Holidays

People who read this blog come from many countries, and have different backgrounds. Some are new Adventists, and some have been for many years or all their lives. Because there are a lot of different beliefs regarding how holidays are celebrated, I thought I’d share some quotes from Adventist Home, by Ellen White, that have helped our family and others understand how she thought they should be kept.

“I saw that our holidays should not be spent in patterning after the world, yet they should not be passed by unnoticed, for this will bring dissatisfaction to our children. On these days when there is danger that our children will be exposed to evil influences and become corrupted by the pleasures and excitement of the world, let the parents study to get up something to take the place of more dangerous amusements. Give your children to understand that you have their good and happiness in view,” (AH pg.472 & 1T pg.514,515).

We should not just let the days pass by, but provide something good for them. Specifically about Christmas she says, “As the twenty-fifth of December is observed to commemorate the birth of Christ, as the children have been instructed by precept and example that this was indeed a day of gladness and rejoicing, you will find it a difficult matter to pass over this period without giving it some attention. It can be made to serve a very good purpose… The desire for amusement, instead of being quenched and arbitrarily ruled down, should be controlled and directed by painstaking effort upon the part of the parents. Their desire to make gifts may be turned into pure and holy channels and made to result in good to our fellow men by supplying the treasury in the great, grand work for which Christ came into our world. Self-denial and self-sacrifice marked His course of action. Let it mark ours who profess to love Jesus because in Him is centered our hope of eternal life,” (AH pg 478 & RH Dec.9, 1884).

Let us take these days, especially holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and teach our children that these events in the life of Jesus (birth & death) are for our salvation, and we should share this with others.

In the U.S. we celebrate Independence Day, July 4, with parades and fireworks, and our harvest festival is called Thanksgiving because the pilgrims were thankful to have made it here that first year. What important days are recognized in your country? What are some holidays, Christmas and others, that you celebrate, and how do you celebrate them?

I invite you to share ways that you are teaching your children to give to others.

Another Mile to Share

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, or at least my posts, I’ve shared the journey that I’m on with my oldest, Ethan. He’s my prodigal son. I am the father left waiting to carry on with business. Each day, I watch the road.

It’s time for another update. In sharing my story, I hope to give hope! I hope to encourage! When we read these amazing stories of families who raise strong men and women of God, who finish their schooling with kudos and prizes and scholarships, it can be sad and disheartening to those of us with children who’ve gone a different direction.

We celebrate with you, moms and dads of those kids! But, our hearts hurt.

When last I wrote my blog post, The Prodigal, Ethan had left home, telling us that he didn’t want to live like he’d been raised. He loved us, but wasn’t interested in anything having to do with God or religion.

In fact, one conversation he and I had several months after he moved out had me questioning whether he had a mental illness. He was reading a book by a guy named David Icke (don’t even Google it — it’s awful) and according to him it was his new “bible” that he carried around everywhere. He demonstrated this by showing it to me.

David Icke proposes, among other things, that the government is run by an oligarchy comprised of inter-dimensional lizard people who brought the moon with them when they took over the world.

No, I am not kidding.

Yes, my heart was breaking as I listened to this intelligent, thoughtful young man speak so passionately about these new beliefs of his.

At this moment in time, I pause to allow one of three reactions:

  1. Ho hum…my children are babies and will never ever do anything like this. I’ll do my best to do things mostly right and we’ll live happily ever after. OR, a subset of this group is, “My teens are busy and involved in church and set to graduate at 16 years old with honors.”
  2. Good grief! I’m so thankful for my kids and the problems I am dealing with, with them! Perhaps I should just take a chill pill and realize that things aren’t as bad as they could be!
  3. WOW! I’m so thankful to know that I’m not alone! I thought it was only my kid that had gone off the rails!

If you’re in one of the groups that have no idea what it is to struggle with a child, at least not yet if your children are young, then you might not have even gotten this far reading! I know I wouldn’t have when Ethan was five and teaching himself to read and wise beyond his years!

My word to you is, “Enjoy it! Be thankful for it! Count your blessings!” And perhaps even, “Remember to pray for those of us who have more challenges!”

If you’re still reading, you probably have a measure of OCD and feel compelled to finish since you’ve gotten this far. Or, it seems like a train wreck and you just can’t look away! Well, stick around! You never know what you might learn!

To those in the second group, my advise to you is, “Take a chill pill!” Okay, I’m mostly kidding. It’s hard to relax when it’s your child and your struggles. You might possibly read to the end. Because there is hope! And, the struggle is real!

My brothers and sisters in the third group, you need to settle right on in, grab a cup of whatever you enjoy drinking hot, and take a deep breath! We are in this together and this is the “keeping-it-real zone!” I’ll share my story, warts and all, and somehow, someone might find hope and blessing from it!

The first time Ethan and I talked, he shared all about this guy Icke’s ideas, and I sat there with a mildly-interested look on my face, a stone in my heart, and a roiling in my stomach. I didn’t challenge, I didn’t argue, I didn’t reason. I simply gave him the gift of listening quietly but engaged. I didn’t ask him any questions because I didn’t want to hear the answers!

What I’d learned about my son is that if I disagreed, he would become more solidly lodged in that opinion. If I questioned or challenged, he would hear disapproval. I was going to give him neither of these things.

And so we talked about this and that as if it were the most normal thing in the world. And, my heart broke and I wanted to weep.

The second major conversation we had, I did the same while his behavior was, again, very odd and left me thinking that perhaps I was dealing with some kind of a mental illness. What a hopeless feeling; even if he were, what could I do? He wasn’t living with us, and should I do anything at all, it would likely put a wedge in our relationship that might be irreparable!

Our interactions, though infrequent, went much like this over the course of the next six months or so. Never once did I disagree with him or challenge him. I simply listened and smiled and nodded and left him with no doubt whatsoever that I loved him more than life. Period.

At a certain moment in time, I can’t pinpoint when, he stopped talking about Icke. He didn’t look up at the stars suspiciously. He stopped insisting that oil wells were not what they seemed. And, he referenced the Bible. He referenced it like, “The Bible says so too…” And though it wasn’t completely accurate, I thought it interesting that he brought it up at all.

While relaying my story and my struggles, I’ve always tried to propose that there is a different way to approach things than makes logical sense. In dealing with soon-to-be-adult children, it makes sense that we resist behavior that we feel is wrong. It makes sense to argue with someone who seems to be making poor decisions or entertaining beliefs that are not in line with what we’ve taught.

What I’d like to put out there for consideration is that we drive our children away with our rightness, our arguments, even perhaps our subtle emotional blackmail or manipulation. I’m not talking blatant blackmail or manipulation. Many times it is much more subtle and harder to see, especially when our intentions, our motives, are only for their best!

What I can tell you is that he’s no longer talking about lizard people. He’s starting to comment about how events seem to be pointing to all the things found in Revelation. He’s beginning to talk about praying. In fact, he alluded to the fact that the new job he had is making him work on Sabbath when he preferred to work on Friday and Sunday. He’s still working on Sabbath, but being aware of it? That gives me hope, right there!

Just last month he texted me this picture, excited about his thrift shop find. I about fell over! Of course, responding to him I played it cool, “That is cool! Great condition!”

I can’t tell you how this story ends. He’s still living with his girlfriend and making dubious choices; I don’t point them out. He still believes that the earth is flat. Sighs.

But, we’re a mile further on and I thought I’d share.

Thanksgiving Reflection

What are you grateful for this year? What are you reflecting on as you quickly entertain your kids while you fret over a Thanksgiving meal? What, besides the endless list in your mind, are you working so hard for? For whom are you working so hard…to thank? That’s on my mind this morning. That’s what I’m trying to narrow down, because I have so much to be thankful for.

Last year we were so focused on bringing our second, H, into the world, that Thanksgiving was simply a hi-and-bye holiday. Reflection wasn’t even an option at the time of rushing through our days. But this year, it’s full of reflection, reflection of where we started as a family. The one person it circles back to is my husband. He’s the one I’m thankful for this year, or every year actually, and every day of the year, down to every second of the year. The Lord has blessed us — from the start of our dating days, to marriage, to knowing when the perfect time for us to start a family would be; from enduring miscarriages, to finally getting our Ollie, and repeating the events to get our H, to surprising us with our number three.

The journey has been amazing no matter the event. We sometimes overlook how things go, how long it takes, how difficult a path is, how frustrating, and mind-numbing the challenge can be. But, once we hit the end results, we don’t consider how we arrived at the end. I’ve spent so much time lately focused on “what’s next,” that I forget to look back sometimes and be grateful at how far we’ve come as a family. Until this week. I’ve happily set time aside each day to see our past journeys and see how grandly the Lord has blessed us through each and every one of these journeys, how simply you can see Him playing a part through all of it, how He’s used each and every one of our event as a way to strengthen us as partners, and how us becoming stronger set us up for being the parents we are today and the parents we always will aim to be.

And again, I reflect upon how amazingly lucky and blessed I am for my one and only husband. Without his support I wouldn’t be the person I am today. He’s made me stronger and wiser. Without him I’d never know the unconditional love and security I have in him when things get tough, or have the opportunity to relish my daily joys — from simple events to grand homeschooling home runs.

Every day I’m grateful for my husband; every day I pray to God to bless him and our home. Every day I thank God for him, because without the husband, our home would be quite bare, our boys wouldn’t have a wonderful role model, and without his hard work we definitely wouldn’t be homeschooling. Being able to homeschool because of the hubby’s hard work is what stands out the most these days. Yes, it’d be nice at times to drop H off at a daycare, send Ollie off on a school bus, and get all my errands, chores, and cooking done before they are due back, but those “yearnings” only last for a split second…and then they’re gone because I see the wheels turning in Ollie’s mind connecting the dots, I see H discovering something new and looking at me with excitement. I treasure these moments because I know they’ll be gone soon.

Then, the hubby comes home, and before launching into his day and after giving kisses and hugs all around, he turns to me and asks how my day was. Did the boys and I have a good day? How is H doing, anything new? How am I feeling? Am I overwhelmed? Where can he help? What can he do around the home to help to make my burdens easier? The list goes on and on, and he never complains when I add to his work hours when he comes home. He just keeps going, even when he’s exhausted and the boys hang on him like little monkeys. He never complains as he puts both boys to sleep, knowing soon he’ll be adding a third to the bedtime routine. He never complains when I toss in the towel after a hard day and simply don’t want to lift a finger. He jumps in and takes over, and I’m beyond relieved to have such a helpful partner.

I never take for granted my other half, and I thank him almost daily for his help and support, just as often as he thanks me. Be grateful for your supporters of homeschooling. Homeschooling isn’t an easy avenue. Every day is met with challenges, new or old, but it’s also met with amazing results, knowing our kids are in the best possible situation. From having a gifted child to one who’s struggling in school, we all have our reasons for this journey and we all know it’s the right path for our kids — not the easiest at times, but the right one. I know not everyone may see your choice as the “right one,” but thank the Lord for the ones who support your journey, who cheer you on; thank the Lord, and thank them also. We always need the cheers, comforts, and understanding; otherwise, we probably would toss the idea of homeschooling aside and give up on the path. I sure wouldn’t be on this path without my husband’s support and encouragement. We need the support from each other, from friends and loved ones. But, most importantly, we need it from God Himself. Without feeling God in my heart when we homeschool, I wouldn’t be so certain that is the right path for us. But, I see Him and feel Him in everything we do, and now He plays a hand in us being able to do it.

Reflect on your time homeschooling, reflect on your journey, be thankful for how far you’ve come, don’t think of how far you still need to go, just think of where you are today and bask in it. Victories and failures have taught not only you and your kids so much, but they’ve helped you bond and become closer as a family. Thank your spouse, your best friend, your parents, whomever it is in your life that knows you’re doing an amazing job. Be thankful for them and their support.

Be also thankful for you, yourself! You are doing amazing things, you are working harder then anyone sees, you are doing something to better the lives of your children. You’re giving them a life, childhood, and education all in one swing, and you’re doing a fantastic job at it! Reflect on your journeys. You’ll certainly see your blessings.

Family Traditions Create a Family Story

My boys love stories. When one of the boys seem more demanding, more whiny, or is asking me to help them with something I know they can do, I know they are wanting my time and attention. So, we take time out together with a story. We do the same at bedtime. My boys have a hard time slowing down and going to sleep. Once again I turn to taking time to read several stories to help them calm down.

Stories are a way to create a cohesive and positive family experience during the holiday season. Stories are also a way to introduce children to the family spiritual belief system, long before they are ready to make a cognitive commitment of belief. Using stories during the holiday season is a way to meet both goals — create a shared family story, and share the parent’s spiritual beliefs. A family story, including spiritual beliefs, is shared among parents and children through family rituals and traditions. “The existence of and the participation in family rituals also seem to contribute to the individual’s identity within the context of the group. Through these rituals an individual may receive affirmation of his/her group membership, while at the same time being esteemed as a unique and special being,” (Smit, 2011). The desired outcome is that, through the experience of these rituals and traditions, each person in the family will experience a sense of belonging, of how precious they are, and will begin to incorporate these rituals and traditions into their life story as well.

During the holiday season we are with my extended family, and we will take the time to have a family game night. This is a way to include grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles in our family story too.

Allowing time during the holiday season for each person to share what traditions they enjoy, and then incorporating them into the family plan, includes each person in the family narrative. To revisit and participate in the traditions each year provides the potential for each family member to continue to experience a sense of belonging. Taking time, like on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, for each person to share their experiences, their story, of what it is like to live in their family, also allows the parents to hear what experiences of being in a family the children remember. This is particularly powerful as it helps address issues regarding belonging and exclusion in the family, and gives the opportunity for parents to make changes in order to increase a sense of belonging in a family.

However, the more frequently the traditions occur, the more likely a child is to remember them and include them in the narrative of their family experience. Finding ways to include daily, or weekly, or monthly traditions is a way to increase family cohesion, even if children are argumentative or don’t want to cooperate. Simple ways to emphasis rituals include the following:

  1. Have specific rituals upon arrival and departure of family members. When families greet each other and bid farewell to each other consistently, with affection and love, in spite of the presence of negative emotions, an increased feeling of belonging is created.  
  2. A family experiencing change or trauma can ensure children feel safe and a part of the family by following an expected daily ritual, such as a bedtime routine that includes time with Mom and Dad before bed.
  3. Traditions and rituals, such as Friday night worship, to welcome the Sabbath and to talk about their week, can be helpful to each family member as they try to find meaning in their shared experience.
  4. Having a weekly event such as the Sabbath — including time together, food, and maybe even other friends and family — is a respite from the mundane, and creates “sparkling moments” that create a shared history among family members that is easier for each person to remember.

Shared rituals help to provide an anchor for the relationship, reminding each family member they belong. “The structured parts of a ritual anchor us to our past, whether that is our personal past or that of our family of origin, community, culture, religion, or humankind,” (Imber-Black, 2009). It’s never too late to start traditions. Even if you have children who are teenagers, you can start new traditions, maybe by asking an adolescent what is important to them. Responding to a child’s idea, by allowing it to change your plans, to include them in your rituals or traditions, is a powerful way to demonstrate a child belongs. By making these changes, parents are providing a safe haven. In fact, through the use of positive and inclusive rituals, the family is able to create a shared narrative and experience transformation, even where chaos or trauma may have occurred.

The simplicity of a shared history allows each person to experience the strengths of the family. As the family experiences a shared narrative, each person has an idea of where they came from, who they are, and what their future may look like.

 

References:

Smit, R. (2011). Maintaining family memories through symbolic action: young adults’ perceptions of family rituals in their families of origin. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, (May), 355-367.

Imber-Black, E. (2009). Rituals and spirituality in family therapy. In F. Walsh (Author), Spiritual resources in family therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. (Original work published 2009)

White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.

Seven Ways to Count Our Blessings

Thanksgiving!

It’s just six days away, for those of us in the United States!

I decided to share seven fun ways to record blessings, that we’ve enjoyed over the years. You can do many of these activities at any time of the year, but, like making applesauce seems to go hand-in-hand with autumn, so do many of these ideas.

For those readers elsewhere, you can participate too, because this is really a year-round attitude — this giving of thanks!

If we count today, we could use one of these suggestions per day for a Countdown to Thanksgiving, to help us gear up for the big day! Even as I say this, though, I realize that practically, these ideas are more pick and choose, to be done as a habit instead of trying to cram all of them into a busy week. If you want to try them all, go for it, but if you even find one idea that works for you, then that is what is going to matter the most in your family!

Idea One: The Blessings Tree

The first and favorite way for us to cultivate a grateful attitude is our Blessings Tree. Below is a sample, because, in our packing for a move, I can’t seem to find a copy of ones we have made.

The idea is very simple, as simple as you’d like it to be. I usually use a huge sheet of paper taped to the wall, or a poster board if I want it smaller. I draw a brown tree trunk — I like it REALLY BIG, because we want lots of blessings to hang on it!

I then make lots of leaves out of colorful construction paper. In years past, I’ve mostly done the simple oval-shaped leaves, or sometimes maple or oak leaves, but those get tedious to cut out. Oval really works just fine! Last year we did something similar for Sabbath School and I ran out of leaves. I found a great solution at the Dollar Tree. They sell bags of pretend leaves made of cloth for $1/100. They are shaded and some are even glittery — no work for you, Mom!

Every night, or morning, or whatever you decide, everyone in the family gets to pick a leaf or two and say what they are thankful for. We put answered prayers, kind things people have done for us, and just all kinds of random things that we think of. This is a wonderful way to bring the family together and change the attitude of the home! And, it’s so fun to see those leaves add up. Don’t you think Jesus and and angels are happy to see us count our blessings in this way?

Thankful Tree Clipart #1

Idea Two: Blessings on a Roll

That’s not on a roll of toilet paper! You can get little rolls of printer paper for not much, and following the same idea as above, you can have each family write something each day that they are thankful for. The lady who shared this idea with me has four kids. She had each family member write in their own handwriting each day, so over the years, she had a nice memory of how they grew up in penmanship and in spiritual experience. You can hang the roll somewhere, and when it gets too long, wrap the loose end up around a stick and roll it up like a scroll. Unlike the Blessings Tree, which most likely will get removed come December, this project spans the seasons and doesn’t take up much room.

Idea Three: ABC Prayer Time in the Family Circle

This is the idea we are currently working on in our family. It is probably the simplest, because the only tools and supplies needed are your brain and your family members. When you have your family circle for prayer, you go A..B..C… and so on, every day/night, and say what you’re thankful for. For instance, the first night, everyone says something he/she is thankful (in his prayer) for that begins with A: Apples, Aviaries, Aardvarks, Anne, whatever. Next night, you advance a letter. This really helps us in our family to think, and many times one or more of us gets stumped over the letter for that night. So far, we are to S. We had a hard time with Q, but even some ordinary letters that you would think would be easy create a brain block when it comes to your turn to share. Nevertheless, we are all enjoying this exercise in naming more blessings than we normally think of while praying.

Variations on this are saying a fruit, vegetable, animal, person, missionary, relative, flower, or whatever topic you choose — and everyone must think of one thing in that category to thank God for. In our family, and probably in yours, we easily get into a rut with our prayers, and sometimes the same people mumble the same prayer night after night. This just helps to wake up our brains!

Idea Four: Laminated Blessings Placemats

Okay — all kids like to weave. This is a simple one for all ages, and I’d say especially for the littles, with some help. You can make these in a morning. All you need is two or more colors of construction paper. Cut the one color in strips about an inch wide. You can actually have as many colored strips as you’d like. Two to three would be the max I’d recommend, but I know children love to get creative! The other color will be the solid “background.” You take this paper and fold it in half, either way. Then cut strips with it still folded up to one inch of the edge, all the way down. When done cutting, you should have an unfolded piece of construction paper that has cut lines, so that the strips you cut from other colored paper can be woven between. This sounds more complicated than it is.

Have the children weave in and out their strips, then arrange the edges so everything’s even. You can tape or glue the edged down, but we just laminate them, so I don’t bother.

We did this one year at Thanksgiving. Our children made a place mat for each guest, then before eating, we wrote things we were thankful for on the place mats, then laminated them for future years. It’s fun to look back and see what we wrote!

I am having difficulty getting my photos to cooperate, so here is a link that someone else made, showing the same thing. Only, we added things we were thankful for on the squares.

Idea Five: Bible Promises

This idea I am still working on. My plan is to have times (Sabbath afternoon would be good, or during Bible time) when we take a Bible promise book or a concordance and find specific promises that have meaning for our own children’s needs. I don’t plan to make this a “Thus saith Mom,” but verses that my boys need that they find. Faith verses will be green, verses about God’s love for me with be red, etc. We can all sit down for 20-30 minutes with our pens and Bible promise books, and find meaningful verses that will help us when we are thoughtfully flipping through the pages of our Bibles. The verses we have marked will pop out and bless us, so this is an ongoing blessing idea.

Idea Six: Prayer Wheel

This is a simple device, where you write down people or topics to pray for on each day. As you spin your wheel every day, a new person appears in the sliced out section, and you pray specifically for that person. We can include a prayer of thanks for each person! All you need is two index cards, cut into circles. Divide the circle into how ever many wedges you need for the number of people you will be praying for. Cut out a wedge for a window, and laminate if you want. Fasten with a brad fastener. Spin every day.

Idea Seven: Songs of Thanks

There are plenty of songs I can think of that mention being thankful or blessings. The one most obvious is Count Your Blessings. You can hear it and get a nice flip book here with the printed song at My Bible First.

Other songs about blessings:

  • We Gather Together
  • Come, Ye Thankful People
  • This is My Father’s World

Many Scripture songs are about thankful themes such as God’s goodness, and you can think up your own tunes if your verse doesn’t have a song already!

Idea Eight: The Blessing Jar

You got a bonus! I was just going to list seven ideas, then remembered this one. This idea can be done yearly, like Blessings of 2017, or just for a season, or for a whole lifetime! Just get a mason jar, or find a cute jam jar, and add a nice label and ribbon. Record daily or weekly blessings, answers to prayers, and things that have made you smile. Use little slips of paper. You could use a different color for each family member, or all the same. We’ve used old business cards that no longer serve. The key is to periodically take the cards out and read them together, to see how many rainbows have appeared in your life. If you Google Blessing Jar or Memory Jar/Thankful Jar, you will find a plethora of ideas to glean from. Here’s just one example. These make nice gifts that anyone can make and use. No big expense, and no calories! This is not my original idea, I have only used someone else’s idea. You can go as artsy and coordinated or as simple as you have time for. That’s what I like about this project.

I hope that these ideas will spark some interest in you in this week leading up to Thanksgiving, and beyond! Such simple ideas are really the glue that helps to hold our families together, and provide much happiness as we look back on the ways that God has blessed us.

Happy Thanksgiving!