As we head toward Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I wanted to share some of the wonderful ideas I’ve been gathering about making gratitude and giving a standard of daily living along with a celebrated part of the holidays. Some of these ideas are ones we’ve done in our family for years, and some are new ideas I’m excited to try out!
1.) I believe the best way to raise generous, empathetic human beings is by being a generous, empathetic human being. So the first and most simple idea is just to live what we want our children to learn. If we want our children to be kind, we need to treat them and everyone else kindly. If we want them to be thankful, we should thank them regularly for the things they do and the blessings the are to us and to the world and let them see us being thankful for our own blessings. If we want them to be generous, we need to share what we have freely with them and let them see us giving to others. And if we want them to have the desire to serve, we must meet their needs fully so they will be free from focusing on trying to get their own needs met, and we should let them see us serving others on a regular basis.
2.) I absolutely love the idea of painting ‘Blessing Stones’ and scattering them around town for people to find. They don’t serve any specific purpose, and you’ll probably never know if they’ve been found. They’re simply a little blessing to brighten someone’s day unexpectedly. Your children can stamp or write words or even Bible verses on smooth stones, or they can paint hearts or smiley faces on them. You can even pray over the stones with your children first if you like, then simply take a walk around town and let your little ones ’hide’ the rocks. What a fun way to share some smiles!
3.) Another idea I fell in love with was ‘Blessing Bags.’ The idea is to fill gallon sized ziploc bags with essentials such as soap, deodorant, toothpaste, a toothbrush, etc. and add in a water bottle and granola bar and whatever else you think someone in need might find helpful, then keep the bags in your car to give out whenever you come across anyone in need. Also, clicking on the ‘Blessing Bag’ pictured will take you to Kids With A Vision, a site filled with year-round ideas for helping children use their natural empathy to help others. Love it!
4.) Operation Christmas Child is a family favorite in our home. Every year we fill shoeboxes with small toys, pads of paper, coloring books, crayons, and more for children across the globe. It’s a wonderful Christmas tradition and a beautiful way of keeping the spirit of giving at the center of our celebrations.
5.) Another fun tradition that helps all of us to focus on giving during the holidays is playing ‘Secret Santa.’ I buy dollar store items for each of my children to open before bedtime on the twelve days leading up to Christmas, and they also get twelve dollars to spend on each other for ‘Secret Santa’ gifts. The joy and excitement they get from making each other happy is so touching and a great sibling bonding experience, too!
6.) Nursing Home Elves~Many years we’ve gone Christmas caroling at local nursing homes and have always been warmly welcomed by the residents and staff alike. We always bring homemade gifts like cookies, ornaments, or Christmas cards which are a labor of love from my children that bring tears to the eyes of the sweet elderly residents who receive them.
7.) We’ve also participated in special service opportunities such as passing out flyers in our local Christmas parade to help raise funds for a baby in need of a liver transplant and serving dinner to the families of terminally ill children at the Give Kids the World Village in a nearby city.
What are some ways your family focuses on giving during the holidays or year round?
***I Believe in Santa Claus***
Who does this describe?
- A bearded, good-hearted man
- A generous man who is well-known for giving to others
- A gentle man who is often pictured welcoming smiling children
- A man who, it is said, “sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good…”
- A man we believe in without ever having to see
- A man with amazing, awe-inspiring ‘magical’ powers
If you answered ‘Santa Claus,’ you’re right! If you answered ‘Jesus,’ you’re right, too! The parallels are striking, aren’t they? And with good reason…
One is the symbol of the Christmas season. The other is the reason for it. One is the parable. The other is the reality.
“I, like many new parents, struggled with the idea of perpetuating a ‘false belief’ and thus undermining my children’s trust. But then I turned to the Bible and saw how Jesus, who spoke absolute truth always, often spoke that truth in parables. He knew something about people’s hearts that I needed to learn as a young parent. He knew that the human mind is logic, analysis, reason, and that the human heart is imagination, creativity, love. He knew that sometimes you have to bypass people’s minds and speak straight to their hearts, those well-springs of wonder, for true understanding to occur and that often the deepest truths are the ones that are too big for the human mind to receive and can only be grasped by the heart.” [The Great Santa Claus Debate]
Flights of fantasy, wonder, and awe are vehicles through which all of us, not only children, can grasp the inexplicable, understand the unimaginable, embrace the extraordinary.
I want my children to dance with excitement as the Christmas season begins with the ringing sound of carols and the glitter of decorations filling our home. I want them to wonder and imagine as we read Christmas stories and watch Christmas classics together under warm blankets with bowls of buttery popcorn and piping hot mugs of hot cocoa. I want them to gasp in awe at the brilliant abundance of presents under the Christmas tree as we gather on Christmas morning and sing ‘Happy Birthday to Jesus’ before the tumble-bumble, joyful chaos of gift opening begins.
I want these things for them so that as they grow up they’ll take these memories of joy and laughter and wonder and awe with them and always be able feel the beauty of the Gift we were given in the Christ Child instead of just having head knowledge of Him.
“I chose the way of the parable. I embraced Christmas in all its glory, decorated and baked and showered my little ones with gifts, all while sharing the story of the birth of a Baby. Woven through every event, every tradition, every memorable moment of our family’s Christmas, is the celebration of the wondrous gift of a Savior. We watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and all the other fun Christmas shows together. We read bedtime stories about Christmas elves and magical toys and talking animals. And when my children ask me if Santa really exists, I tell them “Yes,” because it’s true. Every parent who carries on St. Nicholas’ tradition of leaving secret gifts, of being the heart and hands of Jesus, of sharing the wonder, excitement, and glory of the most extraordinary Gift ever given to mankind, every one of us is Santa Claus.”
I believe in Santa Claus because I am Santa Claus!
That, to me, is the true reason for the season~sharing the truth of the most unimaginable, unattainable, unfathomable Gift ever given, and the way we choose to do that in our family is to celebrate Jesus with a Santa Claus Christmas.
How does your family celebrate the holidays?
[Click here for more ideas about how to keep a spirit of giving at the center of your family’s Christmas celebrations. Happy Holidays!]
This video of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton singing ‘I Believe in Santa Claus’ makes me cry every time I see it.
The Spirit of Christmas… The Great Santa Claus Debate
Making gratitude and generosity a standard of life… 7 Tips and Traditions to Make Giving a Standard of Living
A happy childhood sends a child into adulthood with a baggage of confidence and kindness instead of disillusionment and anger. 200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood
The human brain needs time to process, categorize, prioritize, analyze, and otherwise make sense of all of the trillions of bits of information that it receives each day. Non-structured playtime for children functions much like sleep does for adults, giving their brains the time and space they need to move short-term memory to long-term learning. 25 Reasons NOT to Keep Children Busy
In the world of a child wonders are as simple as sticks and sheets, leaves and books, boxes and giggles, and the promise in a rainy day. The Seven Wonders of the World of Childhood
Children who love to read…READ! Engaging children’s hearts in the wonder of reading instead of just training their minds in its mechanics. Raising Bookworms
From hitting to defiance to tantrums to testing the boundaries and more, here are gentle parenting tools, tips, and techniques…Practical Gentle Discipline
Fairy tales in childhood are stepping stones throughout life, leading the way through trouble and trial. The value of fairy tales lies not in a brief literary escape from reality, but in the gift of hope that goodness truly is more powerful than evil and that even the darkest reality can lead to a Happily Ever After. Fairy Tales~The Lost Value of ‘Once upon a time…’
[Portions reprinted from Gentle Discipline: Tips, Tools, and Techniques by L.R.Knost available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
“Although the evidence against spanking is in the form of correlations (not direct causal proof), the effect is more robust than for the correlations that have served as the basis for other public health interventions, such as secondhand smoke and cancer, exposure to lead and IQ scores in children, and exposure to asbestos and laryngeal cancer.” (Scientific America)
Yes, you read that right. There is less evidence linking secondhand smoke to cancer, lead exposure to developmental delays in children, and asbestos to cancer than there is of the short and long-term detrimental effects of spanking. Study after study has confirmed that spanking (not just physical abuse, but any physical act of correction-smacking, hitting, swatting, slapping, paddling, switching, etc.) is directly linked to greater aggression and other behavioral issues, impaired cognitive development, and increased risk of depression and anxiety in childhood as well as long-term mental issues in adulthood. (See research here) And yet the American public is still reluctant to dismiss the physical punishment of children as an option for parents and school systems.
It is not unusual for public opinion to evolve slowly. Until recent years husbands hitting their spouses in the US was considered “reasonable chastisement of wives” and “a private family matter” by the courts and by law enforcement even though it has technically been against the law in all fifty states for decades. Now domestic violence in the US is viewed with outrage and abusers with disdain.
While the tide is ever-so-slowly turning regarding public opinion of the physical punishment of children, in excess of 80% of Americans still believe spanking is a necessary part of raising a child according to a survey cited by a UN report. And in the 19 US states where corporal punishment is still legal in the public school system, wooden paddles are used on children as young as preschool, and parents’ permission and/or notification is not even required. By contrast, in every branch of the US military and in the US penal system, physical punishment has long been outlawed as it was deemed ‘cruel and unusual’ and a ’use of excessive force.’
Clearly there is a disconnect when it comes to physical punishment of the most vulnerable and defenseless of our citizens, our children. Even in the face of study after study detailing the detrimental effects of physical punishment on young children, more than 90% of American parents still admit to spanking their toddlers and preschoolers. The responses to a recently released study linking a significantly increased risk of mental illness in adulthood to being spanked as a child point to some possible reasons for that dichotomy:
- ”I was spanked, and I turned out okay.” Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, but why take the risk?
- “I don’t want to raise a rotten brat!” Studies link spanking to increased aggression and other behavioral issues, not decreased.
- “I spank my kids because the Bible commands me to.” Spanking is not one of the Ten Commandments. (See here)
- “They’re my kids, and nobody has the right to tell me how to raise them!” Our laws are civil agreements as to what is and is not acceptable in our society. We once agreed that slavery was acceptable. Now we know better, and our laws reflect that. As research continues to reveal the detrimental effects of spanking, public opinion will begin to shift and our laws will naturally follow suit. It is the way of a democratic society.
- ”Nothing else works!” Thoughtful, proactive parenting works. Here are some positive parenting ideas to try.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of parents not only deeply love their children, but are also making the best parenting decisions they know how to with the information and experiences they have to work with. That is why it is vital that the discussion and flow of information remain open and civil when it comes to spanking. Change does not come easily, but to happen at all it must have an atmosphere of honest, open communication in which to blossom.
Life with kids is messy. Just ask God. He’s got a whole planet of them, and the scrapes they get themselves into are the stuff of legends, literally! Luckily for us, He’s the best. parent. ever.
That’s one of the things I like best about Easter, celebrating the Original Gentle Parent, the Author of Intentional Parenting, Unconditional Love in Person, and I love sharing and implementing what I learn from His example.
I had a perfect opportunity to implement some of that gentle, intentional, unconditional parenting last night when I headed into the kitchen to color Easter eggs with a clingy, tired baby on one hip and an over-excited six-year-old dancing around my legs, only to find a tidal wave of sudsy bubbles exploding from every crevice of my dishwasher and covering my newly cleaned floor. My Renaissance Girl had used dishwashING liquid instead of dishwashER liquid…sigh.
Now, just to set the stage, we have a home church and, in anticipation of the extra family and friends we were expecting for the Easter service, I had spent the entire day cleaning and scrubbing and organizing and still had more cleaning and setting up to do as well as coloring eggs and settling little ones in bed for the night before filling Easter baskets.
So I stood there, staring at the billowing disaster and adding a slew of new tasks to my already too-long list, and winged a quick prayer up to my Role Model. Then I threw down a towel levee, plopped my little people down for a good old bubble romp, and grabbed my camera. Disaster-misaster, what we had was a fun Easter memory in the making!
That Old Rugged Cross on a lonely hill is a testimony to triumph…life conquering death, good conquering evil, hope conquering fear…justice served and grace given. And that Empty Tomb we celebrate isn’t about death. It’s about life…messy, muddled, mysterious, mistake-ridden life, the kind we live every day…even Easter!
An aged beauty tips her face up, and her elderly companion leans down out of life-long habit to catch her soft voice. His old eyes see past the ever-deepening lines to the vision of youth he married decades earlier. His hands reach out to steady her fragile, but oh-so-familiar frame, and she smiles the same smile he’s woken up to and kissed goodnight his entire adult life. Theirs is an old love, subtle with wear, ripe with age, its rich beauty lost to those without the palate to plumb its boundless depths or the senses to delight in its warm bouquet. They are a living love story, two hearts time-stitched into one, beautiful old souls stepping in tandem toward eternity.
Truly, love does have many seasons and faces, each revealing its own power, its own purpose…
Young love shouts from the rooftops and expresses itself in passionate displays. Its flames are brilliant, stoked with newness and fueled with idealism, but at times it burns itself out with its own heat or through lack of care and tending.
Old love whispers quietly, “I’m here. No matter what, I’m always here.” It is a silent glance, a hand clasp, a timeless commitment.
Young love, blind to the rich time-tested tapestry, deaf to the wealth of meaning in quiet companionship, lost to the supple oneness of hearts in accord, often looks at old love and calls it dead.
Old love sometimes looks at young love and smiles with fond remembrance, but ofttimes shakes its head and declares it foolish.
Each has a place in the world, a purpose, a time, and a season.
And then there are the other faces of love…
The exhausted young mother tenderly cradling a brand new life in the early morning hours. The middle-aged man getting up at four o’clock in the morning for another backbreaking day of work to support his family. The teacher spending her meager pay to make sure her students have pencils. The pastor visiting a convicted felon just to play a game of cards. The teenager stopping to help a stranger push their stalled car to the side of the road…
Each speaks love in a different language, but the message is the same…love is alive.
There is another Love, a living, breathing, timeless, endless, lavish, inconceivable, unconditional, sacrificial, unlikely Love. His Name is Love because He is Love. He and I have an old love, a stalwart and enduring love, a time-tested, unraveled and rewoven, wounded and healed, shattered and renewed love.
In the beginning, when I was newly in love with my Love, His passion fueled mine and I was consumed. I flared white-hot and brandished His Name like a sword, intent on conquering the world all on my own and presenting it as a treasure to my Love. I scorned the quiet love of my elders as a burned-out relic, not fit for my King.
Then time passed and life happened. My Love clung to me fiercely through the storms, even as my own grasp weakened and slipped. My Love held me close in the dark and never let go even when I kicked and flailed and railed at Him because I couldn’t see Him through my tears.
And my young love grew into an old love, deep and rich and still. Our old love is a stunning tapestry of life and loss, triumph and tragedy, joy and heartache, woven from the tattered and torn remnants of our young love.
Now, in place of conquering the world, I let Him love the world through me. Instead of proselytizing, evangelizing, and sermonizing for my King, I let His love permeate all I do like the subtle fragrance of rain as it washes clean the earth. Rather than feverishly working to present My Love a treasure, I bask in His presence knowing I am His treasure.
And our beautiful old souls step lightly toward eternity…
To Everything…Turn, Turn, Turn
There is a season…Turn, Turn, Turn
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To Everything…Turn, Turn, Turn
There is a season…Turn, Turn, Turn
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To Everything…Turn, Turn, Turn
There is a season…Turn, Turn, Turn
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
There is a season…Turn, Turn, Turn
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late
As a child, I loved to find a little ‘hidey-hole’ and tuck myself away from the big, big world for awhile. Somehow, sitting in a closet quietly singing to a much-loved babydoll, hiding in the leafy bower of an old grandfather oak with my nose in a book, or throwing a blanket over an end-table and crawling under it with a flashlight just made the world a little smaller, a little friendlier, a little less overwhelming. I remember feeling safe. I remember listening to the sound of my breathing, just listening. I remember closing my eyes and daydreaming, the cadence of my breath the only sound in the stillness.
It was there in the stillness, in the wanderings of my imagination, that I processed the brokenness of a broken home, adapted to the subsequent juggling of two homes, coped with the eventual abandonment by a father, and, over time, unlocked my guarded heart to a new father. It was in the smallness, in the microcosm of my own creation, that the big world shrunk down and the chaos receded and life’s mountains became surmountable molehills.
With my own children, I’ve fallen in love anew with the ‘hidey-hole.’ Whether it’s a fort of sofa cushions, a sheet with the ends tied to dining room chairs, a blanket hung over a coffee table, or the tree house built by my amazing hubby, my children’s imaginations take flight. And, as they make clubhouse signs and set about ‘nesting’ in their little corner of the world, their muffled giggles and busy chatter make my heart sing.
I pray that the big, big world out there is kind to my children, that they never know sadness, never taste bitterness, never experience disillusionment. But I know better. I know life can and will challenge and even hurt them. I know people will disappoint and hearts will be broken and dreams will be shattered.
But I also know that in the quiet places God’s still, small voice can be heard whispering comfort. I know that in the simplicity of play the complexity of life can be sorted like puzzle pieces joined to reveal a picture. And I know that in the nooks and niches we carve out for ourselves even as adults, the world seems a little smaller, a little friendlier, and a little less overwhelming.
St.Nicholas was just a man, but he was a man with a mission. Born in the third century, he grew up to be an intensely kind-hearted man who was especially devoted to children’s issues and helping the poor. He was a Greek Bishop who defied the established Church in order to go out among the ‘unwashed masses’ and live his life as the ‘heart and hands of Jesus.’ While many miracles and legends about him evolved through the centuries, his penchant for leaving secret gifts is the one that captured the hearts and imaginations of people world-wide, leading to the present-day legend of Santa Claus.
I, like many new parents, struggled with the idea of perpetuating a ‘false belief’ and thus undermining my children’s trust. But then I turned to the Bible and saw how Jesus, who spoke absolute truth always, often spoke that truth in stories. He knew something about people’s hearts that I needed to learn as a young parent. He knew that the human mind is logic, analysis, reason, and that the human heart is imagination, creativity, love. He knew that sometimes you have to bypass people’s minds and speak straight to their hearts, those well-springs of wonder, for true understanding to occur and that often the deepest truths are the ones that are too big for the human mind to receive and can only be grasped by the heart.
When it comes to the breathtaking gift of the Christ-Child, the Eternal Creator born of a woman, God Himself wrapped in swaddling clothes, the I AM in a manger, what better way to share such an absurd and immense truth than Jesus’ way…with a story? How else would my little ones be able to grasp the concept of such a gift? How would they embrace the wonder? How could I possibly break down the impossible into a pedantic lecture? Would the improbable make more sense in a dissertation?
And so I chose the way of the parable. I embraced Christmas in all its glory, decorated and baked and showered my little ones with gifts, all while sharing the story of the birth of a Baby. Woven through every event, every tradition, every memorable moment of our family’s Christmas, is the celebration of the wondrous gift of a Savior. We watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and all the other fun Christmas shows together. We read bedtime stories about Christmas elves and magical toys and talking animals. And when my children ask me if Santa really exists, I tell them yes, because it’s true. Every parent who carries on St. Nicholas’ tradition of leaving secret gifts, of being the heart and hands of Jesus, of sharing the wonder, excitement, and glory of the most extraordinary Gift ever given to mankind, every one of us is Santa Claus.
I believe in Santa Claus because I am Santa Claus…and you are, too!
Note: I don’t ever use Santa Claus as a threat (i.e. “I’m calling Santa right now if you don’t…” or “Santa’s watching, and you won’t get any presents for Christmas if…”) first because a parable’s purpose is to teach, not to manipulate or control, and second because what I am teaching is the wonder and miracle of receiving a free gift, one that can’t be earned because it is freely given! Manipulating my children into ‘performing’ might work temporarily, but am I really trying to raise works-driven Christians, or am I trying to teach my little people about the incredible gift of grace?
Here are some of the ways we focus on Jesus for Christmas:
Children learn best and most happily through play, so letting my little people ‘play Santa’ (i.e. wrapping up their toys and ’surprising’ each other, making ornaments and delivering them to a nursing home, shopping at the dollar store for Operation Christmas Child, etc.) is a very important part of our Christmas traditions. And the best part is…they’re playing Santa for Jesus!
Leading up to Christmas, we marvel about how Jesus loves us so much He wants us to get presents on His birthday (truly awe-inspiring to children and a lesson in sacrificial giving!) because all He wants for His birthday are smiles and happy hearts.
Then we brainstorm ways to give Jesus as many ‘birthday presents’ as possible (a lesson on generosity). We work together to share Christmas cheer with everyone we meet, but focus our best efforts on the grumpiest people because they don’t smile as often and so their smiles make really special gifts for Jesus (a lesson on unconditional love!).
We have a 12 Days of Christmas tradition where everyone gets a small present (chocolate, a special pencil, etc), and we read Christmas picturebooks every evening, building excitement for the Christmas morning celebration of the BEST GIFT EVER!
On Christmas Eve, we go to a special church service and then, after celebrating Christmas with family, we go home and make a fire in the fireplace (in Florida weather!) and make s’mores and hot chocolate and read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke.
Then, on Christmas morning, we have a ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus’ party before opening presents, complete with a birthday cake and candles and singing ‘Happy birthday to Jesus!’
Here are some other resources on making the true meaning of Christmas central to your celebrations this year (I’ll be adding more as I find them!):
What traditions does your family have to keep Christ in Christmas? Share them in the comment section!
[Reprinted from Gentle Parenting: A Christian Perspective due to be released in 2014; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Throughout the Old Testament, He spoke through prophets, dreams, angels, and even a bush! He revealed His character in His commandments and in the Names He called Himself and in His interactions with that lovely, stubborn, chosen nation, Israel.
And, finally, in the New Testament, He just stuck His feet right in the dirt and somehow stuffed His infinite Being into the skin of a human.
GOD. With. Us!
Why in Heaven’s Name would He do that? Well, that’s been the subject of dusty tomes and esoteric debates for centuries, but in truth the answer is very simple: God is a Father, a Daddy who wants to connect with and build a relationship with His children.
In the Old Testament God revealed Himself as a Father who is Creator, Provider, and Protector. He showed Himself to be an involved Father, interested in every detail of His children’s lives, from what they ate to how and where and when they worshiped Him. And He revealed His purity, His incomprehensible Holiness that kept His beloved children hopelessly separated from Him and helpless to change that fact. All the rules for cleansing, all the rituals, and all the formulas, only served to highlight the pitiful fallen state of God’s beloved children.
And that ritualistic, external, temporal cleansing? It became internal and eternal.
Stones once thrown in righteous judgment were laid down in humble mercy. Punishment was replaced with grace as Righteousness Himself stood between sinful man and his dire fate.
And so we have Jesus, God Himself with us in the flesh, God’s heart in a very literal sense laid bare for all the world to see, the perfect Parent to model ourselves after.
We have the Father…not a father, but THE Father…to look to for guidance on how to parent our children.
So, let’s get practical. What does God’s parenting look like, and how can we model ourselves after Him?
Well, Jesus raised twelve children, so let’s take a look at how He did it!
Twelve of God’s children, all with different personalities, backgrounds, and talents, became Jesus’ disciples. The word disciple is the root word in discipline, so to discipline our children means to disciple them.
What characteristics defined Jesus’ discipleship? In other words, how did He treat His disciples? Was He harsh? Did He yell? Did He punish them? Clearly, He had the authority to. But since He came to take our punishment, it really wouldn’t make sense for Him to start meting it out, would it?
Was He distant, unresponsive to their needs? Did He make demands, insist on instant obedience, and toss around kingly commands?
No, no, no, and no! Jesus treated His disciples gently, tenderly. He listened. He responded to their needs, answered their questions, spoke their language. Jesus encouraged and guided and taught His disciples.
He drew them close to Himself, lived with them, ate with them, traveled with them. Jesus didn’t just say He loved His disciples. He didn’t simply feel love for His disciples. Jesus lived love for His disciples. And He lived that love daily, mercifully, sacrificially.
So, what are the characteristics that defined Jesus’ discipleship?
Gentle. Tender. Responsive. Available.
Listening. Encouraging. Teaching. Guiding.
God, Himself, intimately and empathetically connecting with His children.
That is perfect parenting.
I, however, am NOT a perfect parent. In the time it’s taken me to write this so far, I’ve failed at pretty much every single one of those perfect parenting qualities. I only say that to point out that we aren’t shooting for perfection here.
If perfection were possible, the Cross wouldn’t have been necessary.
I have failed and will fail again as a parent. But even my failures have great value because they lead me back to the Cross, time and time again.
My failures remind me to turn to my perfect Parent, God, and trust Him with my children. And my failures offer me the opportunity to be transparent with my children, to ask for forgiveness, to show them it’s okay to be human and make mistakes.
In short, my imperfections are perfect for demonstrating God’s unconditional love. I call this particular parenting ‘technique,’ for want of better wording, “If you mess up, ‘fess up!”
So, what are some ways we can reflect Christ-like qualities in our never-perfect-but-best-effort parenting?
1.) Build your relationship. Everything, absolutely everything in raising children, is dependent upon a secure parent/child relationship, and the foundation is trust. We talk all the time in Christian circles about needing to trust God more. Why? What’s so important about trust? Trust is the secure knowledge that we will be cared for, that the person we are dependant on is who they say they are and will do what they say they will do. Without trust, there is no relationship. You build trust in your children starting from day one by responding faithfully and quickly to their needs, day or night, even if their ‘need’ is simply reassurance that you’re there.
2.) Be there in the moment. This isn’t about quality time or quantity time. This is about actually being with your children when you’re with them. I’m talking about muting the television and making sustained eye contact all the way through the story of how they had the piece of string first and how it was taken by a sibling when they only set it down for a minute and…well, you get the picture. Jesus showed He cared by listening and responding to what was important and relevant to His children.
3.) Encourage, don’t discourage. Jesus built up His disciples, giving positive directions, allowing time and opportunity for them to try, helping when they needed it, and forgiving them when they failed. Never, not once, did He lash out at His disciples in anger. He taught them gently and encouragingly, often in stories that related to their daily lives, and He was always available to discuss or clarify or answer questions.
4.) Practice what you preach. This is foundational, right along with trust. If you don’t live out how you want your children to turn out, you can be pretty much guaranteed they’ll go an entirely different way! Listen to your children if you want them to learn to listen. Respect your children if you want them to learn respect. Model compassion, kindness, honesty, forgiveness, and a grateful spirit if you want your children to grow into adults with those character traits. Jesus lived out every one of those qualities for His children!
5.) Don’t make excuses. If you fail (and you will) apologize! Nothing penetrates hurt more deeply and with more healing power than an honest, open apology.
6.) Give grace. The unconditional love of God is beyond human comprehension. Even ‘veteran’ Christians resort to trying to earn God’s grace when they’ve already been given it freely. We all fall into that trap, time and again, because we just can’t wrap our little human brains around something as awesomely simple as unconditional love. We think it MUST be more complicated, and we end up complicating it by trying to pay for something that is free! So help your children while they’re looking to you, their earthly parent, for an example of how their Heavenly Parent operates. Give them grace. Guide them gently. Forgive them when they fall, and get down on their level to help them back up again.
7.) Enjoy your blessings. Your children are a reward, a blessing, a gift straight from the heart of your Father to you, His precious child. He wants you to feel what He feels, to experience Him through your children. He wants you to delight in your children so you’ll understand how He delights in you. He wants you to feel the depth of concern He feels when you stray into danger, the heights of joy He feels when you run trustingly into His arms, the pangs of compassion He feels when you are hurting or scared. Take the time to enjoy your children, and you will find yourself closer to the heart of your Father than you can possibly imagine!
The world never knew you, but I held you under my heart as long as I could, treasured every kick knowing that was all of your life on earth I would experience, and delivered you into my arms for a moment, into God’s arms for eternity~L.R.Knost
~~~When God says ‘No’ ~~~
I started this with the intention of updating ‘The List’ (below) from my miscarriage/stillbirth blog, which I was able to do, and then I was going to talk about the times God has said ‘No’ to me, the miscarriages, the stillbirth…but I can’t. I can’t go there right now. It’s still too fresh.
So, here, instead is this beautiful memorial butterfly, created by I Am A Mother To An Angel in memory of my stillborn son, Sammy. It links to my miscarriage/stillbirth blog. You can click on it and read about my journey through many, many losses. ‘The List’ is a part of my journey.
I have a list of people I pray for every day, children, adults, even several babies, and they are all fighting for their lives. Some of them, a precious five year old little girl, a sweet mom with breast cancer, an infant with spinal cancer, and another baby with a rare brain disorder, lost their fight for life. My heart is broken for their hurting families. I can’t imagine what they must be going through. I don’t even want to try. Others are just starting their fight, like a seventeen-year-old boy, seemingly healthy and strong, who just went in one week for a routine sport’s physical…a mass was found…brain surgery followed quickly…pathology reports came back…cancer. Another is a friend waiting for a kidney transplant. And then there are is the newborn baby boy born with half a heart, the one-year-old who recently had a liver transplant, the four-year-old boy whose body is riddled with tumors, and so, so many more. My thoughts, prayers, and hopes are never far from these small people and their heroic families.
For my part, the struggles and losses these families are enduring press themselves deeply into my soul. I am in a constant battle with fear. I am all too familiar with how fragile life is and how suddenly life can change. I am filled with joy at the blessings God has given me, but my joy is often stolen by fear. My heart waits for the next bad thing to happen, always secretly wondering what will be taken from me next. I know God doesn’t want me to live that way. In First John 4:18 God says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” Since God Himself is ‘Perfect Love’ He is saying that trusting Him is the key to overcoming fear. I know in my head that this is true, but it is my heart that keeps me awake in the darkness, locked in a battle with fear. God gives, and God does take away. I need to be at peace with that, trusting my Father’s perfect will. But I am afraid. I am so afraid.
I wish God never said ‘No’ when the whispered prayers of scared Mommies and Daddies reached His ears, when a child’s desperate prayers for a sick parent are sobbed in the night, when hearts and voices storm the gates of Heaven on behalf of a beloved friend. But He does say ‘No,’ and His ‘No’ is the right answer, even though I’ll never understand it this side of Heaven. I wish I could understand, though. I wish I could sit and talk and reason with God…but that is prayer, and so I will sit, and I will talk, and I will reason…and I will learn to trust. I will battle the fear and withstand the pain and cling to the Cross in the storm. And I will learn to trust. Or maybe I won’t, not fully. Maybe that is faith, not really trusting, not fully, because the heart is human, after all. Maybe faith is choosing to wait, to hold on, to struggle, never fully trusting, but always believing and always remembering that God even said ‘No’ to His own Son in the Garden of Gethsemane…and He did it for me.
I am thankful for my big, happy family!
“A happy family is but an earlier heaven”~ George Bernard Shaw
I am thankful for hardship.
Life is hard. That’s an intrinsic part of its breathless beauty. What joy would there be in a rollercoaster with no steep climb? What triumph in a race with no competition? What accomplishment in an endeavor with no risk? What motivation in a life with no death? I don’t speak lightly of hardship. Hardship involves suffering, and I have suffered more than I am willing to share. But I choose to embrace the beauty, to rise to the challenge, to submit to the fire…because that is where life in all of its rich, messy, glorious fullness is found.
A Colorless World
I grew up in a primarily black neighborhood in the 1970’s, a little white girl with mostly Black, Filipino, and Hispanic friends…a little white girl whose favorite babysitter was a black teenager named Cassandra…a little white girl who carefully tossed rose petals one by one down the aisle as the flower girl in a biracial wedding…a little white girl who never even knew racism existed until she became a teenager and found her friends divided, angry, mistrusting, no longer friends, now just ‘us’ and ‘them.’ I didn’t grow up color-blind, seeing only ugly shades of grey. I saw and understood and appreciated the different colors and backgrounds and cultures in my poor socioeconomic, but richly diverse neighborhood. I never felt the need to change to be like them or to change them to be like me. We all went to the same school, worshipped at the same church, played in the same streets, shopped at the same stores, but that was where the sameness ended. The unique flavor of each family filled their homes with tastes and colors and sounds my child’s heart delighted in, never knowing what exotic new treat my babysitter would produce or what dazzling hue would grace the hat on my neighbor’s head, and never, ever, knowing what in the world my Filipino friend’s sweet grandma was saying, bless her heart! And now, in a world where color-blindness is the supposed path to peace and gender-blindness the new chant of tolerance, my adult heart aches, wondering when we lost the wonder and the beauty of difference, why we reject who and what we were created to be instead of embracing and celebrating our uniqueness, and how we can “become like little children” again. God has created an amazing array of beautiful masterpieces splashed across the earth in a stunning mosaic. What tragedy if we reduce His majestic display to a series of canvases turned to the wall in uniform rows of monotony!
~I am thankful for this man~
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.
Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.
Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.
Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.
The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.”
With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere.
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.
I gave in, and admitted that God was God.
What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.
If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
When it comes down to it, gratitude is all about attitude!
I can moan about being overwhelmed with life, or I can be overwhelmed with joy by life’s blessings.
I can complain about all the extra work that comes with a new school year, or I can happily embrace a new beginning.
I can waste time longing for my youth, or I can gasp at the youthful beauty of my most precious gifts.
I can wish for riches, or I can revel in richness.
I can worry about the future, or I can trust Who holds the future.
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
This is a site where you can go to share your story and read others’ stories. There are linked pages where you can join communities of women who have been where you are and can offer support and a listening ear.
Sometimes little people need a visual to help them grasp abstract subjects. When tackling subjects like attitude, gratitude, giving, and forgiving, it can be difficult to translate explanations into concrete language a child can understand. Here are some ideas on taking the abstract into the concrete:
Blessings Jar Ideas
1.) Attitude issues~Cut out some pictures from magazines of things representing your child’s blessings (pets, friends, family, home, food, the park, etc) and keep them in the Blessings Jar. When your little one is having problems appreciating their blessings, let them dig around in the Blessings Jar and find three blessings to share with you. Bonus: Modeling good life habits such as focusing on the positives in life and remembering to share our gratitude for the good things in life with the source of those good things!
2.) Sibling and/or cooperation issues~Next to the Blessings Jar, keep a small bowl with game pieces such as Operation or Perfection or some other game with lots of pieces. Let your children know that every time you see them cooperating with each other (sibling issues) or with you (cooperation issues) they’ll get to put a game piece in the Blessings Jar, and when all the pieces are in the jar you will all play the game together as a family. When you play the game, talk about how difficult it would be to enjoy the game if any of the pieces were missing and how it’s the same way with family…everyone matters and working together makes the ‘game’ more fun for everyone! Note: The novelty wears off quickly if used to control behavior (i.e. as a reward system) instead of as an occassional object lesson or fun family activity.
[Sometimes us parents are the ones in need of an attitude adjustment! Here are some ideas on shifting gears when our little blessings begin to feel more like huge burdens.]
1.) Keep a bowl of little glass jewels like you’d find at a craft store next to the Blessings Jar and every time you ‘catch’ your child doing something kind or thoughtful, let them put a jewel in the Blessings Jar. (Make sure you ‘catch’ them often!) At the end of the day, count the blessings with your little one and sing the ‘Count Your Blessings’ song as part of your bedtime routine.
2.) If you’re feeling overwhelmed with life in general and parenting in particular, use the Blessings Jar to help you refocus on your own blessings. Keep a little notepad next to the Blessings Jar and write down one of your blessings every time you feel like you’re about to lose it. At the end of the day, pull out the blessings and share them with the whole family and write down any they’d like to add, then pray together as a family and thank God for all of your blessings. (Keeping these and pulling them out at the end of the year to make a Blessings Yearbook/Scrapbook would be a fun family tradition, too!)
Uh-Oh Jar Ideas
1.) Teaching children about forgiveness can be a challenge, especially when parents often feel the need to punish them for every mistake or bad choice they make. Giving our children the grace and forgiveness we’ve been given is the first and most vital step in teaching forgiveness. To reinforce that lesson, put a bowl of blank scraps of paper next to an Uh-Oh Jar. Every time your little one misbehaves, lies, etc, write what they did on one of the scraps and ask them to ball up the paper and put it in the Uh-Oh Jar. At the end of the day, ask them if they know what forgiveness is. After letting them try to answer, remind them that all day long they’ve been putting papers with their mistakes written on them in the Uh-Oh Jar. Then, one by one, pull out the papers, unfold them, erase the writing, and throw them away. Tell them that forgiveness is erasing someone’s mistakes and letting it go just like you erased their mistakes and threw the papers away!
2.) Another use for an Uh-Oh Jar is to fill it with scraps of paper with good choices written on them. (i.e. Play with playdoh. Color a picture. Build a block city. etc) When your little ones are are getting into things, fighting, and just generally making ’uh-oh’ choices, let them pick a good choice from the Uh-Oh Jar to redirect them.