Monday, June 8, 2015

How Do You Love Your Way Through the Darkness? #Justice15

"We don't stray away from good doctrine or truth by focusing on justice and compassion for those in the margins - rather, we find Jesus and truth in the margins - Ken Wytsma (founder of the Justice Conference), The Grand Paradox  @kjwytsma
I was here at The Justice Conference​ #Justice15 this past weekend in Chicago for the third year out of five since the conference was founded. I love these conferences and the speakers (and often their books) have impacted my life in amazing ways. These conferences have changed the way I do life and yet I continue to get absorbed in my own world instead of the suffering world around me. How do I change this? How do I love and respect everyone? How do I put others first on a daily basis? Why is it so hard? We are so caught up in the meaningless things of life that we don't want to accept or open ourselves up to the entirety of what our lives as followers of Christ is completely about. It is so much easier to pretend that the evil that surrounds us isn't really our problem. We go to church, read a devotional and pick up our Bible and think that is enough. The problem is, it's not - at all. God is a God of justice and we cannot completely know Him unless we are loving people in the margins of society on a regular basis. This is what Jesus did - all the time. 

In Matthew 16:24-26 Jesus says, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" At the conference, one of the speakers Neichelle Guidry @neichelleg stated, "If you are going to seek the kingdom of God, you must overcome your addiction to comfort." So true, yet every day so hard to do. I am so guilty. Please God, forgive me for continually putting myself first and slipping into the conformity of what surrounds me. 

Every conference is unbelievable and inspires me when I feel overwhelmed and exhausted from serving - and reintroduces me to the real world. I feel so conflicted after enjoying a couple days touring the city, seeing friends and then sitting, listening, learning and coming back to the reality of our world. I post photos on FB and Instagram of having fun in the city and then sit and hear stories of and from people who are constantly racially profiled, young girls trafficked, women raped and left for dead in the Congo and then also the discussion of white privilege and what that makes me in our world. How is it that I fail so miserably in all of living for justice?
"Love your way through the darkness" - Dr. Cornel West  @CornelWest
I try to live my life in a way that shows "I care about justice because I care much about the gospel" - Eugene Cho @EugeneCho - The truth, however, is that I choose to block it out a lot of the time because it is so hard - even though my work at E4 Project​ deals with it constantly. I can still manage to shut it out of the other parts of my life. The majority of people in the world don't get to choose that. My newsfeed weeps of stories of injustice and my heart breaks. I come home to new videos of racial injustice and I want to blog, write, yell, advocate, protest and help everyone dealing with injustice. I don't know how. 

My husband tells me we cannot do it all. He asks how can I be more involved than I already am when there are so many issues that need our voices.  I don't really have an answer for him because what I want to do right now is fly to every city where injustice is occurring and protest, advocate and go to prison if necessary for fighting for those suffering. Isn't this really what we all should be doing as Christ followers? Where is the line? What am I called to do? I am once again struggling with this and what I am to be doing. I think I can do more since I am sitting here writing and wasting time on social media and meaningless tasks every day. There is still more time in my day.  I also know that raising my own teenage boys to live well in Christ and being there for my husband are really important too. So where does that leave me? How do I love more? I don't know yet. I just know that I need to put God first and He will show me. 

Bob Goff @bobgoff said it simply, "You want to be known for justice? Then fill your bucket with love. Love everybody always." 

Bob Goff is amazing, took photos with so many of us who love his words

So how do we love everybody? None of us can advocate for everything, but we must all advocate for something. We can also start by loving everyone around us - especially our enemies and people who are difficult in our lives. Pray about what God is calling you to and I will continue to do the same. Let us not ignore what is going on around us. Let's stand up for justice through love and see what happens. 
"Don't turn away from the pain - pray to not turn away. Pray to always stay in a broken place. Never stop praying to stay in a broken place, never stop praying that you may never become numb - never stop praying that you may never stop letting love leak through all your brokenness." - Ann Voskamp @AnnVoskamp 
Ann Voskamp writes about this weekend here and says so much of what I want to say and uses so many of the quotes written in my notebook. It was an incredible weekend and I encourage all of you to read her blog post from today as well - she is obviously a little more well versed in this writing thing than I am. 

Pastor and Author Eugene Cho 

Spoken Words Artist, Micah Bournes 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Finding Hope in Parenting Teenagers

I have a lot of friends going through very difficult parenting situations right now. These are friends with older kids in high school and college and the road seems so much harder than when we were raising little ones. I always thought when I had young kids that this had to be the hardest part of parenting. How could it possibly get harder? However, as my boys are growing up and are now 15 and 13, I see that the hardships of parenting don't end. Why? Well, one boy has his permit now and that is hard enough….and because we love them more than life itself and there is pain and awfulness in the world and we want to protect them all the time - and we can't. While some things were so much harder when they were little (I have a constant image in my head of one of my boys with a binky in his mouth, stuffed dog in one hand and sippy cup in the other - still able to scream constantly through the side of his mouth when we wasn't getting what he wanted), larger life situations and the decisions that our kids make become so all consuming as parents and often come with consequences for our kids. I think the best way we can parent them is by praying daily for them.
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." - Hebrews 10:23
I am praying constantly for a friend and her child right now - the situation is so rough and she feels like her family is falling apart. As I focus on praying for her, it reminds me that my husband and I need to be praying daily for our own boys. While we do this regularly, I don't do it daily.  My parents prayed together for my brother and me every morning while we were growing up. I know how powerful their prayers were because I am here to write about them and I am following Christ with my life, marriage and family. I honestly don't think that would be my story if my parents had not been so faithful. I wanted to encourage other parents out there who are struggling to be faithful in prayer - even if it takes years to see the results. 

My parents prayed for protection over us every day and they also committed to praying for our faith and our spouses. They prayed for who our spouses would be from the time we were little. I wanted to share a brief look into my story to share what that faithfulness in prayer by them eventually led to. 

I grew up a believer and had faith through the middle of high school. While I never completely walked away from my faith, I set it aside for about 7 years and went my own way. This is due to a lot of different reasons that I won't go into here, but I decided to follow my own desires and path and lived this way for years.  I never dated Christian guys - they would have been hard to find in my circles. I partied way too much and did extremely stupid things - a couple times I literally could have been killed. I am so thankful for the grace and love of Christ and that when I was ready to come back to Him and really own my faith, He was there with open arms waiting for me.  

I only share where I was for those few years in order to share how God answered my parents' prayers. I had been finding my way back to my faith, but could not quite get there because of my circle of friends.  I really needed to break free from the party scene, but I didn't know how since I did not have friends outside of this. During all of this time, my parents continued to pray faithfully for me - every day. I know there were days where they wondered why God didn't answer them. Then one day, God answered their prayers.

Over Labor Day Weekend when I was 23, I was up near Yosemite staying at a friend's lake house and water skiing and partying with a bunch of friends. We were at the one bar in town and my friends started talking to this cute guy that was there. He later told me he came over to our table because he wanted to meet me and had seen me earlier in the day. That guy has been my husband now for over 20 years. Here is the thing though - he has never drank in his life. He was only at the bar because it was the only TV in town where he could go watch sports.  He had just finished his Masters in Theology (that was a total bonus for my parents) and was living in Yosemite leading faith-based wilderness courses with an organization there. He would spend 7, 14 or 21 days out on course and then come back to a base camp for a few days and rock climb in the Yosemite Valley (which is pretty much why he picked this spot in the first place). That night we talked a lot about faith and the struggle I was having to find my back. We talked until the bar closed and I honestly never thought that I would see him again. Within a couple weeks, he had found me in Newport Beach because I told him that I worked for an environmental law firm there.  Remember - this is before cell phones and the internet, you could not just look someone up on Facebook or Instagram so it was kind of amazing that he found me. A couple weeks after that, we started talking a lot on the phone and writing letters to each other every day. We were dating by December and married within 11 months. My parents clearly got to see an incredible answer to their prayers for my spouse and my faith as my husband definitely helped lead me back to it.

About 11 years later - in front of hotel bar where we met

Here is the thing - the reason I share this story. God literally had to drop my husband into a bar for me to get me out of my situation. I actually think this is so awesome because to me it shows that He has a sense of humor too. This is not where my parents would have wanted me to meet my husband, that is for sure. My mom would get so excited for me to tell the story of how we met to other people (the long story about God's role and how my husband found me, how God answered my husband's prayers the day after we met, etc.) but I still enjoyed telling her friends the short version - that we met in a bar.  Even at 23 it can still be fun to annoy your parents. 

I also want to share that while I am in a great place now with my faith, I still struggle often with trusting God and why He allowed me to go through certain things in my life. I have dealt with some really tough things in my past and struggle with anxiety, fear and panic disorder due to some of this. However, God continues to be faithful and is constantly using my struggles to help other people.  I think as parents, we all have to remember that God will use the really difficult times that our kids go through for His glory - whether we ever get to see it in this life or not. Trust and faith is all we have. 

God can do anything and is extremely creative. He will work in ways that we would never think of to bring his children home to Him. My story is just one example. However, as parents, I believe we play an extremely critical role. We must pray constantly for our kids to follow Christ. When I think about what my boys will become and what they will do with their lives, I really only have one prayer - that they will follow Christ and give their life completely to Him. I know they may falter along the way, but  I intend to be faithful in praying for them in this.  As they get older, we don't have control in their lives and prayer is all we have. We need to pray and entrust them wholly to God - which can be the hardest part of parenting.

Our boys

This is why I pray for my friend's son daily. I don't know how their story will end and it is very scary right now, but I know that we have to trust God with this life. This is why I am committing to pray for my own boys now daily instead of "most days". I wish I could say that I had followed my parents' model here and have prayed for them every day, but I have not.  I intend to do that now and I encourage all of you to do the same. While so many situations seem hopeless and there are many endings that don't make sense to us in this life, I believe all we have is prayer and our daily commitment to trust God and that He has a plan for our kids - whatever that may be. Whether it is through our lives or our struggles or even death - God will use our stories to reach others for His Kingdom. I am so thankful for my parents' commitment to this and for the model that they have given to us. 

My brother has a different, but also awesome story of how he met his amazing Christian wife and my parents' prayers were answered there as well.
"For I know the plans I have for you, " declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Long Journey

"The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become - because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different that you and I were intended to be….It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own." - C.S. Lewis 

My guys all headed out on a hike yesterday because temperatures were in the low 70s and it was a beautiful day in Boulder. The hike they decided to do is one that is fairly difficult in summer because it is very steep and rocky, but in winter is much more difficult because of ice and snow. Most of the snow had melted off, but there were still icy patches in many places. They climbed close to 3000 vertical feet in about 3 miles, so that gives you an idea of how steep it was the whole way. There were many places where they had to use their entire bodies to pull them up and around large boulders to keep going - there was no clear path on parts of the hike - just big rocks. They made it to the summit and all felt that sense of accomplishment and joy and the belief that it would only be easier heading down. They made it down, but one son fell twice on the ice and the other one literally ran into a tree. There was an old, dead tree with a large branch overhanging the trail and he hit it with his head -  because he forgot to look up as he was staring down at the next step on the trail. They called me at the bottom of the hike, exhausted with it having taken longer than they had expected. They got home and were all joking about the falls, but also talking about how sore they were and the difficulty of adventure. They thought the pain was over, but they woke up today in a good amount of pain and exhaustion from the hike. They have a lot more training to still do before they hit the 14ers this summer that they plan to hike.

I was thinking about their hike this morning as my younger son moaned and groaned about the pain he was in. I started to really see this as an analogy of our journey when we decide to follow Christ with our lives and surrender all to Him. I started to compare it to our family's commitment to serve E4 Project, and all the ups and downs of doing ministry. While I love what God has called us to do, it can be really hard. 

This hike seemed like the story of my life these past few years. We work really hard and give what we can - from our finances, to volunteering a lot of time to the ministry, to giving up half of Eric's vacation each year for travel to Africa. The road is long and the work is hard, but we continue to follow the path that God has laid out for us in serving Him.  Here is the thing though - a lot of the time, I feel like I am running into boulders and large walls that are too difficult to climb. Just as it was with the hike, the path can disappear and I am fumbling around to find my way. I want to quit. I want to live my life for myself instead of surrendering to Christ daily.  I am like my son who was staring down at the trail and ran into a tree because he was forgetting to look up.  Look Up. That is what we need to do continually so that we do not lose our way. Looking up is keeping our eyes fixed on God and His larger plan that we are just a small part of.  If I only look down at each step in front of me, I lose sight of the larger picture that God is trying to show me. 
"We must train ourselves for bad times as well as for good…How we anticipate and are willing to accept pain will dictate whether we walk away or sustain faith through times of suffering. Our expectations and preparation for trial will govern our ability to endure spiritual drought and burnout. Building a robust theology of suffering both prepares us for and acquaints us with the journey we have been called to walk." - Ken Wytsma, The Grand Paradox
I experience extreme joy when we see lives changed, programs working well and projects completed in our ministry. That is when I feel like I am at the summit of a mountain and have accomplished everything that I set out to do. However, within just days of that, I can enter a valley of spiritual/servant burnout or complete fatigue due to other problems that we face in the work we are doing. Then I start slipping and sliding down the mountain to pain and discouragement. I have to remind myself that the tasks put before us as followers of Christ is like training to climb a mountain. You don't just get up in the morning and do it, you train - all the time.

While I am using the example of ministry here, this applies to every part of our lives as well. I think the part of the analogy that really stands out the most to me is remembering to look up. That is the only way that we will get through the hard times and valleys that we experience.  The summit is such a great place, but often we learn the most from God on the way down and through the difficult valleys.  

If we keep our eyes on Him, He will continue to provide us the way forward to continue serving Him. 
"I'd love like I'm not scared. Give when it's not fair. Live life for another. Take time for a brother. Fight for the weak ones. Speak out for freedom. Find faith in the battle. Stand tall but above it all - FIX MY EYES ON YOU " - lyrics from Fix My Eyes by For King and Country
I have used this quote before - this is my life's goal and it applies again to the realizations I have today. If I could just follow the words above on a daily basis - the long journey would not matter because each day I would be focused on the important things in life - serving God and others - and continue to become who Christ wants me to be. Oh yeah - and here are some of the reasons that I continue to press on and serve….

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Grand Paradox

I just finished reading the book The Grand Paradox by Ken Wytsma. I met Ken back in 2011 at the first Justice Conference that he founded in Bend, OR. He has been one of my favorite speakers since then and I was so excited to read his most recent book. I have really enjoyed both of his books (his first book is titled, Pursuing Justice), but this one hit really deep. I had no idea that God would help bring peace and truth to my own struggle with faith that I dealt with for over three years recently.

The subtitle of the book is, "The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith". Ken does a great job of diving into these issues and approaching the topics with openness and Biblical truth. I love that there he shares raw honesty and not cliche type answers and approaches to life. He hits us hard with the topics of love, justice, faith and doubt and brings to the front the hard teachings of Jesus that we are called to live by. 

"The just will live by faith” simply states the obvious: that if I live outside of myself, if I live to give and serve, if I think of others as being as important as myself, if I live for justice—what ought to be—I have to trust that somehow I am going to be taken care of. I have to believe that it truly is better to give than receive, and that God really does watch over and sustain the just. This is not to say that God’s will for our individual lives is of supreme importance, much less that obedience to His call will mean that He preserves us from sickness, suffering, or even death. But we can be assured that only as we take our rightful place in His master plan can we find the path to all the blessing He has in store for us." p. 53-54

I love the challenges that Ken places before us in how we should live our lives as followers of Christ and pursue a just life. It is convicting and necessary for all of us. I try to live this out daily in my own life. It is a constant struggle though and I love the quote in this book, "We want to write God into our story; but God prefers writing us into His." Isn't that the daily battle? My goal is always to be a part of His story, but whenever I don't stay focused on His word and the truths of Jesus, I fail. If I am being honest, I have to admit that often I would prefer God to come into my story and my plans rather than fitting into His. 

A different area that this book addresses is our conflict with faith and doubt. This is what I most needed to hear at this point in my life. The last 4 years have included some huge peaks and valleys in my walk with God. Our family had several very difficult things hit us, but the largest struggle in my life and faith was my 15 year old son's chronic illness that kept him out of school for about 3 years, in bed almost every day, without his brain or body functioning normally. Our life literally stopped. I blogged a lot during this time and was really open with my struggles with God, faith, anger, doubt, fear, isolation and so much more. When I decided that I wanted to blog about this book I realized that I really had not been writing much in the past year (my son has recovered about 90% during this past year as well). I looked back at some of my posts and realized through my writings that the times I was struggling the most and questioning God, He was continually showing me He was there and slowly deepening my faith. Not that my writings come anywhere near to the Psalms, but relate to them in that I was crying out to God and had so much to write and pour out from the depths of my heart.  I had nothing but God to turn to in those hardest times, and through the anger, doubt and fear, God continued to show signs of His closeness to me. Sometimes I would see it, and sometimes I would not. 
 "Throughout Scripture, God never challenges whether doubt should exist. It is the one point of unity between us and God - the recognition that we struggle with faith, belief and trust. Where we differ from God is what we think should follow doubt. We think the burden rests on God to erase our doubt. God knows that the burden rests on us to continue to trust and wait on Him, even in our doubt." p. 76

Reading this book and quotes like the one above and below have helped me to embrace those times of doubt and struggle because as I look back on the past 4 years, I think I was actually closer to God during some of my darkest hours, than I may be am now in a life of busyness, stress, work and family activities. It is so freeing to read about how I can embrace my doubt because God used it to bring me into a closer relationship and understanding of Him. I also know that there will be more doubt, fear and anger in my life and this will help guide me through future times. I am so thankful for this book and for how it has helped me view my past doubt, grow in my faith and realize where I need to make changes to put God back at the top of my life. 
Faith means holding these two things in tension: the goodness of God and our circumstances that scream out to the contrary. We can be honest with our doubts while leaning with trust into the arms of the God who holds us through our grief. That is the paradox of faith. It does not seem possible that a good God can allow bad things to happen to us. But if we can lean into His goodness and keep moving forward, we’ll find Him on the other side of our doubts.
The story of our faith does not end when we doubt. Faith is not the absence of doubt; it is the remedy to doubt.
Doubt is only the beginning. It is in our doubt that we begin to truly find faith.
Only a faith that has been doubted can be confirmed.
Only a life that has been risked can be redeemed.
Only a God who has been trusted can prove Himself trustworthy.
You can pick up a copy of Ken's new book here on Amazon. I also highly recommend his book, Pursuing Justice which is also on Amazon.

Formal Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Ken Wytsma/Thomas Nelson Publishing for writing about this book.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fix My Eyes

"Trust Me and don't be afraid, for I am your Strength and Song. Do not let fear dissipate your energy. Instead, invest your energy in trusting Me and singing My Song.  The battle for control of your mind is fierce, and years of worry have made you vulnerable to the enemy. Therefore, you need to be vigilant in guarding your thoughts. Do not despise this weakness in yourself, since I am using it to dray you closer to me..."  June 11th devotional by Sarah Young, Jesus Calling  
I just returned from time in France and Gabon serving with E4 Project in both places with Sarah Lewan.  In the next couple of weeks, I will write more specific posts about the awesome things that God did on this trip, but first, I wanted to share about my journey.  I want to share with all of you that God calls us all to hard things - even when we are extremely passionate about our faith, causes and ideas. God called my husband and I to start E4 Project and led me again to Africa on this most recent trip.  I am scared of flying, not having control in life and public speaking. Those are pretty much my big 3. God and I have many discussions - well, I do most of the talking - about why He has called me to this ministry when I have these huge fears.  It seems like He could have prepared me better for the road He was putting me on since I have to do those three things a lot.  The hard things that God places before us provide an amazing opportunity though - a chance to be completely obedient to Him and draw closer to Him because He is all we have to get us through and those are the times we cling to Him and grow in our faith.  The above quote from Jesus Calling is one that I read over and over regarding my worries and fears.

What I continue to learn and was able to focus on during this trip is that God can use me to do whatever He plans to accomplish as long as I continue to fix my eyes on Him continuously. I believe that I have to rely on Him even more - every day, every hour - because I have these anxieties and fears.  I had a lot of anxiety before traveling and even in France as well with more flights ahead of me to Africa. The enemy knows exactly how to get to me and he tried his hardest to get me to believe that I could not do any of this.  My anxiety would start to creep up on me and so I was very deliberate about only looking ahead at that day - the day God placed before me.  He promises to give us the strength we need for today, not tomorrow (Matt 6:34).  It is a daily decision to trust Him and guard my thoughts from the enemy.  I also listened to the song by For King & Country a lot called "Fix My Eyes".  A portion of the lyrics are below and these are what I cling to daily as I serve through E4 Project.  This is my goal in everything that I do and it was awesome to have this reminder daily.
"I'd love like I'm not scared, Give when it's not fair,
Live life for another, Take time for a brother,
Fight for the weak ones, Speak out for freedom,
Find faith in the battle, Stand tall but above it all,
Fix my eyes on you"lyrics from "Fix My Eyes" by For King & Country
So - I spoke at a luncheon fundraiser in France put together by a good friend of mine from Colorado. I spoke to over 50 people from all over the world - my friends are part of a large international community in the south of France.  Many people there had spent more time in Africa than I have.  There was even an Ambassador from France there.  As I met everyone and learned about their backgrounds before speaking, I grew more and more anxious. I felt inadequate to share in front of  all these people. Again - I fixed my eyes on Christ and was able to deliver a fairly decent portrayal of what we are doing in Gabon and DR Congo and share our heart for serving the people that God loves.  It was very successful and we raised over $2,000 in just that afternoon.  All the glory goes to God - I know He spoke through me to share His vision.
Luncheon in France, photo courtesy of Mike Slone

I had to take 8 flights to get to France, on to Gabon and back home.  The flight from Paris to Libreville, Gabon had awful turbulence for a short period of time (with people screaming on the plane) and this gave me more fear for the flights home - and more conversations to have with God. Those all started pretty much the same way with "Are you serious God?  I am being obedient and trying really hard to trust you - can't the flights at least be somewhat smooth?"   I also had to give up any sense of control that I think I have when I fly and travel.  The time in Gabon was amazing.  We had wonderful meetings with all of our ministry partners and continued to work on our plans to serve with them to advance their ministries.  We had an awesome time with the team that was there from Grove City Alliance Church and I was so blessed to have them welcome us in as part of their team.  It was such an honor to spend time with people who care so much about our ministry partners.  The time flew by and God had every part of it held in His hand.

The Grove City team with Sarah and I

I am learning so much every day as I spend time with God that all He asks of me is to be obedient to Him and to trust Him with each and every day.  I have the passion and the love to do this - I just have a lot of hurdles to cross each time I step out for Him. However, each time He rewards me beyond my wildest expectations and it encourages me to continue to step out in trusting Him and giving my whole life to Him.

Photos of our meetings with Bon Samaritan Ministry to widows and the Sarah with kids at Avea II
“I want to go barefoot because it’s holy ground; I want to be running because time is short and none of us has as much runway as we think we do; and I want it to be a fight because that’s where we can make a difference. That’s what love does.” - Bob Goff, Love Does

Friday, January 24, 2014

Follow Compassion Bloggers in Uganda next week

Compassion Bloggers (including Wess Stafford, President and CEO of Compassion International) are traveling to Uganda next week to visit Compassion centers and spend time with the kids.  For the first time as a blogger team trip, they have a goal of capturing the hearts of 400 individuals or families that will commit to sponsor a child.  I wanted to encourage my readers to follow this trip - whether you sponsor children through Compassion or not.  The bloggers going on this trip write amazing, inspiring and challenging posts.  You can follow the trip here at Compassion Bloggers. Maybe God will work on your heart to sponsor a child - it is a small thing that we can do that has huge impact.

"In hopes of changing the world, don't obsess about something earth-shattering.  Be faithful in the small things - especially the small things.  Why?  Because even the small things really matter"  - Eugene Cho
Our family sponsors 2 children in Africa - a boy in Tanzania and a girl in Kenya.  When we traveled to Africa 3 years ago as a family, we had the amazing experience of spending a day with our sponsored child, Ndiga, in Nairobi.  Compassion International worked out all the travel and brought Ndiga from her village to where we were staying while serving with another ministry.  It was one of the most amazing experiences for our family - you can read more about this day on my post "A Day With Ndiga".  

Photo of our family with our Compassion Child in Nairobi, Kenya

If you ever question whether child sponsorship really works, I encourage you to read the report below.  An organization did a huge study on sponsoring children around the world and asked many organizations to join in the study.  It is my understanding that only Compassion was willing to be a part of the study.  The results were awesome and so encouraging.  I could not be prouder of supporting this organization and the children that they are serving.  I have linked to the post on Compassion's website, but there are many links to this study if you google "Does International Child Sponsorship Really Work".

"Does International Child Sponsorship Work?"

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When Words Hurt Our Kids - 5 Ways to Build Them Back Up

I truly never realized until I was a mom how much words hurt.  Obvivously, I have been hurt with words numerous times throughout my life (and know that I have hurt others too), but there is something so heart-breaking as a parent to hear (or hear about) unkind words spoken to our children.  It seriously feels like a punch in the gut. Oh - and that is what I usually feel like telling my kids to do - "just go punch the kid in the gut - then he/she will stop".  I will pretend that we have not actually said that at some point to our kids.  Hey - we aren't perfect as parents, and they haven't actually hit anyone, so that is good, right?

It is my opinion that most of the time kids say mean things to other kids is because they are insecure and struggling with their own issues or identity.  Confident, self-assured kids do not feel the need to beat others down (you can apply that to grown-ups too).  What is so hard to witness is how quickly those words can destroy our children - who just days, weeks or months before were self-confident and happy.  When these things happen, we have to help build them up.  

Over the last few months we have seen situations where this is happening or has happened to one in our own family.  We have been talking a lot lately at home about choices and how to respond to times that we are hurt by others.  As we have talked over the last several months, there are a few things that continue to return to the conversation that I think we could all try with our kids.  My ultimate goal when my children are struggling in this area is to build them up and try to bring back their confidence in who they are.  We cannot protect them from everything - they have to grow up, but we can reassure them of who they really are - God's perfect creation and our loved chid.  These are the 5 things that we try to do at our home:

1.  Build them up with our words - both my husband and I tell them all the time how much we love them and how proud we are of who they are.  Period.  It doesn't matter if they struggle academically, socially, athletically or in any other way - We love them.  I don't think we can ever tell our children too much how proud we are of them.  They may act totally annoyed as they grow older - but they still here it and bank it somewhere in their brain for later.

2.  Explain to them that they are exactly who they are supposed to be - if you are a Christ-follower,  explain to them that God created them to be exactly who they are.  Now I know this can seem like a trite "Christiany" response, but it is so important that they understand this.  They are senstive, caring, compassionate and loving and God is going to use them in amazing ways.  He made them in His image.  God chose for them to excel at certain things and not at others.  When you are good at everything, you can not relate to others as well.  God has even prepared them for the struggles that they will have and will use what seems like weaknesses to them for His ultimate plan.  "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jer 29:11 

3.  Listen to them - make sure they know they can share anything with us - even when it is something they did that hurt someone else.   Pay attention when they are talking.  I sometimes find myself busy on my computer or phone and saying "uh-huh" when they are trying to talk to me.  It does get exhausting at times and I am clearly no 'mom of the year'.  However, I know that I am sending them mixed messages when I do this (If I am telling them that I love them but than cannot give them my attention when they come to me, what does that tell them?) - the more we give them our attention and love and affirm how important they are to us, the more confidence they will have in who they are.  We don't want to miss that small window of opportunity when they are actually wanting to talk to us.  I am trying to put my phone down or my computer to sleep when they come to talk to me.  That way, they will get all of me and they will know it (and I will remember what they were talking about).

Also, sometimes kids are too embarrassed to tell us what someone said to them or about them.  If they don't share with us, we can't help them walk through it. The more they internalize things - the more it is going to continue to impact them.  I know that a lot of times they won't share - but when they do - listen and support them.  Discuss with our kids what matters to us - that they be kind and compassionate to others, be a friend to those who don't have friends and to treat everyone with respect. Listen to them when they have to share about making wrong choices too - if they will share (sometimes they are forced to because teachers or principals call). The more we listen now, the more they may share later.

4.  Support them in their interests.  This builds confidence.  Confidence helps our kids be secure and treat others well.  So maybe you are not into karate and really want your son to play football - but your son lives for karate.  Support him.  Even if you financially cannot support the sport or hobby they want, there are many ways to still help them move forward with their passion.  Let them know that you are completely thrilled with who they are and what they are passionate about.  I am so proud of my husband in this area.  He comes from a very athletic family - he, his brother and dad were all great soccer players (his dad still holds college records).  Soccer is in his blood, but does not seem to be for our kids at this point.  Our older son played some soccer until he became sick with Lyme disease 3 years ago and had to stop all physical activity.  Our younger son loves animals -  I mean really loves them.  He could spend the rest of his life working with animals and running a sanctuary that rescues animals.  He also loves horses and riding.  He is involved in a 4H riding club and it is amazing to watch him on his horse (well - the one that we partially lease).  His other love is art.  Neither my husband or I have much experience in these areas - but we are doing what we can to support him.  Fortunately we can afford this partial lease for a horse for now...  We have watched our son gain so much confidence through horse shows and working with these amazing animals.  

5.  Tell them you would much rather they be kind, honest and loving towards others than try to fit in to feel more popular.  This can be a hard one for some of us because we do want them to fit in.  We may even care about them being perceived as popular because of our own securities.  However, living through our children this way is never going to help them or us.  One of my sons shared awhile back how much it hurt him to hear friends say mean things to another kid.  Many times, there are other kids that follow along and add to the hurt.  We tell him how proud we are of him - that instead of choosing to go with the crowd, he is choosing kindness and sensitivity - even in situations when he is not friends with the one getting hurt.  Since our kids are in middle school, we are using these types of conversations to talk about the choices that they will continue to make as they move forward with high school.  We tell them that the decisions only get harder as they grow up and have to choice whether to follow friends to "fit in" with drinking, sex, drugs, breaking laws, etc. The more choices they can make now to be individuals and not follow others will only help them as they grow up.  I think that we can influence that by encouraging right choices in the smaller things and affirming those choices. 

Obviously they won't always make the right choices in how they treat people - but it is awesome when they do.