Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

Our Stories and Tears

When we put up our Christmas tree it always takes longer than I originally think it will, and that’s because of the number of ornaments we have collected over the years…and the tears that come when putting them up.  Oh, they’re happy tears; I oooh and aaah over each precious ornament, reminiscing over why it’s so beloved. My favorites are definitely the ones my children made or were bought with them in mind as they reached a significant milestone in their life.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’m quite sure most of you know exactly what I am talking about.  What’s interesting to consider is why our stories are so important to us. The ornament may be cute or clever, but the story behind it is what makes it important.  

The tiny ballet dancers that are front and center on a prominent branch with their tulle skirts and shy smiles, these little ladies remind me of the hours of dance rehearsal and Nutcracker practice I got to enjoy as a Dance Mom.  One tiny dancer is learning to stand with grace and strength in 3rd position and the other is pointing her toe – my daughter was doing the same thing at that young age and we were so proud of her as she persevered to improve her skills.

The Spider Man ornament holds a memory from the year 2000, while all 5 of us as a family were eating dinner, our boys who were 5 and 2 at the time announced that they were going to grow up and become Spider Man.  They believed he was the best because of how he could swing between tall buildings and they liked the color blue. It totally makes sense because, hey – who wouldn’t want spider webbing spurting out of their palms? And his superhero suit is super cool.

The last ornament I’ll share with you is a pair of angel wings.  In 1997, I had a miscarriage. This little life I was privileged to carry only lasted a few months and was born so prematurely, the sweet baby wasn’t able to survive in this world.  My mother-in-law bought us this ornament to remind us that we have one child already in heaven, singing God’s praises along with the angels. We honor all life and as such, are grateful for this reminder of God’s comfort and provision for us at that difficult time.

God himself has a story to tell of his son; we tell that story every Christmas as we remember the conception and birth of Christ.  Jesus’ best friend John tells God’s story at the beginning of his epistle this way, And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Every Christmas ornament we hang tells not only our stories, but points us back to His story as well.

Dear Reader, what an opportunity we have. As we share our personal stories about how we decorate and celebrate Christmas, we can also remember to share His story which is the reason we are celebrating in the first place. Let’s pray for these divine conversations. Listening to one another’s stories is one of the best ways we can honor one another.  Romans 12:10 says to “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourself” and James, the brother of Jesus, urges us to be “quick to listen” (James 1:19). The world will know we are truly followers of Christ as we exemplify to them an other-worldly type of love and honor through the gift of listening well to one another.

As always, dear reader, thank you for listening to my stories.  May you have many divine conversations this week to share both the story of God’s son and to listen to other’s cherished Christmas memories.

Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

Learn What We Already Know

I remember as a little girl getting ready for “the event.” We circled it on our calendars, canceled any other activities, made bowls of popcorn and got our pajamas on early.  Every American family basically did these same things. No child balked at eating their vegetables, siblings were on their best behavior and homework was done immediately after school, as no child would dare risk being punished and missing out. Am I talking about Christmas? Halloween? Maybe putting teeth under our pillows for the tooth fairy?  Absolutely not – it was the annual broadcast of the renowned movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Part of the movie magic of the Wizard of Oz is captured when Dorothy’s world goes from black and white to spectacular technicolor once Dorothy lands in Oz, stopped the Wicked Witch no less, and she steps out into a fantastical new world filled with over-sized flowers and under-sized people.  Every time I watched it as a little girl, I was amazed and awed at how radically her life changed in a moment.

Even at a young age, I understood through the visual feast of this movie that Dorothy didn’t learn anything new in her journey on the yellow brick road.  No, the point of Oz was for Dorothy to really know what she already knew.  It wasn’t enough that she was told that her home was where she belonged; she had to live out her fears, face her challenges and embrace new relationships in order to get to her teachable moment in which she learned what she already knew, “there’s no place like home”.

We are all like Dorothy to some degree.  We can say what we believe, but until we work out that truth through life, we are only living a Sepia toned existence. It would be apt to say, until I live out my faith, I really don’t know what I truly believe.

Let me give you a “Dorothy” example from my life.  I had learned from childhood on that prayer was a key Christian discipline.  I studied prayer, I valued prayer and I prayed.  I thought I knew what prayer was.  UNTIL, I entered the teenage years of parenting.  In one of those crucial moments when after having tried everything to get across to my adolescent what needed to change in their attitude, I finally gave up.  I threw my hands in the air and said adamantly, “That’s it!  I am done.  I have tried everything to get you to see what is wrong.  Nothing has worked.  So just, go to your room; while you’re there, pray for God to help you and don’t come down until you’ve met with Him.  While you do that, I’m going to pray that God opens your eyes.”  I angrily turned around and walked away as my teen headed to their room.

I prayed and I cleaned.  And I cleaned and I prayed – for 3 hours.  Just as I was finishing scrubbing the kitchen floor, I heard footsteps coming downstairs.  Having been in concerted prayer, I went much more peacefully toward this next conversation.  When they turned the corner, they were crying and with heartfelt repentance, told me where they had been wrong and sought my forgiveness.  In response, I burst into tears, immediately hugged them and declared all was forgiven.

In this case, there was indeed a happy ending.  However, more than having the problem solved, I learned – I mean, I really learned – about prayer for I had lived it as I had never lived it before.  That was my “Dorothy” teachable moment about prayer and better yet, I have never forgotten it.

Moving from a black and white world of faith to one of living color isn’t easy, but it’s an adventure none of us should miss.  Dear Reader, where is your Oz and are you ready to embrace your inner “Dorothy”?  Until next time, may you be brave and seize your teachable moments by learning what you already know!

Blessings to you always, Elizabeth

Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

I want MUCH MORE for Christmas

I went to a major retailer in the area to pick up some milk the day before Thanksgiving.  As I made a beeline for the dairy department, I noticed a group of women who walked around in circles occasionally talking to themselves or one another…I couldn’t help but wonder if they were practicing a new dance, if they only turned left when they walked, or if they were planning a mission impossible. I covertly stepped into an adjoining aisle to stake out the situation. After just a couple minutes I knew what they were doing. And while I thought what they were doing might actually be helpful, I confess I also thought they were bordering on the obsessive. They were planning their strategy for what they would do at the beginning of Black Friday shopping. They were planning the hunt to make sure they bagged their retail prey the next day. They knew they would be up against fierce opposition and they were going to make sure they were in the best position possible to bring home the prize.

I will confess I love retail therapy and I can do it as well as the next person. But I have never seen so much time and energy going into buying a thermal sweater. Boots, handbags, Christmas pajamas, and new Bluetooth headphones were obviously on their lists as I tracked their strategy meeting throughout the store. I came to the store for milk and left with an appreciation for how people fill their time during the holidays.

This made me reflect that I might not be so different from them.  What random, unique, seemingly-unavoidable activities suck the time and energy out of my calendar and then, out of me?  We all know that during the busyness of the Christmas season, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of travel, volunteering at the food pantry or ringing a bell for those in need,  and worrying about which presents to buy for family members. For others of us, finances are tight and we strain ourselves the extra amount to make ends meet; family relationships are fractured and we have to navigate difficult choices. While I love cooking the turkey and making the cookies, the planning, shopping, serving and clean-up can sometimes feel like I’m crumbling just like the cookie I took out of the oven too early.  The season brings much joy but much stress at the same time. Let’s be honest, the song I’m really singing on Sunday morning could sound more like this:

Joy and stress to the World, yes, my Lord has come. Let earth receive her King (and the gift I just bought you). The glory of Buying the right Gift. Let Heaven and Nature Sing….while I try to get everything done and figured out.

Make up your own hymn with contrasting realities – excitement and worry. Good memories and Nightmares. Christmas brings such a multifaceted array of emotions that sometimes it’s hard to navigate through these emotions and focus on the meaning of the season.

Pause with me and reflect.  Isn’t it true that we can SAY “I put Jesus first” but how often have I spoken platitudes to that effect all day long, but what’s really going on internally is much more raw and disappointing than that.  I am thankful for my precious strategic shoppers who recently reminded me that there is so much more for me to fix my mind and heart upon during Christmas time than the worry and stress of the current calendar and circumstances.

Oswald Chambers in “My Utmost for His Highest” states nicely that “we are never free from the recurring tides of the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things entering in.” Like a flood these distractions will always seek to pull us away from time with our Savior. We shouldn’t be surprised that Christmas comes with life-distractions that will sneak in from every angle during the season to take our hearts and minds off of Christ. We have the greatest opportunity to focus on our Savior all the more during this season. I just need to grab onto this opportunity with both hands and I can’t do that without acknowledging the problem and then reminding myself of the amazing solution that awaits my attention.  My current problem has a remedy that was spoken over 2000 years ago.

Jesus teaches us, If God so beautifully clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:30-33)

But now – I suggest to you this same passage seen through the eyes of the author of The Message,  “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

Dear reader, when the much more of the season’s busyness tries to push out the much more of our Savior, let’s aim to praise Him and remember Him amidst our circumstances. Will you join me in striving to seek first His Kingdom, push away the worry and the stress, and dwell on the much more that He only can give?  Blessings to you dear Reader – I wish for you Much More of Jesus during this blessed season.  

Always His and yours – Elizabeth

Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

A Christian Guide to Technology Part 2:  A Parent’s Top 10 List

This Christmas as we think about buying our children technology, let’s keep this “Top 10 List” in mind. This Top 10 list encourages parents to think “God first” and then decide what to do for their children, since the best Christian parent is a thinking Christian parent.

  1. We want to temper our love for our children’s happiness with our wisdom to keep them safe. We know that scripture assumes a good father wants to give good gifts to their children, which we may assume will make the kids happy (Luke 11:11-13); simultaneously, one of the responsibilities parents have is to protect our children from their immature lapses of judgment.  What do I do? Don’t give your child something which may make them happy, but in the long run isn’t good for them.  We do this by making an honest assessment of our child’s emotional maturity and their ability to exercise the word “no” for themselves.  If they can’t step back and stop themselves from engaging in ungodly or unhealthy behavior when using technology, then say “no, you may not have that” or “no, you may not go onto that site.”  Be clear, explain why, enforce the “no”.
  2.  One rule for the family may not be as helpful as making individual rules for each individual child. No 2 children are the same, so the wise parent parents each individual child.  What do I do? Prayerfully consider each child’s best interests before you set rules and expectations and don’t fall to the false belief that “one rule fits all”. Example – one child gets an iPhone at the age of 14, but another may need to wait until 16.
  3.  In a family, parents count as much as the children do; as such, know yourself and embrace your limits.  You only have so much time in your life; it’s key that whatever you allow in your child’s life, you have the time to interact with your child about it.  All technology is most beneficial for a child when the parent monitors the child’s use of it. What do I do? Ask yourself, do I have the time needed to monitor this device or how they will be using it?
  4. Encourage your child’s relationship with you before their relationship with technology.  Spending more time in front of a screen and being dismayed when they have to talk to you face to face are symptoms that technology is becoming too important. What do I do? You might consider a general principle that goes something like this: If you can’t talk to me respectfully or enjoy spending time face to face with members of the family, then I won’t allow you to hide behind a screen to talk to someone else. (Take the phone away or turn off the computer.)
  5. Don’t let your love for your child blind you to their limitations. Not all kids are above average – in fact, most are just average. Therefore, don’t give your kids more credit than they deserve.  Assess honestly what they can handle. If you even think they might make an unwise decision while they are on a device, think twice and three times if you want to put them in a position to make that unwise choice.  What do I do?  Think honestly about what your child might be handle and don’t be afraid to say “not yet” if you aren’t sure they are absolutely ready.
  6. Beware of healthy fear-based decisions vs. unhealthy fear-based decisions.  Look at the realistic dangers of technology and media (healthy fear), but never forget that God has His eyes and ears on our children even when we aren’t there. Avoid having more fear of the world than faith in a sovereign, omnipotent God (unhealthy fear).  What do I do?  Become up to date on current research reports on how technology affects children and teens and while you are learning, pray for God to give you faith and discernment as you navigate the millions of questions that technology will inevitably evoke.
  7. Embrace the value and finite quality of money.  There’s only so much to go around; debt is to be avoided if at all possible and money is to be used for the ultimate good of God’s Kingdom and the needs of the entire family.  What do I do?  Look at how much things cost – notice the fine print on extra fees if there are any.  Be willing to wait if the financial resources are not there yet. Let the technology you have be enough until you can afford something new.
  8.  Don’t engage in fantasy thinking.  Technology and a social media presence will not make you more popular, smarter or better looking no matter what the advertisers say.  Also, more and new is not always better – sometimes it’s only more and new. What do I do? Like the Apostle Paul, learn the key to being content (Phil. 4:11-13). Work to find your identity in Christ by studying His word, praying, worshiping and fellowshiping with other believers who love you even if you don’t have the newest phone or best social media site.
  9. Identify the difference between wants and needs. Knowing the difference between wants and needs is key to preventing a life of disappointment.  An unwanted need puts me in the path of peril; an unmet want makes me grumpy, uncomfortable or inconvenienced.  What do I do?  Think carefully – know the difference and you have found the secret to perspective.
  10. Enjoy the fun and usefulness of technology.  We don’t have to feel guilty about having fun on our devices or even cultivating relationships through social media. As long as they are not idols in our lives, we can enjoy the creative outlet they afford us.  What do I do?  Use your devices for the purpose of communicating and connecting in appropriate and godly ways; play games that are fun and even exercise your brain. Learn and shop. Whatever you do, however, do it all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)  by displaying the fruit of the Spirit in your words (Col. 4:6) and in your self-control (Ga. 5:22,23).
Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

A Christian Guide to Technology Part 1

I’m officially terrified.  Not the normal-everyday type of terror as when I hit every single red light on the way to the train station and I’m afraid I might not make the train I need to get to arrive at work on time.  Not the “’oh no – I just ate another plate of Christmas cookies and I haven’t exercised in over a week” despair. And not the, “I haven’t gotten 7 -8 hours sleep since…..I’m too tired to remember” anxiety.  Nope – this is the “what is the world coming to; I think the world is getting exponentially worse moment-by-moment” type of terror.

Here’s why:

  • The Royal Society for Public Health in the UK asked 14-24 year-olds how social media platforms impacted their health and wellbeing.  Results showed all forms led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness.
  • Teens ages 13- 17 send an average of 3364 texts per month, while 33% state they send more than 100 texts a day.
  • 11 hours per day, 11-18 year olds spend over 11 hours per day exposed to electronic media
  • Recent research is investigating the negative effects of cumulative screen time (phone, computer, ipad, TV, etc. minutes combined) which shows children and teens’ relational and emotional development is leading to more negative behaviors, depression and an overall decrease in the satisfaction of life

Bottom line, technological use is eroding the happiness, critical thinking, relational connection and compassion in a large majority of the next generation.  And none of the research indicates it is going to move in a positive direction; instead, experts believe it will only get worse and we have yet to understand the full negative ramifications.

What do we do in light of such a discouraging forecast?  We do what we always do; we engage in “God-first” thinking.  We remind ourselves of the mandate that God gives each of His people; we are to invest in relationships with one another that engage in heart and Kingdom matters.  Too often technology is a distraction from relational connection as it engages the gratification centers of our brain, pursues bullet point facts or information and allows us to insulate ourselves away from hard conversations, which lead to effective conflict resolution.  Relationships require BOTH quality and quantity of time and our time is compromised when I invest in a relationship with my devices more than I do with those around me.

Intimacy is the characterizing attribute we are working to cultivate between one another.  Intimacy grows in a relationship when we disclose vulnerably to one another in safe and trusted ways; intimacy grows when who I am is valued as a person no matter my flaws.  We value one another with honor when we take the time to engage in non-distracted conversation, listening and encouraging one another in consistent and dependable ways. Just like God does with us.

God is always with me; God is always listening to me; God is unchanging in His devotion, attention and care for me.  To grow as a believer is to be conformed to the image of God in Christ and to do that, I need to choose intentionally to invest my attention and effort into my relationship with God, which will then flow into my relationships with those around me.

Practically, pursue intimacy with God and others by considering the following:

  1. Remember, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.  All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (1 Cor. 10:23) Choose to use technology only in ways that profit and edify your soul and the souls of others. This requires self-reflection and self-assessment and won’t look the same for everyone; think edification over legalism.
  2.  Media can be missional when it advances Kingdom matters, which can include a right understanding of man’s relationship with God, wisdom to flourish in the God-given lives God has given us and advance the world’s understanding of God and His gospel message.  Choose wisely the words you post in social media; if you wouldn’t say it face-to-face and it is not first loving, don’t say it.
  3.  God has given you a set amount of moments in this world; consider how you will be accountable for all the time you spend on electronic media and make sure you teach your children to do the same.
  4. New is not always better; consider giving more money to your local church, missions or a worthy organization that is teaching God’s word rightly rather than buying the newest technology.

Reader, the key to making sure we are using our technology wisely is both an internal and external matter.  We start with the internal by prayerfully reflecting on our choices, habits and needs. We then have our internal convictions and priorities result in careful consideration of how and when I use technology.  We take responsibility that if I am to impact the next generation to thirst after God, then I must first live a life myself that is obviously displaying a thirst for God myself.

Psalm 63:1, “You, god, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

Until next we meet here in Teachable Moments, may the lover of our souls Himself give each of us discernment in how we pursue His kingdom in a digital world.