Sunday, April 28, 2013


Two nights ago as I was drifting off to sleep I was somewhat aware of CJ reading a paragraph out loud to Charly to get some feedback. From my semi-conscious state, my mouth seemed to open without my intending it to and I said something like, “I think you should say ‘included’ instead of ‘including.’”

Charly and CJ told me the next morning that they were shocked to hear me offer feedback when they thought I was already asleep. I confessed that I felt more asleep than awake and halfway through my sentence I wondered why I was talking because I honestly had no idea what I was saying.

I was clueless. It’s not a rare occurrence.

A few weeks ago I got a phone call and could not figure out—for the life of me—who the caller was or what he wanted. As he was talking, I was trying to focus on what he was saying while simultaneously trying to put him into a “box” that made sense. I heard him say “shi yan zhong xue” and the only box I could think of was the group of local high schoolers that Charly and Joshua had recently met on the train going to the same MUN conference in Beijing. But this man was also talking about where we lived and so I repeated some of his words to try to help me figure them out: “But we don’t live beside the Experimental Middle School.”

“Mom,” Joshua called out across the room. “He’s talking about our apartment in Tianjin.”

“Ohhhhh.” The light bulb then went on in my brain and I was finally able to understand that he was interested in renting our Tianjin apartment when the current renter’s lease runs out in June.

 I have had many, but probably my most clueless moment came about 10 years ago when I almost electrocuted a man.

We were having an air conditioner installed in Jordan’s room in our home in Tianjin, and the service man had a heavy southern accent so that I was having trouble understanding him. As he was giving me unintelligible instructions, I did all that I could think to do. I nodded like I understood him. Then he went outside to work on the air conditioner’s fan box attached to the brick wall of our apartment building.

After he left, I was standing in Jordan’s room by myself, getting a little bored, and I thought, “I ought to turn on the air conditioner with the remote and see if it works.” So I did, and it did come on and I was feeling good that it was working. Until moments later when the installation man appeared in Jordan’s doorway with a very red and angry face. As soon as I saw his face I knew exactly what his instructions to me had been.

“Whatever you do, don’t turn on the air conditioner. Or you will electrocute me.”

Thankfully, I didn’t kill the man, but he was really not happy with me. He had more unintelligible words to say that I didn’t need to understand to know what he meant.

I think of that air conditioner story as my “Emmaus moment.” It’s what comes to mind when I imagine the cluelessness of the disciples, so that they didn’t even recognize Jesus walking along the road beside them. Until Jesus opened their eyes. Then the light bulb turned on, and everything made sense.

This afternoon as I was reading out loud to our kids the chapter about Jesus’ death in The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, I was especially struck with his question, “How can we who know the outcome in advance ever recapture the dire end-of-the-world feeling that descended upon Jesus’ followers?”

The two downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus, full of unmet expectations about Jesus, said to the stranger, “We had hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” After this the stranger opened the Scriptures to them and explained why the Messiah had to suffer, so that their hearts burned with them and they understood. They were filled with joy when they realized that the stranger was actually Jesus. And they ran back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the other disciples who were still in confusion and despair after Jesus’ death. (Luke 24)

Yancey says, “What changed history was the disciples’ dawning awareness (it took the Resurrection to convince them) that God himself had chosen the way of weakness. The cross redefines God as the One who was willing to relinquish power for the sake of love.”

May God work today through our cluelessness in how we understand Him and how we understand what He’s doing. May He break down all of our misunderstandings and the “boxes” we try to put Him in. And may He give us an ever-increasing understanding of Him, the way He redefines Himself.

Our God gives hope to the hopeless.
Rest to the restless.
And clues to the clueless.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Indwelling Glory

What a blessing to spend another spring in the village! To breathe fresh unpolluted air. To drink in the sights of majestic mountains, beautiful blue skies, ever-changing clouds. To watch the water dance over the rocks and discover thousands of swimming tadpoles in the stagnant pools of the river. Flowers bloom, new crops emerge, and Life Grows once again all around us. The absence of city street noise and the gentle movement of leaves in the trees have been very refreshing to my soul.

My soul has also been refreshed by Andrew Murray’s wonderfully rich devotional Abide in Christ. His words have given me a deeper understanding of what it means to abide, to experience God’s indwelling power, and to bear the image of Christ, as His glory dwells within us:

“It is only the humility that is willing to learn from those who may have other gifts and deeper revelations of the truth than we, and the love that always speaks gently and tenderly of those who do not see as we do, and the heavenliness that shows that the Coming One is indeed already our life, that will persuade either the Church or the world that this our faith is not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. To testify of the Saviour as the Coming One, we must be abiding in and bearing the image of Him as the Glorified One.

Not the correctness of the views we hold, nor the earnestness with which we advocate them, will prepare us for meeting Him, but only the abiding in Him. Then only can our being manifested in glory with Him be what it is meant to be—a transfiguration, a breaking out and shining forth of the indwelling glory that had been waiting for the day of revelation...

The blessing will be given to him who will trust his Lord for it, who in faith and confident expectation ceases not to yield himself to be wholly one with Him. It was an act of wondrous though simple faith, in which the soul yielded at first to the Saviour. That faith grows up to clearer insight and faster hold of God’s truth that we are one with Him in His glory. In that same wondrous faith, wondrously simple, but wondrously mighty, the soul learns to abandon itself entirely to the keeping of Christ’s almighty power, and the actings of His eternal life...

May our daily lives be the bright and blessed proof that the hidden power dwells within, preparing us for the glory to be revealed. May our abiding in Christ the Glorified One be our power to live to the glory of the Father, our fitness to share to the glory of the Son.”

All photos by Jordan Pine.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Good That I See

Our family has been back in Gaoli village now for five days. On Sunday, after the Memorial Festival for the founder of the Sufi order, I had the chance to talk with several women in the community kitchen. One of them asked me why we were living here, and after hearing that my husband is doing research on the Bonan minority people, she made the assumption, “You probably think that the quality of our people is pretty low.”

“Not at all,” I replied. “I think you are an incredible people.”

We got interrupted as I started to explain more specifically what I appreciate about her people. Since then, I have been working on a more complete answer to have ready the next time someone expresses this wrong assumption that we probably think poorly of them:

1. You have a strong sense of community: like one big family looking out for and supporting each other.

2. You each have a role to play. Feeding 5000 people at a memorial festival is a huge task, but when everyone in the community contributes in some way, it doesn’t seem hard to you at all.

3. You teach your children by example the importance of serving. They learn from a young age how they can help in their homes and in the community, and they know that the world does not revolve around them.

4. Your children learn to respect their elders. At the memorial festivals, I see young ones voluntarily getting pieces of wood for older ones to sit on, serving food to the older ones first, and waiting for the older ones to begin eating.

5. You invite members of the community and imams who don’t belong to your Sufi order to pray with you and to serve them a feast. Your reaching out with this kind of generosity shows how willing you are to overlook differences in beliefs because of the high value you place on unity within your community.

6. You practice amazing hospitality. Tea cups continue to be filled to the brim as long as your guests stay. This communicates to your guests how important they are and shows how well you take care of them.

7. You have been incredibly welcoming and accepting toward us as foreigners to live in your community.

Thank you for blessing us. We have learned so much from your people!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Taking Hold

On Sunday, CJ went out on a mountain hike by himself to hear from God and to hopefully come back with a confirmed college decision. When he got home, his answer came out in a song and his smile was so full of peace that I felt I needed to capture the moment...

Later in the day he sat down at the computer to capture his decision-making process in words. We talked about how he wanted to share these thoughts with others, and he said that I could post it on my blog.
“Or maybe you could start your own blog,” I suggested. And that's what he did.

He decided to call his blog “Taking Hold of the Life that is Truly Life.”

The story of CJ’s heart journey “No Turning Back” brings to life so many of the things that Charly and I have hoped and prayed for our kids to “take hold” of as they grow into adulthood:

How to get good counsel and input
And how to ultimately hear from God in the midst of a lot of voices and information
How to make hard decisions that other people might not understand
By ultimately trusting in God (not trusting in the ability to give amazing answers to people)
How to seek security and satisfaction in God alone (not in friends or community)
And find a real peace of heart that is not dependent on the external
How to count blessings in life
And to see God as the great Giver (leading to humility and gratefulness)
How to make sacrifices without regrets
Like the heroes of our faith
Following their understanding of a heavenly citizenship (not looking to this world as our real home)
How to be intentional about life goals and aspirations
By identifying people and places that will foster this desired growth and development
How to follow the heart (not a list of pros and cons)
And ultimately to find God
Who gives great hope and promise for the future.

I share this part of CJ’s story as a Mom greatly humbled and grateful for the heart of an almost-adult son who is truly seeking God on his own. I share it with the same feeling of amazement as when we received the news of CJ’s college acceptances. Overwhelmed by grace. It is my very sincere hope that my sharing this does not come across at all in a prideful way.

My thought is this: we’re just a Christian family raising and teaching our kids overseas. Charly and I have made lots of mistakes in parenting. I am a Mom who struggles with frequent migraines. Since we left a very supportive homeschool community in Tianjin two years ago, we’ve been living somewhat isolated lives in central western China. And yet, it’s in spite of and even because of these challenges that God has worked in the ways that He has. He has transformed limitations and possible setbacks into opportunities and blessings. I love what a friend wrote in response to “How to Be a Lazy Mom:” that she was encouraged to see "God's strength being made perfect in my weakness." That really is the way He delights to work, and our whole family has been on the receiving end of much, much grace. So I hope what I share comes through this firm belief. Any good result is not about me. It’s not about us. It’s all about Him.

Tedd Tripp talks about shaping influences in our kids’ lives and their Godward orientation. He says that as parents we try to provide the best shaping influences that we can. Our kids are then responsible for how they respond (toward God or away from Him).

There are clearly no guaranteed formulas for how to make sure our kids “turn out right.” We do the best we can. And we trust the results to God. Everyone’s story is different, and He doesn’t want us to compare ourselves or our children to anyone else, thinking that we are “better than” or “worse than.” God is uniquely working in each of our lives and in each of our children’s lives. Through the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the pretty and the ugly. He wants us to trust everything to Him, to work out according to His perfect timing and His good purposes.

Before King David died, he did all that he could do in preparation for his son Solomon to build the Temple, and entrusted all that he couldn’t do to God. What a great example for us as parents: to do our best to equip and empower our children and then to be at peace with leaving the results to God. (1 Chronicles 29)

When we see our children taking their own steps of faith, and as they choose their own stones from the stream (as young David did against the mighty Goliath), we want to believe with them that their God can equip them for their battles in ways that we would never imagine.

Taking hold of the life that is truly life.

(CJ's high school graduation speech: Not One Man Scaling a Cliff)


Linking up with Velvet Ashes on the theme of "Teaching"

Friday, April 12, 2013


Besides teaching obedience and shepherding the heart, another aspect of parenting I’ve been reflecting on recently is Values, and the way they get communicated to our children. Whether we realize it or not.

It would be quite revealing to ask our kids: What makes Mommy (or Daddy) most upset? What makes Mommy most happy? What does Mommy mostly talk with other adults about? What does she discipline you for? Praise you for? Their answers would give us great insight into what we value.

Other questions that we can ask ourselves:
Do we praise our children more for their awards and accomplishments?
Or more for their character development and good effort?
Do we place more value on our children’s good appearance in public?
Or on their moral integrity when no one is looking?

When CJ was in Chinese first grade, we were horrified to hear that his best friend received a spanking at home one night after students’ test grades were announced because CJ (the foreigner) scored 1 point higher than him.

Clearly, his best friend’s parents valued high test scores. As well as the importance of scoring higher than the foreigner. And they used a spanking to prove their point.

We later found out that this friend’s father (who used to serve in the army) also highly valued loyalty.

After CJ got into a fight with one of his classmates at school, I overheard an unexpected conversation between his best friend’s father and his best friend as the four of us walked toward our homes through the market together:

“Were you involved in the fight today?”


“The next time your best friend is in a fight, you’d better fight alongside him. That’s what friends are for.”

So while we were hoping there wouldn't be a next time and were trying to address what was going on in CJ’s heart, emphasizing that conflict resolution is better worked out with words than fists, his best friend’s father was stressing the value of being a loyal friend—one who fights with him and for him, no matter what.

A couple of months ago, when we were with a group of our “foreign friends,” I enjoyed being around our friends' children.

I observed, with amusement, a 6-year old big sister asking a younger one, “Could you please just try to be kind?”
And I could tell that kindness is valued in her family.

I listened, with joy, to a 7-year old singing his heart out during worship time.
And I knew that worship is valued in his family. (And because his Dad was the worship leader, he knew the words to all the songs by heart.)

I overheard that a 6-year old told a 20-something that because she was shorter than most people, she was going to pray and ask God to help her adult friend grow some more. I just loved this faith-filled innocence!
And I was sure that prayer for healing was valued in her family.

Different families have different values.

What are your values and how are they expressed through you and through your children?
What do you hope to see your children develop as their own personal values?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Parent’s Role

More wisdom from Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart about our God-appointed role as parents. Reflecting on how best to teach obedience as we seek God's will for us and our children in the purpose of parenting.

We are appointed by God to exercise authority as His agent in the lives of our children:

“You exercise authority as God’s agent. You may not direct your children for your own agenda or convenience. You must direct your children on God’s behalf for their good.”

“The purpose of your authority in the lives of your children is not to hold them under your power, but to empower them to be self-controlled people living freely under the authority of God.”

“As a parent, you must exercise authority. You must require obedience of your children because they are called by God to obey and honor you. You must exercise authority not as a cruel taskmaster, but as one who truly loves them.”

We are to hold out God’s standard and help our children see their need of grace:

“The law of God is not easy for natural man. Its standard is high and cannot be achieved apart from God’s supernatural grace. God’s law teaches us our need of grace. When you fail to hold out God’s standard, you rob your children of the mercy of the gospel.”

We are to come alongside our children in trying to understand their heart struggles and to help them learn how to express themselves:

“Superficial parenting that never addresses the heart biblically produces superficial children who do not understand what makes them tick. They must be trained to understand and interpret their behavior in terms of heart motivation. If they never have that training, they will drift through life, never understanding the internal struggles that lie beneath their most consistent behavior.”

“The finest art of communication is not learning how to express your thoughts. It is learning how to draw out the thoughts of another. Your objective in communication must be to understand your child, not simply to have your child understand you. Many parents never learn these skills. They never discover how to help their children articulate their thoughts and feelings.”

“Your first objective in correction must not be to tell your children how you feel about what they have done or said. You must try to understand what’s going on inside them. Since the Scripture says that it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, you must engage your children to understand what is going on inside...What you must do is peel away the behavior and discern the inner world of your child in this situation. While you can never understand the issues of the heart flawlessly it is a pursuit worthy of effort.”

“Your communication objective can be stated in several simple propositions.
1. The behavior you see is a reflection of the abundance your child’s heart.
2. You want to understand the specific content of the abundance of his heart.
3. The internal issues of the heart of greater import than the specifics of behavior, since they drive behavior.
To summarize: You want to understand your child’s inner struggles. You need to look at the world though his or her eyes. This will enable you to know what aspects of the life-giving message of the gospel are appropriate for this conversation.

If you are going to understand and help your child understand himself, there are skills you must develop. You must learn to help your children to express themselves. You must learn to facilitate conversation. You must know how to comprehend behavior and words. You must strive to discern matters of the heart...
As a parent you want to be such a student of understanding.”

“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20:5)

“Your role is to help him understand himself and speak with clarity and honesty about his internal struggle with sin. There are three issues you must walk him through: 1) the nature of temptation 2) the possible responses to this temptation, and 3) his own sinful responses.

In this process you stand both above him and beside him. You are above him because God has called you to a role of discipline and correction. You are beside him because you, too, are a sinner who struggles with anger toward others.”

We are to be committed to their good, investing ourselves in helping them to realize their full potential as they grow in fellowship with God:

“Children trust you when they know you love them and are committed to their good. When they know you understand them, when they know that you understand their strengths and weaknesses, when they know that you have invested yourself in encouragement, correction, rebuke, entreaty, instruction, warning, teaching, and prayer. When a child knows that all his life you have sought to see the world through his eyes, he will trust you. When he knows that you have not tried to make him like anybody else, but only sought to help him realize his full potential as a creature God made to know Him and live in the relationship of fellowship with him, he will trust you.”

We are to address their rebelliousness and help them learn that they can only get their help and strength to obey from God.

“What a wonderful opportunity to talk to children about the rebellion of their hearts! Show them how they are inclined to disobey and turn irrationally for what is good for them. Confront them with their weakness and inability to obey God without God’s work within. What happens to the child who becomes persuaded that obedience is good for him? Do his problems with submission melt away? No, no more than yours do when you know what you should do. Doing what he knows is good may still elude him. This, too, takes him to God. He must learn to get hold of God for help and strength to obey.

The gospel seems irrelevant to the smug child who isn’t required to so anything he does not want to do. It seems irrelevant to the arrogant child who has been told all his life how wonderful he is. But the gospel has great relevance for the child who is persuaded that God calls him to so something that is not native to his sinful heart—to joyfully and willingly submit to the authority of someone else! Only the power of the gospel can give a willing heart and the strength to obey.”

With the long-term in mind, we are to teach our children the importance of submission.

“Even though the child will not be able to fully appreciate the importance of submission, training him to do what he ought, regardless of how he feels, prepares him to be a person who lives by principle rather than mood or impulse. He learns that he cannot trust himself to judge right and wrong. He must have a reference point outside himself. He learns that behavior has moral implications and inevitable outcomes.”

God, help us to better understand Your role for us as parents, to better understand our children and their unique struggles with sin, and to better understand the ways that You are working to carry on to completion the great work You have begun in their lives. (Philippians 1:6)

Teaching Obedience

The way we teach our kids obedience will naturally flow out of our own relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Do we obey what God commands because of fear of punishment?

Do we obey in order to win approval or to earn brownie points with God?

Do we lower God’s standard by trying to justify our own disobedience and by making light of sin?

Or do we obey out of a heart of love that is freely submitted to the One who knows what’s best for us?

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

“This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

The way we teach obedience to our children will also flow out of what we believe about the authority God has given us over them.

 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” (Ephesians 6:1-3)

How do we communicate to our children about why they need to obey?

Because I said so. I’m the Boss. You better listen to me or else.

Or, Could you please obey me this time? I’ll buy you some ice cream.

In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp says: “Children must learn that they have been made for God. They have a duty to Him. He has the right to rule them. They owe Him obedience.

Your children will never submit to you without understanding this truth. They will never see living in terms of bringing glory to God. They will be self-absorbed—the prime objects of worship in their own world.

Submission to earthly authority is a specific application of being a creature under God’s authority. Submission to God’s authority may seem distant and theoretical. Mom and Dad, however, are present. Obedience to God is reflected in a child’s growing understanding of obedience to parent.”

Tripp describes a circle of safety that our children live within when they submit to our authority. When they rebel against that authority it is our job as parents to “rescue” them, to bring them back into the circle of protection and blessing.

He says: “The circle of submission to parental authority is the place of safety. By implication, being outside that circle is a place of peril. Your child is in danger if he is rebellious and disobedient. You, therefore, must move swiftly to return him to the circle of protection and safety...The child has not just disobeyed Mommy or Daddy. He has disobeyed God. He has made himself liable to the discipline and correction that God has appointed for disobedient children. The function of discipline is to restore him to the safety and protection of the circle.”

“Obedience to parents is not a parent-child issue. If it were, the parent could be selective about when he wished to be obeyed. Obedience is not simply an issue between the parent and the child. It is an issue between the child and God in which the parent is God’s agent in drawing the child back within the circle of blessing.”

“Bad behavior represents a failure to obey and is, therefore, the occasion for correction—but the focal point of correction is not behavior. The focal point is the heart of the child that is called to submission to God’s authority. The goal of correction is not simply to modify behavior, but to bring the child to sweet, harmonious, and humble heart submission to God’s will that he may obey Mom and Dad. The heart is the battleground. The spanking comes only because it is God’s method of driving foolishness far from your child’s heart.”

“You inevitably train your children in obedience. You may train them to obey only after you’ve yelled, pleaded or threatened. You may train them to obey only when they wish to. You may not train them to obey at all. Even this is a type of training in obedience.

When your directives are met by a discourse about why what you have asked is not fair, your children are not obeying. When you are met with excuses or explanations, they are not obeying. Submission to authority means that they obey without delay, excuse or challenge.”

Tripp’s description of obeying “without delay, excuse or challenge” sounds quite similar to “first time obedience:” which was the goal of the early parenting material that our family followed. Shepherding a Child’s Heart helped me understand a very critical difference in how we approach this high standard of obedience—whether our focus is on the outward behavior or on the heart.

Tripp says: “Your focus must be what it means for you to honor God in your family life, not how to get your kids in line. Getting your kids in line is a by-product of honoring God.”

He pointedly asks: “Could it be that you are confronted with disobedience all day because you tolerate it? As long as you are unwilling to require precision in obedience you will have sloppy responses to your directives. Consistency is the key...There may be days in which nothing much gets done because of the demands of consistent discipline. But, faithfulness will yield a good harvest.”

“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11)

May God help us to train our children, with a focus on bringing their hearts to Jesus, so that God receives the glory through the harvest that He produces of righteousness and peace.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Shepherding a Child’s Heart

A friend of mine with preschoolers asked if I could write a follow up post to The Purpose of Parenting about HOW to teach our kids to obey without expecting them to be perfect and HOW to expose their hearts in a way that they can understand. What great, challenging questions!

In response to her request, I decided to spend some time rereading Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp, the book that God used to during our kids’ preschool days to help me to see parenting in a new light. It inspired me to change my goal from raising perfectly obedient children to directing my children to the cross of Christ. From the wisdom in this book, I realized that with a focus purely on obedience, it was possible to raise children who could look good on the outside while their hearts were still far from God. Hypocritical: the word Jesus used to describe the Pharisees. I was now able to see my children’s sin, not as something to try to eradicate, but as a pathway that could draw them closer to God, as they realized their inadequacy to conquer sin apart from His work in their lives.

In his introduction, Tripp says: “The central focus of parenting is the gospel. You need to direct not simply the behavior of your children, but the attitudes of their hearts. You need to show them not just the “what” of their sin and failure, but the “why.” Your children desperately need to understand not only the external “what” they did wrong, but also the internal “why” they did it. You must help them see that God works from the inside out. Therefore, your parenting goal cannot simply be well-behaved children. Your children must also understand why they sin and how to recognize internal change.”

In the weeks before CJ was born, Charly and I listened to a set of parenting tapes on our frequent road trips between Kansas City and Columbia, Missouri. These tapes taught us how we could establish a helpful newborn schedule of eating, playing, and sleeping. At that time, however, we wouldn’t have used the word “helpful.” We would have said “this is the right way, the godly way, to parent” and here is a parenting law that needs to be obeyed.

Just as I would later allow the worksheets at the Science Museum to control me as if they were the law, so Charly and I were controlled by and way too rigid about this concept of scheduling with number 1. The arrival of number 2 and number 3 allowed us to see that what we learned about scheduling gave us helpful principles that we could adapt to what would work best for our individual children and for our family as a whole.It was better for us to be more flexible and not to rigidly follow these principles.

The early parenting material we followed also taught us the concept of “first-time obedience.” This was a helpful idea to us as new parents. Because, of course, we desired that our children would come the first time we called them (not the fifth time). We wanted to be able to give an instruction once, not multiple times with growing frustration, before our kids would pay attention to it. But again, we wouldn’t have used the word “helpful” back then. We would have said first time obedience is what is most important in parenting.

That’s what I was wrestling with on the Day of Disaster at the Science Museum. In addition to my struggle with how my children’s behavior and performance reflected on me as a mother, I was seeing them through this lens of first-time obedience. Are they obeying the first time or not? If not, then what’s wrong with me as a parent? Or what’s wrong with my children? Underlying this type of parenting philosophy, I believe, is the idea that if we are consistent enough, we should be able to produce perfectly obedient children.

God used Shepherding a Child’s Heart to give me a different set of lenses to see my children and their sin:

Can I see past the disobedience to the heart of my child? How can I help him see his sin, repent, and experience a heart change through personally encountering Jesus? Is my heart, as a parent, drawn toward my child, or is it hardened against him, in this process of training and correction?

Tripp says: “You must address the heart as the fountain of behavior and the conscience as the God-given judge of right and wrong. The cross of Christ must be the central focus of your childrearing.

You want to see your children live a life that is embedded in the rich soil of Christ’s gracious work. The focal point of your discipline and correction must be your children seeing their utter inability to do the things that God requires unless they know the help and strength of God. Your correction must hold the standard of righteousness as high as God holds it. God’s standard is correct behavior flowing from a heart that loves God and has God’s glory as the sole purpose of life.”

As parents who want to follow God’s ways, we must decide on a practical level how to “hold the standard of righteousness as high as God holds it.” We need to discern what situations with our children require the “laying down of the law” and what situations we instead respond to with grace?

In the example of my frustration at the museum, I could have tried to evaluate the situation before God like this:

Where are the expectations about these worksheets coming from? Is this truly the “law” or more of a helpful principle that I can adapt to what works best for my family in this situation? What’s going on in my own heart that is affecting how I view my children and how they meet these expectations? Do I need to buckle down or lighten up? When, where, and what kind of line do I draw?

I’m definitely not a proponent of covering up poor behavior with a “boys will be boys” attitude. It can be easier and more convenient to lower “God’s standard of correct behavior,” but it communicates to our kids that they can’t be expected to behave better. And that's not what we want in the long run. It is also easy for my own laziness to keep me from following through on instructions that I give. As well as a desire to try to avoid conflict.

On the other end of the spectrum, my children’s disobedience can be complicated by my trying to meet others’ expectations. I can overreact or react wrongly because I can be more concerned with what other people think than what God thinks.

I believe that God will help us as parents to discern His will in each unique situation. If we seek His face to determine how best to respond, we can find the right balance within the extremes of leniency and legalism.

Lord, help us to seek Your heart and to trust You to draw our hearts and our children’s hearts to You, through the sinful attitudes you expose. Help us to train our children in righteousness and to respond to their disobedience in ways that truly honor You and who You are. May we be teachable ourselves and help our children to be teachable.

More thoughts on parenting to come...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Purpose of Parenting

Looking over pictures from our kids' preschool days has reminded me of an important lesson God taught me about parenting during that time. As the boys and I were biking home in our three wheeler from a Day of Disaster at the Science Museum.

The wind was blowing strong against me, so that I was pedaling hard but getting nowhere. My conversation with God went something like this:

I’m feeling very frustrated.


Why don’t these kids act the way I want them to?

You want your kids to be perfect.

Yes, I guess I do.


They make me look bad when they don’t act right. They can really embarrass me.

So you want to look good?

Yes, I guess I do. (starting to feel humbled and repentant)

Is that what parenting is about?


What is the purpose of parenting?

It was a preschoolers’ afternoon outing at the hands-on Science Museum. Jordan was home taking a nap, and CJ and Joshua were running around the museum with their friends, having a blast, and being very hands-on. That would have been ok with me, except that one of the other homeschool Moms had printed out some worksheets. And that changed everything. The sheets were designed to provide some direction for the kids to hunt for different things in the museum and then write down (or have the parents write down) what they found. To me, it just spelled Performance: because now my kids couldn’t just run around, they needed to fill in some blanks. Only they weren’t at all interested in those sheets. But I felt they needed to do what was expected of them so that I could feel good about my job as a Mom.

At one point I took them into the bathroom for a “talk.”

“This is really not fun for me. You boys need to focus on filling in the blanks.”

They did try. As best as 4 and 5 year old boys can.

After awhile we gathered all the kids together and went as a group into the theater to watch a science movie. I have no recollection of what the movie was about. Because we didn’t watch very much of it.

The lights went out and the sound came on (loud). It was the kind of movie that you see all around you...the ceiling, all around the walls...and CJ got freaked and started screaming. I quickly gathered our things together and we bumped our way past all the others down the row. I was crouched low but not low enough, because I wanted to be invisible. And I wanted different kids. Kids who could quietly watch the movie and not make a scene. Outside, the boys climbed into the back of our three wheeler and I gripped the handlebars and fought the wind in frustration and humiliation on the long journey home. And God spoke to my heart.

What is the purpose of parenting?

I realized that I was trying to produce “perfect” kids—an impossible goal that can only lead to frustration. I am not perfect and never will be. Why should I expect my kids to be perfect? They make mistakes and sin just like I do. My job is to help them recognize what’s going on in their hearts. And if there is sin there: to repent, seek forgiveness, and be restored in their relationships with God and whoever they have sinned against.

I realized that the disaster at the museum wasn’t an issue of sin on their part. I was the one with the sinful attitude because I felt I had “lost face” in front of the other Moms. Expectations of performance had hardened my heart toward my kids. And when CJ got freaked out over the movie that scared him, he needed my comforting “That’s ok,” not my critical, “What’s wrong with you?”

I realized how selfish and wrong it was to want to look like a good Mom. I could see that with this mindset, my kids’ behavior on any certain day could make me feel either like a success or a failure. It didn’t have to be that way and it shouldn’t be that way. My identity and their identity is not based on performance. I could have relaxed about the worksheets. Let my boys experience the museum their own way, and just enjoy the time with them and the other families. I could have simply tucked those unfilled-out-sheets away. Instead I let the forms control me and turn the day into a disaster because my kids didn’t meet certain expectations or “perform” well.

God wants me to shepherd, to teach, to correct, to encourage, to equip, to guide, and to love my children, following the example of my Father God, using instruction from the Word of God, filling my words and actions with the Spirit of God, modeling through my own life as I direct them to the cross where they will meet Jesus.

My purpose is not to make them perfect, because it’s actually their sins and weaknesses that will help them see their need for Jesus.

My purpose is not to have them make me look good, or to even make themselves look good, but to help them recognize what’s going on in their hearts (which is so much more important than outward appearance) and help them to experience real heart transformation through Jesus.

My purpose is not to make them look like me, but to help them on their own faith journeys to understand and become who God made them to be, uniquely designed for purposes He has planned just for them. To help them develop a lifelong personal relationship with Jesus. That will carry them through the ups and downs of life when they are out of the home and "on their own."

God, help me to hear Your voice and to see how You’re working in each of my children’s lives, that I could work together with You in fulfilling Your plans and purposes for them for their good and for Your glory (not for my good or my glory). Amen.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Preschool Days

One of my projects while CJ has been in the US this past week has been to update his scrapbook. We opened up a box of old pictures, stored under Joshua’s bed, and found these from the fall of 2000 when our family was featured in the Tianjin Daily.

Charly was teaching in the Philosophy department at Nankai University that year and CJ (5) and Joshua (almost 4) went to Nankai’s preschool 3 mornings a week. Jordan (2) started preschool the following year.

Our family’s form of transportation was to bike with the kids in back of our three wheel “station wagon”. When they got bigger (and heavier) we upgraded to a battery powered three wheeler. And eventually transitioned to them riding their own bikes.

CJ wasn’t all that interested in learning Chinese when he was in preschool; instead he saw his mission as helping his teacher (who became a good friend of ours) improve her English. But when he started first grade the following year at a local elementary school, his Chinese improved a lot!

Joshua wasn’t quite ready for the classroom setting yet. He enjoyed preschool a lot more when he and Jordan started attending a different one closer to our home the next year, where they both made some great friends.

Early homeschool lessons.


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