Spaghetti Manners

IMG_0010“Discretion will protect you and understanding will guard you.” Proverbs 2:11 NIV

Life is full of rules and sometimes we grown-ups get so hung up on controlling our kids that we over-rule their little personalities…and forget they need to be KIDS!

When I was young and living at home with my parents, we ate lots of spaghetti…not the short stuff either. My mom always got the long packages – and each one of us would dish up a plateful. I wish my dad was alive to ask if he ever slurped his spaghetti when he was a little boy…or whether he was making up for lost time as an adult who could do whatever he wanted to do.

Dad taught me to slurp my spaghetti. The trick is starting with the very tip end of a piece of spaghetti and placing it gingerly between your lips and then methodically beginning a slow sucking that draws the spaghetti into your mouth at a snail’s pace. The more sauce on the spaghetti, the bigger the mess that collects on your upper lip and chin as it’s pushed aside by the moving noodle. Once you have mastered sucking one piece, you can move up to multiples…what a fun way to enjoy a meal!

Doesn’t this make you want to head into the kitchen right now and put a pot of water on the stove? Can you imagine what a whole table FULL of kids racing one another, showing off their spaghetti sucking skills? This is what memories are made of! I can’t say I’d ever let my kids eat spaghetti like this at Macaroni Grill, but in the sanctity of your own home, toss out the rules about manners for an evening and try it! My kids loved spaghetti nights and I can still remember their laughter as we sat around the table together, slurping spaghetti and enjoying one another.

For all the times you really have to be tough on the kids, make up for it by lightening up in unexpected ways when you can. As you do, help them learn to distinguish between which “rules” are guidelines for etiquette and social acceptance – the kind you can selectively break now and again, and which rules start with a capital R and must NEVER be broken. Reading through the Proverbs with your children is a great way to help them learn Biblical principles which, in my book, have many of the Rules you should never break.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give each of my children the desire and self-control to follow Your rules and live by Your principles. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Life Can Get Messy

IMG_5625_JPG“Not we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong.” 2 Corinthians 13:7a NIV

Home ownership is one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment a young couple can experience. Grant and I were filled with pride when we closed on our first house in Lubbock, Texas and set about the task of updating it in contemporary earth tones that were so popular in the 70’s. We carpeted the living areas with a bright rust shag (ouch! those visual memories are downright repulsive) and had brown and gold plaid indoor-outdoor carpet glued to the floor in the kitchen and dining room. You’ll have to take my word on this…at the time, it was quite stylish.

The year was 1976. Gwen was just learning to walk and nothing at her eye level was safe…this I learned the hard way…

Grant was at work and while I folded clothes in front of the television, I totally forgot there was an “attack toddler” on the loose. Can’t you just hear the drum beat from “Theme From Jaws” playing in the background? Dum dum, dum, dum. All of a sudden, I snapped to my senses and sensed the proverbial “quiet”. No noise in the house outside of Monty Hall describing his latest challenge on “Let’s Make a Deal”. No pitter patter of little feet. No Gwen. If you get nothing else from my blog, remember this equation…”quiet” plus toddler equals disaster.

I began the search, starting in the bedrooms, working my way through our Jack-and-Jill bathroom, past the entry and into the kitchen. Where was she? Hmmm. The door to the pantry was slightly ajar. I placed my hand on the doorknob and opened it slowly. I will remember that next moment for the rest of my life. I can laugh now, but at the time…it wasn’t the least bit funny.

Gwen…AND my beautiful new (ugly) indoor-outdoor carpet were soaked – not just covered – with a full bottle of Aunt Jemima’s Maple Syrup! It was the most horrible mess you could imagine, with no simple clean-up possible. There were places we stuck to on that kitchen floor until we sold the house eighteen months later!

The truth is…there are times when life will get messy and there is no easy way to clean it up. You can spend time living in the mess, or you can figure out what got you there, and work on preventing it next time. For me – the syrup went on a high shelf from that day forward. In life…we must examine ourselves and break habits and patterns that keep making our life miserable or getting us into trouble.

Help your children learn to avoid repeated personal disasters. If they continually find themselves in unpleasant situations or constantly getting in trouble…they can change their messy circumstances by making different and better choices. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. It’s always better to avoid the mess in the first place, instead of trying to clean it up later! Reading through the book of Proverbs and discussing it with your children is a great way to help them gain God’s insight on how to act and live.

Prayer: God, help me teach my children to follow Your path and live by Your direction so they can avoid painful messes in their life. When they don’t, I pray You’ll give them strength and wisdom for the clean-up process, and that they’ll learn not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Be Flexible

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Do not be anxious about anything.” Philippians 4:6 NIV

Very few things in life are free, but I’ve found one you never have to pay for…it just magically appears in abundance with every child you have…laundry!

When my four kids were little, they didn’t make laundry hampers big enough for the mountain of clothes we generated. The only way to possibly get caught up for 30 seconds was to load everything in the car and take it to a laundromat. And that wouldn’t last for long. Most days, my trusty Maytag labored nonstop, and the den couch served as a dumping ground as each load was pulled from the dryer. I folded what I could, but there were diapers to change, meals to cook, places to go…you get the picture…the only time our couch functioned as a real couch was when we had company.

One Saturday afternoon, a family from church arrived at our house unexpectedly. When the doorbell rang, I was horrified! I couldn’t let them see my piles of laundry on the couch…what would they think…where would they sit? I immediately yelled for everyone to help me. We each grabbed armfuls of clean clothes and raced to hide them in a bedroom. And all for what? It turns out, all that for our friends’ entertainment! They watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) the whole comical exercise through our living room window. After I got past the humiliation and embarrassment, I was able to laugh about it (sort of)!

In those days, I took myself – and my pride – way too seriously. I had a very rigid and unrealistic standard for what my house had to look like before any guests could enter. That put unfair pressures on all of us. It’s good to try to be neat and orderly, but insane to think it would ever be perfect as long as four little children were running around.

I was like Martha in the Bible (Luke 10)…consumed with my many tasks…trying to make everything just right. Jesus told her she was too worried and distracted by “things”. I needed to be flexible enough to let some things go…and enjoy more moments with my kids, with my husband and with my Lord.

Slow down. Rearrange schedules so your family has time to be together. Read a book. Take a walk around the block. Play cards. Bake cookies. Watch a movie. Allow yourself the freedom to let the laundry sit an extra day and seize a moment with your kids while a moment is still within your grasp.

Prayer: God, my kids are growing up right before my eyes and if I don’t slow down, I’m going to miss it. Teach me not to worry about things that can wait. Help me be flexible and smart enough to let the main thing be the main thing. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Hug Your Kids!

IMG_0006“Laying His hands on each one, He healed them.” Luke 4:40b NIV

Medicine has come a long way in the last 50 years, and aren’t we glad…

When I was 3-years-old, our family accompanied my dad on a business trip to Denver. While we were there, my 8-month-old sister, Karen, got very sick and was placed in isolation at a children’s hospital. That trip is probably one of my earliest childhood memories. Grandma and Grandpa traveled by train to stay with me so mom and dad could stand vigil at the hospital. Doctors didn’t know what was wrong with Karen. To make matters worse, my parents weren’t even allowed to see her for over a week. They were told they would be a distraction and hindrance to Karen’s recovery…I would NOT have made a good 50’s mom!

Today, doctors and nurses want parents to be with their children in the hospital 24/7 because of the great value their touch provides. Studies indicate skin contact promotes healing. It helps children gain weight, cry less and become more relaxed. Parents of preemies in the NICU are actually encouraged to cuddle skin-to-skin with their baby as soon as it’s safe for them to leave the incubator. Touching promotes healing.

All children need their parent’s touch, whether they’re sick or well. Human contact creates a physical bond that goes beyond what words can say. Coca Cola advertisers knew it when they created the lyrics for a commercial:

“Reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place…if you can.” Hugging is a great way to give your child the sensory feeling of being loved. And that leaves them in a better place emotionally!

When Jesus walked on earth, one of the ways He healed people was to touch them. By His Spirit, our hands can bring health and wholeness with their touch.

Make it a habit of hugging your children every day. Establish hugging rules…hug before going to bed, when leaving for school, when coming home, etc. How many times can your family find reasons to hug? Post the list on your refrigerator and put it into action.

Prayer: God, thank you for touching my life and allowing me to sense Your love. Help me look forward to hugging my children every day so they will feel MY love. Give us all a huggable spirit that will never grow old. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Surviving Sibling Rivalry

our kids“Don’t grumble against each other.” James 5:9a NIV

I have come up with the guaranteed way to avoid sibling rivalry in your family…don’t have more than one child. What? “Too late”, you say? Well, if that’s the case, don’t sweat it. This too shall pass.

I’ve counseled with many parents who felt like they were failures because their kids fought with each other. They were surprised (and relieved, I think) to discover fighting was actually quite normal. Children aren’t born knowing how to share and get along, it’s a learned process. When you put more than one of them together in a household, they will inevitably “learn on each other”. Growing up, our four kids had plenty of squabbles. They shouted angry words, and even threw a couple of punches that I know about. And yet today, they are the best of friends.

Just because I say it’s normal doesn’t mean we allowed free-for-all’s at our house. We didn’t condone the fighting. In fact, Grant came up with a pretty clever way to squelch their bickering. Any time the kids fought, we would make them stand facing each other, holding hands and staring into each other’s eyes. The “time” always fit the “crime”. The worse the fight, the longer they would have to stand. I remember one incident when Gwen and Shannon had to stare at each other for a full hour. If they stopped or looked away, the time would start over. By the end of the “exercise” they were giggling and finding ways to help each other pass the time…and they were motivated to work harder to get along.

Sibling rivalry has occurred almost since the beginning of time. Abel was killed by his brother, Cain. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of what was rightfully his…these stories may help give us perspective, but they also serve as a warning not to let sibling rivalry run amok. Jesus told us to love God and love one another. As we mediate, that must be our message to our kids…choose to love, not hate.

If you want your children to learn how to get along without fighting, remember to model what you preach. If they see you argue with your spouse or other adults or them…they will grow up thinking that’s the socially acceptable way to solve a problem. It’s not.

Prayer: God, I want my children to learn how to get along with each other so they won’t grumble and fight. Give me the wisdom to teach them how to solve their differences in a loving way. Fill our home with Your peace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Life Is a Contact Sport


“He (God) will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4 NIV

Football… it is the sport that caused butterflies to fill this mother’s stomach every time Drew stepped onto the field. The sound of bodies colliding made me cringe and I had to cover my eyes whenever my son was at the bottom of a pile of boys twice his size. I was relieved when he turned in his shoulder pads for a set of golf clubs!

Shoulder and knee pads do protect football players from most blows…but not all of them. Every year dozens of injuries, some tragically debilitating, occur and young men’s lives can be changed forever.

Raising four children taught me insensitive people can inflict as much harm on someone as any aggressive contact sport…although it’s more unexpected and harder to identify. Mean words, whether intended to or not, cut like a knife into the psyche of a child and cause immense damage.

Drew had a teacher in elementary school who should have been a drill sergeant instead of an educator. At least then she would have been picking on people her own size. She yelled all the time and belittled students in front of their classmates for asking “stupid questions”. By the time we learned about it, the school year was over and the damage was done. It took years for Drew to unlearn his feelings of “being stupid”.

I wish I’d understood more back then about praying for God to shield my children’s minds…and about speaking specific blessings over them daily. It could have made such a difference. As Christian parents, we have the right to boldly approach the throne of God and ask for His mighty protection against any plan the devil has to kill, steal or destroy our children. It is up to us to learn the promises of His word and to get down on our knees and claim them for our sons and daughters.

Prayer: God, I ask You to cover my children with Your shield of protection. Strengthen them and keep the enemy from knocking on their door. By Your power, I bind and cancel any plan the devil has to steal them from Your will and destiny. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Falling In the Ocean

IMG_0052 - Version 2

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them’.” Psalm 126:2 NIV

Texas may get hot in the summer, but in March it can still be a bit chilly. It was spring break and for once, Grant and I decided to actually go somewhere for vacation. We loaded up our four children and headed south, spending nights at my Uncle Don’s house in Houston, but taking day trips to see other parts of near-by south Texas. The kids begged to go to the beach and even with temperatures in the low 70’s, they insisted on wearing shorts. Minutes after we parked the car, their shoes and socks started coming off. Gwen and Shannon “just wanted to get their feet wet”. Famous last words.

Despite our strict warnings, the children continued to venture further into the water…a little at a time. “Please…just up to my ankles,” they promised. But they kept inching deeper until the waves were playfully dancing around their knees. If you know kids, you know where this story is headed.

Becky wasn’t nearly as tall as Gwen and Shannon and yet she kept right up with their knee height. Her culotte shorts were already getting wet. Suddenly, the water surged a little harder than before and it swept Becky right off her feet! At least that’s Becky’s story. But her delighted giggling was less than convincing. Since she was already wet, there was no reason to try to stay dry now…right? What’s a parent to say? Not to be outdone, Drew “accidentally” fell in next, followed by Gwen and Shannon.

We let them swim in the water until their lips literally turned blue from the cold. What fun they had that afternoon! The worst part was getting out. Covered in sand and dripping head to toe, there were no towels, no dry clothes, not even any dry underwear! Fortunately there was a nearby Wal-Mart.

It doesn’t take a lot of money to have fun. We made the mistake of not taking regular vacations when the children were young because we thought we couldn’t afford it. The older they got, the more difficult it was to coordinate their schedules to fit in even short excursions.

Plan simple getaways that let you relax and enjoy one another. The best times can be the unstructured leisure trips where there is no itinerary…no place where you have to be because you paid to go there. Sleep in, play hard and go with the flow…even if it happens to be wet and sandy. Just remember to pack extra clothes for “just in case”.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us such wonderful children! I treasure the memories of their childhood and the fun things we did together. Help them enjoy their young families and build special memories with them, too. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Household Chores

IMG_3365“Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” 1 Corinthians 14:40 NIV

My mother was a great housekeeper. Even after she went to work full-time, everything stayed neat and clean (except my room). I’m not sure when she found time to get it all done – I don’t think my sister or I ever helped. It was only after I got married that I discovered my mom did things I didn’t know even needed to be done…

The first apartment Grant and I lived in was about the size of a postage stamp – perfect for someone with zero domestic abilities. Sweeping and dusting took about three minutes, so that was easy, and the dishwasher kept our cups and plates clean – if I remembered to turn it on. Laundry was more of a challenge because we didn’t have a washing machine and I hated going to the laundromat. But the biggest issue I faced was a problem with the toilet. A dark fuzzy “ring” appeared out of nowhere…right IN our toilet bowl. With each passing week it kept growing thicker and thicker – no matter how many times I flushed. Pretty gross, huh? I get to plead the Fifth here…nobody ever told me you actually had to clean a toilet!

As soon as the children were old enough to walk, they were assigned chores. Grant and I were determined to teach them how to sweep, mop, dust, do laundry and yes…even clean the toilets. The kids grumbled and complained and accused us of breaking child labor laws, but we needed the help and they needed to learn…it was a mutually beneficial arrangement for all of us.

There is great value in teaching children to keep things clean and neat. Studies indicate people waste an average of 55 minutes a day looking for things they didn’t put away. That equates to two wasted weeks out of each year! A little neatness goes a long way – and helps us be better stewards of the time God gives us on this earth!

Identify household chores your children can help with. Make a chore chart and enlist the help of everyone in the family to share in the day-to-day household responsibilities. It will make your home a nicer place to live, and your children will be well-prepared when the time comes for them to leave your nest and set up a place of their own.

Prayer: God, sometimes it’s easier to do things myself than to train my children to help…even though I know they need to learn. Give me the patience and grace to follow through with my job as their teacher. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bring Back the Dinner Table


“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another.” 1 Peter 4:8a NAS

Ask any of my kids about their dad’s recipe for lemon pepper gravy and it will bring back an unforgettable memory…

One evening Grant decided to cook a big “sit-down” meal consisting of chicken fried chicken with all the trimmings. When it came time to season the gravy, there was no pepper, so he used the closest substitute – Lemon Pepper (and a lot of it). The smell of the meal had everyone salivating and we couldn’t get our plates filled quick enough. Mashed potatoes and gravy were a family favorite and Grant had cooked enough for an army. After a short prayer of thanks, we dove in like a pack of starving wolves.

This meal would have made Erma Bombeck feel right at home. Where she grew up, gravy was considered a beverage. Only this beverage had something seriously wrong with it. I remember looking around the table as I struggled to swallow my first bite. Was it as bad as I thought, or was it just me? The answer came quickly – my four gagging children began spitting their food back on the plates. It was worse than awful. It was disgusting! Grant felt so bad. The Lemon Pepper ruined the gravy which was covering everything else…we left it all on the table, packed up in the Suburban and headed for the nearest restaurant. After we’d had a chance to wash the taste from our mouths with decent food, we had quite a laugh. From that day on, Lemon Pepper has been banned from the Rutledge kitchen.

In today’s busy lives, parents find themselves spending hours in the car chauffeuring between spots, school, work, dancing lessons, PTA meetings, church…the list is endless. Drive-through fast food has become the simplest meal of choice to accommodate over-crowded schedules.


Put your foot on the breaks and STOP! For at least a few minutes every day, bring your family together to reconnect. Turn the TV and all electronic devices off. Don’t answer the phone. Sit down face to face and learn to enjoy one another’s company. Sharing a family meal daily isn’t about what you eat…it’s about the fellowship and bonding that occurs in the process. When you place a high enough priority on family meal-time to make it happen, it sends the message to your entire family…they are important…and they are loved.

Prayer: God, busyness has become a lifestyle for me. Help me to prioritize my life so family comes first. I don’t want to come to the end of my life and realize I don’t really “know” the children I gave birth to. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Stick With It

Sticker Boy

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” 2 Chronicles 15:7 NIV 

I’ve learned the secret to popularity…at least where my young grandchildren are concerned. Simply put, it’s called stickers…lots and lots of stickers. I’m amazed how long a book of stickers can provide entertainment and how many stickers can actually fit onto a squatty, diaper-clad body! They are a toddler’s treasure, both unique and special in the way they can be worn…a stick-on trophy of sorts. The greatest fun seems to be in the actual “sticking” of them…

When Luke was only two, I watched him derive absolute pleasure in first selecting, then meticulously removing stickers from a 100-page sticker book to place on his “decorated” tummy. Some of the stickers were difficult to peel off and the exercise in dexterity awarded him with a great sense of success and accomplishment. With each new sticker the two of us celebrated with cheering, hand claps and high fives. If time had allowed, his whole body might have been covered. Be assured my sticker stash will never run dry!

Sticking with things is a characteristic children need to be taught. It’s easy to want to give up when things stop being fun or circumstances become difficult. But giving up is seldom the right answer. Sticking with things fosters problem-solving, develops tenacity, strengthens perseverance, salvages relationships and gives rise to dependability.

Take quitting seriously and don’t allow it to become a pattern. Walk alongside your child during tough times so they don’t feel alone, but teach them, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. The rewards of going the extra mile and trying a little (or a lot) harder will almost always exceed the pain experienced in the process. Know that your child’s life-long foundation of stability is rooted in learning how and when to stick with things instead of giving up!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, protect my children from the temptation to give up when their lives, jobs or relationships become difficult. Give them wisdom as they deal with problems, and develop in them the courage and self-discipline to never give up on people, on life, or on You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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