Friday, September 27, 2013

The Impact of Teaching Our Children to Minister to "the Least of These"

The homeschooled kids in our area start out young (as early as ten years old with their parent) serving in the One Heart Disability Ministry. Look at the joy that children bring to those with disabilities!

A Facebook post just came through from my daughter and her husband concerning their 

disability ministry, One Heart:

"Got some sad news this morning that Charlie, one of our dear One Heart members passed away this Wednesday night. Charlie always made us smile and brought us joy. I bet he's bringing other people joy in Heaven now! He always answered questions about the Bible with, 'Jesus died on the cross for us.' What a simple, amazing truth. Last year at the Talent Show he sang 'Jesus Loves Me.' So blessed that he was part of our lives!"

My son-in-law Joseph with Charlie

If you have heard Ray and I speak in our parenting seminar, "Raising Kids With Character," or at a homeschooling convention, you know that we are big advocates of teaching children to serve at young ages. You might also know that we believe there is a hierarchy of service outlined in the Bible that teaches children to serve the Lord at home--to serve their own families---first, followed by reaching out to those locally and finally to the "uttermost parts of the world."

"Journey Through Easter"--drama and walk through (with petting zoo!)--is always a hit with the One Heart attendees

Without going into the entire seminar session, I will give you some keys that have led us to this thought process:

1. "To whom much is given, much is expected."
2. "He who does not provide for his own family is worse than an infidel."
3. Parable of the talents
4. Serve in your own "Jerusalem" then your state/region....then the uttermost parts of the earth

One of my sons helping a One Heart client fill in his VBS book

We began this teaching with our kids when they were two or three years old--teaching them to pick up around the house, unload the silverware in the dishwasher, help put away laundry, etc. Then they continued to learn household skills that they could/would eventually use in serving others.

As they grew, they served with us--starting with setting up chairs for small group or homeschool support group meetings and moving into going with us to nursing homes and other local outreaches. 

Soon the time came for them to go "out" and serve others--that is, they had learned to serve their family so well and so cheerfully and so diligently that they could take the skills that they had learned here and serve on their own.

The skills that we have built into our children during their formative years--cooking, cleaning, organizing, serving, music, drama, reading, writing, leading, Bible teaching/studying, etc.---are used over and over by our young adults in their various ministries

This has looked different for different kids--from preaching in young adult services to leading/directing dramas in church to singing on the praise team to working in children's ministries (locally and at state homeschool conventions) to "going to the uttermost parts of the earth"--such as taking wheelchairs around the world with Joni and Friends; serving at state capitols every weekday for a semester; leading drama teams of teens in summer drama traveling around the midwest or southern USA; and even starting a ministry that would some day reach over one hundred disabled adults every week for many years.

Boys' sports night (along with a trophy for each client!) is always a hit with the One Heart male clients

The latter is what this post is going to focus on--and the impact that teaching our children to minister to "the least of these" really has on our children--and their futures.

When our third child, Cami, was seventeen years old, she served at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat (the world-wide disability ministry of Joni Ereckson Tada) for two weeks. At the end of the retreat, she told the leaders there that she wanted to do something similar to the retreat back home--on an ongoing basis. They told her to go back to her pastors and tell them and see what she can start. 

One Heart "Special Deliveries" is a yearly outreach to nearly three hundred disabled adults in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area

Cami was a senior in high school when she began the One Heart Disability Ministry (One worth it...). She had trouble getting volunteers (it is difficult to work with disabled people--and many adults do not want to get involved), but she started rounding up her younger sister and little brothers and their friends, and before she knew it, she had a weekly ministry, sort of a "Sunday school" every Tuesday night for adults with cognitive disabilities. And it grew. And grew. And grew.

The joy that One Heart brings to the lives of those who attend is unmistakable

Within two years, she had her associates degree in church ministry with an emphasis on disability ministry, and she was asked to come on staff at the church as the Disability Ministry Director, the "official" head of One Heart Disability Ministry.

Four years ago Cami married a young man who has a paraplegic brother and cousin with severe brain injury--and also a heart for the disabled and broken, much like Cami has. They have continued leading One Heart together with their combined compassion, love, and selflessness.

In addition to the weekly services that are held with over one hundred disabled attendees all throughout the school year, One Heart delivers gifts and goodies to up to three hundred disabled adults in the Fort Wayne are every Christmas, hosts a summer VBS, and has other special events throughout the year. 

My message today is not what kids can do when they are trained in so many skills (that would take a book--and I would love to write it!); nor is it about having kids serve in general (though that is a good idea too!). My message today is this:

Teaching our children to minister to "the least of these"--the widows, elderly, disabled, and orphaned--has the potential of having a bigger impact than almost any other ministry or service opportunity they could do.

Why do you suppose this is the case?

It is consistent with Scripture--"do not only invite those who can invite you back"; "care for the widows and orphans"; and Jesus' ministry to the blind, mentally challenged, poor, hungry, homeless, etc.

It builds an empathy in our children that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. Truly, we can tell them there are poor children who do not have enough to eat, but until they serve food to them in a summer ministry in the park, they cannot comprehend that. We can tell them that there are people whose brains do not work like ours do and they cannot do for themselves, but until they go week after week and listen to these people tell the same stories over and over or teach them to color or tell them about Jesus, they cannot FEEL the feelings that we should as Christians feel for those less fortunate than we.

Our four youngest children started working in One Heart with Cami as soon as they could be trusted to fully obey their older siblings and really work hard without parental supervision (not be tempted to play ball in the gym during the gym night but instead stay focused on the people they were there to serve). This was between the ages of eight and ten for all of them. 

And as a result, they are four of the most sensitive, compassionate kids I have ever known. 

Would they have developed this sensitivity and compassion without serving "the least of these" in an ongoing manner? 

Maybe. Maybe not. But I know that this consistent outreach--having to give up their own interests one evening a week, being responsible for their parts (teaching, serving refreshments, leading games and crafts, etc.), and learning to love and reach out to those who are "different" and extremely-mentally challenged--has had a huge impact on the kinds of people that they are growing up to be. 

P.S. Cami and Joseph are expecting their first baby in January, and Cami recently posted the status below. It is such a blessing to think that my grandson is going to start learning to serve "the least of these" from babyhood.

"Funny story from One Heart last night....(this is even better than last week's story!) I (Cami) was closing the evening in prayer with a full classroom of people and as I stood in front with my eyes closed, I feel someone patting my belly. I look down (mid prayer) and I see Susie, a One Heart member with down syndrome, just patting my belly and smiling as if she was talking to the baby. It was adorable and hilarious all at the same time. I got through the prayer without cracking up too much and dismissed everyone. Love it that the One Heart people are so excited about our baby. Can't wait until he is here and can meet everyone. He is loved already!"

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Change a Week--Times Fifty Weeks a Year Times Thirty Years...Equals a Lot of Change!

Even just one change a month can equal a lot of changes over a lifetime---and a lot of NOT GIVING UP!

Thirty years ago, Ray's mentor said, "Sit down with Donna every week and ask her, 'What change do you think we need to make? What do you need for me to do?'"

He continued, "After you do this for a long time, it will give Donna peace, and she will feel secure that you really care about your family and how to improve it. 

He said, "Then one day, you will ask her 'What do you need for me to do for you?' and she will say 'Nothing at all. What can I do for you?'"

Well, that time of my saying "nothing at all" has never happened yet in over thirty years! ;) 

But he was right about part of it: the peace and security that come from knowing for over thirty years that my husband wants good things for our family as badly as I do is incomprehensible.

A change a week times fifty weeks a year times thirty-plus years--equals a lot of change. Granted, we didn't do this every single week of our lives. But even if we made a change a month for thirty years....

Twelve months times thirty years equals 360 positive changes. That is 360 opportunities to make our family stronger. It is 360 times to solve problems. It is 360 situations to improve. 

It is 360 painless times to say, "We can do this. We can make changes in this area, and we can make this month better in our home than last month!"

You see memes on Facebook and other places all the time that read something like one of the following:

1. Just do it! The time is going to pass whether you do it (a fitness activity, usually) or not, so you may as well have a good change being made as the time passes!

2. Make the change (again, usually fitness-related). Sixty days from now (or whatever), you will look back if you do it, and be glad you did. If you didn't do it, you won't look back and be glad you didn't!

There is actually no place this is truer than in parenting....
(from Destination Healthy Me)

And so it is with family changes. We all have things to work on in our homes. We need to tweak the schedule, so that things run more smoothly. We need to discipline a child differently so that the child's behavior is changed. We need to remove so much fun or add more fun in. We need to drop things for our lives to have time to spend on/with a certain child at a certain time. We need to take our focus off of one thing and put it on another until a skill is learned. And on and on and on.

However, those many changes can feel overwhelming when we look at them all at once. (I used to make "Master Changes Lists," so I know what I'm talking about here!) 

But what if we didn't have a "Master Changes List," but instead we just looked at this week, this moment in time, and we decided to do one thing to improve our family....and what if we really carried out the steps necessary to make the change? And what if once we got that change down pat, we took on another problem area and solved it--and again really did what it took to make it better?

Now that doesn't feel overwhelming at all--and not only does it not feel overwhelming, but it also feels good--and doable. 

We are talking on the Facebook page about how my husband and I kept going--NOT GIVING UP week after week, month after month for thirty years of parenting so far. This is one of the things that kept us going--knowing that we had the ability to change things that were not working in our homes--but also knowing that we didn't have to do everything all at once.

You can do this! You can have the family life that you want. You can discipline your children properly and in love. You can raise children who have the character of Christ---not perfect, mind you, but virtues in their lives that you know the Lord wants for them. You can have fun in your home, have organization, and develop deep relationships with your children... change at a time...facing one thing today and another thing in another week or month...because even a change a month times twelve months a year equals a lot of change...

Ray and I for our thirty-second anniversary this summer visiting the first place we made changes in our lives--the church where we were born again the year before we got married

Sunday, September 22, 2013

When Do I Give My Child a "Mulligan"?

Some of the group playing "walley-ball" at the Y


  1. *
    (in informal golf) an extra stroke allowed after a poor shot, not counted on the scorecard.

    Recently when my sister, her husband, and her two young teen daughters were here visiting in Indiana from North Carolina, we took as many from our family who could come and my sister's family to our local YMCA to play a game called "walleyball" (rhymes with volleyball). This game is similar to volleyball in its rules--with the addition of walls as it is played in a racquetball court. 

    Since the court is smaller than a regular court, the game is actually a little easier for those who are not as strong--but not as easy for stronger people who hit the back wall (one of the out of bounds zones) quite often. The combination of the walls, the rules, the size of the court, and the various strengths of the players that night has made me think over and over again in the days since we played about the idea of the "mulligan."

    As indicated in the opening of this post, a mulligan is "an extra stroke allowed after a poor shot"--that is NOT counted on the scorecard or against the one who has been issued the "second chance." 

    This term is one that we have thrown around our family of seven children (now ages fifteen through thirty) for years since my husband is a master at adapting games to fit the crowd who is playing. He loves to bring two or three families together and modify a kickball game or our oldest son's homemade handball invention in order to allow littles to play with biggies; parents to play with children; and lesser skilled participants to play with "athletes." Thus, a "mulligan" is a familiar word--and one that has been spoken many, many times in our home over our thirty years of parenting  as we have enjoyed playing with our children.

    It wasn't uncommon during our walleyball night to hear someone shout "mulligan" whenever a person attempted to serve but didn't make it over the net. Then we would evaluate and determine "yes" the person gets a mulligan or "no" he does not. What has led me to think of these mulligans quite often since that evening is the criterion on which we based giving mulligans that night. 

    I mean, how does someone tell a sweet, small, twelve-year-old balletic niece that she cannot have a do-over after she tried so hard to get the ball over the net? Or how do you turn down a poor middle-aged sister (*smile*) who is still recovering from frozen shoulder surgery: "too bad--you should have hit it harder"?

    So when did we give mulligans that night--and what does this have to do with parenting?

    Allow me to give you our walleyball mulligan run-down:

    1. My younger niece is not a "ball" type of athlete. She is a dancer, cheerleader, and gymnast. She is also fairly tiny. She was a good sport about the whole night--but walleyball probably wouldn't be her first choice of games. Because she is small, she had trouble getting her serves over at times, so everybody agreed to give our sweet Brittany some mulligans when her serve fell short of the net.

    2. My sister had just had surgery for frozen shoulder approximately ten weeks before our Y night. She was able to play okay, but definitely didn't have the range of motion that a serve often took. Thus, we moved her closer to the net and gave her mulligans.

    3. Our youngest daughter (22) has never been a volleyball player. She always thought she was terrible at it, and she often sat on the sidelines and watched others play through the years (in spite of her being very fit, a runner, and serious ab-workout girl!). She wouldn't ask for a mulligan when she missed, but because she has just been learning volleyball over the past few years, we sometimes offered her a mulligan as well.

    Who didn't get a mulligan?

    1. I adore volleyball. I played a little in high school, and while I'm not great at it, my years of experience in playing it at picnics, etc., meant that I was not a mulligan candidate. 

    2. See that athlete in the picture above--serious tennies and headband? That is our son's girlfriend who was the captain of her high school volleyball team and took MVP at nationals. She is playing volleyball at Moody Bible College this fall--no mulligan for that expert!

    3. See that young man below? He is our fifteen year old--our youngest child. And he can be hyper, funny, loud, helpful, compassionate, and crazy all at the same time. On this particular night, he (as many fifteen year old boys do) tried to serve overhanded as hard as he could in an effort to score on every serve. Thus, he often hit the ball too hard and hit the back wall or the ceiling--both out of bounds spots. No mulligan for someone who knows how to do it but is hot dogging! ;)

    4. None of the men or teen boys got mulligans. They are strong, athletic, and competitive. No motivation or encouragement was needed!

    So what does this have to do with parenting? More than you might think.

    In the "game" of parenting, we have the opportunity every day to give more chances or to show "tough love"--to extend grace or to train through consequences. We face these situations often unprepared. 

    We lament over them--"I just feel like if I don't bring his shoes to gym class and he gets an F for the day, he will blame me" or "I know we have told her dozens of times not to leave her phone lying around at the gym, but now that it is stolen, I feel sorry for her because she misses talking to her friends. And we homeschool, so her phone is a way she socializes," etc. etc. etc.

    And I am not making light of any of these scenarios. We, after all, have raised six "teens"--and have one teen that we are in the thick of raising (a last child, nonetheless!).

    Grace. Training. Mercy. Responsibility. I mean, honestly, who wants to choose among those?

    But let's break down our walleyball game a little further to see if we can get some benchmarks for giving our kids mulligans:

    1. Brittany is younger. She is not as strong as the big guys. She is not as used to ball handling like her sister who plays basketball at school. Extending mulligans to Brittany, who was trying to serve the ball over the net with all her might and had a good attitude in the process, is a good decision.

    And so is giving a mulligan to a child who is struggling and genuinely wants to change/alter his behavior/make things different. And you know what? Most of the time we parents know when this child deserves a mulligan. The key is going to be to not give mulligans forever to a struggling child--but to gradually reduce the mulligans as the child becomes stronger and more adept.

    2. My sister was injured for pity's sake! She was being a sport just joining in the family fun.

    When a child is downhearted or overwhelmed, he often needs grace. I don't mean in trouble because of continual bad decisions or poor character but rather truly discouraged. When mercy is extended to a child in this situation, it can make a huge difference in how he pulls himself up by his bootstraps and gets moving in the right direction. 

    How long does a person with a shoulder injury need to recuperate before she should just serve already? Just as my sister's doctor told her that it varies from person to person (with hers being more extensive once they got in there and found bone spurs as well), so it is with our children.

    This is where heart parenting really comes in to play. Should the mulligans come to an end and this "injured one" come back now? Are we prolonging the healing process by not letting her live with consequences?

    Someone who is hurting needs a mulligan--but not forever.

    3. Volleyball playing is somewhat of a new experience for Kara. Granted, she is twenty-two in these pictures, but she has only been getting on the court and playing over the past couple of years. You could say that she is in volleyball training.

    A child who is "in training" in a certain area needs more mulligans than the child who has already been doing that skill or task for a while. We talk about this in our parenting seminar--the idea of "childishness." Childishness (forgetfulness, irresponsibility, etc.) in a child who is still learning his morning routine or his after school chores is best handled incrementally--with mulligans in place as needed--but not so many mulligans that the immaturity and irresponsibility remain.

    We gave Kara a mulligan or two--but her volleyball training is about over (evidenced by how much better she played tonight than the previous time we played), and her walleyball mulligans are about to come to an end as well.

    Warming up...

    What about those who didn't get mulligans?

    1. Strong people who have done something over and over again do not need the motivation that comes with a mulligan (usually). It was easy to tell our twenty year old, athletic son to roll the ball under the net if he hit the ceiling on his serve. No training was taking place; no motivation or encouragement was needed.

    2. Those who were hitting the ball so hard that it hit the ceiling or the back wall did not need mulligans. They needed to learn cause and effect. Walleyball is different than volleyball--the court is shorter and the back wall and ceiling are off limits. If you continue to smack the ball with that force, you will serve it out, and the other team will get the ball. 

    It wasn't that hard in our walleyball game to determine who got a mulligan and who didn't. 

    And while that isn't always the case in parenting, we can use some key benchmarks for extending grace, including age of the child, past experience, whether other consequences have already been in place but didn't help, the attitude of the child at the time, the frequency with which something occurs, the strength of the child, and more.

    Because sometimes each one of us needs a mulligan in this game called life.