A Reminder to Breathe

Some phases of life are “easier” than others. Right now, we’re in one of those remind-me-to-breathe times. I don’t know why.

But in the midst of challenges, I’m always grateful that rarely does everything crumble at the same time.

With five kids, usually one is dealing with something funky. It could be their own bad attitude and unwise decision making. OR it could be a situation that falls into the unfair category. Because, inasmuch as people travel behind our wake, we travel in the wake of others. And sometimes things beyond our control can pull us down.

It never ceases to surprise me at the way parents question ourselves in the midst of trials. We don’t tend to overly praise ourselves in the good. If your kid scores National Merit or makes the Club sports team they practiced so hard to make – we aren’t sending props out to ourselves.  … So why are we so quick to microscopically re-live every detail when life isn’t quite so smooth? We think back, wonder if, question decisions, worry about the future, and quite possibly fret.

I think that’s a waste of effort and mental capacity (which in my case is very limited :).

The other night at dinner, I saw something that I hope I remember for a long time. It’s something I already knew – but something that can get lost in the midst. It was a reminder to breathe.

While waiting for our food, the kids began to doodle.


I sipped my tea and I watched and I noticed –


each child, doing his/her thing … always up for a game, little Tic-Tac-Toe, playing …


the brother (you can’t see) next to Tic-Tac-Toe scribbling wildly :) …


a sister and her seascape (I can almost hear the kid repeating one of her all-time favorite phrases “Just keep swimming … swimming … swimming” while doodling) …


a brother who can’t turn it off (by the time our food came, he had filled every blank space in front of him with equations building off of each other) …

IMG_2654.JPGand another sister, playing with letters.  A future graphic designer maybe? I don’t know, but this is what she sees and thinks about most of the time. Her name is Lucy. Can you see it? She does – with everyone.

Oh my goodness … they’re all so different.

And I started to breathe.

And I asked myself … are you loving them well? Really loving them for who they are, not who I want them to be or think they ought to be or who society says they should be. But loving them for the special individuals they are. Am I helping each of them discover their unique gifting and building them up in that? Even when such gifting might take them down a road that could look a bit different than what I or everyone around me expect(s)?

Each child is gifted. (Some are gifts are easier than others.)

And each parent is gifted, too.

Gifted to love the children, with whom you have been blessed, like no one else can love and encourage them. Remember that. And breathe.

Thanks for walking the road with me.


Table Talk: Motivator or Manipulator by Andy Kerckhoff

Today’s guest post is by our friend Andy Kerckhoff. He’s a teacher, an author and blogger at growingupwell - and a parent. So he has special insight and wisdom that I always find interesting. I hope you do as well. Check out Andy’s blog or his his book: Critical Connection: A practical guide to parenting young teens.

Thanks for sharing, Andy … and thanks for walking the road with me.


son Once again, his room isn’t clean, not by any standard. Her backpack, jacket, and shoes are scattered about the floor of the hall, again. His grades are sub-par in math, again. She is making the family late to school, again. He seems to be nonchalant about his music audition this weekend. She isn’t running enough to prepare for soccer tryouts next week.

How do you approach the lack of motivation: carrot or stick?

What’s the best approach: direct confrontation, positive affirmation, a new system of consequences? Push hard or back off? Constructive criticism?

Who knows? It’s a minefield, to say the least.

It’s a thin line between motivating your child and provoking him or her to rebellion. Motivating a child, especially a teenager, is not an easy road. There will be resistance, mistakes and regrets, and that is if you are doing it right.

For example, my son loves to play guitar. When he first started playing, there were times when I pushed him too hard. I felt that he needed to learn his scales and play with a purpose at times, rather than just play for fun. I provoked him to anger occasionally. At other times, I employed an easy-going attitude toward him playing the same riffs over and over for fun. And sometimes I regretted that.

It’s a tough call. Nobody wants to be too tough or too soft. It’s a fine line to walk.

In addition, the thin line seems to move whimsically. One day, it’s here and another it’s there. One day you have a great conversation that challenges your daughter to work harder in school, and the next day she is in tears at the slightest mention of schoolwork. One day you motivate, the next day you provoke.

But the way I see it, you have to be willing to be seen as the bad guy. You have to be willing to step over the line occasionally, even if it means regretting it later. But if you step over that line too often, then you are pushing way too hard. Motivation can become manipulation. It can be a slippery slope.

If your child feels provoked and discouraged daily, then you have a big problem on your hands. The Bible explicitly warns: “Fathers, do not provoke your children or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). Apparently, fathers have been pushing too hard for thousands of years, and they probably always will.

But I contend that it’s our role as parents to push the limits occasionally. Not that we want to intentionally go over the edge, but we need to push to the edge now and then. For example, in soccer it’s best to use the whole field. Don’t just keep the ball in the middle. Don’t be afraid to send it to the edges, even if it occasionally goes out of bounds on accident. If you never cross the line, then you are not pushing hard enough. Yes, you need to push often enough to warrant an apology occasionally.

I recall when my high school basketball coach told me that I needed to foul more. What? He thought I was playing too safe, too nice, too careful. He said that I should get about three fouls per game. Seriously. He knew that I needed to be more aggressive, that I was not likely to foul out. He was right. I became a better player, and I didn’t foul out often, hurt anybody, or become a hacker.

I think some of us parent too safely. We are too timid, too afraid that if we tick off our child that he or she will spin out of control in some way. Or we are too aggressive, too afraid to let our child make his or her own mistakes and suffer the consequences.

Conversely, if you never back away and let your kid fall short of an expectation or make some mistakes, then you are a control freak. You need to learn to back off. Not all the time. Just some of the time. You need to be willing to do nothing and perhaps regret it later. That’s right. You should occasionally regret your decision to not say something.

After all, not all motivation should be extrinsic. In fact, the best motivation is intrinsic. Therefore, you need to let your child determine his or her motivation now and then.

So, stop playing it so safe. Don’t be afraid to mix it up. Don’t always be “Mr. Consistent” who never makes his child uncomfortable.

Instead, be more like the coach who motivates his players to the point where they are playing to win, unafraid of making mistakes. So what if the ball goes out of bounds occasionally? Who cares if the ref calls a foul now and then?

I am not a fan of any form of extreme parenting. I think that too-safe parenting is extreme. Don’t be afraid to step in and motivate. And don’t be afraid to step back and observe, rather than navigate. Use the whole field, as they say in soccer. Don’t worry about getting called off-sides now and then. And be willing to let the kids play, free of your constant barrage of instructions from the sidelines.

Be confident that you are capable of making the right choices, and you are capable of dealing with some parenting mistakes. For if you are doing your job as a parent well, then you will push too hard at times and you will pull back too much at times. It’s ok. It’s better than playing it too safe.

Be a good motivator, but don’t be a constant manipulator.

Table Talk: Thankfulness by Jeannie Cunnion

So this week, I’m posting guest blogs from some terrific folks that have great things to say. Today’s blog is by my new friend Jeannie Cunnion. I met her through sweet Courtney DeFeo, who has blessed us here at themoatblog before. One super fun thing, Jeannie is actually coming to Dallas this weekend to speak at Irving Bible Church’s Mom’s Night Out. Grab some gals and go hear her share on Saturday night from 6:30 – 8:30.

Jeannie’s book, Parenting the Whole-Hearted Child has been featured on Rachel Ray and the TODAY Show. You can connect with her at jeanniecunnion.com.

Thanks for sharing, Jeannie! … and thanks for walking the road with me.


On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy crashed into our little town. Thank God we were able to escape with the precious things like photo albums and baby journals, and most importantly, our safety. But much of the rest was swept away as fast as the tide came crashing in and out of our sweet little home.

The state of emergency began the night before Sandy hit. Our family of five bunked up with two other families in a house about thirty minutes inland. I remember curling up with a book that night called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and thinking, “How fitting to be reading a book about thankfulness as I wait for the water to rise and pursue all my earthly treasure.”

I read each page slowly, not yet realizing that the kind of thankfulness Ann writes about was something I was going to need to hold on to in the days ahead.

Fast-forward twenty-four hours, after Sandy made her mark. We returned home to see the devastation. But as I looked around at all that was swept away and the little that remained, I was struck with the words I’d read in Ann’s book just the night before:

“‘On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.’ (1 Cor. 11:23 – 24) …… Jesus offers thanksgiving for even that which will break him and crush him and wound him and yield a bounty of joy.”

I was reminded that even then, Jesus gave thanks.

As I looked around me, I saw the water line on my mailbox that reminded me how high the water rose. I saw the house torn apart, the sea-kissed furniture, and the walls lined with water stains. But when I looked up, you won’t believe what I saw. A rainbow painted in the sky. A rainbow that reminded me that God is faithful, he is good, and his promises are true. Ah yes, Jeannie, give thanks.

A heart of thanks is what carried us through the many months of tumultuous recovery to the other side of unimaginable joy.

And a verse I’d memorized in my head finally began to make it’s home in my heart:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18

In a world of so much selfishness and entitlement, I want to raise thankful children, ones who recognize that everything they are and everything they have is a gift from God. I want them to live in thankful awareness of the basics we take for granted, like a safe roof over our heads, healthy food to eat, clean clothes to wear, and safe water to drink. I want them to be thankful for all of the wonderful opportunities they are given, the places they get to go, and the experiences they enjoy. This is what I want—children who are thankful for everything God has given them.

But do you know what I want even more than children who are thankful for what they’ve been given? Children who are thankful for everything God has done for them. I want to foster in our children an overwhelming awareness of God’s grace by teaching them what he has done for us by giving us Jesus. I want them to know, more than anything else, that because of God’s great love for us, he sacrificed his one and only Son, for our sin, so that we can be reconciled with Him!

He loves us that much! No strings attached. That’s right, none. Even when we forgot to be thankful, which, trust me, is a skill I’ve mastered, His faithfulness never ceases and His love never wavers.

Unconditional, wholehearted, relentless, radical love is yours and mine, not because of anything we do or don’t do, but because of everything Jesus has already done for us!

While God has given us “stuff” to be thankful for, it pales in comparison with the gift he has given us in Christ.

This kind of thankfulness breeds gratitude, humility, generosity, and joy. And I never understood this more than after
 Hurricane Sandy rocked our world.

God exhorts us to give thanks 
in all circumstances because he 
knows – thankfulness changes 
the trajectory of our hearts.

Thankfulness helps us see the rainbow, even in the ruin.

Age-Rating Literature


Last night I sat in a meeting that left my stomach in knots. I even woke up with the topic on my mind, deeply concerned about an issue that faces all of us even if we don’t have kids in the mix. The topic: sexually graphic nature/mature themes in school-approved/required literature.

“Sex… profanity… rape. Those are just three of the controversial subjects many parents in the Highland Park Independent School District don’t want their children reading about in school.

When most of us were young, none of this was an issue. Not only in literature, but also on television and in the movies. I remember giggling and gasping with my siblings at Jane Russel proudly displaying the Playtex Cross Your Heart Bra in the 1970s. Playtex was the first to advertise undergarments on national television in 1955 and the first to show a woman wearing only a bra from the waist-up in a commercial in 1977. Such a display was culturally considered inappropriate.

When cable television made its way to my home-town in the 1980s, the City Council called for the citizens to weigh in on whether the service should be allowed. In order to address concerns regarding the graphic nature of increased viewing options, the cable company happily provided a parental lock box with a key. Homes could choose to literally lock channels inappropriate for the viewers in their home. We have the ability to do that even today through age-appropriateness parental settings. And in our home we use it. (Even our adult selves.)

Cell phones have added easy-to-use ratings based on content and age-appropriateness. If I desire, I can access restriction settings to limit content. Right now on my phone, the Apps are limited to 12+, television to “TV-14”, movies “PG-13”. And “Explicit” material is banned on music and podcasts. I’m happy to know that my 7 year-old, and even my teens, won’t stumble on something they don’t need to be seeing.

It gives all of us comfort to know that certain mature-themed material requires an extra step of accountability to be acquired. Let’s call a spade a spade and go in with eyes open.

We provide ratings in almost every venue. Movies, games, music, tv-shows, etc. are rated – for a reason. And despite the kid-push-back and the inevitable battles it produces (“It’s PG-13 and I’m 13! I can see it!), and the lure for kids to break the rules (I saw some busted just this weekend as an AMC employee pulled them out of an R-rated film), I am forever grateful for the help. And I tell my kids, we do this because you’re worth it.

Last night’s School Board Meeting made me realize that this issue is far larger than the classrooms in our little neighborhood. Books, including youth fiction, need to be rated. Youth fiction is a different landscape than the days of Beverly Cleary. Several parents read aloud selections, those digested and discussed in classrooms, that could only be described as pornographic. They choked as they forced their mouths to say words they would never speak in the presence of a child – regardless of age. And the thing about literature… it takes seeing to a new level, traveling to deep thinking and introspective contemplation.

So, Publishers please take a lesson from the MPAA, iTunes, the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board – shown below) and more. Age-rate books.


In August, David Cameron, Britain’s Prime Minister, did the same thing with music videos that we need to do with books:

From October, we’re going to help parents protect their children from some of the graphic content in online music videos by working with the British Board of Film Classification, Vevo and YouTube to pilot the age rating of these videos.

This is not about burning, banning or censoring. It is about rating the thematic nature of the material in order to guard impressionable minds.

As I sat in our School Board meeting last night, I looked around the room. The School Board itself is comprised of people who care enough about kids and their education to sacrifice a large chunk of their valuable time to the cause. Teachers and Administrators devote their lives to education. And, parents, who came out in force, fight for the protection of their children’s minds. Working together could be streamlined with a little help from the publishing industry.

Cameron said he has blocked his children from watching some content online. He said: “As for my own children I am sure there are times when they have been disappointed because they haven’t been able to do something or see something. But that is part of what being a parent is about – being able to deploy the use of the word no and sometimes even to deploy the off switch on the television, unpopular as that can sometimes be, and sometimes ineffectual because they find another screen somewhere to switch on.”

The framework has been set by other industries, publishers should must follow suit.


Thanks for walking the road with me.


Screen shot 2014-09-11 at 6.21.20 AM

CBS11 news coverage on the issue.