The Intentional Family – [an experiment in traditions]

Simple and fun holiday traditions with Bible verse references and family discussion questionsI love traditions. The older I get, the more I see the inevitable. I’m turning into my mother…and my grandmother…and probably some other old lady with a wild chin hair before them. I find myself doing the same things, the same way, year after year. My grandmother always made the same simple stuffing at Thanksgiving. My mother sewed matching clothes for my dolls. Me? I prefer a tradition where everyone helps fold the mountain of laundry but the holiday spirit is pretty weak for that one… so I have a list of other fun and simple holiday traditions to enjoy.

In a life of constant, exhausting (and sometimes unwelcome) change, I need a few steadies in my world. Enter traditions. Old and new, dumb or classy, meaningful and pointless – and combined, the things we do together, intentionally and repeatedly, tell the story of family.

Traditions provide a sense of identity. Traditions teach family values. And traditions create great memories.

One of my favorite traditions is to let my little kids play with a nativity set or even build one. This year my younger kids made a Lego nativity set.  It was pretty amazing. It had a moving star and everything.  Proudly I asked them to tell me about their creation.  “Baby Jesus…angel…manger…Moses and Sarah…”

<Insert sound of record needle being pulled across a vintage vinyl at 165 decibels.>

What? Did you really just say Moses and Sarah? As in THOSE are supposed to be Jesus’ parents?  Oh-no-you-did-not.  I grounded them to their room to pray and lament over their horrible mistake.  And then I flogged myself with a wet kitchen towel for not making sure my kids know the Christmas story.  It’s like I don’t even know the most important birthday in the history of the world…

Which brings me to the most important tradition.  It’s one we simply cannot afford to miss.  No, it’s not decorating the Christmas tree or even sharing a family dinner at Grandma’s house.

The most important thing this season is to point our children to the heart of God and to a deeper understanding of His love for us. Nothing else really matters.

I’ve put together a few holiday traditions and included some family discussion questions and scripture references. If you’re looking for a new twist on familiar activities, check this out.  Strengthen your traditions by rooting them in the truth of God’s Word.  Let me give you an example:

Puzzle Time!
Set out a puzzle between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Encourage family members to stop and work a few pieces throughout the week.  You’ll find interesting conversations occur over 1000 tiny jigsaw pieces.  I like to make a comparison. Ask your family, “Do you ever feel like pieces of your life just don’t fit? Or you can’t figure out what should happen next? Are you ever convinced something is missing?”  Our life is just like this puzzle. It’s full of tiny events that sometimes don’t make sense or seem like a big mistake. Romans 8:28 assures us in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. Just like this puzzle, we can be assured God has a plan for each “piece” of our life.

Tying scripture to traditions this year can be quite easy.  All it takes is a little creative effort. You don’t have to have grand events and spend oodles of time preparing. Start small. Start with one thing. Just start.

Download the list of holiday traditions with scripture reference and discussion questions here





Peer Pressured Moms – [an experiment in same story, different decade]

If you think peer pressure is just for teenagers, think again.

What was once a phrase reserved for children and their friends, is now noodling around in the corners of my self conscience, and taunting me that I’m a periodic victim. In the name of “save the kids,” adults have employed full campaigns to teach our minors how to stand up against peer pressure.  But please. Someone needs to tell me where to sign up for the Peer Pressured Moms course.  I’ll even pay full price.

The closer I get to [inaudible]-ty years old, the more I see it all around me, and in the mirror. Countless times my kids have been audience to my perfectly crafted monologue about standing alone in the crowd…integrity…discipline…yada, yada, yada. But hey mom, you and me? We’re not immune to the clutches of peer pressure either.

Do these sound familiar?

“You’re the ONLY mom who….”
“All the other moms are letting their kids…”
“People think you are so strict…”
“Your advice is life to my soul.”

How do those make you feel?  (I’m over myself so I’ll admit it first), Hearing those statements makes me feel terrible. It makes me want to change my mind, do something that is a bit against what I believe in my heart, and then have the gall to violently defend it when questioned.  Ohmyword. I’m a child. Not much has changed.

But there is hope for people like me (and maybe you.) Many of us need to take our own advice and learn to stand up under the pressure we feel from other parents. I know I think differently than a few parents. If I could live with Charles and Caroline Ingalls, I would.  For those of us who get derailed by the pressure we feel from (perhaps more lenient) parents, here are 4 things we tell our kids that we would do well to hear for ourselves.

  1. Know where you stand on the major topics.

From underage drinking to dating, to hanging out with kids we don’t know, to seeing movies with a questionable message – we must identify in advance,  the boundaries for such things.  It’s hard to say no when you’re put on the spot and eight teenage kids are looking in your eyes, begging you to say yes. However, when we’ve carefully considered the options before we’re faced with a choice, it’s not a matter of making the decision on the spot – it’s a matter of discipline to carry out the decision. Peer pressure happens when we don’t have a clear position.

  1. Separate fact from emotion.

The darling kid looks at you with those if-only-you-had-gotten-me-a-puppy eyes because everyone else gets to __________.  Your love for this kid drowns out all reason because you want to deliver happiness. Our emotions don’t get a vote. We have to look at the facts and make a decision as to what is God’s best for our kids, independent of their happiness.  That is the only reasonable answer to a tough question.  Peer pressure happens when you let your emotions behind the wheel.

  1. Don’t be too quick to give an answer.

This has saved my bacon many times.  When I feel pressured to give a quick answer, I ask for a few minutes to think about it. Warning: This is not popular. But it gives me a chance to be alone and really think through the decision. Once I’ve made up my mind, I don’t waver. Peer pressure happens when we don’t stop to think about the consequences of our choices.

  1. Blame someone else if you have to say NO.

Of course you can’t always blame someone else.  But when I can, I dodge ownership in the decision and let another authority take the heat. Rather than being swayed by someone else’s mom who may have said it was okay, I let the law be the ‘bad guy.’ Underage drinking? Sorry, against the law. Fake ID? Nope, city of Edmond frowns on that. “Experiment with smoking under adult supervision” Forget it. There are many negotiations we don’t even need to have.  Peer pressure happens when we ignore authority.

The social pressure on our children is unbelievable. Our kids experience a lot of peer pressure and as moms, so do we.  If you want to be your child’s best mom, learn to follow the same principles we teach our kids.  It’s okay to say no.

No Other Way – [an experiment in surrender]

It’s likely the last twelve months of my life have been harder than anything I’ve encountered in the last 18 years. I wasn’t sure I would emotionally survive to ever make sense of it. And only now am I beginning to see the beauty in suffering.

It doesn’t matter what my circumstances were. The drudgery of walking through challenging seasons that threaten to destroy our will to keep going is common to all of us. When our life is marked by chaos, trauma, or unforeseen events, and we can barely put one foot in front of the other, it’s not uncommon to want to hide in a closet somewhere until the storm of life passes. But we don’t have that luxury, do we?

A lost job
A life-threatening illness
A wayward child
A broken heart
What is it for you?

I boast of being able to juggle many tasks and roles at once. I generally have a clear plan for achieving my goals and I am rarely caught off guard. That prideful little resume is a recipe for emotional destruction when a series of arduous events is hurled at you. I had become very comfortable with the routine of my life, and quite idolatrous of the absence of heartache. I had forgotten John 16:33 and its reminder that in this life we will have trouble.

When things began to unravel, I felt myself taking a step into hopelessness and despair. I cried. I whined. I reflected. And then I cried more. Father, what are you doing in our family? Why is all this happening? Why does it have to be this hard? There was no answer I could hold on to, just the deafening silence of my perforating soul, drowning in a sea of senselessness. I read God’s Word. I prayed. I did all the right things. And yet I felt God was overlooking me. Have you ever felt like this?

One morning in my quiet time before the Lord, during my daily petition for Him to please show up on my calendar and put things back together, my spiritual ears heard His message. What if there is no other way?

(Picture me with a tiny pinky finger squeaking out whatever had seemingly muffled my hearing.) What if there is no other way? What are you trying to say, Lord? And then I understood.

It had been a long time since I felt this desperate for a work of God. For days and nights, I cried out to the Lord to radically move in the lives of the people I love most, begging Him to do a work so intense in my own heart that I would not, could not, be the same. I had abandoned all the worldly wisdom and just hurled myself at His feet. Desperate.

Suffering has purpose. Desperation has its mission. The hard things are producing a dependency on Him I may not experience in the happy-happy-life-is-easy moments; so suffering somehow becomes worth the tears. Perhaps there is no other way for the Lord to accomplish His purpose in my life – to bring me to Himself, and reveal the depths of His love and faithfulness to me. Maybe there is no other way I would’ve released my grip on the familiar to chase the unexplainable. And if there is no other way, then Lord Jesus, let it be.

You may find yourself in the same place, looking around and waiting for life to make sense. Friend, as followers of Christ, let us be willing to release our grip on things we cannot control, and open our hand to receive – fully and completely – whatever He is doing in us, despite the circumstances. His desire for our good is the only certainty. The chaos around us may not immediately subside, but we can endure hardships with the perspective there may be no other way for Jesus to make us more like Him.

Life Is a Ski Hill – [an experiment in near death]

I am a wife, a mother, a speaker and a writer.  I am not a skier.

This winter was my 14th time to suit up and brave the chair lift moving at approximately 88 mph. On the eve of our adventure I never sleep well.  It’s not from the anticipated excitement, but because I am terribly nervous and tense. I get nauseous, restless and sometimes I give myself an upset stomach just thinking about it.  I’ve been to ski school at least twice and I could probably write a lengthy article about the techniques of proper ski control.  None of that translates into practical application for me. My leg, knees and ankles are uncooperative with the truth in my brain. My body is weak because it hasn’t been trained for this activity.

Getting up the mountain is easy, once I master my illogical fears of the chair lift.  On the 9-minute ride up I watch the skiers below, effortlessly tackling the hard trails.  No one seems to be struggling and no one appears they have been up all night dreading this event. All you can hear is the gentle swoosh, swoosh of their graceful motion down the hill. I envy them.

There is something majestic as the sky meets earth when you’re on top of a mountain.  Breathing in the cool, crisp air and seeing the glory of God displayed in nature, I feel like I can do anything.  It’s possible I can do anything.  Unfortunately, making it down the ski run without crying, falling or saying things I’m not proud of isn’t part of the anything.

What makes a good skier? Preparation and practice, among other skills I don’t possess. (But I do have a new ski jacket so please tell me that counts for something.)

Every run is the same for me.  I look from the top, paralyzed by the knowledge I’ll need to get to the bottom before dark or risk being the subject of a search and rescue mission.  As I inch my way down, traversing the mountain in a calculated, awkward manner, I vow to myself next year will be different. Next year, I tell myself, I will be certain my body is more prepared…stronger leg muscles, more confidence, a better understanding of the terrain.  Next year.

When I finally make it to the SLOW zone, as if the whole experience wasn’t slow enough for me, I breathe a sigh of relief.  It only took me 2 hours to ski a trail that took the rest of my family 10 minutes. (I wish I was exaggerating.)  I look back up the mountain, proud I’m alive to tell about it. I made it, but I am worn and exhausted and have nothing left for another run. If I were more prepared, I could continue to ski, but in my current, unprepared state, I quit.

Our daily grind in this world is not much different.  We face mountains that are too hard to navigate in our own strength. Children, jobs, relationships, etc. can take more energy than we can muster.  However, if we are prepared and practiced in the discipline of walking with Christ, the “trail” won’t overtake us.  His Holy Spirit will give us grace, when we know how to hear Him. My heart’s desire is to face the hurdles of this world with a strong mind, a deep confidence in the sufficiency of Christ and a good understanding of God’s Word.  That’s how I get to the end without being worn.

Friend, it is time to prepare for the days ahead, because life is one big ski hill, full of rough terrain.  With Jesus, we can do it.  But let’s not wait until next year to begin training.

My Experiments