Cow Pies and Sisters

By Jennifer Slattery10-20-15 a

Have you ever had those moments when you did something, then stood back, mouth agape, wondering what in the world had motivated you to do it? My entire childhood was filled with those jaw-dropping, wide-eyed moments because I had tendency to act before my brain caught up with my hands, feet or whatever body part I’d set in motion.

For a chunk of my childhood, I grew up in the country, surrounded by farms and cattle. We lived in a story-and-half yellow house located along the side of a long, two-lane highway, about five miles or so from town.

One afternoon, my sister and I crossed under the barbed wire fence that separated our property from the dairy farm next to us to pick blackberries for jam. Our parents must have sent us out on assignment, because the two of us rarely hung out together, unless forced. (She was older; and I was the younger, annoying tag-along. I’m sure you can relate, regardless of which side of that relationship you grew up on.) You’d think, considering how rare my time with my sister was and how much I’d craved it, I’d be on my best behavior. Or at the very least, determined not to be my annoying self.

But that would’ve required more forethought than my 11-year-old brain possessed. At least, at that moment, when my gaze zeroed in on that big, flat, dry cow pie only inches from my feet. As I reached for it, I can honestly tell you nothing, and I mean nothing, went through my mind.

Other than, “Throw this at your sister.”

Maybe I was trying to simulate a snow fight, I don’t know.

You know where this is going, right? Yes, I really did pick that cow pie up, with my bare hands, and then, I pulled my arm back, swung it forward, and released my grip.

And then stared, mouth agape, as the dried refuse flew straight at my sister.

Had I really just done that?

Um…  yeah.

Would you be impressed to learn the cow pie made contact?

With my sister’s face?

Yeah, she wasn’t, either, and she showed me just how unimpressed she was, when she fisted her hand, pulled back her arm, then released it, her knuckles making contact with my nose.

Neither of us left the pastures happy that day, although I will tell you, it was the last time I hurled dried cow poop!

Can you relate? Which side of the relationship did you grow up on—the always annoyed (and at times, covered in cow manure) older sibling or the unthinking, annoying younger child? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

10-20-15 bJennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. She also writes for, Internet Café Devotions, and the group blog, Faith-filled Friends. When not writing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband. Visit with Jennifer online at and connect with her on Facebook at

Her latest book is Intertwined. Abandoned by her husband for another woman, Tammy Kuhn, an organ procurement coordinator, often finds herself in tense and bitter moments. After an altercation with a doctor, she is fighting to keep her job and her sanity when one late night she encounters her old flame Nick. She walks right into his moment of facing an unthinkable tragedy. Because they both have learned to find eternal purposes in every event and encounter, it doesn’t take long to discover that their lives are intertwined but the ICU is no place for romance….or is it? Could this be where life begins again?

Sex and Our Kids

I recently spoke with Cindy Pierce, sex educator, college speaker, and author of Sexploitation: Helping Kids Develop Healthy Sexuality in a Porn-Driven World, out now, about how to help our kids navigate the often sticky world of sex.CindyPierce

When should parents start the “sex” conversation with their kids?
Cindy: Doctors recommend that parents talk to kids about sexuality between the ages of five and seven (around first grade). But when the time comes, parents often get so nervous that they talk themselves out of it. A common excuse parents use is: “I learned about sex in school in fifth grade, so I’ll wait a few years or at least until they ask a question.” The digital age is what makes it necessary to initiate these conversations earlier than previous generations.

In the United States, the average age a boy first looks at porn in eleven. If your kid has access to a smartphone or a computer, it’s guaranteed that he will be exposed to some form of sex before too long. Regardless of how much you monitor their phone and lock down on privacy settings, information about sex is widely available through a few clicks of a Google search. The question is: Do you want the Internet to teach your kids about sex, or do you want to teach them?

Don’t hesitate to start having conversations about sexuality with your kids early and often. Let go of the idea that it will be one talk. These conversations may be awkward and uncomfortable, but it gets easier with practice. If you demonstrate to your kids that you have the courage to get to the other side of awkward, you will set the foundation for a new level of trust and understanding. Your kids will be more comfortable having conversations about sex with you in the future and will be more likely to come to you with questions and concerns. The reason you want to talk to kids early and often is to help them develop healthy ideas around sexuality and relationships before being exposed to what the culture serves up.

Sexploitation-strokeHow should we as parents address media portrayal of sex with our kids?
Cindy: Take advantage of every opportunity to talk to your kids about sexuality in the media, from movies to music to magazines. With the rise of mobile devices, kids mostly consume media on their own. As they get into their teens, watching movies or TV as a family happens less often. Create opportunities to watch shows or music videos together. Be proactive and point out the messages the media is sending. Bring up things like sexism, violence, and rape—point out to kids that these are not healthy portrayals of sex.

I am not very restrictive about sex scenes in movies as long as they are somewhat realistic, but I am restrictive about comedies that make light of racism, homophobia and sexism. These ongoing conversations are about respect. One day, my son and I were driving in the car and the song, “Sexual Healing” came on. His comment? “Now I get it. You don’t mind sex in music as long as it is respectful.”

Bingo. Redirect your kids to healthy portrayals of sex. Asking kids what they think about the messages in certain songs, advertisements or movies is a great way to get them to start thinking for themselves and to help them develop a more critical eye.

What can we do when our children have been exposed to unhealthy portrayals of sex (porn, video games, movies, lyrics, etc.)?
Cindy: This is why I would rather have kids know about healthy sexuality early on, rather than backpedal after they have been exposed to unhealthy portrayals of sex. If you’ve missed the window of opportunity to talk to your kid about healthy sexuality, and your fourth grader comes home from school and asks you about Fifty Shades of Grey or “blumpkins,” your best option is to redirect them to more healthy scenarios. Then you can go back to their original question and explain that most people don’t have sex that way OR it’s a term that sometimes people throw around to be funny or gross.

Being the primary sexuality educator for your kid means being ready at all times. The moment you show any sort of discomfort or avoid answering their question, I can guarantee that they will go right to Google or a misinformed friend to find out the answer. Furthermore, you’ll lose that connection of trust with your kid. You want to let her know that you encourage her curiosity and that she can always come to you with questions. Once you’ve talked about healthy sexuality, you can always refer back to it when uncomfortable questions come up.

A Sibling Saga

By Gail Kittleson

I suppose if you knew me, you’d wonder why I’d volunteer to write about tender brother and sister moments with my five siblings. Our family’s had its share of conundrums and challenges to conquer.

Family triumph comes hard—you’ve got to scoop away all the angst and drama from the past until the gem beneath it shines through. One of my sisters and I had a squabble that might have derailed our relationship. But I’m so glad to say that with time, my sister and I have managed to find that nugget.

The problem was so many emotions got in the way. Expectations, too. And hurt.

Reading a little book a few years ago helped me a lot. At first, I thought it was too New Age-y. But the more I read, the more I felt a heavy veil lift.

The short volume, The Four Agreements, might not sit well with some Christians, and I understand—been there, done that. But when it comes to practical help, the author lays it out in spades.

Two agreements stood out to me: Always do your best, and Don’t take it personally. The first comes naturally to me. Of course I do my best—I care so much what people think, why wouldn’t I? Like many folks, I’m prone to wear myself out doing better than my best.

9-15-15 author Taking things personally fits right in, too. Of course I take things personally, especially when they hit emotional buttons that drive me crazy. I’m betting my siblings would agree.

But out of five of us, only three remain. That’s sobering, no matter how much trouble one of them caused. Two out of five—less than great statistics, unless you’re talking home-runs per at-bats.

We only get one time up to bat in this life. If I were in charge, I’d create a double track. You get to learn how to live, then you get to play it out on life’s stage. Not how it works.

Like I said earlier, I’m glad my sibling and I worked through our painful experiences and came out on the other side wiser, more apt to give the benefit of the doubt, and less quick to form conclusions. And not take things so personally.

Don’t get me wrong, this attitude alteration isn’t easy, and the change doesn’t occur over night. But if you commit to it and stick with it, this seemingly simple change makes a huge difference. I wish I’d discovered it years ago, decades ago.

Because I finally did, I can face the rest of what life hands me in tandem with my sibling rather than at odds. We learn through all of this. Right?

And that agreement I’ve made with myself—not to take things personally—fortifies me. It’s actually a facet of the beauty lying under our family dilemmas. Remember that gem I mentioned?

When our children were young, we searched for rubies on the backside of Mount Rushmore. Sometimes we had to dig a little, after someone showed us what to look for. Those tiny, dirty pebbles weren’t much to see at the start, but scraping and cleaning brought out their sparkle.

Every family has such treasures, however much scrubbing and rubbing it takes to reveal the shine. It’s the old pearl in the oyster syndrome.

Learning not to take things personally equals scrubbing. So does letting the outcome go once you’ve done your best. A side benefit is, all this experience helps me with my novel characters—after all, none of them are perfect, either.

What are some of your similar sibling stories?

About Gail Kittleson
Gail writes from northern Iowa, where she and her husband enjoy gardening and grandchildren. Her memoir, Catching Up With Daylight, paved the way for fiction writing, and she’s hooked for life.9-15-15

Her debut novel, In This Together, releases soon. After World War II steals her only son and sickness takes her husband, Dottie Kyle begins cooking and cleaning at the local boarding house. The job and small town life allow her to slip into a predictable routine, but her daughters and grandchildren live far away, and lonelin
ess is Dottie’s constant companion when she’s not working. Al Jensen, Dottie’s long-time neighbor, has merely existed since his wife died. Al passes his time working for his son at the town’s hardware store. However, he still copes with tragic memories of serving in WWI. Being with Dottie makes him happy, and their friendship grows until, for him, love has replaced friendship. When Dottie’s daughter has health issues, will Al’s strength and servant’s heart be enough to win Dottie’s love and affection? Can Dottie’s love for her family enable her to face her fear of crowds an d enclosed spaces and travel halfway across the country to help the daughter who so desperately needs her?

 Tips on Raising Do-Gooders

They say that children are inherently compassionate and have a natural tendency to share, which is perfect for parents who want their children to grow up to be empathetic, charitable adults who make a conscious effort to positively contribute to society. While charities and nonprofits benefit from children and teens’ generosity and effort, philanthropy also has been scientifically proven to improve a child’s development. President and founder of Dollar Smart Kids Enterprises, Inc. Nancy Phillips explains that once your children see that they have the capacity to help others, whether it be in their community or across the globe, they’ll realize that they possess the power to make a positive difference in the world, boosting their self-esteem and self-confidence.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are a couple tips in guiding your children to become philanthropists.

Happy family encouraging giving at a donation center
Happy family encouraging giving at a donation center

Introduce them to charities early on. The best time to start talking about donations and giving is between the ages of three to five, or their formative years. This is when you can discuss the importance of money and how it can help others, even if they aren’t old enough for an allowance.

Help children that are similar in age as your own. Volunteering at an orphanage, helping students at an afterschool program, or even exposing them to child sponsorships in war-torn countries will allow your kids to imagine themselves in the impoverished or at-risk children’s shoes, therefore developing a deeper understanding of the world’s injustices.

Get friends and family involved. To make volunteering a more enjoyable experience, turn it into an opportunity for family bonding or invite your children’s friends along. As parenting expert and educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba said, “The more people in the group, the more energy they have to make a difference.”

Plan a volunteer vacation. Author of Raising Charitable Children Carol Weisman suggests that families use their time off with a volunteer vacation so that the whole family can dedicate a good amount of time for a good cause while also being productive and spending quality time with the family.

When Siblings Provide Life’s Balance

By Jake Byrne

Balanced Line – a balanced line consists of five linemen. The center is positioned in the middle with a guard and tackle on either side. A tight end can be added to either side, making that side of the line the strong side.

I was two years old when I saved my sister’s life. (I’m not sure if I actually remember the incident or just the story that was told to me.) Baby Betsy, seated in her rolling activity walker, was headed straight for the open basement door. I rushed toward her, grabbed the back of the walker, and screamed for my mom. I’d reached her just as the walker, balanced on the edge of the top step, threatened to crash down to a cement floor.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).51bkshxQaxL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

A balanced line is just as important in life as it is in football. You need to keep a balanced life, but sometimes you need added strength—someone who cares—much like adding a tight end to make your strong side.

Grabbing hold of Betsy’s walker, and using my toddler strength to hold her in balance, kept her from crashing down the stairs. But since then, my sister has often been the strong side for me, keeping me in balance. As kids, whenever the story was told about my saving her, she would claim she saved me by teaching me how to pretend.

Most of our growing-up years were spent in the boonies, and being only 18 months apart, we were best friends. Betsy and I would play for hours with her Barbies and my G.I. Joe. (I refused to play with Ken, but Joe may have served Barbie tea beside her pink pool a time or two.)

“Pretend this, Jake,” she would say. Always the pragmatic, serious big brother, I needed Betsy’s sassy-but-easygoing personality to balance me. As teenagers and beyond, her feminine perspective helped me in my relationships, and my masculine viewpoint helped her (when she would listen to me).

You probably won’t be called to actually lay down your life for someone, but pulling each other out of a bad spot by being the strong end, or just stepping up to serve another, makes for a balanced life. And being balanced keeps us steady on the path toward our goals.

—Excerpted with permission from the devotional First and Goal – What Football Taught Me About Never Giving Up (Harvest House Publishers) by Jake Byrne.


Jake and his wife, Emma.
Jake and his wife, Emma.

Jake Byrne grew up in Rogers, Arkansas. A type 1 diabetic since the age 14, he has since been proactive combating the disease and mentoring diabetic    youth. He played football for the University of Wisconsin as a tight end, and went on to compete in the NFL. Originally an undrafted free agent who signed  with the New Orleans Saints in 2012, he has also been a Houston Texan, Kansas City Chief, and San Diego Charger. Currently, Jake and his wife, Emma,  live in Dallas. Visit him online at,, @sugarfreejb82 or Instagram Jakebyrne81.

Overcoming Sibling Rivalry

Overcoming Sibling Rivalry

By Mary L. Hamilton

A favorite family story recalls the torment inflicted on our youngest brother. His white-blonde hair, sparkly blue eyes and wide, toothy smile melted hearts everywhere we went, but of course, the rest of us thought he was spoiled. We took every opportunity to impress on him his lack of status in the family hierarchy.

The school pictures Mother displayed on the fireplace mantel came in gray cardboard frames that were open on three sides, making it easy to slip the pictures in and out. I’d pull out my brother’s picture and slide it back in upside down–or even backwards so only the white showed. It never failed to upset him.

Sibling rivalry was alive and well between us back then, but somewhere along the way, I developed a deep affection and admiration for my youngest brother. Those childish jealousies and ill feelings don’t have to grow with us into adulthood, haunting our relationships forever. With my siblings and my own children, I believe three actions helped promote a sense of camaraderie rather than rivalry.

  1. Laugh together. Keep a sense of humor. Whenever our daughter used the bathroom, our youngest son liked to crouch outside the door and pretend to place a fast food order in the air space beneath the door. It deeply irritated her, but we often explained to her how funny it was to see her little brother on his hands and knees saying, “Cheeseburger!” under the door. Now, the mere utterance of the word sends us all into gales of laughter.
  2. Encourage and recognize thoughtfulness. Whether the kids are sharing a cookie, finding a lost toy or giving a spontaneous hug, the simplest acts of kindness can be used to point out “What a nice brother!” or “See how much your sister loves you!” Such phrases not only help children see what love looks like, they also encourage more such acts of kindness and giving.
  3. Recognize each child’s personal strengths. Rarely are two children equally gifted in the same area, and their interests or gifts are usually identifiable at an early age. At 18 months, our athletic oldest son was bobbing a basketball in the toilet, and our youngest figured out how to get on the Internet in the early days when it was new and required several steps. Our daughter’s servant heart became obvious through her continual pretend game of waitressing. Sometimes, it’s difficult for children to see where they excel, especially when it’s not always in subjects taught at school or on a sports team. Pointing out your children’s unique gifts and strengths dampens the temptation to compete with each other.

In my parents’ home, graduation pictures hung on the wall eventually replaced those school pictures on the mantel. Today, there are few people I’d rather spend time with than my siblings. We still laugh about finding those graduation pictures mysteriously hanging upside down—all except the one showing the teen with the sparkly blue eyes and the wide, toothy grin.

7-21-15   Mary L. Hamilton grew up at a youth camp in southern Wisconsin, much like the setting for her Rustic Knoll Bible Camp series. While raising her own three        children, she was active in her church’s youth ministry, including serving as a camp counselor for a single week (once was enough!). Mary is an award-winning    writer, a graduate of Long Ridge Writer’s Group and a member of ACFW. When not writing, she enjoys knitting, reading and being outdoors. Connect with Mary  on her website: and on Facebook:

The Lettuce Contest

By Carole Brown

I was a 1½ older than my brother so being “the boss” came natural . . . or maybe I was just the “pushy” type. Whatever the case, we were constantly striving to better the other.

One of our craziest competitions was The Eating Contest. No, we didn’t pig out at the table and no, we didn’t hog down all the candy we could find. Our contests were much healthier for the body, if not the spirit.

We had cabbage, banana and other veggie-eating contests but our favorite was the iceberg lettuce contest. At the given signal, we’d see who could wolf down the most lettuce. Since it’s largely water and we both liked it, it wasn’t a hard task. I dare say Mama and Daddy rolled their eyes a few times, sighed and wondered how they’d spawned such creatures, but it was fun and good for us. Innocent competitive fun that taught us a few things:

  • Fun can be had in the simple things of life. Parents should watch for activities all enjoy doing and encourage their participation together. Especially push (casually) for educational and simple activities like puzzles, building, exploring nearby and vacation places, walks, community activities, etc. Join in if possible and let them set the pace but be ready to negotiate compromises between especially competitive siblings.
  • Competition is a healthy activity as long as it’s done in fun and fairness. Though it may sound like a drag to a child or teenager, rules and boundaries are important. Make sure all understands the rules and that it’s for their benefit and happiness.
  • Sometimes you lose and sometimes you win. No one wins all the time and no one loses all the time. One thing is important for children to learn early in life, is that not everyone is good at everything. Take note of what each of your children does well–in play or chores–and encourage them through praise. Those who are more daring might want challenges in new opportunities. Allow this within reason. Others feel safer and happier in their routine activities and fun exercises. Don’t discourage them if they hold back from participating in activities with which they’re uncomfortable. Learn to discern whether it’s from genuine interest or a lack of confidence and be prepared to boost them if needed.

Most of all laugh, love and guard your children with vigilance. Stand firm with your wisely chosen rules but be flexible when it comes to healthy choices for fun. You won’t regret it and your children will be mentally healthier.

CaroleAug14 (14) croppedAbout Carole Brown
Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. She loves to weave suspense and tough topics into her books, including The Denton and Alex Davis Mystery series and With Music in Their Hearts, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons? Connect with her at

You may check out her books at