Definition of True Friendship

“True friendship, according to the Bible, involves loyalty, sacrifice, compromise, and yes, emotional attachment” (GotQuestions.org). 

“It’s been said that everlasting friends go periods of time without speaking and never question their friendship.  These friends pick up phones like they just spoke yesterday, regardless of how long it has been or how far away they live, and they don’t hold grudges.  They understand that life is busy and you will ALWAYS love them.”  (author unknown)

The above quote has been circulating around Facebook for a few weeks.  How many of us are truly blessed with that type of friend?  I can honestly say I have had a few in my lifetime and feel very privileged. 

It is the type of friend where we only talk maybe three to four times a year but are able to pick up right where we left off.  Another is the kind of friend who only has to say one word and you already know if they are happy, sad, depressed, lonely, or just plain terrific.  The type of friend that you can step away when they need their space without getting insulted, bring over a pan of brownies when they need a pick me up, or call last minute to see if they want to do something fun.  Friends who you can call at any time to watch your kids, your pets, or help with your garage sale.  The type of friend who remembers your birthday, your losses, or your special occasions.  The type of friend where you share unique slogans, funny sayings that only you understand, or words that send you both into a fit of laughter whenever one or the other mentions them.

There are also the special friendships that were incredibly tight years ago, but then you drifted apart for some reason.  Nothing happened to end the friendship – you just moved in different directions and went on paths that led you further apart instead of closer together.  Those friendships should be celebrated as well because without their influence, you probably would not be all you are today. 

Sometimes these friends are family members, others are co-workers, mothers of your children’s friends, teachers, Sunday School teachers, or just people you regularly come into contact with at the store.  Each and every one share one common denominator – they are a blessing in your life. 

Today instead of sharing anything deep or profound, I just want to give you a chance to think about friends from your past, current friendships, and even think ahead to how you can embrace new faces to gain new friends.  It is a time to be thankful for all you have learned, all you have gained, and all you have become in part due to the great friends in your life. 

I want to take the time to thank each and every one of my friends.  I am a better person because of their influence in my life.  I am blessed to call each and every one of them my friend.  And I want to pass the art of true friendship onto my children so they, in turn, can build lasting and true friendships as well. 

And most importantly, I want to make sure that I continue to be as great of a friend to my friends as they have been to me!

Variety of Packages Under the Christmas Tree

Romans 12:4-5 “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

If your family is anything like mine, there is a reason for which wrapping paper is used for each person.  Everyone gets their own and it usually coincides with that person’s personality.  My mom gets poinsettias as she loves flowers, my dad gets Santa Claus paper as he loves to “help out the Big Guy,” and my nephew gets something to do with sports. 

Those similarities and differences spill over to each family member also.  Whenever my extended family gets together, we love to sit around talking about how my niece is just like me and my son shows traits of my sister, and how even my adopted nephew takes after his grandmother at times, despite no true biology (goes to show nurture is as important as nature).  Our daughter and her cousin talk, look, and share the same expressions, despite living 16 hours apart and seeing each other maybe three times a year.

Sometimes the differences can seem huge and tensions can flare.  Your family is used to rising at 5:00 a.m. and rolling into bed again around 8:00 p.m.  Your brother’s family rolls out of bed around noon and stays up past midnight.  The patriarchs of the family want to eat three square meals a day but you are lucky to be hungry once or twice only.  The babies need quiet and consistent naptimes.  Your aunt likes things organized and you are more carefree with how you keep your house. 

So, how, especially around the holidays, do you make it all work?  How do you keep tempers from flaring and harsh words from ruining not only family togetherness but possibly lifelong relationships? 

My personal opinion is that if you can keep the real reason for getting together in the forefront of your mind, it helps.  What is more important – a spotless house or a Dicecapades tournament (if you have never played this game, it is hilarious, especially with a large group of people)?  Getting a chance to stay up late and getting a glimpse into your sister’s heart again or getting the allotted eight hours of sleep you usually need?  Most little ones (there are always exceptions) can usually adapt to a different schedule temporarily also without too many meltdowns. 

When family togetherness occurs this year, I issue you a challenge.  Why not be the first one to make relationships the priority this year centered around an environment of fun?  You might be surprised.  If you take time to invest in your family, digging a little bit deeper into their personal lives, taking time to talk about more than just surface topics, you might be surprised that what you leave with this year is more than a store bought present.  Instead, you might leave with a better understanding of why your brother, sister, aunt, grandmother reacts or acts a certain way.  You might have a better understanding of why your brother has always hated spiders, you might learn what exactly childhood was like for your parents and your kids might gain a better appreciation for why Grandma and Grandpa spoil them (or withhold treats and presents). 

Taking time to really see each individual family member for the unique person they are, past or present experiences included, might be the best gift you receive all season.  Who knows, you might find out the origin of that quirk of Uncle Bob’s and it could become the one that you respect him for the most.  You will never know unless you dig a little deeper.

Multi-Colored Christmas Tree Lights

I Corinthians 12:12,18: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ…But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

All of my children are unique.  One is quiet and reserved.  Another is energetic and playful.  The last is a combination of both – shy sometimes but with “eyes that tell a story.”  They all share the traits of kindness, being responsible, thoughtfulness, and just generally being terrific kids.  And I cannot forget their dad.  Strong, level headed, a great sense of humor, compassionate, hardworking, and all around amazing are just a few traits that characterize him. 

Would I want a family where everyone was exactly the same?  Where we all shared the exact same characteristics and personality traits?  No, I would not.  I have a tendency to get bored easily so to have everyone exactly alike would not be very fun. 

I like the diversity that comes with having a bigger family.  My children share traits with both their father and I, but they also have traits that are uniquely theirs.  That is such a blessing. 

I compare our family with the multicolor strands of Christmas lights that are sold at the store.  Each color is uniquely itself; some colors are a blend of two others (green is made up of blue and yellow), but each color combined with the others helps to create the final result.  If one bulb is missing or broken, the entire strand is compromised.  It is only when all the colors are working together, each in their own unique way, that the masterpiece is complete. 

That is the way it is with our family.  If one person is missing or tries to be someone they are not, our picture is broken.  I would not change the shy, reserved, carefree, funny, energetic, playful, quiet, relaxed blend that makes up our own unique family. 

So take time to celebrate and really embrace the wonderful qualities that make up your own family, making sure to tell each other how important he or she is, in his or her own special way, to your family as a whole. 

 

 

Stretching Without Breaking – The Other Side of the Story

Psalm 103:13-14:  “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

Last time we talked about the important ways to help your child stretch in order to achieve the independence and maturity required in adulthood.  However, today I would like to focus on the other important, often overlooked aspect of that maturing process:  The emotional side.

As stated before, every child is different.  Some are tough and appear as though nothing fazes them (but we know differently, don’t we?), others have more of a tender heart, while still others need lots of practice in order to learn important concepts.  Not only is it essential to know what type of child you have (or types of children if you have more than one) but it is critical to know what works to motivate them, helping them to achieve their very best. 

It is important that while teaching your children independence and mastery of skills that you do not forget the emotional aspect of love and acceptance, cushioned in between a great sense of humor.  This may come easy for some, but I have to admit I sometimes struggle in this area. 

Before I became a parent, I worked at a residential home for troubled children ages 5 through 11 and then ran a daycare in my home after that.  Because of those experiences, I have a somewhat “assembly line” mentality at times.  That does not mean that I do not treat each child as an individual, but time constraints in those jobs did not always allow for long, personal, one-on-one attention.  I was so used to being efficient while getting everyone fed, changed, and making sure everyone was safe, that I sometimes forgot to stop and actually either teach, encourage, allow for pushing the restart button, or stop to find the humor in the situation.

When we only had two children, it was easier for me to remember those important rules and so I did it more effortlessly.  However, since adding our third child, I find that sometimes the “assembly line” me comes out and rears its’ ugly head, especially when I am feeling overwhelmed with life.  Usually I am convicted of this phenomena when one of my kids inevitably cries, “You just don’t listen to me.”  That is when I have to stop, slow down, and really reevaluate my reactions, determining whether or not I am focused more on the end result or instead focusing on the truly important part of the process – my child’s heart during this particular stretching process. 

Sometimes I think that helping your child to stretch is as much about you as a parent as it is about him or her as a child.  You are being stretched as well.  It is hard to balance figuring out what responsibilities your child should be required to maintain, when you should step in and lend a hand, or if you should go ahead and let them learn from their mistake.

I find personally that I am more attuned to my children’s emotional needs when I have first given it over to God than if I try and wing it, figuring it out on my own.  To those of you who are married, showing a united front to your children with your husband is essential also in helping to keep the focus on the skill that needs to be mastered instead of refocusing on other distractions like which one of you is easier to manipulate. 

So, overall, while stretching into adulthood can be hard, it should not be impossible or regimented.  Keeping a sense of humor, staying focused on your children’s legitimate emotional and physical needs while ignoring the manipulation, and most importantly, cushioning it all with encouragement and love should help make the outcome positive.  And, seriously, just as a baby does not stay in diapers his whole life, eventually whatever task you are working on with your child will be accomplished if neither of you give up.

Stretching Without Breaking

Proverbs 22:6: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it..” 

Growing up is hard work.  There is no way around it.  Along the way, there are skills that have to be mastered, independence that has to be won, responsibility that has to be learned, and fears that have to be faced.  Even once you have arrived and are considered an adult, more growing up is still necessary as life will always throw at you new challenges that must be conquered in order to continue to improve your quality of life. 

We have a saying in our household:  “It is our job as parents to stretch you, but we won’t let you break.”  So how exactly do you help your children to stretch and grow and mature without completely breaking their spirit or leaving them feeling like failures when it takes longer than they thought it would to master a new level of independence? 

In my opinion, there are four essential ingredients needed to help your child stretch:  Encouragement, compassion, patience, and the restart button. 

Everyone needs encouragement when learning a new skill, reaching for the next level, or even remaining consistent with skills they have already mastered.  Who do you gravitate toward:  Someone who cheers you on and believes in you or someone who is quick to point out your mistakes, showing you how it can be done differently or better?  Even though instruction is a key ingredient to helping stretch your children, teaching without encouragement makes the process long and slow instead of challenging and fun. 

Compassion is essential as well; however, I have to be careful with this one.  If I show too much compassion, then I end up taking back the responsibility of the newly learned skill from my child and that backfires.  Then my children do not feel the sense of accomplishment that they can do it; instead, they are left feeling like I do not believe in them, which is the opposite of how I truly believe.  My husband has mastered the mixture of compassion and encouragement much better than myself.  I am still working on improving in this area. 

Patience and the restart button are also closely linked.  In the process of stretching, there are going to be set backs.  It is inevitable.  Nothing worth obtaining comes easy, to any of us.  Therefore, as parents, we are responsible for keeping our kids on the right track, not allowing them to settle for second best, keeping them focused on the end goal, but at the same time, allowing for mistakes and the need to start over sometimes or even to try a different approach altogether if the first one is not working well.  Each child is going to be different and have a different timetable for the mastery of their personal issues.  The main focus is that everyone keeps moving toward the desired outcome; not how long it takes to get there. 

We have three very different children.  One child wants to be grown up tomorrow.  Another one wants to eventually, but to have a say in the timetable, and the third one is still not sure how beneficial it is to have all that freedom, knowing how much responsibility goes along with it.  Our job as parents is to continue to help our children strive for the goal of independence while surrounding them with encouragement, compassion, and patience.  The most essential ingredient of all, packaged up with the others, is love.  If your children ultimately know deep down that you love them and desire the best for their lives, then even as you help them master their independence, needing to hit the restart button yourself a few times in your approach, the end result will ultimately be one of victory.

So…Who’s Really in Control?

“…He has never let you down,  Why start to worry now?  He is still the Lord of all we see, And He is still the loving Father, Watching over you and me…God is in control” (Twila Paris, lyrics to God is in Control)

Tuesday night Michigan got the first real snowstorm of the season.  By comparison to other storms, it was pretty minor except that the snow was heavy and therefore, weighed down the power lines and the trees.  Where we live, our power usually goes out with the slightest breeze.  We are typically one of the first to lose our power and not first priority to get it restored.  I wonder sometimes if our road is even on their map (just kidding about that part).  I went to bed and prayed that night to please spare us losing our electricity.  I knew I had a busy day of working on Wednesday and really wanted to have heat, fresh coffee, and the ability to get my work done.  It was a selfish request, pure and simple, but a request nonetheless.  When I woke up Wednesday morning to heat, lights, and that fresh pot of coffee, I was shocked to hear that 7700 people in our County alone woke up Wednesday morning with no power, but we still had ours.  I praised and thanked God for sparing us, then went about my day. 

At 5:20 p.m., after turning in my work for the end of the month, I was just finishing up the last little bit of work before quitting for the night, and the power went out after all.  I was really irritated.  Why did it go out now, when the storm was over, the sun had been shining all day, and it was getting cold and dark outside?  What would cause it to go out when there were no more strong winds, the snow had stopped, and everyone else was getting theirs back on and starting to function again?

I realized my irritation was not so much that we lost power.  I do not think myself better than anyone else.  I do not think that I should be spared when others should suffer.  We all live on Earth, therefore we are all subject to earthly disasters, trials, and results of sin equally.  My irritation was not that I was better than others; it was plain and simple, I hate being out of control. 

I react the same way in other circumstances:  When I have my weekend planned out with fun activities and my children suddenly get sick so we are now housebound or when I am looking forward to spending the morning with a friend and for some reason plans get cancelled.  Especially when I know that I need to eat less food and exercise more but I resist being “told what to do.”  It all boils down to lack of control. 

However, I need to really change my perspective.  In reality, I am not in control of many things in life.  Yes, there are a few things that I can control:  My emotions, my reactions to life’s disappointments, my health, the amount of exercise I chose to participate in, and what I put in my mouth.  But there are many things that are beyond my control:  The weather, my work, other people’s reactions, whether or not my children choose to obey, and the list can go on. 

I guess, when it boils down to it, do I really want to be in charge of everything?  I have a hard time balancing the things I am in charge of.  To add to that responsibility would be overwhelming to say the least and I am sure I would spend even more time trying to fix my endless mistakes. 

So, instead, I am going to work on changing my perspective.  I know it will not happen overnight, but I am going to try to embrace the things that I am in charge of, making sure to complete them the best way possible, and gratefully leave the rest in God’s hands.  If He is capable of controlling the whole universe (and He is and then some), then I think He knows best when it comes to whether or not our family has electricity, or whether or not my weekend plans have to be changed. 

The only other job description I have is to quickly learn whatever lesson He wants to teach me in whatever way He chooses, remembering that His ways are always the best!  That may sound easy, but for someone as stubborn as myself, that is sometimes the hardest part of the whole process.

Perseverance

 “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”  2 Chronicles 15:7

Anyone with school-aged children knows that at some point, they will find themselves trying to instill perseverance into their children’s lives.  From finishing their school assignments on time to consistently keeping their rooms clean to maybe even volunteering to clean up the kitchen after you have just cooked a big meal (or maybe that last one is initiative which is another good characteristic trait).  J 

There are many different ways to go about trying to instill this in others; or even, if I am going to be honest, making it stick in my own life.  Yes, there is going to be hard work involved to reach the final goal, but nowhere does perseverance talk about me having it all together.  Perseverance is not about perfection; instead, it is about the ability to keep going, keep trying, keep pushing myself to “take it to the next level” (sound familiar?) to reach my personal best, to finish strong.  

So what does that look like on a daily basis?  And how do I attempt to teach that to my children so that they can internalize this important character trait?

I think perseverance looks something like this: Getting up on a Thursday, after having failed at my latest diet that was started Monday and starting over today instead of waiting for next Monday.  It means even though I failed to exercise four days this week, making sure I finish the week strong by exercising the last three.  It means taking five extra minutes to straighten up the house before going to bed, laying out my clothes the night before, or packing as much of the school lunches ahead of time so that our morning goes better. 

It also means, though, taking a break once in a while.  It means rewarding myself (or someone else) for a job well done.  It means stopping sometimes to evaluate all that has been accomplished and seeing what works well, what needs to be changed, and what can be done more efficiently.  It means not working so hard I am driven to the point of frustration and exhaustion, but not settling for my own sloppy seconds.  It means going to bed every night, confident that I did my personal best today in God’s strength, listening to Him whisper in my ear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  And, if I did not meet my own personal goal, figuring out what I can do better for tomorrow, letting go of the failures of today, confident that I have another chance to try again. 

I challenge you to look at your life and rejoice in how far you have come with a specific goal you have set for yourself.  If you have not set one, I then challenge you to do just that, working toward your personal best. 

Then, maybe we can rejoice with someone else about one of their achievements or better yet, offer some encouragement to someone who is struggling trying to persevere over a hurdle in his life.

Do You See Your Blessings?

It is so easy to focus on what we do not have.  “Keeping up with the Jones’s” may be a joke passed around among friends, but to some it hits harder than others.   Other families cannot even begin to imagine trying to keep up with the Jones’s – they are just trying to make their monthly mortgage, keep food on their table, and clothes on their children’s backs. 

Times are tough, lately, for all of us.  However, especially with the holidays right around the corner, I would like to pose a question to everyone…Are you able to see your blessings?  Everyone has them.  Some have more than others, they are all packaged up differently, but we all have them, if we look close enough. 

To some, it may be a household full of loud, enthusiastic, rambunctious children and not many extra things.  To others, it may be lots of friends, community support, and fun activities to participate in.  Others may have a job they absolutely love and feel blessed to have.  While others still may have wonderful physical health. 

I just want to give you a chance to think for yourself about the many blessings that you personally and/or your family enjoy. 

Once having done that, I then issue a challenge for you as the upcoming holiday season begins.  We all have friends, some struggling more than others this year, that could use a little extra blessing this year.  Challenge yourself to think outside the box.  Is there one specific blessing that you could pass along to someone close to you to give them hope, encouragement, or just to show love, asking nothing in return?  

Be as creative as you can be.  After having done that, if you would like, it would be great to hear in the comment section what you did to bless someone else and what their response was.

Hatred Only Hurts Yourself

ROMANS 12:19 NLT
19 Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God.  For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.

I always thought God put this passage in the Bible to help me learn a principle such as self control or forgiveness or something; like a parent giving a lecture to their child, “Stop teasing your friend or you will be sent to your room” kind of thing.  I always felt disciplined and judged.

However, the more I read this verse, and the more I learn about God, the more I realize that not just this passage, but most of the rules that God wants me to obey serve a purpose to protect me.  He is not just randomly handing out a list of do’s and don’ts. 

Research shows that unresolved anger can build up toxins in a person’s body over time, eventually manifesting itself through actual physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, and eventually possibly stroke, heart attack, depression, to name but a few.  Any of these symptoms, if left untreated, can affect a person’s ability to live a happy, healthy lifestyle (taken from The Women’s and Children’s Health Network). 

How many of us have unresolved anger in our lives over family conflicts, work situations, road rage, or an injustice done to a loved one (perceived or real)?  How many of us justify our anger which turns into hatred when left to grow?  I need to remember that when I harbor anger toward a situation, a specific person, or an event in my life that the main person I am hurting is myself. 

Now I am able to see the bigger picture.  Not only does unresolved anger further alienate me from people, situations, and events, but most importantly, it destroys me from the inside out.  When viewed that way, why would anyone choose to destroy themselves?  To choose to forgive is not the same thing as choosing to forget (a topic for another day), but it is obeying God’s Word and that is something that I want to actively pursue.  I love knowing that the rules God puts in the Bible for me to follow have reason behind them.  They are not random but instead serve a purpose.  Even if they didn’t, I trust Him enough to obey, but it sure is nice knowing that I serve a God who loves me so much that he does not want me to destroy myself. 

I am reminded of that simple act of love every time I instill a rule with my children that helps to protect them.

 

Mistake…or Opportunity?

“Don’t miss the opportunities brought to light by your mistakes.”  (Dan Miller)

How many of us have a hard time remembering the above phrase when we make a mistake?  Are you quick to beat yourself up when you do something wrong, replaying it over and over in your head long after everyone else has forgotten, until it is a bigger deal than the original event ever was? 

Can you imagine a household where spilled milk, ground in Play-Doh on the living room carpet, or a new hairdo for the dog made with finger paint were considered opportunities instead of mistakes? 

Does calling it an “opportunity” automatically excuse the offender from restitution?  No, but it does release that person from unnecessary guilt, freeing his mind to think about how things can be done differently in the future to prevent the same “opportunity” from repeating itself instead of degrading himself for making a mistake in the first place.  And, sometimes, someone may need to create the same “opportunity” quite a few times before a different result will occur. 

 So, the next time frustration gets the best of me and I fall short of what I intended to accomplish, I am going to try to put into practice the perspective of “opportunity” instead of “mistake.”  If nothing else, maybe I will start to laugh and free myself up to figure out how I can prevent it from happening altogether the next time. 

And, maybe, just maybe, I will then carry that same guiltless experience over to my children the next time they create an “opportunity” of growth for themselves.  The more focus put on the learning experience, the better the outcome for everyone.