The Blessings of Extended Family

The Blessings of Extended Family

Did you have the privilege of knowing your grandparents well? I lived over a thousand miles away from my paternal grandparents. But one week out of the summer we packed into the family station wagon and made the long journey to Wisconsin to see my dads’ relatives. My parents drove in shifts to get there in less than 24 hours while we slept. They would be exhausted but we kids were ready to play. (not my family photo but could be)

While we were visiting, we would gather together with all of my dads’ relatives at one of my aunt and uncles’ houses. They had 9 kids themselves and there were 25 grandchildren when we were altogether plus all of my dads’ adult siblings, spouses and his cousins that would come to see us. It was a huge reunion to say the least. Everyone brought some food to share so there was quite a wide variety. Grandpa would ask a blessing on the food and everyone present before we were allowed to eat. My cousins lived near a farm so we kids would play hide and seek in the cornfields which was exciting for a suburban girl. None of my relatives were wealthy but I have great memories spending time with my long distance family where there was lots of love, laughter and story telling.

When my children were young we would go to my inlaws cottage for summer fun. Extended family from all sides would come and bring food to share. All the cousins got to use their imaginations while playing outside with lots of new “friends” and things to do. There were some unwritten boundaries for the adults’ communication as we tried to steer clear of arguments about politics and religion. Big parties are a lot of work in preparation and cleaning up but the memories are priceless.

Psalm 127:3–5 (The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language)
Don’t you see that children are GOD’s best gift? the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows are the children of a vigorous youth. Oh, how blessed are you parents, with your quivers full of children! Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you; you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep.

Proverbs 17:6 (ESV)
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.

Ecclesiastes 2:24–25 (ESV) There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

People have gathered to celebrate feasts/ holidays and special ceremonies as an extended family for millenia. The Bible tells us very little about Jesus’ childhood but we know he would have celebrated all of the Jewish feasts with his family and relatives. Today however, two great foes of the modern family are divorce and migration. We no longer live in a continuous circle of life together in the same communities.

How can you encourage family time and extended family time? Some practical suggestions : Relationships can be prickly so boundaries are important. Shoot for quality over quantity because cranky kids are not fun. Choose a general place if you don’t have space (or don’t want to or can’t host) such as a park, zoo, museum etc. Minimize all electronics unless you are watching the Superbowl. There must be some kind of food and drink or the grown-ups will get cranky. Ask for help. I believe creating positive memories is crucial for our general well being.

My husband and I are now the family hosts for a Christmas party and the summer family barbeque. Over the years I have learned that you don’t have to look like a magazine photo to make people feel welcome. Plenty of food, some yard games and chairs in the shade will make everyone comfortable. We always ask a blessing before we eat because we hope to pass on that faith and family are the most important things in life as we gather around for food and fun.

Watching Grandma

Watching Grandma

Did you have the privilege of knowing your grandparents well? I lived over a thousand miles away from my paternal grandparents. My maternal grandmother died when I was young so I don’t remember her well. One week out of the summer we packed into the family station wagon and made the long journey to Wisconsin to see my dads’ relatives. My parents drove in shifts to get there in less than 24 hours while we slept. They would be exhausted but we kids were ready to play. We were always made to feel special when we came.

I remember being in my grandmothers’ kitchen while on vacation. I sat on the kitchen chair as she began to measure the ingredients for a cake. Grandma didn’t use measuring cups all the time. She would scoop the flour with a regular coffee cup and used a cereal spoon to measure this and that. Somehow, she knew that it was just the right amount. She had a big mixing bowl with a standing mixer which I thought was pretty special. I watched as the mixer whirled the ingredients together and she let me taste the batter before we put the pan in the oven.

We always had dessert after dinner at Grandmas’. It might be some cake, pie, pudding or just a bowl of canned fruit. It would be no surprise to you that both of my grandparents were large people. Grandpa loved his sweets. He loved a slice of white bread with butter and honey on it for a snack which I thought was odd. A favorite cake of mine is Grandmas’ refrigerator cake. It is a variation of a “poke cake”. It is called that because you poke holes in the baked cake with a toothpick and then pour concentrated dissolved jello into the holes. It is one of the few family recipies that I have and I like to make it for our summer family reunion.

Long distance phone calls were expensive in the ’60s and ’70s so throughout the year we would receive cards and letters in her large cursive handwrriting. I still have a few letters she sent when I was in college and my aunt told me that my picture was in her bible when she died. She prayed regularly for all of us.

My grandparents raised six children through the Great Depression, a seventh child died at only a few days old. They made sure the other siblings didn’t forget Ruby. Through the years they suffered the same hardships as many others, such as a son serving in the Vietnam war and death of another daughter by car accident. But they loved God, attended church faithfully and trusted in His provision and faithfulness. Grandpa was a volunteer with The Gideons so the importance of Gods’ word was impressed upon my young heart and I saw Grandma reading her black leather bible at the dining room table and pause for prayer.

There were 25 grandchildren altogether so you can imagine how large the summer reunion picnic was. Grandma never learned to drive and they never owned their own house. But many people were recipients of her embroiderd handiwork on table scarves and pillow cases. When we came to visit I remember a lot of story telling and laughter coming from all the grown ups. They didn’t have much as far as the world would count but thay enjoyed the simple things of life and blessings money cannot buy.

For reflection:

I was blessed to also have a godly mother who read and prayed with us and served our local church in many ways. Many other women throughout my lifetime have taught me how to love my family, trust God in difficult circumstances and use my gifts and abilities for Him. Remember, “godly” doesn’t mean perfect but growing in grace. On this Mother’s Day weekend take a few moments to reflect on the godly role models you have known during your life. A grandmother, mother, aunt, neighbor or an older woman (women) in the church. Thank God for what they taught by their example and ask Him to help you pass it onto the next generation.

Preparing Your Heart for the Holidays

Preparing Your Heart for the Holidays

In America we are beginning our holiday season and the tension is already beginning to build. Thanksgiving is approximately two weeks away but the stores have been putting Christmas decorations out since October. How do we prepare our hearts for all the added activities, family gatherings, difficult personalities and enjoy the traditions that mean the most to us? We can start by setting boundaries and goals.

In the 1989 movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold plans to have the best Christmas ever with his entire family. His grand idea includes having the biggest tree they can find, lighting the entire house in twinkly lights and enjoying a wonderful sit down dinner in harmony. However once the grandparents arrive the bickering begins and his dream starts falling apart. Clark is perpetually optimistic and sometimes in denial but still passionate about putting on the perfect family holiday. His wife Ellen doesn’t share his outlook but supports him all the way. After a hilarious sequence of mishaps the movie ends with everyone on the front lawn enjoying the beautiful lights and Clark is satisfied that his goal was achieved. ( Warning : this movie was originally rated R for language and some racey scenes. It is often modified for TV)

What can we learn from this crazy tale? Clarks’ heart was in the right place but his goals were unrealstic. Beverly was the perfect hostess, “we have plenty of room, plenty to eat and plenty of balnkets” and was supportive of her husband. They were kind to unexpected company as well as elderly confused and grouchy relatives. Everyone truly tried to make the best of the situation and enjoyed the evening. We can control some of the chaos.

Set realistic goals: If this has been a difficult year for you whether financially, health issues, loss in the family; keep it simple. Family size and traditions can change. What is most important to you? Don’t fall into the trap that more is better.

Be a good host or guest: The goal is to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable. Ask how you can help if you are the guest.

Manage expectations : Despite careful planning something inevitably will go wrong. Be flexible and don’t let it ruin the day.

Share blessings: Before eating and asking a blessing on the meal and people gathered, ask each person to share one thing they are grateful for.

Shut off the electronics for awhile: I know, big football games are on! Weather permitting go for a walk. Play board games or a group game like Pictionary. Look at old photo albulms together. After Thanksgiving day enjoy the free lights and activities around town.

Be sensitive to those who are struggling: Anyone struggling with a crisis, loss, over stimulation or trauma may want some space. Let them opt out of the activities in a quieter corner.

Guard the conversation: Don’t react to negative comments and try to steer clear of politics and other hot topics.

Put the fun in dysfuntion: We live in a broken world with broken families and we all have weird relatives. Focus on the good. Tell stories and have a good laugh.

1 Peter 4:9(ESV) Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Thanksgiving should be a time to focus on what we do have and not what is wrong in our lives or our world. The first Pilgrims had plenty to complain about but they chose to be grateful. Most of us have plenty of everything. Let us be intentional on sharing the good things God has done over the past year and show the light of Jesus in our homes.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

On Tuesday I Quit

On Tuesday I Quit

You might have heard the story about the husband who comes home from work to find his wife sitting on the sofa reading a magazine. Looking around the house he saw the sink and counters were filled with dishes, toys were strewn all over the place, laundry is sitting in the basket unfolded and the kids were loudly banging something in another room. “What in the world happened?’ he exclaimed. To which she replied, “Every day you come home and ask what I did all day. Well, today I didn’t do it.”

Some days are like that. On Tuesday, I quit. Not my work as a nurse. I am already retired. I came home after dropping my son off at his work and looked around the messy kitchen. “Why in the world had four cutting boards been used for making two lunches? Why can’t the other humans in the house put their mugs and glasses in the dishwasher?” I said to myself. “That’s it. I quit. I am only doing what I absolutely have to do.”

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.     Eccl 2:11 (ESV)

King Solomon was right!  If I do the laundry, there will be more. When I pull the weeds, new ones grow. I am not being ungrateful. I truly love my home and appreciate all that God has given us. God sees my mess but doesn’t care about it. He cares about my heart.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy …   Eccl 2:24-26

 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, Phil 2:14-15

My light cannot shine very bright if my energy is low. Maybe it was the crazy weather but I was just plain weary. We are admonished to do all things without complaining but we get cranky if we are tired or hungry. I needed to take my own advice and rest. I needed a nap. I needed to hydrate. I goofed off on social media. I prayed and sat outside. Despite having a full refrigerator, we went out for dinner.

Although we shouldn’t let our family run around in dirty underwear, most household tasks are not urgent. People are more important than chores. Maybe you feel like I did and need to just quit and recharge. After all it is summertime. Tomorrow is another day and I can begin again with a better attitude and a renewed spirit. Besides the laundry pile will only get bigger.

Mom’s Who Pray

Mom’s Who Pray

Being a Mom is a full time responsibility and privilege. Moms who pray know they can’t accomplish all that is required for children to grow into strong, healthy, self-sufficient, law abiding citizens without asking for the Lord’s help.  

Hannah had no children and even though her husband loved her, his other wife made life miserable. In those days, a woman’s worth was measured by bearing children. As a family they went to the Temple where Hannah, being deeply distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. She vowed that if God gave her a son, she would bring him back to serve the Lord.  Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli (the Priest) took her to be a drunken woman and reprimanded her. But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.” Eli then blessed her. She became the mother of Samuel who became a great prophet, priest and judge over Israel and she was blessed with other children as well.     1 Samuel 1

Moms who pray know that God hears the cry of their heart.

… For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.     Romans 8:27,27

Moms who pray know they don’t have all the answers and ask for His wisdom and guidance.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.        1 John 5:14-15

Moms who pray will hand over their worries to the Lord in exchange for peace.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus       Phil 4:6-7

Moms who pray will praise God despite current circumstances because they know He is in control.

Mary was a poor, young, unmarried woman when told she was to become Jesus’ mother. In her small village there would be a lot of gossip and disapproval. Her response to the angel’s message was a beautiful song of praise.

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name…”    Luke 1:46-49

Moms who pray, trust in a big God who loves them and their children (grandchildren) far more than they can imagine. Faith accepts that God has a better plan even if the results are never seen. Hannah prayed for a child she so deeply desired. Mary praised God for a child given to her in an unusual and unimaginable way. Both women trusted in their Heavenly Father to provide for their needs.

There are all types of women who fill the roll of Mom; biological, adoptive, foster, grandmothers and aunts but will you be a Mom who prays?