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Look Me in the Eye...Please!

We live in a world without eye contact.

A while ago I went door to door on behalf of a politician that I didn't know all that well, but many of my friends (who do know this sort of thing) vouched for. I normally am quite a politically in-the-know person, but in this case I really wasn't. I had a few big issues, and knew where the guy I was walking for stood on those, and that was fine. But I didn't know as much as I normally do during campaigns, and felt mildly discomforted about that.

I just knew one thing. I didn't like his opponent's eyes.

That may sound superficial, but allow me to explain. Everytime I had been with this guy's opponent (and I had been with him), he seemed incapable of looking you in the eye. His eyes were always scanning the room to see who else was there, or scanning somewhere else (as a woman, I hate it when men can't look you in the eye, if you get my drift).

This wasn't my only problem, but it was symbolic of the other things that just made me uncomfortable about him. He seemed calculating rather than caring; and I saw that in other areas, too.

There is something about eyes that is key to our character. When you can look someone in the eye, you invite intimacy. You invite conversation. You invite trust. When you don't look someone in the eye, you dismiss them. You say their attention doesn't matter.

As a society, though, we have given up on eye contact. I see so many people who go through the day on their phones. They're texting constantly, or talking constantly, and as they do that, they don't pay attention to those around them. They don't chat up the grocery store clerk, or the friend in line. They don't smile at strangers, that little bit of courtesy that brightens people's day.

Photo by Zawezome

I often see teens outside the local high school at breaktime, texting constantly, but chatting, too. And I wonder: what kind of relationships are they forming, when they can never give 100% of their attention to another human being?

One of women's main complaints about men is that they don't look at us when we're talking to them. They focus on the television, or the computer screen, or the newspaper, and they may say the occasional, "mmm hmmm", but that's not enough to satisfy us that they are listening to what we are saying. We want the eyes.

How will our kids grow up to be able to look their spouse in the eye when they never do it now? Are we losing the ability to communicate, to care about one individual at a time?

Tuesday nights are our family nights. No computers, no televisions, just our family, around the table, playing board games. I have to admit I didn't really want to do it this week, because I was busy. But we made it a priority, so I did it. And I have not laughed as hard this week as I did then. We always end up in stitches over something stupid. But the best part, when you're all sitting around the table, is that we can see each other's eyes. We know they're looking and listening and paying attention.

It's like that at family dinners, too. When we sit down, even if it's just for ten or fifteen minutes because we have an activity afterwards, we all connect, at the same time. I see any tiredness that's there. I detect sadness. I can see excitement or joy. And we share.

How can this happen if people bring cell phones to the table? How can this happen if families go out to restaurants to "be together", but everyone has their own iPhone? You're not connecting. You're ignoring, even if there is conversation going on.

We are losing the ability to look people in the eyes, and as we do that, we give the message that "I only pay attention to what is important to me, and you are not important." Kindness has left the equation; it is now only what I want. It's not about common courtesy or respect anymore; it is simply about entertainment and my own personal desires. And that is an extremely selfish society.

I am scared for our future; scared that we are raising a generation that will become that politician that made me so uncomfortable. I'm scared that we are becoming that ourselves as we become addicted to devices. Yes, they're handy. Yes, they're fun. But people are ever so much more fun when you really spend time with them. Eye to eye. Let's not forget that, and let's make sure our kids are forced, at least during some of the day, to look other people right in the eyes.

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Wifey Wednesday: Did You Marry a Beast?

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

So today I have a question. Did you marry a beast?

Let me explain. Many of us think that the Beauty and the Beast storyline goes something like this:

Beauty meets a Beast. Even though she knows he's a beast, she sees something deep inside him which is very beautiful. And as she loves him, the beautiful side emerges and he becomes a prince.

There's a problem with that attitude when it comes to marriage. What it is really saying is that we did not marry our husbands; we married the potential inside our husbands. We married that part of him which would one day emerge, simply because we loved him enough. We could see it was there, even if no one else could, and by loving him, we'd bring it out.

Then what happens if it doesn't emerge? It's his fault! We've done the loving part; but he hasn't stepped up and done the changing part. And we become quite bitter. It's as if he hasn't fulfilled his end of our (unspoken) deal.

But what if we had the storyline wrong? What if Beauty and the Beast actually went like this:

Beauty meets the Beast. At first she is repulsed by the Beast, but as she gets to know him better, she falls in love with him, as a Beast. And she marries him as a Beast. And because of that acceptance of who he already is, he changes into a prince.

The key to the Beauty and the Beast story isn't that Beauty married the potential inside the Beast; it's that Beauty accepted who the Beast was, flaws and all, and loved him thinking he was going to stay that way forever. And because she accepted him, he changed.

What we all need is acceptance. Every single one of us. But how many of us get that? And how many of us have been withholding it from our husbands?

I know this is a tough one, because some of our husbands are doing things that we cannot accept. Perhaps they watch pornography, or they ignore the children, or they never ever pick up anything around the house.

How can you accept that?

But I am not saying you must agree with everything he does; what I am saying is that for a marriage to work, you have to accept him as a person without needing to change fundamentally who he is. He may have issues he needs to work on, and I completely agree wtih confronting husbands when they're sinning (like with pornography), but at some point we have to say: I love you for who you are. I accept you for who you are. I won't try to change you anymore.

Instead of waiting for your perfect man to emerge, become the perfect woman. I don't mean become the perfect woman FOR HIM necessarily; I mean become the kind of woman who can bloom exactly where you're planted, with the kind of man you married. Find some hobbies that keep you happy. Find ways of organizing your home so it runs smoothly, even if he doesn't give a lot of help. Find joy in God, in parenting, in nature, in the world. Don't get hung up on "I'll be happy when he finally changes", because then it's like you're consigning yourself to being miserable all the time. After all, what if he never does?

Today, take the reins of your life and decide to be happy and find joy regardless of whether he changes. And if you're having a hard time with that, let me offer a suggestion.

Stormie Omartian's book, The Power of a Praying Wife, is so good for this exercise. It takes you through a month of prayers that you can repeat, over and over, for your husband. And as you pray, you release your husband so that God can do His work in him, not so that you can do yours. It's not about praying for what you want for your husband; it's about praying for what God wants. It's such a refreshing perspective, and you will notice a difference in your marriage.

And it does deal with prayers on how to handle his major failings, and that he will overcome them! So it doesn't make you live forever with a man who is really doing something wrong; it just gives you a strategy that is useful for dealing with it.

I'd really encourage you to ask yourself this question today: Have I been holding back from my husband because I'm waiting for him to change in some area? Have I been failing to accept him? If you have, I'd encourage you to love him, Beast and all. That's what makes the change in your marriage. It makes both of you into the Beauty. And that is what God wants.

So buy the book--I've never recommended a book this strongly, and I can't say enough good things about it. But pick up that book, pray through it, and start seeing your husband in a different light. And as you do, you finally set him free!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had to confront your fantasies and throw them aside? How did you do it? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

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Don't Let Media Steal Your Children

You wouldn't allow a stranger into your house to lecture your children on values that you completely disapprove of. If a stranger knocked on your door, you would investigate long and hard before welcoming them in.

And yet we let media into our homes often without thinking twice.

Yesterday I wrote about how to raise kids who are determined to wait to date until they're ready to marry. A large part of that, I believe, is setting the right culture in your home. Don't allow media in that violate that perspective.

The best thing we ever did as a family, the thing that has had the most impact on who my children are today, was getting rid of cable fifteen years ago. In university I watched television constantly. Before the babies came, I watched television all the time. Then one day I chucked it. I just stopped. We canceled cable, saved a ton of money, and our family culture is completely different. It doesn't revolve around TV shows. They don't see stuff I disagree with. And they find other things to do.

Media, as a whole, completely goes against everything that we believe in. How often is there a TV show that is wholesome, that teaches something good? How often is there a show that actually promotes family, and marriage, and relationships, and doesn't push inappropriate relationships, or unrealistic body types? Hardly ever happens.

And before you start telling me about the exceptions, don't worry. I know what they are. But here's the cool thing: they're all available on DVD anyway. So we watch the TV shows we want to watch, but we watch them when they come out with a boxed set, and we can watch them all at once. We don't miss important things; we just choose which to watch. And even if TV has some good stuff, I don't want to get all the bad that goes with it.

I grew up with media, and as a teen, I was obsessed with dating. I wanted a boyfriend so badly. I would rejoice whenever Love Boat had young stars that week, because it would feature a teenage romance! Everything for me revolved around whether or not I could find someone to kiss me.

My girls are not like I was whatsoever. It's not that they aren't interested in relationships; they are. It's just that they're focused on marriage, and they're not obsessed with anything right now. And I think the biggest difference is that we're picky about what media they consume.

Photo by Herwings

We also watch what music they listen to, but the neat thing is that we haven't had to push it hard. I've never had an issue with either of them. They love certain Christian bands, or other singers, like Taylor Swift, whose songs tend to be clean and promote marriage, or at least disparage unhealthy relationships. I'm all for that. 95% of what they listen to is contemporary Christian, and I didn't have to push this at all. I simply started buying them CDs when they were around 9 or 10 of the worship songs we sang at church, and graduated to some of the songs they liked on the Christian radio station, and bingo! Now they buy their own music, but it's stuff I approve of.

If you want to read my own daughter's take on this, here's a blog post she wrote about her struggle with music choices.

Today we do watch a whole range of movies with the girls, but we think about it first. At one point we wouldn't allow any sexual content or innuendo, but now we do on occasion, because they're old enough to get it. For instance, we watched the movie Family Man, which has an excellent moral, recently. And I love the minor role of the angel in that movie. But it has a scene between the husband and wife that I'd rather wasn't there. But it wasn't that bad because it was between a husband and wife. It wasn't glorifying sex in a bad context; it was actually portraying reality quite well, without being graphic or showing nudity or anything. So I'm okay with that. A movie like the Notebook, though, as good as it is, I wouldn't show them because the couple isn't married yet, and it's designed to be exciting. Not appropriate for kids. So it's not like I don't let them see anything; we're just picky.

Many people may look at my family and think, "but that's impossible. You can't raise kids that way." Sure you can. If you start from a young age, there's no reason to believe that the children won't grow up with your values, rather than with the media's values. We do not need to be hooked up to television or inappropriate music all the time.

But it has to start with you. Watch what movies you watch with your husband. Watch what movies you watch with your kids. Make sure that your lives don't revolve around media, but revolve around other things. And then, as your kids grow, you'll find that their values reflect yours more and more.

Media is just plain evil in so many ways today. Hollywood preaches something totally antithetical and dangerous to the family, to kids' self-esteem, to our souls. Why would you let it in? Every family has to find its own balance, but let me tell you that of the kids I know, the ones who are the emotionally healthiest and the most turned on to God are those who don't watch very much TV. There's a distinct correlation.

If we're going to raise kids to love God, we have to be deliberate about it. We can't assume it's just going to happen. So seriously consider getting rid of cable. Monitor your kids' music choices. Play Monopoly instead of watching movies. And you'll find a big change in your children's attitudes.

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7 Steps to Raising a Teen Who Won't Date Too Young

Photo by Kevin Dooley

My two girls are often the envy of some of the other moms in the youth group for one reason--they both have sworn off dating until they're 18. It's not because they're geeks or they're ugly; quite the contrary. They've both been asked out many times (even though my youngest is only 13), but they both give the same answer. They don't date. Dating at this age, they say, is ridiculous.

Several of the junior high moms keep asking my 13-year-old to convince their own girls of that fact, because they feel their girls are too boy crazy.

Perhaps you think this is over the top. I've written about this before, and we are definitely not all in agreement on this one, because many people don't see anything harmful in dating when kids are teens. It helps prepare them for real relationships, so the story goes.

I understand, because I once felt the same way. Josh Harris' book I Kissed Dating Goodbye changed my mind, but it was only the first in a number of things that did it. I want this post primarily to reflect how I raised my kids to agree with this, but here are just a few of the reasons we've adopted this idea with our family:

1. The purpose of dating is to marry. If you're too young to marry, you're likely too young to date. The only repercussion of dating is perhaps a broken heart.

2. Date too long, even if you sincerely love each other, and you open yourself up to a lot of temptation. In fact, perhaps even because you seriously love each other. All those legitimate feelings have nowhere to go, because you can't marry yet.

3. When you date a lot, you often leave same-sex friendships by the wayside, and these are the years that you need to learn how to be a good friend.

4. Similarly, if you date a lot, you may decline other important things, like going on missions trips, or taking jobs, or doing some ministry you might love, because the person you're dating isn't involved. You miss out on finding out who you really are.

We can discuss more in the comments, if you'd like, but I frequently get moms "in real life" asking how I got my girls to agree not to date, and so I'd like to share it with you moms "in cyber space". And if your kids aren't teens yet, read on, because you have to start these things when they're young if they're going to be effective later!

1. Start Early

You can't wait until they hit puberty and then start lecturing them on how dating is counterproductive and can be harmful. Start when they are young children. Otherwise you'll just end up getting into a fight about it. Your kids likely have friends who all want to date, and it's very hard to go against the tide unless you've been brought up to believe that that's what you would do. Teach them, from a young age, that we as a family believe in marriage, not dating, and it's better to wait until you're ready for marriage.

2. Talk Up Marriage

I always talk to my girls about how their aim should be to find someone to marry. And frequently, when we're talking, we talk about what sort of person is important. They want someone who loves God, who they can debate with, who will be a good provider, who will be good to them, who wants to have a close relationship, who doesn't believe in divorce, who does believe in family. And many of these traits don't come out in boys until they're older, anyway.

We also talk about how you could miss this person if you're dating too young, because you could get sidetracked from the one who really is right for you. Dating too often is about self-esteem rather than choosing a mate, and that doesn't bode well for the future.

Part of creating a marriage focus in our house is also watching what media we consume. Cut down on TV time for kids. Don't let them watch shows or movies that are all about teen dating, even if you think the shows are cute. If you're watching a movie that emphasizes dating over marriage, talk to your kids about why that's a dumb idea, and why marriage is really the purpose of dating. Monitor your kids' movie, TV, and music intake to make sure that the stuff they watch actually teaches the values you have. Marriage matters.

We help our kids to focus on marriage, and we talk about where the most likely places are that they will meet such a man. So they're focused on the future, they're not focused on right now.

3. Talk Honestly About Relationships

Talk to your kids about anything and everything. Whenever they want to talk, even when they are little, talk to them. Tell them what you are thinking, too. Don't just let them set the stage; if you think something is important, or if you're confused about something and trying to work it out, tell them. Let them know that your relationship is one in which people can bounce stuff off of each other; that you are a person that they can turn to to talk to.

Then, when they start hitting the age where kids their age are dating (let's say grade 6 or 7), make sure you ask them what they think. Tell them what you think. Encourage them to talk to their friends about it (in a nice way). Help them to be leaders.

The more you talk to them, the more they will come to you. Keep open doors of communication all the time. Find time one-on-one with your kids, even if it's during certain chores, like washing dishes, you always do together, or taking walks or jogging, or chatting before they go to bed.

Talking has another side effect, too. It's not just about explaining why you shouldn't date. Kids who are able to talk to their parents are far less likely to date. They already will have high self-esteem, so they don't have to prove it by finding someone to "like" them.

4. Encourage Your Children's Relationship with Their Dad

Whether you have boys or girls, encourage their relationship with their dad, as much as you can. Girls especially need to feel loved by their father. My husband and I take ballroom dancing lessons every week, but every now and then I get sick and can't go, or I'm out of town. So Keith takes one of the girls, and he teaches them how to dance. It's fun, and it's something they're doing with their dad.

My husband doesn't spend as much time with the girls as I do, but they still love him, and they still talk to him a bunch. Sometimes I encourage them to take walks by themselves. But the other thing I do is that I leave. I speak a lot on weekends, so I'm not here all the time. And when I'm gone, they have their own routine of what they do and what they eat. It's fun.

Don't be afraid to leave your kids with your husband. From a young age, start leaving them occasionally so that your husband is free to establish his own relationship with them. Both girls and boys need that sense that dad thinks they're okay, because if dad thinks they're okay, both genders are less likely to need to date when they're too young.

5. Keep Them Busy with Friends

Encourage your kids to have friends over as much as possible--and mixed groups are absolutely fine. Encourage your kids to have friendships with the opposite sex--as long as that is what they are: friendships. We often have youth at our house, or if there's a youth activity, I'll make sure my girls attend. Kids need friends. But group events are the best to get that need met. This way they learn how to act with the opposite sex, and they'll learn what sorts of character traits are important to them. But they're not as interested in one-on-one (and indeed, they don't have as much time for it).

6. Encourage Hobbies/Jobs/Adventures

Teenage years are great years to discover your giftings, uncover your passions, and learn who God made you to be. Encourage them to do these things. Get them excited about something, whether it's writing a novel, starting a business, earning their own money, or playing the guitar. Encourage them to serve in church, or to go on missions trips. Give them a wide range of experiences, as much as you can, and you'll find they're less likely to fixate on whether or not they have a boyfriend/girlfriend because they're just too busy with better things.

Now I don't believe in making families overly busy, but many of these things teens can do without affecting your time very much. They can practice guitar or piano; they can work on their own business; they can go on missions trips in the summer. Talk to them about what you see in them; affirm the giftings that you see that God has given them, and then look for ways for them to live that out.

My 15-year-old, for instance, has a jewelry business with a friend. They have tables at several craft fairs near Christmas time, and they make a decent amount of income. They spend a lot of time researching their craft, and figuring out what next year's line is going to be.

Rebecca also teaches piano, and works with little children at our church. And she's starting to teach swimming lessons a few hours a week. Now we homeschool, so she's home the majority of the time. I don't know if I'd want my teen involved in that many things if she also went to school, because I'd never see her. But encouraging teens to be involved in things that they're passionate about, and to concentrate on creating something new, is wonderful because it harnesses a lot of their intellectual and emotional energy.

7. Pray Lots

Pray about your children and their relationships and their hearts. Pray for their future spouses--and let them know that you're praying for their future spouses. Many times kids want to date because they're afraid if they don't, they won't get married. Show them that you are confident God will lead them to a spouse, or that God has something even better in store. And show them that dating now can actually undermine these plans.

If you're not nervous, they won't be nervous.

And that's about it! Notice how I haven't said "forbid it" or "ground them for life". That's never been an issue in our home. One day, of course, it may be. The girls might meet someone that they really do love, and might really want to date. They're still young, and I have no guarantee that they'll keep the mentality they have now until they're 18. Would I forbid it?

I'm not sure. I think "forbidding" dating doesn't end a relationship; they just move that relationship to Facebook and phone and texting. I would likely forbid one-on-one dates and just encourage them to spend time at our house, where I am there.

But so far it hasn't been an issue because I'm not trying to be negative about it--"you can't date"--as much as I'm trying to be positive about it--"marriage is worth the wait". And I'm giving them the reasons, and I'm helping them to get involved in other things.

That's worked for us. So if you want your children to put off dating until they're 18 or so, then follow these things. Talk to them a ton. Create a very close family relationship. And pray lots.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

UPDATE: Just thought of one more, so it's really 8 ways to raise a kid who won't date too early: model a great relationship with your spouse. Let them see how marvelous marriage is, and they won't settle for something counterfeit. They'll want that.

And if you're a single parent? That's okay! Just talk about how much you pray and want a strong, healthy marriage for your children. Comment on those who have strong marriages. Talk about the benefits of a strong marriage. Make sure your children know what you want and what you expect, and they're more likely to walk in that direction!

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The Cure for Being a Loser
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

A few years ago my husband and I watched Idiocracy, a mediocre movie with an awesome premise. Luke Wilson’s character was an exactly average army grunt who is cryogenically frozen for an army experiment. Unfortunately, his project was forgotten, and so instead of being summoned awake again one year later, he was misplaced for half a millennium. When he wakes up, he is the smartest person on earth.

After five hundred years of non-stop inane television, people have become stupid. Everybody believes the claims of advertising. Everybody laughs at stupid jokes. No one knows history, and no one knows how to think critically anymore. The media has made everybody dumb. And what’s worse is that nobody knows it.

I sometimes wonder if we’re on a similar road. Take the advertisements you see on daytime television. Blogger Captain Capitalism recently posted that the message behind most of these ads are: “you’re a loser, so come to us to get your life out of the toilet.” And I think he’s right. While we were on vacation we watched a lot of daytime television, and the ads were all for those one-year diploma colleges, bankruptcy lawyers, personal injury lawyers, and pawn shops. Are there really that many people who are going bankrupt, and think their best route out of bankruptcy is to sue someone, or sell their engagement ring? I guess there must be, but if you find that too depressing to contemplate, let’s turn to political campaigns.

For those paying any attention to American network news, candidates are slinging mud back and forth, hoping some will stick. And certain politicians’ strategies seem to revolve around telling people they’re losers, too. It goes something like this: you will never have the money to retire or to pay for anything important on your own. You need us. Vote for the other guy, and they’ll take away all your perks. Vote for us, and we’ll keep giving you stuff.

The sad part is that it works.

Interestingly, the definition of loser changes throughout one’s life. In high school, the loser is the unpopular kid who joins the chess club for the intellectual stimulation. The loser is the one on the tech team of the drama club, instead of the one up on the stage. Fast forward ten years, and they’ve almost always traded places. The losers were really the interesting ones, with enough self-initiative and motivation to go against the grain and grow their brains and their marketable skills. The real losers are not those who are unpopular. Real losers tend to be those who think they are superior, without actually realizing how dumb they can be.

I’m not sure that loser-dom was as rampant in ages past, because you couldn’t afford to be stupid then. You had to work hard to survive. Take a drive through the country in our neck of the woods and you see the land dotted with picturesque rock fences. But those fences weren’t built to be pretty. They were built because the farmers needed to move all of those rocks in order to start farming this land, whose biggest crop, to that point in history, had been boulders. It’s hard to be a loser when you’re carting rocks.

Losers have always been those who laugh at others’ work, thinking that they’re superior because they don’t have to think as much, do as much, or try as much. But in the end, it all comes back to haunt you. You get suckered in by the idea of a carefree lifestyle, without realizing that the good life will never be handed to you. Guess it’s time to call one of those colleges. Or, if worse comes to worse, you can always build character by helping a farmer move some rocks.

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How Schools Wreck Imagination

Photo by Orange42

As many of you know, I homeschool, but I don't want this post to be about homeschooling. Most of you, my readers, don't homeschool, and I just simply want to present a very real problem, and then ask what we should do about it (without necessarily getting into a fight over homeschooling in the comments, if that's okay!)

While I do homeschool my girls, they also take a few courses from an online school, run by our Board of Education in my province. Rebecca has done Science and some senior level math (to get the high school credits, to make it easier to get into university), and Katie is now doing French and grade 9 Science. I teach everything else. It's a good mix.

But I have no illusions that the Science is actually taught well all the time. Katie's first assignment of the year, for instance, was really about becoming acquainted with the help that is available on the internet. She had to formulate 4 questions, one in each area of Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy, and Electricity. Then two of the questions she had to research in an online library run by the Ministry of Education, and two she had to ask using the "Ask The Teacher" resource run by our Ministry as well. Students can sign in at night and ask high school teachers (not their own) questions they're having problems with.

Here was our chemistry question: We've been talking about honour killings abroad, and how in India and Pakistan acid is often poured on women's faces. She asked, "why is acid called burning when it's not hot? Why does it actually burn?"

That sounded like an interesting question to me. Here's how the online conversation went:

Teacher: It burns because it's a chemical reaction.
Katie: What's the reaction?
Teacher: It's a reaction that burns the skin.
Katie: Yes, but how?
Teacher: You're not supposed to know that yet.
Chat turned off.

How's that for encouraging learning?

Rebecca took the same course two years ago, and had the same assignment, and had the same experience with one of her questions she asked ("what is heavy water"?).

I told Katie to just reproduce the conversation, as it was, and put it in her assignment, and then we spent about 3 minutes searching the web for the answer (because I honestly don't know how acid burns skin; I wanted to find out). We found the answer, and wrote it down, telling her teacher that the Ask The Teacher thing is useless.

Here's the thing: Teachers are supposed to TEACH. They're supposed to inspire a great love of learning, a curiosity about the world, that is insatiable. A child who has an insatiable curiosity will do well in life, because they will always be expanding their horizons.

Instead, though, teachers often cut off any kind of imagination because it doesn't fit with what they're trying to teach (or because they don't know and they don't want to seem ignorant in front of students). But this isn't really teaching.

Coming from a homeschooling background, my attitude whenever we come across something I can't answer is to say, "Wow, that's interesting. Let's figure it out." And we do. The girls learn how to research, and they get answers to their questions, even if they're years ahead of where they're supposed to be in school. Who cares? If they're interested now, let's go for it!

Schools, though, usually don't have time for such pursuits. Now I know there are teachers who are exceptional, who do encourage this sort of thing, and perhaps we'll have teachers in the comments section saying that they would have figured it out as well. That's great. But on the whole, this does not happen, and to say that individual teachers may be different doesn't really help. The problem is that as an institution, education, the way we do it now, does not encourage curiosity. It encourages conformity, and more of the "just be quiet and listen" method of learning, which is not engaging whatsoever.

It reminds me of one of the reasons we decided to homeschool in the first place. Rebecca was starting senior kindergarten and was reading Amelia Bedelia and Junie B. Jones books on her own. (She was an early reader; Katie was not. Same household. Same reading out loud to kids from 6 months old on; but Katie didn't read until she was 6 1/2. So it's not necessarily that we caused Rebecca to read early; I think she was just intellectually ready). Anyway, the school would send home these "book in a bag" programs to encourage kids to read, and they were 10 page books with pictures that went something like, "It is sunny. It is cloudy. It is raining." You get the idea.

The child could "read" it even if they couldn't read because of the pictures, and it was supposed to enhance reading readiness.

The school would send home these books, and I would send back Junie B. Jones for Rebecca to read at school. The teacher knew Rebecca could read, but it didn't stop her from sending home these "baby" books, because that's what all kinds were supposed to be doing. There was no room to take a child who was excelling and move her forward. She just stagnated.

John Taylor Gatto has written a ton on how the school system, as a whole, is completely antithetical to real education, because it kills imagination and it kills true comprehension. It actually dumbs students down, because it squeezes out that which makes us smart--the quest for knowledge. Certainly an exceptional teacher can make a difference, but it's the institution that is bad--the idea of having 30 kids of all different ability levels learn together just because they share the same birth year. And then the stuff they learn, and the way they teach it, isn't necessarily ideal for learning.

It just makes me sad. Katie and I laughed off the incident last night, but it still makes me cringe when I think of all the kids who could otherwise be learning in a different environment, wasting away in school. And I do mean wasting away. I absolutely hated school (even though my marks were very good) because I was bored out of my mind. I always learned more from reading books than I did from school. And yet we force kids to endure this.

What's the answer? I really don't know. Homeschooling is an answer for an individual family, but it isn't an answer for society as a whole, because obviously not all families will ever homeschool. But I think we have to do school completely differently. Not just look for better teachers--there aren't enough of them. I think we need to do school differently. I just don't know what that would look like. Any ideas? Or have you ever been frustrated like this with your child's school? Let me know!

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Wifey Wednesday: Are You Expecting the Impossible?

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

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You may have heard it said before that "the enemy of the best is the good". The French philosopher Voltaire made it famous (though he said it in French!), and it's famous because it's so true. Often we get so caught up doing good things that we miss the best. We miss our priorites.

But that being said, I think the reverse can also be true. Sometimes the best is the enemy of the good. When the best is more a fairy-tale ideal than a reality, then it can become the enemy of making any kind of real progress. The best can actually be a hindrance to your marriage.

Allow me to use an analogy that doesn't have to do with marriage first to show you what I mean. A while back I caused a ruckus in the comments section of this blog because I insinuated that there were things that women could do to reduce the chance of sexual assault, and we should teach these to our daughters. I never said that we could eliminate rape--but I said that we could reduce it.

People kept taking issue with me, so I kept writing follow-up posts, and the comments grew worse and worse. One commenter really summed up the other side perfectly. She said (and I paraphrase):

Women should be able to wear whatever they want and go wherever they want. You should be talking to the men, not to the women!

She was a little ruder than that, but I'll leave out the colorful language.

What a strange comment, though. OF COURSE women should be able to wear what they want and do what they want without getting raped. We should live in a world where there is no abuse, no rape, no children in poverty, no wars, and no violence. But we don't live in that world. And since we don't, what steps can we take to protect ourselves?

They were focusing so much on what SHOULD be that they refused to acknowledge that there were any steps you could take to make our present life, the one we are living in right now, even the least bit better. It was all or nothing.

Have you ever felt that way about your marriage? I once knew a woman who eventually left her husband, who explained it to me this way:

God created marriage to be a joining of two human beings--an institution where we're able to communicate, and love, and respect, and share ideas and share vision and purpose. He created marriage to build us up, not to tear us down. He created marriage to be part of our fulfillment, not part of our destruction. My husband didn't know how to communicate. He never listened to me. He never talked to me; he only ever talked past me. He used sex just to satisfy himself. In other words, it wasn't actually a marriage. And so I ended it.

I have no doubt that her marriage was extremely difficult, but do you see the problem with her position? She was saying that because her marriage was not one in which two individuals were completely joined, it was thus not a marriage. God intended marriage to be fulfilling; it was not, therefore the argument about whether one had biblical grounds to divorce was moot because this wasn't even marriage!

Her argument is flawed, because while God said marriage should be like this, He never invalidated marriages that were not like that. Indeed, in Corinthians Paul even tells women married to men who aren't Christians to stay if they can--and these marriages are obviously not a complete joining of minds and ideals.

This woman was looking for the best; she didn't find it, so therefore she invalidated everything else.

Many of us enter marriage with similar thoughts. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we can completely bear our souls. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we are unconditionally cherished. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we find our best friend. Then, when the should doesn't happen, we give up. That's how things SHOULD be, and we can't settle for second best. We don't look at little changes that we could make to grow the marriage, or to grow our communication, because we figure that he is just hopeless. He's so out of touch with what a husband should be, that growth is well nigh impossible.

None of us is perfect, though, and I think we need a different strategy. If your husband isn't a good communicator, or sulks constantly, or watches too much TV (or plays too many video games), or never spends any time with the kids, that doesn't invalidate your marriage, and it doesn't mean that things can't get better. After all, by staying away from drunken parties, girls can drastically reduce their risk of date rape. Similarly, by learning new communication techniques, you can drastically reduce your risk of growing apart and ending the relationship. You can do things to move in the right direction, even if those things won't give you 100% change. They can still make your life significantly better.

What I would suggest, then, is that we stop looking at what marriage is supposed to be in the ideal, and we start looking at what we can do to make things better. In other words, quit focusing so much on the destination, and focus instead on the direction. Move forward, even if it's slowly, and you will eventually get there. Focus so much on the finish line, and how far it is away from your current position, and you can quickly lose heart.

This applies to aspects of marriage, too. I was at a place in our marriage once where everything was going really well--except sex. It's not that it was horrible; it just wasn't what it was supposed to be, according to the media and all the sermons I heard about how God created sex to be wonderful. For a few years, I gave up. It's not that we didn't make love; it's just that my attitude was one of: "this just isn't for me. It's all for him, and I'll just get through it." I believed that if it wasn't the ideal, then I had been gypped, and there was no point in even trying.

It was only when I had an attitude shift where I started to ask whether I could believe that it could get better--even if it was slowly. When I made the mental shift, then the way I acted also changed.

Whether it's in your marriage as a whole or in individual parts of your marriage, don't give up because you haven't reached the ideal. Ask God to help you make baby steps, because those steps can add up! Ask Him to give you a new heart to grow, even if it's slowly, because moving in the right direction gives you a new attitude or outlook on your marriage which is so much more energizing.

Whatever you do, don't let the best become an enemy of that real, helpful change.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had to confront your fantasies and throw them aside? How did you do it? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

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Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight Interview Today!
Wanna have some fun? Today at 2 p.m EST I'm joining Lucy Ann Moll on her BlogTalkRadio show to talk about Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight!

If your marriage is ho hum, and you want to find out if it's possible to really turn the heat up, join us! It'll be a pile of fun! And if you can't listen live, you can still listen to the recording afterwards.

It's all right here. Hope to have you there!

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Simplify Your Life Month is Coming!

Last century, the biggest problem most families faced was money. How were they going to get food on the table? People were struggling to get by.

Today our problem is abundance. I don't necessarily mean abundance of money; I know many of you are hurting. But we have an abundance of everything: an abundance of choices about how to spend our time; an abundance of ads clamouring for us to buy something; an abundance of media squabbling among themselves for our attention; an abundance of activities that we should be doing at church, at school, at work.

And it leaves us exhausted.

Our society is running ragged. And because of that, we have lost the joy of the little things that families, even if they were struggling to eat, often shared in the last century. Read Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer and you see the joy the boys made for themselves, without video games, without television, just with the great outdoors. Read Little House on the Prairie and you'll see a family of little girls making their own dolls and games, exploring nature, taking delight in reading new things, and loving to dance and sing.

When's the last time you sang as a family?

I don't mean to romanticize the nineteenth century, because it was not a uniformly good family time at all. Alcoholism was rampant, poverty was rampant, and all kinds of social ills often accompanied these things. But though we may have defeated some of their problems, we have replaced them with others of our own making. And many of us are sitting in the midst of a busy life, wondering how to climb out from under all the demands, all the laundry, all the chores, all the to-do lists.

I want to help. I've been feeling overwhelmed lately, as I often do in the fall when my year stretches before me, and I know all my speaking engagements are coming. If it were just real life, I think I could handle it, but it's my work life that impedes on my family life, and trying to find that balance is hard.

I know you're all in the same boat, though maybe for different reasons. You're stressed about money. You're stressed about your children's homework. You're stressed about how to maintain a marriage when your husband is unemployed or maybe he's working shift work. And I want to talk about it.

So for the month of October, I'm going to do a Simplify Your Life challenge. Every day I'll post a new post with some new ideas to simplify something specific in your life, whether it's laundry and menu planning or finding romance time with your spouse. We'll have some periodic challenges that you can participate in to win a prize, and I'll be recording a radio show to talk about it, too!

I'm introducing the whole concept on my BlogTalkRadio show this Thursday, at 12:00 EST. More here, where you can also sign up for a reminder to know when it's starting! And if you can't listen live, you can always listen after the fact to the recording!

Here's what I'd like you to do now for me: tell me the biggest source of stress and "busy-ness" in your life. I want to make sure I focus on the right things in October! So leave a comment, and share this on Facebook to let others know it's coming! Thanks so much!

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What to Do When a Friend's Marriage Falls Apart

My heart is heavy today, because I have just learned of another couple that I love very much who have separated. I don't believe the separation is necessarily permanent, but I still mourn for the pain that is involved, and for the children, and for the chance that it may not work.

And it got me thinking of this series of posts that my blogger friend Terry refers to, where Dalrock is asking, "what can the church do to prevent divorce"? (my paraphrase, not his). He starts a very needed conversation.

However, I have another perspective I want to add to this question. First, as soon as we ask the question "what can our church do", we tend to think in terms of pastors, or elders, or small group leaders. We don't tend to think of us as Christians. So let's rephrase the question, and ask, "what can Christians do to prevent divorce"?

Now, I think there are two main strategies we need to employ: prevention and crisis management. I'm going to focus more on crisis management in this blog post, but let me deal with prevention first.

How can Christians help prevent divorce? These would be my key points:

1. Emphasize that the purpose of marriage is not happiness; it's holiness. Often people split because "they're not happy", or they're not in love anymore. But the reason they're not happy is often because they are expecting the other person to meet all their needs, rather than focusing on what they can do to meet their mate's needs. We're missing the boat.

We think that life should be about fulfillment, and that's not the point of life. And ironically, we tend to feel more fulfilled when we submit to God, live out our commitments, and find His peace and joy. When our focus of life becomes finding our own happiness, we drift horribly.

I don't want to spend too much time on this, even though I think it's extremely profound, because I've written of it before and there are other things I want to talk about here. But I do want to stress that perhaps in church we focus too much on making people comfortable and happy rather than making people challenged. Just a thought.

2. Encourage family time. Couples don't wake up one day and decide to split. It comes usually after years of drifting. The natural course of family life is to drift apart. People don't naturally drift together. It is the drifting that causes bad feelings, affairs, workaholism, etc. So we need to create a community where families are encouraged to do things together; not to have tons of meetings away from each other, or tons of small groups where the women are away from the men and everyone is away from the kids.

I'm not saying there's not a space for that, but often in our Christian lives we put people in the position of spending time not as a family but as individuals within the wider community. It's time to get back to family. Encourage family game nights instead of all kinds of small groups. Encourage family hikes or outings instead of church picnics. Have the youth baby-sit the kids so that parents can take a date night. Let's make the church a place where families are together, and as Christians, let's talk to our friends if they're spending too much time in extracurricular activities and not enough time as a family.

3. Offer marriage support groups. Make sure that all couples who are in their first two years of marriage have a mentor. Marriage counselling is almost more important after the wedding than before, because before everyone thinks, "that will never happen to us! We really love each other!" It's only after the wedding that you find out you're human. Make marriage support a regular part of what you do as a couple with your friends, and what you do inside your church.

4. Have messages that clearly tell why marriage is important--not just because God ordained it, but because society and children rely on it.

Now, those are my prevention points. But what happens when a couple comes to you and says, "I moved out yesterday, and I'm staying on my brother's couch while we figure out what to do next." All too often, that's the scenario we find ourselves in. We don't tend to know that couples are having problems until they've already made the split.

But what do we do? We tend to react in panic, and then we tend to use the tools that we're used to--namely our prevention techniques. We start talking to them about the importance of commitment. We talk about how it's not about your happiness, it's about holiness. And this does absolutely nothing to help.

Let me try to diagnose the problem for us, and then maybe see it in a different light. In my experience teaching at marriage conferences, if one person wants to work on a marriage, but the other doesn't, the chance of the marriage working is probably just under 50%, no matter how small the issues are. If one person really doesn't want to work, there's not a lot you can do.

On the other hand, if both people want to make it work, I would put the chance closer to 90% that the couple can work it out--no matter how big the problem. Even if it's multiple affairs, or workaholism, or jail, or whatever, if both are committed, it can work. And in fact, often these relationships that are terrible are the best demonstration of God's grace and power.

The key, then, is to get both people wanting to work it out. It is not to get both people to agree on what the problem is; it is not to get both people to agree on who is to blame; it is not to actually even solve the problem. The key is simply to get both to agree that what they want is to work it out. In other words, the problem that caused the break is not the issue; the commitment to the marriage is the issue.

Too often, when couples arrive in a pastor's office or in a sibling's home or on the friend's phone and announce that they have split, our first instinct is to talk about the problem. Why?, we ask. And when we get the details, we then try to analyze and solve the problem. Are your grounds for divorce biblical? If there is an affair involved, it very well may be biblical. Then we start arguing that even if it is biblical, it doesn't mean you HAVE to divorce. And we go back and forth and we don't really get anywhere.

The reason we don't get anywhere is that we're misunderstanding where the person is coming from. We don't want to see the marriage end, and we're desperately trying to get them to see what is so obvious to us. But that's being very condescending. Most people, when they split, didn't begin the process wanting to get out. They wanted to make the marriage work. They have cried rivers of tears. Their heart has been broken--even if they're the one who had the affair. They have been torn apart by this. By arguing whether or not they're in the right we seem to be dismissing all their feelings and their turmoil. We're treating it logically, rather than emotionally. And we're trying to insert ourselves into the problems that this couple has had--problems that we can never fully understand because we weren't there.

Let me suggest another road. At this point, once a couple has separated or are preparing to separate, they already believe that the issue is big enough that a breach is imperative. To argue about the cause of that breach, the legitimacy of that breach, or the solution to that breach is counterproductive. They are in pain. Instead, we need to appeal to the two solid things in their lives--the two things where love is still present. Let's not focus on hurt; let's focus on love. There is so much negativity when it comes to the marriage right now that you don't want to feed into that by focusing on the cause of the negativity. Instead, you want to focus on the two things that, hopefully, still give them strength and joy.

Now I am talking primarily about Christian couples here, so if you're dealing with couples who are not Christian, you'll have to modify this approach a bit. But for a couple who is a Christian, I would focus on two truths:

1. Your children will be hurt by this divorce, even if the divorce is biblical. On the whole, children do not fare well when their parents split. What is it that you want for your children? Presumably, they want their children to grow up with the best possible start in life, feeling loved and safe and secure. The best route to that is to be raised in a home by biological parents who love each other.

Even if you don't love each other now, and even if you don't see a way to love each other, do you agree that parents being married is best for your children? Can you give us two or three months to fight for this marriage for the sake of the children--not to stay so that you're fighting all the time, but to stay to rebuild a marriage so that the children will be safe and secure. We aren't talking about staying married but hating each other, because that isn't necessarily good for the children (though studies have shown that even that situation is often better for kids than living through a divorce). But let's agree that what's best for the kids is two parents together.

Don't discuss the issue that is tearing apart the marriage. Don't discuss how you get to the point that you love each other. Don't discuss who is right or who is wrong. Simply talk about what is best for the kids. Arm yourselves with the statistics (and if people want I can publish another post about all these stats; just le me know in the comments if you'd like that). Tell people what happens to the children after a divorce. Right now a split looks like a relief for the parent who has lived through something horrible. Let them know that it is the exact opposite for the children.

Most people, even if they are exhausted themselves, can agree to fight for their kids. Focus on that, not on the spouse.

2. God is big enough to see you through. Now here's the next point: Can you trust God to see you through? Can you trust God to restore your joy in life? Can you trust God to transform you and your marriage? You don't have to know HOW God will do this, and likely the person will start talking about the issue and how it's impossible.

Here's the key talking point: you do not have to understand how God will do anything. You do not have to understand what it is that God will do. The only relevant question is: can you trust God to get you through this? Because if you can't trust God to transform you and give you joy inside your marriage, how can you trust Him to outside?

God wants marriages to thrive. He doesn't yearn for marriages where people just stick it out and are miserable. He wants people to have abundant marriages. He will still be there for people if they split; absolutely. But that is not what He wants. He hates divorce. He permits it in some cases, but that does not mean that He likes it, even then. And if He hates it, wouldn't He prefer to transform your marriage? Wouldn't He like it better if your marriage worked, rather than seeing you divorce and having to deal with all of that?

Again, the question is not believing whether or not the spouse will change or whether or not the issue will be resolved, and if people start trying to talk about this, stop them. Change the subject. Come back to the main point: It's not about the issue, it's about God. It's not about how bad the issue is; it's about how big God is.

I believe every marriage counselling session should focus on these two points: Can you fight for your kids, and do you believe that God is big enough to restore joy and fight for you? These are the heart issues, and neither of them has anything to do with the issue that has caused the marital split.

It's dangerous to start marriage counseling by trying to talk about the issue, because you're trying to apply logic to a subject that is inherently fraught with emotion. And by starting to analyze whether or not the grounds for divorce are biblical, or whether the issue is enough to cause a split, you are, in effect, insulting the person who has struggled with this for months if not years. Instead, get to the real point: you have a responsibility to your kids, and God has a responsibility to you. Do you trust God to live out His responsibility? Because if you don't, your life is not going to be any better if you split.

Christians, when they are considering leaving a marriage, are often quite close to God, because it's in those times of great pain that we cry out to Him the most. We often assume that they are far from God, because they are choosing a path we disagree with. But that's often not the case. Many have been praying. Many have been pleading with Him. They often do love Him very much. Talk about this love. If you love God, can you trust Him? What they are often looking for from God is approval to break up the marriage. Change the direction into not one of approval, but one of trust. Can you trust God?

And then, in that first counselling session, ask the two people to pray for their kids and pray that they will trust God. Maybe it's only a sentence prayer (and it probably should be only a sentence prayer), but pray it with each other present. There is something very powerful about praying together when you are in such turmoil. Even if the prayer is simply, "God, please help us to do what is best for our children, and help us to trust you," with both of them saying it, God can do an amazing thing.

Remember this: no amount of arguing or logic can save a marriage when people want to leave. What you need is God. You need them to turn back to God, and you need them to turn back to their kids. That is hard when they are so burdened personally, but that is the road to recovery: get your eyes off of yourself, and get them on to the Lord.

Once they are both committed to working for the kids and to trusting God, you can then start to talk about the issue--perhaps after three or four more counselling sessions when the main focus is trusting in God to deal with their emotional turmoil and to deal with the kids. Don't jump into the issues right away. No issues can really be solved until the person decides to yield to Jesus anyway. Yield to God, and God has power to work miracles. Appeal to logic, and you'll hit your head against a wall.

Friends, I can't tell you enough how important I think this is. I believe that we do marriage wrong in the church for all kinds of reasons--busy-ness, a refusal to admit our problems, overscheduling, an emphasis on happiness rather than holiness. And I believe that when people have problems, we start the blame game, or we try to talk them out of it. All of it will fail, and you can tell that we're not doing a good job just from the stats of divorce among Christians--30% in Canada and 50% in the United States. Something has to change.

I believe it comes to this. Let's stop relying on our own power to solve marriage problems. You can't use logic to fix things. All you can do is help encourage people to move to a deeper level of submission to God. Do this, and things have a chance. Fail to do this, and you'll likely do little good.

More people need to hear this, so please comment, tell me what you think, and share this on Facebook below! Or perhaps forward it to your pastor. We need to get a real discussion going on how to rescue couples who are in crisis.

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What I Look for in a Christian Novel
This summer I started my 15-year-old daughter on the Brock & Bodie Thoene Gates of Zion series, which she loved. They're some of my favourite, too. I love novels that bring history to life, and show God's hand through that history.

But she noticed something about those books that I didn't. "The people were just too good." I thought back to those books and I realized she was right. They may have struggled with fear and hopelessness, but they didn't struggle with sin. They never did anything wrong. And it's hard to relate to that, or to feel inspired by that. I felt inspired by the history and God's hand; but I didn't feel as inspired by the characters.

We all have characters that haunt us, that stay with us, because they made such an impact. Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series did that for me. Her fictional Hadassah was so real, and for the next few weeks (and even years) after reading it, I would find myself moved to prayer that I could have some of the same Christ-like attitudes I saw displayed in that character, even after a lot of struggle.

I would like to read some novels where I struggle with the characters, who then walk with me afterwards.

Of course, not all books are meant to do that. Some are meant more for beach reading, or for having fun, or just for feeling good on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I'd put Bonnie Leon's Touching the Clouds, the first in her Alaskan series, in this category. I was sent it to review, and it did make a great read on the plane recently!

A beautiful book of struggling to tame an untamable wilderness in the 1930s, the book follows a woman struggling with her own guilt, and trying to expunge it by moving as far away from home as possible, taking a job as a pilot. It portrays beautifully the people who felt drawn to a cold, dark place, and were exhilirated by it.

If you've ever longed to chuck everything and do something completely different, here's a chance to live out that dream!

But at the same time, I think the reason the book didn't stay with me for long afterwards was that it was a little formulaic. Rebecca (who often notices things before I do), commented on it: "Must be nice to have three men all want to marry you at the same time". And it's true. How often does that happen in real life?

Also, I don't know why so many Christian novels have heroines in their early twenties who are of marriageable age. I'm 40. I'd like to read a book about a 40-year-old woman who's wondering how to make a difference in this world, or how to deal with her daughters' adolescence. I have read some great ones like that (Karen Kingsbury's A Time to Dancecomes to mind), but the truth is that these books are few and far between. And with the recession, with publishers buying fewer books, I fear that they're erring more on the "traditional" romance side, and not enough on the "real life" side.

Books like Touching the Clouds are awesome for teens, who need something wholesome to read, or for lazy afternoons; don't get me wrong. But I would like to see some fiction battling with dealing with a marriage when your husband is into pornography. Or what about handling it when your kids decide to move back in after college because of unemployment, and you're wondering who you are now. Let's get some heroines who are over the age of 45!

That's just a kind request, and I hope some publishers will honour it. Or perhaps I'll just have to write them myself!

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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Not Dangerous Enough Life of Boys

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

I have a little friend who, when he was only five, did a horrendous thing. He bit a boy at school. This particular boy had been pestering him for months, and my little friend lashed out by sinking his teeth in.
A human bite, unfortunately, is not clean, and it sent the bully on a trip to the Emergency Room. Meanwhile my little friend was given quite the verbal lashing by the principal about how violence is never the answer.

His mother, a good friend of mine, was quite perplexed about how to react. Personally, I told her, I think his transgression was twofold: he used his teeth rather than his hands, and he did so at school where violence is never permitted. Other than that, was he really so wrong? Kids have been fighting back against bullies for time immemorial, and it’s often quite effective in getting bullies to back off.

Taking the publishing world by storm a few years ago was The Dangerous Book for Boys. It doesn’t give secrets on how to get your mothers to feed you chocolate or how to get your way with women. It simply talks common sense about things that have been part of boyhood almost forever, until our generation forgot them. Things like how to tie a knot, how to fish, how to jump from a rock into the water, or how to survive in the wilderness. These were the plotlines of most boys’ novels until relatively recently, when we started to believe that what boys truly desired was to share their feelings.

When places like schools try to curb boys’ natural impulses to be active, risk-taking, and even a bit violent, we run the risk that children will start acting out inappropriately in places with less supervision. If boys are told they must sit still and listen to books all day, they’re more likely to go off the rails after school. If boys can’t play tag at recess because it’s too competitive, or they can only play if everyone gets to be “it”, we aren’t going to curb their natural boyhood impulses. They’re simply going to express them in other ways.

Over the years we have taken all the danger out of childhood. We do this in the interest of safety, and few could argue against bicycle helmets for children, or against safe playground equipment, or for playing with matches. But there is a part of boys, and even many girls, that still yearns for risk.

Remember the playground equipment when we were young? You ran a risk every time you used the teeter totter because you had to trust the guy on the other end not to jump off suddenly. And what about that merry go round? They’re removed from most playgrounds today because if you get a few bigger kids creating momentum, a smaller child could go flinging off. Of course, that’s why many boys ride them in the first place—the flinging part is the attraction! But that’s all the more reason to get rid of these dangers.

As schools banish anything resembling danger, much of the adventure of childhood is being removed. For all children, but especially for boys who tend to gravitate towards risk-taking more than girls do, this isn’t always a good thing. That’s why The Dangerous Book for Boys is needed. It’s a philosophy to bring adventure back into family life, even if the schools are squeezing it out because they’re afraid of being sued.

Most boys love seeing things explode, or collapse, or go bang. They love starting fires, sleeping outdoors, and even killing things. It’s time for some adventurous, adult men to step up to the plate and let boys be just a little bit dangerous. What else is childhood for?

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Entitled to My Entitlements
In 2006, David Dingwall, a former Public Works Minister for the Liberal government of Canada, resigned in disgrace after a scandal from running the Royal Canadian Mint. When asked about his extraordinarily generous severance package in a House of Commons Committee, he famously said, "I'm entitled to my entitlements".

I love that. I can't think of a better slogan for today's political culture. We're all entitled to our entitlements. Doesn't that brilliantly sum up what's wrong with our culture? We don't try; we don't think we should have to. Everybody owes us something.

I was reminded of that when I came across a new book by Today's Mama, coming out later this year, called "The Entitlement Trap". She shows that it's not just politicians who want their entitlements; we are raising our children in an entitlement mode, too. Here's a snippet:

A thirty-something working mom who had been gone from her family for a few days was greeted by her nine year old son with a big hug. That night at dinner after a catch-up session about things that had happened while she was gone, her son quietly brought up something he had obviously planned quite carefully. “Mom, you’ve been gone a long time and you missed my band concert. How about buying me the new Wii game to make up for it?”

Have you ever heard a variation on this? I know I have, though thankfully not really from my own kids, unless they're trying to convince me to let them have chocolate ice cream for breakfast. But even then, they know it's just a joke.

But I have heard it in other kids, too. And Linda Eyre, aka Today's Mama, says that ironically religious kids may be among the worst, because they "felt they deserved special blessings in reward for their righteousness".

What's the solution?

There are many ways to rescue kids from our entitlement mentality world, but to encapsulate, we feel sure that the magic antidote for entitlement is giving kids ownership! With preschoolers it is a matter of giving them ownership of their choices i.e.” Do you want to eat this breakfast smoothie or go without any food until lunch? It’s your choice.” With elementary age kids one idea is giving them ownership of their things by providing a way for them to earn the stuff they want with a “will-work-for-stuff” mentality. For teenagers, along with partially overcoming the entitlement mentality by giving them ways to earn instead of being given what they want we also suggest one-on-one talks with them about having ownership of decisions they can make now that will have a huge impact on their future lives.

I think that's right, and that's what I was talking about in this post on the clothing allowance for my 13-year-old. But I want to elaborate a little bit more on why this is so important.

We probably all agree that we live in an entitlement culture. At one point people were scrambling to get stuff for nothing; it was the me generation. But in a way that was better, because at least they knew that they didn't actually deserve this stuff, they just wanted to see if they could get away with it. Kids began cheating on tests more in the 70s to get good marks; we saw more welfare scams, more cutting corners, more selfishness. But at least everybody was honest about what they were doing: they were trying to cheat to get ahead. They were trying to get stuff from everybody else.

When you're honest, you know what's going on in your heart. You know you're a selfish jerk, but you're going to keep doing it anyway because you want the easy way out.

Today we're not honest. We're still doing the same things--lying, cheating, stealing, being lazy and waiting for someone else to pull up the slack--but we don't realize that we're lazy. We don't realize that we're cheating others. We think that we're entitled to our entitlements. We think that this is the way the world should work--that it's not fair if others don't have to work very hard, therefore I don't have to work hard, either.

We've gone from trying to get ahead to feeling that we deserve to get ahead, even with no effort on our part. And the reason is because we've lost track of how the world really works. The world will not long operate the way it's supposed to if everyone is trying to get by with the minimum and take what they can from other people. We need people to try their best, to be honest, to put in a good day's work. If everybody starts going on about how entitled they are to a huge salary for little work, to endless breaks and vacations, to sympathy and compassion even when they haven't done anything good, then who is going to actually produce anything in our world? We need people who won't just whine but who will work. Without work, our society will stop functioning. That's a statement of fact, not feeling.

And it's that fact that people have lost track of. It starts in childhood with this belief that I deserve to be happy, and everybody else is put on this earth to make my life cushy. I shouldn't have to work hard in school. Mom exists to pick up my toys and make me dinner and buy me stuff.

What's the antidote? It's just what Linda Eyre said: a good dose of real life. Give kids choices that reflect real life. You can do this, or you can bear this consequence. What's it going to be? Start when they're young. Choice says: you are responsible for how your life turns out. You are the one pulling the lever. You are the one making the engine go. Other people aren't here to live your life for you or to push you uphill. That's what you're for. And it may be as simple as letting kids choose whether they clean up now or later; whether they go to a park or stay home and play a game; or whether they stand in a corner for a time out or lose a toy for a week. The point is that they learn that they don't get an absentee pass from life; they have to step in and do something.

As they get older, these choices should reflect more consequences of real life. If they break something, they work to earn money to fix it. If they want to be chauffeured somewhere, they have to help get dinner on the table so you have time to drive them. If they want to stay over at a friend's house this weekend, they have to do their chores first if they want their allowance. It teaches them that there are no free rides. And most of all it teaches them what real life is.

You can't raise kids who will be Christians if they think they are entitled to things. Grace is the antithesis of entitlement: it says that you don't deserve anything, but God is giving it to you anyway. A child growing up with a sense of entitlement will not know what to make of grace. They may give it lip service, but the magnitude of the sacrifice won't hit home because they don't realize they are ultimately and fundamentally sinners. How can you have an understanding of sin if you simultaneously think that everyone exists to make your life easy, because you deserve it?

Your kids are not entitled to their entitlements, and it's time they learned that. And it's not that hard, either! Just use allowances. Give kids choices. Follow through. Stress responsibility and shared work in the family. And you just may raise kids who are so different from the average that they soar above, simply because they know that their effort and work matter.


Wifey Wednesday: Married with Teens

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Today I want to talk about how to maintain an *ahem* intimate marriage when you have teenagers under your roof.

I know many of you have children who are younger, but one day they will grow, so it's best to start planning now!

As I mentioned yesterday, we just got back from the Grand Canyon. While there, we rented an RV and drove around to all kinds of neat sites. It was a ton of fun, and something we always intended to do. And incidentally, it did save money. The rental on the RV was more than it would have been for motels and a rental car, but because we cooked all our food, it ended up cheaper.

Anyway, we had a large RV. But large as it may be, that did not mean it was private. If you rolled over in bed, or walked anywhere, the RV rocked. So you can imagine what it was rather impossible to do, if we wanted the kids to remain oblivious.

At home we have a rule that they have to be in their rooms at 9:30, even if they're not asleep right away, just so Keith and I can have some time to talk alone. I find that I just can't get romantic unless I've had time to unwind with him, and that means telling him all the things that have been on my mind throughout the day. He's okay with that, largely because he knows it's in his best interests :). But we've set things up in the family so that we have that alone time. Sometimes we go for walks earlier in the evening, and we often tell the girls they have to leave us alone. They're okay with that.

When you do have teens, it is important to carve out that privacy, even if it means that your teens don't like it because they're banished to their rooms. But there's no other way to do it.

At the same time, there will be occasions, like our RV romp, when privacy is impossible. So here's my question: what do you do? I don't have any great answers on this one, so I'd love some feedback (although perhaps it would have done me more good before my vacation). How open are you with your kids about your need for alone time? Let me know!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? How do you handle children underfoot? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

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Getting My Eyes off of the Prize

I've spent the last week and a half hiking the Grand Canyon. It was incredibly majestic, and in the quiet I found myself often humming and singing to God. One day, as we were venturing down the canyon, the song "righteousness, righteousness, is what I long for..." started to go through my mind. Do you know that song? It has three verses: Holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness, is what I long for. It's what I need.

I always thought that song was a little weird, because it was saying that holiness was the one thing I longed for, but then the next verse said the same thing about righteousness. But of course, holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness are pretty much the same thing.

So last week, as I was humming it, I found myself asking, do I mean that? Is righteousness the main thing I pray for?

And I realized it wasn't. The one thing I pray to God for, over and over again, is fruitfulness. I want to make a difference. I want to use my life for something good. I want to be part of God doing something on this earth.

That sounds very noble, but is it really? Because it hit me then that by concentrating on fruitfulness, what I was really saying is that "God, in your economy I want to feel important." I want to feel like I matter.

And that's not really what God wants from me. What God wants is holiness. He wants righteousness. He wants faithfulness. And all that fruitfulness stuff are simply byproducts of the holiness. Remember John 15, when Jesus says "whoever abides in me will bear much fruit"? We abide in Him, and He bears the fruit. We don't bear it; He does.

So it really is righteousness I should aim after.

I have to admit, though, that I have a bit of a problem with that. I didn't grow up seeing things in black and white, right and wrong, and I got used to doing the expedient thing at times. I'm not saying I did huge things wrong, but I have always struggled with white lies, or envy, or sitting on the fence if it was possible.

My children seem to have much deeper consciences than I do, for which I am eternally grateful. But God has been making my conscience much more picky over the last decade, which is not a comfortable feeling. I know that I am not the same person I was a decade ago. I can't watch the same movies. I can't take any extra change at the grocery store if someone adds the bill up wrong. All kinds of things like that. But it's the big things, especially, that matter to me--whether I cause dissension in the extended family; whether I show love to those who are difficult; whether I am jealous or envious of others.

But it is a struggle, isn't it? So often we think we've arrived and we don't give any thought to holiness at all. But when we get to that point, then we're missing something. Because God is always trying to change us; if we think that we don't need it, and that our main aim now should be to be fruitful, then we've missed the boat. We've put ourselves in the driver's seat, instead of Him.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the church talked about sin perhaps too much--or at least they talked about it in a dysfunctional way. My mother remembers, as a child, being read passages from Revelation on how liars went to hell, which hardly made her want to do her devotions. The Bible became a source of punishment, rather than peace.

But today we have thrown out the idea of sin and replaced it with this transformational gospel--that our main job is to make the world into something better for Him. And we've forgotten that we can't do that without an honest look at our hearts.

I can recall several times when both girls have come into my room at night, after they've been tucked into bed, crying, because they feel guilty about something they've done and they've had to confess. Once it was 5-year-old Katie announcing that she had stolen some little tiny fake flowers from a craft store, because she thought they'd make a good bridal bouquet for her Barbie. We took them back the next day.

Another time it was Katie upset because she had watched a YouTube video about kissing she knew she shouldn't (I was so scared at the time it was more than that, but I checked it out, and her innocence was still intact. She thought something was worse than it was :) ).

And there were other things, too. Sad because they'd lied, or been mean to someone. And they had to tell me, or they couldn't sleep.

I want to be like that, and I think God is molding me in that direction. And so that it what I am praying for. Yes, I want to be fruitful. Yes, I want to make a difference. But I also don't want this life to be about me; I want it to be about Him. And that means that I have to seek Him--and His holiness and righteousness--before I seek anything else. And that will be my prayer.


About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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