Book Review: Parenting Beyond the Rules by Connie Albers

How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.

Proverbs 16:16

If I’ve learned nothing else in my 18 years of parenting, I’ve learned that I don’t have all the answers. There are tremendous benefits in staying teachable and gleaning tips from the acumen of others.

This is why I appreciate the wisdom and advice Connie Albers shares in her book, Parenting Beyond the Rules: Raising Teens with Confidence and Joy. There is great value in seeking wisdom from those who have gone before me, and Connie has not only been there, she’s gained excellent wisdom and insight straight from the Lord to share with us.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 9:10

Between her experiences raising her own five children to adulthood and her 20 years of experience working with teenagers, Connie certainly has the credentials. The wisdom she shares is offered with humility and boldness; both confronting and challenging as well as offering grace and hope for the weary, battle-worn parent.

Personally, I was convicted by chapters 7 and 8 which cover listening to your child and monitoring your own mouth. The chapters served as a bit of a spiritual gut check to me because the Lord had already been addressing these very topics in my walk with Him.

You see, for over a decade, my homeschool mom habit of capitalizing on teachable moments whenever they arose in conversation served me well. However in the teen years, my favorite tactic has failed painfully more than once. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have permanent gunpowder stains from the sheer number of backfires!

Rather than engaging in a lively conversation springing from such “teachable moments,” suddenly my teenagers began to shut down and make their way into another room as I spoke.

Because of this, Connie’s words in Chapter 7 rang true to me:

“But that day – and many others like it – I learned that most teens don’t need our steps; they need a good set of ears if we want them to share what’s on their heart…

…Although our words may provide valuable information, it’s not usually what’s needed at that moment.”

Besides listening more and talking less, God has been showing me how frequently I misuse that most deadly of weapons: my tongue. Here again, some of Connie’s words from Chapter 8 reinforced what my Lord has been revealing:

As parents, we think we are saying one thing, but our teen hears something completely different… Communicating well and with intent begins with being slow to speak.

…When we don’t control the words that come out of our mouths, we hurt the relationships we long for and unintentionally model a pattern our kids will one day use to parent their children.

In Parenting Beyond the Rules, there are many other convicting truths, but I love that Connie also shares how she learned through her own failures – and how God changed those failures to successes as she humbly submitted to His teaching through His word.

She doesn’t flinch away from confronting sin, but neither does she shrug her shoulders at confession as if to say, “Well, we all sin. No one’s perfect.”

No, she goes a step further to show how God has made a way to walk out of the sin and into a rewarding, loving relationship with our teenagers. Easy? No. Worth it? Absolutely.

In Parenting Beyond the Rules, Connie Albers offers real-world, in-the-trenches advice for those of us willing to go to battle for the hearts of our kids. Not only that, but she offers grace and hope, recognizing that it is God who takes our imperfect efforts and through our weakness shows that His grace is sufficient – even for our teens.

You always have the opportunity to add new coats of forgiveness, wisdom, and maturity.

Connie Albers, Parenting Beyond the Rules

Useful Suffering

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

There is nothing quite like being a parent to highlight certain Scriptures with excruciating clarity.

Since Ash Wednesday, I’ve been reading and re-reading in the book of Romans, going through a couple of chapters over my breakfast and diving into a smaller portion for closer study when the meal has been consumed.

My weekend reading focused on chapters 9 and 10, which a read through a handful of times. I broke today’s fast with eggs scrambled with kale, onion, and red bell pepper along with a side of Romans 11, the previous two chapters still fresh on my mind. Then over coffee, I turned to Romans 5 for examination.

And I saw a horrifying glimpse of the grief our Creator feels over the rebellion of His creation. His children.

I saw it because I recognized a tiny sliver of His grief in Paul’s impassioned words from Romans 9:2-3:

…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

And I recognized it because now that my own little brood have begun trying their wings, I share a human-sized portion of the same unceasing anguish, not only for my brothers, but for my children.

If I could trade my salvation for the assurance of each of theirs, I would do it without a second thought. Now with our oldest counting down the months until legal adulthood, I am more certain of this than ever before.

There is definitely anguish in my heart as I watch him stumble into a trap lined with acceptance but secular to its purposeless core. Only weeks after I’d bragged on what a delight he has become, he has seemed to turn a darker corner and morphed into the stereotypical rude, withdrawn teenager.

And the people who have his heart are not my brothers and sisters in Christ as before. I do not even know where they come from, but he is more connected with them than with any portion of the Body of Christ at present. This is a source of terrible grief for me.

And yet, I know there will truly be no greater joy for me than if I live to see him and his sisters walk in the Truth.

For now, however, I pray. I watch. I search the Word for wisdom and guidance. And I pray even more.

Through it all, I also rejoice in this season of parental suffering because, while it is intensely frightening and painful to watch my firstborn dancing around a fire which threatens to consume him, I know this form of suffering, too, brings endurance.

Endurance in prayer, greater hope in the faithfulness of my Lord.

But it also because this heartache helps me to understand with greater poignancy the never-failing, never-ceasing capacity for forgiveness and love held by my Father’s many times shattered heart. And also because through this anguish, I begin to better understand His keen joy when even one lost child is found and begins to walk in truth.

Lord, forgive me the hurts I have inflicted on You by my rebellion and untrusting ways. I never knew what pain was until now. Please guide my children to You. May they become Your children more truly than ever they were mine, and we rejoice together to someday see them walk in Your Truth.  

 

Nothing Personal

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
(Romans 12:9-10)

All around me are relationships in crisis.

From common and trite forms of sibling contention to damaged marriages gasping out a final breath and everything in between, I have seen a great deal of contention.

But there are also marriages which are thriving. Siblings who truly adore one another. I know of marriages – my own included –  which have been salvaged only because the foundation is built on God even when every other part crumbled. Many of these are growing deeper in an active, genuine, and practical love day by day.

What’s the difference?

In several – though not all – cases, the conflict arises from a most intriguing dichotomy of human nature: our tendency to expect others to assume our best intentions in each of our actions while assuming the worst intentions of those who we believe have wronged us.

Often conflict arises because one or both parties have fallen for the oldest trick in the Book. Literally.

All the way back to the first man and woman, the Adversary’s tactic was to make the woman doubt the intentions of her Creator.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say… ?”

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
(Genesis 3:1b, 4-5)

From the dawn of mankind, the Adversary has been tempting us to assume God does not have our best interests at heart. Centuries later, the habit is so ingrained in us that we not only assume God has it in for us, we assume everyone else does, too.

We want to be forgiven when we’ve done a wrong – if we even own up to doing wrong, that is. Yet we are reluctant to forgive, preferring to lick our wounds and seethe with resentment.

When we cut someone off during our morning commute, we trust they will know we are late for a meeting, or we’ve had the flu and are just spacey, or whatever. But woe to the one who cuts us off as we drive.

If we are rude, it is much the same. When we are wronged, how dare they? Yet when we wrong others, why oh why do they not see our wrongdoing was a simple mistake?

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given for parenting teens was not to take anything personally. The eyeroll, the death-glare, even the occasional exclamation of hatred – none of them are personal, even though they feel remarkably personal. Most of the time, the teen is just acting on their own hormonal sea of confusion. Their brains are not working.

But sometimes I do take it personally. And after that, I take it to God, who teaches me forgiveness and mercy.

Somehow, as I’ve prayed through this difficult aspect of parenting, God has been changing me. Not only are the horrible things my teens occasionally say or do not personal, the horrible things I occasionally say back are not, either.

My husband loves me. Thus, if he does something I find irritating or feel hurt by, I remind myself to assume his best intentions. Not his worst. In so doing, I have found it easy to appreciate him. And it just keeps getting better.

In fact, when I assume the best intentions of the driver who cuts me off or the rude grocery clerk and answer sour faces with a smile, I find my whole life is more pleasant.

How interesting that our God would encourage a behavior in us which only leads us to enjoy His peace and presence more and more…

After all, at a time when I rejected Him, He didn’t take it personally. Or rather, He took it intensely personally. So much so that He offered the blood of His Son and to lovingly discipline me until I was overwhelmed by His astonishing grace. For me. For all of humanity.

As a challenge – for myself as well as you – if someone rubs you wrong, try to remember a time you were a little prickly yourself. Feel a pang of sorrow for them because their day is clearly not going well. Recall the grace of a God who would be justified in eradicating each one of us, then smile and remind yourself, “It’s nothing personal.”

Let’s pray both that we can be a bit less delicate and for God to show us how and when we can outdo one another in showing honor.

Let love be genuine. Oh Lord, let it be!

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
(Romans 12:15-16)