Monday, February 24, 2014

Character Counts

The other night I was in the city.  As in New York City.  As in crazy hustle and bustle and I hadn’t even left Penn Station yet.  Everyone was filing off of the train, eager to board the escalator that wasn’t working (again), to start the long, long climb up the stairs and into the corridor.  Picture someone climbing in front of you, to the side of you, and right in back of you to the point that if you really thought about it, claustrophobia would definitely get the best of you.  But you don’t have time to think about it.  You just look down and keep climbing.

I was about to start mounting the escalator, I mean stairs, in this oh so familiar scene when someone did the extraordinary.  Someone looked up.  A young man with his hands full looked up, noticed a woman to the side of him, and stopped to let her go ahead.  She nodded quickly in acknowledgement as strangers do.  

And there I stood having just witnessed grace in New York City.

The experience I witnessed may seem so small.  It may seem insignificant.  In fact, you may be wondering, “Why does it bear being repeated at all?”  I’ll tell you why.  Because to a mother, it means everything.  

I am a busy mom of two little boys.  A friend of mine who is engaged in a similar task once stated, My goal is to raise little gentlemen in the world.  The world needs more gentlemen.”  And just like that, a goal of mine was born.

I have been tempted to think that we craft the future trajectory of our children in the big things.  It’s alluring to get hung up on the schools we choose, the sport or instrument they play, and the friends they associate with.  Yes, all of these choices matter.  But I wonder if we overlook the cauldron of their character in an effort thrust ahead.

Character is crafted in our everyday decisions.  When we choose wisely time and time again, we develop it.  It does not matriculate from big accomplishments.  In fact, it can best be demonstrated when there is no accolade to be gained at all.   One of my favorite quotes on character reads, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him” (Malcom S. Forbes).

Character is something that we as parents need to intentionally nurture.  We can be the people who are looking now so that our children can make the right decisions when no one is looking down the road.  They will remember what we taught, encouraged, and applauded so that our voice will be a guiding one when we are not right there beside them.  Our job is to catch the little things:  the sharing we witness at a play date, the self-sacrifice we observe for a friend, or the unprompted concern we see demonstrated for a stranger. 

But fostering character in our children involves even more.  It means cultivating a home culture where respect for others is the norm and manners still matter.  Yes, this mom of a two-year-old who throws his food on the floor as a sign that he’s done with his meal, still believes that teaching manners is worth the fight – I mean effort.

You see, I want to raise boys who look up.  Everyone else was just climbing, climbing the stairs of Penn Station that evening, but there was one young man who stopped and looked up.  He evaluated his surroundings, chose to break the norm, and showed someone else a sign of respect.  No one was applauding him.  In fact, some people were pushing him from behind to keep moving.  But he chose chivalry instead.

I do not want to be the kind of parent who wants her children to keep climbing, climbing in life oblivious to what’s going on around them.  Yes, I want great things for my children.  Yes, I dream big dreams for their accomplishments.  But it’s funny - the things that will one day make us the most proud just might not be what we expect.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

GUEST POST: When Hubby Leaves His Socks on the Floor

By Becky Kopitzke
I am excited to share blog space today with a fellow mommy blogger, Becky Kopitzke.  Ever since I started blogging, she has been someone whom I admired for her humor, conversational tenor, and genuine heart for God.  I am honored that she not only offered this post, but will be available today to respond to any of your comments on my blog or on its Facebook page.  Thank you, Becky!  Here is is:
I discovered a remedy for all my husband’s annoying habits.
I stop thinking about them.
Like when he yanks open the microwave door two seconds before the timer beeps. Then later when I glace at the clock expecting to see something reasonable like 7:48, it flashes :02! :02! :02!—which tells me nothing except that there’s a man in the house who wants to vex me.
Or when he walks three paces ahead of me in the grocery store, as if we’re not involved in reading cereal labels and price-matching peanut butter together. Then once my arms are piled with jars and boxes, Mr. Speed Shopper is already in the next aisle—with the cart.
And of course there’s his classic habit of leaving dirty socks on our bedroom floor instead of tossing them down the laundry chute. So laundry day comes and goes and he asks, “Did you wash my socks?” to which I raise my eyebrows and reply, “What socks?” And then we’re in a laundry standoff because he knows what I’m talking about.
This stuff drives me nuts. I could spend all day stewing over it.
But I don’t.
“. . . Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” (Philippians 4:8).
A few years ago, one of my dear mentor moms taught me a trick. I call it the “quick switch.” Whenever her husband did something to irritate her, she immediately switched her complaint to an affirming thought. Yes, he left his ice cream bowl in the sink again, but. . .
He is loyal. 
He’s a good provider. 
He loves his kids.
My mentor spent a season of her marriage praying that the Holy Spirit would make this quick-switch method second nature. That any time a negative thought about her husband popped into her head, God would immediately replace it with a list of positives. And it worked—for both of us.
Now when I’m tempted to grumble over those bedside socks, I grin.
Because my husband is faithful.
He is honest.
He’s a hero to our kids.
And when he speeds ahead of me in the freezer section, I shrug.
My husband loves me deeply.
He makes me laugh.
He knows how to replace a headlight.
And when I check the microwave clock at bedtime and catch that flashing :02!, I just punch the CLEAR button and focus on what matters.
My husband cooks.
He works hard to make our life comfortable.
He is a gift to our family from God.
So I will not allow little annoyances to erode our relationship and overshadow what matters most. If my husband were gone tomorrow, heaven forbid, I’d miss those socks in the corner. I know I would.
Besides, let’s be real—I irk my husband, too. Like when I say I’ll be ready in 15 minutes, but really that means 45 because I change outfits three times and restock my purse with fruit snacks and baby wipes.
Or when I leave the refrigerator door open and the bathroom light on. Apparently this is quite distressing to an energy conservationist—{sorry, honey}.
Or those nights when I stay up late writing blog posts, then tiptoe into a dark bedroom, knock over a lamp and wake my hubby from a sound sleep. (Yes, this has happened more than once.) So he heaves a sigh and lies awake, unable to fall asleep again for two hours—which, in my estimation, is a good chunk of quality time to fixate on how fabulous I am despite my flaws.
So you see? Marriage is the place where two imperfect people learn to love each other the way Jesus loves us—unconditionally, soaked in forgiveness, and full of crazy grace. Which means those socks on the floor aren’t really a bother.
They’re a blessing.
Do you have a comment for Becky?  Leave it here!
If you would like to read another one of my favorite posts of hers on marriage, check out He Called Me Beautiful, So I Cleaned the Basement on her blog.

{Photo by Harlequeen at Flickr}

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Power of a Praying Mom

Have you taken time to think about your wildest dreams for your child? Have you spent time listening to the Holy Spirit about God's plan for their life with an open mind? Have you picked up on their seeds of greatness and wanted to be the water and sun for those seeds through prayer?

Or is your heart hurting today? Do you find that you have exhausted every avenue of potential action and are left standing frustrated and alone? You know that your child is journeying down a different path, a dangerous path than the one you want for them, and the only tool you have left is the power of prayer.

Or maybe your child is struggling with a challenge. It might be too big for them to handle by themselves, or maybe it is an opportunity to test their wings. You waiver between holding on and letting go, and pray that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom to counsel and support them in just the right way so that they can take flight.

Moms, whether you are dreaming, standing before God in scary vulnerability, or just trying to listen and get it right, we have a powerful tool at our disposal: prayer. Prayer is not a trite quick-fix answer, but a conversation with God that unlocks the power of possibility. {Tweet that.} Listen to how Paul describes God in scripture, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever..." (Ephesians 3:20-21). We pray to a God "who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine," but it is still up to us to do the asking and imagining.

As a pastor who has prayed at hospital bedsides, with prayer partners, and in front of congregations, I have given a lot of thought to how I want to pray with and for my children. Time and time again I have heard stories about mothers whose prayer life God has used to change the course of their child's trajectory or plant seeds of greatness in them.

I was moved and convicted by a recent quote written by a mom about the power of prayer. In her devotional Out of the Spin Cycle: Devotions to Lighten Your Mother Load, Jen Hatmaker writes, "Perhaps no service rendered to our children is more important than our intercession. A mother's job is to pray for her children while they don't have the words, understanding, or insight to pray for themselves. We stand in the gap, praying for their salvation, gifts, and lives, much like the Spirit prays for us" (p. 25). As moms, we do a lot to serve our children. But the greatest service we can offer them is a powerful tool whose reach is far beyond our own. {Tweet that.}

There is no correct formula to follow when praying for our children, for children are different. They have different gifts, needs, and challenges. Further, there is no best way to offer our petitions, for we are promised that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us when we struggle for words (Romans 8:26). So there is no need for us to feel intimidated - no! We have the Holy Spirit as our prayer partner. We can confidently approach the throne with the desires of our heart and a willingness to be used in God's service.

Whatever you are looking to petition God for, I offer these five bench markers as you formulate your words:

1.  God, I ask you to show my child your love so that they would know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is the beginning of a faith relationship (1 John 4:19).  

2.  God, I ask you to protect my child. Some mothers envision a band of angels surrounding their children. King David describes God's favor like a shield (Psalm 5:12).  

3.  God, I ask you to guide their steps according to your ways and will. Scripture promises rich blessings to those who pursue righteousness (Psalm 19:7-11).

4.  God, I ask that your plan for their life would involve using them in a tremendous way. This is our opportunity to dream big for their lives. Our goal is not to impose our own plans upon our children, but to help fuel their God-given destinies (Proverbs 16:9).

5.  God, I ask you to equip me to be the absolute best parent that I can be. This prayer will certainly involve growing pains of our own. But when God is growing us, it means that there is more good work for us to do! We will not only emerge better moms, but better people (Job 23:10).

As you work to combine these bench markers with your own unique petitions, remember that you are doing important work. I am convinced that the prayer of a mother has a special place in the heart of God. Remember Christ's love for his earthly mother, Mary. Remember their unique bond. THIS is the Son who is approaching the Father for you. THIS is the Son who said,  "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father" (John 14:13). Have confidence. Take heart. Your prayers matter. And your Heavenly Father is waiting to listen to YOU.

If this post encouraged you, please pass it on!  You might also like A Mom's Ultimate Blessing: A Prayer for Armor

If you are interested in reading further, I found these posts to be rich in scriptural insight: 10 Prayers for Your Son and 10 Prayers for Your Daughter.

{Photo from iStock/GJohnstonPhoto}

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What I've Learned from Sickness

Out here, the weather has been very, very snowy and the bugs have been very, very nasty this winter.  Have your children been sick recently?

Here are a couple of things that I've observed when walking with my children through sickness:

1.  Despite having been absolutely covered in bodily fluids, I usually do not get sick when my children are fighting something.  It's like I am surrounded by some sort of warrior shield so that I can fight the good fight -- which often includes sleepless nights and lots and lots of wash. 

2.  Once they are on the mend and I am sufficiently worn down, that's when it can hit me.  And it's definitely an all or nothing kind of thing.  Either I get a very mild version of the sickness that I can shrug off, or I get a version that can scare my children!  Amen?

The latter is what happened to me recently.  Colds and pink eye went through the house. Perhaps you have had pink eye before.  Maybe your mascara was a little old and your eye was a touch pink the next day.  You applied a warm compress or two and were fine.  That had been my experience before I got pink eye and could not even open my eye for 24 hours.  My older son would continually observe that fact with a quizzical brow.

My recovery brought two important truths into sharp relief:

1.  Do you have someone in your life who is caring for you, moms?  As we expend our daily energy caring for our children, it's important that we have someone who can be there to help us too.  My Aunt had previously booked a flight to visit.  I thought she would want to reschedule when she heard the news about our sickness.  Instead, she told me that she wished she was coming earlier, and that she would unquestionably still be coming to help.  I was awestruck.  She showed me grace -- something that each of us needs at some point.  If you find yourself consumed with child-rearing, be sure you are still making time to nurture valuable lifelines.  You never know when they might be helpful.

2.   Are you taking the time to care for yourself too?  When you are sick enough, you have to rest.  You have no choice in the matter.  I remember after I gave birth to my first son, I often heard the recommendation:  "When the baby sleeps, you should sleep.  Resist the urge to clean or return phone calls."  I tried to follow that valuable advice, but it was hard then, and it is hard now.  Taking time to care for ourselves and get a full night's rest is a discipline.  But the reality is that we can be much better moms when we do it - or at least work toward that goal!

Wishing you all good health and Christ's love.

"Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise" (Jeremiah 17:14).

If you liked this post, you might also like Runny Noses and Providential Care and A Haunting Ocean Tale.

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