Friday, August 31, 2007

Want a Healthy Marriage? Prioritize Fun

Michael Smalley
source: Crosswlk
I meet with couples and families in crisis every week. Do you know what one of the most common similarities is between them? You might be thinking poor communication, money issues, an affair, but you'd be wrong. What I've started to discover, and researchers much more smarter than I am already know, is that these couples – for a multitude of reasons – have stopped having fun together.
I guess it makes sense when you think about it for a minute. If a family or couple is in distress, they argue and squabble over everything and feelings are treated like yesterday's garbage. Who wants to have fun when there is so much pain?
One of the most important things you will ever do as a couple and family is have fun together. Ecclesiastes 8:15 reads, "So, I'm all for just going ahead and having a good time - the best possible. The only earthly good men and women can look forward to is to eat and drink well and have a good time - compensation for the struggle for survival these few years God gives us on earth. (MSG)" Dr. John Gottman tells us that couples who stay together for the long haul, and who are satisfied, have a 5 to 1 positive experience to every negative experience in their marriage.
The simple reality is this, if you stop having fun together you will stop wanting to be together.
The problem is that many people dictate their ability to have fun with someone based on their feelings. This is a major mistake and one which can eventually lead to divorce. We can not let our lives be dictated by our emotions. Emotions are wonderful but they are chaotic, one day up and the next day down.
American's have been duped into thinking we are unable to choose our emotions. We can choose our mate, choose our school, and even choose our destiny. But when it comes to our emotions, we are simply victims and we allow our emotions to defeat our relationships. Isaiah 40:30-31 tells us, "For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don't get tired, they walk and don't lag behind."
We can soar like eagles when we depend on God for the strength to do it.
The next time you are on a vacation or a date, and your mate (or child) does something to hurt your feelings, what are you going to do? This is an inevitable part of any relationship. The question is, what are we going to do when our feelings get hurt during fun time? Are we going to sulk, get angry, fight for our honor?
Matthew 5:43-46 gives us a great plan of action, "You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best - the sun to warm and the rain to nourish - to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that."

Ask God to help you keep focused on the purpose of your time together. I suggest you simply table the feelings for later, for a more appropriate time, and make the choice to enjoy your fun time together. I'm not asking you to avoid your hurt feelings, I'm just asking you to wait for the right time to share them. Keep fun-time sacred from conflict. Remember the Gottman ratio of 5 to 1? If you turn every date night and vacation in to a major battle ground, then what is your ratio going to look like?


To make sure you have a healthy ratio, establish a regular date night with each other and the family. This does not have to be an expensive activity, but something that you can enjoy together. Pick a day of the week for your date night as a couple as well as your family fun time. Scheduling a time is critical if you are going to make it a priority. It is too easy to fall into the same old routine and avoid fun time because of conflict, but if you make an honest and purposeful decision to have fun together on a specific day, then your chances of succeeding significantly increase.



Michael Smalley and his wife Amy both earned a Master's Degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois. For the past ten years they have taught millions of people around the world how to better love God, others, and themselves through practical insights and hilarious illustrations. Michael is the founder and Executive Director of The Smalley Marriage and Family Center located in The Woodlands, Texas. His center offers Marriage Restoration Intensives - where couples from around the country fly in for intensive care on their marriage.

Michael and Amy have authored or coauthored relationship advice books like Communicating with Your Teen , the Men's Relational Toolbox, and  Don't Date Naked , The DNA of Relationships, and their latest book More than a Match.

The Smalley's have three children, Cole, Reagan, and David.  They have been married for 12 years. Visit Michael's website and blog at

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Releasing Your Child's Learning Potentials

by Barbara Curtis

source: Crosswalk

No one has to force a little child to learn -- it's part of their nature. When your toddler turns the light switch off and on, he's not trying to annoy you. He's simply a baby scientist researching cause and effect.

When your daughter figures out a way to give herself a boost -- by dragging a stool over to reach the stuff up on the counter -- she's passed her first test in engineering.

The truth is, bringing up a child is like watching a continuously unfolding miracle -- as long as we can turn off that nagging inclination to say "Stop!" and tune into the learning potentials God has built into his little creations.


What if I told you that the Terrible Twos are a myth, that tantrums are not normal, and that a child whose independence needs are met appropriately is most unlikey to have a meltdown in the mall?

Certainly the drive for independence can become dangerous -- as when your child lets go of your hand and darts through the parking lot. That's where limits and discipline come in.

But when you find your child trying to pour his own milk, his behavior is neither dangerous nor defiant. It's simply the natural result of the way God built our kids -- with a drive to learn to do things on their own.

When your child shows interest in learning a new task, do your best to make it possible.

Give your child choices whenever you possibly can: Let him pick out his own clothes and dress himself. Look for ways to make difficult things easier: A child with crocs and elastic waistbands can experience the satisfaction of independent dressing early on.

As your child grows, anticipate ways to encourage more independence. As soon as he can tell time, buy him a clock and let him wake up to his own alarm and morning routine. Let him make his own pb&j. Teach him to make a few simple meals.

As you begin to respond with patience and consideration to your child's drive for independence, you will begin to see immediate results in a calmer, more tractable child. But you will also be investing in the future as your child grows in confidence and competence.

Let's face it: Parenting is really a job we should be working ourselves out of each day.


While the sensitive period for independence is pretty self-evident, adults are often surprised to learn that the child's potential for order is also established during the early years. But that's because it's subtle -- and very dependent on the environment we provide.

Order provides stability and security. It encourages concentration and efficiency. When a child knows where to find things, he can function more independently.


tart with the basics: a child-sized table and chair -- not in the bedroom, but somewhere in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Besides a stool in the bathroom to enable him to take care of his needs, a stool in the kitchen will open a whole new world to him as he becomes part of meal preparation.

Put a peg rack at his height near the front door so he can hang up his own jacket when he comes in. A boot tray un­derneath will keep dirt off your carpets and help him re­member where his shoes are.

Keep things organized in an attractive way. Opt for shelves over toy baskets. Use clear plastic containers to sort and hold things like small blocks, lacing cards, pegs, and puzzles. Teach your child to take out one exercise at a time, to spend as much time as he wants with it, and then to put it back before taking out anything else.

Order provides your child with a feeling of security. When he knows where to hang his jacket, where to put his shoes and toys, he feels confident and secure. Your understanding of your child's need for order, and your loving provision will nurture this potential in his life and work. This will make it easier for him to accomplish all that he under­takes.


While the old adage, "Children should be seen and not heard" was certainly harsh, today's cultural climate, with parents who indulge noisy kids during church, movies and plays is certainly an example of a pendulum swung too far. Now it seems anything goes: "After all, they're only children."

But that approach leaves out a vital piece of any preschooler's education. Ask the parents of teens who discovered too late the consequences of raising kids without self-control to balance their independence. For the best results, these two really must go hand-in-hand.
Helping release a child's potential for self-control begins with helping him master his own body. Use balance beam exercises and old-fashioned games like Mother, May I? and Simon Says.
In situations like church, be clear in outlining the expected behavior. Challenge them to take control over fidgety hands and restless legs: "You are the boss of your own body. You can tell it what to do."
Teach them to control their tongue when speaking to siblings -- no bad language, name calling, sarcasm, or put-downs.
Also to control their reac­tions to life's frustrations: a child who learns that ending up with an extra buttonhole at the neck is not cause for a major meltdown, but simply a signal to start over.
Little lessons in self-control will set our children on a path that leads to responsibility, in­tegrity, self???government, and self-esteem. Another important reason why when it comes to teaching our children we need to think big but start small.

From her observation of early 20th century Italian slum children absorbed in manipulating bread crumbs, Maria Montessori concluded that the drive to learn was so intrinsic - and so strong - that children would learn to focus on anything in order to fulfill their potential.
In our culture, kids are less likely to suffer from a lack than from an overabundance of claims on their attention. Their visual fare is crowded with swiftly-shifting images, requiring little sustained focus.
Now think of what's required for kids in high school to master complex math or produce term papers. Consider work adults are called to do in many different fields -- from surveying boundaries to following a recipe to flying a plane. What's required? Concentration.
In our modern urgency to make our kids smart, we are going about it all the wrong way. Though we surround our children with educational programs and materials, ironically the very richness of their environments may make it more difficult for them to learn to concentrate.
Here's how you can help:
Observe your child. Notice what activities she sticks with and let her know how happy you are when she's completely involved in a particular task. Encourage her to stick with a task until it's completed.
Offer choices. Your child is more likely to focus on an activity she prefers, so let her choose.
Model concentration. When you work on a puzzle together, e.g., exaggerate your own focus.
Encourage repetition. When your child completes something, before putting it away and moving on to something else, ask, "Would you like to do it again?"
Keep in mind that it's better for a child to spend a half hour concentrating on one activity than to spend ten minutes here and ten minutes there. If you are not seeing the concentration you would like to see in your child, keep trying materials until something clicks.
Feeling challenged? When I feel that way, I remember what Elisabeth Elliot says: "Do the next thing." Just remember, God doesn't call the equipped, he equips those He's called. And as surely as He's called you, He will see you through. Even as you are conscientiously working to help your children realize their God-given potentials, He is helping you reach yours.

Barbara Curtis
has 12 children - including three adopted sons with Down syndrome - and 10 grandchildren so far. She is also an award-winning author with nine books and 800+ articles in print publications including Focus on the Family, Guideposts, Christian Parenting Today, and The Washington Times.

Barbara is a popular speaker at MOPS and women's events, as well as writers' conferences. Online you can find her at MommyLife and Mommy, Teach Me!.

Friday, August 24, 2007

must read: "Jesus, Teach Us to Pray"

Brian Coday
source: crosswalk

Our little neighborhood Bible study group finished our meeting last night with prayer. The group is a great mix of people from many different walks of life. There are "professional" Christians, new Christians, normal Christians and non-Christians that attend each week.

One beautiful thing that we all have in common is that we can all do better with our prayer life. All of us can improve, increase and intensify our personal prayer life, no matter how long we have been praying to the God of all creation.

The final comment during our closing prayer was something like "Lord, help us improve our prayer life." The disciples of Jesus said something similar at least a couple of times in the New Testament.

Recently, I had the privilege of listening to a series of sermons by pastor Andy Stanley of Northpoint Baptist Church in Georgia titled "Permission to Speak Freely." The messages were all about Jesus' teaching on prayer. What follows is a very rough explanation of how the truths revealed in that series have changed my prayer patterns in the last several months.

The disciples of Jesus were, for the most part, young Jewish men who had grown up hearing prayers, reading prayers from the Old Testament texts, memorizing prayers, and witnessing the countless prayers of the priests and religious leaders of the day. They had a working knowledge of how prayer was done. But after spending time with Jesus and noticing how HE prayed, they felt compelled to ask Him to "teach us to pray."

It's interesting that Jesus didn't tell them that they already knew how to pray. Instead, he instantly began teaching them what is important and what's not important when it comes to prayer. One of these instances is recorded in Matthew 6:6-12:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

I have missed the importance of the beginning of this passage for years. There is a great deal of teaching being done in these few verses that has the potential to vitally change your prayer life. Jesus was telling His disciples that if they really want to pray like He prays, then they need to take some time to pray in private.

We know that Jesus didn't always go to the same room and close the door behind Him when He prayed, but He did consistently find private places to spend time in intimate prayer with His Father. How many times a week do we do that? How many times in a year? If we want to learn to pray like Jesus, finding a private place on a regular basis seems to be a very important example of His to follow.

Jesus then told His disciples something that messes up my prayer patterns completely. In essence, Jesus told them (and is telling us) that our words are not really that important to God. Neither are the lists of things that we consider "needs," because God knows about these even before we ask. Under normal circumstances, asking God for things accounts for about 98% of my prayer time!

If, in order to pray more like Jesus, I am supposed to go someplace private but not worry too much about telling God about the things He already knows I need, what am I supposed to be praying about? I can just imagine the disciples coming to that same confusing conclusion. So Jesus proceeds to answer their question in the next few sentences.

Those next few verses compose what we commonly refer to as the "Lord's Prayer." Are you as mystified as I am when I hear someone repeat or recite the Lord's Prayer in times of trouble? Occasionally, people admit that they recite the Lord's Prayer as some sort of last resort to gain God's protection and/or guidance. I am not sure that was the intent of Jesus when He spoke these words to the disciples.

Instead, it seems evident that He was offering those words as an example of how to pray and what to pray for. It's pretty clear that these words were not the same words that Jesus used EVERY time He prayed. In fact, in Luke 11, we see a different instance where some of the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray and the words that Jesus used were slightly different. The pattern was the same, however.

In both instances, Jesus taught the disciples to start with God and acknowledge how great God is.

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,"

This is in stark contrast to how my prayers usually begin. Most of the time, I jump right in with my list of requests and my list of things that I would like God to do something about. Jesus showed us that instead, we should start with God.

He then proceeded with the next principle of prayer....aligning your will with God's.

"your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

This is where praying can sometimes get tough. We all have our ideas about how God "should" answer our prayers and how things "should" work out in our lives. But that is not always what God has in mind. When these two "wills" are in contrast (and they seem to almost always be) it is important that we do what Jesus is teaching here: submit our will to God's.

Jesus' final statements in His model prayer have to do with acknowledging our dependence on God for provisions, forgiveness, and safety.

After hearing Andy Stanley's messages and thinking about the truths revealed in this passage of Scripture, I realized my own prayer life needed an overhaul!

What about yours? Are your prayers similar to the model prayer that we find in Scripture?

If you are not already doing so, I want to encourage you to find a private place where you can escape to spend some intimate time with your Father. Let Him know that you realize how great He is. Spend whatever time it takes to align your will with His. Then talk to Him about the needs that you have and your dependence on Him to provide those things for you.

When we pray like Jesus taught us to pray, it will change our routine prayer life into one that provides intimacy, fulfillment and direction to our lives and ministries.

Brian Coday has ministered to teenagers for more than 20 years and is now the Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator for the National Network of Youth Ministries. He and his family (Jill, Tyler and Regan) live in Bear, Delaware, where Brian also coordinates the local youth worker Network called The Coalition. This article appeared on the Praying Pastor Blogspot,

Friday, August 17, 2007

Winning Your Unseen Battles

Dr. Robert Jeffress
source: crosswalk
Pathway to Victory

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but we are spiritual beings having a human experience." — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Do you remember years ago on September 11, 2001, when the first jet slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City? I was drinking my final cup of coffee before work when the morning news program I was watching was interrupted to broadcast live pictures of a gaping hole in the world's tallest building. The commentators speculated endlessly about the cause of the "accident." When told about the crash, President Bush was reported to have said, "That's one bad pilot!"


Many of us felt the same way. If indeed the crash had been caused by pilot error, perhaps the remedy for future accidents would have been to order remedial training for pilots, better navigation systems installed in planes, or more skilled air traffic controllers at airports.


But we soon discovered that this was no accident. When another plane crashed into the second tower, we immediately knew that America was under attack from a hostile force. For the first time in more than a hundred years, an enemy had attacked us on our own continent, forcing us to quickly formulate a strategy for defeating this new adversary. Knowing the source of a problem is crucial for developing a strategy to combat that problem. A navigational accident demands one response. A hostile strike requires a completely different strategy.



When The Other World Invades Your World


Every day our world is invaded by what are commonly thought to be random events... and we respond accordingly:


Couples divorce, so we develop marriage enrichment seminars.


Drug use among children increases, so we educate them about the dangers of narcotics and encourage them to "Just say 'no'."


Use of pornography among Christians rises dramatically, so we organize accountability groups.


Churches fight and threaten to split, so we hire arbitrators to help us with conflict resolution.


Christians complain of depression and thoughts of suicide, so we medicate them with our latest drugs.


Please understand, I am all for marriage seminars, drug education, accountability groups, conflict resolution, and psychiatric medication when necessary. But what if the source of our conflicts is something more than just random events? What if the explanation for the problems that assault us regularly is something other than "stuff happens"? What if we are indeed under enemy attack? Would we change our strategy — or at least adapt it — to confront such a reality?



Meet Your Real Enemy


The Bible allows us to lift the curtain of our visible existence so that we can see the world as it really is. Through the lens of Scripture we discover not only that there is an unseen world... but it is a world at war. In perhaps the seminal passage in the New Testament about this spiritual conflict the apostle Paul writes:



For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).


Notice Paul's use of the personal pronoun "our." This war is not just a spat between two cosmic forces that has little to do with us. We cannot shrug our shoulders when we read about it and say "I don't have a dog in that fight" (a favorite Texan expression). We do have a stake in this battle. Why?


Whether you realize it or not, you are living in the crossfire of this spiritual war. You have an Enemy who is determined to destroy everything and everyone important to you. Those who dismiss such words as being "over the top", "sensationalistic", or simply secondary to "more important spiritual realities" do so to their own detriment. The late pastor Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote:


Not to realize that you are in a conflict means one thing only, and it is that you are so hopelessly defeated, and so "knocked out" as it were, that you do not even know it — you are completely defeated by the devil. Anyone who is not aware of a fight and a conflict in a spiritual sense is in a drugged and hazardous condition.


Admittedly, most Christians are not aware of this intense battle in which we are engaged. Although we regularly witness the fallout of the Enemy's assaults all around us — broken marriages, wayward children, divided churches, inexplicable acts of violence — we fail to connect the dots and understand the source of many of our conflicts.


How can we not only survive, but win the war that has been waged against us? Paul encourages us to "put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6:12).


In my book, The Divine Defense, I use this passage to outline six simple strategies for winning 'the greatest battles of our lives." Yes, our adversary is formidable, but he is also defeatable.



Avoiding the Extremes


However, in addressing the subject of Satan and spiritual warfare we need to exercise caution. Satan is just as pleased by those who exalt him as by those who ignore him. Even though Satan and his forces are real and really powerful, we need not fear them, nor do we need to become obsessed with them.


Author Neil Anderson compares the world of Satan and his demons to the world of germs. We know that germs, though invisible, are all around us. They inhabit our food, our water, our air, and other people with whom we come in contact. Some people are absolutely phobic about germs and spend their lives trying to insulate themselves from any contact with them.


But the right diet, appropriate rest and exercise, and practicing some simple principles of hygiene will protect you from most infections. You do not have to obsess about germs to be free from them. Yet, without an awareness of these microbes — and the ways to protect yourselves from them — you would be more prone to illness and even death.


We need to exercise balance in our understanding of this complex subject of spiritual warfare. But please do not equate "balance" with "passive." As the ancient warrior Sun Tzu observed:


The art of war is of vital importance... It is a matter of life and death, a road to either to safety or to ruin. Hence, under no circumstances can it be ignored.


You are in the middle of an invisible, though very real, war.


The stakes are high.


Your enemy is skilled, armed, and determined.


The possibility of losing everything important to you is real.


You must be aware of and prepared for the fight.


Adapted from The Divine Defense by Robert Jeffress, Waterbrook Press, 2006. Used with permission.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Are You Missing That One Thing That Brings True Happiness?

By Rebekah Montgomery

Be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" Hebrews 13:5b, 6-NIV

No matter how much we possess, beneath the skin lurks a secret fear: "I might be missing that one thing that will bring me true happiness."

"That one thing" may change from time to time. One day it might be a house, a lover, a mate, a job, a child, an accomplishment, a diploma, a car, or breast implants. The next day it may be fame, success, or even a trinket.

Lust for "that one thing" can fester and itch, often compelling us to sacrifice everything in order to scratch. However, when the light of the Word shines upon the thing we passionately desire, we see it for what it is: a substitute for God.

The itch that cannot be scratched, the desire that cannot be satisfied, the thirst that cannot be assuaged, and the fire that cannot be quenched will tease and entice you, but never be gratified here on this earth unless it is recognized for what it is: the idol of self-gratification.

Worshipping the idol of self-gratification can destroy you even as you stand in the presence of God.

In eternity past, Lucifer learned this standing next to the throne of God. Dubbed "son of the morning" because his beauty and power was supreme among the angels, he had it all — except for the image of God. His lust for this final honor led him to rebel against the Almighty. In the end, he lost his glory, his ranking, as well as his position before the throne.

Because Lucifer spawned our fallen nature, no matter how much we have, we crave what we do not have — another person's mate, a beauty different from our own, the forbidden fruit, a promotion we didn't receive, the Jones' house, car, job, or vacation. While we reach for the itch, the One who is our Friend by His own initiative stands by, waiting for acknowledgement.

Everything King David had — power, land, wives, skill — came from Him. Everything Lucifer had — power, position, beauty — came from Him. And everything you have comes from Him, too.

In His grief at the chaos David wrought by his coveting his neighbor's wife, God tells him, "If you had asked Me for more, I would have given it."

Then there is that other problem: We secretly fear that if God gives blessing to someone else, He just may not have enough goodness and grace to extend to us.

Nothing could be farther from the truth! In a display of almost unbelievable generosity, God has offered Himself to be your Helper, to itch the places you cannot scratch, to satisfy the desires you cannot even name.

But the key is this: You need to recognize that beneath surface and what masquerades as the answer to your needs, He is what you desire. When we relinquish the idol that we thought would satisfy us, and desire Him first and most, the fear of missing out on life will vanish.

Jesus addressed this: "Whoever loses his life for Me will find it." And "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him."

Please read Hebrews 13 1-6 in its entirety. Also see Psalms 118:6, Joshua 1:5, 2 Samuel 12, Matthew 16:24-27-NIV, Matthew 7:7-12-NIV.


Monday, August 06, 2007

22 Ways to Learn During the Summer

Jonathan Lewis
source: CrossWalk

Summer is well under way by now, and if you're like most parents, you've probably heard the oft-repeated phrase "I'm bored" just a few more times than you'd like. And, like a lot of conscientious homeschool moms, you may be wondering if your kids will forget everything they learned during the last school year before the new one even begins in September. Wouldn't it be great if you could break the cycle of boredom and help keep your kids' minds active and learning at the same time?



Pondering the issue of fun summertime learning, I asked a handful of our regular columnists and authors here at Home School Enrichment to share their favorite ideas for making learning enjoyable and interesting during the boredom-plagued months of summer. Being the helpful and innovative group they are, they soon gave me an extensive list of creative ideas that can add some fun and unique learning to your summer.





Suzanne Broadhurst writes, "Gather cardboard boxes, plastic crates, or plastic storage boxes. It doesn't matter if they're all the same. It's the contents that matter, not the container. Label with titles such as 'Craft Stuff,' 'Science Stuff,' 'Math Stuff,' 'Historical Stuff,' 'Outdoor Play,' 'Water Play/Experiments,' etc." After this, she suggests keeping an eye out at garage sales, clearance racks, your own bookshelves, kitchen, laundry room, garage, etc., for anything that might fit into one of those categories. "Keep them handy, available and easy to get into," she continues, "even if that means out in the living room where God and everybody can see them. When the 'Mommy, I'm bored' syndrome strikes, point to the boxes, giving them free reign to explore, learn, and clean up afterwards."





"Give each other time and space to be alone with your reading," writes Tamara Willey. "I love reading marathons where you get to read all day and not be interrupted. Have food brought in or snack food already prepared for the day. Maybe have at least one marathon day a month (if not more often). No one messes up a house when they're reading a book all day! Just be sure to balance it with getting out in the real world afterward!"



Melanie Hexter and Melissa Pinkley also suggest the value of getting involved in your local library's summer reading program. Melanie writes, "We always participate in our library's summer reading program. The kids, whether independent readers or not, set their own goals (number of books, number of pages, or timed reading) and log their reading over two months' time. At the end, they submit their log to the librarian to receive a free book of their choice and a nice goody bag from the library (coupons from local merchants, etc.)."




Several folks suggested the value of journaling during the summer months. Don't worry if it sounds difficult or too academic. It can be easier--and more fun!--than you might think. Tamara Willey says, "If your family has not gotten into the habit of journaling, this is a good way to do it. Relief is on the way for those who hate to write--you can journal via sketch-work, or pasting in representative photos or pictures (do caption these though), or schematics of a project being worked on. Journaling doesn't have to be writing stylish sentences. Journal diary-style. You are logging a record of goals, ideas to be worked on later, impressions, Bible study thoughts and revelations, funny sayings from the children or siblings, goals, etc. Have a 'Journal Reading Festival' at the end of summer planned so that everyone can read their journal or swap and read each others (if they are willing)."




Maribeth Spangenberg adds, "One summer, I bought all my children notebooks, and three times a week I had them journal. It was nothing elaborate or detailed, and involved anything from impromptu assignments, to descriptions, to telling about their previous day, or what they hoped to do that present day. It could even be something that they learned in personal devotions. Each morning I'd give them an assignment and tell them to write for 15 minutes. I did not correct spelling or grammar, so there was no pressure on either them or me. But I would always read each one myself, or sometimes make them read it aloud to each other. Then I would find something positive to compliment them on, and sometimes offer suggestions of ways they could expound on their writing the next day. As time went on, I would see improvement in length, descriptions, content, and imagination, which were my primary goals."



Katharine Trauger shares her motivation for getting her family started with summertime journaling: "After spending one summer busy to the hilt, we felt so bad about looking back and not being able to tell where on earth all that time went. We felt as if we had lost the entire summer. Only trips to the pantry told us that we had spent some time canning and gardening. Surely that was not all." She continues: "So the following summer, we made a journal. We stapled pages of lined paper between pages of construction paper, used stencils to make an attractive title on the front cover, and then proceeded to record our doings for each day. It became an official family creation, complete with vying over who got the privilege of recording in it each day. It did not matter if all we did was some weeding and a picnic, we recorded at least two significant activities from each day, one for the morning and one for the afternoon." And just what were the advantages of keeping this journal? "The effect was electric. We realized that 1.) every day of summer has significant happenings that we enjoy or profit from, 2.) that we really were a very busy family, 3.) that a summer break was absolutely essential in our lives, and 4.) that we really loved summer and used it wisely."



Suzanne Broadhurst suggests a fun twist on the journaling idea--have your kids write a book about themselves! They can add to it throughout the summer, perhaps finishing it in a single summer, or it can be a multi-year project that gets added to year after year.





Although it may be a little late in the season to launch into a full-fledged gardening project, you can still have some fun and learn a few things by either trying to grow a few plants or researching plants you could grow next year. Suzanne Broadhurst suggests, "Plant something, watch it grow! Or watch it shrivel and die; or research what to plant and then don't plant it--in any case, it's a lesson! A few years ago, I had my son look up Perennial Plants That Will Grow in Shade in North Florida and Not Take Any Work From Mom. He made a whole list! It kept him occupied and learning. Now, where did I put that list..."


Melanie Hexter adds, "Having a large family, we focus on 'edible gardening.' We have strawberries for ground cover, raspberries for bushes, and blueberries amongst our flower beds. The kids help with weeding and picking, freezing and eating! What we can't or don't yet grow, we pick at nearby you-pick-it farms and create annual traditions for the meal that night. One day each summer we shuck, parboil and freeze 12 dozen or so ears of corn. Guess what's for dinner that night? Or when our strawberry crop is at its greatest, we make shortcakes, smother them in fresh strawberries and call that dinner."





Says Marcia Washburn, "When we went on a family vacation, I tried to plan a variety of activities for each trip--scenery, museums, historical sites, visiting relatives, etc., as well as just plain fun. We'd mix it up so there would be something to interest everyone from the little ones through the adults."



Suzanne Broadhurst suggests allowing your kids to plan a trip (real or imaginary). "Choose a destination, or even many destinations within the U.S. or around the world, then have your children write to state/country visitor bureaus for maps and brochures (or go online to request them or view them right on the Internet). Plan distances, gas money/mileage, airfare, train fare, hotel or camping spots, sightseeing, food expenses, grocery lists, etc." If the trip doesn't fit in your budget or schedule, perhaps you can find some travel videos from your planned destination to finish up your project with.





"Summer is a great time to get a new dog, learn about raising it, and work on obedience or agility training," suggests Melanie Hexter. "Take an obedience course for your new dog together with one of your older children at the County Extension Office or Career Center, then practice, practice, practice. It'll reap rewards for the future."




Melissa Pinkley and her ten-year-old volunteer in 1803 costume at Lewis and Clark's Winter Campsite. "This is wonderful for learning about history (well enough to share with visitors) and it's also a great way to learn to communicate with others in a way that they'll learn, too."




Summer and physical activity go hand-in-hand, and with just a little effort you can add some fun variety and a touch of learning. Tamara Willey suggests activities such as rock-climbing, hiking, canoeing or kayaking, and walking. Come up with a plan that an individual can keep without relying on teams, etc. She also suggests coming up with a schedule for your activity so you can make a life habit of it--and soak up some of God's natural world, too!



Melanie Hexter and her daughter added an educational twist and a bit of friendly competition to their exercise routine. "We used a pedometer to mark out the perimeter of our yard, and then calculated how many laps it would take to walk a marathon ( 26.2 miles). We each determined to walk a 'marathon' and kept a running tally in our kitchen. She beat me to a complete marathon, of course--almost twice as fast!"






"Our boys kept busy with 4-H projects through the summer," writes Marcia Washburn. "No longer just for farm kids, 4-H offers multiple projects such as rocketry, photography, electrical, various crafts, cooking, talent shows, etc. Our sons gained poise in speaking before the group while giving their demonstrations. Some of our local homeschooling families desired to form an HS-only club in order to be more selective about who their children spent time with, so they set the monthly meetings for a weekday morning when other children were in school."



Tim Palla shares: "From the time I was a young teenager, my family and I would compete in various activities at our local County Fair. My brother and I entered animals and artwork and my mother entered sewing projects, homegrown vegetables and canned fruits/jellies. It was always fun to see who would get the first blue ribbon or make the most money on premiums.



"Years later, the tradition was renewed with my own family. My boys have shown horses, pencil sketches, chickens, and lambs. I also have competed in equestrian sports with them. We have harvested vegetables and flowers from our garden and entered our 'best of the best.'



"With each entry we had to learn the Fair rules and guidelines. We talked to other competitors to obtain tips on how to 'show' the various entries. Each category was judged differently, so it was crucial to understand what a judge would look for and how to present ourselves, our animals, etc., in a way that would catch the judge's eye.



"Our County Fair is one of the largest in the state, so competition is usually tough. It was always fun to learn--even if it didn't result in a blue ribbon or cash premium. One of the things I enjoy the most is putting together our 'Fair Scrapbook' at the end of the season. All the photos, newspaper clippings, decorations and stories of our victories have given us some wonderful learning experiences as well as delightful (and sometimes humorous) memories."





Volunteering can be an excellent way to serve others and learn some skills at the same time. Tamara Willey offers the following suggestions: "Volunteer at the local soup kitchen, the local library for children's programs or shelving books, a local Christian radio station, maintenance at your church, or at your local wildlife refuge clearing trails and digging out invasives." Doubtless there are plenty of other volunteer opportunities as well, so find one that suits your family, and jump in!





Melanie Hexter extols the value of building projects as learning experiences. "Build something new for your yard," she suggests. "A swing set, playhouse or shed, deck, raised bed gardens, etc. Many home improvement stores offer courses and the Internet is chock full of plans."




This idea may not be a lot of fun, but you'll be glad when September rolls around that you put in the extra effort now to make sure your kids didn't forget everything from the previous year during the long weeks of summer. Maribeth Spangenberg writes, "If my children were weak in math, I'd have them do some speed drills or practice sheets. Even just a few problems a day for a short period of time can help to keep concepts fresh."




Leslie Wyatt writes, "This year I'm hoping to do an informal unit on astronomy, this involving multiple nights sleeping under the stars pointing out constellations we learn during the days, maybe tying art into it by drawing/painting the constellations, etc., and some creative writing--coming up with our own names and stories for the star groups."


And here's another suggestion from Tamara Willey: "Find new and creative ways to learn the multiplication tables. Let the kids make up games or requirements for ordinary games that require answering drills to move forward, etc. This is indispensable to success in math for any and all ages--one can never do this enough!"





What better time to get out and study nature than during the summer? Everything from bird watching, to creating a bug collection, to studying microorganisms under a microscope--plus a thousand other activities--make for great summertime learning.



Melissa Pinkley points out that now is a great time to prepare for certain types of science fair projects--even if the fair itself won't be held until the school year. "If your children want to do a science fair project that involves worms, bugs, sun, or any environmental issues, then the summer is the best time to do them. Make sure to take exact notes while you are doing the project. The official paperwork can either be done during the summer or later. Doing the project during the summer also helps when the actual science fair time comes since the project is done and you just have to review and make a presentation board."


Susan Lemons adds, "We like to do special topics during the summer, like insects, water or the ocean. For older children, we have done an insect collection. We used a killing jar to kill the bugs, then pinned them to a special board, and identified them using a field guide. This year, we're going to spend some time studying the ocean, and make a mural of the ocean complete with 'seaweed,' fish, and so on. We'll also learn about water: solutions, its forms (liquid, vapor, ice), observe ice melting, see how long it takes water to evaporate, and talk about where it goes. We'll also do sink/float experiments: I'll gather a bunch of things together, have the children guess which will sink and which will float, and then see if we were right; we'll also experiment with how shape affects buoyancy, and perhaps try building our own boats out of Legos, or wood, etc."



Nature hikes are also a great way to do hands-on science during the summer. Go to the library and find some field guides that will help you identify birds, plants, trees, animals, and different types of rocks, minerals, etc. Take along a bag or other container and gather samples (if you're in a park or nature preserve that doesn't allow collecting samples, you can always take your camera along and snap pictures of what you find). Melissa Pinkley adds that if any of your kids are "artsy," then outdoor art sketching can add some fun to your outing. Let them try their hand at drawing or painting flowers, trees, landscapes, birds, or any other nature they see.






Do some research online to learn about the various astronomy "events" that are happening this summer. For example, in August, there will be the Perseids Meteor Shower, as well as a total lunar eclipse. These are great opportunities to learn more about the night sky, and can also serve as jumping off points to read about early astronomers such as Johannes Kepler.





If there's a "non-essential" topic that you've wanted to study that you just haven't had time for during the school year, now is the time to dive in and get started! "My husband had been suggesting that I do some logic with the children," says Maribeth Spangenberg. "My school year was already packed full, so I saved it for the summer. There are some excellent logic books sold through Bright Minds Publishing ( I have also used the Mind Benders series and the Critical Thinking series, which only required about 20 minutes per day to do. I was pleased in how they challenged my children's thinking skills."



Whatever that "non-essential" subject might be for your family, now would be a great time to finally get around to it!




This rather unique idea was shared by Suzanne Broadhurst. "These scavenger hunts can be planned or spontaneous," Suzanne writes. For one of the spontaneous variety, she suggests the following guidelines:


  • Go over social etiquette rules, then turn children loose in the library (see clarification below).
  • Set a timer for an appropriate time (10 minutes is good for younger kids, 30 minutes to an hour for older students).
  • Computer research not allowed--books only!
  • Non-fiction only.
  • Goal: Browse shelves until you find something of interest, jot down three facts (5–10 facts for older kids).
  • Bring home three resources (all one subject or different ones).
  • Share what you learned at the dinner table that night.


"Loose in the library doesn't mean no adult supervision," Suzanne shares. "It means, limit to children's area, teen area, or one aisle for 1 minute, then on to next aisle. We do this in the adult non-fiction, too (I'm banned from the cookbook aisle, though, until I start making some of the 100+ recipes I've already collected!)."



According to Suzanne, these unique visits to the library "open the library's wealth of information and variety of materials to the children in a way that might not happen if the trips focused on an assigned topic or an already-decided-upon interest."



Why not earn some money, learn lessons in character, and build good family memories all at the same time? Do odd jobs as a family, and reap the rewards! There are plenty of possibilities if you look around. Tamara Willey says, "Possibilities could include mowing lawns, pet-sitting, house-sitting, childcare, household repair and maintenance, housekeeping (maid-service), newspaper routes, website maintenance or development, doing birthday parties for children, etc."





The possibilities are almost endless! Maribeth Spangenberg has compiled the following list: "Candle kits, latch hook rugs, knitted scarves, stuffed pillows, painted lamp shades, stained glass, paint-by-number pictures, puzzles glued together and framed, prepackaged wooden projects, painting ceramic Christmas tree ornaments, assembling model cars, a model of the solar system, plastic models of the heart, lung, eye, or ear--are all very profitable learning activities."



Tamara Willey agrees, suggesting that families pursue worthwhile crafts that add to the family, such as "quilting, sewing clothes for the new year, landscaping or gardening, interior updating for beauty, etc. These are things we too often have to let slip for other things. But during the summer, when it gets too hot outside, they are indoor quiet things for mid-day."



Susan Lemons adds, "A fun idea would be to do a lot of different types of art, and then put on an 'art show,' inviting your friends and family to see your children's creations." (Don't know what kind of art to try? Check out the May/June '07 issue of Home School Enrichment for Susan's list of fifty fun and easy art experiences for children of all ages!)





This is another one of those easily neglected areas that you can finally concentrate on during the summer. "Attend concerts, study selected works of art, and read up on the backgrounds of various artists," writes Tamara Willey. "Do a humanities course in worldview training (see Schaeffer's How Shall We Then Live? book and video series). Does your family do photography? Artwork? Music? Textile crafts? Gardening? Have each family member work on their specialty and plan an 'Open House' with a gallery, a concert, a walk through a beautiful garden area, and craft display. Get together with other families, if this is possible, and do it together for the church, family, homeschool group, or community (whichever you are braver for!), or just for each other."





As long as they're not overused, there's nothing wrong with utilizing a collection of well-chosen educational videos to enhance summertime learning. Maribeth Spangenberg recommends selections from Answers in Genesis, the twenty titles in the Moody Science Series, and Alpha Omega's science experiment videos.





With lots of time on your hands, take the opportunity to accomplish a long-term goal, suggests Tamara Willey. "Hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, canoe a whole stretch of a local stream or river, take that month-long vacation traveling through a region of the U.S., go on a missions trip."



Even if your long-term goals aren't so grandiose, think about a project you've been wanting to get done, then tackle it together as a family. Most of us have something around the house that we've been putting off for awhile. Why not get it done now?





Has your son or daughter always had an interest in learning a particular skill--woodworking, sewing, or photography, for instance--but you've just never found the time to get around to it? Now's your chance! Get a book from the library, research the topic online, or find a trusted friend or family member who could teach your child the skill they're interested in.



Melanie Hexter and her family have taken a proactive stance in this area. Melanie writes, "In the past, we have had each child choose one or two 'badges' from the Contenders for the Faith/Keepers at Home series ( to work on over the course of a summer. My son once earned a Jack Knife and a Chess badge, my daughter a Baking and a Library Skills badge. It requires of them reading, research, skill development, help from a knowledgeable adult, setting a goal and then executing steps to get there, and sometimes just plain hard work over a few weeks time!"



Summer doesn't have to be a dull season of endless boredom and mental lethargy. Just a bit of effort and creativity can make all the difference. So are you ready to get started? Then gather the kids together and get ready for some fun and fantastic summer learning!



Jonathan Lewis is a homeschool graduate and enjoys working with his family on Home School Enrichment Magazine. In his spare time, Jonathan can be found reading, playing chess, and spending time with his family.

This article was originally published in the July/Aug '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more details, visit

Friday, August 03, 2007

Three responses to trouble

by Rick Warren

It's your choice to rejoice, and you can rejoice because God has a reason for the problem."
Rick Warren

It's a promise: into every life, a little rain is going to fall. Some of you are thinking, "I wouldn't mind a sprinkle now and then, but I'm always under a deluge!" It may seem that way. You may resent your problems, but problems have a purpose. God will use adverse circumstances to grow character in you.
While you wait for that to happen, here are three responses you can have to the trouble in your life:
1. Rejoice
James 1 says, "Consider it pure joy when you face trials." Don't misunderstand this. This is not saying, "Fake it!" God never asks you to deny reality, and he doesn't expect you to smile and say, "Everything's wonderful!" when you're going bankrupt, or your spouse just left you, or your child is on drugs. Those aren't good things. The key is not to rejoice for those things, but in those things.
How can we be happy in the problem? Because we know God has a purpose. He's testing my faith, he's developing my endurance, and he's maturing my character.
If you are only happy when you don't have any problems, you will never be happy. You must learn how to be happy in the problems, because you'll always have problems. They are an inevitable part of life.
Notice it says, "Consider it pure joy. ..." Consider means to deliberately make up your mind. You can control how you respond to a problem. It's your choice to rejoice, and you can rejoice because God has a reason for the problem.
Problems in life are inevitable; misery is optional. You cannot stop problems from coming into your life, but you don't have to be miserable over them.
2. Request
The second thing to do is request that God help you in your problem. Pray and ask for help. Ask for wisdom. James 1:7 (Phillips translation) says, "If, in the process, any of you doesn't know how to meet any particular problem, you only have to ask God who gives generously to all men without making them feel guilty and you may be sure that the necessary wisdom will be given to you."
Ask God for wisdom so you can learn everything you need to learn through this problem. That way he won't have to bring it around again. Ask to be a quick learner.
3. Relax
Trust God to know what's best and don't doubt. Cooperate with him. Say, "God, I'm not going to doubt what you're doing here. I don't know why it's happening but I know you've allowed it and I don't want to short-circuit what you're doing."
Wallace Johnson was the founder of Holiday Inn, and a dynamic Christian. When he was 40 years old, his boss fired him from his saw mill job. It came as a devastating shock. This was during the Great Depression. He and his wife needed the income from his job, small though it was. Wallace felt that the world had caved in on him.
His wife worried. She asked him, "What are you going to do?" But Wallace had been thinking, and he answered by saying, "I'm going to mortgage our home and go into the building business.
His first venture was the construction of two small buildings. Within five years, Wallace Johnson was a multi-millionaire. In an interview, he said, "Today, if I could locate the man who fired me I would sincerely thank him for what he did. At the time it happened, I didn't understand why I was fired. Later I saw that it was God's unerring and wondrous plan to get me into the ways of his choosing." 

The greatest thing that ever happened to him was to get fired.
Who knows what God might do through your problems and disappointments! If you've got problems, be happy. Don't think of your problems as intruders. Welcome them as friends. God's purpose is much bigger than those problems. Don't doubt.
James 1:8 says that when you ask for wisdom, "… you must ask in sincere faith, without secret doubts." Don't doubt that God is working in your life. Don't think he has abandoned you. He hasn't – and he never will. Your problems aren't a sign that God is mad at you – they're a sign that he's helping you to grow.
Since problems in life are inevitable, tackle them head on and use them to your advantage. Make it your goal to be in God's Hall of Faith. The people who make it into the Hall of Faith are those who endured incredible problems – pain, rejection, suffering – and maintained a Christ-like attitude despite it all. They are those who let the Lord work in their lives and grew as a result of it.
You're going to have problems. It's inevitable. There's no such thing as a problem-free life. But when a problem comes along you can be sure of two things:
 1) The devil is trying to destroy you.
 2) And God is trying to develop you.
Problems do not automatically make you a better person. Depending on your response, you can be better or bitter. You can rejoice, request, and relax or you can resent, rebel, and resist.

Which will you choose?