The Bedroom Door Prayer (guest post)

Today I’m welcoming a new-found writer friend, Julie Dibble. You can read more 
about Julie at the end, but trust me when I say her heart for the Lord is clear…
and it informs everything she does, especially her parenting. I hope you’re 
blessed by this story of Intentional Parenting like I was.

Have you ever wondered if your children are listening? I mean truly digesting all the half-lectures, devotionals and parental sermons?

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Julie and Jackson

Our youngest son is a pistol. His feet pushed my belly out on all sides.  He danced in the womb instead of sleeping. If you haven’t already guessed, our little Jackson is also a strong-willed child. I find myself often thinking, His determination will serve him well in his adult endeavors.

Our house runs much differently today than it did a short three years ago. I am into my third year of intentionally learning, praising, and following our Lord. Prior to this, the word forgiveness was not in my vocabulary. My focus was to hold all rule-breakers accountable, so you can imagine how many consequences our feisty Jackson received in his young life.

Fast forward to now. Jesus is Lord of our home. He came to save all of us, who are sinners. For Jackson, this news hasn’t settled in quite yet. Sometimes muttering out of his freckled nosed face is the age-old sibling rivalry cry, “But Braedon never gets in trouble.”

Braedon is twelve, academically gifted, and obedient as the day is long. Jackson is ten, athletically gifted and finds it hard to submit to authority.

Slowly, in evening devotions, we have expanded the meaning of sin. Anytime we choose not to follow or trust God, we sin. Therefore, Braedon often has to ask for forgiveness for worrying and not trusting God. My husband and I ask for forgiveness for things like jealousy and judging others. Jackson struggles to say the words, and we help him understand Jesus will forgive as long as we ask.

Honestly, sometimes during devotions, Jackson is goofing off. Patience wears thin, and there we are as a family of four, frustrated and not honoring our time set for the Lord. As the night’s ornery behavior follows into the next day, you might see huffing and protesting and stomping of feet.

Is it sinking in? I wonder.

One day, after resisting his discipline, he took time by himself. After a few minutes, he came directly to me, wrapped his short arm around my growing waist, and said, “Mom, will you forgive me?” Hugging him tightly, my heart leapt.

Preparing this post led me to repent. Who was not trusting our Lord this time?

Sometimes when I arrive home after the boys are already in bed, I stand in the hallway and say a Bedroom Door Prayer:

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for Jackson. Thank you for trusting me with his care. Please help guide him with Your wisdom. Please help Jackson stay on your path, Lord, to grow a desire to follow you out of love instead of avoiding consequence.

In Your Name,

Amen

For if we sinfully think it is our eyes alone watching our children grow and mature, we must repent. God is all powerful in every moment of time, and He knows our children’s entire hearts and souls.

As parents, prayer itself is an invitation to involve God in our children’s lives. When God sees our honest efforts at teaching things like forgiveness and grace, He will bless our families.

Thank you, Jesus, for loving us, helping us, and reminding us as parents we are not alone.

Carole here. It’s like I said, isn’t it? Julie encourages all of us by example. 
If this story touches you, let her know in the comments below. You can also share
this post on Twitter!

Ever wonder if your words are sinking in? One mom got tangible evidence… (click to tweet)

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Julie Dibble

Julie Dibble, MA is a Christian speaker and author who has a passion for truth and faith. Julie and her husband, Jason, live in Central PA with their sons, Braedon and Jackson. She writes weekly at her blog: www(dot)juliedibblewrites(dot)wordpress(dot)com. Julie commits to offering any of her blog posts as topics for speaking events.
You may connect with Julie on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook.

Goal-Setting for Children

Even though it’s only mid-December and the biggest event of the year is still ten days away, I find myself already looking toward the new year. I’m not big on making resolutions, but I do like to use the fresh year as a kicking-off-point for new habits or emphases. If you’re the same, you know it takes forethought and prayerful consideration to implement meaningful change—in ourselves and in our children.

In Shepherding a Child’s Heart (which I also mentioned last week), Tedd Tripp offers guidance on how and why we, as parents, should set goals for our children. There’s no need to rehash that. Let’s look instead at what sort of goals we might set for our children.

In my parenting, I often come back to this one verse.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. -Luke 2:52

(I wrote about Luke 2:52 as a guide for prayer in the past.) When we think about the young Jesus, we know he didn’t grow up in a vacuum. Joseph, Mary, and others influenced his maturity. I’m a little jealous; that must have been the easiest parenting job ever! For the rest of us parents—the ones raising non-God-incarnate children—it’s even more important to intentionally influence every facet of our children’s maturation.

This verse provides us with four areas of growth. Applied to goal-setting, the short version looks like this:

1 achievement, 1 skill, 1 spiritual growth, 1 relationship

Let’s brainstorm some ideas.

Wisdom: intellectual development

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music lessons (c) Carole Sparks

Set one goal related to their education, learning, or other thinking/mental skills. This could be a skill or an achievement. Some possibilities:

  • Learn to read chapter books.
  • Improve average grade (overall or in one subject) by one letter grade.
  • Attend a special class or camp that emphasizes an area of personal interest such as environmental sciences, computer coding, painting, soccer, etc.
  • Learn to play an instrument or, if they already play, learn a significantly more difficult piece.
  • Learn another language such as sign language or Spanish. Connect this with their social development by finding someone they would like to talk with.

Stature: physical development

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gymnastics assist (c) Carole Sparks

There’s not much we or our children can do about their height or shoe size, but we can help them practice a healthy lifestyle or improve their fitness. Set one goal related to their physical development, also either a skill or an achievement. Something like…

  • Learn to ride a bike.
  • Learn a new sport.
  • Achieve a new level in their existing sport. For example, earn the next belt in karate or make the varsity team in his/her sport.
  • Accomplish a fitness goal such as running a 10-minute mile.
  • Learn to eat three new healthy foods.
  • Learn to cook something specific, learn a certain type of cooking, or learn how to do some household chore. (Don’t just say “learn to cook.” That’s too broad to measure.) Last year, my oldest learned to use the washer and dryer. This year, maybe we’ll focusing on cooking some simple dishes.

Favor with God: spiritual development

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(c) Carole Sparks

How can we help our children grow closer to God through the year? Consider one of these or something else that fits your child’s interests and current maturity level.

  • Become consistent in having a daily quiet time or personal devotion.
  • Memorize a certain number of Bible verses. (Personally, I’m planning to memorize twenty-four passages in 2017!)
  • Work on one aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) such as kindness or self-control. This one will take some extra effort on your part, parent, to find actions and/or practices specifically targeting this one thing.
  • Begin paying attention and/or taking notes in “big church.” Start with once/month or five minutes/sermon.
  • Learn a certain number of Bible stories (great for younger children). Maybe one per month?
  • Improve upon one spiritual discipline such as meditation or generosity (great for older children).
  • Read a certain numbers of books related to spiritual growth. I’m challenging my teen to read one non-fiction book per month, mostly faith-based. John Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ is a great one for thinking teens to start with.

Favor with Man: social development

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kid spectators (c) Carole Sparks

Without a little encouragement, our children fall into relationship ruts just like we do. Talk with them about how they want to grow this coming year. Some options might be…

  • Intentionally make a new friend at school or church.
  • Reconcile with someone they don’t like or with whom they had a fight. This starts with praying for that person.
  • Learn how to make “small talk” with adults.
  • Compliment/encourage someone every day.
  • Learn another language so they can talk to someone in that person’s “heart language.” (See intellectual development above.)
  • Learn a technique for diffusing conflict—one they can practice with siblings.

 

As you look toward 2017, pray through what sort of goals God is leading you to set regarding your children. Ask Him to reveal areas where they need purposeful intervention, bringing them into the conversation at an appropriate level. For my older children, they fully participate in the process, but younger children may need more guidance from you.

After you’ve set your goals, don’t just leave them at the level of ideas. Goals need action plans or steps toward fulfillment. Sit down with your kids and discuss the small steps that will lead to big growth in 2017. Look at your own life, too. We have to model before we can teach. This is why I’m signing up to learn twenty-four Bible passages this year. I need accountability for my own spiritual growth, and I want to model the importance of Scripture memory to my children.

And finally, follow up! Through the year, revisit the goals. Are you seeing growth? Do you need to adjust something? Are they experiencing the difference? Encourage them to stay faithful to the task…and you stay faithful, too. Jesus grew up at the same rate that our children do. He didn’t achieve wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man in one day or even one year. This is an eighteen-year process, parents!

Then celebrate at the end of 2017! Recognize your children’s achievements. Talk about how they’ve grown and what changes you’ve seen.

As you anticipate Intentional Parenting in 2017, I pray this brainstorming session helps you set significant, achievable goals for and with your children. If you’ve been encouraged, please share this post using the tweet below.

4 #IntentionalParenting goals to help our children grow in #2017.

What goals are you setting in 2017 for your children or for yourself as a parent? Join this brainstorming session (in the comments below), and you’ll be helping us all!

Discipline is Designed to Disciple

When my firstborn was toddling around—less than a year old—she once stuck her finger in an unguarded electrical outlet. (At someone else’s house. Of course, we had covers on our own outlets!) I grabbed her hand immediately. I got down where she could see my face. I looked her in the eye, and while squeezing her little hand just until I could see that it was hurting her, I said “no” in my most serious voice. If I remember correctly, I only had to do this twice before she learned not to put her fingers in electrical outlets. Yes, I hurt her just a little bit, but way less than if she’d been electrocuted. I thought of it like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. I squeezed so tightly for her own good.

Parental discipline is like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. (click to tweet)

I disciplined her in the only way her young mind could understand. It was an action/reaction concept: if I put my fingers here, then I hurt. The discipline was immediate and tangible because her brain wouldn’t have processed anything else. Why did I hurt her when she was so young?

  • I knew she was capable of understanding it. (The form of discipline matched her maturity level.)
  • I wanted to protect her in the future. I might not be watching so closely next time.
  • I loved her (still do) and didn’t want her to be seriously injured.
  • I wanted her to begin practicing self-control.

I did not squeeze her hand…

  • Because I was angry,
  • Because I wanted her to hurt,
  • Because she irritated, interrupted, or embarrassed me.

This is the difference between punishment and discipline.

Parental punishment is about me: my anger, my needs, my embarrassment, my convenience, my sense of entitlement or frustration with the situation.

Parental discipline is about my child’s physical well-being and spiritual growth. That’s all.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. -Proverbs 13:24

In Intentional Parenting, we teach our children in advance, but we also watch for opportunities to correct through discipline. There’s no love in pampering them, in hiding their sins and failures from them, in allowing them reckless “freedom” that ultimately enslaves them to their own desires. Discipline is something we do carefully and purposefully because we love our children.

My children have grown since the electrical outlet incident. They’re both in double-digits now, and squeezing hands isn’t the best option anymore. (Sometimes I wish it was. It was so much easier!) This week, however, I had a chance to practice some fairly serious discipline with one of my children.

At first, I was so angry that I had to just send him to his room. I felt like there was steam coming out of my ears, and I’m sure my face was red! I wanted to punish him. I wanted him to hurt. (Don’t judge. You know you’ve felt the same.) Because I was angry, I was in no state-of-mind to discipline properly. Once I calmed myself down, I went to him and told him I needed to talk with his dad about the discipline. I still didn’t trust myself, honestly. As we talked a little, I made sure he knew I loved him. The next morning, having talked with his dad, we sat down and discussed the situation calmly and arrived at some discipline that fit the situation and aligned with his maturity level. I’m praying it helps him grow in wisdom and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

Some observations about discipline:

Good discipline comes out of love. We already talked about this one.

Good discipline comes out of humility. I do not present myself as better than my child but as another sinner learning how to please God throughout my life.

Good discipline comes out of obligation. As another Christ-follower, as one called to be his parent, it is my duty to correct my child when he fails. I’m helping him understand how to follow Christ more completely.

Good discipline is a product of peace. I’m talking about Biblical shalom, that confidence in God’s sovereignty over His creation and the security of knowing He loves me. Anger dismisses His sovereignty. It says I deserve something or I have been wronged. With peace, I approach my child in the confidence of God’s economy.

Good discipline aligns with the child’s maturity level and spiritual state. The wise parent desires her child to learn from the error/sin through the discipline. Just like you don’t teach first graders calculus, it takes thoughtfulness (and sometimes wracking your brain) to provide discipline at each age. If the child has accepted Christ as Lord of his life, that significantly influences the way discipline is given.

Good discipline ends. What could be more miserable than to be repeatedly reminded of a failure from your past? Trust the Holy Spirit to work in your child’s heart and lay aside the situation once the discipline is complete.

Good discipline is reserved for disobedience or danger and other clear acts of sin. Children will be foolish and forgetful. They’re ignorant of many things we take for granted as adults. Before enacting discipline, be sure the situation warrants it. Perhaps a good “talking to” (a Southern term) is all they need.

With older children…

There’s a reason discipline and disciple look so much like. Add these to the description of good discipline when your children are past the stage where physical things work best.

Good discipline is mutually-agreed-upon. We discuss ways for him to learn what is necessary. It’s important for him to understand why he must forfeit a privilege or spend time alone or do something extra. He doesn’t like it, but he understands the purpose. If he doesn’t understand why it’s happening, then he will not learn. That’s punishment, not discipline.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. -Hebrews 12:11

Good discipline involves follow-up. After the discipline phase is completed, we come back to the subject at least once more to test what he’s learned. If it arises around the same time in a sermon, book, or other medium, we’ll mention it again. (See “Good Discipline Ends” above for the balance on this.)

Good discipline incorporates forgiveness. If I’ve personally been wronged, I must intentionally and specifically forgive my child. If my child has wronged someone else, he must clearly request forgiveness—including an explanation of how he now understands his behavior. He must also ask for God’s forgiveness. Never leave your child wondering if everything is “right” between the two of you afterward.

Good discipline renews trust. A follow-up time gives the parent an opportunity to talk about trust. Can you trust your child again? Do you need to see evidence of a changed heart first? Does there need to be a trial period? Make all this clear rather than leaving your child guessing.

The child who is disciplined in a Godly way will see the wisdom of Proverbs 12:1…and probably enjoy that the Bible calls someone “stupid.”

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. -Proverbs 12:1

11 characteristics of good discipline for #IntentionalParenting. (click to tweet)

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For further reading:

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp (more for younger kids)

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp (for teenagers)

Yes, they are brothers. Both of these books offer excellent sections on Biblical discipline. If you’re struggling with this issue, I urge you to take a look at the appropriate one.

More Everyday Images for the Christ-Life

On this fifth Tuesday of the month, with Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas ahead of us, I’m returning to the basics of Intentional Parenting: discipling our children. Enjoy these three metaphors for the Christ-life found in God’s creation. Like a potter shaping a vase, God leaves his fingerprints all over His creation. These everyday images are endless! Read through these, then share your own at the end.

Calluses/A Hardened Heart

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guitar calluses (c) Carole Sparks

My son plays guitar. The tips of his fingers on his left hand have calluses from pressing on the strings to make different tones. I don’t play guitar, but I sat down to play around with his one day. Because I was pressing my fingers against the metal strings of his guitar, it only took a few minutes for the skin on the ends of my fingers to turn red and hurt. Why? Because I don’t have calluses.

You can press on a callus with your fingernail, and it doesn’t hurt. Sometimes, another person can touch your callus and you won’t even realize it.

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  -Matthew 13:15a

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…  -Hebrews 3:7b-8a

When you love Jesus and you want to make him happy, we say your heart is tender. Any small sin will press up against your heart, and you’ll feel the pain of that sin until you confess. But if you choose to ignore the pain instead of addressing it, you will probably sin again in the same way. But the second time, it won’t hurt as much because the area is already inflamed (like a blister). Over and over you press on the same spot, and that’s what creates a callus. While calluses are good on a guitar player’s fingers or on the middle finger of your writing hand, they aren’t good on your heart. They make it harder to know what Jesus wants and to respond to his gentle direction. Confessing your sin and pushing it away means it can’t press against your heart anymore.

Salt/The Kingdom of Heaven

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  -Matthew 5:13

This one’s straight from Scripture, but here’s a good tactile method of explaining it.

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popcorn (c) Carole Sparks

Make some popcorn (in a pot, not microwave). Separate it into two bowls. Salt one bowl but not the other, then ask your children to taste each. The one with salt tastes so much better! This is what we’re called to be in the world: unobtrusive difference-makers. You can’t really tell which popcorn has salt until you taste it, but it makes all the difference. (Salt has preservative properties and other uses, but let’s keep this simple.) If the salt wasn’t salty—if it didn’t make a difference in the popcorn—it wouldn’t have any use. As Christ-followers, if we don’t bless the world with Christ, we don’t have any use either.

Ask your children how believers can make a difference in the world. Answers may range from smiling at a sad person or picking up litter to starting a charity or sharing Christ with a friend. Remind your children of one way they made a difference in the past week, emphasizing their unique personalities. Challenge everyone in the family (including parents) to share one way they plan to intentionally “be salt” in the coming week. Write SALT on a big piece of paper, on a white-board, or on the bathroom mirrors (with dry erase markers) to remind everyone of the challenge.

For more on popcorn, check out one of my previous analogies.

Pebbles in a Stream/Unconfessed Sin

This one’s not original with me, but it’s so good that I thought you should hear it.

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rocks in a stream (c) Carole Sparks

Every time you sin, it’s like throwing a pebble into a river. One doesn’t really make a difference, but over time, the river will become dammed by the accumulation of pebbles.

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  -John 7:38

The Living Water cannot flow from you if it’s blocked by unconfessed sin. Even though we try not to sin, we all do it. When we ask God to forgive us, however, He removes that pebble from our “river of life” so the water keeps flowing.

Parents, you could make this very tangible while playing outside in the rain. Just find a flow of water and start dropping small rocks into it at a certain spot.

 

So I pray these are helpful to you in Intentional Parenting. Remember, just look for opportunities and experiences to bring up spiritual things as a natural part of your day. Like Deuteronomy counsels, Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Be equipped to talk with kids about spiritual things at any time (Deut 6:7) with these analogies. (click to tweet)

I’d love to hear some of the creative ways God has shown you to understand theology. (That’s what this is, you know.) Please share in the comments. Maybe I’ll post a collection of other parents’ images at a later date.

Thankful, because I don’t have all the answers.

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(c) Carole Sparks

In this month of giving thanks, I’m so grateful to those who have graced my space here with their humble, penetrating words. So today, let’s remember the guest posts we’ve enjoyed over the past year.

Almost exactly a year ago, with violence and school shootings in the news, I republished a parenting post from my friend, Chester Goad. In Talking About Tragic Events with Kids, he offers some advice and resources on helping our children walk through such difficult times.

Another wise friend of mine, Hannah Vanderpool, wrote When Not to Worry for her own blog. It touched me so much that I asked permission to share it with my readers as well. My favorite line: “Refuse to give in to the temptation to fret.”

And with those two posts, I started hosting guests monthly here at Intentional Parenting. Some of them have been tangible friends, some virtual friends, and some simply parenting authors I respect. Check out any of these you missed.

In The Highest Calling of a Parent is the Shaping of Hearts, Kelly Smith uses the story of Pharaoh to remind us that our task as parents is not behavior modification but heart shaping.

Mary Felkins stopped by in March to take us back to the basics in What is Intentional Parenting? She included a reminder not to take our intentionality too far.

There’s a sweet Mother-Child story in Forget Where You Live? by Cherrilynn Bisbano. She enjoyed the fruits of Intentional Parenting when she heard her son encourage her with truth about Heaven.

It’s so important to glean advice from those who’ve already experienced the phase of parenting where you and I are now. I asked Kim Wilbanks to look back on her years ofparenting teens and share some insights in Parenting Advice from the Other Side.

Lisa Brown used a personal story to encourage every mom who ever feels anxious (and that would be all of us!) in Encouraging Words for the Anxious Mom. I think you’ll be blessed by reading her post.

When I became more active on social media, I discovered I wasn’t the only one writing about Intentional Parenting. Phil Conrad hosts a podcast and writes on the same topic, so I invited him to join us here. Read his fantastic perspective on everyday decisions in Four Intentional Decisions in Parenting.

How do you explain intentional destruction, mass murder, and other such evils to your children? Author Leigh Powers faced this dilemma when she visited a museum with her children. Practicing her Intentional Parenting, she used the situation to point her children toward Jesus. Thankfully, she shared all this with us in Raising Whole Kids in a Broken World.

Emily Wickham often writes about moms as mentors for their daughters, so she was a natural fit for a guest blog in September. Read her reflections on Jochebed as a mother in Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned.

Finally, just last month, Jessica Michaels shared her heart regarding foster care and its impact on her biological children in Loving and Letting Go. Jessica is a personal friend from my church, not a writer, so I truly appreciated her willingness to lay it all out here.

In the past year, I hope you found something here at Intentional Parenting to spur you toward more Christ-like parenting, either from my writings or from my guests. None of us have all the answers, and I am supremely blessed to have learned from all these wonderful parents this year! If you feel the same way, drop one of them a message or leave a comment below, and I’ll make sure they get it.

I’m #thankful for a whole year of guest posts about #IntentionalParenting. Find the summaries here. (click to tweet)

Parents, Embrace the Now

One of my children often asks me, “Mom, what was your favorite age for us?” And I always say the same thing: “I’ve loved every age you’ve ever been, and right now is the best!” In truth, the age of nine wasn’t my favorite with either one, but there were enjoyable elements even then.

It’s easy, especially when your kids are in the “terrible twos” or that smart-aleck almost-tween age, to wish that “phase” completed. We set our sights longingly on some future day when “things will be better.” But the truth is more balanced and more practical. Every age of every child has good and bad elements.

If we’re going to do the Intentional Parenting thing and be obedient to verses like these below, we need some kind of game plan.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  -Ephesians 4:29

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today.”  -Hebrews 3:13a

Turns out, it’s relatively simple: embrace what’s happening right now.

So don’t get caught up waiting for the kids to be potty-trained or start Kindergarten or have a driver’s license so you can stop chauffeuring them everywhere. Instead, embrace the now: Actively search for things to enjoy at the age your children are right now. Focus on that. Focus on making memories and laughing and affirming your love for them. This kind of focus will carry both you and your children through the…lets call them “rough patches” (like 9-years-old was for me).

While you’re enjoying what you have right now, watch for how God is working in and through your children—working for their spiritual growth and for yours!

Interactive idea: Look through some old pictures with your children. Tell them a funny story about themselves or just talk about what you loved about them when they were that age…and that age…and that age. If your children are grown (or close to it), consider making a scrapbook—manually or digitally—with a picture of them from each year. Use candid photos you took rather than staged school or portrait studio photos. Include a hand-written note with a special memory from that time—the kind of memories that can’t be caught in a photo. It doesn’t need to be something important, just something treasured.

That’s all I have to say today. Not because I don’t have time to write more but because you’ll need to supply your own examples here. Take the extra minutes you would have spent reading this post (because it’s usually longer!) and recall something you loved about your child when they were two or three years old.

Parents, stop wishing for the end of this “phase” and Embrace the Now! (click to tweet)

Have something you really loved about your child at a certain age? Please share it in the comments below. Your words could encourage another parent who’s facing that time right now!

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: My God Is So Big

Sometimes this parenting thing gets more than a little overwhelming. There are days (both with very young kids and with older ones) when I have slumped into a chair and thought, “I just can’t do this!” There have been nights when I rested my head on the pillow thinking, “I don’t know what to do about that.” And there have been times when I felt certain I was doing it all alone…and all wrong. Please tell me you’ve felt the same way.

So today, I don’t have anything new or innovative. Maybe today, you and I both need to be reminded about the character and nature of God. This fun song does the trick for me every time. Don’t just teach it to your children or sing along with them. Take time to really think about Who God is.

My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty. 
There’s nothing my God cannot do.

Consider each of these adjectives.

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Waiting at the airport when we moved to Africa, my children stood in the picture window and sang “My God is so Big.” (c) Carole Sparks
  • God is bigger than my…
    • dwindling bank account
    • depression
    • child’s temper tantrums
    • ____________.
  • God is stronger than my…
    • pride
    • frustration
    • teenager’s rebellion
    • ____________.
  • God is mightier than my…
    • friend’s harsh words
    • child’s learning difficulty
    • exhaustion
    • ____________.

In fact, there is absolutely nothing beyond the scope of His power or ability! Easy to say, harder to live out. Am I right? If you do a word search at BibleGateway (or in your concordance) for mighty, or strong (big would probably give you too many options), you’ll find encouraging verses like this one:

The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets.  -Psalm 50:1

The mountains are His,
The rivers are His, 
The stars are His handiwork, too. 

We look to creation to affirm what the Spirit speaks to our hearts—that He is sovereign. Flip through some pictures of your last hike or vacation. Or just look out the window! The Apostle Paul said, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:20).

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  -Colossians 1:16-17

 Everything belongs to Him—the storms and the butterflies, the decay and the sunrise, the hugs and the heartbreak.

My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty.
There’s nothing my God cannot do!

Parents, God can handle this…whatever “this” is! Reset your focus off the issue and onto Him. He will adjust your perspective and begin to show you the way forward. Remember when Job asked God “why”? (This is one of my favorite Bible points right now.) God didn’t answer Job’s question. Instead, God invited Job to see Who He is. When we bring Him our problems, often before He gives us solutions or answers, He asks us to remember the same thing: that He is so big, so strong, and so mighty, that there’s nothing He can’t do.

If it helps, you can do the motions for the song. Do you remember them? I especially like “so mighty.”

When you feel overwhelmed, take a minute to sing this fun Sunday School song to yourself. (click to tweet)

 

#IntentionalParenting: Bringing back church songs from your childhood to help you be a better parent now. (click to tweet)

Do you ever have those end-of-the-rope moments? What do you do at those times? When you begin to reflect on God’s size, strength and/or might, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Attribution: by Ruth Harms Calkin. There are many variations on this song, some copyrighted, some not.

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

 

Still to come:

  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Loving and Letting Go (guest post)

Friends, please let me introduce you to my friend, Jessica Michaels. Jessica
doesn't have a blog, and she's not trying to publish anything. Thus, no bio or
photo at the end. Jessica and her husband are foster parents. In the two years 
I've known them, they've embraced at least three foster children while raising 
their two biological sons at the same time. Jessica loves Jesus, and her fostering
experience gives her unique insight into Intentional Parenting. Take a minute to 
read what's on her heart these days.

I knew that when our family of four began fostering we would be loving and letting go. These precious children would come into our lives for a season and then we would let go, entrusting them to the sovereign plan God had for them.

What I didn’t anticipate was the loving and letting go of my own two children. I had planned to hold them close, shielding them from any discomfort that came with the process: the uneasiness of change within our home, the challenging behaviors displayed by the foster children, and the pain of saying good bye to those they had grown so close to. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t do it. God had called us into a ministry that, along with joy and precious rewards, involved change, uncertainty, and discomfort. No matter what I did, I couldn’t keep my kids from it.

But God in his grace is teaching me that sometimes it’s okay to put down the shield; in fact, great things happen in the hearts of my children when I love and let go. So if you’re a warrior momma like me, quick to raise your shield of defense around your kiddos, here are a few things God has been showing me.

Sometimes our shields can turn into shackles.

Let us be bold and say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid!’  -Hebrews 13:6

One morning I asked my son how his Sunday School class went. After a moment he solemnly replied, “Not good momma. I couldn’t reach the markers.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle and think, “If only his troubles would remain so small!” But they won’t. Inevitably as he grows so will life’s problems.

My prayer for my children is that they will know God as their helper because they have been given the opportunity to experience His faithfulness time and again. When I protect them from the smallest of troubles, my shield can turn into shackles that hinder my kids from seeing God as their helper. If they don’t learn to turn to Him for the small problems, He will be the last one they turn to for help when the big problems come.

Change is inevitable.

For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. -Malachi 3:6

One thing we have learned for certain through our adventure in fostering is that change is coming! From the small things like appointment times to the very children that enter our home, change is always coming. The anxiety of change is felt by all children at some point. While we can’t protect them from the butterflies that come with adjustment, we hold them close and reassure them that our love for them is steadfast. We also have the great opportunity to remind them that their Heavenly Father is unchanging and, because of His faithfulness, they will never be consumed.

God is keenly aware of and sensitive to the needs of our children.

And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the Saints according to the will of God.  -Romans 8:27

loving-and-letting-go
Loving and Letting Go (c) Carole Sparks, #IntentionalParenting

As mommas we anticipate the needs of our children, but God knows their needs long before we do. He knit them together and knows every beat of their hearts. He wants good for them. Whatever God is calling your family to do, you can be assured that He is sensitive to the emotions and needs of your children, and when they are hurting, He turns a sharp ear toward their cries. The moments when we let go of our shield, we are trusting God to meet every need of our children. Who better to allow to minister to their hearts!

As mothers our instinct to protect is not only natural but God-given. I have found that it’s the moments filled with tears and frustrations which offer the greatest opportunities for God to reveal himself to my children…and to myself.  It is my prayer that God will grant us wisdom to know when to lower our shields, let go of control, and allow God to work in the hearts of our children. Hang in there, Momma!

Guest post at #IntentionalParenting: Loving and letting go of my own children through #fostering. (click to tweet)

 

Didn’t I tell you? Jessica has a beautiful heart, and I’m thankful she shared it with us. Please leave her some love (in the comments below) by responding to what you read. And hang in there!

Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned (guest post)

I'm pleased to host fellow Bible study writer and Mom, Emily Wickham, today. I
think you'll find her insights helpful, and I pray that her encouragement blesses
you like it has blessed me since the first time I met her! Read more about Emily
at the end of the post.

By faith, Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. Hebrews 11:23 NASB

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made many mistakes as a mom—especially when my children were young.  Tiredness, selfishness, and fear top my list as reasons why failures occurred. As I reflect on those years, I’m thankful for God’s boundless supply of grace as described in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” God’s grace redeems my mistakes into future opportunities for me to rely on Him and become more Christlike.

I wish I’d been more intentional as a young mom about seeking God’s help. Even so, God continues to grow me in this area. His grace flows into my regrets, washing away the past and renewing my mind today.

A couple of lessons from Jochebed’s life inspire me, and I’m hopeful these parenting tools will encourage you as well. As we implement the truths God reveals to us, He’ll show us more ways to please Him. The Lord doesn’t expect us to parent perfectly—He calls us to parent biblically as He teaches us His ways. (Click to Tweet)

Lesson #1: Jochebed and her husband lacked fear.

They hid their son rather than killing him according to Pharaoh’s order. I’m wowed by their fearlessness because I recognize how fear has hindered my mothering. I haven’t always realized its presence, but it has stretched its gnarly fingers into numerous aspects of my mom-identity. Perhaps its chief influence involved a repeated whisper that I’m just not a good mom, a lie from which God has delivered me. While Moses’s parents lacked fear from outward threats, I’ve battled fears from within.

Lesson #2: Jochebed acted wisely.

Rather than allowing her emotions to rule, she calmly prepared a waterproof basket for her baby son. Carefully she placed it in an area where the Pharaoh’s daughter bathed, leaving her daughter, Miriam, to offer the princess a nursemaid—Jochebed herself! Just as Moses’s mother received wisdom from God, we can gain its benefit today.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

Instead of facing our motherhood challenges with feelings of incompetence, we should call on the Lord for wisdom. He’s available for every need, every challenge, and every crisis. He freely provides without criticizing our parenting deficiencies.

Friend, wherever we are on our parenting journeys, God walks beside us. We’ve no reason to fear because He holds our hands, and He kindly gives wisdom when we ask. Let’s allow His sufficiency to impact the way we parent here and now. Though we can’t undo our past mistakes, we can rely on God’s grace to succeed in the present.

            Loving Father,

            You are fearless and wise. I confess sometimes I’ve allowed fear and feelings of incompetence to affect my parenting actions, but I thank You for Your grace along the way. Please replace my weaknesses as a mom with Your strength. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

Jochebed (Moses’ mother): bold, faithful parenting in the midst of difficult circumstances. (click to tweet)

Carole here. Isn't she great? (I also thought it was nice that she wrote about
Jochedbed because I recently wrote about her myself--for a guest post!) If you
were blessed or have a response for Emily, please leave a note in the comments
or connect with her directly through any of her social media links below. Be
sure to follow and/or "like" her, too.

emily-wickham-head-shotPassionate about stirring hearts toward Jesus, Emily Wickham writes for Journey Magazine, blogs at www.proclaiminghimtowomen.com, and contributes material to ZMI Family Ministries International. A Bible study author and speaker, she welcomes connection via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail. Emily, grateful to God for His Son, lives with her husband and children in North Carolina.

 

Respect is a Two-Way Street

We all want—no, expect—our children to respect us. It’s Biblical, right? Both the Old and New Testaments say, “Honor your father and mother” (e.g. Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2). We are right to expect respect, but no matter how much we quote these verses, no matter how much we stomp our feet and vociferously demand respect, we don’t always get it.

Why not? Well, part of the reason is the sin nature with which both we and our children were born. Part of the reason is our culture and the influences of media, peers, etc. But may I submit something to you? Perhaps another part of the reason our children don’t respect us is because we don’t respect them. Respect is a two-way street.

In Intentional Parenting, we model respect for our own elders and superiors (at work, church, etc.). We also talk about respect, about how honoring others honors God and other associated Biblical concepts, such as “The Golden Rule.” Sometimes, however, we forget to apply those same Biblical concepts within our families as well.

Need some solutions? Here are a few age-appropriate ways to demonstrate respect toward your children. You can expect that respect to be reciprocated.

At Any Age

Follow through on your promises and commitments. If you said you’ll read a book before bed, then read a book. No excuses. If you said, “One more time and you lose [a certain privilege],” then after one more time, they lose that privilege.

This kind of integrity demonstrates that your words to the child actually mean something. When you begin to do what you say you will do, they will start listening.

Young Children

From the first visit to a playground or first playdate, institute a two-minute warning. Two minutes before you need to leave, tell the child he/she has two minutes remaining to play. (We usually tried to give a five-minute warning as well.) This simple warning has helped us avoid so many tantrums! I know because the times we didn’t give a warning were so much more difficult.

When you, as an adult, are busy on a project or in a conversation, you don’t like to be interrupted. Even worse, you don’t want to be forced to stop without warning. I don’t either. Why do we think it’s any easier for our children?

Early Elementary

Allow your children to make as many decisions as possible. Before you correct (or laugh—even worse!), ask yourself if it really matters. Toy storage locations, everyday clothes worn, books to read, interests to pursue…all these are decisions a six-year-old can make. Maybe you prefer the Legos in the bin on the left and the doll clothes in the bin on the right; maybe there are even good reasons for your preference, but as long as there’s no danger, allow your child the choice. That “ownership” in the location of the toys may even help at clean-up time.

Children at this age long for independence, but they have so little. By allowing their decisions to stand, we demonstrate the validity of their choices and affirm the children as independent thinkers. Besides functioning as a confidence builder and sign of respect, this approach will help your children know that when you do object, there’s an important reason.

Middle-Grade Children

Elementary and middle-grade children have so many stories to tell. Let’s be honest, though. Some of them are boring. Long and boring. As parents, we may be tempted to interrupt with something unrelated or jump in and quickly finish the story ourselves. Don’t interrupt. Allow them to finish the stories. (At our house, we have a sign for “make this shorter” when the story gets too long. It helps.) If it’s necessary to interrupt, say “Excuse me,” just like you would if interrupting an adult.

From the time they could speak, we’ve taught our children not to interrupt us. Allowing them the same honor says their experiences are valuable and their family participation is important.

Tweens and Teens

If your child asks you not to show affection in a certain way or say a certain thing in front of his/her friends, don’t do it. Respect their public image. Public displays of affection, pet names, even cheering too loudly may infantilize our teenagers (at least in their own eyes), and it may be fodder for teasing or bullying among their peers. Our teenagers don’t deserve that. Don’t worry, they’ll still enjoy the hugs, pats, and verbal affection in private. Also, refrain from telling embarrassing stories or showing naked baby pictures no matter how cute they are.

Let’s face it; we will embarrass our teenagers. It’s inevitable. But our efforts to minimize the embarrassment demonstrate our respect for their increased maturity. That respect will surely be reciprocated.

Reciprocate Respect

The world says respect is earned, not given. Contrary to the world, however, the Bible says every person—regardless of position or power—is a unique creation of God Most High (Psalm 139, for example). We begin there: every person deserves respect. This is not a burden to lay on our children (that they should respect us) but a principle to lay under our interactions with our children (that they are worthy of respect). At the same time, however, we parents should live lives worthy of our children’s respect. That’s just a given. We clear the way for respectful responses when we demonstrate respect in our interactions with them. Respect is a two-way street.

Respect your children at every age and you can expect respect from them-5 ideas. (click to tweet)

I thought about sharing stories of parents carrying their children from the playground in the middle of a temper tantrum, but let’s not do that. Instead, use the comments below to share some positive stories of reciprocated respect. Let us hear from you!

respect-2-way-street
Rainy road (c) Carole Sparks