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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What do new dads truly need to know?

What do new moms really need to know?

One of the purposes of this column is to support Christian parents. This month we’re focusing on new dads. Check the May column for advice aimed at new moms. (You can search for the articles at forwardinchrist.net using the phrase “May 2018.”)  

I think the dads who wrote this month hit it out of the ballpark with their articles. Each article on its own is filled with practical wisdom for any parent (not just new dads). Combined? A tour de force! Please read each article and then share them with the dads (and moms) in your life.  

Nicole Balza


If the 2018 version of Jim Aderman could advise the late-1970s Jim Aderman about parenting, the first thing I’d tell that whippersnapper is, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E. Spend time with your kids, Jim. Quality time. Focused time. Time free of ringing phones and buzzing text messages. Time divorced from nagging work projects.  

“Will using time for your kids threaten your career goals? Yup. But your children are extraordinary gifts from your Father to you and your wife (Psalm 127:3). They are meant to have a higher value than your career. Even a pastor’s career. Forty years from now you won’t wish you could go back in time to get more done at work.  

“Jim, my second piece of advice is, demonstrate how much you love your kids by loving your wife first. Children feel most secure when they see that Mom and Dad are ‘I-love-you-to the moon-and-back’ committed to each other. Assure them that your marriage is solid because God’s commitment to you in Jesus prompts you to prize their mother above everything else. Even whenno, especially whenshe is hard to love. And, by the way, when you love your wife like Christ loved the church, your wife will find it easier to love you and your kids too. 

“And that reminds me about something else. Jim, your children need to know that you love them because of God’s cross-guaranteed love for you. Rejoice over your kids when they excel in school, when they score in soccer, and when they live their faith. But tell themevery daythat you love them not because they please you, but because of Jesus’ love for you. Tell them that, since God’s grace is constant and measureless, your love for them will never change or fade. Never. Regardless of their grades, their athletic prowess, or their moral standards. 

“Now, you won’t be able to parent your kids like this driven by your own gumption. If you are going to love your wife and kids like Christ loves you, you need to fill your heart and mind and life with Christ. Immerse yourself in his Word. Read it. Think it through. Study it with others. Share it at your family altar. Celebrate its assurances at worship. Talk with Jesus about it. 

“By the way, Jim, I asked your future granddaughter to review this post. She suggests I should also tell you that you won’t ever be a perfect father. Be sure you apply Easter’s forgiveness to yourself. Then live in its power.” 

Of course, 1977-Jim-Aderman will never hear this advice. But, perhaps, it will help you, young father. Why don’t you let me know how it works? 


James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their eight grandchildren.  


Take a deep breath and see how long you can hold it. Ready . . . set . . . go!  

Sixty-five seconds. That’s all I got. Can you beat my time? In 2012, German freediver Tom Sietas held his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds! That’s a long time without taking a breath! Now try making it a day without confessing your sin and hearing the wonderful assurance that your sins are forgiven. Actually . . . don’t. 

Dads, here’s my advice on how to be a better dad: Breathe. Just as you exhale the carbon dioxide from your lungs and inhale the fresh oxygen you need to live, so to a Christian needs the daily life breath of confession and absolution for their souls to live.  

Dads, one thing I’ve learned in being a dad is that we all mess up. We are selfish sinners. So we will grow impatient, speak harshly, and criticize unfairly. Our selfishness will conflict with the selfishness of our wives and our kids. This is unavoidable this side of heaven.  

But I’ve also learned, dads, that when you mess up, it’s best to fess up. Admit it when you’re wrong. Admit it to God and ask for his forgiveness. Admit it to your family and ask for theirs. In this way you will exhale the carbon dioxide of sin, guilt, and shame that would otherwise poison your soul. 

But don’t stop there. If you only exhaled and nothing more, you would still die. Inhale too. After you’ve exhaled your sin in open, honest confession, then inhale the life-giving oxygen of the gospel. Breathe in the wonderful, joyous, blissful truth that your sins are forgiven by Jesus. He’s paid for all of your sin, guilt, and shame. And he’s taken it all away. Take a deep breath and feel the life, peace, and energy that absolution gives. 

Sound too easy? God promises it! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As God breathed life into Adam’s lungs, he breathes spiritual life into our hearts by his forgiving grace. 

And as we dads model the daily breath of the Christian through confessing our sins and trusting in the absolution Christ gives, we’ll help our kids breathe a little easier too. They will be able to confess their sins to us, knowing that, even while we enforce consequences, we will also be quick to forgive and to assure them of God’s forgiveness. 

One day soon, unless Jesus returns first, each of us will take our last breath in this world. But with confession and absolution a part of our daily routine, as common as breathing, we will stay ready for that day and help our kids to be ready too. So let’s continue to exhale our sins in confession and inhale the life-giving Word of forgiveness that’s ours in Jesus. It’s the only way to live. 


Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, have four sons ages 5 -14. Rob serves as pastor at Grace, Kenai, Alaska. 


Math word problems were never my “thing.” But math was my dad’s forte. As a paper scientist, he loved its logic and precision. I would struggle for what seemed like hours with “One train starts from Chicago at 10 a.m. . . .”—then go to Dad. He would look at my scratchings, smile, and say, “Okay, let’s start fresh—a clean piece of paper is a clear mind!” Then off we would go as he explained how to solve it in a way my young mind could grasp.  

Dad is gone now. But his lessons live on. What legacy will we leave for our children and grandchildren? Dad supported my dream of teaching, and, after nearly 40 years in a Christian classroom, I’ve gleaned a few “dad” lessons.  

Enjoy the adventure! From the time our little ones arrive to the day they leave home is a precious window. It’s easy to get caught in the everyday grind. Before we know it, they’re gone and we wonder, “What happened?” The diaper days, toddler years, school days, and adolescence—they all pose challenges. Do your best to treasure those times. Make the most of your hours with your sons and daughters. The Lord promises “a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). 

Play show and tell”be involved and supportive. Dads need to intentionally “be there” for their children, building relationships and making memories. “Teaching them the way they should go” (cf. Proverbs 22:6) means talking, asking questions, hanging out together. Know your children’s dreams and be their cheerleader. Most important—tell them that you love them. Dads can have a hard time sharing those words their children long to hear. Remember to “show and tell” them they are loved. 

Be yourselfnot your kid! Guard against forcing your own “agenda” of unmet needs on your children.  

Discipline in love. Children make lots of mistakes. They sin often. We sin often. A life of forgiveness is what we need to model. We have been forgiven much. Avoid disciplining in anger and shaming your children. God reminds dads to never “exasperate” their children (Ephesians 6:4). 

Live your faith and be honest. Children are God’s gift to us. Being a Christian dad isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s messy; often we’ll fail. That’s the nature of our Christian walk. Our heavenly Father knows that. His Word is our guide. He offers full and free forgiveness. We need that forgiveness from our children as well. Being authentic and honest in our faith walk will leave a lasting legacy for our families.  

And just for the record—I jotted these thoughts on a clean sheet of paper.  


Dave Payne and his wife, Joyce, have four adult children and two grandchildren. Dave serves at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wisconsin, and is a member at Eternal Love, Appleton. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 06
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What do new moms really need to know?

What do new moms really need to know?

One of the purposes of this column is to support Christian parents. This month we’re focusing on new moms (check back next month for advice aimed at dads)—but the information shared here can boost any parent.

Often advice for new moms adds more stress than it alleviates. The advice from the authors who wrote this month, though, is designed to lighten a parent’s load. Share these nuggets with the moms in your life. Then send us your advice at fic@wels.net. To watch a short webcast that shares more of these parenting nuggets, visit forwardinchrist.net/webcasts.

Nicole Balza


Thanks to social media, I was able to poll many, many moms on what they wished they knew when they were new moms. I was able to take the pieces of advice
and break them down to five basic themes.

1. Stop comparing! All of it! Don’t compare how you look. Don’t compare what your children have or don’t have. Don’t compare how your children behave. Don’t compare how
you’re parenting. This goes both ways. Do not shame yourself for not having it all together and please, please do not judge other moms for doing it differently than you. There are so
many ways to parent, and most of them are God-honoring.

2. Take care of yourself. Continue to date your husband. Make that relationship a priority. Get sleep. Seek out your friends. Find time for solitude. Find time to do things you love.

3. Find a community. Seek out a community of moms. Help each other. Ask for help. Receive it when offered. Cheer each other on and be encouraging. Share with each other. Cry together. If you have a community of moms but they don’t do these things, find another community. My friends have been instrumental in my survival of parenting.

4. You are fully equipped. You know the Scriptures, and they “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). You know the depth of God’s
love for you and your children. You understand forgiveness, and you can turn to the Scriptures for guidance. The Scriptures make you “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (3:17). And you are doing good work.

5. Grace. God’s love lives in you, and you can reflect that love in your day-to-day life. Live in God’s grace. Help your children live in that same grace. Encourage other moms to find comfort and energy in that grace. Remember that our God pursues our children and he loves them even more than we do. He loves you too. Passionately. There is nothing you can do to make him love you more and there is nothing you can do to make him love you less. Just because you don’t feel that way doesn’t make it any less true. Hold on to truth.

As I look at this list, the themes go beyond parenting. They speak to everyday life wherever you are in your Christian journey. Psalm 119:140 says, “Your promises have been thoroughly tested; and your servant loves them.” Trust in his promises. They never fail.


Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have five children ranging in age from 8 to
16. They are also licensed foster parents.


Welcome to the adventure, friend! Parenting is hard and messy, and you’ll never be so tired in your life as you are with a newborn. But it is so worth it. I’d like to share my biggest takeaways from what I’ve experienced with my kids so far (ages 6 and 9), in hopes that they give you something to look forward to during your sleepless nights.

You will sleep again. I remember thinking after my daughter was born that I
would be tired for the rest of my life. While my days of sleeping past 9 A.M. on Saturday are long gone, most nights pass peacefully. So power through that fatigue; it does get better.

There’s no such thing as a weak-willed toddler. Have you ever tried to stuff an octopus into a pillowcase? Me neither. But I have a great idea of what it might be like after having to buckle angry toddlers into their car seats mid-meltdown. It’s hard when you’ve gone from having babies who are dependent on you for everything to little humans with opinions of their own. Patience and more patience will get you through.

This too shall pass. It’s all a series of stages. Tantrums, sleepless nights, leaving
church without actually hearing a word of the sermon due to a squirmy, active kiddo—none of these are forever. If you are stuck in the “random nudist in awkward places” stage of
toddlerhood and just cannot keep pants on your child— don’t sweat it! All parents have been through this, and it does end eventually. (Probably.)

You and your kiddos were paired by God, and you are exactly the person they need. God chose us to snuggle, feed, burp, console, teach, and love these specific little humans. He knew they needed us and we needed them. I hold on to this when stages are
particularly difficult. (Hello, impending teenage-hood!) I am, without a doubt, the right person for this job. Even if I don’t always feel like it. Even if sometimes I want to run
screaming into the woods and embrace life as a hermit. I am meant to be their mom, and they are meant to be my kids. Trust in this when you find yourself questioning your parenting abilities. God knew what he was doing when he put you together. He loves you and your kiddos.


Kerry Ognenoff and her husband, Andy, have two young children—nine-year-old Anna and six-year-old Henry.


The years are short, but the days were long. Even as a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a mommy. When that day finally came, I was over the moon. We brought our precious baby boy home, and he started to cry and cry and cry. An overbearing relative told me that the baby could feel my nervousness. We had just moved, and since this was 1978, there was no Internet and long distance calls to friends and family were expensive. I felt so alone and bewildered that this experience was not the Hallmark moment I had envisioned. The days were long. How foolish of me not to quickly turn to the living, breathing help available at my new church. Eventually I sought the counsel of wonderful Christian mothers who had dealt with colic and ear infections.

But I quickly fell head first into the quagmire of parental self doubt when I met my very first “Supermom.” Her house was always tidy, her children immaculate. They sang hymns in
four-part harmony at bedtime. And so I agonized over inviting other moms into our modest and quite often messy home. This was brought home to me rather forcibly after an attempted burglary on our house. The burglars had gotten into our basement but had not gained access to the first floor. A police officer who joined the investigation as it was ending
looked around that unburgled first floor with a horrified expression and said, “Look what they did to your house!” My own mother gently reminded me that nobody does everything. Something usually gives. And the days were very long.

God granted me a wonderful friend who truly loved all children and welcomed them into her totally child-centric home. You can imagine the wonderful jumble of planned activities
and the spaces for unplanned creative play. She was totally engaged with the children who entered. My children never wanted to leave her house. And so I felt guilty that I didn’t let
my children paint in the living room or drop playdough on the carpet. Guilt vied with yearning as I snuck furtive looks at the clock to see if it was bedtime for kiddies. I was sure that her days were as long as mine, but she was enjoying hers more. My husband and I thought it was important that we invite children and adults who were not invited elsewhere to our home. As I was explaining this yet again before an Easter dinner, one of my children asked rather wistfully, “Are we ever gonna have just our family for holidays?” I felt I had somehow fallen short in the mommy role. The days were long, and some dinners were extremely long.

And suddenly they are grown, with children of their own. We watch in humble gratefulness as we see our children as loving and already wise Christian parents who continually seek to improve. We admire their willingness to learn from others and marvel at how many seek their counsel. We applaud their prioritization of Christian values in the face of popular parenting myths. We support their efforts to spread the Word to the uninformed or excluded through their love for the marginalized and disenfranchised. We meet the diverse friends they have gathered as family and embrace them as our own. We praise the Lord for his people and his Word in this yet unfinished parenting journey.

The days were long, but the years are short.


Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Sam. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 05
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: Giving my child a cell phone?

What do I need to consider before I give my child a cell phone? 

My oldest is 12. She’s in sixth grade, and almost all her classmates have smartphones. So far her dad and I haven’t seen a reason for her to have one too. But the pressure is there. Socially, she finds herself at a disadvantage. Her peers are texting one another, playing on the latest apps, taking selfies, and . . . well, I’m not even sure of what else because I’m just not that tech-savvy. Hearing from parents who have been through this stage is helpful as my husband and I try to navigate what is best for our family.  

Here are two perspectives from parents who are raising teens now. This is a broad topic, so we know there are many other perspectives to consider. Share your family’s insights at forwardinchrist.net 

Nicole Balza


Disclosure alert . . . my husband and I are definitely not the poster parents when it comes to cell phones and kids. In fact, I originally declined writing this article because we have made so many mistakes along the way—it’s embarrassing! But if someone had laid it all out when we were having the whole “I need a phone” conversation with our first child, who is now 18, I’m pretty sure we would have done things differently.  

It’s true. The pressure is huge for kids to get a phone. All of their friends have them, and as a parent, you see it as a way to keep them safe. But be cautious—once you enter this realm, there is no going back. Be over-prepared in this journey and plan it out. Here are just a few things we have learned along the way with our kids and their phones. 

Start with the basics 

Back when we were kids, no one had cell phones. Today, if we forget our phone at home, it’s like we have lost a limb. That feeling of safety and convenience when your child has a phone is undeniable. But do they really need a smartphone? A basic cell phone really can be sufficient, especially when they are in grade school.  

I’ll be honest—we fell into the trap of “everyone has a smartphone at this age,” thinking it must be the right thing to do. I wish we could go back and start our children off with a basic cell phone. Sometimes I think parents are just as worried about fitting in as their kids are. Try not to let the crowd decide what is best for you and your family.  

Set limits 

Phones truly do become a huge part of our kids’ lives, so you need to know and own this fact: YOU are the one that needs to be the enforcer of limits. Before you purchase a phone, sit down and think through exactly how much phone/screen time your child should have, and then make that happen. Be intentional. Tons of apps are available that limit screen time. OurPact (ourpact.com) is one that a friend recommended to us. It can block Internet and app usage on your child’s phone and set a schedule for activities like school, dinnertime, or bedtime. Also, take the phone out of their room at night—even if they tell you they need it for their morning alarm (yes, we hear that one all the time). 

Personally set limits on your phone/screen time. Consistently take time to do meaningful things with your kids that don’t involve technology. It’s amazing how different we are as a family when phones are put away and we are playing games without that constant distraction. 

Social media 

Snapchat, group rooms, Instagram . . . these are lifelines for our kids. It’s the way they stay connected with each other, but it can also be a place where they can get seriously torn down. It is crazy what kids will write on social media sites that they would never think about saying in person. Remind your kids that what they write on those sites is there for all to read . . . potentially forever. And if you don’t think they are ready to be on these sites, stand your ground—even when their friends claim they have to be on a particular site for their “group project.” They’ll find a different way to connect. 

Okay, so yes, you probably will end up getting your child a smartphone. It’s the world we live in. But my biggest piece of advice for you is to have a plan, and, of course, pray that God will guide you in this huge growing-up process for your child. This little piece of technology has the potential to change your child’s life in a big way—so make sure you do everything you can to make it positive. 


Ann Zuleger and her husband, Matt, have four children—Zachary, 18; Faith, 16; Isaiah, 13; and Ellis, 10.  


Parenting sure has changed! I remember a two-week trip abroad as a high school junior. My parents heard via one very quick and expensive phone call that I’d reached Germany, but the only other communication was a postcard arriving after I’d returned to Wisconsin. Now I worry if my high school junior doesn’t text me that she made it to her babysitting job 10 miles away.  

On the plus side, cell phones provide a quick and easy way to check up on our kids, make plans or adjustments to plans, send a picture of the puppy to the one away at college, or ask for someone to please pick up more milk. Bible verses on a stressful day or an “I love you!” randomly sent are wonderful ways to use this technology. 

Our family policies 

Although every family is unique, eighth-grade graduation is the time when our children receive their first cell phone. Once in a while there’s a free bonus month, but the kids pay the monthly service fees themselves. And, besides reminders about Christian conduct, general encouragements like “No phones at the table,” and an expectation that a timely response is necessary if Mom or Dad texts or calls, we don’t really monitor their phone use. This seems to have worked, but I wondered what the three kids, ages 22, 20, and 17, who currently have phones, and the 13-year-old, who doesn’t yet, thought of our family policies? 

On waiting until eighth-grade graduation for their first phone, our kids all agreed it was fine. “For our situation, it was just right because that way we wouldn’t get caught up in social media until we were a little more responsible and we would entertain ourselves in other ways. In some cases it might be better to get it earlier if that particular family member needs to be able to communicate for rides and stuff when they are younger.” 

On our relaxed phone rules, all four said there aren’t any other policies we should have that we don’t: “It is good for us because we have built a trust bond so you can rely on us to be smart with them. Some kids do need a feeling of being watched over their shoulder or else they will do really dumb stuff.” And, “As a parent, you should be able to trust that you raised your kids to be responsible enough to make good decisions.” 

As for paying their service fees: “Nothing in life is free, so it’s good to learn basic responsibilities like paying for a phone.” Another commented, “It makes you think that it is a privilege that you’ve earned not just something given to you,” but “younger kids should not have to pay for it because their parents are the ones giving it to them as a necessity.” (I would also like to add that no one has lost their phone for longer than a few minutes, which seems to be somewhat of a rarity these days and perhaps due to the fact that these kids are paying their own way.) 

Some positives and negatives 

I also asked, “Did a cell phone change you or your life?” One said, “It did not change me, but it changed my life. It made it easier to contact friends for homework help or just to socialize.” Another mentioned, “[A cell phone] definitely came with negative and positive changes. A lot of the time I overuse my phone when I could be doing something else or talking person to person instead. You’re oftentimes so worried about what everyone else is doing that you don’t take advantage of what you have in front of you. Social media tends to warp your mind and make you ungrateful, but on the other hand, it can also be simple entertainment.” One also commented on useful apps like GPS and managing his bank account, but says, “It can take too much of your time or [lead to] spending money because of wanting the newer or better thing.” One other note from the child who admits to being rather “anti-phone”: “I don’t have an excuse for not knowing certain things or being ‘off the grid.’ ”  

So, friends, there you have it! Not necessarily the definitive guide to parenting in the cell phone age, but, at least, what has worked for us. May God bless our families as we use the tools at our disposal to raise our blessings in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  


Ann Ponath and her husband, David, have four kids ranging in age from 22 to 13. Their oldest son, David, shared his thoughts about cell phones in an article that is available at forwardinchrist.net. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 04
Issue: April 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : How can we teach gentleness and strength at the same time?

What should we do when our children grow silent?

Parenting is a balancing act in so many ways. For example, each day I try to help my kids balance their sleep. If they go to bed too early, they’ll wake up too early and be ready for a nap before school. If they go to bed too late, they’ll have trouble waking up and functioning the next day. 

Character traits are like that too. We want our children to be strong-strong Christians, strong citizens, strong students, strong friends. Yet we also want them to be gentle-gentle Christians, gentle citizens, gentle students, gentle friends. How do we help our children see that balancing act in action? How can we show them that gentleness and strength are both qualities to be admired-in the right circumstances, in the right amounts? Three Christian parents share their takes on this topic. If you have thoughts you want to share, comment on these articles at forwardinchrist.net

Nicole Balza


Sometimes we forget that Jesus is both strong and gentle.  

The One who commanded the wind and waves—“Be quiet!”—also let little children clamber onto his lap for a blessing. The One who started crying at the sight of his beloved Jerusalem also strode into the Court of Gentiles with a whip, toppling tables, spilling coins, and driving out the merchants who didn’t belong there.  

It’s a good reminder that a Christian man can be both strong and gentle, recognizing that strength is not brutality and gentleness is not weakness.  

I still like the old term “gentleman.” I want to raise up sons who are gentlemen, whose gentleness is actually strength wrapped in wisdom. My picture of a gentleman is based on my gentleman father.    

  1. A gentlemanknows he’s physically stronger than most women, so he opens doors for them, carries the heavy boxes, and walks on the curb side of the sidewalk for their protection. Dads, let’s model these courtesies. Moms, let’s sometimes say, “I need somebody’s muscles for this bag”—even if it’s not that heavy. 
  2. A gentleman knows when hehas to get physical—as Jesus did. Sometimes brutes only respond to brute strength, and a man has to defend himself, his friends, his family, or his country. Moms, if God made our little boys to be the wrestle-on-the-floor type, we can let them exercise that instinct. And if God made them more inclined to defend others with words than wallops, we can let them exercise that instinct.  

A gentleman cries. Let’s never say, “Big boys don’t cry,” if crying is exactly what a situation calls for. If we have an overly sensitive child on our hands, though, one who cries at the drop of a hat, well, that’s a whole different article.   

A gentleman respects others. This plays out in a number of ways.  

  •  A gentleman gives others room to speak. He doesn’t need to dominate, filling rooms with his opinions and thoughts and disregarding others. Instead, he’s a leader who listens. Dads, you can help by leading that way yourself and by refereeing the kids’ verbal tussles: “Hey, don’t interrupt each other . . .” “Try saying yes first. Find points of agreement before you disagree.”  
  •  A gentleman cleans up. Moms, we need to rein in our instinct to pick up every vagabond sock and clean up every mess because it’s faster. Let the lads take responsibility for themselves.  
  • A gentleman has good manners. He looks people in the eye, shakes hands firmly, and says, “Please.” He doesn’t start eating until everyone has their food, and he knows how to chew with his mouth closed. This isn’t pretension. It’s respect for others.  

Finally, a gentleman keeps his word. He’s trustworthy. He has integrity. The whole world can depend on the word of a gentleman.   

Your picture of a gentleman might be different than mine. That’s okay. Hopefully we all agree, though, that our boys can be both gentle and strong, just like Jesus—the One who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18), and also “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). 


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.


Teaching our kids to find a balance between strength and gentleness is tough, because there’s a tension, isn’t there? On the one hand we’d like to see our kids strong—leaders making use of their gifts. On the other hand we want them to understand the value of gentleness—a humility, putting others first.  

As Christians we know to look to God’s Word for answers, and what we find is very satisfying. Whether we’re talking about the strength side of the scale or the gentleness side, it’s not about us; it’s about God. That takes the pressure off. 

For example, a child who is strong in an area tends to gain a level of notoriety. If the child takes credit for the strength, there is a lack of consideration toward other children who don’t have that strength. There is an unspoken condescension, a misunderstanding that she somehow achieved things on her own to be better than other kids. God’s Word tells us that our talents and abilities are gifts from God and it is God who should receive the glory. A child who properly understands this can be strong and gentle, humbly thanking God for opportunities and acknowledging that other kids, through their own strengths or even weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9,10), are equally blessed with opportunities to glorify God. 

A child’s acts of gentleness can also be flawed. He may figure that niceness should earn him niceness in return. If that doesn’t happen, the child might decide there is no longer any advantage to being nice. The Bible teaches that since God has shown us undeserved love in forgiving our sins against him through Jesus, we are called by God to show love to friends and enemies alike. A child who properly understands this can be gentle and strong, showing the grace of God even in the face of resistance. 

As parents it’s beneficial to be regularly in God’s Word ourselves and with our kids to grasp God’s strength as well as his grace and to see how both affect our lives. The Bible is full of good examples, but perhaps the best place to start is with Jesus himself, our perfect model of strength and gentleness. His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5–7) offers a great perspective.  

Remember how it felt to be kids dealing with social pressures? We can pray that God through his Word will help us relieve our kids’ stresses by teaching them that they aren’t alone when it comes to demonstrating strength and gentleness. Rather, God through Jesus has blessed us with the privilege of sharing his strength and gentleness with others. 


Adam Goede and his wife, Stephanie, have four children ranging in age from 5-12.  


How wonderful it is to have the opportunity to teach gentleness and strength to our kids. However, I have to admit, I wonder how my wife, Kelly, and I are fostering gentleness and strength in our kids within a culture that seems to encourage one over the other: “Be strong!” “Be assertive!” “Teach your kids not to cry!” “Don’t give in!” “Win at all costs!”  

Gentleness can be seen by some as weak, vulnerable, or cowardly. Kelly recently witnessed this at our local drug store and shared it with the kids and me when she got home. A customer in line ahead of her became verbally abusive to a cashier when an incorrect amount was accidentally charged on her debit card. The customer accused the cashier of intentionally trying to steal money and provided some extra choice words to enhance her position. Kelly noted, though, that the cashier was cool and calm, gently responding to the customer. The cashier acknowledged the customer’s concern, reassured her, and made the adjustment or refund—even thanking her for shopping at the store as she left.  

When we talked about the event, I asked, “How did that cashier not get angry?” I think that in that instance the cashier was using more strength than the customer.  

We can appreciate our culture’s understanding of strength, but we shouldn’t use it as an excuse to be abusive and go well beyond appropriate assertiveness. As we consider the example of Christ Jesus and are motivated by his love for us, a simple act of gentleness can be an unselfish act of love that so many people are yearning to see.  

Consider the strength it takes to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3,4).  

The amazing thing about this is that the strength it takes to be gentle and unselfish is given to us by God—it’s a natural result of our faith and love for him. After thinking about Kelly’s experience, I can now better appreciate the essence of a gentle response in the face of what some view as a “strong” approach. I can’t help but apply this to my own parenting and my temptation to sacrifice gentleness for strength or control.  

I’m convinced that experiences similar to what Kelly saw in the store are all around my kids on the episodes of the latest Netflix series, in school, or on the “funny” YouTube video shared by friends. These poor examples of people being strong or selfishly stronger than others won’t teach appropriate boundaries or proper assertiveness to our kids, but they can be opportunities to give to others what is so desperately needed—an example of strength in gentleness as a result of a loving faith.   


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 03
Issue: March 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : How can we reflect God’s love in our community?

What should we do when our children grow silent?

If we allow ourselves to wallow in the news that is broadcast on our many devices throughout each day, it’s easy to become depressed pretty quickly. A feeling of hopelessness can settle in too. That’s why I think it’s more important than ever that we reflect God’s love to those around us. Our world needs that love—a love grounded in Jesus that has eternal benefits but comes with great benefits here on earth too. Forgiveness of sins. God’s peace. Hope in his promises. These are treasures that our neighbors need.  

So, how do we reflect God’s love in our community? Jonathan Bourman and Liz Schroeder share their thoughts here. If you want to chime in with ways your family is reaching out with God’s love, e-mail fic@wels.net 

Nicole Balza


I’ve learned an awful lot from my daughter. The wonder and adventure of life with Jesus. The trust in him that is so simple and pure. The creativity that comes from looking at something from a relatively blank slate. The importance of really sinking into the perfect hug. She’s taught me a lot. Especially about how to notice people. She waves from our busy corner lot to everyone who drives by. She pets every dog who walks by and greet all of their owners. She tries to engage every possible person like there is seriously nothing more important in all the world to do. She’s taught me a lot about that. 

And I have a lot to learn. Because I’m an adult, and I have an iPhone. And an inbox. And a busy job. And a busy mind. And perhaps most troubling of all—a busy heart. Most adults do. It’s what we’ve started calling “adulting,” right?  

What’s this have to do with reflecting God’s love in our community? Everything. Absolutely everything. We’re not going to be available to the people in our community with an open hand and a warm smile and a ready conversation unless our hearts are unbusy. We’ll be there, but not really there. I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean by that. 

The only person I know of who can change that in me is Jesus. He’s the one who unburdens my heart. Who can take my heart from a tossing sea and turn it into water that softly ripples. He does that by paying attention to me. By giving me his very real, personal attention through his Word. And when he does, he tells me that he is the one who gave himself not only to my heart, but also for my heart. The one who came not only to forgive my turbulence but also to lessen it—to secure me with his promises so that I don’t have to busy myself with . . . well . . . myself. I can be free—just plain free—to busy myself with the people I bump into along my path. 

It’s actually quite the adventureliving that way, I mean. To see each person whom I run across as someone to be loved right then and right there. To see that each intersection doesn’t merely have to be transactional. My family and I went to the zoo the other day, and we talked to the guy with the corn snake and really got to know him. And we went trick or treating, and we hit up the neighbors sitting by their doors with a smile and a name and a handshake. We chatted up the hygienist at the dentist’s office and wished the tired-looking cashier at Aldi a good day with a hearty thank-you and a sincere smile. We pet the dog who walked down the street and talked about Goldendoodles with the owner. We even got into a conversation about Jesus at the Apple Store of all places and tacked on a very appropriate invite to our church. All because Jesus had made us emotionally and spiritually available as we were doing our callings in life. 

I could write more about how we love our communities. Much more. Things about staffing soup kitchens or mowing lawns for the elderly or checking on neighbors who are sick. I’ll let someone else do that, though. What I want to say here and now is that my heart sees a culture that’s having a hard time looking up from a screen. And in a culture and community like that, perhaps the most important love my family can show in our grocery stores and doctors’ offices and restaurants and wherever else it is that we may be, is a face that not only looks up, but also looks at those around us with a heart and a mind that’s spiritually and emotionally available. That’s a powerful, powerful gift we all can give—a gift we’ve all personally received in spades from Jesus. He’s the one who frees us to simply and truly be there in a moment for others.  


Jonathan Bourman is a pastor at Peace, Aiken, South Carolina. He and his wife, Melanie, have a five-year-old daughter. 


As a mom of five, I admit to times of spiritual and physical exhaustion when I barely reflect God’s love to my own family, let alone my community. This seems like an overwhelming task, and the last thing you or I need is one more item on our to-do lists. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that when I get stressed out about the things I have to do, he reminds me of what he’s already done. In order to reflect God’s love to your community, first reflect on God’s love for you. 

As a parent, I see the best and worst parts of myself and my husband mirrored in our kids. They pick up on all of our sins—ones we’ve fought for years and new ugly sins that might have remained dormant had we not signed up for this lifetime tour of parenting. Can you relate? Has raising little sinner-saints unearthed any ugliness in your heart? One of my sweetest friends confided to me with wide eyes, “I had no idea I struggled with anger or fits of rage before I became a mom!” Bless her heart!  

Mom, Dad, your parenting sins are gone. Empty tomb-gone. Drowned in the baptismal font-gone. This promise of rebirth and renewal is crucial. We cannot hope to pour out to the people around us without first filling up on grace.  

Just as our kids are always copying us, parents need a model to follow. Who better than the sinless Son of God? How did Jesus engage his community? Before completing his redeeming work, the Bible tells us he wept, he showed compassion, and he retreated to quiet places. 

Jesus wept. New tragedies come at us every week. Terror, bloodshed, self-worship, injustice, and disaster fill my newsfeed. It is tempting to squeeze my eyes shut and hide the horror from my kids. Instead, we open our eyes and weep. We talk through the news at a level their maturity can handle, and we pray through the pain. 

Jesus showed compassion. The thing about living in a sin-darkened world is that it doesn’t take much light to make a big difference. Consider the impact of scheduling buffer time for everyday errands like trips to Walmart and the gas station, and asking God to send someone messy your way who needs the gospel. Messy people are everywhere, but we normally give them wide berth. A big reason for that is we have no margin in our schedules for interruptions.  

How many miracles happened when Jesus was on his way to another town and he interrupted his journey to show compassion? I bet there was at least one disciple shaking his head and saying, “Jesus, we don’t have time for this.” I hear those voices too. But may this one be louder: “God, I don’t want to miss your divine interruptions just so I can get my milk and bananas home faster!” Lending a hand to messy people, listening to their stories, or sharing the message of Jesus takes a few minutes, but at the end of the day, don’t you want your minutes to count for something with eternal impact?  

Finally, Jesus retreated to quiet places. For those in the trenches of toddlerhood or teen angst, this is just a metaphor. There are no actual quiet places for you right now. Ha! But if you have a teammate in this parenting thing, you can create places of rest and quiet. Jesus promises rest to the weary; read his words and think of his love for you.  Let that be your mountainside to pause. Help each other get there to recharge frequently.  

Parenting articles are usually filled with tips and tricks, but reflecting God’s love to our community can’t be boiled down to catchy quotes. It starts and ends with soaking in the grace that Jesus won for us. We ask for God’s eyes to see his hurting children. We lay the idol of our busyness on the altar. We recharge by the power of God’s love in Christ. By God’s grace, our kids will pick up on that too. 


Liz Schroeder and her husband, John, live in Phoenix, Arizona, with their five kids. They serve as lay leaders at CrossWalk Church.  


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 02
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : Should we encourage our kids to make resolutions?

What should we do when our children grow silent?

I always feel like a loser when New Year’s rolls around. Friends and family are busy making resolutions, and I just don’t. When asked what my resolutions are for the new year, I usually mumble a feeble, “I don’t have any.”  

It’s not that I’m anti-resolution. I think I’m just anti-failure—and most New Year’s resolutions seem ready-made for failure. The parents writing Heart to heart’s column this month really get at the heart of where I’m coming from. They put into words the way I’ve felt for years but could never express. So, read through their articles and resolve away! Or, perhaps even better, sit down with your family and create some realistic goals that you can work on achieving with support from one another. 

Nicole Balza


It’s a running joke every January at the fitness club I attend. One of the “regulars” looks around the packed club and grouses, “Why are there so many people here?” Someone else inevitably replies, “Just wait until February.”  

It’s so true. If you search online for the “top 10 broken New Year’s resolutions,” losing weight and getting fit is number one. Another online statistic reports that about only eight percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions keep them. Ouch. I’m no scientist, but attempting something repeatedly with such low probability of success seems a little futile. 

So why do we even bother to make New Year’s resolutions? Maybe it’s human nature to want a fresh start in a new year. Maybe it’s in response to eating way too many Christmas cookies and not wanting to buy bigger pants. Whatever it is, it’s also a part of human nature to try—and sometimes fail—at making lasting, positive changes in our lives. 

So should we even try? And should we encourage our children to set New Year’s resolutions? I think that everyone needs some achievable, tangible goals, even if they aren’t written in red pen on January 1 on our calendars. But here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Resolutions should be realistic, measurable, and tackled in manageable chunks.Instead of vowing, “I am going to lose 50 pounds this year!” perhaps start with: “I am going to commit to walking for 30 minutes, 3 times per week.” And who doesn’t want to commit to spending more time in God’s Word? So, if “I am going to read through my entire Bible this year” seems too daunting, try: “I am going to find a manageable Bible reading plan and read my Bible for 10 minutes each day.” 
  • Accountability can help us make positive changes in our lives.There are times my husband has had to pull me, groaning and griping, off the couch to get me to exercise. There are times I’ve done the same for him. Families are great accountability groups. Parents, try sitting down with your kids and asking them for three realistic, measurable goals for the new year. Ask: What steps do you need to take to achieve these? How can I help you stick to these goals? Then parents, you do the same. Set goals for yourselves, share them with your kids, and ask them to keep you accountable. Pray as a family for God to bless your efforts and give you strength to achieve your goals. And don’t forget to celebrate every little victory along the way. 
  • Ask God’s forgiveness—and forgive yourself—when you stumble.We’re human. We fail every day. What a comfort it is having a loving God who forgives our failures through the blood of his Son, Jesus! 

And ultimately, remember that even the best resolutions can fail. We can plan and plan and try and try, but some things are beyond our control. Stuff happens. Remember, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Some things we want just aren’t in God’s plan for our lives, and that’s okay. Knowing that our loving God already has the entirety of our lives mapped out in his perfect plan is a huge comfort to us—and to our kids. 


Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest. 


Hudson, my man! Let’s talk about the club we’re starting.” 

Hudson is my eight-year-old grandson. In January 2018, Hudson and I are founding a photography club.  

“I have ideas about how to make sure our club doesn’t fizzle out,” I say. “Want to hear them?”  

“Sure.”  

I show him the note app on my phone. “I have seven suggestions. Tell me what you think. The first is that we promise each other to keep our club going. Can we shake on that?” 

Hudson slaps his hand into mine. We shake hands like we are making a million-dollar deal.  

The second thing is to tell others about our club. It will be harder to quit if others know we’re doing this. Better yet, we can give permission to one or two people to encourage us. I’m going to tell Nana. Whom will you tell?” 

His face squinches in thought. “Mom and Dad.” 

“Good choice. They’ll want to help.”  

“Here’s the third thing. We can tell Jesus we’re doing this and ask for his help. Would you be willing to pray about our club?” 

Hudson nods his commitment. 

The next thing we can do is schedule our club meetings. If I don’t put a meeting on my calendar, I probably won’t have time for it. Would the second Saturday of each month work for you?” Hudson looks uncertain. “Let’s ask your parents if that would be okay.”  

Number five: we need a sign to remind us. Something for my office. Something for your room. Would you make us each a sign? Maybe it could say, ‘Remember the photography club.’ ” 

“I could do that, I guess,” he answers. “I could draw with a bunch of colors so we won’t miss seeing it.” 

“That sounds great. Thank you.” 

Number six is that we reward ourselves for sticking to our commitment. What if we go to Culvers for a frozen custard cone in July?” 

“Yes. That would be cool!” 

“Okay. I have one more idea to help us keep our New Year’s resolution. Let’s decide we will do our photography club first of all to thank Jesus for loving us. Does that make sense?” 

Hudson ponders for a moment. “Yes, it does,” he says. “Papa, I can’t wait to start our club. It’s going to be fun.” 

“It will, Hudson. Let’s hug on it.” 


James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their eight grandchildren.  


I’ve never liked the term resolution. It has an ugly connotation in my mind of failed attempts at weight loss and unsustainable, temporary life changes. For several years now, my husband and I have spent New Year’s Eve setting goals rather than resolutions for the coming year. We record them on one of our phones and keep each other in check on achieving those goals. This process is meant to be fun more than anything—a chance to learn a new skill or shave a few minutes off a race time, but they can also be geared toward strengthening our faith life, both personally and as a family. 

Our kids are often a part of this process, more our daughter than our young son (who would rather just snitch leftover Christmas cookies while the grownups are distracted!). We encourage Anna to set goals for herself as well. Anything from learning a new skill to reading the Bible daily to training for a race. 

When I think of goals versus resolutions, one thing stands out to me. Resolutions tend to be an immediate, often dramatic change in behavior, while goals are achievable, eventual changes that can be measured. Teaching our kids to work toward goals will be a huge help to them as they grow in their personal and professional lives, and we’re (hopefully) showing them that it’s not a scary process to tackle. 

Setting goals for personal change can be a good thing, if we don’t allow it to become an idol for ourselves. I believe involving our kids in our tradition allows them to see their parents working toward—and often achieving—fun and reasonable accomplishments. It also allows them to see us struggle or fail occasionally. We can pray about our progress together. We can work together on spiritual goals like family devotion time or family service projects. Working toward and achieving goals as a family and supporting each other in our personal goals has been a wonderful bonding experience for our family—something we all look forward to each year. 


Kerry Ognenoff and her husband, Andy, have two young children—nine-year-old Anna and five-year-old Henry.  


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 01
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : How can we help cultivate a mission heart in children?

How can we help cultivate a mission heart in children? 

This month’s topic gets at the heart of one of our fundamental jobs as Christian parents—helping cultivate a mission heart in our children. Of course, that is more likely to happen if we as parents display our mission hearts. I’m the first to admit that my mission heart can go missing for days—or even weeks—in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Reading an article like this helps me refocus. It’s a great message to hear any time of year, but I think that it’s especially timely at Christmas. It’s a natural time to share our faith in Jesus, the true “reason for the season. May God bless our efforts! 

Nicole Balza


These are my five ways to cultivate a mission heart in children. 

  1. Build awareness: When I was a young child (think three years old), I thought that everyone knew and believed in Jesus. As I grew older, the reality that a kind neighbor, relative, or friend in my small world didn’t believe was heart boggling. What did that mean for them?  

When children learn that not everyone believes in Jesus, they can feel sad. We have the opportunity to build them up. We know Jesus and the comfort that God our Savior “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:4-6).  

That knowledge comes with an opportunity. God gives us—young and old—the privilege to share the good news about Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Romans 10:13,14 says, “ ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” 

It is such a joy to witness children sharing their faith! They talk about Jesus with their neighbor, the hurt child at the playground, or even the cashier at the store. When children learn that they carry the powerful good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness with them, it is hard for them to keep it to themselves.  

  1. Be an example: Children imitate what they see more than what they are told. As we consider how to cultivate a mission heart in young ones, we first need to discern our own heart. 
  • Do we hold Jesus as our own example to follow?
  • Do weview lives from an earthly perspective or an eternal one? 
  • Do we believe ourselves to be disciples of Christ in whatever job or role we have?
  • Are we willing to make personal sacrifices (time, comfort, materials) for the good of others?
  • Do we treat and speak about others who are different from uswith compassion and respect?  

When I was a young teen, my dad asked me to accompany him on his guitar for the new Spanish worship services at our church. At the time, I did not want to share my time or talents, but out of reluctant obedience I agreed. God certainly reached more than the Spanish-speaking believers who walked through the door. He changed my heart as I watched families strengthened in their faith with others in worship and got to know them personally. 

Now I greatly treasure that experience. My dad not only encouraged me to serve others but also took me by the hand and led me by his example. He still does. Thank you, Dad!  

As 1 Corinthians 11:1 tells us, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 

  1. Use resources: There are many different tools that can cultivate a mission heart in children: 
  • Read and talk about God’s Word. This is where children learn their own need for a Savior and see that the entire Bible points to Jesus as their risen herowho has won eternal life by grace for them. The Spirit strengthens their faith, knowledge, and heart through the Word to share the gospel.  
  • Learn about past missionaries, persecuted Christians, and martyrs throughout history from books, magazines, videos, and audio books. You can start with Jesus (of course!), the disciples, Saul/Paul, Polycarp, John Huss,and Martin Luther. 
  • Pray for missionaries and persecuted Christianswho are alive today. We have missionaries in East Asia, South Asia, and other places. Their work is often difficult. Make a list of their names, print off their pictures as reminders, and bless them as a family. Consult the World Mission office of our synod for assistance (414-256-3234 or bwm@wels.net). Children can be pen pals with mission children from a different country or in orphanages. The opportunities to serve others in your own community and abroad are many. Your family can help stuff meal bags or help pick out food for the hungry when you go grocery shopping. They can even share hope with a child whose parents are in prison. 
  • Play!Use your imagination and learn. One game we play with our kids is “Pin the Missionary.” Give a globe a spin and when the child places his finger on a random location, look where he has been sent. Did he land in Brazil? Pakistan? America? Look up information about the place he “landed” and see how many Christians live there and what the climate is like. Learn the different kinds of food the people eat and what the most common jobs are. If you only have a map, you can tape it to the wall, blindfold and spin the child, and have her place a marker on a map. Still fun!  
  1. Take a trip: Consider taking your family on a mission trip. Often when family vacations are planned, they are purposed to serve ourselves with entertainment and rest. There is nothing wrong with taking a family vacation. But consider how your family can grow closer to each other and closer to God when your vacation has a greater purpose than yourselves. 

When I think back to family vacations, I remember a variety of bad attitudes that would creep up—entitlement, bickering over small issues, and discontentment. Serving others can cause little ones to see the needs of others as well as their own. What if we considered taking our time—yes, even our vacation time—and using it to serve others and our Lord? 

  1. Serve at home: You don’t have to travel far to be a missionary! Look in your backyard, your community, or elsewhere in your state and discuss with your children ways that you can reach others with the gospel in words and action. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” 

Often Christians are criticized when it comes to helping others in need because we’d rather send a check than get our hands dirty. But you can go out and be a testimony of Jesus’ love by how you treat others.  

Who are the weak, poor, or neglected in your community? Is there an elderly neighbor who could use help with lawn care? Is there a population of homeless that can be intentionally served by your family? Are there any recent immigrants that could use a helping hand? Is there a women’s shelter in need of donations? Include your children! They may complain at first, but they will see how God can use not just their money but also their time to bless others.  

Your home is an excellent place to welcome and serve others with hospitality. These opportunities can be big or small—invite a new guest at your church over for dinner, hold a Bible study, host an international student, allow a family member in need to live with you, plan a play date for the young families on your block, or (on a grander scale) have a block party for the neighbors. You’ll find out that they are just as weird and uniquely made as you. Food brings people together! 

Let’s give others true food that never leaves them empty: “ ‘For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ ” (John 6:33-35). 

Jesus brings believers together eternally.  


Amanda Rose and her husband, Frank, have four young children and live in Kingston, Wisconsin.   


This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.com, a blog with “chatter that matters” for women of all ages.  


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Author: Amanda Rose
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : What should we do when our children grow silent?

What should we do when our children grow silent?

There are days when we all would long for some silence as parents—during those long colicky twilight hours; the “why” stage of toddlerdom; the early grade school years when we’re treated to an unending litany of made-up knock-knock jokes; and the “you’re so uncool, why can’t I . . .” rants, stomping, and door slamming of pre-teens and teens. Yet, there are also times when we get concerned once that silence materializes. Our authors this month give us some options for how to deal with that kind of silence. So far, none of them are willing to offer ways to achieve silence during those other stages. . .   

Nicole Balza


It seems that we live in fear of quietness. Not only do we as a culture shy away from it, but we don’t particularly like it when our children grow quiet.  

I would encourage you to embrace the quietness. 

One of the benefits to homeschooling for six years was that I easily was able to incorporate quiet time with God into our day. Now that most of them are in brick-and-mortar schools, it is a little more difficult, but my children have learned the benefits to taking quiet time. 

Jesus modeled quiet time on a regular basis. Whenever his disciples couldn’t find him, it was usually because Jesus took time out to be in solitude with his Father. 

What a gift to model to our own children. When we are frustrated, scared, confused, or even full of joy, how often do we find solitude to hang out with Jesus? When my children are angry or overwhelmed, they can learn to take the time to break away from the chaos (or even the perceived chaos) and lean on the true Comforter. 

What about when our children grow quiet to isolate themselves in an unhealthy way? Tad and I work hard to create space. Safe space. Space to feel disappointed, hurt, overwhelmed. Let them share without judgment or the need to fix (this is a constant struggle for me). Listen. Really listen. Without reacting.  

Sometimes our kids just don’t want to talk to us. I truly believe that is okay. Tad and I have prayerfully asked for guidance to find Christian mentors for each of our children. We found people who foster relationships with our children so they can go to them when they don’t feel like they are ready to talk to us. We intentionally ask people who we know will provide the spiritual guidance that will bring our children closer to Jesus.  

One last thing I would like to add is to pray. Pray for your children. Not only in the quiet of your bedroom at night, but also out loud in front of them. Maybe pray outside their closed door. Maybe pray in the car while they are strapped . . . I mean, buckled . . . in. Maybe even put your hands on them and literally pray over them. Let them hear the words you share with your heavenly Father on their behalf. Maybe pray in their room when they aren’t in there. Whatever it looks like in your home, keep praying. 


Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have five children ranging in age from 8 to 16. They are also licensed foster parents.  


One of the greatest skills of parenting is communicating with our children. Truly hearing them, reflecting their words, giving them an understanding that their thoughts and feelings are heard and acknowledged. Don’t we all want people like this in our lives? What a wonderful demonstration of love to be fully present with another person in close communication.  

As children grow and develop and experience a multitude of new things, there is a lot to process and understand. What if we get the sense that our child doesn’t want to talk about it? Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

Parents of young children: Now is the time to set the stage for a lifetime of proper communication. Get them used to talking about their day. Consider making it a bedtime ritual. Share one great part of your day and one not-so-great part—both child and parent. Then spend time in prayer thanking God for the highs and asking for his help regarding the lows. This early communication sets the stage for the teen years.  

Another thing to keep in mind is our children’s temperaments. By nature, don’t some kids seem to think out loud and others internalize? Some kids want/need to be verbal. Others, not so much. We parents have these same natural preferences. 

Here’s a recent example in my family. I picked up Kayla from an after-school practice and said, “Hi.” I got a hi back, and then I settled into a comfortable silence. After a few seconds, Kayla said, “Ask me something about high school.”  

Boy, do I have it made in the communication parenting skill area with her! Not only did my extroverted daughter tell me about her day, but she even interjected questions to herself for me! “Let’s see, what else happened today?”  

Now my seventh-grade son, Josh, is a bit different. I picked him up from school and made the mistake of asking him a close-ended question: “How was your day, buddy?” He replied with, “Good.” Insert silence. 

I have come to understand that Josh prefers to process his thoughts internally and needs to be drawn out with more questions such as, “What was your favorite thing today?” “How come?” “What did everyone play at recess?” Reflecting some of his thoughts and feelings keeps the communication going. But there are times when an introvert simply needs to spend time in thought in order to process effectively. Silence is important.  

Is it a problem when our kids are silent? Maybe for some. If Kayla grew silent, I’d be quite concerned. I would check on her for sure. Josh’s silence can be harder to decipher. Is it his natural tendency or could he be troubled? Whichever the case, my wife, Kelly, and I make it our goal to watch for those opportunities to check in and give both kids the understanding that we are here and willing to talk if or when they need to. It is our way of demonstrating our love for God in their lives.  


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son. 


Sometimes I think half the battle of parenting is not to take anything too personally. When your teenage boy goes quiet, for instance, it’s usually not about you.  

It can be a hard adjustment, though, because wasn’t it just last week when he was sitting in the kitchen, going on and on while you were browning the ground beef? I once listed everything my 11-year-old son talked about in a 20-minute stream-of-consciousness deluge, at which my only requirement was to nod and grunt. His oration included palindromes, peristalsis (which is why you can drink milk upside down), how his arms were getting stronger (so adorable), and the middle name of Harry Truman. (It’s “S,” by the way. I know this because he told me.) 

But then the chatterbox morphs into the one grunting, and you panic a little: Why doesn’t he talk to me anymore? Is he in trouble? Does he hate me?  

What I learned is this:  

  • A bit of silence is normal. Teens are supposed to grow up and separatefrom their parents. Part of that is talking to you less often.  
  • Asking a million questions does not work. Even though you just want him to know you’re interested in his life, it can come off as prying and controlling.
  • It sometimes works to ask about a friend: “So why isn’t Riley going out for choir this year?” That can lead to an actual conversation—about other friends, Riley’s pool party three weeks ago, and maybe even the girl he’s had his eye on. (Mission accomplished.)
  • Respect his privacy. Don’tshare the news about that girl he has his eye on with your book club.  
  • Don’t make everything a teachable moment. If he tells you he’s going to skip college and take his garage band on the road, just say, “Okay!” Chances are, he’ll figure outhow dumb that is all on his own. But if you shut him down right away, the next time he has a big dream or crazy idea, he won’t bring it to you.  
  • Have adult conversations about adult topics at the dinner table—the latest political question, a home budget issue, something you saw at the store that made you uncomfortable. Let everybody weigh in. Treat all responses, even the immature ones, with equal respect.

Now it’s possible that a teenager’s silence is a warning sign. If he’s hiding in his room all the time or is exceptionally surly, he may be struggling with something bigger than he can handle—a traumatic breakup, guilt over a sin, an Instagram situation that exploded, some kind of violence, even depression or substance abuse. 

In this case, although he’s silent, he’s actually crying out for help, and you need to be the parent. Search his room. Check his social media. Ask another adult he trusts—an uncle or teacher—if something’s going on that you should know about. If the situation warrants, talk to a counselor with him.  

But that’s the exception. Usually a little silence is just part of your teenager’s individuation—growing up and separating himself from you. (This is the goal, remember? We don’t want to be doing their laundry when they’re 23.)  

If you give him respect and love and space, he’ll know he can come talk to you whenever he wants toYou’ll be browning the ground beef some evening, and suddenly he’ll feel the need to tell you—everything. Whether he’s 11 or 17 or 30, just nod and let the boy talk.  


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.  


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : What should we teach children about the Reformation?

What should we teach children about the Reformation? 

There are times when things are so engrained in our life that we take them for granted and struggle to even explain them. I think being a Lutheran can be like that—especially for us “lifers.” That’s one of the reasons I love reading the “Confessions of faith” articles shared in FIC each month (p. 14). It’s refreshing to hear from those who are new to Lutheranism, to be reminded of the treasures that Martin Luther restored to the church. Reading the perspectives of the two Lutheran dads featured here helped me too.  

Want more resources to help teach Reformation truths to your children? Visit nph.net and consider a new short film titled God’s Plan for Luther and Me; the book Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World; or the graphic novels on Katie and Martin Luther.  

Nicole Balza


When it comes to teaching our children about the Reformation, especially our young children, we have to admit the challenge of it. Perhaps the most obvious challenge is that the official date for recognizing the Reformation is Oct. 31. There is a part of me that wishes that Martin Luther would have had some foresight with his choosing of a date! Didn’t he know that this would become Halloween and that children would be hopelessly distracted? I am thinking that it probably isn’t enough to dress up your children as Martin Luther to help them understand the joy of the Reformation.  

In addition, the Reformation isn’t just competing with Halloween. It’s also competing with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. My daughter, Tayley, came home from public school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day impressed in ways that I rarely see, trying to tell me the story of the civil rights movement. In fact, she is having the hardest time accepting that Martin Luther King Jr. was named after another Martin Luther who was even greater.  

With that said, perhaps the greatest challenge in teaching our children about the Reformation are the truths themselves. Most of the key ideas are framed by Latin slogans or solas. Whoever decided to frame the Reformation in this way didn’t have children in mind. What is more, if someone challenged us Lutherans to put the Reformation itself into a single sentence, we might say, “The Reformation was all about the Bible’s teaching that we are justified by grace through faith by Christ alone.” Try teaching that to your six-year-old!  

The ideas of the Reformation are saving and powerful, but they are also abstract. Somewhere along the line, I remember learning that kids under a certain age simply cannot grasp abstract concepts. For parents wanting to teach their children about the Reformation, these are the challenges. 

I’ll tell you what I am going to do with my kids to meet the challenge. I am going to teach my kids about the Reformation during the entire month of October. Really, whenever it comes up in daily life, we are going to talk about it. I am going to buy a children’s book from Northwestern Publishing House. There’s one called Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World that looks especially good, but I’ll look into other possibilities as well. We will talk about the different “Martins” and why Oct. 31 is special to us for better reasons than candy. 

But what about the truths of the Reformation? How can we share abstract truths with them in meaningful ways? We will let Luther guide us with Scripture. His first thesis, which guided the other 94 theses, stated, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4:17] he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This is where everything started. Luther wanted the world to know that the life of a believer has two parts: 1) contrition or sorrow over sin and 2) faith in the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These are actually pretty simple concepts to understand. That’s what I intend to teach my girls.  

I am going to teach them to apologize to each other and to their God. I am going to hold his law in front them and show them their sin. Then, I will show them their Savior who died for them. I will speak to them of Jesus’ love and grace and about how forgiven and washed and loved they really are. I probably won’t even call it repentance. They will learn that word later, but they will learn about Jesus. That’s really my number one goal.  

Even if they never do come to know with great clarity the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr., I want them to know Jesus. That after all is what the Reformation is all about. 


Timothy Bourman is a pastor at Sure Foundation in Queens, New York, and co-host of the podcast Project 1517. He and his wife, Amanda, have three young daughters.  


 Would you like to tell your children a story this Halloween? The 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation gives you that chance.  

You can tell the story of a young man bothered by the practice of paying off sin’s punishment with money. You can tell the story of a young man who was brave. He didn’t keep his mouth shut, even before those older than he, because he cared about their souls. You can tell the story of a young man who cared about God’s truth, wanting to understand what true repentance meant and wanting the leaders of the church to treasure God’s grace. It is an amazing Halloween story, the posting of 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517. 

There is a story to tell. But that story didn’t end on Oct. 31 five hundred years ago. There is a continuing story you can tell every day you are with your children. In fact, you get to live out the story. On each of your days you have the chance to put on display divine Reformation truths that are at the heart of our salvation—grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.  

We all know these Reformation concepts. Yet as parents, it is easy to live something other than grace and faith and Scripture. When a child has sinned, we may forget that any Christian discipline intends to have an ultimate happy ending in the grace of God. In our pride we may overlook the reality of our absolute dependence on God, the centrality of faith for eternal life and for every other moment in life. In the busyness of life, we may speak of Scripture’s importance but let its priority slip. We may speak a story of Reformation when the anniversary hits, but it’s sometimes hard to live out the Reformation during those many moments God gives us with young precious souls. 

Being a parent means knowing sin and Gods forgiveness. That’s a Reformation truth. There are times when we sin against our child by assuming the worst and thinking they had done the very thing we had warned them against, only to find out that we were wrong. Can you look your child in the eye and tell him you are sorry, explain that you have a sinful flesh too, and ask him to forgive you? There is no greater joy than to hear a representative of Christ, at the young age of seven, smile and forgive. 

There’s another side of that knowledge. Your child sins, and she is sitting on the couch in the basement in a timeout. After some screaming and crying there is silence, and then a very different voice rises up the stairs: “I’m sorry.” Can you walk down the stairs and have the first words from your mouth be, “I forgive you, and Jesus forgives you too”? Yes, parents can offer guidelines and loving consequences after assuring their child of forgiveness, but we don’t want the threats to replace forgiveness and only say, “Don’t let that ever happen again.” Those little souls can be tricked by the devil; they can be crushed when God’s love is withheld. You don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. We know how precious God’s love has been to us. Shower his grace on those you love. 

Being a parent means depending on someone else for your salvation and for every other challenge in life. Can you humbly commiserate with your children? Can you agree with them that we are all weak and we do not have the power to obey as we want? Can you mourn with them over their wicked flesh, but then can you give them hope as you remind them that our peace when we disobey and our power finally to obey comes not from ourselves but from our God? We depend. We trust. By God’s grace, we believe. Faith—that’s a Reformation truth. 

Being a parent means listening with your children to words that come from a God whose word made the world and raised the dead. Bible stories are powerful words. The truths of those stories are power to rebuke, to comfort, to guide. Read God’s stories. Talk about God’s stories. Have Scripture be a daily meal in your home—that’s a Reformation truth. 

There is a Reformation story to tell. Do speak of Luther’s Reformation. But even more, make the Reformation—by God’s grace and power—your daily beating heart.  


Stephen Geiger is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Anna, have six children ranging in age from 1 to 10.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : What do teachers want parents to know as school begins?

What do teachers want parents to know as school begins?

The beginning of a new school year usually brings a mix of feelings—at least for my family. There’s always that tinge of sadness that summer is over, the excitement of a fresh school year, and the nervousness about what this year holds in store for us as we adjust to new teachers, expectations, and schedules.

So, what are teachers thinking about as the new school year begins? What advice do they have for parents at this critical—and let’s be honest, stressful—time? In our printed column we hear from an elementary school teacher and a high school teacher. Visit forwardinchrist.net to read perspectives from a college professor and a home schooling mom/teacher as well as to watch a webcast featuring a veteran teacher.

Nicole Balza


As an early elementary school teacher, I was both nervous and eager to begin each school year. Every new school year held so much promise. Yet beginning something new took such patience and hard work.

I always knew that by mid-October all of the hard work would start paying off as individual students became a classroom community, learning was evident throughout the day, and teachers and families were settled into their new routines and relationships. However, the first weeks can be tough, and how we all handle them sets the tone for the rest of the year.

Parents, teachers, and students are very tired at the beginning of the school year. Be patient! It is exhausting to implement and learn new routines, recognize new faces, and memorize new names while also focusing on academic learning and homework. Give each other time to get everything running smoothly, and try not to make quick judgments based on information gathered in the first couple weeks of the school year.

Choose a Bible verse, like Colossians 3:12, on which to focus as you interact with your children, other families, teachers, and administrators: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Stressful times can give our sinful natures a foothold, but focusing on God’s Word supports us as we build and grow relationships at the beginning of the school year. Posting an encouraging verse in your car, on the fridge, or on your mirror can be a gentle reminder throughout the day of how you would like to treat others in this time of change.

Just when it seems like things are going smoothly and it’s going to be a good year, a couple things often seem to set off a normally patient, kind, and gentle parent—homework and “mean” kids.

Homework: Often schools have homework philosophies, and teachers need to follow what is required of them. Teachers work hard to give homework that is not too hard, not too easy, beneficial for every student, and that fits every family situation, but . . . this is tremendously hard to accomplish. The only way for a teacher to know if the homework is or is not working for your family is if you discuss it with him or her. If the amount, type, or content of homework is not working for your child or family, please ask to speak to the teacher privately and then share how homework is going. Ask the teacher to help you problem solve so that your child can best benefit from the homework he or she is doing.

“Mean” kids: At the beginning of the school year, students often have some kind of social growing pains. They may not have spent much time with friends in the summer, and they now have to learn or remember how to problem solve, work, and play in a group and navigate the recess scene successfully. All kids struggle with some aspect of social learning as they practice being part of a group that includes others and treats others with respect. It’s important for parents to remember that other kids are not enemies—they are kids who are working on learning how to be kind friends and successful learners just like your child. When talking with your child about these experiences, try to help your child remain calm and focused on how to help the situation be better the next day. It is hard to hear that your child is sad or upset, but learning how to problem solve and build relationships with others is a vital skill that your child needs time to learn.

Teachers want you to know that we see these relationship dynamics and are closely monitoring interactions between children. However, we will not always step in, as it is so important for kids to practice their problem solving skills and then ask adults for help if needed. If you are concerned about a situation or relationship that seems to be bothering your child, please talk with your child’s teacher in a respectful way. Often asking the teacher for his or her perspective on the situation sets you up for a conversation focused on helping your child, which works better than an attack on the teacher.

Whether you are frustrated about homework, worried about your child’s friendships, or unsure about a teacher’s decisions, remember the grace that God gives you every day and pass that grace along to others. Choosing to interact with people in a spirit of love, kindness, and patience will make all the difference as you strive to begin the school year with positivity and grace.


Rachel Bluhm and her husband, Matt, have three young children and are members of St. Paul, Green Bay, Wisconsin.


Is your oldest getting ready to enter high school? It wasn’t so long ago when that’s where my wife, Joyce, and I were. The years go by so fast. It seems like just yesterday that it was kindergarten graduation, the first recital, the first game, and now . . . high school.

Moving from eighth grade to high school can be a little daunting for kids. Last spring they felt like they were at the top and ruling the school, and now it’s a whole different place with new challenges and opportunities.

If you thought the grade school years went fast, wait until your child gets to high school! Four years might sound like a long time, but that will fly by—and then you’re praying about college choices, military service, employment, marriage. There are times you will be so proud of your teen and times when you just wonder what he was thinking. Treasure these days as gifts from God. And continue to be a parent.

With the rush of high school life, it might be hard to keep up your traditions of family dinners and time together. If your house can be a welcoming place for your teen and his friends, that is a real plus. Having those teens at your house can be a comfort to you and a safe place for them. The friends your teen makes are so influential.

Speaking of friends, you’ve seen those video clips: “My mom . . . my dad, they’re my best friends!” Does that describe your family? Remember that your teen needs parents more than best friends during the high school years. It’s ultimately a process of preparing him to leave the home “nest.” Pray for him; be there for him; help him with tough decisions; be his role models. These are all so important during the teen years.

Sometimes, we parents think we have to do it all for our teens. Just so you know—that is not possible. Newsflash—he isn’t going to like or agree with everything you decide. He’s growing up; he’s looking for freedom—he doesn’t see things the way you do. Don’t ignore “outside” help. Teachers, coaches, counselors, pastors, family friends, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins can help when, for whatever reason, you just can’t get through to your teen.

As a Christian parent, don’t lose sight of what the real goal is. It’s awesome if he finds success in high school—captain of the team, excellent student, award-winning musician, and so on. But not all kids will. For your dear child, it’s much more important for him to continue to grow up in his faith, to stay close to his Lord, and to be in God’s Word and at his house regularly. Teens can be especially good at pushing back and not always showing much appreciation, but they are watching us and learning from us, even if they won’t admit it.

Pray. Pray. Pray. Stay close to your child. Stay close to your Lord. The Lord loves your dear child even more than you do. Be faithful and lean on his strength. He has a blessed future for your child in his plan . . . and he is the ultimate Father.


Dave Payne and his wife, Joyce, have four adult children and two grandchildren. Dave serves at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wis., and is a member at Eternal Love, Appleton.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : My child lied to me. Now what?

 My child lied to me. Now what?

Dealing with lying makes my stomach twist into knots. I guess that’s because so much of it is a guessing game. Did my child really lie to me? Did she do it on purpose? Why did he do it? Does she feel remorse? Did I do something to prompt the lie? My mind swirls with the unknown.

This month, two parents share their perspectives on lying. I love the motivation and the heart behind their thoughts. Even if my stomach still twists up when I suspect that one of my children has lied to me, I’ll be a better parent if I can keep the right motivation in how I react.

Nicole Balza


At different times during the past five years, in addition to our biological children, we have had five other young people live in our home. Because they had different backgrounds than our biological children, honesty was not a core value for all of them. So lies were a common occurrence. As we cared for these young people, I realized that God entrusts me with the goal to make honesty and integrity a core value in the lives of the people in my home. It is a heart issue.

With our biological children, honesty was modeled for them since the time they were babies. Lying has been addressed along with all the consequences that go along with it. With the other children, lying may have been a way of survival, a way of getting what they thought they needed. Sometimes lying was rewarded when it resulted in earthly positive results. Sometimes they lied and it was so normal to them that they didn’t see anything wrong with it.

So now what? What I’ve learned is that we need to call out the lie (oftentimes without backing them into a corner). We call it out and forgive them. When we offer forgiveness, we are letting them know that lying is wrong and we shower grace at the same time. We do our best to model honesty and admit to them when we fail.

Heart issues are so hard. It is much easier to address the behavior without getting to the heart issue. But our God is the change agent. We are his hands and feet. It is difficult to surrender our children and the children God has put in our care to our heavenly Father. But he changes their hearts through the gospel we share.


Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have five children ranging in age from 8 to 16. They are also licensed foster parents.


“It must’ve gotten dinged in the parking lot.”

That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it. But eventually the truth emerges: Your son took the car to the unchaperoned party, indulged in some underage drinking, and backed into a hydrant.

I think lying, like so many sins, is born of fear. When we lie, we’re afraid of being found out, aren’t we? As imperfect. Sinful. Human.

For kids, being found out has consequences. Maybe discipline—time-outs, loss of privileges. Maybe public embarrassment. Maybe our disappointment, which, like a temporary abandonment, can be terrifying.

But that doesn’t mean we dismiss our children’s lies: “Aw, they’re just afraid of letting us down. Let it slide.” Nope. Deceit demands a firm dose of the law. That’s because malicious lying—as opposed to polite white lies or flights of fancy—is so dangerous. Like its father, Satan, lying is insidious. It poisons everything.

Lying poisons relationships. When our kids lie, they need to know: “You’ve betrayed our trust. Everything you tell us now is suspect. We’ll have to check up on you. We’ll need to see your phone. Everywhere you turn, we’ll be hovering. We’ll have to, because your word is no longer good.”

Lying poisons the liar too. It seeps into the cells and the psyche and becomes a way of life. Lying children become lying adults. Inveterate liars unconsciously assume everyone lies, hindering them from ever fully trusting another. And sometimes whole families become liars, especially when hiding a family secret: a schizophrenic mother, an alcoholic father. Even if the intent is to protect the family’s privacy, children develop a doctrine of duplicity, always concocting some new tale to keep up the beautiful, brittle family facade.

If our kids lie regularly, we may want to ask ourselves some hard questions: What are they afraid of? Have we set such high standards they feel they’re not allowed to fail? Is our discipline overly harsh? Or are we liars too? Like Adam and Eve in the garden, are we so ashamed of our faults and mistakes that we’re always hiding, always blaming others, never ‘fessing up?

Maybe the most important question is this: Do our children know the truth about the God who lives in our home and hearts? Our Savior is kind. He understands human weakness and fear. He knows why we’re tempted to lie, and he invites honest confession, because no sin is too monstrous, no shame too deep, to be forgiven.

That’s good news.

Jesus’ love and compassion drive out fear. His love lifts the shades and lets the sunshine in. His love—and our reflection of it—makes our home a safe place, where we can air our failures, forgive, and be forgiven. Then it’s absolutely okay to be found out—because we’re loved and accepted just as we are.


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : How can we move past our parenting mistakes?

How can we move past our parenting mistakes?

Heart to heart seeks to be a place where parents can share their experiences and support one another. This month’s column tackles the topic of parenting guilt that is so pervasive in our society.

What are the things you regret as a parent? We all have those things, don’t we? What pops into your head immediately when this topic comes up? No doubt, some regrets are serious. Others are more lighthearted. They all have one thing in common, though, and our authors this month do a beautiful job reminding us of it. Read on, fellow parents, and bask in your Savior’s forgiveness.

Nicole Balza


We live in a society that reviews and re-evaluates just about everything on a regular basis. It feels natural to have that same critical mindset about our parenting. When we reflect on words we have said or things we have done, it’s easy to feel that we could have said or done something better. We can have lingering feelings of regret and guilt, which might even be intense.

The reality of living as a flawed believer in a sinful world means that you’re not going to be a perfect parent. Sometimes you’re going to be a bad example for your children. You will do what you shouldn’t do, and you will fail to do something you should. You might do the wrong thing for the right reason. And there might even be times when, no matter how hard you try, you’ll be stuck between two bad choices, both of which are going to hurt at least one of your children in some way.

Logically, we realize that we don’t fail our children all the time. The vast majority of our kids are fed regularly, are wearing (reasonably clean) clothes, and have a roof over their heads. The basics are covered. But if we’re honest, we probably don’t have to think too hard to come up with something we’ve done to our child that brings a feeling of guilt. What can we do to assuage our feelings of guilt and regret?

First, know without a doubt that your sins have been forgiven. As children of God, we are blameless in his eyes through Christ. Because of God’s grace towards us, we also can apologize to our children for how we have hurt them. It’s a powerful parenting lesson for our children when we demonstrate repentance and forgiveness in action.

Despite the forgiveness we have, consequences of our sin may remain. Guilty feelings can linger. When we remember what we did, we may feel that we can’t forgive ourselves. But if God can unconditionally forgive us, then we also are free to forgive ourselves. In fact, God wants us to forgive ourselves! He doesn’t want us to live with feelings of shame and regret.

But what can we do about our lingering regret, especially if our sin caused lasting consequences for our child? Romans 8:28 says, “In all things God works together for the good of those who love him.” God promises to use the broken pieces of our lives to create something beautiful that glorifies him. God will not abandon us, even when nothing we’ve done has turned out as we’d hoped or expected.

God loves our children more perfectly than we ever can. We are his children, and our children are his children too. Our heavenly Father is the perfect parent who promises to love us, care for us, and work everything that we do (or fail to do) in our lives for the good of all his children.

Relax in that knowledge, fellow parents. God’s got it all under control.


Emily Gresens Strey and her husband, Johnold, have four children ranging in age from 2 to 13.


It was a long day at work. I was exhausted. When I finally returned home, I stopped by the refrigerator for a glass of milk. I opened the door, grabbed the milk container—empty! There was another full gallon right next to it, but who puts an empty milk container back in the refrigerator?

Aren’t there certain things or certain times when seemingly little things just get you frustrated? That’s what happened to me.

I could have tossed the container in the recycling and moved on—but not that day. Nope. It was time to find the one responsible, and I had an immediate suspect. My wife wouldn’t do it, and my daughter, Kayla, doesn’t drink milk. That left one person—my son, and it wasn’t the first time Josh was caught doing this. It was time to confront.

Here’s how that conversation went.

Me: “Josh, why would you leave an empty milk container in the fridge?”

Josh: “I didn’t!”

Me: “Mom and Kayla wouldn’t do it, so you’re telling me someone else came into our house, drank all our milk, and put the empty container back in the fridge?”

Josh: “It wasn’t me. Why do you think I always do things like that?”

You can imagine how the rest of that conversation went . . . until Kayla (overhearing parts of the conversation) yelled from the basement, “Don’t throw away the empty milk container in the fridge; it’s for school. We are building a raft for science class. I have to wash it out yet.”

At that moment, I felt like finding that raft and sailing far, far away. Oh, yes, another example of Great Moments in Parenting by Dan Nommensen.

You might think I’m being facetious by calling this a great moment in parenting, but it really was. In that short exchange with my son, I could probably count a dozen ways I screwed up and offended Josh and crossed the line for what God expects of a parent. Now remember Romans 5:20: “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” This truly was a great moment in parenting because I am forgiven by grace through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Praise God that my sins as a parent are not held against me. My joyful response to God’s grace was to tell Josh I screwed up and that I was sorry. This moment in parenting had the potential of creating a rift in our relationship, but it ended up presenting itself as an opportunity for greatness as I expressed my need for forgiveness and Josh extended that forgiveness to me.

Parents, do we have moments where we make mistakes that impact our children negatively? Maybe you’ve had more than a few? I know I have. The temptation is not to see these times as moments of grace but rather allow these experiences to build resentment and anger for both parent and child.

Does our sinful parental pride lead us to fall into the trap of thinking we are always right? If so, we are missing opportunities to see and show God’s grace and forgiveness.

But fear not, because it’s never too late! God’s unconditional love for us and his forgiveness never end. In the joy of knowing that by God’s grace we are forgiven and part of his family, watch for your great moments of parenting with your children.


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.


On a hot July day in 1994, my husband and I walked out of the hospital with our firstborn, bound for home as a newly-minted family of three. At the car, we struggled to wrestle our tiny, slumpy newborn into a gigantic car seat. Finally, too many minutes later and sweaty with effort, we managed to buckle him in.

At the ripe old age of 24, my husband and I were practically still children ourselves. What did we know about parenting? Even 23 years later, thinking about our lack of preparedness makes me feel a little panicky and sweaty.

We train for so many things in life. We endlessly practice. We gain valuable on-the-job experience. We earn degrees. But for parenting, one of the most important jobs in the world? No experience necessary. And like all rookies, we make mistakes—loads and loads of them.

Many times since that July day, I have hung my head in shame and cried guilty tears for all the parenting mistakes I have made, for all the times I have yelled or lost my temper or done the polar opposite of what God wants me do. In contrast, I can’t ever recall thinking, “Wow. My kids are SO LUCKY to have me as a mom. I really knocked it out of the park today.” Oh, paralyzing guilt! How do we get past it?

Here are a few things we parents can remember:

• It was in God’s good plan to give our children to us. Our family was planned by him even before this world came to be (Psalm 139:16).

• Since God created our families, he also loves us with an eternal love. He equips us as parents and promises to strengthen us, bless us, and help us (Isaiah 41:10).

• For those parenting mistakes we have made—and they are many because we are sinful—we need to ask for God’s forgiveness. And through his sweet, sweet grace, he does forgive us (Ephesians 1:7). If he died on the cross to forgive all the sins of everyone of all time, why would our shortcomings as parents be the exception?

• Let’s also cut ourselves a little slack and remember that good kids sometimes do bad things (Romans 3:23)—even though a) they know better, b) that’s not how we raised them, and c) we’ve done our best to teach them what God’s Word says about pretty much everything.

Especially as our kids get older and make their own choices, we need to let go of our guilt. Also, remember the times that we’ve prayed with and for our children, loved them fiercely and unconditionally, taught them about their Savior, and battled to teach them life lessons about being a Christian light in this dark world. Don’t forget those times.

Lord, forgive us for the times we’ve failed as parents. Lord, thank you for the times we haven’t!


Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : How to help children cope with disappointment

How can we help our children cope with disappointment?

It’s not easy to watch our children face disappointment. We want to swoop in and make it all better. Although I think that swooping can have its place, it’s not always possible—or wise. Our three authors (and their sidekicks) this month offer some alternatives.

Are you new to Heart to heart? Check out our archive of articles, webcasts, and podcasts at forwardinchrist.net. A fan of Heart to heart? Share this resource with the parents you know! E-mail your favorite articles or share them on Facebook.

Nicole Balza


One of the great challenges we face as parents is watching our children suffer or struggle. It is easy to want to make everything comfortable for them. Disappointment is a part of this life on earth. We have expectations. When reality doesn’t match our expectations, we are disappointed.

I think the very first thing that we must do is let our children be disappointed. We live in a culture that believes everything should feel good. Disappointment is a bad feeling. Often as parents, seeing our children uncomfortable makes us uncomfortable. We say things like, “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “Look at the bright side.” The problem is that they don’t learn to live with or in the disappointment. We tell them to change their disappointment.

Jesus provided a beautiful example of living with disappointment when he wept for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). He was very disappointed. He felt the disappointment and cried. His Father didn’t come to him and say, “It’s okay, Jesus. I’ll make it better. Don’t feel that way.” His Father, our heavenly Father, let him cry.

So how do I teach my children to deal with disappointment? The first thing I do is model what it is like to deal with disappointment. If I am disappointed because something didn’t go my way or someone hurt me, I tell my children how I am feeling. I don’t want to hide it from them. I want them to see that I get hurt. I want them to see that I pray in the midst of it. I ask them to pray for their momma as I struggle.

As challenging as it is, don’t try to fix their disappointment. Talk through it. We talk about the expectations and the reality of the situation. Were our expectations too high? Did someone not meet our expectations? Is this an opportunity to show forgiveness?

Even if our expectations are unrealistic, the feeling of disappointment is very real. Teach children to put words to their feelings. Let them hear you say you are disappointed. Have them say out loud that they are disappointed.

Finally, let them grieve. Let them be sad or hurt. Invite our God into the hurt and sadness. Let the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do the true healing.


Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have three sons and a daughter.


I asked my writers’ club to weigh in on this article. The club only has three members: my two nine-year-old granddaughters and me. We meet once a month over hot chocolate or coffee. I buy.

“Would you like to write an article with me?” I asked. “The article is about helping third-graders deal with disappointment. I’ll see that you are included in the byline.” The whole club cheered in approval.

We started by drawing pictures of disappointment. What appeared on our worksheets were drawings of Earth fractured into two pieces, a sobbing heart, and a skull and crossbones.

Then we made up some synonyms. The club introduced me to sorpair (sorrow+despair), desanguish (despair and anguish), and dishappy.

We talked about things that cause feelings of disappointment. The list started with frivolous items (e.g., when McDonald’s ice cream machine doesn’t work). But it soon turned to real disappointments (when I ask God to help me to stop worrying, but he doesn’t; when I make a promise and can’t keep it; when I work hard and realize that I did something wrong or did it for nothing; when someone is mean to me).

“So what’s the best way to handle disappointment?” I asked. Their answers were insightful. Take some quiet time, they advised. “Curl up on your bed and eat ice cream or doughnuts. I go to my room and think. Watching videos can be good.”

Then the advice shifted to involving others. “Finding someone to give you hugs and kisses works.” I was glad to hear, “Don’t give up; try again.” Best of all I rejoiced that my granddaughters counseled, “Read the Bible. Pray to God. Sing hymns.”

I had been mulling a motto in the days before the club met. Often when disappointment strikes kids it’s because they encounter one of life’s many unfairnesses. “When you are disappointed,” I asked, “how helpful is this saying, ‘Life is unfair but God is there’?”

One club member answered, “It doesn’t exactly help me, especially when I’m worried.” Bless her for her honesty. But she also penned on her worksheet, “1 Thessalonians 5:18” (“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”). Bless her once more.

The other club member wrote a poem, “When life hands you some sadness And you know you’re falling fast, Remember that on judgment day God will take us home at last.”

How can we help our children or grandchildren deal with disappointment? Invite them to talk about it. They may end up encouraging you through your own disappointments.


James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their eight grandchildren, two of whom (Ellie Lambrecht and Cadence Learman) provided input for this article.


Disappointed might be too weak a word. When my daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age nine, we were devastated.

Although a simple medication put her in remission and we celebrated—God answers prayer!—the disease flared, and we nosedived again. Thus began the cycle: FLARE, med, side effects, med for the side effects, remission, remission, FLARE . . . new med, new side effects, new med for the new side effects . . . all playing against a backdrop of endlessly beeping machines and carpeted waiting rooms.

As I reflect on these difficulties now, it’s easy to imagine that a well-meaning parent might unintentionally say things that twist God’s beautiful promises.

We might declare brusquely, “Well, God makes everything work out for good.” Although true, those words uttered too quickly, too thoughtlessly, can be dismissive, even cruel. They can feel like a mindless pat on a dog’s head.

The same with, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3,4). That’s certainly true, but the wisdom is lost on a child who can’t see past her pain, who keeps hearing the echo of classmates snickering because her face is puffy with prednisone. The wisdom can be lost on a parent too. Many a night I pounded on God’s chest: Please. She’s just a child. Enough with the character-building.

I asked my daughter if I’d said anything helpful to her in those early days and, lacking any confidence whatsoever, threw in: “Please say yes.”

She remembered praying together: “Let this medication work” and “Take away this stomachache before the softball game.”

She remembered me telling her that when others were unkind, it said more about them than about her. Usually some pain inside them caused them to project pain onto others.

She remembered hearing that God loved her and had a plan for her, but since we couldn’t read God’s mind, we couldn’t know for sure what it was. So she could simply focus on whatever he’d placed immediately in front of her. She could divide her life into those things she could act on and those beyond her control that she needed to surrender to him.

That’s what she remembers. What I remember is feeling utterly helpless much of the time. But we can’t protect our children from disappointment. We can’t walk their journeys for them. We can only accompany them in our shared vulnerability, be strong when we have to, rage and cry when we need to, and apply God’s promises like cool cloths on a fevered soul.

My daughter’s 25 now and in a prolonged remission. She sits in waiting rooms mostly by herself. She’s made the journey her own, and she’s also grown into the promises. She knows her strength is in Word, water, wine. She knows God answers prayer, but sometimes—often—the answer is no. She knows that peace is in surrender, not control. And I’m biased, but I think she’s also developed perseverance. And character. And hope.

And if she ever wonders, “Why would God allow this? Where is he in all this?” she knows the answer to that too. He’s right there in the thick of it. Jesus, her Friend and Brother—the one who wept at Lazarus’ funeral, the one whose heart went out to the widow of Nain—he sees her and sits next to her, arm around her shoulders, his sighs matching hers.


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : How do we keep our children safe online?

How do we balance law and gospel with our children?

I don’t know about you, but the idea of my children surfing the Internet scares me. I’m unsure of how to protect them from the bad while letting them benefit from the good.

This month Heart to heart is blessed to have articles from two moms who understand these fears, have lived through them themselves, and have a variety of helpful solutions so that the Internet can be a positive resource rather than a scary one.

Nicole Balza


It seems like yesterday when the Lord blessed my husband and me with our three sons and we began the journey of parenthood in the digital age.

When our oldest was born in 1995, the Internet was brand new to everyone. Being a bit geeky, my husband and I explored tools and techniques for creating websites, which led us to bridging the miles between us and our family and friends, sharing each of our boys’ first-year baby milestones and photos via a website that we updated monthly.

Over time, as the boys grew, we continued to share monthly family news and photos using a “cutting-edge” blog platform to house our family website. Together with our sons, we’ve used the Internet to listen to family-friendly podcasts and free audio books, find geocaches and BreakoutEDU solutions, take care of our Webkinz pets, e-mail our favorite authors, learn to program, play games, create videos, design 3-D models, and so much more.

Now our boys are reaching adulthood, and we are fast approaching the empty-nest stage. As I reflect on the years of their childhood, I remember joys and challenges we encountered along the way in relation to technology. In this sinful world, it is impossible to keep our children 100 percent safe from the dangers the Internet invites into our homes. Here are some of the steps we took to guard their safety:

Engage with them—Before allowing our boys to visit a website, we tried it out ourselves or sought the opinions of others regarding it. (A great site for reviews of all types of children’s media is commonsensemedia.org.) As our boys used websites, we used them too, guiding our boys along the way and explaining any areas of concern that came up.

Help them create—We used the tools available on the Internet to excite our sons to use the Internet for good and noble purposes. As they learned how to code video games, we encouraged them to expand the program’s capabilities. When their interest was piqued by podcasts, we started a weekly family podcast. Over the years we used our family blog to share the boys’ creative writing, stop-motion Lego movies, and Haiku poetry.

Block inappropriate content—Many software solutions for filtering inappropriate Internet content in the home are available. Something we’ve used for many years is OpenDNS, opendns.com/home-internet-security. The free Family Shield and Home plans include parental controls that protect every device in the home.

My husband and I did all of these things with an end goal in mind—giving our sons discerning hearts. All too quickly they have grown up and ventured out into the world alone. Now they must rely on their own judgement regarding the appropriateness of Internet content. Our prayer is that the lessons learned in their early years will stay with them.


Sallie Draper and her husband, Kevin, have three sons and live in New Ulm, Minnesota.


How many parents would take their two-year-olds to the pool for the first time and allow them to jump into the deep end? None, I hope! Being able to swim in the deep end is a process that requires lessons, practice, and experience, all guided by loving parents who want their children to enjoy swimming safely.

Staying safe on the Internet is not much different. If we want our teens to know how to enjoy using it safely, we must start the process early. This can be done in the light of God’s Word and his commands.

Internet safety is a wide net, but most parents identify several areas in which they wish to keep their children safe online.

• They are concerned with the addictive potential of games.

• They share concern over their children stumbling upon offensive sites, such as pornography. This is often connected with the idea of sexting, which occurs as early as middle school.

• Finally, parents fear the online social sites that encourage kids to talk with others, whether on gaming sites or social media sites that encourage kids to follow and be followed by others. These sites raise the concern of meeting strangers online who may not be who they portray as well as the opportunity for online bullying.

Unfortunately, many of us ignore these things until a problem arises. Being proactive in approaching these subjects really helps. Start early.

As parents, if we treat technology as a gift of God while training children to be aware of the dark side on the Internet, we can pray that they develop their Christian faith to assist them in making good and responsible choices. One way we can do that is by talking freely about the evil that is in the world that is now manifested online and can be found one click away. We can discuss this during devotions and in conversations with our children from the time they are in grade school and beyond.

The old model of keeping the desktop computer in an area of the home where Mom and Dad are walking through and can be aware of computer activity may seem outdated since we now deal with smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, and laptops. I think it is still reasonable to expect grade school and middle school kids to use their technology in a common area of the home. It is legitimate for a parent to be made aware of musical playlists so that when headphones are used, parents know what is being consumed. As kids grow and schoolwork requires technology, a quiet place may be desirable, but it should still be understood that when homework is done on the computer, that is all that is happening, and parents may come by to see how it is going. Parents need to be vigilant.

At a time determined by parents, all mobile technology can be unplugged and kept in a specified spot. For example, maybe all family devices get plugged in at a common location for the night. Enforce the rules as you talk about why they are good for the family.

Parents can also make rules regarding time limits for game playing and can talk openly about gaming choices and their possible effects on those who play them. Conversations about learning to discern should be ongoing. Social gaming sites, perhaps, should not be allowed until an age that a parent feels the child can make competent choices in this regard. Parents will need to model good online behavior and set the tone for what is acceptable in the home. It should be a family effort.

The creation of the Internet brings many good things to us, but the reality is that it has created another level of parenting. Parents must include applications regarding the misuse of the Internet as they teach their children to discern right from wrong in all facets of life. For example, what is learned in the home as far as how to treat one another in God-pleasing ways can help children be aware of the inappropriateness of bullying online, as an extension of bullying face to face. The idea of sexting as a practice can be addressed as veering outside of what God has commanded us regarding how to keep our bodies chaste. This is an extension of pre-Internet conversations with children that now need to be brought into the scope of what sins are possible through technology. We ask God to keep us from temptation in all we do, including in our use of technology.

Parents have always taught their children about “stranger danger.” This same conversation now must be expanded to teach children about the very real dangers of social media sites with followers. Talking on those sites or on online chat areas should be discouraged. The news often shares stories of online predators and the attempt to catch them, and you can discuss these news items at family gathering times to drive this point home.

We are blessed to have God’s Word as our handbook for parenting, and it is up to us as parents to continue to nurture our children in that Word as we make applications from the technology that is so ubiquitous in our culture today. May he bless our prayerful efforts!


For a comprehensive list of websites to help parents keep their children safe online, visit forwardinchrist.net/online-safety-resources.


Gail Potratz and her husband, Phil, have three adult children and eight grandchildren. Gail has served as a teacher and technology coordinator  for more than 30 years.


Discussing pornography with children

Any child who is using the Internet can encounter pornography. Conquerors through Christ, a Special Ministries team that provides resources to help people avoid or stop using pornography, has compiled resources for parents to deal with this situation. The First Word is an e-book that provides advice for talking to a child about pornography. Other e-books include Warning kids about pornography and Correcting kids who use pornography. For more information, visit conquerorsthroughchrist.net, choose “resources,” and then choose “e-books.”


 

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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : Balancing Law and Gospel

How do we balance law and gospel with our children?

Balancing law and gospel is a main tenet of Christian parenting. I often wonder, though, what that actually looks like. So that was my challenge for these authors. Show me! Show me what it looks like to balance law and gospel with our children. I’m excited to share this column with you, because I think that Emily and Dan really delivered by sharing some great examples and practical ideas.

I’d love to hear what you think. Did these articles hit the mark for you? Were you able to apply one of their ideas to your parenting repertoire? Heart to heart is here to support you, so let us know how we’re doing. Comment on the articles themselves at forwardinchrist.net or e-mail us at fic@wels.net.

Nicole Balza


No effort is more worthwhile than raising our children to love and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. And there is no other parenting task that makes us realize how much we need Jesus. Children learn primarily by example, and they’re always watching us. I never feel my sin so keenly as when I hear my ungracious words and sharp tone of voice mimicked from my children’s mouths. That is not what I wanted to teach them, but that is what they learned from me.

Showing children the right way to act is only half the battle. It’s just as important that we show them unwavering Christlike love when they fail, just as God shows us. To help our children understand this concept of law and gospel, we must be honest about our own sinfulness. One of the most meaningful examples of law and gospel we can show to our children is being willing to acknowledge our own faults when we sin against our children and ask them to forgive us.

But that hurts our pride. We don’t want to admit to our children when we’re wrong. We want them to think that we’re strong and unflappable and that we don’t make mistakes. But that’s not true. We’re sinners, just like they are. We need God’s grace and forgiveness every day of our lives, just like they do. When we’re authentic with our children about our sinfulness and weakness and our need for a Savior, we give them a powerful lesson about what it means to live as a Christian.

Our children are sinners too, and we need to expect that they are going to sin—and often against us! When they do, we must be careful not to make matters worse by adding our own sin to the mix with responses that

• take their sin personally (“How could you do this to ME?”),

• overreact (“You’re grounded for life!”),

• heap excessive guilt on them (“Do you realize just how badly you behaved?”), and

• shame them (“You’re so stupid! What’s wrong with you?”).

We simply show them their sin, encourage repentance, guide them to better choices and actions, and assure them of their forgiveness. Younger children may not fully understand what’s happening in this process, and older children may not appreciate what the process involves, but the consistent example we set for them will be powerful.

But above all, we LOVE them—not just when they’re easy to love but especially when it’s difficult. Just as God loves us unconditionally, we reflect that same love to our children, not because they deserve it, but because “he first loved us.” Our children are our youngest brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are walking together along the narrow path to heaven. We want our children to know not only how much we love them but also how much God loves them.

When we’ve taught them that, we’ve taught them what’s most important.


Emily Gresens Strey and her husband, Johnold, have four children ranging in age from 2 to 12.


What a privilege it is for us as parents to use God’s law and gospel with our kids. It’s a blessing that the Holy Spirit has called us to faith and given us the motivation to delight in God’s law and look for ways to demonstrate our love and thanks. Law versus gospel . . . what a balance as we parent our children at any age!

I have to admit that my natural tendency is a more law-based parenting approach. I thought I’d never use the line, “Because I’m your father and I said so,” but I have. Whenever I get to that point in a conversation with one of my kids, I stop and ask myself if what I am requiring is because of my own selfish desire to have things a certain way or if I am really providing a way for my kids to demonstrate their thankfulness for Christ.

Here’s an example. As I child, I grew up eating at the kitchen table with my family for every meal. When my kids wanted to eat in the family room together, I had a litany of responses.

“No. We eat at the kitchen table because that’s where people eat.”

“No, we’ll spill and stain the carpet.”

Then after these and other responses didn’t seem to satisfy anyone, I pulled out, “Because I’m your father and I said so”—as if that response instantly created satisfaction. It was more like forced obedience.

Obeying parents is a great way for children to show their love for God. I have also found that too many moments like this can frustrate kids, and their delight in the law can fade.

Let’s face it. Eating at the kitchen table is really my own desire to do things the way I did in the past. Can we eat together in the family room? Yes, of course—and we now do. Sometimes we even eat outside on the patio. Where we eat is no longer the requirement, but my kids understand that what I appreciate is the time together. Being together is a way they can demonstrate their love for me and for God. The rule itself is gone, but their understanding of the motivation behind the rule is what brings me joy.

My natural law-way-of-thinking can easily show itself in my parenting. Teaching responsibility quickly can become another selfish rule on my part and cloud the opportunity for gospel-motivated behavior.

As a parent of two awesome kids, I rely on the example of how my parents balanced the law and gospel with me when I was a child. You may recall a previous article when I shared a story from my childhood about driving our new garden tractor into a clothes pole. The grace-filled reaction of my father was imprinted on me. I recently had the opportunity to pay that forward.

My 14-year-old daughter asked if she could pull our car into the garage. It was literally only 15 feet. What could go wrong in 15 feet?

After a complete lesson on driving safety and the rules of “right pedal is go; left pedal is stop,” she sat in the driver’s seat and slowly moved the car forward. Just at the point where the pedal on the left should be used, the pedal on the right was selected instead. Thankfully she only hit the gas slightly, and the car managed to stop after crushing our garbage cans against the front wall.

My first inclination was to get angry. I just told her which pedals to use! However, I knew she was scared. I knew she felt bad. What she needed right then was not a healthy dose of the law and a stern reaction from her dad. It was a mistake; it was not intentional; she was sorry. My reaction was the same as my dad’s reaction when I was her age—nothing but encouragement. The law part of my parenting was done already. Now it was time for the gospel.

Are the muddy boot prints tracked along the kitchen floor an accidental act of a child on her way to an emergency bathroom trip? Or are they an intentional expression of disobedience that expresses an attitude that she doesn’t care about the rules in the house? Each has its own opportunity for the parent to emphasize the law in one case or the gospel in another.

Here’s my personal formula for balance:

1. Remember my natural tendency. I know I lean more heavily on the law, and I know I don’t always put the best construction on an act. Because I know this about myself, I hit my STOP button so I don’t get angry right away.

2. Communicate. After I pause, it’s time to find the facts. It’s time to communicate with my child and find out what happened.

3. Law. Is the particular situation in need of a more law-focused approach? Reinforce the rule? Time for a consequence? Do I need to emphasize the law to have a better appreciation of the next step?

4. Gospel. Is the particular situation prime for a grace response? Perhaps the child already knows she is wrong and already knows consequences will be coming, but she just needs to know you still love her and is forgiven because Christ forgave us.

5. Repent. The last step is to ask God for forgiveness when I skip one of the other steps above and blow it! When I miss the chance God gives me to demonstrate law and gospel in my parenting, I remember the undeserved act of love he showed me by sending his Son to satisfy the requirements of the law for me and by giving me the free and perfect gift of grace.

Let’s delight in our opportunity as parents to demonstrate our love for God by using the law and gospel as we handle everyday situations in our home. We are helping our children understand the need for their Savior and bringing them the assurance of their salvation and the knowledge that they are loved by us and their heavenly Father.


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.


 

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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : Shaping responsible behavior

Nagging. It’s as much a part of parenting as juice boxes and crayons. Of course, our nagging always has a purpose. Coats and shoes need to be put on so that we can run our errands. The milk needs to be put back in the refrigerator so that it doesn’t spoil. The dog needs to be fed . . . well, you get it.

That takes us to this month’s topic. I tell myself that I’d nag less if my children were more responsible. So, how can we get there? Reading our two authors’ articles this month gave me some great places to start—and some new perspectives on this topic.

Nicole Balza


Shaping responsible, Christlike behavior in children takes time.

Somehow my father added several hours to his already busy day to drive me around to selected classmates’ homes. The trips were made so I could render apologies to them and their parents. I had shared something inappropriate with several students and been caught. Guilt was forgiven, but I had to learn that what I did hurt others. My dad gave up his valuable time to make sure I followed through on my lesson of responsibility. Later that night I gave the eighth-grade valedictory speech at my grade school. I’m pretty sure I had a red face as I shared “The value of a Christian education.”

This is only one example of how my parents were tasked with trying to raise children who would behave responsibly. There were five of us, but I’m pretty sure I gave them the most practice.

No matter how hectic the pace of their daily lives, they not only addressed irresponsible behavior but gave us opportunities to foster responsibility. There was an assumption that we were competent beyond our own expectations—and most of the time we lived up to it.

Take three city buses to get to school? You can do it! And we did.

Go to college and pay for it yourself? Sure, why not?

Travel abroad on your own dime and come home in one piece? Piece of cake!

Shaping responsible behavior takes the kind of faith that realizes our children are just on loan to us from their true Father. My own children were tasked with daily chores that were part of their preparation for real life. Self-esteem starts with knowing you are a child of God, and conquering skills is an important addition.

Responsible behavior grows when responsibility is given to a child. In my years in the classroom I observed well-meaning parents cripple their children’s growth by assuming responsibilities that could have been given to their children. I was reminded of this myself when I was about to pick up my grandchild’s breakfast dish. My son said kindly, “Never do for a toddler what a toddler can do for herself.”

Follow-through on responsibilities is important. Very early on our children knew that bringing needed books home from school was their responsibility. The first time our daughter forgot a book she knew that even though we lived next door and had a key to the school, we weren’t going to go and get that book for her. It was a hard pill for all of us to swallow but one that would help achieve the desired effect.

At one of the Lutheran schools in which I taught, a very basic lunch was provided for children who forgot theirs. We knew something about the parents when we saw a child pick up that unglamorous lunch without a request to call home. And we saw the growth in responsible behavior as that same child remembered to bring his own lunch in the future.

The motivation for this never-ending job of raising responsible children is simple, powerful, and comes with a promise. Children in our care are a gift from God, and they actually come with instructions: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).


Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, Sam. They have three grown children and six grandchildren.


The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14).

My mom will laugh when she sees that I’m writing an article on parenting responsible kids. I don’t think a single school day went by when I could find both of my shoes before Mom was in the car backing out of the driveway. I wasn’t known as a very responsible kid in the traditional sense of the word. She used to joke that if my head wasn’t attached I would probably lose it. And she was probably right.

But I once heard that being responsible really means that one is able to respond. You might think of it as being spelled response-able. I like this definition. This is, after all, what I really want for my kids. I don’t just want them to know where their shoes are and, someday, where their keys and wallets are (though it would be nice if they were more responsible than I was . . . okay . . . am). But what I really want for them is to be able to respond to situations they find themselves in throughout their lives in a God-pleasing way.

I want my kids to be able to respond to God’s law and own up to their sin and their mistakes when the mirror of the law exposes them for the sinners that they are. I want them to be able to respond with genuine contrition and repentance. And I think that ability is fostered the more they come to know and believe and appreciate the gospel. They can own up to their sin knowing that Jesus will forgive it and erase it every time. It also gives them motivation when faced with similar temptations.

I want my kids to be able to respond to the consequences of their actions. I want them to know that God isn’t punishing them for their sin—he already punished Jesus in their place. But I want them to know that God (and sometimes their mom and I) allows or sends such consequences to teach them to make better choices the next time they are faced with similar temptations.

But most of all I want my kids to be able to respond to the gospel as they rejoice in the full and free forgiveness that is theirs through Christ. He offered his life for them and then rose up again in victory for them and for the world. I want them to be able to respond to that gospel victory by letting it fill their hearts and minds with peace as they put their trust in Jesus more and more. No matter what the situation in which they find themselves, I want them to be able to respond by living lives that are pleasing to him in their attitudes and actions, in the way they treat others, and in the way they look to serve those around them.

To me, this is the kind of responsibility I really want for my kids—even if they can’t find their shoes or leave their backpacks at school or leave a coat out in the rain. This kind of responsibility will last—not just for a lifetime but for eternity.

What can I do to foster such responsibility in my kids? I can model it and be responsible myself as I respond to the law and gospel in the way God desires. I’ll make both a part of my life every day and strive to be more responsible to God’s Word. Finally, I’ll pray that God works this responsibility in me and in my kids, because it can’t happen without him. With his help and blessing, our family will be responsible in all that we do.


Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, have four young sons.


 

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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How do parents go about identifying positive role models?

It’s easy to identify bad role models, but how do parents go about identifying positive role models? And then, how do we convince our kids that these are the people they should be learning from and emulating? Read this month’s Heart to heart articles for three perspectives.

Did you know that Heart to heart offers a monthly webcast/ podcast? These short pieces provide a quick shot in the arm as you go about your parenting journey. The October 2016 topic—helping children build their self-esteem based on Christ’s love—resonated with many parents. Interested? You can find a full list of all the episodes under the “Webcasts” and “Podcasts” tabs at forwardinchrist.net.

Nicole Balza

 


As parents, I think we can all agree with the important teaching of Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ESV). The question is, “How do we train?”

This has been what I have most appreciated about the Heart to heart series. Parents are sharing their unique experiences on how they have trained their children in the Lord. When I read Proverbs, the word train initially brings a picture in my mind of sitting down with my son or daughter and studying Scripture or reading a devotion—perhaps more of an academic experience. I’m also quite certain that modeling the application of our knowledge of Scripture is important for my kids and included in the idea of training from Proverbs.

By default, parents are natural role models for their children, but we can also rely on other positive role models to reinforce that training in the Lord. I want my kids to see how God’s Word comes to life in what we do and say. I’d like them to see how others bring to life the fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).

But who are these people who can be role models, and where do we find them? There seem to be many role models out there in sports, movies, television, or YouTube, but are these the people who consistently bring us confidence in their demonstrations of love for God?

As I wrote this article, I couldn’t help but wonder who my kids would identify as their role models. So I asked them, “Besides Mom and Dad, who would you say are your favorite role models—the people you really look up to?” I asked them each separately, and both of them had the same top pick. They chose their Aunt Lori because “she is so loving and patient and kind to everyone.”

Yes! I couldn’t have picked a better role model, and personally I was relieved that the top pick was not a famous YouTuber or sports hero! Another pick was one of their grade school teachers, Miss Bauman, who has devoted her life to the teaching ministry for more than 40 years.

I’d like to think my wife and I intentionally arranged our kids’ role models to be family members or called workers. However, it’s interesting that our kids picked the same people that my wife and I would consider our own role models. Maybe the secret to encouraging positive role models for our children is to be sure we have our own first. Thanks be to God that he provides faithful, Christian people in our lives who we can look to as examples. Let our kids see us cherishing them as well.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a preteen son.


When I was a kid, I adored Olivia Newton-John’s character Sandy from the movie Grease. I wanted to be her. That perfectly flipped hair. That golden voice. That sweet, upright disposition. Then it all changed in the last scene of the movie. Gone were the sweater sets and pearls and out came the too-tight leather pants and garish makeup. She changed who she was—just to win the favor of some guy. I was crushed! How could I still look up to her?

It’s tough to find good role models, especially for our kids. The “role models” that our society produces—reality TV stars, Hollywood celebs, professional athletes—can have a broken moral compass. Here are a few things to remember as we help our kids find role models they can look up to.

Look for role models outside the norm. Role models can come from all sorts of places: the quiet World War II veteran who lives next door and fought for his country on the beaches of Normandy. The doctor who sets aside her six-figure salary and instead chooses to volunteer in a third-world country. The teacher who has spent over half his life faithfully mentoring kids in and out of the classroom. We can help our kids find these role models.

Look for role models in your child’s interest areas. Does your child love science? Encourage her to study the life of someone who made a groundbreaking discovery despite the odds. Does your child love writing? Help him find an author who endured rejection after rejection yet persisted. Kids need role models who can inspire them and show them what’s possible.

Help your kids understand that even the best role models are flawed, and we can learn from that. David—“a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14)—had an affair with another man’s wife, and when he found out she was carrying his child, he set in motion a series of tragic events that led to the death of her husband and had ramifications on David’s family for years to come. Discuss with your kids why God included flawed heroes in his story: to remind us repeatedly of our desperate need for forgiveness and the power of his grace and also to remind us that God uses us, flawed as we are, for his purposes.

In the end, we need more than worldly role models. We need a Savior. While we can look to Jesus as a role model, we must first see him as our Redeemer. He was perfectly kind, perfectly loving, perfectly forgiving. He prayed constantly, studied the Scriptures, and obeyed his Father in a way we never could. Praise God that when we inevitably fall short of his perfect standards, we can look to the one who lovingly kept those standards perfectly!

Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest.

 


Helping our kids develop discernment about the people they emulate is not a one-and-done conversation. The lessons we parents teach our kids about role models is more caught than taught throughout their childhoods.

Like thousands of stone chips in a mosaic, numerous mini conversations about role models create a portrait for our children of the kind of people we Christians pattern our lives after. With every two-minute reflection about Special Agent Gibbs on NCIS, a tile is placed in the mosaic. Comparing the leadership characteristics of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Eli Manning adds another tile. Gently discussing your daughter’s musical idols lays several more. Of course, parents ensure these tiles are colored with the blood-red tones of God’s grace.

Multiple mini conversations about role models remove much of the pressure parents can feel about influencing their children’s choice of heroes. It means parents don’t have to convince their children each time they tackle this topic. It encourages parents to listen to their children’s opinions. It builds confidence in children that they can make the best role model choices.

These conversations work best with some guidelines. I suggest four that are built around the acronym TACT.

T: Testify about your role models. Identify for your children why you have chosen the role models you have. Talk about how, because of them, your life is different and how your walk with Jesus has improved. This is essential: Let your children see you are striving to be the person your role model already is.

A: Ask about their role models. The same questions you want to answer for your kids about your role models are questions you can ask your kids about their role model choices. Ask: Why do you look up to that person? What are the most valuable things you are learning from that person? How has this person helped you more fully appreciate God’s grace?

C: Confirm their role models’ positives. Point out the most positive traits of your children’s heroes and friends. For example, “I’m glad you hang around with Ethan. He’s always polite.” This gains more ground than stumbling through what you don’t like. When you identify favorable traits, you confirm for your children that they are making good choices, and you help them define whom they want to influence their lives.

T: Talk about their role models’ negatives. Talking about the less desirable traits of the people your kids admire is important but tricky. When we put anyone on the defensive, barriers go up. Approach this topic as a conversation rather than a lecture. Questions usually work best: “Justin Bieber said, ‘A lot of people who are religious, I think they get lost.’ What do you think he meant? How much do you agree? How much do you think that’s true in our family?”

Begin the conversations early. Continue them often. Build the mosaic. Use TACT.

James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their eight grandchildren.

 


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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Multiple
Volume 104, Number 2
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we include our children in worship at church?

Church can be a struggle for parents with children of all ages. I’ll admit, there have been times when my husband or I stayed home with a little one because we knew we’d spend the whole service in the narthex. We know, though, that taking children to church is important. So, the next week we’d head back to church with baby in tow. Eventually, we were able to spend small chunks of the service in the sanctuary. And then one day we realized we made it through the whole service in our pew.

Along the way, it can feel like we’re just trying to survive. What I wonder, though, is if survival might be easier if we found ways to engage our children in the service. How can we include our children—of all ages—in worship at church? Two Heart to heart contributors give us their thoughts. 

Nicole Balza

 


Twenty years ago I wrote a column for this magazine titled “Children belong in church.” My kids were two and four, and though I believed what I wrote, it hadn’t stopped me from taking those two kiddos out of church. Multiple times. At least once, I remember hoicking one up under each arm—like basketballs, but louder and chubbier—walking right out the door and driving home.

I never found the secret to perfect church behavior. Sometimes crayons and Cheerios—let’s call them worship tools—were enough. Sometimes sterner looks and firmer hands were needed.

It’s hard. Too permissive, and our ruckus ruins the service for others. Too rigid, and the kids start dreading church.

Okay, here’s the sad truth. When three-year-old Phil trained himself to lean against my arm and sleep through the sermon, God forgive me but I considered it a blessing. Phil’s pretty sure he slept through sermons until about third grade, and I’m pretty sure I relished it. That’s some less-than-stellar parenting right there.

As kids get older, it’s the church after church—the liturgy you hold in your car on the way to the bakery—that’s almost as important as the service itself.

Confession

Mom: “Today when we confessed our sins, I thought of how crabby I was this morning. I’m sorry. I need to be more patient.”

Kids: “We understand. You were mad ‘cuz we were late again.”

Scripture

Dad: “That’s one of my favorite psalms. How does that verse go again? ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully . . .’ ”

Kids: “Made!”

Sermon

Mom: “What was your favorite part of the sermon?”

Kids: “The story about that little boy who thought Jesus couldn’t love him.” (Spoiler: It’s always the story—for all of us.)

Dad: “Did I hear Pastor say . . .?”

Kids: “No! What he said was . . .”

In the church after church, families review, discuss, apply, even question. Sometimes we get downright Berean.

The temptation, though, is to let the discussion devolve into snarkiness: “I hate that contemporary music. . . . The prayers were so long. . . . That sermon had nothing to do with my life. . . . Did you see Mrs. Jones’ purple hat?” And of course: “That crying baby! I wish people would keep their kids quiet in church.”

I guess that takes us back where we started. Sometimes, Moms and Dads, we do need to take the kids out. But mostly we do our utmost to help them stay. Help them sit, stand, bow, sing, pray, listen.

Help them simply be present as the Spirit works his holy osmosis, passing the promises of Christ into the bloodstream of their souls . . . forming their faith, their character, their habits . . . cultivating in them that deep sense of belonging to something larger than themselves—something eternal.

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.

 


I love having kids in church, both as a dad and a pastor. I love it when kids recite the Creed, putting emphasis on different words than I do. It helps me think about what I’m saying. I love it when they smile back at me during the Aaronic blessing. It shows me how they’re receiving it in faith.

There is so much in worship both for kids and for adults through kids in worship. Here are three suggestions to help everybody in the family make the most of worshiping together.

  1. Sit with or near others who are close to your kids. Even though my parents had seven of us, they never handed us off to others. We always sat with my parents. They wanted us to see them worship, but not only them. They made sure I saw Grandpa worship. I remember that one Sunday still today. I looked down the pew and saw my grandpa praying the Lord’s Prayer. I remember the sincerity on his face as he said the words that were obviously so familiar to him. And I remember getting back to praying like I’ve never gotten back to it before.
  2. Strategically teach your kids the liturgy. There is nothing I love better than watching my four-year-old speak the response to the words, “This is the gospel of our Lord.” I love seeing that she knows what it is and better yet knows why it is. We taught her as a 3-year-old, “Elliana, Jesus taught us everything we need to know and he saved us so when we hear from him we get all excited.” Pick some low-hanging liturgical fruit like that for your younger ones. If you have an infant son, help him fold his little hands during the Prayer of the Day. If you have a 5-year-old, help her nail the creeds. If you have a 12-year-old, show him some profound theological connections. For example, ask him to think about why we sing about the Lamb of God right before the Lord’s Supper.
  3. Receive the Word in faith in front of your kids. Most weeks the pastor is going to say, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Receive that in faith and joy as the best news you’ve heard all week. Even consider leaning over on occasion to whisper into your teen-age daughter’s ear, “I really needed that today.” And she’ll get it. She’ll remember your apology for being too hard on her earlier in the week and see how you received Christ then and there for it. Dust off the sermon too on the ride home. Tell the kids why it mattered to you so much. Then ask them what mattered in it to them. If it’s crickets, help them remember. You might just see your kids’ ears perk up a bit more next Sunday.

Jonathan Bourman is a pastor at Peace, Aiken, South Carolina. He and his wife, Melanie, have a four-year-old daughter.

 


What is worship?

The WELS Commission on Worship says, “Worship is the heart of all parish life, the time when the greatest number of members gathers to proclaim the gospel and receive God’s life-giving power in Word and sacrament.”

Want to read about more ways to involve your children in worship? Visit forwardinchrist.net for Brian Heinitz’s practical suggestions. Heinitz is a former member of the WELS Commission on Worship and has four children of his own. He wrote a special, online-only article with his philosophy on involving children in worship, and it includes some perspectives you may not have considered as well as tips to try with your children.

Join the conversation! Visit wels.net/forwardinchrist and look for the Heart to heart link.

 


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Author: Multiple
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we help our family stay focused on Christ this Christmas?

Our authors this month have some great tips for how to keep your family focused on Christ this Christmas. I’m here to tell you, though, that these are not one-size-fits-all ideas. Going back to the original purpose for Heart to heart, these articles are meant to support you in your Christian parenting journey and to be conversation starters. They are not supposed to make you feel guilty about anything you are or are not doing.

We certainly get enough of that at Christmas, don’t we? The guilt? The self-induced stress? The feeling that we need to check certain boxes off in order for our children to have a “perfect” Christmas? Yeah, I’ve been there, and I’ve discovered that I’d rather be at the manger. At the manger I find the joy. the peace. the purpose of Christmas. Please join me at the manger this year—and leave your guilt at the foot of the cross, where the babe of Christmas fulfilled his purpose of becoming our Savior.

Nicole Balza


Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love the annual reminder that God loved us so much that he sent his son as a little baby to be with us here on earth and, eventually, to pay the price for our sins.

My daughter came home from school recently, horrified, having learned that some people refer to Christmas as X-mas. “Mom, they don’t even want to say Christmas. They take Christ out completely!”

Part of me was sad that my eight-year-old is becoming more familiar with the ways of the world, and part of me was so thankful that she was deeply troubled by something to which I’ve, sadly, become desensitized. Her reaction was a powerful reminder to me of the importance of teaching my kids to keep Christ in Christmas.

One of our favorite things to do as a family in preparation for Christmas is to decorate our home. We put up the tree, hang up wreaths, and look through last year’s Christmas cards.

But our favorite thing to set out together is our creche. Andy and I have a special set that was a gift from my parents on our first married Christmas. While I set out the shepherds, angel, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, our kids set up a toy nativity of their own. When Henry was two, he set quite the Christmas scene with Jesus in the manger and all his “guys” (Batman, Spiderman, even The Joker) coming to pay their respects to the newborn king.

Another favorite tradition is participating in and attending our church’s Advent By Candlelight service at the start of Advent. There is something so special about sitting next to my daughter and worshiping together, preparing our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Each of the past few years, we have received a verse-a-day Advent calendar from that service, and we read it together as a family at breakfast. This, combined with working with my kids to memorize their speaking parts for the Christmas services, is a great start to our days during Advent. (I’m convinced Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth is meant to be heard in children’s voices!)

Our family’s biggest blessings in helping to keep us focused on Christ at Christmas are the church and school to which we belong. Worshiping and learning together about the true meaning of Christmas on a daily basis keeps our hearts and minds focused on what matters through the busyness and many distractions of the Christmas season.

Kerry Ognenoff and her husband, Andy, have two young children, Anna and Henry. The family worships at Grace, Milwaukee. Anna and Henry attend school at St. John, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.


“How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?”

“Change?! We’ve always had that light bulb!”

Sometimes we Lutherans can get the reputation for being resistant to change. We’ve always parked in the same spot in the church parking lot. We’ve always sat in the same pew. We’ve always brought the same dish to the church potluck.

But our hesitancy to change isn’t always bad. It’s rooted in our understanding of the value of traditions. Traditions help us learn. Our little Lutherans know the liturgy with ever growing understanding because they hear those same words spoken every week in church. We celebrate baptisms and confirmations to show that they’re special. Traditions teach us values and important truths.

And if there’s any part of the year that’s steeped in traditions, it’s the Christmas season. So many Christmas traditions are designed to point us to Jesus. So if we want to keep our kids (and ourselves) focused on Jesus at Christmastime, let’s consider focusing on connecting Jesus to the traditions we already have.

 

What traditions do you have? What do you do to help you and your family celebrate Christmas? How

• Do your kids participate in a children’s Christmas program? Be a part of it! Help them memorize their parts and look up the Bible verses in their context. Show your children how they point to Jesus.

• Do you have a nativity scene? Consider letting the kids play with it (or buy an inexpensive one they can use). Don’t set out all the pieces at once. Let the kids move Mary and Joseph across the room a little each day during Advent. Put the baby in the manger for the first time on Christmas morning. Then add the shepherds and start the Magi on their journey down the hall to join the scene by Epiphany. Talk about the story and anticipate the joy of the Savior’s birth.

• Do you buy and eat candy canes? Teach your children how the red and white stripes remind us of the red blood Jesus shed for us, which makes us pure and white as snow. Show them the Good Shepherd’s staff which, when turned upside down, makes a “J” for Jesus.

• Do you decorate a tree in the living room? Teach your children the symbolism behind the tree and its decorations. The lights remind us that Jesus is the light of the world who rescued us from sin. The angel or star remind us of the good news proclaimed. The garland that seems to wrap around the tree endlessly, and the tree itself—that’s evergreen and points to the sky—reminds us of the beautiful eternity that awaits us in heaven one day soon.

What traditions do you have? What do you do to help you and your family celebrate Christmas? How have you used those traditions to focus on Jesus and on the eternal peace that he gives? Consider engaging in the online discussion at forwardinchrist.net and share your traditions. Maybe one from your family will help my family and others look to Jesus this Christmas.

Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, have four sons. Rob serves as pastor at Grace, Kenai, Alaska.


More resources to consider this Christmas

Northwestern Publishing House offers a variety of books, music, nativities, and other resources to help your family focus on Christ at Christmas. Here are a couple newer resources to consider:

• The Christmas Star from Afar: Set up the wooden nativity that comes with this set, and then hide the star each night to create a fun hide-and-seek game throughout Advent. When your children find the star each morning, they move the three wise men to its location. On Christmas morning, the star is found on the top of the stable and your children can move the wise men to worship baby Jesus. This set also includes a hardbound book that includes the Christmas story as well as Scripture verses to read each day leading up to Christmas. Some families hide candy or little treats with the star.

• Tidings of Comfort and Joy: This book of Advent devotions works well for family devotions. The book leads readers through the biblical accounts of God’s Old Testament promises about a coming Savior and their fulfillment in the New Testament through the birth of his Son. Each devotion is a reminder of the good news of Jesus Christ and how he came to earth to live and die for us, which are the tidings of comfort and joy that the angels sang about that first Christmas night.

For more information on these or other Christian books or gifts, visit www.nph.net.


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Author: Multiple
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How to help families who struggle with severe food allergies

Getting together with a friend? You’re likely to meet for coffee or a meal. Throwing a birthday party? You’re sure to serve cake. Celebrating a church anniversary? Enter the potluck or catered meal. In our culture, food seems to equal happiness and good times—which isn’t a bad thing. However, it makes life challenging for families who have food allergies.

So far my own family hasn’t struggled with this—but I know others who do. I can’t imagine the fear that grips a mother whose child’s well-being hangs in the balance during these happy events. That’s why I thought it’d be helpful to hear from two of these moms and get their perspectives on what life is like for families that live with severe food allergies.

Do you have a parenting question you’d like Heart to heart’s authors to consider? Please send it our way! We’re developing our 2017 calendar, and we’d love to have your input. E-mail fic@wels.net.

Nicole Balza


Our life was going according to plan. My husband and I married a year out of college, purchased our first home, and two years later gave birth to our first child.

Then it happened. God took us on our first major detour together. Our infant son had colic, reflux, eczema, and hernias due to muscle strain during bowel movements. Doctors prescribed various medications and suspected his symptoms could be stemming from possible allergies. Since he was breastfed exclusively, I altered my diet to try to ease his symptoms, but it was difficult to track what was helping or hindering the situation. Nothing brought complete relief.

Two years passed, and by this time I had given birth to our daughter who had health issues of her own. She suffered from chronic respiratory infections, ear infections, and intermittent stomach cramping. We took shifts staying up at night making sure she could breathe while she struggled to sleep.

Then it was my turn for complications. I had been losing weight and had large bruises appearing on my body without sustaining any injuries. At a doctor appointment, I heard the words no one ever wants to hear, “We should run some tests for leukemia.” It was with great relief that I received negative results, but I still had no answers.

With two sick children and my own failing health, I went on a quest for a diagnosis. Many doctor appointments later, along with two trips to the Mayo Clinic, we finally learned we had Celiac Disease—an autoimmune disorder that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.

Armed with this knowledge, we began the healing process. We changed our diet to strictly gluten and dairy free. Even this did not bring complete relief, so we started a specific diet developed to heal the lining of the intestines. It was very time consuming and involved fermenting our own foods; making our own broth; and eating all organic, homemade, raw (unprocessed) foods. Eventually, relief came, and we could reassess our life.

Our debt from medical bills and the new, expensive, lifelong diet strained us financially, so we decided to downsize our house to better manage our budget.

The hard part was over. We had survived the detour.

Whenever I am asked how we dealt with all these challenges, it is so inspiring not to have to search for answers once again. The answer is simple. When God’s plans altered from ours, he held us close to him as we learned to let go and put all our trust in him. He never put us down as he taught us that hard times can bring blessings, too.

Our Christian friends and family supported us, listening with compassionate ears and never tiring of doing good. We had babysitters for doctor appointments, help with tedious food preparations, and a monetary donation to help pay medical bills. We even inherited supportive new neighbors in the process. Accepting help was difficult at first, but through this trial, God taught us how to rely on the help he sends through fellow Christians.

When our children entered school, we again saw God’s love in action. Parents called before parties asking what they could bring that our children could eat. Some sent special non-food projects or toys. Instead of feeling left out, our children often felt special. Upon receiving a toy as a birthday treat, my daughter lamented, “I feel bad for the other kids in my class. They ate their treat, but I get to keep mine forever!”

So while life’s detours are unexpected and often unsettling, go with God because he’s looking at the whole road map and leading you in the right direction. I have learned my life was, is, always will be going according to plan . . . his plan.

Kristin Kutz and her husband, Joel, live in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, with their two children.


My 14-month-old feverishly scratched at his face. Huge white blisters exploded across his chubby baby cheeks. His lips swelled. He spit the food out of his mouth. He

vomited. After a trip to the E.R., we received the diagnosis—my baby had life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies.

So began a new phase of our life—a constant campaign to keep our son alive. It’s a campaign complicated by many people’s lack of understanding.

Food allergies are on the rise. We all know someone who has them. So what can we do to help? Overall the answer is simple—show God’s love.

Be kind in your interactions with the parents and children dealing with food allergies. Families dealing with food allergies didn’t ask for it, but they have to deal with it on a bite-to-bite basis. Put yourself into their shoes. Go one day thinking about every item you put in your mouth or on your body. That hand soap has almond oil in it. We can’t use it. That popcorn is made in a factory with peanuts and tree nuts. We can’t enjoy it. That dog across the street eats peanut butter as a treat. We can’t pet him. This is the reality of many food allergy families.

Here are a few practical ideas to show your Christian love and concern:

1. Keep kids with allergies from harm. Check and double check ingredient labels. Even if the label stated nothing last time about a particular allergen, it may this time. Make sure things are washed up as much as possible if your church/school/family consumes the food allergen. That means door handles, tables, toys, kids’ faces and hands, etc. And, if families wants to bring their own food, please don’t be offended. Let them do so without guilt. Their first priority is the safety of their children. If they are comfortable with you, the ladies’ guild, or school lunch program making the food, save the food labels for them to double check.

2. Don’t leave kids, their siblings, and families out. Institute ways in your church, school, and home to serve safe foods—or to leave food out of the situation altogether. We have chosen to bring non-food toys/trinkets to school to celebrate our kids’ birthdays. It has gone over so well that one of the teachers asked all of the families this year to only bring non-food items for birthdays—even though there aren’t any food allergy kids in her room.

3. Ask a lot of questions. If a food allergy individual is coming to your home, church, or school, ask, “What is the specific allergy?” Some with egg allergies are fine with cooked eggs, but not raw eggs, so baked good would be safe. Some with peanut allergies are perfectly fine with the walnuts in the brownies you made. Check with the families as to what is safe to eat and what is not.

4. Know the signs of an allergic reaction and what to do. Have the contact information of the parents and local emergency line. Learn how to use an EpiPen and do so before emergency personnel get there. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has some great resources for families, schools, and churches at foodallergy.org. Mylan (the EpiPen manufacturer) even gives free EpiPens to schools in case there are children who experience an unknown allergic reaction. Visit epipen4schools.com.

Be a blessing to these families. Little gestures let these kids and their families know you care about them no matter the setting.

Rachel Learman and her husband, Paul, have four children. They live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What do we do when our children say they can’t?

“Mommy do!” insists my two-year-old.

“I can’t!” whines my five-year-old.

“I don’t know how!” laments my ten-year-old.

No matter the age, all children have their moments of insecurity, self-doubt, and—sometimes—laziness. So, how do we tackle those “I can’t” moments? Often my first response is, “Of course you can!” Sometimes, though, a more nuanced approach might be better. This month three Heart to heart authors offer their approaches for how to deal with the “I can’ts.”

Do you have a parenting question you’d like Heart to heart’s authors to consider? Please send it our way! We’re developing our 2017 calendar, and we’d love to have your input. E-mail fic@wels.net.

Nicole Balza


It’s hot in South Carolina in the summer. Sunny too. How’s that for stating the obvious? The solution? Go to the pool. That’s where my daughter’s “can’t” came to life in a way stronger than anything I’d seen in her before. She didn’t want to dunk her head, but at the same time she did. She was at war with herself.

Saying no to something one can do sometimes is always about an inner tension for a Christian. We’ve all felt it. One minute you’re making the grand pronouncement, “I can do it all by myself.” And the next, just like my daughter did, you stare at what’s in front of you and say, “Daddy, I can’t.” Sometimes it’s the unknown you don’t want to face. Sometimes it’s the fear of failure that grips you. Other times it’s the easiness of inertia that captures your heart.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to overcome the “can’ts.” But helping we need to help our children know how God has recreated them in baptism is . I think that’s important. God didn’t baptize us into timid lives or shy choices or despairing attempts at worthwhile living. He certainly did not want us to face life fearing every event. Confidence in our love for our children and especially God’s love for them is a factor in moving forward. He baptized us into lives of confidence, love, and self-discipline. And so for me, saying “can’t” when you can isn’t just a matter of merely pounding on the will or somehow gaining compliance; it’s a matter of understanding the gospel itself.

That’s why I relished my daughter’s “can’t” moment. I saw it not as a moment to develop more grit in her but rather to set loose the grit she already possessed in her recreated self. And I believed that turning her former “no” into a full-bodied “YES” wasn’t really a matter of pushing on her will. I believed it was a matter of putting down her old will that was holding her back and raising up her more powerful, recreated will so she’d turn into the dolphin I knew she could be.

How do you that in real-time, real-life living? You apply law and gospel. Was she scared of her underwater attempt? I gave her the safety net of a father’s gentleness and ever-present love. Was she being lazy or combative? That’s not who God recreated her to be, and I don’t have time for that. Some variation of “Git ‘er done” was occasionally the right medicine for the moment. Was she emotionally tapped out? Then it was time to float with the noodles, take a break, and try again later. My goal throughout? Nurture her recreated self and put down her old one.

How’d that turn out for us this summer? Honestly? I’m happy to report that she has now officially turned into a dolphin. And better yet, she is living her recreated life more powerfully making waves for Jesus. And not just in the pool either.

Jonathan Bourman is a pastor at Peace, Aiken, S.C. He and his wife, Melanie, have a three-year-old daughter.


“I cahn’t! I-I-I cah-h-hn’t!” That’s the lament of my three-year-old grandson as he fit together jigsaw puzzle pieces. Within two minutes the puzzle was complete, and he was on to another puzzle. But the chant continued. “I cahn’t!” Cute.

Doubting one’s adequacy may be cute at three. It loses charm by grade school. So how do we best love our kids when they insist, “I can’t,” but we parents know they can? I have five guidelines as a conversation starter.

Show grace. Lead with love, not law. Let your self-skeptical kids know they are loved—loved by you and, even better, loved without measure by God. Try, “I’m sorry you don’t think you can do this. I want you to know I love you more than anything else. And Jesus loves you much more than that.”

Don’t only begin with an emphasis on God’s grace. Throughout your conversation circle back to your love, a love that won’t diminish because of your child’s failures, a love that is driven by God’s love for you. Make God’s grace tangible with your actions—a hug, a smile, a back rub.

Yes, laying down the law has a place. But refuse to start there.

Seek to understand. Ask, “Why do you think you can’t do this?” Your child is believing a lie. Expose the falsehood to the warmth of truth and the problem evaporates.

There are many reasons we might doubt our abilities, including others’ negative opinions, fear of failure, prior failures, and peer pressure.

Share your positive evaluation. Gently offer your own view of the gifts and abilities God has given your child. Suggest evidence for your view. “I know you can do this. Remember how you swam across the pool and surprised us all?”

Talk about grace and giftedness. Go beyond offering your evaluation. Talk about grace’s evaluation. Grace insists your child is unimaginably precious to God. The Son of God coming to be our Savior proves that. But in addition, God’s grace means your child is spectacularly gifted as the exact person God wants on this planet today. Consider Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Offer appropriate assistance. You might say, “What if you and I do this together?” “I’ll show you; then you can do the rest.” “I’d be willing to get you started on this project.”

Different kids in different situations at different times in their lives need to be approached differently, of course. What advice would you add?

James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their eight grandchildren.


It can happen around age 12.

Your daughter suddenly quits the team. Refuses to enter the music contest. Starts getting Bs when she’s always been an A student.

It isn’t laziness. It isn’t fear of failure. It’s fear of success.

Near the onset of puberty, your little girl who once outran all the girls and out-mathed all the boys wakes up one day and says, “I can’t,” when you know—and she knows—she absolutely can. Why?

Because sometimes success brings negative social repercussions, especially for adolescent girls. Insecure boys don’t like to be outdone, so they reject her for the girls who make them feel stronger and smarter. Competitive girls resent her achievements, so they kick her down the social ladder. In a hundred ways, her peers punish her for outpacing them, no matter how humbly she does so.

What’s a parent to do?

It might be tempting to sit that girl down and remind her, “To whom much is given, much is required.” God demands she use her talents, not bury them.

Let’s not. Let’s not use the law in this way. Even if such tactics succeed and your daughter starts using her gifts faithfully again, she’ll be doing it out of guilt. She may even begin to resent the God whose love, it seems, comes with strings.

Instead, build her up.

1. Tell your daughter you’re proud of her when she works hard, whether her efforts are successful or not.

2. Be generous and specific with praise.

3. Stop saying, “You can do anything, honey.” She knows it isn’t true, and it only makes her wonder whether your other praise is empty too.

4. Make your home a safe place, where your daughter can say, “It felt so cool to win!” It’s honest, and having permission to say it at home may eliminate that feeling to seek praise in public, which really will hurt her social standing—and rightly so.

5. When you see jealousy or pettiness in any of your kids, put your foot down. The family is a support network, not a rugby scrum.

6. When you see jealousy or pettiness in your daughter’s friends, help her recognize it for what it is and try to understand the pain and insecurity that causes it.

7. Foster humility by helping your daughter recognize that every person is gifted, whether those gifts win plaques at award banquets or not. And some of those gifts—humor, empathy, work ethic—will count far more in adulthood than fine free throw shooting. Your daughter may be gifted, but so is everyone else.

One of Satan’s favorite tools is to shut down Christians’ talents. He’ll tempt our daughters to make themselves smaller than they are, to sabotage themselves, to feel guilty when they faithfully use the gifts God gave.

Let’s not let that Liar win. Let’s help our daughters humbly and faithfully say, “I can do this. For my Savior, I can do this.”

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.


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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What do we tell our children when a loved one dies?

We’re hurting, but that doesn’t mean we can take a vacation from being a parent. Often when a loved one dies, our children need us more than ever. They need us to comfort them, answer their questions, pray with them, reminisce, cry, and laugh. What are some ways we can handle this emotion-filled time? How do we answer the tough questions? This month three Heart to heart authors open their hearts and share their experiences.

Do you have a parenting question you’d like Heart to heart’s authors to consider? Please send it our way! We’re developing our 2017 calendar, and we’d love to have your input on what topics we should cover next year. E-mail fic@wels.net.

Nicole Balza


In 2013, my dad unexpectedly passed away from complications of pneumonia. I hadn’t ever dealt with that level of extreme grief, and it hit me HARD.

Henry (18 months) had never met my dad but was old enough to notice that I was sad. Anna (5 years) knew my dad, and I dreaded telling her he was gone. To this day I am so thankful for the strong, comforting, supportive man I married. Andy took care of details I never would have thought of in my state of shock. He held my hand and did most of the talking when we told the kids.

We were honest and gave age-appropriate details. We told Anna that Grandpa Denny had died in the night. We wouldn’t see him on earth again. We told her that we were sad because we would miss him and she would probably see me crying. And it was okay if she needed to cry too. Anna’s first response was that it wasn’t fair—Henry hadn’t even gotten to meet him! Then she asked if she could watch TV.

Later she needed to cry and had some questions. We hugged and cried together. We talked about good memories of my dad. I told her that even though we have the joy of knowing heaven is waiting for us, it’s okay for us to miss people who aren’t here on earth anymore.

We still talk about my dad often. Henry, who is now four, has grown up hearing stories about my dad, knowing he died and that I still miss him and feel sad sometimes. His favorite story is about my dad living on his sailboat—after all, pirates live on sailboats!

He asks me what would happen if Andy and I died. Who would take care of him? What if Anna died too? I think the knowledge that loved ones can die raises many scary questions for little ones. I try to address these concerns when they arise. Usually a simple answer is all it takes (we will always make sure you are taken care of; you would be very sad, but you will see her/us again in heaven), and then he moves on.

Sometimes we still cry. And I always tell them that it’s okay to do that.

We held a memorial service for my dad about a month after he passed away. We invited friends and family to share memories of him. A few people came up to speak. At last call to the microphone, Anna unexpectedly walked to the front of the room. I grabbed Andy’s hand, not knowing what she planned to say but admiring her bravery. Her speech left all of us reaching for tissues.

“My name is Anna. Denny was my grandpa, and I love him very much. I will miss him, but I know I’ll see him again in heaven.”

Kerry Ognenoff and her husband, Andy, have a daughter in second grade and a son in preschool.


Talking to your child about the death of a loved one is never easy. Death is simply not natural. It’s the result of sin. No sin—no death—and no need to talk about it.

Certainly the circumstances surrounding the death can impact a child and family, but as parents, my wife and I have found that preparing for death is a natural part of our Christian life. Starting with baptism, we receive the forgiveness of sins and become heirs of eternal life. Death is defeated! As parents, we then have the opportunity to help our children grow in the Word so the Holy Spirit can nurture their faith in Christ and they can be confident of life in heaven. Talking to children about the death of a loved one can then bring us the opportunity to comfort one another and be reminded of the certainty of eternal life in heaven.

Nine years ago, my mother died after fighting cancer for 18 months. My daughter Kayla was five years old. We lived nearby and had many opportunities to see “Humma,” as Kayla liked to call her.

Eighteen months of cancer treatments and a slow decline of health gave us all time to prepare. We would specifically plan “Kayla and Humma” days where just the two of them could spend time together. Kayla was always excited to see Humma, and the door to Mom’s house would always open before we could even knock. Imagine the big smile and hug of a grandmother as she swoops up her granddaughter in her arms. That time was not only important for Kayla, but it also gave my mom a sense of peace knowing that she had the opportunity to have a loving relationship with all of her 14 grandchildren.

The only thing that troubled Mom was that she would not be present at Kayla’s confirmation some day. So I pulled out the video recorder, and we recorded a message that could be played on Kayla’s confirmation day. This last May, Kayla was confirmed, and she had the opportunity to have one last Kayla and Humma moment.

The day did finally come when the Lord took Humma to heaven. How do you tell your five-year-old that Grandma died? The nurtured faith of a child is simply outstanding. It was hard for me to tell Kayla that her grandmother died but easy for her to remind me that my mom was in heaven. That response can only come from someone who heard the Word that has been shared at school, at church, and at home from family—including from a very special Humma.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.


When my Grandma Pearl died, a cousin wrote a letter to the family that started like this: “Well, the fourth chair is once again filled. The pinochle cards have been shuffled and dealt, and Alvin has the manhattans already mixed.”

He was talking about four Christians—his parents and my grandparents—who’d been friends for decades, bound by blood, marriage, and serious card playing. Pearl had been the last of the four to go to heaven, so he imagined them reuniting at the card table.

Are we all scandalized? I hope not. The letter writer is a pastor, and he was doing exactly what Jesus did—using the finer things of earth to help us see the unseeable and imagine the unimaginable.

We can help our children understand heaven in the same way—especially those plagued by fears and questions. I have one child like that. This child worried that angels would be scary, that the daily routine would be dull, that if she got to heaven first she wouldn’t know where to go.

Realizing it’s impossible to capture the infinite bliss of heaven in finite earthly terms, I tried anyway, saying things like:

• You won’t be alone in heaven. Even if you die today, you’ll blink your eyes once and we’ll all be there together—because in heaven there’s no such thing as time.

• Heaven isn’t boring. You won’t float on a cloud, playing the harp. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had? Were you swimming or laughing so hard milk came out of your nose? Multiply that by a million, and that’s what heaven will be like.

• In heaven you’ll still be you. You won’t walk around in a trance, chanting to other identical floaty beings. You’ll be yourself—but the best version of yourself! No sickness. No sins. You won’t get the flu. You won’t be tempted to hit your brother.

• Best of all, Jesus is in heaven. And Jesus is all love all the time. He’ll call you by name, and you’ll run into his arms, and it’ll feel as if he’s known you forever—which he has.

Death is still horrible. Contrary to Disney’s “Circle of Life,” death isn’t a natural part of the life cycle. It’s an intruder in God’s perfect plan. So when someone dies, it’s good to cry. Jesus himself cried at his friend Lazarus’s funeral, even though he knew he’d be raising him from the dead in about ten minutes.

Death is hard. But heaven? Heaven is amazing.

My cousin finished his letter like this: “At this very moment, Pearl is more alive than any of us. . . . Pearl has already seen the Master’s welcome smile, his outstretched arms, and has heard him say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Your sojourn on this earth has proved a blessing to many. Welcome to the joy that has been prepared for you from eternity.’ ”

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How does being a Christian affect my parenting?

It’s a label many of us wear with pride: “Christian parent.” What does it mean, though? How does a Christian mom or dad parent differently than a non-Christian one? Our authors this month give us some examples from their lives, which may help us as we continue on our Christian parenting journeys.

Have you checked out Heart to heart’s blog site lately? In addition to each month’s articles, monthly webcasts and podcasts are also available. Visit forwardinchrist.net today.

Nicole Balza


How does Christianity affect my parenting? How does it not? Maybe there’s a bigger question for me, though. Maybe the question is: How does looking like a Christian parent hinder my parenting?

If you have been a lifelong Christian like me, you may have a mental picture of what good, Christian parents look like. I did.

My picture: They are married. They have respectful and well-behaved kids. If they have to discipline, they do it with love and logic. They send their kids to the Lutheran elementary school. Their children are active members of the youth groups—not only for themselves but also for the example they set for the other youth. You could probably put a few more thoughts in there. I could too.

If you look at my list, it paints a pretty picture. My husband and I worked hard at painting it. It’s not a bad painting. However, striving for this painting started to overshadow real Christian parenting.

What did we look like to the other families of our congregation? What kind of example were we to our neighbors? These questions aren’t bad questions, but they became more important than questions like: Are we loving God? Are we loving others? Are we modeling those things to our children?

Stripping away our concerns of how we think others view our parenting gives us freedom to live under God’s grace. We find that focusing on our own relationship with Christ compels us to love others and therefore model that to our children. Sound familiar? “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

My husband, Tad, and I have since made choices that may not look like what good, Christian parents would do. For example, we just finished our sixth year of homeschooling even though we have a wonderful Lutheran elementary school. We take very seriously the command to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Our choices are prayerfully deliberated with this as our goal. Because Tad accepted a call to be “The Youth Guy,” he is gone nights, weekends, and chunks of summers. Fridays are his day off, which is when the kids were in school. How can Tad be a part of “bringing them up” if he isn’t home when they are? We realized how much impact we could have if our kids were home with us.

Finally, I learned to be careful of my opinions when others painted a different picture of good, Christian parenting. Just because it doesn’t look like my painting doesn’t mean it’s wrong or even not as good as mine. I know some people questioned our decision to homeschool. I appreciated the people who asked me about our decision process or why we chose what we did. Those people sought understanding.

Seek God first. Bring your children up in the training of the Lord. Let’s encourage parents, as our picture is always changing.

Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have three sons and a daughter.


It was Friday night. My wife was at an event for church, and my daughter was at a sleepover at a friend’s house. My son and I had a night off together. We decided to go to a movie and looked at the options. There was one superhero-type movie that I thought looked good. My son thought it looked “awesome!” Then I saw the rating: “R.”

My son asked, “Dad, why can’t we go to an R-movie?”

That question reminded me of this Heart to heart topic. Is there a difference in how a Christian versus a non-Christian parent might respond to my son’s question? Couldn’t we both reply by pointing out that the movie has sexual contact, vulgar language, and extreme violence and that’s inappropriate for young children? I think we could—and that was part of my response.

We all have non-Christian friends who do a great job of instilling basic morals and values in their children. After all, everyone has a natural knowledge of God’s law and can use that in their parenting as they train their children not to hurt others (or watch others do so in a movie), steal, lie, etc.

But as a Christian parent, we have something more! We not only have God’s law, but we also have the gospel. We know that there is no way we can keep the law perfectly, but Christ did for us—and gave his life to pay the penalty for our sin. By God’s grace, we are forgiven and heirs of eternal life. Everything we do now is not merely motivated by God’s law. The law has been fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice. Now what we do comes out of joyful response to the gospel message.

“Dad, why can’t we go to an R-movie?”

We can! But, let’s think about how we can show our love to God? By watching a movie filled with sexual contact, vulgar language, and extreme violence? Or by staying home with a bowl of popcorn and watching Star Wars? We chose Star Wars—and I ate most of the popcorn.

These teachable moments of gospel opportunity are always before us. Let’s admit that we likely err on the side of being more law-based than gospel-based in our parenting. It’s natural, but it’s truly at the root of what sets us apart as Christian parents. Remind yourself of your overwhelming thankfulness that despite your sin and imperfections, the Holy Spirit has led you to know Christ’s love. Now it’s our opportunity to demonstrate that thankfulness in the lives of our children.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a daughter and a son.


It’s been said that we get our view of God from our relationship with our earthly father. If that’s true, then we parents, and especially fathers, want to do the best we can to give an accurate view of God the Father. We want to parent our children the way that God parents us.

Here are some observations I’ve made about the way God parents me and some things I’ve done as I try to father my sons the way God has fathered me.

• God takes his law seriously. He makes that clear by allowing and even sending consequences into my life. Likewise, as a loving father, I will allow and give my boys consequences for their sinful actions when they rebel against God and me. These consequences are given in love, not anger, and are meant to teach my boys that God’s way is always best.

• But, even as I suffer the consequences of my sin, God regularly assures me of his unconditional love based on Jesus’ work in my place. I am forgiven. I am always his dearly loved child. Likewise, I want my boys to know that my love for them is unconditional. I always try to be quick to assure them of my forgiveness and of God’s. In our house we don’t answer, “I’m sorry,” with “It’s okay.” It’s not okay. It’s a sin. Instead we say, “I forgive you, and so does God.” We live confession and absolution on a daily basis.

• God makes it clear that he’s not too busy running the universe to make time for me and to listen to my prayers. Likewise, I want to show my boys that I’m not too busy for them. To get to know my boys’ hopes and dreams, worries and fears better, I’ve been occasionally taking each one out for breakfast—just the two of us. They promise to answer my questions honestly. I promise to try not to embarrass them.

Role models have an important place in the lives of those who are seeking to grow. But it’s not just children who need role models; parents need them too! And what better model can we find as we seek to grow as parents than our heavenly Father who parents us perfectly? So we study his Word to know him better, to be assured of his forgiveness for our failures to be like him, and to find the gospel motivation to mimic him more closely. Just as God loves me and parents me, so I want to love my children and parent them. We want to “follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, have four sons ages 11 and under.

 

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Author: Nicole Balza
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: Explaining same-sex relationships

How do we explain same-sex relationships to our children?

As Christian parents, we can’t bury our heads in the sand about what is going on in the world around us. We can’t expect that our children don’t notice, either. We need to be ready to discuss difficult topics, and homosexuality is one of them. The great part is, that as Christian parents, we have God’s Word to reflect upon and share with our children. Our two authors this month share their perspectives on how they believe that God’s Word and Jesus’ sacrifice are essential parts of this conversation.

Nicole Balza


Just last week we sat together at a Starbucks, the unlikeliest of friends. He a horse trainer from L.A. Me a pastor of a church plant in Aiken, S.C. We sat there amiably chatting about life in Aiken, etc., etc.

I sat there and prayed, “Lord, show me a way to talk to him about you.” And, suddenly, my friend announced, “I’m gay.” Opportunity provided.

I won’t recount his story to you, but I will tell you that I ached for him as he related it. All these years later, you know what thought really killed him inside? He said, “You’re clean before God. I never can be. This is who I am. I will wake up tomorrow just this way. There will always be this fundamental separation between God and me.”

I know. I know. I’m supposed to talk about what we might say to our children about same-sex relationships. But, honestly, in a way I just did. This man had once been a child. In fact, this man had once been a child in a very pious Christian household. And his only present conception of God was one perfectly antithetical to the gospel. We believe in a God who broke down the wall of separation between us and him with his Son, Jesus Christ. We believe in a Jesus who came the whole way to us—no, he didn’t just come the whole way, he chased us down because we were self-consumed and self-willed in ways so destructive that even now we’re still coming to understand how bad it was. And as I sat with my new friend I got glimpses of him, the boy, who’d never glimpsed a God that good—a boy who’d never understood that Jesus isn’t just theological theory. He’s flesh-and-blood Savior for very real inner darkness.

As I stared into that history, I sat in my present and thought of my daughter. I asked myself, “What truth can I deliver to her now that the Spirit can leverage on her heart? I want her to know that good God. When and how do I do that?”

After all, it is in my fatherly job description to answer those questions. In some ways, I suppose I already have. I enjoy her personal flair, but I call her on it when it morphs suddenly into sass. I love to play ball with her, but when she becomes selfish and possessive? She’s going to know about it. And then I always lavish her with Jesus when she “gets” it. Did I say lavish? And why? Her personal darkness is no theory. Neither is her Savior. And if she knows those divine truths, she will be able to deal effectively with any proposed alternatives that surface in her life.

And I tell her The Stories. It’s my favorite part of parenting her. I LOVE to tell her The Stories. I don’t just do the Christmas story. I do them all. Light. Darkness. Sin. Grace. I do the ones that include violence and even death. (It was really something to see Samson through her eyes last week! And how else do you do Good Friday?) I do them all.

I can guarantee you that by the time she grasps by experience the darkness of this world, she’ll already have known that truth from the Scriptures. That “modern” family at the mall won’t surprise her because her daddy told her that story about Lot. That rumor about her fifth-grade classmate won’t confound her because she’ll already have learned from the Scriptures how to think about it—all right there sitting on her daddy’s lap. All in a context of gentleness, love, and the Spirit of God himself.

And then? Well, I plan to live in that moment. Because I just want to be her dad. Not a template. Not a cookie cutter. I just want to be her dad. When her young mind sees sin firsthand, I don’t want to bust out my pre-planned speech. I want to hear what her tender, young conscience is causing her to think. When she confronts big questions about sexuality, I don’t want to get out some canned approach. I want to minister to whatever issues of sin and grace bubble to her surface so I can properly wrap her up in a hug of truth.

What will that look like? I don’t know. I do know where I’m headed, though. I want her so confident in the gospel that at a Starbucks in 2046 she’ll sit with someone just as her daddy once did and say, “I too have evil desires that wage war on my soul. They’ll be there tomorrow too. But I know the gospel, and I want you to know it too. God gave me Jesus as my substitute, and he’s poured his Spirit into me as my new impulse. And can I just tell you this? Jesus is real for you too.”

Jonathan Bourman is a pastor at Peace, Aiken, S.C. He and his wife, Melanie, have a three-year-old daughter.


Even difficult topics can be broached with Scripture as our guide, and the issue of same-sex relationships is no exception. Christian parents are often caught unprepared to give an answer to an inquiring child. But God’s Word has a definitive approach.

If your inclination is to start with Scripture’s unequivocal stance against same-sex coupling, stop and remember Christ’s example. First, we are told repeatedly that God wishes for all to be saved. We are commanded many times to love our neighbor. If your viewpoint toward the weaknesses of others is one of self-righteous condemnation, stop and adjust your attitude. If you have been tolerant of other sinful lifestyles yet find this one intolerable, stop and realize your own bias. If you gossip about people—especially in front of impressionable children—stop and train your tongue to speak well of others.

Christ led with an attitude of love and compassion, and we can aspire to do no less. John 8:3-11 is an example of the way Jesus handled a real-life situation. Jesus was preaching in the temple courts when a group of Pharisees brought a woman in front of the group. There was no doubt as to her sin of adultery as she had been caught in the act. These men of God wanted Jesus to pronounce punishment on her in this very public forum. When pushed for an answer, Jesus reminded these sanctimonious Pharisees of their own sin. He then waited until he and the woman were alone. He didn’t condemn her to death as had been suggested. He told her to go and leave her life of sin. What relief she must have felt when she realized her life had been spared! And how much more receptive she must have been when a simple directive was given by her Savior. No invectives, no finger pointing, just truth.

Discussions with children arising from organic events are usually more effective than contrived lectures. Today’s social climate provides plenty of openings on this issue. Age-appropriate answers to honest questions don’t need to be lengthy. We take our cue from God’s commands and lovingly apply them.

When Jesus met Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and recognized his many sins, Jesus could have had Zacchaeus dragged from his perch in the tree. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus would not have received much empathy from the crowd. Instead Jesus did something that gave the crowd fodder for gossip. Jesus told Zacchaeus he wanted to go to his house. In so doing he honored Zacchaeus with his presence and took him to a private place to talk about his erring ways. No public ridicule, no cheap shots, rather a one-on-one talk in Zacchaeus’ own home. Facing the Savior’s love, he changed.

We remind our children of God’s love and of his desire for all people to be saved. We recognize this sinful inclination as a cross to bear. We acknowledge the forgiveness for all sins—including our own—and praise God for his goodness.

We give life to our words by our loving interactions with all people. Being motivated by the gospel opens doors that could otherwise be closed by the sting of the law. Friendship without compromising our beliefs gives truth to our love for all of God’s people. Our brothers and sisters who struggle with these wrongful desires often have an aching need to worship. We must own our uneasiness with those who are different and pray for guidance and a heart for souls.

Children learn far more from our actions than our words. Walk in love. Stand firm in the Word. Give thanks for a forgiving Savior.

Mary Clemons lives in Tucson, Ariz., with her husband, Sam. They have three grown children and five grandchildren.

 

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Author: Nicole Balza
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: Impact of fathers

What kind of impact can a Christian father have on his children?

In a world that spends so much time making fun of dads and telling them that they are unnecessary, I thought this month would be a great time to remind ourselves of the impact that a Christian father can have on his children. I asked some of the children of our contributing authors to tell us about their dads. Their reflections remind me of many special moments with my own dad.

Do you have a story to share about your father or a dad you know? Send it to fic@wels.net.

Nicole Balza


A lesson from my dad

Rachel Learman writes about one of the life lessons she learned from her dad, Jim Aderman.

He listened quietly and patiently while I poured out my frustrations concerning the new place I was living. Out tumbled discontent with my job, the church, the choir, the location, and more. When I finished my long string of aggravations, there was a brief pause. Then, “Well, I am sorry to hear all of that. Life isn’t always easy, nor what you had hoped. But God does have a plan and purpose for your life there. Grow where you are planted, Rachel.”

As we hung up the phone, I have to admit I was far from satisfied with Dad’s answers. I don’t really know what I was hoping for, but “grow where you’re planted” was not it. At least that is what I thought in that moment.

But as I considered what he said, I realized it was what Dad had been teaching me all along—through new family houses, financial hardships, the anxiety of his pastoral calls, different schools, moving hours away for college and law school, breakups, and job loss. It was, in fact, even an intrinsic part of my confirmation verse that he, as my pastor, had chosen: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The context for this Bible passage was the Lord finally allowing the Israelites to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. God gave them the Promised Land but didn’t promise them a perfect life in that land.

Dad has shown me this throughout my life.

God puts us in certain places and situations for a reason. We can either follow God’s command not to be afraid and discouraged, living our lives to reflect his love and being joyful in our circumstances, or wallow in self-pity and push away our loving God who has plans beyond measure for us.

Life has changed significantly since that phone call. I have since married; become a mom of four children; moved two more times to two different states, two different churches, and three different companies, yet I continue to apply Dad’s advice.


All about Daddy and me

Elliana Bourman, age three, answers questions from her mom, Melanie, about her dad, Jonathan Bourman.

Melanie: Does your daddy love you?

Elliana: Yup!

Melanie: How do you know?

Elliana: Because he tells me.

Melanie: What is your daddy’s job?

Elliana: I don’t remember.

Melanie: Daddy is a pastor, remember?

Elliana: Oh, yeah. He’s a pastor.

Melanie: What does Daddy do as a pastor?

Elliana: He stands on top and talks a lot.

Melanie: What does Daddy teach you about Jesus?

Elliana: That he washed my sins all gone.

Melanie: What is your favorite Bible story that Daddy has read to you?

Elliana: I like the big storm [Jesus calms the storm] and baby Jesus away in a manger.


A favorite memory of my dad

Kayla Nommensen, now 14 years old, reminisces about a special time with her dad, Dan Nommensen.

When I was about seven and eight, my dad took me up north a couple times to a cottage that my great uncle used to live in. On our four-hour drive up to the cottage, we had a great time singing camp songs, talking, and telling stories and jokes.

When we got up there, it was usually dark. Being the great dad he is, he let me trudge in while he took everything in out of the cold. He lit the fire, and we watched the temperature slowly rise, degree by degree. Then, after about an hour and a half of sorting, putting things in the fridge, and setting up heaters, he would finally get the bed ready and we would hop in. We sometimes watched a movie on the small screen of the portable movie player. Then we’d go to bed after saying prayers.

In the morning, I got up to a nice, warm, handmade meal. He already had everything set up and ready for us to eat and go. We then put our fishing things on and walked down to the lake just as the sun was rising. We got into the rocky boat with cobwebs and all and floated off. Dad rowed while we searched for the perfect place to cast our lures. When I finally threw a lure out with as much strength as I could, it would go off course or cross Dad’s line. But he always said, “That was a good one,” and helped me do it correctly.

I loved having those times with my dad. I love my dad and am thankful that I have such a loving Christian father to always watch over me.


My dad is special

Josh Nommensen, age 11, shares some thoughts about his dad, Dan Nommensen.

At night when my dad tucks me in we pray five special prayers, including one in German and the English meaning that he learned from his dad. My dad learned two prayers from his mom that we also pray. Then Luther’s Evening Prayer. This is special to me because my dad is passing them on to me from his parents, my grandparents, that I didn’t get to know. He plays basketball with me, and he plays Wii with me. He is very patient with me. My dad is special because he helps me get through tough times, and I love him very much.


 

 

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Author: Nicole Balza
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

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