Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Weak Days

We all have Week Days--Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And we all have Weak Days. Those days when we simply cannot see how we are going to face the day, what will keep us going, when the bad news is so distressing we don't know what to do. Usually these happen on days when we can't stop so we either push on by rote or we give up and curl up in a corner.  

I have done both of those things. There have been days when my energy, physical or emotional has failed me and I have done nothing all day long except the bare minimum, and sometimes not even that.

I get especially frustrated when I don't have the strength to do what I consider "normal" things that I see so many other women doing. Why didn't God make me a person bursting with energy and drive?

Then there are those times when the situation is impossible. I can't see a way out. And there is nothing I can do to change it. I'd love to tell you that I grab hold of my all-powerful God and say, "This is going to be exciting! I can't wait to see what You are going to do!" But I confess that I usually anxiously worry and try to figure out my own solution.

That's when I go back to a favorite promise: 
When I am weak, then I am strong.

That's what Paul said when God wasn't responding the way he wanted to his prayer for relief from his "thorn in the flesh". God's answer to him wasn't a miracle. Instead God told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9 

If that doesn't make sense to you, what Paul said next makes even less: Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

How does this work? When we realize we don't have the power to do anything to change the situation, then we say, "God, I can't. Only You can. I am trusting in You." Then my weakness is perfect as I rely only on the power of the Omnipotent One at work! 

What can't you do today?

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Talking With God: Eleven Times it Can Fit into Your Family Life

Our youngest daughter padded barefoot up two flights of stairs from her bedroom,wearing a flannel nightgown, a well loved stuffed animal in tow, past the living room, to the loft where her daddy was sitting at his desk. Once in his office she climbed on his lap and hugged him. He hugged her in return and spoke to her in low tones for a minute before placing his hand on her head and praying for her. When he was done she smiled up at him. They hugged quickly and she was on her way to play until she had to get dressed for kindergarten.

Do your children hear you pray for them? Do you pray with your children? Not just giving thanks for the food, or a quick bedtime prayer at the end of the day, but really pray. It doesn't have to be long, but it should be truly talking to God. 

I know I am guilty of repeating the same words over and over day after day in my prayers, but I would never talk to someone else doing that. (My kids might differ saying I tell the same stories over and over. But one only has so many stories and it is so enjoyable to tell them. I digress.) We tell our children that prayer is "talking to God." I believe we should exemplify that conversation in our children's hearing.

The best way to teach someone to pray is to pray aloud with them. When we pray out loud, it should be a continuation of the conversation we are having privately with God. A familiarity and yet reverence. A discussion of what we know about God, what He has promised in His Word, what is on our hearts, and what is occurring in our lives. When we talk to God like this in front of our children, they learn what prayer truly is--not an eloquent written out prayer, not a rote repetition, but an opportunity to talk over our lives with the Almighty God.

When do we have opportunities to model prayer for our children?

  1. Before Meals -- This is probably the time when most people pray and they say similar things "bless this food", "thank you for this food", and don't forget, "bless the hands that prepared it." (If someone says this when I have cooked, my husband always asks, "Are your hands tingling?") While I don't suggest praying until the food is cold, I propose that we say more than these phrases that are repeated so often. Mention something personal, meaningful and truly say thank you to God. This is a good time for children to start praying out loud, too. My older grandchildren can say, "Thank you for this food and that Grandma and Grandpa came to visit" or a simple "Thank you" and some of the younger ones already say, "Amen!"
  2. After Meals -- We always had breakfast together and before we let the kids rush to get ready for school, my husband would pray for them. This often included requests like: that they would be a blessing to someone, for protection, help on a test, health issues, special events of their day, and that they would learn well. It only took a minute, but it was another example to them of God's interest in their daily lives and how to talk to Him about it.
  3. During Devotions -- We tried to not tack on a prayer at the end of our family devotions, but make that an integral part of our time with God. We asked the kids what they could give thanks for and what they wanted prayer for. Then we often prayed youngest to oldest so that my husband closed in prayer. If you have a tween or teen who isn't wanting to pray, I don't recommend forcing it. Pray for the events in their life yourself and privately pray for their spiritual life. You can tell your kids you what you are praying for, but don't sermonize them in your prayers.
  4. On Daily Trips -- In Colombia we lived around the corner from the Director of our children's school for MKs who drove a big van to school. Sometimes we needed her to add our kids to her carload and they told us that if you drove to school with Mrs. Afanador, you knew you were going to spend the time praying. No one was forced to pray, but most did. What a great way to head out into the day!
  5. At the Beginning of a Longer Trip -- We usually do this as we start down the road. Of course, the driver keeps his eyes open as one or more of us pray for safe travels and give thanks for the opportunity to travel.
  6. Along the Way -- We recently attended a conference with our youngest daughter, now an adult working at her first full time job after college, where we were exhorted to pray. As we were on our way home (a many hour journey in the car) someone suggested we spend some time in prayer. The three of us prayed together for about an hour. The next morning we continued another time of prayer together. What a joy! Maybe something comes up--you see an accident, the weather has changed, or you get lost (that's me!)--that you want to talk to God about. Do it out loud. 
  7. Upon Arrival -- As you pull up to your day's destination, thanking God for getting you there is a great reminder to our children that God is watching over us.
  8. In the Beauty of Creation -- When you see some of God's spectacular creation you can come to God in prayer and praise Him in song! How about My God is So Big, America the Beautiful,  or  the second verse of How Great Thou Art?
  9. Going Shopping -- I am constantly praying while I shop. I don't want to waste money on things that won't last, I won't use, or I don't need. I also want to get things at a good price. Sometimes I want something very specific. So I tell God and ask Him for wisdom. When my girls were teens, I sometimes prayed with them as we headed out to buy them clothes. Any mother of teenage girls knows that can be a time of conflict! Praying for God to provide and help you to agree is a good idea.
  10. When Something is Lost -- "Mom, do you know where my ____ is?" That rang out often in our house. And I have been known to mislay things as well. So many times we stopped the panic to pray and God immediately brought to mind a place to look. Lo and behold! There it was! Sometimes God answers right away and that is an encouragement to keep praying.
  11. At the End of the Day -- Much more than "Now I lay me down to sleep..." this can be a great time to review the day and thank God for what He allowed to happen, to turn over to Him things that might keep us from sleeping, and to pray for the next day. 
You probably won't pray at all these times in any one day, but it's good to keep them in mind and make them more of a habit in your life. Keep the words fresh, really talk with God, and teach your children to pray.

What opportunities do you use to pray with your children?

Megan, a fellow blogger, has all adult children at home. She says she gets them to the table this way: Fix family favorites. Ask them what they want...give a little teaser the night before or text them during the day and tell 'em what's for dinner. They love that they don't have to go out, buy food, or cook every night. 

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Read. Learn. Connect.

"Keep reading, Mom!" We were traveling in the car and I was in need of something to quench my overworked throat after reading loudly enough to be heard in the back of the van continuously for half an hour on South American roads.

"Let's stop here and get something to drink and use the restroom, and then I'll keep going." 

You might be surprised to know that I was reading selected chapters to my kids out of Eddie Rickenbacker's autobiography. Not only was he America's most successful fighter ace in World War I, he also was a car designer, race car driver, head of Eastern Air Lines, survivor of multiple air and car crashes, and during a mission to personally deliver a secret message of rebuke to General Douglas MacArthur from President Roosevelt was forced to ditch the plane in the Pacific Ocean and was adrift for 24 days with 9 other men of whom 7 survived!  

At the time I was reading to my kids they were two boys, fourteen and nine, and two girls, ten and five. And they all loved it.

When we lived overseas I raided the library at the school for missionary kids (MKs) where my children attended for books to read. My favorite genre has always been biography or autobiography. Real people's real lives are so amazing, that reading about fictional people loses some of it's charm. That was where I had found this book and many others that I often read parts of or all of to my children. And I didn't just read biographies and stories of great Christians, I also read many of the famous fiction books that are so beloved: The Chronicles of Narnia, the Little House series, the Anne of Green Gables series, and others.

Usually we read before bedtime. And of course, they begged for me to keep going then so they could stay up later. But sometimes we also read after dinner around the table. And I think that's a great time to read together. Everyone loves a good story and it's such fun to put that inborn sense of drama we all have to use by making different voices and adding expression. I remember my youngest daughter asking how I could know what voice to use if it didn't say, "Laura said..." before the quotation. One of Mom's superpowers!

Whether you read fiction or non, reading together is a learning experience for everyone. A well researched and written novel teaches you much about different occupations, people, places, words, and times as well as valuable moral lessons. Then every book gives you something to talk about together as you figure out what is going to happen or what should have been done in the story. You might even decide to research more on a topic to understand it or read more books about an interesting subject. 

I'm sure that reading so many missionary stories while growing up is part of why I became a missionary. Who knows what can influence your child? My oldest granddaughter, Preciosa, (her bloggy name) is currently six and thanks to her mom reading a Magic School Bus book to her, she wants to be a Marine Biologist!

How to pick a good book to read to your kids:

  1. Read a variety of books--if you are reading you will find books to read to your kids, like I did.
  2. Find a book that excites you--if you like the book, you will enjoy reading it aloud and will make it fun for your kids.
  3. Read with enthusiasm--Try to use different voices for the main characters and add the inflection they would have if they were sad, excited, happy, or frightened. 
  4. Start small--I didn't start reading novels to my children, I started with picture books. But my oldest was ready for the Chronicles of Narnia when he was in kindergarten! Well before he'd be able to read the book. Now they are reading them to Preciosa!
  5. Find books on topics that interest your children--my boys loved cars and airplanes so I knew they would like Eddie Rickenbacker's story. My youngest is a red-head (or ginger as she prefers) and could relate to Anne of Green Gables.
  6. Spread out from there--read about people or times they are learning about in school, but in story form--either biography or fiction--to reinforce what they are learning and make it come to life. Are you going to be taking a vacation somewhere? Look for books about the people and places from there. Maybe for a vacation out west you could read stories about some of the famous cowboys, or a trip to the ocean might make you want to read about pirates or explorers.
  7. Don't get stuck--If a book just isn't interesting anyone, and you have given it a good try (my mom used to say every book deserves the three chapter test), then stop. Don't waste time reading to your kids a book that is boring.
  8. Keep reading--find a time when you can read on a consistent basis. We didn't read every single night and we sometimes went for periods of time when we didn't read at all. But we came back to it. Don't give up when one book doesn't keep their interest. 

Remember, your goals are to have a time when you can connect with your kids and have fun learning. It is so worth it!

For some great ideas of more books to read to your kids click here.

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Jen, mother of five says: We are in a really tough season for family dinners. With two teenagers that play school sports and three other younger ones who also have their own “stuff” combined with a daddy that works long, sometimes unpredictable hours it seems like 4-8 PM can be the busy-est time of my day and the time we are going in the most different directions.My best tips are planning and flexibility. I have given up an “all or nothing” attitude (I.e. “We ALWAYS have dinner at 6pm and everyone is expected to be here!”) and also embraced creativity as to how/when we eat together. 

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Eat. Laugh. Connect

Starting this week I'm adding a new feature to my posts. Each week I will give you a practical tip (many from my readers) about how to have more family dinners. Look for this symbol in my posts.

Several times a week I tickle my 18 month old granddaughter,  Clavel, (her bloggy name meaning Carnation) who lives 4000 miles away across an ocean. This does require some technology and a little help from my daughter. When we're Skyping I hold up my hands and start wiggling my fingers and say in my best Grandma-to-toddler voice, "I'm going to tickle you!" As I move closer to the camera I say it again and again while she starts smiling and squirming. When my fingers loom large on her screen and I make that internationally recognized sound, "Tchika! Tchika! Tchika!" and at the same moment her mommy tickles her from behind while she giggles adorably.

Then she will ask me to sing the "Zoom zoom zoom we're going to the moon" song by doing the opening hand motions and saying, "Oom, Oom", so we sing all three verses of this song with mom helping again after the countdown so she can blast off! Often she points to the picture of her cousin who is just five months older than her and saying, "Ahm, Ahm". Sometimes our little Abeja (Spanish for Bee--she is a busy bee!--and that 23 month old cousins' bloggy name) is at my house when we talk, so Clavel thinks Abeja should be there every time. Then we all do the Zoom, Zoom song together. 

This week we all Skyped together.  The girls looked at each other and smiled and pointed and said "Baby". They showed each other things like toys and photos and called to each other "Ahm! Ahm!" "Vell! Vell!" and when one started to play, the other enjoyed just watching. Then they said good-by by blowing kisses to each other. Oh my grandmother heart!

As grandma to both these adorable girls who look nothing alike and have only been together a few times in their short lives, I love it that I can connect with them through fun and games whether they are in town or on the other side of the world. I know these little girls feel emotionally attached to me, in part because we play together.

Games help connect emotionally, especially ones that involve tickling, hugs, and laughter. Tickling games might not be the best to play at the table, but there are games that you can play that will bring about laughter and maybe some hugs, too. Here are some dinner time game ideas to help you connect with your children.
  1.  Pony Express--you need to have at least five people at your table for this and the more the better. After everyone has served their plates and the serving dishes are sitting on the table waiting for those who want seconds, someone says, "Please pass the turnips and brussel sprouts." (No I don't think they ever asked for seconds of that in my house either!) Someone else calls out, "Pony Express!" then the dish is passed in the direction away from the one who wants it and maybe goes back and forth a couple of times before it gets to the asker. Watch out, this will become a regular at your house! Accept it with laughter.
  2. The Alphabet Game--Start with what you all did today going through the alphabet. Maybe you went to the store and bought Apples. Then someone else can say, "At recess we played with a Ball." Anyone can interject at any time. See if you can be creative enough to come up with something for each letter of the alphabet. Another night you can list things to be thankful for, people you know, places you have been, things you would like to do, and so on. (Psst, don't tell the kids, but they are learning while they have fun!)
  3. Imitate--Kids are great imitators. They see people's foibles and characteristics and can sometimes see through them. Maybe have everyone imitate the person on their right or on their left. Tell them to be nice. Take it to heart when the child imitating you scolding the other "kids" over and over--is that all they hear from you? Sometimes you might suggest extended family members or friends of the family to be imitated. Just remember to ask your kids to keep it upbeat.
  4. Nicknames--come up with nicknames for the whole family, maybe make them all start with the first letter of your last name. Try to think of qualities that person has to give them an encouraging name. I'm not at liberty to tell you the names my husband's sister came up with for the family when they were little. Suffice it to say, my husband was "Freckles." And his sister still uses some of the other names she came up with!
  5. Name that Tune--each one take a turn humming part of a tune and getting the others to figure out what it is. We were playing a game the other day with our family where I had to get them to guess something that was also a song title, so I started humming the familiar tune and no one could figure it out! So much for my musical ability. But we had a good laugh.
  6. Twenty Questions--You know how to play this. Think of something, anything. Then everyone can take turns asking questions that can be answered with, "Yes" or "No" until they guess what you are thinking. You might count their questions, or you might just let them keep asking until they figure it out.
  7. Joke Night--Tell everyone ahead of time to bring a joke or two they heard recently. Take turns telling the jokes at dinner. Laugh and groan together!
  8. Fortunately, Unfortunately--This was one we played when I was growing up. Someone starts telling a made-up story and then says, "Unfortunately..." At this point they insert a problem into the story. The next person takes up the story there and says, "Fortunately..." and has a solution to the problem. The next person says, "Unfortunately..." and brings in another problem. And so it goes until you are laughing to hard to continue or you wind up the story. 
  9. Mad Libs--Go around the table and take turns supplying the kind of words needed in these kinds of stories (adjectives, nouns, verbs, a number, etc.) to end up with a very funny and unlikely story.
  10. Conversation Starters--go through a list of conversation starters like these and choose the funniest ones for your "game dinner" evening.

Joy, mother of four grown kids and grandmother of seven says: 

No tricks for dinner time together. It was the rule of the house and we just complied to it every day possible, which for us was an average of 6 out of 7 days. Part of the "rules of the house."... which meant Mom and Dad had to be true to the rule and the kids just knew it "had to be." Enjoyed this time immensely with our four children! 

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Top Ten Reasons to Eat Family Meals Together

I am all about family mealtimes. I know it's not easy to get dinner on the table with kids clamoring around you. It's awful to work hard making a good meal to have little people pronounce it "Yuck!" It requires a special computer program to find a time when everyone (or almost everyone) can be home at the same time. And when you manage everything else, the kids start to squabble. I know. I've been there. But as a mom whose kids are all grown up and out of the house, let me tell you: It was worth it! And here are some of the reasons why.

10. Save Money
This past Christmas I bought a roast beef for $25 which fed 10 people to that full holiday feeling, with enough left over for my husband's lunch. The sides and dessert probably cost only $10 more. Where else can you get a hot, healthy, satisfying meal for $3.50 a person? Only a home-cooked meal eaten together.

9. Improve vocabulary (and grades)
Studies show that kids who eat meals with their families where conversation takes place, have larger vocabularies than children who eat alone or with the TV or Internet entertaining them. They will also do better in school. Why? Probably because they are talking about what they learned, read, or heard, so they are reinforcing it, processing it, and explaining it. Bottom line: Want your kids to do well in school? Eat together with them.

8. Lower Risk of Substance Abuse
The kids who have strong ties to family, and especially to their parents, are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. They have a sense of well-being and know they are loved and important so they won't seek attention or acceptance by peers though conforming to their unhealthy habits.

7. Less Chance of Eating Disorders
If you are preparing dinner at home, chances are most nights you will have a well-balanced healthy meal. That makes it probable that your children will learn good eating habits that they can take with them through life. Reasons seven, eight, and nine aren't guaranteed. You might be able to point out families that had every meal together and have one or more children who didn't do these things, but as a general rule, this gives them a better foundation than not eating together as a family.

6. A Good Opportunity to Teach the Importance of Work
Chores, the bane of every child's life, often revolve around things to do at mealtime: Set the table, help make the meal, clear the table, wash the dishes, sweep the floor. I know that as a parent it is probably easier to do it yourself than get a kid to do it, but that doesn't teach them anything. Life consists of work and what better time to start to learn this than in the kitchen with Mom or Dad nearby coaching, teaching, and visiting. I always wanted to be the family where we all did the dishes together while singing songs. It didn't happen. But my kids did learn that work was a necessity because they were part of a family. (At least, by the the time they were grown up and had their own places, they understood it!)

5. A Time to Practice Manners
We had dinner at my daughter's house the other day. She and her roommate invited both my parents and my husbands, an aunt, and a one of my friends visiting from out of town, over for a meal. They had to set up an extra card table in the kitchen to fit us all in. I was so proud of how she was such a good hostess, making her guests comfortable and knowing what to do. And that is really the goal of manners.

4. Finding the Joy of Hospitality
When we welcome people into our homes we gain so much! Yes, I've had broken dishes, missing toys, dirty bathrooms, and wet towels thrown over wooden chairs. But I've also learned about other places, people from different backgrounds, people with different abilities, how I can help someone, and how they can help me. I've connected people who have become good friends. I've gained places to stay when I visit their part of the world. I've even been an answer to prayer! And most importantly I have obeyed Christ. (Luke 14:13; Hebrews 13:2)

3. Developing the Art of Conversation
Most kids can take forty-five minutes to tell you about a five minute dream they had last night or an hour to explain the movie they just watched. But that's not really conversation. The Art of Conversation is learning when to talk, when to listen, and when to ask questions. It is learning how to listen to hear what the other person means and not just plan what you will say next. Parents have a great opportunity at family meals to teach this to their children by example and sometimes by enforcing rules that let someone else have something to say. There are lots of fun ways to learn to visit with other people. 

2. A Set Time for Family Devotions
It is really, really hard to get everyone together to do devotions. There are so many reasons and excuses from too much home work, to sports practice, to it's past bedtime. That's why eating together is such a natural time to have devotions. Whether it's mom reading a devotion book while the kids eat breakfast or everyone reading a few verses after dinner. You are all together and seated already. Take five to fifteen minutes to make Christ the center of your family.

1. Connecting as a Family
The more time you are together as a family, the more you connect. Whether dinner is a reheated pizza, a burnt casserole, or a three course meal, if you are all sitting together and all eating, that is a family meal. You will talk, interact, probably squabble, maybe spill some milk, but you are connecting and growing closer together. 

Make a goal for 2018: 
One more meal per week as a family than we normally have. 

Do you know someone who would be encouraged by this post?
Please pass it on!

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