Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Last Minute Family Valentine's Ideas!

I love Valentines!

Not only is it a day to remind us to show love, it is Jim's and my "Half" Anniversary! (We're celebrating 37 1/2 years of marriage this year!) With our kids, we celebrate family love and love to others more than romantic love on that day, but don't worry, we still keep plenty of romance in our marriage. Our now grown kids are well aware of our love for each other.




Here are some ideas for making the day a special day of giving love.

Secret Valentines (This is one of my favorites!)
When I was in college we had "Secret Heart Sisters" during Valentine's week. We all chose names from from a basket full of papers with our names and all week we were supposed to secretly express love to the girl whose name we had picked. I can remember wandering around the dorms trying to look nonchalant as I carried a large poster board heart in a hallway I had never ventured down before.

A couple of years we decided to do this with our family. Every evening during the week before Valentines, we chose names for the next day. We were supposed to be "good fairies" of love. Some of the things we secretly did for one another:
  • made their bed while they were in the bathroom
  • left a chocolate on their pillow
  • wrote a note telling them what we appreciated about them
  • bought a small gift for them
  • raced to do one of their chores before they got the chance
  • gave them a card
It was so fun to watch our children who normally squabbled, like kids in all families, trying to find ways to show each other love.

Family Love Day
Dottie, from Ohio writes: I usually make a special dinner and decorate the table nicely with a card at each person's place setting - some years it contains money, some years they may receive a gift such as an engraved "treasure chest" or engraved heart-shaped jewelry dish. I make a heart-shaped cake and then we usually spend the evening playing a game or watching a movie. This year we may  actually deviate from the "norm" since our kids are now 12 and 15 and go to a local church where two Christian groups are performing in concert. Either way, we will do something a as a family to spend time with each other as a reflection of our love for each other. 

Make Valentines Cards
Throughout most of our children's school years, we lived overseas where Valentine's Day was not celebrated, so there was no opportunity to run to the store and buy cheesy kids' Valentines. Since our children attended an American Missionary Kid school, the teachers still liked to celebrate Valentines Day, so we got creative. Now I'm a stamper and make all the cards I send out year round, but back then we folded red and pink paper in half and cut out hearts, made pop-up cards, cut heart-shaped windows into cards, stuck the stickers grandmas kept us supplied with onto cards, and even did origami cards. The best thing about this kind of card is that what you say to someone is so much more meaningful than a store-bought card.





Send Cards to Those Who Don't Expect Them
Every year I make about a dozen cards and we send them to widows and divorcees who don't have someone special to send them a card filled with love. At least two widows have told me that my card is the only Valentine's card they receive and they enjoy it so much. Who do you know that might need a small dose of love this year?

Tell Them Why You Love Them
I recently heard a guest on a radio program tell about her first year as single mom. She had no money for Valentines so she cut out paper hearts and put a mobile of them together for each child. Each mobile had the child's name on one heart and one attribute she loved about them on each of the others. She hung these from the kitchen ceiling late on February 13 so they saw them when they got up on Valentines'. The next year on the 13th they asked if she was going to do it again. Guess what she stayed up late doing? When a friend came over and asked what they were, her son said, "Oh my mom does that every year." A tradition was born! Have you told your kids what you love about them?

Tessa, in California, asked me, "How do you turn a holiday which is overpriced and focused on romantic evenings for two, into a family friendly celebration of love?" 
Tessa, I hope I showed you how a little creativity goes a long way in teaching our kids how to show love and think about others who need love. 





For more inspiring Valentine's ideas, click here.

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Meditating on Scripture

All my life I've heard about meditating on scripture, but I must confess that I have never done a very good job of it. I have been fairly consistent in spending time in the Word since I was 19 and went on a missions trip with Operation Mobilization. Our team leader made us spend an hour of quiet in the house each morning. Since I had never spent more than 20 minutes before that, I had to teach myself to fill that time. After two months, I realized that I had been having a long quiet time every day and had learned to enjoy it. "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8) came true in my life and I would say that I have spent some time with the Lord most of the days since then. (Not generally an hour--especially not when the children were little!)


















I also did some memory work. When I returned home from that trip, my home church had adult Sunday School classes which required a memory verse a week. I had memorized previously in the King James version as a child in Sunday School and children's Bible clubs. Now I chose the New American Standard Bible (NASB) for these verses. When we were new missionaries in Peru, I made an effort to relearn most of my verses in Spanish. Having already memorized them in English made it easier as I knew what the verse said. Later, in Colombia, several ladies and I made a pact to memorize scripture together and we were amazed at how it affected our prayer lives. Then more recently I have started memorizing again and using the Bible Memory app, I have been fairly consistent.

I tell you all this to say that despite what I was doing I was still not meditating. I was checking things off on a to do list: memorize, review, repeat. Even these last three years where I have been intentional about memorizing, I was not spending time thinking about what the verses meant and talking to God about them.

We all know how to meditate. You take a thought and turn it over and over in your mind, talk to God about it, ask Him questions about it, maybe complain about it, and think about it some more. We usually do this in the form of worry! That isn't very profitable.

I wanted to start doing that with scripture.

So I did two things to help myself:
  1. I decided that each Monday when I memorize a new verse I would use my quiet time to study out this verse, think about it, learn from it, and talk to God about it. Since I've started that, sometimes I have to continue into Tuesday.
  2. With the help of my son, I found an app that helps me meditate on scripture that I have started using every morning.
Using the app takes about 10 minutes and it has changed the way I think about God's Word, my ability to concentrate on God's Word, and given me greater peace of mind. The app I am using, called Christian Mindfulness, has the option of silence or several quiet music pieces playing in the background and the relative volume you want of music to speech. The man, with a pleasant British accent, first begins by encouraging breathing exercises to calm myself and focus my mind, first on my breathing and then on the scripture he reads, clearing away the distractions of daily life. 

After he reads the passage he goes back over it slowly focusing on key words and suggesting I repeat them to myself or think them through. I usually try to think about what that word means, what God is telling me. I might ask God what He wants me to learn from this verse, this word, today. I often have other verses come to mind that help me understand or view the truth from another angle. When I am done listening, I am calmer and take a moment to think about what God wants me to do today with what I learned.

I am an auditory learner so this is a great way for me to concentrate. For someone else, looking at the words and thinking or writing about the verse might be the best way. The principle is the same: look at the verse or short passage from many angles, turn it over in your mind, think about the meaning of key words or phrases, and ask God to help you understand in the light of the rest of scripture. I do write my thoughts during my quiet time, but, for me it becomes a "job" to get done. Inactive meditation has become a valuable means for me to connect with God that I have not been able to do before.

My verses for the year are Joshua 1:8-9:
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth,
but you shall meditate on it day and night,
so that you may be careful
to do according to all that is written in it;
for then you will make your way prosperous,
and then you will have success.
Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous!
Do not tremble or be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you
wherever you go.

This is my goal for this year and for life. And this is how I have started.

I believe you can teach your children to start meditating on scripture at a very young age. Read them a verse--maybe their memory verse for the week--then go back and read through it phrase by phrase while they listen. You could have them close their eyes so they think about it. Point out important words or phrases and ask simple questions like, "What is another word for _____?" or "What do you think God is telling us when He says, _____?" Get them to think about the truth of the verse and how it is used in a Bible story they know. Finally, ask them what God is telling them personally from the verse. What a great habit to start in your children of any age!

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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Books, Books, and More Books!

I am always reading a couple of books and listening to another. If I were smart, I would remember all I've read, but I feel like I come away with a "feeling" of what the book was about rather than a lot of facts and knowledge. This is important to me when we travel. I like to read books about or that take place in the places we will go for our ministry with Emmaus Worldwide so that I know a little something. As I read I absorb a bit of culture, history, and local conventional wisdom, or at least that's the goal.



That's what brought me to my first book this year (actually started
in December of last year): Apples are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared by Christopher Robbins. First of all, I had a laugh about the author's name because, you know, Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, too. For three weeks in January and February my husband and I will be on a ministry trip to Central Asia. One of the countries we will be visiting is Kazakhstan where we have friends who moved there last year to start a business.


Some of the things I learned are that Kazakhstan was never a country prior to 1991. Never. It had been invaded from East, West, North, and South. The people are related in genes and language to other Turkic peoples (like in Turkistan and, yes, Turkey), but because of the Mongols invading they look more east Asian. The first Russian rockets were launched from the "autonomous" region of Kazakhstan and nuclear bombs were tested in an area called Semipalatinsk which is more radioactive than Chernobyl. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was exiled there for a few years, but later fought against Kazakhstan becoming an independent country. And finally, after independence they had only one president for 30 years and he just retired. And apples probably do come from Kazakhstan where one can still find apple trees growing in the wild. So, apparently, I did learn some things!

I also love reading the stories of real people and the things they do. So often as I read and try to put myself in their shoes, I think about
how I could never do the things they have done. Sometimes, when I read about Christians persecuted for their faith, I pray, "Lord, never let me deny You. You know what I can handle. Never give me more than that." On my list of books to read is a book we gave to my father-in-law for Christmas: God's Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance by Andrew Brunson, the pastor who was imprisoned in Turkey for 735 days. My father-in-law read it in two days. Although I snuck a preview of the first chapter, I'm saving it for when we get back from our trip to Central Asia.


In the category of both our trip and biography, I have the book Benazir Bhutto by Brooke Allen I just started this, and so far it is interesting and not just a syncophantic book about a fearless woman in a difficult position. This is one of the books I got from Amazon Kindle Unlimited. For Christmas, I gave my mother six months of Kindle Unlimited. Since we share the same Kindle account, I benefit from this too. Actually, as I have perused the books available, I have been somewhat disappointed. The kind of books I enjoy are not readily available, but my mom's Christian fiction is, so she's enjoying it. 


In addition to reading, I love listening to books when doing mundane housework or driving the car. I have been able to listen to
some enjoyable books from the Kindle Unlimited selection: Where the Desert Meets the Sea: A Novel by Werner Sonne about the founding of the nation of Israel. From my point of view it was very even handed showing the hardships that time held for both the Jews and the Palestinians. I'd recommend it. Another was Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin. This is a novel based on a true event of the Turkish Ambassador or Consul to France during WWII providing a train for Turkish citizens to get back to Turkey safely. The thing
was, there were Turkish Jews and non-Turkish Jews in that train. The latter group had been given false passports to save their lives. It was only one overloaded train carriage of people, but some were saved. I had never heard of that and found it very interesting. 


I also listened to the true story of Masaji Ishikawa (apparently a pen name)--A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea. It is a sad story. Interestingly he talks about the many times
he has been "born again"--either started an entirely new life or was rescued from death--but sadly, he has not been born again into faith in Jesus Christ. As I finished the book I found myself praying that he would come to Christ for salvation.


Through my library I've also listened recently to the Yada Yada series by by Neta Jackson and the Mitford Series by Jan Karon (which I had read when they first came out in the 90s). Although I'm not normally a fan of Christian fiction, I found these books encouraging to my prayer life.

Finally, other books I have going are The Story of the King: Kingdom Without End by Paul Bramson. This is the first book in the Mile Marker Series by Emmaus Worldwide. It is so well written and simple yet deep! My prayer for this year is that I will be able to go through this with a non-Christian. And I am slowly going through an old book, Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray, originally published in 1864. My copy of this book has an inscription to my mother-in-law:

To Helena 
Christmas 1950
with love, 
Joann
May you enjoy this as much as I have

The book is divided up into thirty-one daily readings to learn about and how to put into practice what it means to abide in Christ, one of the goals of my life. I don't have time to read one everyday during my devotions, but I want to go through it meditatively. 


These are nineteen or more books (counting each book in the two series) I can recommend to get you started reading this year! I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do and I would love to hear your recommendations to put on my list of future reading!
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As always, I think reading to your kids from good books is a great connection builder, values teacher, and education stimulater. Of these books I would definitely think you could read to your middle aged kids (8-15) the story of Andrew Brunson. What a great way to teach them about their faith and how to stand up for Christ no matter the cost! The Story of the King would work wonderfully as devotions with children as young as 5 on up. Just do a couple of paragraphs a night and use the questions at the end of the chapter to spark discussion. Some of the others might be good, too, but read them first so you can filter any scenes you might not want to expose young children to.

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For more of my book suggestions click here.


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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Why Kids Need to be Taught Right


Years ago I was subbing as a para-professional in a middle school when the student I was helping flew into a temper tantrum when we arrived at a class he didn't like. As a sub, I was asked to step away and they called in a counselor to deal with him. Eventually the rest of the students were moved into the hallway so the counselor and one misbehaving student could have privacy. Not knowing exactly what was expected of me, I watched the scene (and it was a scene!) through the classroom window. That’s when another regular para came up beside me and whispered, "His parents have never made him do anything he didn't want to. They have never taught him what is right." 



I have to admit that I was thinking the same thing, but I was surprised she would voice it in a public school. I pondered what "teaching what is right" had to do with "doing things you don't want to do.”  Then it struck me, we often have to do something we don't want to do -  whether it is homework, taking out the garbage, cleaning up after someone's vomit, or saying, "I'm sorry.”  But these things are the “right thing” to do.

Why should we do what is right? And why should we want to do what is right? The short answer is, because of God. We are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). We are exhorted by Paul in Ephesians 4:24,  “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (NIV) God placed in us a knowledge of right, or righteousness, to do what is right because we are made in His image, in His likeness. But the knowledge He placed there has been corrupted by sin in the world and in our lives, so doing what is right now has to be learned; it is no longer our natural bent.

How can we get back to the foundation for knowing what is right? Again, the short, and definitive, answer is God. Of course we can't measure up completely to the holiness and righteousness of God, but we can use it as our measuring stick. One definition of the Greek word often translated "righteous" in our English Bibles is "straight." This gives me the mental picture of God being an absolutely straight line against which I need to measure my behavior. He is our unbending standard.

There is an absolute right, just as there are things that are absolutely wrong. We need to teach this to our children so that they will do what is right. But the reason they should want to do what is right is because God is righteous. God wants us to imitate Him. He has made us in His image and wants us to emulate His character. This means more to Him than any possible sacrifice we could make for Him. "To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3)

If you think about it, sometimes doing what is right is a huge sacrifice to our own desires and pride, even if it is as simple as picking up the paper that missed the trash can. Our children need to be taught "right" because God is righteous. If they learn about God, then they are learning what is right. Sometimes they miss the God lesson and we do need to "make them do it even if they don't want to,” because it is right.  If we teach them this, then when they are older, they will know the right thing to do and the reason for doing it, and hopefully they will choose to do right as well.

Our children are watching us to see if we have learned to live out God’s right. If they see it in us, they are more likely to make the right choices when we aren’t telling them to. I remember my dad often giving extra change back to cashiers when he had calculated faster and more accurately than they. He exemplified right by not taking what was not his. Once as a teenager I made plans with an acquaintance when a good friend called. She offered me an extra concert ticket to see my favorite Christian artist. I was tempted to dump my first commitment and go. But then I remembered that she who walks in integrity and righteousness “swears to their own hurt and does not change.” (Psalm 15:4) I missed the concert, but was learning the lesson.

These days we attend the same church as our sons and their families and I’m proud to see them faithfully bringing their families to church, midweek meetings too, and watching them train up their children in what is right in a better way than my husband and I parented them.

God is righteous. We bring Him glory by behaving in His image, by doing right. Our example will prompt others to seek to be more like Him as well. 

That’s right!




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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Why Kids Need to Be Taught Wrong


"I don't see what good it is sitting on a chair for two minutes. My dad just talked to me until I realized something was 'stupid.' Then I didn't do it any more,"  said a young father I was talking with about how he thought he should raise his daughter. I had suggested that wrong actions should have consequences, and he didn’t agree. Do you? I watched as he followed his father's example of using hundreds of words, where I thought a simple explanation and some action (such as a time-out) would have far more effect in the short term and, especially, in the long run. 

I mentally reacted negatively to his plan, but at first I didn't realize why. Then I started thinking about it.

“Stupid” means showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense, such as: When someone acts without any self control, like flying off the handle and hitting a store clerk over a simple mistake. Or acting confident in their own ignorance, like cheating on a test and copying wrong answers as well as correct ones. Or just absentmindedly driving away from a gas pump without taking the nozzle out of their tank opening. These are things people consider "stupid". But are they only stupid? Or is there wrong, and even sin, in some of these actions?  

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A short definition of “wrong” is unjust, immoral, or dishonest. I think it might be easier to give examples of what doesn't make something “right or wrong.” What if the majority of people think something is right? Is that the deciding factor? Is that what makes it right? There are remote societies where cannibalism is still accepted. Is it right or wrong? How about if something is legal? In some countries it is legal for a husband to beat his wife. Right or wrong? A person might argue that they didn't know their action was wrong. Is a person who drives at 50 mph in a 25 mph zone, but didn't know the speed limit, wrong? What about changing values? It was considered wrong, even illegal, for a man or woman to sleep with someone who was not their spouse throughout history until about 50 years ago. As we have been exposed more and more to this behavior, it has not only come to be accepted, but even considered "right". A person who remains a virgin until marriage is considered "sexually immature." Most of you reading this post will agree with me that these behaviors are wrong, and not just stupid.

Why do I argue in favor of teaching a child what is wrong?  Because after thinking it through for a while, I realized that "stupid" and "wrong" are very different. Some things, some actions are wrong. The Bible differentiates right from wrong. God has a moral code and has given us precepts of right and wrong. In fact, God has instilled in humans a self-awareness of right and wrong. The Bible calls it conscience. The same young man I was talking to does not believe in abortion. “Why not?” I asked him. “Because it is not right. I have no right to take the life of another.” Good answer. But it just put him in my camp!

If we don't teach our children that sometimes what they are doing is wrong, how will they learn about sin? And if they don't understand sin and its consequences, why would they ever need a Savior? Simultaneously, teaching them what is “right” reveals to them the nature of God who gives us the ability to imitate Him - be right - or become the “righteousness of God” if you want to delve into theology, 2 Cor.5:21. Teaching a child “right” and “wrong” from a young age and the respective positive and negative results will prepare the child for a wonderful life. 


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