Welcome to the Family Life page! We strive to offer multiple events and activities for our church family throughout the year, including the annual hayride, swim and gym, game nights, and more. We also present seminars and talks on topics such as child guidance and grandparenting.
A Story of Hope for Christmas
It was the Christmas season, and Dad and Holly were setting up the nativity scene under the Christmas tree.
Dad thoughtfully held a couple of the figurines in his hands and said to his little girl, “You know, every person involved in the Christmas story was filled with hope.”
“What do you mean,” asked Holly, looking at the figurines in her father’s hands.
“Well, take the shepherds for instance. They had hope that the promised Savior would be coming soon. They liked to talk about it together and pray for Him to come. And then when the angel told them that He had in fact been born, right there in Bethlehem, they had hope for their future and the future of their people.”
“And what about the angel? Did he have hope?” asked Holly, her little eyebrows quizzically furrowed.
“Oh, yes, he had hope too!” Dad began. “I believe all the angels had hope. Hope that the human race would recognize their Commander and believe in Him and follow Him. How hard it must have been for them to see God’s chosen people, the Israelites, continually reject Him and even forget Him and worship false gods.”
“I guess that would be hard,” Holly agreed.
“But then,” Dad continued, holding up the three wise men figurines, “the wise men weren’t even Israelites, and they knew that a King was going to be born soon. And they had hope too! They hoped that they were correct in their reading and studying. And then when they saw the star, I’m sure they hoped that it would actually take them to the newborn King they thought they would see.”
“And it did!” Holly’s eyes lit up at the thought. “Who’s next?”
Dad smiled at Holly’s enthusiasm. “Next we have Mary and Joseph. You know that both Mary and Joseph were visited by the angel Gabriel who explained to each of them their parts in this story and assured them that what was happening was of God. They had hope that what Gabriel said to them would come to pass. I imagine they also had hope that they would be good parents to Jesus. They had a very big responsibility, as every parent does, to care for and raise their child the best they possibly could. Can you imagine being the parents of God?!”
“No, I can’t!” Holly said with a little laugh. Dad laughed, too, at the daunting thought.
“And last but not least…!” Holly announced.
Dad looked surprised. “What do you mean?” he asked Holly.Holly held up the baby Jesus in the manger. “Jesus. You forgot Jesus. How did He have hope?”
Dad smiled and said, “Well, Jesus is just a baby at this point. I’m not sure he had hope as a baby.”
“Of course He did!” Holly beamed. “He hoped that everyone would accept Him as the BEST Christmas present EVER!”
Dad pulled Holly in for a tight hug, “That’s right! That’s right. And how could anyone say no to that?”
Holly placed baby Jesus in the stable in the midst of Mary, Joseph, the angel, the shepherds, and the wise men. It was as if she and Dad were transported back to that moment in time – back when the Hope of the world made His unpretentious appearance – and silently they shared their worship with the very ones represented by the little figurines.
At the end of this quite unusual year, may you have hope:
- Hope like the shepherds for what is to come;
- Hope like the angels that many will believe in Jesus as their Savior;
- Hope like the wise men that your studies will guide you;
- Hope like Mary and Joseph in the veracity of what God has already shown us;
- Hope like Jesus that you will continually receive His perfect gift to you – and then share it with others.
On behalf of the Family Life Committee, we wish you peace, joy, and hope this Christmas and always.
What Makes Christmas Special?
What makes Christmas special? That sounds like an easy question. It sounds so easy it must be a trick question, right? The truth is, it isn’t really a trick question. First and foremost, Christmas is about Jesus coming to be part of the human family in a very literal sense in order to make us part of God’s family in a very literal sense. We are now “joint heirs with Christ,” are we not? God sent us Christ because He loves family and all the things about family that make Christmas special to us. This isn’t rocket science or even something that we really have to think that hard about to figure out. Let’s think about Christmas and what makes it special to us and about what things we know about God and how things operate in His home, with His family if you will.
One of the first things I think about, when I think about Christmas is music. Joyful carols, singing together with family, listening to Christmas songs in church, in special Christmas programs at school or in the community or on TV, on the radio, in stores (yes, I know some of those songs can get annoying after a while, but most of those are the pseudo-Christmas songs if you ask me)… the list goes on and on. Does God’s family in Heaven enjoy and participate in music? Scripture tells us that nature sings, that angels sing, that the stars sing. At the birth of Christ, angels were sent to sing glorious songs of peace and joy and hope. Jesus sang songs/hymns with His disciples while He was here. Numerous Biblical authors describe the glories of Heaven being filled with songs. Angels’ songs. Songs of the redeemed. Special songs that all lift our hearts to glorious heights.
Another thing that makes Christmas special is food. If you ponder the stories in the Bible about food many of them are the times of joyous celebrations. The feasts given to Moses by which people were to be reminded of our relationship with God and Christ’s ministry in our behalf were all tied to shared meals. Jesus made sure hungry people had food enough to spare. He “longed” to share the Passover feast with His disciples. He offers to “come in and sup with us” if we will open our hearts door. He promises us a feast in Heaven is one of the first great celebrations when we get there. Spending time enjoying God’s bounty together is one of the blessings of Christmas.
Spending time together is another huge aspect of what makes Christmas special to us. People travel from all over (please be responsible in that regard this year), to be together with those they love. We have community events that promote the joy of togetherness and bind us to those in our communities. We attend programs and events and being together brings great joy. God sent Jesus/Immanuel to be with us, to create community and connection with us. Jesus gave us an example of spending time with people that were special to Him (disciples, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the wedding feast in Cana). He longs for us to be together with Him forever. The togetherness we experience here at Christmas time is just a taste of the community of love God invites us to be a part of.
Oh, one other thing about Christmas that we can’t possibly forget is giving and receiving gifts. It’s easy to get selfish about gifts and to turn Christmas into commercial consumption. I know it is something that we have to be careful with, but it is still an integral part of how we relate to Christmas. We see the joy in our children’s eyes as they open gifts and our hearts burst open with delight. We thrill when we get that perfect gift (not necessarily the most expensive or fancy) from our child or loved one that we know comes from being known and deeply loved. We are humbled and filled by opportunities to share gifts with those in need who can never repay us. God led the way in this practice of gift giving. All of creation is a gift from God, a blessing meant to bring delight and joy and belonging and wholeness and beauty into our lives. His ultimate gift of Himself/Jesus restores and enhances all the other gifts He’s given us. His desire and delight at receiving the gifts of our hearts, our love, our praises, our alabaster boxes, our gold, frankincense and myrrh are an indication of things to come.
As we enter into this short time before Christmas, as we do so in ways that will probably be different from the way we usually do things, as we look for a silver lining to what has been a difficult year for so many of us, let us contemplate how we can incorporate these beautiful aspects of Christmas into our lives in the next few days. Let’s find ways to sing even if we don’t get to have the Feast of Lights. Let’s find ways to enjoy the bounties of God’s blessing in the meals we share together and apart. Let’s find creative ways to unite with our families, and with our God seek to enhance the bonds of loving community. Let’s find ways to give from hearts full of love for God, love for our families, love for our communities and our world. Let’s receive the gifts of love from those who are dearest to us. Most of all, let’s open our hearts to receive the greatest gift of love ever given as we contemplate Immanuel, God with us.
25 Days of Family Experiences
When I saw Heidi Leets posting on Facebook about the fun she is having with her family this December, I was instantly intrigued and inspired. Heidi and her husband, Josh, have masterminded 25 family experiences to do each day leading up to Christmas. She says she was inspired to start doing this eleven years ago from an article she spotted in Family Fun magazine.
When they first started out, she cut out paper doors and glued them to construction paper with a family experience written behind each door. Back then it was easy to come up with ideas that would be fun for small children. As her kids have grown into preteens and teenagers, she and Josh have had to put a little more thought into what would interest and excite bigger kids. They must be doing something right, because Heidi reports that the kids are still giddy to find out what their daily experience is going to be! Except now they have a beautiful set of wooden drawers to hold their experience ideas each day.
Clearly it’s a little late for you and me to start doing a 25 Days of Family Experiences. But I’m intending to do a 12 Days version, and I invite you to join me!
So what kinds of experiences should you do? I’m glad you asked! Here are some of the activities the Leets family has enjoyed:
- Give each child a new Christmas blanket and snuggle up to watch a favorite Christmas movie;
- Make Christmas ornaments;
- Go on a nighttime (battery-operated) candle hunt in the woods (or your yard) and have a candy attached to the bottom of each candle;
- Go on a Christmas scavenger hunt around the area and look for blinking lights, wreaths, candy canes, snowflakes, nativities, etc. (There are lots of hunts on Pinterest to inspire you!);
- Camp in the basement;
- Go on a hike with thermoses filled with hot chocolate;
- Do an Escape Room puzzle;
- Play Spot It! the holiday version;
- Make crafts at Fernwood (back when these sorts of things were happening);
- Engage in three or four service activities, such as stuffing stockings for foster children and handing out treats to neighbors;
- Include an Advent reading each night, such as Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.
Heidi stresses that the whole point of doing this is to create memories and connections with the kids. She believes, and I agree, that if you are intentional about making connections with your kids, you will be more likely to connect with them at other important times – times when they need your advice or help. Personally I can’t think of a more fun way to make connections, and I’m very much looking forward to sharing these sorts of experiences with my family!
I’d like to add that these ideas can be put into action even if you’re finding yourself alone this year. Think of 12 fun things you’d like to do that are out of the norm for you. Write each down on a piece of paper, put the papers in a nice box or bag, and each day pull out a paper and discover what activity you will be doing that day. Take photos of your experiences, so you can look back on your 2020 COVID Christmas countdown.
Heidi summed up her experience so far this year with these words, “We think we nailed it this year, but we shall see. Either way memories will be made, and that’s really what matters.”
Last week I shared some tradition stand-ins for this season when many of our holiday traditions aren’t happening. Little did I know then that I would be partaking in one of the very suggestions I had written. While at our outdoor Thanksgiving with our best friends, I received a text at 1:56 asking if I would be available to Zoom with family at 2:00. I quickly downloaded Zoom on my phone, and before I knew it, I was Zooming with members of my extended family – seven households across Western New York, Pennsylvania, and my own family here in Michigan. What an awesome surprise! I haven’t seen some of these family members in years. And this is the kind of silver lining I was mentioning last week. Would we have spent that half an hour on Zoom together if we were going about our usual Thanksgiving festivities? Probably not.
This year may be strange and difficult, but there have been some unexpected benefits that have also come with it. Perhaps you’ve seen or experienced this for yourself. I’ve personally experienced an enhanced closeness with my immediate family from having us all together all day every day for the past nine months. We also got to thoroughly witness and enjoy springtime emerging and evolving, because we had the time to walk and explore together during our lunch breaks – time we wouldn’t have had together if we were at our jobs or in school all day. We’ve discovered the range of critters in our own backyard over the course of these months. We’ve learned how to play the ukulele. We’ve had to get creative with our best friends and find many new outdoor places to explore together on Sabbath afternoons. Together we’ve found a favorite beach, enjoyed hours of rock and fossil hunting, discovered new parts of Sarett Nature Preserve, sought after new birds, found cool tidbits of nature, and sat next to each other in parked cars having post-Sabbath snacks.
I’ve also seen many people step up and step out of their comfort zones during this time. Our own worship services and children’s Sabbath schools have showcased much creativity over these months. People have volunteered to buy groceries, deliver supplies, and run errands for those who were isolating. We’ve learned how to use new technologies to connect ourselves and to continue parts of our lives that we couldn’t do in person. Healthcare workers bravely tackled a new paradigm. We all learned what’s most important in our lives. And there’s a rekindled sense of how close we are to the edge of eternity.
Of course, it isn’t all sunshine and roses, even when you’re trying to find the silver linings. There have been some very serious consequences of this time too. And I’ve been moved by the determination, fortitude, and resilience I’ve witnessed. My heart has gone out to all those who have lost loved ones or been unable to visit them in their times of need, as well as those who have found themselves too isolated. I pray you have been the beneficiary of some of the acts of kindness as mentioned above.
As this pandemic continues to weigh down on us, I want to encourage you to look for opportunities to do a new thing. Reach out to an old friend, distant relative, or homebound community member. Explore new parts of your community. Seek out opportunities to be helpful. Learn new things. Involve the kids, too. Show them how to be resilient, to be a good neighbor, to be creative, and to look for the silver linings.
Holiday Tradition Stand-Ins
The holidays come with much tradition, whether family tradition, personal tradition, or communal tradition. There is something special and comfortable in the familiar events and activities that we engage in year after year. But, of course, this year has put a monkey wrench in just about every aspect of our lives, so why should our holiday traditions be any different?Tomorrow is Thanksgiving – a day often filled with much family, much fellowship, and much food. The CDC is strongly recommending we don’t gather like we usually do, and if we still decide to gather, they recommend bringing our own food, plates, and utensils. That doesn’t feel very much like Thanksgiving to me.And Christmas is just around the corner. There are so many happy memories and traditions for me and my family. But this year will be so different. No concerts. No carol singing. No community events. No Christmas parties. And I won’t get to see my loved ones in New York State. That definitely doesn’t feel like Christmas to me.
I’m a very sentimental person, and I really like my traditions. But I’m trying to find the silver lining during this unusual holiday season. I’ve been brainstorming new traditional possibilities and different activities that can still be fun and meaningful. Here are some ideas that you may find fun and meaningful too!
- Write notes to your family members thanking them for specific things you appreciate about them (or for specific things they have done for you). Read them out loud on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
- Instead of preparing the traditional Thanksgiving foods, make all your favorite dishes, even if they don’t make sense together.
- Zoom with loved ones while eating your Thanksgiving meal or opening your Christmas gifts.
- Go for a drive to see the lights and see who can find the most nativity scenes (or snowmen or candy canes, etc.).
- Buy or make a mask for each member of the family. Open them on Christmas and take photos of yourselves in them to commemorate the year.
- Put things that remind you of this year in a box or tin (masks, toilet paper, remote learning lessons, hand sanitizer, a 6’ length of string, etc.) and hide the box or tin away to be opened at a much later date. (Hopefully, this will be a time capsule that will merely remind you of this bizarre time and not still be relevant when you open it!)
- Create a photo book that includes photos of the things that you did get to do this year and look through it on Christmas day with your loved ones – either in person or via Zoom.
I know the holidays can be difficult for some even in the best of times. Allow yourself the opportunity to mourn the loss of things held dear. And try to think ahead to the eternity we’ll get to live with Jesus Himself and imagine the traditions we’ll get to experience there. I can only imagine that the Sabbaths in heaven will be a tradition that will blow away any manmade tradition we cherish here on earth.
Giving Thanks Amidst COVID
In just over a week Thanksgiving will be here again, except this will be a Thanksgiving celebration like never before. Past years have seen us in large groups with family and friends, talking, laughing, hugging, eating, and having a good time. A year ago the words “coronavirus” or “COVID” were not even part of our vocabulary, and face masks was something only occasionally seen and generally worn by someone from Asia. What a difference a year makes!
Can we still be thankful amid a resurgence of the pandemic and when political differences threaten to further divide us, both in our relationships and in society at large? My answer not only is that we can, but that we must. From Genesis through Revelation the Bible exhorts us to be thankful. Psalm 106:1 sums it up nicely when it says, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
To be sure, life is harder now than before and I am not saying that all is well because the Psalmist tells us to be thankful. The coronavirus has affected every part of our lives, from pursuing academic goals, to maintaining a job in the middle of an economic downturn, to travel, and to relationships. Mental health professionals are telling us that there is a significant increase in stress, anxiety, and depression. The lockdowns also appear to be behind a spike in domestic abuse cases.
If you are not affected by any of these negative results of the pandemic, then you truly do have a lot to be thankful for. And if you can help anyone who is suffering by directing them to the proper agencies for assistance, then you have given them a reason to be thankful too. Let us each try to be more aware of the needs of friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances, and respond with appropriate help when we can. If you feel that you are not able to function as well as normal during this time, or need help due to other circumstances or challenges, please reach out to a friend, family member, or health care professional. People care about you and love you, and help is available.
Whether you can celebrate Thanksgiving around a table laden with yummy treats and loving family members, or if you are alone in your small room or apartment, I hope that the words of Psalm 106:1 are meaningful to you. The story isn’t over yet, and we know that the Lord is good, His love for us will last forever.
The Mind is a Powerful Tool
As I looked around my house the other day and saw all the work that I had been neglecting, it struck me that after all these months, the fallout from the pandemic was getting to me. You may be surprised that it has taken eight months, but normally, I am an optimist. However, the novelty of working from home has worn off. When I am in the office, the peace and quiet I always longed for in order to get work done has lost its appeal. The lack of a routine and missing the comfort of what I’ve been accustomed to have started to take its toll. I enjoy change, but total upheaval? Not so much.
So what does an optimist do when the circumstances of life chip away at that optimism? The same things all of us can do to beat back the enemy of our souls. Change the focus.
It can be very difficult to build up the motivation, energy, and desire to make a change, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, loving family and Christian friends, we can make a change. We have more control over our responses and reactions to our present world than we often think we do. For me, I realized my thinking was being sabotaged, but at the same time, I also realized I had the power and ability to fight back simply by changing my focus and thinking differently than I have been lately. Remembering that the glass is half full, not half empty.
My first step was coming up with something that would encourage me and lift my spirits. Aha! Accomplishing something! That could be finishing a project, getting all of my laundry washed and ironed, getting all of the leaves cleared out of my yard (or better yet, getting all of the leaves cleared out of someone else’s yard who can’t do it themselves), or something as simple as getting things ready for the next day. For you, it could be learning something new like a skill or a language, reconnecting with a friend with whom you’ve lost touch, spending quality time in prayer, finishing the book you’ve had on your nightstand for weeks, making a big batch of soup to share with neighbors, or checking something off your bucket list. Find that something that you know would lift your spirits and get your mind off anything negative Satan has planted.
Laugh. Or even just smile. What brings you joy? Some people are uplifted by looking at pictures of puppies, kittens, or baby anything…bears, deer, or humans. For others, it could be music. I love walking in the woods this time of year, especially when the sun is warm, and smelling the fall leaves and fallen pine needles. It reminds me of home. Invite a friend to join you because joy is multiplied when it’s shared.
Don’t listen to the news too much. Stay informed, but don’t let it consume you. Enough said.
A sense of routine can be comforting. A day that is overly chaotic or without any type of structure can feel like a wasted day and can add to discouragement. I’ve had days that at the end of them, with all the hectic running, I couldn’t find anything productive I’d accomplished. This was especially true for me when I found myself unemployed many years ago. Without routine and structure, I quickly fell into a slump. Exercise is a great mood booster, even if it’s just a walk around your neighborhood. Take advantage of any sunny days and go outside to soak up a little sun. Call a friend to talk about their day and what’s going on in their lives.
What are you thankful for? It could be something large like your health, friends and family, or something as simple as the smell of fall leaves. Grab a journal, a pad of paper, or put a list on your cell phone (I use the Evernote app for all kinds of lists). Don’t wrack your brain to think of every little thing all at once. Just jot down one or two things a day that you’re grateful for. And remember to thank God for those blessings…and for bringing them to your mind. It will be a wonderful list to look back on.
Practice positive thinking to discover what a significant difference it can make, even in these uncertain times.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” Ephesians 4:32.
We’ve all heard that verse before, but what does that mean within the family context. When our loved ones hurt us, intentionally or unintentionally, it is natural to respond in anger or hold on to resentment. It is a way for us to protect ourselves from further hurt, but does it help us in the long run? Holding on to anger and resentment harms us physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Just like the verse says, forgiveness begins with having compassion for the offending party. Try to understand why that person acted or said what they did. There are lots of reasons we commit sins towards one another, or the offense could have been a misunderstanding. The way to begin building compassion is through reaching out in kindness and understanding. This doesn’t mean to continue in abusive and harmful relationships, but what this verse teaches goes a long way in helping the healing process.
With so much tension in society from the pandemic and the recent election, we are bound to hurt one another with our opinions on how to address these problems. Don’t forget to be kind and compassionate towards one another and forgive each other for the harm we have caused. Think of all the harm we as humans have committed towards God’s creation, yet God forgave us through the blood of his only son Jesus Christ. Let us follow God’s example and do as the verse says; be kind, have compassion, and forgive.
One of the things my family has been enjoying this season is milkweed pods. Are you familiar with them? You might walk past a field of them and not think anything of them. You would see gray, horn-shaped, dried-out, spiky pods on the end of tall, skinny stems. They look uninviting and perhaps even uninteresting. But the truth is so much better than that!
When you look more closely, you’ll see that these pods hold a beautiful secret! If you flip the pods over, you may notice that they have a crack in their hard, outer shell. You may even see some fluffiness sticking out. Crack them open further, you’ll see dozens and dozens of seeds with silk attached to them. And this is when the real fun begins!
If you pull out the seeds and release them, they float like beautiful, little parachutes to the ground. If there is even the slightest bit of wind, they will drift on the breeze in a lovely dance, filling the air around you. As we released the little parachutes, we couldn’t help but smile and laugh at how fun they were and how they got stuck in our hair and on our clothes! The scene was quite enchanting. And not at all what you might have expected from the rather dull-looking pods.
God designed this plant to perfectly propagate itself. And as is usually the case with the things God has created, if we take the time to notice them, we will discover fascinating things about them and may even enjoy them.
Have you ever seen something or someone and thought that they were unremarkable, boring, or useless? Those milkweed seed pods looked dried out and dull. But the reality was that they held beautiful seeds inside them that not only enchanted us, but will eventually create new milkweed plants. I would venture to say that there is beauty, an interesting story, or usefulness in most everything – and certainly every person. Sometimes we just may need to spend a little more time with a person, look at them through a different lens, or sincerely seek to know them. Even those with a hard, outer shell often have a softer, gentler inside, especially when someone shows them kindness and interest.
Sometimes we need to show ourselves some kindness, too. The next time we’re tempted to think that there is nothing good about us – nothing that would attract us to others, nothing that is worthwhile or useful, or nothing but a boring story – let’s remember the milkweed pod and all the beauty, usefulness, and interest it holds inside. God perfectly designed it, and although we may have scars, brokenness, or flaws, He perfectly designed us, too! And we, too, have beauty, usefulness, and interest. If we stop and look at ourselves through God’s eyes, these things will become more and more clear with each passing day.
Family Life - The Hard Stuff
Is anyone out there not experiencing a family member or close friend having a significant health crisis or dealing with the loss of a loved one? Consider yourself fortunate, because it seems like most of us are dealing with the emotional, spiritual, physical, economic, and logistical challenges of either a personal health crisis or loss of a loved one or the crisis being experienced by someone close to us. No matter how strong our faith is, no matter how many ways God is with us as we go through these things, a major family health crisis or loss of a loved one still creates burdens, stresses, fears, worries, uncertainties, additional responsibilities, challenges to our faith, and just plain heartbreak. I wish I could offer a get out of it all free card, but we all know that’s not how life works, at least not this side of eternity.
So what are some things we can do to help those we love and/or ourselves to make it through these kinds of trying circumstances? I don’t have all the answers, but here are some suggestions. I strongly recommend making a special time with God a high priority. That doesn’t mean you have to be excited about it or that it has to be full of faith and sunshine. It’s okay to yell at God. It’s okay to ask Him the tough questions. The why’s? The how could You let this happen? The where were You when we needed You? The what do I do now? And the host of other questions that come with these kinds of circumstances. Cry out to Him with all the painful truth of what you are going through. He’s big enough for all of it. Keep going back to Him for as long as it takes for you to know that He is right there with you, grieving, caring, loving you through every step. For some, that can be days or weeks, for others, it can take literal years of throwing our brokenness at His feet.
It is easy to feel alone when going through these things. Take time to be with your family and friends. Let them be there with you, for you. Let them know that you are there with them and for them. Give yourself and your loved ones permission to enjoy the activities that give life meaning even while you are dealing with the crisis or loss. While dealing with a health crisis or loss is not something I would wish on anyone, these kinds of life events are oftentimes when we, our families, and those closest to us, can find the greatest sense of togetherness and dependence on one another. The bonds that grow through adversity will last through eternity.
Dealing with a health crisis or loss can lead to a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about how to manage all the things that come with these kinds of life events. Between time management, financial issues, changing responsibilities, new and scary roles, advocating for a loved one, dealing with medical professionals, and a host of other things, one can be easily overwhelmed. Asking for help is okay. You don’t have to handle it all yourself. Let your friends and family be there for you. Put yourself, your family member, or loved one on the prayer list at church (prayer requests can be placed on the online Connect Cards each Sabbath, called into the church office, relayed to friends and family). We are in this together.
If you still find yourself overwhelmed and having a hard time coping, please don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Having a professional counselor or doctor help you is not a sign of weakness. It is a recognition of the very real things going on in your life and can help to provide insight, perspective, encouragement, and support.
One thing I can tell you for sure, you are not alone. The same Jesus who ‘groaned in the spirit’ and wept over Lazarus and the pain his loved ones felt at his sickness and death, will come alongside each of us. He knows our sorrows and is acquainted with our grief, and He will not leave us to face these challenges alone. Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you.
Take Care of Yourself
As Christians, we are called to serve others as Christ did during his time on earth. This is an important trait during the pandemic. We all need to help one another, but we also need to realize our human limits. What the eight laws of health that were promoted by Ellen White and the SDA church are about is actually self-care. I know sometimes we get so busy it is hard for us to eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. We feel guilty telling people no so we can spend the time to cook healthy meals or get some fresh air. What we need to realize is by taking care of ourselves we can then take better care of others. What this pandemic has taught us is the importance of maintaining our health to prevent and better recover from COVID-19. With the probability of an increase in COVID-19 cases and the possibility of another shutdown looming this fall, this is the time to reflect on your self-care.
Self-care isn’t just about taking care of our bodies, it is all the other parts that make us human. We are also emotional and social creatures. Recent research has found that meeting with your friends once per week is as beneficial to a person’s health as quitting one pack of cigarettes per day smoking habit. This is beneficial to all age groups. We shouldn’t be social distancing, just physical distancing.
When we are struggling emotionally our bodies are trying to tell us something is wrong. Ask yourself what situations in your life are causing you emotional distress? Where do you feel emotional distress in your body? It is easier to notice physical signs of emotional distress. Are there negative thoughts in your mind linked with your negative emotions? Work on challenging those thoughts by asking yourself if there is evidence to support that thought are there alternative explanations, and what would you tell a friend in the same situation?
Last but not least, we also need to take care of ourselves spiritually. This is a time many of us are crying out to the Lord for strength and help with various aspects of our lives. We also need to carve out time to spend with the Lord through prayer and Bible reading so we can hear his guidance and reassurance. So break down these different parts that make you whole and healthy and come up with your self-care plan. Here are some ideas.
- Physical – Have a set sleep and exercise schedule. Go for walks. Eat healthily.
- Social – Schedule on-line chats, watch videos, or play games with friends & family on-line or outside at least once per week
- Emotional – Watch for and challenge negative self-talk. Have empathy towards yourself. It helps to set aside time for reflection and creativity (journaling, art, music) at the end of the day.
- Spiritual – Daily time with the Lord and his word. Let go and let God take care of the rest. Find ways to connect with your faith community.
National Love People Day
Did you know that today is National Love People Day? I didn’t either until I looked up national holidays on the Internet. I was amazed to see how many “holidays” there are – usually multiple ones per day. Today is also International Podcast Day. I suppose that’s something that can be celebrated, as many things can be learned through podcasts, but I personally prefer the National Love People Day.
Nationaltoday.com describes the day like this: “People write songs about it or read poems inspired by it but do we really know what love is? That’s something to consider on National Love People Day, held annually on September 30. Many religions and non-religious spiritual practices center on the idea of giving love wholeheartedly without expecting anything in return. This day is dedicated to inspiring and supporting others with the power of unconditional love.”
They even give suggestions on how we can put this holiday into action:
- Help someone else The idea for random acts of kindness epitomizes the spirit of National Love People Day. Share a resource or gift with someone in need. Offer to babysit so your friend can go out on a date night with their spouse. Write a check for cancer research. Give blood at a blood bank because it’s one of the best ways to express to people you don’t even know the love of life.
- Express your love with the arts Spread the message of National Love People Day by writing a poem or even sharing it at a poetry slam. Do a dance or paint a picture in the name of love. In these divisive times, art is an amazing outlet for showing how interconnected we are as a human race.
- Be nice Sometimes just a gentle word of support or showing empathy to a friend going through hard times is an effective way to honor National Love People Day. There’s no money involved and no physical labor to undergo. Share a hug, a cup of coffee, and a listening ear to someone you do or don’t know. It can make all the difference in the world.
These are great ideas and love initiators. I encourage us all to engage with some of these or similar things. But isn’t it a pity that someone felt that a national holiday was needed to remind people to love each other? It would seem that that should be a given. But alas, the love of many is growing cold. And in place of love, we are finding hatred, distrust, fear, divisiveness, and even self-loathing.
The Bible tells us about love and how to love over and over. May we each take these words to heart and lavishly love the way that God loves us. May we be kind to ourselves and represent Him well in this world, for they will know us by our love.
A Kid’s Perspective on 2020
What did you think when you first heard about the coronavirus?
When I first heard about it, I thought that we would be going back to school after a few weeks. But it kept getting worse and worse, so we couldn’t go back.
How did it make you feel?
It made me feel sad that I couldn’t see my friends or anyone I know. I basically couldn’t do anything, which made me sad and disappointed and confused.
Were you worried about the virus?
In the beginning, not really. I didn’t think it would get this serious, and I didn’t think it would last so long. After a while, I started to get worried. I worried that it would catch around our friends or family.
What was it like during lockdown for you?
It was kinda fun because I got to spend more time with family. I liked going on walks with my family every day, watching the birds, and playing games. I liked seeing my friends from school even if it was only on Zoom. But I didn’t like not getting to see them as much, and I didn’t like not going on playgrounds. I missed school.
How did it make you feel to not be able to do the normal summer things this year?
It made me feel sad, disappointed, and I just thought that nothing is going to be the same. I didn’t get to swim in pools. I missed the fair. We haven’t really gotten to go to the library. I missed going to New York on vacation, and I missed going to the aquarium.
How is life different now than it was in the past?
I think it is harder because you have to social distance any time you come in contact with another person, and we can’t do a lot of things because lots of things are closed. I think it’s hard on kids because they don’t get to do much, and the little ones [preschoolers] don’t have school to distract them. It makes me want the past back because it was definitely not as hard and we could do things. Things were open, and we didn’t have to wear masks.
How can we make this time the best it can be?
We can try to have fun at home. We can try to social distance and mask to make it better. We can go on walks and see what we can find. We can do some art. Try to have fun with school and find the good sides about school. You could make a journal and write things you’ve done during corona. You could go bird watching and help around the house.
What do you think God wants us to learn from this experience?
I think that God wants us to learn that even while things are going bad, He can still brighten our day. I think He wants us to spend time with family. I think God is coming soon.
—Ariana Helbley, 8 years old, with Diane Helbley
A Note for Fathers
In Adventism, we talk a lot about the importance of mothers in the lives of children, and their influence on the development of their children cannot be underestimated. It is of vital importance, and what I’m about to say is intended to take nothing away from that vital part of family life. However, I want to take a moment to focus on the value of fathers in the lives of their children.
According to the sources cited below, children who grow up with involved fathers are 39% more likely to get good grades, 45% less likely to have to repeat a grade, and 60% less likely to be suspended or expelled from school. They are also twice as likely to attend college and obtain stable employment, 75% less likely to have a teen pregnancy, and 80% less likely to spend time in jail or prison. Those numbers are pretty telling, but they are only part of the story. These statistics don’t tell the whole story, and there are certain exceptions of many kinds. The part of the story these stats don’t address is the blessing fathers receive from being involved.
Being involved means more than just paying the bills and throwing a ball every once in a while. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the things we want and need to do that finding time for interaction with our children can be a challenge, particularly at the end of a long day. Things we fathers can do to be involved include being there to help with schoolwork and projects, teaching boys and girls life skills (budgeting, tithing, how to put air in a tire, complete home repairs, cooking and cleaning, etc.), playing with our children, reading to them, and generally being a part of their day. Even more important, if you desire your children’s salvation, be actively involved in family worship, pray with and for your children, take time to introduce them to God both in His word and the world He has created. It’s also important to be loving and respectful to the mothers of our children. Our boys and girls will be drawn to relationships that mirror those they grow up witnessing. Remember, the image your children have of who God is will often be a reflection of who you are. Your example, your love, and care, your time, and attention will all deeply impact your children’s view of the God we love and serve.
TEXAS FATHERHOOD SUMMIT 2017. AUSTIN, TEXAS. © CHILD AND FAMILY RESEARCH PARTNERSHIP AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Sources: 1. Nord, Christine, & West, Jerry. (2001) Fathers’ and Mothers’ Involvement in Their Children’s Schools by Family Type and Resident Status. (NCES 2001-032). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2. Martin, A., Ryan, R. M., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2007). The joint influence of mother and father parenting on child cognitive outcomes at age 5. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 22(4), 423-439. 3. Yogman, MW, Kindlon, D., & Earls, F. (1995). Father involvement and cognitive/behavioral outcomes of preterm infants. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 34(1), 58-66. 4. Furstenberg, F.F, & Harris, K.M. (1993). When and why fathers matter: Impacts of father involvement on the children of adolescent mothers. Pp. 117-38 in Young Unwed Fathers: Changing Roles and Emerging Policies. Edited by R.I. Lerman and T.J. Ooms. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. 5. Bronte-Tinkew, J., Carrano, J., Horowitz, A., & Kinukawa, A. (2008). Involvement among resident fathers and links to infant cognitive outcomes. Journal of Family Issues, 29, 1211-1244.
Since the pandemic shut things down and closed us off from each other, we all have been searching for ways to reconnect while staying safe. Ironically, screen time has now become a necessity in many ways to keep us connected considering all the information advising us to limit our screen time, whether it’s the TV screen, computer screen, cell phone, or tablet. Social media and the internet, like any other potentially good thing, can become a tripping point if used to excess.The most emphatic warnings have been, and continue to be, about the time children and teens spend online. Yet many parents find themselves with little to no choice if their children’s schooling has gone online. But what habits have the last five months created in those students? For those who are still doing totally, or even partially, online classes, how do parents ensure the safety of their children socially, emotionally, physically, as well as spiritually?Many students have computers in their bedrooms where they do their school work. If you’re concerned that your child or teen may have issues with staying focused on their school work, accessing areas of the internet that are dangerous, or on social media or video games instead of participating in class or doing homework, one suggestion would be to set up a “classroom” in your home. This will be the location where your students engage in their online classes and do their homework, and where the computer is at all times so its use can be monitored. Set the computer up in such a way that the monitor is easily seen by anyone nearby. This may not be as easily done if you have multiple children taking different classes at the same time, especially if the conversation with other students and the instructor is frequent. If it is only viewing a course video, headphones, or earplugs for each child can help.Apps are available to make sure that the sites your child visits are age-appropriate. Some suggestions are:
- iOS 12 for iPhone and iPadCircle
- OurPact (has a monthly fee)
- Google Family Link
- Family Time
- Net Nanny
- Norton Family Premier
More information and ratings on these apps are available by visiting https://www.internetmatters.org/resources/monitoring-apps-parents-guide. Whatever you choose, be sure your computers have parental control software installed which will screen web searches and sites for inappropriate content. Sites can also be blocked based on the protection levels you choose. If you think any of your children may have an addiction to the internet, try listening to them to learn why. The internet can be used to escape reality. Also, watch for any signs of cyberbullying. Although you may not be able to limit the time your child spends on the internet if they are doing their schooling partially or exclusively online, look for additional activities that they can participate in with their peers or with the family that doesn’t involve any screen time. How many of your kids have played charades or Pictionary? Set a time daily or weekly when you read a book together. Or enjoy an audiobook together as a family. It can help with your kids’ ability to focus and use their imaginations.We all could benefit from not having moving images in front of our eyes all the time. Limiting screen time will help with focus, sleep, social interactions, and truly enjoying our quiet time with God every day.
Calming Children’s Fears in Response to National Upheaval
Though there may be many unknowns and chaos in our world right now, the home can be a source of calm and stability for us and our children. Parents set the tone for the home. As school begins after many months of being home, it is vital to set a household schedule and make sure to include quality family time. Give hope to your kids that some of the current chaos won’t last forever. Though we know we are in the last days, the Lord promises He will not forsake us.
Parents need to be open and honest about COVID-19 and racial discrimination protests, but not have the news on all day because this could scare kids. We should be careful where we get our news. Lots of misinformation is being spread around. This can make us feel scared and overwhelmed. Remember, Jesus is the light of the world, darkness cannot exist when there is light present. We all should make sure to connect with our creator daily, be aware of our feelings, strengthen our relationships, and take care of our bodies. These are things you have in your control.
We all can find ways to support parents during these difficult times. When you see a parent getting overwhelmed, help the parent(s) focus on what is important. We put a lot of pressure on parents these days. Everyone struggles and has their bad days. Remember, kids are resilient. Instead of criticizing, look for ways to help and support. There are basic needs kids have for them to thrive and they don’t all have to come from parents:
- Emotional support
- Positive role models
Think about the children in your life and how you can fulfill some of these needs to improve the community we all live in.
Is it just me, or do you also have a sense of pressure building? Personally and globally. Personally, people are dealing with pressures such as gearing up for school and all that goes with it (stricter schedules, stricter rules, new processes, extracurriculars); going back to work after furlough and having to get back in the game quickly; looking for work after losing a job due to COVID; paying bills and feeding mouths with decreased income; the list goes on. Globally it feels like the pressures of polarized politics, increased natural disasters, strained international relations, uncontrolled pandemic spread, etc. are squeezing this poor earth so much that it’s about ready to explode. And perhaps we are too.
When life as we knew it basically stopped in mid-March, I have to admit that I breathed a sigh of relief. The running around stopped. The rushing stopped. The extra things stopped. And my family and I enjoyed each other and the quietness of the time. The world was obsessed with one or two news events – not the myriad we normally deal with (even though they still existed). Now, even though COVID is not contained, we’re emerging from our cocoons and getting back into some sort of rhythm. My question to you is, what rhythm will you embrace? Will it be frenetic, or will it be calm? Will it is stressful and taxing, or will it be balanced and doable?
During the lockdown, I told myself that I didn’t want to go back to “too much” when the lockdown was done. Too many obligations, too many extracurriculars, too many extras all around make for too much stress and pressure. I can feel the pressures returning and am wondering where I will draw the line. I can feel the pressures returning and building in those with whom I interact as well. So much of it is good stuff (ministries, causes, work, child-related) that it makes it hard to say no.
The word that keeps coming to my mind is balance. I pray – and hope that you will pray – that God will show us all how to have balance in our lives in these days of “too much.” Life was complicated before COVID, and now it is even more complicated. Even the things we thought we had a handle on now have a new layer of safety protocols or new systems.
So let’s try saying no more often. Let’s try asking for help more often. Not filling the calendar with too many extras. Not living on social media. Ridding ourselves of toxic relationships. Making time for ourselves – sleep, exercise, devotional habits, hobbies that fill us up, and bring joy. Assess what absolutely has to stay on our plates, what can stay, what can go, and what should go.
Prioritize what’s most important in view of eternity. And ask God to bring these to mind when we are wavering. It seems to me that time is too short for us to be focused on “too much.”
Choices. Decisions. We are utterly bombarded right now with so many choices and decisions that need to be made. It’s overwhelming. It’s confusing. It’s just plain hard. And it isn’t very often that our choices and decisions can have such life-altering consequences. What do we do about school? Who do we allow into our personal bubbles? Can we visit loved ones out of the area? Is going to the beach safe? Are masks needed outside? How much are we willing to risk for any given situation?
What’s more is we’re needing to make these choices and decisions based on information we’re not entirely sure is accurate or complete. Who do we believe? Who do we trust? We hear competing viewpoints. We hear battling opinions. New information is coming out all the time. It’s all so dizzying.
In these uncertain times there is only one constant. The only One we can trust and believe is God: trust in Him to protect us and to take care of us according to His good and perfect will and timing; trust Him for discernment when deciding whom to believe and how to respond to the pandemic; trust Him for wisdom and guidance when making decisions; trust that He will give us the right attitudes and caring hearts to not only take care of ourselves but others too.
Let’s all draw very near to our Lord and recognize how lost we are without Him. Let’s listen for His voice, dwell in His presence, and settle into His peace. In the end, if we are staying close to God through prayer, Bible study, and seeking Him, He will help us to make the best choices and decisions possible with the information we have at our disposal.
Jesus declares, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And that’s the best news of the day!
Moving Forward Together
As parents, with summer ending and school rapidly approaching, we are faced with some very serious decisions in light of COVID-19. School? Homeschool? Remote or in person? No matter what choices you make, let’s remember that this is an extremely challenging situation for everyone. Our kids, other parents, teachers, school administrators, our government leaders are all faced with unprecedented circumstances. We must remember to treat each other with grace and Christian love as we go through this together. Yes, even that person who we are inclined to think is doing everything wrong.
As we go through our decision-making processes, let’s make sure that we keep each other and our institutions in prayer. The teachers and administrators at our institutions are being challenged to come up with ways to meet very uncertain demands. Will school be mostly in person or mostly remote? How should space be arranged? Should masks be required or not? How do we keep everyone safe in the process? How will we know the right moment to close school down again if there is an outbreak? How do they manage the competing, polar perspectives of those who think we should all carry on as if there is no problem and those who fear infection at every turn?
As far as possible, it would seem that we should heed Paul’s advice, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3 We’re not all going to agree with everything that happens this year, but we can choose to agree to treat each other and those entrusted with making decisions with love and patience as we all seek together to make things work for the good of our kids and everyone else involved.
And please consider financially supporting our schools, even if you are homeschooling this year out of concern for the virus or have no children left in school. In these uncertain times, resources are very limited to adjust to the technological changes and physical space requirements and provision of PPE. We want our schools to still be operational when this pandemic passes, and there is a very real possibility that without our support they won’t survive. Also, if you know a family struggling to adjust to these circumstances, please consider offering your assistance, whether financial or with childcare, or finding other creative ways to make a difference.
Together we can get through this.
Tips to Cope During a Pandemic
The age of COVID-19 is challenging for all of us. With the exception of the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, virtually no one alive has coped with something like this. We do not know how long this will last, what the economic impact will be, and people are dying. We are all stressed. Our usual coping tools may not be an option now that many of us are stuck at home and cut off from our spiritual and social support networks. Here are some tips to help cope:
- Set a schedule and have a daily routine. Go to sleep at about the same time every day.
- Exercise regularly, especially outside to get fresh air and sunlight.
- Eat a healthy diet at regular meal times. Plan your meals ahead of time. Allow small snacks in between meals, even the occasional treat.
- Do relaxation techniques to slow your breathing down and help decrease bodily tension. Longer ones could be done daily or short ones can be done multiple times throughout the day (see below for examples).
- Have more compassion for yourself and your spouse as well as other family members in your household. We are all going through a rough time.
- Spending personal and family time with the Lord daily can give you and your family a sense of grounding in connecting with an all-powerful creator who knows what you are going through. He is watching over you and will take care of you. Focus on what you have control of in your life then let God take care of the rest. A phrase to help you remember this, "Let go, let God." The Bible tells us repeatedly to not fear because God knows the enemy uses this to take away our hope. Remember, the Lord says, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10 NKJV
- Be aware of the first physical sensation of anger/stress/anxiety. This is the beginning of emotional dysregulation.
- Choose your preferred self-regulation technique:
- Body scan/wet noodle—Spend 10 seconds, scan your body (head to toe, toe to head), notice any tension, then relax while counting to 10. Or tighten tense muscles for 5 seconds then relax. Or pretend you are a wet noodle and let it all go. This is a fun one for kids! Works for up to 70% of people
- Muscle-to-Skeleton—Sit, let skeleton support your weight, trust your skeleton, and let the muscles go for 20 seconds.
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Take a slow deep breath through your nose into your belly for four seconds, hold for 4 seconds, let out slowly by blowing out through your mouth like it is a straw for 4 seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and out for 4 seconds, and then one more time. This is called four-square breathing. Or pretend you are holding a piece of pizza and you are breathing in the smell, but it’s too hot to eat so you have to blow on it to cool it off. Kids love this one! Do that three times.
- Do this as many times as needed throughout the day, up to 200 times. Always be aware of emotional dysregulation and work to get regulated with your body and emotions.
—Alina Baltazar, Ph.D., LMSW
People have been so incredibly creative during this time of separation! Many platforms are being used to stay connected while we’re physically disconnected. I live alone, so I’m very grateful to have all of the options to connect with my church to worship, my wonderful Sabbath School class to study and grow, and one other gathering that I’ve not experienced often, but have enjoyed immensely since I stumbled onto it: Family Worship.
Being the only Adventist in my family, and single, the opportunities for family worship have been few and far between, but each time was a blessing. Not long after the directives to stay home and stay safe, I came across a post on a friend’s Facebook page “advertising” family worship through her Facebook page and on their church’s YouTube channel. This friend lives 200 miles from Berrien Springs. Her husband is a pastor, and they have 4 children, 2 boys, and 2 girls, ranging in age from 9 to 18. Both of their sons play guitar, and we sing 3 or 4 songs at the beginning. I’ve learned some beautiful new songs! The wife welcomes everyone as they come online, the pastor reads a story that appeals to all ages, and he asks his family, as well as the online watchers, a few thought-provoking questions which result in sharing of some wonderful thoughts. I’ve been blessed by what people share and the insights their children have!! Finally, prayer requests and praises are shared through the “chat” feature (Friday nights are reserved for praises), either the pastor or my friend pray, and they close the evening with my friend saying, “Remember, you are LOVED!”
Initially, they were doing this 6 nights a week! At first, I joined once or twice a week, but it didn’t take long before I was there every single night. Now that we’re able to get out more, Family Worship is on Friday and Saturday evenings, but what a great way to start the Sabbath and the new week! I feel like I’ve made friends with people I’ve never met, but plan to meet once it’s safe to visit and mingle. It’s one of the blessings I love so much about being a part of the Adventist church. No matter where you go, somewhere not too far away you can find family.
God has blessings all around us if we make the effort to look for them.
Activities for Kids During a Pandemic
What sorts of challenges have you experienced during the last few months while staying at home? Some who live alone may find isolation to be more discouraging than those who are living with roommates or family members. Extroverts no doubt feel the lack of social interaction more acutely than introverts. Couples may find that extra time together is more difficult than they anticipated. In an April 28 Adventist Review article, Willie and Elaine Oliver (Adventist world church Family Ministry directors) stated that “Keeping your marriage healthy during the COVID-19 quarantine needs to be a high priority for all couples.” All of us have had to deal with a completely new situation.
One group I’ve thought about in particular is the children. How has the lockdown affected them? How are they dealing with time away from school, from friends, from their usual summer activities, and from Sabbath School? Our eight-year-old granddaughter summed it up quite accurately when she recently declared, “Everything is canceled!” For those of us who are adults, the last four months represent a small percentage of our lives, but for young children, four months can seem to be a very long time. As adults in our community, it is worthwhile to think of ways we can help our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.
Children form their views based on what they see the adults around them doing and saying. In the situation we face today, the stress that adults feel is likely to trickle down to the younger members of the family. Some parents have been struggling to maintain their own careers from home. Others have jobs where they still need to leave the house to go to work every day. At the same time, children have been at home, finishing the school year through online time with their teachers, and wishing they could see their friends. Anything we can do to help ease the strain on these families, both adults, and children, will be a big help to all, particularly if we can help the kids have fun. In the words of Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University professor who became famous for his “last lecture” before passing away at the age of 47 from pancreatic cancer, “Never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun.”
Just last week we took our two grandchildren up north to an area with a very low coronavirus rate and enjoyed four days of outdoor activities with them. We swam, we climbed sand dunes, we bicycled, and we even took several trips each down an alpine slide. Even though many of the usual summer activities are canceled, with a little planning there are other ways to have some fun and make new memories.
Do you know a family who could use some help? Fears and uncertainties may remain for some time, but taking the children on an outing could help reduce the stress of the whole family. Summertime provides the opportunity to be outside where the risks to our health are lower. Locations nearby include the Pumpkinvine Trail in northern Indiana which is great for biking or walking and has several parks and restrooms along the way. North of here the Kal-Haven trail, a former railroad bed, runs between South Haven and Kalamazoo and is another enjoyable biking venue. Love Creek, Fernwood, and Sarrett Nature Centers are all open for outdoor activities. There are public pickleball courts where you can enjoy an outdoor game that easily includes both adults and children. Even an afternoon of tossing a frisbee or playing catch or going to a playground is a break from the normal routine and is a chance for children to have a little fun.
If there is anything you can do to help families with children who you know, see if you can find a way to do it.
Life Lessons from Lumpy and Roo
It would not be a stretch to say that one of our favorite family movies is Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, a sweet story focusing on the young kangaroo named Roo. Roo has learned all about the dreadfully dreadful, horribly hazardous heffalumps from his friends' Rabbit and Tigger when they discover evidence that a heffalump has been in the Hundred Acre Wood. All the friends decide they need to capture the heffalump but leave Roo behind because he’s too young to go on such an expedition. Unwilling to be left out, Roo goes on his own expedition to capture a heffalump. In the process, he meets a young heffalump named Lumpy, and the two quickly become friends, playing and singing together. As they spend more time together, Roo realizes that he doesn’t want to capture a heffalump anymore. Lumpy may look different, but he is really very much like Roo and his friends – he gets afraid, he likes to bounce, he likes honey. Roo decides to take Lumpy to the Hundred Acre Wood, but Lumpy resists because he’s heard that the animals there are scary. Roo is surprised to hear these words come out of Lumpy’s mouth. His friends? Scary? How silly! But it’s a very real emotion based on the presumption (which turns out to be a little too true).
Children are not born fearful and hateful, but rather these traits are taught and learned. And they are learned from various sources, sometimes intentionally but often subconsciously. Proverbs 22:6 states, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." What are we teaching our children, even subconsciously? Are we guarding the avenues of their hearts and minds from outside detrimental sources? Do we ourselves represent what we want our children to be? What a privilege and responsibility we have to train up our children for the Lord so that they may reflect His character. May God be our ever-present help in this commission!
An Absorbent Object Lesson
Sometimes it's worth it to take a look around you – and teach children to look around – and think about the things you see in different ways. Even the most mundane things can hold a spiritual truth if you take the time to think about it. Have you ever stopped to consider coasters? Probably not, huh? Let's spend a moment pondering coasters as object lessons. You have likely seen the result of a wet glass left on something made of wood – the unsightly white ring. A coaster placed between the wet glass and the table serves to protect the wood from damage. So imagine that you are the table – a nice, wooden table, with a nice, polished surface. Your surface is so polished that you can even see the reflection on it of the One who made you. Now imagine that Satan is a glass filled with a cold beverage, and he sets himself down right on your polished surface. As he sits there, his glass starts to sweat, and condensation rolls down the glass and collects around the base of the glass. The ill-effects of Satan's influence have seeped into you. When the glass is finally removed, you see the results of his time spent on you – a stain on your wood, a white ring where you can no longer see the reflection of your Maker. His image on you has been marred. You realize that you can't protect yourself from the damage that the enemy can inflict on you, and you pray for the protection that can only come from God. As Satan approaches again, you notice that something comes between you and the enemy. A coaster is placed on your surface, and as the condensation rolls down toward you once again, the coaster absorbs the evil that was meant for you and protects you from being marred again. Our coaster is Jesus, who places Himself between us and our enemy, protecting us from Satan's attacks, and taking the consequences of evil on Himself.
The Bible tells us that "the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one" (1 Thess 3:3). Aren't you so thankful for our faithful Protector? If you have an absorbent coaster, show it to a child and share how Jesus is our coaster!
Life Lessons From a Go-kart
When I was about eight years old, my family "inherited" a go-kart from my uncle. He was a few years older than my older brothers and had outgrown this child's ride. It had been handmade by my uncle out of wood with a long, skinny front end and a wooden seat. It was painted dark blue and had four wheels that had been taken off of an old lawnmower. This particular go-kart moved thanks to muscle and ingenuity, not because of a motor and steering wheel. Inside, there was a rope that attached to the front wheels for steering – pull on the left side of the rope and turn left, pull on the right side of the rope and turn right – and someone had to push it from behind. The younger of my older brothers and I loved to play with the go-kart. I would climb into the seat and grab the steering rope, and my brother would push me all around our block. Once back at our house, we would switch. He'd climb in and grab the rope, and I'd get behind and push him around the block (at least as best as I could considering he was so much bigger than I was!). After we each had a few turns, we safely stored the go-kart in our garage.
Sometimes I liked to get the go-kart out of the garage and play with it by myself. As I pushed it out, I had trouble getting it where I wanted it to go, because no one was inside pulling on the rope and steering the wheels. Once I got it in position, I climbed in, and I could only pretend to be zooming around the block because there was no one behind me to push. While this was mildly amusing, it really wasn't satisfying, and it didn't serve the purpose for which the go-kart was made. It really needed two people to make it work as intended. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor." Our go-kart didn't work properly without both my brother and me doing our parts, whether that was steering or pushing. Plus it was far more fun to be sharing the experience with him! Likewise, in life, when we work together for a common purpose and appreciate what each of us brings to the table, we will get so much farther and have so much more success than we will if we don’t team up with others. And we might even have some fun in the process! Let's look for ways to work together to build up the Kingdom, to help each other out, and make this world a better place for all of us.
Camping & Blanket Forts
Spend some quality time outside this week. In your yard, set up a tent, create a tepee out of long branches and blankets, or make a lean-to with branches and a tarp/blanket/sheet. Set out a blanket and have a picnic with your favorite foods. Or build a campfire and roast s'mores, hot dogs, or veggies in foil packets. Tell a story with your family by having each person add a sentence to a prompter phrase, such as, "Once upon a time, there was a…." If the weather isn’t cooperating, build a blanket fort inside, have an indoor picnic, read a book out loud, or do the shared story. Your story could even be about meeting Jesus back in Bible times or in Heaven, or what you would do on the New Earth!
Here are a few things you can do when it's raining outside:
- Create Rain Art: Color on heavy cardstock with washable markers, then set out your pictures in the rain and watch the colors swirl and blend. If it doesn't happen to be raining, you can also use a spray bottle or small watering can make the same effect.
- Make Rain Music: Set out bowls/pots/pans/buckets/bottles, tin foil, even a toy xylophone and listen to the music created by the raindrops.
- Play "Pooh Sticks": During or after the rain, stand on the upstream side of a bridge and drop sticks into the stream below. Move to the other side of the bridge to see which stick appears first.
- Remember to look for the rainbow after the rain!
Birds & Prayer Box
Spring is a great time to notice the beautiful birds in our area. Spend some time outside both watching for and listening to the birds. Try to identify as many birds as possible both by sight and by sound. There are a number of apps you can use to help with identification. If you're feeling especially creative, sketch some of the birds you see while you ponder why God would create so many different varieties of birds.
While you're inside, why not create a beautiful prayer box? It seems there are more and more people and things to pray for nowadays – it's hard to remember them all. Find a container you'd like to use and paint it, decorate it, make it somehow special. Cut paper into smaller sheets for each prayer request (even the papers can be decorated). Each day, pray over the items in the box.
Now that leaves are starting to emerge, take some time to look at all the different varieties. See how many different ones you can find. Compare and contrast them. Are they smooth? Are they wrinkly? Are they fuzzy? Are they sparkly? If possible, take pictures of all the leaves and look at them on a computer to see them more closely. Or take a magnifying glass out with you.
Since it seems we are going to be spending more time locked down than we originally thought, why not create a time capsule to document what you're doing during this time. You could write a book about your experiences. You could keep a photo journal of all you are doing. Each family member could put a handful of items that are meaningful to them and this time in a container and open it a few years from now. And don’t forget to look for the God moments in all of this, too!
When you get outside this week, take some time to do a fun game – either by yourself or with your family. Choose a letter of the alphabet and find as many things that start with that letter as you can. Keep choosing different letters to keep the fun going! You can easily play this game inside as well.
While you're out and about you can also collect eight medium-sized, smooth stones. These stones can be painted to become story stones about the events leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection. Have children help you choose stones and paint each one a different color. Adults or older children can draw with a paint pen or sharpie the symbols of the various events of the week: palm leaf, bread and cup, praying hands, sword, a crown of thorns, three crosses, tomb, and sunburst. Then on Sunday, share the story using the stones.