Confessions of a Google Mapping Mama

Google MapsSo yesterday I found myself Google mapping H.E.B. grocery stores near the University of Houston campus. I was planning ahead to our upcoming drop off visit to move Russel in and the limited amount of time I would have to help him get his room set up, shop for those last-minute items and stock his fridge, among other things. As I pondered these mom of a soon-to-be college student thoughts, I realized I had to be strategic with where we shopped. I couldn’t just GPS grocery stores on the spot – what if we went to the worst one nearby… or one with a horrible selection? A good, clean grocery store where products are actually what we eat and are easy to find is important! So it hit me – I should Google map the stores near the campus now. I found four stores close to the school and scrolled through each location’s customer comments.

Here are a few reviews straight off their sites —

“This store is a black eye on the HEB company. Rotten fruit. Long lines. Terrible selection. Awful customer service.”

“Ghetto store…no meat variety….all the pork u can want!”

” I guess you could say that I’m an HEB aficionado or whatever. My official, expert opinion on this one: It’s pretty dope. Extensive produce, helpful staff, nice bakery….”

With that last one, I thought – “Ding, Ding – we have a winner!” All the reviews I read for that site were equally glowing. That was the one I’d point him to!

My next thought was I should take him with me so he could see where it is, and then hopefully when he has to go alone for the first time he won’t get lost. You see, my son is amazingly directionally challenged. Truth be told – I’ve never met a person who could so easily lose sight of which way to go to reach your destination. When he entered middle school, he bravely asked if he could ride his bike to school. We were so proud! “Of course,” we said! And then when he asked where he turned to get there, we hung our heads. After all those years of driving by it daily — he still didn’t realize the school is on our street. There is no turn to get there.. you just go straight.. all the way.. until you reach the school.

And this is the dear child we are about to send to college. I know I’m probably being somewhat of a helicopter mom. It could be said I’m over preparing to prepare him and help him be ready for being on his own. I can’t help it though. Years from now I bet he’ll look back on it all and laugh. Who knows, he could already be doing that now when I’m not around – wise boy that he is!

The thing is – my son can never doubt my love for him. While the ways I show it may sometimes be slightly off track – the heart behind it all is good! And then I know, when we pull away and head back to Austin, he will figure these things out. He will find his own place to shop. He will find his favorite hang outs and I bet he’ll find a way to get to them with out much difficulty thanks to Google maps on his phone and he can always ask the people around him. I just want to know I did everything I could do to ready him. Because I know, there will be enough surprises, enough moments of having to figure things out with out our help. When those moments come, I know we have prepared him in the best possible way. He knows where to go for this one. He knows to go to God. He can ask anything. And God will help him navigate through. I bet, he could even help him find his way when he feels lost.

Yes, my son is in good hands. And of course, he can always call home.

Amy O’Donnell


Keep Going

Keep Going(As recently posted on Arrows, blogsite of Pastor Laura Koke, co-Pastor of Shoreline Church in Austin, TX. To read her blogposts as well as posts by guest writers, go to

My daughter is very persistent. If she wants something she will ask for it again and again each time hoping she will hear the answer she is longing for. While we have to shape this trait in her right now to steer it into a positive direction, we recognize this tendency is a positive one that will take her far in life.

Many of the key people of The Bible had this same thread woven through the fabric of their lives. Abraham and Sarah persisted through years of infertility. Moses persisted through a stubborn pharaoh’s hardened heart. David persisted through years of tending sheep and running for his life after he was anointed the next king. The Israelites persisted in marching around the wall of Jericho for seven days.

All of the people mentioned held a promise from God. All of them faced a reality far different from that promise for many years of their lives.

Have you ever wondered –

  • What if Abraham and Sarah gave up on trying to conceive a baby?
  • What if Moses stopped at the ninth plague?
  • What if David threw in the towel; deciding it wasn’t worth the wait and trouble?
  • What if the Israelites stopped marching on day six?

None of these people stopped short of the prize. They kept going. They persevered.

Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” These amazing hall-of-faith people modeled this in their lives. They believed God would do what He said He would do.

For me, it’s not hard to see where my daughter’s persevering personality comes from. After three boys and generations of no girls born into the family, we were told by countless people it was unlikely we would ever have a girl. And yet, I held a dream in my heart time wasn’t taking away. I believed God placed that dream there and He could do anything to bring it to pass. And when Kylie FAITH entered this world, I was so thankful I never gave up.

What promise of God are you holding onto? Whatever it is, my prayer for you is that no matter what you see happening in the natural you will keep going, keep moving forward, keep hoping, keep pressing on, and whatever you do — never, ever give up.

Amy O’Donnell

© Copyright March 5th, 2014

Parenting on Purpose: Embracing their Unique Design

Just be You“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 NIV

It’s amazing to me that four kids could come from the same parents and be so different! We have one blonde-haired blue-eyed beautiful boy, with a tall dark and handsome brown-haired brown-eyed older brother and a hilarious and strong-minded light brown-haired and blue-eyed younger brother. Then we have our precious daughter, the youngest of them all, who is uniquely crafted in every way. We love the diversity this brings to our family. We love watching their strengths develop and cheering on their natural gifts and talents. And we have released holding them to any standard the world says they should live up to, because that’s unfair to them.

That wasn’t always the case though. You see when we started parenting, we jumped on the treadmill we saw so many other parents on. When our oldest was old enough we put him in soccer and a home school singing group, then with our next we put him in soccer and football and gymnastics, we added on a third and got him in gymnastics along with our second… we were going all the time! We were also spending a lot of money.

About the time I had my fourth, our daughter Kylie, we realized with such a large family we needed to spend our time and money wisely. With that in mind, we wanted to put our time and money into something for each child that would really shape them for their future, based on the strengths we saw in them at the time. So we took a time out. We took everyone out of every activity, and for a good half a year, really just breathed, rested, and David and I talked about and sought God on where each of their strengths really lied.

As we did we began to see each of their uniqueness more clearly and celebrate it. We began to call out the gifts and talents we saw in them, realizing God instilled those traits into our children. If he saw the need to put them in our children, we for sure wanted to do our best to train them up in a way that they saw those areas as strengths they could use to contribute to the world and glorify God in.

For some areas it was easy. For example, our second son, our blondie, Brendan, plays piano by ear. As we saw him drawn again and again to sit on the bench and listened as he tinkered on the keys until he brought out beautiful melodies and songs we recognized without even knowing how to read music, we knew he was musically inclined. We felt responsible to encourage and foster that. For our third son, Ethan, we saw him draw these amazing cartoon characters and hang them on his wall and sit for hours creating art that was unbelievably beautiful. We cheered that on.

It’s easier to identify those gifts and talents, such as those mentioned above, that are outwardly so obvious. It takes a little more effort to see what strengths lie in our kids who don’t seem to have such an outwardly apparent talent. My oldest is like that. He’s brilliant, a year ahead in school, but he’s not a musician or an artist. He is a decent athlete, but not driven to sports like  many boys. He swam on the swim team for a few years of his own choosing, but it was not where his passion lied. For him, we looked at his actions and tendencies around our house. For example, the way he serves our family is so selfless. I remember even when he was one year old, I’d say, “Russel, will you go get me a diaper?” And he’d run down the hall smiling, get one out of the stacker, and run back with such joy. Serving others is a strength of his. Leadership is another strength. As the oldest of four, he’s always been part older brother to our kids and part guardian. He can’t help himself. His nature is to guard and protect, as much as it drives his siblings crazy sometimes, I really appreciate it. As he has matured he has embraced his leadership gifts and talents and soared in programs like PALS ( Peer Assistance and Leadership) at his high school, where he gets to interact with other identified leaders and mentor younger kids in the community who come from unstable homes.

For our daughter, it wasn’t so difficult to figure her out. I always say she could run our home. She had the boys hopping and wrapped around her finger at just six months old. Rather than pegging her as bossy, or strong-willed, we like to say, “She is a leader and we are shaping her.” She is self driven, creative, loves gymnastics, and is identified as a leader in her school. We want her to see her strong nature as a gift, after all, God made her that way. Too many girls we see with similar temperaments are not taught to celebrate and walk in who God made them to be and they grow up conflicted and unable to use their leadership skills the way God intended. We don’t want that for her.

We feel our success as parents depends on our ability to call out and raise up these precious kids God has entrusted to our care, in such a way, that they make the mark God created them to make on this world. In order to do that, it’s imperative they feel comfortable in the skin they are in and are content in being themselves as they trust God to guide them to use those gifts and talents for His glory.

How do you call out the uniqueness you see in your kids?

Amy O’Donnell

Copyright © 2014 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.

Parenting on Purpose: Intimacy with God

walking with godWhether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21 NIV

When it comes to Parenting our kids on purpose, the second most important thing we need to teach them is how to have a personal, intimate relationship with God. As I type this, I’m reminded of the story of Eli and Samuel in 1 Samuel 3. In this story, Eli is training Samuel to be a priest. One evening, they both laid down for the night in their usual fashion. This was no ordinary night though. On this night, as Samuel was trying to drift off to sleep, he kept hearing the sound of someone calling his name. “Samuel, Samuel,” the voice called out. The first three times Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “”Here I am; you called me.” Initially, Eli responded back with, “My son, I did not call; go back and lie down.” The third time Samuel came to him, the light bulb went off and Eli realized God was calling out to Samuel. This time Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'”

The whole time, God was calling the name of Samuel, he didn’t realize it was God. That’s eye-opening. He hadn’t learned yet how to discern the voice of God. Being able to hear from God is a big part of having an intimate relationship with him. We are responsible to teach our kids what that looks like.

One thing I have learned as a parent is that our kids learn more by our examples than by our words. Telling my kids something is important,with out modeling it decreases the weight of my words. So one of the key ways we teach our kids how to have an intimate personal relationship with God is by having one with him ourselves.

For me, I love my time with God first thing in the morning. I get up early just to sit with him, pray, worship and read my Bible. It’s the best start to my day. My kids have learned that when I am spending time with God, its sacred. They know not to disturb me unless it’s an emergency. I’ve taught them that, because I want them to see that my time with God is very important to me, just like my time with each of them.

A few months ago, I went upstairs a little before the time we normally wake the kids, and I found my third son Ethan sitting at his desk. He had his hands folded in prayer, his head bowed. He had gotten up early to spend time with God. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t disturb him. I just smiled inwardly – it so warmed my heart. I treasured the sight of my son rising early on his own to talk to God. I couldn’t help but think, he is learning by our example.

Our goal for our kids is for them live a surrendered, dependent relationship with God — that they would be able to hear and discern his voice and want to do His will above all else. And in the end, reach Heaven and hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” For this to happen, they need to understand how to have an intimate, personal relationship with God and the value of following hard after Him. In addition to modeling this in our lives, we talk about the Bible, have times of prayer and devotions as a family, and attend church together.

How do you teach your children how to have a personal, intimate relationship with God, and why do you feel this is important?

Amy O’Donnell

Copyright © 2014 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.

Words of Life: Speaking Blessings Over the Next Generation

Words of life

“Gather around, I want to tell you what to expect in the days to come…” (Genesis 49:1)

These words from Jacob to his twelve sons set the table for what he was about to do — speak a word of blessing over each of them. Jacob was on his death-bed, and as was the custom in that time, the Father purposefully took time to speak to the future of his kids before taking his last breath. It was a treasured moment for them all. I imagine in this story, each of the boys sitting on the edge of their seat in anticipation of what their dad would say about them.

My favorite blessing in this passage is Jacob’s words spoken over Joseph. Perhaps it’s because he was the underdog in the story. The last brother, favored and then betrayed, then elevated to a position of leadership in Egypt and finally restored to his family. I cheer for him. I relate to his story at times. I love the reminders of God’s faithfulness in his life, because it reminds me God is faithful in my life. This blessing moment is one of those reminders for him. The words Jacob held for this son were many and heartwarmingly beautiful. As I read through it recently, these words leapt off the page –

“And may The Strong God – may he give you his blessings,  Blessings tumbling out of the skies, blessings bursting up from the Earth –  blessings of breasts and womb.” (Genesis 49 Message)

As I think ahead to my oldest son’s graduation from high school this Spring and his passage to the next season of his life, the tradition of speaking a blessing over our offspring during these life changing moments especially hits home. Our children are a large part of the legacy we leave on this earth. They are our arrows we shoot out into the world (Psalm 127). As we send them out we have a responsibility to pray for them and speak words of life and God’s blessings to their future.

What are some ways you do this in your family?

Love is the Foundation

OLOVef all the things we want our kids to know before we send them out into the world, there is one we feel is at the forefront. That is – we want our kids to know how much they are loved by God and by us, unconditionally.

We are a family that says, “I love you” and we show it through hugs and affection all the time. We have found it’s easiest for our kids to feel loved and valued by us when things are going well and they are making great decisions. It’s when they mess up that we feel it’s especially important to reiterate our devotion to them, even as we talk through the situation and consequences.  We’ve found a way to verbalize this with a phrase we’ve had to use many times in tough moments. That phrase is, “I love you as much right now as I loved you before you made this poor decision.” That right away reminds them they cannot earn our love and they cannot lose it, based upon what they do.

The first time I remember coming up with this phrase was when my son Ethan was in second grade. He came home one afternoon with a note from his teacher saying he had called a little girl in his class a name, and not just any girl… but a girl who, as it turned out – lived two doors down and attends our church. For a hot second, I thought, “Geez, why couldn’t it be someone who doesn’t go to our church? This is embarrassing… we work at church and are heavily involved there…” Oh my, the places our minds can go in moments like that! Our kids keep us humble, that’s for sure!

As I asked more questions, he explained he didn’t think he was the only one at fault. She had pushed his buttons until he reacted. Regardless of who started it, I explained that the second he called her a name he was wrong and would need to make amends. It was at that moment in the conversations that the now often used phrase was birthed. I said, “I love you as much right now as I loved you before you made this poor decision, and because I love you I am going to walk with you to her house so you can apologize and ask her forgiveness.” He was beside himself. He said, “What if her whole family comes to the door and I have to apologize in front of her mom, dad, and brother!?”  I put my arm around him and said, “If that’s what we have to do then that’s what we’ll do. I’ll be by your side the whole time; you won’t have to do this alone.”

So we walked over to her house. Her whole family did come to the door and Ethan apologized. They were gracious and forgiving and he scored point’s big time by making amends.

That day, Ethan learned a few valuable lessons. The first, He learned he is loved no matter what, just as it says in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He also learned he never has to walk through anything alone. He saw God’s love in action through me – just as I stood by his side, God stands by our side when we make poor decisions and have to walk through the tough consequences of our actions. In love, He never abandons us in those moments, but sees us through. Ethan also had an opportunity through the experience to walk out our family mission statement, which is, “We, the O’Donnell’s, live to unveil God’s love and glorify Him in our everyday lives.” In that moment, he unveiled God’s love by making amends. He glorified Him by having the character to apologize when he messed up and by valuing the little girl’s feelings.

Just as Romans 8 says above, there is truly nothing that can ever separate us from the love of God. If you aren’t aware of just how much God loves you, I pray this story will give you a greater glimpse of how very special you are to your Heavenly Father! He loves you as much right now as the day you were born. You are special to Him, loved unconditionally.


Amy O’Donnell

P.S. Stay tuned for my next blog post which will cover the second key thing we feel our kids need to know to be successful in life.

Parenting On-Purpose

Our family2A few months ago our kids got into trouble of epic proportions. With four kids, we’ve had plenty of moments where one, two or more gets in trouble, but for all four of them to go down at the same time — that’s really rare! On this particular occasion, though – they managed to pull off a real doozy. It all started with an epic Nerf battle. Several of their friends came to join in the fun. With ten plus boys running around in battle mode – the testosterone was raging. It went on most of the night and into the morning. My husband, David and I, were pretty tuned in – we ducked into our room for a quiet movie late in the evening and some much-needed R&R; when I went out of my room for snacks or to check on the kids, I felt like I had stepped into a full-out war. I’d hear things like, “where’s the recon”, and “hold your positions, we have an intruder… “, and I’d think to myself, “Are they talking about me?” Amidst all the commotion, we knew they were going in and out of the house, using the front yard, back yard, upstairs and down as they fought on for hours. I have to say it was hard to keep track of who was going out what doors and who was where in our house. It wasn’t until our two oldest got into it (it’s like I always say, it’s all fun and games until someone gets upset) — that it all hit the fan. They literally had a moment where they ended up in a fist fight, one of their iPhones was shattered… there were tears and wounds. It went from epic battle to epic mess in no time.

When we caught wind of it we sent everyone home, and gathered our kids to have what we call a family meeting. As we talked and sorted through the details, we realized that not only did they get in a fight and a phone get broken; they also were going upstairs, out the windows, on to the roof over our bay windows, down my Crepe Myrtle (which I love, all safety issues aside), into the yard and back into the house. All of this was apparently made easier by the fact that our third son took the locks off the windows a few weeks prior, unbeknownst to us, and then knocked the screens out. Not knowing what to do from there and trying to avoid the trouble he now found himself in, he chose to launch them over the fence into our neighbors yard. What a mess! They really did it that time. It was the one time my husband just had to sit at the table, while they stood in a line listening to him correcting each one of them. As he did, with each word, he brought his hand down over and over on the table for emphasis. And I went into my room, closed the door, laid down on my bed and prayed. When he finished he sent them my way and I just looked at them and said, I’m so disappointed in you. Sometimes that says it all! All their heads hanging – they walked off to accept their grounding of three weeks.

Meanwhile, for us it was a great reminder that our kids left to their own can make some pretty bad decisions. They can go the wrong direction – in ways that are not in their best interest or wellbeing! Our kids need us as parents to steer and guide them and teach them what’s right.

Honestly, we didn’t need an epic battle moment to figure that out. We caught on pretty early on. When they were teeny little bundles of cuteness they displayed the very real human tendency to want to go their own way and have their own way. They come out of the womb with the fallen natures that are a very real part of our fallen world! Don’t get me wrong – I knew they were amazing God gifts with great potential, but they were also in need of lots of shaping.

We didn’t get a lot of time early on to think through what type of parents we wanted to be.  We were just newlyweds when we got pregnant. Three months after our wedding, we got the news our oldest was on the way. As we’d been trying not to get pregnant, he was a surprise – or unexpected blessing as we say. David was working; I was in my last year of college and was going to work for a few years to save money for the future– when HELLO! We had to switch gears and go another direction. It was one of those moments I knew God was saying…. Uh – HUH – Many are the plans in a man’s heart but ultimately it’s the Lords’ plan that succeeds. (Proverbs 19:21)

Before I had Russel, God laid it on both of our hearts that I should stay home with him. It rocked my world. I was on a path toward a lucrative career. We didn’t have a lot of money. We had one car — it didn’t make a lot of sense at the time. And I come from a family that prioritized success and personal goals above rearing kids. I didn’t have the greatest examples for parenting well in life. While David couldn’t totally relate to that – he struggled with what a good father should look like, as he grew up in a home with an amazing mom and a bi-polar dad. Neither of us felt super equipped or ready for parenting, but parents we would quickly be!

So we did what many do. We read. We studied. We asked questions. I applied so many things to my  oldest – tips to make him smarter, things to make him sleep better, to excel faster – all pointing toward that same goal of achieving success as I knew it.

Over time we added two more sons and a daughter to our family.  We put them in sports. We ran in many directions. We got on that treadmill of parenting so many get on –running our kids to school, soccer, gymnastics, t-ball, errands, music lessons and more, until we finally looked up and called a “time out.” We realized we were too busy, spending too much money, and our kids really didn’t seem that fulfilled and happy with going all the time. Without realizing it, we had copied what we saw so many parents around us doing. We decided we didn’t want to blindly follow other’s ideas of what successful parenting looks like. We wanted to spend some time figuring out what God wanted for our family.

So, we pulled our kids out of everything and did a little seeking God on our own. We talked to our kids to see what they were really most interested in. We tuned in to what they naturally gravitated toward and where there natural gifting lied. And we asked ourselves some tough questions like – What does being a successful parent look like to us? What values did we want our children to have? Beginning with the end in mind, what do we need to instill into them so they are emotionally, spiritually, and physically equipped to leave our little nest and launch off into adulthood well.

This time was critical for our family. It put us on the path we are now on toward what we feel like our family mission is – to unveil God’s love and glorify him in our everyday lives. That to us is our goal – to raise our kids to live this out in the world. After we established our family mission statement as our compass for parenting, we knew we had to become strategic about instilling it in them so they would know day-to-day what that means and looks like.

We began to have a greater understanding of our role as parents. As Psalm 127:3-4 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, are children born in one’s youth.”

While I’ve never crafted arrows I know enough to know they cannot craft themselves. There has to be a craftsman making them, shaping them, readying them to be aimed at a target to make their mark. We are those craftsmen for our kids, along with God. He entrusts our children, some of his most prized possessions whom he dearly loves, into our hands to train them up in the way they should go so when they are old they will not depart from it, as it says in Proverbs 22:6. With our focus to become more strategic at Parenting On-Purpose, we knew for them to hit their mark and be effective in this life, they need to be shaped well and know a few very important things!

We will cover those things over the next several blog posts. Stay tuned for four great tips on what our kids need to know as well as some tools to craft your own family mission statement.


Amy O’Donnell