Equipped and Ready

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Many children love to play dress up. Even wearing the uniforms of their favorite sports team is a form of dress up – a chance to pretend to be someone else. The same friend that gave us the swords (see “Sharp Swords” 7-8-14) also gave us this Captain America suit. Our grandson just turned 6 and he is enjoying “vanquishing” all evil.

He is very serious about being prepared. He wants the suit on and zipped all the way up. He wants the face mask attached so it will stay on as he “battles”, and he wants the sword and shield ready and in the right position. He knows the correct look of the character and is intentional in re-creating that look.

His younger brother, who is three, also likes to dress up. He doesn’t seem to care how things fit or what position they are in. He will use various parts of various costumes and isn’t concerned about being authentic. He is very imaginative and pretends to make up for any equipment he doesn’t actually have. We went on a hike to the water front of the Chesapeake Bay recently and I counted 5 different sticks he picked up that he called “guns”. They were all different kinds of guns – and he named their types.

Already, when children are very young, we can see the various ways they approach life. Their play often reflects their view of the world around them, even their imaginary play. If you have more than one child, it is obvious that children raised in the same environment develop differing approaches to life.

Conflict is a real part of our lives as humans. How can we help our children learn to use conflict in positive ways – even as they play?

The news recently is filled with stories of conflict throughout the world. It grieves me as I hear the reports of innocent people suffering and dying. We don’t want our children’s play to reflect violence as the solution to problems. We can see clearly by what is happening in our world that violence incites violence in return.

Paul encourages us as Christians to be ready and equipped to face the conflict around us in our everyday lives. Ephesians 6: 13-17 (Amplified) uses this analogy –

13 Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place].

14 Stand therefore [hold your ground], having tightened the belt of truth around your loins and having put on the breastplate of integrity and of moral rectitude and right standing with God,

15 And having shod your feet in preparation [to face the enemy with the firm-footed stability, the promptness, and the readiness produced by the good news] of the Gospel of peace.

16 Lift up over all the [covering] shield of saving faith, upon which you can quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked [one].

17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword that the Spirit wields, which is the Word of God.

Here Paul encourages us to be prepared as soldiers. This was easily understood by early Christians since their land was occupied by Rome and there were Roman soldiers everywhere. Verse 15 says “having feet shod in preparation with the gospel of PEACE!”

What a paradox! They were living in a land occupied by Roman forces, yet they were to share the good news of PEACE.

Jesus preached to his followers that we are blessed when we are the “makers AND maintainers of peace. If we do this we will be called children of God! In Matthew 5:9 (Amplified) Jesus says –

Blessed (enjoying enviable happiness, spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they shall be called the sons of God!

Finally, Paul defines peace for us in Phillippians 4:7 (Amplified)

And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Whatever the conflict – I can be at peace because I am assured of salvation AND I am content – whatever my earthly lot.

I need to set an example for my children and grandchildren by living at peace myself. I must live in such a way that they see my peaceful faith on display – not discontent or conflict.

Sharp Swords

Hardy Swords

A dear friend and co-worker recently called me and asked,

“Would your grandsons like some swords and a pirate costume?”

Is the sky blue? Is grass green?

Yes, YES!

She dropped them off the day before four of our grandsons arrived last week. They immediately began to pose, stab, and swing those swords around. These swords did not come with an instruction booklet or a YouTube video with a live demonstration.

These boys just knew what to do. It was instinctive, a part of their genetic make-up.

I have evolved in my thinking about play swords, guns, etc. When our first child was born in 1977, I was not going to encourage violent play by giving him play guns or swords. We gave him toy trucks, trains, tools, balls of all kinds, etc.

Soon after he walked, he started picking up sticks and swinging them around. He pulled apart the stalks of dried Joe Pie weeds and had “sword” fights with his sisters. Any stick with a crook became a gun – if it was long enough it was a rifle.

My evolution became complete when I realized that children will play “fighting” and “battles”. I just needed to set limits on how they played with play swords or weapons.

So – no hitting people or animals. Period.

Since the fall of man, people have been in conflict. The Bible is full of such situations. The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-17 –

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Notice two things in particular about this passage –

* the battle is NOT against flesh and blood – other people – but evil spiritual forces
* we need the sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word

Hebrews 4:12 says –

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

God’s word is described as a sword in these two passages. As I saw the grand children playing with the swords, it struck me that we need to prepare them for the spiritual battles they face every day. We do that by learning to use God’s word which is “sharper than any double edged sword.”

When I was dealing with the fear of losing our son when he was stationed in Iraq, I would quote “God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” The battle for me was not against the terrorists in Iraq, but the FEAR that I would lose my son. This Bible verse did not guarantee my son’s safety – it DID guarantee that God would be with me whatever happened to my loved ones.

Quoting God’s word sets my mind on truth, not the circumstances around me. It allows me to wield that sharp, two edged sword!

We must take the time to share with our children and grandchildren the word of God so that they will be prepared, swords sharp, for the battles they face.

Kid Friendly Homes

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“I want our house to be the house where our children’s friends want to hang out.”

I can remember saying that when our children were young. Yet to be that kind of house doesn’t just happen when our children become teenagers.

Oh, no. It starts way before that – when our children are around 5 or six years old. We set the tone early on and it lives on throughout our child’s teenage years, even into adulthood. Is our home a friendly, nurturing place? Do children feel welcome? Do we ask them about themselves and LISTEN when they answer?

Since we wanted a kid friendly home, it meant that I had to tolerate mess, noise, and consumption of large amounts of food. (of course that was normal life when just our four were home) Now looking back I can honestly say I really did enjoy having our children’s friends over. I got to know them as indiviudals and observed how our children acted around their friends.

I am NOT a perfectionist when it comes to house cleaning.

OK, I am not CLOSE to a perfectionist – I dust once a month whether it needs it or not! At one point in time when our children were young, the bathtub in our upstairs bathroom didn’t work. When I cleaned upstairs I would put all the random items in the bathtub and pull the shower curtain shut.
“Out of sight, out of mind.” (I know some of you are cringing right now!)

Yet I enjoy having people over and have always felt that people are more important than my house. I have great memories of our children’s friends playing with the Fisher-Price toys, or making baseball diamonds in the field behind our house. That was before they paved paradise and put in a parking lot.

To ensure that our homes are kid friendly means that we must plan ahead. A few helpful guidelines will make it a pleasant experience for all:
* Put the valuable breakables on high shelves or out of sight.
* It is ok to have places in our homes that are off limits like dad’s office, a sewing room, or
anywhere that children could hurt themselves or others.
* Clearly communicate “house rules” – such as – no hitting, no calling names, taking turns, etc.
* Supervise at all times – know where all children are and keep yourself engaged with them.
* If children are using media, know what it is – or turn it off!
* Play outside whenever possible – less mess to clean up!
* If conflicts break out (should I say when?) redirect. Read a story or play a group game.
* Smile and laugh with the children! Have fun. Your own children will be blessed.

Jesus went out of His way to welcome children.

Mark 9:36-38 (NLT)

36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

When we welcome our children’s friends into our homes, we are welcoming Jesus!

That is the way God wants us to see it. Hopefully our children’s friends will see Jesus in us.

Seasons of Change

Adah and leaves

Fall is in the air!

There is excitement because of the changing weather, the changing leaves, a changing wardrobe, even changes in the food we eat. I don’t make chili in the summer, it just doesn’t seem appetitzing to me -but I love it on a cold day!

Those of you with young children face many changes as well such as:
* It gets dark earlier – bed times may change.
* You switch out the clothes, usually getting out bigger sizes of sweaters and sweatshirts.
* Wash loads are bigger – jeans and sweaters take up more space than shorts/t-shirts.
* Leaf piles to play in instead of slip and slides.
* Kites are fun to get out when it’s windy, put away the kiddy pool!
* Runny noses 😦
* Rosey cheeks 🙂

I like the seasonal changes. It is a blessing to see the world change around us, totally beyond our control. God demonstrates His order of things through seasons. Folks who live in tropical climates after living in the more temperate zones often miss the changing seasons. Our daughter who lived in Hawaii said that she really missed fall each year. (poor baby!!!!!)

The changing seasons are a reminder of God’s order that He established in creation.

Genesis 1:14-18 says –

14 Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. 15 Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. 16 God made two great lights—the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set these lights in the sky to light the earth, 18 to govern the day and night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
The order God established during Creation reminds us of His faithfulness. We do not live in a random universe, but instead changes happen in sequence and patterns demonstrate God’s divine plan.

There are seasons in our lives as mothers.

Once a baby is born, we become a mother. We will always be mothers even when our children die before we do. Those precious lives may no longer be here with us on earth, but they live on in our hearts!

Our roles change as mothers – but the fact of being a mother does not. Some aspects of active mothering are easy to give up:
* changing diapers
* cleaning up throw up
* waking to crying in the middle of the night

Other roles we fill in active mothering are greatly missed:
* reading bedtime stories
* braiding a daughter’s hair
* saying nighttime prayers together
* cuddling together on a chilly evening

As grandparents our roles will change. Pop and Nana used to be the “big deal”. Now as we leave the homes of our grandchildren there is no crying, sometimes just a “see ya!” as they are busy playing.
That is just as it should be because as our grandchildren age, they realize we will return – our leaving is not forever.

There are seasons in our spiritual lives as well. There are seasons when God wants us to learn to trust as we go through difficult times. There are seasons we must trust because things are going well and we KNOW it is not because we deserve it.

There are seasons when our children are suffering and we wonder when a change will come.

No matter the season or the changes we face in life – God is faithful.

Paul wrote this to encourage the Christians in Phillipi.

Phillipians 4:10-15

10 How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14 Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.Seasons will change – God is always faithful!

No Excuses

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Teach high school students and you will hear the most amazing excuses. I am almost awed by the creativity that some students use to explain their lack of responsibility. The operative word is almost. Having had four children navigate the precarious waters of high school has caused me to be a bit hardened to the myriad reasons that a class assignment is not complete or cannot be found to turn in for a grade.

We had a family birthday celebration this weekend and there were two situations with our grandchildren which caused me to realize that they are not that far removed from adolescent reasoning – or should I say adolescent lack of reasoning. Two year olds act without thinking. Fourteen year olds act without thinking. As a teacher and a parent I have found myself asking in a tone of frustration – “What were you thinking?” The truth is ….they weren’t thinking.

God has created us with an amazing capacity to think and understand. Yet it is not automatic. All healthy children are born with the potential to think.  Yet we know from recent brain reasearch that the reasoning capacity of humans is developing as they mature and in many individuals the ability to recognize cause and effect is not fully formed until a person is in their twenties. (Please don’t give in to depression!) That is why God designed families and why children have parents. Children need adults in their lives to set boundaries and explain the cause and effect of certain decisions. Humans are not like snakes or spiders who slither and crawl away soon after birth to fend for themselves. (If they didn’t, their parent might eat them!)

I am so blessed when I see parents of young children limit screen time. It is the rare child who will do this on their own. Once children get outside it is fun to see them play with Tonka trucks and climb trees. They use those large motor skills and gain strength in muscles besides their thumbs.

As children play outside and interact with the world around them they will start to see God’s power and divine nature expressed in creation. Don’t take excuses for not playing outside…unless the weather would lead to adverse cause and effect. As we train our children to think and reason, we are demonstrating God’s nature.

Romans 1:02

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,so that people are without excuse.

In God’s plan there are no excuses.

Summertime!

I still remember the sense of freedom that I felt when school was finished for the year. A whole summer of possibilities lay ahead! These are some of the most endearing memories of my childhood – the times of playing in the creek, piling rocks to dam the Oconolufte  Creek up so we could swim. Building “forts” (my brother Gregg was especially good at this!) with old boards and whatever was lying around in the woods so we could have adventures. We went tubing and threw rocks in the river trying to “skip” them like our father did. We attended Bible School at the Cherokee Baptist Church and made new friends.

All these memories revolve around being in the mountains of North Carolina. My summers as a child were idyllic and I treasure these memories.

Then I married a mountain man and our four children were able to enjoy many of these same activities as children. Each would probably list different things that they enjoyed most about summer, yet I know that they all loved this season and the chance to be “free” from the schedule of school.

We would often meet our family friends at the library for the Summer Reading Program and afterwards eat a picnic lunch in the park. We would plan “Fridays at Deep Creek” where the older kids could tube down the river and the younger ones could play in the shallows with round river rocks. We mothers could visit and supervise the little ones, getting the social interaction with adults that we needed.

Summer also involved chores in the garden. Once when our children were small, someone asked our third child if she was looking forward to summer. Her expression saddened and she replied, “NO, I have to weed the garden”. My heart sank as I heard this. I did not want her memories of summer to be sad ones! We still gave our children chores, but I made sure that they realized that the chores were done first, so they could play, swim, and be with their friends afterwards.

I have sometimes heard mothers of young school children lament the fact that school is almost over  – that summer break was about to start. These mothers are not looking forward to having their children home with them. They see their children’s freedom as interfering with their freedom. This is an attitude that pervades our culture. The attitude that children are a burden and need to be “managed” with as little interference in the parents’ lives as possible. How tragic! These parents are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to build memories that last a lifetime. These years when our children are young and at home go so quickly. (I remember thinking, “yeah, sure” when I was in the middle of those years) Looking back – they did fly by.

Mark 9:36-38 (NIV)

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the One who sent me.” 

When we put time with our children ahead of our own desires, we are following the example of Jesus. He placed a high value on children. As parents and grandparents we are able to maximize our children’s summer. Young ones will not choose the best activities on their own. We must plan and guide them, considering their preferences such as swimming, playing ball, creating art, building forts, even just playing with favorite toys.

Limiting screen time is important, even more important in the summer. Children learn creativity, problem solving, and build their imaginations while playing. Screen time is usually passive entertainment and is counter productive. Active play helps children develop physically, mentally, and socially.

Have a wonderful, blessed summer building positive memories!!

Making Messes

I was reminded again this week that a transformation takes place when you become a grandmother. Now I must be totally honest and upfront by acknowledging that messes have never bothered me very much. Yet, I can honestly say that they bother me even less now that I am a grandmother! I realize the main reason for this is that I don’t have to live with the mess, after the grandchildren return home, I can pick up at my leisure. I also admit that as an artist, it takes a mess to create so I am used to messes.  That is true with sewing and cooking as well, messes are the by-product of these endeavors.

One of the lovely young mothers in our community shared the following incident that illustrates making a mess.

My dear friends,

I just walked in the door from Moms Night Out with you! I walk in to see my mom sweeping up powdered sugar. My mom proceeds to tell me that while she was putting #2 to bed #1 decided to play like she was cooking.  Too bad she didn’t use her play kitchen. Too bad she used real ingredients! She had decided to cut an apple, put it in a cupcake holder,(no pan) sprinkle it with powdered sugar and was fixing to put it in the oven. I know you can imagine the mess. Thankfully she can’t turn the oven on yet!

Oh the joys!

It was a joy to this little girl! The issue of making messes is not “cut and dried”. We don’t want our children wasting cooking ingredients or endangering themselves and others.  Yet there is a time and place to make a mess – maybe it’s with a grandmother! There is also a time to have things clean and neat  – free from mess. A word of warning – beware of your method for achieving neatness – it may follow you in infamy as happened to me.

ONE TIME, I wanted to let the kitchen floor dry after mopping it. So, ONE TIME I asked our 4 children to play outside and not come inside until the floor was dry. To ensure that they followed my instructions,  I locked the doors, ONE TIME.

Of course, after two minutes they needed to use the bathroom, get a drink, every excuse imaginable to get in the house! These were the same 4 children who were nowhere to be found at meal time or bed time, no, they never wanted to come in the house then!

To this day, our children love to tell about their mother who locked them out of the house and wouldn’t let them in – like it happened all the time!

Looking back I realize that a clean floor is not all that important. Erma Bombeck once said that she was amazed when she mopped her kitchen floor after everyone went to bed and when she got up in the morning – it was still clean! My mother once told me not to worry about messes because before I knew it the children would be gone and then there wouldn’t be anyone around to make a mess. She was right. (except I am still here making messes)

Jesus addressed this issue in Luke 10:38-42

 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”   41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  
This Scripture does not address messes specifically, but it does speak to the issue of what is really important. Jesus was pleased that Mary had chosen to spend time with Him, listening at His feet. Jesus did not regard the preparations Martha made as valuable in comparison to the time spent with Him.

Preparing meals, making cards, painting pictures, all these tasks make messes. They also can be completed more quickly and neatly by ourselves. Yet making the extra effort to include our children and grandchildren in these messes builds a relationship. That is what Jesus  wanted with Mary and Martha. That is an example for us as well.