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My Breaking Heart

Sat, 2015-08-01 14:00
Photo: iStock My heart is breaking. My child is in a difficult and unhappy marriage. Like most parents, I wanted her to unite with a partner who would protect her and affirm her talents, gifts and beauty. Someone who would challenge her own personal growth, yet share her values. And mostly, a person who would listen to the Holy Spirit and tenderly draw her closer to an experience with Jesus Christ. I did not really expect a marriage made in heaven, yet I hoped for one that would prepare them both for an eternity in Heaven.

I listen to her messages and her phone calls and I wait for the tone of her voice. Have they been arguing again? Has he been unkind or threatened her in some way? I shudder at descriptions of mean-spirited, controlling and selfish behaviors. How much does she not tell me so I will not worry too much? Should we insist that she separate and return home? When will she know she has tried long enough?

I pray for both of them. I really do care about my son-in-law. He possesses positive attributes and much potential. Yet, I do not know if he is capable of providing a safe, loving home for my daughter. His is a lifetime of deficits in nurturing, and a lack of spiritual upbringing--arrested development. At the same time, I am aware of my own child’s shortcomings. In a healthy relationship, this would call for much patience, sacrifice and finesse.

Part of me sometimes thinks--this is what she wanted! She always valued friends who were different or exotic. She met him on the Internet. We were very careful about allowing her to meet him in person. He stayed in our home for many visits, and then actually lived with us before getting married. He splurged on her with gifts, meals, outings. He seemed to value her in his life. Then we talked about the warning signs in the relationship. Even the pastor and a counselor tried to warn her after their pre-marital sessions. Yet she stayed committed to something that seemed destined for a promise that she must have known was not in her best interest. What inherited or modeled flaw was she acting out? Did she think that there were no other choices in life? That no one else would love her? My precious child.

Now, like two very different horses harnessed for a lifetime pulling match, their timing is off, pulling at different times, in different directions. Straining against the traces, digging into the dirt, wild eyed with effort yet weighed down with an incredible burden. I cannot see how they will ever make it to the finish line without hurting themselves.

Painful parenting

Out of my sorrow and frustration, I pray and read God’s Word, and ask others to pray. I try to listen, and gently counsel. I know that I have made my own mistakes in marriage, so I am sometimes speechless. I know that unhappiness can result in moments of spiritual triumph.

We are human. We are God’s precious children. This painful parenting from the sidelines, reminds me of a huge earthly dilemma. Each day we create/choose marriages filled with disaster. Marriages that will make our time on earth more difficult, and possibly affect our eternity. Generations of wandering children, failed governments, feeble leaders, and broken promises are our heritage.

Dear God, now I understand another part of your broken heart, and I thank you for your grace toward all your children.
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By Gracie Peters, pseudonym. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines

Success By Degrees

Sat, 2015-08-01 14:00
Photo: iStock Get a four-year degree. It is the path to a successful career.

That was true once. Today many young adults graduate from four-year colleges with a five or six-figure student loan debts. It cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. Worse, they cannot find jobs paying enough to repay that debt. The debt accumulates interest, blighting their future.

Even if successful later, the fruits of their labor go to pay off school debt. Doomed to spend most of their lives working for others, without benefiting from their own hard work, many give up. They accept failure. Failure beats working long hours without reward. Is that the future you want for your children?

Education has benefits beyond being the path to a successful career. If the object of education is a successful career however, the objective is a successful career, not a four year degree. Education becomes a capital investment. With capital investments, never borrow more than you can pay back with a reasonable return from the investment. What is a reasonable limit for a degree? Up to one year’s salary at entry level. Why? Because there are other expenses besides paying off the investment, but devoting one-tenth to retiring debt is doable. A newly-minted engineer can reasonably expect to earn $65,000 right out of college. A social worker? Perhaps $30,000. Expenses at public universities runs $30,000 to $40,000 a year, including living expenses. Do you see the problem?

The Alternative

There is an alternative: an associate degree in a high-paying technical field. Heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration techs can expect $40,000-$50,000 annually. Dental technicians earn up to $70,000. Folks with the right associate degree get jobs in the chemical plants near where I live paying up to $80,000 annually. That is good money. These jobs cannot be easily outsourced, either.

You qualify with an associate degree from a community college. It takes only two years, tuition is lower and often your child can live at home.

They can get that four-year degree after entering the workforce. Do it part-time, evenings and weekends (I earned an MBA that way), or after saving enough to cover expenses. Pay as you go. You can chip in, too. There is time to do that nowadays. People live longer. Skilled trades are not sweatshop jobs, either. They provide leisure for education. Attending college as an adult – after experiencing the real world, with real-life experiences – allows most to get more from their education.

What about the low prestige of “blue-collar jobs?” At worst, a technician is a franklin (look it up). An unemployed BA with student loan debt is a serf, bound to the debt. Folks can move into professions later, unburdened by debt. A co-worker began as an auto-mechanic, later got a computer science degree, and is now a technical writer. He has no debt, either. His mechanic’s income paid for his house and education.

What do your really want for your children? A secure future or bragging rights about Your Child the College Graduate? It's worth some consideration.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

I’m the Mother

Sat, 2015-08-01 14:00
Photo: iStock If I had a dollar for every time I said that to my daughter … . She was an easy-going happy child, but with a mind of her own that sometimes got her in trouble. Joelle “knew” how things should be done” and if her little brother didn’t toe her line, she’d correct him. That’s when I’d say, “I’m the mother.“

Now that she has three children. with a little girl much like she was, Joelle can be heard saying the same thing to 4-year-old Kira. But I never imagined she’d say it to me. In June, we planned a trip together. From Phoenix, Joelle and I and my five grandchildren (her three and my son’s two) headed to Flagstaff, camped in a yurt, toured the Grand Canyon and Sedona, rode horses, floated on a river, and hiked.

It may have been the heat or the 7,000-foot elevation, but each evening I could barely move and sometimes apologized for not helping much. That’s when I heard, “I’m the mother.” She said it again the next day when I needed assistance over big boulders. In my pride, I apologized again. She smiled and said that it was the first time she’d ever helped me with anything and was glad to do it.

Give Me a Hand

It’s a fact of life that roles often become reversed as the nurturer, the mother, becomes the one being cared for by her children, but I’m resistant. I’m certainly not ready for a full-time caregiver, but I admit that I occasionally need help — but I’m reticent to ask. Is it pride? Fear that I’ll be turned down or resented? A friend told me that I’m denying my children a blessing when they give me a hand.

I don’t know about that, but. I do know that the Bible is specific about honoring our elders/parents: Exodus 20:12 and Leviticus 19:32. There’s also the example of Jesus. While on the cross, he asked John to care for his mother Mary. Clearly this indicated that, had he remained on earth, his mother was a priority.

So, it’s biblical and it’s probably inevitable. May I accept whatever comes my way with love, thankfulness and grace.

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By Dee Litten Reed. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Clay Pots and Hope

Wed, 2015-07-29 06:44
Photo: Kay Pat Approximately five months ago, my only brother died unexpectedly and traumatically. Since that time, I have made seven or eight trips to his home in Stockton to get his affairs in order, clean up the house and bring back a few truckloads of furniture and special remembrances.

It has been a difficult job, to say the least, not only because of the long drive and physical labor involved, but also because of the emotional strain. You see, during each visit I have been saying goodbye, not only to my brother, but also to my mother and father as well, who lived in the same house for many years until their death.

I have also been saying goodbye to eight years of childhood memories spent in that home — a home I will never live in again. And I have been saying goodbye to all the household items I could not drag with me back to Southern California. Finally, I have been saying goodbye to the neighbors and the neighborhood that were once such a big part of my life.

On my final trip, I salvaged my mother’s clay pottery off the weather-beaten wooden table in the backyard and packed them into my truck. Some of the pots date back to the 1950s. They held the remains of old soil, broken pottery and dead cacti that looked like they were from the 1950s as well.

Last weekend, I washed and scrubbed the old clay pots and then went out and bought little cactus plants and succulents and placed them in their new homes. I was unprepared for the joy that filled my heart when my project was complete. Each piece of pottery was now bright and clean and held a beautiful new plant bursting with life. What a thrill it was to see new life come out of death.

If we live long enough, death touches us all with its icy fingers of finality. But when Jesus rose from the grave on that resurrection Sunday, He broke the strangle hold death had on the human race. New life came out of death, not only for Jesus, but also for those who receive Him. "I am the resurrection and the life" He tells His friend Martha in John 11:25. “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”
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By Kathy A. Lewis. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.

Clay Pots and Hope

Wed, 2015-07-29 06:44
Photo: Kay Pat Approximately five months ago, my only brother died unexpectedly and traumatically. Since that time, I have made seven or eight trips to his home in Stockton to get his affairs in order, clean up the house and bring back a few truckloads of furniture and special remembrances.

It has been a difficult job, to say the least, not only because of the long drive and physical labor involved, but also because of the emotional strain. You see, during each visit I have been saying goodbye, not only to my brother, but also to my mother and father as well, who lived in the same house for many years until their death.

I have also been saying goodbye to eight years of childhood memories spent in that home — a home I will never live in again. And I have been saying goodbye to all the household items I could not drag with me back to Southern California. Finally, I have been saying goodbye to the neighbors and the neighborhood that were once such a big part of my life.

On my final trip, I salvaged my mother’s clay pottery off the weather-beaten wooden table in the backyard and packed them into my truck. Some of the pots date back to the 1950s. They held the remains of old soil, broken pottery and dead cacti that looked like they were from the 1950s as well.

Last weekend, I washed and scrubbed the old clay pots and then went out and bought little cactus plants and succulents and placed them in their new homes. I was unprepared for the joy that filled my heart when my project was complete. Each piece of pottery was now bright and clean and held a beautiful new plant bursting with life. What a thrill it was to see new life come out of death.

If we live long enough, death touches us all with its icy fingers of finality. But when Jesus rose from the grave on that resurrection Sunday, He broke the strangle hold death had on the human race. New life came out of death, not only for Jesus, but also for those who receive Him. "I am the resurrection and the life" He tells His friend Martha in John 11:25. “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”
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By Kathy A. Lewis. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.

Working Moms

Wed, 2015-07-29 06:44
Photo: iStock The debate between moms who work outside the home and those who work inside the home has raged for ages. In the end, I think the title of this little piece says it all. But the paths each woman takes to reach her best conclusion are varied. So what is the best course of action for the working woman who is also called mother?

I can’t tell you what to do, but God can. At a pretty young age, I was blessed with a marriage to a wonderful man, a beautiful baby girl, and a career that I really enjoyed. Three years later the picture was completed with the arrival of a baby boy. Interestingly enough, job and baby never really competed with each other. Perhaps it was due to the situation I was in. I had wonderful supervisors who supported and encouraged my commitment to my own family. I in turn, poured myself into my job wholeheartedly.

At the time, it was necessary for the health of my family’s economy to for me to bring in a salary. And as a relatively young, new mom who hadn’t yet felt called to be at home, I was fine with that. It certainly made it easier that I had loving family members to help with childcare, and of course the flexibility and understanding that my job provided me.

Don’t get me wrong; anyone who knew anything about me knew that my family came first. As long as I had that understanding in place I was more than willing to go above and beyond in the workplace. And I did. I also knew that if my child got sick, there were doctor’s appointments, car troubles, or just a rough night with a sleepless baby, I could have the time I needed and be trusted to get my work done. It was a good balance and it was rewarding. Somewhere along the way I began to feel yearnings for more of my family and less of the outside job situation. I think it was a combination of factors, actually. I grew as a mother. I think I honestly got more competent and felt comfortable in my new mothering skin. And I fell deeper and deeper in love with the family God had given me.

I still really enjoyed my work, but I came to view my job as icing on the cake. For me, my marriage and children, my church, family, and friends had really made my dreams come true. In my heart and mind, my career was an added blessing—the icing to my cake. But I could have my cake without the icing. New roles, new duties, and different priorities on the job and home fronts.

A new direction

These were the things that got me thinking long and hard about what really mattered. It wasn’t long before I started praying for God to move me in a new direction. And He did. As He always does.And one fine day the opportunity presented itself. The offer that awaited me? Nothing more than longer hours with little to no pay and a tightening of the budget, but the freedom to be the type of wife and mother I had been yearning to be. So the big switch from “woman-with-paid vacations-and-spacious-office-of-her-own” to “woman-entertaining-toddler-while-balancing-laptop-on-one-knee” was a significant direction change. A change well worth it, for I believe God had been busy growing me for the role.

There are mothers who know from the moment their pregnancy tests read positive that they will sideline their careers to parent at home. Others come to that decision gradually or not at all. With finances and futures to consider, it is never an easy choice. But the God who has promised to supply all our needs is faithful.

The decision to work in the home or outside it is one that God can direct. As I discovered when I worked outside the home and I as I see now; when you do what God has called you to do, He has a way of taking care of all the details—including the family, including the finances, including you.
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By Wilona Karimabadi. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

The Gift of Words

Wed, 2015-07-29 06:44
Photo: iStock At times, it seems like the greatest accomplishment of parenting is just keeping the children alive! The challenges of parenting are many and we make so many mistakes. However, by the time the children arrive at young adulthood, one is tempted to believe that something good must have happened.

If I did anything right in parenting, I think that I passed along an appreciation for and value of reading. When our first child was about eight months old, we started looking at picture books together. Zach was barely two years old when I purchased a 20-volume series of Value Tales that illustrated the lives of famous people. I know we read the story of Louis Pasteur many times. We had a routine of reading three or four books, and singing some songs before he went to bed each night.

Not long after that, I started compiling my own book for him, made up of pictures that I cut from magazines, saved from calendars, or cut out of greeting cards. The pictures were things that I knew he especially enjoyed—food, animals, people, flowers, children, and Bible characters. I pasted the brightly colored pictures on pages of glossy, thick paper and bound the whole book together. We would often sit and look at Zach’s book and talk about each page. After his sister was born, I made one just for her.

Starting young

When Zach was old enough to walk, I took him to the children’s book section of the university library. Later when Lauren was just old enough to toddle, I took both children to story time at the public library in the town where we lived. We took great care in selecting books for both of them and returned almost every week. Lauren especially loved the small, baby-sized books and she would even sleep with them.

As Zach grew up, I searched for a way to connect with him each day, so I offered to read him books each morning after he awoke. At nine years old, he set his own alarm clock and came out to lie on the couch while I read to him for 15 or 20 minutes before school. We kept that ritual until he was about 16 years old when life got very complicated. Sometimes I was not sure if he was really awake as I read, but I certainly enjoyed those quiet times and the many volumes we discovered together.

As a late literary bloomer, Lauren, as a senior in high school, discovered the love of reading thanks to a home study course. Soon after, she started consuming self-help and inspiration books. During her early college days, she helped proofread her uncle’s manuscripts and discussed plots with him. For the past few years, one of her greatest joys has been visiting bookstores. For part of one year, she even worked in a bookstore snack shop. She has also talked about turning some of her life experiences into a book.

I believe that our children benefited from a broad vocabulary that was instilled by listening to stories and reading books. Vocabulary translated into college scholarship money for one of them. The gift of words greatly enriched their abilities to communicate with many people.

Owning, loaning, writing and talking about books are some of the things that we enjoy as a family. Finding the public library was one of the first outings that I conducted after each family move. Certainly reading God’s Word, and the stories of inspired people from all over the world is something that has worked in parenting our children.
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By Karen Spruill, M.A. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Only A Few Years

Tue, 2014-12-30 16:00
Photo: Dreamstime Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. (Exodus 2:9-10)
 
“When the child grew older…” How long did Jochebed have with her son? Commentators generally agree that Moses would have been weaned before returning to Pharaoh’s daughter. So Jochebed knew she would only have three or four years with her boy. What a wonderful blessing to have her child saved from drowning in the Nile, but what a horrible curse to know each day that she would soon have to give him up to another woman.
 
How do you parent when you have just a short time with your child? What things are important? What do you strive to teach them or pass on to them? Do you focus on the future or enjoy one day at a time?
 
These are questions Jochebed had to answer each morning.

Crowd Out Important Questions
 
I admit that my first thought as I wake each morning is not always the awesomeness of my responsibility as a mom. To-do lists, appointments, meal plans and school pick-ups often crowd out the more important questions of parenting. And though I do not envy the situation Jochebed found herself in, there was a focus to her parenting that I do envy.
 
Cooking, cleaning, band-aiding, hugging, washing, wiping and laughing are all important parts of our job as a parent. But it would be good for us to spend some time every once in a while reminding ourselves of why we are doing all this. To reorient our schedules and to-do lists and include time for teaching the morals and values and the dependence on Christ that we want our kids to know. It might be that we keep to the same plans, but we put a little spin on their focus.
 
I’m glad I haven’t had to hide my boys in a grass basket or give them up to live with a princess, but I, like Jochebed, know that there is something special about my boys. A specialness that comes from being a child of God and I want to keep that in my heart as I go through each day.

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By Joelle Yamada. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Polar Opposites

Mon, 2014-12-29 00:59
Photo: Scott Liddell Countless times when tragedy has flashed across a screen, or when I have heard about a horror unspeakable, I have thought to myself: “How does this affect me?” Perhaps I am alone in admitting this less than altruistic thought, but I think humanness pervades us all. And it is becoming more apparent all the time that this ability to be cold towards catastrophe and calamity alike affects what is around us both near and far. A recent story in the news brought this home to me with searing clarity that I have been unable to shake.

I was driving home from work one day, gleaning the latest headlines off the radio, when the announcer said that Polar bears are being considered a threatened species. Later that night as my one-year old son sat in my lap and we browsed one of his animal books, we saw the majestic Polar bear. I pointed to it and growled loudly, as it is tradition that I shamelessly make all the animal noises as dramatically as possible for his endless amusement. After he was tucked in for bed, the unsympathetic question arose concerning the Polar bear: “How does this affect me?” As I felt guilty for thinking that, an idea with tremendous gravity started to weigh on my mind. I needed to stop thinking about how the world affects me, and start thinking about how I affect the world around me.

Greenhouse Gasses

You see, the reason that Polar bears are being considered a threatened species is that the geographic area of their habitat is shrinking rapidly. The ice that Polar bears have lived on and hunted on is quickly melting away. The U.S. Minerals Management Service has even said that the bears are drowning from having to swim so much further to make it across increasingly widening gaps in the ice. The ice, according to an ever increasing mountain of evidence, is melting because of greenhouse gasses. These gasses come from fossil fuels that trap heat and warm the earth’s surface. These fuels are expelled into the air by me. By you. By us.

The beauty of the earth, typified by stunning wildlife such as the Polar bear, is affected by each of us. If we believe ourselves to be stewards of creation, caring for that which God has given us, than I believe we also have a Christian duty to ask ourselves: “How do I affect the world around me?” To be a follower of Christ without sacrifice, and to desire a beautiful earth without protecting it, would be to lead a life of polar opposites.

Start simple. Think the three R’s. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

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By Garrett Gladden. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Gold, Frankincense...

Wed, 2014-12-24 01:41
Photo: Joel Calheiros For several months now (practically since last December 26th) my children have been wishing and dreaming for Christmas. Is it their eagerness to hear the story of Baby Jesus and sing “Away in the Manger”? Do they relish the opportunity for generosity? Are they pouring over the toy catalog in search of the perfect gift for a child in need? No, sadly no. Somehow my youngsters have mistaken Jesus’ birthday for their own since they seem to think that they deserve most of the gifts. Perhaps Mom and Dad, along with doting grandparents, helped create this horrible misconception. Perhaps our commercialized culture cultivated the passion for presents. Whatever the culprit, one thing is certain: It is time to change.

Thus it was that I began searching for new methods of celebrating Christmas in our home. I sought a balance between deprivation and gluttony, and amidst the plethora of information on the World Wide Web, I discovered a most creative approach. Trina Conner Schaetz’ article “Begging for Myrrh” (Christian Parenting Today, Winter 2002, http://www.christianitytoday.com/cpt/2002/005/1.30.html) suggests turning the Christmas morning gift opening into a reminder of the gifts Jesus received from the wise men. It also effectively limits each child to a modest three gifts instead of the usual piggish piles. Each gift reflects the special symbolism found in the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Symbolism

Because of its extreme value, the wise men’s gift of gold represents Jesus’ kingship. Your child’s “gold” gift may be his most expensive and most wished for gift. Its importance symbolizes his own importance to your family as the gold symbolized Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Frankincense is best known biblically as an ingredient of the incense that burned in the tabernacle. It symbolizes our prayers, worship, and communion with God. The “frankincense” gift should be something that helps your child worship or learn more about God, something that aids in her meeting with God. Perhaps a devotional book, a Christian CD or DVD, a prayer journal, or maybe even a Bible game would make good “frankincense” gifts.

Myrrh was commonly used to scent perfumes, anointing oils, and embalming ointment. Interestingly, Nicodemus used myrrh to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. (John 19:39-40) Myrrh signifies that Jesus was born to eventually die for our sins. Your child’s “myrrh” gift may include items that “anoint” his body. The author of the article suggests things like special soaps, perfumes, colognes, or lotions. Perhaps even things like bubble bath, hair bows or barrettes, or make-up would be applicable. I might stretch the symbolism to include a needed item of clothing—something that is worn on the body.

I look forward to this Christmas too because I now see in it a powerful opportunity to curb my children’s material desires while teaching them lessons about Jesus.

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By Hannah Henry. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Photo Gifts

Sat, 2014-12-20 16:00
Photo: Studiomill The Christmas season is just around the corner. As families grow, unless one is rich, it becomes harder to afford gift buying. We all say that gifts aren’t important yet we all want to buy or make gifts for the simple reason that we enjoy gifting our family members. And let’s face it; we’d really like to give the perfect gift. That takes some figuring.

Last year, I started a long overdue project of going through many boxes of family and friend’s pictures, deciding what to keep and what to toss. Many were duplicates that belonged to our parents, who also had never put them in albums. Yet I didn’t want to toss them. What to do?

Then, I thought, why not make memory albums for the family members? The cost to create these albums was affordable and the joy the gift brought was worth the preparation. I know that my creativity in doing this is not unique as many other people make memory albums. Yet when I saw tears roll down the face of my granddaughter-in-law as she saw pictures of her husband, as a child, that she’d never seen before, I knew the gift was perfect for them. Our son, who knew I was creating the albums, had no idea that he and his wife would get one too. He thought it was a grandmother project. His and his wife’s obvious delight in receiving one was evident.

Old Family Photos

Depending on the age of family members, there are other ways to make use of family pictures. How about a poster of a teenager artistically added to a picture of his or her favorite famous person? Or a mug with a picture of one of your relatives as a child? Or a picture puzzle for a young child or even an adult made from a snapshot with a family pet or a fun time such as a family vacation?

An older family member, especially one who may be handicapped in some way or confined, might enjoy a packet of say 12 post cards (along with postcard stamps to mail them, and perhaps an easy-grip pen too?) that features a picture of him or her, perhaps as a child, to send to friends.

If the older person is a jokester, the post card might even carry a caption, “From one of your favorite antiques.” It provides a fun way for them to stay in touch. You can do projects like these quite reasonably at business centers like Walmart. It’s amazing what those wonderful machines-for-reproducing-pictures can create!

But don’t forget while you’re thinking up the perfect gift to give, think on The Perfect Gift —Jesus—the reason for the Christmas season. And as you write the gift tag or card to go with the gift, you might add something like this, “I thank Jesus that we’re in this family together.”

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By Betty Kossick. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

No Right to Strike

Tue, 2014-12-16 16:00
Photo: Dawn Allynn Years ago young woman came to our door, asking to use the telephone. One eye was purpled, the face around it discolored by a days-old bruise. Her jaw had a matching, fresher bruise. She had been beaten by her husband.

My wife and I invited her in. My wife put ice packs on the bruises. Our visitor explained she had disobeyed her husband, so he had the right to strike her—it was in the Bible. The young woman was talking about a passage in Ephesians, one where Paul discusses marriage. It is can be misused as a justification for spousal abuse. Does not Paul say wives should obey their husbands? Well, no. Paul says “as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands.” Once married, a wife is no longer a free agent, but must act in their joint interest. Yet the wife is told to be “subject to,” not “obedient to.”

The difference is important. We are subject to the laws of the country in which we live, yet few feel compelled to blindly obey every law. At different times and places our Christians duty leads us to willfully disobey laws—such as when the Soviet Union made it a crime to be Christian.

A wife subject to her husband need not blindly obey him. Her Christian duty may lead at times to disobedience, and a willing acceptance of the consequences. Those consequences should not include blows.

Love His Wife as He Loves Himself

In that same letter to the Ephesians, Ephesians 5:28-29, Paul also states," ‘So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it...' ”

If you love your wife, as you love yourself, you cannot strike her—unless you routinely physically punish yourself when you fail at a goal you have set for yourself. You would be thought crazy if you punched yourself in the face because you did not mow the yard, as you promised yourself you would do. You might fine yourself—pay someone else to mow it—but you would not get physical.

That applies to wives, too. A wife should not strike her husband. Yet one-fifth of physical spousal abuse is committed by women.

Being married is difficult. A good marriage requires two people to subordinate their individual desires to a greater whole. Conflicts result, yet conflict is healthy. Better decisions result from open debate. All sides of an issue get considered. Two heads are better than one. Yet conflict should not degenerate into physical force.

My sister-in-law once asked my older brother about this subject. “Adults do not hit each other to settle things,” he stated, “And men do not strike women.”

We talked our visitor into calling her father, not her husband. We convinced her to talk to her minister about the abuse she faced.

We never saw her again. I still wonder about her.

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By Mark N. Lardas, Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.

Gift of Memories

Sat, 2014-12-13 16:00
Photo: Dreamstime She hadn’t meant it as a gift. She was just clearing out books and papers in preparation for selling the old house our parents had lived in. This adopted sister of mine had moved into the basement of my parents home along with her growing teenagers so she could care for Mom and Dad in their final years—her gift of thanks for them taking her in as an orphaned child. It was four years of intensive, heart-breaking, back-breaking labor—a labor of love, and most of the family agreed that she could live in the house as long as she wanted to after they died.

Fifteen years later, her children married and with children of their own, she’s preparing the house for sale. In the process of emptying drawers, bookshelves and cubbyholes, she discovered previously unnoticed items she thought her siblings would want.

UPS Box
    
I couldn’t imagine the contents of the box left at our door by UPS. But when I opened it to find my high school yearbooks, old books of my mother’s, books I’d inscribed to my father, old photographs, and letters our children had written to their grandparents, I knew I’d found treasure. This gift from my sister gave my siblings and I a part of ourselves that had faded from memory.
    
On a silent, holy night over 2000 years ago, God sent a gift to Earth’s doorstep—a gift to restore lost memories of divine inheritance and fellowship. A gift, unlike my box, with the power to redeem and restore for eternity: “Immanuel—God with us!”
     
May your gifts given and received this season not only strengthen personal connections but also bring remembrance of your inheritance and connection with the divine Gift.

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By Lois Pecce. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

My Pop

Tue, 2014-12-09 16:00
Photo: Dreamstime He always smelled like mixed nuts. He drizzled olive oil on top of his spaghetti. He wrote me short letters on his old typewriter and used to send me dollar bills for “some ice cream” when I was in college. He played the flute beautifully and looked manly doing it. He and my dad and brother have the exact same walk. He was always proud of us and I love that I knew it even at a young age.

He always called me Jo.

He was left-handed and wrote with a hook that created a horrible chicken scratch—but I can spot his writing a mile away. He laughed easily at us kids and took joy in simple things—like the cafeteria at his retirement village that he loved. He volunteered constantly at his church—doing financial things and helping with music. I remember him building things—measuring and marking things with a pencil he'd sharpened with a knife. He took great joy in my brother and I and our activities.

He was pretty hip to the new and different ways we live and the choices we've made. But we couldn't get him to do email no matter how many times Dad tried to teach him.

He played golf every week until just a few years ago, but continued to play tennis twice a week with other men young enough to be his children. Three weeks ago, at 96 years of age, he fell out on the court and broke his hip.

Beginning of the End

We've talked a lot in the last days about what might happen. What if the hip doesn't heal well? Is this the beginning of the end? He's in such great shape for his age that we began worrying that he would spiral downhill but possibly live for a long time uncomfortable and immobile. He would've hated that.

He fell asleep Sunday night and when the nurse went to check on him at 4 a.m., he had passed away. We probably won't know the exact cause of death — blood clot or heart attack, most likely.  But we are thrilled. I know that seems strange.  But after the initial tears yesterday, all I could be was thankful. Thankful he didn't suffer for a long time. Thankful he was living fully to the end. And thankful for my memories of him, my last grandparent.

Because of our transient military life, he never met my youngest son or daughter or got to know my kids well. And for that I'm very sad. But I'm so, so happy and proud that he blazed on to the end. I've spent a lot of time over the last days thinking about my own life, my own health, and whether my current path will lead me to the same kind of glorious end. I think I may need to make a few changes.

Maybe more nuts, olive oil and tennis.

We'll miss you until we see you again, Pop.

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By Joelle Yamada. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Don't Look Back

Sat, 2014-12-06 16:00
Photo: Dreamstime What would it take to put your family first? How would you change your daily routine? Where would you live that would be most conducive to your children’s spiritual health? Would you be willing to make sacrifices that might cost you your job, your home, and even friendships? What are you willing to leave behind in order to provide the best for your kids? If you wrestle with questions like these, you are not alone. There’s someone in the Bible who struggled to put family first.

Lot, the nephew of Abraham, chose to live with his family in a beautiful place. The climate was perfect, the job opportunities plentiful, the shopping was perhaps the best in that region. But Sodom was a city so evil that God planned to destroy it. Genesis 19 tells the story of two angels visiting Lot to encourage him to leave Sodom and save his family. When Lot spoke with his future son-in-laws, they thought he was joking.

Lot’s family was strongly tied to their home in Sodom. They could not imagine letting go of their house, their friends, their wealth, their life! Lot was in a quandary. He seemed frozen in confusion. His feet struggled to move, but he must. Except that these angel visitors literally took them by the hands and led them out of town, they would probably have stayed and been destroyed.

Took Hold of His Hand

“And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed’” (Genesis 19:16, 17).

Perhaps you have a difficult decision to make regarding your family. Maybe you need to make a hard choice. If you have prayed and feel clear about making a change but hesitate, there are two lessons to learn from our friend Lot. The first is to remember that God is by your side. The Lord is just as merciful to us today as to Lot and his family. It is a startling and moving picture to see God’s angels reach out and take the hands of Lot’s family and with a firm grasp lead them to safety. Can you imagine holding the hand of an angel?

Second, don’t look back. If you have studied, prayed and are quite clear about putting your family first, don’t mull over what you leave behind. It won’t help you or your family. We all will have our moments of wonder about decisions we make. But remember Lot. He appears to have finally made the right choice, but living in the wrong place ended in the loss of his wife and scarred his daughters. Don’t wait too long to put your family first. And when you make them a priority, don’t look back.

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By Curtis Rittenour. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.

The Ripple Effect

Tue, 2014-12-02 16:00
Photo: Jeroen Koomen I sat down at my computer the other day and did a search for a pastor I had known as a child. What is he doing now? I wondered. Of all the pastors of my childhood, he had made the biggest impression on me. I still remember clearly one of his sermons (one of the very few that I remember from my childhood days in church). 

As I thought about that, I began to think back and remember some of the people that had made a tremendous impact on my life as I was growing up. Some of those that came to mind are still cherished friends. Friends that I know I could go to anytime and they would be there with advice and friendship. Some though, would probably have to think awhile to remember who I was and how our paths had intersected.

I remember a pastor’s wife I knew as a teenager and how her love and acceptance of our church family, which at the time had been termed “ultra conservative” by a previous pastor’s wife, had changed my whole view of what it truly means to be a Christian. I have no idea where she is now, it is likely she would not remember me at all, but Christ’s love that I saw in her touched my life and the influence of that remains with me to this day.

Leave Its Mark

It both thrills and sobers me to think about the impact we have on others, some that we realize and much that we never know. A favorite author compares our influence with a stone dropped in a still lake. The ripples from a small stone can extend till they cover the entire surface. An encouraging word, patience in spite of difficulties, a willingness to be real and authentic, a spirit of love and acceptance, can touch a life and from that life  touch literally millions of others as the ripples widen. Just so, a negative spirit, however manifested, will leave its mark on many.

Now that I have teenagers of my own, I rejoice when others come along beside them, take an interest in them and influence their lives in positive ways. As I look around at the young and not so young around me, I ask myself, “What impact am I making on those that I interact with daily and those that I may cross paths with for only a brief moment in time?” I pray that my influence on others will be such that the ripples created will continue on for all eternity!

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By Leslie Olin. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines

Living as I Wait

Sat, 2014-11-29 16:00
  Photo: Dreamstime My husband completed graduate school two weeks ago and we are in the waiting stage. Sending out resumes and inquiry letters. Waiting to hear back after interviews. Waiting to find out if we will need to relocate. Waiting to find out if a move will mean switching providers during the middle of my pregnancy. As someone with a planner’s personality, the past few months have been very stressful and full of uncertainty for me. I want to know where we will settle down, where we will raise our family, where we fill find a church, and how close we will be to our extended family. But for now, we wait.

The other day I took my 20-month old daughter outside to help me plant some potted vegetables on our porch. She eagerly threw handfuls of dirt into each pot and set the plants inside. Her face lit up with a huge smile when I let her help me lift the watering can and she saw all the water streaming out. After we finished, I sat and watched as she ran in circles around the pots, pointing to the leaves and saying “Bzzzzz!” when she saw a bug crawling on them.

Her joy in the simplest little things was contagious. She isn’t worrying about whether or not Mama will have supper ready for her in the evening or where she will sleep tonight. It doesn’t cross her mind to think about what will happen tomorrow or next week or in a few months. She lives each moment trusting fully that her mama and daddy will take care of her!

Happy Trust

In the middle of all this waiting, my daughter’s happy trust and exuberance for life is humbling to see. I’ve often read and quickly nodded along with Matthew 6:25-27, but it takes on a whole new meaning when you watch a young child’s practical example: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes… Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27).

Too often have I fallen into frustration and questioned God’s leading in our lives, rather than trusting as we wait. I have to stop myself and notice the happy moments we have right now: a husband home every day in this interim, a quickly growing toddler, and a precious life growing inside of me. Maybe we won’t find a job and settle down for three months or even six, but I won’t ever be able to reclaim this time. I want to love and live with a joyful trust like my daughter is showing me.

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By Danae Schilt. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Midnight Peace

Tue, 2014-11-25 16:00
Photo: Jeff Osborn It was the middle of the night and the only thing my weary brain could process was how exhausted I was. It has been a challenging day and now I was standing over the crib of my six month-old baby, trying to soothe her back to sleep again. I had lost track of how many times she had woken up that night. The usual routine and tricks of the trade just weren’t cutting it and I felt my last shred of patience deserting me.

I thought we had finally overcame this hurdle; achieved the goal of smooth and restful nights. I had read the books and tried to follow all of the advice. So why was I back here in this situation again? I fought back tears as I tried to quiet her sobs. “Just please go to sleep!” I thought lethargically. The night felt never ending, but I knew that morning would come too soon. A new set of challenges would be waiting and I would be ill-prepared to face them if I didn’t get any rest.

Somehow, her crying eventually ebbed and was replaced with restless tosses and turns. She would fall asleep for a few minutes and then wake up and the cycle would start all over again. We both were exhausted but while I would have given anything to be drifting off, she was stubbornly fighting it. I knew the poor night’s sleep she was getting would carry consequences into tomorrow. If only she would give in, I could finally sink back into my bed.

Frustration

As the minutes ticked on, my frustration grew and my patience shrank. I would throw little prayers heavenward every few minutes. “Please help her fall asleep,” or “Please let her stay asleep this time so I can get some rest.”

Suddenly the selfishness of what I kept demanding hit me. I was so wrapped up in my own needs I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I took a deep breath and made the conscience decision to use this time to praise God instead of demand relief. I thanked Him that I had a healthy baby, a bed to sleep in, and a home that provided us with shelter.

As I continued to pray, I felt God’s peace wrapping around me and my patience being restored. I was still exhausted but I no longer felt so frazzled and alone. I felt a reassurance that even though the night might be long and the following day even longer, God would be with me each step of the way, providing the strength to meet each challenge.

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By MiKaela Miller. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

The Sketch

Sat, 2014-11-22 16:00
Photo: Gary McCord I have three sons. They are all adults now, in their twenties or early thirties. The youngest is finishing college. Two are engineers. They were close as they grew up, despite a nine-year age difference between the oldest and youngest. Those two are in the Dallas area. The middle son works in Houston.

The middle son wanted to spend time with his brothers. He took a long weekend to drive up and visit them. It was during the State Fair, so the three of them went, a first time for all – even the ones who lived there.

They did typical State Fair things. (Apparently you can buy fried everything to eat.) Then they passed the caricature booths. The Houston brother was looking to bring something from the State Fair as a gift for his parents. A caricature of the three of them struck him as perfect. It would be unique, personal, and linked to the fair. His brothers agreed.

Soon they were standing in the artist’s booth, as the man began sketching out a color caricature of the three, together. A good caricature artist can knock out a sketch in 10 to 20 minutes. With three to draw, he told them it could take as much as an hour. They did not mind.

The booth was arranged so passer-byes could see the artist work. It is a way to attract business. After the artist had been working a few minutes, someone stopped to watch. Then another person stopped. And another. The longer he worked, the bigger the crowd grew. Some in the crowd started pointing. Others were smiling. Then the artist in the adjacent booth noticed the crowd. She left her booth to see what was going on. She stayed to watch.

Caricature

As the crowd grew my sons started wondering what was going on. My sons were the only ones who could not see the caricature develop. By the time the artist finished, the space behind him was packed.

Finally he showed my sons the drawing. All three laughed when they saw it. It was them.

It showed three grinning young men. They were obviously brothers, sharing the family chin and nose. Yet the artist had also caught their individual personalities. No one who knew them had to wonder which brother was which.

Raising children, guiding them to adulthood where they become independent, ethical, and moral, is the greatest challenge God gives to parents. With great challenge come great rewards. When my son gave my wife and me the original drawing, I realized how blessed the two of us were.

It was obvious why the sketch had drawn a crowd. It not only captured three brothers, but three comrades. Brothers, but also friends, sharing a joyful moment. Men to take pleasure in having raised. As we looked at it, it was if my wife and I heard God whispering, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Never Cease Praying

Tue, 2014-11-18 16:00
Photo: Stockxchng As I spoke with an elderly friend at church, he shared concern for his son and grandchildren. He and his wife worked and sacrificed to provide their children and grandchildren with Christian education. They set faithful examples of living and worshiping, but the world and apathy crept in and lured the younger generations away.

“Don’t stop praying,” I encouraged, and told him the story of “Cal,” a deputy sheriff I met years ago in California.

I was gathering data on the effects of alcohol on the fetus during pregnancy for a local university. Part of my hospital route was the County Hospital where I gave out post-delivery questionnaires. I sometimes had to wait outside the Maternity Ward until all the babies were returned to the nursery following their morning feeding.

Next to the Maternity Ward was the County Prison Ward. The deputy had a desk in the hall outside the door.

“Where you from?” he asked me one day.

“Loma Linda University.”

“You must be one of those church people. Well, I tell you, I am mad at God! I don’t go to church, but my sister did. She was one of the best, most godly people you ever saw. You’d think he’d appreciate that and keep her from getting cancer or at least make her well. But he didn’t. The best person in the world died last month and I want to shake my fist in God’s face.”

Tears Filled His Eyes

Tears filled his eyes and all I could think of was “I’m sorry.” If he didn’t believe in the Bible, what comfort could I give, so I just listened.

Eventually, in our snatches of conversation, Cal started telling me about his childhood. His grandmother was a key figure. Dad kicked him out of the house at age 12 and Grandma took him in. “She was one of those church-going ladies. She knew her Bible! She knew all those stories in there like…tell me the story about that guy, what’s-his-name, and the big fish.”

There was a glut of babies that summer and the nurses rarely opened the doors on time. Cal, meanwhile, asked the hospital chaplain for two Bibles. I had no Bible-teacher training but I prayed each morning for God to give me answers to whatever questions Cal came up with that day and to find the words in the Bible that he wanted me to find. And He did.

“That’s what my Grandma taught me!” Cal exclaimed after challenging me with another question. I watched his anger at God melting away. “My Grandma always prayed for me and my sister that we would be saved. I know my sister was saved because she loved God. I didn’t think I could be saved because I’ve lived a tough life—but maybe, maybe my Grandma’s prayers are working.”

Never cease your love, your forgiveness, or your heavenly petitions. They are your most important privilege and responsibility. God never throws out an earnest prayer!

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By Lois Pecce. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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