In the summer, as my birthday approaches, I often begin to take special notice of my figure. Or my lack of it. The belly that used to be flat … a long time ago. The backside and thighs that seem to collect far more fat cells than any other part of my body. I used to joke that if I could choose where I want those extra pounds distributed, I would have the perfect hourglass figure.
I can’t and I don’t.
During the school year, with classes and teaching, it’s a challenge to focus on diet. So in the month leading up to my birthday, I decided to cut out junk food. It’s not that I eat inordinate amounts on a daily basis; I simply hoped to re-calibrate my appetite. Losing a pound or two, or ten, wouldn’t be out of line.
Okay, so I wanted to get to 150 pounds. A nice, even number. My pre-mommy weight, which I dropped down to within six months after each pregnancy, was below 140. My last pregnancy was nearly eight years ago, and I was hovering dangerously close to 160 pounds. I wrote my weight in a blue dry-erase marker on my mirror, along with the date: July 18. A month to lose ten pounds.
For the first two weeks, I avoided chips and sweet drinks, processed foods and starchy meals. I drank homemade smoothies for breakfast and lunch; I tried to embrace that hungry feeling in the evenings, when I usually crave salty or sweet foods.
At the end of July, I took my weight and marked it on the bathroom mirror: 154.6 pounds. Halfway there.
A day or two later, something else appeared on my mirror. Lyrics to songs:
He loves you more than the sun and the stars that he taught how to shine.
He lives in you.
Song lyrics covered the mirror, except for a space in the center where a huge smiley-face was. And of course the corner where my weight was marked. My slow progress toward a better figure. A better me.
One of my greatest prayers for my children, especially my daughter because I know how much the world and our own minds fights against this, is that she will see herself as a flawless creation of God. A beautiful young woman made in His image and being transformed into a creation made for a unique purpose.
But sometimes, instead of promoting that prayer and that attitude, I focus on the opposite. Making myself better. Trying to be perfect … or something close to it. Focusing on the externals. Sometimes, instead of teaching my kids, I need them to teach me. And that is what my daughter did through the song lyrics she wrote on my mirror.
Today is my birthday. I didn’t reach my goal. In fact, I gained back a couple of the pounds I thought I had said goodbye to. I look in the mirror, and I don’t see flawless. But if I focus on the words my daughter wrote, my perspective changes. Because I’m no longer looking at me. I’m looking at words that convey a different message. I’m looking at a truth I pray my children will always know and will bless others with throughout their lives:
He loves you.
He lives in you.
He made you flawless.
This morning, I was watching a video by Matt Chandler on the theme of “Recovering Redemption” for a Bible study. My nine-year-old son heard part of it and asked a question that led to a short discussion about how God created all things good, but how we have a tendency to misuse or abuse those good things God created. Food. Drink. Belongings. Education.
Right after that, I was scrolling through my phone’s news feed and saw an article about a new after-school program created by The Satanic Temple. The title of the program? After School Satan, intentionally created as a push back against Christian after-school programs, and targeting the areas that have “Good News Clubs,” which the Satanic Temple accused of having “Twisted Evangelical teachings.”
Two concerns come to the foreground in my mind as I consider this overtly “Satanic” thrust.
The first one is personal. When I was 11, certain dark influences entered my immediate environment. These influences affected me deeply. I was a sensitive child, and began having nightmares and experiencing extreme fear. I never felt safe, especially at night, but I was afraid to go to sleep because of the nightmares. Looking back over 20 years later, it is clear to me that children need to be protected from negative and dark influences. It can save them from years of fear, anxiety, and escapism. The Satanic Temple group stated that evangelical teachings rob “the innocence and enjoyment of childhood, replacing them with a negative self image, preoccupation with sin, fear of Hell…” I can only speak from my personal experience, but the thing that most robbed me of innocence and enjoyment, the things that gave me a negative self-image, the thing that inundated my life with fear was not biblical teachings, but the occult and related influences.
The second concern is more intellectual. One of the focuses the Satanic Temple highlighted is their promotion of “a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious worldview.” An “After School Satan” program is not promoting scientific or rational views. By its very label, and by the title of those creating the program, it is promoting Satanism. Satan. If Satan is real, what does that mean? It means the Bible is real. And what the Bible says about Satan is no joke. He is called the Father of Lies. He is called the adversary of souls, not the promoter of “fun and free thought.” He is known as the “accuser” of God’s children and of mankind. Tempting and then accusing.
And if Satan and the Bible are real, only one thing brings hope. Only one thing brings freedom from fear and spreads light in a world where darkness and violence is prevailing more and more. That is the truth of grace. Instead of spreading “fear of Hell,” Jesus came to bring a hope of a world made new. Instead of giving a “negative self image,” the beauty of the Gospel shows that as flawed as we are, the Creator of heavens and earth stepped down from eternal beauty and gave up his honor for us. That is how much we are loved. Nothing can bring a higher image of our worth than a hero stepping into a broken world, laying down his life that we might live.
We cannot protect our children from every negative influence. We cannot save them from every lie or hurt or bit of darkness. But we can do our best to provide a safe place, where love and light prevails. Where children can learn the truth about what they already know. That in their hearts there is darkness. There is self-will. There is selfishness. These things are in all of us. No amount of denial or smiley faces or focus on scientific rationalism can replace the knowledge of this brokenness.
But there is also beauty. There is redemption. There is the true story of a love that transcended heaven and earth to lay hope at our feet and spread light in our hearts. If all we manage to do is lead our children to the foot of the cross — where all things are made new and we receive the promise of forgiveness, grace, and eternity — we give them the best thing they could ever have. A hope that will never leave. A love that triumphed death and is alive. A story that is never-ending. A grace that is ever-reaching. A Savior. A Redeemer. Jesus.
If you’re like me, you’ve found that nearly the whole summer break has passed, and you pretty much forgot about any plans you made to help your kids keep up with the new skills they learned during their past school year. Between summer trips, camps, VBS, sleepovers, library trips, and finding a way to keep out of the heat, homework and study time was left far behind.
My husband mentioned to me a website that a friend of ours recommended, Khan Academy, especially for helping kids obtain or keep remedial math skills. I signed up through my Facebook, just to check it out … and was hugely impressed! First of all, it’s free. And I was able to create an account for each of my kids. They chose their user name, and chose a math “mission” for their respective grade level, which leads them through quizzes and questions that takes them through a well-rounded series of lessons. If there is anything they don’t understand, they can click on a short tutorial video to teach them that particular skill.
When they complete a certain number of minutes or lessons in math, I let them click on one of the other areas. (Computer animation is a favorite for all of them. It’s a series of videos, which show how math, geometry, and similar skills can be used in real life … and fun stuff like creating Pixar animation!)
At the end of the week, I received an email that told me what my kids had been up to on their missions at Khan Academy. At a glance, I could see how many minutes they had spent on the website, how many points they had gained, and how many minutes and questions for each area (such as “rational number word problems” or “multiply two-digit numbers”).
With just a few weeks before school begins, Khan Academy is a great way to help kids recall math skills they might have forgotten over the summer, and give them a head start in learning new concepts. And have fun all the while!
My 11-year-old daughter, Jessica commented, “It’s really fun. While doing homework, you can also build up your avatar and score more points. Plus math isn’t the only thing to do there. There are a bunch of other subjects. My favorite is computer art with Pixar.”
My nine-year-old son, Allen, said, “I like the math and I also like the avatar thing. And one of the things I especially like is the computer art and that I get to watch things on the website.”
Maybe you don’t want your seven-year-old running across space, dodging vehicles, and landing in a canal or reservoir on their mad dash for Pokémon Go characters.
Maybe you don’t allow video games in your household.
Maybe your conspiracy radar is going off like a beacon because if Pokémon Go has really been downloaded that many million times and created such an interest … there must be something funny going on and you don’t want your children to be a part of that.
Maybe you just want to do better with the whole parenting thing this summer and seeing your kids with their faces buried in smart phones or tablets doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies.
Here are eleven activities you can do with your children to escape summer blues … and avoid chasing Pikachus.
1. Make cards for friends and relatives … and send them snail mail.
How many relatives, especially elderly ones, can you think of who would love to receive a homemade card in their mailbox?
2. Read a Shakespeare play, or some of his sonnets, aloud and perfect your British accent.
Or Irish accent. Or Western or Southern. You can even memorize a sonnet together and have an accent competition.
3. Make a list of original photos for your child to take.
You could also have a family (or pet) photo shoot with your child as the photographer.
Or a photo scavenger hunt.
4. Write and illustrate a story together.
Let your child run free with imagination and help out in places where he or she gets stuck. You might be surprised with what even the youngest children can come up with.
5. Learn fruit cutting or flower arranging.
You will find plenty of YouTube tutorials to help you get started, and create some great treats or gifts for family or friends.
6. Make chocolate.
Anything goes: bacon chocolate, peanut butter chocolate, orange mint chocolate, cinnamon chocolate.
7. Have a bake sale.
Or a homemade chocolate sale … and raise funds for a favorite organization or ministry.
8. Create a time capsule.
Decide together on what date in the future you will open it.
9. Put together a summertime scrapbook or journal.
Add something to it every day.
10. Create a long-term “bucket list”.
You might or might not have heard of John Goddard. He made a life goal list at 15 years of age, and accomplished over 100 of them. Encourage your children to do the same (and if you don’t have a life goal list, make one yourself!)
11. Start a blog together on a theme you and your child enjoy.
My 11-year-old daughter loves reading, as do I. This summer, we launched a book review blog, Jewel Rose Reviews, where we hope to publish a review once a week on a book we’ve both read. That way, readers get input from two perspectives: mother and daughter, and Jessica and I get to read, write, and take photos together. All fun stuff!
So there it is. Some ideas to keep you and your kids busy this summer, whether or not you’re playing Pokémon Go. And if you have any tried-and-proven family activities you would like to share with other readers, please leave a comment!
My daughter, Jessica, recently made this, improving on the original recipe I had by asking about adding a topping. We made a lemon glaze and the apple cake tastes great with the glaze!
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil (or softened butter)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/2 cup milk
2 cups grated apple
1 cup nuts and/or raisins, chopped (optional)
Grease and flour baking pan
Mix sugar, oil (or butter), eggs & vanilla
Sift dry ingredients. Stir into wet mixture along with milk.
Stir in apples and nuts.
Pour into 13×9” baking pan.
Bake at 350F for around 45 minutes.
1-2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon (optional)
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Mix together to taste, and pour over warm apple cake
This banana bread recipe is my son Allen’s specialty. Whenever we have a few overripe bananas, I will let him know, and he’ll pull out the recipe and make either banana bread or banana-bread muffins. The only part I usually help with is putting the tray or tins in the oven and pulling them back out afterward.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup mashed bananas (the riper the better)
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup nuts (optional)
Mix sugar and butter. Add egg and banana and stir. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir. Add nuts.
Place in greased and floured baking dish (small cake pan size) or in muffin tray. (Will make one dozen muffins.)
I could feel it in my skin. Cool air began filtering toward my shelter. Time to venture out for food. A couple of my brothers and sisters were already stretching their legs and creeping toward the foliage. I followed them. The ground felt dry, but an instant after I exited the shelter, water began falling from above. A little at first, then a deluge. I raced away from the downpour and found shelter beneath a spreading green. I could feel in my chest that my brothers and sisters were also heading for cover. Still, I loved the feeling of rain. Moisture growing all around me. Perfect for finding a meal.
Before I could begin to imagine what kind of nourishment I might find this evening, a light shone brightly. Straight at me. I could barely detect beyond the light a form. A giant! Not one, but two. Giant hands rustled the shelter above me and I darted away. I needed to find somewhere they couldn’t get at me.
I hopped upon a vast stretch of stone. Cold, but dry. I couldn’t stay for long without water and food. But I tried to be patient as I waited for the sounds to die down. For it to be safe.
As quietness reigned once more, I wriggled out from beneath a shelter in the corner of the giant stretch of stone. A dim light shone in the distance. To my right was the foliage. The safety of my home. I knew I could find food there. But something about that odd light beckoned me, and I hopped toward it instead.
The stone beneath my feet was suddenly cold and smooth. Not stone. And the ground trembled. Giants. One. Two. No, three. They were everywhere. Had I somehow found their abode? They drew closer. The light burst as bright as midday. I raced forward, blindly, finding myself beneath a large tomb of sorts. Beneath me now the flooring was soft and fluffy, but not green. It was dead, not alive. I would not survive here for long. I had to find my way back.
But the giants’ loud footfalls thudded all around me. I would be at their mercy if I crawled out now. I recalled brothers and sisters sharing stories beneath the cool of night. Scary tales about the giants finding the biggest of us, and roasting us. The monsters. They wouldn’t catch me. I would wait until they slept and escape home again.
The wait was long, but finally stillness echoed through the odd flooring. I crawled out slowly. Then headed in the direction I knew would lead home. But the way was closed. Sealed tightly. I was trapped. But there had to be another way. Cool air traveled slowly from the distance. A way out! I hastened toward it. Without warning, a thud stopped me in my journey. Another vibrating echo.
Giants. Two of them. They approached me. One carried a large object, clear and a hundred times my size. I bolted like I never had in my life and slid between the wall and a giant thing that felt like a tree. More stomping echoed around me, vibrating inside me. Light shone into the tight place I had entered. I squeezed further, ducking under the base of the tree-ish object. I would be safe here until they left.
But the vibrations grew stronger. There were more of them. Maybe even four or five. I sat as still as the night. But then the base of the shelter above me began to move. Shifting back and forth. Nearly crushing me. I had to get out, giants or no. I hopped out, maneuvering between them. I even brushed against the foot of one of them and heard a giant scream.
I would make my escape. I had to.
And then I was trapped. Caught by some invisible force. I could see nothing, but it blocked me. I had heard of such things in the scary tales. Invisible prisons. It was how the giants kept you until they were ready to eat you. I scurried up and down the smooth sides of my prison, but only felt more trapped. I lifted up and began moving. I was being carried in this object. It was over. My escape had failed. How would it feel to die?
The force of gravity shook me downward and I tumbled once and twice, landing on my back. I quickly turned right side up, waiting for the inevitable. But something felt different. The ground beneath me. It was soft … and … green! It was home. I could feel the cooling night air. I could sense the tasty treats all around. A brother bounded in the distance.
I hopped toward him.
“You’d never believe what just happened to me.”
And inside the giant’s abode, a mother spoke to her children. “Next time, let’s keep the screen door closed. Next time a frog comes in, we might not be able to get it back out again.”
Father’s Day was coming, so I had printed out some Father’s Day activity sheets for my kids. One of the sheets was a set of “coupon cards” that gave promises like, “Good for One Hug,” “Good for helping around the yard with dad,” and “Good for helping dad take the trash out.” One coupon, however, consisted of blank lines. Choose your own gift.
One of my kids wrote, “Take out the laundry.”
One filled in, “Cook dinner when you are feeling tired or not.”
But one of my kids asked, “Mommy, is it okay if I leave the lines blank, without filling anything in?” I didn’t understand what he meant and asked him to say it again. “I mean, Daddy can put what he wants in the blanks.”
“Yes, that’s a great idea,” I told him. So that’s what he did.
And I wondered, Is that ever what my love looks like? For my children? For my husband? For my friends? For God?
Fill-in-the-blank love. Not, “On my terms, when I have time … and it’s got to be my idea.” But love that allows the other to fill in the blanks. Reading a story to my son when I’d rather read something I’m more interested in (not involving vehicles). Biking with my daughter when it’s a little too hot outside for my comfort. Visiting a friend when I feel like a hermit and would prefer to stay home. Watching a Saturday-night movie with my husband when I’ve reached the second-to-the-last chapter of a thrilling page-turner.
Fill-in-the-blank love. That trusts the unspoken power of giving and loving to create and build and maintain a relationship. Any relationship. I read somewhere recently that love is an outcropping or fruit borne of faith. Trust. It takes trust that allows a loved one to have fill-in-the-blank power over you.
But maybe that’s what love really is. Hazarding the unknown, plodding through the mundane, serving, sacrifice … Love.
It isn’t a large pool by any means. Five feet wide. Nine feet long. Three feet high. It is big enough for an adult to do water aerobics or for a few kids to splash around in the Central Valley summer. My husband bought it last year and put it up again last week, as the highs crept into the hundreds. He fitted it with a filter and put a removable shade above it so the kids won’t get too much sun when they’re out there.
On Monday, the kids spent all afternoon splashing around. Tuesday, the same. They carried Trio-block boats and Lego men out there. They wore goggles and made currents.
This afternoon, first it was “dirt in the pool.” I assured them that any large swimming pool has far more dirt, as does the lake they swam in last month.
Then it was the weather.
“It’s too hot.”
“The water’s too cold.”
It’s summer. It’s going to be hot. The water is supposed to be colder than the air. Otherwise it wouldn’t be refreshing to play in it.
Then it was issues with each other.
“He’s splashing me.”
“She keeps bothering me with the net.”
I threatened with no videos for the rest of the week if they didn’t stop complaining.
Finally, I went inside, upset. My husband had spent hours putting up the pool, fixing the filter, building a sunshade. No gratefulness. Just complaints. If I heard one more issue, I told myself, they’d have definite consequences. My husband had just gotten home and I told him what was going on. He went into the bathroom and I heard the shower running. Two minutes later, he dashed out of the bathroom wearing his swimming trunks. He ran outside and jumped into the pool with the kids, splashing them and singing a silly song.
They’re still out there. I hear the splashing and occasional shout.
My kids aren’t perfect, but why is it that when they take after me in the good things I’m happy, and when they take after me in the not-so-good, I’m indignant? I might not think I’m voicing my complaints, but I don’t think I’ve said much positive about the Fresno heat or the influx of flies this season. I observe when their rooms are messy, but fail to praise them when they remember to make their beds or clear their plates from the table.
And then there are my kids themselves to be, oh, so grateful for. The purpose they give to my days. The companionship and friendship they offer to me and to each other. The ways they are growing and the questions they are asking that show what amazing things God is slowly working in their minds and hearts.
There is also their dad. My husband. Who works all day only to come home to a grumpy household … and dons swimming trunks to jump in a kid-size pool and make his children laugh.
It’s a life and a family I wouldn’t trade for three hundred swimming pools filled with chocolate, chai, and cheesecake (not mixed together, of course). God help me to count my blessings, especially if I expect my kids to count theirs. Help me to realize that what I do and say speaks far louder than what I tell them to do and say.