How to know when your child’s school is not right

November 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

School is underway, and you’re concerned about your son or daughter. Perhaps you’re seeing failing grades, anxiety over the workload, or spiraling self-esteem. Although kids will feel a full-range of emotions during their school-age years, if your child’s personality and confidence about school teeter toward the worrisome or dangerous, take a closer look into the situation and determine whether or not your child’s school is a good fit.

I have been in this spot several times, which always prompted us to advocate for change within our child’s school or look for better options. I know the nights of sleep you’re losing over this decision, the prayers, and the school visits. Don’t despair—here are a few things to help you narrow your criterion.

Is school the problem?

Truthfully, you may or may not need to change your child’s school. As a teacher and a parent, I’ve researched and experienced firsthand the weighty pros and cons of pulling a child from one school to try another. Here are some things to consider as you determine if your child’s school is a bad fit.

Atmosphere.

School is critical to a student’s development as a person, as well as a learner. Not only is the educational component important, but school provides kids a place to socialize and problem-solve with their peers. It’s where they learn to cave or stand up for values, choices, and injustice. At school, kids compare their beliefs, traditions, and family dynamic to other kids’ families; they make conclusions about their values, relationships, self-worth, and image of success.

An ideal school situation is one that affirms your family values and culture. However, a school that opposes your family values and culture might still not be the wrong choice; you and your child will just need to approach it from a missional, intention perspective, which is actually a Biblical way to live (Matthew 5:13-16).

Don’t jump to conclusions.

A parent’s natural conclusion to an unhappy or unsuccessful student is to find fault with the child, the school, the curriculum, the teachers, or any combination. This is hasty and unwise, and it can often lead to premature decisions about changing schools or imposing punishments. Take each possible factor and ask some important questions. When your child’s behavior and/or personality traits cause concern, stop and ask:

What does your child love?

Is he/she getting that at school? (artistic, conversation, teacher attention, friendships, active learning, etc.)—if none of the things children love to happen during their school day, they are going to be unhappy, angry, or discouraged about school. While we try to help our kids improve in areas that aren’t natural for them, kids must also spend time growing in the areas where they are gifted. Many high schools have honed this aspect of education by providing specialty centers, but as with many specialty requirements, a student’s GPA or teacher recommendations could interfere with gifted students getting in to programs they would actually excel in.

What upsets them?

Nobody likes to fail at something; however, a child who is upset by teachers, grades, or friendships has other issues that should be addressed. Prolonged anger, resentment, worry, fear, and depression point to social issues like bullying, marginalization, betrayal, abuse, or low self-esteem. When these symptoms manifest themselves, seek professional counseling and hold off on making big decisions about your son or daughter’s future.

Who do they talk about?

Do they speak positively about other students and friends? Do they lack respect for teachers and administrators? Are the classes too easy or too hard? Your student’s perspective about his/her school will tell you a lot about how they fit in at school.

In what areas are they improving or succeeding, and how easy is it to develop?

Combined with the previous questions, this question will help you determine if your child’s struggles are scholastic, personal, or both. If your child has always loved math, but now hates math, is doing poorly, or complains about the teacher, you can surmise that he or she has had a miscommunication or personality conflict with the math teacher, which is affecting his/her listening and learning. In the areas of success, determine if they are doing well because the teacher likes them/doesn’t want to grade them down or because they actually have mastered the material. As a tutor, I see large numbers of students who have scored well in school yet lack basic skills. Eventually, a poor grasp of material catches up to students, and they begin failing in subjects they believed they understood. Make sure your student is getting teacher feedback on problems and papers; better yet, read his/her work—is it good, terrible, or overlooked

Life preparation.

Your child’s educational experience is life preparation. You must weigh good and bad influences with your child’s need to grow through hardship and success. Assess the school environment, academic focus (is the focus test scores or learning-based?), classroom size, teaching styles, interaction with students, strength of arts and sciences, variety of extra-curriculars and field trips, demographics, and overall sense of school identity.

Does the school feel like a family? Are teachers and staff interested in assisting your family, or do they expect you to conform to theirs? This will indicate the approach they will take with your child (Romans 12:1-2). Teachers who speak encouragement and support into your child are helpful components in his/her growth. On the other hand, teachers who belittle, ridicule, ignore, or disapprove of your child will sow self-doubt and discouragement into your child’s heart during his/her formative years (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Solving problems.

School environment affects children emotionally, creating either stress or security in their lives. An important part of determining if your child’s school is not a good fit happens when you figure out the overall climate of the school. If high stress occurs because of the overall environment, you could work on improving the school or look for another school. If, however, your child’s stress is associated with a particular class, teacher, or fellow student, that problem can be handled by approaching teachers, administrators, or parents and problem-solving together for the benefit of your child. Stressful situations happen everywhere, so changing schools might not solve the problem in the long run.

As much as possible, teach your kids how to advocate for themselves, how to take responsibility for their own mistakes, and how to assume the best about people (their teachers probably don’t hate them). Parents and kids can both learn a few basic questions to get discussion with teachers or administrators off to a good start:

  • My child has been having difficulty in your class. What have you noticed?
  • How can he improve? What do you suggest?
  • How can I help facilitate improvement? How can I help you as a teacher?
  • How can we work together to increase my child’s success and confidence concerning your class?

Most teachers will attempt to accommodate families who talk like this. In addition to helping solve school-related problems, this approach develops children who can problem-solve relational issues, which is an increasingly neglected characteristic in our media-saturated culture. Because your kids will not grow up to live perfect, stress-free lives, you should never remove a child from an environment simply to avoid problem-solving stressful situations.

Choosing academics.

Academics are naturally an important aspect of a child’s education. Choose a school based on academics, as well as environmental qualities. Investigate schools with multiple levels for learning with as wide an offering as possible, since we never know exactly what skills or deficiencies might surface as our kids age.

We assessed our school and class options for each of our children because they all learned differently and had different temperaments and skills. Make choices based on your kids’ learning styles, interests, and motivation, as well as the practical considerations like location and cost.

If children fail academically, analyze their work ethic, but don’t be afraid to explore other possibilities. Poor grades are not usually evidence of disobedience but rather symptoms of other problems. Follow this procedure to investigate:

  1. How much do you see your child studying and doing homework? What is his work environment like? Remove all distractions.
  2. Does your child ask the teacher questions, stay for tutoring, study with a stellar student, and plan ahead? These are proactive measures that tell you your student is doing his best to improve.
  3. Have you talked with the teacher? What is his/her perspective and solution? If your student is unwilling to take the teacher’s recommendations, find out why.
  4. What is your child’s attitude about his homework and grades? If he is uncaring, resistant, or hostile, he is probably overwhelmed and insecure about his ability to do the work. If it were easy for him, he would just do it (unless there are other emotional issues at play here). Don’t assume he is lazy or stupid. Find out what’s going on in his heart.
  5. Advocate for your child’s needs to his/her teachers and administrators if the problem cannot be solved on your end. Ultimately, you know your child best and know what damages his self-worth and personality. Once you have collected data, professional opinions, done testing when needed, and had discussions with your child, you might consider moving him/her to a school scenario that matches your student better than his/her present situation.

The most important thing.

Ultimately, a child’s heart condition is more important than his/her GPA or college choice. Parents can and should appeal to a child’s heart regardless of his/her school. Always keep in mind the importance of establishing a Godward orientation in your children, teaching that everything they do and say should glorify God and advance His kingdom (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).

Is your school right for your child?

You, as the parent, are the right person to make that call. Whenever we made changes to any of our children’s schooling, we invited our child into the decision through prayer and discussion. We used the discussion as an opportunity to not only better our child’s learning environment, but also to teach him how to participate in his own development. Praying together over it also modeled how to access wisdom and follow God’s will.

And try not to stress over school. Kids are resilient, especially when they have loving, involved parents. Best of all, God uses all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

– cross walk

How to make a bad day better

November 13, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

When was the last time you had a bad day? I bet it wasn’t long ago.

Maybe you had an argument with your spouse first thing in the morning and spilled your coffee on your way out the door. Or you stopped at the grocery store after work and mysteriously lost your cart after you filled it with the items you needed for dinner. You got another cart and filled it again, only to wait 15 minutes in the checkout line with the most problems.

Have you ever wondered how to turn those days around?

Recently, a bad travel day almost undid me. My family and I were moving abroad, so we hauled eight suitcases to the airport. After we stood in line two hours, an unhappy airline agent rejected four of our bags for being overweight. We dragged the offending suitcases to one side and threw away 15 pounds of our belongings. (Believe me, rifling through your underwear in front of strangers makes for a bad day!) Then we waited in line another hour to pass through security before finally grabbing lunch at 4:00 p.m.

You don’t have to travel to have a bad day. Flat tire days, sick kid days, and tense work days happen to all of us.

Bad days happen, but they don’t have to undo us.

No matter how difficult our day, we can always end it on a better note with God. The Examen is a powerful prayer tool to help you find glimmers of God even on your worst days. You might be surprised to learn that it comes from Ignatius of Loyola, who taught his Jesuit followers to look back over each day using five steps.

You don’t have to be a monk to pray like this. Amazingly, this 500-year-old spiritual practice remains relevant today for business executives, housewives, engineers, and students.

5 steps to make a bad day better by ending it on a positive note:

1. Remember God’s presence.

“My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

Even after a trying day, God will quiet your soul as you remember His presence and intentionally seek to enter into it. Remember He’s with you. Invite Him to make Himself present to you.

2. Respond to Him with thanks.

“Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me.” (Psalm 50:23)

Giving thanks gives God glory and helps us look on the bright side of a bad day. What small blessings can you thank God for?

3. Reflect on how God showed Himself to you.

“For God does speak–now one way, now another– though no one perceives it…” (Job 33:14)

God reveals himself through scripture, but we also see glimpses of him in nature, events, and people. Sometimes He shows up loudly through miraculous, divine intervention. Other times He shows Himself quietly through the beauty of a flower or an earnest conversation. During my bad travel day, God showed me His mercy through the kindness of an airline attendant. As you look back over your day, can you identify moments where you sensed God’s revelation or intervention?

4. Repent of your failings.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

I don’t like recognizing my own sin, but repentance is key to continual renewal in our relationship with God. We fail God every day, but bad days have a way of making sin spew out of us. We vent our frustrations. We fret and worry instead of trusting. We open the door to addiction. In the heat of a difficult moment, we react in anger. (You should have heard my husband and I bickering as we went through our suitcases at the airport.)

As you reflect on your day, remember specific points where you failed. Bring your shortcomings before God and ask Him to forgive you.

5. Resolve to grow.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

God is in the business of changing us, so don’t let your failings discourage or define you. His mercies are always new. Accept His forgiveness. Ask Him for grace to change. Is there anything you need to make right or anyone you need to apologize to? What can you do differently tomorrow?

Bad days don’t have to undo us.

We can make even a bad day better when we look for glimpses of God and ways to grow.

The prayer of Examen gives us five steps to process our day. I like praying through these before bedtime to prepare for a good night’s rest, but you don’t have to wait until then. A few minutes of prayer at lunch can press a reset button on your day. Prayer on the way home from work might help you get in a better frame of mind to spend the evening with your family.

Find a time that works for you, but don’t wait for a bad day to try this. The prayer of Examen will also make a good day even better. Practicing this now will equip you to better deal with a difficult day the next time one comes around.

– cross walk

7 questions to ask before posting about politics on social media

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

When you consider how divisive politics can be and how often we say things in the heat of a moment that can influence the way people view Jesus and the Gospel, Christians must spend time in careful thought before they post about politics on social media.

In fact, I would suggest that there are seven questions you should ask yourself before you post about politics or share a link to an article about a political issue.

Engaging with people on social media, particularly about politics, can be tricky. Here are seven questions you should ask yourself before you post about politics or share a link to an article about a political issue.

How can Christians discuss politics on social media in a Godly way?

When you consider how divisive politics can be and how often we say things in the heat of a moment that can influence the way people view Jesus and the Gospel, Christians must spend time in careful thought before they post about politics on social media.

In fact, I would suggest that there are seven questions you should ask yourself before you post about politics or share a link to an article about a political issue.

1. Do I have the correct facts?

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” While King Solomon couldn’t foresee the advent of social media, he knew the human heart. Proverbs 18:2 reminds us of the importance of hearing and understanding a matter before we start talking about it. The more divisive the issue, the more time we need to spend understanding it.

2. Does this need to be said?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Is what you have to say going to bring grace to those who hear it? Will they increase in understanding and gain a greater insight into the Bible’s perspective on this issue? Will your words point them to Christ? Or, is what you are going to say be mere venting? Are you going to bring light, or are you going to bring heat only?

3. Why do I need to be the person to say this?

Let’s pretend that what you want to say about politics on social media should be said. Now you need to consider if you are the right person to say it. Do you have an insight into this issue that you haven’t seen somewhere else, or are you merely repeating an argument you read in another place? Do you have a role or responsibility where people are looking to you for guidance? Why should you be the person to say what you are about to say?

4. Am I saying this in a way that represents Christ?

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” People who have experienced grace should speak in a way that exhibits grace. Often, we post the first thing that comes to our minds about an issue, don’t read it to see how it sounds, and end up bringing shame upon Christ and his church through our hasty speech. Venting opinions that are not thought out and that insult others is a sign of tremendous foolishness, demonstrates a lack of love for our neighbors, and does not bring honor to Jesus.

Before you post something, read it three or four times. Take a screenshot of it and send it to a friend. Is it kind? Is it accurate? Is it designed for the good of others? Will it negatively impact how other people think of Jesus?

5. How could I be misunderstood?

I learned my lesson this past August on Facebook. I posted about what I believed to be Donald Trump’s lack of commitment to pro-life issues and said that it was a terrible mistake to nominate him. Almost immediately, my friends and family perceived that my concerns about Trump were an endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

The lesson I learned from this was that there was nothing to be gained by questioning the decision to nominate Trump, which at this point was in the past. The Presidential contest was primarily between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I failed to think through how people would interpret my concerns about one candidate as an endorsement of the other. My post brought no light or grace to the situation and only brought confusion.

Stop and think before you post. Are you communicating clearly and is there a possible way for a significant number of people to misunderstand you?

6. What are my motives for saying this?

We must be aware of our motives because they will determine what we say, how we say it, when we say it, and how we will respond to people who disagree with us. If our motive is to vent because we are angry, we will speak harshly, rashly, immediately, and eviscerate those who disagree with us. On the other hand, if our motives mirror Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 10:31-32, then we will speak graciously, kindly, thoughtfully, and respond patiently to those who disagree.

7. Can I wait until tomorrow to say this?

When Abraham Lincoln got angry with someone, he would fire off what he called a “hot letter.” He would set aside the letter until his emotions cooled off. Then, he would read the letter with a cool head. He left many letters unsigned and unsent.

While Abraham Lincoln wrote letters instead of posts on social media, his practice provides a worthy example for us today. If your post deals with a particularly sensitive topic, can it wait until tomorrow? If it can wait a day, save it as a draft and revisit it tomorrow. You may find that you read it with fresh eyes and see that you shouldn’t post it. Or you may see that it would be helpful to people and click “post.” Either way, the longer you can wait before inserting yourself into a conversation, the better.

– cross walk

Wasn’t I supposed to be married by now?

June 28, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

It’s fairly common to ask children what they’d like to be when they grow up. I’d imagine most of us can still remember our answers to that question from when we were kids. An astronaut, a cowboy, a princess; when you’re young, no dream is too fantastic. As you grow older though, your goals tend to change shape and become more realistic. Many of us simply dream of getting married, finding a good job, and raising a family in a nice home. Surely that’s not an unreasonable thing to hope for?

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always move in the direction we planned, and for Christians, this can be especially heartbreaking. We’re told that God has a purpose for our lives, one to help us flourish and make us prosper (Psalm 37:18-19). Yet it’s hard to keep faith when the best years of life are behind you, and still there’s no spouse, no children, no home. Calley Sivils found herself contemplating this very subject in a recent article on DesiringGod. Sivils, who had always hoped to get married when she was younger, was troubled by her continued life as a single Christian. In the end, Sivils left her readers with a few important thoughts to consider when waiting on God. Below, you can find her abridged entries as well as some advice from another longtime single believer,

Make God the Treasure and Anchor of Your Life

“While we wait, we will be tempted to envy others. There are many people getting married today that are not following the Lord and have (sometimes flagrantly) disobeyed him in the process. Regardless, if Jesus is our greatest treasure, we do not obey in order to gain a husband or a wife, and we do not groan under the perceived unfairness of unrepentant people getting married.”

“My purity is not for me. My wedding is not for me. Marriage (if it happens for me) will not be for me. All these things are for the Lord and for his glory, not for me so that my life turns out ‘fairly. Instead of praying for fairness in this life, we pray with Jesus, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).”

Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Alone

Truth be told, I think many of us are embarrassed to live a life of singleness. We’re afraid of traveling, or even going to a movie, because these are things traditionally done in pairs. As a result, our day-to-day existence becomes dull as we wait for God to send us someone who will complete us. However, this is not a healthy mindset for believers to have. Before we take on the responsibility of marriage, work, or parenting, we must first cultivate our own courage and faith as individuals.

Our spouses and dreams should not become idols that compete with God. Instead, we should be able to stand as Christians who can live and rejoice in God regardless of our status in life.

Refuse to Settle for Someone Who Does Not Love Jesus

“While we wait, we will be tempted to settle. We should not draw comfort from the assurance that God has someone for each of us to marry. He may not. Even if he doesn’t, or even if that person comes into our lives ten years late (by our schedule), that does not give us the right to rebel, disobey, or run away. None of us is entitled to marriage. I am not entitled to marriage.”

“Our only constraint in seeking a spouse is to marry someone within the body of believers (2 Corinthians 6:14). It’s a simple guideline, and yet so easy to compromise. But if we’re to have marriages that glorify the eternal God at all, we cannot fall into the trap of setting aside faith, and basing our crushes and choices on temporal qualities like physical appearance or material wealth.”

– cross walk

Why I want my children to be raised with a view of the world

June 26, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

Nothing shakes your world like returning from a third world country that is riddled with disease and poverty. Nothing makes you question yourself, your motives, and your own sanity more than trying to blend your old worldview with your new. Nothing makes you want to raise compassionate children like meeting people the world has forgotten.

I have amazing kids. They are sweet and well-behaved (most days), but they are typical American children. They have too much. They want things instantly and easily. They think about themselves first.

They look a lot like their parents.

After returning from my heartbreaking and hopeful trip to Africa, I knew I had to change the way we lived. I wasn’t motivated by guilt; I was moved by compassion. My kids love to play follow the leader. They follow their parents. We’ve just been showing them the American view: bigger houses, nicer cars, more toys, and fitting God into all that stuff.

On a Saturday, I explained to my kids that we would be giving up the occasional house cleaner who made our life easier. I taught them to clean toilets. “Why are we doing this again?” my daughter asked. I pointed to the faces of the four children we were sponsoring through Compassion International, smiling down from their pictures on our refrigerator.

She wiped a strand of hair from her eyes, nodded, and went back to scrubbing. She stopped and said thoughtfully, “Mom, I’d like to fill the front of our refrigerator with pictures of children from all over the world.”

It turns out my children were just waiting for their leaders to show them the world. They love praying for a new country at dinner every night. They can’t wait to write to the kids we sponsor. They understand the choice to buy secondhand clothes and less stuff so that we can make our money matter more.

I thought the changes we made in our home would be hard for my kids. I thought there might be resistance. But they love the view and the pictures on our refrigerator.

“Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

– cross walk

Longing for a father: A story about David Cassidy

June 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

I recently watched a documentary on the life of David Cassidy titled David Cassidy: The Last Session, and let me tell you, it was just absolutely heartbreaking.

To me, the story could be summed up this way: David had a deep longing for a father.

He had one, of course, in Jack Cassidy, who was a Broadway star and celebrity in his own right. But Jack divorced David’s mother, and in many ways, he walked out of his son’s life. For the rest of David’s life, he seemed to live in his father’s shadow.

I can relate, to a certain degree, with the difference being that I never knew my biological father, and I had a string of so-called stepfathers walk in and out of my life. Jack Cassidy, according to David, was also an alcoholic.

Even when David had his all-too-brief interactions with Jack, they never connected on the level David longed for. David was a struggling actor and musician when lightning suddenly struck: he was cast as Keith Partridge on the massive hit TV show The Partridge Family. Ironically, the woman casted as his mother on the show was David’s step-mom, Shirley Jones, who was married to David’s father, Jack.

As David’s stardom was rising, his father’s career was declining. Jealous of his son’s sudden rise, Jack’s pride kept him from having any significant conversations with his son. He couldn’t even bring himself to tell David he was proud of him. Tragically, Jack died one night in a raging fire after falling asleep with a cigarette. And although David had become a global teen heartthrob and had everything the world could offer at his fingertips—money, fame, sold-out stadiums, and adoring fan girls—he was still absolutely devastated and longing for more. His face graced the cover of every teen magazine—not to mention the lunchboxes, comic books, and anything else that could be merchandised. Yet, he still longed for the one thing money and fame couldn’t give him: a deep, meaningful relationship with his father.

At the peak of his fame, David hit rock bottom and wanted out of his hit TV show. He longed to be taken seriously as an artist, but that never actually came to fruition for him. David turned to alcohol, and it left an extremely devastating effect on his health. By 2017, he was in a fast and sharp decline.

His fans became troubled when he could not remember the lyrics to many of his older songs, and it was especially worrisome when he began to slur his words. He was arrested three times for drunk driving, the last two arrests coming within only six months of each other.

Originally thought to have dementia, Cassidy finally admitted all of his issues were actually due to his alcoholism. It was a shocking confession, and the fact is, David had followed in his father’s very footsteps. David Cassidy finally admitted, “There is no sign of my having dementia at this stage of my life. It was complete alcohol poisoning.”

In the documentary David Cassidy: The Last Session, David said, “I did this to myself to cover up the sadness and emptiness.” Cassidy died of liver failure in November of last year.

According to his daughter, David’s last words were, “So much wasted time!” In one of the most poignant scenes from the documentary, David is struggling to finish a vocal for a new project he was working on, called Songs My Father Taught Me. Unable to hit the notes, he asks the producer to play his father’s recorded version of the same song. Breaking out in tears, David cries out, “Dad, I miss you!”

It broke my heart to watch it.

How I wish I could have told David about how I never had a father growing up either. I wish I could have also told him that there is a Father in Heaven who could be the Dad his earthly father never was.

If you are a dad this Father’s Day, make sure you let your son or daughter know that you love them. It really does matter. Even if they are adults, they still long for your approval; they need to hear it. If you are a child estranged from your father, reach out to him today—not because he deserves it necessarily, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Jesus wanted to show us what God in Heaven is like, so he told a story of a boy who ran away from his father and dragged his family name through the mud. The young man finally came to his senses, and reluctantly decided to return home. According to Jesus, when the boy was a long way away, the father ran to his wayward son, threw his arms around him, and welcomed him home. This is how the Father embraces us—without hesitation, without a tally of what we’ve done wrong. His arms are always wide open, waiting to invite us back into fellowship with Him.

Maybe your heart is heavy this Father’s Day because you are estranged from your father, or perhaps your dad has passed on. Remember this: there is a Father in Heaven who loves you. He will welcome you home to a loving relationship with Him. He is always near you, even on days—like today—that may make you feel isolated and alone. Run to His arms.

Accept His open invitation. It made all of the difference in my life, and I know it will do the same for you.

Happy Father’s Day.

– cross walk

Why you must find contentment to be happy

June 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

In her new book, Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want (released October 3), Rachel Cruze spotlights the danger of comparison living. It’s a trap that leads nowhere worth going.

The Cure for Comparisons

Too many people allow cultural expectations—that is, other people—to dictate their own values and family priorities. I’ve been there too. I know it’s an empty and endless battle to try to keep up. You feel like a hamster on a wheel, running as hard and fast as you can and ultimately going nowhere. Doing that for a lifetime will leave you completely exhausted. But your life doesn’t have to look like that. There is hope; there is an antidote. There is one and only one cure to comparison living, and that is contentment.

What Contentment Looks Like

In our book Smart Money Smart Kids, my dad and I make the point that content people don’t always have the best of everything, but they make the best of everything. Contentment isn’t a place you get to financially; it’s a place you get to emotionally and spiritually. It’s a peace in your spirit that knows what you have, no matter how much or how little, is enough. Contentment is the inner determination to be happy and fulfilled wherever you are with whatever you have. The Apostle Paul put it like this: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11 NIV). And, yes, I know this is a lot easier said than done.

I wish I could give you specific steps to take to guarantee your contentment, but I can’t. I will tell you the two big secrets to living a contented life, but before we get there, let’s take a look at what a content person looks like. You may realize that you have some of these people around you already. You may even realize that you are one yourself!

Content People Are Satisfied

Contentment allows you to be in a state of joy and satisfaction. You are happy with where you are in life. That doesn’t mean you don’t have goals for the future or that you aren’t working toward being a better person tomorrow than you are today. It definitely doesn’t mean that you’re stagnant or apathetic, or that you’re choosing to sit around and do nothing new, exciting, and challenging with your life. It just means that you have a peace about your life and a sincere enjoyment about what you have today without basing all your happiness on what you hope to achieve tomorrow.

Since we’re talking about comparisons, I will give you one big tip here: It’s almost impossible to be satisfied with your own life if you’re constantly looking at what someone else has. If you’re struggling to appreciate the blessings in your life and if you’re constantly distracted by the #blessings of other people, it may be time to put some blinders on for a little while.

Shut off the social networks. Stop strolling through the mall. Spend that time and energy focusing on how much you truly have. Look at your family, your friends, your home, your job, and all the things in your life that really matter. Then rejoice in all you have.

– cross walk

10 things to never say to your teen

June 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

One awe-inspiring privilege of parenting teens is you get to see a work of art in progress. You can take part in mentoring a young person as he grows and develops.

God calls us to cherish and encourage our children, yet parenting teens is a hard job; sometimes we experience stress, anger, and frustration. In the heat of a crazy moment, we might say things without thinking that tear our kids down. We need to remember our words hold tremendous power over them.

As I write this article, I realize how many times I’ve said things I shouldn’t to my teens. As you read these words, you may see some things you’ve said too.

Proverbs 12:18 offers us an admonition and a hope: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Here’s one way our words can bring healing: when we say something we shouldn’t, let’s admit it and ask for forgiveness. I’ve discovered this improves my relationship with my kids almost more than anything. Remember that as you read these 10 statements.

1. I don’t have time for you.

Of course, most parents wouldn’t say, “I don’t have time for you” point blank, but let’s think about the message we communicate to our teens when we look at our phones while they’re talking to us, work in the evenings during their free time, or cancel plans we’ve made with them.

Our kids will ask us to take them to the mall, help them with a project, or watch a silly YouTube video. They might ask to talk while we’re on the verge of finishing an important project or falling into bed exhausted at 11:00 p.m. Whenever possible, let’s show interest in them by making time to talk, attend their sports events, or listen to a song together.

An important message our teens need from us is “You’re important to me, and I love spending time with you.”

2. I’m disappointed in you.

Sometimes you’ll feel let down when your teen makes mistakes. However, the words, “I’m disappointed in you” place a heavy burden over our young people’s shoulders because more than anything, they want love and affirmation from us. They need to know we still approve of them as people even though we don’t like what they did.

Here are alternative things to say:

“I wish you hadn’t done that.”
“How do you feel about this?”
“What might have been a better way to handle it?”
“What do you think is a good way forward?”

3. I told you so.

Our kids sometimes ask for advice and then do the opposite of what we recommend. Remember how you did that with your parents? I’d be the first to admit this drives me stark raving mad, but I’m learning to let go of control. Remembering what it was like to be a teen myself helps me be more gracious when my kids apparently need to learn things by making mistakes for themselves.

The words “I told you so” sound just as self-righteous to our kids as they do to us. I’m trying instead to breathe deep, bite my lips, and say, “Hey, I’m sorry about that” when my kids experience negative consequences after throwing my advice out the window.

4. Do you think you are _______ enough for that?

Sometimes our kids will set goals that seem unrealistic, and we want to protect them from disappointment. For example, a young woman who sings beautifully told me she once dreamed of applying to a Fine Arts Conservatory. Yet her father discouraged her by asking, “Do you think your voice is good enough for that?” Years later, she remembers his words and wonders what might have happened if she’d tried. Perhaps her dad could have offered to pay for a few voice lessons instead. She might have gotten accepted, but even if not, today she’d have the memory of her dad’s support.

Ultimately, we have no way of knowing what our teens can accomplish until they try. Let’s seek to help them achieve their goals when they aim high, instead of discouraging them from trying.

5. Have you gained weight?

Teens are ultra-sensitive about their appearance. The simple question “Have you gained weight?” can send a young woman on a spiral of insecurity. She’ll look in the mirror and see 20 pounds more than she actually weighs.

Eating disorders are rampant among teens, especially girls. If you notice your teen gaining weight, you’d be wise to stress exercise and healthy eating without emphasizing the fact that you’ve noticed she’s gained weight.

6. Just trust God.

My kids will tell you I’ve said this. When someone’s going through a hard time, of course we want to encourage them to trust God, but we can’t use these words as a Band-aid to slap on our teens’ hurts and make them go away.

If we say, “Let’s trust God” too soon, before taking time to really listen to their struggles, our kids might feel we think their problems aren’t valid. They may even feel guilty for struggling. Let’s make sure we listen well before attempting to share spiritual truth or encouragement.

7. You’re driving me crazy.

Let’s face it: our kids will drive us crazy. They’ll run out of gas, lose their keys, skip class, take our makeup, wear our clothes, track mud in the house, break the microwave, and spill Coca-Cola all over the carpet. Sometimes the question, “Are you trying to drive me crazy?” comes to mind, followed by “Can’t you do anything right?”

Such questions and statements are better left unsaid. Take a deep breath. Relax. Say things like:

“It was just a mistake.”
“How can we fix this?”
“Could you help?”

8. This is just a phase you’re going through.

My teen daughter finds this phrase exasperating. When older kids are depressed, discouraged, or struggling with school, parents try to help them gain perspective on their problems. We want them to know their problems won’t last forever, but saying “This is just a phase” might communicate that we don’t take them or their challenges seriously.

If your teen tells you He doesn’t believe in God anymore, or he’s decided he’s gay, seek to listen first, show your love for him as a person, and gently communicate your views.

9. Why can’t you be more like your brother?

Any parent with more than one child has no doubt discovered they can be as different from each other as day and night. We need to give our kids the freedom to be themselves without living under the shadow of a sibling. Sometimes we can inadvertently communicate that we’re comparing our kids by saying things like:

“Your sister never did that.”
“Your brother always did his homework on Sundays.”
“You’re the creative one of the family. She’s good with numbers.”

10. Don’t say anything you won’t follow through on.

Our teens need to know they can rely on us, so let’s not say we’ll take them somewhere and then change our minds. We can’t plan a family date and then say yes when our boss or friend proposes an alternate plan. This means looking at our schedules and thinking carefully before committing to something. Of course emergencies can change our plans, but let’s make those the exception rather than the rule.

We want our kids to trust us, so let’s be careful not to say anything we won’t follow through on.

– cross walk

10 ways to deal with difficult co-Workers

Working in a dream environment is a goal for most of us. But when the dream turns into a toxic nightmare, how do we climb out of bed every morning and make ourselves go to work? What are some practical tools we can use in the workforce? And what is the Christian’s responsibility when dealing with difficult co-workers? Here are 10 ways to deal with difficult co-workers.

1. Try to understand what’s happening.

The Native American proverb is still a good principle, “Don’t judge people until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins.”

In today’s work environment, everyone is dealing with some type of stress. A co-worker whose fibromyalgia flares every morning will not be a cheery person. The same goes for a mother whose son is facing prison time or a wife who is struggling to keep her marriage together. A deadly prognosis from the doctor. Depression, mounting debt, a parent with Alzheimer’s disease. All these issues and more can be festering in a nearby cubicle. Try to understand what’s at the root of the difficult relationship.

My experience underscores this principle. A manager piled extra work on me even when I told her I was already overwhelmed. But when I heard about the pressure she was facing from the board of directors, it helped me understand her reaction. By mentally walking in her shoes, I was able to more fully comprehend what was happening and not take it personally.

2. Examine expectations.

Every time we start a new job, we hope it will be a place filled with wonderful people. We want to be appreciated for our work and we want to be an asset to the company. But today’s workforce is not the same as Grandpa’s lifelong job with a pension and faithful friends. Many of us move from job to job, depending on life’s circumstances. Most of us won’t stay in the same office or warehouse for more than five years.

The Pew Research Group reported, “About six-in-ten adults (63%) say the average working person in the U.S. has less job security now than they did 20 or 30 years ago.”

With that type of insecurity hounding us, the workplace is no longer a “family” atmosphere. We cannot expect it to be filled with happy people or contented workers.

3. Reread the original contract.

Another way to underscore our expectations is to check out the original contract we signed. When interviewing for a job, many of us focus on the questions at hand and the bottom line of pay and benefits. Sometimes we need to reread the fine print and remind ourselves what we signed up for. Maybe some of the toxic environment just goes along with the job requirements.

My son accepted a job that required 10-hour days. He knew going in it was going to be tough work, but he liked the place and the pay met his needs.

We cannot defend ourselves with management if the job calls for certain requirements we didn’t expect. Difficult co-workers are unfortunately everywhere. We need to accept that fact and make sure we are part of the solution and not the problem.

4. Humility wins.

The balance between standing up for ourselves and showing humility is a delicate line. But in the long run, we need to ask ourselves, “How can I sleep tonight if I respond to this co-worker with the same bad attitude? What does God require of me in this situation?”

One of my friends worked in a toxic environment for several years. He was treated unfairly by management and assigned a menial job although he had more experience and training than other workers. Yet he showed up at his post day after day because he felt God wanted him to be an example of humility. Eventually, management changed and he was promoted to a higher, more comfortable position.

The biblical example is Joseph, who was mistreated, betrayed, and misunderstood. Yet he humbly continued to serve even while imprisoned. “God granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (Genesis 39:21) and eventually Joseph was released and promoted.

Joseph also knew when to set a boundary and stand up for his rights. “Remember me,” Joseph said to Pharaoh’s cupbearer, “and show me kindness. Mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (Genesis 40:14).

5. Set healthy boundaries.

Even if we understand the motivation of difficult co-workers, we still need to take care of ourselves. If we don’t set limits around our personal space, we can be trounced on or move into co-dependency. No one in today’s workforce should put up with ongoing harassment. A toxic environment quickly affects productivity and efficiency. We can’t do our best work if we’re bombarded by anger, by the fear of losing a job, or by unfair expectations.

In her signature work Codependent No More, Melody Beattie writes, “People who feel responsible for the entire world refuse to take responsibility for leading and living their own lives.”

She goes on to point out how codependents feel better when they can control their entire world, yet they soon reach exhaustion from the effort. We need to love ourselves before we can truly care about others and setting our personal boundaries is the first place to start.

Beattie says, “Your most important and probably most neglected responsibility is to take care of yourself.”

6. Show kindness.

Is there something special you can do for a difficult co-worker? Bring him a specialty coffee from Starbucks. Give her a pretty greeting card with handwritten encouragement. Offer to carpool together to save expenses. Fix his printer when it jams.

On the mission field–yes, even missionaries sometimes struggle to get along–I faced a terrible situation where I was blamed and shamed. Earlier that week, I had received a box of goodies from my family, including several packages of chocolate chips – a luxury in the country where I served.

So I spent several hours one night making baskets of chocolate chip cookies which I delivered to each of my tormentors. It didn’t solve the problem but it was better than wallowing in bitterness. Besides, I make a mean chocolate chip cookie!

7. Check your motivation.

Why are you working at this job? Is it just for the pay and the benefits or do you genuinely love the work? Do you long to climb the corporate ladder and reach the pinnacle where you can be the boss? If so, you’re going to have to step on some ugly rungs on that upward climb.

Or is your motivation more passionate? Are you hoping to impact the world, beginning with the people you work with each week? The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). If we believe God has truly given us this job, it helps us stay motivated to work through whatever problems we face.

Sometimes in life, we have to work with difficult people because they come with the territory. It has helped me to imagine Jesus standing in the next cubicle or angels surrounding me. That visual has helped me to endure some ugliness that I could do nothing to relieve.

8. Stay connected with available resources.

Many corporations have human resources and/or workforce advocates who are available for any type of difficulty. They cannot help you if you don’t let them know the problem. Sometimes this is a sticky wicket, but for the most part, unions and human resources are supposed to help their workers. Sometimes, we just need to state the problem to a supervisor instead of trying to fix it ourselves or swallow our disappointment.

For several years, I worked for an organization that supplied chaplains in the marketplace. When toxic situations occurred, the chaplains were available to pray with employees, to be the friendly hand on the shoulder, and to keep someone from going postal.

Use whatever resources you have available. They should be part of your benefits and you have every right to demand those resources.

9. Pray for them.

It may feel as if you are betraying your authenticity when you truly pray God’s blessings for others, but it does help. Even if your prayers don’t release you from the situation, they can strengthen your resolve “to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

A whispered prayer after an unkind remark can release resentment that might have festered into bitterness. An honest petition to the Holy Spirit to comfort the hardened places in difficult co-workers might become the salve of their salvation. We rarely understand the full scope and power of prayer. What it can accomplish is a mystery. Sometimes just repeating the name, “Jesus,” has helped me past the struggle of the moment.

While raising my son, I used this principle. His biology teacher in junior high was a real piece of work. She seemed to hate her job and took it out on the kids, primarily my son. Although we followed protocol and met with the administrator, nothing improved. Then we started praying for her each night. She never changed, but my son was able to gather enough strength from the prayers to make it through that difficult semester.

10. Resign and start over somewhere else.

With some toxic work environments, the only solution is to pull ourselves out of the situation and start over. It’s not an easy choice. But sometimes just quitting your job becomes the catalyst for a start over in life.

Last year, I resigned from a ministry position that was killing me. The stress, the over-work, and truthfully, some of my own codependency overwhelmed any of the good I was doing. It took me a year to work through that decision, to become a full time writer and writing coach. But it was one of the best choices I have ever made.

Sometimes life or even God himself moves us into another arena where we can feel more passionate about what we do. It’s important to pay attention to those inner nudges, to set our personal boundaries, yet do our best to work in peace with others.

As one of my encouraging friends says, “Do your best and surrender the rest.”

– cross walk

5 Things to do if you’ve been hurt by a friend

I never saw it coming. A group of us were sipping coffee together, just before a meeting, when out of the blue my friend made a cutting remark that sliced deep into my heart.

I stood there for a few minutes, paralyzed, realizing firsthand why a wound from a friend hurts more than a wound from an enemy (Ps. 55:12-14). That hurtful, stinging comment left me staggering, wondering what provoked such a fierce blow.

Had I misunderstood our friendship? Were we friends or enemies? What do you do when a friend hurts you?

Receiving “friendly wounds” from people who are supposed to love us can break our hearts. Shut us down. Damage our trust. Jesus experienced the same thing with His friends, too. And yet somehow, He continued to love past it.

Since neglected, buried wounds do not heal, it’s important to deal with them. God promises to help us (Ps. 147:3). When we bring our wounds to Him, He can mend our hearts and teach us how to love past our pain. In fact, Scripture provides a lot of Godly wisdom for emotional healing.

5 things to do if you’ve been hurt by a friend:

1. Be patient in prayer.

I’m learning to apply prayer to my emotional wounds often, like medicine. It helps to say this truth out loud: “I believe God can heal every wound.” Since healing occurs gradually, I’m trying to be patient as I pray for my friend and for my attitude.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Rom. 12:12 NIV

2. Forgive.

Since I’ve been a less-than-perfect friend at times, I need to extend grace. Remembering thatthe one who holds a grudge hurts the most, helps me let it go. Since God overlooks a lot to stay in a relationship with me, I must overlook the faults of my friends, too.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13 NIV

3. Extend an olive branch.

It isn’t necessary to rehash details in order to make peace and move on. Seeking peace may include going to my friend and saying, “Lately, I’ve sensed that there is hurt between us, how can I make it right?” Making the effort to reconcile opens the door for communication and healing.

“. . . First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift [of worship].” Mt. 5:24 ESV

4. Don’t gang up.

When we’re wounded, it’s tempting to recruit others to be on “our side.” Regrettably, I’ve done this, and it does not help. I’ve learned to seek counsel only from someone who isn’t involved. Since Satan loves to pit us against each other, I don’t want to let him break my friendships apart.

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. . .” Lev. 19:18 NI

5. Expect occasional friendly fire.

The more we care about someone, the more he or she can hurt us. Even in the best friendships, there will always be a little pain—I must accept this as truth. Being shocked by friendly fire only makes it hurt worse. Resisting the temptation to strike back or get even may save the friendship.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Ex. 14:14 NIV

Maybe you have been hurt by a friend recently, too.

A thoughtless remark was made. A friend was selfish. Irritable. Downright mean. You can view it as something terrible that will always hurt you or as something that God can somehow use for good.

I know how badly wounds from a friend can hurt! Seek God’s face; spend time in His presence. Let His love heal you. Remember, God can create something beautiful out of every wound—even the wound of a friend.

– cross walk

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