Christmas present today…junk pile tomorrow

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This past week, I tackled a long over-due project in my home that I’ve been dreading for years: I cleaned out my youngest son’s bedroom. The poor kid left for college the same year his older two siblings got married and for that reason, the massive room overhaul was postponed. I’m not much of a spring cleaner (as in, it just didn’t happen except for maybe once every decade), so the thought of walking into his room was more than daunting. It took me a full week to weed through box after box of toys, clothes, books, and gadgets from his childhood. I uncovered a few priceless treasures, but honestly, it amounted to a whole lotta JUNK.

The crazy thing is much of this worthless junk entered our home by way of Christmas morning, wrapped in a box and sitting under a Christmas tree. Many of the items were things my son had to have because “all my friends have one;” “my life won’t be complete without it;” “I saw it on TV;” and yeah, you get the picture. Gameboy consoles with a bazillion cassettes, now extinct. Virtual pets (that mothers ended up caring for), an old pair of Nike Air Jordans that promised to make him cool; Houston Astros and Dallas Cowboys paraphernalia out the kazoo (remember back when they were winning teams?), vintage flip-phones that were oh-so-trendy at the time, and more.

I suppose I saved much of it because I thought it would mean something to him someday, given the value he had placed on them at the time. The bigger the junk pile became, the more convicted I felt. Before I bagged the expired must-haves up for a Salvation Army pick-up, I thought I’d give him one last chance to claim any treasures worth keeping. He was due home for the Christmas holidays, so I laid out the past birthday and Christmas plunder and told him to grab anything he wanted to keep or say his goodbyes. He plucked a few random things from the pile and walked away from the rest, without a second thought.

So, why am I telling you this? I suppose it’s because I wish someone had bothered to remind me that most of the things our kids clamor for each year when Christmas rolls around, will someday be junk — junk I will have to rifle through someday with a stab of conviction. Oh sure, it may give our kids a temporary zing of satisfaction in the days that follow, but alas, that zing always wears off. I’m certainly not suggesting we give our children nothing for Christmas, but what if we scaled back on their wishlists and instead, gave them something with lasting value? What if we made it more about giving than receiving? Trust me, I’m stepping on my own toes here, as I type that last sentence.

aphichokAbout seven years ago, my daughter (16 at the time) asked for a pair of Ugg boots. The problem is, she already owned a pair of Ugg boots. Granted, these were blue Uggs…and she found them on Ebay for a fraction of the cost…and most of her friends had the blue ones…and blah, blah, blah. Here we go again. That was the year, I wised up and gave my daughter something better than Ugg boots. We sponsored little Aphichok from Thailand through Compassion. He was three years old at the time and next month, little Api (as we like to call him) will celebrate his 10th birthday. I let my daughter choose which child we would sponsor and I assumed she would go for a darling little girl with pigtails and a charming smile, but no, she immediately pointed to Aphichok and said, “I want the angry-looking little boy.” Bless him. Isn’t he the cutest?

We’ve written to little Api over the years and I carry his pictures in my wallet to remind me to pray for him (and to help serve as a deterrent to pulling out my credit card to purchase more stuff that will end up in a future junk pile). In fact, I wrote to Api just last night and sent him an updated picture of our family. But here’s the coolest part about sponsoring Api: my daughter and her husband just sponsored their own child through Compassion this past year. The gift of sponsoring Aphichok was not only lasting, it was contagious. It followed her into her marriage, which is more than we can say for the Ugg boots.

This Christmas, would you consider giving your children the gift of sponsoring a child? Maybe you could do it together as a family and let your children choose the child like I did with my daughter. I realize that times are tight and not everyone can consider it, but I know many of you who are reading this can. Give your children a gift that keeps on giving — a gift with lasting value that won’t land in a junk pile or someday.

The real blessing is that your sponsorship may introduce a needy to child to the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ. And isn’t that really what Christmas is really all about?

Click here to see the children who are waiting for sponsors. What do you say…can I count you in?

 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:11)

Off the Cuff: My son won’t talk to me!

Well, it’s taken awhile to get another Off the Cuff segment on the blog, but we’re back! With my travel and writing deadlines and Hayden’s college schedule, it’s been more of a challenge than we thought to get together and tape more episodes. The good news is that we taped about five episodes on Hayden’s last visit, so I have a stockpile of episodes to air over the next couple of months!

Today’s episode addresses communication barriers that are typical in the mother/son relationship. You know what I’m talking about.

Mom: “How was your day?”
Son: “Ok.”
Mom: “How much homework do you have? When is your English paper due? Did you turn in the permission form for the field trip?”
Son: (inaudible caveman grunt)
Mom: “Before we leave for baseball practice, I need for you to clean your room and take out the trash.”
Son: (dazed and staring into pantry in search of the perfect after school snack)
Mom: “Son, did you hear me?”
Son: “Huh?”

In today’s episode, Hayden offers his insight as to why it’s sometimes (always?) hard for boys to listen to their mothers. Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 8.09.30 PMIf you’ve experienced this problem with your son, we’d love to hear about what has worked for you!

Ever After: Bible Study release & give-away!

We are so excited to announce the release of both the Ever After DVD Leader Kit and the Ever After Bible Study Member Books. The truth is, marriage and motherhood are hard. And no matter how much we give or how hard we try, we may never feel like it’s enough. The Ever After Bible study addresses the difficulties and blessings of marriage and motherhood. Poignant, funny, and even cathartic, Vicki shares mistakes made, lessons learned, and memories to keep. Most of all, she reflects the hope that Christ meets us wherever we are in the journey and that He alone is the answer to the happily-ever-after we long for.

Ever After BS

The Ever After DVD Leader Kit contains 2 DVDs with 6 sessions of video teaching and 5 weeks of homework, a message to leaders, a promo video, and bonus features. Videos average 20 minutes in length.

The Ever After Bible Study Member Book contains 5 weeks of homework with 5 days each and leader helps.

Click here to visit our bookstore and place your bible study order today!

Ever After DVD Leader Kit Giveaway

UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER! Congratulations to Paula (comcast.net) who entered by following Vicki on Pinterest.

To celebrate the new releases, we are giving away an Ever After DVD Leader Kit ($150 value!).  Entering is easy. Just click the link below and enter your email on Rafflecopter.com.  From there you will be given the option to add bonus entries for the drawing (liking Vicki’s author Facebook page, following her on Twitter, etc. using various social media tools). If you already do those things, that counts, too, so be sure and indicate that on the Rafflecopter page for additional entries.

Contest starts today and ends Friday (11/15) at 5:00 pm CST. We will randomly select one winner to be announced here on the Vicki Courtney blog on Monday. We will notify the winner by email as well.

Click here to enter the Ever After DVD Leader Kit giveaway!

 

 

Off the Cuff: Girl Stuff

We’re baaaaack with another episode of Off the Cuff! As previously promised, this episode addresses the issue of overly-aggressive girls. My son, Hayden, (age 20) weighs in about how he and many of his Christians guy friends feel about girls who go overboard when it comes to initiating contact with the opposite sex.

If you are just now tuning in to the series, you can check out the introduction video here. Click the blog tab above to scroll down to other Off the Cuff episodes (Snapchat and tips on having the “sex talk” with your kids).

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 3.42.32 PMThank you so much to those of you who have weighed in with questions (keep ‘em coming!) and your encouragement. I apologize for not getting these clips up faster, but I am in the final stretch of writing a new book (due on October 15th). Add to that, the challenge of pinning down a very busy college boy and whew, it’s been tougher than I thought to shoot the Off the Cuff segments. In fact, Hayden is stopping by today and we are planning to shoot several more episodes to release in the weeks to come. In the meantime, thanks for your patience!

As always, please weigh in with your thoughts on this topic or feel free to submit a new question for us to consider.

Off the Cuff: The “Talk”

In this episode of Off the Cuff, Hayden and I discuss the following:

  • What age is appropriate to begin the “sex talk” with your kids and how do we go about it without robbing them of their innocence?
  • When and how do we begin talking about the dangers of porn?
  • How prevalent is this problem and what steps should parents take to protect their children?
  • Hayden discusses effective deterrents that help him fight the temptation.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 8.17.28 AMIf you are just now joining us for the Off the Cuff series and wondering what it’s all about, click here for our introduction clip. You can find Episode 1 (a Snapchat discussion) here. In the meantime, comment below with any helpful advice you may have for other readers pertaining to this topic. If you have a new question for a future episode, you can submit it on the introduction page by clicking here. Also, if you need more tips on how to begin and continue the sex/pornography conversation with your son, I cover it more extensively in my book, 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son. It is also available as a DVD/Bible study, so grab a group of moms and start a group in your neighborhood or church!

Thanks for joining us again! Next week, we’ll be discussing hyper-aggressive girls and Hayden will offer valuable insight from a guy’s perspective. If you want to receive notifications of new Off the Cuff episodes, subscribe by email in the upper right-hand corner of this post or “like” my Facebook author page in the right margin. We’ll see you next time!

UPDATE: I’ve received a bunch of emails/comments asking about apps that can monitor smartphones. I did an Internet search for some information and found mspy.com. It claims to monitor/track texts messages (even after they’re deleted); GPS tracking, and tracks Internet, email and photo activity, as well as SMS activity. It is pricy — the basic package (which does all of the above) runs from $39.99 for one month of tracking to $59.99 for three months.

I also found teensafe.com, which claims to specialize in iPhones (but also monitors androids). I can’t tell if they can track Instagram and Snapchat activity, so you would need to look into it more if you are going to allow your children to engage in those apps, since most of them have left Facebook. Also, they will allow you to try it for free for six days and if you like it, it’s $14.95/month. One benefit of telling your children you are monitoring their phones is that they will probably assume that includes Instagram and Snapchat. Hayden thought I was able to see everything he was doing on his phone when he was in high school. I never told him I could — he just assumed it! Please weigh in if you have used either of these apps or have another one you would like to recommend.

One more thing: If I were a parent w/ a tween/teen and I allowed them to have a smartphone (it’s not likely I would allow my tween to have one, but I’ve learned to never say never…), I would invest in one of the above apps for one month and track a random month for each of my children to spot-check their activity. If they are not on the right track, you will know it in a month. My personal position is if you are willing to pay the monthly fee for them to have a smartphone, you should factor into the cost equation a monitoring fee over and above it to ensure their safety. Too much is at stake to not know what they’re doing on their phones. Have them earn the cost and tell them it’s part of the deal. I would also let them know I am monitoring their phone use, but I would probably leave out the detail that I’m only doing so for one month (besides, I may decide to increase it after seeing their activity for one month!). I would further explain that it is for safety purposes to ensure they are using the phone responsibly. That’s just my two cents.  :)

 

Off the Cuff: Snapchat

Wow! Hayden and I have been blown away by the number of questions that came in after our Off the Cuff introduction video where we invited you to submit questions related to issues you are facing with your tweens and teens. We currently have 62 questions we are weeding through! Many of them overlapped and dealt with the same theme, so we’re in the process of organizing them into categories.

Before we dive-in with our first episode, I forgot to mention on the introduction post to subscribe to this blog (upper right hand corner) and you will be notified by email when we post a new Off the Cuff episode. I will also be posting a link on my Facebook author page when we post a new episode, so hop on over and “like” the page if you want to get notifications on Facebook (FB link on right margin of this blog).

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 7.31.28 PMWe thought we’d kick off our very first Off the Cuff episode by talking about Snapchat. We got numerous questions related to the app and felt it deserved it’s own session rather than clumping it into a general discussion about other social networking platforms popular among tweens/teens. We’ll be talking about Instagram in a later episode and specifically how the number of followers/likes/comments emotionally affects your tweens/teens.

In this episode, Hayden reacts to the problem of girls sending boys sexually explicit pictures through Snapchat, many in response to boys asking (begging) for them. (Yep, these are church kids, folks!) I think you might be surprised by his answer to a very specific question I posed to him toward the end of the clip (I know I was!):

“If Hayden Courtney was a dad today, and you had a middle schooler or high schooler and they were begging you for snapchat, what would you say?”

Also, please know this episode ran a bit longer than we had hoped. We’re hoping to trim these sessions down in the future, since we know you are very busy and your time is valuable. However, this is important stuff, so we didn’t want to leave anything out.

Other questions we have answered and will be posting in the coming weeks:

“My college aged son was just hospitalized for drinking too much. How should we discipline him? We live out of town.”

“What’s your perspective on aggressive girls — girls who pursue/chase boys, initiate text messages, etc.?”

“How and when should I begin the conversation with my children about sex and the dangers of porn?”

Special thanks to Hayden who edited the clip (in a fraction of the time it would have taken me!) and added the fun intro feature. Also, I have good news! It looks like other members of my family will be participating in some of the future Off the Cuff sessions (at your request)! We felt some of your questions would be great to have a girl’s perspective, so we’ll be asking my daughter (Paige) and daughter-in-law (Casey) for their input on some of the questions. We are working on Ryan, my oldest son. He is not a fan of being on camera, so we are working on a fair bribery to entice him to participate. :)

So, what are YOUR thoughts about Snapchat? Let’s begin the conversation on this post. Please be respectful of one others’ opinions and season your comments with grace. Remember, what works for one family, may not work for another.

Thank you for stopping by!

Off the Cuff: Introduction

Last week, my college boy stopped by for a quick visit. He attends The University of Texas (Hook’em Horns!), which is about 15 miles down the road from home. In spite of the distance, home visits are a rare treat. I’ll see him tonight, but that’s because I’m making a pot roast, which would also qualify as a rare treat, since I don’t really cook. The boy is oh-so-busy living the college life, but fortunately, he is living a different brand of “the college life” than his mother chose at his same age. :)

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 11.45.52 AMAnyway, this video clip was inspired by a conversation Hayden and I had about some of the high school students he has the privilege of mentoring as a Young Life leader. He is not that far-removed from the struggles they are facing and made the comment, “I wish parents knew how hard it is to be in middle school or high school…” And his comment got me thinking. What if there was a way to let parents know and maybe give them a sneak peek into their tween/teen’s world?

As a brief background, Hayden had some difficult years during high school that often drove my husband and I to our knees in prayer. He’s our youngest child and what had worked (for the most part) with his older two siblings, did not necessarily work with Hayden. And that’s a good thing because in the trenches of parenting Hayden, God taught me and my husband some valuable lessons about parenting the heart rather than modifying the behavior. (A future book, perhaps?) Bottom line, we learned to rest in the assurance that God is always working behind the scenes to draw, shape, and mold our children’s hearts (as well as, our own) and to trust Him for the results, even when we may not see immediate fruit.

When we were raising our children, my husband and I had always hoped a day would come when the parent/child relationship would transition into a close and intimate friendship with our children.  That day has come. They openly confide in us and talk about many of the pressures and challenges they faced in their not-so-long-ago teen years. I guess if I had to describe in a nutshell what “Off the Cuff” is about, I’d say it’s about bridging the gap between parents and their tweens/teens.

The truth is, it’s hard to be a tween/teen in today’s culture, but it’s also hard to parent a tween/teen in today’s culture.

We want to bring some of the challenges out into the open and start a conversation. I guess my ultimate prayer is that it would redirect both parties to the beauty of the gospel at every turn in the road — even when that road gets rocky (and you can bet it will!).

So, what’s troubling you right now in regard to parenting your tween or teen? Is there an issue that’s weighing heavy on your heart? Are you wondering what in the world is going on in your tween/teen’s head right now? Or how to approach the whole dating, video game, smart phone, snap chat, peer group, private vs. public school, you fill-in-the-blank issue?

Let’s quit trying to figure it out on our own and open it up for discussion — a heavy-on-grace, light-on-preaching kind of discussion.

Not necessarily for the purpose of solving each and every problem but rather, for the purpose of living out the gospel in our homes and pointing our children to a loving God.

If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you know my family is not perfect. We’ve experienced our fair share of detours and hurdles along the way and we’re willing to talk about some of those hurdles rather than pretend they don’t exist.

So, what do you say? Let’s get this conversation started!

Note: If you don’t feel comfortable commenting on this blog, you can email your question to my assistant. All questions will be presented as “anonymous” (names will never be mentioned) in order to respect your privacy.

You’re hired!

My daughter-in-law manages my online bookstore for this site and keeps a stash of books on hand at her house. She sent me this clip earlier today of my grandson and I can hardly handle the cuteness.

I’m officially making him my new marketing rep.

Ever After Royal Portrait Contest — and a chance to win a new camera!

Bubba family portrait

 
UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER!

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Congratulations to

Lorie Wright Denton! 

 She has won a new camera and an Ever After book!

 Lorie won our third Fairy Tale Letdown contest by posting this photo adding: ”Epic photo fail of the ‘perfect’ family beach pic.”

Thank you to everyone who sent
in pictures. You can see the other
top finalists’ pictures in the Fairy Tale Letdown album on

 
We had planned a summer trip in 2004 to a beautiful white sand beach in Florida and I was determined to get my first-ever family beach picture. I announced to my family on our last day at the beach that we were going to get a family picture that evening before dinner. The announcement was met with a chorus of enthusiastic smiles, high fives, and head nods. Nope. As you will see in the picture, my family refused to cooperate with the all white wardrobe stipulation, opting instead for a more light Goth-look.

I was desperate to get my beach picture, so I bit my lip and we headed down to the beach. I knew I had about ninety seconds to pull this off before the natives (a.k.a. my sons) got restless and began to suffer withdrawals from their air-conditioned condo. I quickly approached a stranger and asked him to snap few pictures.

It wasn’t until I got home from the trip that I noticed the sunburnt Bubba in the background holding a beer koozie and doing a howdy-doody wave. As luck would have it, this particular shot was the only picture where every member of our family had their eyes open. I had no choice – Bubba had to stay.  Look, if anyone was going to look a bit crazed and off in the picture, I’d rather it be Bubba than one of the Courtneys. Of course, this was before digital editing, so I didn’t have the option of airbrushing Bubba out.

There’s no such thing as perfect families with perfect smiles who live perfect lives. There’s always a Bubba lurking somewhere behind the scenes to pull back the curtain and expose us for who we really are. So the next time you receive a Christmas letter along with a picture that looks like a photo shoot for a catalog, remember it is only one of many snapshots in the family’s life.

What about you? What’s lurking in that family photo album that makes you shake your head and wonder, “What was I thinking?!” Dare to share and you might get a second chance to capture a smiling, eyes open, no one is pinching a sibling, family moment with your own brand new camera!

By sharing your picture with us via Twitter, Instagram or Email, you will enter our contest for a chance to win a free camera and my new Ever After book! See below for the specifics on how to enter.

FIRST PLACE WINNER: We will send you a brand new camera and an Ever After book.

REMAINING FOUR FINALISTS: We will mail a copy of Vick’s latest book: Ever After: Life Lessons Learned in My Castle of Chaos.

THE RULES:
- You can enter the contest by posting a photo on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #FairyTaleLetdown or you can email your picture by clicking here. If you enter by posting to Instagram or Twitter, please make sure that your photo is not private so we can see it. All photos must be posted by by Thursday at 5 pm CST the week of the contest to qualify.

- Our staff will select the top 5 pictures and notify the finalists.

- We will post the 5 finalists’ pictures onto Vicki’s Facebook Author Page on Friday morning and let you decide the winner by “liking” your favorite photo.  (You need to have “liked” Vicki’s Facebook page in order to be able to vote.) Voting ends at 10:00pm CST on Sunday.

- Monday morning following the contest we will announce the winner right here on the blog.

We have more contests in store, so subscribe to this blog or follow Vicki on her Facebook page.

We can’t wait to see all the photos!