Friday, December 7, 2018

Three Great Ways To De-Stress Your Christmas!

How is your Christmas season going?

A. Overwhelming
B. Cozy
C. Worshipful
D. Stressed Out

If you said "A" or "D" or "A and D" could you possibly just take the evening off to make it B or C tonight? Come on, this is supposed to be a happy, loving, joyful time of year. Pull back a little. Turn off the Martha Stewart recording in your head. Close down Pinterest. Put your to-do list aside for a few hours. I have some fun ideas for you.

Let's Be Tired Together
A few years ago my husband was traveling the beginning of December. My daughter was involved in a Friday night ministry and I was going to spend another December Friday night alone. 

So I decided not to. 

I wrote in my Facebook status "If you are reading this, you are invited over tonight to watch A Christmas Carol with me." I had some expected guests and some I wouldn't have guessed would come. We were a small group. I made popcorn and we just relaxed together and got into the season.

Cookie Baking Night

Are you and your friends behind on your baking?
What's that? You can't face the work and mess?
Besides you want some accountability on cookie dough snitching?

Whip up 2 double batches of sugar cookie dough, wrap them well and stick them in the fridge. Get a hold of some friends and ask them to come over and bake cookies with you. Bribe them by telling them they can take 2 dozen they choose home with them.

Play Christmas carols and cut, bake, and decorate. Your friends will help you wash the pans and wipe the counters I'm sure. If you don't have disposable plates, tell them to bring their own dish to take their cookies home in.

(Cheat: Buy ready made cookie dough at the grocery store!)

Carol Sing

Our brother-in-law started this. There was a very musical college student attending our church whom our brother-in-law invited over along with anyone who could come for a carol sing. But even if you don't have a musician handy, you just need someone who's not afraid to start the song and can basically carry a tune. Get copies of the words from somewhere (we sometimes borrow hymn books from church) or only sing first verse. 

Ask everyone to bring along some plate of snacks to share if they can, but come even if they can't. Provide coffee, tea and water if you can. Remember, we are trying to relax here!

And sing yourself into the joy of the season!

Do you find yourself saying, "But my family..." Get into the spirit yourself, get some other people over who enjoy it, too, and you'll be surprised what your family will do.

You might not be around the table, but you'll be connecting in a great way!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Nine Ways to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

For several years when we lived in South America I would find myself very depressed feeling and tired by the time Christmas arrived. I couldn't figure out why--I had a wonderful family, my husband energetically took part in and planned fun Christmas activities with the kids, we didn't go into debt but had nice presents, although extended family wasn't always around we had lots of friends, we were happy in our lives and ministry. Then it dawned on me that I was sneaking and snacking on lots of Christmas goodies which my low blood sugar doesn't allow and the result is depression, tiredness, headaches, and, as my youngest daughter says, "Grumpiness". The next year the first cookies I made were sugar free treats for me. When we made all our other traditional cookies and I got the urge to sample, I ate mine and did so much better!

Since then I've learned other tricks to help me truly enjoy the Christmas season, and by extension, the rest of the family, because it's true: Mom sets the tone of the house. 

Here are some of the suggestions I have to help you have a Merry Little Christmas (or all out big one if you prefer).

  1. Sleep Tight - Are you staying up late to shop for and wrap presents after the kids are in bed? Did you start your favorite Christmas movie at 9 pm? The best way to get enough sleep is not to hit the snooze button, but figure out what time you should get up and work backwards the amount of sleep you need--7, 8, 9 hours--and get into bed with the light off at that time. You'll thank me later.
  2. Eat Light - There are parties and cookies and Christmas cakes and pies and candy everywhere you go. Make your meals full of veggies and chicken or fish. Your scale will thank you later.
  3. Hydrate - Sometimes you think you are tired or hungry when what you really are is thirsty. Besides, staying well hydrated is one of the best ways to flush out cold and flu germs.
  4. Exercise - Don't try to take on a new activity at this time of year, but make sure you keep your regular schedule of exercising. If you don't do any, at least take the stairs, park at the back of the lot, enter the store from the farthest entrance to what you are looking for. Move and it will up your mood. Your body will thank you.
  5. Sunlight - This can be combined with number 4 if you live where it is sunny and  warm enough to get outside. My sister-in-law used to lead tours to Europe. To stave off jet lag when the sky was gray, she would shine a light at her face (eyes closed) for 5 minutes. She said it really worked! Besides, "they" say all of us who don't get outside enough are low in vitamin D. So get some bright light--natural or other.
  6. Devos - Don't skip on your time with God. Remember the Word of God is a mirror in which we see ourselves. Through it God can show us how our attitudes and actions need to change and that makes for a better holiday time. What about reading thoughtfully through the Gospel accounts of Christ's birth?
  7. Write - If you like to write, take a few minutes to journal. Talk about what is going on in your life, what is frustrating you, what is good, what you should do to get past the problems. You can throw out the parts you don't want anyone to read, but just getting it out and thinking it through on paper helps many people.
  8. Gifts Lite - This is not something you can really do at this time of year, but start talking about it for next year. It has taken our family years to come around to giving and receiving less by doing a Secret Santa gift exchange, but we have less shopping to do and less stress about finding just the right gift for everyone. We also set a dollar limit on the gift we are giving. Your wallet will thank you later.
  9. Delight - Take time to sit and look at the tree with the lights on and Christmas music playing. Watch your kids playing in the snow (or better yet, join them!). Sip your coffee and stare out the window. Make your gift wrapping time fun by playing Christmas music and eating a candy cane. Go shopping with a friend. Reread your favorite Christmas story. If it gets you in the spirit, put antlers or a wreath on your car! Do what it takes to make you enjoy the season.
We all have ideals for this time of year and often people end up feeling disappointed rather that fuzzy and warm. I can't promise you perfect family moments, but you can be proactive to help make your December merrier.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Change Up How You Tell Your Gratefulness!

I'm repeating this post from last year because it has good questions to talk about around your Thanksgiving table. Many people are grateful for these questions! 

What do you do at Thanksgiving to remind yourselves what you are thankful for? We have done a variety of things to help our kids learn thankfulness at this time of year and to remind our family and guests about the true meaning of Thanksgiving. But going around the table to say one or even two things you are thankful for might make you miss out on some of the things that happened in the past year that you do want to be thankful for. 

That's where specific questions come in. If you have specific questions to ask people, that will open up memories that they might not have thought of otherwise. And as one person begins to share their answer, others around the table will have their memories jarred as well.

It also helps keep the conversation upbeat. After the food has made its way around the table or everyone has gone through the buffet line, ask someone (preferably someone who has been a bit forewarned) to read their question and answer it. Tell everyone that the "rules" are 1) no one can make fun of anyone's answer and 2) everyone who wants to can answer the question. Let the conversation flow. But if it starts to flag or degenerate, pipe up and ask the next person to read and answer their question. 

I've made the questions below available in printable format. If you buy printable business cards such as Avery® Business Cards 28878  (Avery®  Template 8371they will print just right or print them onto cardstock and the guidelines will show where to cut to get cards of uniform size. 

You might want to turn them over and print your guests names on the back to use as name cards.

Here is the link to the printable format.

Here are the thanksgiving questions:
What teacher are you thankful for this year?

What unexpected event came into your life this year that you are thankful for?

Tell about a Bible verse you are thankful for this year.

What are you most thankful for about your family?

What memory did you make this year that you are most thankful for?

What food on this table are you most thankful for?

I'm thankful for my job because __________________.

One thing I am thankful about my parents is __________________.

What place have you been able to visit this year that you are thankful you got to go to?

What event that made the news are you thankful for?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

For more unique ideas to prepare for the holidays, click here for a Thanksgiving Challenge and here for a real life illustration of how much we have and here for the things I did right for our family gatherings last year.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

There's a Song in My Heart!

Forty-five years later I still vividly remember one specific day after PE in junior high. I was rushing to get showered and changed back into classroom clothes from the horrid one piece red and white striped polyester shorts jumpsuit we had to wear, sure that I would be late for class.  As I was hurrying, I realized a song was "playing" in my head. I stopped worrying long enough to actually "listen" to the words and I had to laugh at the message.

And I know I'll not be late!
I'm going to Heaven and
I can't wait!

I calmed down and made it to class on time.

Do you ever listen to your internal play list? What is usually playing?

Proverbs 23:7 says, "As a man thinks so is he." I'm currently reading the book Switch On Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf. In it she explains how our thoughts actually change what is happening physically in our brains and then in our bodies. Worry and praise have very different effects on our health!

We actually become peaceful, physically as well as emotionally, when we experience joy. We can force joy on ourselves by focusing on the attributes of God. Think of Philippians 4:8-9, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on theses things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." The Bible tells us that our minds can be controlled and can even help our health.
Challenge: Use Philippians 4:8-9 as your devotion for a day (or several days) and find an example of God being each of the attributes mention there. I did it and enjoyed the exercise of praising God for who He is. Extra Credit: Think of and sing to yourself or play a song for each one.
When my brother-in-law was dying of cancer, my mother-in-law would wake up in the night upset thinking of losing her son, and thinking of the loss to his wife and children. She tells us that what comforted her the most was was the hymns she would go over in her mind verse by verse. The words that had been sung by rote now became real and very meaningful to her. They brought her peace, and eventually sleep.
Challenge: Can you mentally sing through all the verses of your favorite hymn? Try it!
Back in the day, our car had one cassette player and we all had to listen to it. Our family took many road trips and we took turns listening to each other's choices. The story is that Mom chose hymns, I chose pop Christian music, my brother liked rock. And Dad? Well, he had a 90 minute blank tape! But seriously, everyone with their own playlist and earbuds not only separates us, it keeps us from knowing what our kids are filling their minds with.
Challenge: Sit down with your child and listen to their favorites playlist and talk about what they are hearing and how it can affect them.
Recently my reading took me through the Psalms. I started noticing how often the command to sing came up. I counted. The words "sing" and "song" appear 114 times in the translation I use. In the midst of many life-threatening and heartbreaking circumstances David and the other Psalmists found strength in singing the praises of God.
Challenge: Find more ways to listen to, and even to sing, songs, hymns, and spiritual songs personally and with your family. My kids often sing to their their kids before bedtime.  A lot of time the younger ones don't sing with them, but I've heard those kids singing all five verses of a hymn as they play! I like that internal playlists!
Singing about God will stay in our minds even when we aren't consciously "listening". Those words along with the music will change not only our attitude but our physical being allowing us to experience God's peace throughout our bodies. 

How about playing some of these songs as background music during your family dinner tonight?  

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Two Questions You Should Ask Tonight

Last month my husband and I were listening to a book by John Maxwell, Good Leaders ask Great Questions, as we rode along the straight, flat roads south in Patagonia. While the scenery replayed wide open spaces and big skies, Maxwell told us about the questions he always asked his children after a family outing. 

Usually after we had a family outing our goal at home was to get the kids cleaned up, fed and in bed and then we could clean up the stuff we’d taken along before we collapsed into bed. I wish however we’d known these two questions, which I will tell you in a minute. But first I want to talk about why Maxwell asked these questions, the same reason you should be asking your children questions that start conversations, whether the conversations be silly or sublime.

  1. To get to know your children — As parents we should be students of our children. We need to be aware of their interests, their thoughts, their interests, their fears, their talents, their friends, their beliefs, and their doubts. We need to guide them to the truth, to knowing right from wrong (as opposed to knowing savvy from stupid), to be discerning, and to be responsible members of society. But we can’t do this without knowing them intimately to be able to point them in the right direction. Knowing our children isn’t an exercise to satisfy our curiosity, but means to helping us be the parents God wants us to be.
  2. To help our children — Therapists spend far more time listening than giving advice because when people talk through a situation they understand it better. Whether they need to find a solution to a problem or work through what they have seen and heard to make sense of it, talking to someone helps. The same goes for our children—telling a listening parent helps them grasp meanings, ideas, and lessons. It also gives our children a sense of worth, because they feel valued by your time actively listening. Another bonus is that we are modeling good conversations skills: asking questions and listening.

So what are John Maxwell’s questions? They are two very simple ones:
  • What did you love?
  • What did you learn?

They are so simple, I wonder why I didn’t think of them.

Here is my challenge to you: whether you had an “outing” with your kids or not, ask them these two questions at the dinner table tonight. You can modify them a bit—What did you love about today? What did you learn today? Then I’d love it if you would come back to this post or my blog facebook page and tell me
—What did you love about that conversation?
—What did you learn from that conversation?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

You Meant It For Evil

Not long ago someone said something that pierced me down to the very core of who I am, criticizing and devaluing what I believe and base my life on. I can’t tell you exactly what was said to protect the privacy of the one who said it, but I can tell you that it hurt me profoundly. I actually went in to a kind of depression for a couple of days.

After two or three days, I was washing the dishes and talking to God about how much this hurt. I was complaining. I was pleading. I was grieving.

And then God responded.

A verse that I had memorized at some time in the past came to the front of my thoughts:

As for you, you meant evil against me,
But God meant it for good.

I dried my hands and went to my computer to look up the verse. I found it was something Joseph said to his brothers after their father died. The brothers were afraid that Joseph would now take his revenge. In their guilty feelings, they assumed Joseph had harbored bitterness against them all these years. But Joseph had learned a few things about God over the years and he chose to see how God had worked, even through the evil planned by his brothers, instead of seeking revenge.

I read the verse again (Genesis 50:20). I thought about all that Joseph had gone through. He had been separated from his family and everything he knew as a teenager. He had been carried off captive to a foreign land where he probably didn’t speak the language and the people followed a pagan religion. He had been sold as a slave (had he been forced to stand naked before a crowd of men while they bid on him? Had he been poked and prodded like a horse at an auction?) He had been falsely accused by the wife of the man for whom he worked diligently. The false accusation had been believed and he’d been thrown into prison. In prison he did a good favor for a man about to be restored to his high position in the government and asked to be remembered, but he was forgotten for two more long years.

All of this, Joseph chose to forgive in light of how God had used it to save the people of Egypt from starvation and, more importantly, to keep His promise to Abraham that through his line blessing would come to every family.

Compared to Joseph, I had very little to complain about. I also had no proof that the situation which had upset me, would result in good, let alone something as big as saving nations. But God had spoken to me, and I chose to believe it. In believing, my spirits were lifted.

Tell your family the stories I’ve told you and ask them tonight, “Do you want to see God work in your life through verses we memorize together?”

How to Get Memorizing
I’ve been telling you over the last four weeks some of the ways memorizing verses has had an impact on my life. I could tell you other ways—how God used verses to help me know what I should do with my life, to teach me to trust him with my future, to change my prayer life, or to show me a new ministry He had for me. But I’d like to give you some suggestions about how to  get you and your family memorizing verses.
  1. Decide to start memorizing. This might be the hardest part, realizing it is good and helpful and important. Make a firm decision.
  2. A verse a week is a good, doable rhythm. It might not seem like much, but if you can do 50 verses a year, you will have a repertoire of hundreds in just a few years. You can find lists on line of verses you should know or you can use the verses your kids are being assigned for Sunday school or Awana, or you can just use verses that are meaningful to you as you read scripture
  3. Review, review, review. This is the secret to memorizing scripture. The week you are memorizing a verse, review it every day. I recommend using 3x5 cards, one verse per card, verse on front, reference on back. Keep reviewing all your new verses until you have five you are doing every day. Then, take the verse you know best and put it in a second pile. Do the ones you are reviewing every day, plus one, two, or three verses from the second (medium frequency review pile to keep them fresh) every day. The ones you know best from the second pile can be moved a third pile (ones you are sure you know) from which you review one or two per day. By the time you have been going for several months, you will be reviewing 7-10 verses a day: 
* the five most recent verses
* one to three verses from the “keep fresh” pile
* one or two from the “I know these” pile

Keep moving the verses that you have reviewed to the back of the three packs after you successfully review them, so that you go through all the verses on a regular basis. (Personally I use the app, “Scripture Typer” which tells me when to review the verses I am learning.)

If you want to get your whole family memorizing, work on it every night after dinner. Make it a game. For example, write a new verse, one word per 3x5 card and put it out on the table. Read it together several times. Then take away all the words with six letters (or whatever the longest words are) and say it again. Now take away the next longest words and say it. Keep doing this until there are no words left. Now you are saying the verse from memory! 

The next night trying giving the out of order cards to one family member, maybe mom or dad! And see how long it takes you to get the verse completely right. See if anyone can do it faster. Then take away every other word and say it together. Take away every other word again and say it together. Take away all the words and try saying it.

Review the verse every night together. Go back and review previously learned verses, too, maybe not as many as you would do by yourself, but two or three previous verses as well. Invent games and give prizes. Make it fun! Maybe even have a special treat as a goal. When you have all learned 20 or 25 verses, go on some special outing as a family, maybe a water park, a zoo in another town, or even a trip to the Creation Museum. 

The Psalmist said,
Your word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You. 
Psalm 119:11

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

How to Avoid a Pity Party

Hide and Seek Verses -- Part 3
My fellow missionary made a difficult phone call to me. She already had three young children and her hands were full, but she called to tell me she had just found out she was unexpectedly expecting again. What made the phone call even more complicated, was that I was in the midst of secondary infertility. I had trouble getting pregnant a second time and the day after the pregnancy was confirmed, I lost the baby. Now I was living month-by-month with hopes rising and then dashed.

With thirty years of hindsight, I appreciate my friend having the courage to tell me herself, but at the time I was heart-broken. Why would God give another child to someone who was already feeling overwhelmed and not to my husband and I, who desperately wanted another child?

When I hung up, I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m going to go upstairs, throw myself on my bed, and have a full on pity party, crying until there are no more tears.” Before I placed my foot on the first stair, God brought to mind a verse I had recently memorized:

O the depth of the riches of both the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how unfathomable His ways. Romans 11:33

I had memorized the verse in Spanish and it gave extra meaning to the word “unfathomable” as the word in Spanish was “inescrutable”—inscrutable, impossible to understand.

Through His Word, God said to me, “Don’t try to understand what I do. Just trust Me.” I never did have that pity party, instead I realized God knew what He was doing, even if I didn’t understand it. I wish I could say that the next two years I had victory everyday, but I didn’t. Sometimes I just wanted a baby more than I wanted to trust God.

But God spoke to me that day through a verse I had memorized and His Word overcame my emotions. Memorizing Scripture will work in your life, too. Try it!

As you move toward getting your family to move toward memorizing scripture together, consider reading this post to your family, then ask these questions at dinner tonight:

What is the last verse you memorized? 
What verse has had a direct impact on your life?

Next week I will tell you one more story about how memorizing scripture impacted my life and I will give you some hacks to get your family having fun and spiritual growth memorizing too!

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

“Hide and Seek” the Word — Part 2

My mother sat at the piano playing the children’s chorus while she and the 6 year old me sang along.

Gone, gone, gone, gone,
Yes, my sins are gone.
Now my soul is free and in my heart’s a song.
Buried in the deepest sea,
Yes, that’s good enough for me.
I shall live eternally,
Praise God!
My sins are G-O-N-E

When we finished the song, I said, “I wish I could really say that.”

How did I know my sins were not gone? I had memorized Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” I knew I hadn’t believed on Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins.

Not long after that my best friend got saved. The following Sunday Our Sunday school teacher told us about my friend and asked, “How many of you are saved?” Everyone raised their hand.I don’t know if I raised my hand or not, but the teacher went on with the lesson, but I kept thinking.”If Jesus came back right now, I would be the only one left at this table.” The thought immediately following that was, “But I don’t have be left; Jesus died for me!” I believed and I was saved. How did I know I was saved? One of the verses I knew was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)

Almost from the time I was saved I wanted to be a missionary, a strange thought for a timid little girl. Why on earth would I want to do that? There were, several reasons: 
  • My parents were supporters of missionaries in their prayers, with their home, and through their pocketbooks.
  • Because of this I knew and talked to many missionaries and had heard their stories.
  • And again, one of the verses I knew told me to do this, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

When I was old enough, I started making decisions to help me be a missionary. I took French as my elective in high school because I knew I needed to learn another language eventually. I got involved in being a student leader in my youth group. I worked in the girls club at our church. I spent my summers counseling at camp or on missions teams. But I started to wonder what I should study to help me in my future work as a missionary: education? Nursing? Music? God brought to my mind Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.”

That verse gave me peace. God eventually showed me that my interests led me toward a degree in Communications, which would always be helpful in almost any path I took, and also in being a missionary. As a confirmation, I had applied to finish college in a city 1000 miles away. A certain young man had also applied to another college in that city, although we weren’t aware of this “coincidence” at the time, in fact, we weren’t even aware of each other until after that. I remember excitedly going to the camera shop where he worked, letter of acceptance in hand, to tell him we would be in the same city! It was during that year, we got engaged.

I can’t promise you that if you hide a few verses in your heart that you will know God’s will for your life or give you a life partner, but God will definitely lead you as you seek to make His Word a part of your life. 

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
The unfolding of Your word gives light;
It gives understanding to the simple.
Psalm 119:105, 130

Here are your conversation starters for your dinner table tonight to move toward getting your family to start memorizing scripture: 

What is one of your favorite verses?

Do you have a life verse?

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