Family Talking Points
All Ages: A Memory Minute

Best Use: As a family time discussion with family members of all ages

Value: Gives family members a strong sense  of connection and identity

Advance Preparation

Bring the following to the dinner table, living room, or wherever you choose to share this time.

  • Some favorite pictures from past family events – such as a vacation, birthday, special celebration, or just fun moments from daily life
  • A watch or clock with a second hand
  • A Bible

Follow these steps for a great experience

  1. Bring a stack of 5-10 pictures from your photo album.
  2. Give each person at least one photo to hold up when their time arrives.
  3. Read Psalm 103:2 which reminds us to bless the Lord for the “benefits” He gives, including the tremendous joy of being part of this family.
  4. One at a time, have each person hold up their photo and give the other family members 60-seconds to shout out as much about the pictured scene as they can recall or guess.
  5. Tell the story of the picture as you remember it – taking special care to affirm the joy and uniqueness of each person pictured by giving a detail about them.  For example…

“I remember this was the vacation where Troy created his first sand castle – and was so disappointed the next morning to discover the tide had flattened it during the night.” 

“I remember how proud we were of Nicole when she walked up to the front of the class to receive this award.”

“I remember how exciting it was to bring little Christopher home from the hospital and have Grandma and Grandpa taking pictures of our new blessing!”

Pray a prayer of thanks to God for the “benefits” that come with being part of a family that loves the Lord and one another.

Download – A Memory Minute

All Ages: Family Interviews

Best Use: An activity for family members to discover one another’s faith story

Value: Learn more about the faith experiences of family members

Advance Preparation

Agree upon a time to get together in a place that will lend itself to sharing personal information regarding your story of faith.  (Examples – Go to a coffee shop, favorite dessert place, or on a long drive together.)  Use the questions provided to interview your family member or take turns interviewing one another.

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

  • How would you describe your own impression of Christianity growing up in your family?  Good?  Bad?  A mix of both?  Why?
  • Did your family attend church when you were young?
  • Was church a good experience for you?  A bad experience?  A mix of both?  Why?
  • What are some meaningful faith experiences you have had?
  • Who has helped you to grow in your faith?
  • What do you recall about the time, place, and circumstances of deciding to become a follower of Jesus?
  • About how old were you when you understood the concept of Grace?  Forgiveness?  Serving others?
  • If a person asked you how someone becomes a Christian, what would you say?

TO ASK A YOUNG PERSON/TEEN

  • How do most of the young people you know perceive religion?
  • How would you describe your own impression of Christianity growing up in this family?  Good?  Bad?  A mix of both?  Why?
  • What are some meaningful faith experiences you have had?
  • Who has helped you to grow in your faith?
  • Have you made a decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ? If no, what has held you back? If yes, what do you recall about the time, place, and circumstances of that decision?
  • What is your understanding of the concept of Grace?  Forgiveness?  Serving others?
  • If a person asked you how someone becomes a Christian, what would  you say?

Download – Family Interviews

Couples: The Love Journal

Best Use: As an ongoing process for expressing love, devotion and commitment to one another

Value: Sharing with one another in writing is a way to express feelings and appreciation

Advance Preparation

Plan a time (date night, quiet moment at home, etc.) to discuss incorporating the Love Journal into your relationship

Purchase a journal or notebook together or give it as a gift from one spouse to the other

During the Date/Discussion

Follow the steps for a great conversation and experience!

Designate a location where you will pass the journal back and forth such as the bathroom sink counter or each other’s pillows.

Take turns periodically passing the journal back and forth.  You may want to mark your calendar on specific days or once a month that you want to be sure that you take the time to write a love note to your spouse.

If you give the journal as a gift to your spouse, start the process by writing a love note in the front before you give it.

It is fun to write the date of when you write your love notes so that you can look back and see the special things that you have written each other over the years.  This journal can be passed through the generations, leaving a legacy of love to share with others.  They will have no doubt about your love and commitment to one another.

Use the following as ideas to help craft meaningful love notes:

I Appreciate You  Share the gratitude you feel for how he or she serves/sacrifices for the family

I Admire You – Let your spouse know the qualities that you see in him/her such as character, persistence, patience, grace, strength, etc.

I Affirm You – Tell them when they respond well to different situations or circumstances.

My Prayer For You – Write out a prayer that you are praying for your spouse.  This is a great opportunity if you know something specific that will be happening that day that he/she might be worried about.

Just Because – You can simply write “I want you to know how much I love you and am so thankful to be married to you” or you can write three pages explaining your feelings.  It is not important how long the note is, but how heart-felt it is.   

Special Occasions – Take some time for a birthday, anniversary or holiday to share a love note in your journal.  Be specific about the special occasion and write in a context that will be meaningful to your spouse.

Download – The Love Journal

Couples: Strong Marriage Plan

Best Use: As a date night discussion guide

Value: Help plan activities and time slots to protect this year for building a strong marriage

Advance Preparation

  • Schedule a dinner or coffee date
  • Bring your calendar with you
  • Each spouse should spend time identifying several priorities to put on the calendar for the upcoming year   

Strong Marriage Priorities

Every married couple needs to be intentional in several areas.  Discuss the following questions together, then select an idea or create your own to put on your schedules.

How will we protect routine times for non task-driven communication?

Schedule an evening walk together twice weekly

Schedule a date night twice monthly

_________________________________________________

_________________________________________________

Should we read a book, attend a class, or seek guidance to improve a specific area of our marriage?

Shared vision and goals

Better communication

Romantic intimacy

Managing money

Parenting

___________________________________________________

___________________________________________________

When do we think we will feel most stressed during the coming year so we can plan a weekend get-away together to recharge our batteries and rekindle romance? ____________________________________________________________

Where would we like to go that we can afford?  ___________________________

Who could watch the kids?  _____________________________________________

How can we help each other improve physically and emotionally?

Work out together

Eat out less often to cook healthy meals at home

Give each other time alone with God by watching kids, etc.

_________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________

When will we incorporate the habit of praying together into our relationship?

At the end of evening walks twice weekly

Before going to sleep each night

___________________________________________________

___________________________________________________

Download – Strong Marriage Plan

Families with Children: Parent Picture Bedtime Blessing Activity

Best Use: As a bedtime prayer activity with young children

Value: A fun way to share your story with the child

Advance Preparation

You’ll need a photo of yourself as a child – about the age of your son or daughter

Follow these steps for a great experience: 

While tucking your child into bed, pull out the photo of yourself as a child and show it to him or her.

Ask the child to guess the name of the person in the picture.  Give him/her clues if needed, such as:

We are both very close to this person

He or she was born many years before you

He or she remembers when you were born

If your child doesn’t guess correctly, reveal that you are the person in the picture.  Briefly describe the house you lived in, your bedroom, your family, what you enjoyed doing, the church you attended (if any), and any other details that might interest your child.

Invite your son/daughter to ask questions about what your life was like for you at the age pictured.    

Ask your child whether he/she thinks the two of you might have been friends if you were both children together instead of parent/child.

Share that “Even though I’m a grown-up, there’s still a part of me that’s a little child who likes to play and hear stories.  And I still like to be with certain little children – especially you!”

Lay one hand on the child and pray this blessing:

Dear God, thank You for [CHILD’S NAME] whom You’ve given me.  Help us, as we grow older, always to be great friends.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Download – Bedtime Blessing

Families with Children: The Faith Handoff

Best Use: As a family time activity

Value: An intentional time to emphasize why God wants families to build one another’s faith

Advance Preparation

You will need the following supplies…

Something you can use as a baton to pass like a cardboard tube from an empty roll of paper towels or wrapping paper

  • A sharpie or marker
  • A Bible
  • A stone or small rock

Follow these steps for a great experience

Read 1 Corinthians 9:24 aloud and ask: What does it take to run a race well?

Find a place the family can run a relay race such as on the sidewalk or from one part of the house to another.  Run the race several times by changing up the order of runners. Time each race.  On the final attempt someone should “accidentally” mess-up the handoff causing that particular run to be slower or even disqualified.

Explain that handing off the baton is the most important and risky part of every relay race.  Invite input on why doing so is hard/risky.  Be sure to mention that both the person giving and receiving must be alert and care about running the race well.

Read aloud Psalm 78:5-7 and explain that God has given parents the most important baton pass in the world – passing a strong faith to their children and grandchildren.  Explain that, just like in the relay race, helping children learn to know and love God requires an intentional effort.

Use a marker to write “FAITH” on a small stone.  Have the family sit in a close circle and pass the rock from person to person.  Then widen the circle and do it again.  Keep widening the circle until it becomes too difficult to pass the rock without tossing it.

Explain that it is much easier to build one another’s faith if you work hard to keep close family relationships.  Invite input on how you might do that such as spending time together, forgiving each other, affirming one another, etc.

Read aloud Deuteronomy 6:5-9 then invite the kids to suggest times and ways your family can include talking about God’s word in your routine.

Come close and pass the FAITH rock from person to person.  As each person receives the rock ask them to ask for God’s help silently or aloud such as “Help me not drop the baton of faith” or “Help me love my family as I should.”

Download – The Faith Handoff

Families with Teens: Favorites

Best Use: As a family cooking activity with teens

Value: Strengthen relationships by through cooking a special meal and discovering one another’s favorite things

Advance Preparation

Ask your teen to pick his or her favorite meal

Gather the ingredients (do it together if possible)

Set a night to cook together to teach them how to make their favorite meal

Write out the recipe for your teen with a special note on the back from you

Follow these steps for a great experience

Ask your teen why he or she chose this particular meal.  Is there a unique memory or something else special about the meal?

Take the time to show them how to make the meal.  Use the time for life coaching as you prepare them for the future by teaching how to follow a recipe.

If the meal has a special meaning to you or your family, share any stories, memories, or pictures with your teen.

After cooking, spend time going through the following questions as you eat together.  Remember, this is a time to listen and learn more about what your teen thinks, not to criticize or critique their answers.

What is your favorite. . .

  • Activity you are involved in right now?  Why?
  • Thing about school?  Why?
  • Book?
  • Song or recording artist?
  • Thing about our family?
  • Thing about our church?
  • Thing about your walk with God?

Invite your teen to ask you similar “favorites” questions and/or come up with different questions.  The goal is to enjoy dialogue together.

Read James 1:17 together:  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Thank God for your meal and for the many good things that He gives.  Pray together:  “We thank you, Lord, that we have so many things that are our “favorites.”  We acknowledge that every good and perfect gift is from you.  Thank you for our time together.  In Jesus Name, we pray, Amen.”

Downlaod – Favorites

Families with Teens: Parent Report Card

Best Use: Discover areas to become more intentional as a parent

Value: Meaningful dialogue on how your teen perceives your parenting

Advance Preparation

Reflect on the report card for yourself trying to assess what your teen would say.  Keep in mind, the goal is to learn your teen’s perceptions, whether they are accurate or not.  Two children can have entirely different opinions of the same parental patterns.  Understanding a child’s perceptions of our actions helps us do a better job of meeting their unique needs.

Decide upon a context within which to ask your teen to grade you.  You might consider the day after your child brings home a school report card or progress report.  Pray for courage in order to humbly accept input that may surprise you or be hard to hear.

Set It Up

Say: “Tonight I want you to fill out a report card that will help me understand areas I might need to ‘study’ a little harder.   There are several things God expects me to do as your father/mother and I want your input on how well I am doing.”

Do NOT comment on any of the input.  Thank your teen and discuss the input with your spouse and/or a trusted friend who can help you create a “study plan” to strengthen the relationship with your teen.

PARENT REPORT CARD

_____ Shows me he/she loves me

_____ Shows concern for my feelings

_____ Spends enough time with me

_____ Listens to what I say

_____ Gives me appropriate trust

_____ Enjoys being with me

_____ Is truthful with me

_____ Makes the family a priority

_____ Is fair in his/her decisions

_____ Gives me the right number of chores

_____ Disciplines me when I deserve it

_____ Admits when he/she is wrong

_____ Controls his/her anger and words

Overall Grade ______

On a scale of 1-10 (10 being best) what kind of relationship do you want to have with your parent? _______________________________________________

Considering all things, on the same scale, where are you today in your relationship with your parent?  ________________________________________

What are 1-3 things your parent could do for you to make your relationship better than ever? ____________________________________________________

Download – Parent Report Card

Stepping Points
Addressing Addiction in the Family

Addressing Addiction in the Family

Does someone you love seem to be self-destructing in addictive behavior? Are you watching a spouse, son or daughter abandon everything that was once important to them because of drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or some other stimulant? An addiction or dependence is commonly defined as “a recurring compulsion to do the same thing over and over, despite harmful consequences to his health, mental state, or social life.” Are you seeing that trade-off in someone you care about – a compulsive pursuit regardless of the effects it has, especially on your relationship?

If you aren’t seeing clear signs of addiction, are you noticing a gulf growing between you and this family member as their thoughts, time and energy are consumed by some dominating activity? What can you do to help?

STEP ONE:  Assess the willingness to change

Has your loved one admitted a problem and shown interest in getting help? If they’ve given you any sign of wanting to deal with their problem, take that opportunity to get the best of counsel and direction from those most familiar with the specific addiction he or she is indulging.

If instead you’re dealing with denial, you most likely will need to plan an intervention – which is an orchestrated attempt by family and friends to motivate someone to get help for their problem. An intervention is especially necessary to help stabilize the situation – to begin shielding your home from the emotional, physical and spiritual vulnerability of an out-of-control problem.

STEP TWO: Treat body, mind and spirit

Addictive behaviors you see might just be the tip of the iceberg. Efforts to modify behavior might seem effective in the short-term, but can reappear or show up in a different sort of compulsion if underlying issues are not addressed.

Deuteronomy 6:5 says, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. So those struggling with addiction need to treat problems of the body, mind and spirit – to go beneath the surface and deal with the thoughts, emotions and spiritual conflicts driving those behaviors.

James 1:14 describes how dependence progresses from desire to enticement to sin and, ultimately, to death.  The most effective approach to recovery is to reverse that progression – to restore a right relationship with God (Romans 8:1-15), to have a clean heart (Psalm 51), to have a renewed mind (Romans 12:2) and then as a result, to bear good fruits in behavior. (Romans 6:7)

STEP THREE: Find hope in perseverance

God is able to redeem anyone and restore them to a life characterized by self-control (Titus 2:11-14). There is hope in persevering as a family through the struggles of recovery. Romans 5:3-4 says, We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character; hope.

Your prayers ultimately come down to asking that God’s best will “win out” for this family member, remembering Jesus’ words: “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Download – Addressing Addiction in the Family

Building A Strong Marriage

Building A Strong Marriage

We marry because we yearn for a life-long, thriving relationship.  How can believers become intentional about building a God-honoring marriage?

PRIORITY ONE:  Discover God’s Design for Marriage

We must understand every marriage is intended to be a masterpiece reflecting THE marriage between God and His people.  Marriage is the most frequent metaphor used in the Bible to describe God’s relationship with His people. The marital union of husband and wife is a sacred reflection of the gospel itself.

PRIORITY TWO:  Commit to a Covenant Marriage

Today’s civil marriages are much like business contracts – easy to get into and easy to get out of. God’s covenant with His people was a promise to remain eternally faithful, even if His people weren’t faithful in return. In covenant marriage, both spouses are committed for a lifetime ­– in sickness and health, for better or worse. They don’t threaten divorce or consider it as an option.

PRIORITY THREE:  Pursue a Passionate Marriage

Couples aren’t supposed to just stick it out and find a way to make their marriages survive. God calls us to pursue a passionate, thriving marriage. The Song of Solomon expresses the kind of love, joy and celebration God designed for marriage. That passion is built on much more than infatuation and sexual desire. It is rooted in the physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy God created couples to experience as a foretaste of the eternal unity, communion and intimacy we can have with God.

PRIORITY FOUR:  Become Heroic in Marriage

Christ made the ultimate sacrifice to rescue humanity. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul connected Christ’s sacrifice directly to marriage: Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and served and sacrificed himself for us all (Ephesians 5:25) and likewise, wives should love and serve their husbands (Ephesians 5:24).  In other words, love and sacrifice requires giving up our own interests to heroically serve the other person.

PRIORITY FIVE:  Fight for Your Marriage

Every couple will mess up.  Too often, however, they also choose to give up. Throughout scripture, God fights for His relationship with His people, remaining faithful in the face of unfaithfulness. He forgives again and again. No couple can avoid strife and arguments, but we can avoid giving up this precious gift of marriage by staying focused on our relationship with God, our love and service to our spouse, and our willingness to forgive as we move forward in our relationship.

Download – Building a Strong Marriage

Caring for an Aging Loved One

Caring for an Aging Loved One

All of us know that our parents, spouse and other family members will eventually grow old and face the inevitable health challenges.  We even understand that sickness and death are part of living in a fallen world.  But we are never quite ready for these realities to hit our own loved ones – especially when a debilitating disease gradually robs them of a once active life or seeps away their memories.  You might be raising young children as well as caring for an aging loved one.  There is stress and heartache in this family season.  You might need to back out of many other things in order to fulfill a calling to serve an aging loved one during their final days. Here are some of the steps you can take to become proactive by understanding some of what this season will bring, including…

LINGERING GRIEF 
Long before an aging spouse or parent takes their final breath you will experience an underlying grief as you observe their loss of vitality, strength, mental faculties and other traits that make them the person you love.  Mixed with the physical and emotional exhaustion this season can bring – you may even feel yourself slipping into depression.  Seek help to avoid allowing these feelings to overtake you, but recognize that such emotions are normal and testify to just how valuable the person you are losing has been.

SPECIAL GRACE

The most common duties caregivers handle are transportation, grocery shopping, household chores, help with medications, and assistance with bathing and dressing.  Despite the humble nature of such activities, the majority of caregivers use words like “rewarding” and “happy” to describe the caregiving process.  Clearly, God gives a special grace to those who humble themselves to serve the aging and ailing.

CHANGING ROLES

The care-giving child gradually becomes the parent.  The caregiving spouse is no longer able to rely on her husband’s strength or wife’s support.  Primary caregivers can also encounter strained relationships with other members of the family who may expect input on, or question, difficult decisions.  In one way or another, expect these relationships to change as a loved one’s health deteriorates.               

FAMILY STRESS

For those who are married and raising their own children, caring for an aging loved one can add tremendous stress to the family dynamic.  There is less time, less marital energy, less patience with childhood irresponsibility, and less ability to give everyone the attention they need.  That’s why it is important to involve the whole family in the caregiving experience, even young children can hold a hand or give a hug!  Everyone will need God’s special grace, so be intentional about giving them opportunities to participate in what can be described as the ultimate family service project.

If you are in the midst of this season, our prayer is that God will give you the strength and grace needed to face the prolonged grief and quiet sacrifices required.

Download – Caring for An Aging Loved One

Dealing with a Difficult Teen

Dealing with a Difficult Teen

There is little in life that creates more anxiety than having a teenager who seems out of control. Experiencing emotional outbursts, being lied to, or staying up at night worrying about their safety can greatly damage your relationship with your teen. You may have tried different approaches to help them – being tough one day and then trying to show mercy the next – but nothing really seems to make a difference.  Watching your teen continue to make bad choices can leave you torn between wanting them to just learn the hard way and being afraid of what they might do in a moment of irresponsibility. What steps can you take now to best help your child?

STEP ONE:  Assess your relationship

As teen expert Josh McDowell has said, “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.”  Considering that your teen’s emotions and behavior are being affected by a surge of changing hormones, it’s vital for you to maintain as strong a relationship as possible in the midst of whatever they may be going through. If you have a solid relational foundation, you can build from there. Like the father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), you can hope that your unconditional love and forgiveness will ultimately draw your teen back.  So, ask yourself several questions to evaluate the status of your relationship, such as…

  • Is our relationship generally healthy with a few bumps, or generally unhealthy with rare moments of connection?
  • Am I spending time with my teen doing things we enjoy together to create a solid foundation for when tensions occur?
  • Does my child feel deeply loved or heavily criticized? (1 Peter 4:8)
  • Are my spouse and I on the same page – or is their increased tension because we are not growing together?
  • Has the relationship deteriorated to the point we need pastoral or professional guidance?

What if the relationship is weak? Maybe you’ve been relationally disconnected for a long time, or maybe your teen is a stepchild who has never really accepted you as his or her parent. Even under these and similar circumstances, you earn respect by building a relationship. Making yourself available, listening, and trying to understand, increase your ability to have influence. There is a value in routine family connections as a way to cultivate relationship. Make yourself available for your teen in the morning, after school, at dinnertime, and at bedtime. If your current routine is making these connections difficult, it may be time for a change.

STEP TWO:  Be the parent

Some parents interpret the need for relationship as a call to be good friends to their teens, but you need to be the parent – the one who brings stability and structure to the child’s life by setting boundaries and expectations. Showing that kind of authority can be difficult for some, but it is an essential role of parenting. It can also be challenging to direct your teen in a way that doesn’t exasperate him or her (Ephesians 6:4) when you feel disrespected.  As the adult, you need to sacrifice your hurt feelings and anger to do what’s best for your teen. You are called as the parent to lovingly direct your teen through the challenges leading to adulthood. Ephesians 4:15 directs us to “speak the truth in love.” Ask God to show you when it’s important to be tough and when you need to lead with gentleness and compassionate love.

STEP THREE:  Seek help

In this church family, you are surrounded by parents who have raised teens; many of whom faced challenges similar to yours. There’s no reason to be embarrassed by the challenges you have or to strive to keep the veneer of a perfect family. You need the support and wisdom of those who have been where you are.  Some problems may fall beyond your understanding and require the help of counselors and experts who can bring Biblical wisdom along with professional understanding of teens and risky behavior.

Download – Dealing with a Difficult Teen

Engaged - Getting Ready for Marriage

Engaged – Getting Ready for Marriage

Congratulations on this wonderful milestone. Few seasons in life are filled with as much joy and anticipation as the time spent preparing to get married. You’ve probably heard it said that as you plan your wedding, you shouldn’t forget to plan your marriage. But it sounds so abstract to “plan a marriage” in the midst of the more tangible (and demanding) project of planning a wedding. How do you do it?

STEP ONE:  Learn from others

Research demonstrates the long-term value of making time now for marriage education classes or premarital counseling. Those efforts go even further when you supplement them by spending time with an older married couple whose relationship you admire.

STEP TWO:  Plan with patience

Couples often overlook the importance of using the wedding planning season as practical marriage preparation. You can intentionally set the tone for your marriage by the values you live out in planning your big day. The transformational process of “becoming one” can occur in everything from how you assemble your guest list to how you determine a honeymoon destination.

STEP THREE:  Discover the purpose of marriage

A wedding is bigger than you as an individual and even bigger than you both as a couple. Ephesians 5 describes a couple laying down their lives for one another and becoming one as an icon of God’s sacrificial love for His church. That’s the counter-cultural call of Christian marriage.

STEP FOUR:  Create a meaningful event

To focus on the sacred nature of marriage in the early church, couples often stood during the course of a weekly service to exchange their vows. Those weddings were a part of the community of faith’s worship routine and a public vow within a church body.

They did not have anything resembling the grand ceremonies typical of modern weddings, focusing instead on the meaning and purpose of marriage.  That’s not to say big celebrations are out of order, but many risk making them so complex that they fail to honor God or the community they are uniting – both of which are the basis for a strong Christian marriage.

STEP FIVE: Pre-marital Counseling

This is a great way to start your life together on the right path. There are several options for pre-marital counseling, including time with a pastor. This is a great opportunity to intentionally discuss marriage and the work that it will involve to be successful.

Download – Engaged – Getting Ready for Marriage

Exploring Adoption

Exploring Adoption

Should you adopt a child? Millions of children around the world need a mother and a father. Many homes seem to have something missing that adoption offers to fill. As you process feelings of hope and eagerness in your heart, the practical questions can often seem paralyzing. Exploring adoption means weighing all of your practical concerns in your head against the often-inexplicable tugging of your heart. With so many significant factors to consider, where do you start?

STEP ONE: Understand God’s heart for orphans

It’s easy to grow anxious when you explore adoption in your own limited strength and understanding. There is peace, however, in seeking to know and reflect God’s heart for adoption. You can do that by reading and meditating on verses in the Bible about adoption and care for orphans (for example, Exodus 22:22-24, James 1:27, Job 29:1-12, Esther 2:7).

As you read these scriptures, consider setting aside time for fasting and seeking the Lord’s will for your home.

As you pray, consider the possibility that part of God’s plan for your home could be a child “temporarily placed” from another birthmother – whether in the next town or across the ocean.  Then consider the impact you could have in the life of a child who would not otherwise have a mother or father.  How might God be leading you to change their circumstances? What kind of home and family might you be able to provide?

Seeking God’s heart for orphans will stretch your perspective.  It will change the kind of cost/benefit analysis you bring to your decisions. It also can give you peace and patience for the details of adoption and can grow your trust in God’s ability to provide for you in what He’s calling you to.

While seeking God’s heart for orphans, you might find yourself considering entirely different approaches to adoption. You also may discover opportunities to show care for orphans in ways other than adoption.

STEP TWO: Educate Yourself

Much about adoption has changed in the past few decades. New opportunities have emerged alongside new challenges. At the same time, various churches and non-profit ministries have expanded their support for orphans and adoption, providing a broad range of information and services about things such as federal tax benefits and financial assistance through grants available to adopting families.

One of the best ways to increase your understanding of both the head and heart issues of adoption is to spend time with others who have adopted – to hear from them the joys and challenges of each step along the way.  Find suggestions to learn from those who have walked this path before you.

Download – Exploring Adoption

Facing Infertility

Facing Infertility

What if you’ve just found out you’re unable to have children or experienced yet another miscarriage? How are you supposed to deal with the awkward conversations about kids that inevitably come up? Facing infertility is difficult. Looking around at other families with children you might ask, “What’s wrong with us – why can’t we have what they have?” You can feel like your marriage is missing something, or you may blame yourself for making decisions along the way that have hurt your chances to conceive. Maybe you’ve already considered or started some kind of infertility treatment and you’re worried about the cost or risks that you’ll face. Whatever feelings you may be experiencing, you need to remind yourself of several important truths.

REMINDER #1:  It’s okay to grieve

Hoping to offer comfort, some may downplay infertility and even point to the things you can enjoy as a couple without kids. If you already have at least one child, some people may not understand why you would be so sad about secondary infertility, ending your hopes for more children. Whatever your circumstances, it’s common to experience a great sense of loss in finding out you can’t have a child. Infertility is a tragic reality of our fallen world, one that rightly causes grief. Jesus told his followers that those who mourn are blessed and will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). A husband may not entirely understand what a wife facing infertility is going through, especially as her emotions are affected by changing hormones. This can be a vulnerable time for any couple. It’s important to share your thoughts and feelings openly, not stuffing them away or letting your grief get lost in distractions and busyness.

REMINDER #2:  It’s okay to hope

Because of God’s goodness, you are never without hope.

Psalm 113:9 says, He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. You can’t know exactly how God will choose to work in your life, but you can know He is able. He can restore fertility when it seems impossible. Or He may help you grieve your inability to have biological children and then cultivate in you a desire to adopt and love a child in desperate need of a Christian home. Your ability to hope in God begins by releasing everything to Him in prayer. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in

Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

REMINDER #3:  It’s essential to be in community

It’s tempting to avoid talking about infertility and all the accompanying struggles. Couples may want to pull away from other families, unsure what they’ll think or say. As awkward as it may be, however, you still need Christian community – a safe place where you can share your burdens with one another. (Galatians 6:2) It’s in community that you also can find encouragement from others who have been where you are.  That’s the context of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Download – Facing Infertility

Hope for a Difficult Marriage

Hope for a Difficult Marriage

Those who marry will have troubles. That’s what Paul told the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 7:28).  Even the best couples can struggle to protect their marriage vows. But what happens when marriage troubles become unbearable? Is there a point at which couples should end a bad marriage?  Or is there hope for something better?  Walk through the following steps as you prayerfully evaluate your situation.

STEP ONE:  Discern Minor from Major Trouble

Unfortunately, many marriages end today over troubles that could have been overcome. University of Texas researcher Norval Glenn has found that divorces today are often blamed on problems such as:

  • lack of commitment
  • too much conflict and arguing
  • unrealistic expectations
  • lack of preparation

These are problems that both husband and wife should work to overcome.  Despite what friends, family or popular culture might say, these issues are no reason to end a marriage – especially in light of the serious long-term impact of divorce on yourself or your children.

In their book, The Case for Marriage, Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite explain that couples who think their only options are to either divorce or be miserable often find things getting better if they’ll just stick it out. In fact, almost 80% of husbands and wives who were unhappy in their marriage, yet stayed together, described themselves as very happy just five years later!

STEP TWO:  Anticipate the Hope after the Trouble

Major trouble occurs when someone either abuses or abandons their role in a marriage – when they break faith with their spouse and violate their vows. While God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), He permits it for marital unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:1-8). In God’s grace, He allows men and women whose spouses have been unfaithful to start over.

However, God is in the business of helping couples redeem what many would see as a hopeless situation.  Even when you go through the deepest of pain in your marriage, it is possible to heal and become a whole couple again. This, of course, depends on the willingness of both partners in the couple. This takes time, faith, and a lot of work.

STEP THREE:  If Needed, Protect Yourself and Children

If your relationship is marked by physical abuse, you may find yourself confused, frightened and unsure about what to do. The most important thing you can do right now is take steps to protect yourself and your children from harm. Even if you want to save your marriage, you should not risk the safety of your children or yourself. A period of structured and therapeutic separation may be needed and can make it possible for you to get the help your marriage needs, while making your family less vulnerable.

STEP FOUR:  Seek Guidance – Don’t Go It Alone

Whatever situation you’re in, don’t struggle through a difficult marriage alone. You need the church body like never before – for perspective and advice, counseling and encouragement, and hope for God’s redemption.

Download – Hope for a Difficult Marriage

Influencing Grandchildren

Influencing Grandchildren

Being a grandparent is a wonderful gift. However, grandparents in the 21st century face a mix of new opportunities and challenges. Extended life expectancy has dramatically changed the length and look of the empty nest years. Many grandparents now have greater opportunities for work and travel. Tight-knit family relationships have increasingly given way to family members spread over wide geographic distances. Some grandparents face the challenge of getting time with grandchildren because of divorce. A growing number of grandparents have watched circumstances drive them to take primary responsibility for raising their grandchildren.  In this context, it’s become less clear what role grandparents can best play. Are they just a good source for gifts and free babysitting?  What’s the most important thing a grandparent can do?

STEP ONE:  Be there for them

A grandparent’s first priority is to “be there”… one way or another. For the active grandparents whom the Wall Street Journal has described as having a full slate of work and travel, it – and knowing how critical your presence is. For others, “being there” means taking on the challenge posed by miles or strained relationships that might be keeping you from your grandchildren. Technology solutions such as video chatting have helped some grandparents close the gap.

Being there gives you the opportunity to show the kind of unconditional love that even parents can struggle to maintain on a consistent basis. It gives you a chance to tell the family story – the people, places and plot twists that have made your family distinct. Being there also allows you to teach things that parents may not have found time for – how to skip a rock, how to build and fly a kite, how to make fudge, and other priceless lessons.

STEP TWO:  Nurture their faith

Most importantly, being there and making memories with your grandchildren gives you the opportunity to impress your faith on them. Psalm 78 presents a concept of extended spiritual heritage: He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. (Psalm 78:5-7)

Nothing you can give as a grandparent is more valuable than your spiritual legacy. Your gifts, time, games, food, and other contributions find their primary value when they are offered in the context of a spiritual heritage.  So be very intentional about creating opportunities to nurture faith during the years your grandchildren are receptive to your influence. 

Download – Influencing Grandchildren

Intentional Parenting

Intentional Parenting

Every believing parent hopes his or her child will embrace the faith and grow deep spiritual roots.  But studies tell us that over half of those growing up in Christian homes will back away from Christian commitment by the time they leave the teen years.   Too often, parents “outsource” the spiritual formation of their children to the church.  And while a good church is very important, God designed the family to be the primary place where faith is nurtured.  So, parents need to understand four principles that can help them become more intentional about their child’s faith. 

THE LEGACY PRINCIPLE

The scriptures tell us that what we do today directly influences the multi-generational cycle of family traits, beliefs and actions – for good or bad. (Exodus 20:5-6, Psalm 78:5-8) So, passing a strong faith to our children begins by having a strong faith ourselves – and modeling the gospel in our marriages, and in how we relate to those closest to us.  Some of us need to break negative cycles that may have started with our own upbringing in order to launch a new, improved legacy for the next generation.      

THE LIKELIHOOD PRINCIPLE

The good news is this: in the context of healthy relationships, children tend to embrace the values of their parents.  Proverbs 22:6 tells us that when children learn right from wrong at home under the nurturing, loving training of parents, they tend to adopt mom and dad’s beliefs.  While there are no guarantees, because every child has a free will, kids are far more likely to embrace their parent’s faith if they enjoy their parent’s company!  That’s a big part of the reason parents are warned not to “provoke your children to wrath” but rather “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)  Bottom line – a strong relationship with mom and dad is key to a strong Christian faith. 

THE LENSES PRINCIPLE

Our children are growing up in a culture that bombards them with lies.  An hour or two per week at church is no match for the hundreds of hours spent with media, school, and friends.  Nor can it compete with a child’s fallen nature that often wants to rebel against what is good, true and beautiful.  It is the job of parents to equip children with the corrective “lenses” of truth, so they can better navigate the deceptive roads of life.    

THE LEARNING PRINCIPLE 

Our children can only learn what we teach them in a manner that will reach them.  In other words, we need to vary our approach based upon their unique personality, learning style, and most importantly, stage of development.  Children fall into one of three stages that should guide the methods we choose for discussing our faith and values at home.

The Imprint Period (toddler to about age seven)
Small children are all ears.  They will believe it because mom or dad said it.  Young children soak in what we tell them – so this is an ideal season for teaching them basic Bible stories, memorization, and other building block truths of Christianity.

The Impression Period (about age eight to early teen)
During this season, children no longer accept what we say at face value.  They may question us, push back, or even argue.  During this season, children do need to know what we believe.  But they also need help understanding the rationale behind those beliefs.  While more work, this is a positive part of their faith development because it means they have grown past blind acceptance and are ready for deeper understanding.    

The Coaching Period (early teen to young adult)
Our job changes when the kids enter the coaching period.  We can motivate, encourage, challenge, and advise.  We can’t force feed.  We can help them clearly articulate what they believe, challenge their thinking, and remind them of the “basics” learned during the “practices” of the imprint and impression years.  We can provide a safe environment to wrestle with, even question, the values they’ve learned.  Maintaining a strong relationship and frequent dialogue are the key to your influence now.        

In light of these realities, parents can become intentional about creating and capturing opportunities to nurture the roots of faith in their children.

Download – Intentional Parenting

Introducing Your Child to Christ

Introducing Your Child to Christ

As you care for your child’s daily needs and work to prepare him or her for success in life, there’s nothing more important than caring for their spiritual needs – and helping them become rooted in the faith and prepared for eternity. It’s likely that you are reading this because, like many parents, you don’t know quite how (or when) to go about introducing your child to Christ. Parents who worry that they don’t have the training or understanding to lead their children to salvation may be tempted to just leave it to the “professionals” – to rely on people at church or ministry events. That’s understandable, but God has given you the most important and most influential role when it comes to influencing your child’s journey of faith. All it takes is a little training for you to feel more comfortable about the “when” and “how” of introducing them to Christ.

STEP ONE: Lay a foundation

A child’s decision to follow Jesus is rarely a one-stop process. Your son or daughter grows in their understanding of God by developing a foundation (hearing the stories of the Bible, singing about Jesus, going to church and Sunday school) as well as experiencing life in your home (watching your example, feeling your love, and learning right from wrong). These two ways of learning work best when they are connected in your home and integrated into your family life. We see it in Deuteronomy: These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

STEP TWO:  Discern readiness

Do your best to discern when your child is mature enough to put the pieces together.  Avoid the temptation to push him or her too fast, making sure they are ready and can understand the gospel.  If you’ve been diligent in sharing your faith with your child and making your relationship with God a visible part of your life, it will be a natural progression for your child to want to know more.  Listen to questions and answer them honestly.   

STEP THREE:  Guide your child in prayer for salvation

Romans 10 tells us, …if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10). If you sense your child has a basic understanding of this and what it means to accept God’s gift of salvation and His Lordship, then you can guide your child to pray along those lines. Instead of quoting specific words for your child to repeat, it’s best to prompt them to use their own words to tell God they are sorry for their sins, to ask for His forgiveness, and to ask Him to be Lord over the rest of their life.

STEP FOUR:  Next Steps

Continue to help your child to grow in his or her faith.  It’s important to stay involved or get more involved in church activities, worship, read the Bible, and pray regularly as a family and in their own personal lives. Find a way to document and celebrate any moments of decision that your child makes to follow Christ.  You might record a date or prayer in a Bible and sign it together.  Share the news with family, friends, and church leaders.  Most importantly, encourage your child in these four areas:  Bible study, worship attendance, prayer, and service to others.  How does this happen?

By modeling how to study, worship, pray and serve.  A child who observes a respected adult engaging in these activities will be more inclined to do likewise.  You are your child’s best role model.     

Download – Introducing Your Child to Christ

Launching Young Adults

Launching Young Adults

After years of saying, “When I grow up, I’m gonna be…” there comes a point in which your children start going through the steps of actually making it happen.  18 to 26 is a time when young people transition from adolescence to adulthood.  We’ve all heard the phrase “failure to launch” describing young men and women who don’t make that transition for one reason or another.  How can you be intentional about successfully launching your older children?

STEP ONE: Be a good coach

As the parent of a teen on the verge of adulthood, you are in the prime of the coaching years.  You can motivate, challenge, encourage, and advise, but you can’t force feed. You can help your son or daughter articulate what they believe, challenge their thinking, remind them of the “basics” they learned during their earlier years, but the time has come for them to truly own their beliefs. Through that process, you can provide a safe environment to wrestle with and even question the values they learned as children. The key to your influence at this point is in maintaining a strong relationship and frequent, open dialogue.        

STEP TWO:  Give perspective amid their big questions

Making the transition into adulthood, your son or daughter will face big questions like: What kind of work should I do? Where should I live? What should I do with my life? The most important thing you can do during this season is to direct them back to overarching Biblical principles and help them stay firmly planted on the foundation of our faith. Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

In the midst of the practical advice parents may offer on setting goals, choosing a job, finding a spouse and so forth, we must also elevate God’s principles such as:

  • Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1)
  • Lose your life to find it. (Luke 9:23-24)
  • Number your days aright. (Psalm 90:12)
  • Seek first the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33)

STEP THREE: Give a vision for marriage and family

Parents today often go to extremes to help their children get ready for college and the workforce, but don’t know exactly what they can do when it comes to preparing them for the more important work of marriage and family. We sometimes overlook how much marriage and family serve as the organizing structure of life and the prime arena for our spiritual development. Actively modeling a Christian family is the foundation, and daily prayer for your child’s future spouse and children is an important commitment. But our highly sexualized and anti-marriage culture also makes it essential that you provide guidance and oversight to help your children form strong families as a key emphasis of their launch into adulthood.

Download – Launching Young Adults

Married to an Unbelieving Spouse

Married to an Unbelieving Spouse

Growing in intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is a source of great joy.  But it also can be a source of conflict when your spouse doesn’t share your commitment to Christ. It makes it more difficult to face life challenges, to make important decisions, and even to grow in your faith when you are not both centering your life on God’s will. Even when your spouse is basically a good person, the disconnect of not sharing faith in Christ, or worrying about where your spouse will go after death, can hurt your relationship. It’s even worse if your spouse is hostile to your faith. How can you honor God when your spouse doesn’t? And is there anything you can do to help your spouse become a believer?

Be with believers but not too much

Christianity is a group faith – something to be lived out among a community of believers. As a body of people following Christ, we give and receive fellowship, comfort, and encouragement. You need that community of believers, especially others who are following Christ alone in their marriages.  But your spouse needs you as well. God designed marriage to be a source of mutual support. You are accountable to the vows you made to your spouse even if he or she is not a believer. To honor both your marital vows and your place in the body of believers, you should commit to regular church involvement that still leaves time for your marriage. There’s a better chance your spouse will come to faith if you make time to go to church and he/she sees that God now has priority in your life and has changed you.  But if you join every Bible study and volunteer for a broad range of extra activities, it can give the signal that you are no longer committed to meeting the needs of your spouse – especially if you’re doing those things to keep yourself occupied apart from your spouse.

Let your actions be your witness

If you are a spouse who is balancing your involvement in a body of believers with your involvement in your marriage, what can you say to help your spouse become a believer? Not a whole lot. What really influences more than your words are your actions. To wives of unbelievers, the Apostle Peter said,  Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Peter 3:1, 2)  No amount of nagging or persuading can motivate an unbelieving spouse toward faith. It might even drive him or her further away. The best draw will be seeing you live out your faith by showing respect and loving care like never seen before. It won’t be easy and there’s no guarantee tit will generate an immediate response. But if you choose to love your spouse as unto the Lord, regardless of the response, you can leave the rest up to God, knowing you were faithful.

Maintain a hopeful perspective

When you are growing within a body of believers and faithfully seeking to serve and esteem your spouse, you can be hopeful. You can’t control the timing, but you can believe God is able to use your commitment to win over even the most reluctant spouse. 

Download – Married to an Unbelieving Spouse

Military Deployment

Military Deployment

Deployment is tough on the entire family even in the best of circumstances.  Hardship is part of what makes the sacrifice of armed services members and their families such an honorable calling.  But a military family can stay connected to each other before, during, and after deployment.

PHASE 1: Pre-Deployment (Create)

From the moment those ominous orders are received, a flood of anxiety, grief and fear is likely to flow. Don’t ignore these feelings.  Acknowledge and talk about them openly with each other and with the children. Guide them through the process of writing down the biggest concerns and then commit to pray for one another throughout the deployment.

Before deployment create a “Deployment Book” to store any memories that happen throughout the separation. Come up with specific strategies for staying connected with your children (i.e. writing letters, Skype, and pre-recorded Bible readings). Come up with a mutually agreed upon plan for marital intimacy (i.e. Skype dates, read and discuss the same daily devotional, and plan creative alternatives to physical intimacy).  Most importantly, resolve any tensions in your relationship.  Prolonged separation can make marital problems worse and create greater vulnerability to temptation while apart.

PHASE 2: Deployment (Connect)

Deployment brings big changes for the family.  Your spouse must carry the load at home in a “man down” situation.  The burden of responsibility has just increased dramatically, and life doesn’t slow down to let them catch up. Connection is key at this point. Follow through with any plans you created during the pre-deployment phase or create a plan now. The spouse at home may feel less comfortable in the same church community settings now that the spouse is away. That’s okay. At the same time, resist the urge to withdraw.  Give fellow believers the blessing of serving you and your heroic spouse, something they can only do if they know specifics.  Maintain a list of practical “helps” that you can share in response to the vague offer “If there is anything I can do, don’t hesitate to ask.”

PHASE 3: Returning Home (Communicate)

This phase usually starts off with a burst of excitement and energy, as the spouse returns from deployment. But when the dust settles, it becomes clear that things have changed. The hole left by the absent service member has been filled by necessity and survival for the remaining family members. This phenomenon can lead to marital tension as couples try to re-establish their “normal life” roles. Communication is the key during this phase. Share and listen. Be open with each other.  Re-establish regular date nights and family nights. Pray with and for each other, often.

Deployments are difficult.  But they do not have to permanently scar relationships or family life dynamics. In fact, in many cases it can strengthen them if the couple chooses to be intentional up front.

Download- Military Deployment

Preparing for Baby’s Arrival

Preparing for Baby’s Arrival

Congratulations on the exciting stage of life you’ve entered. Whether you’ve recently had a new baby or you’re counting down to a due date, you’ve likely noticed that parenthood is an entirely different world. In the midst of all the joy and anticipation comes a whole new level of stretching and character development. You may be wondering if life will ever be the same. In many ways it won’t.  So, become intentional about this season by preparing yourself to take three important steps for the transition to parenthood.

STEP ONE:  Buckle up

As new parents, you’ve strapped yourself into a roller coaster of adventure – with highs you could have never imagined and lows that can push you to discover abilities and courage you didn’t know you had. Along with God’s blessing of children comes His calling for you to lay your life down for your child. (Philippians 2:3-11) Things you once took for granted – like sleep, eating a warm meal, or a spontaneous getaway with your spouse – are now things you will often sacrifice.  While your friends without children sleep in on Saturday morning or hang out at the local Starbucks, you will be experiencing a far different joy.

STEP TWO:  Give Up

When you give sacrificially as parents, you probably won’t get the same kudos you’d get in the workplace, or even the same recognition you would have given each other for similar efforts before the kids arrived. You’re moving into a time of life where such sacrificial giving is just something you have to do often and without expecting much fanfare. But it’s in this aspect of your new mission – losing your life – that you find your life. (Matthew 16:24-25)  It’s here that you develop “servant muscles” through the ongoing exercise of selfless giving. You’ll also find that parenting is an arena for Christian discipleship with a “dailyness” and intensity like none other.

STEP THREE:  Team Up

A couple entering into the journey of parenthood usually discovers a sense of purpose and shared accomplishment that can push their relationship into greater joy. But they can simultaneously drive each other crazy. Adjusting to less sleep, sex, money, and time for each other can be a blow to marital satisfaction. Worse still, couples that need each other the most often find themselves taking their frustration out on the only other adult in the house. Your marriage can survive this adjustment and you can experience the joy of parenting if you choose to be a team – if you lay your lives down for each other (Ephesians 5:22-33) and give each other an extra measure of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) and grace. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

STEP FOUR: Pray

There is no greater gift to offer your child than your dedicated prayer for them. Prayer is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

Download – Preparing for Baby’s Arrival

Preparing Your Child for Adolescence

Preparing Your Child for Adolescence

You have the opportunity – before the cataclysmic transition from childhood to adulthood begins – intentionally navigate your son or daughter through that change in a proactive and positive way. “Enjoy ‘em now, because they’ll drive you crazy when they’re teenagers!” That’s the warning parents of pre-teens often hear. The implication: the teen years will be excruciatingly, unavoidably rough for everyone concerned. Obviously, you and your pre-teen are in for a lot of change, but turmoil isn’t inevitable.

The best way to prepare your child for adolescence is for you to set the stage for a parent and child to spend time together, dedicated to giving their pre-adolescent the framework for what’s coming. The best hope for a good outcome is when you – the parent – are the one to explain what it means and how to make the most of this vital time in life. Here’s a quick guide to the when, what, and how of that time together:

When: Often parents are concerned that they will overwhelm their pre-teen or encourage premature curiosity if they jump the gun in preparing them for adolescence.  A greater concern, however, is the likelihood that someone else will beat you to it. Children are typically ready before their parents are. Doctors report puberty starting as early as age 9 among some girls, and the average age for first exposure to pornography among boys is around the same age. Of course, not all children are the same. That’s why it’s important to spend time with your pre-teen, getting a sense of where they are developmentally, and to make the timing of your conversations a matter of prayer. Generally, your prime opportunity will fall somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12.

What: In your conversation about the years ahead, you should plan to address the many areas of change your son or daughter will encounter during their transition to adulthood – in their body, their decision-making, and their relationship with you.

Body: It’s important to frame the physical changes ahead as much more than a plea for sexual abstinence. Your son or daughter needs a vision for how the internal and external changes ahead are preparing them for the joys of marriage and the miracle of creating new life.

Decision-making: Increasingly, your child will have to make and assume the responsibilities for his or her decisions. As you maintain your overall family values in media choices, individual responsibilities (chores, homework, etc.), and alcohol/drug use, you also need to direct your son or daughter in how to make good decisions for themselves. The first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs can be a helpful guide for teens learning to discern between wisdom and folly.

Relationship to you: Helping your son or daughter understand and embrace the changes in his or her body while challenging them to bear the responsibility of decision making will be different from the role you’ve played before. Instead of communicating like a teacher who teaches the right answer, you should explain to your pre-teen that over the next decade your role will be progressively changing to that of a coach who is there to guide them in their transition into independent development.

How: Find ways to be intentional in your efforts to have conversations with your child.

Download – Preparing Your Child for Adolescence

Raising a Child with Special Needs

Raising a Child with Special Needs

Only those with first-hand experience truly understand the blessing and challenges of raising a child with special needs.  Parenting is hard work under the best of circumstances.  When you add managing the needs of a child with physical or mental disabilities it can bring a whole new level of physical and emotional stress for parents.  But it also brings a level of joy others rarely comprehend.  Whether you have just recently received a troubling diagnosis, are moving into a new stage of care, or have just started attending this church, we want to be a source of encouragement and hope as you fulfill your calling to parent a child with special needs.  We believe every child is a gift from God made in His image and reflecting His dignity.  We also consider those caring for children with special needs worthy of special honor and support.  To become intentional about your unique situation, we encourage you to reflect on your blessing, your call and your challenge.

YOUR BLESSING:  A special connection

Those nurturing a child with special needs often encounter the heart of God in ways that can only be described as a spiritual mystery.  While these children may be unable to participate in certain physical and/or academic pursuits, they can thrive in the most important arena of life – the spirit.  Even those who can’t understand the written word of God embody what it means to love and be loved as one totally dependent upon the Giver and Sustainer of life.  And those honored to serve these children are given a unique connection with the God whose image they bear – seen in a gazing smile, a shrieking laugh, or an unspoken moment of delight that proclaims to all “the refreshing water of God’s joy is available to us all.”

YOUR CALL:  Laying down your life

You have one of the most difficult yet vital callings in the kingdom of God.  How can you maintain the ongoing energy and passion needed to parent a child with special needs?

There’s no other way to do it than to daily embrace the call to lay down your life. Philippians 2 says:   Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

All Christian parents are called to mirror Jesus by taking on “the very nature of a servant” at home.  But it is especially real in the midst of the never-ending sacrifices demanded of those caring for special needs. Even if those around you never understand the load you bear, you play a part that is immensely important from God’s perspective and is credited as serving Christ himself. (Matthew 25:40)

YOUR CHALLENGE:  Finding support and replenishment

Whether your child has mild or severe needs, you require replenishment in order to stay faithful and avoid burnout. You need practical help and spiritual nourishment. Stephen Covey talks about the importance of “sharpening the saw” – of prioritizing physical, emotional and spiritual restoration so that your efforts can be fueled with new strength and purpose. Following that advice is an extra challenge for you – but even more essential. You and your child need periodic breaks.  Find a place and people who can understand you and your child’s needs.

Download – Raising a Child with Special Needs

Raising Children Alone

Raising Children Alone

One of life’s greatest blessings and sources of joy is being called somebody’s parent.  If you find yourself raising children alone, you know better than anyone else that parenting is a job meant for two.  Few understand the loneliness and emotional hurt many single parents carry or how exhausting the role can be.  So, how can you be hopeful and experience joyful success as a parent despite more challenging circumstances?

PRIORITY ONE:  Keep your child’s best in mind    

Every parent is called to lay aside his or her own interests for the children. That calling takes extra commitment when you’re going it alone. You may still be working through the painful circumstances that led to becoming a solo parent, or dealing with an ex-spouse who is a negative influence on the children, or who tries to turn them against you to cause even more pain.

Regardless of the emotions your specific circumstances may be causing, you are called to place your child’s needs above your own. Give them as much stability and nurturing as possible within your limitations – even when they don’t seem to appreciate the sacrifice you’re making. Be assured, the Lord receives your selfless caring as an act of worship to Him because it reflects the spirit of Christ who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:7)

Being a servant includes doing your best to maintain a Christ-like attitude when you go through the headaches of court appointments, seeing your ex with a new romantic interest, juggling financial challenges, maintaining a home, or having people ask awkward questions about your family.

Putting your children first is also a priority if you don’t have custody – if you are limited to small windows of time together. Those times are your opportunity to show love and influence and not to get caught up in disagreements over parenting differences.  In your visitation, in your support, and all other connections, your first priority is serving the needs of your children.

PRIORITY TWO:  Choose good relationships

Few people understand the load you carry. You’re likely to be under stress with extra work and the constant demands of parenting. You want healthy Christian friendships that can help you face this emotional maze and make wise decisions through it all. You need to be a part of a community of believers committed to forgiveness, redemption, and growth.  Your children also need the support and modeling of other Christians. God can make your next chapter better than the last.

It is also necessary to realize that your stress and your loneliness and desire to be loved can lead you toward relationships with the opposite sex that may be harmful, only adding to the uncertainty and anxiety.  If you are not ready to marry, be very cautious about dating during this season of life.

PRIORITY THREE:  Become intentional

Be careful not to see yourself as a “second class” parent. Raising children alone is harder, but the goal is the same for you as it is for two parent families – to nurture Christian faith and values in your children. That means becoming intentional about building a strong relationship, modeling Godly character, and creating occasions for meaningful interaction about life’s most important truths. Remember, it is no accident that God gave you the blessing of children. He also is eager to give you the grace to be the parent they need.

Download – Raising Children Alone

Single – Should You Pursue Marriage?

Single – Should You Pursue Marriage?

As an unmarried person, you have distinct opportunities to grow in your faith and to make a substantial contribution to the kingdom. In fact, the season you’re in has the potential to be the most formative period of your life. How can you best honor God in this time? Many Christians wonder if they should move toward marriage or embrace the kind of single life the apostle Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 7.  In order to evaluate your situation, ask yourself two questions:  

QUESTION ONE:  Have I been stalled?

Popular American culture tends to discourage marriage – implying people can live a more exciting, fulfilling life by remaining unmarried. Even Christians with the best intentions often drift into a single lifestyle marked by recreational relationships, hyperindividualism, consumption and leisure. Following this cultural path, it’s no surprise some Christian singles find their lives stalling out to loneliness, a series of broken relationships, and a general lack of purpose.  Those who find themselves in this cycle need to pause and reflect on how to become intentional rather than passive with regard to the single life.

 QUESTION TWO:  To what am I called? 

In the scriptures, God calls adults to follow one of two callings – either a path to marriage or a life of celibate service. (Genesis 2, 1 Corinthians 7) The best way to honor God in your singleness is to be intentionally set apart for His purposes, recognizing that His call to both marriage and singleness is much different from the popular single culture because it includes a commitment to absolute purity, active engagement in Christian community, and faithful stewardship of your talents and resources. 

Singles who cultivate such qualities find it easier to discern if God is calling them to biblical marriage or celibate service.   

Celibate Service – Celibacy means sacrificing the companionship of marriage, the pleasures of sex and the blessing of children for part of, or your entire life, without being bitter about it. It is not a “consolation prize” for those who haven’t yet found a spouse – but a purposeful life devoted to serving others as worship and “being Jesus” to others. In that context, serving God in celibacy makes full engagement in the body of Christ – giving and receiving fellowship – vitally important. 

Marriage and Family – Singles who don’t feel called to celibacy should pursue marriage with hopeful preparation. While one may not know how or when they will marry, they can become intentional about eliminating roadblocks. They can remain faithful in purity, stewardship and community. They can also take initiative and pray purposefully for a good marriage despite living in a culture that dishonors marriage.  

 Whatever the circumstances of your life, you can find purpose and fulfillment as you break away from a stalled culture and honor God in hopeful pursuit of either celibate service or a God-honoring marriage. 

Download – Single – Should I Pursue Marriage  

Successfully Blending Families

Successfully Blending Families

Did you ever notice how The Brady Bunch got just about all their stepfamily challenges worked out in the first episode?  Any home in which at least one spouse brings children from a prior relationship knows that it is much harder in real life than it was for the Brady family.  That’s why blended families need to add an extra measure of intentionality, including several important steps.    

STEP ONE:  Recognize a Higher Calling 

Even though blended families are becoming a more common family structure, making them work well remains a real challenge due to the extra logistics and emotional landmines that are part of merging two homes into one.  The additional challenges you face in building a strong marriage and family make following Jesus’ example of laying down your life for others even more essential. That calling is clear in the letter Paul wrote to the Philippians: Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:4-7)

Regardless of your circumstances – whether your new family was the result of a death, divorce, or some painful choices – you are called to lay aside your own interests in order to serve those God has placed in your home. (Matthew 16:24-25)

STEP TWO:  Focus on the Children 

Various family experts stress that strong families start with strong marriages – as the relational health of the couple goes, so goes that of the children. That’s not necessarily the priority, however, with blended families. Couples must invest in the children they’ve brought together in order to be able to experience a growing marriage. This is especially true in the area of establishing authority. Children need parents to exercise legitimate authority over them. Unfortunately, children often see the authority exercised by non-biological parents as illegitimate. When this becomes evident, stepparents are tempted to either bulldoze their way to authority or just leave most of the work to the biological parent. Either of these options leads to greater stress. Non-biological parents still need to exercise an appropriate measure of authority – but they do need to earn respect, not just demand it. Ask the Lord to give you an extra measure of patience and humility in dealing with stepchildren – especially when you know they have experienced the pain of divorcing parents or the grief of a deceased parent, which can cause long-term emotional trauma.

STEP THREE:  Allow God to redeem your story 

In Joel 2:25, God says, I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” Every stepfamily brings with it the hope for a redeemed life story – the hope that difficult chapters of the past can be followed by better days. Stepfamilies quickly learn that better days don’t appear magically. As they submit to God’s calling and trust His ability to write their stories, however, they find He is still able to make all things new. 

Download – Successfully Blending Families

The Empty Nest Years

The Empty Nest Years

Achieving the long-term goal of raising and then launching a child (or children) is one of those milestones in life that can lead to surprising emotions. One day you might feel relieved to catch your breath after such an intense marathon, and then the next day you miss the busyness – especially the ever-present relationships that went with it. Whether you are approaching, just hitting, or deep into the empty nest season, you are likely experiencing a range of feelings that can leave you asking yourself, “What next?” This would be a great time to take steps toward rediscovery in your life.

STEP ONE:  Rediscover your mission

Psalm 90 gives empty nesters a sober reminder of the passage of time, but also a wise prayer for the Lord to “teach us to number our days aright” and to “establish the work of our hands.”  A major segment of your life up to this point has been committed to serving and guiding your children. That faithful and daily focus on individuals within your home has been preparing you for broader service. In I Timothy 3:5 Paul asks the question, If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? Another way to see that passage is that those who have managed their families have learned a couple of things about how to care for God’s church – how to love, forgive, guide, lead, and encourage. Such characteristics developed in the last season, as well as the additional time and resources that often come with an empty nest, can equip you for a whole new world of opportunities to fulfill your mission during this exciting season of life.

STEP TWO:  Rediscover your marriage

If your marriage has made it, you may feel like the tsunami of kids that swept in and out has left you needing to rediscover the person to whom you said, “I do” so long ago. Proverbs 5:18-19 says, …may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. After this intense stretch of parenting, how can you find fresh ways to rejoice in the marriage of your youth and to “be ever captivated” by your spouse? You may just need to reintroduce yourself (“Hi, I’m that guy who asked you out a couple of decades ago,” or “I’m that girl you met on the mission trip”) and start rediscovering some of your earlier passions and dreams.

STEP THREE:  Rediscover your children

During earlier parenting stages, you had some fairly clear lines of authority and control, especially when it came to your house rules. Those lines blur as your children become independent – even if they boomerang back home for a season. Now is the time when your influence is built upon strong relationship rather than direct control. Your efforts will focus on coaching your children into self-sufficiency and into pursuing marriage and building families of their own.  This season requires a lot of trust because “sideline coaching” is all you can offer rather than step-by-step direction.  But this season also gives you – especially as they begin to take ownership of the values you’ve tried to instill (Psalm 78:3-7) – and watch them discover God’s plan for their lives.

Download – The Empty Nest Years

Understanding Grief

Understanding Grief

Nothing hurts like losing someone you love due to death, divorce, or separation. Similar feelings often surface after a major life change such as job loss or a move. The ache inside can feel as if your soul will crush under the weight of a deep, paralyzing sorrow.  You may find yourself asking how a loving God could allow such a painful thing to happen. The dull sadness often bleeds into denial or anger. Grief is unpredictable, affecting each of us in slightly different ways. And while it may not ease the pain, understanding that grief is normal can help us cope a little better when we lose a special person or go through a significant change.

HOW GRIEF FEELS

If you feel like you are losing your grip on reality, you might be a perfectly sane person enduring the confusion of grief. Perhaps you suffer irrational fear, dread or even paranoia. You may feel empty or numb like you are in shock. Grief even causes some people to experience trembling, nausea, breathing difficulty, muscle weakness, loss of appetite or insomnia. Feelings of anger can also surface, even if there is nothing in particular to be angry about. Almost everyone tortures themselves with guilt by asking what they did wrong, how they might have prevented the loss, or some other form of self-condemnation. In short, grief makes us feel like our emotions have gone haywire because, in many ways, they have.  Over time, however, you will regain a measure of equilibrium.

WHY GRIEF HURTS

God gave us the gift of pain so that we can react when something goes wrong. We limp when a leg bone is out of joint to protect us from further damage. In similar manner, losing an important person or going through a significant change can cause our entire system to react as it recognizes that something is wrong. You might say that the confusing emotions and ache in the pit of your soul are part of grief’s “limp.” The longer and more intimate the loss, the more severe your “limp” will be. The severity and length of your pain is a testimony to the value of the person lost or the importance of the situation that changed.

WHAT GRIEF MEANS 

God made us for intimacy and life – not separation and death.  When we grieve, our deepest selves declare that something is wrong with this broken world. Death, divorce and separation were not part of God’s original plan for humanity. Ever since the day mankind left the perfection of paradise we have known something is wrong.  And so, our bodies and emotions react against what should not be.

HOW GRIEF HEALS 

Even though it may not feel like it, grief can be a source of great hope. Your reaction against what is wrong comes from a deep yearning for things to be made right. Loss can open us to ultimate wholeness and restoration. While grieving the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis asked, “What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’ Have they never been to a dentist?” The dentist’s drill, while an instrument of intense pain, ultimately brings health. The drill of grief fosters healing in our lives by raising ultimate issues and eternal questions such as “Who is my true beloved?” and “Where is my real home?” As believers, we know that a much better day is coming when God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes. On that day There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)

CHILDREN AND GRIEF

If you have children impacted by the pain of a death, divorce, separation or change, it is important that you remain attentive to their needs. You are God’s gift to them as they endure a loss that may be beyond comprehension. It is not your role to explain why it has happened. It is your role to be an agent of comfort and grace, allowing them to experience the confusing emotions of grief in the safety of your patient company.

Download – Understanding Grief

When a Child Rejects Your Beliefs

When a Child Rejects Your Beliefs

Every teen and young adult goes through a season when they try to establish their own identity by distancing themselves from their parents’ tastes and preferences.  But what do you do when your son or daughter rejects your faith and embraces beliefs or behaviors that you know could be harmful?

Avoid Blaming Yourself

Rejection brings pain, especially when the son or daughter you’ve poured your life into walks away from everything you care about or transfers their loyalty to a group of strangers.  It is normal to second-guess yourself, wondering what you should have done differently.  But even if you did everything perfectly, your child can choose to rebel.  They may follow the pattern of Adam and Eve who, despite having the only perfect parent and living in paradise, still chose to sin. I reared children and brought them up, God says through the prophet Isaiah, but they have rebelled against me. (Isaiah 1:2b)

Stay Engaged 

You may be thinking “They don’t listen to me. Everything I say seems to make matters worse. What’s the point in trying?”  But don’t throw in the towel.  As far as you are able, stay engaged in relationship.  Stay engaged as much as possible by writing brief cards, calling, sending text messages, etc.  But use words that demonstrate humility and affirmation rather than hurt and judgment.  Your efforts may go unacknowledged for some time, but they still serve as deposits for the future by saying “I will always love you and be here when you are ready.”

Balance Grace and Truth 

The greatest influence you can have on your son or daughter is to reflect both God’s grace and truth (see John 1:14).  It can be difficult modeling both – especially when dealing with prodigal children.

Following God’s model of patient love with His rebellious people, you can show love even when facing rejection.  Ephesians 5:1-2 explains, Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Pray daily that God will use this painful season for good in both your child’s life and your own.

But showing grace does not mean subsidizing a child’s poor choices. Some parents continue to pay all of the child’s bills.  Others go so far as to bail their kids out of trouble, letting them avoid the consequences of their sins.  Sometimes parents must show tough love by allowing the natural fallout of wrong choices to take effect.  Remember the biblical story of the prodigal son.  It was not until the boy became hungry that he “came to his senses” and returned home to ask forgiveness.  Don’t interfere with the events God may use to help your child come to his or her senses.

Parents of prodigal children may experience pain when they read “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn away from it.”  But Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise.  It summarizes a general pattern.  Besides, your child’s story is not over. You have made an impression and laid a foundation.  Your child’s story is not finished yet.  Stay engaged in coming days by balancing grace and truth while anticipating a new chapter in your wayward child’s life.

Download – When a Child Rejects Your Beliefs