When Times Change and People Grow

Whoever said that a mother’s job is never done wasn’t kidding: It’s never done. Long after my daughters are tucked into bed, I’m wiping off counters, folding laundry, and making sure that the doors are locked and the lights get turned off. And contrary to what my youngest told a fellow first grader years ago when she had her over for a playdate, I do not sit around and do nothing all day. There are errands to run, calls to make, rooms to pick up, spaces to organize,  trips to plan, and countless other projects.

Although the amount of work rarely changes, the type of tasks do. If you had asked me even one month ago, for example, what my focus would be this week, I never would have guessed that it would be shopping to give my eighth grader an edgier look or rearranging her schedule to find time to practice with a professional all-girl rock band.

Thinking of how much both of my children have matured over the past year reminds me of something a six-year-old  told me after I commented on how tall she had gotten since I had last seen her. “I know,” she said nonchalantly. “Times change and people grow.”

All of us were created to grow. We know this from Romans 12:2 where we are told: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” When I test for God’s will, I ask myself the following four questions:

  1. What does the wise counsel of my husband or a Godly friend have to say about what I want to do?
  2. Do circumstances allow it?
  3. Does it go against Scripture?
  4. Am I at peace with my decision?

Three months ago, I was not at peace with Hollie’s continued requests to dye her hair; but now circumstances have changed and even Bill is encouraging me to schedule the appointment. Hollie has morphed into a disciplined bass guitar player and I have mellowed enough to see that my job as a parent is to support her—even if it means looking for dark-colored clothes that won’t look too “happy” on stage and going to church with a child who is rocking a crazy hairstyle.

We can grow with our kids, or apart from them. Achieving the former and avoiding the latter is the difference between following where God is leading and steering children elsewhere.

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What Matters Most

On Labor Day weekend, Bill and I attended an outdoor music festival where rock bands Starship, Survivor and Boston performed in front of a crowd of 6,000 people. It was a beautiful night as a record number of concert-goers claimed their spot in front of the stage. Because one of my brothers worked for the company that was sponsoring the event, our seats were in a section reserved for employees and their families.

It was a jail cell as far as Katie and Hollie were concerned because they didn’t want to be there. Listening to music that Bill & I grew up with was not their idea of fun, but it seemed silly to let extra tickets go to waste while our girls watched television back at the hotel.

To make the experience more bearable, Katie got out her iPhone and handed one of her earbuds to Hollie. For the next hour, I watched as both girls tuned out the 80’s by infusing a continuous dose of alternative rock into their ears.

“When can we go back to the hotel?” Hollie asked after Starship had finished on stage.

“Why don’t you wait until Survivor is finished playing?” I suggested.

I wanted the girls to hear Eye of the Tiger (one of the only songs they knew), but when the band kept playing songs they didn’t know, I decided to put Katie and Hollie out of their 80’s misery and called my mom to pick them up.

I had just returned to my seat after walking the girls to the gate when I heard that one of the members of Starship had collapsed back stage. Event staff did a great job of keeping the news quiet until the concert was over, but my youngest brother’s VIP pass put him so close to the action that he heard the wife of one of the members of Boston confirm that Mark Abrahamian, the lead guitarist for Starship, had died at the age of 46.

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell my husband,” she said. “He’s been a friend of our family for years.”

“Mark wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, ” the woman continued. “He died doing what he loved.”

Her words raise the question: If today was our last day on earth, would the people who know us best be able to say the same?

In my last post, I confessed that I had gone most of the summer without writing. What I didn’t say—and would like to add—is that with every week that passed, I felt less confident about my calling.

Does God really want me to be a writer?

Isn’t there something easier that I can do?

I am notorious for getting sidetracked with projects around the house, largely because organizing comes easy to me and blogging does not. My latest accomplishment was cleaning out our pantry; and although I smile every time I walk into the clutter-free space, I also know that it came at the cost of other projects.

Missionary C.T. Studd must have felt the same way when he said: Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.

For me what will last are the things that I do for other people. Bill and the girls were frustrated with not being able to find things and so I did something about it. The fact that the work came easy to me was just a bonus. It was also a reminder that I don’t always have to be outside my comfort zone to be in line with God’s; because it’s not what we do, but who we do it for, that really matters most.

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3 Questions for the Frantic Family

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Patrick Lencioni give a message based upon his book,  The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family. Having received rave reviews by leaders like Elisa Morgan of MOPS International and the former CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., we purchased a copy to take home and found it to be an extremely easy read—most of the chapters are less than three pages.

Notes taken while sitting in the audience of Willow Creek’s February 4th weekend service and links to download his message and strategic planning model are found below.

People are more frantic and overwhelmed than ever because there are more opportunities than ever, and more social expectations for taking advantage of those choices.

Why does our work get all of our energy when our family is all that matters?

What families don’t have enough of is not structure and rules; it’s context: The context of knowing what matters most to us and to Christ.

Three questions that give even the most frantic family context are:

1. What makes our family unique?

What are the core values that make us different from the family next door?

What trait did you like in your spouse when you first met that you also possess?

You know you have a core value if you’re willing to be punished for it. Or if it’s inconvenient and you do it anyway.

2. What is our family’s rally cry (i.e., top priority or slogan) right now?

If everything is important, then nothing is.

Ask yourself: “If we accomplish one thing during the next month, what should it be?”

Knowing your rally cry eliminates the guilt that comes from saying “no” to other worthwhile projects. It’s ok to let the lawn go, for example, when your family’s focus is getting ready for a third child.

3.  How do we talk about and use the answers to these questions?

Your family’s defining objectives should be centered around your rally cry and based upon the reality in which you live.

Because Patrick struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder, part of his family’s reality is to embrace the challenge of OCD.

After asking yourself the above questions, you are ready to update your family’s Scoreboard with your rally cry and objectives.

Don’t let the urgent squeeze out the important. Instead, review your scoreboard regularly, celebrate your successes, and embrace your struggles every day.

Willow Creek Church Weekend Service Podcast

Giving Up Control to Gain It

If you break a few traffic laws to make an appointment, does the good deed cancel out the bad one? This was the question I asked myself after a dentist appointment ran long and I wondered if I would make it home in time to take my daughters to the station. Katie had talked Bill into taking her and her sister to a rock concert and I didn’t want them to miss the 5:13 train to Chicago.

If it’s possible to try so hard to control a situation that you wind up losing it, that’s where I was mentally at when I used my iPhone to see if the freeway was backed up. The application I checked showed heavy traffic for most of the way home; and I decided not to take the on-ramp, even though cars on the interstate seemed to be traveling at normal speed. Several minutes (and stop lights) later, I realized that I had made a big mistake.

Sometimes too much information is as bad as not having enough, I decided as I called Bill to give him an update.

“It’s five o’clock and I still have four miles to go.”

“You’re not going to make it,” he said. “If you catch the 6:13 instead, the girls will understand.”

Determined to stick to the original plan, I called home to tell them to be ready.

We had less than ten minutes to get to the station as I turned onto our street. Thankfully, Katie and Hollie were both standing in the driveway when I pulled up.

“Are we speeding?” my youngest asked before we reached the end of the block.

“We haven’t gone far enough to be speeding,” I assured her. Hollie didn’t ask again as I maneuvered through traffic like a NASCAR driver vying for the win at Talladega Superspeedway.

We arrived at the station with two minutes to spare, making me glad that I had tried. There was even time to solicit the help of two moms who were also waiting for the train. Much to my daughters’ dismay, the ladies were happy to keep an eye on my “babies” until they reached Ogilvie Transportation Center, where Bill would be waiting.

Someday, Katie and Hollie will realize that you can take the girls out of the suburb, but you can’t keep a suburban mom from taking care of her girls. For now, I was content to be the student and my lesson for the day was that too much of a good thing is a bad thing: Even parenting.

As I drove home after watching the train pull away, it was hard to fight the urge to call Katie to see how the ride was going. Although one part of me wanted to hover over my daughters like a helicopter parent, another part—the rational one—knew that if I did I’d be robbing her of the confidence that comes from taking this trip without me. My job as a mom is not to make my kids need me; but to help them realize, one new adventure at a time, that one day they won’t.

Foster Cline and Jim Fay agreed in their book Parenting Teens with Love & Logic when, on page 49, they said: Self-esteem doesn’t just “happen” by making teens feel good or happy. It begins when children assert their independence and try to show their families and the world that they are their own persons.

Katie is definitely her own person, with her own choice in music. And so I reminded myself of my obligation to “do my best and let God do the rest” and decided not to call, trusting that the girls would have a good trip downtown and a great time at the concert. That’s exactly what happened, and when they came home to tell me all about it, I realized that Cline and Fay were right when they said that “worry is the price you pay in advance for most of the things in life that never happen.” (p. 95) And sometimes we have to give up control to gain it as we live by faith and not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

If you have a parenting issue or another area in your life that you would like to gain clarity or get back on track, e-mail julie@nolimitslifecoaching to schedule a free 30-minute coaching consultation and remember to …


Setting a Godly Example

This morning, while driving to a meeting at church, I received an unexpected call from a friend whose six-year-old daughter was having a temper tantrum in the parking lot of our church.

“She’s still in her pajamas and refuses to get out of the car because she doesn’t want to go to preschool,” the mom said as her daughter screamed in the background.

“I’m almost to the church and will pull up next to you,” I replied.

Feeling like a fireman without a ladder, I had no idea how I was going to talk this little girl off the ledge of her own hysteria. I never claimed to have all the answers when my daughters were her age and, after writing on numerous occasions about my own incompetencies as a parent, felt highly unqualified to help. When I arrived, the little girl was hysterically throwing things as her mom jumped out of the front seat to avoid the blows. After watching several CDs and other loose objects spew from the belly of the vehicle, I said a quick prayer for guidance and walked around to the passenger side to assess the situation. My first instinct was to gently, but firmly grasp the girl’s arms to keep her from picking up anything else.

“I’ll let go when you calm down and promise to stop throwing things,” I said as she screamed louder and fought to free herself from my grip. When it seemed like she would never stop writhing in anger, I remembered something that Mayor Rudi Giuliani said after the terrorist attacks on 9/11: “My father, when I was very young, used to say to me, ‘If you are ever in an emergency, if you are ever in a fire and everybody gets very excited, very emotional, then you become the calmest person in the room'”(1)

My friend’s daughter was definitely on fire as I looked into her determined eyes and quietly repeated that I was not letting her go until she let up on the screaming. I could tell that I was making progress, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing. Something that kept her guard up and her mind closed to the possibility of letting go of the rage. That something was an emotion, and as soon as I showed empathy, the anger melted away.

“You must be exhausted,” I said quietly.

The little girl nodded.

“I am too. Would it be okay if we put this behind us and went inside?”

Another nod.

I don’t know who was more surprised when the girl quietly exited the vehicle, her mother or myself.

“Great job at calming down,” I said. “Give me five!”

After slapping my hand, she gave me a big smile and headed toward the church. As her mom and I followed, I thought about what had just happened and realized: If I’d waited until I knew what to do to help my friend’s daughter, I never would have tried. I had to take the first step before God would lead me to the next one. Knowing that I could find myself in similar situations in the future, I reflected on what worked in the hope of duplicating the outcome and came up with the following three ‘E’s of Crisis Management. Each one is followed by a quote from the consummate of calm: Rudolph Giuliani.(2)

1. Engage: “During a crisis, leaders must be out front rather than running or hiding from the ordeal. They must go to the scene of disaster and stand front and center – to accurately assess the situation as well as show their concern, while also demonstrating confidence that the group will persevere.”

2. Empathize: “You must speak up and take charge of what people are thinking and feeling at the time. You must reassure them and give them a simple yet specific plan that will get people through the crisis. Outline important action steps that they can take immediately to help themselves and the team.”

3. Encourage: “As difficult as the crisis can seem, remind people that there is hope.”

These steps, together with prayer and personal reflection, have the power to help even the most perplexed parent set a Godly example that all of God’s children can follow.



Stuck In The Mud

While meeting a photographer one morning to take pictures for my website DiggingOutTogether.com, I was struck by how beautiful the area was that we had agreed on for the photo shoot—and how difficult it was to get to. At one point, I even considered turning back when my boot disappeared into the mud and refused to resurface.

What am I doing, trying to look nice in a place like this? I wondered while freeing myself from the brown sludge.

As I continued to make my way through the marsh, I was struck by how much time people waste trying to look good in the mud. Time spend smiling for the camera as if nothing is wrong after wading through a world of hurt to get to that point.

Just last weekend, I was knee-deep in sludge as I yelled at my daughters for thirty minutes after they refused to stop playing for long enough to pack for a trip to visit relatives. Only after we were on the road did I calm down enough to ask Katie and Hollie for forgiveness.

As soon as I  did, “mean mommy” left the vehicle and the rest of our trip was picture perfect. We sang “Happy Birthday” to my nephew, attended another nephew’s last home football game, and spent a gorgeous afternoon at a local pumpkin patch.

Why can’t all moments be stain free—where what we do in public is an accurate reflection of how we behave in private? I want to talk to my kids in the voice normally reserved for cute babies at church. A voice that sounds a lot like Supernanny when she comes down to a child’s level and tells her in a stern, but loving way to “stop that behavior.”

Because of sin, none of us will ever fully achieve this goal. Every picture perfect moment may require wading through some mud to get there, but when we do our best and let God do the rest, He can be trusted to clean up our act from the inside out.