Just 18 Summers

Just 18 Summers by Michelle Cox and Rene Gutteridge is a novel that tells the story of four families.

Butch Browning’s wife, Jenny, has recently passed away, and Butch is in a fog. Jenny had taken care of so many things, especially their young daughter, Ava. Butch owns a construction company and feels the weight of responsibility much more than when he was just another worker. But at home, the most he can manage is pizza every night.

Beth is Butch’s sister, married with three children. Her oldest daughter is in college and her oldest son is heading there next fall. In the midst of distress over her emptying nest, her daughter throws the family a curve ball: she wants to quit college and get married . . . to the pizza delivery guy.

Tippy is Butch’s foreman, and he and his wife, Daphne, are expecting their first child. But Daphne has gone off the deep end in trying to do everything possible to protect their child: reading every book she can find, covering every corner with pool noodles, forbidding certain foods from their home, etc., etc. etc.Her obsession is affecting their marriage, and Tippy can’t fathom how they’ll cope when the baby actually comes.

Helen and Charles Buckley are Beth’s neighbors, and the wives of all these families attend the scrapbooking get-together that Jenny started and which currently meets at Helen’s home. Charles has an excellent job, and Helen is determined to provide their children the very best opportunities so they’ll never be deprived or embarrassed like she was growing up. But Charles’ business responsibilities keep him from being an active part of his children’s lives, and Helen’s driven and regimented schedule for her children misses their deepest needs.

One theme in this book is that parents have a relatively short time—just 18 summers–to form relationships with their children, make lasting memories, and be the primary influence to their children. It goes so fast. Though, of course, we still have a relationship and make memories even after our children leave home, we have the biggest hand in their training when they are young.

Another theme is that there is only so much parents can control. As children become old enough to make their own decisions, those decisions may not be in keeping with what the parents think best. As Daphne discovers, we can’t protect our children from every little thing. Though we seek God’s will and do our best, ultimately our children’s lives are in God’s hands.

The book illustrates both points with humor and poignancy.

Though Jenny seems to have been almost too good to be true, and though Ava seems more capable than a child her age would normally be, all the characters are realistic and enjoyable.

I don’t think I’ve ever read Rene before. And though this is my first book of Michelle’s as well, I enjoyed attending one of her workshops at a writer’s conference. That conference also held a “Lightning Learning” session–kind of like speed dating–where three or four attendees would go in groups to an author’s table, hear their words of wisdom for 5 minutes, then go on to another table when a bell rang. I remember Michelle’s table being particularly merry.

Michelle explains in notes at the back of the book that Just 18 Summers was originally a screen play written by herself, Marshall Younger, and Torry Martin, and they were seeking funding to make the movie. I don’t know if it was ever made—I couldn’t find any videos of it.

As I searched for Michelle’s web site, I discovered there is another Michelle Cox, also an author, who writes in a different genre. The Michelle Cox who co-wrote 18 Summers also writes devotional books based on the When Calls the Heart TV series.

Overall I thought this was a great, enjoyable book. Though it has a point to make, it’s not didactic or heavy-handed. Since my own children are “out of the nest,” I can “amen” the truths in this book.

Trusting God for Our Children’s Safety

Except for the most abusive or negligent parents, we all want our children to be safe. When they are babies, we check their breathing at night. We buy outlet covers and baby gates in the early years, helmets and knee pads a few years later. We try to incorporate enough stranger danger warnings to make them alert without causing fear of everyone they don’t know. As much as we wish we could protect them from every physical harm, we wish we could bubble wrap their souls even more.

So I can understand the Israelites’ concern for their children in Numbers 13-14. After being miraculously led from Egypt, seeing God’s provision of food and water in the wilderness, receiving God’s law, and constructing the tabernacle, they were finally at the outskirts of the land long-promised to them by God.

But they didn’t want to go in.

A man from each tribe was sent to spy out the land. They came back with a mixed report. The land was good and fruitful. But the people in it were bigger, stronger, and more numerous than Israel.

Then the people “wept that night” and “grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” They feared they would be killed and their wives and children would become prey. Only Joshua and Caleb encouraged the people to go forward and trust God, who had already told them He’d given them the land. But the people responded by threatening to stone them.

God had enough. He is longsuffering and merciful. But these people had tried Him and refused to believe and obey Him ever since they left Egypt. God wanted to obliterate the people and start over with Moses.

Moses interceded for the people, and God pardoned them. But forgiveness doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. All the generation that complained and would not enter the promised land would die in the wilderness over the next forty years. Only Joshua, Caleb, their families, and the children of the current generation would enter in. “Your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness.” But, ultimately, the children would be the recipients of the promise that the adults rejected.

In our church’s Bible study time in the passage last Sunday, my husband pointed out something I had never thought of. The population of Israel would have numbered over a million by this time—some say over two million. If you subtract an estimated number of children, that still leaves tens of thousands of people to die in the next forty years. Forty years of wilderness wandering, no promised land, just death and destruction ahead. How depressing! My husband commented that the weight of this may have fueled some of the rebellions that occurred in the next few chapters.

But rebellion would only make a bad situation worse. Suppose you’re a parent in this situation. You realize you failed big time in not believing God and obeying Him. But your children that you were so afraid for will go in. The best thing repentant parents could do would be to pour everything into the time they have left with their children, teach them God’s ways, and teach them how to some day get along without their parents.

In some ways, that’s what we all have to do, isn’t it? Pour our lives into our children, teach them God’s ways, teach them to be responsible adults and to stand on their own two feet without us.

In our early married days, I remember a woman sharing during prayer meeting a need for her children and how God answered. She commented, “It’s one thing to trust God for my needs—it’s another thing to trust Him for my children’s.” It’s true: we’d much rather struggle with a need or loss or illness ourselves than see our children do so. But it’s through such things that we all grow and learn dependence on God.

When Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth ministered as missionaries in China in the early twentieth century, the Chinese were intensely suspicious of what they called “foreign devils”—basically anyone who was not Chinese. Plus sanitation was nearly unknown and disease ran rampant. So when Jonathan proposed to Rosalind that they take their children on a ministry tour around the country, Rosalind refused. Four of her children had died already. She could maintain a level of cleanliness in her own home. But out there, not knowing where they would be staying or where they could get food from village to village? It was too risky, especially adding the possibility of persecution.

Jonathan begged Rosalind to reconsider:

Rose, I am so sure this plan is of God, that I fear for the children if you refuse to obey His call. The safest place for you and the children is the path of duty. You think you can keep your children safe in our comfortable home in Changte, but God may have to show you you cannot. But He can and will keep the children if you trust Him and step out in faith (Rosalind Goforth, Goforth of China, p. 157).

But she refused. So he left, alone.

The next day, their one-year-old baby became ill with dysentery, with no hope of recovery. She died a short while later.

Was God being vindictive? I don’t think so. In fact, Rosalind writes that as the baby was passing, Rosalind “seemed to apprehend in a strange and utterly new way the love of God—as a Father” (p. 159).

Humbled and softened, Rosalind determined to go with her husband. Years later, at a conference of women missionaries, some wives with similar fears to hers asked publicly if her children suffered as a result of their touring. She responded that none of them had picked up any infectious diseases or come to any harm while they toured. In fact, they’d had two more children during that time. She found she had more time to give them since she didn’t have her regular housework. “And, best of all, God has set His seal upon this plan of work by giving a harvest of souls everywhere we have gone” (Rosalind Goforth, Climbing, pp. 150-151).

Of course, we’re not guaranteed that our children won’t get sick or die while we’re following God. We all know of children who have died of cancer after years of prayer and treatment or teens who had died suddenly in car accidents or of unknown causes even though their parents were faithful followers. Sometimes God delivers by taking children on home to heaven. From our human perspective, that’s a loss. But from God’s viewpoint, He’s lovingly welcoming them home.

Missionary Timothy McKeown takes issue with the statement that the safest place is in God’s will:

After studying Scripture and ministering in this context for many years, I have felt compelled to modify this saying for my own use: “The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be is in the center of God’s will.” But it is not necessarily the safest.

It seems to me that the Bible is full of examples of God’s people often—not occasionally—being placed in unsafe, uncomfortable, and dangerous situations. . . .

Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers but on the power, majesty, testimony, and victory of God over his—and, of course, our—enemies. . . .

I do not advocate foolish and irresponsible “risk taking.” . . . However, biblical reality dictates that there are, indeed, times in which God will lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where our prayer needs to be for faithfulness as reflections of his light and saltiness in this needy world.

I want to urge my fellow Christians to use extreme caution in allowing the infectious and deadly “health, wealth, prosperity, and personal comfort gospel” to become our motivator in seeking his will for our earthly lives. The Lord calls us to obedience in spite of the “costs”—not to personal comfort and safety! Oh, how I pray for the Lord of the Harvest to raise up more laborers to go into his fields no matter what the personal costs might be (Peace, If Not Safety).

Missionaries from one of our former church’s were once accused of child abuse for raising their kids in a primitive jungle setting. I loved their oldest daughter’s response here. “A mud hut does not an abusive environment make. . . . Yes, we missed out on many of the materialistic things this world has to offer. And for that we thank God often.”

God doesn’t promote recklessness. Parents and grandparents are supposed to try to keep children safe. But we have to admit that we are limited. We can’t lock them away in a tower for protection. We can’t raise them to be fearful of going forward. We can’t avoid God’s will due to possible risks. We have to do for our children as we do for ourselves: trust and obey. He has determined how long each person’s race will be. What matters most is not the length, but hearing His “Well done” at the end.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

“Just Wait: It Gets Harder”

A young mom friend shared that she gets the above response whenever she mentions that life can be hard with several little children at once.

Why do we women do that to each other?

I’m so thankful that when I was a young mom, a special older lady told me that each stage of our children’s lives has it’s high and low points, and we shouldn’t dread any stage. I think at the time my oldest was about to turn two, thus I was cringing at the thought of the “terrible twos.” Her words helped me not to view that season of life negatively, and the “twos” were not all that terrible.

Though baby- and toddlerhood hold some cute, sweet, fun, and incredibly precious  moments, small people depending on you for every little thing can be exhausting. I loved my babies and little ones, but this stage of life was hardest for me. When they can feed themselves, go to the bathroom by themselves, dress themselves, etc., life gets a lot easier.

Perhaps for some moms, what I call the “taxi years” are the most taxing, when you’re chauffeuring kids to sports practice, music lessons, church activities, birthday parties, school activities, etc., etc. That season does have its challenges. We tried hard to strike the right balance by offering our kids a number of opportunities without the whole household revolving around children’s schedules. It’s not easy. But one perk was that one of our children opened up much more in the car than if I tried to draw him out across the table.

Probably most who warn about harder years of parenting are referring to the teen years. Once, when my children were still young, an older mom and I were working on a bulletin board together at church. As she shared something about her teenage daughter, she said something like, “Don’t dread the teen years. If you keep the relationship good, keep communication open, and train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the teen years don’t have to be a trial for either of you.” And she was right, just like my mom friend who told me not to dread the “terrible twos.” The world has bought into this idea that rebellion is a teenage rite of passage, but it doesn’t have to be. They do ask hard questions, but we should welcome them and help them seek answers. They should be coming to a point where their beliefs are becoming their own rather than just rotely following what they’ve always been told. There might be a few bumps in the road towards independence, but it doesn’t have to be an all-out war.

And then we come to parenting adults. In some ways, it’s a relief that all their decisions are their own responsibility now. Yet we have to let them make their own mistakes. We only offer advice when asked, and then carefully. We have to let go, but we can pray.

Each stage of development is a necessary part of growing up. Each has its hardships and its blessings. We need to encourage each other all along the way.

Imagine you’re hiking up a mountain trail. The way is rough, you’re hot, and you’ve still got a long way to go. Way up ahead you see another hiker. You call out to her and ask how the trail is between you. She says, “You think it’s bad now; you think you’re tired now; just wait. It only gets harder the further you go.”

How encouraged would you be? Not at all.

How much better if those ahead on the path called back, “Yes, it’s tough. But God gives grace. You can do it. Keep up the good work!” Or, even better, we can share how we found verses like 2 Corinthians 9:8 true in relation to motherhood: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Motherhood has been one of the hardest aspects of my life. Not much else (besides caregiving) showed me how selfish I was and how much I needed God’s grace. But watching and learning from other moms was a great encouragement.

Much has been said in recent years about mentoring, but we don’t need to set up formal mentoring relationships in order to encourage others. So often, I’ve received the most encouragement from off-the-cuff, seemingly random conversations in passing. But looking back, I know they weren’t random. I know God placed those people in my path for  my encouragement.

I’ve shared before this poem from an unknown author that was quoted in Rosalind Goforth‘s autobiography, Climbing (one of my favorites). I had always thought of it in relation to life in general, Christian life in particular. I had mostly thought of it in relation to missionary and other Christian biographies. Even though it’s not specifically about motherhood, much of it can apply. We don’t need to demean or “one-up” others. Older moms, let’s call back encouragement to younger moms. Older women, let’s support younger women whether they are mothers or not, married or not.

Call Back!

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when forest’s roots were torn;
That when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill.
He bore you up and held where the very air was still.

O friend, call back, and tell me, for I cannot see your face;
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky-
If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

Has someone “called back” in a way that encouraged you? I’ve love to hear about it in the comments.

(I’ve read several posts about encouragement this week. This must be a
message God wants emphasized at this particular time.
I love how Kelly expanded this truth to all scenarios here.)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Literary Musing Monday,
Hearth and Home, Purposeful Faith, Tea and Word, Tell His Story,
Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Let’s Have Coffee, Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday,
Wise Woman, Worth Beyond Rubies, HeartEncouragement,
Grace and Truth, Faith ‘n Friends)


Looking to Jesus’ example in discipling our children


(Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Some folks think of Christ only as “a good example.” We know better, of course. We know He is the Son of God, the “brightness of His glory and express image of His Person,” our Lord and Savior. But sometimes we forget that He is also our example in all things, that He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.

One day when my kids were much younger I was reading about Jesus’ disciples bickering and was amused to think how like my own children they were. Then I began to think through that concept a little further. Of course, Jesus relationship to His disciples was not exactly that of a parent and child, but there are ways ways Jesus interacted with His disciples that I could apply to my interactions with my own children, who were also my disciples.

We’re told that we’re changed to be more like Him by beholding Him, so let’s look at, mediate on, and glean from His example.

1) Do your children ever bicker?

Are there any children who don’t bicker? Mine used to fuss about everything from who got the front seat to who got the most meatballs. The disciples certainly argued, fussed, and jockeyed for position as well. Jesus dealt patiently with them, correcting whatever it was they were arguing over, pointing them to truth.

2) Do your children ever interrupt your devotions?

Jesus made provision for a quiet time alone with His Father, rising up a great while before day, going out alone, staying up at night. When the disciples would seek Him out and interrupt Him, He did not seem to get frustrated or angry; He didn’t rebuke them: He just dealt with the matter at hand.

Finding time, solitude, and quietness to spend time with the Lord is one of the hardest things for mothers, especially when children are young. Rosalind Goforth, wife of Jonathan Goforth of China, wrote in her book, Climbing, that if she tried to get up early to have devotions, it only started “the circus” that much earlier as the children would hear her and get up.

Though it is frustrating to be interrupted, we need to look at the situation through our children’s eyes, and picture them looking for Mommy and being met with scowlings and scoldings when they find her with her Bible. What is their reaction going to be toward their mother and toward the Bible she is reading?

A friend of mine once told me of a childhood memory in which she was looking for her mother and walked into her mother’s bedroom. She found her on her knees, weeping, at her bedside. She felt she had walked into something sacred, and the memory never left her. That incident got me to thinking that perhaps I could look on my children’s interruptions of my devotional time as beneficial to them, that perhaps they needed to see their mother reading her Bible and praying in the ordinary course of the day. So, instead of getting frustrated at the pitter-patter of little feet when I got up early to have devotions, I began to include my children, either reading out loud to them or praying with them, or just allowing them to cuddle up beside me quietly. If I really needed to be alone, I could give them quiet instructions or get them involved with a different activity. I don’t know if they will have specific memories of those times, but I trust their own attitudes toward having devotions were influenced favorably, and I hope that seeing their mother in the Word was and will be a blessing to them.

3) Do your children ever misunderstand you?

Jesus’ disciples did not understand why He “must needs go through Samaria,” why He was talking to the woman at the well, what He was talking about when He said He had bread to eat they knew not of, etc. Just so, our children do not always understand why they can’t have more candy, why they can’t go to that party or watch that movie, why they have to move away from their school and friends, why Grandpa died. Sometimes our Lord explained the situation further; sometimes He just went on with what He had to do. Sometimes we can explain things to our children: sometimes hours of repeated explaining still won’t satisfy them. All we can do is try to teach them to trust us and trust the Lord, to trust and obey.

Those lessons of faith provide building blocks for their future experiences with the Lord, as Romans 5:3-4 remind us: “tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” Once when we had to move due to my husband’s job, which was, of course, a trying situation for the whole family, we tried to keep the focus on what the Lord had for us around the bend. Our children found that they liked their new church and school situation much better and made good friends. Some years later we faced the possibility of another move, and once again they faced that possibility gloomily. Yet we could remind them of the outcome of their previous experience with moving, and, though they weren’t excited about the prospect, they could face it in faith.

4) Do your children ever try to distract you from God’s purposes for you?

One time Jesus had healed people all day. When His disciples sought Him out the next morning to tell Him that people were seeking Him, He told them He needed to go to other towns and preach: His primary purpose was to preach, not heal everyone at that time (Mark 1: 32-39). This kind of distraction seems to be an outgrowth of misunderstanding, and a simple explanation set things straight.

We, too, are faced with myriads of opportunities these days, both as individuals and as families, in the spiritual realm as well as the secular. Sometimes a family has to look at the bigger picture and eliminate things that are not wrong in themselves, but would be a drain of time and energy and a distraction from our main purposes. For instance, one of my teen-agers had an opportunity one summer to go on a mission trip, attend two different camps, and work at another camp for six weeks. He couldn’t possibly do all of that. In addition, we needed to paint his room and wanted him to be a part of that experience as training for when he became the head of a household with those responsibilities. Plus there were youth group activities scattered throughout the summer. And he really needed to get a part-time job and start saving for college. It isn’t easy to sort through all of the good opportunities, and there may be differences of opinion as to which ones to take advantage of and which to eliminate. But we trusted that as we sought the Lord’s wisdom and discussed all the possibilities, the best ones were chosen.

Sometimes, however, distraction from God’s purposes is a matter of unyieldedness. Peter went so far as to rebuke Jesus when He spoke of His coming death. He got a strong rebuke from Jesus in return.

5) Do your children ever not “get” what you are trying to teach them?

This happened so often with the disciples! Jesus just kept laying line upon line, precept upon precept, and went on with what He had to do, knowing they would understand in time. And we have to do that, too, as parents.

Sometimes He did question them (for example, when they were on the boat during the storm while Jesus was asleep. They woke Him up, saying, “Carest Thou not that we perish?” After He stilled the storm, He asked, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?”) Sometimes He rebuked them (Mark 16:14: “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”) Sometimes we need to be patient with our children’s immaturity (just as our Lord is patient with ours), but sometimes they, too, need a stern rebuke when they should “know better.”

6) Do you love your children, knowing full well they will fail you and disappoint you?

Jesus certainly does, with the disciples and also with us. The most poignant example, to me, was before His crucifixion, knowing the disciples would forsake Him and that Peter would deny Him. “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” We cherish the best expectations for our children: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Cor, 13:7). But just as “he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust,” so we know that our children are only human and will fail from time to time. Though there may be consequences to deal with, by God’s grace we always love them and offer to them the same forgiveness He offers us. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (Ps 103:13).

I am sure that there are many more examples than this of our Lord’s example to us on earth that we could apply to parenting: His love for them, His instructing, illustrated by stories they could comprehend; His teaching them the work of the ministry by example and then by sending them out on their own, etc. How good to know that He knows exactly what we go through as parents and that He will give us the wisdom, compassion, and grace we need!

 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:14

(Postscript: This is revised from an article I wrote years ago that was published in a magazine which I cannot find now but which I think is no longer published. It would take too long and probably not be very interesting to relate the details, but something I read yesterday touched off a series of thoughts which eventually reminded me of this article, led to an unsuccessful search for my copy of the magazine, and then a successful find of a draft of it in an old computer file. I hope it is an encouragement to you.)

(Sharing with Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Glimpses, Soul Survival, Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story)


Don’t Make Your Spouse Feel Like an Outsider


I don’t usually offer unsolicited parenting advice, because a lot of moms are sensitive to it. I am not sure what brought this to mind today, but as I found myself thinking about it, I decided to try to write those thoughts down – perhaps they may be of help to someone.

It’s natural when Mom is home with little kids that certain routines arise. It’s good to involve your child in your day, and they enjoy the togetherness as much as the “helping.” Maybe Little One always closes the dishwasher door for you after you’ve loaded the dishes, or always puts the canned goods in the pantry after coming home from the grocery store, or always cuddles with a drink and a blanket and book before nap time, or whatever. Then when Dad is home during the evenings or on weekends, he has no idea about such routines and can’t understand why Little One is crying while he’s putting the canned goods away or why shutting the dishwasher door caused a major meltdown.

If Mom scolds impatiently because Dad has done it “wrong,” Little One is going to pick up on the resentment, and Dad is going to feel like an outsider in his own family.

In the immediate moment, a gentle explanation is in order, and maybe Baby can be given a can to put away or the door can be opened so he/ she can shut it. I’m not for a little one calling the shots or ruling the roost, but I don’t think this is a case of “giving in” to his or her wants. I think this is not so much a case of selfishness or wilfulness as it is just disappointment. At some point Baby needs to learn not to melt down over every disappointment, but that is easier to deal with when you can talk and reason more later on. Perhaps early training can begin that way by saying, “It’s ok. As soon as you stop crying, you can put this can away,” etc.

In the bigger picture, Mom can welcome Dad into their routines. Perhaps Mom can talk about their routines in the ordinary course of life. “It’s so cute that she likes to help me put the cans away.” That way Dad is familiar with them. Or let him know ahead of time, while bringing the groceries in, that you usually let Baby put away the cans.

In addition, let Dad and Baby establish their own routines. Maybe Dad can do bath time or bed time, at least some times. Once when I walked by as my husband was helping one of our little guys with a bath, I heard him say, “It’s pancake time!” And I thought, “Pancake time? In the bath tub?” I backtracked and peeked in. What he was referring to was pouring the shampoo on the little one’s head like syrup on a pancake. My first thought was, “You know, it uses less shampoo if you pour a little bit in your hands and rub them together.” But I didn’t say it. I figured in the long run the amount of shampoo wasn’t that big a deal, and it was cute that that was a part of their ritual. And they never asked me for “pancake time” during baths, accepting that that was a dad thing. One of their other routines, when the boys were older, involved going to an indoor swimming pool on certain evenings (Tuesdays, I think) and getting donuts afterward. Not only was that a fun routine for them, it gave me a little bit of solitude, and they brought me a donut afterward. 🙂

Dads can help by understanding that a certain amount of this is going to be inevitable when Mom and the kids spend all day together and avoid getting feelings hurt over it. Participate, ask to help, let Mom know if you’re feeling left out.

Something else we have to watch out for is that we can get so wrapped up in our kids and their needs that we neglect our husband and his. That need weighs on us with our children because they’re so helpless, and we feel our husbands can take care of themselves. But that’s not how we felt when we married them! It can be difficult, especially with young babies, but this is another way in which it’s important to let dads in, to let him handle the baby’s care sometimes – both so you’re not overloaded, and so he can increase his time and interaction with the baby. He may not do everything just like you would, but that’s okay.

And, of course, this can involve other scenarios than little ones’ routines: a spouse can feel left out if one is on top of the family schedule and the other misses a memo, or if mom and the kids always get ice cream on Mondays after school (one of our routines the last several years of school), and dad didn’t know or forgot when he picked them up. As kids get older, they can be taught to be gracious, to respect others’ feelings, not to whine when something doesn’t go their way, to ask respectfully rather than throw a tantrum or sulk, etc. Not making someone feel left out of the loop becomes a family issue and not just a marital issue.

And, also, it’s not only dads who sometimes feel left out. Sometimes he is the one who is at home more, or who has fun routines with the kids, or who has regular activities with them that don’t include mom (hunting, sports, etc.).

The point is to remember that you’re a family unit. That doesn’t mean everyone has to do everything together all the time. We used to go camping as a family, but when I got transverse myelitis, that became more difficult for me. So sometimes my husband and sons went either by themselves or with a men-and-boys church activity. Once they were close enough that I drove over to eat the dinner that my husband prepared at the campsite, and we sat around the campfire and roasted marshmallows and made s’mores. Then before it got dark I drove to my climate-controlled home and comfortable bed while they enjoyed the rest of their camping experience. 🙂 And I still felt included because I heard all about the rest of the adventures when they got home. When my husband traveled a lot, we looked for ways to keep him from feeling out of the loop.

Keep the lines of communication open, keep each other informed, be gracious when a slip-up happens, find ways to include each other, share conversation and possibly photos about experiences even if the experiences themselves can’t be shared.

What ways have you found to help your spouse feel included in your day to day rituals and activities?

(Silhouettes courtesy of clipartfest.com)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)





Book Review: Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus

give-them-graceYou might wonder why I would read a book on parenting when my children are all grown. I read Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by mother-daughter team Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson partly to see where they were coming from and whether or not I could recommend it to young moms. I’d heard this book mentioned quite a lot a few years ago, and, in fact, where some people took the principles they said they got from the book raised an eyebrow for me, so I also wanted to see what they said vs. what people think they said.

Areas of agreement:

The basic premise is one I agree with: our children aren’t saved by keeping rules, and though there is a place for rules and law, they need the gospel, not more rules heaped on them. Kids (and adults) can keep all the rules perfectly and still be unsaved (and, in fact, can be blinded by their need of a Savior because they’re considered “good kids”). Only Jesus kept all the law perfectly, and once we believe on Him, His record is transferred to our account, so to speak. And no parenting method is an ironclad guarantee that our children will become Christians and live for God: only the grace of God working in their hearts and their response to it will accomplish that.

They illustrate this in the introduction with Jessica’s son, Wesley, fighting with his little brother. When she separated them and told Wesley, “You must love your brother!” he responded, “But he makes me so mad! I can’t love him!” Elyse says that when she was raising her own children, she would have responded, “Oh yes you can, and you will! God says that you must love your brother, and you better start – or else!” Years later she realized that the better response would have been to tell him that he is exactly right, that we can’t obey God’s laws on our own, that Jesus died because we can’t, and that when we believe on Him, His great love for us will enable us to love others.

They warn that it is dangerous to tell children they are good, because “there is none good but God” (Mark 10:18), plus it will confuse them about their need for a Savior if they think they are already good. I wrestled with this when my sons were small. It was so easy to say “Good boy!” to encourage them when they did something right, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that for those reasons. I started saying “Good job!” or something similar instead, or, as my sister-in-law suggested, commented on what “big boys” they were getting to be, as kids aspire to be more “grown up.” But I think these authors take that concept way too far (more on that in a moment).

They assert that the Bible is not just a book about moral stories, and I’d agree there. It’s about God. The main point of Jonah, for instance, isn’t that if we disobey, God will send a whale (or something comparatively awful) after us, so don’t be like Jonah. The point is God’s gracious provision both for the Ninevites plus his unloving, recalcitrant prophet.

But we are instructed to discipline, warn, correct, train, etc., our children. “Discipline proves relationship. Instruction demonstrates love. Grace is not averse to training. In fact, one of the functions of grace is training in righteousness (Titus 2:11-14)”. “Grace does not forbid us from correcting our children. But gospel correction reminds us to bring correction to them in the context of what Jesus has already done for them and his great love for them.” They make a distinction between management (basic instructions like “Don’t run in the street,” chore charts, etc., that aren’t necessarily meant to “get to the heart,” but are just a part of child training), nurturing (telling and demonstrating God’s love and care for them), [gospel] training (pointing them what Jesus has done to take care of their sin and enable them to live for Him), correction, and reminding him of God’s promises. They discuss ways to know what a situation calls for and how to apply gospel truth to their situation.

They have a fairly good section on striking a balance between interacting with other families and kids yet guarding against worldly practices influencing your children through others. I agree that we shouldn’t have homes that are monasteries or pack up the family to the prairie 50 miles from neighbors to keep them from “the world,” but sometimes those interactions can be tricky to navigate.

I thought these quotes were quite good:

The one encouragement we can always give our children (and one another) is that God is more powerful than our sin, and He’s strong enough to make us want to do the right thing. We can assure them that his help can reach everyone, even them. Our encouragement should always stimulate praise for God’s grace rather than our goodness.

We are always to do our best, striving to be obedient and to love, nurture, and discipline (our children). But we are to do it with faith in the Lord’s ability to transform hearts, not in our ability to be consistent or faithful. Seeking to be faithfully obedient parents is our responsibility; granting faith to our children is his.

The only power strong enough to transform the selfishly rebellious and the selfishly self-righteous heart is grace. The law doesn’t transform the heart of either…it only hardens them in pride and despair.

Grace teaches us to rest in what Christ has done for us and to live lives of godly gratitude.

The chief end of our parenting is not out own glorification as great parents but rather that we glorify God and enjoy him forever.

It is a kindness when [God] strips us of self-reliance, because it is there, in our emptiness and brokenness, that we experience the privilege of his sustaining grace.  It is only when we arrive at the dreaded place of weakness that we discover the surpassing power of Christ.

Areas of disagreement:

They give a plethora of examples of how to apply the gospel to our children’s everyday needs and issues, but most of their examples are impossibly long. They say that, of course, you wouldn’t say all of this every single time. Still, some real life examples of these truths in short bursts would have been better than lengthy paragraphs that no parent would probably ever say. (BTW, Kevin DeYoung’s example of trying to have such a conversation with his child is hilarious – and a lot more realistic).

One of their examples is how to talk to a child who made the last out in a ball game which caused his team to lose and is understandably unhappy. They list about 4 pages of what to say to him (at least it’s 4 pages in the Kindle app – I don’t know how many in the physical book). Some of it is good, like instructing that throwing his bat when angry is harmful and wrong, and that he can congratulate his teammates even though he doesn’t feel like it because Jesus set aside His desires for him. But then they go on to suggest saying things like, “Losing a baseball game is not the worst thing that could ever happen. Losing Jesus is” and “I  understand why you’re mad about not winning. It’s because winning is all you have.” They assert that the child “needs to repent not only of his anger and desire to approve of himself but also of desiring to be perfect on his own and of ignoring the perfection Jesus has provided for him in his justifying love.” Well, there’s truth there, but maybe he just needs to be encouraged to practice more or to be comforted with the reminder that even the pros strike out sometimes, that no one performs at 100% capacity all the time.

In a section on the grief of rebellious children, they make the point (rightly, I think) that God can be glorified just as much when everything seems to have gone wrong, because His grace shines through our fallenness and need for redemption. But I was astonished to read these two sentences:

Because the Lord always acts for his glory, and because he predestined the sin of the Romans and the Jews in his Son’s cruel execution, their sin glorified him. It was the means he used to demonstrate his mercy, justice, and love…”

Everything God does is for his glory, and he is completely sovereign over everything that occurs. He uses our sin and the sin of our children to glorify him. If he did not, we would not sin.

While I agree that God works “all things together for good” (Romans 8:28), and I agree that his mercy in the light of our sin glorifies him, I have a real problem saying that God predestines us to sin. I am not of the Reformed persuasion, and the authors are, so that may be where that difference comes from, but I have never heard anyone say something like this before.

I mentioned before that I felt that the authors took the point about not telling children they are “good” way too far. They say it is always wrong to tell a child that God is pleased with them, because “God’s smile,” as they call it, is only bestowed upon us because of Jesus’ record of righteousness in our place. While it is true that nothing we can do pleases God in the sense of counting towards earning points with Him, there are several verses that talk about God being pleased. Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please him,” so all of these must be considered within that context. 1 Thessalonians 4:1 says, “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.” Hebrews 13:6 says, “But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Part of the prayer in Colossians 1:9-11 is that we might “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.” Even children obeying their parents is said to be “well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). 1 John 3:22 says, “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.”  None of these is meant in a way to work up righteousness but to work out righteousness: to live out what God has done in our hearts. I pondered this point a lot while reading this book. Positionally, yes, when we’re saved, our sins are forgiven, and God sees us through the lens of Jesus’ righteousness and not our own. Our own doesn’t count for anything. But what we usually call our sanctification is a growth process. God is constantly convicting and directing us away from what displeases Him and towards what pleases Him. Just like earthly families, children don’t earn parents’  love or belonging by their behavior: the child will always be a part of that family by birth or adoption. So the parents’ guiding and disciplining a child isn’t a matter of making that child fit to become a part of the family or keep his place there: it’s a matter of helping him grow to maturity, and part of that is letting him know what is pleasing and what is displeasing. (I found this post right about the time I was thinking through these things. Though he is coming at the idea of pleasing God from a different angle, he brings out many good points and helped assure me that I was thinking along the right lines.)

I also disagreed with them in saying that “Every time someone was mean to [Jesus], he fought to love” and He had to “work every day at not giving in to sin.” It makes it sound like Jesus had a sin nature to grapple with. He had a human nature, but not a sin nature. He battled Satan, so perhaps they mean these things in that way.

I thought the authors’ tone was somewhat condescending sometimes.

I couldn’t recommend this book unreservedly, but someone with some discernment might be able to use the best parts and disregard the rest.

Genre: Nonfiction Christian parenting advice
Potential objectionable elements: Some areas of theological disagreement.
My rating: 5 out of 10

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday)









The Mother’s Hymn

The Mother’s Hymn

by William Cullen Bryant.

Lord, who ordainest for mankind
Benignant toils and tender cares!
We thank Thee for the ties that bind
The mother to the child she bears.

We thank Thee for the hopes that rise,
Within her heart, as, day by day,
The dawning soul, from those young eyes,
Looks, with a clearer, steadier ray.

And grateful for the blessing given
With that dear infant on her knee,
She trains the eye to look to heaven,
The voice to lisp a prayer to Thee.

Such thanks the blessed Mary gave,
When, from her lap, the Holy Child,
Sent from on high to seek and save
The lost of earth, looked up and smiled.

All-Gracious! grant, to those that bear
A mother’s charge, the strength and light
To lead the steps that own their care
In ways of Love, and Truth, and Right.

(HT to Ivory Spring, where I saw this a couple of years ago).

My heart echoes the last stanza especially, even though mine are grown men now.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Book Review: Big Love: The Practice of Loving Beyond Your Limits

Big LoveWhen Big Love: The Practice of Loving Beyond Your Limits by Kara Tippetts came through on sale for the Kindle app, I didn’t realize it was mainly about parenting. I probably would not have gotten it in that case since my kids are all grown. But I am glad I did, because the principles carry over into any relationship.

You might remember Kara’s name from her journey through cancer and death as shared on her blog, Mundane Faithfulness. I did not read there regularly but caught a few posts here and there when someone linked to them on Facebook. It was the urging of friends to share the contents of this book and the knowledge that her time was growing shorter that led her to write it.

The main theme of the book is Love is kind, from I Corinthians 13:4. The phrase impacted her in a big way when a preacher with a painful childhood shared them when speaking to the children at the school where she was teaching. She confesses she was “not naturally given to kindness,” preferring to feel “strong and successful” and “bent on winning.” She realized her love “was often self-serving, self-fulfilling, and self-centered.” This truth of God’s love “hit [her] at the perfect time and landed on soil that was ready to be planted with truth.”

She had not grown up in a family that practiced repentance, so the idea of walking in humility and confessing wrongs was new to her. She was married and expecting her first child at this time and wanted to interact with both husband and children in kindness and not have a home like the one she was raised in.

She shares a bit of her family background, how she came to believe on Jesus, how she met her husband, and how she was diagnosed with cancer. But for all that it’s a fairly short book. I read it in two sittings and probably could have in one, but wanted to stop and absorb before going on.

A few quotes from the book that stood out to me:

Competition among mothers kills community. I searched for ladies who were willing to be honest about faults. Honesty and a shared heart is such grace. Vulnerability and transparency encourage looking for grace.

Our kids are so often the reflection of sin that brings us to repentance. It was a beauitful, awful moment of light shining on my sin. I thought I was okay, so long as I wasn’t yelling. But what I saw in the face of my daughter was that I had sailed from the shore of kindness, and I needed Jesus to change my heart and return me to gentle kindness.

Discipline should never come as a surprise to a child. I think it is very important for children to always know what is expected of them. When discipline comes as a surprise, I typically find that I am parenting out of anger and not intentionally teaching and shepherding my children. If I know a child is entering a place where they struggle with obeying it is important to set clear boundaries.

That is our high calling as parents, to direct, train, nurture, love, and shepherd our children. It is important we move from irritation with our children and move toward opportunity for training. Whatever you choose to be your consequence, it must not be a surprise. Children should know clearly what is expected, and when they disobey, struggle, and sin, they need to be lovingly directed and disciplined. Disobedience is an opportunity. Children are not trying to embarrass you. Your children are not trying to create chaos in your life. Children need boundaries, direction, and limits that are all surrounded by a truckload of love. They do not come to us trained, obedient, and ready to listen. They need to know they are worth your time, your energy, and your strength to direct their hearts.

If I never point out the sin and struggle in the hearts of my children, and merely direct their behavior to please me, then when will they know they need a Savior?

I…follow through with the discipline and share honestly about my own struggle…I share my own need for forgiveness and grace. Empathy is a powerful tool in helping a child know you are FOR them. Letting your child know you understand their struggle and love them in the midst of it will help them be able to take an honest look at themselves. They will feel safe and not judged by you. They will know your heart is to direct them and not condemn them.

The Book of Romans tells us that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. I want to love with a kindness that nurtures a hard heart to desire to be soft. God is the only one able to transform someone else’s heart, but if I live a life submitted to Him, then His love will be reflected through me.

I longed to not withhold love when it was inconvenient to give it. Those faces [of her children] helped motivate me to want to know Jesus well, and to live near Him and listen to His Spirit as I walked in faith with my family.

When I am not drinking deeply from the inexhaustible well of love that is Jesus, it is impossible for me to share that love with the community behind closed doors as well as my greater community.

The heart of the gospel is lavish love being placed on me when I least deserved it.

The act of parenting isn’t excuses for bad behavior, it’s seeking reconciliation, redemption, and grace in our days.

The heart of being able to love big, BIG, BIG is being loved. Jesus loves you that big. He loved you so big he died a death He didn’t deserve to bring you to God. Admit you need Him, admit you don’t have it all figured out, and know His love. Quiet your heart enough to feel His love. Let Him teach you the beauty of sacrificial, humble love.

God’s nearness will be the strength to help you parent with kindness.

The sections I’ve emboldened are the ones that especially spoke to me in my current situation of life, including not just parenting but loving anyone I am called to love. Like Kara, too often I find that my love is “self-serving, self-fulfilling, and self-centered,” though that manifests itself a little differently for me than it did for her, as our personalities are very different. I guess the struggle to love as Jesus did will be a lifelong one, since we have our flesh to deal with. But by His grace, resting in His love for us and letting that overflow to others, we can grow.

There were a few formatting problems in the book – I wonder if that’s because it was designed for a different format than the one on which I read it. It was distracting just at first but then I was able to overlook it as I got into the story. I highly recommend the book especially to parents, but also to anyone seeking encouragement to love Biblically.

(Sharing at Literacy Musing Mondays.and at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Middle Child and Other Syndromes

My middle son like to tease about having “Middle Child Syndrome.” Recently he shared this:

Middle child

It’s true that there is such a thing as Middle Child Syndrome, with middle children feeling often overlooked between the oldest, who did everything first, and the youngest, who is new and cute and takes the focus off the middle one. But, really, each position has its problems and could have its own syndrome. I have always loved Erma Bombeck’s piece to each of her children and why she loved each one “best.”

The oldest is the guinea pig. Usually parents are most cautious with their firstborn because everything is new to them and they’re not sure what to do. That cautiousness usually rubs off on the child. Or, more rarely, I think, first-time parents are too sure of what to do and then have to find out the hard way that they’re not always right. Perhaps being surrounded by adults also usually makes him a little more serious and introvertish. He might have the biggest shock to his system when the next baby comes, compared to other children, because everything was his and only his before – his parents’ attention, every toy, piece of clothing, etc. Now it all has to be shared with a newcomer. The oldest also has a built-in set of responsibilities. He usually has to help mom and dad in various ways when another baby comes, has to watch them at times, has full-blown baby-sitting responsibilities when he’s older. Because the parents are usually just getting started and then having more children, money is tighter, so there may be fewer opportunities available. When the kids as a group get in trouble, he’s often held to a higher standard because he’s older and should have “known better.”

Middle children can indeed feel like they’ll never stand out because they’ll never be the first to walk, talk, etc. But their parents are usually a little more relaxed with them: the firstborn didn’t die from their mistakes, and they’ve learned that some of the things they worried about were not that big a deal after all. That in turn helps the child to be a little more relaxed. Middle children are usually more sociable and make friends more easily because they’ve been around other people near their age since birth. Middle children are said to be peacemakers: I didn’t see that in my own middle child growing up (or in my siblings, either), at least not with his brothers, but I do see it in him as an adult. Middle children have the advantage of seeing what’s involved when the oldest starts school, tries out for a sports team, starts piano lessons, etc., and that may work hand in hand with their more easygoing nature to make them less afraid to try new things.

Youngest children are accused of getting away with everything. If that is true because the parents are getting tired, distracted, and lax in their discipline, that is a definite problem. But often it just looks that way because the parents are even more relaxed, have more of a handle on what works and what doesn’t, what is concerning and what isn’t, etc. The youngest is usually even more sociable and makes friends easily, again, perhaps because he has always grown up with other people around. Youngest children may feel like they are never taken seriously, like their family will always see them as the baby. They may feel “picked on” by their older siblings. They may have unfinished baby books and the fewest baby pictures because the parents were busy with a growing family. They may get tired of hand-me-downs (or they may look forward to them: mine was delighted when his older brother game him a bunch of toys he had grown out of). The financial situation of the family can go two ways: if the older children have moved out on their own, there may be more money and therefore more stability and opportunities for the youngest. However, if older children are in college, etc., and the family has to care for grandparents, time and resources might be tighter for the youngest. I’ve felt bad for my youngest that he doesn’t remember a lot of the family trips and activities we participated in as a family because he was so young, and now, with his older brothers moved out and Great-Grandma moved in, there is not an opportunity for a family vacation in the sense of all of us going somewhere together. In his mind we “never” took a family vacation. But we have taken individual days to do fun things together in recent years. The parents of youngest children may be transitioning to empty-nest mindset while he is still there: my husband is the youngest of four, and when he was a teen-ager, he was often out for school or youth group functions or work during dinner time. His parents had gotten into the habit of eating dinner in front of the TV, and when he came home, they were distracted. He told me when we were first married that it meant a lot that I stopped and greeted him when he got home. The youngest also has parents who are older – which is better in some ways for their wisdom and life experience, but perhaps they might not be up for more physical pursuits. Siblings may be harder on them. They’re often not quite as sensitive as oldest kids because they’ve had to take a lot of flack from siblings as they grew up. I don’t mean not sensitive in a bad way, but in that they don’t get “crushed” when other kids say and do stupid things because they’re used to a certain amount of that from their own siblings. Youngest kids can feel loneliness as older siblings leave the nest – he may feel the most upheaval from the family constantly changing.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of birth order traits – there have been whole books and many articles written about them. These are just some thoughts that came to mind from my family’s experience. There are exceptions, of course, to every list of traits: in the articles I have read, no one list fits everyone in my family in its entirety (either my siblings or my own children).

The main thing I wanted to consider, though, is that God uses everything, even our place in our families and the good and bad parts of that experience, to shape us and to make us the kinds of vessels He wants us to be. Sometimes it’s even the very thing we most thought unfair or most felt we lacked that helps us focus on handling things differently with our own children. I am the oldest of six, and there were times I hated having to be “the responsible one.” Once when my mom called me her “built-in babysitter,” I wanted to stomp my foot and say, “I am NOT a baby-sitter! I am a daughter!” But I wasn’t allowed to do things like that. 🙂 As an adult, though, I am glad that sense of responsibility was forged into my character. Sure, I was overcautious and fairly tense, but God paired me with someone who is the youngest of four and much more relaxed. I didn’t even realize that about myself until after we had been married for a while, so I wouldn’t have thought to look for someone to offset that trait in me. I am thankful God did that for me. 🙂 And a cautious outlook is not entirely a bad thing, unless it’s paralyzing. Every trait has its good and bad sides. My more cautious nature has held me back sometimes but it has kept me out of trouble other times.

In the article The Secret Powers of Middle Children, the authors point out that “They achieve because of the way they’re being brought up. They develop strategies and skills that stand them in good stead as adults.” I didn’t agree with everything in the article, and not all of the traits mentioned are ones I have seen in my own child. But it was an interesting overview of middle children. Some of the very traits that middle (and oldest or youngest as well) children most disliked growing up go into making them the adults they become.

My own middle son was the first to spend an entire summer away from home, the first to travel to another country, the first to marry and have a child. I don’t know if any of those were done specifically in order to be the first at something or if they just happened that way – I think the latter. But I think it is an illustration that we don’t have to be bound by our birth order.

I chafed a bit at the article’s suggestion that middle children are “neglected” by parents. It may actually help them that they are not under the microscopic focus of parents like the oldest was. Personally, I was glad that I had some alone time with each child. My oldest was almost three when his brother was born, so I had those three years with him. Then when he went to school, I had a lot of alone time with my middle child until his younger brother was born when he was six. Then when my middle child went to school, I had a lot of alone time with the youngest. But I think even in families with more children than that or closer together than that, they strive to have some personal alone time with each one.

I also resented a bit the article’s assertion that “Middles have lower self-esteem than other birth orders because of their lack of uniqueness and attention at home.” We always felt that each child was unique and enjoyed finding the personality traits of each one, and, as I said above, strove to make sure each one had attention.

Another factor here, though, is that every parent will make mistakes, have blind spots, overlook or miss cues, etc. Even when parents strive to be the best, most attentive parents they can, they’re only human, and sinners as well.

But whatever our place in the order of our families, the type of families we have, the amount of parenting we did or didn’t have, and any other trait that went into our growing up – God uses all of it to develop in us traits we need. He can make up for any lack and pitfalls and help us to balance out in the areas we need to.

Book Review: Walking With God in the Season of Motherhood

Walking With GodI first saw Walking With God in the Season of Motherhood by Melissa B. Kruger when someone linked to her blog, and I saw this story of how the book came to be written. I thought it might be a good book to pass along to young moms, but I found much for my own heart, though my children are all grown.

This study grew out of Melissa’s desire for “a Bible study that intersected who I was as a believer with the role I had been given as a mother.” It’s not necessarily a “how to be a better parent” study. It’s more of a “how to walk with God and then let that relationship impact your ministry to your children” study.

She begins with our purpose – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever – then reminds us of our responsibility to teach the same to our children and our inability to do so for ourselves or for them on our own. Succeeding chapters discuss walking in faith, wisdom, prayer, carefulness, and then each facet of the fruit of the Spirit, ending with a discussion of the Perfect Mom Syndrome.

The study is laid out over eleven weeks, with four days of study per week and a fifth wrap-up summary of the truths covered in that week. I really like that the Bible verses are included within the study, so a busy mom trying to feed a baby or grab a few minutes of study while waiting for piano lessons or ball practice to end has everything needed right there within the book. There is an additional study guide at the back that would be great for a group study but is also helpful for personal use.

I have several quotes marked but will try to pull out just a few:

It is important to assess regularly whether my family is suffering from an overly busy calendar. However, rather than simply removing activities, my greatest need is to add one particular meeting to my schedule. Every day I need time with Jesus. While it seems counterintuitive, the addition of this one meeting promises to positively affect every other part of my day (pp. 30-31).

When impatience, anger, or discontent well up in our hearts, these are signs that we are mothering in our own strength. Rather than dealing only with our outward behavior, we need the Lord to renew and recharge our hearts…our souls find renewed energy only by abiding in Jesus. Without this time we will find ourselves depleted, discouraged, and unable to bear fruit (p. 33).

[Re the Proverbs 31 woman], We can view her as an older woman to learn from rather than a standard against which to measure ourselves (p. 73).

An additional benefit of a home at peace is that it overflows into loving care and service for our community. The goal is not to create a place to escape or avoid the world but to carefully build our home so that it is a light to the world, shining the grace of Christ to those who are without hope. A peaceful home offers a place of respite and care in the midst of a weary world (p. 76).

When we receive the abundant love of Christ, we are free to pursue others with love, not to gain their affection but to give back what we have already received (p. 93).

True joy does not discount real suffering; it shines all the greater in the midst of it (p. 115).

The ability to extend kindness requires an other-awareness. We are apt to miss the needs of those around us if we remain self-focused. Helping children to see the needs of others will bless them with perspective on their own lives, as well as propel them toward good works that display the kindness of God (p. 157).

God uses these moments to grow our hearts in grace. We can only bear the fruit of patience when we have something to be patient about (p. 164).

In Jesus the performance pendulum stops — both the pride of success and the despair of failure are absorbed by grace (p. 208).

I cannot protect my children from my weaknesses. As hard as I may try, at some point my sin will affect their lives. However, the way I deal with my failure can provide an example for them to follow. I am a sinner raising sinners. Each of my children will face the weight and sorrow of his or her own sins. Just as we teach daily hygiene habits like brushing teeth, our children need instruction on how to find cleansing for their souls. By teaching our children about confession and repentance as well as grace and forgiveness, we bless their lives for years to come (p. 213).

At some points the study seemed a bit long, both in number of weeks and in how long it took to complete the day’s reading and answer the questions. But it’s not, really – eleven weeks is a good length of time for a study. I went through the book in less time than that because I used it six days a week and went on to the next chapter after finishing one rather than reading one chapter per week, but I think the latter would be the better course, to really soak in the truths for that week before going on. And each day’s lesson only took about fifteen minutes. One could spend longer – I tend to answer the basic questions in writing but answer some of the more thoughtful ones in my head. If one did more with the writing sections, one could spend more time with each lesson. And if a day’s reading and questions take more time than one has, there is no reason you can’t take a couple of days or whatever time is needed to complete it. It’s better to go at one’s own pace and really dig into it than barrel through just to get it done. Melissa’s summaries at the end of each week’s lessons really help to review the material and help tie it all together.

I really enjoyed going through this study, found it very beneficial, and am happy to recommend it to you in whatever season you are in.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)