Six years ago, my heart wasn’t just gripped by preparations to heave our family of six over to Africa. It took only till September of my son’s kindergarten year to piece together that something wasn’t right. Perhaps I should have seen it in the way he couldn’t pay attention to the end of a flashcard. Or that he had no friends to invite to his birthday aside from his brother’s buddies. Or that his mind was so regularly drifting from any reality at hand.
The statistics, let alone my realization that in Africa, I would be one of his only advocates—wrapped around me like seaweed in an undertow. Depression. Addiction. Worse words I won’t use here. But I’ll say this: This is why accurate diagnoses matter. Because diagnoses mean we can get help for our kids. We’re not planting our heads in the sand, hoping a label won’t stick to that son or daughter we love. We’re finally able to utilize tools that help them have a promising future.
He was barely in the front door, cheeks flushed from the bike ride home. He smelled like the cold and that faintest puff of little-boy sweat. “Mom! Guess what! We’re getting a new kid and his name is Toby and the teacher wants me to show him around and tell him all about the school!” He drew a breath, those Chiclet-sized adult teeth still, charmingly, just a bit too big for his eight-year-old mouth.
I grinned. Just a month ago, he’d been the new kid. Now my little guy was thrilled to be the one ushering in a new friend.
Take good care of my baby. (Yep, the kid actually managed to get five front teeth in this photo.)
After eight years of homeschooling, this year, all four of my children strap on their backpacks and head down to our local public school.
Aside from the schooling comments that inevitably hit the comments section–I tell you this because, from the minute a doctor slaps them on the bottom, our kids are increasingly outside of our own bodies. Our control diminishes (though admittedly, we still love them as if they were within us, attached and growing there). In a series of baby, then middle-schooler steps, our goal is to launch them. And this step is just increasing that radius a bit. It releases them more and more into God’s care, His unrelenting direction of them.
How do we help our kids tether themselves to the one, still, small voice that won’t ever fail them?
One of the unexpected delights of our final couple of months in Africa was the arrival of a college friend who’s known my husband and I since the beginning. She watched us meet, cautiously date, giddily become engaged. She played the piano when the two of us spring chickens said “I do” forever. Later, I stood with her as she spoke her own vows beneath a spreading tree. And when she visited us in Africa and we stayed up entirely too late, she gave us this gift: I told my husband, “I love that she reminds us how good we are together. That you and I together are a really good thing.”
Last week, I heard from my sister in Thailand some of the heartbreaking moments they’ve been struggling through in their community of refugees. An 11-year-old girl sent to possibly “work” in Bangkok with her mother. A stabbing. A man depriving his family of enough money to buy food. And I thought, my kids and I should pray.
Then I thought of our prayers the last several weeks: Mostly stuff about…us.
Of course it’s good to teach our children to seek God for all their needs. But at that moment I thought, I want to up the ante on teaching my kids to cry out to God for other people.
Spiritual disciplines are hard to practically teach kids. I, particularly, am Madame Non in my house—I’m driving/correcting the schooling, the chores, the attitudes, the dirty underwear cast 14 inches from the hamper.
I also don’t need more stuff to do. The good news: The goal isn’t to do all of these; or even to “do.” It’s about setting ourselves up to receive God’s grace–like a football player positioning himself for the catch. Pick one of these, and knead it into life (I think of it like adding flour to dough, a little at a time). I believe in what Richard Foster writes:
I’ve written before about my anger problem. You know. The one I didn’t think I had until I had children.
But as conflict reveals my heart for what it really is, I’m compiling a working list of practical steps and thoughts as God patiently carves away the death in my heart and slowly makes me a conqueror.
Discipline with the consequence, not tone of voice. This is my most prominent goal right now! Rather than the equivalent of “slash and burn” with my anger, I aim to calmly issue a precise, rational consequence. (I’ve had three good days in a row! Yeah!)I love an illustration I heard from Dr. Dobson: When a police officer pulls you over, even before he’s done anything, you’re sweating. You’re not afraid of him because he throws a fit outside your car door. He simply flips open his tablet! A consequence, firmly and surgically delivered, can speak for itself.
Anger incinerates. It’s explosive. Often I used the anger equivalent of a rifle when a BB would do. As Tim Keller outlines in this fantastic sermon on anger, my goal is not no anger, or “blow [up] anger”, but slow anger. Being slow to anger is part of God’s glory (Exodus 34:5-6), and overlooking and offense is a person’s glory (Proverbs 19:11).
When I’m tempted to yell—I should whisper. It forces kids to listen! But even more, if I can control my voice, rather than disciplining with it, I control my blood pressure, too.
God set aside His anger for me. His reaction toward me was grace: not a lack of justice, but an acknowledgment at the fullness of what I did—and then setting aside His wrath to deal directly with my junk.
Analyze it. I’m praying God will probe my heart for the deep, true cause of my anger: what’s precious that’s being trampled on. Sometimes for me, it’s the loss of control I feel over my children, or the inconvenience they’ve caused, something in my “kingdom” (rather than God’s) that I demanded, or my lost expectations. A lot of times, an idol is revealed—that’s become more important than God, or than loving my neighbor (i.e. my child) as myself.
Incinerate the sin, not the child. In disciplinary moments, opt for the scalpel rather than the grenade that cuts out the sin intentionally and precisely. I wonder what would happen if I pictured my anger as a caustic acid—useful only for deleting sin, injustice, and wrong—that will burn when it splashes outside of its boundaries?
Get honest. One reader once recommended keeping track on her calendar; she’d mark “AO” (angry outburst) every time she lost it with her family. I like the idea of motivating myself toward discipline of my emotions, and creating some accountability, whether through friends, my spouse, or even a reward or consequences.
Make it a repetitive source of prayer. If I’m supposed to pluck out my eye if it causes me to sin—am I really hating my destructive, ungodly anger like He does? I want to pray about this habit on a daily basis, and perhaps even fast about it. I’ve got four little Xerox machines running around my house, demonstrating the power of my sin to reproduce itself.
Practice and discuss “Young Peacemaker” principles. Going with my kids through principles and materials like those from peacemakers.org has equipped all of us with vocabulary and principles to deal in godly, practical ways with the conflicts that seem as thick and suffocating as smoke in our house.
Set myself up for success. My soul’s currently tethered to my very physical body with all its needs and, well, hormones. Getting sleep, not skipping meals or medications, taking time to download with friends, allowing myself plenty of extra margin in my schedule (both for holistic rest, and to avoid flying out the door in a “for the love of Pete, HURRY!” rage)—all of these subtract physical symptoms that leave thinner layers of self-control around my heart. I can allow more wiggle room in my demands and expectations in hormone-charged weeks. These strategies also allow me to deal with the issues that are really there, and do so with a level, non-reactive head.
I’ll use “him” or “her” interchangeably in this post for ease of reading.
1.Knock out that item on her to-do list she just hasn’t gotten to.
2.What little touches could better make your home a “prepared place”–like God creates for us–that’s comforting, encouraging, and uplifting, so family and guests feel embraced? For guests, it may be the basket of extra toiletries next to the cozy towel in the bathroom; for kids, you could have a favorite snack ready when he arrives home; help him remove his backpack.
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.