Little Ones

toddler-1312853_1920Imagine what the world must look like, feel like, smell like, to an infant experiencing wind, sunshine, and the melodious chirping of birds for the first time. What must be going through the mind of a toddler the first time they taste ice cream? What drives them to push onto their tiny, fat feet, again and again, undaunted by the countless times they’ve fallen?

Every giggle, every growth spurt, and adorable toddle forward is a glimpse into the heart and mind of the Heavenly Father who created them. Today my guest, Ada Brownell, reminds us to look for the special and amazing in our little ones.

-Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.-Psalm 127-3, NLT

Children: Amazing Little People
by Ada Brownell

Busyness filled my days when our five children came into the world, and although I thought about how cute and wonderful each are, I didn’t grasp the whole picture about the wonder of a child.

My husband and I walk in the mall frequently. Lately I’m struck by the amazing little people everywhere. The mall has a play area and yesterday a little fellow, probably about 18 months old, climbed up and considered going down the slide head first.

kids-635473_640A sister, about age 3 or 4, went around him and showed him how to go down on his bottom. He watched, sat his back side on the slide and slid down, grinning. He figured it out himself by watching.

One of our grandchildren had baby lingo no one could understand, but when our son told, with a laugh, about some of the child’s ornery antics, the child grinned. He understood every word. That ended sharing the boy’s mischief, even if it was cute, when he was present.

What struck me recently is how wonderful God’s creation and design is, and it shows up most amazingly in children.

How they got here in the first place is more than our minds can fathom.

I’ve watched our grandchildren look their mommies and daddies over shortly after birth, and they’re not very old when they can recognize them across the room.

New brains are like a blank sheet of paper, although fantastic stored data governing our neurological systems and instincts operate even while we’re still in the womb. What God “programmed” into us commanded our arms, legs, fingers, toes to move even before birth. Instincts God installed in our DNA prompted us to suck, swallow, cry, and feel hunger, as well as caused the various inner parts of our body to function.

baby-20339_640Babies arrive with a brain download to literally cry for love, care, and being held, and they won’t thrive without these things.

When we were a few months of age, we learned to coordinate movements so we could reach for things because our muscles and brains developed that capacity. Nevertheless, we needed outside stimuli to use the potential from the brain. Children given no attention often don’t learn to sit, walk, or talk.

We learned language skills by imitating. If Mom kept saying “Mama” over and over to us, soon we worked our mouths and tongues around, using our vocal cords so we could come up with a fairly good imitation. Sometimes the child says “Dada” first, and “no” comes soon after.

If the parents speak Chinese, the child obviously learns Chinese instead of English, and children of Spanish-speaking parents communicate in Spanish or whatever language is spoken in the home.

All through childhood, children imitate what they see and hear. We imitate others all our lives. For instance, we imitate experts on everything from sports to dancing, to gardening, to playing or singing music, to doing tricks on a bicycle or skateboard. But imitation isn’t all there is. At some point we think for ourselves. Nevertheless, the decisions we make are based on input we receive around us.child-945422_640

As a parent I exposed our children to godly teaching, wonderful Christian people, and challenges of learning things that matter. Too bad I wasn’t a perfect parent, but none of us are. Yet God gives wisdom if we ask, and ask I did. I’m so thankful all of our five children love God with all their hearts and live for Him. But the other wonderful people who invested their time and energy in our children deserve much of the credit and to God the glory.

***

The Peach Blossom Rancher, Sequel to The Lady Fugitive

 

John Lincoln Parks’ works to rebuild his deceased father’s peach and horse ranch, thrown into ruin by a wicked uncle, murdered in the last book.

Amazon Fugitive Cover

The prequel to The Peach Blossom Rancher

John yearns for a wife to help him make the ranch all it should be. He has his eye on his sister’s elegant matron of honor, Valerie MacDougal, a young widow. But Valerie, a law school graduate, returns to Boston to live with her parents since her little son was born. John and Valerie write, he’s kissed her a few times, but while in Boston Valerie and one of her father’s law partners try to get three patients wrongfully judged as insane, out of the Boston asylum and they spend a lot time together.

Will John marry Valerie or Edwina Jorgenson, the feisty rancher-neighbor who has been in love with John since they were in grade school? Edwina’s father is in a wheelchair and she’s taking care of their ranch. John tries to help and protect this neighbor who has a Peeping Tom whose bootprints are like the person’s who dumped a body in John’s barn. But John and Edwina fuss at one another constantly. Will John even marry, or be hanged for the murder?

Tentative Release Date June 1, 2016

***

ada brownell (1)When Ada Brownell sat down to write The Peach Blossom Rancher, the sequel to The Lady Fugitive, she drew from her experience growing up in Colorado’s Peach Country near Grand  Junction, picking peaches and working in a packing shed.

In addition, she uses some of what she learned about early 1900s misdiagnosis of insanity. Ada covered the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo on her beat as a journalist for The Pueblo Chieftain.

Ada Brownell blogs and writes with Stick-to-Your-Soul Encouragement. She is the author of six other books, and more than 350 stories and articles in Christian publications. She now lives in Missouri, a beautiful state except for tornadoes and chiggers.

Find Ada on iTunes, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and her website.

***

Let’s talk about this: We often get carried away by the day-to-day job of parenting and don’t take time to really think about God’s amazing creation of children. What aspect of your children amazes you? Do you have any favorite memories or stories? Share them in the comments below. I’d love to learn a bit about you and your kids!

Four Reasons Boredom is Good For Your Child

It’s the phrase that makes nearly every mom cringe, and with summer approaching, it’s one most of us will hear a lot of soon:

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Photo by Stoonn taken from freedigitalphotos.net

“I’m bored.”

In our fast-paced, action-packed, activity-centered world where kids as young as seven are given cell phones and spend hours a day watching television, we can easily keep our children entertained from the moment they wake to when they go to bed.

But is that healthy? Could all this entertainment cause their stress levels to rise, their creativity to wane, and their self-confidence to falter? 

Could boredom, in fact, benefit our children, and if so, why do we, the parents, often feel the need to become our children’s entertainer?

I think maybe we’ve been conditioned to believe we, and therefore our children, must always be doing something, achieving something, progressing toward something. Sometimes it seems as if boredom has become synonymous with torture.

But what if this mindset is actually hurting our children? That’s not to say we shouldn’t encourage hard work, goal setting, and social involvement, within reason.

Because sometimes, the best thing we can do for our children is to slow things down to allow them time to experience boredom.

Boredom allows our children to decompress.

child-1146743_1920A few weeks ago, an article circulated Facebook about how even a few minutes of silence benefits our brains and helps to reduce stress. More than that, studies have found constant noise actually harms our children and delays their development (2011, Novotney). Is it any wonder, then, that today’s children show  such increased levels of anxiety (2000, Dr. Twenge)?

I find this interesting, especially considering many of us use the television to help “calm” our children  when they appear rambunctious or agitated when, according to research, our efforts could in fact be exacerbating the issue.

Boredom encourages creativity. 

child-392971_1920

photo by igrown taken from pixabay.com

When our daughter was young, I intentionally limited television and electronics to not more than a few hours a week. I’d read a study that showed how a child’s brain is more active staring at a blank wall than watching television and I decided I wanted more for her. So, I turned the tv off, sat her in a room with access to toys, books, and art supplies and watched her creative side blossom. The result? She created elaborate, three-dimensional, multi-story structures using nothing but paper, scissors, and tape.

I find it interesting that she is now pursuing an engineering degree.

Not only did her boredom spark her creativity, it allowed her time to develop her problem solving skills, skills she leaned on heavily to get through tough classes in high school and now in college.

The thing is, if given the opportunity, children will entertain themselves, and in the process, will learn how to care for themselves.

Boredom increases self-confidence.

Everything we do sends a message to our children. When we’re quick to rescue them when things get difficult rather than encouraging them to persevere toward a solution, we’re in essence saying, “I don’t think you can manage this one.” When we rush to entertain them upon first sign of boredom, we risk conveying the message, “Your incomplete on your own. You can’t entertain yourself, and solitude is bad.”

Fast forward ten years, how do you think such a child will handle sitting by themselves in the lunch room, or walking away from a group of friends venturing into trouble?

Boredom encourages self-discovery.

Our children are vastly different than us, and they’ve been created to embrace and fulfill a unique kingdom role. Childhood is meant to be the time when they begin to discover who they are, what they enjoy, and what they’re passionate about. And they will, if we allow them to do so. But when pack their day with activities and distractions, we hinder their ability to get to know themselves. Boredom gives our children time to think, which in turn allows them to be introspective.

Let’s talk about this! Did any of these points resonate with you? What are some ways you help encourage your children to entertain themselves? How have you incorporated times of silence into your children’s day, and how do you believe that helps them emotionally and cognitively? Can you see evidence of increased stress when your children become busier, and if so, how have you handled this?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other!

Novotney, Amy. “Silence Please.” American Psychological Association, 2011, Vol 42, No 7

Dr. Twenge, Jean M. “Studies Show Normal Children Today Report More Anxiety Than Child Psychiatric Patients in the 1950s.” American Psychological Association, December 14, 2000.

Cherishing What Matters

Photo by Stuart Miles taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Stuart Miles taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Sometimes I approach Thanksgiving with a bit of a hum-bug spirit, thinking of all the to-dos and obligations. Other times, like this year, I toss those to-dos and self-imposed expectations aside to simply be. To enjoy time with family, the colors of fall, the smell of roasting turkey.

This year feels especially significant as it’s our daughter’s first Thanksgiving home, post college. Oh, how we’ve missed her, which might seem strange, considering she’s only 45 minutes away, and comes home quite often. But if you’re a parent, you understand. Our hearts hold tight to those precious gifts God once placed firmly in our hands. Today my sweet friend and fellow ACFW writer Ginger Solomon tells us about a special Thanksgiving blessing she received one year. As you read her post, think of your family and the love that holds it together. Or, if family is tough, think of the close relationships God has developed in your life. And hold tight to them. Invest in them. And thank God for them

A Special Thanksgiving Blessing by Ginger Solomon 

On this day twenty-two years ago–well, technically yesterday, but it was Thanksgiving Day that year—I delivered a turkey of my own at 2:19 in the morning. My turkey weighed 9 lbs and measured twenty-two

Photo by kangshutters taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by kangshutters taken from freedigitalphotos.net

inches long. He’s a big boy now, or rather a man, growing to a pretty tall 6’5”.

Every year, I give thanks for that child and the six others God has blessed me with.

Psalm 127:4-5 says, “Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.” (NLT) Well, I’m not a young man, but I still feel blessed.

Many people thought I was crazy after I announced pregnancies four through seven. I mean really, didn’t I know what caused that? Yes, people did have the audacity to ask those types questions. Most times I just smiled and ignored them.

Sometimes when I took them all to the store with me, which I did have to do for a while—my oldest was thirteen when the baby was born—I’d get odd looks, or a my-you-have-your-hands-full.

But even though I had some tough days—as most moms do—I wouldn’t trade any one of them for the world. They are unique individuals and will bless society with their gifts and abilities.

IMG_0496My first child (24) will graduate from nursing school with an RN next month. Child two (22)—mentioned above—graduates in May with a BS in Engineering(Computer). Child number three (18) just started college, aiming for a BS in Engineering(Mechanical). Child number four (girl #1; 17) will graduate high school in May. She wants to be a children’s pastor. Children five through seven (15, 13, & 11) don’t quite know what they want to do yet, but whatever it is, I’m ready to be amazed by God.

So this Thanksgiving as you wipe dirty hands and faces, worry about spilled something, struggle with getting a child to bed because he or she ate too much dessert, be thankful. That child will grow up and teach you much about trusting God.

And if you don’t have a child of your own, or yours are grown, help a mom out when she looks a little frazzled. Carry her groceries. Wipe a face. Hold a hand. Clean up a spill. If you’re a stranger, offer to push her cart while she carries the baby or consoles the toddler. Pay for her groceries, her lunch, or just a can of soda.

Even if all you can offer is a smile, she will be grateful that you’re not frowning at her because her child is having a bad day.

I pray blessings on your family from our family. Happy Thanksgiving.

Ginger Solomon is a Christian, a wife, a mother to seven, and a writer — in that order (mostly). When Solomon author imagenot homeschooling her youngest four, doing laundry or fixing dinner, she writes or reads romance of any genre, some sci-fi/fantasy, and some suspense. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, president of her local writing group, and writes regularly for two blogs. In addition to all that, she loves animals, likes to do needlework (knitting, crocheting, and sometimes cross-stitch), and is a fan of Once Upon a Time and Dr. Who.

Visit her online at her Website, her group blog Inspy Romance, her Facebook Author Page, on Twitter @GingerS219 and Pinterest

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. What’s your Thanksgiving and Christmas look like? Will you have family close? For those who have strained family relationships or are mourning the loss of loved ones, I’m sorry. That’s tough. I hope you have a strong support group around you to help you enjoy this time. I hope you’ll find a way to make Thanksgiving special, however that looks for you. For those who will get to spend time with their loves ones, don’t let the to-dos take away from the must-dos of showing love, spending time, sharing laughter… eating massive quantities of pumpkin pie. With a decaf, almond milk latte, of course!

Forced to Choose

sorrow-and-worry-692910-mIt’s a choice I never wanted to make. It tore me up, tore my daughter up, and I’m pretty sure, it tore my husband up as well. But when a situation arose where I had to choose between my husband and my child, I knew there was really only one choice I could make. For if I followed my mother’s heart, the one that longs to buffer my child from every pain and surround her with nothing but abundant blessings, I honestly believe I would’ve robbed her of that which blesses her most–parents with a healthy, united marriage.

It was 2012, and my daughter and I were content. Happy. We lived in a great cul-de-sac filled with involved parents and great kids. The kind of neighborhood where parents kidsplayingfelt safe allowing their kids to play outside on late summer nights. We were involved in a growing church, had our hands in meaningful ministries. Our evenings were filled with family dinners, lots of hugs, and plenty of laughter.

Only my husband wasn’t happy. Not fully. Long story short, things outside our home had become toxic, and he was ready for a change. For peace. When his boss offered him a transfer to the corporate offices in Omaha, he saw his chance.

But this chance came at a price. We’d have to sell the home we loved, one we’d spent a great deal of time and money-making our “own”. We’d have to leave our church and the connections we’d made. Worse, we’d have to uproot our high school daughter. Surviving high school is hard enough. Her trying to navigate the inherently awkward halls as a newbie? The thought made me ill.

I’ve seen her weather enough broken friendships, unexpected rejections, and cliques to know this was going to be tough. Painfully tough. I worried about lonely lunches and even lonelier weekends as she waited, and waited, and waited to establish safe, lasting friendships. In fact, I worried myself sick, and prayed for a solution. One that could provide a much-deserved blessing for my precious husband while allowing our daughter to finish high school in Kansas City.

I knew if I complained or fought against it, my husband would stay. Because that’s how he is, always putting others first. But I also knew how much he needed this move, how much he deserved it. And I trusted if I put my husband first, God would bless our daughter for it.

So we went, and I’m pretty sure the summer that followed was the toughest our daughter had ever faced.

And I wondered why? Why did what was good for one have to come at the cost of another?

It didn’t. It just took time for us to catch sight of God’s blessing. Which is what this move has been–a blessing. For all of us. On New Year’s Eve, as I listened to giggles rising from a basement of teens, I thought back to our move and all God has done since078. God has returned to us all we lost in Kansas City triplefold. And our daughter? She didn’t really lose anything. Her truest friends held on, and they remain close to this day. But now she has many more friends to add to her circle. Great friends. Christ-centered friends.

In short, this move turned out to be exactly what our daughter needed.

Because when we do things God’s way, everyone wins.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this.

But… before we do, I want to invite you to pop on over to a new blog I joined with some of my sweet writer friends, Faith-filled Friends. We started this blog so we’d have a place to talk about our books, our characters, our fun research outings, and all the other things that make us smile. This month, we’re hosting a launch give-away. Join the conversation and get entered into the drawing for some great books and precious jewelry. 🙂 And make sure to subscribe, because you never know when there’ll be other gift baskets to win.

Then, join the conversation at Living by Grace as we chat about making difficult choices. Can you relate? Have you ever felt as if God were asking you to choose between a child and your spouse? If so, what did you do, and what was the result? Why do you believe it’s imperative, not just for us, but for our children as well, to put our marriage first?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

The Trickle Effect Part II

On Monday, I talked about leaving a legacy of love and allowing Jesus to transform hearts, and thus communities, through us. I shared a very easy way to have a tremendous impact in the lives of hurting children and youth–look them in the eye and smile–demonstrate acceptance, not rejection; love, not contempt. Today I want to challenge you to take it a step further by building, then walking across, bridges, an action Jesus modeled daily while on earth.

When you look through Scripture, you’ll notice Jesus never stopped at a passing glance. When he encountered the hurting, rejected, or mistreated, He stopped what He was doing and carved out time in His busy day to connect. Because love is a verb, demonstrated by action. Each day, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ, to demonstrate that we truly belong to Him, by how we respond to others.

When our daughter was young, we lived in Southern California. My husband worked with a man who had a teenage stepdaughter. Looking to catch a few free moments to clean house, I asked the teen to come babysit our daughter while I focused on my to-do list. Before long I realized God brought this teenager into our lives for a purpose. Her step-father drank,  profusely, and often called people in the middle of the night (including his boss–not a wise idea) drunk. His marriage was a mess, their home was a mess, and Shaundra* was thrown smack dab in the middle of it.

Before long, Shaundra started hanging out at our house nearly every weekend. She’d nap on our couch, or join my daughter and I as we walked through the neighborhood. Often, she’d talk about how different our home was–no yelling, no fighting…relaxing. She felt welcomed, loved, accepted. 

This went on for about a year, then they moved. A few years later, her step-father died from alcohol-related issues, and I have no idea where Shaundra is today. But I do know while she was in our home, she experienced a bit of the love of Christ.  And each day we interacted, she caught a glimpse of effective parenting. Each evening she spent at our dinner table, she caught a glimpse of a Christ-centered marriage.

About three years later, we moved to a neighborhood with numerous latch-key children. Having spent most of their time raising themselves–or learning how to act by what they watched on television–these children behaved much differently than our daughter did and often I felt uncomfortable. They used language I prefered my daughter not to hear and spoke of things I’d rather my daughter not learn about. As time progressed, I grew increasingly uncomfortable and longed to shield our daughter from these neighborhood girls.

One day, while we were snuggled on the couch, a story book spread between us, our doorbell rang. I answered it to find Anna* standing on our front stoop.

“Can Ashley play?” A smile spread across her face.

Giving my “Mamma-Bear” full rein, I shook my head. “Not today.”

Her smile evaporated and pain registered in her childish eyes. A knife stabbed to my heart at the look of pure rejection on her face and as she turned to walk away I knew instantly–Jesus never would have done that!

Throwing the door open, I called out to her and she spun around, her vibrant smile returning. I invited her in to listen to stories with us, then invited her back for an afterschool Bible study which I launched the following Monday. By the month’s end, I had a kitchen full of girls each Monday evening. We read Scripture together and talked about how much God loved them. We played games and ate snacks.

Before long, this girl started spending nearly every evening at our house. She joined my daughter and I for our nightly story reading, and occasionally her mom stopped in for a chat. I taught the Bible study girls to cook and shortly before Christmas, they cooked a meal for their families, hosted at our house. And during the meal, these girls’ parents caught a glimpse of effective parenting as my husband and I interacted with our daughter. They caught a glimpse of biblical romance as they watched me and my husband respond to one another, and they experienced a taste of the initiating, accepting, all-encompassing love of Christ.

I often look back on that moment in time–the day God presented me with a choice to love or spurn, to build a bridge or a barrier–and I’m so grateful He called me to the table and stopped me from adding one more barb to this young girl’s heart.

What about you? How authentic is that welcome mat placed outside your door and how far will you allow God’s love to reach through you?

Do you have any bridge-building stories to share? Any attitude-changing moments like I had upon answering my door so many years ago? Or maybe you’ve stood in Anna’s place and know what it feels like to be turned away…or better yet, invited in.

As you begin your day today, remember we are Christ’s ambassadors. God expects us to be His image-bearers, to show others what He is like by how we live our lives. Jesus never turns anyone away. How can you demonstrate that truth today? 

1 John 4:8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (NIV)

* Names have been changed for privacy purposes.

Love this song in the video below. Listen to the words and make this your heart’s cry today. “I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else to do what God has called me to do myself…I refuse to turn my back and try to act like all is well…I refuse to make one more excuse…” ~ Josh Wilson, “I refuse.”

Love at the end of a Shot-gun

Today as I preview Cheri Horgan’s story, tears blur my vision. All children truly want is to be loved. They need to be protected. I praise God for bringing Cheri to Himself and wrapping His protective arms around her. I pray that He will do the same for the countless children without homes in El Salvador, Peru, Uruguay, Uganda, Haitii. And even more, I pray His church would step up and be His hands and feet. That they would see these hurting children not as someone else’s problem, but as God’s precious children in need of love. Cheri’s grandfather fought for her. God wants us to fight for His children. (Although not with a gun, please. grin.)

As you read Cheri’s story below, notice the change that came once her grandfather turned to God. Sharing the gospel is more than helping others find the ladder into heaven. It’s helping them find the abundant life God promised.

Grandfather Fought For Me, by Cheri Horgan (writing as J.J. Jenkins)

When my mother found out she was pregnant, I already had a brother and sister waiting for me who were just steps apart in age. My father and mother fought constantly and both were seriously drug and alcohol dependant. Until the day he died, my father insisted he wasn’t my father (or father to my siblings). My mother reigned as the black sheep in her family and had left home at age 14. From the time I was born, I heard the hateful rejection they felt for me and the violence that came with my name. In the hospital, at a time most parents should be cuddling their new baby girl, my father fought with my mother to sign the adoption papers and let the couple he had brought adopt me. She refused, not out of love, but to make him angry. Once the doctor released her, she dropped me off with a babysitter and headed to the bar. My sister and brother were already being placed with a couple from the church. The babysitter rented a small house from my grandparents, on the same property.

Each day when my grandmother got off work she came to check on me. It came as no surprise when my grandmother fought the babysitters adoption process and took me into her arms. She quit her job and never left me with a babysitter again. My grandfather would later tell me repeatedly that Grandma was going through the change of life, and was deeply depressed until God brought me into her arms and gave her a new reason to live. He said she would have never made it without me. But that is not the act of Love that I want to tell you about.

When I was about 4 years old my mother reappeared and wanted to take me home with her. She had remarried and according to her, my grandparents had promised she could have me back when she got back on her feet. My mother rarely came to visit, so even as young as I was I knew something was up. The truth was she was jealous of all the love and attention I was getting, and she thought that should have been her as a little girl in Grandpa’s arms. She grabbed me and ran for the door, but my grandfather stopped her before she could reach the door. He pulled a 30.06 out of the closet and aimed it directly at her! I remember the screams and the tears, and all of the yelling…but it would be years later before the full impact would sink in.

My mother said it was the only time she ever saw her father cry. My Grandmother said it broke his heart to have to do what he had to do…my mother had always been a daddy’s girl. My grandfather looked my mother in the eye and told her that he loved her, but if she tried to take me away from my grandmother he would have to shoot her and spend the rest of his life in prison before he would let her do it. I remember the room going quiet. Grandma whimpered and then begged him not to do this. My mother kissed me on the forehead and left. Grandpa would later tell me he had never hurt so deeply, but he couldn’t let me go.

My grandpa gave up drinking after that and never missed church if he didn’t have to work. He became active in the men’s ministries, and every morning I would find Grandma and Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table, having their morning coffee and reading their devotions. He showed me unconditional love in human form, and always forgave me when I did wrong. Even when I was a hippie sowing my wild seeds, he loved me and always had a place for me. Grandpa would have given his life that night to keep me safe. He knew my mother had been drinking and he also knew the man she was with was worthless. He always wanted the best for me. He was willing to give up everything…for a spoiled, homely, little girl who talked too much.

My grandparents were the greatest parents ever, and I owe it all to God.
 
As a side note, my mother is still on drugs and is an alcoholic even today at the age of 78. She has left my brothers and sisters so scarred with memories of her abuse. My oldest sister told me recently how she used to pray that God would give her someone to love her like he did me when I got to go live with Grandma and Grandpa. I miss my grandparents so much, but I know they will be waiting when that time comes to cross over to the other side.
 
When I think of love, they are the first image in my mind.

***

So what can you do? Today I ask you to pray for the young women in the Remar orphanage in El Salvador. Pray that they will know God’s presence. Pray that God will heal those deep wounds no child should experience. Then spend a moment asking God what He would have you do. This month the El Salvador mission team from our church is writing letters to the girls we connected with on our trip. We are creating and maintaining a relationship with them so they will know they do matter and we do care. On those nights when they lie awake in their beds, feeling utterly alone and wishing they had a mom or dad to tuck them in, it is my prayer that they will read the letters of love we send and know that they are not alone. (For my subscribers that go to Northland, if you want to join us, find me this Sunday.)

I imagine you can do the same. If you’d like to start an orphan penpal mission in your church, Bible study, or homeschool group, contact me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Cheri Horgan is a single mother, and grandmother who finds everyday is a learning experience in the course of life God is teaching. She will be the one shouting as she slide through the pearly gates with her hands held high, “Wooo-Hooo! What a ride!” She has lived in many states across the country, from California to Delaware, and has learned to laugh at the trials and expect the miracles in situations out of her control. She believes she has been called to encourage, and has made many new friends as she holds their arms to the Heavens in prayer.  
 
God has blessed her with some amazing experiences from being the first extreme makeover on daytime television on the Leeza Show, to being homeless and living in a shelter in Harrisburg, Pa. She has worked as a taste tester for Hershey Foods, a travel agent, and an aide who visits with the elderly in nursing homes (recording their memories), among other things. She loves learning about people, and listening to the stories they tell. Her son tells me he is thankful they struggled to get by, because it makes him appreciate what they do have. She wants to enjoy life to the fullest, experience God to the highest, and learn to trust to the point of no fear. She believe in miracles, forgiveness, and prayer.

Visit her website to find out more about her and visit her review site to read about some great books!

And before you leave, watch this video and listen to the heart of our Father.

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Americans Love Their Clock

Last night our church talked about the parable of the Good Samaritan and somehow this led to a conversation on social mores and customs. (I’m not sure if it was a way to excuse our Americanized, “It’s all about me” mentality, or if we just happened to hop down a rabbit trail or two.) The jest of it was that Americans do things so differently than the majority of other nations. Many of our neighboring countries place a high priority on relationships. According to our small group leader, in Africa, relationships are valued to such an extent, one stays until a conversation is done–until the conversing party excuses them. There’s no, “Hey, I hate to cut you off, but I’ve got to go.” If you miss work, you miss work. I suppose you’d learn to schedule your fellowship time on Saturdays. lol.

In America, it’s all about productivity and achievements. People think nothing of fathers who can’t make it home for dinner or mothers who have their nannies on speed dial. It doesn’t take long to figure out where our priorities lie. Relationships? Not high on the list.

And before I get too far, I have to admit, I am very guilty of putting my schedule before relationships. Partially because I’m an introvert–a gregarious introvert, I suppose you could say. It’s not that I can’t handle social events–in fact, I’ll probably be the most talkative of the bunch. It’s just that I’d prefer to stay at home. With my computer, my books, and maybe some softly playing music. But if I’m not careful, my tasks can dominate my day, leaving others feeling a bit unappreciated.

This is a balance I’m not sure I’ll ever master, but it’s one I can never neglect. For me, scheduling works best. (That sounds a bit odd, I know.) With my family, there are certain days and times that I set aside to be available. With my friends, I’ve had to schedule days in. That way I can’t “get too busy” or conveniently decline. And with my daughter, it can be even harder because as a teen, she’s convinced she doesn’t need parental time. Only I know she does. It’s the time spent in leisurely walks or nestled on the couch that will glue our hearts together when the threat of rebellion seeps in.

Elizabeth George, author of A Woman After God’s Own Heart, has an effective way of keeping first things first. Each day she grabs a slip of paper and folds it into individual sections. Each section is given a category: God, husband, children, and so forth. She begins with prayer, “Lord, show me how I can demonstrate that you are first in my life today.” Then, “Show me how I can love my husband today.”

She comes up with one tangible way to bless each of the individuals on her list. For her God category, perhaps that means spending time in prayer. For her husband, it might mean cooking a special meal. Or maybe she’ll call and ask, “What can I do for you today?” (Gotta tell you, the first time I tried that one, I was pretty worried. Visions of my husband unloading a mammoth to-do list filled my mind. But most of the time, his requests have been very minimal.) It doesn’t really matter what the action is. What’s important is that she took the time to be intentional with her love.

It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. I’ve known so many couples standing on the other side of divorce that highly regret the lack of time they spent investing in their marriage. I’ve also seen countless parents watch their children spiral into destruction, wishing they’d been more consistent with family time and Bible discussions.

But on the flip side? I’ve also witnessed many couples married for decades still light up when their spouse enters the room and I’ve watched numerous adult children look upon their parents with deep respect and admiration.

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, but all you’ve really got is  today.

So here’s the challenge: the holidays can be stressful or enriching. You can have the best decorated house on the block, attend all the right functions and buy that perfect gift for the tenth office party you’ll attend. Or, you can scale it back and determine to put first things first, even if that means saying no to that time-sapping function. Or perhaps forego cooking that ten course meal in order to spend a few extra moments with your family. Better yet, find ways to include your children or grandchildren in the preparations, focusing more on the event than the outcome. Meaning, if your ten year old’s iced cookies look a little less than perfect, let it go.

What about you? Are the holidays a time of stress or a time of celebration and connection? If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, perhaps that’s a sign to scale something back. What “Americanized’ traditions and expectations have seeped into your holidays, detracting from its true purpose? What steps can you take to refocus? What events and activities do you need to say no to? And what could you do simpler?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the ever-invasive threat of materialism. Yeah, I know, this topic is way overdone, but if you’re anything like me, the constant reminder to put first things first with a counter-culture mentality is a constant battle. One worth contemplating periodically.

1 John 3:18 “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”