Posts in category Young children

Honoring and encouraging your wife



A while back, my wife Merry was with a group of young mothers, and she was struck by how many did not feel valued. They were in the daily grind of parenting, dealing with all the challenges of raising young children. Yes, they often felt fulfilled, but they also felt dry and stretched and frazzled. They wondered if their efforts would pay off.

Merry said one of the big problems was, “They were receiving hardly any encouragement from their husbands.” They felt their husbands didn’t understand what they were doing, and they felt unappreciated.

Our culture doesn’t offer a lot of encouragement to mothers. In contrast, I recently found the transcript of a wonderful 1905 speech by President Theodore Roosevelt. Speaking to the National Congress of Mothers, he said:

No piled-up wealth, no splendor of material growth, no brilliance of artistic development, will permanently avail any people unless its home life is healthy …

No ordinary work done by a man is either as hard or as responsible as the work of a woman who is bringing up a family of small children; for upon her time and strength demands are made not only every hour of the day but often every hour of the night …

The woman who is a good wife, a good mother, is entitled to our respect as is no one else …

Encouraging your wife

As I read Roosevelt’s remarks, I wondered, When was the last time a President said something like this? If our culture doesn’t uphold wives and mothers with words like these, then it’s up to us husbands.

1 Peter 3:7 tells me to live with my wife “in an understanding way” and to “grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life.” As I’ve applied this verse to my life, I have realized I need to understand Merry’s world — the pressures and problems she is facing, her successes and her struggles. And I need to honor her for what she is doing well as a wife and mom.

One way I honored Merry was by writing an article as a tribute to her when our daughters, Bethany and Missy, were 7 and 4. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated her, and I wanted to remind her of how God was using her. So I thought I’d share part of what I wrote because these are the things we need to be telling our wives:

Like any other mother, it’s easy for Merry to grow discouraged during the day-to-day grind of fixing meals and settling arguments and playing games and reading stories and running errands. So often I’ve heard her say, “I’m tired of being a mother,” or, “I feel like I’ve been yelling at these kids all day long!”

But the reality is that she’s not just meeting physical needs. Even when she doesn’t realize it, she’s spending her days building character. She’s raising two little girls who, I hope, will grow up to be much like her.

From Merry, our daughters learn that there is a right and wrong, and that those who do wrong are punished.

They learn that God is real, that He is a personal God with whom we can communicate.

They learn that the Bible is truly the Word of God, able to speak to us today.

When she makes a mistake and blames them for something they didn’t do, and realizes it, they learn that a mother can be humble enough to ask their forgiveness.

When she takes them to the library to check out some books, and then returns home to read to them, they discover the excitement and importance of reading.

When they see Merry give me a hug and kiss as I walk into the house at the end of a work day, they see how a wife loves and honors her husband.

They watch as Merry reaches out to neighbors and friends. They go with her when Merry takes food to a sick friend. They learn about mercy and compassion.

When Merry gives them responsibilities around the house, they (grudgingly and slowly) learn about perseverance and doing a job right.

Bethany and Missy learn to tell the truth, because their mother doesn’t lie to them or tolerate lies from them.

They learn that many of the things the world values (such as acquiring money and possessions, and gaining power) are actually temporal and meaningless.

Of course, our two girls don’t realize that their mom is teaching them all these things. They are two human beings who will eventually make their own choices about their lives. But our hope is in the truth revealed in Proverbs 22:6, that if we “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Chances are that Bethany and Missy will have much of Merry in them when they go off to college and find jobs and raise their own families. If that’s true, then I think that Merry will have succeeded in the most important job she’ll ever have.

Boy, reading these words reminds me that I married pretty well! I think I need to encourage and honor her like this more often.

Copyright © by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared in Marriage Memo, a weekly e-newsletter from FamilyLife.

Parenting and anger



This blog post originally appeared in Noah Gets a Nailgun.

A few weeks back I was volunteering at my kid’s school as part of the Watch Dog program. I was in the cafeteria reading with four 1st graders when I heard the assistant principal down the hall ripping apart this seven-year-old girl. I have no idea what the girl had done but whatever it was, it must have been really bad. I’m pretty sure I would have either cried or wet my pants had the assistant principal talked to me like that and I’m 37.

Parenting and anger
parenting and anger

“Kids, if you don’t obey so I can have some peace and quiet, someone’s fixin’ to get this dropped on them.”

The very next day I was reading in James where he says in 1:20, “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” The verse came alive in several new ways when I read it. First, when I get angry and yell at my kids, it is not going to produce in them a heart that wants to be righteous. My anger might cause them to obey what I’m wanting done but it’s not addressing the heart. Their disobedience is the symptom of something deeper and my anger is only addressing the symptom, not the root. In order to get to their hearts, I need to approach it in love, kindness, and care for them. Paul says in Romans 2:4 that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. We would do well to follow the same example.

Another nugget I took from this is that while the girl might behave now, she’s not doing it out of respect or love for her authorities but rather out of fear. And because it’s being done out of fear, she will not have any type of growing relationship with that person. The same is true for us. If our kids only obey because they fear us, we won’t have the relationship with them that they need or that we want.

The way I see it, as our kids get older, our role in their lives changes. If done right, as your child gets into her teen years, you should become more of a mentor to her. And from there, that should morph into a friendship, and you will become someone she can seek counsel from. If we’ve not built the relationship with our kids from an early age on, this isn’t going to happen. We destroy the foundation of the friendship when we yell and get angry at our kids. Think about it for a second, if a buddy of yours is constantly getting mad and screaming at you, how long are you going to stay his friend?

I personally need to do a better job with how I talk to my kids when I get upset at them. I need to address the heart behind their actions. I need to think long term about how I’m building (or destroying) the foundations of my relationship with each of my kids. I also need to check my heart and see where my anger is coming from. James again comes through for us in his first two verses of chapter 4:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”

What part of my attitude is because I’m not getting what I want? I want my kids to go to bed so I can watch TV so I yell at them to go lay down. Or I’m mad because I wanted to go do something on a Saturday but I instead need to be home watching them. My anger is because I’m not getting what I want.

I don’t doubt that what I saw at the school was what I look like when I get mad at my kids. It was helpful to see what my anger looks like toward them and I know I can take from that experience to become a better dad, and I hope you can too.

Todd NagelTodd Nagel is a 36-year-old man who has been a husband to Sarah for 11 years and a dad to four kids, two girls and two boys, ages 9 – 3. He loves the outdoors and especially likes to hike, mountain bike, kayak, and golf, but doesn’t have a ton of time or money to do much of those things (see info about having a wife and four kids). Todd has been with a ministry called Cru for 14 years and has a desire to see men grow spiritually and lead their families well.

You are the most interesting man in their world



This blog post first appeared in the Noah Gets a Nail Gun.

You’ve seen the commercials for the most interesting man in the world – he starts the morning saving endangered alpine birds, followed by a dominant performance at the international polo competition in Dagestan, then wraps up the evening mending flaws in the theory of relativity over a cup of an exotic beverage he brewed the night before from seal scrotums, polar bear teeth and arctic ice. Quite a list of accomplishments for any one lifetime, yet just an average day when you are … the most interesting man in the world.

If the characterization wasn’t so over the top, I’d find my man card status threatened by the mere existence of such a person. But you don’t have to drink Dos Ickies to be found interesting. You don’t even have to be the most interesting man in the world. A much more attainable goal is to become The Most Interesting Dad to Your Kids. How do you do this? Start with pursuing things you find interesting.

Robert Lewis, author and founder of Men’s Fraternity, talks about the importance of a man having something to look forward to everyday. A man needs productive interests in his life, things that make him a better man. Too many guys in their 30s, when work gets hot and heavy and the kids get smelly and sticky, give up all the activities that they found fun and interesting in their 20s. They pour their lives into their jobs, come limping home to try to make it through one more night. Just barely enduring the kids, hopefully not checking out too long or blowing up too often, they fall into bed in yard-work clothes with one thigh hanging off the mattress, too exhausted to shower away the grass clippings. All merely to wake up and repeat the cycle again tomorrow. What joy. And by the time the weekend comes along, little league and dance parties consume any remaining energy. The only rest seen in a given week is their ritual seven minutes on the office toilet. Even that gets interrupted by the guy in the next stall calling his mom to wish her a happy birthday.

But as Robert Lewis said, it is important to do something with your life that is interesting, even if only to you, something that gives you energy and makes you look forward to the next day. Even if you think you don’t have the time. You must come to believe that it really is worth the time. Why? For you own sanity, for the sanity of your wife and kids, for opportunities to sharpen and be sharpened by other men.

FlyFishingFor your own sanity

Before we had kids, I did a fair amount of fly fishing. At the time, I had a friend who said two very important things to me, he said “I’ve explained to my wife that fly-fishing is cheaper and more entertaining than counseling.” Meaning, if he didn’t have some outlet he would probably go insane. He also said, “And if I ever get bored of fishing, I can just stop and fiddle with my gear.” Meaning, half of the fun of the sport for him is acquiring and learning how to use the gear. There was an artistry and cathartic aspect to just getting ready to fly fish that was interesting in and of itself. The tying of the flies, the practicing of the cast, the community and friendships that developed, all of this gave him joy. He didn’t have to be on the river to be enjoying the sport. But more than anything, he understood that he needed this outlet to keep from going crazy. He had to have something like this in his life to keep him healthy.

I’ve seen a number of guys lately who are able to sustain the maddening pace of work/kids with no other outlets for a few years, mostly because the allure of their job keeps them going, but once they reach the pinnacle or plateau of their career, they look back down the hill and think “I shaved my face for this?” They’ve not fostered any part of their personal life and have thus become very un-interesting to almost everyone, including themselves.

Proverbs 20:5 says “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” It’s interesting that we still know very little about the deepest parts of the ocean. We’ve been x thousands of miles away to the moon and explored the outer limits of the solar system, but can’t go seven miles down into the water. The pressure is so intense at that depth that if you were to inadvertently pluck a nose hair, your brains might shoot through the exposed follicle. Actually, people can’t even go to those depths, only unmanned vehicles.

But no worries, because this verse isn’t referring to the ocean (and none of us are that deep anyway), as an ancient Hebrew person couldn’t afford a full SCUBA system. And without oxygen and neoprene, it’s hard to get deeper than a dozen feet.

The Hebrew word for “draw it out” refers to the act of getting water out of a well, of drawing up a bucket. And it comes from a word describing, “lowness as a state or goal.” Remember the cartoons where the well bucket would drop and send the rope spinning, causing the crank handle to do a Mike Tyson on some pour soul’s face? The bucket drops in a hurry. In fact, the natural state of the bucket is lowness – is to settle in to the bottom of the well and stay there. But when you’re low – whether you meant to get there or not, you’ve got to draw it up. When tempted to vegetate, you’ve got to pull up the bucket!

I know a guy who hates his job. I mean HATES it. I felt sorry for him for the first year or so, but now I don’t want to hear about it any more. I don’t ever ask him about it. Because if he still hates his job, it’s his own fault. Only he can make that change. He has to find something interesting. But that’s no easy task. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things a man can do. It takes intentional hard work to get to the heart of a man. But a man of understanding, or, for our purposes, an “interesting” man, will draw it out.

For the sanity of your family

When I was a kid, my dad often amazed me. He seemed to be the strongest, fastest, smartest person I had ever met. There was nothing he seemingly couldn’t do.

Did you do something of value today?



Just one day can make the difference in a life wasted and one that leaves a legacy that will outlive us all.

Driving home one night after work I switched on the radio to catch the news. In an uncharacteristic moment of sincerity, the disc jockey made a statement that sliced through the fog of fatigue I felt from the day: “I hope you did something of value today. You wasted a whole day if you didn’t.”

His statement struck me abruptly. Maybe it was because I had just spent most of the day solving some of the problems of a growing ministry. Fortunately that day, I felt pretty good about how I had invested my time.

Or perhaps it was because of where I was heading. In 10 minutes I would be home where one lovely lady and six pairs of beady little eyes would want and need my attention.

Would I do something of value with them tonight?

It’s just one night, and besides, I’m exhausted, I thought. Then I pondered how one night added to another, 365 times, adds up to a year. The nights and the years seem to be passing with an increasing velocity.

“I hope you did something of value today. You wasted a whole day if you didn’t.” It echoed in my thoughts as I drove through the darkness.

Five minutes more and I’d be home.

I’ll bet there are other men like me who are really tired right now, I thought. I wondered how they would respond to the question if they heard it.

A moment of pride struck me. I bet I do better than average with my kids, I smugly concluded.

Another thought lingered in my mind: Did God call me to be merely a better-than-average husband and father? Or to be obedient and to excel?

Living above average

To be better than average, all you have to do is beat the masses — a step ahead of the herd, so to speak. Not much challenge there.

But to be obedient and to excel, well, that means I’ve got to be a disciple … deny myself … take up my cross … and obey … even when I’m tired and whipped by the day’s draining events.

Is my audience man or God? Where do I want the applause? Heaven or earth?

One night. What will I accomplish? Will I waste it spending all evening in front of the television?

It’s just one night. Another night to build a legacy. What will my legacy be?

I struggled over the lure of “just” one evening of selfishness — to do my own thing. But what if Barbara had a similar attitude? Then who would carry the baton?

What kind of heritage and legacy would I impart? Selfishness? Or selflessness?

One minute, and I’ll be home.

Just one night, Lord. It’s just one night. And then the same angel that wrestled Jacob to the ground pinned me with a half nelson as I drove into the garage.

Okay, okay. I give. You’ve got me. Being a Christian parent is not always easy in this narcissistic culture.

Just one night

As the kids surrounded my car like a band of banshees whooping and screaming, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” I was glad on this night I had made the right choice.

At supper, rather than just grazing our way through the groceries, we spent a few moments on nostalgia. All of us answered the question: What was the favorite thing we did as a family this past year?

And after supper I gave the kids three choices of what kind of memory they would like to make for that night:

1. Play Monopoly together as a family,

2. Read a good book together quietly, or

3. Wrestle on the living room floor together.

Which do you think they chose?

Three little sumo wrestlers grabbed my legs as they began to drag me into the living room. Dad was pinned by the kids. Mom was tickled by Dad. And kids went flying through the air (literally) for the next hour. Our 10-month-old even got in on the act by bouncing on me after she had observed the other kids in action.

Do my kids remember that night? Maybe, but I doubt it. We didn’t break anything to make it memorable.

Did they know I had struggled in the car? No.

Did I do something of value that night? You bet!

I did my best that night and on the many nights that followed while my kids were growing up to leave, with God’s help, a legacy that counts. A legacy that will outlive me.

If you struggle with priorities as I do, then you might want to commit these verses from Ephesians to memory: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (5:15-17). I’m convinced none of us intends to become the fool Paul wrote about. It just happens.

“I hope you did something of value today. You wasted a whole day if you didn’t.”

Copyright © by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

What children want … and need



Parents have to make a lot of judgment calls on what is best for their children. As the father of seven, I know full well that my kids haven’t always agreed with my choices. I often wonder: If they had the same decisions to make, would they be good ones? What would my children want?

A few years ago, Ombudsman for Children, an Irish advocacy group, decided to find out the answer to that question of what children want in their unprecedented Big Ballot. They identified five key areas of life, then polled Irish children from 21 counties to find out what they identified as the most important between:

  • Education
  • Family & Care
  • Having a Voice
  • Health, Wealth, and Material Well-being
  • Play and Recreation

As might be expected, Education got schooled by the heavy hitters of Play and Having a Voice. Only 12% of kids picked Education as their top choice. Just above Education at the bottom of the list (16%) was Material Well-being. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that Having a Voice was only a half percentage point higher than those.

what children want

Father’s Day 2008 with my three youngest children and my wife Ellie

So, now we’re down to two: Play and Family. Which do you think topped the children’s list?

Family.

Nearly one third of the children surveyed chose it as their top concern, compared to just a quarter of the ballots for Play and Recreation.

Even when they might not agree with our choices, our children still realize that the family provides them security, protection, enjoyment, love, and counsel. It reminds me of how important a task we have to provide a nurturing environment for our children, and how much they look to us to care for them.

What makes a father proud is to know that his children value the same things that he is trying to provide for them. As long as he’s valuing the right things, it’s almost a slam dunk that his children will want the same things.

What makes children proud — what children want deep down — is to have a father who is an example of integrity and understanding, and who is a source of stability and direction. These are the very things that Scripture speaks of when it addresses the attributes and expectations of a father.

Although it’s not even close to being an exhaustive list, here are a few things children want — and need — from you, straight from the pages of Scripture.

CHILDREN WANT YOU TO TEACH THEM THE RIGHT WAY

Deuteronomy 11:19 — You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

3 John 1:4 —  I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

CHILDREN WANT YOU TO CORRECT THEM WHEN THEY’RE WRONG

Proverbs 3:11-12 — My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD Or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.

Hebrews 12:7-11 — It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

CHILDREN WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND WHO THEY ARE

Colossians 3:21 — Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

Psalms 103:13 — Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

CHILDREN WANT YOU TO PROVIDE FOR THEIR BIGGEST NEEDS

Matthew 7:9-11 — Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?

CHILDREN WANT YOU TO TREASURE WHO THEY ARE

Psalm 127:3-5 — Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.

Choosing between my son and me



Good parenting is often choosing self-sacrifice rather than self.

“Daddy, you wanna hear me count to 10 million?”

Not a question I expected or necessarily even wanted to hear from my 5-year-old.

“Um … well … no, not really,” I was tempted to say (lovingly, of course).

Maybe for a mom, a question like this is precious! But I’m a dad and after a long workday, it’s most definitely not precious. “Let’s see, what’s the best way to waste time tonight? Ooh, I know, let’s count to 10 million.”

I’m pretty sure my 5-year-old can’t even count to 10 million, much less do it fast enough to fit the jammed schedule I had planned for the evening:

  • Put on comfortable clothes? Yep.
  • Eat dinner? Uh-huh.
  • Watch playoff basketball game? Now you’re talking!

Count to 10 million? Negative. I could hear it already. “One, two, three, four, five, um … wait, I’m starting over.”

Oh sure, you’re probably more spiritual than me. Cast the first stone if you must. But most of you with young kids can relate. They’re growing fast and learning about things too big for them. So they look to you for help sorting it all out. You want to be a great parent, but time and energy run short.

As I thought about the choice I had to make that night, God began to remind me of a few important things about spiritual life and parenting:

I needed to view this from my child’s eyes, not just my own. I joke that, in my flesh, I’m not really interested in hearing my son count to 10 million. But truthfully, from his perspective, that’s a huge deal and an incredibly worthwhile investment of his time. And for me to spend my evening doing that is even bigger to him.

I agree with what Steve Farrar writes in his book, Point Man: “Quality time comes at the most unusual moments. You never know when it will happen. It usually makes an appearance someplace in the realm of quantity time.”

Remembering to look through my child’s eyes gets me out of “quality time” mode and into “quantity time” mode. Don’t ask me exactly how to measure “quantity time,” though I figure counting to ten million is a pretty good place to start.

I can’t use up all my energy at work … I need to save some for when I get home. I’m as guilty as the next guy of putting every ounce of energy I can into my workday. I’ve got plenty of good reasons to do it, too. The Bible tells me to work hard, “as for the Lord rather than men” (Colossians 3:23). There’s also the economy to think about. I mean, who wants to be the guy found not working hard these days?

Unfortunately, none of that makes any difference to my son. All he knows is that I don’t want to hear him count to 10 million. For me, preserving some physical energy for when I get home actually helps me set the right pace for myself at work — sort of a parenting twist on the “render unto Caesar” concept. Render unto work the things due at work, but don’t render everything you’ve got every single day.

I needed to see this as an opportunity, not an interruption. Spontaneous “teachable moments” are the very essence of parenting. But I’ve found that it’s up to me whether I view them as opportunities or as interruptions. A steward has opportunities. An owner has interruptions. The wise parent spends his days as a steward.

On this occasion, though, I think God just wanted me to feel like a parent and to make a choice. My choice of whether to count to 10 million or not was really choosing between my son and me … between self-sacrifice and self.  And that’s always the rub isn’t it?

To be fair, a tired mom or dad may actually need to choose rest over the kids. But for me it’s usually not that complicated, and I still pick me more often than not.  But sometimes I make the better choice.

I have no idea who won the basketball game. But I’ll never forget the time I discovered that my 5-year-old son really does know how to count to 10 million.

Who knew?

Copyright © 2010 by Jim Mitchell. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Holiday traditions: time to step up



Spiritual leadership has never been easier than it is right now during this holiday season. Don’t know how to lead your family spiritually? Then this is the time to practice! Get ready to roll your sleeves up, dig in, and give your leadership skills a workout!

holiday traditionsDuring the holidays, our families are looking for something more meaningful from us.  Their hearts are more open, more teachable, and more vulnerable. The holidays are overflowing with traditions, and they should be. Family traditions matter. The repetition of the same activities creates strong memories and emotions. Traditions are what families look forward to and remember back on.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is to load the family up in our mini-van and take a drive. We fill a thermos with rich, hot cocoa, stuff a bag with some fresh homemade cookies, and change into our pajamas for the drive. We have a great park nearby that has an amazing Christmas drive-through light display. There are literally hundreds of unique displays in this park and every year they add a few new ones. We love driving through with the windows down, singing Christmas hymns, and munching down on Christmas goodness.

After the drive through the park we make our way to our State Capital which is always beautifully decked out. The kids think that walking through the Capital in their PJ’s is very cool. Then we go out to the Capital lawn to look at  an amazing manger display that features full-sized, hand-carved wooden figures. When our oldest son was little, every time we passed the capital he would point out “that’s where Jesus was born.” We still get a laugh out of it. On our way home we go past our previous homes and talk about our Christmas memories from each.

A spirit of contentment. Another thing I do intentionally throughout the holidays is help my kids keep an attitude of contentment and a grateful heart. We are living in a culture of little consumers. It’s tough to teach our own children to be content with what they have.

The first step is to help them develop a heart of gratitude. We need to show them by example what it means to be thankful for everything we have, beginning with our relationship with our Savior and then with our families and each other. If you practice gratitude in front of your kids, they will learn it from your example. Especially during the holidays, our kids will be bombarded with commercialism and the “Buy! Buy! Get your parents to buy this for you!” messages. We have to combat those messages with the truth we know.

Another thing we do to develop a heart of giving is to always stop and let the kids toss some money into the Salvation Army kettle every where we go. They love to give our money away and we think it’s a great investment to both the giver and receiver.

The Incarnate Christ. With Christmas, of course, the most important job we have is to communicate to our family that Jesus came to Earth, born of a virgin, He was born to die for our sins, and to be resurrected. That, guys, is the message of Christmas. At my house, we also do Advent candles at dinner. The kids love lighting the candles. Some nights we get through the study and some nights we don’t, because conversations drift, questions come up, or attention spans wane. Did you know you can even do the Advent in 5 days or less? One year we actually did it in one night.

Finishing doesn’t count nearly as much as getting started. In the end it’s not about the one thing we do, it’s about all the things we do, big and small, that continually remind us and our kids about the Reason for the season.

  • How do you keep Christ in Christmas at your house?
  • What are your favorite holiday traditions?
  • If your family were famous for a Christmas recipe what would it be?  Ours is chocolate peppermint pinwheels.  Willing to share your recipe?  Send it to ishare@familylife.com.

Resurrected pain



Resurrecting pain

Ron & Nan Deal and sons

I am dreading the holidays. My 12-year-old son, Connor, died in February 2009 and every year I become anxious about facing the holiday season without him. How can my family go through the motions of our annual traditions without Connor? How do we find the “joy of the season” with so much sorrow in our hearts?

Most likely you, too, have been through a significant loss in your life. I know your children or stepchildren have. And whether we like it or not, the magic of the holidays also resurrects our pain. Loss is central to the stepfamily experience. I suggest you get prepared to face it, especially during this time of year.

The Enduring Nature of Loss
Whether your loss came this past year or 10 years ago, you won’t “get over it.” You will only get through it. Loss endures. And special family occasions, like the holidays, remind us once again of what is no more.

A deceased parent will be missed this time of year with extra tears. A family fractured by divorce will feel again the pain of being emotionally splintered into two houses. Children will reminisce about what was and what could have been, while reprocessing how they feel about the new stepfamily members in their lives. Grandparents will wish the family could, once again, all be together. And when the awkwardness of holiday activities confronts, stepparents may again evaluate the realities of life and expectations lost.

Because loss is enduring, these types of responses cannot be helped. And they should not be avoided. The fragile nature of stepfamily living sometimes leads people to deny resurrected pain or try to “fix” others who experience it. Grandparents, for example, might assume that a child who cries once again over the loss of the original family just needs a well designed world that will make everything better. Even worse, insecure parents may emotionally punish a child for not being loyal to the new family. For example, when learning that his adult children questioned whether they would attend a pre-Christmas party that included their stepmother’s adult children and grandchildren, one father threatened not to attend his grandchild’s Christmas play. He thought by threatening to emotionally withdraw himself he could encourage his adult children to accept his new wife. How misguided!

Responding to Loss
Loss does not need to be fixed. It needs to be expressed—and received with compassion. Don’t be afraid of your own feelings of loss and don’t fear listening to those of others. The process of “bearing with one another” is how we survive grief (Galatians 6:2).

Give permission to grieve and use the holidays as a springboard to conversation about loss. A stepparent might say to a child, for example, “I noticed that you’re not getting to spend as much time this year with your dad and his parents. I’ll bet that makes you sad. [Pause and wait for a response.]” Or, while engaged in a holiday tradition that started before the stepfamily began, one might say, “I know this reminds you of [missing family member]. Tell me a story about when you used to do this activity together.” These small conversations give permission to grief and the emotional connections therein. Plus, when communicated by a stepparent, they engender respect, care for the person, and may actually facilitate the new stepfamily relationships.

Model sadness. Adults should talk openly about their sadness and express tears. This communicates that it is okay for others to do the same, but more importantly, it models for younger children appropriate ways of grieving.

Coach children in healthy grieving. Labeling the emotions of children, for example, helps them learn to identify the emotion in themselves. “I’ve noticed that since coming home from your mom’s house you are pretty irritable. I’m wondering if you are missing her a lot lately?” A child who has been acting angry in this situation can now deal with their sadness, a necessary action if they are ever to stop being inappropriately angry and irritable.

Act in kindness. Consider what might minister to someone’s grief and act accordingly. A stepfamily member might encourage, “I know your sister’s family is only here for a short time. Why don’t you spend extra time with them and I’ll manage the children for a while.”

Don’t take it personally. Stepparents, especially, need to disconnect from the pain of their stepchildren during the holidays. A child’s sadness for what has been lost is not necessarily a rejection of you. Don’t make it about you; keep it about them.

Manage your guilt. Biological parents can become frozen by their children’s sadness. Yes, their pain may be a result of your past choices, but don’t allow that guilt to paralyze you from setting reasonable limits and enforcing rules. Permissiveness does not heal pain.

The Great Teacher
Loss is the great teacher. It has the power, for example, to deepen our walk with the Lord, reprioritize our lives, and remind us what matters most. The loss of my son has certainly had that impact on me. This holiday, don’t squash your grief (or anyone else’s). God will teach you much if you will pay attention to your loss and listen.

Learn more about Connor’s Song, the ministry started in Connor’s memory.

How a Christmas ornament led my son to Christ



Like any Christian parent, I can relate to the words of the apostle John: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).

Everything I might wish for my kids in this life—education, love, financial security, job satisfaction, health—pales in comparison to our prayer that they believe the gospel and be saved.

MitchellFamily

Jim and Lisa Mitchell, Grace and Evan

So when my daughter Grace received Christ at a young age, I rejoiced. I also found myself thinking ahead to when my son Evan might do the same.

“Will he believe at an early age, too, or will he resist the gospel for a long time?” I wondered.  “What if he chooses a different path, a difficult path?”  “What if he never believes?” That thought scared me.

Salvation is God’s job, but I knew I had an important role to play as Evan’s father, and I didn’t want to blow it.

I also knew that my son is very different than his sister. Grace is outgoing and decisive. She prayed and received Christ as her Savior and Lord on her own and confidently informed us after the fact.

Evan, on the other hand, has a tender heart. He says “I love you” more than the rest of our family combined. “I love you, mommy. I love you, daddy. I love you, Grace,” he often says. I worried that tender Evan might feel pressure from me to pray a certain prayer or believe a certain way, and comply out of a desire to please. So Lisa and I agreed to just wait on God’s timing and to try not to lay any stumbling block.

The names of Christ

Then, last Thanksgiving, after many months of praying together over Evan’s bed at night as he slept, Lisa and I began to sense that God might be working in him. Approaching his eighth birthday, Evan started reading his Bible on his own and praying with us during family devotions. I remember when he proudly told me that he had actually sung the worship songs with the other kids at church that Sunday—a very big deal for a boy like Evan.

That’s when we decided to use the new Adorenaments® resource—a set of ornaments created by Barbara Rainey and FamilyLife. Evan loves decorating the tree, so it seemed like a good fit. We took our time, working through the booklet together as a family over the course of several days. As the kids hung an ornament—each representing a name of Christ—on the tree, we would learn together about that name and discuss how that could impact our family.

Immanuel, God with us.  “What an awesome thought to have God with us!”

Prince of Peace.  “Wow, doesn’t our home need to feel God’s peace more often?”

Wonderful Counselor.  “Let’s ask for God’s counsel right now together.”

And so forth.  Each Christmas ornament was a new family discussion about Jesus.

And when we came to the Savior ornament, God’s Spirit did something wonderful and miraculous.

As Lisa laid down with Evan for bedtime that night, his soft little voice expressed a desire to pray and receive Christ. After asking a few questions Lisa knew this was the moment we had prayed for and waited for. She prayed with him and then sent him to tell his daddy. That night I had the chance to talk with Evan about Jesus and to pray with him to the Savior.

After he eventually fell asleep I thought about the final words from the devotional earlier that night, “Hallelujah! What a savior.”

What a Savior indeed.

Treasured memories or wasted time?



Stepping Up blog Dennis Rainey

The Encyclopedia Britannica gives a half page to the accomplishments of the son of President John Adams, Charles Francis Adams. Adams followed the political trail of his father and became a U.S. diplomat to Great Britain. The encyclopedia makes no mention of Charles’ family, but Charles’ diary does.

An entry one day read: “Went fishing with my son today — a day wasted.”

Another diary, that of his son Brook Adams, gives us a different perspective: “Went fishing with my father — the most wonderful day of my life.”

Interesting, isn’t it, how a little boy’s perspective could be so different from his dad’s.

But it’s true of me, too. I can remember tugging and half-pulling my dad out of his favorite chair while he was trying to read the evening newspaper. I wanted to play catch. He usually let me win the tug-of-war, sometimes reluctantly. Those were wonderful evenings.

There were fishing trips with Dad to Canada when I caught a trophy Northern Pike. And another outing to a local lake where he netted a small boy’s catfish — a fish so small that it went through the holes in the net. He always used to kid me about that fish — his laughter still echoes in my mind when I recall that skinny fish slipping through the net.

It’s interesting now as an adult how the mind can play tricks on me. Looking back, those days of vacation and moments of memories are among my most cherished possessions. Yet, now that I’m grown, it seems that playing catch and going fishing are not nearly productive enough. No measurable goal is apparently achieved. Until, of course, I get a few moments to reflect on the value God places on a little boy or a little girl.

Treasured memories

I was reminded recently that not all men today have those memories of time with dad etched on the slate of their hearts. Jeff Schulte, a former associate of mine here at FamilyLife, once wrote the following letter to his ministry partners, thanking them for their partnership in strengthening families. It speaks of memories of a different kind.

I can still picture my Dad bouncing me on his knee, coaching me in Little League, showing me how to shine my shoes, helping me reel in my first fish, and telling me stories about his early days as an undercover detective on the Dayton police force.

I can still hear him saying the words, “Son, I love you.” I can imagine him messing up my hair, wrestling with me on the living room floor, and sharing a hot dog with me at a Cincinnati Reds game.

I can still see him puffing up his chest when he talked about me to his friends. He was proud to be my Dad. He would do anything for me — I was his son — he was my Dad. I was a chip off the old block.

I can still see all this and much more, but I can’t see it in the reservoir of fond memories. Instead, I recall it from an imagination and yearning that wished then and wishes now that it were so. My Dad left home when I was 3. I never really knew him.

When I drive home from the office, I’ll often turn off the radio and in the quiet of the car I’ll think about a little blond-headed three year old somewhere who will grow up knowing his dad because you and I decided we wanted to make a difference.

I’m 26 years old. I still miss my Dad (even though that’s hard to admit). I even cry sometimes when I’m honest with myself about how I feel. Please pray for my Dad. I don’t believe he’s met Jesus.

The most piercing statement in Jeff’s letter are the words, “I never really knew him.” I couldn’t help reflecting on the number of children today who will replay a similar record in their minds. No, not just those from broken homes, but those whose homes have a father and a mother in name only.

Becoming a father

Some years ago at a Weekend to Remember getaway here in Little Rock I remember one man’s statement to me at the end of the conference. He grabbed my hand and blurted out, “I became a father this weekend!” When I asked him when his wife had given birth during the conference, he said, “Oh, no. She didn’t have a baby — we already have three children. You see, I had ‘fathered’ three children, but I wasn’t being a ‘father’ to them. And this weekend I decided I was going to become a real father.”

The little boy who went fishing with his dad, Brook Adams, lived most of his life as an agnostic and a skeptic, defying the roots of his Puritan ancestry. Near the end of his 79-year life he returned to his home church, overcame his shyness, and made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. I wonder if God used the memory of the fishing trip with his dad, linked with the spiritual values his father taught him, to bring Brook Adams to faith in Christ.

So this month take a kid fishing and teach him one spiritual truth. Just one memory. Just one truth. It may be “the most wonderful day” of his life.

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