The Relational Ride (or iPhone Alternatives for a Great Family Vacation)

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Your family + nineteen hours in the car. A blessing or a great big bother?

Attitude is everything, so they say. My friend Karen has a terrific outlook on spending hours upon hours in the car with her kids. Since summer is coming, I asked permission to share her wisdom with my readers. So, if you’re a parent planning a summer road trip with your kids, this blog’s for you. (If you’re not in that category, perhaps you can share it with someone else who needs it.)

Pray. Pray before you even start your engine. Begin by seeing your road trip as a blessed opportunity to spend uninterrupted quality time together with your family. You have a captive audience. Take advantage of the situation! Talk. Laugh. Bond.

Break it up. Use rest areas as a chance to toss a ball, run a race, or take a hike for 15 minutes or so. Little bodies weren’t made to sit indefinitely. (Frankly, neither were adult bodies. Steve and I are much happier travelers if we move around every couple of hours.)

Pack their bags. Give each child an individual bag with a few travel treats: favorite snacks, sugarless gum, a new book, an activity book, crayons, paper, stickers, or small toys. Don’t let personal electronics eat up too much of the trip. Those little battery powered boxes will draw each person into a world of their own, putting an end to relationship building. That might be fine for a little while, but resist the temptation to let “screens” become the norm.

Prepare to be entertained. Look for activities the whole family can enjoy together: audio books, read aloud books, Mad Libs Junior, trivia games, or Twenty Questions. Again, try to keep the movies to a minimum. Remember, this is a time to be together!

Teach appreciation. In Karen’s words, “I always encourage the boys to look outside and see what’s different or beautiful about the current surroundings.  We take note of sunsets and rainbows, wildlife and mountains and lakes.”

Thanks, Karen, for your great advice. Now, how about the rest of you? How do you turn long hours on the road into something memorable and fun?

 

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Practice Hospitality

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A few weeks ago I was invited to dine at a famously scenic restaurant in Austin. I was ushered into a beautiful room overlooking the lake. My vantage point, one of the top stories of a multi-tiered establishment, also gave me a view of several crowded tables below me. One gave me pause. It was party of ten, apparently a family plus a couple of friends. They were enjoying appetizers and beverages as sunset approached…and eight of them were bent over their smart phones for many long minutes. I admonished them in my mind, then caught myself in a similar crime just days later.

  • When was the last time you looked at your smart phone?
  • When was the last time you looked someone in the eye?
  • And do you ever call someone, hoping to get their voicemail so you can just leave a message?

We have allowed ourselves to become broadly connected, yet at the same time oddly isolated. Is this shyness? An enslavement to efficiency? Just a bad habit?

Romans 12:13b is exquisitely direct. “Practice hospitality.” There was a time when I thought hospitality meant simply opening one’s home and serving cookies. (More about that in a later blog.) A bit of research has extended my understanding. Here are a few more detailed definitions.

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

Reception, relationship, and respect all speak to our definite and deliberate focus on another person. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” The gathering of believers is a sacred thing. What do we miss when we are distracted? And if we are gathered with those who do not know the Lord, what does our distraction say to them about their worth?

Furthermore, children may be heavily impacted by the number of words spoken to them in their early years. How much has that volume been reduced by the constant pull of a smart phone screen?

Focus. Attention. Concentration. These can be difficult to maintain in our swirling culture. But they are gifts we can give to those around us. They are gifts I think our Lord would have us mete out with generosity. They are a part of hospitality. Will you join me in a renewed effort to be fully present at the table–or at the office, or in the kitchen or…? Let me know how it goes. And if you discover tips that help you pay attention, I hope you’ll share them here.

Hope

(Shared by a member of Men Living R.E.D., Northwest Bible Church, Spring, Texas.)

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“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Although this verse is about suffering for doing good, it also applies to the way we handle difficulty. If we mope around like the world is coming to an end, who will be compelled to ask about the hope that is in us? If we know that heaven is our ultimate destination, that our joy is not in this world, we may provoke the question, “Why are you different?” Let me share a personal story —-

Back in my Texaco days, I was running a meeting and my daughter called me. I ALWAYS answer for my family – no matter what I am doing (sorry Texaco). I put the meeting on pause and answered.

My daughter had been in a minor car accident and she was pretty shook up.

I turned away from the meeting and went quickly through the Dad questions: Are you okay? Yes. Are you safe right now? Yes. Is anyone else hurt? No. Are the cars blocking the road? No.

Big sigh of relief – Okay, honey you are okay. Everything is okay. Cars are just equipment. Take a deep breath and calm down.

Do you want me to come get you? No, I can drive it home. Be careful. Sit for a few minutes and relax. I will look at it tonight. Not to worry. Everything is going to be fine. I love you.

It was over quickly, and everyone in the room could not help but hear the interchange. I told them that she was fine; it was just a fender bender. No big deal; she just needed to talk to me.

After the meeting and over the next few days, almost everyone came up to me to talk about the phone call and my handling of it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I learned that it spoke volumes about my relationship with my daughter. The Dads in the room were surprised that I wasn’t more upset about the accident and inconvenience and expense. The Daughters in the room were envious that their own dads were not as understanding. They saw my relationship with my daughter as something special. All of these conversations naturally led to talking about eternal things.

Why did I tell this story? Three lessons learned:

1 – Perspective – keep your eyes fixed on the real prize – show the hope that is in you.

2 – Don’t forget that everyone is watching – especially and even more closely during the down times.

3 – As the Holy Spirit said through Peter — Always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in you.

Is the way you’re living right now compelling any questions about HOPE?

A String of Protection

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My son will be a father soon. No matter where you are in life, I suppose you can imagine what great emotion wells up within me as I type those words. As I look forward to the months and years ahead, I find myself looking back as well, back to when Tony was young and God wrapped him in supernatural protection over and over again.

I have known the Lord long enough to realize he protected Tony many times when I never even caught scent of the danger that was present. But here are a few times I saw God’s loving hand covering my son.

  • Before Tony was born, he was diagnosed with a heart condition which, by the time of his birth, had been completely healed. You can read about that here.
  • Before Tony could walk, he had a favorite playing spot in our Dallas kitchen. He liked to pull out pots and plastic bowls from the drawer beneath my oven. This was very convenient for me, because I spent plenty of time in that kitchen, and it was great to have my little one occupied. One night, after Tony was fast asleep, I heard a loud crash. I rushed into the kitchen and found that a heavy glass blender had fallen from the cabinet above the oven, smashing to bits in the spot where, had it been a different time of day, Tony might well have been playing. I swept up those shards with a heart of thanksgiving.
  • Before Tony could talk, we were all outside in the front yard of our Houston home. It’s funny how details sometimes stick in our brains. I can see him now in red stripped overalls, a long sleeved shirt, shoes and socks. I was sitting in the driveway when he toddled up and somehow, wordlessly, let me know that something was bothering his toe. I reached for him and saw, to my horror, that his back was covered with fire ants from knee to neck. They were just about to reach the top of his shirt. We stripped him, swiping the bugs from his body. He escaped the whole ordeal with just one bite—on his toe. How that one ever got there, I will never know.
  • Tony has a tiny scar on one finger. Before he was old enough to go to school, I had a muffin business. He was with me there one day and, foolishly, I allowed him into the production area. He walked right toward the open oven and, much too quickly for me to stop him, was headed for a bad burn on the side of his face or down his arm. He redirected just in time. All that’s left of that could-have-been-awful day is a tiny scar.

Parenting is full of moments when we hold our breath, trying not to worry about the unseen dangers ahead. We cannot protect our children from all things hard and dangerous. And, undoubtedly, God will allow into their lives some hardships which we would never choose for them. Still he loves our children even more than we do, and he will, HE WILL, protect them as needed.

When I am rocking my grandson, I will sing to him about God’s faithfulness. May you sing about his faithfulness in your heart today!

Daily Blessings

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A friend’s life has been changed in a simple but powerful way. Recently, his dad started a daily habit of texting him a short encouraging message, just a few words to remind him of the reality of God’s hand on his life.

What if we all did that? For a child. For a friend. For a parent. For a pastor. For anyone who could use an encouraging message. (In other words, for anyone, since we could all use extra encouragement.)

Here are a few examples. Most of them come directly from scripture. To those of you who shared your suggestions with me, thank you. To all of us, I issue this challenge: Be a source of encouragement to someone today!

  • God is greater than any problem you are facing today.
  • God has a good plan for your life.
  • I love you.
  • God loves you.
  • I believe in you.
  • God is good.
  • God is able to handle anything.
  • Choose joy. This day holds reasons to rejoice.
  • You are awesome.
  • Never lose hope that God will pull you through.
  • You are a great source of joy to me.
  • I am so glad that you are my ____.
  • Only ever compare yourself to two people: your old self to see how far you’ve come, and Jesus, to see how far you have to go.
  • God is bigger than your mistakes.
  • Pray about the impossible, because nothing is impossible with God.
  • You’re awesome.

 

What else? What else? We have better ideas as a group. Please add your encouraging words to the comments section so that we can all pass them along.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

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Shut Up and Back Off

35Years ago, a friend asked what God had been teaching me lately. Not one to mince words, I told her the truth, “If I could put what God is telling me into just a few words, it would be to ‘shut up and back off.’” Elizabeth and Tony were nearly adults. They had benefited, hopefully, from some pretty careful upbringing. (They would probably call it “strict.”) They’d proved time and time again that they were getting it, that they knew right from wrong and generally chose right. They no longer needed my constant reminders.

Later, when I related the conversation to Elizabeth, her immediate response was. “If God is telling you to “shut up and back off,” then can I tell you the same thing?” (I’m sure she just wanted to give me spiritual backup.) Although I declined her offer, she knew what I knew. My job, at least in the area of guiding and directing my son and daughter, was winding down. The problem was making sure my mouth knew it.

After almost two decades of full-time parental instruction, how does one learn to be quiet? The answer, like the answer to so many questions, is to trust and obey. We have to trust the Lord who loves our kids even more than we do, and we have to obey two of his Don’ts:

·        Don’t exasperate your children.(Colossians 6 and Ephesians 3)

·        Don’t fret. (Philippians 4:6, for starters.)

In later parenting years, when something concerns us, we need to spend a lot more time talking about it to the Lord than to our children. A hard lesson to remember! I like acronyms and buzz words and anything else that helps me keep important items at the forefront of my brain. A good friend and fellow mom coined the code word “SUBO” (Shut Up and Back Off.) She and her husband use it to remind each other to let their almost-grown children act their age.

We’ve all heard the saying, “There comes a time when you just have to let go.” No, there doesn’t “come a time.” The time is always there. It begins the day a baby is born. All of parenting is, in part, about letting go and about getting our kids ready to live without constant input from Mom and Dad. If we don’t learn to let that rope out gradually, it will be burning through our hands at the end of the job.

Every day is a day to trust and obey, to love and instruct, and to let go just a little bit more. Aren’t you glad we don’t have to do that on our own? If you are a parent, may God bless you in that endeavor today.