have said this frequently over the years. But as I get older I’m starting to question if that’s true, or is it just a nice platitude we tell ourselves? Does everything really happen for a reason? Is there a reason a mother has to bury her child? Is there a reason a husband and father would lose his entire family in a car crash? Is there a reason the young, healthy newlywed gets a cancer diagnosis on her 26th birthday?

Do I believe God creates good out of every situation? Absolutely, without a doubt I do. I have seen it time and again where beauty has risen out of the ashes and joy and love have transformed the ugliest, darkest situations and sorrowful times. But that still doesn’t mean those things — those desperate, break-a-person-in-two things — were ordained by God and happened for a reason.

Of course God can make something beautiful out of life’s ugly, and create strength and redemption from weakness and brokenness. In the midst of tragedy He can bring together people who otherwise would not have come into each other’s lives. But I cannot sit here and say God caused a tragic accident so that He could do those things. Or that there is some bigger purpose for a mother and father to bury their child. The reality is that sometimes hard, devastating, crappy stuff happens.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to compare me losing some silly election for a college student group 25 years ago to these other real-life tragedies. But I can look back and tell you that I don’t see any reason why that happened. I don’t see any reason why God would have created that situation, with a darkness already looming in my life. But I often wonder how or if that year would have been different had I not pulled away from my friends and from church. Had I not felt a little bit cast-aside.

And yet, I do see where God made sure there was someone there in the midst of that who said, “I see you.” And that created a life-line for me to get through a really difficult time.

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Recently my daughter had a pretty disappointing thing happen to her. Something she wanted badly and had worked hard for, and due to a simple mistake — a forgotten deadline — she lost the opportunity. When she came home in tears my heart just broke for her.

Being a mom I wanted so badly to look for the reason. I wanted to say to her, “there must be a reason, let’s look for it together. What’s the good that can come out of this, how is God going to use this?” But I couldn’t bring myself to say it because the truth is, I don’t know if there is a reason. Maybe it’s just a really crummy thing that happened.

Will she learn from this experience and never miss a deadline again? Maybe. But I’m not sure that her feeling badly about herself and the sense of failure and disappointment she is carrying were intended for some loftier purpose.

So instead of pulling out the mom advice on what’s the big lesson we can learn here, or what’s God’s reasoning, I was just honest with her and said, “You know what honey? This sucks. I know it hurts and you’re disappointed, and I’m so sorry. I really wanted this for you. Because you wanted this, I wanted it for you.

I see how hard you are working and what you’re working towards. I see you. And I want you to know that.

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There’s probably someone in your life who, right now, just needs to be seen. Maybe it’s one of your kids. Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s a sibling, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. Maybe a teacher or a next-door neighbor. But I want you to find that person. Find someone who is going through something really crummy and please don’t give them that sad, old platitude that everything is happening for a reason when they start to pour out their heart to you. Instead, just come alongside them and simply say, “I’m so sorry. This sucks and I wanted better for you, because I care about you. Because I see you. I see your heart and I see that you’re hurting.

Maybe if we spend more time seeing each other and loving each other rather than trying to put quick fixes and patches on everything, then instead of wasting so much energy trying to understand why tragic things happen, we can simply be a beacon of light and love in the darkness.

Matthew 25:35-36

photo credit: alexandermazilkin Moscow’s summer via photopin (license)

A Back-to-School Prayer

The first day of school is always a weird jumble of emotions for me. I vacillate between being ecstatic that they have some place to be other than home, happy for a normal routine after a long summer without much structure, and pushing down that giant lump in my throat that forms knowing they are one more day closer to walking out the front door for good.

I think I’m probably not alone in this and most parents have a little bit of worry inside about what lies ahead for their children at the start of a new school year – will they like their teacher? Will their teacher like them? Will they choose kind friends? Will they get picked on because of their lisp/birthmark/crooked teeth/loud laugh/weight? Will they be pressured into doing something they don’t want to do? Will they come home crying because their best friend said they can’t be friends anymore? The list goes on.

At different times throughout the last 13 years of sending my little ones off to school, my heart has been burdened with all of these things. And unfortunately, many of these worries have become a reality at some point. If I’m not careful, I will carry these fears with me as I wave goodbye and send them off for another year, feeling helpless to do anything to protect them once they are out of my site.

But then I remember, there is something I can do: I can pray for them.

Here is a back-to-school prayer I wrote for my children, perhaps you will want to use this to pray over yours:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Please protect my child(ren) as they begin a new school year. I know that my daughter is uniquely and wonderfully made in your image, and I pray that she will remember who she is and be unafraid to be her true authentic self. You have blessed her with many special gifts and talents, but perhaps the most important is her ability to love others and be kind. Help her remember this and seek out the unlikely friend, the lonely classmate, the shy teammate.

When he feels scared, hurt, confused, angry, sad, or pressured by the world around him, please help him to remember You are there and so am I. When school is hard and my son feels inferior, unable, or incapable of what is being asked, help calm his mind and lead him to a teacher, aid, coach, or administrator that will show compassion and gently guide him in the right direction. And Lord, let him trust me enough to help, and help me to listen — truly and earnestly listen — to what he is trying to tell me instead of always trying to fix everything. At the end of the day, I pray that his struggles will make him rely on You more, and have more empathy and compassion for others.

Finally, I pray you will guide her friendships. Lead her to others that will love her for who she is, and not care about the clothes she wears, the backpack she carries, or how she fixes his hair. Help him find friends that lift him up instead of making him feel like he is not enough. And when there is conflict or hurt feelings, as there surely will be, help her to be humble enough to apologize first, and gracious enough to forgive without reservation.

May they always keep their eyes fixed ahead on You and your path.

Amen.

 

Originally posted on the Today Parents Parenting Team Community.

 

photo credit: woodleywonderworks first day school bus ritual via photopin (license)

Dear Daughter, here is the truth about modesty

I’m the mom of three teenagers, two of whom are daughters. Sadly, we’ve been having the same discussion about modesty and what clothing is, or is not, appropriate since they were about eight. But I finally realized that we’ve been having the wrong conversation.

There’s been much debate over school dress codes, and how clothes are made differently for boys and girls over the last few years. There’s been outcry over girls feeling body shamed, called out in front of peers for a peeping bra strap or wearing leggings, receiving detention, being sent home, or even suspended. There’ve also been parents rising up to call out the clothing manufacturers for the grown-up silhouettes being produced for young girls, and explain to school administrators how difficult it can be to find shorts and skirts that meet dress code lengths.

I’ll admit I’ve been relieved that my kids attend a conservative Christian school with a very clear-cut dress code, making clothing debates in the morning a bit easier by being able to say “that’s against the school dress code”. Sadly, though, I realized the message my girls have gotten from teachers, peers, and even me about the “why” behind the dress code has been inconsistent, at best. A recent conversation with my teen daughter and a friend brought to light their growing frustration over feeling like the sole purpose of the dress code was to make sure their male peers were not tempted by their bodies.

As a mom, I felt sad and a bit convicted that I had not done a better job of explaining the purpose behind modesty. It’s a topic that is not always easy to explain, but hearing these girls honestly share their understanding (or lack thereof) based on things they had heard or read, I finally understood what had been lacking in my explanations, and what, in general, is lacking from the conversation as a whole. Modesty is not about hiding our bodies or our femininity, it is about protecting and cherishing what is sacred.

What I mean by this is our innate sexual nature. Too often I think as parents, as Christians — as humans — we’re afraid to talk frankly about sex and sexuality. But the reality is we live in a world where women and girls are highly sexualized by the media and consumer landscape. This mass sexualization has not only desensitized us, but it has created an incredible misunderstanding about the God-given gifts of sex and sexuality. And, unfortunately, as long as we are afraid to speak the truth, our sons and daughters will continue to get all of their information from society, their peers, and the media, instead of us.

Society tells them expressing sexuality is a sign of strength and confidence.

Society tells them likability and desirability is directly related to appearance.

Society tells them anyone who promotes modesty is wanting them to hide their true selves or is prudish and puritanical.

Society tells them modesty is an attempt to devalue and oppress women, and puts all of the blame on them for male lust.

We are hard pressed to dispute these things as long as our best argument is “too much skin is a distraction”.

But here is what I am now telling my daughters:

It is not your job to worry about another person’s sin. Your body was created in God’s image and is not something to be embarrassed by or thought of as a temptation to others.

Sex is a beautiful gift created by God, and with it comes sexuality and sensuality. These are not things to be afraid of or ashamed of. But that gift and the things that come with it, are intended to be shared with only one person—your spouse.

You are so much more than your appearance. You are strength and love. You are smart and talented. You are designed to do great things and your body is a vehicle for accomplishing many of them. But, the moment you start to worry more about how you look than how you act is the moment you begin to devalue yourself and all of your gifts.

Magazines are fake. Television is fake. They are trying to sell you something, and mostly that something is the message that you are not good enough as you are. That’s a load of bull. You do not need to look like, dress like, sound like, or act like those images you see. Stop trying for the perfect selfie, finding the right pose, the right angle, the right lighting. You are wasting so much time trying to achieve something that is not only fake, but unimportant.

you are so much more than your appearance

I choose modesty not because I am trying to hide my sexuality, but because it is saved for my marriage and shared in love with my husband. I choose modesty not because it is my job to worry about my cleavage or collar bone tempting another man into sin, but because I worry about preventing my own sin and I know that vanity is one I struggle with. I choose modesty not because I want to look frumpy, hidden, or weak, but because I want to feel strong and capable so I can get to work on the important things God is calling me for, and taking the perfect selfie isn’t one of them.

Dear daughters, for all of these reasons I choose modesty, and I hope you will, too.

Modesty is about strength, not shame

Originally appeared on Her View From Home.

 

photo credit: Send me adrift  via photopin (license)

I’m a superhero mom

I’m a superhero mom.

I don’t wear a cape or unitard, have a mask, or knee-high leather boots.
Most days it’s jeans and sweaters, often with holes. It’s yoga pants stretched past their prime, stained t-shirts, and comfy shoes — always comfy shoes. But these clothes allow me to get dressed quickly so I can respond to your needs. They allow me to bend and reach and cradle, and snuggle without worrying about wrinkles. They allow me to climb and chase, to walk grocery aisles and pace hallways.

Because I’m a superhero mom.

I don’t own an invisible jet or Bat-mobile, nor can I fly, or leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Instead I drive a van or a station wagon, definitely something with four doors and lots of storage. I transport book bags, diaper bags, sports bags, and grocery bags. I transport you – my most precious cargo. I map out my route each day, plan outings and errands around nap times, school days, and dance classes. I drive countless miles without leaving our home town.

Because I’m a superhero mom.

I don’t have super-human strength and my body doesn’t regenerate or instantly heal from cuts and bruises.
But I feel everything you feel. When that boy broke your heart, mine shattered into a million pieces. When you made that basket after sitting on the sidelines all season I felt your joy overflowing out of me and running down my cheeks. When you were scared about the first day of school and worried no one would like you, your fear and uncertainty ran through my veins and tightened my lungs.

Because I’m a superhero mom.

I can’t climb walls, spin webs or stay young forever.
Instead I climb mountains and obstacles fighting for you, advocating for you, making sure you get a fair shot, and every chance to be your best self. I spin tales of imaginary adventures and silly, made-up songs to help you sleep, to help you laugh, to help you heal. And while my body ages, my heart grows larger each day.

Because I’m a superhero mom.

I can’t travel in time, see the future, or make time stand still.
But I can live in the moment, enjoying each day with you, seeking joy and contentment instead of perfection and affluence. I can see glimpses of the adult you are growing into and I can help prepare you for tomorrow by recognizing your gifts and talents. I can be present, be available, be encouraging and forgiving, and always, always tell you how much you are loved.

Because I’m a superhero mom.

I don’t always win the battle, defeat the villain, or claim victory.
Instead I arm myself with the armor of God, battle hate with love, and claim victory in my inheritance as a child of God. Each day I try to show you how to do the same, by speaking truth and love into your life, and leading by example.

Because I’m a superhero mom.

I'm a superhero mom

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