Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Fruit of Gratitude: cultivating a heart of thanksgiving in our children

Please enjoy this guest post by Rachel, and have a happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!

"What do you say?" I ask my son as he takes the cookie from the waitress. 
"Thank you!" he says with his silly four year old grin. 
I pat him on the shoulder with an approving look and secretly feel proud of myself that I'm raising such polite children. Even my one-year-old toddler says something slightly resembling those two words, although nobody outside our immediate family would be able to decipher it. 
I really swell with pride when our oldest, clearly and loudly responds, "Thank you" on his own accord. I must really be doing this mothering thing right! After all, every parent includes gratefulness in the list of character qualities they want their children to develop by 18 years old. 
As we head into another busy holiday season, though, I wonder if we're missing the mark with this thing called gratefulness. How can we cultivate this attitude in even our smallest children? 
A Heart Issue
First of all, we have to realize that gratefulness is a heart issue. All the "thank you's" in the world don't necessarily mean that a child (or an adult) is truly thankful for that gift or circumstance. I believe that true gratefulness comes from a heart that realizes that what they have is undeserved and hard earned. A great practical way to do this during this time of year is to show our children those who have less or are in more difficult circumstances than us. During the last couple years, we have taken our children to hand out candy canes and sing carols to the elderly at a local nursing home. We have found that it opens their little eyes and tender hearts to people in our own town who may be very lonely during the holidays. Seeing others in need naturally develops gratefulness for what we have been given. 
A Reflection
Secondly, gratefulness develops in our kids’ hearts when it is modeled in our own hearts and lives as parents. I believe this goes deeper than thankfulness for better circumstances or more money than someone else. True gratefulness appears in our lives when we realize how undeserving we are of the grace God has bestowed on us through His Son. When we are gripped with the sacrifice Christ willingly pursued and accomplished for a very ungrateful people, the response will naturally be one of praise. Whether we like it or not, our little ones are always listening. Our words and actions will reflect a heart that is satisfied not in money, position, or even a Pinterest-inspired holiday centerpiece, but in our riches in Christ. 
A Process
Finally, gratefulness is a process. It would be nice if once learned, it was a habit for life (like walking or potty training). If it were that simple though, we would have no reason to abide in Christ. John 15:5 is so important in the lives of Christian families. Apart from Him we can do nothing! As parents, the more we lean into the finished work of Jesus, the more gratitude will grow in our hearts. That attitude of dependence will be evident to even the smallest of children and will continue the process of more and more thankfulness in our homes. 
I will still be reminding my kids to say, "thank you" when they receive a gift from someone, after all it's socially polite to do so, but I pray God will give me opportunities to train them to see gratefulness as deeper than words. Paul says in Colossians 2:6,7:
"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."
When our children are rooted in the gospel, gratefulness will {eventually} be the fruit. 

Rachel blogs at Dishes & Doctrine where she hopes to help busy moms find the everyday moments where theology and motherhood collide. She is a pastor's wife and "Mommy" to three little ones. Besides coffee, one of her favorite things is meeting new friends online. Find her on Facebook or Instagram

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Don't Let Advent Activities Steal Your Joy

Before we'd even finished eating our first round of Halloween candy, one of my sweet sister-in-laws asked, “What are you doing with your kids for Advent this year?”  
I’m thankful for her question and intentional spirit, and am encouraged by her desire to make Christmas a highlight of the year.  I too want to make much of Jesus during Advent, separating our traditions from the world and training our children to know the true reason for the season.  But part of me also cringed a little bit as I thought of the pressure to do one more thing.

My oldest child isn’t even four, and I already feel bad that I haven't done sugar cookie decorating, Jesse Trees, Christmas caroling and crafts.  Can I even admit that we probably won’t put up a grown-up sized Christmas tree?  With twin two–year-olds freely barreling through house,  I don't want to protect a traditional tree from falling over everyday.  Not to mention that with a dozens of little boy shoes, mittens, toys and smashed crackers, lots of Christmas knick-knacks tend to make things look even more cluttered.  Last year we had a chain of paper, and each day we removed one, doing a small activity to get excited for the upcoming holiday.  It’s a start, but sometimes I wonder how I can have a house full of little children AND have Christmas spirit.  I wonder if I'm doing enough.

As I pondered the question about Advent, a few thoughts came to my mind about what I hope to do for my family this year.

Help them anticipate the coming of Jesus
Whether it’s through bible verses, special toys, treats or fun activities, I hope this can feel like an extra special season.  As December 25th draws near, I want their hearts to be growing in their excitement to celebrate.  I hope we set a tone of expectation, both to talk about the birth of Jesus over 2,000 years ago and as we look ahead to him coming again.  I’m not sure of the best strategy for our family, but I do want Advent to be set aside for merriment and cheer about our Savior!  Christmas Day can be the culmination of the hope we've been building throughout the month.

Teach them to look outside of themselves
As we talk about the fun toys and games they look forward to receiving under the Christmas tree, I hope we can also get excited about generosity.  I want them to see my husband and I modeling a spirit of joy that we have opportunity to bless others with gifts.  When they see me spending hours online and in stores, I hope I will smile and say, “This is such a fun chance to get a gift for so-and-so…it’s more blessed to give than to receive!”  Whether it is through Operation Christmas Child or in purchasing gifts for family, I want to make gift-giving a bigger deal than gift receiving.  Involving my children in the process of wrapping, choosing and thinking intentionally about others will translate into conversations about the ultimate gift God gave us in Christ.

Model a life of joy and love
What is the Christian witness if it comes without joy?  If I tell them all the right verses, go through all the perfect Advent activities and I have not love – what is the point?  My children don’t need a mom rolling out sugar cookie dough to the tune of, “You guys are getting in my way and ruining everything!  Stop poking each other – and no, you may not use extra sprinkles!!”  If achieving my perfect Advent plan is going to stress me out and steal my joy, it’s not worth it.  I can best communicate the power of Christ’s coming by living a changed life and walking in the spirit.

Be a life-giver
Mostly, I want to be an overflowing cup of gratitude for what Jesus has done for me this Advent season, giving grace and life to my family.  It's worth the time to get down at the level of little faces and use a gentle voice, to snuggle and read stories.  As I'm connected to the true vine, Jesus, I can bear fruit and help my family thrive.  Our Savior was the ultimate life-giver, and I can be a little model of that during Advent as I minister to others.

Advent activities can look a lot of different ways, and some families will do more than others.  Intentional training is important, but we need to remember people matter more than programs.  Our connections and relationships with our children are the channel through which our teaching flows.  If that is blocked with pressure and stress, very little else can get through.  So this year, before you resolve to do a specific Advent plan, resolve to have JOY.  To be filled up in your relationship with Jesus, depending on him in each situation.  Then your children can have memories of a mom who laughed, played and smiled during the Christmas season.  In your joy, that Advent teaching will be much more real and meaningful to the soft hearts of your children.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Praying For Your Husband is Easier Than You Think (+ a GIVEAWAY!)

I haven't done an awesome job of praying for my husband over the course of our entire marriage.  I know that I should pray, but logistically, it feels challenging.  First of all, I have so many different areas I want to pray for him about.  Not because he's that flawed, but because life is complicated and I want to see God working in every corner of his heart.  In addition, sometimes praying for my husband becomes another thing on my to-do list that I feel guilty about.  Do I need another task to add to my devotional time with the Lord?  And how can I be consistent in this habit?

Many of you can probably relate to these feelings.  Praying for our husbands is hard, and we can even wonder if our prayers will really change things.

But I'm here to testify that by God's grace, I've found something that's working for me in this season.  And I've been completely blessed by the process of praying for my husband each week for almost a year now.  

>>> Enter, the "Praying for Your Husband" journal by Sarah at Glowing Local...

I went searching for a prayer journal on ETSY last January when I was convicted there were a few areas of my husband's life that were only going to be impacted as I got down on my knees.  It was clear that in my own strength, by my own manipulation, there were some situations that needed to be totally placed in God's hands, and I needed help organizing all those thoughts.  When I ran across this journal, I ordered it and wasn't sure what to expect.

Each week I would sit down and open it up and begin praying over the listed topic.  The journal gave me some wonderful scriptures as a guide, reminded me to write down specific requests for the week, and used phrases that helped me put my heart into words.  I found myself gaining momentum and even lingering in my prayer time for him.

At first it was all about 'him' and 'his needs' but over time the Lord directed me to see areas of my own heart that needed to change too.  I found myself feeling more gracious and patient, being grateful for all of the ways my husband was loving and leading our family well.  The most amazing thing was recording the answers.  After I had been consistently praying for my husband for about 6 months, I was completely humbled at how many things had noticeably changed.  Not just in general - but SPECIFIC things that I asked God for.  He was so obviously working in my husband's life, and it brought so much encouragement to me.  The best part?  It was all God.  

How I use my journal:
  • One morning each week I sit down and go through a new topic.  It takes me about 10-20 minutes to look over the page, consider my husband's needs and pray for them.
  • I underline things that jump out to me.  Scriptures that the Holy Spirit highlights as I'm reading or phrases that make sense for my husband's personal life.
  • I  write down specific requests for the week or copy down ongoing requests from the previous week.  Both are good and helpful, as it's great to see the short and long-term needs.
  • Finally, I write a short prayer for my husband.  It's important that I'm praying God's revealed will and not just my wants - which is why those scriptures are helpful tools!
  • Every few weeks, I will read over all of my requests and see if there are any that God has answered.  Usually there are - so I record those items in the back of the journal.

Seriously, the "God Working" section is my favorite part.  Not because God is a genie in a bottle who says "yes" to my every whim and desire - but because when I pray in accordance with His word, He is faithful to accomplish His purposes.  When my heart lines up with God's heart, and I ASK for His will to be done - amazing things happen.

I hope you will enter this giveaway for one of three "Praying for your Husband" journals by Glowing Local.  If you don't win, consider checking out her ETSY shop and purchasing one.  It would make an excellent Christmas gift for a friend, mentor, newlywed or a bride-to-be.  Or you could just pick one up for yourself for the New Year (which is a great time to start new habits).  

*Note that winners must be over 18 and must be United States residents.
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Friday, November 6, 2015

When Your Nap Time Plans Fall Apart [audio blog]

Today, I'm trying something a little different!
Often I find myself wanting to listen to podcasts or other audio / video recordings while I accomplish tasks around the house like laundry, dishes or cleaning.  Listening while I work helps me stay focused and helps excercise my mind while I serve with my hands.  I love writing (and won't get away from that completely), but one of my goals is to practice different ways of communicating truth.  Being that it's a 'first' there are many imperfections, but I hope you still find some encouragement in it!

Here are some notable points if you want to skip ahead:
  • 00:56 - Why am I talking about nap time?  Because who we are in Christ impacts all aspects of our life.
  • 1:23 - A day when my nap time plans fell apart and none of my children napped at the same time.
  • 3:35 - Sometimes I feel like I 'deserve' nap time.  Can you relate?  When my kids don't give me that time to myself, I can get frustrated and feel like they are encroaching on something that's 'mine'.
  • 4:08 - A practical tip for hard nap times:  see it as an opportunity to connect with your children.
  • 5:30 - A spiritual takeaway for hard nap times:  our ability to teach our children about Jesus flows out of the context of a healthy relationships with them.
  • 6:14 - I've learned these lessons from many times of responding wrongly, noting that harshness never works.  When I choose to be gentle and kind, our relationship grows.
  • 7:09 -  An example: bringing my oldest alongside me to finish my work instead of pushing him aside.
  • 8:56 -  These things aren't 'new' revelations, but I think they are hard to put into practice!  Connect first, THEN teach and train.
  • 9:44 - I hope you were encouraged and that you see opportunities to connect with your children today.
I'd love to get your feedback on this type of blog.  Leave me a comment on Facebook or email me with your thoughts!