Thursday, August 29, 2019

Where Summers Go

It started with a kiss goodbye. My husband and I boarded different planes to end up in the same city to visit our daughter and family in Frankfurt, Germany.

After a quick, fun visit we headed to Hungary for a conference with the Emmaus International directors from around Europe. While we were there our eighth grandchild was born! In fact, the head of Emmaus International and his wife are the other grandparents of this baby and we were all there waiting for the news! As we went for a walk along the Danube we got a text that they were going in so we stopped to pray together.

A few hours later when we knew the baby had been born, we received another text that the baby, born three weeks early, had low oxygen levels and our son, who is king of low-key, said, "The nurse was unimpressed." We knew that was serious and stopped the meeting we were in and asked them to pray for this precious little one. Within half an hour another text came in that said, "She's doing much better!" We found out later that the nurse had told him that if she didn't improve in half an hour she would be helicoptered to a larger hospital!

From Hungary we had a layover in Kiev, Ukraine for six hours on our way to visit the Emmaus office in Moldova. The Ukrainian Emmaus Director met us at the airport and took us around the city and out for dinner before heading back to the airport. But he cut the time very close  and we got stuck in traffic, making us all but certain we would miss our flight. Just as the road began to open up a tire in our car blew out. My husband jumped out of the car, stuck out his thumb and another car stopped! The driver spoke English!! We asked if he could take us to the airport, only about 10 minutes from where we were by that point. As God's angels always do, he said yes. We gave the director a gift we hoped would cover the cost of the tire, grabbed our carry-on luggage and jumped in the car with this stranger who happily left us at the airport.

There, we jumped the security line and explained to the people that we might miss our flight. They let us go ahead. Then we asked a guard in passport control if we could jump that line and he put us through the pilot and diplomat line. We made our flight.

After a fascinating weekend getting to know the director in Moldova, and seeing a former Communist Young Pioneer camp which is a Bible Camp today, as well as having the opportunity to minister in two different local churches, we flew to Rome where we took part in an international conference teaching in two of the seminars and enjoying the ministry and seeing many of our friends from all over the world.

Then we began our vacation! Six days in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Norway with a long layover in Helsinki, Finland. We walked dozens of miles, rode bikes, traveled by train, boat, tram, car, bus, and plane and thoroughly enjoyed celebrating my husband's 60th birthday.

We came to our town (on separate flights and then together in the car) and met our newest granddaughter even before we set foot in our own home. The next day we had guests from the Middle East over for lunch and the day after that began the odyssey of my 91 year old dad and the hospital. He was hospitalized three times over the next month and finally spent almost three weeks in skilled nursing before coming home.

House guests from India arrived during the first hospitalization and after they left our daughter and family from Germany arrived for a month. The pool, picnics, parks, play dates with cousins, cookouts, family dinners, making, painting and racing wooden boats in a stream, birthday luncheon, farmer's markets, library story times, emergency room visits, girls night out, guys lunches, baby shower for grand number nine coming in October, doctor's appointments, the world's best milkshakes, my husband leaving for Asia, learning about catheter care, the aquarium, and then the Germans left for home. 

Just like that, summer was over. Full of family time. Getting those things done that are important--showing love to and supporting family. That's where my autumn will go as well and winter following that. My goal is to make family time and ministry a big part of my life, so I work hard to make that happen. It doesn't always, but it never will if I don't plan for it.

It's the same way with family meals. If you want them to happen, you have to just make them happen. When I asked my friends for their secrets to getting their family to eat together, the vast majority said, "We just do it." 

Maybe your summer slipped away. Don't let fall disappear, too. Crunch some leaves with your family--the kind you step on and the kind you eat.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Memorize (and Remember) More Scripture!

Whenever I am actively memorizing scripture things begin to happen!

  • My prayers seem to include more scripture as a reminder to myself of God's promises and His will.
  • Songs make me think of verses and verses make me think of songs.
  • The worship meeting comes more alive as men share and I think of verses that go along with their ideas.
  • I find myself speaking scripture more often when talking with others.
  • Reading scripture makes more sense as I come across the passages I've studied and memorized in the midst of my regular reading.
Photo Credit: Daniel Johnson

I've started and stopped memorizing several times in my life. As a child I memorized for Sunday School, camps, VBS, our in-church memory program called Bible Memory Association, and our children's club called "Happy Hour", to get prizes. Those are the verses have stuck with me all my life. They are familiar and somewhat King Jamesy as that was what I first memorized in.

At around 16, I switched to the New American Standard Bible (that we called the "Naz-bee") and have done my English my memory work in that ever since. 

Before we moved to the mission field, I made an effort to learn more verses in English so that when I learned Spanish I would know what the verses meant. It turned out to be a very good idea because it was easier to memorize in Spanish what I already knew in English.

As a missionary, I began seriously memorizing verses with several women, in Spanish and, to my surprise, our extended prayer times changed as we prayed scripture to God. I hadn't expected that to happen.

When we moved back to the states, I lapsed for a while. Then one year I was studying the Wisdom of God and decided to memorize verses about that. When I injured both Achilles tendons one summer, my stretching exercises were a good time to review my verses. But after I quit the stretching, I quit reviewing and soon discovered I didn't remember many of the verses and grew discouraged. I didn't want to blame it on an aging brain!

Then a young woman I was discipling and I decided to each memorize one verse a week and hold each other accountable. That's when I decided to use BibleMemory, an app that helps keep track of the verses I'm memorizing and helps me set the review time by how well I do in the review. That was March 2017 and I've kept it up. At first I was sporadic in my review, but looking back at my history graph I see that I have only missed four days of review this year. 

I have to admit that I am inordinately proud when I reach a new level by earning points for memorization and review and keep track of my rank which has steadily improved. They even have "badges" that one can earn and I work to do that as well. Sure, I'm a grandma, but motivating prizes are still a good thing!

I currently have 162 verses memorized and I have my app set so that I review them all every month. (Longer than that and I start forgetting all but the most familiar!) It only takes me about 10 minutes each morning and the app tells me what verses I need to review each day.

Recently a group of us prayed daily for Muslims around the world during their month of Ramadan and we also read out loud together the New Testament (about the size of the Quran which they are to read through). I loved seeing the passages I had memorized in their larger context.

No one at BibleMemory has asked me to write about their app, but it has been such a help to me that I wanted to share it again! Remember, review is the key to truly hiding things in your heart, and this has been the "secret" to my recent success.

For more ideas about verse memorization for you and your kids see these articles:
A Memory Plan for Kids that my son and daughter in law used for several years

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

How to Attract Teenagers

I have a friend who extroverted, laid back, bold, a little sarcastic (in a good way), and generous. When her kids were in public high school and in college she wanted their friends at her house so she could know them, so she had an open house policy. LoriAnn says, "Our house was open to everyone. We'd rather them at our house [that way we could be] watching what's going on instead of at someone else's house with no one home."

The open home with plenty of food was where the kids wanted to be, even though some of her kids' friends had parents who were doctors and had huge homes. LoriAnn and her husband couldn't compete with that, but "We always kept drinks in the fridge, a stack of frozen pizzas and every snack/junk food you could think of. The kids would help themselves." 

Referring to the expense, LoriAnn says, "Did it cost? Yes. Was it worth it? Every penny. And I would do it again."

Her kids, two daughters and a son, are also outgoing and invited lots of friends over. How did she cope when she arrived home from work to fix dinner for a tableful? "Everyone has to pitch in. Don't have anything fancy for dinner. Have a couple of kids in charge of making, maybe, brownies. Someone setting the table. Someone in charge of drinks. They help out where it's needed. When it's a group effort, everyone has a good time."

They weren't shy about their faith. LoriAnn laughs, "All the kids would say to the newbies who came, 'Don't eat yet. No one has prayed.'" They knew this was how it was in the Smith household.

Some advice she has is to really get to know your kids' friends. "One thing I always told all three of my kids' friends was that they had to friend me on Facebook. You should have seen their faces! But they knew I was serious, so they did." As LoriAnn got to know them better she would sometimes talk to one or another to tell them that something she saw was inappropriate. Because of her love for them, "They would take it from me."

How do you get started? Not everyone has the same personality or will have the same rapport with teens, but LoriAnn says, "Maybe start by telling your kids they can each invite one friend over for dinner. Just bite the bullet and do it. You will never regret it!"

LoriAnn tells about the lasting results. "To this day some of the kids will come around. They will talk about how they learned to set a table. How to cook. Saw a real family. Most of my kids' friends call me Mama Smith to this day. I guess it wasn't all bad!"

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Getting Teens to Talk to You

My friend Peggy, from Washington state, says that when their boys were young teens "They had a habit of bolting down food and then saying, 'C'nibescuzed?'  My husband would always reply,  'No.  You can sit here and entertain us with bright conversation.'"

Can you relate? We had at least one teen in our house during 16 years and we learned a few things during that time. I wish we had put more into practice, but here is some of what we figured out along the way with a little help from my friends.

1. Be available to talk
I recognized how important this was when I was on vacation and sharing a bedroom with one of my daughters. I was exhausted and came into the room for a nap, but she was crying. I really wanted to ignore that and go to sleep, but I pushed past the tiredness and started talking--mostly listening--to her as she told me about her broken heart. Later she told me she felt so loved when I just listened. 

I asked Rachel, the grown daughter of friends of ours who now has five kids of her own, what her parents did to keep communication open as they were a model family for me. She said, "I feel like one or the other parent was home 95% of the time we as kids were home. My memories of communication as a teenager almost always involve me sitting on a stool in the kitchen while my mom made dinner, sharing my problems with her. She was just always available." (Emphasis mine.)

Several of my friends mentioned how doing some activity side-by-side rather than facing each other helped their kids open up. This could be anything from riding in the car to doing dishes. It just seems easier to open up when you don't make eye contact.

2. Listen without Criticism
Okay, so we didn't always do a great job on this, but we tried to bite our tongues. If you get them to express their thoughts, don't jump in and refute or tear down. It's amazing how often they perceive what we say as criticism--whether it is tone of voice or the way we word a question. And who wants to talk to someone who just picks apart their every opinion?

3. Minimize the rules
My favorite book that helped with this was Have a New Teenager by Friday by Kevin Leman (my favorite parenting author). He didn't spend a lot of time making rules, he just expected responsible behavior and, when necessary, brought out consequences when they didn't live up to that. Rachel said, "I don't remember my parents handing down many rules to us from middle school on; they seemed to address things on a situational basis. They made us responsible for our own choices...treating us as the adults we would become...and held us accountable for our actions (like the time I put a hot iron on the carpet, and then had to pay to replace it!)"

4. Be a Student of Your Teen's Interests
Because my husband is interested in airplanes and airlines, our sons developed the same interest. Whenever I flew somewhere alone one of them was sure to ask, "What kind of plane did you fly on?" My answer: "Um, two wings and enough engines to get us there." You can be sure that didn't win points.

Then I discovered that that safety card they always tell you to look at tells you what kind of plane you are on! So I made sure to memorize that and to take a minute to look around at the seat configuration--was it two on the left, three on the right, or a wide-body with two-four-two? 

I also listened more closely when the news had something about airplanes--a crash, a new plane unveiled, an airline merger. Anything thing that they would be interested in. That way I had something to ask them about like, "So what's up with the 737 Max?" 

You can do the same kind of investigation for whatever it is that interests your teen. 

5. Read What They Read (aka Watch What they Watch, Listen to What They Listen To)
You know that novel they have been complaining about having to read for the last two weeks? Have you ever read it? Check it out of the library and read it. Then ask questions about the book. (You might sneak a peak at Spark Notes and get some ideas.) Don't be their teacher, but if you are genuinely interested in what they think about the book, they will probably talk. Check out what they are reading just for fun, too. I'm a reader, so this came naturally to me.

Even if you think the show is inane, watch it with your kids and talk about it. If there are back stories you need to know, ask them for an explanation. After, ask "What is your favorite thing about this show?"

It wasn't so natural for me to listen to the music they listened to. I flat out didn't like some of it and was glad it was on earbuds. I could have done so much better here, finding out the words and listening with them. Kids think about the words more when listening through a parent's ears.

6. Invite Their Friends for Meals
When kids go to other people's houses they rise to the occasion in the politeness area. You can ask the guest a few questions about what they are doing, what's going on at school, the novel they are reading, and they'll answer even if your teen won't. This will give you information about your teen.

7. Volunteer to be the Carpool Mom
Another way to get your kids to talk is to listen to them talk to their friends--you can eavesdrop in a car without guilt!  You learn a lot, especially if you don't butt in with your opinion. This information enables you to ask questions later that might spark a conversation. Were they all complaining about a bad call by the ref at last week's game? At dinner you might ask, "What's everyone saying about that game-losing ref call Friday night?" and possibly follow up with, "What does it take to be a good ref?"

While questions are good, don't become the inquisition either. Ask open ended questions where they can express their opinions and cultivate an environment where they know they are free to express what they really think. 

8. Be supportive
Rachel told me, "Even when we were less communicative, or even when we made choices that they wouldn't have made, they continually showed us verbal and physical affection, and they celebrated our achievements and our personalities."

The daughter I listened to instead of napping called me on Mother's Day this year to say, "Thank you Mom for always being there and for never giving up on me."

Peggy's sons are now grown men who come for dinner every Friday night. Peggy encourages us, "Something must have worked because now, many years later, we enjoy their bright conversation."

For more ideas on this: check out another post with thoughts from other parents about how to talk to your teens, and deal with the information you get, here.

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Monday, May 6, 2019

7 Tips for Feeding LOTS of Teenagers

One day my husband and I were running some of the multitude of errands required when one lives in a third world country. In Bogota no bills could be paid by mail or online, each one required a personal visit to the office where the money was due. No one store carried everything (or nearly everything) you needed to live. Bread came from fragrant bakeries where it was baked several times a day, and was only fresh a few delicious hours. Milk was not pasteurized completely and went sour the second day, so had to be purchased daily. Nails and screws and light tools had to be bought in one part of town, sewing supplies in another. Furniture was downtown. Notebooks, printer paper, pens, and other office type supplies came from only a few stores--if they had them in stock. That particular (and not unusual) day we went out early to accomplish four errands that would take less than an hour in the small city where we live now, and found ourselves running past lunch and starving. We stopped at a restaurant to eat and ended up spending the equivalent of a whole day's food budget for the six so that just the two of us could not feel hungry. And the food wasn't even that good.

That's when we made the decision.

We decided we would bring sandwiches along, or go home for sandwiches, rather than eat out when the only thing we needed was food. That's probably not a typical point of view. But we both have a frugal DNA. I just couldn't see spending $10-15 each for lunch when I just needed a 50c sandwich from things I had at home. Eating out was for special occasions or when home was too far away.

That said, I soon discovered that there is a time to not skimp on food: 

When you feed your teenager's friends. 

Scrimp and save in every way you can, but don't hold back on feeding teens!

Yes, it gets expensive and, no, they probably don't appreciate the fact that it is costing you a lot of money. (I always got upset when they took food on their plates and soda in their glasses and left half of it.) But it's not worth being frugal. The idea is you want those kids in your house and food is a huge enticement. If you can offer lots of food (it doesn't have to be fancy, exotic, or expensive), they will come.

The other draw is being an honest to goodness family. Sadly many of the kids around our kids don't have that. My youngest even went to a small Christian school in the states for high school. One day she came home and told us that of the nine people on the student leadership team, she was the only one living with her biological mother and father! And multiply that by the non-Christian families in your average public school.

So yes, it is expensive, but if you want to be the house where they hang out and you know what they are up to and can have an influence, you need to budget for feeding them.

All hospitality is costly--in food bills, wear and tear on your furniture and house, chipped and broken dishes, and even missing toys, pens, pencils, books, and more valuable items. It can be frustrating and messy and thankless (at the moment) but it is very worth it.

I have a friend from church who had some very good ideas that she implemented when her now grown children were teens, that I will share with you in future posts, but today I want to give you some tips on how to make having this kind of food possible:
  1.  Put it in the budget -- If you need to, rework your budget to allow for feeding your teens and their friends. The amount depends on your ability. If you can afford to order in great, but if you your budget is more frozen pizza and store brand soda, do that. It's all food and that's what they are looking for.
  2. Make a way to store it -- if you are going the frozen pizza route, you need some freezer space. Cans of soda, pasta, jars of spaghetti sauce...whatever you are serving needs to be available at the moment you need it, so clear out some storage space.
  3. Don't worry about peer pressure -- Our kids' friends had TVs in their room, name brand clothes, and their parents took everyone out to eat at expensive restaurants. Peer pressure never bothered me in high school, but it did when my kids were in high school! Not because I had to live up to the others, but I was concerned about what my kids were thinking was important. (Spoiler alert: my kids have amazed me with their grown up lives!)
  4. Make the meal the activity -- Whether you ask them to pitch in and help or you have a taco bar, DIY sandwich, build your own potato, or top your own pizza, this will work out cheaper than ordering in, make it fun, and give them food they like, because they make it themselves.
  5. Teens don't mind not fancy  -- In fact, most of the time they probably prefer it. Paper plates and cups mean there's less clean up for you and for them and they just want to hang out together and eat.
  6. Make it easy on yourself -- Teens aren't impressed by beautifully displayed gourmet food, don't pressure yourself to serve it they way you might for your friends. Cartons on the table? Sure! Communal knife in the mayo? Why not? Two liter bottles of pop? Okay! Sure, some families can have individual brand name cans of soda and buy store produced food trays, but the teens aren't expecting a classy buffet. As I said, they just want to hang out and fill up.
  7. Offer your food cheerfully -- no need to apologize for quality, quantity or the state of your house. This is important. I have learned that whatever you do with confidence, you can pull off. So just make them feel welcome--like you really want them there--and they will come back.
Not everyone has the personality to be THE hangout place. some people can just make themselves a part of the group and others are more comfortable in the background. Some parents thrive on noise and activity and some like quiet. Some have others who live in the house to consider, a small place, or a personality that needs a certain amount of order. Don't kick yourself for not being like that other Mom. Do things according to your personality, your kids' personalities, your budget, and your abilities. 

I will talk more about specific things you can do in future posts, so come back to get the scoop!

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Noisy, Chaotic, Happy Family Meals

We recently enlarged our dining room.

Well, we opened up the area between our living room and eating area more so that we could fit more people in. You see, our table was made for six, or for eight or ten or even 12 when extended. But that was no longer big enough. 

Our oldest son got a job teaching at a university in our city and his wife and four children moved into town with him. That added six people to our in-town family. Then at Thanksgiving we went around the table each thanking God for one thing. But we stopped and started cheering when our other daughter-in-law said, “Thank you for my three healthy babies.” That meant number three was on the way! Our daughter who lives in Europe called last month to tell us that she and her husband are expecting number two--when they visit that’s four more people. 

So you can understand why we enlarged our “dining room”.

Sundays are family day. This started when my in-laws moved into a retirement community where they get dinner on weekdays, but not on the weekend. We switched from having them over on a weeknight to Sundays. Then we started including our son and daughter-in-law and of course our daughter. That was easy and we could even include others. As our family grew—grandchildren and also my parents moving to our town—the table got full. You know, that fun kind of chaos. So six more made the change we’d been talking about, and saving up for, inevitable. 

It had taken me years to come to the realization that losing a cupboard and four beloved drawers would not affect my ability to prepare meals and store the things I wanted to in the kitchen. I rearranged things and found I don’t really notice less cupboard space.

While we were still awaiting the finishing touches, we didn't have any furniture in place.

The renovations took a while, but it was worth it and we love the look. We love it that the family comes over on Sundays about twice a month for a big dinner. I love it that we all share in bringing the meal so it doesn’t fall on me and people get what they like. On a recent Sunday my seven year old granddaughter contributed for the first time, a very fancy pudding and berry parfait!

We want the family to be together so we changed our house configuration to make family meals more easily possible--noisy, chaotic, happy family meals.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Journaling Together in Family Devotions

I love looking at the creative Bible journaling that some women can do. Beautiful drawings around different passages of scripture illustrate what they have learned as they read these verses. They look lovely.

I have done spiritual journals over forty years. I have two boxes full of notebooks of every shape, size, and color filled with my scribbling of what I learned from the Bible on a given day. They aren’t beautiful to look at. There are crossed out words, words written between lines, writing up the side of the page. Margins are ignored. There are a few charts and graphs that helped me think through things, and on some pages I draw my standard daisy while I think or listen.

But it’s nothing someone would leaf through admiringly. I’m not even sure it’s something someone would want to read or even peruse. Sometimes one can find a story of how God is working or my ranting about some frustration or worry in life. In fact, I tried to read through them last year to save what was worth saving and toss the rest so that my children wouldn’t be burdened with that some day. However, I lost interest and the boxes sit in a closet instead of the attic now.

In spite of that, I strongly believe in the spiritual discipline of journaling what one is learning from God through His Word, prayer, and life. I love it that Nehemiah seemed to do this. The inspired part of his journal (I can’t help but think this wasn’t the only journal he kept) begins as though he expects someone to read it and be curious about the author. Later he explains his work with the king in Susa, Babylon. But other than that, it appears to be the reminiscences of someone who want to have a record of how God has worked in and through him.

After a bit of introduction to himself, Nehemiah just starts in:
So I was talking to my brother the other day and some of the other men who had come from Judah, and I asked them how things were going for the Jews who went back and are living there now.

It’s such a simple question. It may have been a way of making conversation, but it changed the course of his life and he wrote it down. The people in Judah were not doing well and were basically living in dangerous squalor. Then Nehemiah records how upset this made him. He wept. He fasted. He prayed.

I also love the way he inserts his prayers into the narrative. When I write so often it becomes a prayer, I usually don’t realize when I quit writing to figure things out and when I started talking to God about it. After Nehemiah pleads with God about the situation, he goes back to work, but the king realizes something isn’t right with Nehemiah and he asks him about it. Nehemiah was afraid, because you don’t act upset in front of the king. But he’s brave enough to tell the king what is bothering him. In direct answer to his prayer, the king says, “So what would you like me to do?” Nehemiah records that the first thing he did was shoot up an arrow prayer.

Later in the journal he breaks out into prayer, “Remember me, Oh God...” as he writes about what he has learned, how God has given him the encouragement to carry on, and the good and the difficult results.

Keeping a spiritual journal is a way of remembering how God has worked and how you have grown in your spiritual life. Our children can do this, too. After dinner clear the dishes off and present them each with a notebook you think they will like (or take them shopping and let them pick one out.) After your family devotions have them write (or draw) as many  of the items below as is age appropriate to begin learning this spiritual discipline.

Write about or draw something that happened today that is on your mind.

Write or draw something that affected or touched you from the Bible reading/story.

What is one thing you would like to learn more about from the story?

What from the story/passage reminds you of your own life?

Write down one thing you learned you should do, not do, change, start, or fix as a result of the Bible story/passage.

Tell God about what you thought about as a result of the lesson.

This can be a good way to start your own spiritual journal. Answer some simple questions about life and God’s Word and talk to Him about it.

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