Tag Archives: Child-Rearing

Teen Training by Way of the Sweet Tooth

In our large, mixed family in which my husband and I have fostered 11 children and teens in the last four-and-a-half-years, we’ve had to find (and most times create) different methods — however wacky they might turn out to be — in order to train our precious little ones in the ways of righteousness.

Well, our ‘little ones’ are no longer little, as the majority of our kids now lie in the age range of 13-17 years old. Simple rebukes, time-outs or other common disciplinary procedures designed for small children just don’t do the trick (especially not with ours, who arrived in our home already on their way to puberty or several years into it). So, in addition to regular times of prayer, Biblical counsel and healthy family time, we’ve gotten creative in the way that we train our teens.

One constant struggle in our household (mainly among our 5 teenage girls) is that of gossiping, hurt feelings, and the like. On many occasions we’ve facilitated very on-edge conflict resolutions among our girls, always guided by prayer and asking for Christ’s peace to cover each of us in the process. By God’s grace our girls have come a long way, and they now have better (and more loving) communication skills that most of their peers but there are still certain ‘tweaks’ that we hope to make in the attitudes and behaviors in our home.

With that being said, a few nights ago a plan struck me: I would go innocently pop by our girls’ rooms to encourage them in love, and each time I would do so I would give them some kind of tiny treat. One of our girls was out for the night at a friend’s house, so our teen girls numbered four for that night. Two in one room; two in the other.

Knowing too well the attitudes we had been facing in our home in the last few weeks between these four (and their tendency to form teams against one another), I asked God for an extra dose of joy and began my absurd rounds, all in the name of brotherly (or rather sisterly) love.

I had already hugged each of our kids and bid them goodnight not 15 minutes prior, so at this point no one was expecting me to come back by again. It was still early, so I knew they would be doing homework or chit-chatting quietly in their rooms. It was a perfect opportunity for a lesson in God’s love.

I approached the first room, a black curtain hung in the doorway (our kids don’t have doors on their rooms). We had just recently painted our kids’ rooms for the first time in a few years, and this particular room now sported a beautiful turquoise blue with black music notes painted along one wall. I knocked on the frame around the curtain and asked in a joyful tune if I could come in.

They quickly answered, telling me to pass. This was Team 1, and I was determined to do all that was in my power to assure that their nightly ‘sleepover party’ didn’t turn into a gossiping match against their other sisters. I slid the curtain open, my face now beaming through it as I greeted our two precious teens with my wide, energetic eyes as they sat quietly on their floor doing the math homework I had assigned them. They looked up at me expectantly, waiting to see what I needed.

My voice rose high as I accentuated the end of the question: “Are you two loving each other?”

Their brows furrowed a little, not expecting that question, and nodded ‘yes.’ They were less than enthused with their guest.

Another question on the heels of the first: “Are you loving your other two sisters who are in the other room…?”

One of them, now a bit on the defensive, answered, “We’re not even talking about them! We’re doing our math homework.”

I kept going, undeterred, “Oh, I’m not accusing you of talking poorly of them. I’m only asking. I can see you’re both working really hard….But you’re sure you’re loving your sisters even in thought and spirit?”

A small smile cracked the lips of one of our girls, and she answered, “Yessss, Mom. In thought and spirit we love them.” The other one arched an eyebrow, which seemed to say otherwise.

That’s okay, I thought. We’ll work on that.

I kept prodding, “Okay, because as daughters of God we love others even when they aren’t present, right?”

Then they started giggling at their crazy mom who was bent on teaching them to not back-stab others, “Yesssss, Mom!

With that I whipped out my left hand that had been hidden on the other side of their curtain, revealing two little packages of Oreo cookies. “Praise God!!! I’m so proud of you girls for loving your sisters. Here are some cookies.”

I threw the cookies toward them as they reached out responsive hands to grab them in the air, now squealing with excitement. This game was not only a little weird, but also fun!

I then entered fully into their room, passing the threshold and bending down to kiss each of them on top of their head. Then I was gone, out in our living room commencing the long journey (of about a yard and a half) to reach the doorway where our other two teen girls were. This time a bright mixture of pinks and purples greeted me from the curtain dangling in their doorway.

Knock-knock. “Girls, can I come in?” My voice was sing-song, and surely they already knew what was up because in our house you can practically hear every conversation that goes on from one room to the next.

They let me pass, and in this room, too, I kept my left hand hidden behind the curtain with the treats held firmly in it. I asked them the same questions, if they were loving their sisters.

One of our teens, not at all amused and having had a pretty rough week with one of our daughters in the other room blew me off and replied, “Uh, sure. We’re loving them.” The other girl present, one of our new daughters who has only been with us a few months, looked a bit confused by my question and sing-song voice.

I wasn’t convinced, so I continued prodding with all love, “Are you loving them not only in speech and in action but also in thought and in spirit?”

The same teen replied, “Um, honestly, no. My thoughts toward them are not very loving.”

I kept going, appreciating her honesty: “Okay, then we’re going to change those thoughts. Think a loving thought about her, because that is what God wants from us. Love.”

Her face betrayed anything but enthusiasm as she then murmured something about having a nice thought about her sister, although her attitude had not really changed. I encouraged them to love and honor their sisters for love of God, not only in their presence but also behind their backs. Hesitating on whether or not they really deserved the cookies, I headed in anyway and tossed them their incentive. They both looked surprised as they received their chocolate cookies (a rare treat in Honduras), and I went to each one and gave them a kiss on top of their head. Then I left.

Only two or three minutes passed before I entered my bedroom stash and grabbed more treats, ready to do my second round of many. I went to both rooms, knocking first and then asking each group similar questions as to whether they were truly loving their sisters and honoring them in thought, deed, speech, soul and spirit. (Each time I went I made the questions longer and a bit sillier). By now they understood what was happening and answered the questions quickly and enthusiastically, waiting for their treat. After answering the questions and receiving their prize I would give each one a kiss on the top of the head and a pat on the back or a hug.

And so every few minutes — repeating itself more than five or six times — I would make the rounds to the two rooms, trying to intercept/distract/combat against any potential gossiping or bad attitudes that could easily happen during our family’s Sabbath Hour when we don’t have as much contact with them. Each time their reactions (and facial expressions) got happier, and they came to laugh really hard about the craziness of it all.

At one point — now over 30 minutes or so into the outrageous process and with our girls enjoying a small fortune of sweets — I entered the second room and the girls were laughing so hard that they were almost crying. After I asked my questions and they affirmed their love for their sisters, I went to toss them a bag of chips and they both blurted, “We thought you were going to bring lollipops!” and began howling with laughter as if that was the funniest thing anyone had ever said. I’m not sure why they thought I was going to bring lollipops or why it was so funny to them, but they both began rolling on the floor and pointing at one another with uncontrollable laughter as they struggled to breathe. I stood in the doorway and contemplated what joy can do to a person. They looked absolutely beautiful, much more so than when I first appeared and they were put-off and closed down emotionally. Now the fun could not be contained!

On my following round (which ended up being my last), I entered their same doorway and asked them the now-infamous questions. Their faces were still speckled-red and tears were brimming in their eyes from their laughing fit as they now felt eager to answer my questions. One of them, the one who was first so unenthused, actually invented a song and began sining really loud about how much she loved her sisters (by name, even including the one she hasn’t typically gotten along with!) and finished her performance off by adding, “I love my sisters in deed, in word, in thought, in soul, in spirit, with my nose, with my knees, and with my hair.” With that the laughing fit overtook her again and she began rolling around the floor, pointing at different body parts of hers and gasping that she loved her sister with her ears, her elbows, etc.

By now I was laughing along with them, and in that moment I whipped out a lollipop for my singing daughter. Her eyes grew wider (the lollipop was what she had wanted all along), and she squealed really loud and kept going with her proclamations of love as she received her reward. The other one, seeing the other lollipop in my hand, began laughing hysterically and singing her own song about how much she loves her sisters. It was a total riot, and she won her lollipop!

So, that is our crazy story that took place four nights ago in our little cinderblock home at the base of the mountains in a third world country deeply scarred by hatred and sin. It may not be much, but I share it with you so that we may all be encouraged to love one another (face to face and behind our backs) for love of God. Our Father designed us to love Him and love one another, and I believe a bit more riotous laughter within God’s perfect will can go a long way to heal certain scars caused by sin. There is a Way more excellent than that of resentment, relational wars and lack of forgiveness, and it is that of love in Christ. Be encouraged!

God bless you!

 

Treasure-Hunters and Soul-Sweepers

Earlier today we did a new thing. We informed our kids that we wanted to have a family meeting, which is a fairly common occurrence, but the theme we would be discussing was not.

Natural and spiritual gifts.

As we sat on our old floral-print sofa and on battered wicker stools and chairs that have been around longer than your great-grandmother, I suddenly felt like we were on some kind of God-inspired kids’ television program where all the little people are spell-bound as they sit sprawled out or curled up, knees comfortably drawn under bright faces, absorbed by the adult reading the storybook as they wait to see how the adventure will unfold.

Everyone’s faces were aglow as we went one-by-one naming the specific natural and spiritual gifts we’ve noticed in each child/teen. No one moved a muscle as I felt like every possible distraction immediately fled from the room. God had rolled up His sleeves and rubbed his palms together enthusiastically. He was about to do what only He could, and He had their full attention.

The attitude with which this entire process was embraced far exceeded that of the most extravagant of Christmases – the excitement and immense awe that filled each person suddenly overflowed as the entire room filled to the brim. We were swimming in joy, exploring God’s infinite glory revealed in our very own lives.

After all, we were not unwrapping physical gifts but rather digging deep into the soul of each child to recognize and call forth the priceless gifts that God himself had planted there, waiting all these years to be discovered.

In a workshop our team of Christian laborers recently attended, we were encouraged to adopt the attitude of treasure-seekers in our daily interactions with our kids, constantly hunting for the ‘hidden treasures’ that God has placed in the lives of each of them as we shine the spotlight on the gifts and lead the child toward his or her destiny.

Oftentimes my husband and I have committed the grave error of participating too emphatically in the opposite search – the all-too-easy and deadening search for all that is wrong, all that needs to be corrected. The abuse suffered. The subsequent behavioral problems. The stains of sin on a young life.

In our three-plus years of parenting children who sprang from other women’s wombs, many times my husband and I have slapped on the camouflaged army helmet (not forgetting to snap into place the little buckle on the chin strap) and headed into the depths of our children’s souls, whacking back dangerous overgrowth – lies of the Enemy that have taken root and sprung up – with a large machete. It has been easy to focus on these life-choking weeds – the hurt, the poor decisions, the generational chains of sin, attitude problems (whether the children’s or ours), the times they’ve lied and stolen, possible dangers that lurk ahead – because this intense overgrowth has been the most obvious, urgent thing demanding our attention. Through fasting and prayer, healthy confrontations, individual counseling and behavioral correction/training, we’ve had to cut back this nasty overgrowth so that the children could breathe, could begin to escape from the long claws of the Enemy threatening to drag them right back into dangerous family patterns, self-destructive decisions, lies. Our cries have been ‘freedom’ and ‘healing.’

But today we put our machetes away (and took off the camouflaged helmets). Instead of cutting back the bad we partnered with God as He powerfully began calling out the good, calling forth the hidden treasures we’ve glimpsed under the thick overgrowth as we’ve swept the floor of our children’s souls.

My husband and I have noticed these gifts – even talked to each other about them as we’ve stood jaw-dropped in awe of the talent, the immense potential in each of our kids’ lives – but we had yet to share these revelations so freely with our kids, opening their eyes to the precious and powerful gifts that God has placed so miraculously within them.

A heavy blanket of serenity fell over our living room where we sat. Ceramic tile under our feet. Front door wide open, taking in the bright green leafy view in every direction. Family photos hanging in frames of different sizes and colors on the wall behind us. I felt God’s presence very near – as near as my own mouth. As brave, daring words came flowing off my tongue, I felt that God was calling forth those hidden treasures to be recognized and to begin to grow in Jesus’ name, to bear great fruit in the lives of His children for His glory and pleasure.

15-year-old Brayan. Physical strength. The ability (and desire) to memorize Scripture. Agriculture and farming. Humble of heart. Great faith (like that of a small child). The gift of serving others.

My hand on his knee as he sat to my right on the couch, we named his gifts one at a time, giving specific examples of ways we’ve seen these gifts played out and their importance in a hurting world.

Nervous about the seriousness of the beautiful words he was hearing, his eyes trained on mine as his Father began calling forth great fruit in his life, his mouth turned up in that little, infamous grin and he said, “Enjoy my physical strength while you can, because before you know it I’ll be a little old man.”

We all laughed heartily as we then continued onward.

16-year-old Dayana. Leader. Godly counselor and strong column holding others up. The ability (and desire) to encourage and teach others according to God’s Word. Well-organized administrator. Musician. Avid reader and writer. Compassionate. Future mother to orphans.

Perhaps most beautifully of all, as one child was receiving words of life, the others almost always nodded in amazement, confirming that, yes, this or that is an exquisite gift that is already bearing fruit in their sibling’s life.

13-year-old Jackeline. Enthusiastic cook. Great math and logic ability. Phenomenal sense of humor (very warm, affectionate and hilarious – a carrier of God’s infectious, extravagant joy). Blossoming servant to others. Future evangelist to a lost world.

Our kids quickly disappeared into their bedrooms and reappeared with notebook and pencil in hand, actively scribbling down their natural and spiritual gifts as they heard them. Certainly this was a moment they could not afford to forget as Creator God was dangling a small, bright lamp before each one (think the long stick with a carrot hanging off of it for the horse to follow). This is the path you are to take. Walk in it. I’ve destined you to be a great leader among my people, a servant to all. Use your ability to sing, to write, to cook for Me, for My good pleasure. Give this beautiful treasure to Me, and I’ll make it grow. I want to bless humanity and draw them to Myself through these gifts I’ve planted in you. I’m a Good Father, and I give good gifts. You will open the doors of your home to the lost, receiving them with vibrant hospitality as they come to recognize my great love. I am equipping your little brother to go door-to-door visiting and caring for those on the margins of society, bringing eternal hope to those who have not heard My name. Your sister will draw the little children to Me.

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The list we taped by our front door naming the different spiritual and natural gifts we’ve observed in our children

And so we read 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 13 about the various gifts God has given us so that we all might function as Christ’s body, working together as we reach the lost for God’s glory. We also read Romans chapter 12 about the different roles and gifts God gives to each.

Today we took a brake from crying out desperately for healing or from interceding for the lost among us. We turned off the crisis hotline and took a moment to simply enjoy our good God, to marvel at His infinite kindness at giving His children such delightful gifts. Surely He has redeemed us with Christ’s blood and is in the process of raising up a new generation who will walk in their giftings as they extend the great wedding invitation to the ends of the earth.

I sat in amazement as the conversation among us continued onward, Scripture being read, received.

My mind could barely grasp what was being revealed before my eyes. Combining the gifts present among the 10 people in this one little family, God’s given us enough…to serve an entire village, impact an entire city. Teachers. Christ-centered servants. Leaders. Godly counselors. Mothers and fathers to parent the orphaned. Preachers of God’s Word. Lovers of the poor and the outcast. Columns of truth; doers of justice. Administrators and encouragers. Passionate cooks. Readers, writers and musicians bent on proclaiming the truth of Christ.

I can hardly imagine if all of humanity turned inward in this great treasure hunt, enthusiastically seeking out the treasures Father God so playfully hid within their own souls as they then place their gifts and talents at His service to love humanity and praise His name.

A world like that would be like the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

So this morning Father God led us to take a mighty stand against mediocrity, against everyone’s-the-same, against the daily job of machete-hacking. He spoke directly and undeniably to the deepest part of each of our kids’ souls, reminding them who He is and who He has created them to be, lighting the path which each has been designed to take.

And, incredibly, as our family meeting came to a close, each person suddenly began exhibiting the exact treasures we had recognized and called to life. Our beloved cooks (Jackeline and Jason) suddenly jumped up and offered to help cook lunch (which is a particularly sweet blessing for me because I do not possess the natural love of cooking). Those who we had recognized as having the gift of serving others eagerly offered help as I headed out the door to begin the somewhat tedious yet fun task of sudsing down that old floral-print couch. Our pre-teen daughter (Gleny) who has a special heart for small children and a natural gifting as a teacher seemed affirmed and at peace as her siblings enthusiastically called to life the possibility of serving God as a teacher to small children, discipling them in His ways. Two of our other children (Jason and Josselyn) seemed excited to hear the idea that their spiritual gifts might lead them into a life of missionary service to the poor, an idea that they might not have previously considered. One of our daughters (Dayana) whom God is growing into a gifted counselor spoke up, telling me with a glow in her eyes that God had put it on her heart to delve even deeper in His Word and begin sharing Godly counsel with her circle of friends. In the blink of an eye (or rather in an hour of family meeting) everyone seemed to have gained a new understanding and appreciation for their own purpose as they now embark upon the lifelong journey of cultivating those special giftings God had placed in their care. Everyone suddenly came to life in exactly the way Father God had wanted. I sensed He stood by and watched with a huge grin on His face.

Please pray with us for each of our 8 precious children, that they may boldly trust in God to develop these gifts so that they may enter adulthood fully equipped to reach a lost and wounded world as Christ’s hands and feet.

Amen! Glory to God!