Friday, December 2, 2016

More Stuff!

     "What do you want for Christmas?" the Santa routinely asked my little girl. I abruptly piped in like only a parent could, "Nothing!!!! She doesn't want anything! She has all she needs and wants! Oh wait, I know what she can have....a professional organizer to help her deal with what she already has! The last thing she needs is MORE STUFF!!!!" 

     Well, I didn't say it out loud, but I certainly thought about it. For many families like ours, Christmas has meant two things: More and Stuff! 

     Stuff for the closet! Stuff for the toy bin! Stuff for the TV hutch! Stuff the garage! Stuff for the areas...with stuff! As a mother of six children, the last thing I need is more stuff on top of the stuff we have! After all the treats from the school party, costumes from the church performance, clothes and toys from the family-giving, I have felt as if I have a mall in my home entry room. All I can do in December is make a pile in the laundry room and deal with it all after New Years.

       Then there is the More Factor. The innocent children in our lives have this inward understanding that every year the gifts should be bigger and better! The bigger you get, the bigger the presents get. And it better be better, mom, so they think. I thought this as a child and I know my children have had these expectations Seriously, my daughter made the comment a couple years ago of her Christmas gifts being more and more each year. "Just think, Mom! By the time I am 13 I will have a car!" No ho, ho,ho here...because truth is, she was right! There was this unsaid pattern we had been creating as a family every year that there were more gifts and more expensive gifts than the year before.

          Certainly, Christmas is a wonderful time to purchase and receive presents as we rejoice over the ultimate Gift given to the world. And I love it all! But the reality is that it can easily get out of control and our children can become consumed with consuming. And this can lead to frustration in the minds and the home of the parents. 

For us, we decided to pull the reins back a bit on the sleigh ride for our family so that we aren't overwhelmed with more stuff and yet still have the most wonderful time of the year. We took two easy steps that changed the direction of our whole season:

     1. Give away as much as you can this month before more comes in the door. Since it's a hectic time, don't even separate it yet into those resale/giveaway/trash piles. Just get a box and throw everything you can get rid of in there. Think in terms of clothes, toys, decor, books, DVDs etc. Then take it to Goodwill or save if you have time to sell or share things after the season. 

As you gather each item, you will feel a wave of holly jolly come over you, I guarantee. I typically have each of our children gather ten legitimate things (not their sibling's items or a small piece of a broken toy) to share. For us, that is 60 items out of the way! Merry Christmas to me!

     2. Explain that each child is loved but the gifts are not always going to be more impressive than the year before. Some years may be a step up from the year before but some years may not, and that is okay. Share with them that the goal is to share the love not increase the greed. Just because they are growing up doesn't mean that the gifts are more and more. Some things may be more and some may be less. It can be a trap for them to compare from previous years or even with siblings who gets what and how much is it. 

This talk may even need to happen a couple of times as they grow in this new way of thinking. Therefore, the atmosphere, tone and words we use in communicating these steps is for the children is crucial for them to understand and embrace. These changes may be harder for some hearts than others but it's beneficial for all.

      Here is glimpse at what we actually say to our children during December, "Hey it's the most wonderful time of the year! Who is ready to celebrate? Decorate? Bake? Shop? Give?! Go light-seeing?! Here is the plan, kids. First, we are going to start by making room for the blessings that are to come! This way, other children can use what we have had and it keeps the house from being overwhelmed with too much stuff. 

Secondly, let's keep things in perspective of appreciation for all you will be receiving this year. Each present is given because you are loved. However, every year they will not necessarily be bigger and better, okay? Just because you received a lot last year doesn't mean it will be the same this year or even bigger and better. But you will be blessed not only by Christmas morning but by the events and other festivities throughout the month! We will enjoy this all to the fullest when we have the right heart of gratitude. Who is ready to start?!" 

3. Choose a family project to bless others. Most families spend time asking, "What do you want for Christmas?" However, one of the questions we emphasize in our home is "What should we do to bless someone else this year?" This question will get everyone thinking outside of themselves. We gather around and chat to hear what is on everyone's heart. Then we choose several smaller giving projects if everyone is asking for something different or we do one big giving project if we feel there is a more pressing larger need. This time will settle in your children's hearts as more and more meaningful through the years. 

       So, gather your small and big elves around the fire, pass out marshmallows and share the family's merry way to celebrate! Keep it short and sweet answering all questions at the end, then implement all month long with expectations of less material chaos and fewer greedy hearts. Everyone can still decorate the house, eat delicious treats, go visit the brightest lights, turn up the Christmas tunes, make traditional crafts and do some shopping for others. But most of all, you will be able to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year without everyone wanting more and your home overflowing with stuff.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Communicating Our Healthy Choices

Have you ever felt like teaching your children how to handle healthy food choices can be difficult? For us, we had to learn the hard way! Just because our girls were eating healthy didn't mean they had healthy communication to others about it...

     “Stop! Don’t eat that!” warned my 4 year old Allison. Our family friend paused with the pizza right at his lips. “It has pepperoni which is a brain killer!” We all laughed and moved on with the night. Then another day arose when my dad offered my children some candy. “No thanks, they contain high fructose corn syrup.” We didn’t laugh as much on this one but there was more of a silent pause in the family as everyone thought about it. And then the awkward moment arrived at a family party when the cake was being handed out and one of my girls asked loudly, “Does this icing have dyes in it?! I can’t eat dyes!” This health thing wasn’t helping our relationships with those we loved. We needed to have a family talk.

     Our healthy lifestyle was obvious to those around us but it wasn’t being communicated with ease. Furthermore, I knew our kids felt the tension as they would strive to obey only to have others roll their eyes, to sit at events with nothing to share in the social world, or to feel rude to those who tried to share a treat with them. So we had to decide to give up on being healthy and let the kids do whatever they wanted, or we needed some basic understandings that put everyone at ease. We decided to stay healthy and do what is fitting for all.

  1. Role play how to appropriately handle your family’s health decisions without making others feel inferior. We spent a few talks on this because it took time for the children to understand health manners. We determined we would ask questions about the food privately to one adult rather than announce it to the whole table. We would not tell other people what and how to eat nor make a scene on what our family has decided to eat. We would be sensitive to the giver of the food and accept it if the person’s feelings were on the line but not necessarily eat it.  
  2. Decide what truly is not allowed. If the lines are gray it can be difficult for the child to know when to say no and when to say yes. For us, we choose to avoid MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and dyes completely. These are three things the children don’t even have to ask about when deciding. And yes, that means most candy. But don’t feel too sorry for the kids. We can still do select cookies, cupcakes, chocolates, popsicles and frozen yogurt but something such as candy is just always a “nope.” This will cut out the pleas and sad faces of “can I mom?!” in moments when it’s hard. My kids just know, don’t even ask! In addition, we decided we would only do one treat a day (or none!) but would allow for two treats at parties and holidays. If they want more they can save something for the next day. This causes them to be aware and carefully select their items.
  3. Teach the children the reason behind eating healthy so they understand it is to help them. My younger kids are still learning this but my older three ages 8, 10, and 11 are at a place they don’t want the junk because they understand what it does and what it can lead to in life.  Their taste buds have adapted and if they do eat unhealthy they don’t feel well and know why. This has helped them make their own wise choices when we aren’t there to guide. Once a child has their own convictions it takes quite the burden off of the parents because they trust the child knows and will do what is right.
  4. Keep healthy treats readily available as an option. This has worked wonders in our family. We take a trip to the local health food store and let the children pick out several fun and tasty treats! It may even include the “candy” stuff just without the dyes and high fructose. These items are something they really like and when school, church, friends or extra activities offers treats there is a back-up plan to be able the moment. I have items in the car, in my purse, in the pantry at home, and in their backpacks ready for any switch off!
  5. Be consistent in the decisions but not obsessive. “Mom, at the sleepover there was a game that used Skittles that we had to catch in our mouths and if I didn’t play then we wouldn’t have had equal players so I decided to go ahead and do the game but I wondered if I made the right decision?!” In this situation, we let it go and assured our daughter that we were proud she was aware and that it isn’t a habit she gives in to often but that we understood the predicament. There are times something will come up and you may have to let it go. Just look at the overall pattern of the decisions made and whether or not there is a direction of consistency.

     Yes, we have come a long way since our kids would correct others in what they were eating or announce to parties what wasn’t allowed. This generation most likely knows more about health than what my friends and I were aware of growing up but I want it to be communicated and understood in wholesome expression for all involved. Although, I will say having my four year old yell out “brain killer” to people who eat pepperoni is a favorite memory!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Killer Harvest Celebrations!

      In a local store, my little girl saw gory Halloween decor and said, "I don't like this place. Look at all the mean things." The checkout employee heard her and replied, "Oh, honey, its not real. It's just pretend." I could tell by the face she made to the clerk that my little girl wasn't buying it. So I answered my daughter and said, "The lady working is right, those actual items are not real but they DO represent things that are real." I could tell the clerk thought I wasn't for real.

       Our family is all about the fall. We enjoy the cooler air, indulge in comfort foods, decorate with autumn colors, and participate in seasonal parties. But there is a darker side to this month that is a concern to me. Why are we rejoicing over blood, fear, knives, pain, chains, screams, death, terror, missing limbs and broken bones? Those are the very things that none (or, should I say, most of us) want to avoid in life. And yet, there is much effort and publicity to make it something we should all celebrate as if it's pretend. But I know from personal experience, those things are real and none of them seem like a fall festival.

BLOOD reminds me of the day my dad saved a man's life with his own neck tie in his workplace when a bomb went off from a box received in shipping.

FEAR reminds me of the night of the tornado that hit Joplin, MO where children and families are still in counseling over for post-tramatic stress syndrome

KNIVES remind me of the innocent landlord that was stabbed nearby after reaching out to help the family in need.

PAIN reminds me of what my grandmother felt when dying in her last horrific stages of ovarian cancer

CHAINS remind me of a college-aged girl I know that miraculously escaped the American sex trade in which she was literally chained in a warehouse for over 4 years

SCREAMS remind me of a very young local foster girl I know that reported screaming from the pain she felt when being sexually abused.

DEATH reminds me of all the thousands of precious people who tragically lost their lives on 9-11

TERROR reminds me of how our troops, including my cousin, who have fought and are fighting in horrific circumstances to end the terrorist groups

MISSING LIMBS reminds me of the children I saw on a recent trip to Haiti in which street children have been tortured to the point of brutal loss in order to make them work as slaves

BONES remind me of when my husband and I visited a Holocost museum and saw pictures and video footage of piles of mutilated people's bones

      When it comes to much of what is advertised and celebrated in October, we can call it merchandise, entertainment, a tradition, or a holiday, but at the very least we need to call it what it is, REAL. Some of these items and events glorify harsh realities that are not worth celebrating. So what will I do with my daughter this month? We will break out the jackets, cider, decor, and costume parties and we will have a killer...I mean, a life-giving harvest season!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Balancing Ministry and Family

One of the key questions from people who are leading while raising a family is how to balance it all. Here are some thoughts from my heart on how the Lord has allowed us to function with fun and grace!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

I Am Not Miss American Teen Anymore...

          (re-post from June 2013) As a former pageant girl, you can imagine my excitement when I turned on the TV last night to check the weather only to find that the Miss USA competition was just begininng! It was perfect timing. My husband was already in bed so I didn't have to turn it off due to immodesty and my five little girls were in bed so I didn't have to have a two hour training session on finding confidence aside from how a person looks. It was just me and the tv.

      Although pageants are much different than when I participated, a flash of memory lane rushed through my body. It was 15 years ago that I was crowned Miss American Teen 1998 in Orlando, FL. It was a dream come true for my 18 yr old world. After months of hard work preparation and competition, God allowed me to win the national title. Yes, I cried. My family cheered. My hometown people celebrated. My school friends went fan crazy. And I spent the next year all going all over the country speaking, helping causes, serving communities, and living it up best I could.

      Without boring most of you, all I can say about my pageant experiences was that I had the time of my life. My whole family participated with all the excitement. For us, it was making memories and doing something together. And for me, I learned how to handle myself in public speaking and formal settings. I was challenged in my ability to lead in the community and in my school with grades and participation. My body was held accountable and my mind was sharpened during those days. In addition, I made a ton of friends and was able to share Christ to hundreds of girls.

      Now, fast forward to now. As my eyes are glazed over thinking about my time "conquering the world" with a young in-shape body, glamorous clothes, fancy food, high-rise hotels, personal makeup and hair artists, talent shows and fame, I am keenly aware of my current state of being.

     My body has given birth to five children, my clothes are worn out Pj's, my food tonight is animal crackers and yogurt served in a Veggie Tales bowl, my housing arrangement is a low-rise that smells like rotten eggs from the soaking pan days old, my hair hasn't even been washed in four days, I haven't worn a single ounce of makeup for over two weeks, my talent consists of rocking my coughing toddler back to sleep, and I am now famous among needy EGR (extra grace required) teenage girls who are texting me even though we just got home from being together for a week. (Not to mention that I caught a stomach bug and have visited the bathroom more times than I checked the mirror in high school.)

      Yes, life is different now. But I am writing today with good news! There is a verse Paul wrote in Philippians 4 (MSG) that challenges me. "Actually, I don't have a sense of needing anything personally. I have learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I am just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I have found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am."

     There is such a strength in being content in all circumstances. Although I had wonderful memories from my pageant days, I can be content in the current stage of life! My joy and satisfaction comes from the Lord not in how outward things are going for me. As I sit here looking and feeling completely different than 15 years ago, I am still full of joy at the place God has me. This doesn't make sense in natural thinking but it's true! As long as you are where God wants you to be doing what He wants you to do then you will be okay!

      Don't fret friends! Don't look to your past accomplishments and wishful thinking for the "old days". God has a plan for you TODAY in the workplace, the home, the school, the church, the store, on vacation, and anywhere else you find yourself! You may be have different circumstances but God is with you! Because of the joy that can only come by God's grace, I am loving my life and you can too! There is no need to wait for things to "be like they used to be" so we can be happy again. Life changes. Things happen. We have a promise from the Lord that He is with us and will give us all we need to face life as it is, today!

      So, I don't know about you but I am embracing my place in the world I now live in. I am not 18 and I am not a pageant girl. But what I am is a woman who is content is all cirmcumstances at all times as the Lord gives me strength. I praise Him for the past, lean on Him in the present and look with anticipation for the future! And my prayer is that you will too.

P.S. Congrats to Miss USA Erin Brady from Connecticut...let's do coffee in 15 yrs.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Goals for Ages 3-5 yrs old.

When we had the first four children in four years, my mind was always racing to remember which child needed to learn what thing. It was mindboggling to keep track only to realize one had not learned something they should have by a certain point. With all the training and teaching going on, I was just happy they were fed and clean by the end of most days. But there is more that needs to be learned in those first five years.

      So as some of you have asked, we are sharing the list of important things we wanted our girls to know and do between the ages of 3-5. This list allowed me to keep track of where each girl was and who needed to learn other things. 

     They are divided into 5 Categories that we implement every day for some through guided life learning and other days when we do "school time" which is approximately 3-4 days a week. 

 All these goals can be taught through basic simple teaching, games, books, dvds, car rides, Cds, and lots of talking. Plus, depending on when you start kindergarten, you have two to three years to teach it all so that takes the stress off of cramming it in their little heads in a year.

      On that noteconsider starting kindergarten as close to age 6 as possible. I say this for a couple of crucial reasons. First, when they enter kindergarten closer to age 6 they have had more time to develop emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

     When they are on the "older side" of kids in the class they can have the experience of leadership to the classmates because they are ahead. Just think of the joy of being one of the first kindergarten kids to lose a tooth, or to be a fifth grader with cool braces, a junior high sports boy with a year ahead in height and strength, a mature freshman girl that is out of the awkward stage, or being one of the first friends to drive and have a job. In addition, their hearts have had time to grow in the Lord and they are able to make solid decisions with wisdom and knowledge that time gives.
     Secondly, when you start later, the child is home longer on the back end of high school before leaving for work, college, or marriage. A year can make a difference when entering the adult world. And by those years we want every second we can get with our kids before they are grown and gone!

     Although a child may be ready for kindergarten schoolwork that doesn't mean you have to send them. Go ahead and have them do some older work at home but consider waiting to place them in kindergarten at church class or school class until closer to age 6. This is a precious time to bond and enjoy a stage with your child as much as possible. Honestly, I would rather have my toddlers go to preschool a few times a week than my 5-6 year olds leave. They are easier and so much fun to do everyday life with by the time they are out of the "I walk around and get into stuff in dangerous ways" stage!

     And if you have already started your little one and this info is too late, perhaps the Lord will lead you to make the courageous decision to hold your child back a year to repeat or to just take a year off. My mom had to make this choice with my brother when he was in the second grade. He turned 7 in September and started second grade but she felt it was best to hold him back. He thrived socially and academically far better than the year before which kept on through his high school years.

     For us, our Allison turned 6 in June and we started her in Kindergarten then. She will be 7 in June and starting first grade more mature than those younger students entering that are perhaps just turning 6.

     Just something to think about but God will lead you for what your child needs and it may be different.

     So, back to some ideas to follow as you guide your 3-5 year olds. Here is what we have researched and used in our children: 

1. God -
His love for us, He does good, and He is good. You can learn these through Bible stories (read from Story Bible book, or use the Dan and Louie Bible Stories Cds), prayer (for anything, anytime, anywhere) and scripture memory. (Steve Green's Hide 'Em in My Heart Cds or otherwise)

2. Others - Receiving love, showing love, manners such as personal hygeine, phone skills, doorbell responses, key phrases (thank you, bless you, you're welcome, please), how to behave in quiet settings (such as weddings, meetings, church). 

3. Play -
Lots of open imagination time, some directed time, playing with others

4. Work -
Why we work (to carry out God's purposes on earth) and how we work (with excellence unto the Lord). Daily chores such as a kitchen job, cleaning their rooms, and one other house job that is age appropriate. These are without pay so they know its part of living in the home and being an important member of the family. If someone needs to earn some money then we assign above and beyond jobs that are harder and not typical.

5. Education - Safety Skills (calling 911, what to do when lost, water safety, strangers), 7 Keys to Health (Water, Rest, Exercise, Vitamins, Healthy food, Massage, and Clean Hands away from the face), Personal Information (names of family members, phone numbers, address), Colors, Shapes, Letters  Counting to 100, Parts of the Body, Handwriting (letter formation, name, upper and lower case, keeping it in a straight line, and spacing), Calendars (days, months, seasons), Workbook Pages (fun books from local store with some cognitive work pages).

          This is a list to plan for and give guidance but don't stress when its not all done perfectly. If you do a bit by bit over the 3,4,5 years it will all come together! I hope that this list is a help to you as you lead your little ones in the way and timing the Lord tells you is best for your family!

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Parenting With Apologies

     Shortly after one of my girls woke up, she was already verbalizing a negative attitude for the day. So I responded back to her with an attitude. Brilliant, right? I put the mama power on and firmly responded with, "I don't know what your problem is with today, but if you don't cut it out I can start your day with of some form of discipline to help you snap out of it." So she answered back that she didn't have an attitude. Then I answered back that she did and re-enacted it all so she could see it. Then I added, "You have one more chance to start this day off better." Then I went to the kitchen for another few minutes to finish reading my Bible. All it took was for me to see my Bible and I was immediately convicted.

     Calmly, I called for my daughter and expressed my apologies. "I am sorry. I was too firm and had a negative attitude myself this morning." Kindly she answered, "It's okay, mom." But I knew we needed to reunite in heart. "No, its not okay. I am sorry. Will you forgive me?" "Yes, I will." As we hugged she let out a sigh of relief. And so did I.

          So, after my daughter and I reconnected, I asked, "So what was up this morning that had you so tense..." and we chatted about it. Afterwards, we looked up Bible verses that would help with what she was struggling with for the day.  This was MUCH more effective than my first response.

     Parenting with apologies keeps my heart close to the girls and allows them to see my imperfections because they think I am totally perfe...wait, well, it allows them to see how I handle my imperfections. :-)