Family Tree Treasures

By Susan G Mathis

I’d just put my baby and toddler down for their naps when the phone rang. It was Mom, calling to chat. A few minutes into the conversation, she said, “Today is the anniversary of your dad’s death.”

Since he died three months before I was born, I asked her to tell me more. That day, she shared how he became a Christian just ten hours before he died. For me, this became a treasure in my family tree. One day, I’ll meet my father in heaven, and that will be a glorious day!

From this experience and more, I wrote my debut novel, The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy, loosely based on my family’s story. It’s about an 1850s Irish immigrant and a 21st-century single mom who are connected by faith, family and a quilt.

In most of our family trees, there are beautiful branches of faith, limbs that appear gnarled and confusing, and new growth that struggles for life. But all of the lives in our family tree are precious to the Lord, the creator of life.

Grandma Graham was my dearest companion growing up. Her strong faith in the Lord, her steadfast trust in Him, her constant devotion to serving God and family taught me a lot during the 13 years she was in my life. She laid a firm foundation for helping me know who God is and why we are here on this earth.

My brother Paul struggled to live for the first two years of his life. Seizures attacked him daily, and he was in the hospital more than he was home. It was hard to understand why my baby brother had to struggle so, but today he’s a productive man who loves God and cares for our mother.

In every family tree there are shining lights, confusing lives and heartache. Too often we are so busy that it is hard to dig out the treasures buried deep in the stories of each life. Whether those stories are ones of miscarriage, infant illness, childhood tragedies, or long productive lives, there is a sacredness that every human life carries with them. It may be from a glimpse of a baby on an ultrasound or a struggling life who knew challenges that no one should have to deal with. It may even be self-imposed addictions that ravage a person but he somehow overcomes.

God sees and knows, and our stories are important to Him. We have the opportunity to redeem our story and those in our family tree. We can look at the beauty of each life and see God’s redemption, even in the most broken lives. Digging out these treasures and passing on your family story can heal deep hurts, redeem ugly memories, and change our lives.

About Susan G. Mathis
Susan G Mathis is a versatile writer and author of The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy. Susan has two Tyndale nonfiction books, Countdown for Couples: Preparing for the Adventure of Marriage and The ReMarriage Adventure: Preparing for a Life of Love and Happiness. She is also the author of two published picture books, Lexie’s Adventure in Kenya: Love is Patient and Princess Madison’s Rainbow Adventure. For more on Susan, visit her website.

Slowing Down the Extracurricular Activity Freight Train

Q: I’m trying to put a slow down on the extracurricular activities by asking my kids to choose one or two. How much input should they be allowed in deciding which ones? For example, I think they need to be on the swim team this summer, but they are complaining about having to get up too early. I believe this is important because we spend several weeks at the ocean every summer and being strong swimmers to me is a safety thing. This seems like laziness rather than lack of interest.

On the other hand, my 12-year-old daughter wants to try out for a play that rehearses for several months and the actual show runs for three consecutive weekends, all of which I will be required to drive her to. I’m feeling guilty and selfish because I don’t want to do it. I know you’re not one to force kids to do extracurricular activities if they are not interested. Where do I draw the line?

A: This is a great question, one that we all struggle with as parents, especially because of how many activities with which our kids could be involved. You have a couple of questions here, so let me address the one about feeling guilty and selfish for not wanting to drive your tween to play practice first.

My favorite story from the book, Bringing Up BeBe, about an American raising kids in France is this one. The author asks one of her French friends about how the friend’s daughters’ tennis lessons are going. The Frenchwoman replies that they’ve quit the lessons. The author asks why, and the Frenchwoman says matter-of-factly: “Because it wasn’t working out for me.”

I love that quote because it sums up exactly what you’re saying—the tennis lessons, while possibly very worthwhile for those French girls, were not good for the mother. This Frenchwoman didn’t feel guilty or selfish for stopping something her girls enjoyed doing. She understood that sometimes, it’s better for a child to stop doing something for the sake of the mother (or family or father or siblings).

So if you’re going to be worn out with driving your tween to rehearsal and the performances will impact your family in any kind of negative way, then it’s perfectly fine for you to say no to this activity. Alternatively, you could say yes if the tween finds her own rides to rehearsals, with the understanding that you’ll attend one performance only.

Now, as to whether to make your kids be on the swim team. Yes, swimming is a vital life skill for kids to learn. Can they learn it apart from being on the swim team? Probably, as I imagine your pool offers lessons (or group lessons, which would be less expensive). If lessons aren’t feasible, you can sign them up and just inform them that they will be swimming this summer. We’ve not given our kids a say in whether or not they take piano lessons, even though they grumble at times about practicing.

Going forward, you can say they can do one activity per season or semester (September to December or January to May, for example). Or you can simply give a list of the activities for choosing, depending on the family’s and your schedule. Don’t be afraid to say no to any activities for a set length of time if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. That’s okay too.

The bottom line is that activities should fit in with the overall family’s life, not just cater to one child. Saying no because it doesn’t suit your schedule is perfectly reasonable. If more moms would take care to how activities, sports and other events impacted their well-being, I think the world would be a little bit calmer—I know most households would be!

All We Need Is Love?

Note: On the fourth Tuesdays, I’m starting a new blog series on the Fruit of the Spirit, taking us through the nine character traits and applying that to raising kids.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

The world is in love with love, and not just around Valentine’s Day either. The idea that if we just had enough love, everything would be okay isn’t a new one. People have been thinking that for centuries.

We also tend to think of love as strictly a feeling. That means, if we don’t feel in love, we’re not in love. We enjoy the feeling of being in love, but that feeling isn’t the most reliable. It can lead us astray, can cause untold trouble, and can break up marriages and families.

Jesus taught us the true meaning of love in his reply to the question of which was the greatest commandment: “Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 (ESV)

That kind of love is more than a feeling—it’s an active, living and breathing love. How can we teach our children the true meaning of love like that? Here are a few thoughts.

Show them love. Kids need to see an active love, so while telling them we love them is important, so is showing them we love them. That means fixing their favorite meals, listening with our full attention, going to see them play or perform, allowing them to invite friends over, spending one-on-one time with them on a regular basis, and giving them hugs frequently.

Correct them when they do wrong. An active love also isn’t afraid to correct the loved one. Some parents have a hard time with discipline because they think if they punish a child for misbehavior, the child will interpret that as the parents not loving them. But proper, effective discipline can’t exist without love.

Love your spouse. We can’t get so immersed in the daily tasks of raising kids to forget to love our spouse in an active, vibrant way. Our kids should see us get mushy with our husbands or wives. Our kids should know without a doubt how much mom and dad love each other. Seeing that married love played out in technicolor in their living room and around the dinner table will go a long way to showing kids what real love looks like.

Talk about what loves means. True love isn’t easy. It isn’t here today and gone tomorrow. It’s persevering through the tough times. It’s overcoming heartache and misery. It’s forgiving and letting go. It’s mercy and grace. Helping kids to understand the many facets of love will help them learn to identify the real thing from the many imitations they will encounter.

All we do need is love—true, active love.

Anxiety and Anger: A Deadly Combination

Q: My nine-year-old son is experiencing anxiety and anger. My husband and I follow a traditional style of parenting—we are firm, have high standards for behavior, and are very loving. I believe our son ‘s anxiety is primarily due to two factors: health (his severe peanut allergy and allergies to dogs/cats that exclude or limit his freedom) and time management (the stress of lot of homework and regular daily chores). He is frustrated because even after working really hard all day before school, at school, and after school, he has only about 30 minutes of free time each day. He does not participate in any after-school activities but comes straight home, empties his backpack, eats a snack, and gets started on homework.

I’ve made him an after-school/evening schedule to help him stay on track without me hovering over him. When he dawdles, he gets very overwhelmed and angry with himself. We have purchased a punching bag for him to hit when he gets this way.

He is a very perceptive boy with a tremendous desire to learn. He loves to read the Bible and is developing a close relationship with the Lord. Several weeks ago, he was extra upset and told me something that stopped me in my tracks. He said that Satan is telling him to do really bad things to himself, like kill himself. I was very alarmed but I did my best to not show it. I want him to feel that he can tell me what is on his mind. The very next day we started to have nightly family devotional time. We also began memorizing Scripture as a family in an effort to fill his mind with God’s Word.

At this point, we are not sure what to do. I don ‘t want to overreact to my son’s comment about Satan but I don’t want to ignore a cry for help either. I am becoming hesitant to discipline him out of fear that he’ll get mad at himself, then hurt himself badly. He has allergy testing each year and knows that even eating 1/200th of a peanut (so small you can hardly see it) could cause life-threatening anaphylaxis. That is a lot of stress for a third-grader. I am concerned that he might get so angry one day and do something horrible….like eat part of a peanut (they are all over the place at school lunchtime). He is very responsible with his allergy and knows not to eat anything that I don’t provide for him but he is still a nine-year-old boy and could easily have flawed judgment.

I would sincerely appreciate your thoughts.

A: Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I can tell from your letter that you love him very much. He’s blessed to have such a caring mother, one who wants the best for her son. I think it’s wonderful that his comment spurred you to start having regular family devotions. That’s such an important part of his growing faith—and yours, too. Memorizing Scripture can be key to keeping negative thoughts at bay as well, so keep pressing on with that as well.

You have a couple of issues going on here, so let’s tackle the one that spooked you the most: his comment about Satan telling him to do bad things. He’s 9, he’s a third grader, and he’s super-stressed—those are your words. He’s probably saying Satan “told him” because he doesn’t fully understand how thoughts work. He didn’t want to think those things—they probably just popped into his head, like they do you and I at odd times. But he’s young and stressed, so he’s not able to realize that random thoughts happen to everyone.

So here’s what I suggest. Have a series of short conversations (don’t want to overwhelm the kid with a long-drawn out one that won’t make as much of an impact as several short ones will) in which you talk about random thoughts, how they pop into your mind and what to do about them. Then remind him, using Scripture, that Satan can’t reside in the same body as someone who loves Jesus. That’s not possible. Finally, wrap up with encouraging him to quote Bible verses and pray whenever thoughts that like come into his mind again. He can tell you and you can pray together.

Now as to his schedule. He has a lot on his plate, and frankly, I’m a little alarmed that a third grader has so much homework every night, that he can only have half an hour of free time. No wonder he’s stressed to the max. Last year, my third grader had NO homework most nights, and my fourth grader (same kid, a year older), rarely has homework either.

Your son has a very important job at this age—and that’s to play. Play is essential to keeping his stress very low, and it builds his immunity, gives him an outlet for his anxiety and also helps him solve problems through role playing and social interactions. He needs less schoolwork and more play time. Seriously, I’d stop with the regimented homework routine and implement free form play time every single day for at least 90 minutes, outside for much of that if possible. Have a conversation with his teacher about his not doing homework for the rest of the year. And if this is par for the course at this school, I’d move him or homeschool if possible for the rest of the year. He’s in third grade and it appears he has more homework than my ninth grader (who has more than half an hour of free time each night, even taking into account a later bedtime).

If you implement more free time and less structure, I think you can safely discipline him without worrying about self-harm, as long as you see no other signs (such as depression, not being himself, etc.).

Battling for Your Children Against the Father of Lies

by Connie Almony

I’m not perfect. I’m one of those sinner-types who needs a Savior.

Sooooo … being a Savior-needing sinner, who’s done a few things I’d hate for my kids to repeat, how can I be a good role-model for them?

When I signed up to write a parenting post, a number of ideas came to mind. I’m trained as a counselor and have worked with young people all my life. However, having a well-grounded 16-year-old daughter, I decided to ask her what she appreciated most about my parenting. She answered, “Being real!”

I’ve never hidden from her my flaws, faux paus or the sins of my past. Granted, I haven’t dumped them in her lap at one setting, either. But when she asks, “Have you ever done…?” wondering if I’ve strayed from my own standards, I answer her openly. Some would think this gives her license to call me a hypocrite, since she is not allowed to copy my sins. You know, saying “You did <insert sin>, why can’t I?”

She has yet to do this, because I’ve already given her the answer. It goes like this:

“Because I’ve been to the funerals. I’ve seen the destruction wreaked on those who’ve survived their sin—including myself. I’ve witnessed that which I hadn’t first understood, and now trust the God (and sometimes the parent) who knows more than I do.” In other words, I don’t just bare my brokenness, allowing her to also be aware of her own need of a Savior—I teach her how God loves us best by creating boundaries designed to make our lives fruitful.

It is because she knows I am aware of the power of temptation, and that I don’t judge the people succumbing to it (we often pray for them), and she knows the pressures I faced (and sometimes succeeded against), that she and her friends are open with me. They often come to me after school to describe the toxic choices of some of her fellow students. After these disclosures, we talk (again) about the temptations to do these things (sex, drugs, what-have-you) and the effects of giving-in.

My daughter has been discouraged from stating she will never engage in a particular sin. Why? Because, as I’ve told her, the minute you believe you could never do that sin, satan discovers you are unprepared for the temptation he can throw at you. She didn’t understand.

I said, “Imagine …”—this is where being a fiction author is helpful— “… you are struggling in school, and just as everything seems at its worst, I die. You no longer have me to come to. Your dad is riddled with grief and the stress of caring for you and your autistic brother all by himself. A friend shows you a tiny pill she claims will take your mind off your troubles. What could it hurt? It’s only a teeny pill. And it’s free (for now).”

My daughter’s delayed response was heavy with understanding. “Oh.”

I said, “Yeah. That’s how satan rolls.”

When battling against the father of lies, the best defense is always openness and Truth.

About Connie Almony
Connie Almony is trained as a mental health therapist and likes to mix a little fun with the serious stuff of life. She is a 2012 Genesis semi-finalist for Women’s Fiction and received an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest. Her newest release, Arise from Dark Places, is an edge-of-your-seat inspirational retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Connect with Connie on her website.

 

Yet God

By Doreen Hanna

Did you feel your dreams came true the moment you held your new born for the first time? Then delighted in their first word or step? Quickly, months turned into years, and those cherished moments seemed to lessen, and now became a lesson because it was more about discipline then delightful pleasures. Did you begin to wonder, “Is this really an honor?”

You are not alone because I believe most every parent has felt that way at some point throughout their journey.

Yet God. At times in my motherhood days, just those two words would take my focus off myself and lead me to remember that he holds this role of ours in his highest esteem. When God led Moses to write the Ten Commandments, he desired to have our hard labor recognized. “Honor your Father and Mother… and your days shall be long.” This is the only commandment with a promise. I believe it comes because it is the highest calling of our lives.

Fulfilling our calling begins with God refining us. Often times that is how he equip us to raise them.

I remember when our youngest daughter, Kamy, was in high school. One day she told me about an essay she had to write on who she most admired. Secretly, I was hoping it might be me. However, she chose her youth leader, Alane. I had to agree. Often Alane’s words of wisdom resonated in Kamy’s heart where I couldn’t reach. I remember helping Kamy list the qualities in Alane that were most significant to acknowledge. She wrote the essay that earned her an A+.

A year later Kamy came home from school and said, “Hey Mom, read this. I got an A on it today.” I began reading. It was another essay, this time about me. I wept, first because I felt so undeserving of the honor that she bestowed upon in her written words. Then remembered those two words… Yet God. By his grace, he gave me one of the sweetest and most memorable gifts I could have ever imagined, discovering the loving and appreciative feelings Kamy had in her heart for her mom. After wiping my tears, I hugged Kamy tightly, then confessed that I had hoped she would have considered me when she wrote about Alane. She replied, “I know mom, but I wasn’t ready.” I recognized then that God had a work to do in my heart before such an honor as this could be bestowed.

Remember, the best way we will influence our children’s behavior is when we change our own. As Proverbs 15:33 says, “Before honor comes humility.”

About Doreen Hanna
Founder and president of Modern Day Princess (MDP), Doreen Hanna travels internationally training MDP leaders and loves to speak to audiences of parents, teen girls, and women of all ages. She is the co-author of Raising a Modern Day Princess and the newly released Raising a Young Modern Day Princess. Books are available at:
www.moderndayprincess.net
www.Amazon.com
www.Christianbook.com.

Honesty—The Best Policy?

By Lillian Duncan

Honesty is the best policy, right? So in all honesty, I have to tell you I’m not sure what I was thinking when I signed up to write a post for this blog since I’m not a parent and my writing focus is mostly suspense and mystery.

But I must have had something in mind when I did sign up but the idea is long gone!

However, speaking of honesty: children can be brutally honest, especially at the most inopportune times.

I’m very short, only 4 foot, 8 inches. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the grocery store minding my own business when a child will stare at me. Usually one of two things will happen after that. Either they just keep staring, in which case I smile back and give them a little wave or eventually they will say to their mother, “Look at that short lady.”

The mother usually is horrified and so embarrassed.

What can you do to avoid this type of situation? Before I retired, I was a speech therapist to school children and often had to deal with helping children learn the pragmatics of language (pragmatics are about the social use of language).

Here are a few ways you can stop this situation from happening with your own child.

Use the teachable moments. Teachable moments happen often, usually at the worst time possible. Still, as a parent or teacher you need to take the time to teach in the moment.

When your child says something inappropriate, take a moment to tell them why it was the wrong thing to say. And when they say, “But it’s true,” you need to say, “It may be true but there was no reason to hurt someone’s feelings.”

Roleplaying. Dolls and action figures are a great way to help a child learn what is appropriate to say to someone else. You can take turns saying nice and mean things to the doll and exploring how those things might make the doll feel. This helps teach empathy, and that’s a good thing.

Games. I’m a big believer in using games to teach all sorts of skills. Why? Because they’re fun and they work. If you look hard enough, there may even be some commercial games out there that could work. If not, you can always try a teacher store. And last but not least create your own game.

Create a game board, then write mean and nice things on index cards. When your child labels them correctly as mean or nice, they get to roll the dice. You do the same when it’s your turn, but be sure to slip in why it’s mean or nice. First one to the finish line wins!

Yes, honestly is the best policy but it’s also important for your child to learn not every thoughts need to be expressed.

About Lillian Duncan

Lillian Duncan…Stories of faith mingled… with murder & mayhem. Lillian is a multi-published author who lives in the middle of Ohio Amish country with her husband and a menagerie of pets. After more than 30 years working as a speech pathologist for children, she believes in the power of words to transform lives, especially God’s Word.

Lillian writes the types of books she loves to read—fast-paced suspense with a touch of romance that demonstrates God’s love for all of us. To learn more about Lillian, you may visit her at www.lillianduncan.net or www.lillian-duncan.com. She also has a devotional blog at www.PowerUpWithGod.com.