April 26, 2016

5 Ways to Feed Your Child's Faith (Without Preaching at Them)

"To some this world may seem like no place to bring up a child. And in some respects they are right. But we take that risk anyway with the comforting knowledge that it is not for this world that we prepare them." (Karen L. Tornberg in The Best Things Ever Said About Parenting)
I've come back to this quote again and again during the 17 years my husband and I have been parents.

I look at the world around us and sometimes feel guilty for bringing our girls into it.

But this world is not their home. It is not our home.

This world is the place we can meet and know and learn to love the Keeper of our true home. 

It is a place we can disrupt with God's grace.

My husband and I are far from being the wisest parents ever to be sent home from the hospital with a baby, a bill, a birth certificate, and best wishes for our utterly changed lives. But we've tried to feed our girls' faith, and so we've learned a few things about what's worked for us...and what might work for you, too, while you lead your children along the way home.

1. The priority of prayer. I know it reads like the default first entry on a list like this, but prayer is in this spot for a reason: it works. In fact, nothing else on this list will actually end up working very well if prayer is absent. For one thing, faith is what pleases God. It makes Him happy. And what is prayer but an active demonstration of faith? Because if we don't believe that God exists and that He can and will do something about what we're praying for, then why are we praying in the first place? Pray for your kids in the morning and at night and throughout the day. It's not about specific words...just do the thing. Sometimes I simply say, "God, please help." Over and over and over. 

Are you wondering what good prayer does when God's going to do what He's going to do no matter what? I've wondered, too. I'll turn to the inimitable C.S. Lewis to address that tricky bit: 
"Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds and wills of men to cooperate with the execution of His will...It is not really stranger that my prayers should affect the course of events than my other action should do so. They have not advised or changed God's mind--that it, His overall purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures."
2. Music that matters. What goes into your child's ears goes into their brain. And what goes into their brain goes into their heart. And what goes into their heart comes out of their mouth and hands and feet. (For more on this, check out "What Are You Listening To?" over on my much-neglected second blog, Sweet For Your Soul.)

Christian music has exploded since the days of Petra and Amy Grant (God bless and thank 'em). There is something out there your child will like. And even if they fight you and your "suggestions," listen to good stuff yourself. Have it playing in the background of your life. You never know what might stick. Here are some of our family's favorites for all ages:
  • Anything by Go Fish. Their motto is "music for kids that doesn't drive parents crazy," and it's the real deal. The first time I played one of their CDs in the van for my adolescent-aged girls, they both said immediately, "I want every one of these songs on my MP3 player." (Yeah, this was a few years ago.) But it's music for moms and dads and toddlers, too.
  • Hawk Nelson. Get their Diamonds CD. Just get it. (No, I am not being paid to say that.)
  • Lauren Daigle. Where to start? Maybe here: Lauren's weaving of Scripture and Biblical truth into song lyrics is awe-inspiring. To say nothing of the fact that her music is just plain killer.
  • Hillsong Young & Free. Highly recommended by my tween.
  • KB. Rap. Hip-hop. I'm not going to listen to him, but my girls love his "stuff" and tell me their guy friends do, too.
  • Kristene DiMarco. Worship music, emphasis on the gorgeous.
  • The Story. From creation to the second coming, this is the Bible set to music that somehow manages to capture the essence of the truth behind each individual story. Worth it just for Peter Furler-as-Daniel's full-throttle scream at the end of "No Compromise."

3. The Word and words based on it. Whether you've got a toddler or a teen or a child in between, someone's written a devotional book or Bible study for them. 

4. Media with merit. I was late to the Facebook party because I have a very boring life and didn't think people needed to know I was making macaroni and cheese for dinner. But I jumped into the pool so I could create a group page for my Bible study sisters, and I haven't looked back. My initial reluctance about social media notwithstanding, I'm so thankful for connections my girls are able to have with Christian friends and with faith-building resources that go way beyond the flannel graph I grew up with. (Because, old.) From websites to Christian mentors, there's something to be said for someone who talks faith in your child's language and is--no offense--not you. Check out these field-tested, faith-feeding resources. (And by "field," I mean "our house".)
  • What's In The Bible? I grew up going to Sunday School every single week. I went to VBS and Christian summer camps and private Christian college. I've facilitated women's Bible study for 10 years. And I am so grateful for every bit of it. But I learned more about the Bible from watching these DVDs than from all of the rest combined. Not because the rest is so bad but because this series is so good. Truthful teaching that's high-quality, clever, and creative.
  • Project Inspired. "Created for Christian girls to show how awesome God is." My daughters are crazy about this website.
  • Adam Cappa. He's categorized on Facebook as a musician/band. But his Scripture quotes, dating advice, spot-on direction about seeking a mate, and other bits of wisdom for "ladies and gents" go way beyond music. 

5. Body building. I'm not talking about weight training. (Although, note to self: do more of it. You're not getting any younger, honey.) I'm talking about the way the body of Christ--your local church--can encourage, pray for, lead, guide, direct, and model truth about life with God. 

You can tell your son or daughter something about faith or God or the Bible a dozen times and get nothing more than "uh-huh," only to have them hear it from a Sunday School teacher or youth group leader and come home talking about it like they've just had their own burning-bush moment. Which is fabulous. 

My girls have been in church almost every Sunday since they were days old, and our branch of the body is crazy about them. They pray for them and cheer them on and ask about their lives and generally show them what community in Christ looks like. 

I know intertwining your life with a local congregation is messy and tricky and often disappointing. It's a lot like, you know, the rest of life. But somewhere out there is a local church that is right for your family, where you and your children can teach and be taught, serve and be served, love and be loved. Not a perfect church, but the right one for now. Finding it will be worth it.

A bunch of years ago, when my youngest daughter was about four, she witnessed me mourning the demise of the cane seat in the chair I use at my computer. The cane had simply worn out and broken through. (I tried not to take it personally.) My daughter heard me complaining about this sad development and drew me this picture:

Translated from her preschool phonics, she wrote: "I'm sorry about the seat. But that's not the importantist thing, because God is." 

There are lots of important things in my girls' lives: our family, their friends, their education, their passions and pursuits. 

But feeding their faith helps us and them stay focused on the importantist thing. 

On what is eternal and true and on what, one day, will be home.

**This post may have been shared at these blog bashes.**

April 18, 2016

Almond French Toast

I'm convinced there are two kinds of families in the world: food families and non-food families.

Non-food families eat out of necessity, in order to stay alive. My younger daughter once spent most of a day with a non-food family. She was at their house for the full scope of what could be considered "lunchtime" and "dinnertime" and was never once offered anything to eat.

I am not criticizing non-food families, mind you. (The next time my daughter went to that friend's house, I fed her ahead of time.) 

I'm just saying we are not one of them.

We are a food family. As was my family of origin. My mom and I joke that we remember our entire family history based on what we ate, and when, and where. 

Food traditions were very important in the house I grew up in. Among other gastronomical rituals (Sunday dinner being the most sacred...it came with its own list of rules* and regulations), there was Saturday breakfast. At which, without exception that I can remember, my mom served waffles or French toast or pancakes--usually on a regular rotation.

I've tried to keep this habit alive in my own little family, but sometimes I make myself French toast ON A WEEKDAY. (Don't tell my mom. Oh right, she's probably the person reading this post...hi, mom.) Specifically, I like to make Almond French Toast. Redolent with almond extract and coated with toasty slices of this uber-healthy nut, even the worst of Monday mornings is no match for this.

This recipe makes one serving, but you can easily double it (use 3 whole eggs) or quadruple it (use 4 whole eggs plus one egg white) or sextuple it (which is more math than I'm capable of doing...see "I'm a MOM" in the little "hello, mama" blurb at the top of this page). 

If you're an almond fanatic like I am, I think you'll love this. You might even like it if you're from a non-food family. After all, you have to eat something to stay alive, so it might as well be this.

Almond French Toast {print}

1 egg
1 egg white
2 tablespoons almond milk
1/4-1/2 teaspoon almond extract (start with the lesser amount and go from there)
2 slices bread (any kind you want...gluten-free, uber-grainy, soft white, whatever)
2 teaspoons butter, plus more for serving
1/4 cup sliced almonds
confectioners sugar, for serving

Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. In a shall dish, whisk together the egg, egg white, almond milk, and almond extract. When your skillet is hot, melt the two teaspoons butter. Carefully (the pan is hot, remember) spread 2 tablespoons of the almonds into each of two bread-shaped(ish) layers in the butter. (Between the two, you'll use up all the almonds.) Dip both sides of the bread into your egg mixture and gently lay one slice on top of each of the almond "layers." Cook over medium heat (or, if it seems too hot, medium-low) for a minute or two, until the first side is golden. Flip the slices, and cook until the second side is golden. Serve with more butter and confectioner's sugar. Makes 1 serving.

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*Served in the dining room on the good dishes; "ethnic" foods (spaghetti, tacos) need not apply (with the exception of Swiss steak on account of Swiss neutrality on all things political and gastronomical); the gelatin salad category must be represented; that sort of thing.

This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.

April 16, 2016

5 Funny Movies I Need In My Life

One of the best things that happened during this past year--my first of full-on blogging--was meeting my friend Lisa, a.k.a., the Syncopated Mama. I love the way blogging gives me a chance to meet fellow bloggers whose posts make me say "me, too!" alot. Lisa is one of those writers. To say nothing of the fact that a blog called "Syncopated Mama," whose tag line is "Living a Life That's Just a Little Offbeat," holds enormous appeal for someone who's, er, syncopated herself (although no one in their right mind would call me only a little offbeat).

As it turns out, Lisa is the gracious hostess of a weekly link party called 5 After 5, which is based on one of my favorite things: lists. (I hear you, dear mama..."yes, we KNOW you love lists.") I learned a lesson with my 31 Things I Love (That You Might Love, Too) list...by the end, I was sitting at my computer yelling, "I DON'T LOVE ANYTHING ANYMORE!" Which is why a nice manageable handful of things sounds like such a better idea.

I'm back on board with Lisa's list for this week: 5 Favorite Comedies. If you're a blogger, put together your own list and join the party. If you're not, hop over to Lisa's blog and add your round-up in the comments. Or add them here...I'd love to see what you've got.

1. The Money Pit. The first time I saw the house my husband thought we should buy and raise our family in, I drove past, looked at the place, scoffed derisively, and kept driving. It was a mess: junk all over the yard, peeling orange-red paint, and a huge, hideous flag pole right in the middle of the front yard. I dismissed it out of hand. A few weeks later, my husband and I had the following conversation:

Him: "We need to make a decision on that house." 
Me: "What house?"
Him: "The red farmhouse."
Me: "What decision?" 
Him: "Whether we should buy it or not."
Me: "Of course we're not buying it."

A few weeks later, my mom asked my father-in-law--a realtor who had the house listed--if he'd had any bites. We had the following conversation:
Him: "Oh, yes. A nice young couple is going to buy it." 
Me: "That's great! Who?" 
Him (looking at me incredulously): "You." 

At which point I summoned my husband for a conference and told him his dad was having a delusional moment and needed to be brought into the land of reality. The land where we were NOT buy that house. Fast-forward 16 years, and of course we're living in that house. The peeling pain and junk and flag pole are gone, but the plumbing is a mess, and the rooms we "did" when we first bought place now need to be "redone." Meanwhile, the rooms we left "undone" when we first moved in still need to be "done." ALL of which is just to say that once a year or so, my husband I watch The Money Pit to make ourselves feel better. Because at least our clawfoot tub hasn't crashed through the floor. (Note: if I publish this post and then our bathtub crashes through the floor, I am never blogging again.)

2. Sense & Sensibility. I know this might not be the first movie most people think of when they hear the word "comedy," but I think it's a riot...as well as being incredibly romantic. S&S is my favorite movie of any genre, and the first time I watched it with my daughter and she swooned over the ending the way I did the first time I saw it, I had one of the mom moments that make motherhood the best gig ever. Favorite line: the leading ladies are discussing the age of a potential male match and one daughter says he is "infirm." The mother replies that if he is infirm, she herself is "at death's door." To which the eldest daughter replies (deadpan, without missing a beat), "It is a miracle your life has extended this far." Love it. All of it.

3. Miss Congeniality. My sister saw this movie before I did and called to tell me about her favorite line...which immediately became mine. Beauty pageant host to contestant: "Describe your perfect date." Contestant: "I'd have to say April 25th. Because it's not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket."

4. Ruthless People. Bette Midler. Danny Devito. As funny as you'd think. Especially this classic line: "this could very well be the stupidest person on the face of the earth." And this one: "I've been kidnapped by Kmart!"

5. Overboard. "Everyone wants to be me!" "I think...I ate...a bug." "Twin! Oh twin!" "Oh, my hair!" And other memorable moments from this riches-to-rags classic.

Okay, mama, what movies can you count on when you need to laugh your way out of a funk? Put together your own 5 After 5 list, and share it in a comment here or as a link at Lisa's party. I'll be cuing up the DVD player, popping some popcorn, hunting down my stash of Crunch-a-Bunch, and waiting to see what you come up with.

April 13, 2016

10 Things I Didn't Know I Didn't Know Before I Had Kids

I was not a big follower of the “what to expect when…” genre of books on motherhood.

(Now: if you are or were a follower, that is 100% fine and please don't bail on me quite yet.)

It's just that those books lost me when they talked about how once or twice during nine months of pregnancy, an expectant mom could "splurge" and have a scoop of frozen yogurt with a drizzle of fat-free chocolate syrup. Splurge. Because, hello, I was the kind of mom-under-construction who was having two scoops of premium triple-chocolate with full-on hot fudge sauce at least once a week, thank you very much.

No, I was really looking for a different kind of par
enting book. What to Expect When You're Expecting Something That Will Change Your Life Forever and Turn You Into an Utterly Different Human Being, maybe?

Which would actually be a very short book, because no one can tell a new mom-to-be what motherhood will be like. And even if they tried, that mom-in-waiting wouldn't believe it. 

Maybe it's because my oldest is getting ready for her senior year and I'm feeling all nostalgic and sappy and introspective, but I realized the other day that there was a lot I didn't know in my Days B.C. (Before Children). 

I've got items 1-10 of that lot up on Her View From Home today. Honestly, it would make my week (at least) if you'd head over and check them out. And while you're there, will you tell me what you've realized you didn't know before you became a mom? Please don't leave me alone in my confessions of ignorance here. Thanks, mama.

*This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.*

April 11, 2016

How Motherhood Is Like a Brownie

Oh, mama, I've got such a gift for you today. Actually, I've got a couple.

The first is the chance to meet my friend Christine--founder and heart behind 4Real Moms. Which, if you're not already a fan of, you should check out ASAP. Christine is a gorgeous blond former cheerleader while I'm a brunette choir-geek-turned-band-mom. But I love her because we share, among other things, a passion for chocolate and a loathing of crafts, house cleaning, and exercise.

The second gift is Christine's guest post, which is all about brownies. How much she loves them. How motherhood is like one. And how you can make some for yourself. Because if you don't already want a brownie just as a general life principle, you'll probably want one by the time you've finished reading Christine's post...

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It’s no secret that I love brownies.  

Yes, I even hide them from my kids. Yes, I even con friends and family into letting me take home extra brownies “for the kids” that strangely never make it home to the kids. I know. It’s a sickness. I love brownies that much.
And after turning 40 (almost 2 years ago), I’ve learned not to apologize for things like this, either. I love brownies. And now you know that if I ever give you a whole pan of brownies, that means I really, really love you. Because let’s be real here: when you give someone brownies and you cut them out of a pan and put them in little squares on a paper plate or even on a fancy platter, aren’t you really just saying that I kind of love you, but I love eating some of these brownies before I gave them to you even more?

Maybe that’s just me.

Brownies haven’t always consumed my mind. In fact, I gave them up for six years…that’s right! In fact, I gave up all chocolate for six years. I hear the gasps now! I went through infertility and in my desperation to get pregnant, chocolate was one of the many things I had to change in my diet. (Maybe that’s why I make no apologies now for eating brownies ALL THE TIME?) Now, I’m blessed to have three beautiful children in my life. And I’m also blessed to have brownies back in my life, too.

The other day, as I was making a pan of these delicious soothers of my soul for a friend who just had a baby (and yes, I gave her the whole pan because I love her that much!!), my kids were chasing each other around the house, giggling, and intermittently throwing in some fighting about some toy that no one wanted to play with until one kid picked it up and then all of the sudden, it became the “it” toy and everyone wanted it at the same time, and it dawned on me just how much motherhood is like a brownie…

1. It's a treat. Brownies are delicious. They are chewy. They are chocolatey. They are scrumptious. They are a treat. Motherhood is a treat too--one that you savor and enjoy. And even in the midst of the challenges and chaos that motherhood brings, I’m truly honored to be a mom…especially when I thought I would never be one. It brings me such joy to watch my kids learn and grow…to hear them using loving and compassionate words (most of the time)…to see them giving and sharing and being kind to one another (unless someone has the “it” toy). I treasure every sweet moment because they don’t always last long (and neither do any brownies within a 100 foot radius of me).

2. It requires self-control. Seriously, I have no self-control when it comes to brownies. And as a mom, I struggle with anger and losing my temper because, let’s face it, my kids are not the perfect treats all the time. They’re great kids, but they’re normal kids. They test boundaries. They disobey. They throw fits.  They test my patience. And just like I can’t gobble up a whole pan of brownies (although I’d like to), I also can’t gobble up my kids’ spirits with yelling (although I do that more than I’d like to admit). Even though I still have my moments where I lose it, I’ve learned the beautiful art of counting to 10…breathing…and praying...and only eating one brownie while I’m counting and breathing and praying.

3. It is diverse. Brownies are so diverse. They can come with nuts…without nuts…with peanut butter…with caramel…with chocolate chips…with Oreo cookies…with powdered sugar…with frosting. In fact, I have a cookbook called “101 Best Brownie Recipes." Did you hear that--101 BROWNIE RECIPES! Yes, that book is a treasure in my house. I’ve learned that there is even more diversity in motherhood. There are 1001 ways to breastfeed, sleep-train, potty-train, diaper, dress, teach, feed, and even carry a child these days. And every child is different. What works for one doesn’t always work for the other.  How one child feels loved isn’t how another child feels loved. Just when you get one problem worked out, ten more present themselves. Even though every brownie is different, every brownie is delicious. Even though every child is different, when mixed with love, every child can become delightful. 

4. It is imperfect. I know you might be thinking, “What? Brownies are imperfect?” Yes. They are actually quite temperamental. Sometimes a little over-done. Sometimes a little underdone. Not that any kind of baking doneness will stop me from eating a brownie, but they are in fact quite imperfect. And so am I as a mom.  Motherhood has taught me just how imperfect I actually am. Even though I thought I was completely normal and quite perfect before I had children, God assures me that I wasn’t. Hmmmm.  Embracing my imperfections, learning to apologize for my mistakes, seeking forgiveness on a regular basis has actually been quite freeing. What a great example to set for my children. And the realization that no mom is perfect has been even more freeing! No brownie is perfect and yet it’s still delicious. No mom is perfect and yet she is still beautiful and wonderful and courageous and loving and giving and amazing. We all love our children and we are all doing the best we know how to raise them to be kind and loving human beings in this world. Let’s pray for, encourage, and uplift one another, and by golly, let’s all share our imperfect brownies with each other too!

Dear mom, the next time you eat a brownie (and I hope it’s soon with these easy recipes below), remember to take a deep breath. Motherhood is hard, but it’s a treat. We are all doing the best we can. We are all imperfect. Savor each moment in motherhood, and savor each bite of every brownie…but try not to eat the whole pan.

Oh, and save one for me! 

Best Brownies {print}

4 eggs (beaten until foamy)
2 cups of sugar
½ cup butter (softened)
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup cocoa
¾ cup chocolate chips (or however many you want—no one is watching)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs until foamy. Add sugar, butter, and vanilla. Mix together.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and cocoa. Use fork or wire whisk to stir. Add to the wet ingredients and stir.
3. Add chocolate chips and/or nuts. Stir. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan. 
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool and sprinkle powdered sugar on top.  Enjoy!

Best Boxed Brownies {print}

1 box of Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate (or Double Dark) Brownie Mix
1/4 c water
1/2 c vegetable oil (or applesauce)
1 egg
1/4 c chocolate chips (or more—really, I put no limit on chocolate chips)

1. Follow directions on the box.
2. After you spread the brownie mixture in the prepared pan, my secret is to add extra chocolate chips on the top to make sure there is at least one or five chocolate chips in every bite! Yum!

CHRISTINE LEEB is known as the “Real Mom." She is a speaker, writer, Christian Life Coach, and the founder of 4Real Moms—an organization
encouraging moms to be real while helping them be the best moms God created them to be. She has three beautiful (and exhausting) children and has been married to her husband, Brad, for almost 16 wonderful (and challenging) years. She enjoys garage sale-ing, brownie eating, friendship keeping, book reading, family tickling, and husband dating. She is the author of the devotional In His Light: Facing Fear with Faith, and her newest ebook is Meal-Planning for the Mom Who Hates Meal-Planning. For more encouragement and resources, visit her website at www.4realmoms.com

This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.