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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Teaching the True Meaning of Christmas

In all the busyness of the Christmas season, it's easy to let its true meaning slip through the cracks of the rough manger bed. Is it really that important our kids hear the age-old story about Jesus' birth? Isn't it a little outdated and boring?

The answer is a resounding, "No!" That dusty old story, handed down through the centuries, loved by millions, is more than just a story to be told to your child. It's an anchor for his soul. It puts meaning into all the chaos. It whispers in your child's ear at night that Jesus was born as a baby just like he was. It makes Jesus someone your child can relate to. Your son or daughter can imagine Him as a baby, then as a child growing up. Telling the biblical Christmas story allows the Christ-child to be his Jesus, not just his parents' or pastor's.

So how do you get across this all-important story to a child? Here are some ideas for teaching the true meaning of Christmas:
  • Purchase a kid-friendly nativity scene. It can be made of plastic, fabric, or anything else that won't break. Encourage your child to hold the baby and move the characters around. There is no "right" place for each one to be. Help him to understand this isn't just another toy. It's special and should be treated with love and respect, just like the Bible is more special than any other book.
  • "Tell" the Christmas story with the nativity scene. Put only Joseph and Mary in the stable at first. On Christmas Eve, let your kids put the baby in the manger. Then let them arrange the angel and the shepherds. Wait to put the wise men in the scene until after Christmas since they didn't likely arrive until later, perhaps even as much as three or four years later! Or let your children act out the story with the nativity characters as you read it from an easy-to-understand Bible version or a children's storybook.
  • Provide simple costumes and props (bathrobes, scarves, towels, baby doll, stuffed animals) and have your children put on a play of the first Christmas.
  • Have your children create their own storybooks telling the Christmas story using their own words and illustrations.
  • Make a birthday cake for Jesus and decorate the house for a birthday party.
  • Talk to your children about what gifts they can give Jesus for His birthday, then place them under the Christmas tree. What would make Jesus happy?
  • Go outside at night and look at the stars. Talk about how the wise men followed a special star to find Jesus after He was born.
Another way to teach your children the true meaning of Christmas is to hold a shepherd's dinner. I'll explain how to do this in next week's post. In the meantime, keep looking for teachable moments and ways to point your children to Jesus at this hectic time of year. As the angels told the shepherds that night, "Fear not!" Your kids will get the important message of Jesus' birth if the message is important to you!

Christmas blessings!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Reflections

It's almost Thanksgiving! I'm looking forward to spending the day with my extended family. Everyone's coming to our house, all 23 of them!

I'm thankful for the opportunity to offer hospitality, love, and nourishment to each one of them. I'm also thankful everyone is bringing a portion of the meal, making my role a little less daunting. I'll provide the turkey and our traditional chicken noodles. The rest of the family will bring dishes such as corn, potatoes (both mashed and sweet), dressing, green bean casserole, rolls, pies, cranberry salad and chips and salsa. I eagerly anticipate the hugs of grandchildren, laughing with my sister, drinking coffee with my mom and enjoying my children--all rich blessings from the great Giver of all gifts.

I pray you have memory-making moments that last a lifetime. That you savor every blessing of life as much as you do the feast you eat. And above all, that you remember to thank the One who makes life worth living.

This is one of my favorite songs of thanksgiving. Maybe you'd like to sing it with your family before your meal, or even as your prayer this year. Many of you probably know it, but if you need to hear the tune, you can listen to it here:

Give Thanks
by Don Moen

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks unto the Holy One
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son (repeat)

And now let the weak say, 'I am strong'
Let the poor say, 'I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us' (repeat)

Give thanks

Thanksgiving blessings to you and yours!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. I love that it begs us to stop and give thanks to God for all our many blessings. It asks us to look at life from a different perspective, one that isn't always wanting more, and to be content—yes, even downright thankful!—for what we already have. It's easy to forget year to year how we've grown and how God has blessed us. So in order for our family to remember how very blessed we are—not just one day a year, but throughout our lives—we have a couple of Thanksgiving traditions we continue to this day.
 The first and my personal favorite is the Thanksgiving tablecloth. My mom bought a white linen tablecloth a dozen or more years ago and some permanent fabric markers. She asked us all to write on the tablecloth something for which we're thankful. Every year we reuse the same tablecloth and add what we're thankful for or one way in which God has blessed us that year. We all sign and date our entry. This became particularly meaningful after my father died and we could see his writing on our tablecloth and remember his legacy of faith and thanksgiving. It's also fun watching the grandchildren grow and seeing their scribbles turn to actual writing. It's a linen journal of thanks that we gather around as we eat the traditional feast each year. And because we use permanent fabric markers, the tablecloth is washable.

The other tradition is newer, only a few years old. In the Bible when people saw God at work in their lives, they often built a memorial to God out of rocks. It reminded them of what happened at that place and gave them opportunity to tell their children of God's faithfulness to them. I set a basket of smooth river rocks, usually two to three inches in diameter, in a basket. Each person takes a rock and writes on it what he's thankful for or a way God has worked in their life. They can then take the rock home and start building their family's thanksgiving memorial. It's also a way to share your faith as people see your pile of rocks and ask what it is.

There are so many ways to acknowledge God's goodness to us. It doesn't matter how it's done, only that you recognize the Giver of every good and perfect gift. So gather ’round the table and give thanks!

What Thanksgiving traditions do your family practice? If you don't have any, do you plan to start some? What will you do?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Positively Strong-Willed

I have a strong-willed child and I'm so thankful that I do. Not that it's easy, as any parent with a strong-willed child will attest. But there are some definite positives to raising a child with a strong will.

I remember talking with my daughter when she was around seven. Her strong will had been rearing its defiant head more than usual that day. Now it was bedtime, a time to reflect on the day. I recall saying something like this to my girl. 
"You have something called a strong will and that can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you use it."
She nodded and looked down. She knew we'd had a bad day just as much as I did.
"When you use it to disobey, even when you know what's right, it's the wrong way to use it. But when your friends ask you to do something you know you shouldn't and you tell them no, then that's a good way to use it. Do you understand?"
Another nod.
"I'm glad you have a strong will. I know you'll use it the right way most of the time. We all make mistakes and wish we did things differently sometimes. Remember that I'll always love you, no matter what."

That little girl is now almost seventeen and has used her strong will in the best ways possible most of the time. She's her own person, to be sure, and isn't afraid to take the road less traveled if she believes it's the right one for her. She isn't easily bent by peer pressure.

Here are a few tips for parenting your strong-willed child:
  • Don't try to squelch your child's strong will. Be thankful for it and try to channel it in positive directions. As your little one grows older, it can be a huge asset in helping him stand up for what's right and stand against what's wrong. Peer pressure evaporates when a strong-willed child says no. And they help weaker friends make good decisions.
  • Tell your child about this amazing gift called strong will that God placed inside her. Make sure you keep your comments positive. I sometimes referred to it as a super-power!
  • Remind your child how God would have him use his strong will. This comes in handy when your child disobeys. He can be determined to make good choices with that stubborn will as well as bad.
  • Give choices when possible. This gives your child the ability to make her own decisions, yet stay within the boundaries you've set.
  • Pray for him to learn submission when necessary. A child can't always get his way. Try to empathize with him when he has to submit. "I know you feel frustrated that you can't do it your way this time.. But it's Mommy's turn do it her way." Or, "I can see you're disappointed (or angry, or whatever). I'm sorry. But I really need your help with this." Give consistent consequences for noncompliance.
Most of all, pray for yourself as you raise this child. As parents, we always need wisdom and God is glad to give it when we ask (James 1:5). Ask Him to give you eyes to see the good in your child and that you'd be able to guide his strong will in positive ways. I know you'll find a delightful child lurking behind all those "No's!"

Do you have a strong-willed child? How do you know? What tips can you give for raising such a child?