Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Are We Teaching Our Kids To Enjoy The Journey?

“Enjoy the journey!”
The number of times my husband and I regurgitated this phrase in response to “Are we there yet?” during our road trip to and from Sky Ranch Family Camps in Colorado, I don’t even know. It’s a life lesson we’ve been learning ourselves the last few years, and one we chose to adopt as a theme for this summer’s family vacation.

Rather than tackling the 14-hour drive home from Lake City, Colorado in one day like we’ve done in years past, we chose to divide the trip into two days so we could visit the Great San Dunes in route. Much to our chagrin, due to heavy rains, the Dunes were too wet to sled, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time.
After a few hours of fun and some surprisingly good Mexican food at a gas station in Raton, New Mexico, we snuggled up in our beds at the Holiday Inn Express for a movie and early shut-eye.
Our plan for Day Two was to drive the remaining 9 hours home, stopping for lunch and an ice cream treat along the way. But as we pulled into Capulin, New Mexico, the same volcano that’s been the source of many family conversations as we’ve passed it on the right going to Colorado, peeked my husband’s curiosity as we passed it on the left coming home.

He wanted to hike the rim.
A resounding, “NO!” came in unison from the back seats. With shoes off, pillows perfectly positioned, snacks in hand, and a family favorite playing on the big screen, the peanut gallery wanted no part of this unexpected adventure. In fact, the amount of whining and protesting we endured on the road to that volcano was exactly what we would expect if we’d hung them by their toes outside the window of a 10-story building.

But it was no match for my husband’s determination.
This man -- who admittedly struggles to enjoy the journey when we travel -- knew there was a lesson for our family waiting on the rim.

He’s so wise.
He led us down into the crater first, which caused all whining and protesting to stop. After all, we were moving downhill, and we saw some interesting wildlife along the way. Our boys were also fascinated by the lava rocks (as later evidenced by at least half of the Capulin crater which ended up in our dryer.)

But then it came time to tackle the summit. It’s only a 1-mile hike round trip, but the incline is pretty steep. We had conquered all of 500 yards when the whining and protesting resumed, particularly from our youngest.
I stood uphill from him with my back to the summit, debating whether to push him to the top or take him to the car. It was an internal struggle, and I’ll admit the car almost won. But deep within my gut, I knew the greater lesson would be learned if I pushed him to the top.

So we hiked 200 feet and stopped. Hiked 200 feet and stopped. Hiked 200 feet and stopped, each time, distracting him with the views, the vegetation, and the wildlife as we paused.
Before I knew it, the whining had ceased.

When we caught up with the rest of our family at the top, we prayed together, thanking God for the beauty of His creation, put our hands in the huddle, and on the count of three, gave Capulin Volcano our loudest “Best Family Ever!”
Then we headed downhill, their attitudes improving with each descending step.
When we got back to the car, we shared with our kids what God has been teaching us these last few years.

Life is a series of journeys strung together by a few summit-like experiences. Some of the journeys are difficult, like our hike to the summit, and some come with more pleasure and ease, like our hike back down. But either way, the journeys are where we’ll spend most of our time. Our time on the summit is but a blip.
We can spend our journeying wishing for the next summit or we can choose to journey with joy, finding God’s gifts for us along the way. The gifts are there. They’re always there.

In Romans 5:4, Paul writes:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

No question our children are guaranteed to face many a journey uphill as they navigate their way into adulthood under our leadership. The question is: Will we teach them to enjoy the journey? Or will we take them to the car?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Camp Hair, Don't Care!

A few weeks ago, I dropped my baby off for a full week of overnight camp.  While she hardly considers herself a “baby” (because she is 6 whole years old and has completed kindergarten, for goodness sake), to me she will always be the baby. Over her “6 whole years,” she has watched her siblings head off to Sky Ranch for weeks of awesomeness, knowing that, eventually, her day would arrive. 
As we shopped for her trunk and fun camp supplies, it suddenly dawned on me that this little cutie had never washed her hair on her own.  And now I was sending her off for 6 whole nights – swimming pools, campfires, sweat, and lake water – completely ill-equipped to manage that lovely long, dark, easily-tangled hair.

So, I decided to do what I normally do in these situations – make a plan of attack to solve the problem before it became a problem.  But somewhere in the middle of one of the many hair-washing practice sessions that week, the thought struck me loud and clear:
Who Cares? 
Why was I spending so much time concerned with whether she could wash her hair when I should have been concerned with the state of her heart?  Was she ready to receive all God had for her during the week of Bible study?  Was she equipped and confident enough to start conversations and make new friends?  Had I taught her how to lean into the Father when faced with things that seemed scary and unfamiliar? 
Immediately convicted and face-to-face with my own insecurities, I had a long conversation with my Father.   I reminded Him that I want to be a good mom. I want to teach my children all they need to know, and personal hygiene is part of that teaching. 

But He reminded me of His Word:
"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." Proverbs 31:30. 
As a team member at Sky Ranch, I have the awesome privilege and unique perspective of watching campers and counselors, day after day, in the amazing environment that is Summer Camp.  Crazy, mismatched clothes and wild hair are the norm.  Glitter, face paint, and tutus with dirty tennis shoes are standard camp attire.
When my boys were younger and packing for camp, my main concern was whether they would brush their teeth.  Gym shorts and tee shirts always go together, and I sent the ones that were about to be moved out of rotation, knowing they would get stinky and dirty and could easily be tossed out. 

With my girls, however, I became a different kind of camp mom -- buying cute matchy-matchy outfits and fun pj’s -- and making sure the bedding matched the towels that matched the trunk that was over-loaded with coordinating glitter stickers and rhinestones. 
Don’t get me wrong.
I am all about the fun that is preparing for camp, and sending kids away for a week with the “stuff” that helps them have fun and explore their uniqueness is part of the experience.  But freaking out about whether my daughter would have “camp hair” in the online photos was pushing things past what my grown-up, spiritually mature self could swallow. 
So I told her. 
In the best way that I could explain it to an incoming first grade girl, I broke down I Peter 3:3-4:
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
Camp is one of the greatest places on earth. A place where kids are free from the trappings and expectations that surround them every day. 
Camp should be a place to focus on relationships with God and others, and to spend time having crazy, wild fun, learning about what it truly means to be a child of God. 
Camp should be a place where joy overcomes the junk the world puts on our children, where space exists for our children to be who they are – "camp hair" and all.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Are We On The Road To Building Strong Family Identity?

There’s a long stretch of straight and narrow highway between Dumas, Texas and the New Mexico border. We’ve driven it at least ten times as a family on our way to and from annual summer vacations in Colorado.
Along the horizon, where the blue sky meets the green grass of farmlands, a single wind turbine sprouts out of the ground. It’s a stand out because, usually, wind turbines exist in pods.
Our kids eagerly look for the “lone windmill” every year on the second leg of our road trip. This year, they decided to name it Larry. The alliteration in their choice made their writer-mama proud!
It’s just one example of all the memories that exist for our family between Plano, Texas and Lake City, Colorado where we attend family camp each summer. To name others, there’s the hotel in Dumas where we eat pizza and swim after a long first leg of driving, the sign in Clayton where we stop for a family selfie, the Loves gas station near Alamosa that has some of the best unsweetened ice tea, and the discussion we always have about which roadside hill is Capulin Volcano (there are several, and our kids can’t ever remember).
These are simple things, but they conjure up a strong sense of something special in our car as we travel the same path year over year, recalling memories of the past and checking traditions off our list.
That something special is family identity. It’s an area in which we were encouraged to do a lot of work when we became parents. Because strong family identity will serve our kids well as they grow into the teen years when we can’t always hold their hands.
Why is it that memory-making and traditions are so powerful in shaping a family’s identity?
It turns out, there are psychological reasons for the impact they have, as confirmed by a friend of mine who is a school guidance counselor.
She explained that making memories and practicing family traditions help establish the importance of the family unit. This creates a strong sense of belonging for each member of the family and communicates to children that they are valued members of the family.
They also allow children important opportunities to observe members of the family living fully into their roles within the family. Because, let’s face it. We live in such a busy culture that, often, our children do not see their parents working as a team, but rather passing like ships in the night.
Memory making and family traditions also provide opportunities to reinforce family values and to pass down important nuggets of heritage. As a result, “Team Smith” takes on rich meaning. This serves families well as children enter the teen years, and their peers become more influential.  

But what I love most is that memory making and family traditions reinforce “home base,” no matter where we are. This helps children understand that “home” isn’t so much about where we live but about with whom we’re doing life. What a wonderful way to teach into the idea that life is about relationships rather than stuff!

Every family is different. So making memories and establishing family traditions will look different for every family. It’s not so much about how we slice the pie, but rather about whether we’re willing to pull up to the table.

Your family may not have the freedom or desire to take two-week-long road trips in the summer. But there are things that make you tick in ways that communicate the importance of family and define your family’s values and heritage. Lean into those things and help your family find its own Larry the Lone Windmill along the way!   

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Eight Tips To Save Your Sanity On Family Road Trips

I remember our first road trip with picture-perfect clarity.
Three kids. Eight hours.

Our youngest wanted a snack, so I passed him a bag of grapes. After eating the entire bag, he puked all over the back of our car. We found ourselves in a Whataburger parking lot, unpacking to get spare clothes from a suitcase at the bottom of the pile, and cleaning puke out of a car seat with drive-thru napkins no thicker than the top layer of skin that peels off after a bad sunburn.   
Since then, we’ve had our share of road trips filled with flat tires, detours, rocks in the window, potty breaks on the side of the road, and hysteria from the back seat. The number of times I’ve been asked, “Are we there yet?”

I don’t even know.
But I’ve come to adore road trips with my family. They’re some of the sweetest times we share. It’s nice to be in one place without the distractions of home, and the memory making along the way is priceless. As soon as we hit the highway, our kids begin the jaunt down memory lane, recalling the victories and defeats from prior road trips with joy.

We’ve got this down and will be making our fifth road trip to Colorado this summer to spend time at Sky Ranch Horn Creek and Sky Ranch UteTrail.

But as I visit with other families who have less experience on the road, I hear how intimidated they are to stare a road trip in the face. So today, I’m sharing some tips we’ve learned that make road trips a whole lot of fun!
Have a Plan

Before leaving town, learn your route, identify places to stop, and create a schedule for travel and passing time in the car. Make hotel reservations in advance, and book a hotel with a pool so your kids can burn some energy at the end of the day.
Enjoy the Journey

Build in time on the road to do fun things. Stop at a playground, get a shake from the drive-thru, or visit an attraction along the way. Consider your road trip part of the vacation, not simply the means to get you there.
Pack Backpacks
Pack a backpack for each person. Include the following: a change of clothes, pajamas, swimsuits/goggles, toiletries, sunglasses, raincoats, walking shoes/socks, and items for entertainment. When you get to the hotel, just grab the backpacks instead of unloading the entire car!

Bring Healthy(ish) Snacks

Be relaxed about nutrition on vacation, but maintain some level of healthy eating on the road. Nothing is worse than sugar-amped, thirsty kids in the car! To save money and control sugar and salt intake, consider packing lunches and snacks. Ideas include: sandwiches (pre-made and stored in the bread sack), fruit, veggies, hummus, nuts, string cheese, apple sauce pouches, and popcorn. Always bring baggies for reasonable portions (remember the grapes incident?) and insulated cups to keep beverages cold.
Stop Efficiently

When you stop for gas, require that everyone use the restroom. When you stop for the restroom, top off the tank. If you stop for treats, choose a place to do all three! When you do stop, rotate cleaning trash out of the car.
Plan Activities

Time on the road is a great opportunity to bond, stirring up a stronger sense of family identity. Some ideas include: conversation cards, a family devotional, or listening to books on Audible. I also recommend the National Geographic Kids Road Trip Atlas. Our kids love following our routes, reading about the states we pass through, and doing the activities.
This year, we’re also playing Did You Know? List family members and close friends on individual recipe cards. Draw a card out of the stack, and share a story about that individual your kids wouldn’t otherwise know. It’s a great way to teach heritage and create interesting conversation.

Embrace the Ebbs and Flows
Regardless of planning, you will hit some potholes that wear down patience and ratchet up frustration. Don’t fret! Instead, take a time out. Let the kids plug in, listen to classical guitar or spa music, or turn on a DVD series like Planet Earth. While limits on technology are a good idea, I would never suggest banning them altogether. Let them serve your family well so everyone gets a good measure of community and alone time, and so you can enjoy some adult time too!

Be Prepared
Nothing is worse than being caught off-guard on the road. Packing the following items will help: plastic grocery sacks, baggies, Febreeze, antibacterial, wipes, batteries and car chargers, headphones, a first-aid kit, Dramamine, and small blankets and pillows for each child. In addition, stow flip flops in the pockets behind each seat because someone will lose their shoes!

I hope these tips will serve your family well as you hit the road this summer. And I’d love for you to share your own road trips tips in the comments for the benefit of our tribe. My prayer is that, together, we can hack this thing called road trips and turn them into something special that will bless our families!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Do Our Words Speak Life To Our Children?

At the end of the day during his first week of kindergarten, Little Bit threw his arms around my thighs, burying his face in my belly. Through twinkling eyes and a beaming smile, he said, “I have a surprise for you!”

He made me close my eyes, took me by the hand, and led me down the hallway into our bedroom. When he had me perfectly positioned, he told me to open my eyes.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but then I found it, in all its glory. A hand-written note from his teacher, praising him for a job well done, taped right above our bed on the wall. He had shown love to one of his classmates, and his teacher wanted us to know about it.

I reinforced his excitement by praising this character quality he had demonstrated at school, hugged his neck, and didn’t think more about it.

But I began to see a pattern.

Every time his teacher sent a note home telling us something she had seen in his heart, he would tape it to the wall above our bed. Over time, it became known as Little Bit’s “Wall of Fame.” It’s now decorated with streamers and has spilled over to other parts of our room. We all have a love language, and the evidence points to the fact that Little Bit’s love language may be words of affirmation!

Regardless of our love language, however, speaking words of encouragement and life rather than words of condemnation and death is a more fruitful way to communicate.  After all, scripture is chock full of instruction in this regard:
1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

Ephesians 4:29
“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.”
Proverbs 12:25

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad."

This isn’t to say we should never offer reproof, but I think we’re wise to consider what characterizes us:
Are we characterized by speaking life or death?

Last week, I wrote about using the extra margin that summer provides to work on things as a family we don’t have time for during the school year. We do this every summer.

We try to do the same thing as it relates to our parenting. We have adopted a philosophy for how we parent that directs our steps upon the path.
But let’s be real.
The chaos of the school year often results in us hiking off trail. The slower pace of summer provides a great opportunity to re-direct ourselves in the good habits we know but don’t always practice.

Parenting requires that we draw boundaries (“no”) and redirect behavior (“don’t do that”) continually. As a result, we can easily fall into the trap of negative speech if we don’t mind our tongues. But we’ve found that when we’re characterized by negative speech, the atmosphere in our home is negative. Conversely, when we speak encouragement and life, the atmosphere in our home is life-giving.

Imagine that!

So this summer, we’re minding our tongues, paying close attention to instruct our children with words of encouragement and life as often as possible, saving language of reproof for times when it’s absolutely necessary.

Here are 5 ways in which we can speak encouragement and life to our children:

1.       Say “yes” as often as possible so that “no” is saved for times it is necessary.

2.       Praise their effort rather than the outcome so we don’t instill in them a fear of failure and so we do encourage them to develop work ethic and grit.    

3.       Affirm character qualities we observe in them such as those identified in Galatians 5:22-23.

4.       When giving instruction, speak in terms of what we hope to see, not what we don’t want to see. (“Don’t spill your cereal” becomes “Let’s try to keep all our cereal in the bowl!”)

5.       When giving reproof, elevate the virtue, not the vice, and call out the behavior, not the person. (“You are rude” becomes “That was not very respectful. In our home, we treat others with respect.”)

These tactics are simple enough. But we live in a culture that’s plagued by negative speech. Just as “we are what eat,” so too is it that “we say what we hear.” As a result, it takes conscious effort and dedicated resolve to re-train our tongues.

That’s why summer is a great time for us to evaluate how we’re doing in this regard and identify areas in which we would be wise to improve.
Here's to using our words to create a life-giving atmosphere in our home! 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Why Our Kids Should Be Put To Work On Summer Break

My sister recently had this conversation with her five-year-old:

“Mom, what's after college?”
“What's life?”
“When you work and maybe get married and have kids.”
“I have to get a job???!”

The poor thing could wrap his mind around “maybe” getting married and having kids. But getting a job? Forget about it!

It was a cute exchange. Much less cute, if the conversation had involved a young adult. But culturally, it seems we’ve sent subtle messages to our children that work is a heavy burden, something forced on us in adulthood with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

It’s unfortunate. Because God values work. In fact, in the second chapter of scripture, God put Adam to work:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Genesis 2:15

God could have assigned Adam any role existing under the sun. But he assigned him to be a worker in the garden, the place he also called home. 

It’s important that summer include a respite from the grind of the school year. But it’s also important for summer to include some work for our kids. After all, having them home each day creates more chores around the house, so they should pitch in and help.

This is one of the reasons why our summer should include some normal days. (Remember, we’re not cruise directors)! It’s in the space of normal days where we can work on things with our children that we struggle to conquer during the school year.

We often underestimate the tasks our children can manage. Consequently, we spend a lot of time doing things for our children which they could do themselves. Summer is an exceptional time to teach our children to manage new responsibilities, helping them contribute to the family, develop a servant’s heart, and value the significance of work.

Some examples of what our children will be doing to contribute to our family this summer include:

1.      Laundry: People look at me cross-eyed when I tell them our children have been doing their own laundry since kindergarten. It wasn’t my brilliant idea! For reasons unknown to me, our daughter decided this looked fun and wanted to learn when she was six. But through that experience, I learned kindergartners are quite capable. Sure, we help the younger ones with folding and hanging, but before we know it, they’re doing it all themselves. (Here’s how I taught them.)

2.      Cleaning their bedrooms: Last year, a wise friend encouraged me to lower my standards regarding the condition of our children’s bedrooms. I wanted their rooms cleaned daily, and when they weren’t, it created a source of tension that was too much. We were fighting every day! Now we have an agreement. They clean their rooms once each week to my standards, and I don’t say anything about their rooms the rest of the week. This works much better for our family, and their rooms are cleaner than ever before!

3.      Cleaning the bathrooms: Our daughter has been helping with bathrooms for a while, but now, we’re teaching the boys! I bought each of them a toilet scrubber, a squeegee, and a hand broom/dust pan at Ikea, and we’ve stocked each of the bathrooms with cleaning supplies. Our goal is that they’re self-sufficient when school starts.

4.      Preparing meals: I’ll be honest. When the kids were younger, the idea of having “helpers” in the kitchen made my skin crawl. They were too messy, and I was too meticulous. “Let’s bake cookies!” said no one ever when we had three kids under six. But now, things are different. They are helpful (and I’ve loosened up). There are loads of lessons they can learn by helping prepare meals such as measurements, fractions, and temperatures. I’ve also learned this secret…they’re more likely to eat that which they prepare. So this summer, I’ll pull them into the kitchen one at a time to help prepare meals and set the table. It’s a great way for them to learn a skill and to spend one-on-one time together!

5.      Cleaning the kitchen: If you eat at our table, you help clean up the mess. That’s the rule in our house. It’s especially helpful in the summer because, So. Many. Dishes. In the past, we’ve asked them to bus and wipe the table, sweep the floor, and help put the food away. But lately, we’ve been working on managing the dishwasher. They’re just as capable!

There are a thousand ways to attack this beast. All that matters is that we’re giving our kids opportunities to contribute to the family, develop a servant’s heart, and discover the value of work.
So what will your kids be working on this summer?

P.S. If you haven’t like our Facebook Page, be sure to do so. This week, we will be sharing some resources to help you identify what chores around the house may be age-appropriate for your children!


Friday, June 9, 2017

Bedtime Prayers

Now, I lay me down to sleep…

Bedtime. The time we set aside for chats, prayers and plans.

Bedtime prayers take our focus off self and onto God, our Creator. At the end of the day, we get to talk to Him in prayer and praise Him, thank Him, acknowledge where we've fallen short and make our needs known. It's a time of worship. 

My hubby most always tucked our girls in at night when they were young. It was their time. He would always ask them questions about their day including the classic, "Who did you sit by at lunch today?" After prayers, he would sing a hymn. In The Garden was his favorite. (Incidentally, both girls had it played before he walked them down the aisle on their wedding day.)

As our girls grew older, bedtime was a time for us to chat about life and dreams. Many tears were shed when life was hard. Uncontrollable laughs could also be heard throughout the house during bedtime rituals. I never quite knew what to expect...with girls. 
What I do know now is that these routines helped us. Knowing that each night we would spend time in prayer to our Heavenly Father helped us make it through the day and keep us close to Him. 

Prayers, hymns, laughs and tears. The good stuff.