Monday, December 27, 2010

Like the Way we Like Talk now...

Check out this great video above, sent to me  by my highly articulate son, ya know?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Teenage Brain

Here's an interesting clip from an article I found on the Harvard Magazine online.  It helps to explain why some kids can seem so smart and act so... well, unsmart.  Your teenagers lack of judgement isn't always because they're just plain irresponsible or that they don't care, it could very well be the fact that their brain hasn't yet developed to full capacity and shouldn't be entrusted with many adult tasks quite yet.  For you hovering moms that just can't stop watching and making sure your child is well and safe, here's some proof that your instincts just may be more on target than everyone tells you.  

Your teenage daughter gets top marks in school, captains the debate team, and volunteers at a shelter for homeless people. But while driving the family car, she text-messages her best friend and rear-ends another vehicle.

How can teens be so clever, accomplished, and responsible—and reckless at the same time? Easily, according to two physicians at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School (HMS) who have been exploring the unique structure and chemistry of the adolescent brain. “The teenage brain is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it,” says Frances E. Jensen, a professor of neurology. “It’s a paradoxical time of development. These are people with very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them.”

Research during the past 10 years, powered by technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, has revealed that young brains have both fast-growing synapses and sections that remain unconnected. This leaves teens easily influenced by their environment and more prone to impulsive behavior, even without the impact of souped-up hormones and any genetic or family predispositions.

There are also gender differences in brain development. As Drs. Urion and Jensen explain, the part of our brain that processes information expands during childhood and then begins to thin, peaking in girls at roughly 12 to 14 years old and in boys about two years later. This suggests that girls and boys may be ready to absorb challenging material at different stages, and that schools may be missing opportunities to reach them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Raising Boys

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that girls think, act and develop very differently than boys.  But with the increasing number of fatherless homes, many boys are being raised by mothers who are completely baffled by the problems they encounter in raising their sons.  A few US based statistics I came across are alarming:  

Boys are four times more likely to commit suicide than girls.
67% of all special education students are boys.
71% of school suspensions are given to boys.
Boys are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with ADD.

Boys are falling behind in school aptitude tests compared to girls, and high school dropouts are overwhelmingly boys.

But one thing we won't see, are boys openly talking about how they feel neglected, overlooked, rejected, misunderstood.  And we'll never see that, because that kind of open expression is not a part of their make-up.  Call it programming by society, but I believe it's a part of the way God created the male gender to be less emotive than females.

Boys can easily hide depression and low self-esteem under a tough exterior that can fool their own family.  That's when you see outbursts of irrational anger, violent, aggressive or excessively sexual behavior appear from the creature that used to be that sweet little boy.  When the frustrations keep growing, there has to be some sort of outlet, and most of the time it's negative.

But these are the  young men that God created to lead and provide for families, to be innovators, creators of new ideas, conquerors of unknown territories.  They are made the way they are, for a good reason, but they need to be understood and nurtured with their different needs in mind.

I know it's impossible to generalize, but I am going to anyway, because most, (not all) but most boys are kinetic or spatial learners.  That's fancy psycho-talk for the fact that boys love to learn things hands-on and see for themselves just how things work.

Trying to force a kinetic child to learn by memorizing a text book over and over may get them to pass a test, but won't necessarily get them to remember any of it the next day.  But make it come alive by actually doing something about it with their hands, and seeing it work, and the practical lesson becomes unforgettable.

Teaching times tables by memorizing numbers was the way I was forced to do it, but my kids had a blast when I opened up a box of macaroni and separated them into groups and had them show me what 9x7 really looked like.  We'd talk about when you would need to know these answers in real life, and then the memorization of the cold facts became much more fun and easier.  I had to use my musical skills to come up with a funny tune to each times table, which I find myself using even now after all these years!

Teach about the rotation of the earth and the tilt of it's axis and use a flashlight and an orange, use a ping pong ball for the moon, and start spinning through space.  It's fun and it registers in his memory and best of all he knows you're right there with him in it all.  A boy who normally acts like he doesn't care about anything could all of a sudden show amazing ability when a neighborhood friend teaches him how to repair a car, how to work out a computer program, how to build or create something on his own.

Boys also often need a brain break where they can run off their energy, kick a ball around, get all out of breath and pump themselves up with oxygen, before they can hit the books again to finish their work.  If they are told to go straight to their rooms after school to finish their homework, though some might do just fine, others will stare at the walls because they need a brain break and a good shot of oxygen.  Then mom yells at them for being lazy and irresponsible, then they hate school even more, then they're compared to their disgustingly perfect sister who gets straight A's, then they're convinced they must be stupid and worthless and before you know it they're taking out their frustrations in very negative ways.

There are many more differences between raising boys and girls, and this is just one.  Give me your ideas, and I'll be sharing mine too.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Negotiating the Peace

One thing you realize fast when you become a parent, is that kids' minds are spinning at top speed from the moment they can walk.  They want things, they have their own ideas, their own will, their own likes and dislikes.  When they want things, they want them NOW and will insist until you either make it absolutely clear they cannot have it, or until you back down and give them what they want.  As soon as that is over, they start wanting something else.

Kids are relentless, and are skilled negotiators.  I found myself having to convince my 2 year old that his ducky pajamas were not the right clothes to wear to the store.  It was a battle of wills and I had to do a lot of quick thinking and be strong to stand my ground against his protests.  I knew that to get him to comply, I'd have to appear as if I was giving in to his desires in some way.  I'd have to give him choices - all of which had to be agreeable to me.

"Either your favorite blue jeans, or your overalls, or your grey shorts."
"NOOOOooooo!!  I want ducky pjs!"

"But remember your Grandma gave you these shorts?  They came from New Jersey!" said with awe and amazement as if New Jersey was paradise.

He pauses and then decides that shorts from New Jersey are the coolest thing ever and agrees.  Now for the shirt, the socks, the sneakers.  There always have to be bargaining chips on the table:

"You have to wear the blue sneakers, but then I'll let you take your water-gun in the car."

He wants the beat up old red ones?  Then forget the water-gun.  I speak as if the US Constitution itself dictates that old red sneakers can never be worn if you want to bring a water-gun in the car to the store.  It's just not done.  He sees there is no way around it, and even agrees to a clause:  the water-gun can come, but without any water. But now the shirt is a problem.

I sneakily choose one shirt that I like, and then quickly put it back, and say, "No, no, not that one."

Immediately he shouts, "That one! That one! I want that one!"

I hesitate, act uncertain, continue listening to him beg, and finally give in as if I had never wanted him to wear it in the first place.  He is triumphant. He puts it on as if it had been his idea all along, and at this point the ducky pajama's are so old news.

I'm a bit worn out by the whole ordeal, but at least I have a decently dressed child who is in a happy mood and ready to go to the store.  This scenario will play out over and over again through many and various situations.

How is this better than just demanding he or she does whatever you want them to do?  They feel grateful that they have a say in the little things in life that are their own, while you are still the authority in charge that has the last word.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

Single Mom Syndrome

Have you ever noticed that the term "single mother" has now become almost synonymous with the word, "hero"?  I talk to a lot of different women every week and have seen that label thrown out on the table like an ace of spades, proving a point about how tough their life is.  It's as if to say, "You can't say ANYTHING against me now!"

I'm sure it's tough.  Kids weren't meant to be raised alone, and a job that's hard enough for two parents is of course doubly hard for one struggling alone.  But I have come to know my share of women who will keep a messy, unkempt house, feed their children fatty processed foods, and find ways to go out partying on the weekends who freely use that label with pride.  Not quite my perception of a hero.

We could be talking about something totally unrelated:

"So have you been praying every day about that new job that you're hoping for?"  I might ask.
"Well, I'm a single mother, I don't have time to just take out and pray like other women."  ("Other women" spoken as if she were spitting darts...)

"Will I see you this Sunday morning for the special anointing of the family?"
"I don't know, my son's team is playing that afternoon and it's hard to get everyone organized to go to both church and the game on the same day. I'm a single mom you know..."
Yes, I know, you told me last time...

Curious, isn't it, that women have fought so hard for sexual freedom, to remove the stigma of having children out of wedlock, to be unhindered in changing from partner to partner, to end up as single mothers as a result,  and then demand to be set on a pedestal?

Yes, there are the widows, and the divorced women who really gave it their best and tried to keep their marriage together but ended up alone.  I wouldn't think of lumping all single mothers into one category, just like I would never imagine that their life was easy.  But I've noticed that women who want to be viewed as saints only by virtue of the fact that they have children and no spouse, are becoming more commonplace, causing me to have less pity on anyone who tries to impress me by flashing that trump card.

Life is tough in general, and for those who have faith, God gives grace and opens doors that we can't for ourselves.

So you're a single mother?  I'm a married one - one more mouth to feed, clothes to clean and voice to listen to.  I have to submit and follow and I've had to learn to adjust to the personality and gender differences that come with marriage and I've done it for over two decades.  It would be ridiculous for me to go around boasting about how I'm a "married mother," but I suppose if you sit down and think about all the pluses and minuses of anyone's life, you could come up with a "hero" anywhere you look if you tried hard enough.

My guess is that many of these young women keep their label well displayed because they are unhappy and would like something - anything, to make them feel better about themselves.  And with God, that unhappiness can definitely be changed and their lives transformed.  But first, can't we just throw away the labels?

Friday, December 3, 2010

If Mom is well - all is well

What happens when kids are surrounded by others who don't really care that they exist?  They get really really active.  They laugh louder than necessary, they talk louder, they put on a really annoying act that they are so incredibly happy no matter what happens.  They are, in fact, trying to make themselves believe that they are happy.  Quiet and calm are irritants to these children because they are forced remember they feel rejected and unloved, and then all sorts of behavior problems can arise.  Destructive behavior, anger, aggression, depression, even young children can seek out addictions to hide the pain.

Every heard of that little problem called bi-polar?  This sense of rejection is often the spark that starts a chain reaction that eventually gets kids diagnosed and prescribed mind-numbing drugs by psychiatrists. They are told they have a "chemical imbalance" that can only be treated with psychotic drugs. What they most often have, is parental malfunction.

A few weeks ago I visited an orphanage not too far from Houston with some of the Sisterhood girls to have some fun and games with the children there.  The littlest ones just soaked up all the love and attention with eagerness.  But the 9 and up crowd were exactly as I had described.  First cold and suspicious, and then changed to become excessively loud, active, laughing, jumping, talking, shouting, as if they wanted to believe they were so very happy.  These kids were trying so hard to prove a point, their desperate attempt to appear happy was heartbreaking to witness.  They weren't really trying to prove anything to us - they were trying to prove it to themselves.

No one gives birth to an automatically happy child.  You can't say, "Wow, this one just worked out better than the other one.  I guess he's a keeper!"  Children don't just "work out."  Each has his or her own uniqueness in personality and talents, but their sense of well-being and security has to be formed by their parents.  An unhappy, fearful mother creates instability at home.

A parent that sends signals through their behavior that they resent the presence of their child creates instability, no matter how much time or monty they spend on them, no matter how often they drag them to church.  Kids are experts at finding hypocrisy in us.  If we say we love them and then roll our eyes at the fact that they actually behave like children, their antennae are up to figure out why they are so unwanted, and their hyper-switch is activated.  If mom is tired of me, maybe she'll notice me more if I'm really really loud!  What if I just say, "Hey Mom? Ya know what mom?  Mom? Hey Mom, ya know what?"  over and over every few minutes? That should make her love me more!  Still doesn't work?  Maybe if I kick my sister in the shins and smash her doll against the chair Mom will see how much I need her...

We all know how well that works.

Mothers who find help for themselves first, stand the biggest chance of ever helping their children.  Just the atmosphere at home becomes brighter when Mom is at peace, and without having to say much at all, everyone feels a whole lot happier - including Dad.  And why am I picking at poor Mom as if it's all her problem?  I'm   not.  I just know that among all the couples and families I've counseled, if Mom is truly well - all is well, and the rest can be sorted out.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dogs in Space and Annoying Children

I knew a mother of four who insisted that she never praised her children, otherwise they would become proud.  She made a point to tell them everything they did wrong to keep them humble.  Her children are grown now, and humble is not a word that would describe any of them.

Another woman had a mother who was always telling her she was so pretty, so wonderful, so perfect, but wouldn't take the time to help her buy appropriate clothes as her body changed and developed with adolescence.  The praise was meaningless if her mother didn't value her enough to spend time or money on this perfect daughter of hers.

Fake praise is like no praise,  and when we receive no praise at all, we can turn into irrational creatures.

Most of the really irritating children that you know, are just desperate for attention.  We criticize them for it, and yet if they were given the attention they truly needed, they would become much happier little people.  The contradiction is, that when they misbehave and act annoying, the last thing you want to do is give them attention!  You'd rather lock them in the basement until they fall asleep because they're so unbearable.

But just like a crying baby, that child is lacking an essential need, and even if he gets punished for his behavior, he'll keep it up because he craves any form of attention, even if it's negative.  And if the annoying child happens to be yours, you've got your work cut out for you.

"But I give him plenty of attention!" you may say in exasperation.  But perhaps the type of attention you think is enough, is not what he needs.  Every child needs personal time alone with mom or dad, just to bond.  They need to talk about all the crazy little thoughts that come into their mind and be heard and still loved even so.  They need you to respond to their crazy thoughts as if they weren't crazy, to help them sort through the whirlwind of ideas that blows through their mind every day.  Here's one example:

"So mom, like if our house turned into a space rocket and we found out that aliens were living in our basement, would dad be able to fight them even though he doesn't have a gun?  And then if we blasted off into space, how would we breathe?  And do dogs ever go to space?"  Etc., etc.

If your default response is, "Why are you wasting my time with these stupid questions?  Do your homework, and look at the mess in your room," you are on your way to creating a really annoying child.  The questions will never end, and behavior problems will increase.  I know, serious discussions about dogs in space are not what you planned on when you became a mother, but welcome to reality!

Smile, listen, talk, hear all that they have to say with patience, give suggestionanswer them with reassurances that no matter what disaster they can imagine strikes, that you will all be just fine because God is watching over you.  Give them hugs and kisses, tell them how smart they are, what an amazing imagination they have, and how proud you are that they are growing so well.  Also once you are done, thank them that they will now quietly go to their room and clean up and finish their homework for the night because they are so good and smart and strong.  It's amazing how just taking that amount of your precious time out of your day can be returned to you in the form of a calmer, happier, more obedient child who wants to please you even more.

Of course there is a time they need to be quiet and get their work done and to respect your need for quiet as well, but if their basic need for your undivided attention and sincere praise isn't met a few times during the day, though you punish and criticize them, but you will never have a peaceful child under your roof.

My youngest is 12, and he still needs those moments, but the reward of a loving son who is a joy to have around is worth all the effort.   Don't know what to say when asked about aliens in your basement?  Email me to receive expert advice...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Exasperated Teacher

"You're such a pain in the neck.  You drive me crazy."

"I can't believe how stupid you are, you're an embarrassment."

I've actually heard parents speak this way to their children.  Nice parents who vow that they love their kids and want the best for them.  They are baffled that no matter how harsh they make their punishments, their child still misbehaves.

Then there are the silent messages parents can send.  Angry expressions on their faces, looks of derision, exasperated sighs, rolling eyes .... funny, the same obnoxious behavior we hate in rebellious teenagers.  I wonder where those teens picked that up?

There are times that your child misbehaves deliberately, out of spite or anger.  That requires swift and forceful discipline because a spirit of rebellion is rising up inside of him.  But there are many more times that your child doesn't obey which has nothing to do with being bad or selfish.  It's not an issue of character, but of maturity.  They are learning how to balance impulses and feelings with rational thought.  And we all know that impulses win out most of the time when we're young -  which of us doesn't still struggle with that even now?

Here's an example to think about:  Ben loves cars, trucks, boats - anything with an engine.  His teacher has been shouting at the class all day because kids are acting up.  Ben wants to do well in school, and likes getting good grades.  But today the teacher's voice sounds like a loud angry fog horn.  Without realizing, her monotone yelling has become so irritating to listen to and his mind deals with it by treating her voice like meaningless background noise.  He's quietly sitting at his desk when he suddenly sees out the window, a steam roller making it's way down the street.  It is the coolest most amazing piece of machinery he has ever seen, and for the first time in an hour, his mind is alive and alert.  The giant roller flattening out the fresh asphalt, the sound, the movement of the construction crew - it's a science lesson right in front of his eyes and he doesn't want to miss a thing.  He leans over and doesn't even hear the sound of Mrs. Perkin's voice getting louder as she walks right up to his desk.  He is rudely awakened by her angry face in his, threatening to send him to detention.

From a frustrated teacher's point of view, she has lessons that need to be taught, and no one wants to listen.  If she raises her voice and threatens, and they get  quiet for a moment. But like little demons, they just pick up their conversations again and drive her crazy. She has lost control of her class, and needs someone to punish.  Ben is quiet and will give the least resistance, so she goes right after him to make him an example to the rest, and more that anything, make her feel comforted that at least she's doing something about this exasperating problem.

At that moment, what happens inside of Ben?  Scientists say that a child's mind switches into survival mode when he or she feels frightened, threatened or shocked.  It's like the frontal lobe of their brain goes dim for about 20 minutes.  They can't think, they can't concentrate, they can't learn. They just react by doing whatever it takes to ensure that shock doesn't happen again.  But have they learned their lesson?  Will they be sure never to make that mistake again?  If that is the only form of correction they receive, chances are - no.

If this is the road his teachers and parents continue down, Ben will become convinced that he is bad, a scatter-brain, inferior, dumb.  Something inside him also knows that he really isn't all that bad and may try to react angrily against this unfair treatment.  Ben can easily become rebellious and turn into the slacker that can't get anything right.

So what's the solution?  Wise parents and teachers learn to use the power of praise and encouragement to bring out the best in their kids.  They know how to correct wrong behavior while always letting the child know that they love and value him or her.  They balance out their discipline by reinforcing the things that they do appreciate in their child, even if it's something small and seemingly unimportant.  For their child, any praise when they've just been disciplined is so very important.  When that happens, that state of shock quickly fades and they can go back to concentrating and learning.

Our kids futures are too precious to waste on our own impulsive anger issues.  If we want to fix our kids, we need to fix ourselves. Watch this space for more good tips...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Carried in Our Father's Arms

Every end of the school year in early June, our whole family was scheduled for our annual physical exams, blood tests and immunizations.  It was required by the Methodist Mission for all their missionary families who served overseas.  My mom and dad were working in Korea and every year was the same.  Our little arms were poked with a cocktail of so many disease fighting vaccines we were in agony for days.  Typhoid, tetanus, cholera, yellow fever, diphtheria, and more whose names I can't remember.  We would get feverish, our arms so heavy and painful that sometimes we'd have to lie in bed until we recuperated.

Korea was a very underdeveloped country when my parents first arrived in '57, and by the time I was in elementary school in the 60's, it had rapidly grown, yet most of the country still had no organized sewage system.  You don't want to know how they dealt with their toilet waste.  I'll just say that what we called the "honey bucket truck" didn't smell anything like honey.

I remember one particularly hot June when I was in so much pain from our many shots - I was about 6 years old.  My dad always tried to cheer us up with a special treat, and he had extravagantly bought us a patio table and chairs with an umbrella for outdoor picnics.  He announced it to the three of us kids as we all moaned our thanks from our beds, and then he proceeded to put it together in the living room downstairs so we could all appreciate it.  My brother and sister hobbled down the stairs and came back up excited that Daddy had bought us this cool new thing, but I was too weak and sickly to move.  My dad scooped me up and carried me down very gently and showed it to me, even though I couldn't even lift my head from his shoulder.  He then carried me back upstairs and laid me down in my bed.  I was amazed at how strong and happy he was even though he had had the same vaccinations as we did.  He could actually carry me when I couldn't even stand.

Many times I have thought of God's strength being sufficient for us, that He can easily carry us through tough times when we are out of strength.  I always remember that night with my fevered head on my dad's shoulder as he carried my up the stairs and my gratefulness that he was able to do what was impossible for me.  My relationship with my dad wasn't always so picture-perfect, but I know God imprinted that on my memory so clearly for a reason, and over the years that image of my dad's kindness being like God's, pulled me through some pretty unhappy moments.

Now I have many more examples in recent memory of God coming through for me and doing the impossible, that I don't refer to that one of my dad much any more.  I have real proof that He is alive and actively answering my prayers.  But God knew that I'd need that boost, that image in my head to push me forward until the day that I really knew how great God was on a personal level.

Maybe the kindnesses and acts of faith we show today, are being imprinted on someone else's mind by God Himself, with the hope that they too will push forward to finally know Him.  I think we should count on it.

Above is a picture of me and my dad on his many trips through the Korean countryside overseeing the construction of new church facilities.  This one here is a new orphanage site outside of Seoul, around 1965.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Ignorance of Evil

"She had to hit rock-bottom before she could look up."

"He had to sow his wild oats before settling down."

"You have to live a little and learn from the school of hard knocks."

"How do you know God is real unless you experiment with other things first?"

Is it possible that you could ever truly develop a strong and living faith in God without first messing up your life?  Could someone actually live a decent life, grow to understand the truths of the Bible and then give themselves to serving God wholeheartedly for the rest of their lives without going through some horrible rock-bottom experience?  Does the absence of suffering make them fake Christians?

When my husband was young, he told himself that he believed in God, the Bible and all that stuff, but drugs and alcohol and the friends that came with them were a necessity to really enjoy life.  He made a deal with himself that later in life he'd serve God, but in high school, fun was the priority.  Now he wishes that he had known how real and powerful God is, back then.  He would have saved himself a lot of pain, because in fact none of that stuff was fun, it was just a way to deal with the unhappiness that only disappeared once he surrendered his life to God.

Why is it that the idea of serving God is synonymous with deprivation and no fun whatsoever?  It's a lie that people who grow up in the church fall for every single generation. (One reason why too many churches are desperate to look "cool" as if they have to compete with evil... see exhibit #1 above.)

People - generally young people - see some hypocrisy in church and use that as an excuse to reject God.  They feel restrained by their parents, and so` determine to do whatever they feel like once the restraints are gone, but have no desire to understand the wisdom behind those restraints in the first place.  Evil looks so very cool, and their parents life... something for old people.  So they throw themselves into the stupidity of rejecting God, thinking that they "had to do it to find themselves...."  They may think that they never stopped believing in God, but the moment they stopped obeying Him, they rejected Him.

Unfortunately, many of them never do find themselves.  They get lost in the confusion that they created for themselves.  People who never knew God but live horrible lives can reach rock bottom because deep inside they have a longing for something better - a knowledge that this can't be all there is to life.  But those who already know something better but choose to jump into the pit, rarely hit the bottom.  Their willful rejection of the truth has made their personally designed pit, a bottomless one.  And all they can do is fall, or in a moment of sanity grab a hold of the slippery walls and try their best to climb out - a long and messy process that requires much more self-examination and effort to be free than for those who never knew God in the first place.  

C.S. Lewis once wrote, "There is an ignorance of evil that comes from being young; there is a darker ignorance that comes from doing it, as men by sleeping lose the knowledge of sleep."

Who's smarter, the one who believes he has to hit rock bottom, or the one who chooses to stay out of the pit in the first place?  Sad to say, the answer is not obvious to most.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Laughing at the Days to Come

The wicked plots against the just,
         And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
         For He sees that his day is coming.  (Psalm 37:12-13)

But you, O LORD, laugh at them;
       you scoff at all those nations.  (Psalm 59:8)

She is clothed with strength and dignity,
      and she laughs without fear of the future.  (Proverbs 31:25)

There's a lot of laughing going on in these verses, isn't there?  But when problems hit us with hurricane force winds, is laughing the first thing that comes to mind?

A joyful heart is a weapon against evil.  Joy in the face of harm is nothing like being mentally unstable or out of touch with reality - though it sure can make us look that way.  It only comes from knowing that if we are joined with God, we have nothing, absolutely nothing to fear.  We can laugh at the problems threatening us because we are sure that together with Him, we have become giants spiritually speaking.  

This kind of joy is impossible to fake.  It comes as a result of a deep and intimate relationship with God. It's like a child who knows without a doubt that his big strong dad loves him and will always protect him.  He can climb into bed between mom and dad late at night during a thunderstorm or after a scary dream and feel that complete sense of peace and comfort. 

Why are there so few Christians who know Him this well?  Does He only reserve this kind of relationship to an elite few?  What if we just started behaving as if He loved us this much, even though we didn't feel like it?  Do you suppose we'd look like fools and fall flat on our faces, or would He be pleased that we are trying? Could it be that our enemies really will collapse because we choose joy instead of fear?   

I guess we'll have to find out for ourselves...!   

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fun Games to Play with Your Kids While Stuck in Traffic

One of the worst sounds ever is, "Mom, I'm booooooored."  It's more than just a bit of information, it comes along loaded with the bad attitude, body language and general grumpiness that we are all too familiar with.  "Why don't you read something? Why don't you play that favorite game?  Why don't you...." We feed them all the options we can come up with to just make that awful sound go away, but as usual the bad aura has already set in which means that they have decided that nothing in life is worth doing any more.  Instead of asking them what they'd like to do, just start playing your own game with them, and in a short period of time they'll get into it and out of the blue funk that was swallowing them up. Here are a few good ones.

For 2-6 year olds:
I Spy With My Little Eye  Think of an object in the room around you, notice its color and then say, "I see something green."  Let them start looking around and guessing what it is you have picked out.  They can only ask yes or no questions such as, Is it on the ground?  Is it on a tree?  Is it plastic? Is it smaller than my hand? etc.   When they guess it, the turns are reversed and time flies by much faster.

The Rhyming Game It's self-explanatory, just choose a common word and take turns thinking up as many words that rhyme with it.  Start with Street, then you can come up with, meet, greet, wheat, complete, feet, treat, seat, heat etc.  There is no winner or loser, just fun in helping them think of words and understanding what it means to rhyme.

For 5 on up:
Who am I?  Think of someone they know about, anyone from family and friends to a cartoon character they know or famous movie star.  They have to begin asking yes or no questions and the best ones to start with are: Are you a man? Are you a woman?  Are you alive today?  Are you famous?  Have I ever met you?  Are you a cartoon?  Are you yellow with square pants?  etc... When Mark was 5 he used to be Arnold Schwarzenegger every single time and we had to act surprised - he eventually expanded into being George Bush and Sponge Bob before he really got the hang of it.  Now he's a pro and can handle some pretty complex stuff.  Still it was fun!

20 questions - A game just like Who Am I for older kids and adults where you have to solve the clues before 20 questions are up.  With smaller kids, just let them keep asking until they get it and give them little clues so they don't get frustrated and give up. This is a great game to strengthen their skills in deductive thinking, and how to ask the right kind of questions to get the responses they need.

Country Capitols/ State Capitols - You may need to do some studying up on these if you don't know many, so it's just as good for you as it is for the kids!  Name a country or state and have them answer you with the capitol city.  Teach them some fun tricks to help them memorize, like when Mark used to forget Moscow as the capitol of Russia, I would moo like a cow (OK this part has to be done in private!) and he'd remember the word "cow" which would trigger the right answer.  The ones they get wrong, help them with the answer and go back to later to see if they got them.  With each time, you can add a few more new ones to the bunch to increase their knowledge.

What Tune is it?  This can only work if you are not totally tone-deaf!  Start humming a familiar tune and see if they can remember the words.  Easy!

There are a lot more than just these, but they have served me well over the years.  Just yesterday I was asked to do the Country Capitols game and to throw in some new ones - who would think a child would want to know his geography for fun?  Before you know it, traffic will lighten up and you'll be at your destination with a happy little camper sitting next to you.  Happy trails!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sweet Dreams are Made of These...

I just saw the movie, "Inception" with my family last night, action packed with tons of suspense and odd twists in the story.  It was the first time to see Leo Di Caprio as a daddy, and weird to see the creepy bad guy in "Batman Begins," play a rich businessman you almost want to like.  It was all about dreams, extracting people's dreams and inserting new dreams into people's heads.  All very surreal and at 2 and a half hours long, I enjoyed a pleasant nap half way through to wake up just as confused as I was when I dozed off.   I was entertained, and all the guys in my family liked it a lot, which made me happy to know they were happy.

One thing I couldn't get into was the way they treated dreams as so deep and profound, or the way they made great use of fear in dreams.  I'm just not into fear. I've learned a strange trick to turn my dreams at night to my favor if they get anywhere near scary or bothersome.  If a bullet is flying at me, I am somehow conscious that it isn't real but a dream, and I turn it into a bumblebee or a butterfly.  I force the scary things to become less threatening.  I scold the bad guys and tell them to be ashamed of themselves and watch them slink away with their heads hanging, and the monsters I just may turn into teddy bears having a picnic.  Every time I do that the emotional intensity of the dream just flattens out like someone had popped a balloon. The dream just turns to nonsense or I just wake up.

This all started when I was 7, when I had one of my terrifying recurring nightmares of being pushed off a high cliff.  In mid-air I remembered that I only fall off cliffs in dreams, which meant I could insert whatever I wanted to change my dream.  I placed a huge mattress at the base of the cliff, and then had a lovely time bouncing up and down when I reached the bottom.  The dream faded away pretty quickly after that.

These days I rarely remember a dream at all, and I think it's because my mind nullifies anything disturbing so quickly, that any dreams I might have are completely forgotten the moment I open my eyes.

I don't know if everybody is as aware of the fact that they can control their dreams, but I know all of us can control the fears and irritations we have during our waking hours.  I believe that once we know how to bind up negative attitudes and fears the moment they start to encroach on our thoughts, the easier we can handle the stresses of our daily lives.  For those who would just see this as a psychological trick, you're not going to get very far because psyching yourself out to feel good even when things are going wrong, doesn't change the fact that things are still going wrong!

Using faith to stop evil from harming us does more than give us an emotional sense of peace, but it actually stops concrete problems from happening in very real and practical ways.  There's a kind of stubbornness combined with faith that says just plain "NO YOU DON'T" to any spiritual force that is trying to tempt you with worry or fear or choosing what is wrong. It can become a part of who you are.  It's a faith that says no to the idea that God won't come through for you, no to the idea that if you humble yourself you'll just get hurt, no to the thought that your problems are just too overwhelming.  Faith knows how to put those attacking spirits to shame if you use it, and then the results in real life follow.

I've known various people who said, NO YOU DON'T to cancer, to drugs, to prostitution, to AIDS, to witchcraft, to depression, and are no longer victims of any of them.

You may not be able to turn a bullet into a butterfly, but you sure can turn around an attack on your life into a victory if you just learn how to fight back, and that's even better.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The not-so-obvious needs of a preteen

I'm the mom of two.  My 12 year old is a very obedient, sweet natured and good hearted.  He knows very well that there are times to be quiet and stay still to let mom and dad get their work done.  He respects our wishes, and stays, waits, hurries up to go, reads, writes, cleans, evangelizes, prays, stays up late and wakes up early according to whatever we tell him.  He always has a smile on his face and complies with our wishes with only a little bit of complaining from time to time.  But if he is ignored too much, his behavior will become much less pleasant and not because he is a bad boy, but because he is a growing child whose needs are not being met.

It's easy to assume that once your little ones have grown into big kids and less dependent on you for their every need, they can just be given orders and left on their own.  As long as you provide food on the table, clean clothes, sheets and towels, make sure they do their homework and don't tear up the house, you feel like your work is done.  But you're not even close.  Your job as a mother is not to ensure they can eat and clean up after themselves, or even that they bring home good grades from school.  Their need for you to be interested and involved in their development is as important, and even more so, as before.

Here are some pre-teens parenting tips:

1.  You will frequently find that they love to talk about total nonsense.  Don't just dismiss it as total nonsense!  They are going though a process in which their minds are processing more information and trying to sort it all out as they are beginning to understand more of the adult world.  Let them talk, listen, and comment on their ideas - even when they seem crazy.

2.  Push other duties aside from time to time to focus 100% on them.  You will be richly rewarded. Play a board game, go to a museum together, ride bikes and go out for treats just for fun.  Among the odd things they think and want to talk about, you will find jewels of information about their doubts or fears or ambitions that you can help them understand.  These are bits of information that they would never tell you if you just ask them those ignorant grown-up questions like, "What are your fears?" or, "What are your ambitions?"  Everyone knows the only answer to those dumb questions are, "Idunno."

3.  Laugh with them and enjoy their ridiculous ideas instead of treating them like they're stupid.  (You may never dream of calling your child such a thing, but you can make them feel it by the way you treat them.)  Remember what it was like at their age and how awkward it felt to be in that transition between little child to teenager.  Tell them funny stories of things you did at 12 to show them that you aren't so different.  Bringing up those old memories will help you have more empathy for what they're going through.

4.  By your actions, not just your words, let them know that they can still come to you for anything.  This is invaluable - soon they will be going through changes in their bodies and they'll need to know they can trust you to understand the strange things happening to their thoughts and feelings.  If you have made it clear to them that you think their rambling thoughts are a waste of time, they definitely will not feel confident to tell you how confused they feel as they grow.

5. Treasure this time while they are still talkative and openly dependent on you.  Prepare yourself, because your little one will soon become another creature altogether when puberty hits with all the hormones, mood swings and insecurities about their sudden changes.  Well-adjusted teens grow from well-loved preteens.

Preparing for Adolescence: Caution Changes AheadPreparing For Adolescence: How to Survive the Coming Years of Change

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Healthy Pain

What freedom! To finally come clean and confess a hidden sin/mistake/wrong that was committed!  But the process that leads to it can be so twisted and convoluted, for the one who is looking for a pain-free shortcut.  Instead of a shortcut, they find a long agonizing journey of guilt and oppression that can take years, eating away at their spirit, their body, their mental abilities, their motivation to live. As Proverbs says, bitterness rots the bones...

Why do you suppose that when it's time to do right and expose the darkness of our past, this simple act of speech becomes unbearably frightening?  Imaginations course through our minds:  they'll never understand, you'll become a freak, an outcast, a loser, you'll be castigated and ostracized, and you'll never, ever be looked upon with favor by anyone. ANYONE.  So we bear the hidden guilt and are unaware that the spirit behind that guilt is slowly eating away at our faith and our resolve to follow God.  We become a slave of that dark secret, a protector, as if it were a great treasure.

But the fear of exposing our whole life to the light and letting God and others see the ugliness, is in actuality very short-lived and highly overrated.  Once it's done, it's done, and the healing can begin. Sure you have to talk about it a bit more at times. clarify why you did what you did to those you offended, apologize as many times as it takes, change your habits and your behavior to prove to those whose trust you have broken that you are serious about your change, and hide nothing ever again.  The only real pain involved is felt by your ego, your selfish pride.  A healthy pain, long overdue.

But the freedom, the FREEDOM of honesty and openness of heart between God and you, and all others who have been wronged, is such a reward in itself.  But that's not all that happens.  God can finally begin answering that backlog of your many prayers, because the connection between you and He is clear. The spiritual ulcer that burned holes into your conscience and your soul, is wiped away in one day.

Funny how one of the most powerful life-changing verbs is seen as a cartoon joke - you know, the old crazy street preacher wearing a sign reading: Repent!  But for the few and the courageous who have the guts to actually do it, the joke is turned against all the evil that once dragged them through the mud, and now is under their feet.  Repent! So who's laughing now?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Power hungry girls

I almost had to laugh speaking to the teenage girls in one of our churches on a recent Sunday.  Some had grown up in the church while others had just started attending a few weeks before.  Some had never read a Bible in their lives, and all of them came from unsavory neighborhoods and had seen unspeakable things.  I looked across the classroom of dead-pan faces, girls clad in tight jeans, tight tank-tops or scoop necked t-shirts, just  daring me to say something that they would think even slightly interesting.

It seems that acceptable behavior among teen girls in the ghetto is to show absolutely no regard for adults.  Stare at them, but don't speak to them.  When asked a question, say nothing, don't respond.  The body language is meant to say, "Why should I care about you when I don't even care about myself?  You are meaningless, you are one of THEM."

Thank goodness that I have wised up to the fact that those are just lies they hide behind. None of them really feel that way.  All of them are lonely, afraid, insecure, and desperately in need of care and guidance.  They all wanted to hear what I had to say, but were terrified of showing it.  They've been enslaved to a spirit that threatens to make life miserable if they become open and honest.

But as I talked, I discovered that what they were looking for was not love or acceptance or purpose, but power.  These are girls that wouldn't bat an eye beating up a friend that turned on them.  I know because they told me so, sincerely believing that that was the only way to solve the problem.  Telling them that Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek brought out shrieks of protest.  "What?  Why???!!"  Letting others have the upper hand is unthinkable.  In their lives where drug dealers prowl their streets, where their own relatives have attempted to rape them, where violence at home is the norm, where the school yard is a place of survival of the fittest, the concepts of servanthood and giving to receive are as alien as another galaxy.

If I had a daughter facing danger, I'd want her to be equipped with something powerful to protect her, but what would that be?  I began to speak of the invisible world of God's Spirit that surrounds them, and the power they have over evil in their lives.  Demons are real, unseen forces that provoke violence are our enemy, not the people who we see in front of us.  Their eyes widened as they learned that there was a power that they could use that would keep them safe, and that would fight for them, the power of faith in Jesus and the authority He gives us over evil.  Examples and testimonies made some sit up with excitement, while others squirmed uncomfortably as if something inside of them hated hearing it.

I asked, do you want to have this power?  The only way it can work is if you surrender your life completely to God's Spirit, and let Him control you.  That's when you're under His protection.  Do everything differently, upside down, give before receiving, love those who hate you, believe before your eyes see any change, and learn to face the devil head on with no fear, and drive him out of your life.  Now that's power that can have the after-effects of a nuclear bomb.

They left with different looks on their faces than when they came in.  I challenged them to try it for just one week and tell me what happened.  Let's see if they did.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Manipulations of the "Perfect Wife"

In our marriage courses at church and among the many couples we counsel, a recurring syndrome has been noticed:  the "abusive victim."  I've seen it among husbands, but in my experience, mostly in wives.

She badgers, complains and nags him because he is not getting things done quite right.  She is a "perfectionist" she claims, she loves him dearly and wants to help him improve.  She also knows how to indulge him with lots of loving actions: delicious food, an impeccable home, affection, hugs and kisses, but she knows how to make him feel like trash, that he doesn't deserve any of it.  She reminds him of what a mess he was when she found him, and how she has so generously "fixed" him.  She subtly convinces him he is one lucky, lucky man to have such a perfect wife.

But the nagging is unreasonable and unbearable.  She always has a justification for it, but she makes sure to push his buttons, over and over again.  Until he finally explodes.  He behaves monstrously.  He shouts, he becomes abusive, he punches holes in the walls.  He knows he is a worthless nobody because she reminds him every day by her attitudes, and something inside of him can't bear it any more.  But now what has he done?  He has proven once again that he is a monster, an evil man, unworthy and oh, so fortunate that this wonderful perfect wife whom he has victimized will accept him back home again. So he bows his head in shame and goes back to her, apologizing and torturing himself that he is less than a man.  And the cycle begins all over again.

She has him in a head-lock, and is draining every bit of life from him year by year.  The big question is, how do you show him the lies that he is believing about himself?  How can you encourage him without revealing the manipulations of his "perfect" wife?

It is a reality that some women enjoy seeing their husband fail and suffer, so that he will always be grateful to her for rescuing him like a lost puppy.  It's sadistic but it's true.  The only hope I see for a couple like this is in spiritual warfare, to break the back of this demon of the abusive "victim".

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Great Power in Gentleness

Counseling a couple with my husband today reminded me of this old fable by Aesop that I had heard in school.  When dealing with evil, that's the time to be harsh and demand that it leave our lives.  But when dealing with others, especially with the ones we love, loving kindness wins, hands down!  Enjoy,

The North Wind and the Sun

The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great power in gentleness.

"We shall have a contest," said the Sun.

Far below, a man traveled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat.

"As a test of strength," said the Sun, "Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man."

"It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat," bragged the Wind.

The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat. Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.  The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter.  Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.

"How did you do that?" said the Wind.

"It was easy," said the Sun, "I lit the day. Through gentleness I got my way."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bringing Home Baby

Mothers Day is on it's way, and my opinion has been that any birthday ought to be a celebration of each mother who brought that child into the world.  Having been through two long, arduous labors, my mind invariably goes back to those hours of birth every time we celebrate a birthday of one of my children.  Now with anyone's birthday, I feel I can relate to whoever's mom had to go though that life-changing experience.

But as everyone supposedly knows at least in theory, the labor has only just begun!  The actual task of caring for and raising a child is no joke.  I ache for the teen-age mothers who come through the doors of our church; children raising children.  Statistically it's a long shot that they'll raise them well.  I recently met a happily married, well-adjusted couple in their 30's who just had their first baby, and it was a touching sight.  Bright, intelligent professionals, successful in their fields, and totally lost when it came to keeping up with their little bundle of energy.  They had that glazed look in their eyes of people who hadn't slept for days, bewildered that a 25 inch person could throw their lives so out of whack.

A mistake that many new mothers make, especially those who have no experience, is to expect their babies to behave in a way that shows appreciation or love right away.  When her baby cries and is inconsolable, she begins to think that the baby dislikes her.  When she looks at her newborn and smiles at him, but he just gives her a blank stare and waves his fists in the air, she feels rejected.  She tries to hold him close, but he kicks and wiggles and doesn't seem interested.  He seems to only want her for her milk, and her expertise in burping him.  She feels "used" and resents him.  He even reminds her of others who treated her badly in the past.

She has no concept of how a baby's body needs time to develop.  How little he is able to coordinate his movements, focus his eyes on any one object, that he's unaware of what a smile is yet, and can barely hold up his own head.  Instead of just loving him despite how he acts, she feels hurt and offended and is unable to bond with this child who needs her so desperately.  She wants him to give her the love that she hoped for by having a baby in the first place, and when she doesn't see it, she withholds her own love.  And the beginnings of a form of abuse begins: neglect.  Her child will soon be starving for love because his mother was too immature and selfish to be a mother in the first place.

There are some things you ought to know before allowing yourself to conceive a child:

1. Becoming a parent only works if you are ready to give and give and give, and not expect anything in return.  Unconditional love is a choice.

2. Be prepared not to have a good night's sleep for at least 2 years.  Some parents are luckier than others, but still - be prepared.

3. Babies cost money - diapers, food, formula, bottles, juice, clothes, car seats, strollers, toys.  Not to mention monthly trips to the pediatrician and any medicine he prescribes.

4. You will feel at times that: You've lost control of your life. Keeping appointments is a monmental endeavor. You will live the rest of your life covered in baby spit and attached to a large diaper bag. Be patient, and enjoy the experience.  This shall pass.

5.  You will feel like you are loosing your memory.  So many things to remember, nap times, feeding times, extra supplies, extra little t-shirts in case of accidents, extra warm cap, blanket, bottle, toys, snacks,  bring the stroller, or not bring the stroller?  And then you wonder why you can't remember where you put the car keys... Every. Single. Day.  Don't worry, this too shall pass.

6.  Your husband (if you are so fortunate to have one) still needs your love, affection and undivided attention at some time during your day.  If you snap at him when he expects anything from you even when you've been drained to the last drop, you are shooting yourself in the foot.  Give, love, and give again.

7. Don't project your own insecurities on your baby.  If he doesn't respond to you the way you hoped, it doesn't mean he doesn't like you/resents you/wishes you weren't his mom.  Babies are totally dependent on you, and their only opinions revolve around the need for food, warmth, sleep, cuddling and a clean diaper.  Give first, and know that in due time, you will really receive.

4. You don't have a baby so that he or she can make you happy.  You're the only person who can make you happy.

Give your mom a special hug and send her the best of your love, because she went through all of this for you.  For those who have been there and done that, congratulations!  And have a wonderful, blessed Mothers Day!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Learned Behavior

They were so cute, little baby wolf cubs waddling around their pen.  Their mother had died and so they were being cared for in a sanctuary set up to both study and raise them to eventually be released back into the wild.  The scientist in the interview had become their surrogate mom, and explained that though they had all the instincts of a wolf, they still needed their mother to teach them how to hunt, to be aware of danger, to work together as a pack, and of course to howl.  So every day a few times a day the scientist would come close to the pen and howl as best she could, and the little cubs would answer back in their tiny high pitched voices with their noses pointed upwards, enjoying themselves completely.  I just wanted to take them out of the TV screen and hug them, they were so lovable!

But isn't it interesting that though God made all creatures with instincts and innate abilities and behavior, we still have to be taught how to use them?  Had the wolves been raised as mere house pets, they would never be able to survive among wolves, and yet because they were meant to be wild, they would never be able to live in a home either.  They had to be taught to be who God created them to be.

I have come to know a good number of young women and men who have grown up in homes that are nothing like a home.  They know something is wrong in their family, yet they have no idea what a happy home is like or if they ever could have one for themselves.  Something inside of them tells them that they were created to live in a loving, supportive environment.  It's instinctive knowledge in all of us that we were created for this.  But generations have passed in these families where addictions, abuse, unfaithfulness and rejection are the norm.  So what do these kids do when they reach adulthood?  What kind of life skills do they have to draw on?

They want a happy home, but it's so easy to look for love from a guy who will sweet talk them for a while, get them pregnant and leave them for another girl.  Now she is doing the same thing that her mother did to her.  She resents this baby that's stealing away her youth, and leaves it with relatives so she can go out partying at night.  He hates his father for abusing his mother and abandoning the family, and then turns into his father's spitting image.  With each generation the image of a faithful marriage becomes more of a fairy-tale.  The concept of being a parent who upholds standards of honesty and integrity, who understands the balance of discipline and selfless love - a vague dream.  The conviction that they should fight to become the person God created them to be - such a foreign idea, it doesn't occur to them that they could be anyone else but what they have learned.

So who will teach them to find themselves?  Where are the sanctuaries to nurture and develop these young, lost minds?  Can it even be done, or have too many generations passed?  Like I mentioned in a past post, when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?

Monday, April 12, 2010

500 Days of Stupidity - Moms, please be aware

Movies like "Fiddler on the Roof", one of my all time favorite musicals, gives us a peek at life in the old country when daughters came with dowries and matchmakers arranged the best marriage deals to satisfy all parties involved.  I used to think it was quaint and a sad sort of thing.  But now that I have children, I'm beginning to think that hand-picking their spouse myself would be the perfect solution. (Don't worry guys, a  mom can dream, can't she?)

I just say that because as I look around, I see Jesus' words coming true today more than ever,  "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" Christian moms, be aware, the world is encroaching on the values that we think we are instilling in our young ones, sinking their roots into them like crabgrass.  It makes you want to put them in a sealed space-pod and shoot them into the stratosphere until you find the perfect mate for them so they can avoid any more contamination.  But of course, no one wants to be "set up" by their elders any more, no one wants to have anyone meddling in their romantic affairs because it's just not done and it is so very, very, very uncool.

It's so uncool that a movie last summer became a sleeper hit of the season, "(500) Days of Summer".  A guy likes a girl, a lot.  He thinks she's "the one."  Girl likes guy but hates commitment.  Girl flirts, makes sexual overtures, eventually sleeps with and practically moves in with the guy but insists that they are not a "couple."  Girl gets offended when he tries to defend her honor as if he has the right to think she's his girlfriend.  Guy is in love, girl treats him like trash, but says she really likes him. Stupid guy keeps obsessing about stupid girl.  The end.

Hate to spoil it, but that's the movie in a nutshell.  There have been other movies with this sort of message, but few have tried to pretend to be so profound as if they were revealing deep truths about life and love. and millions of people eager to swallow these "truths" paid $60,000,000 at the box office to make it a huge hit.

But there are certain boundaries that were set in place by God, certain age-old truths about relationships that can't be undone just by the fashion of the day.  Girls who flirt and make sensual comments boost a guy's ego, while they degrade themselves in the process.  Wanting to have a boyfriend while having close "guy friends" at the same time undermines trust and proves that they have no idea what a blessing true commitment is.

But you as a mom say, "But that's just kids these days.  This is a different culture."  Yeah, but God doesn't change, and the evil nature of humanity doesn't either.  Don't let the pleas of your daughter to wear revealing clothes, to speak too suggestively to the men she knows, to constantly text and call and throw herself at guys with the excuse that they're "just friends," fool you.  Be the mean one for the moment and say no.  You need to realize that it's time to make some big changes before it's too late.

Christian girls are encouraged to think that they can mix the secular values they find in school and on the screen with their faith.  Maybe they'll won't loose their virginity before marriage, but they sure do enjoy being a tease.  And when they see other young women trying to live a life of purity and integrity, they'll say, "Good for you!" and then laugh at them behind their back because they're such bores.  Wake up and see that the sweet darlings that you thought were such nice church-going girls, have their hearts set on indulging their emotions.  Don't think for a moment that she would never be so false; the influence of this world is too much for anyone who doesn't have an uncompromising faith.  How do you change the desires of her heart?  Only God can do that, but there are steps you can take to lead her in the right direction.  Stay tuned for more.

Meanwhile I'll be in my workshop constructing those space-pods...

Friday, April 2, 2010


One of my Sunday school teacher's used to say, "Yeah, he was so open minded his brains fell out."  Which meant that there are times that the very positive sounding phrase of having an open mind, can actually become an unhealthy extreme.

A class-mate of mind told me once, "I'm a Christian, but I believe that whatever you believe is going to happen after you die, happens.  If you're an atheist, you just stop existing.  If you're a Hindu or Buddhist, you'll be reincarnated in another life.  God is love.  He's open minded..."

Interviewing a student at USC for our church TV program in Los Angeles, I asked one young, very hip philosophical fellow, what he believes God feels about suffering.  He answered, "Who says there's anything wrong with suffering?  I mean it's all in how we perceive reality.  Who's to say that children dying of starvation need to be rescued?  Maybe starvation is a good thing but our society has decided to call it bad."

I know, this guys brains didn't just fall out, they got run over by a truck!  Meanwhile our cameraman starts laughing and says, "Right! Tape up his mouth for two weeks and then he can tell us if starvation is a good thing!"

Isn't it odd that people who boast about being open minded are often those who consider themselves to be so highly intelligent, but can't define what truth is?  Everything is a shade of grey, nothing is black and white, true or false.  Just vague foggy guesses at what feels right at the moment.  

Being open minded isn't enough if it isn't founded firmly on truth.  Some things are black and white, unchangeable, indisputable.  Even when it isn't cool or trendy to believe them, they still stand.  I consider myself open minded, but everything I believe has to be weighed and brought in line to what the Word of God says.  Evil and hell exist.  God and His Kingdom exist.  There is only one way to know God, and there is only one way to overcome evil.  These are truths that can't be ignored.

But some well meaning Christians want to believe that it's okay to put up with a life of misery even though they also believe the verse, "By His stripes we are healed."  Maybe God wants them to suffer. Maybe God sees the good in suffering to purify their faith.  Maybe they've been chosen for a higher calling to suffer more than others because they are so special.  Maybe we should get them to share a room with the guy from USC so they can all philosophize about the wonders of suffering and tell starving children in Ethiopia to just be happy.  Really, is there any difference?

If Jesus died and rose from the dead, the captives in hell we released, the sun couldn't bear to shine, the earth trembled, all nature reacted to the death and resurrection of it's Creator, isn't it logical that if God Himself sacrificed His own life just for us, we would be able to live a new life too?  It's what He promised, but unfortunately few, very few know how to fight to find that new life.  It starts with being angry with the fact that evil has a foothold in our lives - not accepting the evil, or fearing the evil or being in awe of evil - but fighting it with all our faith and strength.   There's no better way to celebrate Jesus' victory and resurrection than making sure that everything He sacrificed for becomes real in our lives.  That takes determination and a laser-like focus. Call me narrow minded, but there's no way else to live.  


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Happy Good-bye

My dad just died last Sunday, I'm in LA for the memorial service and to spend time with my mom.  There has been a lot of family get-togethers and I'm happy for the chance to see them all while missing my own dear family so very very much in Houston.

The one thing I don't feel is grief over my dad's passing, strangely enough.  Perhaps it was because I already said good-bye to him when I saw that Alzheimer's disease had already stolen away the father I knew and loved six years ago.  It was so strange to see his sparkling blue eyes, hold his gnarled hands and hear that familiar tenor voice singing old church hymns, and yet know that he was no longer able to hold a rational conversation, or even be fully aware of who I was.  That was the hardest time, because I wanted him to fight back against the disease,  I wanted him to acknowledge that something was wrong and to try his hardest to resist the slow degradation of his brain and eventually his entire body.  But he didn't want to talk about it.  These last two years he could no longer speak, though he could sing along with us strangely enough.  He was confined to a hospital bed or wheelchair and would still look at me with those eyes, though they had turned a bit dull.

Knowing that a bright, intelligent, energetic, hilariously funny and dedicated man who had served God as a missionary in Korea for 35 years, and had continued serving in his church for 12 more years in retirement, had faded into a fog of illness.  It was like watching someone you loved slowly sink and drown into a pit of mud.

But one day I had flown in from England and saw him alone in the hospital.  The doctor said he'd only last a few days.  I spoke to him about some of the deepest concerns in my heart.  I asked forgiveness, I poured out my heart, and I spoke to him about God and His forgiveness. Dad couldn't speak, but his eyes filled with tears and rolled down his cheeks.  He raised his hand to his head as if to ask me to pray for him.  He stared intently at me and made noises, trying to speak.  I prayed strong for him, and he cried.  He squeezed my hand and I kissed him on the cheek and told him I loved him.  I felt that I was speaking directly to his soul, that the disease had been pushed to the side and his spirit knew exactly what was going on.  When all was finished, his tears ended.

Something very spiritual and very deep happened that evening.  Though I saw him more times before I left, enjoying our singing and visiting, I was completely at peace knowing that when God was ready to take him home, both he and I were ready.  He lived for another two years, but always in discomfort, trapped in a body and mind that could no longer function.  When I heard the news of his passing after the Sunday morning service, I honestly was so happy for him to be free.

Last Saturday at his memorial service, with their pastor, my brother, my brother-in-law, even myself getting up front to speak or share, it was the most uplifting and happiest funeral I had ever attended.  There really was no room for tears.  He's celebrating his freedom for eternity, and all I can do is smile.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Love the Family Table

Every expert from the scientists at the Department of Health to your grandma will tell you that it is vitally important for your children to experience regular family meals at home.  They develop better social skills, participate in family discussions, eat healthier food while eating slower and more deliberately than those who wolf down delivery pizza standing up at the kitchen counter.  Not only children, but all of us benefit from this.

Everybody knows that eating a healthy home-cooked meal as a family is best, but just talking about the benefits has not changed the minds of women who still prefer to warm up something frozen and toss it on the table for whoever feels like wandering by to consume it when they're ready.   You may know that actual cooking is better, but there's always that lame excuse, "I'm just too busy and tired to be bothered."  Well, if you bothered to have these children, bother yourself to take good care of them.

I cook every day, with a few exceptions.  It takes time, it takes hours.  The preparation, the serving, the eating and the clean-up is time and energy consuming.  But the joy of seeing my family well-fed and happy, seeing them come home eager to know what's for dinner, knowing that they were looking forward to my food - it's worth it all.  There is something very healing and calming about a family that joins together over food they love; sometimes a dish that's familiar and comforting, or other times a new and interesting dish to test out.  Even those exotic new dishes that we decide we don't want to try again, are a fun experience for us all to laugh about, and I'm always given points for effort!

So for all the bullet points that the Health Department can list off about the positive effects of home cooking, do it for you.  Do it for the very selfish reason of getting extra kisses and hugs, lots of thanks and a quiet peaceful evening after the dishes are washed because everyone's tummies, hearts and minds know that they're loved.

I've seen plenty of photos these days of the young women who are going through their initiation phase to enter the Sisterhood, and one of those ongoing tasks, is cooking and setting a proper table for their families.  One after another, I hear how much happier their home has become just through these meals alone - meals made to be special, delicious and beautiful to look at.  If cooking can melt the hearts of a stressed-out family, isn't it worth all the effort?  Don't know how to cook?  If you know how to read and follow directions, you can cook.  Now open those cook books and get cracking!

(Thanks Camilla, Yuliana, Blanca, Ana, Pr. Lucas and Jorge for letting me use your picture!)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Being Cold Hearted

Sometimes Jesus was just downright brutal with the things He said.  "I can't throw the food meant for the children to the dogs," He told a suffering mother. "Go let the dead bury the dead," He told a young man  concerned about his father's funeral.  A group of mourners cries over the death of a little girl, and He rudely asks them "Why are you crying?" and then proceeds to kick them out of the house. And one of the toughest: "If anyone comes after me and does not hate his own father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters - yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)  That sounds like the most unChristian teaching there ever was.

I can just picture people I've known getting all in a huff and giving Jesus an ear-full after hearing something like that.  "How dare He speak to me this way!  And who does He think He is being so insulting!  Doesn't He know that family comes first? And He calls Himself a man of God!  Well I never...!"  Jesus knew exactly what He was doing: separating the wheat from the chaff.  Those who are truly His can take the heat and have the humility to say, "Yes, I'm a dog, but I can't I at least have a crumb?" They're the gutsy ones who adamantly hold onto Him, knowing that He has to bless them, and they're the ones who receive their answers.

God created us to be like Him, abounding in love, peace, joy, patience and all the fruit of the Spirit, but tough as nails when it comes to acting our faith.  There are times that joy only comes after the painful sacrifice of our flesh, of turning our backs and walking away from people who are demanding our attention so that we can please Him first.  Peace can only be won after killing off the selfish desire to moan about our suffering, and fight back against the evil one who whispers in our ears that peace is  impossible.  We want answers to questions that are not for us to know at this time, but the answers that we do have, we don't like!

So the choice is, live out our life in a constant state of feeling offended because God expects too much of us, or cold-heartedly turn our back on our feelings, obey Him anyway, and determine that he has to - He HAS to - honor our act of faith.  He will heal and deliver us because He says He will.  Period. And through that choice to put our faith over our emotions, miraculous changes happen. That was the way the demon possessed were freed, the blind were healed, the dead were raised and disciples of steel were raised up to turn the world upside down.  It seems like a contradiction to find the warmth of His peace and love through becoming cold-hearted, but who ever said He does things our way?


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fair Weather Friends

Since the Sisterhood began here in Houston, it's been a real study in human behavior; how eager young women are to have good friends, to connect with others who will encourage and affirm who they are, and to be guided and given constructive criticism about how they can improve their lives.  Of course there was a rigorous screening process to make sure only the girls who were ready for the challenges of real change were allowed to be initiated into the group.  But the outpouring of how many more are excited about joining this wonderful world-wide support group, really has me amazed!

Among women, probably from time immemorial, the bonds of friendship have played a crucial part of keeping us strong, focused and emotionally healthy.  Women who lack such a network of care, often struggle to keep depression and negative attitudes at bay.  And when the friends they thought they could rely on are shallow and self-seeking, their sense of worth can easily be shaken, especially those who don't have a firm relationship with God.

I've seen a lot of sweet poems and lovely words about friends and caring and sisterliness on our blogs and Facebook pages, and it's so good for women to have that freedom to express how we feel.  But long-term friendships can go through ups and downs, misunderstandings and moments of disappointments that really test whether the sweet words are true or just words.  So before the rough patches in the road come along, take these into consideration:

Your friend may be going through some struggles that she may not feel free to share with anyone, but she still needs your support.

Your friend does not have all the same strengths or weaknesses that you do, and can't be expected to react exactly like you.

You can remember how bad it feels to be judged unfairly.  Don't be so quick to become judge, jury and hangman just because she doesn't do everything the way you would.

If you considered her worthy of your friendship before, don't you think she deserves your help in steering her back on course?

When faced with a small amount of information about someone else, we all have the vile tendency to jump to conclusions - and negative conclusions - and we enjoy entertaining them, justifying them, and feeling superior.

Don't imagine for a moment that no one has to endure your flaws as well!

As Jesus said, "If you only love those who love you, what reward will you get?" (Matt. 5:46)  Making friends with someone who is a mirror image of you is easy, but learning to love those who are not just like you is an exercise in becoming a Woman of God.