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Redeeming the Years

Wed, 2018-05-23 14:00
Photo: Studiomill As I send another baby gift to one of my children’s friends, I am amazed that we are now entering this phase of life. I am not yet a member of some of my generation’s elite club known as Grandparents. However, I have watched numerous grandparents interact with their grandchildren. I had the company of three grandparents during my childhood. And my own children spent most of their childhoods within one state with four grandparents and several great-grandparents. They have special memories of going to the beach for several summers with one set of grandparents, and riding the tractor and petting kittens with the others.

Several of our favorite mentors have been great role models. At retirement, they moved to be in the same town with their only child’s family and thoughtfully wove themselves into the fabric and daily lives of their grandchildren. Jack hung a special swing at the family cabin, he took fresh doughnuts to his grandsons every weekend, and he and Mary attended every ballgame, concert and school event. Most importantly, they encouraged their grandsons’ church attendance and spiritual lives. The consistent message to their grandchildren seemed to be: “You matter. You are precious. You will become God’s men.”

Grandparenting might be welcomed as one of life’s chances for a “Do Over.” When I think about all the mistakes I made with my children, how the years’ rushed by, what I have learned about priorities, I welcome the thought of blessing my family with another opportunity to love and leave a legacy. Perhaps you will think of some other Grandparent Gifts to be gained or given for this list:

The Gift of Time: Toddlers and grandparents both need a place and space to walk a bit slower than the rest of the world. While everyone else rushes, grandparents can be a safe place to “exhale,” kick back and have the time to talk, examine, play, hug and nap. Because they are going a bit slower, grandchildren and grandparents have many opportunities.

The Gift of Sharing Stories: what child doesn’t squeal with delight to learn of their own parents’ childhood stories of mischief? With fondness, I remember my husband’s grandmother telling stories to her great grandchildren about traveling in a covered wagon with her family. Grandparents are the historical society for the family and for life before the parents were born. Who else remembers long dead family members? This provides children with a sense of history, belonging and context in an increasingly fragmented world.  In addition, when grandparents listen, they often hear the fanciful and highly creative tales that grandchildren can “practice” with someone.
 
The Gift of Understanding the Life Cycle: grandparents are a great learning tool for children to appreciate and become more patient with all stages of life. Today’s grandparents are usually active and this is an encouragement for the future. However, this is where many of us come to examine first hand, dentures, hearing aids, wrinkled skin, and canes. Grandparents’ bodies are a bit different from people in the parents’ generation. Not everyone is young, tall or muscular, and yet they can be valued.

The Gift of a Spiritual Legacy: we have the example of many grandparents in the Bible, such as the generational scoundrels of Old Testament patriarchs and kings. However, it is in 2 Timothy 1:5 where Paul reminds us of the faith that first dwelt in a grandmother, then a mother, and finally in a young man. The godly example of faith in the face of death can impress young people with the faith and courage that they need for living. They do not often see that displayed in a jaded world. Knowing that their grandparents have confidence that the family will someday be united in Heaven, is a gift of love to “stay the course.” 

The Gift of Reassurance: as the past peels away for grandparents and their immediate family members and friends die, they need the hope and blessing of knowing that grandchildren will carry on their legacies. Rediscovering the simple joys of life through the eyes of little family members can be a good medicine for aging. What a wonderful plan, that at a time in life when there is so much loss, beautiful precious babies enter the world!
 
The Gift of Unconditional Love: this example of God’s love is supposed to come from our parents; however, having a back-up plan in a sinful world is another blessing. Parents can be tired and distracted. Grandparents may not feel needed, appreciated or huggable in any other role. Hugging and forgiving sometimes comes a bit easier for those who realize that children grow up and life is indeed very short.

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By Karen Spruill, M.A. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Green-Eyed Monsters

Tue, 2018-05-22 14:00
Photo: Hemera Looking back on my childhood, I now realize I was a somewhat mischievous kid. During the summer months especially, “our gang” of neighborhood children would circle around on our bikes playing “doorbell ditch” and throwing water balloons at unsuspecting passerby’s. We regularly monopolized the phone lines “prank calling’ little old ladies. There was something about theses acts that excited me. It must have been the adrenaline rush.

But one day my tricks caused someone a lot of pain. It was 6th grade summer school and a few select students were chosen to play their musical instruments for general assembly. Parents, students and teachers were invited.

I was not among the chosen musicians, so jealousy fueled my impish nature to new heights. As I sat in the darkened auditorium next to my friend Mary who waited to perform on her violin, my hand silently crept toward her instrument case. Finding the knobs that tightened her violin, I began turning them ever so slightly, one at a time loosening the strings in the darkness.

A Devious Act

When Mary rose to her feet to perform she had no ideas what awaited her. Making her way to the stage, she placed the violin under her chin and drew the bow across the strings. The sound that emanated from her instrument was awful! Again and again she tried to play but the only sound she could muster was a grating, screeching noise. Finally, in humiliation, Mary rushed from the stage, tears streaming down her hot cheeks. I’m sure guilt was written all over my face but I lingered in the dark auditorium hoping I would not be fount out. I wasn’t.

Jealousy is not called the green-eyed monster for nothing. For, when it takes a hold of us we often act in ways that are less than human. As adults, we too, are plagued by thoughts of insecurity and inadequacy that lead to jealousy. For every day we meet people who are smarter, more attractive, and richer than us.

Even so, our Creator has made each one of us very special and unique. When we realize God loved us so much that Jesus was sent to die in our place, we begin to recognize how special we really are. Then, we can love and value ourselves more deeply, as well as others, and the green-eyed monster begins to melt away.

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By Kathy A. Lewis. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Children Do Listen

Mon, 2018-05-21 14:00
Photo: Pedro Irizarry If you have been a parent for any length of time you know that kids will make you look bad every time. Whether it is the baby proving you wrong when you say, “Come look! She just rolled over!” And she doesn’t roller over again - for another four weeks. Or whether it is your angel faced son who hasn’t been bringing home the notes from his teacher. Or whether it is your toddler throwing herself down in the middle of Wal-Mart screaming for a new toy— kids will make you look like a horrible parent. 

I remember my most embarrassing moment. I had taken my two little girls out shopping to a department store for some new clothes. Everything was going pretty well. But you know how little kids are. They like to run around and hide in the clothing racks. Today was no different.

I had just told Sarah, “Don’t run in the store!” But as children are apt to do, she immediately forgot my words and charged for the clothing rack – full speed ahead.

Before I knew what had happened I heard that sound. The kind of sound no parent wants to hear. A CRASH and a CLATTER. I turned to look and watched, horrified as the rack of clothing tipped over, falling directly on the rack next to it. And then, as if in a dream, I watched as the entire row of clothing racks, all the way down the center aisle of the store, fell like a perfectly laid out dominos game.

Mutual Embarassment

There was nothing I could do to prevent it. You can imagine how everyone in the store turned and looked at the racks – and then at me. My faced turned red and I thought, “This isn’t happening.” I looked down to see my precious Sarah Rose, popping her little head out from beneath the pile of clothing. Her faced was as red as mine. She was humiliated. I, too, wished the floor would open up and swallow me.

At that moment I had a choice. I could either laugh or cry. So… I burst out laughing! I mean, how could you not laugh? I realized that Sarah had delivered her own punishment. I didn’t have to say a word. 

Sometimes as parents we think, “These kids never hear a word I am saying!” I suppose, yes, sometimes they really aren’t listening. Sometimes they look over at us, just daring us to react. Other times they act like little angels and we wonder where the real monster-child is hiding.

Patience is important when you are a parent. There are times when we just have to choose patience because, it’s not happening any other way. Be consistent in your teaching, training, and disciplining of your child. Your child really is listening to – and watching – everything you say and do. The Bible tells us, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22: 6). Notice it says, "when he is old." Kids will listen, learn and remember – and then do everything they can to test your character in the process. In the end… it will be worth it.

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By Melissa Ringstaff, director of A Virtuous Woman - www.avirtuouswoman.org. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

The Porch Cover

Sun, 2018-05-20 14:00
Photo: Mohammed Shaker The cover over the front porch is ugly! Why did we spend hard earned money to have it built? These thoughts tumbled through my mind as I looked back at the house on my morning walk.

We had planned for weeks to have the cover built. My husband had carefully drawn a plan. We had finally found a builder who would so a good job at a fair price.

Monday morning the builder and his sons showed up early. They worked steadily all day, carefully measuring lumber and plywood, cutting boards, and pounding nails. They had even stayed late that evening to finish the project so they wouldn’t have to return another day.

The air was still, the sawdust had settled, the project was finished. The smell of wood lingered in the air. The boards were just where they were supposed to be. The builder had followed our instructions to the letter—but the result was ugly. The bare lumber was unsightly and looked stark next to the blue-gray house with white trim.

The following week my husband found a bucket of white paint in a corner of the garage. He attached a paint roller to a long pole. He spread some tarps over the concrete beneath the porch cover. Then he began painting. He painted most of the morning. He searched the garage again and found a paintbrush on his work bench and painted the trim. Finally, he was finished, and we stood back for a look.

The Final Touch

What a difference that coast of white paint made! The porch cover looked like it belonged now. No longer did it stick out like a patch of a bare earth in the lawn. Smiles covered our faces when we returned from a walk later that evening. The porch cover was a wonderful addition to our home after all!

Are there any porch covers in your life waiting for a coat of paint? Jesus wants to cover your unsightly sin with His precious blood. He wants to make you look totally different from the way you did before. The best part about His paint project is that He not only covers you but can make you brand new from the inside out.

When we look at ourselves and others, do we see the unfinished project with plywood and nails exposed? We need to ask God to give us new eyes to see the finished project—that looks like it really belongs in God’s kingdom.

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By Janean A. Lewis. Reprinted with persmission from Signs of the Times, July 2006. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Homecoming

Sat, 2018-05-19 14:00
Photo: Matthias Gelinski The summer following my 10th birthday, our family made its first and only trek to Disneyland. We lived up north in Stockton, California, and in those days one had to travel Highway 99 to get to L.A. I well remember the all day trip driving with the “big trucks” through every town in California’s central valley that dotted the “99.” The stars were out (you could see them back then) by the time we pulled into Anaheim.

The three of us kids were so excited we could hardly sleep. But the next morning found us bright and early standing by the gate of the amusement park we had waited so long to see.

The day began well enough, that is, until my brother and I threw up our cotton candy on the spinning teacups. Our family had barely recovered from that mishap when the unthinkable happened. My sister disappeared in Frontierland. None of us even saw her slip away. It seemed we just looked around and she was gone.

I’m sure my parents were heart stricken for she was only three years old. Our holiday came to a screeching halt as we reported her lost and then waited moment by agonizing moment for her to be found. My parents were undoubtedly petrified by the possibility she might have fallen in one of the parks lagoons.

The Lost Is Found

Finally, after an hour or two, a policeman wearing a dark blue uniform, appeared with my sister by the hand. I can only imagine the relief and total joy of my parents at that moment. Their lost little girl had been found!

Now that I’m a mother myself, I think I can identify with the range of emotions my parents must have experienced that day, from agonizing heartache and fear to incredible happiness and relief.

Somehow, I sense that God must experience these same emotions on a daily basis millions of times over. For, we are all children of the Creator, each and every one of us. Yet, the Lord loves us individually as if we were an only child.

How it must hurt and grieve the Almighty when we wander away and get lost, for we mean so much to God. How the Lord longs for us to come home. But never forcing us, our God waits patiently, moment by agonizing moment hoping we will return.

This longing and desperation turns to indescribable joy when we finally do decide to turn around. Isn’t it time now to come home?

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By Kathy A. Lewis. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Her Perfect Skin

Fri, 2018-05-18 14:00
Photo: Jyn Meyer She was born with perfect skin into an imperfect world.
I remember her peach-soft,
Milky, white skin on Birth Day.
Little arms that reached out for hugs,
Arms that slid through tiny shirts and lacy dresses.
Years later the red line of scars started appearing.
First Band-Aids and lies,
Finally, I realized that she was cutting herself.
Each new scar was a stab at my heart.
Where had I gone wrong?
Where had we failed so miserably as parents?
How could her life be so miserable?
What raging demon possessed her mind?
Would she ever find the help she needed
To stop slashing at this masterpiece?

Therapy, honesty, medication, and time
Faded her pain and the ugly, red scars. After much prayer,
Patience and love, we were all maturing.
Now I rarely think about her scars,
Unless it is summertime. Her skin is still porcelain fair.
The scars are thick and faded, yet clearly visible.
I am relieved that there are no new ones.
She even wore a sleeveless wedding dress.
Now she envelopes me with warm hugs.
A young woman has graduated from college and
Reaches her arms out to other hurting people.
Yet she is sometimes embarrassed about the scars.
I try to encourage her with these thoughts:

“Remember, that everyone who lives in this world has scars.
Everyone has hurt themselves or others.
Your scars are just more visible than some.
Most people carry their scars on the inside--
In their hearts or minds. 
However, they are not more valuable or better than you are.
I believe that your new name is Hope.” *
“I know, Mom,” she says.
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By Gracie Peters, pseudonym. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

* Revelation 2:17

Your Treasure

Mon, 2018-05-14 14:00
Photo: Brad Harrison "Beware of covetousness: for a man's life consists not of the abundance of the things which he possesses" (Luke 12:15).

Materialism. It seems that most of us at one point or another are consumed with wanting the newest gadgets, the hippest clothing, or the fanciest car. We may not be able to afford such pricey items... but "wouldn't it be nice..." is our fantasy.

In Luke 12 Jesus tells of a story and it goes something like this:

There once was a rich man whose crops yielded a rich harvest. He looked at all he had and was impressed. He knew the barn he owned was not big enough to house all this goods.

And so he thought, "I will build for myself bigger barns and then I will have room for all my wealth. I have so much I don't have to worry about the future. I'll take it easy, eat, drink and be merry!"

Then God said to the rich man, "You fool! Tonight, your soul is required of you! Then who will possess your riches?"

Jesus concluded the story saying, "So is he that lays up treasures for himself, and is not rich toward God."

Addicted to Stuff

What treasures are you laying up? Are your treasures of this world? Or do you have riches in the kingdom to come? Especially here in North America, the average family is over-run by possessions. Look at the popularity of home organization businesses, products and books! We have so many things we have to really think about where to put them.

Think of all the money folks could save if they didn't feel the need to have the latest gadgets or the most expensive cars or houses they can't really afford. We are addicted to materialism and debt.

Jesus said we are worth much more than our possessions. Things cannot make us happy. True happiness comes from God. No one ever lies on their death bed and wishes they had more clothes or bigger TV's or fancier cars. Instead they think of all the words they never said, or the time they wasted. They simply wish they had more time.

You can't take earthly riches with you when you die. But if you seek after God and His righteousness - you'll find riches forever more!

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By Melissa Ringstaff. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Laundry Days

Wed, 2016-03-30 02:47
Photo: Hemera I know what you are thinking. How could laundry ever be enjoyable?

Yes, I have been there too. In fact, I used to dread doing the laundry. It was like a giant monster that grew larger every day. How could we possibly use that many clothes in one day?

So, I made it a point to learn how to make the job more efficient and less of a chore. Here are some pointers you may not have thought of:

Rule #1: If it does not smell and doesn’t look dirty, it is clean. Reinforce this motto into your children’s (and hubby’s) heads until they too chant the rule as they undress before bedtime. My children have been known to put their still folded clean clothes into the dirty clothes hamper. I was not a happy momma.

Rule #2: Hang towels to dry after showering. Reuse and wash once a week.

Rule #3: Fold socks up together when taking them off at night. Thus avoiding the phrase, “I know the washing machine eats them!”

Rule #4: Treat stains as soon as possible with a good stain remover such as Shout ®. or Spray'n Wash ®. You will be thankful later.

Rule #5: Never wash crayons with your clothes. This will keep them out of the dryer. I almost had a heart attack the first time I did this! Melted wax all over a whole load of clothes is not good. Quick Fix: Add 1 cup baking soda and your detergent to the washer and use hottest water possible.

Rule #6: Always check pockets before placing clothes in the washer. This almost goes without saying. If I had always done this I wouldn’t have known how to remove the crayons from the clothing.

Rule #7: Hang up dress shirts, slacks, and other garments as soon as the dryer stops and you won’t need to iron. Also, you could try and hang your clothes in the closest when you take them off!

Rule #8: Have your children put their own clothing away. This only works if you follow up to make sure it was done right.

Rule #9: Do one to two loads a day and you will stay on top of the game. This is a task that should be begun first thing in the morning. In between your other chores, place wet clothes in dryer and then fold.

Rule #10: Fold clothes as soon as the dryer stops. Then, put them away – immediately! So maybe doing the laundry will never be on your Top Ten List of Fun Activities... but at least it will get done easier!

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By Melissa Ringstaff, Director of www.virtuouswoman.org. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Family Worship Times

Tue, 2016-03-29 03:17
Photo: Sanja Gjenero “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” Psalm 29:2

“Daddy, is it time yet?”

“Yes, sweetie. You may bring the special worship time box to the family room and call everyone.”

Whether it’s morning or evening (or both, if possible) having a family time of worship to God is a blessing for everyone involved. If you think you just don’t have the time, consider it an investment in family bonding, character development and relaxation therapy. It doesn’t have to be long; the length of time can vary according to your family’s needs. Just be regular and sincere in your efforts. Here are a few ideas to get you going (or to perk up your family worship times if you’re already in the habit).

Choose a specific place and specific times to gather your family together. This will help you be consistent. If you attend a church, take advantage of the materials they may give out for Bible study at home. Older children can read the lessons for themselves while a parent helps the younger ones. Sometimes our family acts out charades or everyone draws pictures of a particular story.

Reading a book aloud together is also great. Try some of the many inspiring mission stories or biographies available. It helps if you have a special box with cloth books and other quiet activities that younger children can play with during this time. On the weekends when more time may be available try playing a board game such as Bible Trivia ™. 

Active Involvement

Human beings learn and remember best through stimulation of their senses. Playing instruments or singing together is fun. There is a wide variety of appropriate music available including hymns, praise songs and Scripture songs. In the winter we often build a fire in the fireplace and get out the felt box. The kids like to arrange the felt figures to depict Bible stories. (These can be purchased at Christian bookstores or online.) Family worship is also a good time to light candles and give back rubs or foot massages.

There is much truth in the statement that the families who pray together stay together. Nothing I know of bonds people together like kneeling down before God, joining hands and praying for each other and others. To keep prayer times from becoming stagnant through repetitious phrases like “bless everyone” we rotate through family prayer cards (in categories) listing names of extended family members, friends and organizations for which we can specifically pray. Once a week we repeat together the Lord’s Prayer.

By choosing to bring your family together daily to worship as did Abraham the patriarch, you can honor God’s name on this earth and prepare your heart and the hearts of your family members for an eternity of praising God in heaven. “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders” (Psalm 9:1).

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By Brenda Dickerson. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Budget Vacations

Tue, 2016-03-29 03:09
Photo: Oliver Delgado Want to get away and relax together but can’t afford a fancy vacation? By planning ahead and focusing on what’s most important to you about a vacation, families can enjoy quality experiences together.

The three main expenses of most vacations are travel, activities and food. Have a family meeting to pick the area that ranks highest for you. Then minimize expenses in the others.

To reduce travel costs consider destinations closer to home. If possible, stay overnight with friends or relatives. Or, if you really want a family bonding experience, try camping! You might also enjoy spending your vacation time making day trips from your own home. Check out new and interesting places to visit every day and come home to your own bed at night. Watch for coupons that give discounted prices at local attractions.

Many families like to visit museums and zoos because they are both entertaining and educational. Look for ones that operate on a “donations welcome” basis or have one day a week when entrance fees are waived or reduced. The internet is a great resource for finding this information. You can also purchase tickets in advance on-line for some activities. Then you’ll know your exact cost—no surprises.

How to Save

If you’re thinking about taking a package deal vacation, plan to go off-season when rates are substantially reduced. Consider vacationing with another family to share costs – but only if you know them well and have a strong friendship.

As for food, the least expensive way is to pack your own cooler before you leave home. If your trip is lengthy, stop at grocery stores along the way to restock your supply of fresh produce and ice. Also, look for hotels that include breakfast in their prices. At places which allow, bring a shoulder pack with favorite sandwiches and snacks and your own bottled water or fruit juice. Sometimes buying a meal for the family can cost as much as the activity you came for.

By planning ahead and making informed choices your family can enjoy a low-stress vacation doing things you really like without damaging your finances. And remember to take a few photos of your family playing and relaxing so you can reminisce together about your great vacation!

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By Brenda Dickerson. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Show Them Your Love

Fri, 2016-03-04 03:23
Photo: Lisa Zanchi Ever feel like your love life, family life, and community life are in the doldrums? Here are some easy tips that will lift your spirits and show others you care:   1. Greet your husband at the door with a big smile, a big hug and a fifteen-second kiss, and tell him how happy you are that he is home.

2. Find ways to laugh with your husband – not at him.

3. If you have “let yourself go” since tying the knot, work on your appearance. Does your husband like your hair long? Does he like a particular perfume? Make a point to freshen your face, wear clean clothes, and brush your hair before he arrives home.

4. Surprise your husband with a spontaneous foot rub.

5. Once every week or so place little love notes in various places he will find them: in his briefcase, in his lunch, in his coat pocket, or in his Bible. Vary the day and place so it is always a surprise. Write a love note in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror and make a date for that evening.

6. Do not nag your husband.

7. Compliment your husband to others – especially when he is present.

8. Pray for your husband and children. Sometimes it is nice for them to hear your prayers.

9. Send lunch love notes to your kids on important days, such as test days, field trip days, etc. Or just send them for fun.

10. Have a special snack ready for your children when they walk in the door from school. Or have supper ready at an early hour so no one goes hungry.

11. Have story time everyday with your children. Snuggle under a comfy blanket and have some laughs.

12. Teach your children how to love others by working with them to reach out to the hurting in your community.

13. Invite a new family over for supper and board games.

14. Take your children door to door and collect cans to donate to your church food basket program or to a local food bank.

Sometimes life gets so busy we just forget to show our love, but the blessings are tremendous! Remember the words of Jesus, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

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By Melissa Ringstaff. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.

Growing in Faith

Tue, 2015-09-01 14:00
Photo: iStock Before my car accident this past December I loved to stay busy. I had a full time job plus I had a couple side jobs that I made some money on here and there. I depended on myself to make money, pay the bills, put money away in savings, and have a little extra for spending. My whole world changed when I learned I wouldn't be able to go back to work until the middle of April. That would mean I would be without a job and income for four months!

The first few weeks were stressful and I was full of anxiety. I didn’t know how I would make it through this. I prayed and prayed and I heard God tell me to trust in him. From then on I knew that God would take care of me and my wife so I didn’t worry about my financial situation any more.

I came to realize that my faith in the Lord was not as strong as it should be and that God allowed me to face a situation where my faith could grow stronger. And my faith has grown tremendously in these last few weeks. God is opening up new doors for me.

Unexpected Wake-Up Call

You may think you are doing things right and walking the way Christians are supposed to walk. Then one day you get a wake up call. It might not be pleasant, but God uses these situations to mold us into stronger Christians.

Jesus had the perfect personality. Though we will never be perfect like Him, we can strive to be like Him. Sometimes we will find ourselves in situations that are out of our comfort zone. But what we do in these situations is what will enable us to become more mature in our Christian walk.

Look to God for guidance in everything you do. Paul tells us that “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Do not despair. You will make it through the hard times and become stronger and more faithful. Keep your trust in Jesus.

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By David Wolstenholm. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Old Dogs Do Learn

Tue, 2015-09-01 14:00
Photo: Mark Barner I wasn’t a very strict Mom. I had my rules, but if my kids played their cards right, they could often find a way around me.

I got so tired of asking my son to make his bed that I got him a sleeping bag. Somehow that didn’t seem as disorderly when it wasn’t made up. He also got out of having to take piano lessons – I couldn’t stand his whining.

I used to threaten my children that if they left their lunch or homework at home one more day that they would have to go without, but I always ended up bailing them out by delivering their books or lunch to school. And if they ran out of allowance, I was always good for a loan.

But on the topic of college, I was a rock. If it took them 10 years, they were going to finish. One of my daughter’s boyfriends described me as an over-achiever and he was probably right. I always felt like I had something to prove and blamed a lot of my insecurity on not finishing college.

At the time I was offered a M.R.S. in place of a B.S., I was thrilled. I hated school and was pretty awful at it. I think when I finished my third year at Columbia Union College, I may have had a whopping 2.0 grade point average. High school hadn’t been much better. Throughout the years since 1968, I had thought about finishing and had even taken a few college classes along the way. I loved the process of finding out more about a subject and actually retaining some of what I learned, but I didn’t finish my degree.

Then about three years ago, I got a bulk e-mail about online degrees and decided to give it a try. I found a college that would offer me something other than business and computers, a caring adviser helped get me a student loan(s), discovered I had enough credits to begin my junior year – and I was off. And I can’t describe how fantastic it felt.

My classwork consisted of a college course begun and completed every six weeks. I was considered a full-time student, all the while holding down a full-time job and taking some freelance writing jobs along the way, plus authoring a devotional with my daughter for 2006. It hasn’t been easy, but in one month, I graduate with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in English and Psychology and a GPA of 3.7. Its been expensive, time consuming and at times exhausting. Would I do it again? You bet. My sense of accomplishment is at an all-time high.

Still Growing

Now that I’ve proved I can learn, have my insecurities vanished? Mostly yes, but that had nothing to do with GPA or degrees or the amount of my student loans, it had to do with coming to terms with what makes me worth anything. It’s God’s love and it’s always been there waiting for me to recognize its power. The following verse, with some added personalization, sums it up for me, and it didn’t take a college degree to understand it. "Nothing can ever separate me from His love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. My fears for today, my worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away. Whether I am high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate me from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus my Lord" (Romans 8:38).

So, don’t give up on your dreams. Fulfilling them can give you a lot of pleasure and don’t worry about being too old to start. At 58, I figure I’ll die before I pay off my student loans. So keep achieving, but do it because it pleases you. And if it pleases you, you know that the One who will never let you be separated from His love will also be pleased.

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By Dee Litton Reed. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from  the NEW LIVING TRANSLATION©.

Use Your Personality

Tue, 2015-09-01 14:00
Photo: iStock When you look around at other people you readily notice that everyone has a different personality. One person may love to be the center of attention; that person talks a lot, enjoys other people, and has a bubbly personality. Another person seems to be bossy, makes quick correct judgments, and desires to be in control of everything. Another person likes to keep things organized, wants things done correctly, analyzes things, and is always setting goals. Still another person may go to great lengths to avoid a conflict, keep peace. They lack decisiveness and enthusiasm, but have a pleasing personality, and a dry sense of humor. You may fall into one or more of these categories, as I do.

Researchers and scientists devote their whole lives plus millions of dollars trying to figure out how personalities work, where they come from, and predicting what a person will do in a certain situation. They often ask, why are people different and why do people do the things they do? Many theories have been made from these questions. But does it really mean anything?

Why do we all need to be different anyway? Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say. Paul gives a list of spiritual gifts including wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy and more (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). Paul then goes on to explain that there are different parts of the church body that require members to do different things (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). God made us different in order to perform the whole workings of the church. One person can't do everything. But when the people are brought together in the body of the church, all things can be done.

You Are Special

Don’t be discouraged when you see one person doing great things for the Lord that you can never see yourself doing. God made you specifically to do something special. Use what you know you are good at instead of dwelling on what you are not good at. Paul thought of himself as a timid man (2 Corinthians 10:1) and not a good public speaker (2 Corinthians 11:6). Yet the Lord still made him great and used his personality strengths to the fullest.

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By David Wolstenholm. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Cheap Vacations

Sat, 2015-08-29 14:00
Photo: Studiomill Does your family desperately need a vacation? Is your bank account squeaking? You don’t need a key to Fort Knox to enjoy time with your loved ones. While many “all-inclusive” vacations can run into thousands of dollars, options that are big on family fun and easy on the pocketbook exist as well. Here are a number of ways to save money on your next family trip:
  • Do your homework. If you’re planning a vacation, make sure that you know where you are going, how you’re going to get there, and your itinerary along the vacation route. Forethought can help you stay on budget.
     
  • Look for the deals. The Internet is jam-packed with travel sites that offer low prices, incredible deals, and family-friendly fares on everything from hotels to restaurants, and airfare if needed.
     
  • Choose alternative accommodations on portions of your trip. Broaden your horizons, squeeze your spending, and have a great time by staying overnight in a tent or bunking at a hostel. (For more information about hostels, go to www.hostels.com). These low-priced alternatives can save your family plenty and help create great memories!
     
  • Eat on the cheap. With proper planning, you can enjoy great food along the way at a fraction of normal vacation cuisine cost. Decide ahead of time to keep convenience store purchases to a minimum, and buy plenty of fresh fruits like apples, bananas and oranges at grocery stores along the way. If you plan to eat in a restaurant, choose a time when menu prices are less expensive (breakfast and lunch) and eat light during the dinner hour. If each traveler has a water bottle, choose to purchase your water by the gallon and refill them. Buying new individual bottled waters can really add up.
     
  • Go on a series of day trips. Wherever you happen to live, there is a good chance that you are within driving distance of an enjoyable family outing. Museums and national parks are inexpensive and in abundance. Your family can enjoy all the amenities that delight tourists visiting the same area, and best of all, you get to sleep in your own bed. For more information on attractions near you, check out www.fodors.com and have a peek at a well-researched guidebook for your area.
Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination. Quality time with family is what memories are made of…no matter where you go. Seek togetherness, and you’ll discover a world of possibilities!

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By Michael Temple. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Our Last Argument

Sat, 2015-08-29 14:00

Photo: iStock

Not long after we were wed, my wife, Sue, and I had a terrible fight. Providentially, what could have destroyed our marriage ended up strengthening it.

Sue and I were getting ready to attend a church party that we had been looking forward to for some time. I drew the water for my bath and then stepped into our bedroom to get some clean clothing. While I was gone, my pretty little wife decided she would play a joke on me. She slipped into the bathroom, locked the door, and took a bath in the water I had drawn.

When Sue had finished bathing, she went into the bedroom to dress, and I headed to the bathroom to take my bath. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Sue had not drained the water she had bathed in. I suggested to her that, since she had taken a bath in my water, she should drain it and draw me some fresh water. Sue was in a playful mood. She giggled and said, “Oh, I wasn’t very dirty. Just take a bath in my water.”

I saw no humor in her remark and responded in a gruff, demanding voice, “No way. Now get yourself in here and draw me some fresh bath water.”

Sue flashed her prettiest smile and teased me. “I really wasn’t very dirty. Go ahead and use my water.”

Without really meaning to threaten her, I said, “If you don’t get yourself in here and draw me some fresh bath water, I’ll throw you in the tub, clothes and all.”

Sue’s smile faded, and she said, “You wouldn’t dare do that to me . . . would you?”

Sensing that I was being challenged, I responded by restating what now really did become a threat, “If you don’t draw me some fresh bath water, I will. I’ll throw you in, clothes and all!”

Shocked, Sue said, her voice rising, “You wouldn’t dare do that!”

“I’m not kidding!” I shouted as I headed toward her, picked her up, and carried her into the bathroom.

As I held Sue over the tub, I thought to myself, “I love this dear lady, and I really don’t want to drop her in this water.” Looking for a way out without damaging my pride, once again I asked her if she would draw me some fresh bath water.

Out of Control

She looked me in the eye and said, in what seemed to me a defiant tone, “No way!”

So I did a very foolish thing. I dropped her, clothes and all, into the tub.

Sue came up wet and angry.

Then I said some things I shouldn’t have said, and Sue withdrew. She didn’t speak to me for four days. And she didn’t do any cooking or cleaning. My selfishness and bad temper almost cost me my marriage!

This incident happened more than 35 years ago. It was our last fight. We chose not to argue again.

Don’t misunderstand. Our opinions differ at times, but we don’t fight about them. We’ve learned a better way. We’ve learned to allow some give and take, to be considerate, patient, loving, kind, and gentle with each other. We’ve also learned to compromise. We love each other so much that we don’t want to hurt each other. So we discipline ourselves to do and say only those things that will build up the other’s self-esteem.

We have learned that spouses can avoid fights by:

1. loving enough to sacrifice for each other
2. learning to discuss differences calmly. (Don’t shout!)
3. learning to compromise.
4. learning to be unselfish. (You don’t always have to be right or to have your own way.)
5. asking God for His help. (We asked, and He helped.)

Thirty-five years without an argument or fight. It’s a great way to live!

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By Joe Seay. Reprinted with persmission from Signs of the Times, April 2006. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Over the Fence

Sat, 2015-08-29 14:00
  Photo: Jeremy Menking I grew up on a farm in north‑central Minnesota in a community where we got along very well with the neighbors. That is, with one exception. Our back pasture bordered the property of a neighbor I’ll call Alfred.

We had pretty good fences, but even the best fences can have some weaknesses if livestock have a notion that the grass is greener on the other side. Alfred had a field of ripening corn that some of our cattle must have felt it was just something too tempting to pass up. At any rate, our cattle got across that fence. To say they made a feast of the neighbor’s corn field would be an understatement.

It took us a while, but with the help of some other neighbors, we got the cows back on our side of the fence. 

 “This is going to cost you, Joe,” Alfred told my father in no uncertain terms. “Your cows did a lot of damage to my corn.” 

 “How much do we owe you?” my father asked.

 “I haven’t figured it out yet. When I do, I’ll send you a bill.

My father nodded. I was at a loss for words. But I wasn’t when we got the bill. “No way!” I told my father. “He’s charging way too much for his corn!

My father shrugged, “What choice do we have? Take it to court? That’s not a good idea between neighbors.

The following year was very dry. On Alfred’s land there were no ponds; he watered his cattle from a well. We had a well for the cattle, too, but we also had several ponds on our land. The soil surrounding the ponds had moisture so that grass could grow.

One late-summer morning, Alfred’s cows suddenly seemed to think that the grass was lot greener on our side of the fence. Alfred’s cows were in our pasture; on our side of the fence. At first I was upset. But then I thought, Ah, the shoe is on the other foot now.

Sharing Pastures

 “What do I owe you?” Alfred asked sheepishly. My father waved him off, “We’ll talk about that later. First, let’s get these cows back across.

When we got back to our house, I anxiously asked my father what he was going to charge Alfred for this little incident.

My father answered, “Why, we’re not going to charge him a penny.”

I gasped, “You must be joking, Dad!”

“Look,” he said, “all they did was eat a little bit of hay.

“But he charged a lot for the damage to his corn last year!” I protested.

"That’s in the past,” my father said. “I know Alfred doesn’t have much money. In fact, I have an idea that will prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

His reasoning was this: We would share pastures. “It’s always a good idea to rotate pastures if you can,” he said. “Early in the summer, before it gets too dry, we can run the cattle on Alfred’s land. When it gets dry, the cows can come into our pasture with the ponds.” After talking it over with Alfred, we put a gate between our properties.

Soon I recognized the wisdom of my father’s thinking. Fences are necessary on a farm. They separate what needs to be kept apart. But gates connect—both pastures and people.

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By Tom Kovach. Excerpts reprinted with persmission from Signs of the Times, April 2005. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Being Robbed Twice

Tue, 2015-08-25 14:00
Photo: Gaston Thauvin Nancy cried as we unpacked our household goods. I seethed with anger. We’d just moved across the country, and when we unpacked we found dozens of broken items scattered through the boxes: the ornate ceramic cross a friend gave us several Easters before, the framed painting of Jesus, a wooden crèche, a copper jewelry box that held a miniature Bible. We also discovered our gold coin collection was missing along with more than two hundred CDs.

The damage looked deliberate. None of the broken items had been wrapped in protective paper. The movers simply tossed them among other unwrapped items, such as books and metal pans—almost as if they wanted them to break.

“It isn’t fair,” Nancy said later that evening as we ate our supper. I knew what she meant. We’re a military family, and we’ve crossed the country seven times in seventeen years. We’ve left family and said goodbye to church friends, knowing it might be years—if ever—before we would see them again. But we make these sacrifices because we love our country and want to do all we can to protect it. That’s why it hurts all the more when people we serve do what they did.

Two months later, while I stood at a CD rack in a local music store, I spotted a title we’d owned before the move. As I read the cover, a sudden lust for vengeance washed over me. Maybe I could contact the right people and cause the moving company to lose its contract with the military because they hired scoundrels.

Double Jeopardy

But just as suddenly as my anger had flared, it froze, for a new thought crossed my mind: The men robbed you once. Why let them rob you again?

I knew exactly who asked the question, and what He meant by it. A subtle, nearly imperceptible change had occurred in me during those weeks after our move. The pleasure I once received while reading the Bible had nearly dried up. My prayers had become superficial and rote and I had difficulty concentrating on the pastor’s sermons at church. My anger was robbing me of something far more valuable than what we’d lost to the movers.

This was one of those “A-ha!” moments. Light exploded in my mind, breaking through the confusion. God was telling me that in just a few weeks I’d become example number one of His warning about roots of bitterness

Forgiveness has never been easy for me. But at that moment I realized that my willingness to forgive was crucial to my continued spiritual growth. If Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, can I do less when someone steals from me?

Forgiveness frees me to be at peace with God. It frees me to hear from Him, move with Him, to imitate Him. Yet even as I write this, I’m not sure I have forgiven the movers. Perhaps I’ve only fooled myself into thinking I’ve forgiven them, when in reality I’ve simply chosen not to hold a grudge.

I admit that’s not the same as forgiveness, but it’s a step in the right direction. And I can only pray that my ability to really forgive is the next step in my journey toward becoming more like Christ.

Being robbed once is bad enough. I won’t be robbed twice.

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By Richard Maffeo. Reprinted with permission from Signs of the Times September 2005. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

An Unlikely Answer

Tue, 2015-08-25 14:00
Photo: iStock A Mother's prayer is answered with jail!

Cheryl told me the story of her oldest son, Brian.

He had grown up a great kid, in fact he had urged the family to go to church when he was twelve. They did. And they didn’t stop, but somewhere along the way he made the wrong friends and got into drugs. Innocent at first, a little pot, but eventually it turned into a hard habit of meth.

Cheryl prayed: “God I need your help. Save my son.”

The answer came. Brian was picked up for possession and ended up in jail. It was so hard for this mother to have her son be in jail. This had to be the worst experience of his life and it was embarrassing to her as a parent, but perhaps God was working.

Imprisoned Yet Free!

He was. Brian came to his bottom. He cried out to God and demanded that He show His face to him that night in jail or he’d give up on Him forever. That night God showed up. Brian said He showed His face to him. He hasn’t been able to explain it, but ever since, Brian has been committed to God. He has continually worn the simple wooden cross around his neck that he was wearing that night. It is a visible reminder that God heard his prayer and He answered.

Jesus did tell us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9,10).

He’s telling us that for things to happen we need to ask. Cheryl did. Brian did. Do we when we face the impossible? Do we when we face the possible?Today Brian is doing much better. He continues to struggle at times with poor choices and bad habits, but he is always talking about God and to Him. They are close. He’s been seen at church throwing a kiss to God for His love for him. What else can a mother ask for?

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By Chad McComas. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Camping Together

Tue, 2015-08-25 14:00
Photo: Ben C Beuford Camping is an inexpensive way to vacation with your family, if you remember to keep your focus on the purpose.
 

I’m cold. It’s 2:00 a.m. I’m supposed to be asleep, but the blow-up mattress underneath me has lost some of its “blow-up.” My wife is huddled in a ball trying to keep warm. Squinting through the darkness I notice in our tent my other children sleeping quietly. I recall their optimism, “Daddy, camping in April will be so much fun! There will be hardly anyone at the campground and…” And it will be cold.

After crawling out from under my sleeping bag, I don a few clothes and step outside for a moment. I stop awestruck. The star-studded sky brilliantly twinkles like a billion Christmas lights overhead. A raccoon darts across the grounds. A few coals still glow silently in the fire pit.

When I slip back into our tent, I search for a few extra jackets to lay over my sleeping cherubs to make sure they stay warm. Children look so innocent when they are asleep. What are they dreaming about? Hiking around the lake? Catching frogs and turtles? Collecting pinecones? Fishing off the dock? Eating a steaming bowl of oatmeal in the cool morning sunshine at the picnic table?

Investing In Memories

I pull on a sweatshirt, toss a coat over my sleeping wife and crawl back into my sleeping bag. As I lay there, I think to myself, “Why am I so slow to learn?”

Earlier in the week I remember thinking, “Camping? In a tent? Those days are gone. I want a motor home! Besides, the kids won’t have much fun. It will probably rain or be cold.” But the excitement and thrill of surviving seemed to create a joy all by itself!

A teacher in college once told me as I sat on his old living room couch, “We’ve decided to invest in memories instead of things.” How true it is! My children don’t want my “things,” they want me. Just being together in our hectic society is a miracle for many families to accomplish.

No, camping isn’t always fun. There are still bee stings and burnt hot dogs. Sometimes it does rain. But who does it bother the most? (Me.) My kids don’t seem to mind as much as I do. They are happily sleeping on the other side of our Wal-Mart “on-sale” tent.

I give the mattress a few puffs of air to keep us from hitting bottom and then wander into dreamland myself thinking, “It takes so little to be happy.”

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By Curtis Rittenour. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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