The Disqualified Christian – Part Five: Comparison

This year I went to a Christian women’s conference, it was the first one that I had ever attended, and to say I was excited was an understatement. As I opened the flyer to read about the speakers, I did the unthinkable; I compared myself. It was unintentional at first, I was searching for any connection – something that would validate my past. Reading the snippets of their bios beside their head-shot, I stopped dead in my tracks. All I could focus on was their qualifications. The things that qualified them to be a speaker, to stand on the stage doing exactly what I want to do and what disqualified me. And, it is ironic because I am very aware that God does NOT work through “qualifications” and that the enemy was leading me to believe the lies that I was disqualified.

Each one of these women stood up on stage and shared stories of vulnerability, stories of fear and stories of how God had shaped or changed their lives. Truly beautiful and honest accounts of transformation in some form. The trials they had suffered were difficult, terrifying and significant. As I sat there listening to them 75% of me admired and respected them and the other 25% told myself “your dream is over, sister! You can never do this. You have too many.” Too many of this, too many of that – just too many!

They had been married for 10 to 25 years. All appeared to have a godly marriage, no mention of divorce or remarriage. There was not a testimony of addiction, sexual sin, anything that would carry a sin-shock once revealed. What would my bio read? Jessica Griffiths. Married & Divorced. Re-married & Re-divorced Again. Blended Family. Sex before marriage … oh ya, I can see the empty arena now. No thanks, I am good!

What impacted me the most though was watching one woman in particular ramping herself up to share her most shameful truth. It was crushing because of the heaviness of her shame, the things that made her feel unworthy or fearful were so minor in comparison to my own past. It showed me that we are so unforgiving of ourselves for the slightest infractions. And, that even someone with her qualifications, her education, status etc. was still fearful to some degree of judgment.

Sitting there impatiently waiting for her to work up the courage to share whatever carried such humiliation and embarrassment for her, I prayed. I prayed for her past to be even the slightest of something that mirrored my own. Is that awful? It sounds terrible to me to pray for something like that – but it was for a good reason, kind of. I wanted her to say something that would pull me into her heart, something that screamed – you’re one of us and welcome here. My need for it to be significant, something that would whisper “I’m just like you” was vital to feeling human, and still worthy of being a christian.

I prayed she would share something that proved that I was not disqualified. That I could share my story with other women, encourage and motivate them, become an author and not just be a flawed woman. But when she shared her truth and testimony, it was nothing like my past, and nothing I would have ever faulted her for nor condemned. In fact to me I would not have even categorized it as a sin. I honored her vulnerability, but dishonored Gods promise to myself. I ended up leaving the conference feeling disqualified. And, my heart broke.

For the next week I wrestled over my feelings. I wrestled with the idea of truly being disqualified. Would God call me to write and share my testimonies if I were truly disqualified? And as soon as I said that out loud, I realized I’m not sharing my testimony. I’m sharing how I survived, how I am saved by Gods grace and how he loves me. But I haven’t told you my actual mistakes. I’m safely tucked behind a computer, a quote or a blog post saying, “I’m a Christian”, “God is real” and that I know that I’m forgiven but I’m not sharing why or how I know this.

Here I am dreaming of the day I am able to speak life into women who are needing validation, desiring acceptance, and deserving of forgiveness – and I am already letting them down because my testimony is incomplete. And, God called me on that, right there in my car. He said, “Show them why and how YOU are NOT a disqualified Christian. Show them what disqualified you before the grace of God. Show them what qualifies YOU and THEM in my heart and that my mercy never fails.”

It was in that moment my heart softened, that overwhelming feeling of clarity and joy overflowed and replaced any ounce of doubt I had. It was in that moment the enemy was silenced and the series – The Disqualified Christian, was created.

There are times what God speaks to us it not meant for sharing, but there are also moments when it is meant for others to know. God is very active and alive within me and I would be disobedient if I did not share this with you today.

God wants you to know that you are not disqualified, that he never compares you to anyone else because he created you to be set apart and unique on purpose. There is not a person, career, monetary amount, sin or any other factor that can disqualify you for his love and purpose. God is not in the business of crushing dreams or hearts, he is in the business of crushing us into position to bear the fruit he planned for the purpose of his glory. There is no glory in heartache, only in love and multiplication.

 Romans 12:6 (MSG)

“Let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” 

There before the grace of God, go I.

“and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”  (1 Corinthians 15:8-10, NIV)

My grandfather used to say “there before the grace of God go I” during moments of tragedy, mourning or suffering. As a teenager and young adult, I would catch myself following the sentiment without realizing the weight behind the words I was reciting. There before the grace of God goes I, was how my grandfather spoke it, however the proper written statement is, ‘There but before the grace of God, go I – but still what does that mean, I asked myself one day.

Isn’t it ironic how we mimic what we hear growing up without analyzing the meaning behind it? I began to question the words, what they meant and what it was that I was repeating. Was my grandfather saying we were better than the homeless man sleeping in the bushes at the park, because we go to church? Was he saying that God loved us more than the people suffering in the car accident we just passed? Was he saying that if I don’t go to church and follow God that I too deserved to suffer? Until I read what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians – the power, love and meaning was lost on me.

Paul felt as though he was undeserving and admitted that if it were not for the grace of God, he would still be the same Paul who persecuted Christians. It is a verse of humility and love. My thankfulness is rooted in the same manner as Paul. It was only for God’s grace and who he created me to be that I am the mother, wife and person I am today. He created me with intent, purpose, a heart that loves more than ever received and a mind that dreams of God making my impossible, possible.

God knew I would follow my heart instead of listening to him at first. He saw ahead to the moments I would fail, resist his help or the help of anyone else. He knew I would disappoint both he and myself when I would surely proclaim the lie that I only needed myself. He would be patient as I took the lead foolishly thinking that I was alone, and in charge. He continued to pour his love into me even in the moments that I denounced his purpose and plan for my life. He used these moments in his infinite wisdom, in his pursuits and how he would reveal when the timing was right, that he was whom my strength originated. His Grace is love, and there will not be a day that I am not thankful for that.

We are so naïve in what we so blindly refuse to acknowledge is him. Looking back now I see his hand helping me up to my feet, his arms lifting me up and out of whatever mess I created this time. His love for me when I couldn’t stomach my own reflection let alone the idea of loving myself, was abundant and refreshing. If it weren’t for these moments, I would not have three teenagers that have shown me a love that I never knew was possible and test the patience in me at the same time. If it weren’t for his grace, I would not have a husband who chooses me every day, despite my past and makes me feel the same safety I do in trusting Jesus.

My life afforded by his grace is not a based on whether I go to church, it is not saying that I am more deserving than anyone else or that I will escape my own tragedies or hardships. It is saying that I won’t be alone in them. I’m thankful to be aware of that. To humbly admit that I need his grace, that I want his grace and that my strength, love and faith are deeply rooted in him, is a gift in and of itself.

We all falter, we all have moments of pause and question – and we all at one time in our lives have felt undeserving of God’s love and grace. That is what creates the humility and compassion in our hearts for one another. Imagine all that God has witnessed, imagine all the people he consoles as they suffer, all the ones who at times question his abilities, his intentions and even if he is real. Imagine that for one minute and then picture him loving them anyhow. Is there anything more beautiful than that? I don’t believe there is.

Thankfulness is a choice just as is love. It is an action word; it requires movement, it requires flexibility and an intentional heart. It is easy to get stuck in the ruts of life and take things, people and even God for granted. There are days when I wake up and all I can muster are the words, “I’m thankful I woke up today”, or “I’m thankful that my being alive today means I must still have work to do for you God, that I must have purpose.” Even if I have no idea what it is. I trust he will clue me in when his timing is right, and most likely when my mind and heart are still.

Today I encourage you to take deep breath and think of one thing or person you are thankful for. Something or someone who gives you the feeling of relief or that pleases you. Whether it be a simple as a baby sleeping through the night, enough money in your account to keep the power on, a spouse who decided to unload the dishwasher or a puppy who didn’t chew another hole in your brand new couch. Or something as significant as a lost son or daughter coming home, the blessing of a positive test result or clear scan saying that cancer is gone. Whatever it may be, whatever you can muster up in the pits of despair – speak it, feel it and choose to be actively thankful for it and know you are never alone or undeserving.

Empty me of me, and fill me with you; I got baptized.

As we were turning into the church this morning I prayed aloud in the car, “Dear God please let this be a good service” because sometimes the message just doesn’t hit us the way it’s intended, you know? I needed a good message today, because I crave the holy spirit and thrive on the word hitting me in just a way that invigorates and encourages my soul to keep fighting.

God knew what I needed, as he always does.

Today is the last Sunday of my thirties. It’s the end of a decade which I began lost, angry and hurting. In the midst of heartbreak & failures, when everything was falling apart, and everyone was walking away – I was still so richly blessed. I know that was God. This decade is also when I found myself, forgave those who hurt me, became a better person, a better mother, the wife I always wanted to be and re-dedicated my life to Jesus.

In January, God spoke to me very clearly and the holy spirit filled me with a desire for God that I can’t fully explain. At first, I thought I was losing my mind and I was in a state of immense joy and excitement. I actually contemplated that maybe I was Bi-Polar, coming from such lows at times to this new high, felt unreal! That’s how intense this was. During my morning commute to work shortly after – it hit me that what I was feeling was salvation. As I sat in my car with tears streaming, asking forgiveness for every sin I could remember one by one, he reminded me that was unnecessary. I was forgiven as a whole. In that moment I felt an actual physical and emotional shift and a release that changed my life.

When we walked into church today, the baptismal tub was by the stage. As we found our seats, I told Gracie, “if they are doing baptisms today, I’m doing it.” I’ve been wanting to be baptized for months now and signed up once only to back out. Baptism is a public declaration of a very private relationship, and the thought of standing in front of strangers felt uncomfortable and honestly I felt unworthy of their time and attention.

Today was different. Today, I knew what God was doing, I knew this was the “service and message” I needed to experience in order to thrive in this new life with God as the head of my table. Being baptized was about Jesus and I, not anyone else, although I understood that it was an open request for those who witnessed to hold me accountable in my future as a christ follower. I was choosing to dedicate myself to him and I finally wanted everyone in the room to know I was proud and confident in my decision and acceptance of his love and forgiveness.

Thanks to my cousin, BJ, Kayla and our Pastor, I got baptized today without notice, without any planning or even a change of clothes. It was perfect. A little cold, but still perfect. I can’t imagine a better way to welcome 40 and the beginning of a new decade than to be emptied of the dead weight of the old me, and filled with the holy spirit, a new heart, a new name and cleansed soul.

The Disqualified Christian – Part Four: Abortion Forgiveness

A couple weeks ago I received a message on Instagram from a follower. This person had suffered quite a loss and began to share it with me. I’ve never met this person and I think sometimes it is easier that way, to share something so personal with a stranger you’ll never see face to face.

This person is a cancer survivor, a great photographer and from what I could tell a follower of God. As he was sharing his life, he mentioned a mortal sin that he could never forgive of someone from his past. The words mortal sin, hit me like a train. As I continued reading his message I knew without having to ask, which sin he meant, but I still asked, “what sin is it that you consider a mortal sin?” and he responded with, “Abortion.” That was what I thought he would say and I found it quite intriguing what God was doing. God knew that if I ever wanted to be a speaker that helps women overcome their past and invite him into their life – I’d have to tell my story time and time again, until it became easier.

This persons message was lengthy and filled with frustration and pain. He was quite frank in his personal feelings on abortion and God’s disgust with it. He went on to detail how it affected him with the loss of two children he didn’t know even existed. She had two abortions years prior without his knowledge. I could not imagine that type of loss and betrayal he must have felt. It was important for me to honor his loss, his feelings and the way he was deceived. It would have been easy for me to have just let him share, prayed for him and moved on with my day. It would have been easy to hide behind my Instagram, my beautiful quotes and inspirational messages and remain a glow in my highlight reel social media life. However, I knew God wanted more of me in this moment. When I asked God if he was leading me to be a listener, or both a listener and to share my story he responded very clearly, “Yes” to both.

When you listen to someone detesting something or someone, very firmly and feeling that their convictions are backed by the bible, and God – it is frightening to say you’ve sinned in the same way. As I heard the way he spoke and thought of this woman who hurt him greatly, the very thought to say – I’m just like her, made me nervous. Though I knew it was necessary for me to be obedient to my promise to God, to be a vessel and share his grace and forgiveness in my life.

When I responded it was first and foremost necessary for me to honor his loss, his feelings and his position even. I wanted him to know that for all he had gone through – I could see where those feelings came from and that his feelings were valid. Then it was important for me to share with him a little of my story and how I came to start this part of my life. He needed to know that the person he has been following, the person who he thanks daily for inspiration and sharing God’s word – had also had an abortion.

It was important for a few reasons. First, I needed to own my truth and be fully transparent. My testimony is my why, it is where God uses me and where his praise resides. Second, it felt important to inform him that this woman surely has suffered in a way he may not have noticed and it is doubtful she is carefree and without judgment today. That the experience of an abortion is life altering and traumatic and most women suffer in silence. I don’t care who says having an abortion did not affect them, it does. The third reason was because I wanted him to know that God forgave me and that I know if you repent and trust in God all your sins are wiped clean.

In my case I was only a child, unmarried and my boyfriend was aware and made the choice as well. There was a disconnect between my heart and mind, between what I knew to be Gods word and what I chose. Though I must admit I lacked the emotional ability to understand the destructive choice I was making, the life I was taking or the affect it would have on me for many years to come. Regardless, I was still equal to this woman he detested. We were the same, and I told him my truth. As I sat there waiting to see if he would respond harshly with judgment or at all – my heart was at peace knowing I did the right thing by telling him.

It is unnerving to share something that carries the heaviness of guilt and humiliation. The thought of giving someone else the power to judge me or disqualify me was uncomfortable. However, the healing, grace and mercy over-flooded my soul when God led me to share my redemption story. It didn’t matter if he responded or condemned me because I knew my worth didn’t lay in mans opinion of what my past held. God’s truth for me was; I’m forgiven.

When his response came through it said this, “You might be the most complete human being I’ve ever encountered. I applaud you for being penitent to God and I applaud you for the courage it took to share this. I have your back and so does God because you first went to him. You don’t hide from your past or pontificate where you are currently. You counsel and testify all the while being funny, kind and unique.” I sat there for a moment and re-read his words and while I responded with graciousness I also informed him that I was not complete yet but God was still working on me.

It is easier to judge than it is to forgive and cutting off people because of past choices does the exact opposite of what God demonstrates to us daily. For me, it was abortion. For you it could have been addiction, pornography, criminality or numerous other sins. We know that God detests seven things:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. – Proverbs 6:16-19

Did you know though that these along with many other sins are all equal in Gods eyes? A sin is a sin, is a sin. Jesus’ blood was shed for forgiveness of ALL sins, not just the easy ones, or the minor ones or for the people he favors most. ALL who repent and follow him will be forgiven for ALL of our sins. ALL.

We need to be more gracious and open to the past of others, we should want to encourage their repentance and be open to loving them regardless of a past we may not have chosen or understand. My friends, it does not matter the choices you made long ago, yesterday or even today, if you let God in, trust in him and give him your life – he will give you a new name, a new heart and a clean slate. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:10-12 NIV

The Disqualified Christian – Blog Series: Intro

In a world heavy -laden with competition, one-uppers and an insatiable desire to discredit or disqualify anyone that is disliked, misunderstood or written off by unpopular opinion – now more than ever you need to know the truth. God doesn’t disqualify sinners, people with a past or imperfect Christians. He actually seeks them, dines with them and loves them.

Every person has a past and as I’ve matured I realized that no one is perfect, that no one has it easy and that just because their life path looks different, more affluent, privileged etc. it does not make them more favorable in the eyes of God. He loves us all just as we are.

My heart has always been with the lost, the ones with difficult backstories and the ones who suffer in silent pain or shame. Those are my people. Having a past made it easy to believe the lies from the enemy, other people who didn’t wish me well and even myself that I was disqualified. This set in motion a life lost in proving myself to others, seeking approval and gaining my worth through the wrong people.

Have you ever sat by and watched someone else succeed? Clapping while someone else lived your dream? My senior quote in our yearbook was by Will Rogers and read “We can’t all be heroes, because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by” and when you hear the saying speak your life into existence, that is exactly what I did. I started off disqualifying myself from the beginning.

And, I want to save you the heartache by telling you that you are not disqualified either.

-Beautiful Smile to hide the Pain

I saw a saying the other day that read “PSA: Please don’t tell people how to heal from something you’ve never been through” and that was so good. And, exactly why I started writing. I wanted to make people see that with me you are not alone. That in so many scenarios, I have been there and I do get it. That you are not unworthy, and that God still chooses you.

Over the next week, I am going to cover topics, hot button topics that not only make us uncomfortable to talk about but also uncomfortable to admit. The very things that often make us as human beings, new believers and even seasoned Christians question our purpose, our worth and even if we’re disqualified. I hope you’ll join me and share with others that may feel lost, confused and possibly unloved to read along as well.

Until Tomorrow – Jess

It is okay to love God.

okay that may be taking it to far – but it got your attention didn’t it. I wish I could apologize to every person I thought was annoying, trying to save me. Because, I get it now.

Do you remember the first time you fell in love? Everything felt new, exciting and as if you had this renewed sense of purpose. Any topic could be related to this new love in some way or another. You would think about this person non-stop all day long, and you would find creative ways to say their name just because you loved the way it sounded.

You were kinder, gentler, slow to anger because you were truly happy from the inside out and as cliché as it sounded, you felt complete. This is how I feel about God right now, but instead of sharing with the whole world excitedly, I was quiet at first, and walking on egg shells even.

When I first started talking about God, I caught myself whispering. I prepared myself for people to think that I had either lost my mind, or was about to. I’ve become overly conscious of offending someone, and preparing for the death of dearly loved friendships. Why do you ask? Because God is controversial, because sin is universal, and nothing divides people more than church and state.

The offenses run rampant and the offended are looking for someone to blame for their transgressions, anger, heartbreak and their loss. And, God is usually the one taking the fall. In our society today one breath out of context can be held against you, and the world wants inclusion while excluding one thing, God.

No one is unfamiliar with the amount of (removal) of God in our society today. Teachers teach evolution and can’t speak on religion or beliefs. Court rooms don’t all use the bible anymore. Classrooms rarely say the national anthem before the day starts, praying in public is more offensive than breastfeeding used to be. And, breastfeeding is beautiful!

We condemn, we separate and the world acts on how they “feel” and assume that is enough. Someone saying “Have a blessed day, God Bless you, or Merry Christmas” at work or in public, is risking their livelihood, but to the brave ones, they know their livelihood is in Jesus’ hands.

Who is the one person who has never let you down, never left your side, never not loved or accepted you? For me that only qualifies as one person. God. He is always where I left him, when I walked away. He is always forgiving and loving, and while his lessons may be hard, and his timeline askew from mine, everything in my life has connected as it should.

WE ARE ASLEEP people. We are not even showing up to the battle because we are sleeping right through it. We will complain about a waitress who didn’t serve well, an employee who doesn’t show up or doesn’t work hard, yet we aren’t serving, we aren’t showing up or working hard either! We break down the people who are busy building a better life, a better world, better children, better environment – because we’re not up to par. We need to up our game. It is okay to LOVE GOD.

I allowed Satan to make me think my sins, failures and brokenness prevented me from being whole again. And, let me tell you, the second God forgave all my sins, and I accepted that forgiveness, I became whole again. God uses broken people, because they are loud, unafraid warriors who are used to going against the crowd, used to walking alone and making their own path and there is nothing stronger than a broken person being made whole again, by God. A unafraid, exuberant baby Christian.

I’ve been cracked wide open to show that inside the center of every living being is raw and unedited goodness. All those days I spent in shame over what I had done in my past, but had already asked God for forgiveness years ago, was because I allowed the negativity and judgment of people to take over. When I realized God already knew, god had already forgiven me, it clicked that what you think of me, doesn’t matter.

It has no effect on my walk with Jesus, or the validity in the goodness of my heart. Your need to condemn me, that is something you must address personally. There is a reason you feel the need to point out the failures and judge others, and it is not because you are a Christian and God tells you to, because we know that is false. True and good Christians do not get even and they do not keep score. They simply love.

When you honor God during times of trouble, you shame satan back to hell. That’s what we need to do every day. Did the Tenboom Family stop hiding Jews in their watch repair shop from the Nazi’s, to keep themselves safe? No. Did Jesus drop the cross, run and hide away so that people would stop being offended by his message? Nope. Did Martin Luther King Jr turn off his microphone during his speech, so he wasn’t too loud for the people in the back? Not one bit.

So why in God’s name would I? It’s time to up my game.

The real-talk kind of mom.

Personally, I envision my children as adults rather regularly, and some of those days are full of confidence and some of those days are frightening! I mean, let’s be honest here. Gage can cook a full meal, yet become annoyed with the task of sweeping the hallway. Cole loves to be in the mix with adults and young children, yet making him go outside and play with friends his own age – can literally open Pandora’s box. And, Gracie, she can basically do anything, and do it well, like really well – but failure, making mistakes, not understanding something, will throw her into a tailspin.

They may be teenagers today, but I’m raising more than that, I’m raising someone’s future spouse, parent, employee, friend etc. And, sometimes I think that our job in preparing them for success in these areas is forgotten.

Uncomfortable or not, I answer their questions.

The first time Gage asked as he giggled from the backseat if I liked hot dogs or tacos when he was younger, or when Gracie asked what rape was, I learned to be prepared to be uncomfortable. Gracie and Gage are two years apart, and their questions kept me (still, actually) on my toes. Some were silly, some were good, some were completely inappropriate, some I didn’t know and had to research, and some were embarrassing to answer, and took an act of god in keeping my composure. But, I did it because if they were comfortable enough to come to me and ask the question, there was a reason they were, and I had better be comfortable enough to answer it, honestly. Trust me, three teenagers keep the questions ever flowing and super awkward.

We talk about everything – ev-er-y-thing!

When Matt and Cole moved in, they didn’t talk about anything, and I do mean anything. The first time Gracie talked about her period, Matt was squirming and unsure if he should run out the door, or throw up. It was hilarious because for us it was second nature. Cole had at one point made a flippant comment about being among the kids in the world with one testicle. Matt laughed it off and told him he had two testicles, and they went on about their day. Literally, went on like nothing. I was in shock, telling him he needed to check, do something, but he swore he was certain he had two testicles. In his defense I remember that Gage had two testicles from changing his diapers, and that super awkward moment when he was two or three years old and called me in during bath time to inquire as to what that dot was between his legs – it was just a mole. It was also the last time I saw that area, thank goodness! But, I could see how seeing it once would make you assume it was still the same.

Now, while Cole is now every bit my son, then the idea of asking him to drop trou so his stepmom could investigate his nether regions was not appealing to either of us and he adamantly refused to let his dad. So… with football coming up and his need for a sports physical – I did what every other mom not wanting to see that region does, I took him to our pediatrician! One uncomfortable appointment with the pediatrician later, led to an even more uncomfortable visit to a urologist, and then a subsequent surgery retrieving an undescended testicle. You want to guess who talks to me about everything now? Yep, you guessed it, Cole! And, Matt too actually.

I think before saying: “You’re only a child, you don’t know.”

In my childhood home you were raised to be seen, not heard, to be pleasant not pretentious and that respect was given, not earned. Like with most traditional norms in your family that you were raised with and despised, you counteract those in your own family life. Some households may see that as not requiring vegetables, I on the other hand require open communication. The words “you’re only a child, you don’t know, or “you are too young to understand” will never leave my mouth. Because, I wasn’t too young to understand a lot of things, and even as a child, your mind still processes feelings, and emotions such as self-worth, love and acceptance.

I’m not their mom, I’m your mom.

What Susie’s parents let her do doesn’t matter to me, aside from possibly encouraging that friendship to continue. I’m not in the parenting business to make friends, and I am okay not doing what other parents do. My children need to know that sometimes the right thing, is not what Susie and everyone else is doing. Sometimes the right thing is the least cool thing to do. It’s not going to a party where everyone will be drinking, or where a parent allows that. Sometimes, it won’t be extending a curfew just because a friends parent did. This is teaching them that it is okay to be and do different, that going with the crowd isn’t always going to be beneficial, and that thinking for their self is more important than what others think of them.

I actively choose to give them a voice.

You’ve heard the saying “oh no, I’ve done something wrong, my dad is going to kill me if he finds out” and “oh no, I’ve done something wrong, I need to call my dad” well, I could never call my dad – and I refused to let my children down by continuing that as a mother myself. That is a priority in our relationship, confidence in them knowing I’m always a call away, no matter the situation.

We as parents learn something new every day, so how does it make sense to think that while raising our children we aren’t raising ourselves as well? I try to not suppress their voice, in fact I encourage it.

Open dialogue builds confidence. I’ve never been the type of parent who thinks I know more even when I think I may. Giving them the floor so to speak and allowing them to share what is on their mind, in their hearts, in a safe environment – is colossal in developing confidence. This voice will be what protects them, asserts them, what lands that job, what saves a life, what defends themselves or a friend, what talks someone out of a bad situation and most importantly the very voice that empowers and speaks love to themselves throughout their life.

I Pick my battles.

My husband loves many things about me, but this is not one. Picking my battles and saying yes more than no, are two things he and I differ on greatly. He is a “no” first kind of parent – he even said no to the boys to going to youth group once, before he realized what they had asked. We joke that if he were offered a million dollars, he would say no without even thinking because it’s like second nature to him.

I try for the most part to live with a motto of “I say yes, unless there is a reason to say no” and it has worked. This halts a majority of lying, it fosters respect and communication, and it teaches trust. When Cole first came to live with us, I said the words “I can’t stand up for you, if I can’t trust you, and I can’t say yes to you, if you’re showing reasons I should say no” until I was blue in the face and it has changed his ways almost completely. The little things can add up, and the big things can seem so minor when you break them down. So, I’ve learned to pick and choose what battles are necessary and why I am saying no instead yes. If I am saying no just because I can, it is the wrong answer. In my opinion the more we say yes in situations, the more opportunity we have for communication, lessons, mistakes etc.

I don’t hide all my mistakes or hardships.

It is essential that our children know that we make mistakes, that we do not have everything figured out and that sometimes in life things go badly. This is where they see you work through those hard times. Especially if your mistake is with them, they need to see you take responsibility of that, to not let pride keep you from being an example. Taking ownership, compassion and making amends are key factors to healthy relationships. You are who they will mimic when life gets difficult. If all your children ever see is sunshine and roses, what are they going to do when it rains, and that flower dies? They won’t just be ill prepared for the real word, but chances are they’ll feel like their childhood was a lie.

Parents who tell their children, “do as I say, not as I do,” aren’t giving their children enough credit. Children, especially teens still see, still know and still will most likely do as you did because that is natural. You can’t say don’t, then do it, and expect them to simply listen. That is where communication comes in, the “why” before the mistake is sometimes the magical deterrent. Also, personalizing the mistake, showing them that all humans makes mistakes, and that nobody is perfect, helps too. There is great power in saying I did this…, and this happened…, it was bad because…, I wish I hadn’t because it cost this… or caused this…, so when I say don’t – it is because I don’t want that to happen to you. You’ll have much better odds that way, versus just saying “because I said so.”

Religion vs. Relationship with God.

The greatest blessing of my childhood was being taught about God. As you become older and see the bigger picture in life you also see that all the answers you need are in the bible. Being raised catholic left a bad taste in my mouth in that not all things made sense, and being forced to believe what my family believed didn’t feel right, so I made a goal to not force a religion but instead introduce a relationship with God.

Going to church now more regularly, when they are old enough to understand what a relationship with God means is important, it shows that someones struggles may not make sense to us, or be visible to us, but that we still love them without judgment, just as God does us. It shows that we will have difficult times, but we are never alone. They are old enough now to ask questions, to put his scriptures into daily life and to see what true forgiveness means. That God, forgiveness and love all are part of the bigger plan.

Age appropriate responsibility.

Teens right now get drunk to hang out and have fun, have sex to be accepted and do drugs to numb and escape life. I want my kids to see that you can have fun without having a drink. That sex is more than how to “feel” loved and to live a life that never needs to be numbed or escaped. Their life can already be difficult with a variety of outside factors, but adding in these variables, only causes worse situations. There are reasons you get a license at sixteen, it is to get to a job. There is a reason you can’t drink until twenty-one, it allows brain development. And, there is a reason you wait to have sex until you’re married, because it creates an emotional and mental connection, it seals a covenant and promise and because it causes children!

Do I think that my children will wait until they are 21 to have their first drink, or until marriage to have sex? The drinking – no, but will I try and explain the importance of why they should until I am blue in the face? Yes. Teens these days are in a rush for everything which takes away the excitement. If you drive at twelve, what fun is sixteen? If you drink at fourteen, what fun is twenty-one? If you have sex at sixteen, and meet the man/woman of your dreams at nineteen, what are you giving them that is just theirs? With age becomes responsibility and if we rush these, the lessons are nullified in a sense. It is okay to hold hands before you kiss, to practice before you excel and to take small steps before a giant leap.