Sexual Temptations, Worldliness and Rules

Yesterday I was over at Growing Up Triplets talking about “Not Me! A Mother’s Look at Sexual Temptation and Sin in the Home.” Two of my sons, both in their 20’s, asked to do a follow up post to share their hearts on this topic. Today’s post is by Jake, a second-year law student at the University of Florida (even though he’s a solid Auburn fan) and brand new husband to Sarah. Since my kids’ posts are the most-read ones on this blog, I hope you’ll appreciate hearing from my mid-20’s son who kinda writes like a lawyer. Yep, I had to look up “prophylactic” because I certainly don’t remember that being in our homeschool vocab lists.

Yesterday, Mom made what I think is an important point, i.e. that prophylactic* rules parents set up regarding sexual and worldly temptations can never be entirely successful.  Internet filters, guarding the remote, restricting the viewing of certain TV shows/movies or listening to certain kinds of music, keeping an eye on what friendships they develop and which stores in the mall they are passing will not stop the inevitable contact with sexually explicit messages and images all kids eventually encounter.

She later made an equally important point. Parents should set up internet filters, should restrict the movies their kids watch and the music they listen to, should distract their kids when walking by Victoria Secret and generally should protect their kids in reasonable ways. It was beyond the scope of the blog post to answer, but it begged the question: why? Why should we do those things? Isn’t making rules and standards for our kids “legalistic” as some purport?  Why spend so much time protecting our kids if, ultimately, we can’t be entirely successful? Shouldn’t we focus our time and energy on preparing them for the inevitable worldly and sexual temptations that will arise?

To answer those questions Joey (one of my older brothers), Mom and I are going to write a three-part follow up series to Mom’s post yesterday.  Our contention is that creating rules and standards for our kids insofar as it relates to worldliness and sexual temptations isn’t legalistic and is wise.  I am writing today to address the issue of legalism; Joey will write part two addressing the issue of wisdom (from the perspective of the kid) and Mom will write part three addressing the issue of wisdom from a different perspective than Joey — namely, she’s the one with seven kids and fourteen grandkids.

Before I begin, though, I want to make several points at the outset.

1) Preparing your kids for the inevitable temptations that arise is at least equally (and perhaps more) important than attempting to protect them from such temptations. Nothing we say in this series should be construed as a criticism of any energy and dialogue spent for the purpose of preparing or helping your kids through such temptations.

2)  Although the rules of the game don’t change as kids get older, the strategies do.  In other words, to the extent that anything we say is even true, it applies only where it applies, and probably moreso to pre-teens and early teenage years than to later teenage years.

3)  Actual, real legalism is the worst.

Having said all that, let’s talk about legalism.

WHAT IS AND WHAT ISN’T LEGALISM?

There is a somewhat fascinating way of thinking that’s going around that equates rules and standards with legalism. This is of course absurd, since the lack of rules and standards can be legalistic in exactly the same ways that rules and standards can be legalistic. So, then, what is legalism?

Author and teacher John Piper says the essence of legalism is when faith is not the engine of obedience and that the aim of legalism is trading with God value for value.  In other words, legalism is when we pursue the law (a good thing) fueled by our flesh, rather than the Spirit (a bad thing).  Legalism is when we attempt to trade our good works for God’s favor.  Of course, “good works” in this context can mean abstaining from watching R rated movies or it can mean abstaining from judging others i.e for how they parent.

We can attempt to earn God’s favor by not watching or listening to things that are worldly or sexually tempting, and we can attempt to earn God’s favor by being loving and accepting to everyone and everybody.  Whether we equate one of those as being more socially acceptable or desirable than the other is irrelevant; both can be attempts to earn God’s favor. In fact, people are often “legalistic” about things that, taken alone, are really good things.  For instance, I shouldn’t shoot up heroin (RIP P.S.H.). But if I think that I am trading the good work of not doing heroin for the return of God’s favor and mercy, than I am being legalistic. That doesn’t mean, though, that I should start doing heroin. It means that my motivations for not doing heroin should be fueled by the Spirit rather than my flesh in a response to God’s mercy and not for the purpose of securing it.

That, of course, addresses what legalism isn’t; obedience is not legalism and neither is holiness. In fact, Jesus was pretty clear that if we don’t obey His rules we don’t love Him (John 14:15).  As Kevin DeYoung has said, the word “therefore” is used liberally in the Bible. Grace, therefore do X.  Grace is of course both foundational and preceding, but “do X” is not legalistic in and of itself.

LEGALISM AS APPLIED TO PARENTING

It seems, then, that making rules and standards for kids does not make the parent legalistic. Of course, it can be legalistic, just as anything can be. But I think it raises an important point: your methods of parenting, whatever they are, can always be legalistic. You might be attempting to earn God’s favor through the good work of restricting your kids access to certain Internet sites or TV shows. But you also might be attempting to earn God’s favor through the good work of allowing your kids the freedom to make their own decisions and then talking about it with them later. What makes your decisions legalistic is not your decisions; what makes your decisions legalistic is the reason why you made the decision. I think the notion that making rules and setting standards for kids is legalistic is problematic — not only because I think setting rules and standards is a good thing, but also partly because I think it is a radical misunderstanding of legalism.

Worldliness and the prevalence of sexual images and temptations is a pervasive issue that requires a nuanced and ironclad conviction as parents (something that I want to have when it’s my turn); avoiding cultivating the conviction of certain rules and standards for your kids because to do so would be a sign of legalism and fundamentalism is not a sign that you value grace and the Gospel.  It’s merely a sign that you don’t understand legalism, and it might mean that you’re a legalist.

P.S. I looked it up and it means something that can prevent something negative: i.e removing a mole can prevent skin cancer. 

Jake and Sarah before she made him trim his beard for the wedding.

Jake and Sarah before she made him trim his beard for the wedding.

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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?”

Read more by clicking http://growinguptriplets.com/2014/02/11/kid-mothers-look-sexual-temptation-sin-home/.

Blessings,

Sheree

Wednesday’s Child

She was five and we were sitting on the bed together. I was passively watching the evening news while editing one of her brother’s homeschool writing papers while she played with a couple of stuffed animals.

openadoptioninsight.org

openadoptioninsight.org

“Will you give me away?” she asked, jolting my attention away from correcting Joey’s common overuse of commas.

The news channel that was on did a weekly spot called Wednesday’s Child which showed children who needed foster families. I had noticed the children were always black or hispanic. That day, my little bi-racial daughter seemed to notice this for the first time. As I asked questions, I realized she was wondering why these children didn’t have parents and understood they had been “given away” by them.

That was our first “real” conversation about her adoption. I explained to her that God brought her to our family…forever. The children she saw on TV needed a family but she would never need a family. She had one and we would never let her go.

“Honey, no one will ever take you away and Daddy and Mommy will never give you away. No matter what happens, you’re ours.” A faint smile appeared on her adorable round face and I squeezed her tight. It was a holy moment for me that I hope to never forget; a moment where I asked the Lord to seal in her little heart that having a Mommy and Daddy who loved her was super important and could help her through whatever the future brought.

Over the years since then we’ve had other conversations. Each time the content deepens and each time she learns a little more about the circumstances surrounding her adoption.

In a recent conversation with a friend I was lamenting that I wished I had known years ago some of the things I understand about God and His ways now. I surmised that if I had been more attentive to His word or sought to know and understand Him more deeply I may have been able to avoid some trials along the way — like a few through which I am currently walking.

Her response resulted in me doing what my friend Ginny calls “processing.” She explained that because we are God’s children He can’t divulge all of who He is at once. As we mature He is able to disclose more of Himself to us. My daughter is able to grasp more about the complex issues of adoption now than when we had our first conversation fifteen years ago. Likewise, as we Christians grow spiritually,God is able to entrust us with more about who He is and how we have gotten to where we are today.

Honestly, I don’t always like what providence brings. Sometimes I wish for days gone by when simple answers like “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” satisfied me. Dealing with aging, living in a fallen world full of my and others sin, and too frequently battling anxiety about what the future holds for me and those I love forces me to run to God for help. Feeding on milk was way easier than the solid food required of me now.

But when I run for help I still don’t typically get what I want. You see, what I too often want is either for someone or something to change when God’s agenda is a change in me. Will I trust Him when I’m completely out of control of my circumstances? Can His plan actually be better than mine? Is He powerful enough to sustain and strengthen me when I want to give up? Are the difficulties through which I’m walking building rather than tearing down my confidence that He is in control and everything He does is good (thanks, Mom)?

Yes, growing up in Christ means having to wrestle with aspects of who I am and who He is in a different way than I could handle when I was younger. Living in a broken, fallen world is just plain hard way more often than I anticipated. Somehow I got the idea that growing in godliness and knowing Christ better would mean an “abundant life” that meant less hard stuff.

But when it’s time for Him to go a little deeper in His communication with me I find something amazing every time: I find that I am His. Forever. Even when nothing changes but my perspective, there is comfort simply in having a loving Father.

The truth is I was Wednesday’s Child before He adopted me. Knowing that He will never give me away helps me to navigate the complex issues Christian maturity requires. After all, knowing I’m loved is super important and can help me through whatever the future brings.

Anticipating Mother’s Day…but Not This One

festivalchaska.blogspot.com

festivalchaska.blogspot.com

Anticipating Mother’s Day can produce differing reactions in the hearts of women.

  • The infertile woman faces yet another year with no baby. Watching mothers receive refrigerator-bound drawings with cute stick figures with arms coming out of heads or hearing what the hubs did to honor her friends for being such a great mom reminds her that her arms remain empty. She’s still waiting for someone to make this day special for her, too.
  • The mom who battles guilt over never being “enough” for her kids finds it hard to accept their childlike appreciation. “If they only knew how often I look forward to the empty nest,” she chides herself. “They deserve a much better mom.”
  • The sorrowful mom who crawls into bed each Mother’s Day night battling disappointment over the seemingly dutiful — rather than heartfelt — thanks she received from kids who were prompted by their dad or spouse or older siblings to do something. 
  • The mom whose husband starts planning Mother’s Day far in advance; delivers breakfast in bed with giddy toddlers; saved to purchase a special gift she admired months ago while they were at the mall; and made reservations at her favorite dinner restaurant…with a table by the window.
  • The mom whose kids are away or she aches over an estranged relationship with them is reminded of how much she misses the years when they were all underfoot and smothered her with sticky kisses…and thought she was one great mom.
  • And then there’s the mom who planned the day herself because her husband or ex-husband or kids never think to. She’s grateful to have the day with those she loves, but avoids facebook because she can’t bear to see how other moms were doted on for the day.

What are you hoping will happen or not happen on Mother’s Day?

You see, no amount of gratitude or gifts will be enough. Why? Because the sacrifices of motherhood are just too many. Who can adequately thank someone for giving up your life, your body, your time, your career advancement, your sleep, your food and your very self for little ones who took your breath away when you held them for the first time and have required all your attention since? Kept you awake at night feeding…then worrying…then praying night after restless night? Made you realize you were made “for this” — which helped you persevere through all kinds of tough stuff because they needed you? Rushed into your heart and life — and, before you knew it, left you with an eerily quiet house.

Homemade cards and sticky kisses are treasures. Teen gratitude expressed in any form is heartwarming. Young adult thanks, educated by their own parenting sacrifices, are…well…really special.

But there’s only One who knows and sees all. He paid the ultimate sacrifice of His very life to empower us to give of ourselves till it hurts, and then keep giving.

No matter which category you relate to most above, please hear this: Your life is making a difference. Whether you are single or married, have one child or many, will be doted on this weekend or virtually overlooked, God knows and cares. He is watching and He is pleased. Yes, we are flawed. Yes, we fail and make mistakes. Yes, we get tired and want to give up. But we don’t. We keep wiping. Soothing. Rocking. Training. Reminding. Congratulating. Disciplining. Feeding. Clothing.

And then they grow up and the sacrifices continue into a new generation that takes our breath away all over again.

We are Mom. Momma. Mother. Mommy. But we are also daughter to a Father whose favor is ours even when we mess up, fail or sin against our kids. Because of the cross, we who know Him are the recipients of His love, strength and grace on our good and bad mothering days. Only He truly recognizes and values what we do day in and day out, year after wonderful, wearisome year. And there will be a Day when He says, “Well done.”

What a Mother’s Day that will be!

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.

Raising My Kids to Hunger for God

This is the final post (for now) in the series on sibling relationships. Joey is pictured here with his wife, Lauren, and our number eleven, Amelia. I’ve been sensitive to the kids putting Benny and me in only a good light out of a desire to honor us. So i’ve edited their posts accordingly. But Joey told me I couldn’t edit his post. I admit it; it brought tears to my eyes. I’m grateful to God for His grace in the lives of two young people who started having kids in the 70’s and had no clue what we were doing…He’s been faithful. 

Family worship time in early ’88. I want my kids to grow up worshiping together, too.

When Mom asked us if we would want to contribute to her series on fostering sibling relationships, there were a few things that naturally sprang to mind. Homeschooling came first, then sports. Mom and Dad drove around most of Virginia, DC, and Maryland watching each of us play basketball; but they also put a court in our back yard to help make our house the place all our friends wanted to be. Then there was football, street hockey and 6 on 6 soccer with the neighborhood kids. 6 on 6 soccer in a yard about 15 yards long and 10 yards wide. Oh, and epic games of baseball, played with a tennis ball; the kind of game where if you got a couple men on base you had to go back to bat again, so there were “ghost” runners.

Jaime (far left) coached her sister (Janelle is in front of her) to a basketball championship. Now Jaime coaches her daughter, Kayla.

A few other things came to mind, most of which have already been touched on. The more I thought about it, though, the more clear it became to me that there was actually one particular thing about the way that mom and dad parented us kids that contributed to our relationships to this day.

They parented with a mission and we always knew what the mission was. Mom and Dad trained us to be respectful, obey them and others in charge, write thank you notes for birthday presents and clean up after dinner. But their primary mission wasn’t obedient and polite kids. Their mission was to bring glory to God. Since the church is the means God chose to display His glory, we knew that glorifying God meant giving our lives to the church. This fostered a sense of teamwork and loyalty that goes beyond sharing the same name and simply growing up together.

Proximity and a shared mission are probably the two biggest ways people grow close relationally. Siblings most always have the former, at least initially, but they should also have the latter. We did, and it permeated everything about our lives…and I think that fact is the greatest reason why we grew and remain so close. Let me give some examples of what this looked like growing up.

One of many street hockey games on our street. That’s Josh in goal.

In 1992 Fairfax Covenant Church, now Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax, was fund raising in an attempt to purchase property to build a facility. It was called Challenge ’92. Even though I was only 7 years old I can remember the feeling of camaraderie, not just with my siblings, but the entire church.  I remember going to the church-wide garage sale that took up an entire parking lot at a school. I remember doing lemonade stands, selling baseball and basketball cards to neighborhood kids, and finding whatever way I could to fill my huge, pink, plastic piggy bank. I remember getting progressively more nervous as the deadline approached for “Miracle Sunday.” I’ll remember that day until I die.

When dad walked onto the stage to announce the offering amount my heart was in my throat. When the room erupted I ran around in little circles yelling. It was awesome. I won’t go into the specifics here of the amount needed, and why it was such a miracle that the money was raised in time, but it was amazing.

Jesse and I played a lot of basketball together. When we moved to Florida we played for a private school and won some games together. Fun memories.

That experience helped grow my love for the church. It helped build a bond with my siblings because we were teaming up on something bigger than ourselves — something even more important than basketball. This is easy to see in an example that dramatic. But what Mom and Dad were so good at was teaching us that we were on the mission 24/7.

I’ve told the story to folks before of being at a birthday sleepover when I was 11 and didn’t stand up for a kid who we all thought had fallen asleep while guys mocked him. Turns out he did hear the mean comments and was understandably devastated. Mom and Dad heard learned about what happened. I was disciplined pretty good (yes, my parents spanked us) and grounded from a basketball game (the most horrifying punishment). Some might say their response to my cowardice was harsh. That it was not showing “grace.” But I knew otherwise.

I understood that discipline is a means of grace. I knew that what I had done was wrong, not just because it was an act of cowardice but because I had allowed another believer to be slandered and maligned, which creates discord and rivalry, which hinders the mission of the church bringing glory to God. And yes, my parents articulated that to me at 11 and I understood and agreed. I still agree to this day.

As we grew older, this sense of mission and a desire to serve the church has remained and informs our relationships. It’s why we all decided to participate with them in a new church plant in Lake Nona last January. Not that we couldn’t have participated in the mission while staying at our former church, or that we all have to be at the same church forever (Josh and Jesse both have been members of other churches at various times.) But this was something new; a way we hadn’t been able to serve together before. It was going to force us to work harder, give up more time, spend a lot more gas money, and serve in areas we never had before. Who would I rather do that with than the mom and dad who taught trained me to love God’s church, and siblings who I’ve been on a mission with for as long as I can remember?

Leading our church in worship is one of my favorite things to do with my siblings. Being at Redeemer Church now means I can also do this with my wife, Lauren (singing). That’s Jake leading on keys with me on bass.

My daughter is almost two, and we are hoping for 6 or 7 more (just kidding Baby Love…just 5.) I want Amelia to have a close relationship with any siblings she ends up with. I want her to have what I have. But mainly I want her to love God, know Christ, and love the things that He loves. As kids, we always knew Mom and Dad cared more about our spiritual state than anything. We knew they cared about us loving the same things they loved because they loved the same things God loves. We bought into the mission because we saw them living it. That mission is the reason we are close.

So with my daughter that’s where it starts, too. It doesn’t start with teaching her that family comes first or that blood is thicker than water. It isn’t about raising a daughter that loves her parents and siblings.

It’s about raising a kid who hungers for God.

Hey, mom and dad you should…oh wait.

All Play and No Work

It was the winter of 1986 when Benny and I got into the van after a sonogram. Back then they were only done when a problem was suspected. The problem had been found. My doctor told me the only thing I could do to prevent what he thought was a pending miscarriage was complete red rest. If I didn’t lose the baby in a week he would see me again.

I closed the van door and cried. How in the world was I going to stay in bed for the next week?!? I had four children ranging from 18 months to not quite eight years. My mother and sister lived nearby but had full time jobs. I knew Benny would be helpful but he had to work. All I knew was I needed to do my part to protect my unborn baby — but I was scared.

Who would occupy Joey who was getting into everything? Oh, and potty training with Jesse would have to be delayed…again! Our home schooling schedule would certainly have to change since the only time a bed-trapped teacher could work with her first and third graders was when little brothers were napping. And what about all the other household work of a large family? I realized pretty quickly that a week of Benny trying to keep up with towels and underwear wasn’t so bad.

When we got home we sat Josh and Jaime down to talk.  At nearly 8 and 6 1/2 we knew they would want to chip in. They were excited about mommy having another baby and a week really wasn’t that long. Gratefully, I had been working with them to learn the discipline of daily and weekly chores for a couple of years. But this was a tall order for my young kids.

The hoped-for week of bed rest turned into five long weeks. Friends brought meals twice a week and Benny rolled up his sleeves to help each evening. But the majority of the work fell onto Josh and Jaime to prevent Benny from having to do it all. They decided Jesse really didn’t need to wait until he was three to be potty trained and Jaime was a second mommy to Joey anyway. They made pbnj’s and boxed mac and cheese and carted all their homeschool books to my bedroom each afternoon after they put their brothers down for a nap. They vacuumed; made beds; brought laundry to my bed to be folded; straightened bathrooms; took phone messages (no cell phones back then and the phone was tied to the kitchen wall with a cord!); rejoiced over little-brother-potty successes; loaded and unloaded the dishwasher using a chair to climb up on counters to reach cabinets; and made sure Mommy had food and drinks throughout the day.

The day I finally came home with a sono picture of their baby brother or sister alive and well was a special one for Benny and me. Not only had God spared our baby’s life, but we were also able to thank Josh and Jaime for their hard work and sacrifice. That fall Janelle Marie was born to a very excited older brother and sister.

And Jesse was indeed potty trained.

Teaching kids to work in the home has many benefits. You may never need your school age kids to take care of you because you’re bed ridden. And it may take years before you see the fruit of your training. The honest fact is this: teaching kids to serve and work in the home is hard work for Mom! It’s much easier to make beds and clean bathrooms yourself. And dealing with their attitudes when they don’t want to help makes doing it yourself easier. Moms who train their children to serve around the house double the work for awhile. We do our work — and oversee theirs.

But believe me, the longterm fruit is worth it. All but one of my kids went through the messy teen years when I wondered if they forgot everything they were taught about neatness and I often elected to just keep their doors closed. At times I had to also remove junk from the passenger side of their vehicle to make enough room to ride with them. But I watched them endure from work being fun because they got to spray windex on the sliding glass door to work being rewarding because neighbors noticed them mowing our yard and asked to pay them to mow theirs. They worked through conflicts and bitterness when it their Saturday morning chore list was longer than their siblings. They sang Disney songs while they cleaned up after dinner — and sometimes still do. They celebrated when their older brother’s business became profitable enough to fulfill his dream of hiring family members (and others). And now they’re working together side by side at Redeemer Church to take the gospel to a new area in Central Florida. (More on that from Joey tomorrow…and yes, it’s hard work.)

Moms, teach your children to work. To pick up their toys rather than developing an entitlement attitude that expects others to clean up after them. To help set the table, knowing the silverware will be cockeyed. To make their bed even though you’ll be tempted to go back and straighten it later. And to rake leaves and pull weeds and mow grass and “wash” windows — and then congratulate them for a job well done despite the imperfections.

Last night my dining room table had several people sitting around it, including four in our family. It started with taking their plates to the kitchen when they were too short to reach the sink. Now they’re brainstorming about company finances and praying through how to grow ProVisionIT to provide provision for more families in the future.

Jesse was right; all play and no work isn’t a good road to the future for your kids.

And the future will be here before you know it.

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.

Experts Agree: Teach Your Kids to Get Along

This series on sibling relationships has been intentionally personal. We have enjoyed sharing our struggles and trials — and making some fun of each other along the way. A couple of my kids will be finishing up the series early next week, but today I want to deviate from family illustrations and stories to collaborated research about sibling relationships.

The reality is that siblings usually have the longest-lasting relationships in a person’s life. For example, my father died when I was 22 and my mother when I was 46. I have been married for 39 years and became a mother 34 years ago. However, I have been a sibling all of my 58 years.

Preparing for and writing this series (along with my kids) prompted me to do some secular research on this topic. Honestly, I didn’t know what I would find. But my research turned up some interesting stuff that has been confirmed in my own family:

  • The influence of parents is certainly weighty; but sibling influence is more significant than researchers anticipated.  Interestingly, also high on the influence list in the life of a young child are the friends of their older siblings. One researcher explained the possible reason for this: siblings and their friends are “closer to the social environments” of kids. Younger siblings, therefore, view older siblings and their buddies as cooler; therefore, they frequently imitate their actions and embrace their values over those of uncool or out of touch parents.
  • Undesirable behaviors are statistically learned more from siblings than from parents or other older adults. Things like smoking, alcohol consumption, criminal acts and sex outside marriage make a greater impression on kids when performed by siblings than by parents. For example, children may react to the negative consequences of parents who smoke or cheat by making a firm decision to avoid this behavior. However, when siblings engage in these things, younger brothers are sisters are far more likely to follow their negative example.
  • Children who grow up with siblings, especially those close in age, “may not need to [spend as much time with peers] because they are already having significant social experiences within the family unit.” This can help dispel the pressure parents feel to socialize their children (especially at young ages) with peers on a weekly or daily basis to be properly socialized.
  • I love this one (especially since two of my kids who have written posts emphasized having to reconcile and ask forgiveness growing up). Research indicates that siblings bicker or “squabble” between 6 and 10 times an hour (see, your family isn’t unusual!). This, experts say, “can help kids make developmental strides in a ‘safe relationship’ and provide good training for interacting with peers….”  In short, sibling arguments and conflicts — when handled properly — can actually be a good thing! This reminds me of Ken Sande’s excellent book, The Peacemaker, which teaches that conflict is inevitable and can actually glorify God. (More on that tomorrow with a resource recommendation we used with our kids.)
  • Children who have close sibling relationships are likely to have healthy adult peer relationships (including with their spouse).
  • Parent-mediated conflict resolution between siblings can help children develop a pattern of appropriate disagreement later in life. There is agreement from a wide range of secular researchers that leaving kids to themselves to resolve conflicts is unwise because kids aren’t good self-teachers. What kid is going to instruct him or her self to say, “Wow. I shouldn’t have smacked you when you wouldn’t give me the toy. Please forgive me. Let’s try that again and I will ask you nicely.” Patient mediation involves instruction and leadership, leading to a proper resolution. Researchers discourage parents from jumping in and manipulating kids to resolve things quickly and robotically, using similar attitudes and behavior (anger, harshness, etc) that mimics the child’s wrong doing.

Even those who don’t have a Christian worldview and who don’t adhere to biblical principles for relationship management agree: sibling relationships are really important.

Warmth and closeness between kids — along with wisely mediated conflict resolution by parents — can not only create a gospel-saturated culture in our own homes but can also prepare our children for the harsh realities of navigating life in a sin-saturated world.

When your child bonks his brother on the head and says, “If you don’t gimme that I’ll never play with you again!” or your teen reacts to her sister with eye-rolling arrogance and slams the door in her face, we parents can react in several different ways. If you’re like me, the first impulse probably isn’t the best one. Reacting in anger, frustration, exasperation or resorting to lecturing isn’t going to help. After all, “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires” (James 1:20).

I love how my daughter, Jaime, responded to my granddaughters recently when biting and hair pulling happened between them. In describing her own relationship with her sister, Janelle, Jaime told Annie and Danae, “When I was your age I didn’t like Nelly. She drove Mama crazy and I wanted to bite her and pull her hair.” Rather than fuss or lecture (which Jaime would be the first to admit is sometimes her response) she decided to demonstrate the gospel to her girls. (You can read the full story here.)

The gospel says we are more like our kids than we are different than them. We sin. We get angry, frustrated, irritable and selfish. We bite with words instead of teeth. And when we were young we did all kinds of mean things to our siblings — in our hearts and probably through our behavior. Empathizing with our children’s temptations and struggles opens the door to grace. If Jaime had launched in to a self-righteous lecture, Annie and Danae would have politely listened and maybe even mechanically apologized to each other to end Mom’s tirade about them needing to be nice to each other. But learning that Mommy, too, wanted to bite and pull her sister’s hair “qualified” Jaime to patiently instruct and correct them.

So let’s rewind the tape of Annie and Danae’s angry interaction. Jaime walks into the room to hear what happened and explains that she, too, wanted to do the same things to Nellie. The rest of the conversation might go something like this:

“Girls, Mommy knows how hard it is to love your sister. Nellie and Mommy were mean to each other. We argued and said mean things. Nellie messed up my stuff and Mommy made Nellie believe I didn’t love her. But now we are best friends because Jesus helped us. You can only really love one another and not bite and pull each other’s hair with His help. Jesus died on the cross so He could forgive you of what you did to each other just now, and so He could help you to forgive your sister.”

I don’t know what Jaime did after she talked to Annie and Danae. Perhaps she took them aside, corrected them and then brought them back to the very place where the biting and hair pulling happened. Maybe she “recreated” the scene and walked them through a better way to respond when your sister won’t give you what you want — patiently asking for it then coming to ask Mommy for help if things don’t go well. Kids don’t just need to be corrected for wrong doing; they need to be shown how to do things right. (It’s that put off/put on principle in scripture.) And then encouraged every time they choose to respond patiently rather than react angrily.

But whatever she did was humble. Empathetic. Gospel-driven. Why? Because the gospel says we and our children are sinful, flawed, weak creatures in need of a Savior to help us treat each other the way He treats us. But we and they are also loved, cherished and empowered to do this because He died to make it possible.

(I’ve done too much research to cite everything here and I purposefully chose well-documented, secular studies of which these are a few: “Early Sibling Relationships Influence Adult Behavior” http://www.psychcentral.com; “US News and World Report Health”, July 31, 2009; “Positive Indicators of Sibling Relationship Quality”, University of Michigan, June 2003).

Those Who Stayed With Me

You can barely see Jaime in this pic…how could she not love a cute little girl like this? 🙂

Today’s post is from Janelle, our fifth, who is married to Eric and is an orthopedic nurse.

So far, you have heard from my younger brother, Jake, on the importance of forgiveness and repentance in sibling relationships.  Even though he dissed me and said my laugh is loud and annoying (ok… maybe it is) I wholeheartedly agree with him.  You also heard from my older sister, Jaime. I felt good when I read her post because I don’t ever remember us biting or pulling each other’s hair like her girls do – so there is definitely hope for Annie and Danae.

This post has less about what you can do to foster close sibling relationships in your own kids and more about how God uses bad circumstances to do good things between siblings. The pictures on this page are a testimony to God’s faithfulness…more on that later.

Let’s face it, when we are going through a great season where everything is going our way, everyone is being nice to us, the Lord is blessing, and our kids are being kind to each other (or in my case, my husband is being kind to me) it’s easy to cruise along and be happy.

But when I think back to the seasons of my life I felt closest to my siblings I remember the aftermath of difficulties and trials.  As a kid I was less aware of this than I am now.  However, after reaching adulthood, some of my sweetest memories with my siblings were during times of intense heartache.  Two of these memories stand out more than any others.

Oldest brother Josh. The tears started with him.

I was eleven when my eighteen-year-old sister Jaime got married. I didn’t think much about it. All I knew was that PJ was nice to me and that I liked him, and that Jaime and I weren’t close because she didn’t like me.  (Of course, it had nothing to do with me be an annoying little sister!) As time when on, however, I began to better understand what happened. You see, Jaime and PJ were keeping their relationship secret from our family because they knew Dad and Mom wouldn’t approve. This was the hardest thing our family had walked through. The months that followed were difficult as my parents, sister and new brother-in-law carefully walked through the repercussions of this decision. I remember Mom crying a lot and Dad being unusually quiet. I was fearful and anxious about the future. Our normally happy, loud house was sad and quiet.

Soon after the marriage Jaime wanted to take me to the mall.  I was surprised since she had never done this before. We laughed and hung out. I had the time of my life with a sister I secretly adored but had never been close to.  As we were walking she suddenly stopped, looked at me intently and said, “Missy, you have to promise me something.”  I had no idea what to expect.  “You have to promise that when you like a boy, even just a little bit, you will tell Mom and Dad and trust them.”  She was so serious and passionate I had no choice but to agree.

Tall brother Jesse. He always makes me smile.

I never forgot that promise to my sister.  I can point back to that moment as the moment we became friends.   In fact, she helped Mom plan my wedding and in May 2010 she was my matron of honor. Few were as supportive and happy as Jaime to see me marry the love of my life. Because she made me promise to trust my parents, Eric was the first serious relationship I had….and Mom and Dad were the first to hear that I had my eye on him.

The other memory finds me at my grandmother’s gravesite.  Nanny’s funeral had been both somber and joyous as we celebrated the fact that she was now in heaven with her Savior, her husband and her son — free from the cancer that had been diagnosed only weeks before. The previous months had been draining on our whole family.  Just two weeks earlier, and within days of Nanny’s diagnosis, we had moved to Orlando from the only home we had known; a home we shared with Nanny. Now one of my favorite people in the world was suddenly gone. After watching her coffin laid to rest, I wanted to escape all of it.  I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I moved away from everyone and broke down crying.  I had been crying all day but these were different tears; tears of despair and anger.  I didn’t notice him walking up but then felt Joey’s arm go around me.  He wasn’t one to show affection easily, especially to me, but he saw me crying and wanted to comfort me.  He didn’t say a word.

Sweet brother Joey. (With Jaime looking on.) I’ll remain forever grateful for his hugs.

What Joey didn’t know was that memory would stick with me through the extremely difficult time of going back to Orlando to no friends and the grief of losing Nanny. Mom and Dad were still trying to process and deal with her death, as well as the circumstances that led to our move in the first place. God used my providential loneliness to force me to the Scriptures for solace and comfort.  I don’t know what would have happened if Joey hadn’t silently comforted me.  Maybe I would have trusted God with my grief, but perhaps I would have turned into a bitter teenager who thought that God was cruel and unloving.  What I do know, however, is that moment brought me closer to a brother who put aside his personality to comfort his little sister.

These memories are only two out of probably hundreds.  Now that we’re all adults, my siblings and I continue to walk through trials and hardships.  I know without a doubt that we all have each other’s backs.  I know they sincerely want what is best for me.  And I know that the prayers of my parents are being answered through the good times, but mostly through trials.

My nearest brother Jake. We fought. We bickered. We became friends. And here we cried.

So please take heart.  God can forge a bond between your own children. He will use your prayers that will tested and tried through the flames of hardship, loss and grief. One my wedding day I experienced the love of my siblings in a profound way. My sisters were my attendants and my brothers surprised me with a reception dance where they each cut in to dance with me one by one. I will never forget their expression of love for me that day.

In Luke 22 we find Jesus reclining at the Last Supper with his disciples.  After breaking bread and drinking wine Jesus tells them one of them will betray him.  What did they do? Say things like, “Oh Jesus, thank you for being willing to die for us!” or “How hard this must be for you, to suffer and die!”  Yeah, no.

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.”

My newest brother PJ. He always liked me.

It reminds me of when all of my family is together at a birthday party and Mom initiates our normal tradition of honoring me – the birthday kid. But somehow the conversations turns to my brothers arguing about whose basketball career was the most impressive.  They all claim personal rights;  Joey because of his last second three pointer in the playoffs; Josh because he scored 1,000 points by his junior year; Jake because he….just because he’s the best at everything; and Jesse because he dominated the paint.  Okay, not a perfect analogy.

In His moment of greatest need Jesus could have said, “Guys!  I am about do DIE!  I am the greatest, you nimrods! How can you be thinking of yourselves at a time like this?!?”  Rather, He gently reminds them that the greatest would also be the one who serves.  But the most surprising thing to me that he says is right after.

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials.”

That echoes in my heart.

Mom and Dad, you are those who have exemplified what it means to pray for your children through trials.

Josh, Jaime, Jesse, Joey, Jake, Julia…you are those who have stayed with me in my trials.

P.S. The rest of the story: Jaime and PJ will celebrate their 15th anniversary in March, and Dad and Mom love him. Well…mostly because he helped give them Kayla, Wyatt, Annie and Danae.