How can we help a family with a sick parent?

In April 2018, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I never expected to hear a cancer diagnosis at 36 years old. I never expected to have to tell my two young children that their mom was seriously ill. I also never expected the amount of help and support we received from our friends, family, and church/school community. Our lives were thrown into a tailspin for six months as I went through chemotherapy and my husband took over kid and house duties. We would not have survived without the unbelievable outpouring of love and help.

Before I offer advice on supporting a family with a sick parent, I’d like to speak to the person who is ill (or in need of support): Figure out exactly what you need. The following suggestions were most helpful to me and our family, but that was because I carefully evaluated what I needed most and was able to make specific requests when people offered help. Don’t be afraid to say, “This is what we need right now,” when people ask what they can do for you.

That said, when someone you love is going through a tough time, here are some helpful ways to reach out.

Pray!

I cannot put into words what an empowering comfort it was to know that I had people praying for me and my family during my diagnosis and treatment. When life took a surreal turn, we had so many believers on our side, storming His throne on our behalf. It was a huge comfort!

Ask your friend what to pray for specifically. Do they have tests or procedures coming up? Troubling side effects? Kids or spouse struggling with the life changes? A particular challenge you can bring to God? And then let them know you’re praying.

Be specific in your offers of help.

General offers of help (“Let us know if you need anything.”) were always appreciated, but the specific offers of help were much easier for me to accept. “I’m picking up your kids for a day at the zoo, what time works for you?” or “What day this week can I come and clean your bathroom?” It took all the thinking out of it for me. Walk the dog, hang with the kids, clean up the kitchen—little things that, yes, I could still do while sick, but it gave me a little bit of a break to focus on other activities instead.

Sign up for or coordinate a meal train.

My family was beyond blessed to be well-fed throughout my treatment. My good days were spent trying to conserve energy to be with my kids, so cooking/grocery shopping took a backseat. Talk to the person struggling in your life—has someone already set up a meal train? Would it be helpful for them to have meals delivered a couple times a week? If a home-cooked meal isn’t workable, a gift card to a restaurant or meal service is a wonderful alternative.

Send a card or a care package.

Getting mail is special at any time, in my opinion, but getting cards from friends and family near and far during treatment always lifted my spirits while I was sick. My favorites were the cards with terrible jokes (because I love a good dad-joke!), but I also received many beautiful cards of encouragement. Receiving a little care package was also uplifting. I had several days of resting in bed after each chemo and devoured dozens of books shared with me by friends during that time. Consider sending a small care package with a book, a treat, a special blanket they can snuggle under while they rest, or something special for their kids to play with while their parent recovers.

Spend time visiting or listening.

Often when people would ask what I needed, I would immediately answer, “Company!” I am used to being a very busy and social person. To be sidelined for months from my usual routine was incredibly lonely. I loved to have friends drop by for a visit. Be sure to keep it short if it seems like your friend needs to rest. Ask if they need a ride or company for appointments or procedures. Having friends along at my chemo appointments gave me something to look forward to about the appointment.

Whether you reach out in one or many ways, do something, even if it’s just sending a text letting the family know that you’re thinking of and praying for them. Being surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ is one of the beautiful benefits of struggling through hard times. God created us to need one another, so don’t be afraid to be the one who needs help or the one who offers it.

Kerry Ognenoff and her husband, Andy, have a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son who attend school at St. John, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. They are members of Grace, Milwaukee.

Struggling with healthy cell phone use

Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you are struggling to determine what healthy cell phone use looks like?

Value
Struggling can be good because it helps us identify our values. I really love how God tells us in Deuteronomy to love him wholly—to value him above all things. He doesn’t say fleetingly or haphazardly share his words and precepts. He says, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

We value our God who saved us, and we value the children he’s entrusted to us. And, since we are people using media devices who are raising children in the way of the Lord, how we use and model using devices is an important topic of our struggle . . . when we walk along the road (or drive to school), when we put our kids to bed (or sit in the family room)—really at any and all times.

Evaluate
Remember the expression, “more is caught than taught.” Our kids are watching us and listening—weighing what we say against what we do. Short of some cataclysmic dystopian accident, cell phones are not going away. Children can see if the device appears more interesting to us than the people around us do.

There is value in struggling with how to have and show healthy media habits. Notice when you choose to give attention to a device. While it’s fine to view entertainment online and be connected to others, it’s also good to evaluate: “Is my media time excessive or to the exclusion of those around me?” Evaluate whether you would allow or encourage those choices for your child.

Value in struggle
Recently, I was sitting with my youngest daughter when she beelined to retrieve my beeping phone. I thanked her and told her to leave the phone in the other room because I was spending time with her. The phone could wait.

Herein lies a struggle. We will have times when we need to take phone calls and answer messages. We also don’t want to give the impression that we value what’s on the other side of the beep more than we value the people present.

The apostle Paul reminds us that just because we can do something doesn’t mean it’s constructive to do so. He writes, “  ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial.  ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Evaluate how your personal habits appear to your child. Would your son notice that Dad stops what he’s doing to check every notification or that Mom checks her social media in the middle of conversations? None of these situations are necessarily wrong, but each one begs us to evaluate and struggle with: “Is this how I want my child to interact with those around him?” Where are the boundaries—or where would I want them to be?

There is no magic pattern to win the “best media boundaries parent award.” Yet being aware and evaluating media choices makes a difference. Share your values and discuss what you are doing: “I’m putting the phone away because . . .”

You may show healthy boundaries by deliberately putting the phone out of reach more often. Explain why you don’t want phones at meals or decide the family will all put them in the other room or turn them off during family time. Even declare the hour that it’s absolutely okay for everyone to catch up on their favorite media platform.

Let your children have input—work through this together so your family can use these God-given tools in moderate, healthy ways. There will be some struggling, tweaking, and reevaluating, but sharing your values with your children is priceless.

Amy Vannieuwenhoven and her husband, Charlie, have four children ranging in age from a fourth-grader to a high school senior. Amy is a teacher at Northdale Lutheran School in Tampa, Florida, and the author of Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You from Northwestern Publishing House.

Consider making a digital resolution in 2019

Our families are at war with technology and digital communication. At a time when information is more readily available than ever and we can connect with friends and loved ones in an instant, depression and anxiety among young adults and parents increase. Many report feeling disconnected from their families because of technology. So something that was designed with the intention to keep us connected actually makes us feel more lonely!

As beloved children of our heavenly Father, we were designed to be in relationships with one another. The very nature of our triune God points to the interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our digital age has given us a false sense of interconnectedness by giving us so much information that we assume our relationships are more complete than they might actually be. Instead, we are lonely because we’ve stopped looking into each other’s eyes, and we’re anxious because we feel that we need to post or perform to receive attention.

This year, consider making a digital resolution to turn off the smartphone at dinner; forget the in-the-moment Facebook post; and talk face to face with family, friends, and especially your children.

Your commitment to set a digital resolution in 2019 could include:

  • Setting a specific time and place for technology use in your home.
  • Having all family members agree on when to unplug, perhaps during family meal times and at the same time every night.
  • Committing not to use technology before a specific time on weekends (Mom and Dad, this means you too!).
  • Using the resources on your mobile device to set daily time limits for use for every member in your household. Most Apple and Android devices now include this type of software. Consider a tool like mobicip, which helps parents set healthy limits on their children’s digital experiences (as well as their own!).

When you set limits around your technology use, watch for the Lord to bless your efforts, including more conversation, more face to face time, and perhaps even more hugs.

Laura Reinke and her husband, Matthew, have three teenagers. Laura is a marriage and family therapist at Christian Family Solutions and the director of youth ministry at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Trust in God provides relief from fear

How can we protect our kids without scaring them?

I think it’s possible to look at this question and focus on at least two different aspects. The first is the practical reality of communicating issues of safety in an age-appropriate way with our kids (for help with that, see Sarah Reik’s article). But the second part of this question involves my own reaction to living in a sinful world with all its potential dangers, pitfalls, and challenges for my kids. As I look at this question with that in mind, I have to say, “Moms and Dads, I’m scared! I really am!”

In so many ways we can now get instant access to every newsfeed, channel, blog, app, and site that inconveniently keeps us up to date on all the stories of our broken and sinful world. Then, after all that, it’s time to send our kids to the first day of kindergarten or high school or worse—college!

We not only hear all the detailed ways people’s lives are hurt, but we also have our own life experiences and the hardships we have had to face. Unlike our kids and their developing brains, we are better able to appreciate consequences, dangers, and even our own mortality. Yep—not gonna lie. I get scared for my kids. At times I think, How could I possibly do enough to keep them safe?

An example to consider
Have you ever read the account in Exodus chapter 2 when Moses’s mother hid Moses from the king of Egypt for three months when he sent out a decree to kill all the baby boys? Moses’s mother did all she could do to keep Moses safe from this danger for the first three months of his life but then came to appreciate the reality that she simply couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t be discovered and be put to death. So she made a basket and sent him adrift down the Nile River. By faith and trusting that God would protect her baby, she watched that basket float away. We know how the Lord protected Moses when he was discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who saved him from all that could have happened.

This example of a parent’s trust in God has given me such relief from my own fear. It has reminded me that God is truly in control—not me. As much as I like to think that I have built an impenetrable fortress of safety around my kids, that fortress is nothing compared to the everlasting and immeasurable love God has for my kids.

A God to rely on
The reality of living in a broken and sinful world means that my kids won’t be living in a protected bubble here on earth. The absence of all evil and danger will come in heaven. Until then, all the dangers of evil will be present in the lives of my children. Let’s remember this—God loves my kids even more than I am capable of loving them. Remember he not only provides his protection, but he also sent his own Son to die for us and our children. When my kids feel the effect of their brokenness and face the results of sin, his love and forgiveness are still there.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

God is there when they start school or work or even their own family. God is there in the midst of all the joys. God is there at the school parties, on the dates, on the bus, in the subway, on the trip to study abroad. God is there to give strength to resist temptations. God is there when the bad choices are made and consequences come. What a privilege that we have been given to foster faith in our children so they (and we) can always see the Lord’s presence.

It seems to me that protecting our kids and talking with them about the scary things in life starts with our own recognition of fear and the opportunity we have to trust our Lord. Let the conversations and teachable moments with our kids flow from a parent’s heart of confident trust in God.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son. Dan is also a licensed professional counselor and the coordinator of the Member Assistance Program for WLCFS—Christian Family Solutions.

How can we protect our kids without scaring them?

When my oldest child was very young, we were at our pediatrician’s office for his yearly physical. As she was checking him all over, she reminded him that only doctors and Moms and Dads can look at private parts of his body. She said that if anyone else ever does, he should say, “No,” and then tell Mom or Dad what happened.

I remember having a mixture of emotions at that time—fear that something so horrible might ever happen to my son, guilt that I hadn’t thought to have that conversation with him before the doctor did, and sadness that it’s a necessary conversation at all. I was also struck by how matter-of-fact she was as she said those things and how my son seemed unaffected while my own emotions were churning.

How do we talk to our children about staying safe without scaring them unnecessarily? It is an important part of our responsibility as parents to equip our children with tools to keep them safe, and in order to do that, we need to be realistic about dangerous situations they might face. At the same time, I have talked with adults who continue to struggle with fear and anxiety placed on them at an early age from well-meaning parents who were trying to be protective. So how do we achieve a healthy balance in our conversations?

I believe there are two important concepts to keep in mind.

Talk to your children about what they can control.
We know as Christians that there has always been sin and evil in the world and there will be until Christ returns. We can’t change that. When we focus on stories of bad things in this fallen world that are out of their control, that breeds worry. Let’s talk to our children instead about what they can control.

Instead of asking, “What are the dangers?” ask, “What are safe choices?” Avoid the phrase “stranger danger,” and focus on “stranger awareness.” Discuss how to talk to strangers and how to get help from safe strangers. (Statistics tell us that most children are victimized by people they know, so strangers aren’t the issue.)

Role-play with your children what they can do if they are in a potentially dangerous situation so that they have a chance to practice and feel confident. Make it fun. (I’m always a fan of role-playing with stuffed animals. They’re cute, and then they serve a purpose other than cluttering my house.) Teach confident body language like smiling and eye contact. Teach assertiveness skills. “No, I don’t keep secrets from Mom and Dad.” “That’s not okay, and I’m going to tell someone.”

Here are a few clear safety guidelines we can share with our children from early on:

  • Know your name, address, and phone number.
  • Other than doctors or parents, don’t let anyone touch your private parts or tell you to touch theirs.
  • Tell a trusted adult if something or someone makes you uncomfortable. Keeping secrets is never safe.
  • If you get lost, freeze and wait for the adult you were with to come back and find you.
  • Don’t share personal information online.
  • Respect dangerous items like matches and weapons.

By teaching our children what they can say and do, we empower them instead of scare them.

Control your own fear.
I am scared of heights. I am proud to say that my children are not. The few times I’ve been brave enough to go on a Ferris wheel with my children, I’ve taken deep, silent breaths, and smiled and gushed about how beautiful it is to be up so high.

When we talk to our children about staying safe, it is important first to be calm ourselves regarding the issue we are discussing. If you find it is difficult to keep your own anxiety at bay, either because you struggle with anxiety in general or because you were the victim of something yourself as a child, seek help from a trusted friend or professional so that you do not pass along your fears.

I can equip my children to help them stay safe, but I cannot protect them perfectly. It always comforts me to remember that my children are God’s first. He claimed them by Baptism, forgave them, and made them his own. He has given them guardian angels, and he is working even harder than I am to protect them. Rest securely in that truth, and share it with your children.

Sarah Reik and her husband have four grade-school-aged children. Sarah is also a licensed professional counselor with WLCFS—Christian Family Solutions.

Using Chrismons in Advent devotions

Chrismons are Christian symbols that are often used as Christmas ornaments in many Christian churches. They create an easy visual for a family Advent devotion. In her article titled Advent devotions keep family’s eyes on Jesus, Anna Geiger details how her family of eight uses Chrismons for their Advent devotions. Interested in learning more about Chrismons and how you can incorporate them into your family’s Advent devotions? Click here.

Advent devotions keep family’s eyes on Jesus

During most of the year, our family gathers each evening for a Bible story and song. But we take a break from our regular devotions for the month of Advent. Instead, we sit at the dining room table around a lovely handcrafted Advent tree, a gift from my father-in-law.

Simple Advent devotions
First, my husband lights one or more candles, depending how close we are to Christmas. Then we choose a Chrismon (a Christmas decoration with a Christian symbol) to hang on the tree. My husband leads an impromptu devotion based on the symbol we’ve chosen, and we conclude with a verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The short devotions are often simple. The cross reminds us that Jesus died to take away our sins. The shell reminds us that God forgave our sins and brought us into his family through baptism. The lamb is a symbol for Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Sometimes our devotions are little more complex. We may talk about the fish being an ancient Christian symbol because the letters of the Greek word for fish stand for Jesus. We may talk about the Chi-Ro, which looks like a P with an X on top. These two letters are the first letters of the Greek word “Christos,” which means Christ.

Our five oldest kids (4, 6, 8, 10, 11) take turns doing different jobs. One chooses the Chrismon, another places it on the tree, a third child turns out the lights, a fourth child passes out the music, and a fifth has the favorite job of blowing out the candles. Because our youngest will be turning 3 this Advent season, he will be part of the devotions as well. I suppose we will need a sixth job . . . but I don’t think we’re ready to let the kids take turns lighting the candles!

A meaningful tradition
With a houseful of young children, I wouldn’t exactly call our Advent devotions peaceful. And the proximity of children to open flames keeps my husband and me at the edge of our seats. But all of us look forward to this simple family tradition. Not only does it distract us from the hustle and bustle of the season, it also keeps our eyes on our coming Savior.

Anna Geiger and her husband, Steve, are raising their six kids in Mequon, Wis. Anna is the creator of The Measured Mom, an education website for parents and teachers. Interested in using Chrismons in your family’s Advent devotions? Click here

Seeing the Lord this Christmas

I can see the candlelight in her eyes. It flickers there in the dark sanctuary. It lights up her small face in constantly new ways as the flame dances pushing shadows off her face. It was Christmas Eve 2014. She was singing “Silent Night.”

I almost lost it. I hope it wasn’t just sentimentality. I doubt it was. I long for something as a father. I pray for it more than most anything else in my life. It makes me do things like ask my daughter every day on your her way to school, “Who are you?” Just to hear her say back, “I’m a blood bought child of God.” It makes me haul out my little devotional every night at dinner or lay on the Bermuda grass outside just so I can point to the stars and say, “Look at what God did.” I want my daughter to see the Lord just like Job once did (Job 42:5).

There are few better places to see him than the manger. I’ve got no secret sauce for that. I’m not sure we even have totally rooted family traditions yet around Christmas. I do know that I’ve done some things now for a few years. I love to walk with her up to the Chrismons. I love telling her what they mean. I love talking to her about the lights on the tree and how they point to the Light of the World. I love talking to her about the Christmas lessons she learns every year at Sunday School. I love interrupting her occasionally to remind her to back out of the commercialism and ask her what the season is really about. I love to open the presents with her and tell her where they all ultimately come from and what the best gift of all is. I love to bust out the hymnal and sing a Christmas hymn before we go to sleep. I love to help her with her recitations just so I can make a comment to her about what they mean.

I hope you know I’m not slavish about how I lean into unique Christmas moments. I’m not. There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes it’s best simply to grab some Christmas cookies together and laugh about how crazy her dad is. I do, however, at Christmas time maintain the regular ways I disciple my daughter and always look for opportunities to use the uniqueness of the season to connect truth to her soul. No, it’s not a secret sauce. It’s just real life trusting the Spirit to use the Word in my daughter’s life.

I love my daughter. More than anything else I want her to have the joy of seeing the Lord in her life. I want that because I know that is what will chase away the shadows and darkness that lie within her and will make light dance in her little heart in new ways all year long.

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

A simple Christmas

It’s almost Christmas. Time stops for no one. So we dash through the snow to pick up kids. Buy the latest toy. Find dresses for the girls and suits for the boys. Bake Christmas cookies. Help the kids memorize their Christmas services. Set up Christmas get-togethers with our family and friends. Bake more Christmas cookies. Schedule and wrangle crabby kids to take family pictures for the two hundred Christmas cards we have to order, address, place in envelopes, buy stamps for, and send. Decorate upstairs. Decorate downstairs. Decorate outside. Did I mention bake cookies?

My house, inside or out, doesn’t look like a Pinterest page. My kids might be wearing hand-me-down dresses and suits for the Christmas services. My gifts might not be wrapped until the night before Christmas Eve (and might just be placed into a gift bag!). We will eventually get the Christmas tree up. And perhaps a string of lights outside . . . if we’ve taken them down from last year. My cookies just might be bought from the local grocery store. But, this is what allows our family to savor and enjoy Christmas. The simplicity.

You don’t have to spend hundreds of hours or dollars making a perfect Christmas. We already have a perfect Christmas with the most perfect gift—Christ Jesus. Our focus should be not on making more work for an earthly perfect—one that takes the center of attention away from the true meaning of Christmas—but on how to bring our loved ones closer to the manger.

First comes our beautiful Christmas Eve service filled with children’s voices, praises to God for sending his Son, and the comforting passages and hymns we have committed to memory.

Then, our family continues in sharing God’s goodness in our living room. Sharing the blessings he has given us, reminding our children of the best gift that allows us to give them gifts, and reveling in the love of family—one of the most marvelous gifts God has given us on earth.

Traditions are wonderful and can be an amazing blessing to you, your children, and your grandchildren. But in the busyness of Christmas, might I suggest keeping it simple?

Set aside time to spend with your family;
Find a Christmas service or two;
Remind your loved ones of the greatest gift of Christmas;
Breathe in the crisp winter air;
Take in some twinkling lights;
And feel the love of Jesus envelop you.

Rachel Learman and her husband, Paul, are raising four children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

How can I help my son grow into a godly man?

“What does it mean to be a man?” That question ran through my mind as I considered that this might be my last year to have much influence on my oldest son, Josiah. Living in Alaska, my wife and I planned to send Josiah to Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis., for high school. And that meant that his eighth-grade year was his last year at home. So, here’s what I proposed to Josiah: “Let’s challenge each other to ‘man up’ in three areas of life. To show our thanks to Jesus, let’s grow stronger physically, mentally, and especially spiritually so that, with our strength, we can help others.”

That became the beginning of the “Man-up challenge” for Josiah and me. So, what did the “Man-up challenge” look like? We discussed it and agreed that we would take Saturdays and Sundays off (or use them to “catch up” where we fell behind), but each weekday we would do push-ups (starting with one on the first day of school, doing two on the second day, etc. until we reached 100 push-ups per day), read a few pages of a book that would help us become lifelong learners (hoping to work through one book a month for ten months), and read a chapter of our Bibles (it just so happens that there are 260 chapters in the New Testament and almost exactly the same number of weekdays in a year). We printed out monthly charts that we could “check off” when we met the challenge for the day. And we left Saturday and Sunday to make up what we missed.

At the start of the school year, we both struggled with 20 pushups. At the end of the school year, we could consistently do 100 pushups (sets of 25 four times a day), felt leaner and stronger, had some great discussions on what it means to be a godly man (looking for that theme in the books we read and especially in the New Testament), and grew in our relationship and in our faith.

I asked Josiah what he learned over the course of the year and wasn’t surprised to hear him say: “I learned it was tough to keep our commitment. And I learned it was way easier when you pushed me to do it.” That’s what I learned too.

Lesson #1: We need each other. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,10).

There were many days that I really didn’t feel like doing any more push-ups. But I knew that as soon as he got home from school, Josiah was sure to ask, “How many push-ups have you done so far today, Dad?” And I didn’t want to let him down by saying, “Zero.” So I got to it and did a set or two. Likewise, there were plenty of days that Josiah didn’t want to read a chapter of a book on church history I had chosen. But he knew I was going to nag . . . er . . . encourage him when I found out he had skipped two days in a row. We had to encourage each other along the way.

And that’s not just true of a “Man-up challenge.” It’s true in life. There are times that I need a brother in the faith to pull me aside and lovingly rebuke me and offer a word of encouragement. It is so hard to preach the law to yourself, perhaps even more difficult to preach the gospel to yourself. We need each other. We need to cultivate close friendships with other Christians who will hold us accountable, lovingly tell us when we’re doing something stupid, or encourage us to keep going when we’re ready to give up.

Lesson #2: We need more than each other. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24,25).

As we made our challenge known to other men in the congregation, they too would hold us accountable in their own way. They wouldn’t nag us but would occasionally ask, “How’s the challenge going?” or “How many push-ups are you up to today?” or “How far into the New Testament have you made it?” This not only encouraged us to keep going, but it also encouraged them. Some joined us in reading their Bibles. Others tried the push-ups themselves. It became a bit contagious.

But then, some of the men of the congregation got involved directly in our challenge. “Your son needs to learn how to change the oil in a car. I know you can’t do that, Pastor. So come over on Saturday. I’ll show you both how.” “I’ll teach you how to operate a chainsaw, Pastor, so you can teach your boys.” It takes a village to raise a child. And I am very thankful for the godly men in our church who taught my boys some life skills, but even more so, who modeled a humble and quiet confidence in God’s promises and a willingness to serve others in thanks.

And this is true not just in a “Man-up challenge,” but in life. God puts us together in communities, in the body of believers, where some are gifted with some skills and others have gifts in different areas. We all need each other. And what better place to find that community than in the church. Of course we need to go to church to hear the Word and receive the Sacrament. But we also need it for each other to spur one another on and to encourage each other in our faith and in our life.

Lesson #3: We need forgiveness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

We didn’t always do well. A day off of school, a busy week in Lent, or a week of tests would break the routine, and no push-ups or reading would be done. When we fell too far behind to catch up (400 push-ups is a lot to do on a Sunday afternoon!), we would declare a “Day of Jubilee” where all debts were cancelled. We’d do a “reset” and start over on Monday, forgiving all the times we missed.

We didn’t do the “Man-up challenge” perfectly, but when we failed, we owned it, we gave and received forgiveness, and we started all over again. And each time we reset, we did a little bit better than we did the last time. While it wasn’t a perfect run, we are both better—stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually—having made the attempt.

Of course, this too is a lesson for life. We need forgiveness. Often. We need a regular reminder of what our Savior has done to win that forgiveness. But that forgiveness isn’t a license to wallow in our sin. It frees us to get back up and try again . . . and again . . . and again. And when we mess up—and we will—we go back to the cross to find forgiveness and the strength to give forgiveness. And that forgiveness drives us to try again to live for him with all that we are—body, mind, and spirit.

Lesson #4: Celebrate the success! “The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great” (Nehemiah 8:17).

When the challenge was over, Josiah and I hiked to the top of a mountain. At the top, even though we were already tired from the hike, we “manned up” and each did 100 more push-ups. We talked about the lessons that we learned during the “Man-up challenge,” the things we wanted to continue, the things we’d try to do better.

At the top of the mountain, I then presented him with a set of printed “dog tags” that reminded him that he would always be loved—by me, but more importantly, by God. I gave him a copy of a book that I’d been editing over the course of the year—a book written by the godly men in his life—church members, uncles and grandparents, teachers, and strangers that he’d never met but who helped me to “man up.” They all shared their thoughts on what it means to be a Christian man and gave their advice to Josiah.

We descended the mountain and continued the conversation over lunch to conclude our celebration. And with a sense of accomplishment, we gave thanks to God for helping us grow as men. We still have a lot of manning up to do—both of us. But we’re on the right track. And with God’s help, we’ll continue to grow stronger—mentally, physically, and spiritually—that we might better help others in thanks to God for all he’s done for us.

Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, are raising four boys. They recently moved from Kenai, Alaska, to New Ulm, Minnesota. To read a compilation of the advice Guenther received for his son, check out Man Up, Josiah! Advice on Being a Godly Man at amazon.com. To hear more from Rob and Josiah about the “Man-up challenge,” watch this webcast