Not My Kid! A Mother’s Look at Sexual Temptation and Sin in the Home

Today I’m over at Growing Up Triplets talking about something every parent needs to think about sooner than later.

“Mom, what’s sex?” Gulp. I wasn’t read for this question from my 9-year-old. He was my firstborn and I knew the question would come, but I didn’t know when. I mumbled something about that being a great question that would be good to talk over sometime when Daddy was home and could he go and check on his younger siblings?”

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Thank You Letter to You, Mommy

Dear Mommy,

I’m thinking of you today because of what I wrote about yesterday. When I was surrounded by loving children praying for me, tears weren’t the only things streaming. If someone could have done a live stream of my thoughts during those moments, you would have been there right in the middle of them.

In those moments I was thanking God for you.

I know your days are long with little ones slobbering, tugging, spitting up and crawling on you. You can’t talk on the phone, eat, pee or check your email without someone asking you if bees have eyelids or tattling on a sibling. You count the minutes till nap time, but moments after you settle down exhausted for a catnap (because someone had nightmares or wet the bed or threw up last night) you get that weird feeling that you’re being watched and open your eyes to find a little face just inches from your own. And when Daddy finally comes home after you’ve been eager for adult company, one of you pushes a button in the other that sparks a conflict that makes tears pop into your own eyes, but you just can’t go there until stomachs are full and baths are over. By then you’re just too tired to get into it with your husband so you retreat to folding laundry that is now too wrinkled…so back in the dryer it goes because you certainly don’t have time to iron anything except those infrequent special-occasion clothes.

And if you’re a single mom there’s a whole bunch of unique challenges that those of us with husbands only experience when they’re out of town on business for a few days (how much does our whining bother you…really?).

But then the next day your little one wakes up with those sweet I-love-Mommy eyes and your heart melts like it does most mornings and you know you were made for this.

Yeah, right

Yeah, right

You were. You were made to wipe bottoms, address heart issues rather than the quicker option of wanting them to just obey!, and coverup nicks and crayon marks on your dining room table with tablecloths because you either can’t afford to replace it yet or can’t bear to refinish it. You were made to endure restless nights because a baby needs to be fed, a toddler fell out of bed again or God knows your sleep patterns need preparation for the teen years when they won’t start talking till 11 PM and you’re still awake praying after the conversation ends.

And you were made to get up most Sunday mornings to search for missing shoes and hope you won’t be late again and get ready to miss some of the worship at church because someone wet their pants or freaked out because you forgot the Cheerios.

Why? Because a hurting grandmother who raises her hand for prayer needs them.

But mostly she needs you.

She needs you to keep going when you wonder if your efforts are producing anything good. When you and your husband haven’t had a night out in weeks or months because, unlike that friend or two (that you’re jealous of, if you’re honest) you don’t have family nearby to help regularly with babysitting (and when did babysitters start charging more than they make working part time at the mall anyway???). When you feel your needs are going unmet because everyone else’s needs are more important.

Here’s my burden for you, young mother. You don’t know how much your church needs you. They need you to persevere — and ask for support and help when you can’t — because the simple act of getting there Sunday after Sunday unless God has plans otherwise means they’ll be there when it suddenly hits them: this isn’t just Mom or Dad’s church, this is my church. My church to help usher or greet newcomers. My church to serve in children’s ministry; help set up chairs; arrange cookies on a platter even though an adult could do it quicker; and, yes, notice an old lady raising her hands for prayer.

What you do day in and day out, week after week, year after year behind the closed doors of your home; while grocery shopping with cranky kids; during “family devotions” when no one is paying attention to the story because they want to play with your phone and you want to give up; and on Sundays when everything in you wants pull the covers over your head and pretend it’s not really morning already, is making an investment not just into the future but also into the present. When they see you stopping to pray for a passing ambulance or happen upon you reading the Bible during nap time because morning devotions just don’t get done much or remind them that you understand why it’s hard to be kind to their sibling because you aren’t kind sometimes, too — well, you’re doing your part to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps 78:4).

I know it doesn’t feel like that but it’s true. “Telling” your kids things isn’t just about the words that come out of your mouth but also the message your life speaks to them every day as you lay down your life for them again and again.

Keep it up. You and your church will enjoy the fruit someday, I promise.

And so might a teary grandmother whose life will be touched because day after day you do what’s hard — including finding that missing shoe on Sunday morning because it’s where you and they need to be.


Been There

P.S. This post is especially dedicated to Jaime.  I love and respect you so much….and in a year or two Caroline will join your other four to pray for Granma.

Blue Eyes and a Smile

Today is my fourth-born child’s birthday. I don’t highlight all of My People’s birthdays each year because if I did I wouldn’t have enough weeks to blog about anything else. But last night I was unable to fall asleep and found my thoughts turning to my Joey.

Always smiling

Always smiling

Sandwiched between three siblings on each side, Joey was the consummate middle-child peacemaker. Well, except for the day at age three when ruckus in his and 4-year-old Jesse’s room found me calling Benny on the phone to tell him his sons were in a fist fight…with Joey on top pounding on his much bigger brother.

Joey’s peacemaking made him the natural choice for his siblings designating him as the “ask Mom” delegate…especially when the other kids thought I would say no to them but not to the adorable little guy with big blue eyes who did have me pretty tightly wrapped around his finger. It was one of those things I didn’t realize was going on — and didn’t find out until they were grown. (Those of you with adult kids know those “Ummm…we didn’t tell you that?” conversations around the dinner table when confessions are flowing so conveniently late.)

Everyone loved Joey’s smile. Sometimes I would catch him smiling pretty much for no reason. Life just seemed to be fun for him, no matter what was going on.Until he was 8 years old he smiled all the time, but then he started

Joey (bottom right) loved playing with the other boys, especially big brother Jesse (middle, second to right).

Joey (bottom right) loved playing with the older boys, especially big brother Jesse (middle, second from right).

playing basketball. Nope, no smiles there. Who tells little boys not to smile while they’re playing sports? Actually, all my sons suddenly developed a “game face” when they got a basketball in their hands. They learned to love and proudly display that face. And to this day, years after the only games they play are followed by complaints about how old and slow they are, I almost always have to tell them to smile in pictures. I don’t get it.

They insisted on a game face pic even at Jake's wedding!

They insisted on a game face pic even at Jake’s wedding last month.

After our move from Virginia to Florida when Joey was fifteen this mother and son became closer than ever. We were both homesick and would check in on how each other were doing. Just before the 3-year mark we were in the car during one of our many treks back and forth to the community college and I asked Joey how things were going.

“Mom, this is starting to feel like home,” he said. I agreed. God had moved in both our hearts. I didn’t mind that Joey wasn’t too interested in getting his license until he graduated high school because it gave me lots of time to chat with a budding young man who I increasingly respected and who was okay about sharing his heart with his mom.

Post Wales :-)

Those eyes and smile captured Lauren’s heart, too.

Then came the day when his heart was turning toward a cute brunette in our church. I won’t forget the night he made a customary stop into our bedroom to kiss me goodnight and sometimes chat with his dad and me about his day. That chat turned into a lengthy talk about Lauren. It seems an upcoming missions trip to Wales had him looking forward to spending some leisurely time with her to see if the stirrings in his heart would find their home in hers. They did. My son’s wise choice of a delightful, godly and fun wife resulted in Amelia Grace Phillips who may have Daddy’s coloring but certainly has Mommy’s love for dancing anywhere and everywhere, especially at Disney.

Several years ago Joey surprised us all with a new “gift.” It came seemingly out of nowhere and we don’t really know what to call it; a sense of humor is too weak so maybe the “gift of wit” as one guy called it will suffice. During his years of coaching high school basketball at our former church Joey started writing kinda true but humorously embellished recaps of the year to read at the annual sports banquets. While the room crescendoed with laughter as he read, Joey’s deadpan face remained unchanged. Those banquets produced requests to do his “thing” at birthday and engagement parties and for wedding toasts — and I’ve already told him his funeral debut will be for me. If you ever want a really good laugh that usually ends with heartfelt warmth let me know.  I promise you don’t even have to know the people.

Amelia's 3rd Birthday last week

Amelia’s 3rd Birthday last week

My favorite memory of Joey so far is one that made me realize my boy had become a man. Benny and I had just learned some painful news about someone we love and needed to confide in someone trustworthy. I reached out to a couple of my kids, including Joey. Looking back, it was the first time Mom went to the kid for help and advice rather than it being the other way around. Sitting in McDonald’s that night I was wisely and compassionately cared for by someone whose tender blue eyes searched my own to see how I was processing the news. Those same eyes had looked into mine hundreds of times over the years when he sat on my lap. Ran to greet me with outstretched arms when Benny and I returned from a trip. Silently begged me not to leave him in Sunday School before he compliantly turned to join his friends. Twinkled with joy when he made the select basketball team and later fell in love. And brimmed with tears the day we packed up his room (including a bunch of basketball memorabilia) to move into the first home he was about to share with his bride.

That night the peacemaker reminded me that I could trust the One who promised a suffering, hurting mom-turned-counselee peace that passes understanding. And since then I have found timely hope in those tender eyes again and again even when no words are exchanged.

Happy Birthday, Joey. Twenty-nine years ago today God gave me a baby son who is now I man I deeply respect. Your eyes and your smile still melt my heart. I love you — even though you lied to me about never leaving me and promised to live next door when you got big.

(But Lauren and Amelia — and maybe little Wiley someday? — are more than worth it.)

Last fall celebrating their 5th Anniversary…at Disney, of course.

Last fall celebrating their 5th Anniversary…at Disney, of course.



Yesterday I spent part of my day at a Monday homeschool support program my daughter Jaime started last year, enjoyed by a few dozen children and some spunky mom/teachers. I walked up to the building to a greeting of a voice I recognized as my friend, Vicki, who waved from the playground where she was supervising a couple of kids. Inside, I walked by classrooms of giggling children, a teacher reminding students to stop chatting and pay attention, and a child asking how big a stomach is.

I observed my daughter Janelle’s writing and history classes in preparation for being her substitute teacher when little Silas is born in a couple of weeks; watched moms pull toddlers onto their lap to help them with lunch; observed a pregnant mother rubbing her expanding belly; was introduced to a delightful single woman with a reputation for being an awesome kindergarten teacher; and overheard Jaime saying she was headed off to clean up a poopy “whoops” in the bathroom.

As the morning progressed I became sad. I was thrilled to be there and am really looking forward to subbing for my daughter. Yet on the way home tears filled my eyes as a strange blanket of grief crept through my heart.

I miss my babies.

At ages 35, 34, 30, 27, 24 and 19 my littles are now all big. They are terrific, productive, delightful, busy, handsome/beautiful…adults.  They have given me eleven adorable Little People, with numbers twelve and thirteen on the way. And just two nights ago I had the opportunity to listen to them mock and honor and express their love to the three whose September birthdays we were celebrating. Sometimes I pinch myself as I wonder how in the world this “infertile” woman has been so lavishly loved by God.

But today I miss them.

I miss all those little blondes and the dark-haired cutie God gave us last through adoption. I miss wondering if it was dog or toddler pee on the hallway floor and realizing at 4:30 PM that chili dogs would have to do because I forgot to thaw the chicken…again. I miss dandelion bouquets. Feeding the ducks at Burke Lake. Overhearing Benny praying from room to room at night that each would “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Snuggling on the couch to teach another first grader to read. The smell of a just-bathed newborn. Having my frig covered with pictures of Mommy and Daddy whose skinny arms stretched out of our fat heads. Picking up coloring books and popsicles and a Blockbuster movie for the one who had a fever. Nags Head vacations with a house full of kids and friends.

I miss my littles. It may sound strange but today I feel like I’m grieving. Why? They’re all well and I still get to make their favorite birthday dinners. They love to mock me for lovingly comparing a friend to a hobbit and remind me that the every single accent I try always sounds asian. Laughter still fills my home when they are around and the piano in the living room gets played a lot, usually with Jesse’s newest awesome arrangement of something familiar. When Jake, Joey and Janelle get into the kitchen to help clean up, Disney songs are still belted uproariously out and Josh thinks even today’s video games are “unrealistic.” And once in awhile I even hear Jaime slightly mispronouncing her r’s.

So what am I grieving?

I’m mourning the loss of years I thought would never end. But they did.

They ended before I made enough pbnj’s; played enough CandyLand; read enough “Fox and the Hound”‘s; kissed enough boo-boos; graded enough spelling tests; cheered at enough basketball games; swept up enough Cheerios; wiped enough tears; kissed enough soft cheeks; returned enough morning grins; clapped at enough piano recitals; celebrated enough lost teeth; and combed or trimmed or curled or cut gum about of enough hair.

Maybe it was  yesterday’s gloomy, rainy day that caused me to mirror the melancholy because it’s been awhile since I’ve grieved like this. I mostly love my still-busy but different life when I can actually go to the bathroom alone and enjoy leisurely time reading my Bible or editing family photos or blogging in my room with no interruptions (well, except when Benny’s elderly mother wants to know if I can help her find a NCIS rerun on her tv or asks again if I’m sure she took all her pills that morning). But yesterday I was mourning the loss of a life that was more exhausting but wonderful than I could have ever dreamed.

If you’re a mom of young children, please try to remember that before you know it you will be me. The very things that tempt you to feel unappreciated, cause you to fall into bed exhausted (knowing it’s only a matter of time before someone cries to be fed or falls out of bed or rushes in frightened by a bad dream), and make you crazy are those things that may find you driving in a few decades with tears streaming. Of course you get tired and overwhelmed. What you’re doing with your life requires more courage and strength than you ever anticipated. And, yes, you get as low on patience as you do sleep.

But sooner than you think you might be sitting in your quiet room alone thinking about how happy you are that your pregnant daughter and her husband are coming for dinner. In fact (shhh…don’t tell anyone) you might even experience a tinge of jealousy that she is the one about to bring home a newborn and not you.

Then you’ll come to your senses and realize that there is something precious and sweet about remembering things that used to feel they would always be…but aren’t. The grief will pass but the memories won’t.

Kiss your babies while their cheeks remain soft and their little bottoms can still fit into your lap. And tonight when you fall exhausted into bed, remember there’s now one less day before you will celebrate their last birthday at home before they get married to start the crazy, wonderful years they, too, think will creep by before they get old (right, Jake?). The tears you shed now over another day of doing chores that will only have to be redone tomorrow will become tears of sentimental regret that one one is in the house to mess it up.

I know you probably don’t believe me. But trust me. It’s all true.

Me and my "babies"

Me and my “babies”

Did I Really Just Say That?

Yesterday I talked about the common challenge of being sometimes lost as a mother. The pressure to feel we have to always know what to do and then do it right plaques many mothers, including me. After all, if we get directions and plan things well, all should go smoothly, right?

But what about those moments for which you can’t prepare? Even if we could do it all right in the normal tasks of caring for, feeding, cleaning up after, training and teaching our kids, at points along the way things are going to take us off guard and we’ll be lost for how to respond. We (hopefully) aren’t surprised when our babies throw food out of the highchair, toddlers hit other kids or teens lie about getting homework done. But do we somehow expect that if we do all the “right” things along the way and make every imaginable sacrifice for our kids that they won’t make really bad decisions that leave us awake at night crying?  If we teach them not to throw food or hit others — and lovingly talk to them about our own temptations to lie so they won’t feel we don’t understand, while stressing the importance of honesty — are we thus protecting ourselves from the really hard things?

My oldest is about to turn 35. (I won’t bore you with the “how in the heck did that happen” comments.) But I encountered something recently I hadn’t experienced in all those years….

My husband is a pastor. Gratefully, while some of my kids went through tough spiritual seasons and made bad choices, they always willingly attended church on Sunday mornings with us. I’m sure there were times when they may have rather slept in. But unless they were sick or out of town we were together worshiping on Sundays.

A few months back I went to wake up one of our remaining at-home kids to hear they were too tired to go. Honestly, I didn’t know what was “right” to say. Some of my friends whose kids are uninvolved in a church have taken the road of not wanting to force their kids to go. Others take the “as long as you’re in this house you’ll go to church” posture and fight with their kids to comply because that’s what they think is best.

That morning I was stumped. How do I respond? I was surprised at the words that came out of my mouth.

“Hmm…well, honey, that might actually work out good. We still have a lot of packing to get done [we were moving soon] so let’s see…I’ll give you another 30 minutes and then you can get up and help me get started.”

“Huh? What? Mom, you’re not staying home.”

“Actually, yes I am.  If you stay home then I’ll stay home, too, and we’ll get a lot done together. See ya in a few minutes.”

I left the room wondering what in the world I had just done! A pastor’s wife (of a brand new and small church where everyone knows who is/isn’t there, mind you) just told her teenaged child we would both skip church to pack boxes? Was I letting my child manipulate me? While I hadn’t anticipated facing this specific parenting issue, if I had I certainly wouldn’t have come up with that response!

While back in by bedroom grabbing grubby clothes to change into I experienced the peace of God. I realized in that moment that my child knowing I wouldn’t react angrily or selfishly to them not wanting to go to church was important to me. And that prizing my relationship with them over forcing “church” (even their father’s church) down their throat was a genuine priority.

In that moment — a moment I hadn’t planned for — what needed to be said was “there.” Maybe it’s not what you would have said. And perhaps I’ll realize years from now that it really wasn’t the right thing to say.

But as I started to change my clothes I heard my kid’s shower start up….

As we drove away they told me I wouldn’t have really stayed home.

“Yes, I would. And I will stay home next week and the week after and the week after that if that’s what you decide.  I love you, and showing you that what we do we do together is more important than forcing you to get up and go to church.”

We’ve been going every Sunday since.

Maybe you wish your “I didn’t prepare for this moment” was a child not wanting to get out of bed for church. Perhaps your moment was finding a journal entry that talked about suicide or discovering internet porn on your teen’s computer or leaving a doctor’s visit reeling from bad news.

I’ve had similar moments, too. But I’ve found that trusting God to help me in the non-crisis moments prepares me for the big ones.

Desperate mothers, which is what this series is about, are desperate enough to believe that still, small voice that guides us. Sometimes what’s best for our kid isn’t what’s best for someone else’s. Often the wisdom we need is found in biblical principles rather than being spelled out in the black and white pages of the Bible.

And sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

P.S.  I’m participating in 30 days of blogging…this is day three.


The Mean Picture Lesson

I happend to catch this candid shot of JJ and Elsie in my backyard last week having a sibling “moment”….

Last week my 5-year-old granddaughter, Elsie, got mad at her brother, JJ. Really mad. No one knows why. But she was so mad she drew a picture of herself and him. Only she drew a diagonal line through him…like those signs you see that warn people not to walk in the grass or cross the street in a certain spot.

Her 7-year-old brother saw his sister’s obvious anger and aloofness, but he hadn’t seen the picture she drew. He just knew she wouldn’t play with him and was snippy when he spoke to her. This had certainly happened numerous times before so he knew what to do. JJ found his mom and told her Elsie was angry and wouldn’t play with him.

That day was like every other one for Rachel — just another sibling skirmish to referee like she had hundreds before. Perhaps the thought came: “How many times am I gonna have to do this?” But what she didn’t know is that this tiff would be different…

In recent months I’ve heard of numerous relational conflicts between people. Folks have gotten really mad at others for varying reasons, some serious and others petty.  Living in a fallen world means promises get broken, feelings get hurt and people get angry. For some reason holiday stress — coupled with the common disappointment when our Christmas season doesn’t closely resemble Hallmark cards and movies — brings relational conflicts to the surface.

As I said on Monday, the holidays can be laced (or it some cases, doused) with disappointment, and one of the big reasons is tension between people who have been or want to be close, but aren’t.

I learned something from JJ and Elsie last week. And their mom. The gospel can shine brightest when people sin.

When Rachel brought her children together to talk through their conflict, she expected things to go as usual. Elsie would complain about something her brother had done. JJ would try to explain or defend himself, and perhaps point out something Elsie did that warranted his reaction. Rachel would try to help them see the importance of getting along and ask them to play nicely. Or maybe, depending on whether or not 3-year-old Eleanor was writing on walls with markers or getting into Mommy’s makeup, Rach would take the time to lovingly remind them that Jesus can help them love each other and then pray with them for His help.

But God had other plans.

They really do love each other.

Before Rachel had time to address Elsie’s anger toward her brother she was bringing over her picture to show Mommy. She was crying, not because she was mad at JJ but because she had drawn a mean picture that demonstrated her angry attitude.  Rachel explained that she understood how easy it is to get angry at people, saying she has drawn that same picture over and over in her own heart. Then JJ cozied up to his sister and put his arm around her.

“It’s okay, Elsie. I understand. I get angry, too,” he said.

Rachel then told them that because they are sinners, Jesus provided a way for them to be forgiven. All Elsie needed to do to stop crying and feeling bad about her mean picture and angry attitude toward her brother was to ask Jesus and JJ to forgive her. Once she did that, it was all over and she didn’t have to feel badly anymore. So Elsie asked forgiveness of God and her brother, then began happily playing.

When Rachel told me the story several days later, she wasn’t boasting about what good parents she and Josh are to raise such humble kids. She was genuinely amazed at God’s work in both her children. She knew that Elsie’s sincere sorrow over drawing such a mean picture of her brother, and JJ’s eagerness to empathize with her, were first and foremost evidences of God’s grace in their lives.

And what’s thrilling is this same grace is available to you and me.

Is there someone you’re not looking forward to spending time with this Christmas, or someone you’re glad you won’t be seeing? Over the past year (or more?) have you noticed growing anger or bitterness building in your heart toward anyone? Have you drawn a mental picture of someone and then essentially crossed him or her out of your life?

Perhaps you can prayerfully consider humbling yourself and sharing your “picture” with them. God will show you what this should look like. He might lead you to take the first step of simple (but not easy!) initiative in the form of a quick email to say hello; or maybe prompt you to plunge right into deeper waters by asking forgiveness for your anger or bitterness.

The reality is they may not respond the way JJ did — and things could actually get even more muddy. But God will be watching. He knows all about the costs of bridging the gap between those in conflict. The cross demonstrates to us that if God could reconcile sinful man to His holy self, there is no relationship beyond repair.

P.S.  Repairing relationships doesn’t always mean things have to be like they once were or that wrong patterns of relating will change right away. Relationships typically take a long time to break down…and equally long to repair. Healthy interactions don’t mean you have to have Christmas dinner together. More on that tomorrow.

Boys Mowing Lawns Now Men Supporting Families: Together

Photo credit: Mary Powell

Today’s guest contributor is my son, Jesse, pictured here with Rebekah, Sam, Issac and Josiah. 

“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty” Proverbs 14:23.
Mom has been doing a series on sibling relationships and offered for us kids to contribute. My desire is to share how teaching kids to work together is a key way to build healthy sibling relationships.

The obvious meaning of the verse above is if you sit around and do nothing you’ll end up poor. If you work hard, you won’t be poor. Of course, it is a wisdom saying that alludes to a general principle that can’t be strictly interpreted to conclude the inverse (anyone poor became poor by not working hard). But the general principal is true: work produces benefit. I think this is true for sibling relationships as well. Working together as siblings produces benefits.

Enough about scriptural principals, let’s talk about me:

When we were young our oldest brother, Josh, hired Joey and me to work for a lawn care and snow removal company he managed. As young teens (or was Joey like ten or eleven?) we were operating commercial mowers and sometimes working through the night when snowstorms rolled into northern Virginia. If you know Joey ask him about the time one of the mowers got away from him; or let Josh tell you the story of the night he shoveled show until he was nearly delirious with hypothermia. Fun times.

Working for Josh under the supervision of some guys from Mexico who moved to Virginia each summer to work taught Joey and me (and later, Jake) how to work hard. The last thing we wanted the Mexican guys to call us was “too much lazy.” Joey and I decided to start J&J Lawn Services. Being the marketing guru that I am, I changed the name to J&J Lawns. That had a much better ring.

When we moved to Florida when Joey and I were in our mid teens we started LaMerritt Lawns. Josh was our investor and Dad gave up his garage for us. We even filed a corporation and had an accountant. We were big shot executives, greedy capitalists, and sweaty grass-covered landscape technicians all rolled into one.

Joey and I operated LaMerritt Lawns long enough to get me through college. We bought a truck and trailer, and 36” and 61” hydraulic powered SCAG mowers. We mowed soccer fields and other small commercial properties to pay for gas, food and whatever else the Bright Futures academic scholarship didn’t cover. We continued to use our Toyota truck even after I did a 360 on a rain drenched ramp near our house shortly before a neighbor’s tree bent the bed during Hurricane Charley in 2004. (That tree made a beeline for our truck that day.)

I didn’t realize it then, but the experience of working with siblings and family was only just the beginning.

After college I worked with my dad at our church. When the church encountered some financial challenges I volunteered to get employment elsewhere. Once again Josh came through and offered me a job working for an IT company he started six years ago. The brother who taught me how to mow lawns (perfectly!) taught me that “IT is as much about fixing people as fixing computers.” Josh recently turned down a job he was offered by his biggest client and recommended me for the position. The board decided to settle for me. But since Josh’s offices are on the same property as my new employer I still get to partner with my brothers. (Did I mention Joey is now the Pres of Josh’s company; Jake worked there until he left last summer for law school; and Mom does account management from home?)

I’ve worked for and with family my entire life. Even when I tried to escape, the one place I interviewed with was Florida Hospital, where—you guessed it—my father-in-law is an executive. And ‘He who sits in the heavens laughs’  (Pr. 2:4).

All joking aside, I can’t overstate the value of working together as families and as siblings specifically. Character is formed and camaraderie built by getting a job done and then getting paid for it. Of course, we didn’t get paid for making our beds and helping Dad with yard work when we were kids. Mom always said, “Being family has privileges and responsibilities” so serving around the house wasn’t something we were paid to do. It was a lot of fun when others started paying us, though.

Learning to depend on and cover for each other helped build trust and encourage unselfishness. Saying “he did it!” might work when your mom asks what went wrong. However, blame shifting doesn’t work when it’s a client asking why his backyard wasn’t mowed. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is; you both don’t get paid.

Of course, it hasn’t always been fun and games. Any time you work with someone day after day you get upset with each other. And not many of us would invite our boss over for Thanksgiving. But hey, it comes with the territory of a family business. There’s something about it that helps reflects a biblical view of vocation by merging the worlds of work and family.

Working together as siblings helps increase respect for each other and gives plenty of opportunities to forgive. Remember the previous posts on forgiveness? Well, that doesn’t end when you’re adults. Josh and I have both had to forgive each other for sins we committed against each other while at work.

The part of the overbearing boss is played by Josh. The part of the griping subversive employee played by Jesse. Action!

Families were not meant to live disconnected lives and go separate directions during the day, returning to the house at night. Neither were sibling relationships meant to end after kids move out of the house.

We were meant to work together, labor together and partner with each other in this thing called life. That’s our calling and our vocation, whether we have a family business or not. Sometimes adult siblings can’t work side by side because they live states apart. But working together involves far more than fixing computers or mowing lawns together; it involves linking hearts to be there for each other in whatever ways brothers and sisters desire and should. As a dad of three young boys, I believe this starts with teaching my sons to labor together in the stuff of daily life.

As I look back over my experience of working for and with my siblings, both as a child and now as an adult, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m not sure I would have the work ethic I have had it not been for the example of my siblings. Our experiences working together, making many fun memories and challenging each other to excel helped me to be who I am today. I know my relationships with my siblings would not be as strong as they are had childhood been all play and no work.

The other day I walked out into the yard and saw Issac pulling weeds with Rebekah. While I don’t think he got all the roots up, I couldn’t help but think about the years he and Sam may spend plotting their next big business venture together, and then working with each other to achieve their dreams of becoming rich enough to buy their own ice cream.

A Challenging Weekend that Ended Well

When we started our family back in the late 70’s our lives and church were full of singles and young couples without kids. Additionally, there were no books on Christian parenting. That’s right…none.

It actually turned out to be a blessing because the only resource we had was the Bible. As years passed and Benny started performing numerous weddings, couples started having children and our own family continued to grow. The thing we most often talked about with others was parenting. You see, most of us had been raised in the church but were worldly hypocrites who posed as Christians and got away with murder because our parents were virtually uninvolved. We didn’t want this for our kids….

We read the Bible and had many conversations about how to apply biblical truth to parenting. We certainly made our share of mistakes, including misapplying truth at times. Looking back, we also tended to focus more on outward compliance than inward change. Yet to us if the Bible said it we wanted to help our children embrace it.

One of the things we worked hard on was confession of sin or wrong, followed by asking forgiveness. The Bible talks a lot about confessing our faults and sins to one another (and to God, of course) as well as going back to the person we have hurt or sinned against to request their forgiveness. We felt that a big way to protect our kid’s relationships with each other was to do our part to prevent offenses from building up throughout their lives.

First, we didn’t allow our kids to tattle on one another. When one of them did something wrong or hurtful, their sibling was instructed to ask them go tell Dad or Mom (or whoever was in charge) what they did, rather than running to tattle. If the sibling refused, they could then come and inform us that something happened that their brother or sister refused to come and tell us. The bottom line was that we wanted our kids to confess their own wrongs, not those of others (which the Bible calls gossip).

This scenario rarely worked just right — especially when the child was first learning the ropes. More times than I can count, we had to correct the child who said something mean or acted unkindly twice….once for whatever they did to their sibling and once for not coming to tell us when reminded. But over the years they slowly learned to come and confess their wrongs. Our hope was that this repeated practice would teach them that confessing things to Dad and Mom (and then others) wasn’t something to avoid but to pursue. Confession should always be redemptive and restorative. Even when what they confessed required discipline, we tried to celebrate their willingness to tell us. Making it easy for the kids to admit to us that they had done something wrong was a priority to us. (More on that below.)

Here’s the problem with not allowing your kids to tattle and gossip: heart issues remain. Benny and I had to repeatedly remind our kids that coming to tell us that a sibling “did something and won’t come and tell you” with a vengeful, self-righteous heart was just as wrong as whatever that brother or sister did or said. But even these encounters were ministry moments with our children.

Second, we helped our kids to confess their wrongs and ask forgiveness. Our family was (and is) like every other family. Lots of fun and memorable stuff went on that was laced with selfish reactions, manipulation and down right meanness. Sibling “rivalry” is just a concise way of saying, “Put two siblings who can at least crawl into a room together and before long you’re bound to hear yelling or crying over something one or both did to the other.”

The Bible is clear: when we do something wrong to someone we must acknowledge it and ask forgiveness. Children aren’t exempted from this responsibility. Children who are trained to ask for and extend forgiveness over and over are more likely to keep their relationship clear of longterm bitterness that comes from repeated unresolved offenses.

Over the years, parents have lamented that this kind of commitment is just too hard. One mom told me, “If I stopped to consistently deal with issues between my kids like this I would never get anything else done!”

I agree. It’s hard work. And some days I felt like all I did was remind and correct my kids for tattling, trying to get their sibling in trouble, dodging responsibility for their sins or failures, and grabbing onto every peacemaking skill I had ever learned to teach them to be kind to one another.

But last weekend I saw decades of gospel-saturated forgiveness in action. An incident happened that resulted in three of the kids disappointing and hurting one another. There were numerous issues to discuss from the encounters. While not every aspect of the conversations went as well as we hoped, one thing was clear: asking forgiveness of their siblings was on the top of the list. My mother’s heart was warmed the next day when I knew my adult children were reaching out to one another to take responsibility for their contributions to the conflict.

It doesn’t always work this way in our family. Sometimes needed confession doesn’t happen or is forgotten. But I truly believe that teaching little ones to acknowledge and confess their wrongs and sins against each other can lead to adults who value their sibling relationships enough to make reconciliation a priority.

Perhaps our method is not the one you feel is best for your family or encouraging humility and acknowledgement of wrong is already something you practice with your kids. Remember that principles are always more important than practices that are not clearly spelled out in scripture. I would just encourage you to find and consistently implement a way for your kids to resist the temptation to gossip about one another and to ask for and extend forgiveness.

It’s just biblical.

P.S. Tomorrow my youngest son, Jake, will share his perspective on this issue…as well as mock his siblings for the many ways they required him to forgive them. Smile.

Lifelong Friends-to-Be?

Mom grew up in Roanoake, Virginia in the 30’s and 40’s. Granny was a stay-at-home mom like every mother in those days. My grandfather was a hard working blue collar guy who worked long hours to support eight children. I don’t remember how old I was the first time I heard Mom and her siblings say, “The only toys we had were each other.”

It was apparent to me from a young age that those eight siblings were close. We spent many Sunday afternoons at Aunt Vergie’s laughing over repeatedly told (and embellished…smile) stories of family life in rural southwest Virginia. Most of my 25 first cousins lived within an hour of each other; when we got together food and laughs abounded.

Most days when I was growing up I overheard Mom talking to at least one of The Sisters. I could hear her laughing from wherever I was in the house. And sometimes I could also hear her fussing over something that had happened in the family. Mom’s three brothers were all younger and two of them spent a lot of time at our house eating, living there temporarily and yes, laughing. My Uncle Alvin once showed up with an anteater he won in a card game. I don’t think my brother Randy ever forgave Mom for not letting him keep it.

I was twelve when Uncle Alvin was severely burned in a house fire in the late 60’s. Mom spent day and night at this side watching him suffer an agonizing death. One night after the funeral I found her sitting alone in the dark crying. It’s my first memory of Mom telling me how important it was to stay close to my siblings.

“Honey, friends will come and go. I know you think your friends are really important but someday they will probably all be gone. But your brothers and sister will be there for you all your life.”

Mom didn’t know then that my older brother would break his neck in a swimming accident at age 21 when I was 16 — just when I started learning what she meant.  When Randy died six years later I knew I had lost a lifelong friend. Three years after his death, our first miracle baby was on the way. I started praying that Benny and I could carry on Mom’s legacy of sibling closeness while I was growing our firstborn son. God knew then what I didn’t: this medically infertile woman would become the mother of seven.

Our seven J’s in 1995

The youngest of the seven that I once looked down to is now eighteen and before long her oldest brother will be 35.  As I typed this post over the weekend, three of them were sitting in the family room playing some old Nintendo 2 game. Yesterday a bunch of us watched the Redskins game together (while Benny texted with Jake about two hours north at law school) after spending the morning serving and worshiping together at Redeemer Church. Living within five minutes of each other has been a meaningful expression of the kid’s desire to stay connected to each other —  and allowed Josh and Rach to ask Jaime to expand her little home school to include their two school-aged kids.

People regularly ask us what we did to foster closeness between our kids. That’s the reason for this post today; the first of several in a series on sibling relationships. They see the love and loyalty between our seven J’s and wonder what they can do as parents of younger kids to create a culture of family affection amoung siblings who fuss and fight more than they hug and kiss.

Benny and I smile.

What people don’t know is about the time I called Benny at the office to inform him that toddlers Jesse and Joey were having a fist fight over matchbox cars. Or the night Janelle was in tears (again) over mean things her brothers said or did, resulting in Rachel confronting her adolescent brothers-in-law. Or the damage arrogance and unkindness between Josh and Jaime produced in their teen years. Or the times proud, insensitive or angry comments have required apologies between adult siblings as recently as this past weekend.

In addition to the common challenges our large family has experienced over the years, there have also weighty trials through which we have walked when sin (ours and others) threatened to tear our family apart, but became the Spirit-born glue that miraculously forged a deeper bond between us.

I think there are things parents can do and not do that help create a culture of loyal love between siblings. I will share some of those things over the coming days, not because our family is perfect or we’ve discovered a formula for making sure we stay close. Honestly, I think we have some things to offer for the very opposite reason: we’ve messed up, hurt one another, asked forgiveness and found hope in gospel-reconciling truths available to every Christian. A couple of readers suggested that I involve some of our kids to share their thoughts and experiences. I’ve invited any of our children who desire to weigh in to talk about whatever is on their heart — good, bad or ugly — that might help parents of still-at-home kids to prize one another as lifelong friends. So far three of them have said they would love to talk about the joys and struggles of being raised by parents who “made them” love each other.

Our seven J’s in 2011

But let me say this: there are two things to which I most attribute the warm relationship between my kids today. First, the advice a mother gave to her 12-year-old daughter over four decades ago; advice I watched her live out all her life with my uncles and The Sisters. And, second, God’s faithfulness to answer the prayers of some young parents who dared to believe that kids who said and did mean things to each other would end up carrying Mom’s legacy into a new generation.

I once heard someone say, “If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it.” Encouraging close relationships among your kids requires having a vision; something at which you are willing to aim and then pray your heart out that God will empower your efforts to do your part. Mom gave me that — and I hope to pass it along to you.

Josh’s Surprise Pumpkins

The phone rang and she instinctively checked the caller ID. Margaret again. She had a way of regularly calling at the wrong time. Diane wondered what people did before you could know who’s calling before you pick up the phone.

When Diane and Vic married she had some concerns about Margaret. Vic’s dad died about a year before the wedding and Margaret became a little clingy with her only son. Diane understood that Vic’s wedding following so closely to Margaret losing her husband was going to make it hard. At first, she was calling almost daily just to say hello and check in. The calls aren’t nearly as frequent now but Diane can’t help it that Margaret seems to call just as she is leaving to run errands or Vic is just walking in from work.

Besides, Margaret will probably call back later in the week. As she walks away from the phone, Diane’s eyebrows press into a slightly quizzical look. For some reason she just realized that she never remembered Dad getting regular calls from her Nana. Hmm…guess they weren’t that close. Maybe that’s why she only saw Nana once a year or so.

The posts on this in-law series have recently focused on the parents-in-law. For the next few days I’d like to share some thoughts that may be helpful to children-in-law. Diane didn’t realize that her in-law views had been shaped by her upbringing. Because her father didn’t get regular calls from his mother, Diane unconsciously wondered why her own mother-in-law called so much. Sometimes she didn’t even mention to Vic that his mom called…

I’m reminded of Josh coming to me when he was about eight to tell me he planted a couple of pumpkin seeds on the hill in our back yard. “Nannie said if I planted the seeds where they could get lots of sun and grow downhill we’ll have pumpkins pretty soon! She said even you probably can’t kill pumpkins, Mom!”

The sparkle in his eyes prevented me from squelching his enthusiasm. Clearly my reputation for killing most everything I planted was well established. But even I knew that digging a little hole, throwing some pumpkins seeds in it and dousing it with a glass half full of water was not going to result in fresh pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving.

Well, until the vine grew all the way down the hill and cute little pumpkins started growing.

The first thing I want to share specifically with children-in-law is this: remember that you are sowing seeds will may reap in the future. I find myself regularly repeating a phrase Benny picked up somewhere years ago, “More is caught than taught.” Because Diane grew up in a home where there was little one-on-one contact between her Dad and his mother she found the amount of contact between her husband and his mother to be excessive at worst and mildly irritating at best.

In-law relationships are rule-less. There is no reputable handbook or list of laws that must be heeded about relating to your parents-in-law! And what is preferred by and works for other families may not be right for yours. That’s where the comparison trap can wreak havoc. Perhaps you have friends who rarely see or talk to their in-laws and it works fine for them, while others you know go to their in-laws every Sunday for food and football. Look long enough and you’ll find someone who has the kind of in-law relationship you prefer — whether it’s less contact or more. 

The Bible talks about the principle of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7). What is put into the ground is what comes out of the ground. I can’t plant tomatoes and then be disappointed that I didn’t get cucumbers! While this verse is certainly not referring to in-law relationships, the principle is applicable. What was “planted” in Diane’s young heart was that husbands and their moms don’t have much contact and see each other only occasionally. This made Margaret’s regular calls to her married son seem a little strange to Diane. She wondered what in the world would happen when they had kids for her to dote on?

If you are the parent of small children I would suggest that you consider the seeds you are planting. After Benny and I got married it became more noticeable to me how infrequently he and his parents (who lived nearby) interacted. After we had children, and especially after his parents divorced, I found myself suggesting to Benny that he call his mom to say hello, invite her to the kids basketball games or see if she would like to join us for church events.

Some years later I realized what I was doing. I wanted our children to grow up seeing their dad reach out to his mom. There was something in my heart that hoped our sons would “catch” their Dad’s care for and initiative toward his mother. As her daughter-in-law, I not only wanted Jewel to be the recipient of her son’s love (especially because of Benny’s warm relationship with my mother) but I also hoped those seeds would be reaped in my life when my four little boys became men.

I’m not suggesting that how you treat your in-laws will automatically affect how your adult children will treat you. Perhaps Diane’s grandmother was perfectly content with the amount of interaction she had with her adult son and didn’t notice that he didn’t reach out except to make arrangements for holiday visits. But maybe she would have loved to hear from him more — if she wasn’t concerned about being perceived as a meddling mother-in-law or a nuisance.

Take a minute soon to look at your little ones. Those chubby arms and legs will grown lean and long. Before you know it your little boy’s voice will deepen and you’ll start seeing facial hair pop up on a face that is starting to look like it belongs to a man. The little girl who is turning in “pretty circles” to Disney music will be asking when she can start wearing makeup. Your children will become adults who will leave home and get married.

What will your relationship with them be like then? Who will be there to show them how to warmly love their parents ? Will they think to call sometimes just to say a quick hello? Will their eyes roll unseen on the other end of the phone or computer when asked to come over to Mom’s for dinner or drive into town for a holiday? Will they get so busy with their new marriage and life that they forget how excited you are when you hear their voice on the phone or as they walk into the front door?

Let me tell you a secret. You are teaching them — now. Let them hear you call your parents and parents-in-law or overhear you gently remind your spouse to do so. Show them how to treat you later by how you treat your parents and in-laws now.

And if you’re discouraged because there is so much turbulent water under the in-law bridge that you’re afraid it’s too late, remember the gospel. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross says it’s never too late to hope for change. Maybe your in-laws are mean and want little to do with you. Perhaps they are perfectly happy with living their lives apart from you for any number of justified or unjustified reasons. And maybe, if you’re honest, you prefer the way things are and don’t want more relationship or contact with them.

Again, just fast-foward a couple of years and ask yourself if the way you think about and treat your in-laws is the way you hope things will be with your adult kids and their spouses. Making any changes you think are needed now with your in-laws won’t guarantee good things later.

But you never know. After all, we had fresh pumpkin pies that Thanksgiving because a little boy was willing to throw seeds into some dirt and hoped they would grow.