Home and Family

The other day I was reading part of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. If you remember the story, two sons live with their father, one son decides to strike out on his own, is unprepared for the realities of life, struggles greatly, hits rock bottom and decides to return home. Upon arriving home he was welcomed home by his father with open arms and a party, while his brother struggled to welcome him back because he felt deserted and was frustrated that his father welcomed his brother back so easily. If you haven’t read it lately, I’d encourage you to go check it out because there’s a lot of important emotion and description that Luke and Jesus share in the parable.

What this passage got me thinking about was the topic of home. We just went through the holiday season, which is always a time of gathering with family and friends, as well as a time that causes us to remember the loved ones we’ve lost over the years. The holidays encourage us to gather with the people who are home to us and visit the places that feel like home. Sometimes home is about the people and not the places, but most of us do have places that feel more comfortable and welcoming and make us think of home. Just like the prodigal son had hope that if he returned to the place and people who were home to him, each time we return home we go with hope that we’ll have a good visit, strengthening our relationships with those who are important to us and maybe also enjoying a good meal too.

Not all visits to the people and places we call home are good or go as expected, and like the brother in the story of the prodigal son, some relationships are works in progress. But when you think about the limited time that we have with each other, it’s important to hold out hope like the prodigal son did, that maybe this time our gathering will be good one. And from the people I’ve talked with, this year had more good experiences with family than usual, important as some of these families lost a family member before or after the holiday season.

If you are still feeling led to make a change this year or focus on something this year, maybe this year you want to focus on home, both the people and the places. Commit to spending time with the people who God has put in your life by both birth and life choices, people who you want to have stronger relationships or play a larger part in your life, and you in theirs. Commit to making your home a place you’re proud of and people feel welcome in. And finally, commit to living a life that welcomes Jesus and makes Him part of the relationships and interactions you have.

A Living Legacy

Today I’m thinking a bit about legacy, as Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on Monday, and MLK was a dad (he had 4 children). Having children in and of itself contributes to the future of the world, and is necessary if we want to have a next generation to live after we die. How those children are raised has an even bigger impact on the legacy we leave and help create. Even if we don’t choose to have children ourselves, even the smallest of interactions that we have with children can have a big impact on them and their future.

MLK made a legacy for himself through all of the activism he was part of as well as the children he raised. He’s inspired countless children ever since and will continue to do so because not only was he a leader, he was an inspiring leader and left a message that’s timeless and powerful in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Few people are as well remembered and empowering to future generations as MLK.

One of the reasons we have children is because we don’t want our legacy to end, and we don’t always feel that we can make the biggest impact on the world and hope our children will have a bigger impact than us (even if we do have a big impact). While I don’t think it’s a good idea to force our kids or the next generation into our idea of ‘a big impact’, I do think we should encourage them, like MLK, to dream and want to have an impact on the world.

There are big and small ways that we can help support the next generation in having an impact on the world, including doing our best to care for the gift of the world that we’ve been given.  If we leave less of a mess for them to clean up they’ll have more resources of all kinds to make improvements instead of working to undo our damage.  How will you support the next generation?

Victory is a Journey

For the past few years I’ve been following the story of two twin boys who were joined at the head and separated in a very difficult and complex surgery in October of 2016. It was a trial for them, their parents and their brother, and we only got a tiny glimpse into all of it. Today I saw that an update had been posted on their story and it spoke to me about this new year we’ve entered, with both words of encouragement and wisdom.

The first thing that spoke to me was the fact that they’re both still alive, developing and growing, which is really a miracle. It’s also a miracle that we’ve made it to 2019 without killing everyone off or doing more damage to our world than we could ever try to fix.

Second, the one thing the parents said repeatedly was that some things just take time. Things weren’t perfect the moment the surgery was done, it’s been years and they’re still dealing with setbacks and challenges. That said, they can see the growth and improvements that the boys are making. We expect things to be so instant in this day and age, but that’s just not always the case.

Finally, the parents are thankful to have this time with their boys. It was a do-or-die surgery, 80% of those joined at the head die by age 2. So the only choice the parents had was to pray for a miracle, and a miracle they got. We can choose to leave this life, but I have so much more hope for the future than I am discouraged by the past.

The bottom line is I hope that in 2019 we’ve gotten through the absolute worst and only have some more bumps to contend with. I’m tired of always fighting the most extreme of uphill battles and would like to see a year in which more things go my way and your way, more things go the way of more people. I don’t expect easy or perfect all the time, but some less exhausting wins would be nice. I’m hoping for a year that shows we’ve finally turned the curve, what about you?

Treasuring Holiday Memories

There are lots of opportunities for whole-family non-screen activities in between the awesome holiday movies during the Christmas season. From baking cookies to decorating cookies to making gingerbread houses and decorating gingerbread people to decorating stockings to making homemade gifts to making ornaments, there are lots of things to keep you and your kids busy and they are things we look forward to each year.

Some of my best memories I have of growing up are consistently of the holidays and holiday activities with my family like baking cookies, unpacking all of the holiday decorations and decorating the tree. I look forward to having a place that I can do that with family and friends in the coming years, and making more of those memories together.

I remember few of the gifts I’ve gotten over the years, but most of the most enduring memories are of the activities of the season. It’s the memories that stick with us from year to year, and the memories that we want to share with our kids. Even if it is an item that we remember or have a memory around, it’s often about the person who gave it to us, the person it belonged to, the feelings around it or the way it fits into a holiday experience that sticks out in our minds.

It’s not really hard to make memories, they can happen anytime and anywhere and with anyone.  But you have to be with people to make them, and you have to create the opportunity for them to happen.  Yes, some memories will happen doing ordinary things like eating dinner at home, but most are more intentionally created with the hope that a memory can be made.

What are you doing with your family and friends to make memories this year?

30 Days of Thanksgiving: thankful for moms

Today I’m feeling thankful for moms. For the biological moms, the adopted moms, the mom figures, and the animal moms who all nurture, love, care for and bring the next generations into the world. I’m amazed by the natural process that happens for a little one to come into the world, it’s almost magical that two people or animals can be brought together and create new life. I’m also thankful for the help that doctors and other tools are able to provide to those who struggle as well, help that has become available only in more recent years.

It’s challenging for those who have never given birth, spent significant time with kids or had a good relationship with a mother or mother figure to understand the mental and physical things they go through. Being a mother or mother figure can be exhausting but for most it’s more rewarding than anything else. There’s something truly motivating and thrilling about seeing a child grow, enjoy life, play, explore, and create.

But as any parental figure knows kids take work. I’ve often said that it takes a village to raise a child because children need a lot of support and care to get from birth to the point that they’re able to live on their own. The next generation is definitely an investment worth making, because without the next generation what do we really have to work for?

So the next time you see a mom struggling with their kids give them a little patience. The next time you talk with your mom and/or any mom figures in your life make sure to thank them. And if you’ve got family or friends with kids that you can support with a helping hand, do so in this holiday season.

30 Days of Thanksgiving: thankful for the memories

I just turned on my tablet and up popped a birthday reminder. I love those reminders because I don’t have to remember the exact day that I have to wish someone a happy birthday.  I can remember on my own what month their birthday is and get the gift ahead of time, but to remember the actual day I sometimes struggle, hence the digital reminder.  But this reminder left me stunned for a few moments because I hadn’t remembered this person had a birthday this month and even more so because she passed away a little over a year ago.

My grandmother was a wonderful lady, I always would have been happy to not get any presents from her other than her cooking and her cookies. The holidays were always wonderful when we would go and spend the day with her and my grandfather, and the gift of taking a tin of cookies home after the Christmas holidays was something I always looked forward to. My mom bakes too but there was just something special about my grandmother’s cookies.

I know many people aren’t as fortunate as I was to have most of my grandparents in my life for as long as I did. I’m thankful that my grandmother lived to quite the old age and I have many happy memories for many years of being with her and hearing her stories and getting to know her. It’s not easy to think about her not being here anymore, but having the memories does make it a little easier.

Just like we tell the story of The First Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter each year, it’s important to keep telling the stories of our loved ones who are no longer with us. Because they matter to us and are part of our history, a history that others who come after us won’t know about unless we tell them. But we also tell the stories to help us heal from their loss and help keep their place in our lives after they’ve gone.

What memories are you thankful for today?

Reality Reflection: A Grandparents Legacy

Sunday in the US is Grandparents Day. It’s a time to remember the grandparents for all they’ve done for our families and celebrate the many years they’ve lived. This week in one of my newsletters I talked about the importance of including grandparents in our lives, and especially about having them share their stories with us. Why? Because if they don’t share their stories and experiences with us, we’ll lose them forever.

It may not sound monumental that we’ll never hear the stories of how they walked to get milk or went into the big city as kids without adult supervision. But we’re talking about a way of life that most of us will never experience in our lifetime or any lifetime in the future. The life that they lived isn’t something any of us can experience, and the only way we’ll ever know it happened, let alone be able to share it with future generations is if we talk with them.

Doing things with grandparents can also help you see the world in a different way, and spending time with them creates memories that can’t be erased when they’re gone. Some of my best and most special memories as a child are of spending days and vacations with my grandparents. I often wish I could have spent more time with them, and that in their later years disease didn’t steal their memories as it did, it’s one reason that I choose to spend time with other grandparents now that mine are gone.

The grandparents of the world have a lot to teach us if we’re willing to listen. While our lives may be different in many ways, in many other ways they’re very similar. What have you learned from the grandparents in your life?

Advice for Dads

This Sunday in the USA is Father’s Day so today I thought I’d share some advice for dads. No, I’m not a dad, but I do have a dad so I’m sharing from the perspective of a child, which I think is an important perspective for dads to consider. Yes, sometimes we’ll choose to do things differently as a parent than our parents did because we didn’t have a good experience growing up, or because we’re just different people. But there are some things that all great dads do, or who they are that we’re going to talk about today.

One of the biggest keys to being a great dad is making the most of the time you have with your kids. With most parents working these days it’s challenging for everyone to get tons of time with both or either of their parents, unless they work from home. So I’m not going to say that you have to spend as much time as possible together with your kids to be a great dad, but to make the most of the time you do have. For example one family I work with has pancakes made by dad every Saturday, and it’s something they look forward to all week.

One other way to be a great dad is to take vacation days. Maybe they’re days with special school events, a week in the summer to do things around the house and take a day trip, a day in late November or early December to do holiday shopping with the kids, the ideas are endless. It’s not always about spending tons on expensive destination vacations (although it’s good to do at least one of them if you can), it’s about taking the vacation days for the big and little things, things that will matter to your kids and your kids will appreciate seeing you there for.

Finally, the best way to be a dad is to show and tell your kids that you love them. Through the little things you remember and ask them about, the little treats you bring them, the ways you make their day, and moments you take to read them stories or hear their stories at the end of the day even when you’re exhausted.

What advice do you have for dads?

Faith, Love and Moms

With Mother’s Day just a few days away here in the US I’m thinking about moms, and maybe you are too. It’s not always easy to be a mom, and we don’t always give moms the credit they deserve for the amount of time and effort they put in to their kids. Even the 9 month commitment and accompanying sacrifices to carry a child is more than some of us give to things in our lifetimes. No, not all moms are great, and not all women are really cut out to be moms, and some moms need more help than others. There’s nothing wrong with admitting and recognizing that you’re not cut out to be a mom or that you’re in need of help, there are lots of people who are willing to help you and plenty of families who are great with kids and can raise the next generation.

So as I was thinking about moms, it got me thinking about the very complicated topic that love is. Love is so many things, it’s an emotion, how we describe relationships, how we describe others, something that can unite, something that can soothe, something that can hurt, a feeling and so much more. But one of the biggest things that love is, is a choice. Even in cases of love at first sight, we have to choose to love the other person, and choose to do the work that it takes to keep that love healthy and strong.

One of the most important choices moms make is whether or not to love their children. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, and moms have to make a choice to choose love, or something else. One of the most important qualities a Godly mother can bring to the table is not just an attitude of gratitude, but an attitude of love.  When she teaches, guides and even disciplines with an attitude of love, it creates a solid foundation for us to grow into the people God has create us to be, and gives her the strength to do it in a way that honors God.

It’s almost guaranteed that we’ll be hurt in our lifetimes, but if we have learned from the cradle to have faith in Jesus, how to be thankful and how to love, we’ll understand the importance of forgiving, have the foundation to be able to do it and be able to move on in our lives with love, confident in knowing that God’s got something better for us.  So this week, so a mom you know some love. Maybe it’s with a card or gift, or maybe just the gift of time and a visit from you.

Celebrating St. Patrick

Saturday in the US (and in Ireland) we’ve celebrated St. Patrick‘s Day.  While many people celebrate it by drinking, eating and wearing green, the holiday itself is named for a Saint.  So I thought we’d take a look at who the individual was and why he’s honored on this holiday.

He, Patrick, was a missionary back in the 5th century to Ireland.  He is one of the primary saints of Ireland and many credit him as having brought Christianity to Ireland.  Of all the holidays that are celebrated in the US today, St. Patrick is one of the few people that a holiday is named for specifically, and not as part of a larger celebration or remembrance.

I don’t think it ruins the memory or honoring of St. Patrick to have a drink and wear a little green, just like decorating a tree, having cookies or hunting for eggs doesn’t hurt Jesus or the true meaning of Christmas/Easter.  One of the reasons we celebrate St. Patrick is to honor our heritage if we’re Irish, and to honor and remember our heritage in general.  St. Patrick’s Day is a great opportunity to celebrate whatever heritage you have, and especially to pass traditions, stories and icons on to the next generation so they’re not lost.

But it is also important to take time to remember what the stories of Jesus and St. Patrick are all about: their faith.  Both men are known because they chose to step up for their faith and the faith of countless others.  It’s not necessary to go to another country and share your faith like St. Patrick did, that’s just one way to do it.  You can practice the countless much smaller but not less significant examples of faith that Jesus showed through every kind word, loving touch, and prayer you pray.

How will your faith and heritage live today?