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Meaningful Questions to Ask at the Dinnertable

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I don’t know how things go in your family, but in ours between homework, ministries, meetings, guitar lessons, coffee dates, soccer games and just plain old everyday commitments, it can be stinkin’ hard to connect as a family. When Sam and I were first married we lived on his family farm which meant our lives and meal schedule revolved around the milking schedule. This meant that often times we weren’t eating dinner until nine o’clock and beyond. During this time we got into the nasty habit of eating in front of the TV before crawing into bed. This habit carried into the early years of raising our girls as well when it sounded so much nicer to eat and veg out once my two hooligans were tucked safely into bed and I could just relax. As they have gotten older, though, we realized we were missing valuable time to connect with our kids, sometimes the only time we actually got. We still some weeks only eat together as a family four or five nights out of seven, but that time is still vital for us to be connected in each other’s worlds. When we first started eating as a family I found myself often scolding the girls for fooling around or interrupting while their dad and I were trying to have a conversation, one that often excluded them and was above their comprehension. This was no good.

I searched Pinterest (ever the helpful resource) and find this idea of just adding each other questions during dinner.  I was skeptical, but decided to give it a try.  Two years ago I jotted down some questions and threw them in a jar. They ranged from “if you could be a dog for a day, what would you do?” To “if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?” These questions are great because they help us to dream together and be imaginative. As they have gotten older, though, every once in awhile I will throw in a new one that is more meaningful. I’ve been amazed to hear the answers the girls can come up with. These questions help them think and grow, but they’ve also challenged me as well! So here are a few examples:

1.Who is someone you can encourage tomorrow and how can you do that?

2. Name three things you are thankful for.

3. Name something you love about the person on your left.

4. What is something God has been teaching you.

5. Who is someone we can be praying for?

6. Who is someone you can talk to about Jesus this week?

7. What is something you can rejoice in today?

Then, of course, there are the sillier ones like this:

1. If you could be a zookeeper for the day, what would that look like?

2. Tell us about an embarrassing moment.

3. If you could have anything to eat right now, what would it be?

4. If you could be a polar bear for the day, what would you do?

5. If you could be anything, what would you be and why? (Nora told us one time she’d like to be a unicorn in a uniform, my favorite answer ever!).

Those are just a few of ours. What about you? What questions would you ask? What do you do to connect as a family?? I’d love to know on the comments!:)

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Parenting with Grace

 

 

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“Sorry, Mom. I’m sorry,” Nora must have said it for the umpteenth time just since she got home from school.  This time I caught her in bed combing her hair with a Barbie brush long after she should have been asleep. I didn’t yell at her or even act upset because I wasn’t, I just took it calmly, kissed her forehead, told her I loved her and said goodnight again. Earlier in the day she came to me with that solemn expression on her face and uttered the same words. When I asked her what exactly she was sorry for, she shrugged and said, “I can’t remember,” quite pitifully.

This has become quite an issue in our house. The words “I’m sorry” are slung about so flippantly that it’s as common as saying “hello”. It’s just something that we say.  Some of you might be asking why this is an issue.  Just a couple of years ago I was lamenting about how Nora especially never apologized for anything even when threatened with no ice cream and other such “wise” parenting strategies  until she made things right with the offended party.  She would forego many, many things before her ego would let her admit to any wrongdoing. Now, two years later, I’m wondering how we have gotten here, to the point where the words have become meaningless.

This past year of school both girls have been caught numerous times stealing. They have taken things out of desks, classrooms, and most notoriously out of lunch bags. Their teacher is constantly sending me texts and notes about their deviant behavior. Being that they are in the same class, they give her a run for her money.  Today, when some items from the classroom went missing, suspicion immediately fell upon our girls. Short of shining a light in their faces and poking them with pins, we interrogated them thoroughly, but no one was copping to it. Their teacher texted me well into the evening to find out if I had gotten anywhere with them. Sadly, still, I have not.

Ask me how our day went.

Well, even if you aren’t asking, I’m telling.  They were sent to bed for afternoon naps without books or a movie to watch (yeah-I know-harsh) because they had both talked back to the teacher during the day. When they got up, I got the note about the stolen items. I interrogated and got blank stares and denials, each one throwing the other under the bus. I was calm. I was collected. I was seething internally. Then apology letters needed to be written for talking back. Then came the abundance of tears. For an hour. Letters were done, more texts were sent. I searched backpacks, lunchboxes, jackets, pockets, under the bed, even the booster seats and came up with nothing. Nada. Nil. Zilch. More texts. All the time, the frustration and suspicion are building. I can’t prove it, but even as I write I am sure that one of my girls took the said items and stashed them at the school.

When I tucked the girls into bed tonight, reassuring their teacher again (an incredibly patient woman!) that I would try to get to the bottom of things, I wanted to cry myself as another, “I’m sorry, Mom” was flung my way. The poor child didn’t know what she was sorry for, she just knew I was disappointed and she wanted to make it right.

I have a hard time trusting anyone, not just my girls, who have a reputation for getting into trouble and stealing. I fear I too often live by this creed: “Accuse first, ask questions later.” See, if I just don’t trust them now, then I won’t be disappointed later. Makes sense, right?  So it begs the question-if I don’t trust anyone, will anyone ever be trustworthy? If I always expect my kids are going to be the ones who steal something, will they always be the ones who steal?

These are the questions that keep me up late at night. These are the questions that spill onto my cheeks as I’m hiding in the bathroom with a bar of chocolate. These are the questions that torture me as I look into their faces searching long and hard for some truth.

Recently a very wise friend made this very profound statement: “I have never regretted showing grace, but I have often regretted not showing it.”

Then I remember. It is a taste of sweet freedom, a drink of water in a desert: Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13).

Showing mercy and grace is always better than condemning. With parenting, especially, it’s a difficult balance, because they need to be disciplined in love. My children need to learn that they can’t steal because not only does it harm the ones they are stealing from, but eventually their sins will catch up to them and they will live with the harsh consequences of them. I MUST discipline them because I love them. I must teach them that they can’t choose to harm someone else for their own selfish gain, which will, in the end, end up harming them as well. Still, I can still discipline with grace not judgment, right?

Judgment says, “How dare you?!” where grace says, “I’ve been there.”

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Isn’t it true, though? Isn’t that what, as humans, we are saying when we extend grace? We are releasing them and saying” I’ve been there. I understand. I know the temptations you wrestle with. I get it. I’m here to help.” And in that, we offer them freedom; freedom from guilt, freedom from condemnation, freedom from wrath. Because, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we don’t offer grace aren’t we forgetting the grace we are given each and every day? Aren’t we forgetting the freedom that is so willingly and abundantly given us each moment of each day with each breath that we take? And when we cling to the Truth of grace, the Truth we find in our salvation in Christ, it will truly set us free. (John 8:32)

And if you don’t know Christ as your Savior, if you have never tasted that freedom found in the grace of God alone I encourage you to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the (FREE!) gift of God is eternal life through in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

 

 

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Confessions of a Christ Addict

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“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.”

“Come Thou Fount” was penned in the 1700’s by a young convert to Christ. It is said that Robert Robinson walked away from his faith as the last stanza of this song suggests he feared he would. It is rumored that many years later, while riding on a stagecoach,a traveler with him began singing this song. When asked if he liked her song, he replied, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” It is debated about whether he ever returned to his faith before his death in 1790.

This hymn is one of my absolute favorites. I have the words written on the wall in our dining room. “O to grace, how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be, let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee…” It is one of my favorites because it is often the cry of my own heart.

I stumbled out of bed at 3:30 this morning, careful not to disturb my peacefully sleeping husband or the cat curled at my waist. I woke up in a panic, knowing I needed my “fix”.

Hi. My name is Courtney. I’m a Christ addict. It’s been… Three days since I last read my Bible, gave more than a cursory prayer or applied Scripture to my life.

If this really were some therapy group, I would tell you that I wasn’t a full blown junkie. I’m more of a social Christian, really. I just really go to God when I need a quick fix; a temporary high. Nothing serious.

See, I just need my quick fix every once in awhile. I need it when I’m frustrated with the kids. I throw a prayer toward the ceiling, a brief plea for wisdom, just something to get me through the next hour. I read my bible when I know I have a half hour here or there, but only if my day allows, and even then my mind is wandering about my to-do list. A temporary high, so I can feel good about myself and my “dedication” and have something else to check off my list for the day. I hurl a verse at my girls when convenient, when it helps me make my point to them. A quick fix.

This time of year can be especially distracting for me. Every year, I feel like I’m chasing the white whale of Christmas, the stuff Bing Crosby songs are made of; the charmingly decorated house, filled with Nat King Cole carols, pine scented candles, homemade, personal gifts, a tree sagging with tacky ornaments, gingerbread houses and freshly baked cookies. I am longing for the feeling I had when I was a child, the feeling you only got at Christmas time. I lost it somewhere around age thirteen, when I thought I was obviously too old for such childish behavior and have tried to find it ever since. In my search, I have lost the true joy of Christmas, of everyday, 365 days of the year living, that comes from a true relationship with Christ that satisfies like nothing else in the world. In my search for it, it’s only robbed me if my joy, thankfulness and contentment. It’s made me cranky and discontent, always searching for something better: more Christmas spirit, more Christmas movies, more parties and traditions, more presents to make or buy, more CDs to listen to. I’m always on the hunt, but in my search I’ve only found that Joy is not something that can be bought at Target.

I woke up with the sweat of this verse on my brow: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?”

In my own way, I’ve gained the world. I have this house that may not be a mansion in the Hamptons, but it’s prefect for me, with it’s ornate fireplace, wrap around porch, claw foot tub. I have a cozy, warm bed to crawl into every night next to a faithful, loving, adoring husband that I don’t come close to deserving. I’m the mom of two wild, rambunctious, strong-willed, sweet girls. My husband has a job where I get to work beside him and both do what we love. I have friends and family who love me, somehow. I eat everyday, often more than I should. In worldly possessions, I really lack nothing. Still, what does it profit me, even as a daughter of the one true God, if my life is dedicated to these things rather than to Him?

See, I don’t want to just be a social Christ addict, I want to be a full-blown, all or nothing, go big or go home junkie. I want to be like this pastor we met in NYC who holds bible studies in homeless shelters in the Bronx and hands out care packages to people in AIDS facilities. I want to be bold enough to stand the ridicule he faces when he sings on the subways and ferries in Manhattan, when at times he has been openly mocked, kicked and been threatened bodily harm. He still peaches with boldness, with love and with joy. You see, the thing about pastor Jeff is that he is always smiling. Always. The joy of Christ oozes out of him; it runs through his veins. It is his life blood. I want to be so addicted to Christ that I can be called, as he does himself, “cross-eyed and crazy” for our Savior. I want to be crazy out of my mind, totally hooked and overflowing with a love for God that can never be satisfied, a thirst that can never be quenched; an addiction that always has me on my knees crying out for more. I want to be that kind of Christian. I want to be able to say I am living out I Thessalonians 5:16-18 that says, “Be joyful always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, or Lord.” I want to be able to say:

“Hi. My name is Courtney. It’s been…. Well, I haven’t stopped praying, giving thanks or worshipping Christ…”