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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lessons I Learned about Sin on Family Bike Rides

Part One -- Changing Focus
This is the beginning of a multipart series of things God taught me when I took the time to have fun outings with my kids while they were at home. I thought we were just going for bike rides and, hopefully, bonding. Little did I know what God was going to teach me!

When our four children were growing up we loved taking bike rides together. Bogota, Colombia, where we lived had been building new bike paths that even reached our end of the city. But even when we were pathless, we took bike hikes. Sometimes we rode a mile behind our house and turned off the road to bump along beside the seldom used train tracks. Or we crossed the expressway on a a pedestrian bridge to ride through the quieter lanes on the other side.



As mom, I loved having an activity that our children with a nine year age spread could all participate in. And I just loved having all my kids together, looking out for each other, challenging one another to friendly competitions, and maybe even enjoying one another in a season when sibling rivalry sometimes seemed to rule our home.

One day as I was being jolted along a rocky path, I became frustrated that every time a larger rock or hole loomed in my path, I would make a direct hit on it. No matter how hard I watched it, it seemed as if my bicycle had a guided missle system locked onto it. Finally I decided to try another tactic: I would take note of it and then look beyond it. Doing that, I was able to ride on smoother ground. This was my first lesson from the bike ride: If you focus on an obstacle you will hit it every time.



It dawned on me that it is the same with sin. If I focus on the temptation, it will trip me up every time. Think of being on a diet--by constantly reminding myself of it, I think about food even more and eventually end up eating those calories I'm trying to avoid! I need to change the subject of my thoughts. That's what Paul was talking about in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

I've found that that the first test--is it true?--takes care of many thought sins in my life from worry to discontentment. Do I start to dwell on what might happen in my life and body if the biopsy comes back positive? "Is it true?" I don't know that it is. So I ask God to help me not think about it and focus on other things. Did my husband have an accident when he doesn't come home at the expected time and doesn't answer his phone? No. Stop dreaming up non-existent scenarios, Sharon.



But not thinking about it is hard. If I tell you, "Don't think about polka dotted kangaroos," what are you thinking about? But I just told you not to! Paul told us to focus on something else, something true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable. So when I'm struggling with the temptation to eat or worry or whatever, I have to remind myself over and over of who God is and what His attributes are. When I manage to keep my mind centered on God, He helps me avoid the sins by changing my focus.

What unexpected lessons have you learned through activities with your children? I'd love to hear about them. Comment below or write to me at: aroundthetableblog(at)gmail(dot)com.



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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Memory Verse Routine that Works!

(or Raisins and Verses Time)

Of course, I think my grandkids are amazing! But so are their parents! I'm thrilled to have my daughter-in-law, Abby Fleming, explain how she is currently getting their two little ones to memorize scripture.

My Inspiration
My kids are smarter than I am. Well, they have a better memory at least. It's always amazing to me what they can remember. Can you relate to any of these?

  • Mommy, yesterday at lunch you said that I could have a special treat today!”
  • When reading a favorite book, “Wait, you didn't read that right. You skipped some words.”
  • After her second ever Veggie Tales, “and now it's time for silly songs with Larry...”
  • Any kind of slightly annoying kids' songs are engrained in their little minds after only one or two times of listening to them!
  • Potty songs, anyone??

Even before I had kids, I knew that I wanted to take this uncanny ability of theirs to remember EVERYTHING and use it for something beneficial to them... memory verses. This decision was inspired by two families.



I worked in an Awana Club with the first family when I was back in high school. For those of you who don't know, Awana is a children's club with a huge emphasis on Bible memorization. It's a great program, but at the time I didn't fully understand how important it was that the children were memorizing Bible verses. At a leadership meeting one night, we were discussing whether we ought to include more “fun” things in lieu of some of the memory verse time. I was all for it, but the Mom of this family disagreed with me. She talked about how her children were like sponges, soaking up everything and how she wanted to use this time in their lives to help them soak up as many Bible verses as they could hold. The value she placed on this was contagious.

Later, when I was working my first teaching job, a fellow teacher invited my husband and I to his home for a family dinner. At the time, he had two very young children. After dinner, they told us that they needed to practice their family memory verses together. I was sitting there expecting something to the extent of “God is love” when they started reciting the entire chapter of Genesis One (motions included)!! I was blown away at what they could do at such young ages. I was also inspired to higher my expectations for my kids one day.


How we made it work
Today, I am “Mommy” to a 3 year old daughter and a 1 ½ year old son. After several hiccups and failed attempts, we have come to a memory verse routine that works well for us. I hope it can help you find a system that works for you!

The first thing we did was buy a highly recommended CD, “Hide 'em in Your Heart” by Steve Green. It is a CD composed entirely of verses set to music, but in a kid friendly (and amazingly not annoying to parents) way. There's just something about music that can help our minds remember things. I decided to use this to help my daughter memorize the verses on the CD. After owning and listening to it for a while, we started practicing. Our practicing revolves around three words: consistent, rewarded and relaxed.

Consistent. I established a certain time every day when we practice our memory verses. For us, it's in the morning right after breakfast, while we are still at the table. We break her verse down into very small phrases (2-4 words) and repeat them to her with the same exact intonation every time. Then, she repeats the phrase back to us until she can do it on her own. The next day, we review what she already knows and pick up practicing where we left off. Now that she's used to it, she can usually add a new phrase on every day or two.

Rewarded. We all need some sort of motivation, and our kids are no different. We've somehow convinced our daughter that raisins are a special treat, so that is our token bribery... I mean reward. We actually call it “Raisins and Verses Time” now. When she first started, we would line up the raisins, one for each word, and she could eat them as she said the words. Now, we break it up into two piles of raisins. First, she says all her previously learned verses, we give her lots and lots of praise, and she eats her first pile of raisins. Then, we work on her new verse, sometimes reinforcing the phrase she learned yesterday, sometimes adding a new phrase, always with lots of praise.

Relaxed. We've learned that our daughter learns her verses much quicker and happier if we keep it a fun and relaxed time. There is no pressure. Sometimes, she gets on a roll and can do a new phrase every day. Sometimes, we take a week on a two word phrase. There is no rush. No one is keeping score. We're thrilled for every verse she can hide in that little heart of hers.

With this routine, our daughter has learned 6 good sized verses and is now working on the Lord's Prayer. It's not quite Genesis 1, but we're pretty proud of her!

I mentioned I have a 1 ½ year old son too. He can't talk much yet, but he was feeling a little left out during “Raisins and Verses Time” and very jealous that she was getting extra raisins. So, he now has his own verse that he tries to say every day, too. One day, it will sound like “God is love”, but for now it sounds more like, “Dg!! La!”. He gets a couple raisins and lots of praise, and he gives us a big grin. It's a pretty good trade off.



I hope you can use this to find a system that works for you!!  


Abby Fleming graduated from Emmaus Bible College with a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and Biblical Studies. Also at Emmaus, she met and married Daniel Fleming. They have been married 8 years now and have a beautiful 3 year old daughter, Anna, and a handsome 22 month old son, Kenneth. After the birth of their daughter, Abby and Daniel decided together that she could work as a full time Mommy. Currently, Abby and her husband are living in the Chicago area as he works full time and pursues further education.




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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Games Around Your Table

My son rolled a five. I could see that would put him on the longest "Chute" down to the beginning of the game (again) when he was so close to winning and finishing this interminable game. So when he miscounted and went a square too far, I said nothing.

Can you blame me after 25 minutes of one Chutes and Ladders game?

If that game didn't have that long slide at the very end of the game, it would be so much better! I have to admit, that's not the only time I cheated in that game when it had gone on past the limits of my attention span! (But I never cheated to win, just to let someone else win and get the game over!)


Photo Credit (Word Design Mine)
That said, you should know that I love games. In fact a trip to a resale store can be dangerous for me as I buy more games than we can ever play!

Those kiddie games are good for so much!

1. Connecting: My husband and I have recently started playing Ruzzle® on our tablets. We often play for 15 or 20 minutes each night and the only conversation that goes between us is, "I lost again?" "Where'd you get 'solver' from?" Not exactly a game that connects us. But a table game, especially a child's game, gives a lot of opportunity to connect. You can talk between turns while you are both concentrating on something else. Even if the conversation isn't deep, it provides closeness, a feeling of being worthwhile because someone is spending time with you.

2. Educational: One of the simplest children's games is Candyland®. In this game children don't even need to know how to count, they match colors to move along the board. As the adult or older child playing with them says the name of the color, children as young as three can learn their colors. Later they can learn numbers, counting, and eventually things like deductive thinking!

3. Problem Solving: Ten years ago or so I discovered  the solitaire game, FreeCell. After I'd been playing it for a while, I noticed that sometimes I could solve problems using the system I used to win at FreeCell, rearranging things until I could get them into the solution without trying to go directly to the solution. In all games there is a problem--how to get to whatever the goal is. The game allows children to employ and learn problem-solving skills to reach the goal in a risk free setting. Kids who play games will be able to transfer these skills to some of their real life problems!

4. Social Skills: Sometimes I work with children in the schools in our town. I've discovered that a lot of children with difficulties have never had to do anything they didn't want to do. I don't know what their home lives are like, but I'm willing to guess they never had to take turns playing games or learn to lose gracefully among other social skills games teach. 

5. Developing Trust: "I paid you your $200 for passing 'Go.'" Are you sure? I thought I had more money than that." Have you ever had a conversation like that? As we play games with our children, they learn to trust us as they see us playing fairly. Then they learn to be trustworthy and trust their friends.

6. Following Rules: My oldest son taught us a card game that had rules, but he didn't tell us the rules. The challenge of the game was to discover the rules by breaking them and being penalized! It was an interesting exercise, but a little frustrating. However playing games does teach our children to follow rules in order to make it fun and fair.

7. Fine Motor Skills: At first just moving a game piece from one square to the next is difficult for little hands. Then they move on to games and puzzles that require finer motor skills and learn them while having fun!

8. Memory: From peek-a-boo to the game of Stratego® memory is involved. This is good for children and adults alike. As we work our memories, our brain stays elastic and we can remember more. Who doesn't want that?

9. Language and Literacy: Every game has its own vocabulary whether it is "candlestick" or "chutes" or " uno" (which, by the way, should be "una"). As our children play, they learn new words. Games for elementary children usually require reading, which helps kids read...if we let them read their own cards. Everyone learns to read by reading!

10. Logic: The game of Clue® might seem simple (okay, you can say "inane") but learning to reason by remembering the clues we find and then paying attention to what others do and say, will teach our children to think things through logically, no matter what you think of the game!

11. Strategizing: My kids loved playing Sorry® and knocking an opponent off the board while exclaiming gleefully, "Sorry!" But they never realized they were learning strategy when they decided whether to move a player to safety or take one out of start.

12. Money Handling: I recently played Monopoly® with a group of mentally challenged students. None of them wanted to "lose" any of their money by buying property. They couldn't grasp the concept, but as we explain and model buying and earning in this and other money games, our children learn to count and handle money wisely.

When our family gets together we always play games. Today they require a lot more thinking, but we still get all these benefits!

Did you think you were just entertaining your kids or having fun when you played games with your children? Think again. It is time well invested around your table.




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Thursday, September 18, 2014

12 MORE Ways for Houseguests to Feel Welcome

Perhaps you saw my post of July 3, "12 Ways to Make Your Overnight Guests Feel Welcome".  Since then I've been a houseguest in several homes and I've had quite a few guests come to my home, so I've thought of some more ideas you might want to try:


1. Laundry -- My husband and I travel prepared to wash clothes by hand and plan on doing it with only four pairs of unmentionables and about as many mentionables. (We are usually only in any one place for three days, so no one knows we have only four outfits along.) But how nice to have the hostess offer to do our laundry! I often offer to let my guests do their laundry themselves, it depends on whether I think they'd be more comfortable doing it themselves or having me do it.
UPDATE: As I post this we are in Japan on a Ministry trip. We were told to give our laundry to the hotel where they had put us up. Four shirts four pair of socks and corresponding unmentionables was $45! So thankful for the washing machine two stops later!

2. Diet -- Many people these days can't eat something. I can't have sugar. Going gluten free or vegetarian are in style. One of my daughters-in-law can't eat shellfish. Our nephew can't have nuts. And then there's low fat, low salt, etc. Ask your guests if they have any diet restrictions and do your best to prepare accordingly. (I so often forget this question...you'd think that I'd remember having one myself!)

3. (Don't) Overfeed -- In many countries we go to they serve the plates already loaded with food. When I eat just a fraction of that, the hostess often expresses dismay, and maybe even hurt. When we travel for ministry, people are so kind and want to give us the best, and lots of it, but since we're over 50, the pounds go on too easily and being uncomfortably full isn't fun. So, for my sake, don't insist your guests eat more than they want.

4. Offer Food -- (arrival) I'm beginning to sound like I'm contradicting myself! But when people arrive, be prepared to provide a light meal--perhaps a sandwich, a piece of fruit, or reheat something from dinner. If your guests flew into town, they may not have had anything to eat on the plane these days. Once my plane pulled back from the gate and then we were told we had to wait three hours to take off. No food on board. I was certainly happy for the cheese and crackers my hostess gave me!

5. Offer Food -- (departure) Last food of mention, I promise! Many of our guests, like us, are on a budget and are thrilled to take a sandwich and apple with them instead of paying airport or highway prices (or eating another fast food hamburger). I've had guests' faces light up when I offer to send a lunch. I know mine does, too, when that offer is made to me.

6.  Tissues -- I cannot believe people can live without "Kleenex"! I'm a life-long allergy person and keep the tissue companies in business singlehandedly.  We are often in homes where the hosts are blessed to not understand what an allergy is. I'm thrilled for them, but I also use all their toilet paper blowing my nose! Welcome your guests with an (unscented) box of tissues in their room and the bathroom. They might need it to clean a spill or stop a cut from bleeding, besides a drippy nose.

7. Nightlight -- Being able to maneuver around the furniture in a strange room in the dark is a job for Superman. Most of us are very grateful for a small light in our room, the hall, and the bathroom.

8. Clock -- Maybe this should have been nearer the top of the list, but a clock with a working alarm is a great help. When I wake up and it's dark, I'm one of those people who wants to know what time it is. The less I have to move and wake myself, the better, so a lit clock by my bed is wonderful. Plus, so often we have to leave at some horrendous hour (like 4 a.m.) and we like to each set an alarm to make sure at least one works. I guess we lived in countries where the power is likely to go out for too long.

9. Instructions -- Speaking of clocks, if you have any electronics in the room or even tricky windows that need special instructions, have them written up on a piece of paper and set on the desk or dresser. My husband and I are pretty computer savvy, but we are TV-challenged. At my mom's house the shower has a glass door and she has written instructions how to quickly squeegee and wipe it after a shower so it doesn't get grungy looking. Trust me, you'll all be happier if your guests know how things work!

10. Interests -- Would you rather spend an afternoon at the beach, the mall, or a museum? I have a friend who visited us from overseas and she wanted to spend it at the Goodwill store! Let your guests know what kind of activities are available near you, and ask them what they'd be interested in doing. We're big picnic and walk people. We love it when our hosts take us places where we can get exercise while taking in the local sights.

11. Phone numbers -- Your guests need your phone number whether they are going to be in your home without you or if they are going out on their own. If you are in a city where they might get lost, they need to know your address, too. This is especially important if they are going to be going out in ...

12. Your car -- Sometimes the easiest way to let guests do what they want is to hand them the car keys. We recently had guests from Brazil who wanted to do some shopping and were thrilled to be able to go all over town on their own, especially to that classy store: Walmart! We have wonderful friends who loaned us their car to drive from Austria to Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. A very interesting project with a GPS that only spoke German! But a blessing, too.

I hope you have wonderful guests and want them to come back again and that they feel welcome enough to come back. We have learned so much from our guests and made friends with people from all over the world by inviting them into our home to stay. I hope each one felt welcomed.




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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Time Hop: Dinner Conversation With Kids




One night at the dinner table I asked my family, “If you could ask God any question, what would it be?”

Five year old Rosana said, “Why does the earth go around?”

Then Samuel, who at that time was four and had an interest in spiritual beings, said, “I’d ask, ‘How many angels do you have?’”

“Why is the sky blue?” was the question of Daniel, our oldest who had just turned nine. He has been asking us difficult questions ever since he learned to talk.


Dinner at our house with friends circa 1995

My husband, Jim, asked another question of the kids: “When we are in heaven will we all be able to talk to God at once?”

“I’ve never thought about that,” I chimed in. “Right now people all over the world speak to Him at once, but when we are there will we take turns?” 

Daniel suggested, “Since God is three Persons, He could talk with at least three humans at once.”

Changing the subject a little, Rosana asked, “Will there be clocks in heaven?” I’m sure she was wondering if learning to tell time was worth the struggle she was currently going through. Jim answered that there would neither be time or night.

If there would not be any night, Samuel wanted to know, “Are we going to sleep in heaven?”

We answered, “Probably not, because God is the light of heaven and His light never goes out. Besides, we’ll have different bodies that won’t get tired.”



Rosana remembered the verse, “Jesus is the light of the world.”

“And of heaven,” added Jim.

Then I asked, “What color is God?”

Immediately Rosana, who is of Peruvian descent with beautiful olive skin, held out her arm and called, “Jesus has skin the same color as me.”

I affirmed that Jesus, being from the Middle East, probably had darker skin than we see in art that depicts Him. “But,” I added, “If God is light, what color is light?”

“White,” answered Daniel.

There were two lit candles on the table. I pointed to them and asked, “What color is the light of these candles?”

“Yellow!” they all answered at once.

To get them to think a little more, I said, “The Bible also tells us that God is love. What color is love?”

Quickly Samuel responded, “Red!”

That was the end of that part of our conversation that night. I don’t remember what interrupted us—probably the cries of baby Christina, someone asking for more tomatoes, or an upset glass of milk.  

It is Possible
Later that same night I made notes on the conversation so that I wouldn’t forget it. As I thought about what we had said, I realized that we had succeeded in having a conversation that was significant in many ways. We got to know our children a little better. Without lectures or formal studies they were able to learn a little theology (the study of God) and about heaven and eternity. We had all participated without fear of being ridiculed. Above all, it had been an enjoyable time that I wanted to be able to repeat.

I had read about conversations like that! And here we had actually done it!

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To find out the "rules" we had that allowed us to {sometimes} actually have meaningful conversations with our kids, check out the book Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes. (Follow this link and you can read the first chapter!)





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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Never Forget: Helping Children Grieve


Coming up on the day when Americans, and many people around the world, remember the terror attacks in New York and Washington, I thought I would share again one way we helped our children grieve and cope with the death of a loved one when they were young.


“Pete has just passed away,” my father-­in-­law told me over the phone that July day in 1999. Pete, my husband’s brother, my children’s uncle, the father of their only (at that time) cousins, dead of cancer at forty ­two. 

Jim was able to travel across continents to comfort his parents and say his final farewells, but to the five of us left in South America it seemed unreal. This man whom we saw only for a few weeks every three years was in heaven. The Bible says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” (Psalm 116:15) but for us it is separation. How could I help my children, then 5, 9, 10, and 13, assimilate the facts, express their grief, and learn that it’s okay to remember Uncle Pete with joy in the midst of sorrow?


One night as I lay awake praying, the Lord gave me an idea to implement around our table, 4000 miles from where the funeral was taking place in Iowa. I told my children that before we had lunch, we would be having a memorial service for Uncle Pete and asked them to think of the things they remembered about him to tell the rest of us.

When they came to the lunch table they saw I had placed an unlit candle at each of their places. A  lit one was in the center of the table. Their curiosity was aroused. I explained that the lit candle represented Uncle Pete. After each one told the things they remembered about him, they could light their candle from Uncle Pete’s.


Their memories were not many or deep — a backyard barbecue, splashing down a waterslide, helping with yard work, a Fourth of July picnic, going out for pizza. When each one had spoken and lit their candle, we watched the flames a moment. Then I blew out Pete’s candle and told the kids, “We don’t have Uncle Pete with us any more, but we still have our memories of him, just like our candles are still lit.” 

We read a few verses and I explained that even though Pete is not here, he still lives in heaven. Jesus said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25) We sang a hymn about heaven and each of us prayed for one of the people who will miss him most: Pete’s widow and children, Grandma and Grandpa, Dad, Pete and Jim's sister. Their eyes were moist when we finished. We concluded with another hymn of praise and trust that we had been learning and then I served lunch.


During the meal the kids watched their candles and talked about whose flame was the biggest and who, therefore, had the most memories of Uncle Pete.

Death is a part of life, but a part our culture tries to deny. As Christian parents, I think it is important to help our children face the pain rather than deny it, to say good­bye, and to begin to understand the hope of heaven even if we live far away from the loved one who passed. Even if the first goodbye is to a beloved pet, we should let them learn to work through the grief, not cover it.

I pray that my children started to learn these things from this simple ceremony. I’m sorry if you have a loss in your family, but perhaps this memorial service will benefit your family as well.



“Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)





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Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's a Wrap: "Greek" Fajitas

What do your meals look like when you eat alone?
Healthy?
Boring?
Fast food?
Snacks?

My lunches are often not very interesting, but once in a while I get inspired!

Like the other day.

I had quite a few vegetables I'd bought on sale and I thought about how best to incorporate them into my lunch. I started cutting up multi-colored sweet peppers, scallions, and mushrooms. I decided to dry sauté them in a little olive oil. I looked in the fridge again and found a bag of fresh spinach, some pepperoni,  and black olives.



I added a large handful of spinach to the sauté pan, cut the olives in half, and three slices of pepperoni into quarters. I tossed the veggies until they were all cooked and the peppers and mushrooms were starting to brown. A little salt, a little pepper. Toss in the olives (which are what make it "Greek" but maybe I should call it an "Italian" Fajita because of the pepperoni) and pepperoni to warm them and then I folded it all into a small flour tortilla, added some dressing, and "pinned" it shut with a toothpick.

Delicious!

It might not be a family meal recipe (unless your whole family has highly refined taste!) but sometimes you just need a grown up, healthy dish.



"Greek" Fajitas (1 serving)

2 tsp. olive oil
1 each mini-peppers in red, yellow, and orange (or any combination), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1-2 scallions cut into 1 inch lengths, including the green tops
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 cups fresh spinach leaves (I used 2)
3-4 black olives, cut in half
3 slices pepperoni, cut into quarters
1 fajita size flour tortilla
dressings of your choice (I used 2tsp Cucumber Ranch and 1 tsp Raspberry Walnut)

Heat the oil in a small non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. When it runs thin add the peppers, mushrooms, and scallions. Stirring frequently, cook until they begin to become tender. Add spinach leaves and continue stirring until they wilt completely and the peppers and mushrooms begin to brown. Add the olives and pepperoni. Place the tortilla over the pan to warm it for about 30 seconds.

Carefully place the tortilla on a plate and line up the veggies in the middle of the tortilla. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a little of your favorite dressing. To make it even more "Greek" throw in a tablespoon of Feta cheese!



*Variation: I've used strips of zucchini instead of mushroom when that's what I have. You can make your own variation with whatever veggies are in your fridge.

Fold the bottom up and the sides in. "Pin" with a toothpick and enjoy!

For a printable version of the recipe click here.

I liked it so much I made it again the next day! 


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