Day 14: Helping Children Find Joy When Their Life is Hard – Guest post by Alicia Vining

“He doesn’t like anything about this country or the people,” I told the therapist about one of my children.⁣

I initiated a phone call with her because I had exhausted all my ideas. The mom guilt was weighing heavy on my shoulders. I couldn’t help but think of all the long-term issues I might be causing my child by living somewhere he simply did not want to be.

Mentally, I had prepared myself to hear the therapist say the situation was beyond repair—because that’s how I was feeling. Instead, she asked me what my son enjoyed to do.⁣

⁣“He likes to play games,” I responded.⁣

⁣“Well, maybe we can turn some of these difficult parts of the culture into a game,” she suggested. “For example, every time he successfully dodges a random cheek-pinching, he gets a point. Or if he greets people in the local language, he gets a point.”

⁣“I’m listening…,” I said with a piqued interest.⁣

⁣She went on to explain that once a certain amount of points are collected for handling a difficult thing well, we should do something really fun. BUT, the fun thing had to be something related to — or found within— where we we lived. This was key.⁣

From a young age, in an attempt to make sense of our world, we begin categorizing our experiences. When we start forming negative associations about people or places, we create a category of “things to avoid like the plague” in order to protect ourselves and set up boundaries.

Sometimes, this really does protect us from harmful situations. But it’s not helpful when mislabeling is at play and begins causing prejudices or misconceptions. Positive association, on the other hand, can help break down a category that a child is still trying to form on their own.

As parents, the last thing we want to do is accidentally teach our children that all the fun, enjoyable, and rewarding things are only found apart from our current location. We want them to find joy and happiness in all circumstances. We want them to know that hardships are inevitable, no matter where they are in the world, but rewarding experiences can found right where they are, too.⁣

Day 12: Living in Paradox

“One of the keys to learning how to thrive in a cross cultural setting is,” our instructor explained, “is to learn how to live in paradox.”

“It is very easy,” he went on, “to live with an “either/or” mentality, instead of learning to live in the tension of “both/and.”

Life away from home is a collection of both/and’s. Life here is polluted with longing, suffering, tears, and grief. Undiluted joy is coming but it is not here yet.

Living far from home – either figuratively or literally – we live in the Father’s love more fully when we embrace paradox.

The same circumstances (a father’s military deployment, a family’s temporary displacement because of COVID, a scary health diagnosis) has both joy and sorrow, highs and lows, beautiful gifts and excruciating gifts…. Sometimes they are beautifully hard in the same breath, a severe mercy. 

Our Father pays attention to both. It honors him when we face our life honestly & recognize that in his love there is space for mystery & for the things we don’t understand. 

So we want to be both people that celebrate AND lament. People who give thanks AND feel safe with our Father to voice our complaints, questions and doubts. Not just one or the other but both.

We want our kids to be safe enough with us that they can voice both the good and the hard. So we talk together about what makes us glad & also what makes us mad. His Word guiding & steadying us. Knowing He is our refuge and yet not denying the storm:

“Breath by breath, I’m learning what You say

When You told me I could trust

Even when the storm is raging on

And song by song, I will sing of your great love

While You’re singing it back to me

With the very voice that calmed the sea

So let the thunder roll

And I won’t be afraid, ’cause You roll the thunder

And let the rain beat hard

Upon my roof, and I’ll dance to it’s rhythm

And let the mighty wind

Blow between the oak trees

As I let You steady me

‘Cause You’re right here in the whisper

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭91:1-2‬ ‭

Day 11: Home in Motion

“Traveling in the company of those we love is home in motion.” — Leigh Hunt

My friend @aliciathewriter shared this quote with me which inspired the name of the series I am working on this month, here on Insta.

It captures so much of what is on my heart for my kids. Our life has meant a lot of change in our experience of home. We have felt displaced & homesick many times. We have also struggled with chronic health issues, have been outsiders and without strong community around us. 

What about your kids? How are they suffering or struggling? This all reminds us that we are not home yet. That everything has not yet been made right. 

I long for our kids – yours and mine – to know that Jesus sees and cares for them in every way. Belonging to Him and with Him, we are always safe no matter where we go. They can grieve with him and hope in Him, because He loves them, understands them and is doing them good.

As parents nothing is more comforting than knowing that it is only in trusting the Father through the Son that our kids have hope in their own journeys, regardless of the reason they are going thru a season of suffering. 

We are all traveling home for as long as we are on this earth. We are not traveling alone, however. We are in the company of our Keeper – he is our home even as we travel to our place of permanence & feast. 

So praise God for our home in motion – and for the way our Father gives us His love as a sure abiding place.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm‬ ‭90:1‬ ‭-2).

Day 10: Outsource your Parenting

I read recently that we become what we pay attention to (Curtis Thompson).

In any conversation about parenting there’s the danger of paying too much attention to our parenting. To focus on and obsess over how we parent.

But friend – if there is one thing you will take away from this whole series (and from anything else I write) is this:

Focus your gaze and pay attention to Christ himself. There really is no one like him. He is sufficient in every single thing. His abundance surpasses our need by a trillion. 

That is why one of the best pieces of advice from my husband is to outsource my parenting to the Lord. Every time I feel deeply my need for grace, or my ignorance, he reminds me to outsource that to the Lord. 

My job is not to make myself a good mom – all sufficient and enough. My job is to let the Lord parent through me, and to parent by faith in his sufficiency.

We are not wise, we lack discernment, we have dysfunctional ways of parenting…. And we still have every reason to hope. Our Father is none of those things. 

He is mighty to save them, hold their faith, keep them hungry for Himself. And I cling to that. Because I can teach them that it is possible for faith and doubt to coexist, or that we are always living in the tension of joy and sorrow. I can teach them about God and everything He is for us in Christ. We can read the Scriptures and memorize them. But I can’t make them SEE unseen truth. I can’t make them discern spiritual realities. There is only One who can.

This turns my prayers to be: 

“Jesus, help me.”

“Speak through me.”

“Love through me.”

“Be patient in me and through me.”

And while we too with Paul ask, “who is sufficient for these things?” we can also say with him,

“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves but our sufficiency is from God.” (2 Cor. 2: 16; 3: 4-6).

As Christian parents, he made us ministers of the new covenant of the Spirit, of the Spirit who alone gives life. Is there something more humbling than this? That we would get to be representatives of the life-giving Spirit of Christ? Christ who is so tender-hearted, who loves children and loves to draw them to himself? 

All of Christ’s riches and resources are ours! Let’s fix our attention on him and rejoice.

Day 9: Practice discernment

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of paying attention to our kids and being curious about them. But paying attention is not enough. We need to practice discernment about what we see in them.

So I am learning to evaluate my kids’ attitudes and responses throughout the week and trying to figure out what they need. I am asking questions like:

**Is this simply a sinful response? Is there suffering at the root of this response? What role would compassion play as I deal with it? 

**Are there real physical and personality limitations at the core of this meltdown? How do I help my child deal with these limitations in a way that honors the Lord while at the same time not shame them for being human? 

**Are their nervous systems overloaded by input? Have they had enough time to recharge?

**Is this a form of grief?

**Have they had enough time in the sun and fresh air recently? How much physical activity have they had?

**Have I given them long hugs? Have we laughed together?

**Have they done things recently that bring them life?

**Is there a balance between the things that sap their energy and the things that help them destress?

**Have they eaten anything recently that may be contributing to this struggle? (Some foods actually set up the brain to feel more anxiety, despondency and depression).

**What is at the heart of this outburst of anger? Is it anxiety? Grief? What is triggering it?

**Who is God relevant to this struggle? What does he promise? How does he speak into it? How can I, like God, draw near my child and speak life into him/her? (**adapted this question from a @ccef self counseling project).

Thankful for the generous promise of the Lord to give us wisdom without reproach when we face our kids’ suffering (which also becomes ours) (James 1:5).

May we parent on our knees – assured of his heart to give us the discernment we need.

Day 8: Practice curiosity

Our kids souls’ (like ours) have a shape. Many circumstances and people shape their soul but no other human shapes their soul and their ability to know they are always & completely loved by God than us as their parents. I am eternally grateful though that the Spirit can supernaturally reveal this reality to them even as we fail.

So trusting him & empowered by him, I endeavor to communicate the Father’s love in 3 ways. Today I will focus on the first one:

Practice curiousity. Our kids are not our clones. Being curious about them (and staying curious as they grow up) honors both our kids and the Lord who made them so fearfully & carefully. 

By paying attention to our kids we are giving them the gift of being truly & deeply known by us. It is the gift God gave us that shows we are his children and heirs, no longer slaves (Galatians 4:8-9). 

I want to be slow to speak, and quick to listen. And sometimes listening means listening to what they are saying with their whole being: with their words and also their body. 

I want these observations to be non-evaluative & non judgemental (this is who they should be, they shouldn’t feel this way). The goal at this stage is deeper understanding, not necessarily correction. I want to always be a humble student of my kids -aware that as they grow up they are always becoming someone else that I get to know. 

These are some of the questions I pay attention to:

  • What makes them really happy?
  • What makes them really sad?
  • What is their favorite kind of day? Why?
  • What makes them thrive?
  • What seems to sap energy from them?
  • How do they learn best?
  • How does s/he cope with disappointment? Anger?
  • What situations typically trigger fear (maybe even panic?)
  • What kind of people is she drawn to? 
  • When does s/he have more energy?

Let’s encourage each other. How do you stay curious about your kids? What are some questions you ask yourself to get to know them better? 

Day 7: Parenting the Whole Child

We can enable our kids to abide in the love of the Father, by reflecting how he parents us: both body and soul.

This has massive implications for our parenting. We can’t shepherd their hearts without paying attention to what is happening to their bodies. And nurturing their bodies impacts their souls. What happens to one,  will necessarily affect the other.

We see this in how our Father cares for us. He is a God who nurtures us through a myriad of scents, textures, sights and sounds. He calms our souls not only through his word but also through deep breaths, fresh air, and multiples shades of green. 

God moves toward us in physical places and provides through them what we need. The beauty of the sunset over the desert in the Middle East helps regulate our emotions. The expansiveness of fields in Iowa grounds us, and help restore our sanity and think true thoughts about Him and ourselves.

Our Father cares about the body. He is compassionate about the complexity of the human brain and how profoundly it affects us.

When we struggle with fear, anxiety or depression, for example, he doesn’t just see it as a spiritual problem that needs training and discipline. He draws near to us, and takes care of our bodies’ need for rest and nurture (remember Elijah?).

Similarly, caring for our kids as embodied souls means we care for the whole child. I think all too often in Christian parenting we think that shepherding our kids’ hearts means mostly taking care of the spiritual and that physical care doesn’t impact their souls. But it does:

Daily long hugs

Kiss attacks

Brushing their hair

Getting down to their level & looking at them in the eye,

Feeding them breakfast, lunch and dinner (and all the snacks!), day after day after day 

Gentle touch 

All these shape not only their brain but also their heart and soul.

This week I will share 3 things that help me care for my kids as a whole person. I would love to hear yours! 

Day 6 – Taking Sin Lightly Enough to Take It Seriously

I still remember riding the Dubai metro, almost 6 years ago, listening to a voice note from @kimransleben. Her words introduced a new concept for me that really changed the way I thought and helped me live in the hope of Christ. She said:

“You need to take sin lightly enough to take it seriously.” 

I was intrigued by this idea. Christians, she said, often take sin seriously in all the wrong ways. They gasp at it, surprised by other Christian’s sins. But also, they hide, taken aback by their own sin. Believers that grew up in Christian homes especially are often shocked of what they are capable of feeling, thinking and doing. 

As Christian parents we are susceptible to both of these things, both about ourselves and about our kids. We hear our harsh words, encounter our selfishness, envy of our kids and impatience and we are shocked. Or sometimes, we live in shame over all the standards we are failing to meet. 

Likewise, we may gasp at our kids’ sin and either shame them for it or give into despair. We hear their disrespectful words, for example, and say something like, “I can’t believe you said x, y or z.” Or we may see their defiance and feel hopelessness. We sink at the thought: “how will they ever change?” We feel a weight that is not ours to carry about how to effect transformation in their hearts.

So if despair, shame, gasp & gossip, and hiding are some of the wrong ways we take sin seriously, how do we, abiding in the love of the Father, take sin lightly enough to take it seriously?

We need to know what happened to us and our sin:

Romans 6: 6-7: Your sin has been brought to nothing. You no longer have to obey it. You have been set free from sin. 

Romans 6: 4: So you not only died, you were buried. And why did he do that to you? IN ORDER THAT you could be raised from that old self to a new one. You don’t walk in the old life, you walk in the new one. 

Ephesians 2: 4-7: This one is really mind blowing: God is committed through all the ages of time to show the world how rich he is in grace and he’s going to do that by being kind to US because of our union with Jesus. You are seated with Christ, by and for a God who is committing himself to being kind to you forever. 

Colossians 3: 2-3: You were crucified, buried, raised, seated…and now hidden with Christ right in the very center of God. The one thingAdam and Eve wanted to do is hide. The one thing we do in our sin is hide. Why? Because we don’t grasp the reality, the truth that we are already hidden. That’s the reality of your life if you belong to God. You are HIDDEN.

If this is all true, do you see why we can only take sin seriously if we first take it lightly?  We can look at our sin and breathe a sigh of relief. Because it is not who we are! Sin is not our master anymore. 

We are crucified, buried and raised with Christ! It doesn’t make sin fun to deal with but Christ made it possible for us to put it to death because HE ALREADY KILLED IT. Our job is to live like this is true – running away from temptation and from the things that lead us astray.

The more we grow in taking our sin lightly enough to take it seriously, we are better able to face our kids’ sin. We are faithful to their souls trusting the power of the gospel. We place them in front of the word rejoicing in the self-authenticating nature of God’s word. We speak the gospel knowing the Spirit works in his time and his ways. We don’t despair, nag or try to control our kids. 

We see that the only solution to their struggle is the one we too needed: death and new life. We pray while breathing a little easier, because there is only one who is mighty to save…and praise God – that’s not us but the God who committed himself to being kind to us forever in Christ. So we trust him. 

So dear mom or dad, take heart in your fight against your sin and your kids’. Take sin lightly enough…to actually take it seriously.

*I adapted a talk by Kim Ransleben to write this blog post for this series.

Day 5 – A Prayer for the Parent Struggling to Abide in Love


I praise you for letting me know you as Father – with life-giving authority and power, filled with self- sacrificial love, always working out of the overflow of the wealth of your wisdom

Father, you know me well. You know my story – both the sin AND suffering that have shaped my soul. You know my struggle to believe you do love me & are always for me in Christ.

It is hard for me to take joy in parenting because I think I live under your frown, disappointment and frustration for how slow I am to believe and change. Sometimes I think I deserve better. 

When I sin against my kids regret fills my heart but I don’t turn to you. I just feel shame. Other times, I dig my heels in my self-righteousness and justify my harshness & pride.

It is hard for me to enjoy parenting because all I see when I look at my kids is demands on legs. I am terrified of failing & hurting them, especially when I keep sinning in the same way. I realize just how broken I am. I have well worn paths in how I respond to triggers & temptations.

Father, I look to you. Who are you for me in Christ in my parenting? You are merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love & faithfulness. When I repent, you lift up my head, because you – and not my performance -are my glory.

Thank you for killing me in Christ and with him giving me new life. I repent of walking by the flesh when you have given me the Spirit of your Son. I praise you for equipping me with his life and that well worn paths of anger and impatience became old.

You are my refuge, I trust you to grow me in all the ways I need – in your time and your way. 

In the meantime, parenting is not one long opportunity to fail but one long season to see you redeeming my sin & leveraging my weaknesses for your glory and the joy of my people. 

Fill me with faith so that out of my profound conviction of your abundant love, I love my kids. May I see parenting as the privilege to be served by you over and over again.

Oh Father. I see deep joy in your eyes when I look at you. THANK YOU for only giving me what Christ deserves. Your love, my only home.

In his name,