Great Tool for Managing Screen Time!

In today’s age, one of our added parenting duties is managing our kids use of technology. I have become more computer savvy than I wanted to just so that I could keep up with my 11-year-old and 5-year-old. In a perfect world, I would control everything that they are doing on their tablets and iPads or not let them use it all. Controlling their use 100% for me is somewhat impractical. I’ll get distracted by dinner, or my other kid screaming, or my husband wanting to chat about something. Before I know it, what was suppose to be 30 minutes of screen time turned into an hour. And because I see a lot of educational value in these devices, not letting them use it all is not an option for our family. But all is not lost. To manage it, I have learned to use the various parental control tools on their devices. One of my favorite tools is Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited.  

Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited is available on Amazon’s Kindle Fire products if you subscribe. (And if you are undecided between the Kindle Fire and other tablets, this is a feature you may want to consider before making a decision). It is a few bucks a month (the individual plan is less than what you would pay for most drinks at Starbucks), but in my opinion, totally worth it. The best aspect of FreeTime Unlimited goes beyond the countless amount of pre-filtered content based on gender and age available for your kids to read (or play) every month. Some of the content has an audio option that allows kids to listen while they read along. This is great for non-readers or those that are just starting to read like my five-year-old. But as I mentioned, what I like the most isn’t even content based. I love the parental controls that allow me to limit their Kindle time and content without having to be over their shoulders all the time. It takes a little bit of time to set up, but once you do, it works great.

Parental controls on FreeTime Unlimited allows you to set up profiles by age range. That means that my five-year-old isn’t going to be getting material meant for my 11-year-old and vice verse. All reading content, apps, and videos are age-appropriate. If you are picky like me, you can easily delete any specific content you don’t want your kids reading through the parental controls. I am not a big fan of witches nor halloween type material so those items get quickly taken out before I hand my kids their Kindle.

The other great feature, is that you can set time limits for apps and block all entertainment content until they meet their educational requirements. You set the amount of time they can use the Kindle Fire for each of the activities: reading, watching videos, using their parent approved website, or playing apps. For example, after their 30 minute time limit is up for apps, the Kindle automatically turns off their ability to access any apps. If you are worried that they will pull out the Kindle when they should be asleep, no worries. You set up bed times and wake times for it as well. There are also set up different limits and times for weekdays and weekends. My kids’ Kindle Fire is set up so they have a little more time on the apps on weekends and they can stay up a little bit later.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I do earn a small commission if you sign up for Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited through any links on this blog. However, if you know me well enough, you know I wouldn’t promote something I didn’t believe was useful nor fruitful. If you are thinking of getting your kids a Kindle Fire, I highly suggest you sign-up for the free trial of FreeTime Unlmited and check it out yourself. And please, if you have any other questions about this product, don’t hesitate to ask it in the comments. I will do my best to answer them. I really do love what Amazon has done with FreeTime Unlimited. If anyone knows of a similar service for Apple devices, please share!

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited Free Trial

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My Parenting Failures of 2017

2017 will always be bittersweet. It was one of my lowest moments as a parent, but also one of tremendous joy. I was failing as a parent and that is not easy to admit. The worst part about it, is that I did not even know I was doing it, but thankfully God was gracious enough to point out my mistakes before I hurt my child even further.

At the beginning of the year, my husband and I had shared with our church small group that we had noticed some behavioral issues with our eleven-year-old. She was displaying an “entitlement” attitude, worrying only about herself with almost no compassion towards her little sister, her father, nor myself. More ominously, she had purposefully done a few things behind our backs and then tried to lie about it, like physically hitting a good friend of hers. She was also increasingly defiant whenever we would correct her and our mother-daughter relationship was hanging on by a thread.

It was a hard thing to accept that my smart, curious, happy kid was turning into this person that did not reflect the heart of Jesus (and that frankly, I was not liking very much).  We could have dismissed it as part of the growing process and blamed it on the “tween” years, but that would have been a big mistake. We knew we had to make some changes and so we planned for the girls and I to spend part of our summer in Laredo, TX doing mission work. Our hope was that seeing poverty first hand would help my daughter realize that she had everything and help change how she viewed her world.

I believe the trip helped and it certainly opened the eyes of both my daughters in a lot of ways. But it also helped in an unexpected way. It helped me. During one of the  church services, my then ten-year-old daughter was sitting a row back from me, with her arms crossed, refusing to participate in the service. This is small church so her bad attitude was easy for everyone to see. I was furious because it was reflecting badly on me and it was reflecting badly on my dad, the pastor. I gave her a glare and whispered condemning words in her ear and she glared back at me, unmoved. My heart was pricked. God convicted me right there and then. At that moment I was worried little about my daughter’s heart. Rather, I was worried about what the congregation would say and how she was embarrassing me.

In the following weeks, I heard a sermon that further cemented what God had begun to speak to my heart that Sunday morning. I also got the opportunity to spend time with a remarkable little boy and his mom and I learned a lot from their interaction. Those experiences showed me that I had been parenting from a place of condemnation. I was making my daughter feel like she could never do anything right, that she would never be good enough. Her natural reaction was to feel lonely, feel unloved, and to rebel and pull away. So I made the decision that I needed to stop the yelling, stop the glaring, stop the hurtful words, and seek to help restore her little heart. I needed to do some serious work on me and how I interacted with my daughter. I needed to apply Colossians 3:21.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

That doesn’t mean I relaxed my “rules” nor that I did away with consequences. I still have certain expectations of behavior. She still has chores. But how I lay out consequences has changed. I try to assume a lot less and I ask a lot more questions to find out where the behavior or reaction is coming from. And if I determine that she has met a consequence threshold, I try my absolute best to speak to her respectfully and to explain why the consequences are necessary. I am trying to avoid phrases like, “I am disappointed in you” or “I can’t believe you did that.” I say things more like, “You made a mistake. It happens. We are all flawed and make mistakes, otherwise Jesus would have never come.”

I also changed my way of thinking. Instead of expecting perfection, I expect mistakes to be made. My child is a child and I would be a hypocrite to expect otherwise. I shouldn’t be surprised by questionable choices, but I am trying to use them as an chance to guide and instruct her instead. Changing that frame of mind, has helped me improve how I react when my daughter does fall short. I am less likely to give that condemning glare and more likely to show her how much I love her.

This new way of parenting is very unnatural for me. I am easily irritated, I am moody, and I have been told that I can give a look that kills. For those that know me well, they know I can be a difficult person (I can hear my mom and husband chuckling now). I have to fight these natural reactions and be more calm. But what drives me is that I only have 7 years left with this little girl. This is the chance God has given me to raise His child and prepare her for adulthood. If I am willing to fight against anyone that tries to hurt my daughter physically, then I must be willing to fight against the character flaws in myself that are hurting my daughter.

And because I am seeking her heart, instead of just looking to get good behavior out of her, I am noticing her emotional needs more. I realized because she is so smart, and so independent, that I was not spending as much time with her as I used to. I wasn’t doing it on purpose. I just assumed she needed me less or didn’t want me to be around because she didn’t seek me out the way her sister does. But in her mind, that was not what was happening at all. She was interpreting my behavior as me not loving her as much as I love her little sister. It breaks my heart to write those words, to know that I did that, but I can’t move forward unless I am honest with what I did. Now, I seek her out even if she is not looking for me and I try to serve her in little random ways that will make her feel special again.

It has been almost five months and the change in my daughter has been remarkable. She is more cuddly, more obedient, more likely to do the right thing when she thinks I am not looking, and just more pleasant. When I interrupt what she is doing and ask her to do something, I am now more likely to get an “Okay, mommy” instead of her stomping away. And although she still has angry outbursts now and then, they are more infrequent and I see a much greater, genuine concern for my husband and me and for her sister. She is still a child, of course. She still fights with her sister now and again. She still makes some questionable decisions, but they are more infrequent. I am seeing a heart change and I am full of joy.

2017 will always be the year that God nudged me, actually more like pushed me to change my parenting style. It was the year I learned that in order to help my daughter, I needed to seek His guidance to provoke change in me first. As we aim to raise our children, we also have to be willing to let God guide, correct, and transform us. We are imperfect beings raising imperfect beings, but if we let the spirit guide us, it can make all the difference. Can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring.

Proverbs 4:23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life.

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Letters from the Forgotten

A few of the women here at New Vision Community Church minister to female prisoners in Nuevo Laredo, a town in Mexico right across the border from here in Laredo, TX. They go there every Saturday morning to share the gospel and to comfort and bring a little joy to a dark and somber place. And although I am unable to cross the border (didn’t bring my passport), my girls and I were still able to take part in this very important ministry.

My father, the pastor, asked me if I would help respond to letters some of these women had written. I volunteered to do six and in my typical father fashion, he left me eleven to write. As I opened each letter and peeked into each woman’s soul, my heart ached for them. These were all women that had come to accept Jesus Christ in prison. They had experienced liberty in repenting, but they were still bound by their circumstances. They will have to finish their time served before they could be free from their jail cell.

Each woman had a different story to tell. Some just needed to vent, others desperately asked for prayers so that they could return to their families, their children. One insisted she was innocent, others admitted that they were guilty and asked God for help in becoming better people. While being on the outside, it is easy to look at these women and judge. Only God knows if they are truly repentant, but I am convinced that the abuse, the loneliness, the rejection, the extreme poverty many of these women endured played a significant role in propelling them to their current situation.

My girls coloring verse pictures for the prisoners.

Regardless of our feelings about why these women are there, Jesus has instructed us Christians to minister to those in prison (Matthew 25) and I was thankful to be part of it. These are women, that in many ways, have been forgotten by society and even by the church. I have to admit that at first it felt a little overwhelming, especially since I had already committed myself to helping in other ways and I don’t like writing letters by hand. But after reading each of the women’s letter, I felt compelled to respond. And since being here is suppose to help teach our entire family the importance of service, I asked my ten-year-old and five-year-old to help me. I had them color scripture cards to accompany my letters.

The letters and cards were done and we turned them in. A few days later, the woman in charge of the prison ministry thanked me and told me what an amazing blessing it had been to the women. They were overjoyed to have received letters and were able to take them back to their cells. I have to admit that I felt a little guilty that I first saw this important task as just another chore, but I am glad that I followed through with it. I do hope and pray that with God’s help, I was able to write the words that would help them in their spiritual journey.

I may have a chance to write a few more letters with the remaining weeks I have in Laredo and after I leave, I will go back to PA and continue doing the things that I do. However, there will be two women here in Laredo that will diligently make their way across the border every Saturday to minister to new and old souls. I am thankful for their service and their example of Christ’s love.


Family Mission

One of the poorest areas in Laredo.

Early this year, my husband and I decided that we needed to do something a bit out of the ordinary for the sake of our girls. Like many American kids in their generation, they carry an entitlement attitude and have the expectation that we exist only to cater to them. This is despite our best efforts to not spoil them, to not buy them too many toys, to often say no, and in many ways to make life a little difficult for them. Honestly, our girls do not truly have a concept of hard work nor do they know what it means to experience need. So we decided to give them an experience that would put both of those things front and center. We decided to spend a month working at my parents’ ministry in Laredo, TX.

Laredo is a not-so-small city right on the border with Mexico. Although you will see some wealth, there is also poverty so extreme, that you wonder whether you are still in the United States, but you are. And my parents’ church has a mission in Laredo to reach out to the poorest of the poor.

Well, today was our first day and we hit the ground running. Our first task was to fill grocery bags of food that will be given to the elderly later in the week. We had to sort through various boxes and make sure each grocery bag had an adequate mix of goods. It was quite the operation, pulling boxes off shelves, taking empty boxes to the recycling, moving filled bags to storage, etc. But the most beautiful part of it all was seeing the determined look on my daughters’ faces as they diligently accomplished each of their tasks. It felt good to do this as a family and know that our efforts would bless the lives of so many people. This took up most off our morning.

After a wonderful lunch of deep-dish pizza, made by my mom in the church kitchen for us and all the volunteers, we went to Ein Gedi Ranch. Ein Gedi is a small working farm owned by the church in the middle of one of the poorest and most forgotten areas of Laredo. It was sad to find out that people will use this community as a dumping ground for their garbage. But this isn’t a land fill. There are families, children that live, work, and play here. And thanks to Ein Gedi, the children have a safe place to come play, to learn, and to eat.

While at Ein Gedi, we distributed shoes to children that had attended Vacation Bible School the week before. Each family waited patiently to receive their shoes while the local school district provided lunch. The church has a working relationship with the school district in their efforts to make sure poor kids are still getting at least one nutritional meal a day during the summer break. Since there were many volunteers helping with the efforts we let our girls play outside. They loved seeing the ducks and chickens and playing with the dogs that live there ignoring the outside temperature of 100 degrees.

After Ein-Gedi, there was still more work to be done. We returned to the main church to sort boxes and boxes of donated goods. Each donated appliance had to be tested to make sure it worked. Other items had to be thoroughly cleaned before going into its respective bins, and some items would just need to be tossed out. My husband pulled the boxes from the truck into the sorting room. My ten-year-old worked with grandma to price items that would be sold in the church store to raise money for their ministry. My five-year-old was the runner. She was sent to deliver things like tape to the church secretary or plastic forks to the church kitchen. I loved how serious to took this important mission taking off in a full sprint every time she was sent out.

We finished our day by making a run to Wal-Mart to buy shoes for the kids who did not get shoes earlier in the day at Ein-Gedi (their shoe-size had not been available). Their shoes will be delivered on Friday.

All in all, by the end of the day we were all exhausted and maybe even a little cranky. We will be sleeping soundly tonight, and hopefully we will be well-rested to start this all over again tomorrow.


Five Powerful Prayers for Your Kids

Parenting is hard. My oldest is now in her “tweens” and I am encountering a whole new range of issues to deal with. Honestly, the toddler years were simpler, but that is a topic for a whole other blog. As I go through my ups and downs of parenting, I have come to learn to fall back on what is tried and true, God’s word. I now pray scripture over my children. I cannot say it was my idea, but something I learned from a godly woman much wiser than myself who has already been in my shoes. When you combine God’s word with prayer, you just know it has to have a powerful impact. So here are prayers inspired by scripture that I pray over my own children and hopefully they will inspire you to find verses that you can pray over your own kids.

From I Chronicles 4:10:

“Lord, bless my daughters and enlarge their spiritual territory, and that your hand may be with them, and that you would keep them from harm so that it may not bring them any pain.”

From Psalm 119:133:

“Keep steady my daughters’ steps according to your promise and let no iniquity get dominion over them.”

From Colossians 1:9-13:

“I pray that my daughters might be filled with the knowledge of your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that they may walk worthy of you Lord, fully pleasing you, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of you God. May they be strengthened with all might, according to your glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness. May they always give thanks to you Father, who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, who has delivered us from the power of darkness and has translated us into the kingdom of your dear son.”

From Proverbs 4:20-23

“Father I pray that my daughters may be attentive to your words, and may they incline their ears to your saying. May those words never escape from their sight and may they keep them within their heart. For they are life to those who find them and healing to all their flesh. May they keep their heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

From Ephesians 3:14-19

“Father I pray that you may grant my daughters, according to the riches of your glory, to be strengthened with might through your Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. I pray also that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that they may be filled with all the fullness of you Lord.”

If there are prayers from scripture that you pray over your children, feel free to share in the comments below so that we may all benefit from it.

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The Art of Raising Prayer Warriors: Part 1

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

img_7925_fotorI have to admit, I hated praying. For years as a professed Christian, I spent no more than five minutes each night. Every once in a while I might do ten to fifteen minutes, but seriously, looking back at it now I realize how pitiful that was. I was far from fulfilling I Thessalonians 5:17 where it says to “Pray without ceasing.” God was still graceful and answered many of my prayers, but I came to realize that my pathetic prayer life stunted my spiritual growth in multiple ways. I was not receiving the full blessing that comes with being in communion with our heavenly Father. Even though I spent a lot of time studying the Bible, my discernment, my ability to resist temptation, and my ability to fight the spiritual battle were all weakened because I lacked a real prayer life. But through the encouragement of a friend, I have come to enjoy prayer and to seek it in ways that I had never done so before.

Early this year, I started thinking of how I could encourage my children the way my friend had encouraged me to not only pray more but to love it. I don’t want my girls to waste years missing out on something so amazingly powerful like I did. I therefore meditated on it and I discovered that a lot of the same reasons I had disliked praying were the same reasons my children did not enjoy it either. I asked God for wisdom and direction on the things that I could do encourage them to become prayer warriors and now I want to share what I learned with you in a series of blogs. This is the first one.

This first strategy is simple and straight forward. You have probably heard this shared many times, but it works and I have seen the fruit of it this past year with my girls.

Make sure they see AND hear you pray. Children learn best from watching you, especially young children. It may seem that in their multiple distractions, they don’t notice what you are doing, but they do. They don’t miss a beat and if they don’t see you praying, they will wonder why they have to do it. Both my nine-year-old and my four-year-old are quick to point out any inconsistency with the things I say and the things I do. I, therefore, know that I have to model praying behavior for them if I expect them to listen to my encouragements to pray.

Just as important as it is for our kids to see us praying, it is also important for them to hear us praying. We will sometimes seek to pray in a quiet place away from the noise of our children. Or we might be tempted to quit praying when the kids interrupt us. There are certainly good reasons to do that and we do need quiet in our own personal prayer lives. However, I want to encourage you to also pray in spite of your children’s commotion. Even though it is hard for us to concentrate, it does something for them. It really does. Believe or not, they are listening.

A couple of years ago my then two-year-old was role playing with her toys. At one point in her story, one doll started praying for the others. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I was surprised because the words that came out of my child’s mouth were almost verbatim phrases she had heard me pray. Up until that point, I had not even known she had been listening, but she obviously had been.

Now I am getting to enjoy the fruits of modeling prayer for them. My four-year-old sometimes wakes up early and she will find her way to my war room (a.k.a. family room) where I pray in the mornings. She snuggles next to me. We have had enough conversations about what I am doing that she knows to try to be quiet, but many times she is not quiet. Sometimes she is asking me a million questions, but many times she is repeating everything that I say. The latter is music to my ears because I know that she is learning how to pray. And just this morning, I was praying and my older daughter was getting ready for school. She then found her way to the couch on the opposite end of me and bowed her head. There was no nagging on my part. I had not even asked her to come pray with me. She did it all on her own.

BONUS TIP: Form a prayer/play group. Yes it will be loud and yes it may be hard to concentrate but prayer is powerful in numbers. Just as important, your children will  see and hear you pray together. What a wonderful testimony for their young lives and a wonderful way for them to learn about prayer.

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Thinking Before Speaking

For the summer, I decided to teach my daughters one verse of scripture per week. The idea is to pick verses of things that we as a family need to work on. This week’s verse is Proverbs 29:20:

 “Do you see a man that is hasty in his words? There is more hope in a fool than with him.”

Once I explained what the word “hasty” meant, my nine-year-old daughter nailed it. She said, “It is when you speak without thinking.” How often do we say things without really thinking them through? We speak out of emotion, but do not take the time to consider how hurtful those words could be to the hearer. I hear many adults (myself included) blurt things out, but once something has been said, it is hard to take it back. I realized that thinking before speaking is a habit I can teach my daughters from a young age and that is what I decided to do.

So for this week, my young ones will be focusing on how they speak to each other and how they speak to us as parents. I will be encouraging them to take the time to think things through before proceeding verbally. This is something I also need to work on as a wife and a mother and I let them know that I too needed help in that area. I will be keeping them accountable, and they will be keeping me accountable all while maintaining God’s word at the center of it. It is a beautiful thing.

The results of our first lesson? Surprisingly, my daughters enjoyed our lesson with my older daughter commenting after we finished, “Mom, that was fun.” It certainly was not the reaction I was expecting, but I welcomed it gladly. It was not a long dragged out lesson. It was no more than 15 minutes and everyone was able to participate, even the four-year-old. Throughout the day, we have randomly been reciting the verse to help us memorize it and my oldest daughter is thrilled that she can now recite it on a moment’s notice.

Are there areas in your family dynamic that need improvement? I recommend finding the applicable scripture in the Bible and work on it together as a family. You will be surprised how much the children will actually enjoy it (as I was) because you are spending quality time with them. Also, don’t be afraid to show your vulnerabilities to your children. Just as much as they need to know that they are under your authority and need your guidance, it is helpful for them to see that you are also under authority (Jesus) and you too need His guidance.

Surviving Long Runs with a Toddler

Long Run CoverIf you are like me and like to run, the only way to make that happen is to tow along the baby or toddler. Running when my little girl was a baby was a lot easier because she would sleep most of the time. However, I soon found out that running with a toddler was a whole different story. They don’t sleep and they don’t like to sit still! At least mine doesn’t. It started to become frustrating for her and therefore frustrating for me.

Like most toddlers, mine is full of energy and does not like to be strapped in for extended periods of time. That did not work well when I aimed to run at least six-miles at a time while pushing 40 lbs plus the weight of the jogging stroller, making my run even longer. The temptation was there to just stick an iPad in front of her and let her watch a cartoon or play a game so that I could complete my work-out. Although I did do that once or twice, I cringed because I wanted her to enjoy being outside as much as I do. I finally found techniques that worked. I don’t always use all of them but a combination of a few of these allows both of us to get as much out of this mommy-daughter time.

FullSizeRender1. Stop to Stretch. After the first mile or two, we always stop to stretch. It is so incredibly cute to see her copy me and try to do everything I do.  I also like to add a couple of silly things such as, “Reach your hands all the way up to the sky!” or “Hop on one foot!” or “Do the wiggle!” When we stretch together, it seems as though she sees herself as part of the run and she is more likely to be calm during most of our six-mile loop if she feels that she is part of the process.

2. Have a Conversation. I often find that my little girl will sit and enjoy nature if I talk to her about it. We look for birds, search for crazy looking trees, and point out beautiful flowers. We talk about how God created them and what our favorites are of each kind. It is also a great time to practice basic skills. If I am running near the lake, we’ll identify the colors of the kayaks or count the number of bike riders that pass us by.

I know this means I can’t turn up the volume on my iPod and zone out, but I have found that if we talk for 10 minutes, she will sit on her own and enjoy the view for another 10. Then I can enjoy a song or two. But even if she does not, she get so much out of me engaging her in conversation and if I listen, I get a lot out of it too.

3. Sing Songs. Since I lack any singing genes, this may not be so enjoyable for anyone else that may be sharing the running path with me, but my toddler gets a kick out of it. Usually, she picks the songs and we have a blast with our renditions of “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” and “Jesus Loves Me.”

4. Identify Reachable Mile Stones and Let Them Play. I really hated to stop while running mostly because I hated the feeling I got when I started running again after a long break. However, when I was running by the lake, I felt a little selfish strapping my kid in and not letting THEM enjoy being there as well. Now, during our run, we make two stops. One of them is to just throw rocks into the water. The other one is to explore one of their piers. I feel this works because if she has something to look forward to, she will sit and wait. On one occasion, I was feeling very tired and wasn’t planning on doing more than two miles. However, because she insisted on hitting one of our mile stones, I managed to run four-miles instead. My little three year old ended up being a great encouragement and helped me push myself.

If you are really hard core, and don’t want the interruption in the work out. This is a good time to do push ups, squats, or burpees while your little one runs around and burns energy.

5. Have Them Run With You. Little kids are more likely to sit still if they are tired. Sometimes, and if she is up to it, she runs along side of me. Kids are imitators and especially at that age they just want to do everything you do. She enjoys the idea of “running” just like me and I like it because I feel like I am instilling in her a love for running. After a block or two of sprints and stops and pretending that she is just too fast for me she is wore out and will remain in the jogging stroller until the end of our run.

6. Bring 2 or 3 Figurines, Small Dolls, etc. Although I will not bring the iPad, I do keep a few toys handy. It grabs her attention and she will sit in the stroller and put her imagination into high gear. It is another simple way of keeping her entertained and giving me the time to keep on trekking.

7. Bring a Healthy Snack. I tend to run mid-morning which coincides with snack time. To avoid a meltdown, I always make sure to have a good healthy snack on hand for her. It gives her yet another thing to look forward to as we make progress.

Some of you may not like the idea of having interruptions while running and you certainly can ignore that advice. I myself was very hesitant at first and it is what led to my frustrations. However, I found that I get as much of a workout with the interruptions as without them. More importantly, my toddler now looks forward to our runs instead of dreading them, and that just makes life so much easier for the both of us. .

Crystal, China, or Pottery

I am reading a wonderful book by Frank and Ida Mae Hammond called Kingdom Living for the Family. It has helped me reshape how I think about my relationship with my husband and how God created us differently and gave us different functions. However, I was touched by the authors comment on I Peter 3:7 “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

I am a woman that loves to do Spartan Races,  got her Master’s from the Naval War College,  traveled on her own to some very remote places—so it is difficult for me to look at myself as the “weaker vessel.” However, I think the author explained this verse beautifully but at the same time convicted me that I need to leave behind my secular way of thinking and replace it with Kingdom thinking.  My “accomplishments” as defined in today’s culture matter little in God’s kingdom. Who I am as a wife, a mother, a friend, a neighbor and how I reflect Jesus Christ in my every day living is what really matters. This is what the author said on page 75 and I hope it blesses you like it blessed me.

“This verse about the wife being the “weaker vessel” is another aunthood I had misinterpreted all my life. I thought it meant that the husband was superior to his wife. I thought it said that I was strong and she was weak. The word “weaker” is comparative rather than superlative, meaning the wife is just a little weaker than the husband is weak. It says nothing at all about the husband being strong.

I had also interpreted the word ‘weaker’ to signify that she was inferior; and, therefore, to mean that I was superior. Once again I had read the verse incorrectly. God asked me what kind of vessels we had into our home. I told Him we had pottery, china, and crystal. He asked Me which of these I considered the strongest and which was the weakest. I replied that the pottery was the most durable. We could toss it in the dishwasher with little special care, but the china and crystal required special handling. The Lord wanted to know which of the vessels I considered the best. Well, the china and crystal are the most expensive. The crystal is the best we have in our home. So, the Lord showed me that is the way with my wife. The ‘weaker vessel’ is more easily broken. Ida Mae confesses that she tends to crack easily! But she is also the best I have. She needs and deserves special care.”

I am fine crystal and I am easily broken. And I am thankful for a husband that treats me with special care and a God and Savior that can put all the pieces back together.

Parenting with Grace and Truth

Grace Truth CoverDuring a small group discussion last night, I was reminded how God may at times be displeased with us and will correct us, but his acts of mercy and forgiveness are even more pronounced. This morning as I reflected on that discussion, I remembered a wonderful verse that embodies that sentiment.  John 1:17 says, “But the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ gave us truth but also gave us grace. Truth sometimes hurts, especially when it is in the context of our mistakes and failures. But in Christ’s eyes, truth does not come without the grace, the forgiveness, and the love. And that is exactly how Jesus Christ related to people. He gave them truth. He told sinners that they needed to change their ways, but at the same time he gave them grace. He loved them, forgave them, and looked past their sinful nature. Ultimately, he died for them. He died for us.

I realized this morning that that is exactly how I should approach parenting, with truth and with grace. Our children need to be told the truth when their behavior is not up to par and when they have missed the mark. Discipline is an important part of parenting to help correct their incorrect thinking. However, they also need to see grace from us. They need to know that our love is not dependent on their perfection or on how good they are, just the way God’s love is not dependent on how well we behave. It is by grace that we are saved.

I saw this play out in two different ways with my eight-year-old daughter. A few days ago I sat down with her and in my most calm tone told her that her behavior the past week needed improvement. I was actually quite proud of myself for showing extreme self control. I left her room and went downstairs to finish dinner. When my husband called her down to eat, uncharacteristically she did not answer. My husband and I looked at each other and went upstairs to find out what was going on. We found her sobbing in her room, “I am such a bad kid! I cannot do anything right!”  My husband gave me a look of, “What in the world did you tell her?” I swore to him that it wasn’t anything bad other than to point out that she needed to do better in certain areas.

My daughter does tend to be overdramatic, but we could tell that she was genuinely feeling bad about herself. Of course, we hugged her and kissed her and explained to her that it was important that she be corrected, that bad behavior would have consequences, but that by no means meant that we thought she was a bad kid. She calmed down and I believe she understood us and believed us, but it certainly made me reflect on how I could have handled that better. It also made me question whether my daughter is seeing enough grace from us her parents to know that we love her unconditionally and that reminded me of a time when I got it right.

My daughter has a chore chart that tracks her responsibilities throughout the day. One missed chore translates to money deducted from her allowance (meager as it may be). On one particular day, she neglected one of her responsibilities so I deducted a point. By the end of the day, before her daddy came home (he is the one that checks her chart each day) I told her that I was going to re-add the point she had missed. She gave me a funny look and said, “What was that for?”

“Nothing,” I said, “I was just being gracious.” (I believe that response was God inspired.)

“What is gracious?”

“Gracious comes from the word grace. Grace is unmerited favor. That means that you get something even though you did not earn it.”

“Just like Jesus died on the cross for us because he loved us even though we did not deserve it?”

“Exactly! And that is the reason that we now have eternal life.”

She had a huge smile on her face, looked at her chart, hugged me, and ran upstairs. What had once been an abstract concept, became real for her right there and then. She understood grace. She understood love.

Thinking back to the whole “bad kid” episode, I realize that after correcting her, I needed to point out all the things that make her so wonderful. Especially for my very sensitive child. I needed to balance out my chastisement so that she would also feel loved and worthy. She needed to feel grace. And that is what parenting is, a balancing act between grace and truth.

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