O Christmas Tree

O Christmas TreeWhen I was in Canadian Tire a while ago I saw an absolutely stunning Christmas tree.

It was decorated in silver bows and balls with purple accents. It was my ideal tree.

Such a tree, however, will never grace my living room. No matter how much I want a purple and silver one, I have too many other decorations that render a consistent colour scheme impossible. I have a family Christmas tree.

First comes the gold heart embossed with “Keith and Sheila, 1991″ that we received at our wedding. Then there are all the Christmas decorations we made as children which our parents thoughtfully gave us our first Christmas together (were they trying to get rid of them, I wonder?). There’s the canvas stitched candy cane Keith made, and the decorated styrofoam balls I did. Other decorations full of childhood memories hang beside them, like the angel candle holders that were on my Baby Jesus birthday cake when I was six.

And now, of course, we have added our children’s decorations. At first they were fairly innocuous ones, like “Baby’s First Christmas”. They have since become more ambitious. One year the girls and I made dough Christmas shapes and then glued little pictures to them. Katie, who is living proof that you can survive your second year of life eating only dried play dough (believe me, it wasn’t my choice), actually left nibble marks in some as she tried to eat them, too, despite the salt content. Add the decorations the girls make at Sunday school out of little paper doilies, and there’s no room for those classy purple balls.

Our lives are very much like these Christmas trees.

We spend so much effort trying to have the perfectly decorated life, with the right kids, the right jobs, and the right promotions. But it can be exhausting to live that way. Our work is never done. We’re always on the go, and when we do sit down it’s only to plan how to drive our kids to more lessons, run some more errands or throw on yet another load of laundry before we make dinner.

The family Christmas tree, with all its imperfections, is better because it is uniquely us. Anybody can have a perfectly purple Christmas tree. Not everyone can have the one decorated with your own white doily angels and pipe cleaner reindeer.

Christmas anchors us and reminds us of whose we are and of what’s important.

A sign at a local Dry Cleaners recently read, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. Many of us are stuck on some sideroad of endless errands and work because we need a road map to get us home, a map that can only come by slowing down and reflecting, if just for a little while. With the busyness of life, we often ignore our spiritual side, never taking time to think about life, death, parenting or our purpose on this earth. Christmas can be our roadmap, a time to take stock of our lives and consider if we’re heading in the right direction.

Whatever your spiritual background is, the challenge is the same: let’s take the time during the holidays to honour it. At my house this week, we’ll have a “Baby Jesus Birthday Cake” (chocolate, of course), to remind us that Christmas is when the all-powerful God became as helpless as a baby so he could live among us and die for us, so we could live forever with him. I don’t want that just to be my Christmas message; I want to live it through the rest of the year. But if I don’t take the chance now to see whether my daily life reflects my spiritual priorities, I may not have time once the daily grind starts anew.

I will gladly take my Baby Jesus birthday cake angels and little dough hearts over purple balls any day. That’s who I am, and who I want to be. Christmas is one of the few times of year when we can contemplate life without someone telling us to move on to the next task. Let’s make sure that this year, we take advantage of the opportunity.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

How An Open Adoption Opened Our Hearts

Today I’d like to share with you my reader Linda Jonasson’s beautiful story of an open adoption, and how they found more room for love than they imagined.

A true story of how an open adoption can leave room for more love than you thought possible.

It was December 1, 1998. My husband Rob had just put up the Christmas tree. We were particularly sad, knowing that we were facing another Christmas without children.

Then the phone rang…

I truly believe God brought us together. Three days after the phone call, we met Nicole and her boyfriend, Lance, at the Brantford Pregnancy Centre. The handsome teenage couple had chosen us to parent their baby – what an honour!

While we were very nervous at our first meeting, the four of us hit it off immediately. I still remember the pregnancy glow that Nicole, dressed in a peasant blouse with a cross-stitch design, emanated. I still remember the way Lance, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, held her by the hand, supporting her every step of the way. I still remember holding the Polaroid photograph of the four of us standing in front of the Christmas tree, an angel watching over us from the top of the tree.

I can picture the booth we sat in at Moose Winooski’s when we took them out for dinner the first time. It was raining that night even though it was December. The storm had caused the lights to go out; I had fumbled around in the dark trying to put in my contact lenses. It was like a second date: I wondered if Nicole and Lance would like us just a much the second time as the first.

Our first visit at the hospital was surreal. I remember holding my newborn baby in my arms for the first time. I saw his birth parents traits in him: Lance’s lips, Nicole’s nose. He was soft and warm and smelled like baby powder. What an honour to be able to feed him his bottle!

The next day, God gave me the sense that I needed to be at the hospital even though we didn’t get a call from the birth parents.

I remember arriving at Nicole’s hospital room door, only to find it closed. The birth parents, their faces red from shedding so many tears, were preparing to say goodbye to their baby, our baby. I reassured Nicole and Lance that we wanted them to be a part of Thomas’ life. That we wouldn’t hop the next plane and skip town.

Thomas was our Christmas miracle.

We brought him home on December 22. I remember sitting in church, my arms full, my heart bursting, as I gazed at the Nativity Scene on Christmas Eve. It was exciting introducing him to our families over the holidays. But as I passed the turkey and mashed potatoes, in the back of my mind, I knew the birth mother had three weeks where she could change her mind and take Thomas back. Even so, I felt a strange sense of calm during the waiting period. Our church prayer group covered us in prayer: I could feel God’s presence.

That was 16 years ago. Today, Thomas stands 5 feet 9 inches tall, he weighs 160 pounds and he wears a size 12 shoe. He has thick brown hair and brown eyes. He sports muscles from his daily workouts at the gym with his dad. He plays three guitars, sharing his talents in two praise teams at our church. Next week, he is about to start driving lessons. How much Thomas has changed! But one thing has not changed – his relationship with his birth parents.

Thomas has always known he was adopted.

As he has grown, the word has gained more and more meaning. At first, Nicole and Lance were the nice couple who visited us at Christmas. Thomas would stand at the window waiting for them, excitement etched on his face. Nicole and Lance would arrive with enough gifts to fill Santa’s sac. Once Thomas finished tearing open the presents, our recreation room would be plastered in red and green wrapping paper. One of Nicole’s early gifts was a wooden rocking horse fashioned by her father, the one she rode as a toddler. Each Christmas visit ended with dinner at Moose Winooski’s, our favourite restaurant.

Four and a half years after Thomas was born, I became pregnant. Thomas was curious about my growing belly. I told him that I had a baby in my “tummy”. “Whose tummy did I come from, Mommy?” he asked. I explained to him that the nice couple who arrived at Christmas with an armful of presents were his birth parents. “You’re kidding, right?” he asked. I explained that I was telling the truth. Thomas nodded, smiled and gave me a look that said: “I can live with that.”

Thomas’ birth parents visited that summer. We surprised them with our newborn daughter, Jacqueline. I was concerned that Nicole and Lance might think that Thomas wouldn’t get as much attention now that he had a baby sister. But the second they met our little girl, they fell in love with her. By the time Jacqueline was a toddler, she was in there like a dirty old shirt, squeezing in between Nicole and Lance on the couch while they watched a movie with Thomas.

When Thomas was about 9 years old, I asked Nicole if she ever regretted placing him for adoption. She said: “Absolutely not. Out of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, it’s the one I’m most proud of.” That was music to my ears. Rob and I wanted her to be happy, too.

The birth parents’ visits continued twice a year at our home in Brantford. When Thomas turned 13, we allowed him to open a Facebook account. He befriended Nicole and Lance, yet another way to keep in touch. When Thomas entered high school, he bought his first cell phone. Now he could text his birth parents as well.

I know Thomas has benefited from the love of not two, but four parents.

The fact that he knows his roots is invaluable, something the rest of us take for granted. There is no mystery concerning his past. It’s reassuring to know where he came from.

As Rob puts up the Christmas tree this year, he will have his son standing by his side, handing him the branches. One of the Christmas ornaments they will hang on the tree is a silver penguin, with THOMAS inscribed at the bottom, a gift from his birthparents. Thank you, Nicole & Lance, for giving us your son – the best Christmas present ever!

Thomas with his birth parents at his grade 8 graduation

Thomas with his birth parents at his grade 8 graduation

lindaLinda Jonasson and her husband Rob, adopted their son, Thomas, in December of 1998 through Beginnings Adoption Agency in Hamilton, Ontario. Linda is a writer and teacher. She speaks about adoption and childhood literacy to churches and schools. She blogs daily, with a heavy dose of history, at A Line from Linda.

Wifey Wednesday: Don’t Be the Christmas Doormat!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today Sarah Ball, aka The Virtuous Woman Exposed, joins us talking about how you can be a non-stressed wife this Christmas–by not being a Christmas martyr!

be a non-stressed wife this christmas

Dad is sitting peacefully with his pipe by the fire, the kids are playing joyfully with their new toys, the in-laws have that 1,000 pieced puzzle mastered, and Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe dance arm in arm to “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

But wait, where’s mom?

Oh, right. She’s hyperventilating in the walk-in pantry.

“It’s just the onions,” she says with a forced smile. Come on, we all know it’s not just the onions. It’s a layer of exhaustion, trying to please everyone, a failed soufflé (do women still make these?) a critical comment from the Mother-in-law, an eye roll over paper plates from the Aunt, oh…and the one gift she received under the tree.

One hand-made candleholder made with love and painted macaroni.

She loves seeing her family happy, and nothing beats watching her children open gifts, and she knows the true meaning of Christmas. Yet she can’t help but feel a little empty; so she distracts herself with giving and serving, while telling herself she ‘is being stupid and needs to suck it up.’ She takes the freshly made bacon wrapped scallops out of the oven, waves her eyes clear of tears, inhales deeply, and joins the party. “Hungry?” She sings. They all run to the platter of savory and leave her none.

Does this sound like you? The Christmas Door Mat or The Maid of Merry Men?

How not to be a Christmas martyr in your family--and find peace once again!

If so, I am here to release you from the hard bondage in which you have been forced to serve. With a loving lecture!

STOP IT!

What if I were to tell you that the reason Jesus was born, (the reason we celebrate Christmas) was so that we could rest and receive abundant blessing? Not strain ourselves to the point of tears.

Jesus knew that women have a tendency to strive to earn favor with man and Christ. Which is why God strategically left this story of Mary and Martha, in the bible….

 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-41

His peace and presence is available to all, but it is up to us Martha’s to put down our apron and just be present enough to enjoy the gift of the moment.

It is perfectly acceptable to expect blessing for yourself on Christmas. It’s not selfish and it’s not sacrilegious. No one ever called you to be a Christmas Martyr. In fact when you take it upon yourself to please everyone, you are actually taking away their opportunities to be a blessing. It feels good to give. Why not let your family experience that too.

We as moms need to help our children and husband bless us. I know that this sounds selfish, and I know that the giver in you is cringing. I realize Christmas isn’t just about gifts, but gifts are a legitimate godly way of showing care for one another.

 

I drive my children, including my teenaged son, to shop for their dad and me. I drop them off at my favorite store and tell them what I don’t want.

Last year, my teenaged boy was absolutely mortified when I dropped him off at a girly accessories store. I walked him into the store and introduced him to the cashier. “My son is shopping for me, these are the things I like, and can you help him?” I asked. She looked as awkward as he did. It was a match made in retail!

“I’ll be in the car,” I said, as I walked out the door. My son, his poor face turned Rudolph red. But that face turned into a very proud grin when I opened a great pair of gloves and scarf on Christmas morning.

I just scored points with his future wife. ‘Not afraid to shop at girly stores to buy his wife great gifts.’ CHECK!

Some husbands may need the same encouragement.

My husband loves to make me happy, and to be honest he deserves more gifts around the tree this year than I do, and he spoils me. So dropping him off at the local frilly shop will be in vain. What I can give him, that in turn blesses me, is an unstressed, joyful version of me. He’s not looking for a perfected Christmas Décor, or an overstuffed brined turkey. He is looking for moments with me, moments when he has my full, happy and content, attention.

This year I have given up the family photo, the Christmas letter and even the Christmas cards. I’m going to express my needs and ask for help. I am going to serve child decorated cookies, that look like reindeer vomit and I’m going to stick to mashed potatoes, turkey and pie. Martha Stewart, you’re fired!

What can you do for yourself this Christmas?

 

Sarah BallSarah Ball is a blogger, speaker, and mother of 5 children. She is currently working on a series called Fearless in 21 days, helping men and women break free from crippling anxiety and panic. You can follow her blog at Virtuous Woman Exposed.

Sarah says, “Head on over to my Virtuous Woman Exposed Facebook Page so we can be friends! You can also find me on Pinterest and Twitter.

WifeyWednesday175Have any Christmas marriage thoughts for us? Link up the URL of one of your marriage posts in our Wifey Wednesday Linkup below! And be sure to link back here so other people can read these great posts.



Reader Question: I Caught My Dad Watching Porn

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and try to take a stab at answering it. With the Christmas holidays approaching and extended family being more on our minds, I thought this sad one would be an important one to answer. What do you do if you catch your dad watching porn (or another married relative)?

My reader writes:

I’m in my mid-twenties and still living at home while I finish up graduate school. I’m very blessed to have parents who are willing to support me financially while I pursue my career goals. But I have a HUGE problem: two years ago I walked in on my dad watching porn while my mom was at her weekly women’s bible study. In the two years since, I have walked in on or came close to walking in on him watching porn several times so I know this is a regular occurrence. I believe that God has allowed me to discover this about him. My dad has acted like nothing has changed between us, and I think that is because he has convinced himself that I did not actually see anything. There are times that he is colder towards me or dismissive and angry. He has verbally abused me on a few occasions and yelled at me for being a “petulant child” then the next minute swings back into his normal temperate state like nothing was even said. He has never treated me like this when my mom is around, and no one else in my family knows what he is like behind closed doors. Either my mom has no idea that he watches porn or has convinced herself that there is nothing that she can do about it. She has counseled me that porn use is an automatic no in a dating relationship (my dad was in the room when she said this-awkward few minutes for me).

I really need advice on what to do. I really do not want to see my dad in sinful bondage like this, but I am fearful because I am financially dependent on my parents allowing me to stay at home. I have debated and prayed and asked for advice on whether or not to confront my dad. I want him to get help, I want my parents to have a real, healthy marriage. But I have no idea how to go about that as an adult daughter still at home. There are lines that I am afraid to even toe for fear of retribution. I’ll be honest, I am very uncomfortable living in my own home and spend most of my time shut up in my room. I need advice on something, anything I can do to try and help make this situation bearable. Keeping my dad’s secret is exhausting, not just the porn use, but his verbal treatment of me at times.

This is a really hard situation, and I want to raise just a few issues which could help people make decisions about what to do in a case like this.

Do you keep the secret if you catch your dad--or another married relative--watching porn? Some thoughts on how to stop the cycle of lies in families.

You Are Not Responsible for Keeping Someone’s Marriage Together

No one is responsible for anyone’s marriage other than our own. Yes, we need to support our friends’ marriages, but that doesn’t mean that if we rock the boat and the marriage falls apart we are somehow to blame.

If something falls apart because of truth, then that something wasn’t really together in the first place. Look, what you want is for your parents (or other relatives in other cases) to have a good marriage. A good marriage is one that honors God. And Jesus said that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus is the Truth, and Jesus is in the Truth. We should never flee from the truth.

And if you really are the thing holding a marriage together (like if you telling a secret would break up a marriage) then that marriage wasn’t really together in the first place. Our aim should be for truth and God. God works when things are brought to light, not when things are hidden and when people refuse to address issues and work on them. Hiding things is lying. Often family tries to suck us in to agree with a big “family lie”, but that isn’t your role and it isn’t right. The Truth is what is right, and don’t ever let someone else convince you otherwise.

Secrets Eat at a Family

Secrets get replicated. What happens in one generation often gets passed on to the next, even if it’s never explicitly talked about. A woman marries a man who cheats, and even though the kids never specifically know that he cheats, somehow they all pick similar people to marry. These patterns repeat.

I once knew something about a young man at our church that I knew the parents would want to know. I went through a bit of a crisis of conscience, wondering if it was really my place to get involved. Is it honestly my business? But it came back to this: If someone knew something like that about my child, I would want to be told. And so how could I not tell his parents? They had the chance to do something about it if they knew; by not sharing the secret I wasn’t actually helping him or helping my friends (his parents). I was just allowing him to engage in really damaging behaviour under the radar.

In this case, her father is engaged in really dangerous behaviour. That sinful porn addiction is also likely responsible for the verbal abuse and the cavalier attitude about other things. Porn affects all aspects of our lives. I believe it needs to be told, either to her mom or to a pastor or to somebody, but it is absolutely not fair that she be put in a position where she feels like she has to keep a secret. That’s too big a burden to put on someone.

If you’re the one dealing with this, though, one word of caution:  you may tell your mom and she may choose to do nothing. That is her choice. But you have now given her a choice, and that’s important, in and of itself. Now you can let go of it.

We All Need a Support System

Find some mentors that you can tell these things to–not a whole lot of people, but some, who can pray for you before you disclose the secret and who can pray for you as you try to live in this environment. You can’t carry this all by yourself anymore.

We Need a Safe Place to Live

Here’s another thing that’s so important to realize: we all need a safe place to live. So many studies have been written about the effects of living in a toxic environment. If you are putting up with verbal abuse and lies because you need to save money, you still are likely paying too high a cost.

Toxic people hurt you. They give you a negative outlook on life. They wreck your self-esteem. They make you pessimistic and sad. That’s not a good combination.

Sometimes Life Involves Risk

Disclosing your dad’s porn use is risky; you may not be able to live at your parents’ house anymore. But often doing the right thing is also doing the risky thing. The reason so many of us live miserable lives is because we choose to live with the secrets rather than rocking the boat. And when we do that we limit what God can do.

God really can do amazing things, but He tends to do those things when we open ourselves up, make ourselves vulnerable, and stop trying to protect ourselves.

And that may mean not just disclosing a secret, but also moving out.

And it doesn’t have to be that expensive! A female grad student who stays in her room on wifi? Do you know how great a tenant that is? My mom rented out a room to a college student a few  years ago really inexpensively. If you’re prepared to just take a room in someone’s home, you can often find an older woman or an older couple who just needs a little more income and who has a spare room. Sometimes someone in your church, if you let the need be known, may do it for free to help you get on your feet. It’s not like you necessarily have to rent a whole apartment.

The unknown is scary, but when we step there, God opens doors.

One More Thing: Porn is Not Inevitable

This woman’s mom said that porn is inevitable in a dating relationship. She’s right, it is inevitable–IF you date people who use porn and IF you tolerate it. Whatever you tolerate will continue.

Whatever you tolerate will continue. #marriagetip

Most teens will be exposed to porn (which is why it’s so important to protect the gadgets in your home! See here for a special 2-month free offer from Covenant Eyes).  But while many teens will be tempted (including girls) not all will become habitual users. And if they are habitual porn users, that needs to be dealt with before an engagement or marriage–but it absolutely CAN be defeated.

People say porn is inevitable because it gives them an “out”–if their significant other uses porn, and they haven’t wanted to rock the boat for fear of losing that person, they likely justified it to themselves by saying, “everyone uses it”. But it’s not true.

If, in your circle of friends, everybody uses it and no one is struggling to stop, then you need a new circle of friends. Porn isn’t inevitable, porn can be defeated, and many, many people are fighting for pure marriages.

So those are my thoughts for this poor woman, but I know that there are many of you in the same position–people who caught their brother-in-law using porn, or their married brother, or an uncle, or whoever. Let me leave you with one last thought: what if your sister-in-law (or whoever the spouse is) has been struggling under this burden of her husband’s porn use? What if she has thought it was hopeless? What if she has convinced herself there is nothing she can do, and she feels so alone and so dirty? And then you come to her and say, “no, this is not acceptable. You’re right to be upset.” You actually free her from the trap that she’s built for herself. You’ve spoken truth into a web of lies, and it’s amazing how one word of truth can often turn a situation around. Maybe she’s hurting, and she needs the strength to do something about it. Maybe you’re the kick in the pants, the reality check, the support she needs.

Now, I’d love to know: have you ever been in a situation where you caught a relative using porn? Or did you have secrets in your family? What did you do? Let’s talk in the comments and encourage each other!

Go to Your Room! Why Kids Should Hang Out in the Living Room Instead

For my column today I thought I’d rerun a Christmas column from a few years ago where I talked about computers in kids’ rooms. It goes along well with our discussion yesterday about protecting kids with all the new gadgets at Christmas!

Computers in Kids Rooms
Disciplining children is a minefield for parents today. You’re not supposed to spank. You’re not supposed to yell. So when a 13-year-old child is tormenting his 9-year-old brother, parents utter the greatest threat that’s still acceptable: “Go to your room!”

Yeah, that’ll teach him.

Here’s a kid who obviously does not want to be with the family, and, in punishment, you send him to a place where, according to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 50% have their own television, and another 25% have a computer. “Go to your room!” is no longer sentencing a child to hours of boredom; it’s sending a child to a place where they have access to the outside world, with no parental interference, and often no parental guidance.

Traditionally, the living room was for living; the bedroom was for sleeping. Being banished to the bedroom was harsh indeed. Today, many children prefer to cocoon in their rooms, which they’re trying to turn into entertainment central. It’s not unusual for most kids’ Christmas lists to have “electronics” highlighted right at the top. The Santa in you may be tempted to oblige. The Scrooge in me is asking you to reconsider.

After all, what happens when kids have a television in their bedroom? According to a University of Haifa study, middle schoolers with TVs in their room sleep thirty minutes less a night, on average, than children without a television. The Canadian Pediatric Society calls televisions in bedrooms one of the biggest factors in childhood obesity. These children also score lower on reading and math tests. And perhaps most importantly, they’re twice as likely to start smoking and get involved in other delinquent activities, even controlling for all other factors.

While the health and educational detriments of television are important, it’s that last one that concerns me most.

When kids have televisions and computers in their room, they are more likely to make lifestyle and moral choices that parents don’t approve of because their lives have now become more and more independent.

Kids with TVs in their rooms live in their rooms, not in the kitchen or the family room, where they can hang out with their parents. And perhaps just as importantly, they tend to live solitary lives, not lives with their siblings. If you’ve ever wondered why kids squabble so much, perhaps it’s because they aren’t forced to play together or cure boredom together. Instead, they just retreat to their rooms to be entertained on their own.

I really can’t think of anything much more destructive in a family than encouraging your child to cocoon. Kids need input from parents. They need conversation. They need meal times. They need to have fun! But we’re letting them grow up by themselves, in their wonderfully decorated rooms with every little gadget. It’s wrong.

If your lives consist mostly of gathering the children for the practical functions of life, like putting food on their plates or collecting homework or ascertaining everybody’s schedules, and then you separate during your leisure times, I doubt real conversation or sharing will happen.

If your children hang out in their own rooms, rather than in the family room with siblings, I doubt great friendships will develop.

Before you shop this Christmas, then, ask yourself: what values do you want your children to have? Do electronics in their bedrooms contribute to your vision? Probably not. So maybe the Santa in you should invest in board games for the whole family or comfortable furniture for the living room, rather than for bedrooms. Your kids may think you’ve turned into Scrooge, but they’ll be better people for it.

If your kids have gadgets, computers, or phones in their room, make sure you’ve taken steps to protect them online!

Kids, Gadgets, and Christmas: Protect Your Kids Online

Protect Your Kids Online: If you're buying gadgets this Christmas, don't let those gadgets become traps. Help keep them fun--and safe!

Have you done all your Christmas shopping yet?

Personally, I don’t usually start until panic sets in, likely around the 18th, but I have at least thought about what I’m getting everybody. We don’t tend to do Christmas big; I focus on 3 Gifts (something they need, something they want, and something to nurture their spiritual side). And that’s it.

But with teenagers in the house, often the “gift they want” is some sort of electronic device. And that can be a real treat and a real benefit to them, especially if they’re students.

But it can also be a danger, and so this time of year is a great time to reevaluate internet safety at your home. If you’re going to bring new devices into your house on Dec. 25, that means that you’re going to bring EVERYTHING that’s on the internet potentially into your home, unless you take some steps to stop that.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but because I write a marriage blog I get tons of emails everyday. And I would say that half of all the emails I get from women (and men) in troubled marriages revolve around porn. And often the root of that story isn’t “he started watching porn when we got married”–it’s “he started looking at porn when he was 11″, or “she started reading erotica online when she was 14.” Kids often start younger than we even think–younger than we think that they are even interested in it. And then they can easily get sucked in to something that will affect their sexuality, their spiritual life, their social life, and even their future marriage.

I am not against devices in the house. I love computers and I love spending time online.

But you simply have to be realistic about how to protect your kids online.

It’s the best gift that we can give our kids, and our future sons and daughters-in-law: to raise children who were not exposed to that much porn/erotica as early teens and teens.

And this is not just a boy problem. Girls watch porn, too! In fact, most estimates are that 30% of people who access porn sites are female. We often get scared for our boys, but our girls are in danger to temptation, too.

So here are four ideas to keep your family safe–even with all the new gadgets!

Keep Devices in a Central Place at Night

When do kids tend to access porn? At night, when they’re lying in bed on their own and they have complete privacy. So a simple solution is to make it normal to charge all devices in a central place every night. Bonus #1: your kids actually sleep rather than checking Facebook all night. Bonus #2: your phones actually get charged (I always forget to charge mine).

So get a central charging dock that can handle multiple devices, like this:

Great Useful Stuff Rustic Modern Collection: Ultra Charging Station Multi-device Charging Station and Dock for Iphone 5, 6, 6 Plus, 4s, Ipad Mini, Ipad Air, Ipad 4, Samsung Galaxy S3 S4, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 3, Macbook Air, Smartphones & Tablets

Turn the WiFi off at night–or change the password

Another option? The wifi goes off at 11 every night. That stops kids from staying up too late, and it stops the temptation to browse questionable sites. I’ve also known parents who change the wifi password every week, and kids can’t get it until they do their chores (or their homework!)

Get an Accountability Program

Finally, I think it’s so important to get some sort of internet accountability program for your family, so that the temptation is removed. And I’m a big fan of Covenant Eyes. Here’s how it works:

You sign up for a family plan, and can get it installed on your computers, phones, tablets, and iPods. Covenant Eyes gives all websites a rating, from A-okay to Mature to Pornographic. And you can register each user as to what level they’re allowed to access (adults could access mature but not pornographic; 11-year-olds can’t access Mature either). Then, if that family member ever tries to access a site that’s out of their rating, an accountability partner of your choice will receive an email.

You can also have the option to block those sites altogether.

I think part of being a good parent is protecting your kids from the filth that is out there. So I’d encourage you–if you’re buying devices for Christmas, or if your family already has lots of devices, get some internet protection, too.

And the great thing is that Covenant Eyes is giving a discount JUST for people who click using my link where you’ll get two months of internet safety free!

It’s just $13.99, and that gives you a Family Account on multiple devices–really all that you own. There are no limits. You can assign everybody their unique user name, and add filtering to each account (or to only a select few) for free. You can set what kind of sites your kids can visit (a 5-year-old should be far more restricted than a 16-year-old, for instance). You can even block internet access at certain times of day (which is much easier than turning off the wifi altogether!).

You’ll get the discount automatically when you sign up through my link, but if for some reason it doesn’t appear, just use the code “TLHV” at the checkout (for To Love, Honor and Vacuum!)

This offer is only good until December 31, 2014. After that, you’ll still get one month free–but not two!

Get it here.

Don’t let those Christmas gifts become the vehicle through which your child starts accessing questionable stuff early–and forms a habit which is so hard to break.

It’s not “bad” kids who start to do this. It’s MOST kids, even good kids.

It’s those kids who are solid Christians, who just get lonely, and who are curious. It’s those strong Christian kids who end up marrying other strong Christian kids, but they bring all this sexual garbage into their marriage which messes up their libidos and their expectations and their ability to experience real intimacy. The emails I receive aren’t just from women who are married to BAD guys; most of them are women married to good, Christian guys who never dreamed these upstanding guys struggled with this, because they’re the last people you’d think had this issue. And it started when they were young teens. It often started at Christmas.

Please, talk to your husband about this and consider adding Covenant Eyes to those gadgets and phones you have or the ones you’re buying. It really is part of being a responsible parent today!

Learn more about Covenant Eyes here.

Now, maybe you’re thinking: but that’s just “window dressing”. We should be looking at the heart issues that bring up the temptation in the first place. If you simply take away the temptation, that doesn’t change the heart.

And I understand. But I don’t buy it. These are KIDS. They aren’t wise enough to understand what’s dangerous to them, and they’re naturally curious. It’s very hard to withstand that curiosity. And once they get sucked in, it gets much worse. If you can prevent that from happening in the first place, you do your kids a tremendous favor.

Look, back when I was a kid, if you wanted to see porn you had to find a friend’s father’s stash of Playboys in the garden shed. Or if you were older, you had to get in your car, drive to the corner store, reach for that paper-bag-covered magazine, take it to the cashier, pull out your wallet, pay for it, and drive home with it. Those are a lot of steps–and a lot of chances for your conscience to work and for the Holy Spirit to convince you to turn around and run. Now it’s available with one click. It’s too easy. And so we need to fight smarter.

Get Educated on Teens and Porn

Widespread internet access at home is only about 15 years old. In 2000, 43% of homes had access to the internet (and much of that was dialup). Today it’s 81%. That means that unless you’re in your late 20s, most parents today did NOT grow up with internet in the home when they were teens. But to our kids this is normal. We are the dividing generation. Every generation after this will have gone through it and will understand, and our kids will probably be more careful with their kids. But we didn’t grow up with it, and so we don’t understand. We can’t in the same way.

So we need to get educated.

Here are a few ebooks and resources from Covenant Eyes that you may find helpful. All are free and can be downloaded immediately:

  • When Your Child is Looking at Porn (what to do when you “catch” your child or teen accessing porn)
  • Your Brain on Porn (how porn actually affects the brain)
  • Parenting the Internet Generation
  • A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying

And more! Download these ebooks here.

And here’s a quick infographic on teens and porn use:

 

How Pornography Addiction Affects the Teenage Brain – InfographicLearn How Pornography Addiction Affects the Teenage Brain – Infographic

This Christmas, be a vigilant parent and protect your kids online. We need to live in the real world; I don’t believe in getting rid of technology. But I do believe in being safe. And so I wish you all a very safe Christmas!
This post contains affiliate links.

 

Wifey Wednesday: What Do I Do with a Workaholic Husband?

When your husband is a workaholic: how to communicate your needs for him in your #marriage!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! I introduce a post, and then give you a chance to link up your own post in the linky below. And today we’re going to deal with this problem: what do you do with a workaholic husband?

A reader recently wrote me this letter:

My husband’s work hours are way out of control. He owns his own business and regularly works 75-90 hours a week. We have been married almost 30 years and our kids are almost out of the nest.

His obsession with work overrides his common sense. The kids and I staged an intervention (literally) where we said that they would not ride in his car with him if he continued to text and check emails while driving (that has improved a bit since then).

He thinks I don’t appreciate his hard work. I do, but it has left me to be virtually a single parent, and in fact, an angry, disconnected wife. I try to open discussions with “I/we want to have you at home more. I miss time with you”, but it immediately goes to accusations that I don’t understand his work, his stress, the economy etc.

I am tired of pat Christian answers about making my home a sanctuary for him and understanding that work is what God created him to do. I am angry when I hear other Godly men ask with a laugh, “Still working those crazy hours?” instead of calling him on his out of balance life. I have considered talking to an elder couple that we are close to in order to have someone else discuss this with him.

My husband is a good man and I know, in my head if not my heart, that he loves me and his kids, but even as I write this, a voice in my head whispers, “but not enough to cut back his work hours”.

My heart breaks for this woman. She IS married to a workaholic husband, and it’s making her feel so unloved. So what does one do in this situation? Here are some general thoughts about workaholism and marriage.

Is He a Workaholic or Does He Just Work Hard?

My husband is a physician, and when he was in training he was often at work for 100-120 hours a week, being 36 hours on and 12 hours off. It was horrible. When he had his own practice he was still on call frequently, and his work weeks were still long. I never considered him a workaholic, though, because he loved being home–and when he had to dictate charts or bring work home he was always really grumpy about it. He wanted to be away from work; the job just didn’t always allow it.

What good would it have been for me to be angry at him for that? He was already upset that he wasn’t home more; me adding to that would not have helped. Working hard and working long hours does not necessarily mean he’s a workaholic.

A workaholic husband, on the other hand, is someone who routinely chooses to engage in work rather than engage in family time even when the job does not necessarily demand it. If he’s a pastor and he’s forever visiting people and counselling people after hours and going to meetings and he’s never with his family, then he’s likely a workaholic. If he’s a business owner (like our letter writer’s husband) and he can never put the job down, then he’s likely a workaholic.

Certain jobs are more prone to workaholism: the “caring” professions, especially ministry ones, where you can always justify working harder because “people need me”, and entrepreneurs, who feel as if everything rests on their shoulders. There are others as well, but those are the two categories that seem to be especially prone to it.

If He Simply Works Hard

Can He Switch Jobs?

Can you make a long-term plan for him to get more training so that he can qualify for something different that pays well? Can you create a 5-year plan together that gets him into something more manageable–so that your family life is better?

Can You Change Your Work?

One reason that my husband’s job was never too much of a burden to us was because I didn’t work outside the home. Because I was there to take care of the day-to-day things, then when he was home we could relax as a family. If I had been working 40 hours a week too I don’t know how we would have done it. When he got home instead of playing a game or talking we’d have to clean something or tend to errands.

Is there a way that you can reduce your hours or change your work so that the family becomes more manageable–even with his hours?

Can You Carve Out Family Time?

I have two dear friends who are both family physicians in a small town. The wife works part-time; the husband has always worked more than full-time because that’s the nature of the job. While he’s around most nights, he honestly is gone a lot of the time. But what they have done is carved out several weeks of vacation a year where they get out of town completely, so no one can page him. And they love their vacation time! They’ve taken their girls on missions trips, on backpacking adventures, and all kinds of places so that they create memories.

If your husband puts in a ton of hours at work, perhaps he can negotiate more vacation time where he’s out of the office and away from his phone.

I have another friend who is a project manager for huge corporate projects. He goes to work in one place for 2-3 years, managing some new huge launch, and then he’ll move to another corporation. So everywhere he goes it’s always at a stressful, busy time. He misses Thanksgiving sometimes. He misses weekends sometimes. But one thing he never misses is his kids’ quiz meets (his kids do Bible quizzing with my daughter). He coaches and he’s made that his priority. So even though he misses some traditional family things, he is always there for one particular thing that has become his priority–his barometer of whether he’s involved enough or not. And that works really well for them. Can your husband find one thing that he is always there for–coaching soccer, working with the youth group, attending a small group with you? And that is always your priority?

For years my husband and I spent Wednesday nights ballroom dancing. He never, ever took call on Wednesday nights, no matter what. That was our time. So, yes, I couldn’t always count on him for birthdays or for weekends, but I knew that he would always be there for me for Wednesday nights.

If Your Husband is a Workaholic

Can You Plan Your Goals Together?

Men Are Like Waffles--Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your DifferencesIf the issue is not one of time but honestly one of priority, then it’s a much bigger problem. Like Bill and Pam Farrel say, men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti. Men live their lives in little boxes: when they’re in one box (like work) it’s hard for them to think about another box. And often that work box gets really big.

One way to force them out of it is to talk to them about goals. Workaholics are often quite good at setting goals because they do it in the work setting all the time. So what about asking him to set goals for your family and your marriage? I’ve got some printable, downloadable worksheets right here that you can use to dream together and vision together.

If you start asking, “what do we want our family to look like?”, and then “what are the action steps we need to take to get them there?” that can help him see that he has action steps that need to be taken at home, too.

Developing a Vision for Your Family

Can You Find the Root of Workaholism?

Is workaholism about money? Or is it about self-worth? Or is it about a lack of trust in God?

I have a friend named Mark who has a construction company. He has always prioritized his family. He works long hours, but he’s home on weekends, and they do vacations together. When the downturn came in 2008, he didn’t lose his business, though many in his town did. And he says he just trusted God. He worked a little harder to drum up business, but he didn’t panic, because he knew God would take care of them.

Sometimes people become workaholics because they’re essentially scared that God won’t take care of them, so they have to do it all themselves. In that case it’s a trust in God issue.

Sometimes he’s grown up to believe that his worth is from his work, and so he puts all of his emphasis there.

And sometimes he just wants more money, thinking that it will buy security.

Figuring out what the spiritual root is can help you tackle the problem. And sometimes you will have to talk about this with a counselor or a third party. In extreme cases, you will have to say, “I can’t live in the marriage like this anymore and we need to get help.”

Other times just using logic can help. How much money is enough for your retirement? If you go at this trajectory, will you manage? Does the business need to expand? Do you need to work that many hours? If they can see it in black and white that their financial goals are already met, that can help them scale back.

If the issue is that he’s in a caring profession, and the demands are never ending, then I’d read this post which addresses specifically that.

Be Honest with Your Own Role

I am not saying this is the case with my reader at all, but I have had many men comment on this blog about how desperately lonely they are in their marriages, and how they have turned to their work instead so that they can cope with the loneliness. The babies came, and their wives threw themselves into the kids, virtually stopped having sex, and were critical and demanding. And the men felt unloved.

So they threw themselves into work, and for a few years everyone was happy. He could cope because his needs were met at work; she could focus on her kids unimpeded. Then the kids started to grow, and she began to miss him, but he wasn’t here anymore.

Ask yourself if you have done anything to contribute to his workaholism (and this is not always the case). Then ask him. And if you have, repent, apologize, ask forgiveness, and try to start fresh. Here’s a good post on asking for forgiveness.

Confront Him About His Workaholism

Like my reader, I have heard the advice, “just make your home a sanctuary he wants to come home to!”, and there is some truth to that. But I think that truth is more relevant if your husband works hard, not if he’s a workaholic. If he simply works hard, he needs that sanctuary. If he’s a workaholic, the problem is usually a spiritual one, and no matter what you do it won’t get better. In fact, you could end up enabling him to grow further away from God and further away from his family if you do nothing.

Boundaries in MarriageInstead, I’d advise my reader to bring in that older couple she was referencing. Perhaps talking to a counselor would help. Read the book Boundaries in Marriage. But do not just let it be. That makes you an enabler, not a spouse.

Our reader and her kids did a good thing confronting him about texting. That was a great first step. But take the next step, too.

Make Your Own Life

My friend Leanne had a workaholic husband. She tried for years to change it and finally realized she couldn’t. So she stopped waiting around for him. She began taking the kids on vacation by herself. She took them to the beach in the summer rather than trying to plan around his schedule–and then being disappointed again. She started taking painting classes herself and hired a baby-sitter for the kids. She stopped putting her life on hold and started living it.

An interesting thing happened. His workaholism stopped bothering her quite as much because she had other areas of joy in her life. And because of that, he started wanting to be home more. He realized he was missing a lot of fun, and he made more of an effort to be there for those beach trips.

Their marriage is still not perfect, but she’s finding it easier to cope with it.

WifeyWednesday175So those are my thoughts on workaholism–and now I’d love to know yours! How do you deal with a husband who works a ton? Let me know in the comments!

And now it’s your turn to leave your own link for Wifey Wednesday! Just put the URL of your marriage post below, and be sure to link back here so other people can read the great marriage advice!



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My 3 Gifts of Christmas

Yesterday, I mentioned my 3 Gifts of Christmas, so I thought I would re-run it, in case you missed it previously. This column is a special one to me. For the last few years I’ve mentioned our method of gift giving, and inevitably people come up to me on the street, months later, telling me how much they appreciated it. Perhaps it will be something that will bless you, as well!

My Three Gifts of ChristmasApparently I buy really lousy Christmas presents. I had always mildly suspected my shortcomings, but recently economist Joel Waldfogel confirmed them. In his book Scroogenomics, he showed rather indisputably that if you ask Christmas gift recipients to assign a value to the gifts they receive, they inevitably quote a number less than the actual cost, leading to a waste of $963 million a year in Canada. And the gifts that are valued the least? Those from aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who apparently only get 75 cents of perceived value for every dollar spent.

I do have trouble buying for the nieces and nephews and various other younger people in my life. I don’t always share the same interests, and being the incorrigible aunt that I am, I refuse to pander to hobbies that don’t suit me. Instead, like many millions of aunts and grandparents and in-laws all over this nation, I buy something lousy instead. My preference is always books. Unfortunately, most younger Canadians don’t share my passion, and thus they consider these types of gifts with about the same amount of affection that I consider most X-box games. And thus we reach the gift-giving impasse.

One of my nephews announced rather brazenly that this year he’d rather just have cash. Doling out money, though, seems so crass. If gift giving is going to degenerate into passing along cash and gift cards, then Christmas becomes a season of greed, rather than a time to express our love.

Nevertheless, Waldfogel’s news isn’t all bad. We actually do quite well on certain gifts. The closer we are to people, the better the gift giving becomes. Siblings value gifts at about 99% of their value, and spouses do even better, at about $1.02. I’m pretty sure my children tend to like their gifts from me, as well.

Even if I buy my girls good gifts, though, is that really the point of the season? According to most of the seasonal flyers that pass through our mail slots it certainly is. Shoppers’ Drug Mart, for instance, in their 36 page “Gifts Made Easy” flyer managed to talk about the “Top 10 Gifts They’ll Love” (though I’m sure my nieces and nephews wouldn’t like those either), and lots of things to “Rock your Holiday”, or go “Twinkle Twinkle”, while only mentioning the Christmas word three times.

If Christmas is only about gifts, then we are in trouble.

It has become a big waste, whether we’re successful gift givers or not, because all we’re doing is breeding greed. I know it’s difficult when children are young and they desperately want the latest toy, but parenting is about identifying teaching opportunities, and I think this is one of them. Life is not about accumulating stuff with as little work as possible; life needs to be about giving, about making a difference, about family, and values, and faith, and love, or life becomes very empty indeed.

That’s why several years ago we started a new gift giving tradition with my children.

We call it the “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh” ritual, where they each get three gifts, and nothing more. The gold gift is something they want. The frankincense gift is something they need, like socks. And the myrrh gift is something to nurture their souls. It could be a journal, or a book, or a CD, or a movie. It’s something that reminds them of their purpose here on earth, or encourages them to think, to write, and to pray about what’s important. It’s always the biggest challenge to find such a thing, but it’s a challenge I’m up for, since it reminds us of the reason for the season. And I’m pretty sure, despite what the flyers might say, that reason should not be greed. Pass it on.

Need to come up with ideas for “myrrh” gifts–Christmas gifts to nurture the soul? I’ve got a whole bunch, divided by age and gender, right here!

Christmas Gifts to Nurture the Soul

We do the three gifts of Christmas--something they need, something they want, and something to nurture their spiritual side. Here are ideas for spiritual Christmas gifts for your whole family.For several years I’ve been telling you all about our Christmas gift tradition, the Three Gifts of Christmas: Something They Need, Something They Want, and Something to Nurture their Spiritual Side. It’s the gold, frankincense and myrrh gifts!

We’ve been doing this with our girls for years now, and I’ve started doing it for my husband, too. But coming up with a good idea for a “spiritual” gift is always a bit of a challenge–and, quite frankly, the most fun challenge I have at Christmas! I always want to make it meaningful.

I often get asked by people who read about my “three gifts of Christmas” idea for thoughts on what they can do for the “myrrh” gift, or the spiritual gift, and so today I thought I’d share some ideas for different ages and genders to get you started.

I’ll be doing this post a little bit differently, though. I’ll be updating it constantly until Christmas, making use of the comment section and adding good ideas when they come in! So be sure to pin it or bookmark it so you can come back and refer to it later–I may have even more ideas!

But Christmas should never be only about getting what you want. We have to also remind ourselves of the meaning behind the season, and that’s why I always try to include something that will help girls think about who they are in Christ, or will help them grow in their relationship with Him.

You don’t want to get a “bad” present, though–a present that no one will actually like. You want to get something that’s actually useful and that they will use and appreciate.

So here we go–spiritual gifts for your family, divided by age and gender!

Christmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–young children (4-11)

In this category I’m big on books, because reading out loud to children is one of the best things we can do! I’m focusing on kids that are 4 and up here.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Book $4.87

The Best Christmas Pageant EverThis is the best book ever written. Seriously. As a child, we read it out loud every Christmas Eve. The problem was that my aunt would know what was coming, and would be laughing so hard she would find it hard to keep going. When my kids were 4 or 5, we started reading it out loud on Christmas Eve with them, too (it’s a long read, but you can do it in a few hours while you’re all sitting around doing crafts or eating or something. And it’s so wonderful!) Now that my daughter has a significant other, we’ll be making him listen to the reading of it, even though he’s 20. You’re never too old for this one!

It is hilarious, it is heartwarming, and it is wonderful.

Treasures of the Snow (Patricia St John Series)Treasures of the Snow – Book $7.32

Another of my favourite novels growing up. I read it to my girls as well, and it was one of the ways they best understood the gospel at a young age. Just a beautiful story of sibling love, and the hardship of life in poverty in the mountains of Switzerland. It’s lovely.

The Chronicles of Narnia Boxed SetChronicles of Narnia Box Set – $31.49

I’ve read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out loud to so many kids I’ve lost count. It was my go-to read aloud book when I was a camp counselor, and I used it to lead several kids to Christ. I also read it to my cousins and to my own kids several times. And when you reread the books as adults, you see so much more! To me, this is the best book series ever.

Adventure Bible, NIVThe Adventure Bible – $19.65

Want your children to learn to start doing devotions on their own? Here’s a full Bible that’s meant for kids–highlighting great stories, great verses, and containing lots of info about Bible times (as well as beautiful pictures). It’s meant for kids 9-12 (or 8 if your kids are good readers). If you have children younger than 9 years old, you can also get The Adventure Bible, early readers edition.

Apples to Apples Bible EditionApples to Apples Bible Edition – $20.57

Our family is big on board games, and often our “spiritual” gift to the kids over the years has been a Bible based game. The kids love Apples to Apples, and so this one would fit well for kids 8 and up. Sometimes games help the spiritual side the best, because they also encourage family time! And we’ve found that when we have other families over for dinner, we often end up playing games, so it’s a great way for fellowship, too.

Stocking Stuffers for Your Husband

Christmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–preteens

For this group, I’d still recommend the Narnia series if they haven’t read it, along with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and the Apples to Apples game. Then we’ll add these options. Again, it’s big on games because games mean FAMILY TIME, which also nurtures your spiritual side!

Cactus Games Scattergories-Bible EditionScattergories Bible Edition – $20.61

Again, games are awesome! Here’s the classic game of Scattergories, where one team is given a letter, and you have to match as many things on that category with that letter in each round. So fun!

Bible TabooTaboo Bible Edition – $20.64

I am seriously good at Taboo, if I’m the one giving the clues. Seriously. No one can beat me. And this game is awfully fun! You have to get your teammates to say a specific word or phrase WITHOUT using any of the words on the card (so you may have to get them to say the word “manger” without being allowed to say Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Bethlehem, Shepherds, Inn for instance).

Cactus Games Outburst-Bible EditionOutburst Bible Edition – $23.59

We’ve got this one and we play it all the time. There’s a card with ten answers on it, like 10 Names of Christ or 10 Places Jesus Visited or whatever, and your team has to name as many as possible in the time allotted.

Bible Games Combo w/Free Deck of Standard Playing CardsIt’s been great with youth groups, too!

Bible Games Combo – $89.99

Includes all of the games I’ve mentioned here, plus Mad Gab Bible and a free deck of cards. This is awesome!

Specifically for Preteen Girls:

Daughter of China – Novel $7.75

Daughter of ChinaI read this book a few years ago and was so touched by it. It’s all about the persecuted church in China, but you learn about it through the eyes of one teenaged girl, who has normal hopes and dreams that don’t seem to be able to be realized. At this age kids often read the Beverly Lewis Amish series or start reading other Christian romances. If you want to get a book that’s accessible that’s also really beautiful, try this one.

Swimming Through Clouds: A Contemporary Young Adult NovelNovels by Rajdeep Paulus – Swimming Through Clouds – $9.58

Rajdeep is a good friend of mine, and she’s written two novels for teen girls that deal with friendship, grace, and finding your way in the world when you start off with a really dysfunctional family. Will help teens see their friends with new eyes, too.

NIV Backpack BibleNIV Backpack Bible – $16.09

Here’s a small Bible that lays flat that will fit in a backpack or anywhere else for kids on the go! It’s pretty and purple and girls will love it.

Specifically for Preteen Boys:

God's SmugglerGod’s Smuggler  by Brother Andrew (updated) $12.37

GIRLS CAN READ THIS TOO!!!! But it’s a great book for boys, and those are sometimes hard to find, so I’m putting it in the boys’ section. Brother Andrew was an amazing man who smuggled Bibles into communist countries throughout the 1970s an 1980s. His stories are absolutely riveting. This edition has been updated and slightly rewritten to make it more accessible, and it’s a great biography to read. It’s more like reading The Bourne Identity or something–it’s that fast paced.

NIV Boys Backpack BibleBoys’ NIV Backpack Bible – $13.98

A smaller Bible that lays flat which will fit in a backpack or which a boy can easily take along to church. It’s brown, so not girly at all!

Stocking Stuffers for Your HusbandChristmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–Teenagers

For teens I’d recommend any of the games, especially Scattergories and Outburst and Taboo. And no matter the age, you still have to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever out loud. At this age I’d stress starting to get into some serious Bible study, which is why I’m including wide-margin Bibles or Bibles that are designed for taking notes. I bought a wide margined Bible about a decade ago and I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost it because it’s got all of my notes and thoughts in it! I think encouraging kids to start actually writing notes in their Bibles is a good thing–and this is what I’ll be getting my girls this Christmas (I just realized that as I was typing this! I’ve been trying to figure out a spiritual gift, and this fits the bill. I’ve bought them the smaller Bibles before, but it’s time they had something to actually write in).

Here are two Bibles that fit the bill, but there are likely many others. Just make sure they have wide enough margins to take notes!

NIV Note-Taker's BibleNIV Note Takers’ Bible – $38.40

A Bible with wide margins specifically designed for you to take notes during Bible studies, sermons, etc. It doesn’t have a lot of study aids, but it’s great for just being the plain Bible text–with your own personal commentary.

ESV Single Column Journaling Bible (Black)ESV Journalling Bible – $31.36

Here’s a Bible with the text in a single column, verse by verse, to let you take notes on each verse. Lots of room for writing! The pictured one is in black, but it comes in many different colours as well.

ACCU-Gel Highlighters Study KitBible Highlighters - $6.70

Okay, that must be a gimmick. BIBLE highlighters? Is that like Bible pencils and Bible erasers, where people put “Bible” in front of it to sell it? Actually, in this case, no. It’s a real thing. And here’s why: if you’re going to highlight in your Bible, you need highlighters that won’t bleed through the page to the other side. So these are awesome, because they let you highlight on one side, but when you flip the page it’s still okay. Bible pages are super-thin, because the Bible is so long, so normal highlighters won’t work. If you have a teen who is serious about Bible study, these are great.

Sakura 30081 Pigma Micron Blister Card 005 Ink Pen, 0.20-mm, BlackBible Pens – $4.79

Again, the best way to write in a Bible is with special pens that won’t bleed through. Often normal ballpoint pens do, and the markers that won’t fade often bleed as well. These pens don’t bleed, but they’re crisp and clear.

Crayola Colored Pencils, Assorted Colors, 24 count (68-4024)Pencil Crayons – $2.99

You can never fail with pencil crayons to colour in verses you like or words you want to highlight! I still colour all the verses I’ve memorized yellow. These are just standard Crayola coloured pencils, but even if you have some in your house, it’s good to buy a set for each person so that they have their own to keep with their Bible and they’re not searching all over the house when it’s time to do devotions.

Safely HomeSafely Home - $12.37

Very rarely has a novel impacted me as much as Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. Again, another book about the persecuted church in China. There are two specific incidents that stand out to me: first, everyone in one town decides to leave, making the town abandoned. The reason? Everyone has already accepted Christ, so there is no more mission work that can be done there. It is time to move on. Second, in China, people pray for having the honour of being the last martyr before Christ returns. Can you imagine making such a prayer for yourself–or your child? It helps you get a totally new perspective on what it means to follow Christ.

Uncle Tom's CabinUncle Tom’s Cabin – $9.49

This used to be required reading in high school, but few teens read it anymore. And quite frankly, this is one of the most Christian books I have ever read. It is quite simply beautiful. It opens people’s eyes to the horror that was slavery, but also lets you see how Christ can enter in and transform lives. Another thing I appreciated: not all whites were bad, and not all blacks were good. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a novel about the complexities of real life, and she accomplished something so well that we are still trying to figure out today. Also, this books has the best gospel presentation I have ever read. Every person needs to read this book, at least once in their lives.

Specifically for teenage boys

C80L Forgiven Jewelry-3 Nail Cross Necklace on Suede Cord-Christian Jewelry3-Nail Cross Necklace on Suede $9.49

Here’s jewelry for boys–it’s a cross necklace with a twist, constructed out of 3 nails (the nails in both hands, and the nail in His feet). It’s powerful.

Specifically for teenage girls

Shine Necklace – $40

It’s gold plated, and it gives the message: I want to shine wherever I am, in school, at work, at home. It’s lovely, and a conversation starter.

Shine Necklace

 

Stocking Stuffers for Your Husband

Christmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–adult women

I’d add the wide margin Bibles from above, along with the highlighters and Bible pen, as well as the family games. Then here are a few other choices:

 It is well with my soul necklace – $36

If you have a woman in your life who has gone through a difficult time this year, here’s a lovely piece of jewelry to remind her that God is always with her bringing peace.

It Is Well Necklace

Grateful Necklace - $39

A beautiful pewter necklace that you can add charms to–either words like “family”, or initials of your family members, or anything else!

Grateful Necklace

How Great Thou Art wall plaque – $14.99

This is my mother’s favourite hymn, and it means so much to us as a family. You can find plaques of many of your other favourite hymns, or other verses, over at Dayspring.

How Great Thou Art Plaque

 

Stocking Stuffers for Your HusbandChristmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–adult men (like husbands!)

Men can be harder to buy for. You can include the study Bibles mentioned above, or some great books, but some guys don’t like reading books. If your husband isn’t a reader, don’t get him a book just because you love it. Here are some other ideas that may work:

Sermons to listen to in the car

Download some awesome sermons and create a CD for him (or put them on his iPod) so he can listen in the car while he drives to work! If you know of a great site to download sermons, or some wonderful ones, let me know in the comments and I’ll add the links here.

Audio Books

If your husband drives a lot for work, then listening to a good book can help break up the trip and give him something meaningful to think about. When I drive to speaking engagements I often listen to books. Search around for some good ones you think he’d like and download them to a CD or to his iPod. I’m linking here to the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, but you can find a ton of books at Audible that he will like!

Noble Man Mug – $9.99

Show your husband that you think he’s a noble man! A sturdy mug with an inspirational message.

Dayspring Noble Man Mug

So remember our theme: 3 Gifts at Christmas for those you love. Something they need, something they want, and something to nurture their spiritual side. It’s the gold, frankincense and myrrh method of gift giving! And see if it helps you and your family think of Christmas in a new way.

My 3 Gifts of Christmas: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Something they want, something they need, and something to nurture their soul. Read on for ideas!

Now, I would love to hear your suggestions! Leave them in the comments, and let’s brainstorm together about how to make this season meaningful!

 

 

Say Cheese! The Dreaded Christmas Family Portrait

Taking that dreaded family Christmas portrait! Funny column...

This column first appeared December 2002. It was one of my first Christmas ones–and I thought you all may enjoy a peek into my life when the kids were smaller!

Christmas is coming, which means many of us are primping hair and ruffling bows so that we can participate in that most cherished of holiday traditions: getting the family photo taken. This tradition usually unfolds as follows:

After dressing in an actual dress and styling your hair and applying your make-up, you look completely unrecognizable to anyone who knows you, since beauty products have not touched your body in any other capacity since you first went into labour. Once you are satisfied with this transformation, you coax your lovely offspring, who are busy squabbling, into their best clothes so they look spiffy, too. The baby, of course, takes this opportunity to spit up all over your silk blouse and his new outfit, requiring several well-chosen words as you change both of you once again. When you and the kids are finally ready to go, you frantically yell for your adoring spouse, afraid that at any minute renewed spit up or spats will wreck this picture of perfection. When he arrives he looks exactly the same as he always does.

After waiting for 45 minutes in a room full of whiny kids and frantic parents, it is your turn on the photo table, which is covered with what closely resembles a dead polar bear. The 18-year-old photo operator, in an effort to continue with the bear theme, is wildly wagging some dilapidated teddy in front of your baby’s face. This, naturally, results in him wailing and, possibly, spitting up again. By the time you’re finished, you’re exhausted, grumpy, and ready to trade in your family for one of the nice, smiley ones on the wall.

The dreaded family photo

We finally got Katie to sit down for this–though she whipped off her socks and shoes first. I look exhausted because Katie had been jumping for the last 10 minutes! And that is not Becca’s teddy. She finally took it away from Katie to get her to sit still.

Like most parents, I shared this tradition for a few years. It worked well for Rebecca, my first born and thus my “eager-to-please-so I-can-prove-I’m-perfect” child. Though she was often rendered terrified by the teddy bear wagging photographer, she usually smiled on cue. She continued to smile even when we added little Katie, who decided to squirm and spit instead. Indeed, all the pictures we have of Katie taken at these studios before she’s a year and a half involve her spitting. She liked it. She spit and squirmed, and Rebecca smiled.

Once she was a year and a half, Katie finally decided that the wagging fur thing was worth a smile. In fact, she was so enthused by it that she decided it was worth a jump, too, so we couldn’t get a focussed picture because she was going up and down, up and down.

Then and there, I made the decision that no sane person should have to go through this charade. Besides, candid photos are so much better, I reasoned, so from now on, we would just take our favourite candid photos and blow them up for our portraits.

Such a decision sounds very lofty and mature. It is, however, entirely impractical if you have more than one child. As anyone with more than one child knows, there simply aren’t any candid photos of this second child (let alone the third or the fourth). Showing your photo album sounds something like this: “Here’s Rebecca’s first smile. Here’s Rebecca’s first giggle. Here’s Rebecca’s first solid poop. Here’s Rebecca’s first step.” “Where’s Katie?”. “Ummm, let me see, I must have one of her here somewhere. Oh, here she is on this tricycle. She must be, what, two or three?”. “And who’s that in the foreground?” “Oh, that’s Rebecca.”

My uncle, who is one of quite a large clan, once remarked to me that the first child in a family inevitably has 4,000 pictures taken of him or her within one hour of leaving the womb. In contrast, if the fourthborn has more than twelve pictures taken of him or her by the time he or she is 16, half of them are in a file at the police station.

Today, Katie no longer spits (though we’re still working on the nose picking thing), and she’s getting quite good at sitting still. I’m getting my hair cut this week, so I’m ready to be totally unrecognizable, and Rebecca enjoys sitting nicely, if only to prove she can do so better than her little sister. So before the Christmas rush is over, we shall venture down once more to get a new family portrait. Then, when Katie is all grown up, I’ll be able to prove that yes, indeed, she was actually a part of our family after all.