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First Ask Why: A Book Review

Parenting books are plentiful, it’s true, and trying to fit your family into the mold of what others have done is impossible. So it’s refreshing to read a parenting book that gives you the freedom to be your own family while still suggesting principles that will help point your children to Jesus.

First Ask Why coverIn this her first book, Shelly Wildman encourages parents to engage in intentional discipleship, positioning your kids to follow Jesus as they grow in independence. By asking why we do the things we do, we’re taking a closer look at our efforts as a family.

The message that spoke the most to me was near the end. In a chapter titled “Strengthening our Ties,” Shelly confronts something that families these days don’t want to hear: We’re too busy.  She says, “Driven by today’s American culture, parents often believe that if their kids don’t play sports or aren’t involved in some other activity outside the home, then their lives won’t be successful. But that argument plays on parents’ fears and emotions. We can’t fear being a little countercultural when it comes to protecting time together as a family, because that time together makes us stronger.”

I confess to feeling that fear. College applications and having a resumé filled with accomplishments drive us to over scheduling our families so that we teeter on the very brink of burnout and exhaustion. What are our kids learning from this?

That performance matters. That who they are will forever be tied to the things that they do.

My 9th grade daughter is concerned by the fact that she doesn’t have any activities to add to her resumé. She’s in virtual school (meaning she does all her classes remotely on a computer), so obviously extra curricular activities are not as easy to engage in.

But more important to me than the status of her resumé is the status of her heart. Have we made an intentional effort over the 15 years of her life to point her to Jesus?

Prayer, service, cross-cultural experiences, family memories. All of these and more are areas in which Wildman encourages parents to disciple their kids. When asked what makes her book different from other parenting books, Wildman answers:

“So many parenting books are ‘how-to’ books. They seem to say, ‘Just follow these 10 steps first ask why memeand here’s what you’ll get in the end.’ But I don’t believe we can parent by formula. I think we have to look at our unique family and ask why.

“Why are we doing what we’re doing as a family?

“Why are we emphasizing these spiritual values? And are there others we should consider?

“Why are we even here as a family? What’s our purpose for being put together in this unique combination of individuals?

“Asking why gets to the heart of the matter; it exposes our motivations and desires for our family. Asking why leads to intentionality. And asking why helps give our children a sense of purpose as we lead them.”

First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship is available now for preorder on Amazon, CBD.com and Barnes and Noble.

Web_Shelly-2Shelly Wildman is a former writing instructor and author of the forthcoming book First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship (Kregel). Shelly holds degrees from Wheaton College (BA) and University of Illinois at Chicago (MA), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters. She and her husband, Brian, have been married for 32 years and live in Wheaton, IL. Shelly speaks to women’s groups in the Chicago area and spends much of her free time mentoring young women. When she has time, she loves to cook, read, and travel.

 

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Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind—a book review and a giveaway!

IMG_9112You often hear the saying, “Parenting isn’t for cowards.” Oh, how true that statement is. Even if your kids aren’t running off the rails, there are challenges and fears and missteps all along the way.

As kids approach adulthood and get ready to leave our little nests, the anxiety can ramp up even more. Did we teach them all they need to know to survive? What if they never want to come visit? How will I know that they are still making good decisions?

The truth is, we can’t know all the answers to those kinds of questions, but we can trust that God has our kids in the palm of His hand, no matter what direction they may presently be going.

After reading Brenda Yoder’s Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind, I am reminded that all along this journey of parenthood, I am not alone.

Writing mostly to women, Yoder, who is a licensed mental health counselor, addresses the big issues we face as we prepare our kids for independent life: Mom grief (which is most definitely a real thing), building family ties, setting boundaries, self-care, marriage during the fledging years, among many others. I found myself with a crick in my neck from all the nodding I was doing in response to what I read.

One such nod-inducer was this statement: “Being a mom is something you do; it’s not IMG_9113who you are. When you accept this, you’ll be more peaceful, confident, and free as each child walks out the door.”

Yes!

So many of us moms have centered our lives around our children, that we have no idea who we are apart from them. But the natural order of things is for our kids to move out and move on. And when we are so wrapped up in trying to make sure our kids turn out just the way we want them to, their mistakes can shake us to our core.

Yoder says, “Your children’s struggles can paralyze you if you let them define your faith, your family, or your parenting. It’s not accurate to define yourself by the choices your kids make.”

How freeing is that? Our job is to follow hard after Jesus. What our kids decide about their own faith is theirs alone. We influence, we guide, we counsel, but someone once said that parents take too much credit when their kids succeed, and have too much guilt when they fail. Yoder says, “Contrary to popular belief, it’s not your responsibility to raise godly kids. It’s your responsibility to be a godly parent.”

IMG_9114In many ways, our clinging to our kids can be a detriment to them. Yoder says, “Our children need permission to say no to our expectations so they can say yes to God’s gifts and callings.”

Filled with much more godly wisdom and counsel, Fledge is an excellent book for anyone facing or in the midst of the empty-nest years. There is such joy we can find in these years if we lean into the Lord and trust Him with our kids.

You can preorder Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind” on Amazon before the March 16th release date by clicking here.

Consider joining the Fledge Parent Forum on Facebook as well by clicking here. A community of people in the same season is a great encouragement!

Enter a chance to win!

Leave a comment about why you need this book for a chance to win a free copy of Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind. One winner will be chosen on March 15.

 

*disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

 

 

Rules and Relationship

It’s been a tough few months.

And when it affects my kids, it makes it tougher still.

Here’s the question: Does relationship trump rules?

checkoff-listI’ve been a parent for more than 21 years now, and I think I have a pretty good relationship with my kids. But I’ll tell you, they know there are rules. If I tell you to do something, you do it. Whining and fussing doesn’t get you anywhere in my house. My kids trust that I’m not going to tell them to do something immoral, illegal or impossible (although keeping their rooms clean does seem impossible at times). They trust that I love them and what I tell them to do is going to be for their benefit somewhere along the way.

Now, I’m human, and sometimes I want them to do something for my convenience. “Can you bring me my phone that I left on my bed? (because I’ve settled in my chair in the other room and you’re right there by my room)” But in the context of our relationship, they know that I’m not always doing that. And they ask me the same kinds of things, and more, because, well, kids.

Do they ever question my directives? Yes. Do I pull the mom card sometimes? (You know the drill: “But why?” “Because I’m the mom, that’s why.”) Yes. But they know that I love them. They know that they’re safe with me. They know that I ultimately want them to become fully functional members of society, and people who follow after God’s own heart.

When my kids have been pushing back against some of the things they’re told to do, child fighting with parentwhat I say to them is this: If you have a hard time obeying me, whom you can see, how much harder will it be for you to obey God when He requires something of you? This is practice for listening to God and doing what He asks because you trust Him and you know that He loves you.

I would think it should not have to be said that blind obedience to every authority is not wise. I’m talking about obedience in the context of relationship. Every parenting expert worth their salt knows that children thrive in an atmosphere of stability and boundaries. Allowed to run free with no rules, children will flounder. Loving guidelines and abounding grace create a healthy atmosphere for kids to thrive.

If my kids tell me over and over again that they love me, that’s going to mean a lot to me, but if they continually question my authority and break the family rules, some tough love is going to have to come into play. I wouldn’t stop loving them, but there would be consequences for their actions.

So how does this apply to our relationship with God?

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). He didn’t say, “Keep my commandments or I will stop loving you.” In fact, in context, He’s just been telling His disciples all about going to prepare a place for them in heaven and sending them the Holy Spirit to help them. But He knew it would be important for them to do what He has told them to do. For their sake. Not under compulsion, but because they love Him and want to do what He says. Did they mess up? Sure. Look at Peter as a classic example. He denied Christ 3 times. But oh, the restoration that took place on the beach before a fire after Jesus was resurrected. (See the 21st chapter of the book of John.)

grace tattooI love my husband. We have been married for almost 27 years. He doesn’t want me to get a tattoo. I want one. Just a little one. Nothing huge. I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with tattoos. But he doesn’t want me to get one. So am I going to go out and get one when he happens to be out of town? No. Why? Because I love him and I am going to respect this desire of his that I not get one. I do what he asks because I love him and I know that he loves me. He’s not asking me not to get one just to keep me under his thumb. I know he would love me even if I did get one, but it would be disappointing to him that I made this choice. And I would feel the break in our relationship.

Do I give rules to my kids and then reject them if they don’t follow them?

Will my husband stop loving me if I get a tattoo?

No. And we’re broken human beings who make mistakes.

We can be assured that God will not abandon us if we break His rules, put into place for our protection. But our disobedience is not without consequences. God’s love for us is not measured by how well we follow His rules, but our obedience can be a thermometer of how much we truly love God.

The gospel opposes earning but is not opposed to effort.

 

Images from agingwithpizzazz.com; whatisoppositionaldefiantdisorder.com; pinterest.com

The Parenting Trap

Here’s the hard truth. Are you ready to hear it? It’s not going to be popular or sugar-coated or comfortable. It’s a trap many parents walk into with the best of intentions, but ignorance of the gospel. Ready? Here it is:

12-2-03You can do everything according to all the experts in your parenting journey, and your kids could still walk away from Jesus.

♦ Stay together as a couple with love and happiness in your household. check

♦ Go to church as a family, build a firm foundation of faith. check

♦ Pray together, both as a couple and as a family. check

♦ Encourage openness, ask the hard questions, be there for them emotionally. check

♦ Provide things for them, but don’t over indulge. Help them learn the value of work and study. check

♦ Give lots of physical affection and words of affirmation. Let them know they are always loved. Show grace, yet speak truth. check

♦ Give them both an anchor and wings. check

Fact of the matter is, no matter what you do right, or what you do wrong; no matter how hard you pray or how close you feel your relationship is, your children still have the choice to go their own way.IMG_6263

It’s heartbreaking.

That’s how God feels all the time. He so loved the world that He gave His only Son to restore the broken relationships. And still people argue that He doesn’t even exist. They insist that they’re better off without Him. They want to do their own thing without restrictions. Without consequences. Without fellowship with God.

It’s devastating.

And yet He loves His children, rebellious or not, and we love ours. He refuses to give up on them, constantly seeking to woo them back. And we don’t give up on ours.

Love them well. I haven’t yet figured out yet what that looks like, but I know part of it is not throwing their sin in their face. I know it means maintaining a relationship and speaking truth in love. I know it means letting them know that they are loved no matter what they have done, simply because they are my children.

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b, NIV.)

fullsizeoutput_193On this earth, our nights of weeping are not yet done. But the promise is this: rejoicing comes in the morning. If I didn’t believe that, I would curl up and die.

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, NIV.)

If loving wayward children well can reflect the deep, deep love God has for them, then I will keep loving mine, praying for that day of repentance.

I could look back and say, “We should have made sure they were owning their own faith. We should have listened better. We shouldn’t have let them hang out with that person. We should have kept a better eye. We shoulda, shoulda, shoulda.”

Don’t fall into that parenting trap. Do the best you can, and surrender your children to Jesus. And pray, pray, pray.

Their salvation is not your burden.

Their decisions are not a reflection of your worth.IMG_0780

Much as I want my children’s lives to look like the pretty postcard I pictured when they were born, it’s not about me, and I’m not in control.

No matter the pain and heartache I experience with every decision that rejects Jesus, God is still good.

Through my tears I won’t fall into the trap that says I blew it somewhere along the line; I should have been a better mother.

After all, it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus. It’s always about Jesus.

The Power of Friendship

I told my daughter today that I needed to write. She said, “You should write about the power of friendship.”

IMG_0632That’s something she thinks about a lot, being just a couple of months shy of 15. This past year has been dominated by a group of friends she and her 18-year-old brother have that call themselves The Marathoners. It started as a small gathering from the youth group at church that got together weekly to watch movies (thus the name “Marathoners,” from movie marathons, not running marathons.)

It’s funny how just watching movies together can bond people so closely.

The group normally met at the home of a young husband and wife who were volunteer leaders with the group. We knew them fairly well, in fact I mentored the wife, getting together with her each week, so we felt comfortable with all the people involved.

Oh my, how this group loves each other. They formed a chat group and message each other numerous times during the day both to solidify plans and to share funny videos, songs, poetry, prayer, or whatever they desire. Many of them even camped together with a couple of the dads for one’s birthday in order to see a meteor shower.

While keeping tabs on the kinds of things they were sharing with each other, I also cautioned my kids to beware of becoming a clique and to be sure they were including FullSizeRender-3others, especially at youth group meetings where there could be those who felt left out. I told them there would be those who were envious of the kids in the “cool group.” They assured me, “Mom, we’re far from the ‘cool kids.'”

Maybe so, but the closeness and love the Marathoners show for each other would be obvious to those observing.

And then something catastrophic happened.

The young wife, whose secrets I had been aware of for quite some time, went public on Facebook that she and her husband were separating and the leadership of the church had told her that she was not allowed to have contact with any of the youth inside or outside of Wednesday night youth group.

FullSizeRenderTwo problems: #1 That statement wasn’t true

and #2 Without any context whatsoever, that announcement sent the Marathoners into a tailspin.

In a rush of texts and tears and frenzied phone calls, we pulled together the Marathoners and the leadership of the youth the very next day, knowing that we needed them to hear the truth of the matter and have a time to process it all together.

I will forever be grateful for the way the leaders handled that meeting, and for the maturity that my kids showed. As we processed together in the following days, my son showed a huge heart for these friends who meant so much to him. And my daughter, who had been very close to the young wife, cried over this situation more than any other in her life, but found solace in the group who leaned in and loved each other even more.

Just a couple of weeks later, both of my kids were asked to speak to upcoming middle school and high school students at a graduation event at church. My daughter, who hates being in front of people, bravely took the stage to address the rising 5th graders and spoke from her heart about how having the right friends and trusting the leaders of TheCity (the name of the youth group) were so very important for their middle school years. If it FullSizeRender 2weren’t for The Marathoners, she didn’t know how she would have survived struggles she had with long-time friends at school. They meant the world to her.

I can’t say that I have a lot of friends still from high school, and certainly not from junior high. Not only do I live on the other side of the country now, but that was almost 40 years ago. But those friendships I have maintained grew and blossomed in the soil of a solid youth group.

This summer, we’re enjoying having the group over to swim. It gets my 2 introvert cave dwellers out a lot more. I love hearing their laughter, watching their friendship and praying for them.

FullSizeRenderThe power of friendship. It can change everything. It’s what Jesus wants for us. Oneness with Him, and oneness with each other.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47 ESV).

From Death, Life

IMG_3589This is my backyard. Looks good, doesn’t it? If you look closely, though, you can spot the imperfections. You can see the tracks the dog has made as he madly chases his thrown ball. You can see the weeds that have gone unpulled. And if you look closer still, you can see where some plants have just not made it, despite our attention.

Recently, I noticed several examples of places where we thought we had taken out a plant that was dead only to find, months later, that it is thriving again. This comes as a surprise to me, but it really shouldn’t, because it’s so much like God. He reminded me of that this morning.

First, around our pool enclosure we have rows of a pretty flowering bush called Ixora. We had a bad frost several years ago, and all those bushes suffered. Over the years the other bushes made a good comeback, but this little one never recovered. So my husband pulled it out.

Or so we thought.

Second, next to our koi pond, we had a little variegated plant called Stromanthe (at least I think that’s what it is). It grew and blossomed and did really well. For awhile. Then the leaves started turning brown. Though it was large and seemingly happy, something was not right in its little world, and it started to decline. I tried pruning it back, cutting away the dried brown leaves and trying to shape it up a little. But it didn’t respond to my touch. Eventually, we made the decision to pull it out and once again my husband did the deed.

Or so we thought.IMG_2048

Third, we had a beautiful avocado tree in our backyard tragically eaten by beetles. I wrote about that several years ago. You can read that story here. When we found a gnawed-upon fruit that the squirrels had discarded sprouted in the corner of the yard, we thought, well, what could it hurt? So we transplanted that tiny seedling into our front yard, watered it daily, kept an eye on it and hoped. You can read about that part of the story here.

And then something miraculous happened in all 3 cases. New life.

IMG_8106Our pulled-up Ixora is small but blossoming.

The seemingly dead Stromanthe is tiny but growing.

And that little avocado seedling is now a nearly 20-foot tall tree and has fruit of its own.

Amazing.

And the lesson here? Other than caring for, watching and hoping, we did nothing to cause the new growth. It was only and always in the hands of the Creator. Sometimes it took mere months to see the growth; sometimes, as in the case of the avocado, it took IMG_8077years.

In the letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7 ESV).

Do you have a child who is straying? Pray, love, care for, encourage, don’t give up hope. God is at work, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.

Given up on your marriage? As long as there is breath in your body, pray, nurture, and don’t give up hope. Oh, please, don’t give up hope.

Do you see only death around you? Death of dreams, of chances, of families? Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

IMG_8102Make no mistake, we have had other plants over the years that have, simply put, died. The uprooting was complete and they never came back to life.

Sometimes children never come back to the Lord. Sometimes marriages fail, despite our best efforts.

But God.

He is still working. Sometimes the new life and growth is in our wandering child or our wounded marriage. And sometimes it’s simply and profoundly in us.

 

Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline

I survived my kids little years. I not only survived them, I enjoyed them. I had great community, an involved husband and a knowledge that whatever struggles I encountered—and there were many—would be soon past. But not every mom thrives in motherhood, especially with little kids. For those in the midst of the mess, I would like to present to you author and mom Catherine McNiel and her book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

hi-res-book-coverTell us about your book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right here in the midst of it. It’s a book for moms (or dads…or grandparents…or caregivers…) who know they don’t have any extra time or energy, but still want a way to connect with God and discover how to find Him.

Why did you decide to write Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline?

 A few years ago I was a work-from-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. These precious, demanding children took me all the way to the end of my rope…and left me there indefinitely! My life changed in every way, yet I heard only the same spiritual prescriptions I’d always heard: spend quiet time each day with God. Find 30-60 minutes each day to be in silence and solitude before the Lord. As I considered the classic spiritual practices (which I love!)—prayer, worship, fasting, meditation, service, solitude, etc.—it became abundantly clear that the realities of motherhood meant I was likely to fail. Or opt out entirely.

But my spirit didn’t allow me to do that. I heard a lament rising in the hearts of the women around me—I have nothing left, nothing left to care for myself or give to God. But as I looked at the actual seasons and tasks of motherhood, I was convinced that there was no better “boot camp” for my soul. Each day we mothers create, we nurture. Each day we are pushed to the end of ourselves and must surrender, sacrifice, and persevere. Each day we serve, pouring ourselves out. We empty ourselves for those in our care—and isn’t this emptiness the very reliance on God that the spiritual disciplines are designed to produce?

I’m convinced that motherhood is doing an eternal work on my soul, even if I’m too exhausted and overwhelmed to notice just now.

How is this book different from all the other books and conversations out there regarding motherhood today?

There are so many books out there for moms on the topic of devotion and spirituality. Almost all of them have this in common: after admitting that moms are exhausted, stretched too thin, without any margin or time or energy, they look for a few extra minutes here or there which might be harvested for God; or offer a Bible study or prayer list that might fit in the tiny slots. Get up at 4:30am before the baby wakes at 5am! Read two minutes of the Bible each day!

I’m all for doing these things when it works, but I’m convinced that we don’t need to exit motherhood to have a spiritual life. Our children are what we create, and this is where our Creator God meets us. I’m certain of it. Without adding more “should’s” or “to-do’s” to our days, we can open our eyes to a unique spiritual journey, made just for us—and find him here. We’re already doing it. All that waits is for us to breathe deeply and begin to drink.

 

hi-res-author-photoCatherine McNiel survived her children’s preschool years by learning to find beauty in the mayhem. Now, she writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day. The author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017), Catherine cares for three kids, works two jobs, and grows one enormous garden. Connect with Catherine on social media: Catherinemcniel.com; Twitter: @catherinemcniel; Facebook: CatherineMcNielWrites

Buy Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline by clicking one of the following links:

Amazon

Barnes&Noble

ChristianBooks.com

NavPress