Last week I donated the last box of diapers in our house.  I had the hardest time letting them go and found myself trying to come up with weak excuses to keep them.  I’ve been reflecting on it more than can be humanly healthy, but at the bottom of it all (no pun intended), is the shock that I’ve made it this far.

I’m ten years into this parenting thing, and I have done truckloads of things that I had no idea I was capable of doing…  like listening to their deep cries of grief (I still have moments when I wish they could’ve experienced death from a pet) to potty training (I still have no idea how I did that), to sticking up for them when others expect the pastor’s kids to be the perfect ones (fyi: they’re not even close) and listening to endless commentary on countless football games (William congratulated me when I mentioned halftime the other day. It’s sad, really).

Parenting is so intentional, isn’t it?  I can’t just sit back and hope that my kids turn out okay.  I have to guide them and listen to them, keeping in close relationship with Jesus above all.

Lots of years ago, when Kate was a difficult three year old, I remember praying so hard that somehow God would take hold of her heart.  Her strong will was getting the best of both of us and I was out of ideas.  It was around Christmas time and a church in town had a live outdoor nativity.  We walked past the Roman guards and the marketplace, coming up on the stable at the end.  Mary and Joseph were there, along with several animals and baby Jesus.  I was holding Kate and I remember that she stopped wiggling and was so still.  Peter and William moved on, but she whispered, “I’m not ready yet.”  This is it!  I remember thinking, tears in my eyes.  Finally after many minutes of silence and stillness, she whispered to me “I’m just waiting for that cow over there to poop.”

Just like that I realized that I couldn’t wish for some magic solution to her cure her strong will.  Instead, the heart change had to be in me.  Peter and I have learned to celebrate who she is, to bend her strong will to be a strength instead of something that gets the best of her.  It’s a slow process, but as we watch her bloom, to stick up for the underdog, to do the right thing even when it isn’t what everyone else is doing– well, it makes me burst with love for her.

In Deuteronomy 6, right after Moses gave the Ten Commandments, he tells the people about other things that God told him to teach the people.  He says,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commands I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Do you see what Moses said right before he told them to impress the laws on their children?  He said they were to first be upon the parent’s hearts. Before we can teach our children how to love God, we first have to love God ourselves.  His commands have to be on our hearts, as parents, first.  If I’m not living my life for Christ, then I can’t expect my kids to.  When it comes to character and faith, they see right through it.

Last week we were praying before dinner.  We had let Hank, our old dog, out and he was watching us through the window.  But Hank has this problem.  He still runs away, even in his old age, and it was bitterly cold and dark.  We knew if we let him out of our sights, he’d be gone in a flash, and it would not be good.  So while we prayed, Peter and I kept our eyes on Hank… and the kids caught us.  They said, “You didn’t close your eyes while we prayed!  Why do you tell us we have to close our eyes if you don’t do it?”  We were busted (but they were busted, too, since they clearly had their eyes open to catch us).

My kids know when it’s real and they aren’t afraid to challenge me when they see that what I’m telling them to do is not lining up with my actions. Sometimes it’s the little things that don’t matter so much, like not closing my eyes while praying.  But often it’s the bigger things that could have a real impact on their future.  I don’t have to be perfect— just honest.  Whatever I want my children to become, I should strive to become as well.

It has to be upon my heart before I can impress it on theirs.

If I want my kids to respect their leaders, I also need to respect my leaders.
If I want my kids to admit they’re wrong, I have to learn to tell them I’m sorry when I mess up.
If I want them to be generous, I need to give freely.
If I want them to be kind, they have to see me building others up
If I want them to be honest, they need to see me being honest with others.
If I want them to follow Jesus, I have to love Him with all my heart and soul and strength.

It has to be in me before it can be in my kids.  And it has to be in you before it can be in your kids.  What if you believed that the greatest thing that could happen in the heart of your child would be what happened in your heart first? Your kids can’t see who you are becoming if they never see who you really are.  And if they never see who you really are, how will they know the difference God has made and continues to make in your life?

I was not a gracious mom yesterday morning.  As my mind replays it now, I am ashamed at the way I sent my kids to school.  True, they picked on one another far more than they should’ve and true, they made many unnecessary messes (I’m looking at you, toaster crumbs).  But I got mad.  And after I pulled away from the school drop-off and finally had a moment of quiet, I realized that I could’ve stopped and prayed with them instead of getting angry.  It might have changed our morning, or maybe it’s wouldn’t have, but I know my own soul would’ve been settled.  When they got home, I asked for forgiveness.  My kids see who I really am and it often isn’t great.  I hate it when I get it wrong, but I can redeem my actions if I choose to swallow my pride and make it right with God and with them.

“God is at work telling a story of restoration and redemption through your family. Never buy into the myth that you need to become the ‘right’ kind of parent before God can use you in your children’s lives.  Instead learn to cooperate with whatever God desires to do in your heart today so your children will have a front-row seat to the grace and goodness of God.”– Reggie Joiner


“He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those who have young.”– Isaiah 40:11

Take heart today. I don’t know who you are or where you are in your relationship with Christ.  Maybe you find it easy to be intentional with your kids or maybe you find yourself weary from trying to get it all right all the time.  Maybe you’ve surprised yourself with how hard it is to be a parent.  Maybe you’re just starting out, or maybe you’re at the end.  Wherever you find yourself, know that God is with you.  He promises to carry you close to His heart.  He wants you first to love Him with everything you have, and then to teach that love to your children.  He will lead you one tiny step at a time.

{I chose the pictures as proof that we have lots of “moments” in our house.  So. many. moments.  But also?  I have to remember that if I wait long enough, frowns eventually turn to smiles.  Most of the time.}

{Also, want to read more?  I love Parenting Beyond your Capacity by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof and the corresponding blog Parent Cue.  I’m also on the tail end of Nancy Guthrie’s The Lamb of God and her chapter on Deuteronomy has been so eye opening to me.}