Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Be a Life Preserver

On the ferry by C Carlstead
flickr.com_photos/cristic/560163635_CC BY-ND 2.0
Life was smooth sailing until the summer before my tenth birthday when my father walked out on us. Forever etched in my mind, it was the first day I ever felt lost.

Everything in my life changed that day--holidays, church gatherings, even after school routines--and I found myself gasping for air, barely keeping my head above water.

Our home, once overflowing with family during holidays and birthdays, now sat eerily empty as half our extended family wondered what to do with us. After-church dinner invitations halted and television noise filled the air instead of friendly conversations and kids' laughter. And, worst of all, a locked door and empty house greeted me after school because my mom now worked.

Oh, how my heart yearned for normal and the family comfort it once knew. So, I sought out family wherever I could--looking for hope for my future--praying that God would somehow allow me a glimpse at what a forever family looked like. And He was faithful.

While I bobbed in a sea of raging chaos and change, God threw me four life preservers that helped me navigate those choppy waters of a fatherless childhood and adolescence:

  • An attentive teacher. Mr. P was my first male teacher and one I'll always remember. Rather than coddling me, knowing my family situation, he taught me courage. Oh, he had my back, like a good father, when the class bully picked on me, but most importantly, he helped me discover my voice. He gave me the courage to speak up for myself and to be comfortable with the sound of my own laughter. 
  • A caring faith community. Shunned from our "family" church, my sisters and I sought out a loving faith community across town; one with an active youth ministry. The youth group became my family; a place of comfort and belonging, spiritual encouragement, and growth. It's where God grew me up into who He created me to be through the leadership and friends.
  • A loving extended family. Newly married, my eldest sister and brother-in-law took me under their wing. They welcomed me to their extended family celebrations where I witnessed numerous godly marriages that extended decades. One celebration, in particular, a fiftieth anniversary, stood as the catalyst of hope for me. Attending with my then boyfriend (and now husband of 32 years, yay!), it hit me...there is such a thing as a godly, forever family. 
  • A generous friend. Adolescence was a tough road for a single-parented child, especially one whose sisters were both married. God graciously gave me a friend from seventh to twelfth grade who generously shared her family life with me. Her parents meant the world to me as they often invited me to stay for dinner, go on vacation with them, and allowed me to share the day-to-day routine of their family. It was in that home that I caught a glimpse of a normal, loving family; the one I longed for someday. Truly, a gift from my heavenly Father.

I am forever thankful that God placed these people in my life. The lessons I learned from them remain even decades later. And as I welcomed my children's young friends into our home, I prayed that God would use our family the same way He used those precious life preservers of my youth; that for those seeking acceptance, normalcy, family, and God, they would find it all under our roof.

Are there children or young people in your life who might be drowning in some rough family seas? Are they seeking some resemblance of normalcy in their world? How might God use you and your family to ease them through this tough time?

(If you joined me here from the Christian Children's Authors blog, Welcome!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Taming the Busy Monster

3 Monsters
by Larry Wentzel
CC BY 2.0

...keep my Sabbath days holy, for they are a sign to remind you that I am the Lord, your God. Ezekiel 20: 19b-20

If you've joined us here from {re}fresh, welcome!

Rest. Simply stop. 

But, it's not always that easy is it? 

Society screams above God's whisper to rest and shouts "Go! Go! Go! Don't stop, keep going!" It's like we measure success by how busy we are until there's nothing more left to squeeze out of us by day's end. And the worse part? Society wants us to repeat that every. single. day. Seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, minus a week's vacation if you're lucky. Oh, and on that vacation? Don't rest. Go, go, go some more. Pack as much "busy fun" into your week to make up for the previous 51 work weeks. 

Whew! I'm exhausted just writing that paragraph. Nap, please?

So, as Christians, what's the big deal about rest? Here's a few thoughts:

Rest is ordained.  After creating the universe in six days, God ordained rest as Genesis 2:2 states:

 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 

Rest is holy. It allows us space to breathe, to listen and to worship. God knew our bodies, minds and souls needed refreshment; down time to heal and process and rejuvenate our creativity as well as worship our Creator. 

Exodus 20:11 explains it this way:

 This is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. 

Rest is healing. When our physical, emotional, creative and spiritual health suffers due to anemic rest, we break. And even then, when our bodies try forcing rest upon us, we fight it. We will ourselves to "get up and be better". We ignore our symptoms and forge ahead despite the still small voice that says, "rest". But, if we let him, God will use rest to heal our emotional and physical maladies. It's then, when our schedules clear and our distractions disappear that we can finally hear Him; finally allow the Holy Spirit to move in our lives.

If rest is so holy and healing, then what about work? God never said don't work. Work and creativity has always been part of God's plan for us. 

The Lord God placed man in the Garden of Eden to tend watch over it. 
Genesis 2:15 (NLT)

But, God created a day for rest and worship. Taming that Busy Monster that lurks over our shoulders or shouts above the crowd, is key:
  • Build a work ethic - work hard and efficient while on the job
  • Set boundaries - protect your family time, creative time, and Sabbath days
  • Say "no" - to projects, ministries and outings that zap you and overstep your boundaries
  • Be brave - stop feeling guilty while resting. View rest as holy, God-ordained time 

Father-God, thank you for thinking of everything, especially rest. While the world shouts "do more", help us to stop and rest and listen to your still, small voice that beckons us to come away with you to a quiet place. Remind us that resting in you not only brings healing and break through, but it's holy and ordained. It's through rest that we worship and commune with you and our hearts, minds and bodies are made whole again. Amen. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Easing First-Day Anxiety

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Proverbs 12:25

If you're joining us here from the Christian Children's Authors blog, welcome!

Mikey entered kindergarten kicking and screaming.  His mother didn't know what more to do except drag his stiff, reluctant, five-year-old body behind her like he was drafting on an imaginary skateboard. 

I'd been brave up until the moment his blood curdling cries echoed through the halls of Samuel Huntington Elementary School and into Miss Kane's classroom. Once Mikey arrived, my courage slipped through my quivering lips as I held on tight to my mother's skirt. 

Enter, Miss Kane--the sweetest, most loving teacher I'd ever known. She knew just how to calm our fears with reassuring kindness and creatively distract us long enough for our parents to slip away without notice. Soon enough, fully immersed in one of the play stations, we'd made new friends and our anxiety was long least until the next day. 

Easing separation anxiety with little ones isn't formulaic. Each child owns a different personality and it takes time to learn what works. However, from experience as a parent, day care provider, preschool teacher and grandparent, I've learned several general guidelines that help ease children's anxiety:
  1. Pray specifically for and with your child--that God would ease their fears and give them joy and protection
  2. Visit the classroom, day care, etc. with your child prior to the first day 
  3. Involve your child in "first day" preparations (packing their lunch, choosing a special outfit, packing a special "comfort" toy)
  4. Make drop off quick. Lingering only causes more anxiety in them and you
  5. Reassure your child about your return and leave them with a kind word
  6. Teachers/caregivers should greet every child with joy, compassion and kindness
  7. Teachers/caregivers should offer multiple activities to help distract children and ease them into healthy socialization with peers
  8. Parents, be consistent with routines and always return on time
by Dawn Aldrich
Halo Publishing, 2009
Years ago, while caring for my then, three-year-old great niece, I realized separation anxiety does not dissipate simply because they are familiar with the caregiver. It helps, but it's not the issue. The issue is, they fear separation from the parent. 

Implementing the above guidelines by trial and error and simply intuition as a parent and experienced caregiver, I wrote Auntie's House (Halo Publishing, 2009). This picture book, (pre-k through first grade), walks the young reader through a typical day a little girl spends with her auntie while Mommy works. It addresses separation anxiety in a positive manner, reassuring her that Mommy always returns at day's end. 

Adding Auntie's House to your child's first day preparations may help ease their anxiety. You can read the reviews on Amazon. 

Let's help one another out. Would you like to share your first-day stories or concerns below? We'd love to pray with you and for you and your children. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Be-attitudes for Building Healthy Friendships

Friendships-count on me by Ares Nyguen
Flickr.com_photos/rsnguyen/8884956545_CC BY-ND 2.0
"Jonathan said to David, 'Go in peace. We have promised by the Lord that we will be friends...'" 1 Samuel 20:42a (ICB)

If you're joining us here from the Christian Children's Authors blog, welcome!

Helping our children build healthy friendships amidst the growing presence of social media can be challenging, especially children of Gen Y parents (born after 1981- early 2000's). According to a recent devotion I read, Gen Y-ers average 6 1/2 hours of daily Facebook usage. While their profiles brag of large "friend" totals, they rarely spend face-to-face time with their "friends".

Let's face it, virtual friendships are easier than "real" ones, but God calls us to true friendship. Consider God's relationship with Moses--the only man to see God. The Bible says, The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend, (Exodus 33:11). 

So, exactly how do we help our children (and ourselves) build real, face-to-face, healthy friendships? Here's my be-attitudes for building healthy friendships:
  • Be present. Limit social media especially when on a play date, family event, or extra curricular activity. Practice being present.  Rather than posing and posting every moment on social media, just live it and enjoy the moment. How many times do we miss the sheer joy of an event because someone wants us to "pose" for the camera.
  • Be friendly. Smile and say hello first rather than waiting for someone else to make the first move. Practice hospitality (Romans 12:13) by opening your home to your children's friends and their parents. What better way to make new friends and keep an eye on your kids at the same time?
  • Be inclusive. School yard cliques happen, like it or not. Break out of the pack and befriend someone new, different, outcast, or lonely. When you're a longstanding community member, it's easy for both parents and children to stay within the familiar friendship circle. However, there's always a new family or classmate looking for friendship. Pursue them and include them.
  • Be wise. While teaching our children to be inclusive, we also must balance that with a dose of wisdom. If a new friend invites your child to their home for a play date, birthday party, etc., make sure the home is a safe place. If its a party, ask if you might accompany your child or check with other parents whose children might attend. If it's a play date, request it be at your home (see "be friendly" above). Once they arrive, invite the parent in for a cup of coffee or just make small talk at the front door while your children go off to play so you might get to know them better. I've also been known to do a drive-by the day before to check out their neighborhood, if I was unfamiliar, just to make sure it was a safe place to let my child play. Instruct your child to trust their gut. If they feel uncomfortable in the friend's home for whatever reason, call for a ride home immediately.
  • Be loyal. No gossiping allowed! Like Jonathan and David, we all need someone who's "got your back" and will stick up for us through good and bad times. If we call ourselves a friend, then we offer our loyalty in their presence and absence. 
  • Be forgiving. People will disappoint us, but the Bible teaches us that love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). What a great lesson to learn early. No one is perfect and we will hurt one another's feelings, even if we love each other. Forgiveness is the key to building healthy, long-lasting relationships.
What would you add to the list? How do you foster healthy friendships in your home?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Awaiting the Groom

The Bride by Katharine Shilcut
CC BY ND 2.0
"The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry went out 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' " Matthew 25: 5-6

Outside my second floor living room door there was a small, steep staircase that led me to the mostly empty attic. Smelling of cold, dry wood in winter I'd make my way up there to fill the time with great imaginings until my sisters came home from school or until my mother called me down for supper.

In one corner close to the stairway laid an old black trunk with a rounded cover and a big brass latch in front quite resembling a pirates' chest. With my two, tiny, white hands I'd carefully lift that latch and open the cover to reveal the girly treasures inside: Mom's old dresses, her beige tortoise shell high heeled shoes and sheer, white, summer curtains! Treasures indeed to a little girl who loved to play dress up and especially loved to play The Bride! My wardrobe was complete when I found some plastic flowers in a box nearby marked, "Christmas."

I'd place my right hand on the stair rail to balance myself as I lifted feet into Mom's shoes one at a time. With that accomplished I'd dig deep into the pocket of my play dress to find the bobby pins I'd stashed for the veil. Then pinning it atop my blonde crown I'd grab the plastic, Christmas bouquet and start to hum "Here Comes The Bride." One shaky foot in front of the other I'd slowly clip-clop the entire length of the attic floor to where I dreamed my groom was waiting, wondering who it would really be someday.

That mystery has been solved. I've been married thirty-two years to a wonderful man and now my own children are married ... but I'm still getting ready for my Groom.

Today, those of us who follow Jesus are considered his bride. Brides are always thinking about their groom; always waiting for his voice to say, "I'm here. I'm ready. Today's the day! Join me at the altar, won't you?" 

What a heart-pounding day of excitement it is on our wedding day! Do we think that way of Jesus coming for us? Are we as excited about our groom, Jesus as we are about our earthly groom or are we drowsy from waiting? 

It's a challenge to wait but the wedding day is so worth it!

If you joined me here from {re}fresh, welcome!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

6 things Alice Through the Looking Glass teaches us (about life and family)

Alice through the looking glass by Sami Davis Dog
Flickr.com_4243505603_c52b2c9890_CC BY-ND 2.0
I break the rules in movie theaters quite often. Like, I tuck my own healthy snacks inside my purse in order to avoid my weight gain inducing, popcorn, cheesy tortilla and soft drink cravings. But mostly, you'll find that I'll pull our my iPhone and jot down life changing tidbits hidden within a movie's dialogue on my Notes app that strike a chord. 

That said, here's the 6 things Alice Through the Looking Glass teaches us about life and family:

1. "Very important thing, a family. You only get one,” said the Mad Hatter.  Living within our families isn't always easy. I know growing up in mine wasn't easy. One day we were the perfect, twice-on Sunday and once on Wednesday church-going family. The next day, we were the newest broken, absent-father, lock-key-kid, mother-working divorced and church-shunned family in the pews. No matter how I wished my family were whole again, or wished I could live in a different family, I soon realized you only get one. You only get one family and I wanted my whole one back. 

While my prayers were eventually answered, (unique among divorced families), we weren't the same. We were still a broken family striving to erase the mistakes of my father's indiscretions.  But, living through those broken and mending years reinforced in me was that we only do get one family and I wanted mine to work.  I wanted a Godly husband and family characterized by God-centeredness, unconditional love, loyalty, fidelity, honesty, transparency, and forgiveness toward one another and our “neighbors.”

2. "If you don't go back and reconcile, you'll be sorry...You're family will be lost and you won't be able to do anything about it, " said Alice to the Mad Hatter. While my parents' reconciliation was my heart's greatest desire, it took me thirty years to work through the heartache and pain of an absent father. Unforgiveness became my secret defense weapon—holding him at arm’s length protected me from further pain. Unfortunately, I carried every relationship I had at arm’s length, hoping to protect myself from their possible rejection and abandonment as well.

3. "Forgive me?" asked the White Queen. "That's all I ever wanted," replied her sister, the Queen of Hearts. In the movie, Alice Through the Looking Glass, we learn the back story of why the Queen of Hearts harbors so much anger. You see, everyone has a back story which doesn’t dismiss their misbehavior, but it sure explains a lot. Once I learned my father’s back story and God helped me see my father through His eyes, (how God created him, how nothing could stop God from loving and forgiving him)   then all my excuses to withhold forgiveness fell away. How could I not offer my father what Jesus so freely offered me? Freely offers the world?

4. "You cannot change the past but I dare say, you might learn from it," explained Time. No, we cannot change the past, even when we offer forgiveness. We don't own a chronosphere to travel back in time to make things right, like Alice did. But, we can move forward, learning the lessons from our past and with God's help, (always with God's help) we can forge a better future. 

5. "To do the impossible, you must believe it is possible," declared Alice.  Forgiving someone who has wronged you and hurt you deeply, may seem incredibly impossible to you right now. I get that. Although God confronted me about my unforgiveness, it took me over thirty years of working through my woundedness before I finally asked God for the impossible—the courage to face my father and offer him forgiveness and ask forgiveness of him.

6. "Everyone parts with everything, eventually," explained Time.  While God created all things for his pleasure, including and especially family, sin entered the world through the first family of creation, and therefore, we all pass away...eventually. My father suffered a long good-bye. In some ways, I'd never want to relive that again and yet, it was the sweetest good-bye I've ever experienced. During his last months of life, God reconciled all the stolen years. We talked about the past and said all those important, unregrettable last words to one another. Best of all, God taught me how to be a good daughter to him; how to love and care for him unconditionally, until his very last breath.

Do any of these statements challenge you today? What are some great life lessons you've learned from stories or a movie recently?

If you joined us from the Christian Children's Authors blog today, thank you! Welcome to my blog.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Do You See a Sparkle?

Reflected Stone Rainbow by pshab

"...brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." Ezekiel 1: 27b-28a

If you're joining me from the Christian Children's Authors blog, welcome!

"When you look at me," Molly Mahoney asks, "What do you see? Do you see a something reflective of something bigger that's trying to get out?"

This is one of the best lines in one of my favorite family movies, "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," (2008). It's one the most significant questions we can ask ourselves as followers of Christ. Even as parents and grandchildren, do we seek, encourage and call out their sparkle?

In the movie, Mahoney is the loyal manager of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, a magical toy store where everything comes to life. Most alive and happy when she's working, Mahoney relishes in Mr. Magorium's child-like faith. Mr. Magorium recognizes her "sparkle" and upon his retirement, transfers ownership of the toy store to Mahoney. But she feels completely inadequate, noting her lack of magic (the sparkle) that makes the Wonder Emporium...well, magical. Mahoney further reasons that she just can't be a kid anymore and therefore, opts to sell the store even if it means her unhappiness and that of all the children.

Isn't that how we act too? I mean here we stand, created in God's image, meant to reflect everything about Him including His glory and yet, we feel so inadequate most of the time. We don't see the sparkle, the reflection of His greatness in us. And as parents or grandparents, do we look for that sparkle in our children/grandchildren and encourage it's appearance?

God placed a desire in each of us to do something that seems, in any normal circumstance, natural. But, when asked to step out in faith, using that desire or gift for His kingdom, we suddenly retreat. We may even opt to "sell the store" of possibilities to someone else; someone more deserving or more talented, because for us, accepting the task would be simply impossible, even childish. 

And what happens when our children are maturing? Do we acknowledge their talents, applaud their God-given desires and encourage them to seek out opportunities to grow those desires or test them?

Sometimes we miss God's reflection in ourselves and our children. We cheat those around us of the same when we sit frozen to our chairs of impossibilities. So, what does it take to get us to see God's "sparkle" in ourselves or others?

I believe that something, event or moment when time stands still and we say, "Aha!" is different for everyone. But, common to all God followers? Abiding - spending alone time with God through His son, Jesus. We reflect the heart and glory of God himself when we abide in Him. Then, when we recognize God's movement in our lives or the lives of our children, faith grows. That's when we realize that with God nothing is impossible.

Thankful hearts brim and respond in obedience to God. It's here where we find our true selves - through obedience - what make us, us.

Do you see a sparkle? Do you have that reflection of something bigger that's trying to get out? Will you let it out? Will you spend time with your Creator so that He might shine through you?

What about your children or grandchildren? Do you encourage their sparkle? Do you recognize God's reflection through their personalities and do you give them opportunities for God to appear?

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16