6 Habits of a Highly Effective Family

The other day I got an email from a TV producer and they wanted our family to try out for a reality show called “The Kitchen.”

Yeah.

It was some sort of cooking show and they wanted “real families” who fight, I mean, cook often together in the kitchen. The email went on to say, “We are specifically seeking out families with an interesting point of view, a unique style of parenting, and a real-life story unfolding in the family.”

Were we being punked? I looked for the hidden cameras. It’s like They Knew about our unique parenting style called “Stop combing your sister’s hair with your spaghetti fork or I’m going to hurt you bad.”

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I took this to mean, “We are looking for some of those family moments…you know the ones.”

And believe me- we have plenty of them. From the typical eye roll to the “I wish I had a different family,” comments that leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy, we just might help a network’s ratings.

But we won’t. Because, we are in fact, not that family (this time).

My family is probably a lot like yours. Messy. Like sticky apple pie you can’t quit.

But even in our worst moments, I want my family to be governed by good habits that make us effective in the world for God. When we wrote out our family mission statement so many years ago, it was more of a craft project than a projection of where we wanted to go. But God has used those words to guide and shape us.

In the ebb and flow of the family dynamic, there are good days and bad ones. And we don’t get it right all the time. But at the end of the day, I want to be able to say that we did something good for someone else-that we were effective in some way. We don’t always get it right or do it well, but there are 6 habits that we aim for regularly:

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  1. Let go of what others think | Parents seem to master this one before teens do. Just as I’ve learned not to care, my kids are very aware of what others think. Striking that balance is important. But so is remembering that at the end of the day, if you’re following your heart and God’s, it’s much easier to live without the restrictions of pleasing everyone else.
  2. Listen to each other | I’m still in listening school. As a mom, I think this is one of the greatest gifts I can offer my family: tuning in. I have watched my children come to their own conclusions, work out many of their problems and feel better about situations, by nodding my head and affirming they are simply being heard. And also, if I pause 5 full seconds after my husband asks me a question, he keeps talking.
  3. Lament the losses | I think it’s important that we pause to recognize the losses in our family-whether it’s a friend or a perfect test score, a pet goldfish or a first boyfriend, our family gets broken. And when we walk thru loss together, it makes us heal stronger.
  4. Love no matter what | Some of my children do not always make choices I want them to make. Shocking, I know. But at the end of one of those hard, tearful days, when consequences land wherever they may, I want my people to know that love wins. No matter what they do, who they become, how far they run, they are deeply loved.
  5. Live brave | I spent most of my life living scared. I was terrified far too long. Fear of failure, fear of missing out and not fitting in captivated me. I want my family to try, to live a little scared because that’s when we feel most alive.
  6. Latch onto God | Family life doesn’t always look like I thought it would. Neither does following Jesus. I’ve always thought it was done a certain way-church 3 times a week, Christian radio presets, church camp with the Christian t-shirt to prove it and a little rhinestone Jesus leading the way. My ideal was wrecked and I’m discovering I can’t make my kids follow Jesus the way I follow Him. I just want them to find him and hold on.

I’m glad God loves messy families.

Even the ones on TV.

Dear Son, It’s Okay to Be A Nice Guy (Faith-based Resources for Our Sons)

You’re nearly 13 years old.

Your voice is cracking and your little sister keeps mentioning your mustache.

You pretend you don’t hear her.

And I pretend it isn’t there.

You are 5 inches taller and you fill your plate three times before you’re full.

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You are a young man now and you are trying to fit into your man-sized feet.

Son, I want you to know you don’t have to be cool.

You don’t have to be tough.

You don’t have to wear a stiff upper lip.

You don’t have to fit in.

You don’t have to be girl crazy.

You don’t have to apologize for being kind to others.

I see the confusion in your eyes and the question in your voice as you try and navigate our culture that depicts men as either weak pushovers or calloused tough guys. Movies portray guys as either terribly sexy or extremely wimpy. They either hate women or use them.

Neither impress you and I know sometimes you wonder where you fit in.

You are sensitive.

You download worship songs.

You open the door for me and rush to bring in groceries.

You don’t enjoy violent video games or playing truth or dare when friends tempt.

You timidly raise a hand while we sing at church.

You want to be a world-changer.

But listen to me—these things don’t make you wrong or weird. They make you YOU. You are exactly who God created you to be: a nice guy.

And that’s okay.

Your son might be like mine or he may not, but either way, he’s probably getting some mixed signals from culture and peers. We’ve found some excellent faith-bases resources to help our boy navigate both. Maybe they will help your son, too:

Faith (Devotions, Spiritual Growth):

  1. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations
  2. You Were Made to Make a Difference
  3. It’s Not About Me Teen Edition
  4. Make Every Day Count – Teen Edition
  5. Triple Dog Dare: One Year of Dynamic Devotions for Boys (ages 9-12)
  6. Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood
  7. Your Boy: Raising a Godly Son in an Ungodly World

Purity (Lust, Sex):

  1. 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son
  2. Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle: Honest Conversations About Sexual Integrity (The Every Man Series)
  3. Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys: 7 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son [7 Questions You Should Ask Your Daughter]
  4. Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World

Weekend Away:

Passport2Purity® Getaway Kit by FamilyLife
(guide and resources to help you take your son on a weekend to talk about purity and sex)

Faith-Based Resources For Raising Daughters In a Faithless Culture

I stood at the counter opening mail when my little girl held up her white tank top and asked, “What is this thing?” pointing to the elastic band. She’s small for her 8 years, but I was surprised her size 6 top had a built-in bra. I explained what it was and she giggled.

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I couldn’t blame her. But I know how fast time flies and I know what’s coming.

I pulled a book from a package and the colorful cover caught her attention. “What’s that?” I was excited to see my friend’s new book, thinking I would put it up for when my daughter was old enough to read it. “It’s a devotional book for tweens,” I said and flipped it over to read the back cover.

“It says ages 8-11. Does that make me a tween?” She asked with pride and excitement.

No. But help me, Lord, it’s getting closer.

We’ve been snuggling up on my bed before bedtime nearly every night since, reading For Girls Like You: A Devotional for Tweens together. Tween or not, it’s something she’s ready to jump into. This is a book she could really read on her own, but I love the few minutes together and the conversation that follows.

The world will educate and influence our girls if we let it. I’d rather teach my daughter about values and self-value.  I’ve shared these resources before, but I continue to get emails asking me for suggested resources for our daughters. Here’s what I’ve got:

Books for Mom and Dad (Body image, modesty, sex, purity, boys):

Books/Magazines for Daughters:

Devotions to have with your Girls (Tween to Teen):

Stylish Clothing Sites with Modest Choices for teens/girls:

Events:

Positive Girl Clubs/Groups:

Music:

  • Britt Nicole
  • Francesca Battistelli
  • Jamie Grace
  • BarlowGirl
  • Mandisa

Websites for our Girls:

Other:

  • A Mighty Girl: collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls

What They Don’t Tell You About Raising Kids

I spent five long years trying to become a mother.

And I’ve spent the last fifteen trying to be a good one.

Raising kids is probably the most important thing I will ever do. But I didn’t get educated in a classroom or with a how-to manual; I learned on the job and mostly by making mistakes. When they wheeled me and my new baby girl out of the hospital to join my husband who was pulling up the car, I remember hesitating and looking at the nurse nervously. She patted my back and whispered, “You will do fine.”

For our first hour at home as a family, we sat across the room and stared at her, while she slept in her carseat.

We were terrified she would wake up.

We were terrified she wouldn’t.

That sort of sums up my parenting experience so far–What if they do? What if they don’t? Will they? Should they?

I have second-guessed and been given second chances. I have marveled at all I didn’t know and been amazed at what I learn every day.

They didn’t tell me the sleepless nights of pregnancy were a foreshadowing of the next 18 years.

They didn’t tell me the deep-breathing was for more than birth.

They didn’t tell me about the first set of stitches or the second. Or that I would get woozy every time.

They didn’t tell me that I would want to give my kids everything, but that I mustn’t.

They didn’t tell me how hard it would be to say no, but I must.

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They didn’t tell me I would watch my heart get on a school bus.

They didn’t tell me I would long for school to start as much as I long for it to end.

They didn’t tell me there would be math. Lots of math.

They didn’t tell me about the first time my child would hurt my feelings.

Or how angry I would feel when someone hurt my child’s.

They didn’t tell me how I would ache to fix their problems.

They didn’t tell me I would fall into bed physically exhausted when they were little and emotionally drained when they were older.

They didn’t tell me I would give up something I love, so they could figure out something to love.

They didn’t tell me I would yell.

They didn’t tell me I would laugh until my sides ache.

They didn’t tell me I would cry myself to sleep because of something they said or worse, because of something I said.

They didn’t tell me my son would call me in the middle of school today and ask to go home early because he is grieving his beloved archery coach’s terminal diagnosis.

They didn’t tell me I couldn’t make some things better. Or how badly I would hurt when my children do.

They didn’t tell me how hard some days would be.

They didn’t tell me how fast it would go…

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They didm’ tell me how much I would love being their mom.

They didn’t tell me all these milestone and phases for one reason:

There is joy in discovering motherhood –the beautiful and broken days– for ourselves.

One day at a time.

I Want My Daughters To Know What A Real Woman Looks Like

I waited until she came into my bathroom like she does most mornings before school.

“Here honey, let me help you,” I offered as I handed her a hair brush. “Hey, so I heard you were on a diet,” I said in a light-hearted teasing tone and I waited for a response. My friend had told me about our daughters’ conversation about dieting at school the day before. They are both second graders.

“Oh, I was just kidding, Mom,” she assured me.

I figured as much, but I pressed in, “You don’t need to be on a diet. You know that, right?” Lately, at 8 years old, I’ve noticed she cares a little more about her hair and what she’s wearing for the day.

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“I know. But I do need to eat healthy. You tell us that all the time,” she had me there.

I thought of all the eating out we’d done on our weekend getaway and the Valentine’s candy and her sweet tooth and those same words that had come out of my mouth. “Yes, but healthy eating isn’t dieting.”

We talked more about good food choices and about all our favorite desserts. It wasn’t an hour later when I read that girls as young as 5 years old are concerned about body image. And why wouldn’t they be with only perfect bodies, long thick hair, and clear complexions gracing every magazine cover at the grocery store? “I think there’s a lot of talk about teens and body image, and many parents become aware of that when kids hit puberty, but kids as young as 5 are already expressing a desire for a body that is thinner than their current self or future self,” said Seeta Pai, vice president of research for Common Sense Media and author of the report.

I thought about what I’d seen the day before at the Honor Roll Breakfast at the high school my daughter attends. Terrell leaned over and said, “No wonder our daughter changes clothes so many times before school. Look at how these girls are dressed.” He was right, it was like a fashion show. And with it comes pressure to fit in.

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“It’s crazy how we’re so inundated with these images of perfection and … we’re teaching young girls that that’s normal. So people are growing up now with these ideas of how they should look,” said Juliana Lyons, “It’s setting us up to fail because we’re not perfect. We’re not Photoshopped in real life.” Juliana is a teenager who has recently gained a lot of media attention for a song she wrote called Beautifully Flawed saying just that.

I think that’s why I gasped and clapped my hands out loud when I saw the image last week of supermodel Cindy Crawford looking well, imperfect. The viral photo was controversial because some said it was leaked while others said it was intentional. Either way, it wasn’t photoshopped. It was the body of a real woman- a mom whose body bares the marks of pregnancy and change. It wasn’t perfect and that’s what made it so beautiful.

Instantly, when I saw it, I felt better about my own soft rolls and thick middle. There’s something powerful about showing what untouched photos of real women look like and it’s exactly what our daughters need to see.

Odds are they won’t see it in their favorite movie or on the cover of the popular magazines. That’s why we have to show our daughters what a real woman’s body looks like and be okay with it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to improve our health, but accepting and loving who we are and what we look like is a great start to improving our health.

There is a real temptation to hide our imperfections, to cover our ample areas, to talk negatively about what we don’t like in the mirror.  But when we are unhappy with our bodies and verbalize it, our little girls pick up on it. “Five- to 8-year-olds who think their moms are unhappy with their bodies are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own, according to Common Sense Media’s report.

In our culture, it’s hard for them to decipher what is real and what is computer-perfect.

I usually duck when someone tries to take my picture and my tendency is to avoid public swimming and I like to have everything “fixed” before I leave the house. My daughters pick up on all of these things and I’m determined to do better.

My husband’s favorite picture of me–it’s on his phone and computer screen saver and he’s always referring to it, is one of me in Africa with wrinkled clothes and skin, without makeup, very dirty hair, sitting in one of the poorest homes I’ve ever been in. He says it’s real beauty, the kind that goes far deeper than what I’m wearing or how I feel about what I’m wearing.

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We need to rock that swim skirt like a champ and go ahead and feel good in our skin. Our daughters need to see our imperfections and our insecurities. They need to know that real women have blemishes and bloating and that real beauty comes from within.

Because a real woman doesn’t always have the perfect spring wardrobe or all the good hair days.

She doesn’t always cook gourmet meals or pass the white glove test.

She can’t always hide the crows feet or chipped toenail polish.

Sometimes she laughs loud and cries often.

She is imperfectly beautiful.

If you ask a small child who the most beautiful woman in the world is, they will often say, “Mommy!” Their perception of perfection hasn’t been jaded by media or culture. They are looking past the tired eyes, yoga pants and three day hair-in-a-bun. They see beauty in the small acts of service-the hug, the extra cookie, the bedtime story.

We should, too.

It’s a great way to show our daughters what real women look like.

Raising Kids in the Age of Anything-Goes-Sex, Terror & Religious Persecution

I couldn’t turn the channel fast enough.

All five of us piled on the queen bed watching a cooking show when the commercial break brought an invitation to watch 50 Shades of Grey. My teen daughter gave me a look that told me her peers were talking about this film, too, as I fumbled for the remote. My 7th grade son asked what it was about, “Because it looks just like a love story,” he said.

That’s what they want you to think. It’s a movie about violence and sex. The world wants us to think it’s about romance and love, but it’s not. I’m shaking.

I flipped to the next channel and the latest news of terror in the middle east filled the room.

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My 8 year old looked at me with her deep brown eyes and said, “The world is scary.”

I turned the TV off and wondered how to teach my kids about real love-the kind that makes us pray for our neighbors in the war on terror while shutting out the lure of our anything-goes culture.

I want to pin recipes on Pinterest and google how to make a sliding barn door.  I want to protect them from the world. Some days I want to live in my bubble and not think about how the rest of the world lives.

Two days later 21 people were beheaded in Egypt. More death. More terror.

More Christians.

It hit close to home. And it made me long for another home. Because I can’t protect my kids from the world we live in.

It made me think about living widely obedient and what that really means.

It made me wonder at my upcoming trips with my daughter to a predominately muslim world. (Updated to add: We work with women, some who are Muslim. I certainly don’t think every Muslim is “bad” any more than I think every Christian is “good.” I’m simply being honest–these events make me pause and wonder, “Is this safe?” But I still go.)

I can’t say anything that’s not already been said in all the Internet noise this week. There are as many opinions as there are shades of gray.

And in our constantly changing world, some things don’t change:

I’m still teaching my kids right from wrong.

I am reminding them of absolute truths in a culture that decides day-to-day what is politically correct.

We still choose to follow Christ.

We think and pray for our brothers and sisters who live the same way even when it means death for them.

Experts tell us ISIS doesn’t want to rule the world, they want to end it. And as I raise my children to follow Christ, I must also teach them truth:

One day this world will end. But it will not be the end.

5 truths our kids need to hear in our world today:

1. God is in control- Our world can be a very scary place. But no matter what happens here or over there, God is in charge. It might look really bad, but He is not surprised by what happens and somehow, someway God will work things out for our good. He loves us and He is in control.

2. There is right from wrong– Domestic violence, pornography for men and women, living a life that doesn’t matter, loving and hating others-these are the right from wrong choices we make everyday. Truth does not change, no matter what society or media says.

3. The world does not live like we do-Attending church on Sunday and school on Monday, owning a Bible, going where we want, when we want, this is called freedom. But nothing about it is free. It cost something. Someone.

4. Prayer is a weapon-Sometimes we feel helpless and hopeless when we watch the news or hear how bad the world is, or we are fearful it will effect us in same way. There is something important we can do-we can pray for the world and for our own faith. We wear our bracelets to help us remember to pray for the oppressed. It feels small, but it’s not.

5. There is hope-no matter how bad it gets-and I personally believe it will get worse-from terror to shifting cultural truths, there is always hope. We call it The Blessed Hope. This world is not the end and I want my kids to know that life is temporary. Eternity is forever. And one day, Jesus will right all the wrong in the world and we will live with Him forever.

I whisper truth in their ears. I comfort them with these words. We hold onto these promises together.

The Lessons We Teach Our Kids When We Buy Fair Trade

We stood at the mirror and I brushed her blonde hair into a ponytail. She still lets me fix her hair most mornings. I told her to grab a headband from the cabinet. It’s her signature school hairdo since she’s been growing her bangs out.

I tucked her hair beneath the new blue corded band and tied it under her ponytail. “Do you know who made your headband?” I asked.
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“Who, mom?” Our eyes met in the mirror. It was one of those obvious questions we don’t always ask.

And so I told her about the woman in Haiti who became an amputee in the earthquake that devastated the country 5 years ago. “There’s an organization who helps women with prosthetics and they teach them how to sew,” I told her.

My answer opened up a meaningful conversation with my 8 year old. For the next 10 minutes, I answered questions about earthquakes and amputations, prosthetics and mostly, hope.

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I walked over to the drawer that holds our headbands and held up a bright turquoise one made by my refugee friends from Burma and Nepal. I smiled remembering the day we prayed we’d have enough yarn. I looked a little closer at the kitenge headband from Rwanda, thinking about the girls at No.41 who are given sewing jobs instead of the street once they age out of the orphanage they grew up in. I ended up choosing my chevron print hairband for my hair. It was made by women in India, women who are no longer subject to the horrors of trafficking. Every one of these Fair Trade Friday partners do much more than make cute things that provide jobs for poor women–they do it in the name of Jesus.

When we buy fair trade, we do so much more than add another headband to our accessory pile or another beautiful paper bead necklace to our jewelry box. We offer more than a fair wage to a woman in an oppressed country. We get the opportunity to tell a story that is begging to be told.

When need to know the little bags that hold our fair trade items each month means food on the table for families in Kenya, Costa Rica and Zambia. And that’s why we include them- not just for reusable packaging, but for life.

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We all know we can’t always buy fair trade. And even when we want to, it’s sometimes a challenging, time-consuming option. But sometimes we can.  When we give a gift that empowers a woman, we are giving much more than something nice. We are giving something deeply important and receiving something even more.

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The other day Terrell and I looked at a small warehouse space down the street from us that we thought might be the answer to the Fair Trade Friday product that has taken over home and life. We have nearly 700 in our monthly club now and at just .33 cents a square foot, we had to consider this unexpected God-nod. When we told the property owner what we would do with the space, he asked, “What does fair trade mean?”

It means a child wasn’t chained to a chair to sew your clothes.

It means a woman can feed her family.

It means an amputee can work again.

It means hope for the hopeless.

Because it’s about the story behind the new blue headband.

The one our kids need to hear.

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Join the monthly Fair Trade Friday Club! February is full, but we are now taking names on our March Wait List.

But we do have One-Time Trial or Gift Fair Trade bags and today you can get $5 off. Check out our newest options for Home, Kids and Men’s  (with Limited Edition Mother’s Day boxes coming soon!) Or buy our Original One Time Trial or Gift Box with code: 4hope

6 Reasons Dads Should Date Their Daughters Before Anyone Else Does

She twirled around the house in her pink sparkly dress.

“Daddy is going to love it,” she said as she got another peek of herself in the mirror. “I look amazing.”

I walked away smiling and told my husband his date was ready.

He straightened his tie, bowed and held out his hand. “May I have this dance?”

She giggled and said, “Yes, we need to practice.”

And they danced in the kitchen.

It was their first Daddy Daughter Dance together and I think this picture an hour later says what I cannot.

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She will never forget this night with her dad. Neither will he.

6 Reasons Dads Should Date Their Daughters Before Anyone Else Does:

1. Dads have a profound impact on their daughter’s lives

A father’s role in his daughter’s life is one of the most important she will ever know. “Research clearly says that daddies make all the difference in the world,” says Kevin Leman, national speaker and author of What a Difference a Daddy Makes: The Indelible Imprint a Dad Leaves on His Daughter’s Life“I have tremendously more impact on my daughter than my wife does.”

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2. Dad sets the dating standard

“What you are doing as a man is prioritizing your time,” Leman explains. “Most kids grow up knowing Dad is a pretty busy guy. Your daughter needs to know the sacrifice you’ve made in your priority list; making sure she comes up No. 1. The fact that you affirm your daughter’s femininity and treat her special says to her, ‘Honey, seek somebody special in life. Seek someone who is going to treat you right.'”

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3. A dad makes his daughter feel special on a date

Many girls seek approval and attention at some point in their life. If dad is giving it regularly, it satisfies that craving. If he doesn’t, she might look for it elsewhere.

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4. Daughters might just open up with the one-on-one time

Our oldest daughter painted nails and applied eyeshadow and lip gloss to the girls who didn’t have moms present in the glamour room before the dance. Later, her dad took her out for a Starbucks and he just listened. She talked and then she really talked. Watching my 15 year old and my husband return to the house holding hands is something I won’t soon forget.

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5. It’s the perfect opportunity to just have fun

Dads are busy with work and the pressure of providing. A date is a great time to let loose and just laugh and have fun. At one point during the dance, my 8 year old said, “Daddy was dancing so hard, he had to get a napkin off the table to wipe his sweaty head!” She thought it was awesome because she knew he was having a great time with her.

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6. Regular dates with dad keep him involved in her life

One day, our daughters will date someone other than their dad. And as far off (and even difficult) as that might sound, it’s part of life. And when dad makes his daughter a priority and spends one-on-one time with her, even in the difficult stages and phases of parenting, it becomes a natural shift for when another young man enters her life. I love this from Desiring God: “Have her boyfriend in your home. And I don’t mean just once for dinner. I mean welcome him into your family with some regularity. Let him see you love your wife and children. Model manhood for him — the manhood you want to see in his relationship with your daughter. And remember that your home is probably the safest place for them to get to know each other, rather than out and about on their own without loving boundaries and accountability.”

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Dance, anyone?

If Dad can’t be present or chooses not to be, try to find a Godly man to fill his shoes-a grandfather, uncle, etc. And we don’t have to teach kids their fathers are flawed, they see that eventually. But we can all teach our kids that God is the perfect Father of all.

Photos by Lindsay Portugal & Taylor Robbins