Author Archives: Guest Writer

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Closeup view from the truck cab. Truck driver keeps driving wheel with both hands.. Navigation is mounted on the vehicle dashboard.

Red Means Stop, Green Means Go: Spiritual Driving Lessons

By Brian Shultz

Watch Out…New Driver!

If only driving, and life, were easy…

I just got out of the car, this time from the unfamiliar passenger side, as my teenage son just completed his first ever driving lesson with me, just minutes after passing his written test and getting his permit at the DMV.  All he had to do to pass the test was to not miss more than 5 questions of the 25, and he only missed 1 (Fist pump!).

The wait in line was much harder than the actual test, and to his credit, he said, “That was way too easy, Dad. They should make it harder, because I don’t want to be on the road with people who are missing 4 or 5 of the questions!”

I agreed with him, while I thought to myself, “I don’t really want to be on the road while YOU are driving, because a test means nothing, and you have so much to learn,” but I refrained.

The First Lesson

Now, fast forward an hour later, and I’m handing him the keys to the “war wagon”, our rusted-out 2005 Chevy Suburban, parked uphill in the slanted driveway, just a foot or two from the garage door.

“Son, did you check behind the car to make sure no bikes, skateboards, (or small children) are on the ground. If not, get out and check!”

“Alright, now make sure you and all the passengers are buckled and adjust your seat and mirrors…and start the car.”

“Now release the parking brake, and oh, before you put it in gear, make sure you have your foot on the brake pedal.” “Oh, and one more thing, Son, you’ve got to think of this car as a weapon. You can really hurt someone with it, if you don’t use it properly.”

Sensing he was getting overwhelmed, I decided to say no more at that moment, so thankfully, I noticed he put it in DRIVE instead of REVERSE, or we would have been replacing a garage door for the rest of our Spring Break.

A (Scary) Reality Sets In

And then, after a short chuckle together of what could have been, it hit me. Before ever leaving the driveway, or the neighborhood, I have to somehow take everything I’ve ever learned about driving and begin to teach it to Ben, and FAST! 

The car parked across the street behind us was in danger; the Korean Grandma passing down the sidewalk behind us, pushing a stroller – she was in play…and what about the dangerous blind curve at the first stop sign down the street?

I would also have to teach him how to navigate the turn signals and when; how to accelerate, and steer, and brake smoothly (I think I still have a little whiplash); how to look for potential dangers ahead of him; how to read the mirrors and how often; how to avoid debris in the road without hitting the parked cars or the oncoming traffic – how do you even begin communicating all that?

I finally settled on, “Son, just try to use common sense… Look to protect other people and their property, and then look to protect yourself!“ And, on and on I went as he drove, imparting truths, reminders, warnings, and encouragements. After all, I had just signed documents at the DMV stating I was financially responsible for any damages he would incur as a driver until he was 18.

30 minutes later, we were back safe and sound in the driveway, a little crooked, but nonetheless safe, never having ventured more than a mile from the house.  After a few relaxation breaths, I thought to myself, “Wow, that was decent, but we have such a looooong way to go!”

Spiritual Driving Lessons

And, so it is with parenting, in this spiritual journey through life that our kids are on. There are so many truths, warnings, reminders, and encouragements to pass on, and just like we would never dream of tossing the keys to our family car to our teenager after merely passing a written test, without first preparing them with multiple ride-alongs, nor should we launch them into the various stages of life without first preparing them both practically and spiritually. The task is important, and monumental, and it certainly does not stop when they are teenagers.

Just think about the first time you took your toddler to the grocery store. Remember how they pulled and tugged on your hand in the parking lot, trying to get away from you and exercise their independence? As a parent, you know the dangers of getting run over that they don’t understand yet, and so it is actually more loving to force them to hold your hand while you try to teach them about the dangers of parking lots than it would be to let them have what they want and run unprotected through the lot.

Here at FamiliesAlive, we believe strongly that Job #1 for parents is not only to equip them for practical things like parking lots and driving lessons, but also for the spiritual matters of life.

Where Do I Start?

It’s important to remember that different stages of life require different messages.

We’ve found that the early years should be full of the foundational teachings about who God is, the world He created, and why we can trust Him.  We should be telling our kids of the great stories of the Old Testament and illustrating to them about the concepts of respect, obedience, honor, faith, and the narrative of grace that runs through it all and points to Christ. It is never too early to talk about Jesus’ love for us, our sin, and our need of a Savior.  

As our kids hit the pre-teen years, the Psalms and Proverbs are great reminders of the concepts we’ve already taught them in the early years.

In the middle and later years of youth, often marked by drift and apathy, should actually be a time when our kids are putting down deeper spiritual roots to help them withstand the droughts that can be high school and college. Staying connected to the life and teachings of Jesus, digging deeper into the teachings of Paul, and the other New Testament writers can help serve that purpose at these times.  

Don’t get me wrong – God is not bound by time, and so there’s no perfect time and formula for when and how to guide and teach in these spiritual matters. We also can rejoice, knowing that He fills in the gaps where you and I fall short!

But neglecting to teach our children all these important truths would be like handing the keys to the car to your teen without any instruction. You have a lifetime of spiritual lessons learned that need to be imparted, and every one of them is just as important as “Red means Stop, and Green means Go”.

About the Author

Brian is the Director of Development of FamiliesAlive. He is the father of 6 and currently teaching child #4 how to drive. He teaches and coaches at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, CO, and uses his positions to teach kids about God on the field, in the classroom, and at home. Specifically, he is passionate about preparing Christian teens for the challenges of college.


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Helping Your Kids Build a Devotion Time with God

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by Samantha Hanni

One day when I was about nine, my mom came home from Mardel with a book for me. It was my first devotional book, with a colorful cover and fun stories that drew me in each day. I have vivid memories of this book (for some reason) and to this day, I can remember certain topics from those books, and their takeaway points became the foundation of my understanding about God and his plan for my life.

As a long-time lover of books, words, and Jesus, one of my goals has been to write a devotional book that impacts the next generation the same way the devotional books I read impacted me. I’ve worked with kids and teens a lot over the past 10 years. I know what an impact a regular devotion time with the Lord has meant in my walk, and I want to empower families to build meaningful, lasting quiet time habits with their kids.

While leading a youth small group earlier this spring at my church, I noticed several girls that would flip to the table of contents in their Bible before turning to the verse we we were reading next in our lesson. That grieved my heart. If they don’t even know where the books of the Bible are, they’re less likely to understand how the Bible is woven together. If they don’t understand that, they’re less likely to read the Bible on their own. A generation of kids growing up and not reading the Bible on their own will be a generation who are spiritually impoverished.

How can we change their trajectory into spiritual poverty into one of spiritual richness and depth? A spiritual depth that can weather all types of trials and storms? A depth that produces the wisdom needed to be a mature follower of Christ? A richness that in turn disciples others?

It starts in the home.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”

From these words in Deuteronomy 6, we see that instilling a love for God and his word starts with home life. It happens at bedtime, during lunch, on trips to the library and on family vacations (we all know we need lots of Jesus when traveling with kids). It happens in the moments when you least expect it, and sometimes it doesn’t happen when you do expect it. This process involves talking about God’s word, demonstrating God’s word, and writing down God’s word.

Demonstrate

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children.”

God’s commandments needed to be impressed first on the parents before they’re impressed on the kids. As parents, you fill your kid’s vision and scope of life more than any other adult, and those kiddos are always, always watching. In addition to large memories from my childhood, I remember the tiniest details about my parents. I remember my dad’s cologne and how it made our Honda Accord smell. I remember my mom’s rabbit cookie jar and her curling my bangs. If they don’t see you reaching for you Bible, praying over issues as they come up and talking about the things of God, they won’t make it a priority because they don’t see you making it a priority.

Growing up, I remember the Bible being a consistent theme in my life. We constantly played praise music in the car (my dad played on the worship team at church so we had an abundance of music). And what I learned at church was reinforced at home, and reinforced at school for the couple of years that I attend private school. My parents’ Bibles were well-marked and worn, and even when we would visit my Grammy or her mom, my great-grandmother, their Bibles were often out on a nearby table with a pen, journal, or Bible study book. They prayed with me, for me, and talked about scriptures. Their spiritual life was evident, even to a little kid. It was not hidden.

When my mom began homeschooling my brother and I, each day started off with a Bible study and I saw how God could be seamlessly woven into every part of my life. He wasn’t just for Sundays.

“Tie them as symbols…bind them on your foreheads.”

In a 2015 post by Ed Stetzer, he records these alarming stats.

“Christians claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word. We claim it’s God’s divinely inspired, inerrant message to us. Yet despite this, we aren’t reading it. A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.”

If these are the stats for adults (and there are many more that confirm the same problem), what kind of example does that set for kids?

The question I would pose to parents is, do you have a hidden quiet time or a visible quiet time to your kids?

I know it’s hard to find uninterrupted time with little ones, and so “quiet time” may look different depending on the season you are in. But the point is your kids shouldn’t have to look far to see how you spend time with God. That in turn informs how they spend time with God.

Talk & Write

How do you incorporate talking about God and his word in your daily life?

  • Daily conversations over meals and while running errands
  • Reading and discussing books that present spiritual topics
  • Listening to the audio Bible in the car
  • Listening to praise and worship albums in the car
  • Memorizing scripture as a family
  • Daily prayer

It’s in these conversations and activities that kids make the connection between the Bible and everyday life. They begin to see they can pray for the sick people they know, share their toys or snacks, or tell the truth about who broke Grandma’s vase. You don’t always have to have a sit-down devotion in order to impart something worthwhile. More often than not, it is in those passing moments that a bigger truth is forever imprinted on a little heart.

Seeing Scriptures or lyrics to worships songs written out around the house is another way to constantly keep God’s truth at the forefront of your family. Isn’t it funny how certain household items, pictures and other knick-knacks get embedded in the fabric of our childhood? Growing up, I can remember one framed item in particular that hung in our entryway. It was an embroidered image of Joshua 24:15, and it served as a reminder, not only to us, but to all who entered that we served God above all. Images like these reinforce what they learn and make it easier to remember. And if they don’t quite understand what the verses mean, it’s a great way to open conversation to talk about the things of God. What will you do today to help your kids build a quiet time?

Conversation Starters:

  • What is your favorite book in the Bible?
  • What’s something about God or the Bible you find confusing?
  • What are you learning about in Sunday school?
  • If you could ask God anything right now, what would it be?

Every family is different, every season is different, and spiritual needs vary from kid to kid. But all the more reason to dive into God’s word and let it bear fruit in your family.

 

 

About the Author

SAMANTHA HANNI is the author of “Change the Conversation” and the “Bloom” devotional series. She is also published in the devotional book “Big Dreams from Small Spaces” by Group Publishing and blogs at mrshanni.com. Her work has also appeared on Devotional Diva, To Love Honor and Vacuum, and in the OCHEC Informer. From teaching dance classes to leading Sunday school and small groups, Samantha has taught and mentored girls since 2007. Her latest book, “Bloom Book 1: Me & God” is the first in a devotional series for girls ages 10 and up, and is available for purchase through Amazon. She and her husband Kurtis live in Oklahoma City.


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Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!

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By Michele L. Brown

My 9-year-old stepdaughter had gotten into my purse and helped herself to gum without asking, and when I picked the wrapper up from the floor she tried to say her friend had given it to her. This particular lie was actually the third blatant lie I had heard from my kids’ lips just that day, being the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back! Frustration got the best of me, as I tried to wrap my mind around how easy it is for the children of today to spit out utter lies! So, with a loud not-so-nice yell, I asked,

“Where did you learn to lie so much?”

Looking back, I wasn’t prepared for her answer but, by the Grace of God that rhetorical question and the answer I received, ultimately changed my life. It absolutely redefined my perspective of the influence I have over those around me and the responsibility that it carries.

How detrimental is a piece of gum? I wouldn’t think that it’s that important, not enough to cause me to sin. Or would I, without even batting an eye?

A few hours earlier, the first lie of the day had surfaced during an argument between the boys that escalated from name calling to the older son telling the youngest one, the dreaded “I hate you!” Though I knew that it had to be addressed, I was all too familiar with my own fits of rage producing hurtful words that I didn’t really mean. After a brief discussion, it was agreed that the statement made in anger and was far from the truth. He apologized, and did his best to assure the little one that he loved him very much. Within a short period, the tables were turned and the 4-year-old stood before me soaking wet, next a mud puddle; emphatically stating his innocence, “I didn’t do it, Nik threw the water on me!” 

The whole day had been filled with lies, lies and more lies and by the time that the gum situation occurred; I just had enough! My immediate thought was in order to stop the lies; we must see where it started. Admittedly, I presumed that our family would be turning into a radio-free, non-television watching, no internet surfing, Rated R-less family when my question got answered. Why’d children become so accustomed to telling lies to get their way, get out of trouble, impress someone, or whatever the case may be, somehow the solution to every situation seemed to be to lie. Where did you learn this from? I wasn’t prepared.

  • “Daddy lies every time you ask him if he’s been drinking!”
  • “You told the lady at the restaurant I was only 6 to get my food cheaper.”
  • “You told Daddy your shoes cost $10.00, but you gave the lady $25.00.”
  • “Daddy told Aunt Jackie he is allergic to carrots, but we know he doesn’t like them.”
  • “You and Daddy told the Pastor that you had to work, but we were camping and couldn’t go to the fundraiser.” (ouch… that one was painful)
  • “Daddy told that officer that he had his seatbelt on, but he never wears it.”
  • “You told your boss you were sick, but we went to see Grandma.”
  • “You said you didn’t have money to go to the movies, but then you bought Daddy another pair of boots.”
  • “Aunty told you she was taking us to the mall, but we went to see a man.”
  • “Grandma told you we didn’t eat any junk food, but that’s all we ate.”
  • “You told Nik his shoes were new, but we got them at that garage sale.”
  • “You told GiGi you quit smoking, but you kept hiding in the back yard to smoke.”

Somewhere, we as a society have excluded white lies from “thou shall not lie.” Of course, we’re not only sinfully wrong; but as I submit to my readers, we are also being a horrible example to the next generation. I decided after hearing this long list of infractions to find solutions.

The verdict was in, it wasn’t TV, radio, movies or other children that had been bad influences on my children… it was me. I wasn’t the only one, but at that moment; all I knew was that my name was certainly high enough on the list of suspects that I had to face it… Change had to begin with me!

I googled ‘deception.’

Do you remember Rebekah in the Bible? She convinced her son Jacob to claim to be his brother to their father in order to receive the blessing meant for the first born son. Sadly, when the young man’s mother first presented her dishonest scheme to the younger son; he didn’t want to do it… but then she convinced him to go ahead and deliberately deceive his father for gain.

Wow.

Let’s not prepare the hanging tree for Mother Rebekah, just yet. Allow me the role of ‘Devil’s advocate’ for just a moment, in honor of well-meaning mothers. Her reasoning was rather simple; she was operating from her heart. Simply put, she wanted the best for her son, and like many of us she justified the means to an end; even if she had to manipulate God to get it.

Ponder that just for a moment. Can we ever manipulate what God has in store for us? Can we cheat to win something from God in any way at all?

Close your eyes… imagine God’s face as we pull strings, tell fibs, fabricate details and go to such great lengths to manipulate (him) situations. Oh don’t get me wrong, we never see it for what it is…. But when we put our hands on things to make things happen, we are trying to manipulate GOD. We think we can do a better job.

 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

As an adult, Jacob himself was deceived several times by people close to him. Some say it was him reaping the harvest of deception seeds he had planted so many years prior.

First, Jacob worked for seven years to marry Laban’s beautiful daughter, Rachel; however on the wedding night, it was the less attractive (maybe even homely) sister Leah who he consummated with. Determined to have his beloved Rachel, he agreed to work yet another 7 years to marry her. The first child they bore, Joseph was Jacob’s favorite which caused much jealousy, envy and strife among the other brothers. Once again, Jacob was deceived when in an attempt to get rid of their brother, the older sons first tried to kill him, but then sold him into slavery; but led their father to believe he’d been killed by a wild animal.

BUT then there was GRACE!

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Romans 5:20 – Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

 The proof is in that very same story. We know after reading about Jacob’s life, he … he ended up being a very blessed man IN God’s time and God’s way. We also know that Joseph, son of Jacob was used in a mighty way even despite his own brothers’ hatred of him. Joseph even comforted his brothers who feared retaliation for all they had done to him.

Genesis 50:20 – But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

I am reminded through this lesson that my actions now are forming my kids into who they will be, and what they will one day teach their children. As I am now faced with the challenge of eradicating all forms of dishonesty, even in their mildest form from our home; I am determined to live by example so that my kids aren’t confused by my hypocrisy. I now realize the seriousness of this not-so-minor habit. Lord knows, our children face enough from the world as it is, I sure don’t want my actions to make anything harder on them, or put any habits in them that later God himself will have to burn away.

We, as a family, are more open and honest, even admitting when we’re tempted by dishonesty and discuss as a family the benefits of always being truthful. This, like all growth is a bit painful, even awkward at times; but it is rewarding to know that even as parents, we need correction and as a result, the children are learning a life lesson that will be beneficial to them forever.

Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

michelebrownAbout Michele L. Brown

Michele is a giddy Christian; nothing excites her more than the opportunity to talk about Jesus’ love. She’s a proud Wife and (step) Mother and her hobbies are writing about Christian life, fishing, cooking and sewing. Michele plans to release her first novel in December of 2016.

 


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Back to School Ideas Round Up

As the new school year kicks off, this is the perfect time to do a little family tune-up by breaking bad habits and starting good habits. Here’s our round up of the best practical ways to improve your family life!

1. Put Jesus First

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• Start the habit of daily time with God. This is for you and your children! Spending daily time with God is the best way we can grow in our faith, so why not start teaching your children now?

• Pray every day before school. This is also a great way to curb anxiety in young children!

• Memorize Scripture together. Pick a verse, a psalm, or a whole chapter and practice it a few times every day.

2. Make Your Love Known

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• Give each of your children a hug and tell them verbally that you love them every day.

• Use a Sharpie marker to jot a quick note on their napkin and tuck it in their lunch. (My mom did this all the way through high school!)

• If you have multiple children, pick a time to do some one-on-one bonding with each of them. Choose an activity you know they’ll love!

3. Use Car Time Intentionally

• Ask your children about how their days went. If you have children that need more prompting, try this list of fun, specific questions to get them talking.

• Pay attention to your kids’ moods. Some children conceal when something bad has happened. Taking the time to notice can help you discover if they are being bullied or have a problem at school.

• Listen to wholesome, Christian music or an audiobook.

4. Make the Most of the Time You Have

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• As often as possible, sit down together for family dinner. Try our list of 101 Dinner Table Discussion Questions to improve conversation. Make the dinner table a no-phone zone!

• If weather permits, take a family walk.

• Make the most of bedtime by reading stories and cuddling. This should be top priority for parents that work long hours and may not get to spend other quality time with the kids.

5. Prioritize Healthy Habits

• Establish, or re-commit to, a bedtime routine. Studies show these routines strengthen the parent-child bond, make children feel safe, and give them the skills to be independent.

• Limit screen time. Establish ground rules for phone, computer, and TV use and stick to them. Here are five parent-tested tips for limiting electronics use.

• Eat breakfast every day. It doesn’t have to be fancy – but breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so make sure your kids aren’t skipping it!

• Pack healthy school lunches. Don’t know where to start? Here’s a great guide from the American Heart Association.

Homeschool Families

Hey homeschool families…we haven’t forgotten about you! Here’s a couple links with some great ideas for how to start this school year right.

Back to School Ideas for Homeschoolers

120 Ideas for Back to Homeschool

6. Remember Grace

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There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. We lose our tempers. We don’t show love. We don’t make time for our kids. We fail to put our best intentions into practice.

The good news is…God’s grace is enough! As you try to instill new habits into your family life, we hope that you embrace a grace-filled parenting mindset.

Grace-filled parenting means it’s not about doing everything right – it’s about trying to honor God with our parenting. It means that when we fail, we admit our mistakes to God and others, we ask for forgiveness, and we embrace the fresh starts God offers us.

When we model the grace and forgiveness of God to our kids, we become families that flourish.

Happy back to school!


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When Tragedy Strikes

By Vicky O.

It is 1:00 a.m. on July 20, 2000, and I am alternating between sitting and laying on my bathroom floor crying out to the Lord, “Why?”

I am so weak that I cannot get up; I can only cry and pray. But “Why?” and “Why us?” seems to be all I can say in between the reminders to God of all the things I have done on His behalf. I list off all the mission trips, the ministry work, and so on and so forth. As the tears keep falling, He gently impresses me that it was to prepare me for what I face now.

My panicked questions continue. “How am I going to do this? What will become of our family? How can we cope with this, how can I live?”

As I sit, inconsolable, a verse comes to me. ”My grace is sufficient for you,” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Exhausted, I tell God, “Okay.” I thank Him for the thirteen years He gave us, get up off the floor and get into bed.

July is here again. How I used to love this month! It is the middle of summer and my birthday month too. But it has become the month I dread. Sixteen years ago, July 19th, God called my 13- year old son, Thomas Evan, to be with Him. It was the result of a car and bike accident. With the Lord’s help, we have come a long way, but there are still memories that remain and are more pronounced at this time.

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It has not been an easy sixteen years, but the Lord has been good to my family and me. It was awful in beginning, as though the whole family had fallen apart. I really just wanted to roll over and die myself, but I still had my husband and two other children, and none of them was doing well. Each had their own issues, and I felt I was running around trying to fix everyone’s problems, getting nowhere. I grieved mostly by myself because I didn’t want other to see me that way. I wanted to “walk the walk,” showing that I believed God had not made a mistake and that His will was perfect, even if I didn’t like it. I trusted that God had a reason for taking Tom and I wanted others to know that I did. I wanted God to get the most glory from our situation as possible.

Sometimes, when I was alone, I would just sit down and sob. The Lord would let me do this for a while and then He would intervene. Something around me would happen. The dog would start barking and it would be like God patting my shoulder, saying, “That’s enough for now, get up and go see why the dog is barking.” Or the phone would ring and it would be the same thing, “You don’t have to answer it, but get up and go see what the caller ID says”

Although I experienced despair, I could feel the Lord’s presence. I had this image of a hurt, angry child with their arms wrapped around their dad beating on him. He just put his arms around me and kept telling me it would be okay. I may have been angry at times, but I still realized that God alone could help our family get through the hard times.

God used others to help me as well. I was blessed with wonderful friends who came alongside me. I was also blessed by getting to know women who had gone thru the same tragedy a few years before. I had never known them before Tom died. It was truly God thing who worked out those relationships.

The Lord also used His Word to help me. Not surprisingly, I had a hard time sleeping. I would lay on the couch and read my Bible on those sleepless nights. I desperately wanted to know more about the Lord now that Tom was actually with Him. One of my favorite verses is a fairly familiar one.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-23

It took a while, but we slowly began to heal. I am forever grateful that the Lord helped me. Now I also want to help others in similar situations as well.

About Vicky:

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Vicky with her daughter, Melissa

Vicky is a wife to her husband Ken (they’ve been married for 35 years), a mom to Tim and his wife, Miken, to Melissa and her fiancé, Travis, and to Thomas Evan, who lives in Heaven. She is also a grandma to Harrison Evan. Most importantly, she is a daughter of the King.


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And even this moment.

God is Bigger

By Hannah Shultz

20-year-old sister of 6

This life is full of moments, moments that range from extreme joy to the deepest of sorrows, moments that range from perfectly healthy to deathly ill, moments that range from peak strength to valley-low weakness. As we journey our way through these moments, we tend to let our emotions change just as fast as our surroundings do. In the harder moments of life, we tend to let hurt or anger or fear or pain command our actions; we lash out at those we love, we withdraw, we become aimless, we stop listening to God’s calling. Our emotions are volatile and depend on what is going on around us, to us, or to someone close to us.

When I was two I became ill with an unknown sickness. And my family (along with the help of Veggie Tales) taught me that God is bigger than my sickness.

This was just before spending 10 days in the hospital.

This was just before spending 10 days in the hospital.

Here I am (on your right) with my big sister, Laura, and little brother, Aaron. It took doctors two weeks to figure out what was wrong with me and 8 weeks to treat it.

Here I am (on your right) with my big sister, Laura, and little brother, Aaron. It took doctors two weeks to figure out what was wrong with me and 8 weeks to treat it.

Now fast-forward eighteen years and I am sick again with another unknown sickness.

Before getting sick this time around, I was happy.

Before getting sick this time around, I was happy.

I was healthy.

I was healthy.

I was vibrant.

I was vibrant.

In the beginning months of this season of life, I let my emotions, that were dependent on my life’s situation, control me and cripple me. I was angry for the life I had lost, hurt for all I had left behind, fearful of an unknown future, and saddened by what God did to me. I spent countless hours begging God to heal me so that I could get back to my life. I spent countless hours wishing I was back in Malibu, back on track with school and life. I spent countless hours moping about what God had done. All this accomplished for me was a bitter heart and missed opportunities where I was. I felt it was unfair. I felt like I couldn’t accomplish my calling to the medical field. I felt useless, worthless, empty, and alone.

Happy, healthy and vibrant turned into this.

Happy, healthy and vibrant turned into this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

One night, I was having one of my pity parties. I was on my knees begging for my life back, and I felt strongly that God was with me. I asked Him to show Himself to me, and I felt as though He was saying to me, “If I did that you would be healed, and it is not your time yet.”

This encounter began an amazing new journey for me towards an unwavering faith that God was in control. Sometimes He chooses to calm the waters with a single word, but sometimes He chooses to let the storm rage on. As my faith began to grow, and my trust became stronger and stronger even as we got less news and no answers, I still struggled with my emotions. I didn’t have peace.

Peace, true peace, is the key to our emotional ups and downs. It is a stabilizer. True peace does not mean that our surroundings are calm, but it means that we are calm in spite of our chaotic surroundings. Having peace is much easier said than done. But when it is found, it opens a freedom in our hearts, minds, and souls that is unfathomable. How can we as Christians come to terms with this peace? Simple; by fully believing that God is bigger and that He is here; with us, in us, and for us every single moment of life.

He was with me in this moment.

He was with me in this moment.

And this moment.

And this moment.

And even this moment.

And even this moment.

Parents, teach your kids that peace is not the times when everything is right, calm, and ok. Teach them that peace is Christ in you during the chaotic times, the hard times, the painful times. As Christ said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” This peace is one that surpasses understanding and it is one that must be taught. Too many people are losing faith during hard times because they feel as though God is not here for them. But if God’s peace is ruling in our hearts when hard times come, it will not leave, just as He will not leave.

If you are stuck in a season that just won’t seem to end, remember, God is bigger, His plans are bigger, His purposes are bigger, and His love is bigger. We may not be able to know why God has chosen the journey He has for us, but He knows why, and that is enough. This knowledge will strengthen your faith and grow your peace. And this peace will spread to those around you, to your kids, to your parents, to your siblings, to your spouse. It is time to stop letting our volatile emotions control our thoughts and actions. It is time to let peace rule in our hearts. It is time to let peace rule over our emotions. It is time to let God be bigger.

The peace I have found through Christ in me has opened opportunities I would have missed. It has allowed my faith to expand; it has allowed me to grow and to start to understand why God has me where He has me. I am far from knowing everything there is to know, I am far from having a faith that can move mountains, I am far from being a woman after God’s own heart, but each day I grow a little more, know a little more, love a little more, and trust a little more. And that is what life here is about. God is bigger than my sickness I am facing, and because of my trust in this, I am starting to discover peace. And the freedom I feel is incredible.

Take a moment today and declare that God is bigger than whatever you are facing. Say it and believe it and live it and teach it. And you will notice the changes in your heart, in your thoughts, in your actions, and in your life.

Now as Christ said to His disciples in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Let this soak in today.

Thank you, God, that you are bigger.


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Tips to Try at the Table

By David Baer, Executive Director of FamiliesAlive

In Dolores Curran’s survey work, over 500 counselors, pastors, teachers, therapists, and other professionals who routinely worked with families ranked “table time” as #13 out of a list of 56 possible traits of a healthy family. The #1 trait of a healthy family is that they communicate and listen, but Curran saw table time as such an integral part to this process that she combined both traits into the same chapter of her renowned book, Traits of a Healthy Family. Here are some tips from Christian families to try at your own dinner table, many of them giving you ideas of how to integrate faith into your meal time.

The Question of the Night

By Brian & Becky Shultz

On any given night, when the whole family is able to get together for dinner in the Shultz home, Daddy asks a question at the end of the meal that has to be answered by each family member. When they’re ready, each person raises their hand and is called on one at a time by Dad. To practice the art of communicating and listening, the person speaking must try to make eye contact with all around the table and project their voice so that all can hear. Those listening must make eye contact with the speaker the whole time in order to show their interest. Sometimes Dad’s questions are spiritual in nature: “Which of Jesus’ miracles do you think was the coolest and why?” Or, “What was the scariest/saddest/funniest, etc. moment in the Bible?” Some questions are of memories from the past: “What is your favorite vacation memory?” Some are on the subject of fantasy, or are related to something that the kids are studying, or that Dad has heard or seen during the day: “What would you do if you found $20 lying in the school parking lot?” And, some are just to find out more about each other’s days: “What was the best and worst moment of your day?” Our good friends, the Sikkemas, sometimes like to ask the following question around their family dinner table: “Where did you see Jesus today?”

As we walk through our days (many times separately), it is always good to come together in the evening at the dinner table and be reminded of why we are here and living this life of following Jesus. Did we see the love of Jesus in our own lives or in the selfless acts of a sibling? Did we see His love being displayed through the kind acts of another? Did we hear Him in the encouraging words of a total stranger? The answers we give are helpful reminders for us and our children to remember what this life should be about. We were extremely surprised recently, when dinner was over, and our 2-year-old Jacob stopped us all from leaving the table by asking us, “Qwesyun night, Daddy?”

Appreciation Nights

By Rick & Nancy Feria

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One thing we have done around the Feria family table is to share something we appreciate about a family member. It can be something they did for us, or a character trait that we see in them. Sometimes we say something about each person; sometimes we say something to the person on our right, etc. Another idea is to flood one person with appreciations – say on their birthday.

The Paper Game

By Tom & Marjy Larson

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This is a game to be done at the end of the meal for those families with children old enough to write. Everyone starts with an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper and a pencil. Each person writes a sentence – the more creative the better. They pass it to the person on their right. That person has to draw a picture to illustrate the sentence. Then he or she folds the paper down to cover up the sentence but not the drawing and passes it to the next person. That person has to write a sentence to illustrate the drawing. Then he or she folds down the paper to hide the drawing and passes it on to the next person. Each time you get a new paper, you should only see a sentence or drawing. Then, when the papers have made the full circuit, each person reads their original paper, showing everyone else as they read. It is great fun, even for adults!

Childhood Stories

By Becky Shultz

storiesWhy my kids have a fascination with childhood stories, I’m not sure. Fortunately, we are blessed with being able to regularly share meals with the kids’ grandparents and great grandmother. When this happens, the kids are sure to ask for a childhood story, not just about their grandparents, but about Mommy and Daddy when they were little, too. These somehow always end up teaching a valuable life-lesson.

Verse of the Week

By Brian Shultz

John_1The Scriptures tell us to hide God’s word in our hearts, so that we won’t sin against Him. So last year, we took a few weeks and started our dinners with scripture memory. It was easy – I just brought my laptop to the table with some zoomed-in views of some pre-selected verses that I thought were critical for the kids to know. We practiced a verse each night for a week. Then we moved to the next one. It was amazing to see how God would connect some of the scriptures we were learning to the events of our daily lives, and it has been our prayer that God will continue to use these truths in our kids’ lives down the road.

The Doxology

By Brian and Becky Shultz

doxologyMany years ago, we had dinner at the home of the DeBruler family, where we started our meal by singing the Doxology:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Alleluia-Alleluia!

Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia-Alleluia-Alleluia-Alleluia…Alleluia!”

Ever since then, in lieu of always opening our meal with prayer, we sometimes stand and hold hands and sing the doxology – sometimes the traditional tune and sometimes the contemporary version. Praising the Lord together in song is a great way to begin a meal, especially for those families who enjoy singing.

Focus on Substance more than Manners

By Mike & Jennifer Tinaglia

Our family’s dinner table conversation varies greatly from how I grew up, when the children were to “be seen and not heard,” with a heavy emphasis on manners and etiquette. Dinner conversations at our house typically focus on the events in everyone’s day… sometimes turning to events in the news and even the occasional trivia question. Every once in a while, Jenny and I will throw a curveball and pose a hypothetical question such as the “What do you want to be when you grow up, and why?” question. The kids’ constantly evolving answers are always fascinating as they mature.


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The Shape of Sunday

by Rachel Scott

When I was a child, Sunday meant going to church and singing my heart out. After church, my family and I would head to my great grandparent’s farm in Carol County, Virginia to enjoy a meal around the table and an afternoon of play.  I remember riding the tire swing, running through the apple orchard, playing in the creek and picking grapes from the vine by the barn. We would ride horses, fetch water from the fresh spring, help my Granny Winesett in the kitchen, sit with her on the front porch swing and listen to her stories.

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Time seemed to stop on Sundays at Granny’s.  It was an afternoon when everyone came together. My great grandparents, Ed and Bernie Winesett, had seven children: Gerald, Eldon, Neil, Jane, Marcia, Boyd and Elizabeth (my grandmother).  My grandmother (the oldest child) and my father Jim (the oldest grandchild) both gave me the gift of knowing my great grandmother well into my thirties.  I had the privilege of talking with her, taking walks with her and learning how to kill, prepare and cook a chicken for dinner.  I had the privilege of loving her and knowing how deeply she loved me.  When I was a little girl, I sang “Just a swingin” at the top of my lungs, perched on top of her picnic table on Sunday afternoons. Later, I sang all of her favorite hymns over her and my family as we said goodbye to her in this life.

Sundays meant time with this incredible woman and time with my family. (My great grandfather Ed died in ‘84.)  My cousins, aunts and uncles gathered around the table to pray and to enjoy a good southern meal—the kind with biscuits, something that Granny had been cooking on her wood fire stove the night before, vegetables from the garden and my Aunt Linda’s famous éclairs for dessert.  I learned to love a good meal that always started with prayer and ended with stories from years past.  The stories Granny shared were funny, sad and shaped me into the woman I have become.  These stories and shaping came from this table, the porch swing and that beloved farm.

My parents, Jim and Terri, gave my sister Sarah and I the greatest gift as we spent our Sundays together with extended family.  My great grandmother told stories of her childhood and God’s faithfulness in providing for her family. God provided when she and my great grandfather married as young teenagers and moved to the mountains of West Virginia (where my grandmother was born) where he worked in the coal mines.  She told me stories of how they moved back to Virginia and built a farm and family in Carrol County. They made a place for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to return to on Sundays to sing, tell stories, work, play and remember.

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When I look back at those Sundays and the way they shaped me, I am grateful.  I am grateful for the simple rhythm of worshipping with my parents and sister, sharing a meal with my extended family and playing in the creek at the farm.  I can still sing the words to “Just a swingin,” and I can remember standing in the middle of her picnic table, smiling and laughing.  This woman who led her family with a quiet gracefulness from her kitchen, her farm and her heart, shaped me into a woman who remembers. I remember the place that shaped me—the place where I return to when my heart needs rest.  The place I remember when days were simpler and time seemed to stop.  Time with family was more important than anything else.  My parents knew that this place had blessed them, and they knew that if we spent enough time on the farm with this special woman and the rest of our family it would bless me too … They were right.

When you look back on your childhood is there someone who shaped you like my parents and great grandmother shaped me?  Maybe it’s a family friend, a place or memory.  What stories are you telling around your table that are shaping your children?  Your community?  What memories are you intentionally making that will shape your children and their children?  How do you remember those who have shaped you?

Rachel Scott is a singer, song writer, worship leader, lover of flip flops and a nonprofit leader who lives in Richmond, Virginia with her crazy Springer Spaniel, Diego Sanchez.  She leads, inspires and disciples young leaders and artists through the work of Spence Network: www.spencenetwork.org

 


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Let Go and Let God

By Mindy Thomas
Mother of 9(!) in Texas

I love when things are neat and tidy. I enjoy a scrubbed kitchen, a freshly made bed, a pressed shirt, a new car that smells like leather, clean windows and door pulls, sparkling refrigerator shelves and clothes organized by color and style. These sights put a smile on my face and comfort in my heart.

You wouldn’t know this about me, however, if you walked into my house right now.

Nearly every room is filled with toys, clothes, books, papers, and pillows. Some of the beds are made; some are not. The clothes are out of order and piled high on shelves. The windows are full of fingerprints, the doors are covered in smudges and the walls have sticky handprints. The refrigerator has seen better days, and let’s just say I hope no one I know sees the inside of my big blue van right now. You see, the Lord had bigger plans for me than a neat, tidy life that would allow me to be comfortable in my own efforts. He knew I needed to be stretched, molded and shaped by more than a husband and a couple of kids. So He gave us nine of them. I now know that it’s almost impossible to keep life neat and tidy while raising and homeschooling nine children. I know because I’ve tried!

Mindy is a mom of nine kids!

With this many, it’s no wonder the house is a mess!

I’ve learned that God wants me to look to Him for comfort, to rest in Him when I’m weary, and to find peace in His work, promises and faithfulness. When the days end with clutter on the floor, dishes in the sink, and a mess in my heart, I know that it’s only in Him and through Him that I can accomplish His Kingdom purposes. He is faithful to answer my prayers for wisdom and strength when I am sure I have nothing left.

His promises are true. He is there when I have trouble with my teens or tiring toddlers. He is there when I struggle with patience, struggle to let go of the little things and struggle to let go of the mess, because that’s where He wants me… close to Him, loving and abiding in Him.

The mess is fleeting. The dirty refrigerator won’t make it to heaven, the messy walls will crumble and fall. But the time I have to teach my children God’s word and love them like the Lord loves them is far more precious than a neat and tidy life. And I know one day, when the mess is gone because my children are gone, I will actually miss the mess!

Is there something the Lord is asking you to let go and replace with Him?

“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 NIV


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Family Planning

Life doesn’t always go as planned.

Christ found me when life was playing out just the way I wanted. I was 24, married to my college sweetie with a good job in a new city. I was grateful. Being raised by a single parent, life before college was a tale of humble beginnings. The first truth that the Lord showed me was that He loved me and had much better plans.

Our pregnancy was going well in Denver, but back in Chicago, my mother’s health was rapidly declining due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease. She was no longer able to work or care for herself, and she lost her health insurance coverage and her home at age 55.  

This is where we scrapped our plans and relied on the first truth the Father revealed – that He loves us and has already taken care of Mom’s needs, and ours. We moved her in with us with no precedent or blueprint of what to do. It soon became clear that Mom would always be with us, so our family portrait started looking a little different than we had planned. We didn’t know what we were doing, but only knew that Jesus was ahead of us, and that He would sort out the details.

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Taking care of Mom was the hardest but also the most rewarding responsibility to date, but I felt we were in full favor with God. Our mother-daughter bond grew because we spent so much time together. I witnessed my husband act selflessly and lovingly on her behalf, and grew deeper in love with him because of it. My children got to know Mom and love her unconditionally. This happened during the time that we found our first church home, Eastern Hills, which we’ve been members of for nearly two decades. The Lord covered our needs, provided Mom with full health care coverage, and blessed us with a caring community of people in a town where we previously knew no one.

Any time spent with Mom was a gift, even the hard times. God’s presence was there at every doctor’s appointment, every car ride, in every waiting room. We received help from strangers, changing our view of humanity and the power of service. It was during this time that Mom professed her faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, and spread the gospel to others in the nursing home, many of whom were dying. I witnessed Mom’s courage, strength and her deep faith in the Lord Jesus – a side of her that I did not know existed.

We were granted 13 more years of Mom’s company than her original prognosis. Even her passing was not what we had anticipated. When she passed peacefully in her sleep, with no suffering or pain, we knew that Jesus was with her, as He had been all along.  

Caring for Mom helped us appreciate each moment we are given, and ask for strength and favor as they are needed. We witnessed God’s sovereignty in Mom’s life when she was no longer in control. We received His daily provisions and tried not to worry about what lay ahead. Most of all, this time showed us how us to rely on a God who loves us individually and powerfully. Today, I still hope and make plans for my family, which always now includes others, but with the understanding that God has a bigger picture and has laid better plans than I could ever imagine.  

 By Marjii Middleton

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

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