“The Others”

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Photo courtesy of Pablo Hermoso on Unsplash

A friend whose married child has children refers to the in-laws as “the others”. It is a lighthearted way of acknowledging a common grandparent role. I’m not sure if this relationship with “the others” is favorable or unfavorable, however, even the best circumstance poses its own set of challenges.

When relationships between in-laws is good and both sets of grandparents have financial resources, they might tend to overwhelm grandchildren with material gifts. We all experience the joy of giving. But, it can be problematic when it turns into a competition, or when the parents do not approve of the types of gifts that are bestowed on their children. As grandparents, we must remind ourselves that our adult children are the primary caregivers of our grandchildren and our role is to support their good decisions.

Alternatively, in-law relationships can be strained due to lifestyle choices, attitudes, or other elements. Let’s face it, being a grandparent does not automatically mean a person has strong moral character. Did I say that politely enough? Sometimes these circumstances require more prayer than we feel capable of praying. It is vital that we exhibit Christ-like attitudes toward people who do not accept Jesus as their Savior or live according to our personal standards. It could mean biting our tongue and earnestly asking the Holy Spirit for guidance time and again.

Above all, rely on the Holy Spirit to guide your attitudes and actions. Rely on God’s wisdom to direct your choices. Wisdom is promised in the Bible; all you need to do is ask for it. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you,” James 1:5.

As we embark on another season of Thanksgiving and Christmas when families are likely to encounter one another, remember that we who put our faith in Christ have a gift to share with the world that surpasses anything else. Be generous. Share the love you have received with “the others”.

Then, tell me how the Spirit guided your time with “the others” at barbhowe.org.

How Marigolds are Like Grandchildren

20191019_132433-e1572392553845.jpgIt feels like just last week my marigolds were tiny plants. I clearly remember planting them in one of my favorite garden spots. Those marigolds grew to overflow during the summer months, giving a sunny welcome to everyone who came to our house. Recently, while I was pulling the faded plants for composting, my thoughts turned to the reality that grandchildren don’t stay little for long.

And yet, each phase of their development brings its own rewards. Like marigolds, grandchildren develop and spread their proverbial branches. That infant who snuggled against your shoulder may now be trooping off to school, or to work. Nothing can hold back the march of time. Keep the memories, but experience your grandchildren’s lives in the present. 

Clear your calendar to attend their school events, athletic competitions, and music recitals. Your presence speaks volumes about your commitment and love for them. Excuses are easy to find: physical distance, difficult family dynamics, illness, and an endless stream of “I can’t” because of whatever. 

From a biblical perspective, our primary responsibility as grandparents is to share our Christian faith with the generations that follow. If you don’t believe me on this, check out the following verse.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (NIV)

The stronger your relationship with your grandchildren is, the more likely they are to listen when you talk about your faith. Technology diminishes distances between you and out-of-state relatives, soft words soothe misunderstandings, and years of experiences equip us with materials for teaching. Don’t wait until it’s convenient. Make the most of every chance you have to tell your grandchildren why you trust Christ for your salvation.

Take a moment to pray for your grandchildren by name. Ask God to create opportunities for you to engage with them on a regular basis. Expect Him to respond in His perfect timing. His answers can be surprising beyond imagination and delightful above all hope.

Share how God has answered your prayers at barbhowe.com.

Three Things I Learned From A Writing Conference

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Photo courtesy of The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

When you think about your “best” work as an ideal instead of an achievable reality, continuous quality improvement becomes the impetus behind everything you write. Think of it as a challenge to expand on existing knowledge. In the same way carpenters fill their toolboxes with new gadgets, we writers need to fill our minds with creative new approaches to our craft.

Here are three useful ideas I picked up from a recent writing conference.

  1. Learn from others. No matter how well I think I’ve done on a writing project, inevitably there is another person who gave the same idea a different twist. That doesn’t mean my idea was not as good. It simply means I now have a new tool for my kit. 
  2. Refresh what you already know. Skills get rusty when they’re not used. Conferences are great places to jump start writing enthusiasm. They may also present an array of publishing, audio, and video resources to explore after the conference.
  3. Make new friends. Chatting one-on-one with a new acquaintance over lunch is a great way to get to know them; it’s called networking. At the last conference I attended, a lady I met invited me to attend a monthly writer’s luncheon group as her guest. A few others made plans to start a writer’s critique group. 

Now, here’s a bonus reason to attend a writing conference. Writing is challenging work. But, God designed us to live in community and give back to others what we have learned from our own experience. Your participation at a conference might be the very thing an aspiring writer needs, your encouragement a spark to help them reach for their “best” work. It’s a wonderful way to share your own legacy of writing.

Now give me your thoughts at: barbhowe.org.

The Sweet Taste of God’s Word

Jonah Cake and Whale

Put the Word of God to taste. That’s not a typo and it’s not a suggestion to flippantly ingest Bible accounts. It’s an idea to help get messages from God’s Word into the hearts, and stomachs, of your grandchildren. Success is nearly 100% guaranteed.

Take the book of Jonah for example. How many times have you read to your grandchildren about Jonah’s exploits? Probably quite a few times. It seems to be a perennial favorite among the younger set. In four short chapters, this account captures the essence of God’s sovereignty, mercy, and love for His creations. This is where the inspiration to feed the belly as well as the soul kicked in. 

Starting with a disobedient prophet deliberately defying God’s instructions, the story gets really interesting. Jonah’s journey takes a three-day hiatus in the belly of a whale before he figures out not obeying God’s command is a really dumb idea. Repentance is the thing that frees Jonah from certain doom and leads to the Ninevite’s redemption. Kids eat this up, especially when it is served in a tasty manner. Here’s what I did.

Using a cake molded as a ship and a watermelon carved as a whale, I created a visual depiction of Jonah learning his lesson about disobedience to God. Think of it as biblical food art. Then, while my grandson and I filled our bellies with dessert, I filled his mind with the full account of Jonah’s encounter with God, and God’s blessing on Nineveh. 

The beautiful thing about this idea, aside from eating cake, is that you don’t even need to bake a cake. Pick one up from the bakery and print out an image that represents the Book of Jonah. Then proceed as above to partake in the sweet taste of God’s Holy Word.

Find the Book of Jonah at BibleGateway.com.

Share your ideas at barbhowe.com.

Writing About Grandchildren – Inspiration #5 of 5

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Photo courtesy of J Korpa on Unsplash

Dreams comprise the fifth and final category of my inspiration series. I suspect this is the most underutilized source of writing inspiration that people draw upon. Don’t ignore dreams. They can be a potent wellspring of insights.

During the day, our thoughts are barraged with information and choices. But while our bodies rest, our minds go to work. Decision filters shut down when the day is done and leave the door open for the night crew. Think of dreams as your mind on brainstorm mode, offering endlessly creative ideas without interruption. 

Those periods of transition between consciousness and unconsciousness, when our minds still hang in the balance, can uncover emotional treasuresDreams help us sort through things that matter to us. 

Here’s an example from a memoir:

I awoke this morning from a frightfully vivid nightmare. You have formed the habit of running toward the street whenever we were outside. I stopped you every time. Still, the fear remained that a day might come when my reaction time would be too slow to prevent you from being harmed. Through the haze of awakening, I dreamed I was chasing you down our driveway, grabbing you from the path of a speeding car, and pushing you to the side as the car’s front fender closed in. I was immediately reminded of how precious you are to me.

The message is clear. It also shows that not everything you write in your memoir needs to be an actual event. This example shows the emotional relationship with a child in the context of a pending traffic accident that, thankfully, did not happen. 

Happily, dreams may also uncover our tenderest feelings about such experiences as the moment we first see our grandchild. Make the most out of yours. Use those waking moments to note your dreams and convey your love to your grandchild.

Share your ideas at barbhowe.com.

Click below to read other inspirations.

Inspiration #1

Inspiration #2

Inspiration #3

Inspiration #4

Writing About Grandchildren – Inspiration #4 of 5

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Photo courtesy of Nick Morrison on Unsplash

The helplessness and vulnerability of a newborn can bring out our innermost feelings of awe and wonder. Their complete reliance on adults for every need is enough to stir emotions and soften the hardest of hearts. It often leads to introspection, a form of inspiration that flows from the heart.

Unlike inspirations that are sparked by events and activities, introspection is a more considered approach. It requires us to reach deeply into our own experiences to retrieve thoughts that might not be among the first to surface. Conversely, they may be the very thoughts that jump out and grab our attention without warning.

Now, take a look at an example of inspiration that relies heavily on introspection.

Your attentiveness and response to lights, sounds, and voices at only a few days old was remarkable. I placed you on my lap facing up, cradling your head in my hands. You looked directly into my eyes, as if you were trying to communicate. “Can you sense how much joy I feel when you are so near?”

I have never met a parent (or grandparent) who didn’t feel a loving connection with their new babies. Forget scientific explanations. Instead, focus on the bonding that takes place when you are interacting with the children in your life. I truly believe God uses this type of bonding to cement relationships between children, their parents, and their grandparents.

Everyone needs to feel loved. Don’t hesitate to tell children how much you love them. Be extravagant with positive words of love and encouragement. They never go out of style.

When did you have a moment of introspection about a grandchild? Share your experiences at barbhowe.com.

Writing About Grandchildren – Inspiration #3 of 5

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Photo courtest of Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

You have probably experienced times with a grandchild that spark your own reminiscing. These instances happens throughout the year, with or without prompting. Long forgotten memories do pop up when we least expect them. They are not restricted to time or season. 

There is no law saying you can’t share stories from your past. They are always relevant. Your stories of reminiscing give children a glimpse into the reality that human nature stays the same despite all the technological advances that are being made.

In the same way that milestones and special occasions spark ideas, reminiscing can be fun. I think of it as conducting an archaeological dig into the past to talk with grandchildren about memories being made today. Here is an excerpt from a letter written to a grandchild in the days leading up to Christmas:

I remember when you were barely old enough to help decorate our home for Christmas. Setting up our Christmas tree that year prompted one of my childhood memories.

When I was 10-years-old, my Dad lost his job due to a workforce reduction, This was at a time before artificial Christmas trees were common. Our family budget was severely limited while he searched for a new place to work.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I heard my parents talk about the price of Christmas trees and how they might be able to work it into the budget. I began to wonder if we were going to have a Christmas tree that year. Now, to be honest, I cannot recall any year during my childhood when we did not have one, but I also cannot remember most of those trees.

This tree was different. I clearly remember when…

Imagine the different directions a memory like this might travel. Your stories could prompt your grandchildren to consider how today’s ordinary activities will look different in their later years. They will certainly revisit the time you shared with them. Perhaps the most important element of your reminiscing is giving them a reason for hope when they struggle through the inevitable challenges of life.

So, let your remembrances flow onto paper. Allow your grandchildren to see how people work through their difficulties. Use your words to share a message of hope and faith in our loving Lord.

Shortly after Christmas, the dad in the story found a new job. The entire family emerged stronger in their bonds, and stronger in their faith. Use your life stories as a way to strengthen the faith of your grandchildren. The rewards are eternal.

Share your remembrances at barbhowe.com.

Writing About Grandchildren – Inspiration #2 of 5

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Photo courtesy of 85fifteen on Unsplash

Special occasions are naturals for inspiration with built-in excitement and action. And they often involve memorable traditions or celebrations: Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and so on. Celebrations are like recurring distance markers on your road map that show how much ground has been covered.

I like to jot down specific details at the time they occur. They come in handy when I’m ready to write and want to include all the important stuff. Sometimes the little things that we might not consider valuable at the time provide family, cultural, and historical information for future generations. Include them. I’ve had many conversations with my siblings about our family, as well as items that were common to the era. They add a lot of interest.

Here’s a snippet from my grandson’s fifth birthday celebration. It makes me laugh every time I read it.

This was the most fun I’ve had on a birthday for as long as I can remember. I’ve learned by experience that anticipation is part of the fun. You chose the balloons for your party and went with me to pick up your Spiderman cake from the neighborhood Cub grocery store. You were so excited, you almost dropped the cake into our grocery cart. We took lots of photos during the party; my favorite is one of you getting ready to stuff a big ol’ hot dog into your mouth.

Will the children born 50 years from now relate to Spiderman, or play dates? Maybe not. These everyday items could become today’s version of dial phones and Dick Tracy secret code watches of yesteryear. Elements like this add a touch of nostalgia to a story, and that never seems to go out of style.

Of course, you don’t need to include everything from your notebook. Keeping the story focused is part of the territory. My notebook is still a source of chuckles, tears, and reminders of my many blessings. I hope you benefit these ideas.

Watch for three more sources of inspiration coming in future posts and on my website at SpiritualLegacyMemoir.com.

Let me know if this is helpful at barbhowe.org.

Writing About Grandchildren – Inspiration #1 of 5

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Photo courtesy of Helloquence on Unsplash

Inspiration for writing about grandchildren comes from a variety of sources. As I began working on my grandson’s memoir, the most unexpected sources of inspiration prompted the most interesting stories.

It began with a journal of our time together when he was a newborn. What a blessing that was! Now, if you imagine my journal is some sort of beautifully bound book with lined pages headed by inspiring quotes, you are partially correct: it does have lined pages. This journal is a spiral-bound promotional giveaway with a business tagline emblazoned across the cover. It was the handiest way for me to record notes at the time.

I now use Microsoft Word software as a writing tool, but still rely on handwritten notes to capture details that happen when I am nowhere near a computer. Use what works best for you. The method you choose to keep notes is less important that the discipline of keeping them.

Now, about that inspiration. My stories came from five different categories of inspiration, the first of which is milestones. I consider milestones to be significant changes in physical or cognitive development, the kinds of events that often bring smiles to our faces or tears to our eyes. Children love stories about themselves.

Here’s an example of a milestone story:

One of the first routines we started with you was reading. We did that because early childhood development experts reported kids were more likely to succeed in school if someone read to them right from the get-go. I followed this advice from the time you were able to be tucked snugly by my side as I read.

Think about it. This is when you were honing your skills at holding up your head, rolling over from your back to your tummy, and discovering your fingers and toes. One afternoon, I caught you and grandpa reading a Christmas book. You were sporting a pacifier and a very attentive countenance. Suffice to say, you both appeared to be enjoying the time together.

Do you see the milestones? “Discovering your fingers and toes” and “rolling over” are two insights pulled from my journal. Notice the phrase,“you both appeared to be enjoying the time together.” That observation might have been lost without a quick note of reminder. If you’re an audio type, make a recording instead. Then, use them when you are ready to write. You will be glad you did.

Four additional sources of inspiration will be shared in future posts and will be available on my website at SpiritualLegacyMemoir.com.

Let me know if this is helpful. Share your thoughts at barbhowe.org.

A Gift for Your Grandchild

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Photo courtesy of Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Writing about your grandchild’s life can be a wonderful experience for both of you, a shared adventure much like a memorable road trip. For both writing and traveling, it is virtually impossible to reach your destination without some degree of planning and preparation. Imagine starting out without knowing how you will get to your destination, or even where your destination might be? Without a map or GPS?

Think of your writing destination as the first time your grandchild reads what you have written about them. Keep this image at the forefront of your mind as you consider what you want to say. What expression do you see on your grandchild’s face? What emotions would you hope to see reflected in that face?

On their own, a GPS or road map won’t get you anywhere, but they sure can help shorten the time it takes to reach your destination and make the journey more pleasant. The same principles apply to writing. Stories flows more smoothly when they follow a clear direction and targeted goal. Lifetimes follow a rhythmic flow of experiences and chapters of life. The framework for memory is laid and a legacy is engineered one experience at a time.

Start simply. Write one story about your grandchild. It doesn’t need to be longer than a letter, but be sure to include as many details as you can recall. Write about your feelings. Then read your story to see if it has a lesson you want to share with your grandchild. Perhaps your grandchild demonstrated one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control. Say it!

Hmm, how about writing one story or letter for each of the spiritual gifts you see in your grandchild. Imagine what a gift that would be.

Send your thoughts to: barbhowe.org.