[Insert NAME Here]

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Photo courtesy of Jon Tyson on Unsplash

One of my favorite things to do is make up new lyrics to popular songs. Most of all, I like to insert names into songs to make them personal. When my grandson was a toddler, he frequently asked me to “sing song” whenever we were together. I knew he meant the Sunshine song with his name inserted to help him identify with the message.

It goes like this:

“You are my sunshine, my only [Insert NAME Here].
You make me happy when skies are grey.

You’ll never know dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.” 

Try it with your young grandchildren and watch smiles fill their faces. It’s easy. Plus, you don’t need to have a great voice to elicit their approval. When they can identify with the song personally, it’s easier for the verses to roll off the tongue into the memory. 

In a similar spirit, a friend told me she likes to insert her name in spaces when reading Bible verses that talk about our relationship with Christ.

For example, Ephesians 2:8-9 would read:

“For it is by grace [Insert NAME Here] has been saved,
through faith—and this is not from yourself,
it is the gift of God— not by works,
so that [Insert NAME Here] cannot boast. 

This simple technique is a way to remind the ones we care deeply about, in addition to ourselves, that our God cares for each of us intimately and values each of us. Inserting our names into verses does not change the way God loves us, but it may help us to respond to Him personally. And all you need to do is sing a favorite verse with your grandchild’s name inserted. How simple is that!

Share the things you do to stay in personal contact with God at: barbhowe.org.

May I Have Your Attention, Please?

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Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I’m beginning to understand what it means to do without things I once considered necessary, activities that once seemed paramount to normalcy. It is remarkable how quickly the world I am accustomed to can come to a virtual standstill with COVID-19. This imposed lifestyle change causes me to ponder, could it be a gift wrapped in plain brown paper? 

God uses circumstances to push us to stronger degrees of faith. James 1:2-3 tells us our trials and temptations can be catalysts to help fulfill His purposes. When our faith is being tested, our perseverance has a chance to grow in ways that cannot happen by any other means.

You may be struggling to maintain contact with children and grandchildren who are not physically or emotionally close. You may be spending more time than usual assisting your adult children with their children’s education. Or you may fall somewhere in between. Wherever you stand, ask yourself: “Have I included God in the situation? Have I put my worries into His hands?” 

In all circumstances, you have an almighty advocate on your side, ready to direct you in the way you should go. James 1:5 advises those who lack wisdom to ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. It is a powerful promise to all who believe and do not doubt. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.” 

Proverbs 3:5-6 

Does God have your attention? Look to Him for guidance. He is never further than a prayer away.

Share how you put your faith in God at: barbhowe.org.

Thirty-Three Years

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The cemetery where grandpa is buried

An out-of-state ministry trip with my husband included a visit to my grandfather’s grave site. We never met in person, since he passed away decades before I made my entrance to this world. I know him through the myriad of stories family members shared about his life. From what I have learned, my presence here is due to his personal sacrifices.

This grandfather emigrated to the United States from Poland in 1913 during an era of significant unrest, leaving behind his family and successful business. As an alien who did not speak the common language of his new home, he took work upon arrival as a laborer and saved enough of his wages to bring his wife and three children safely to America. My mother was one of those children.

The following year, they welcomed a fourth child into the family. Then, at age 33, my grandfather died of complications from pneumonia. The entire transition from planning their immigration to his death covered approximately three years. He accomplished much in that short period of time.

I couldn’t help but compare the similarities between his story and that of Jesus. Each man dedicated three years to successfully accomplish his mission. Their lives came to an end at exactly the same age. But whereas my grandfather sacrificed his comforts for the well-being of his family, Jesus gave up his royal throne in Heaven to become the sacrificial Lamb for all who put their faith in Him.

The respect I feel for this grandfather is real. It does, however, pale in comparison to the reverence I hold for Christ Jesus. It is because of His great love for me, as well as all who call upon his name in genuine faith, that I am intentional about sharing Christ’s message of salvation with my grandson as well as those around me. I look forward to the day when I will meet all who have gone before me to eternity with the Creator and Author of life, the One who walked this earth for 33 years.

Share your family’s stories at barbhowe.org.

The following video from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is a guide through the Steps to Peace With God.

Read It and Win

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Photo courtesy of Zelle Duda on Unsplash

How fun is that! Reading to your grandkids gives them a lifelong boost. Plus it gives you another excuse to spend time with them.

The ability of elementary school age children to read is one of the strongest predictors of career success during their adulthood. (1) Reading has been shown to improve a person’s vocabulary, creativity, intelligence, and empathy. Plus, reading reduces stress at the same time it helps individuals develop the discipline of perseverance. (2) 

Keep in mind that to be effective, readers needs to be engaged in what they are reading. That is to say, the greatest benefits kick in when reading is done for the purpose of increasing one’s knowledge and understanding of a subject. According to Ellen Parry Lewis, fiction author, reading is a necessary habit for successful businesspersons. (2) 

The choices of reading materials, both fiction and nonfiction, matter as well. When we fill our minds with positive, empowering messages and ideas that influence our lives and encourage community involvement, we can become agents of change. With that in mind, there is no better book to begin the habit of reading than the Bible.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) NLT.

When was the first time you read from the Bible with a grandchild? The last time? Grandparents have the power to influence grandchildren. Use it wisely. The best thing you can do for the eternal good of your grandchildren is to start early and continue to share biblical wisdom with them. Find an age-appropriate edition of the Bible that you can both enjoy. 

I know people who hold long distance Bible studies with their grandchildren via text or Skype. Their grandchildren are growing stronger in their faith because of all the love being poured out onto them. Obey God’s command to share His Word and let the Holy Spirit do His good work in your grandchildren. 

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think,” (Ephesians 3:20) NLT.

Share your thoughts at barbhowe.org.

References: 

  1. Reading and Life Success
  2. Read a Book! It’s Good for Your Career 

The True Spirit of Christmas Gifts

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Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Kids are not immune to the ongoing Christmas shopping frenzy. Like adults, they’re inundated with ads and solicitations to get that special something for that special someone. And, if they have any money, they may well be counting their pennies toward a specific item. This is an opportune time to teach them about managing their resources.

My parents used a simple method to teach this concept. Any allowance, birthday bucks, or earnings I received were divided equally into two piles: one to save, and one to spend. Ten percent of the spend pile was my church offering. The remainder was mine to use as I wished. It was a good system that taught me to give back a portion of what I had received, to prepare for long-term goals, and to intentionally steward my resources. 

At times when finances were tight, I made gifts for people. Simple handmade ornaments or home baked cookies always seemed to get warm responses. As an adult, I have come to understand what counts most in a gift is that it shows personal knowledge of the recipient and a desire to fulfill a need or desire. My gifts differ from person to person. But the gift that God offers is universal.

In the true Spirit of Christmas, we recognize that our Father in Heaven sent Jesus to earth in human form where He died and arose from the grave. Christ gave up everything so anyone who puts their faith in Him has the right to be called children of God. All we need to do is accept His ultimate gift. If you have never asked Jesus into your heart, follow this link to The 4 Spiritual Laws, by Bill Bright.

May the children in your life see the joy this simple truth brings to your life. Happy gifting, and Merry Christmas! 

Blessings to you from barbhowe.org.

The Season is Upon Us

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Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

It seems to be starting earlier this year. Christmas decorations showed up in stores weeks ago, and now everyone I talk to is decorating their homes with trees, garlands, and all kinds of evergreen somethings. And here I am, still planning a Thanksgiving menu. I love the fun of it as much as anyone does, but only as long as the original reason we celebrate does not get lost in the excitement. 

Allow me to interject a chiche’ here. “It isn’t Christmas without Christ.” The gift of eternal salvation surpasses any trinket, electronic, wearable, or consumable you can find in a brick and mortar or cyber store. Amen to that! The question then centers on how to keep Christ at the center of the season.  

I made a list of the people on my gift list and slipped it into my purse. Along with reminding me to shop for them, it is a ready reminder to pray for them. Seeing their names prompts visual images of each person and usually conjures up a fond memory. (Imagine some lady walking around a shopping mall laughing to herself.)

 If you’re like me, grandchildren hit the top of the list. What is the best thing you can give them? Hint: it has nothing to do with running up a huge credit card debt, but it has the power to last an eternity. It is the message of faith in Christ as our Savior. The fun part is that putting this wonderful gift into an alluring package is really quite simple.

Advent calendars, the kind that mark the 24 days leading up to Christmas with daily doses of Bible verses and chocolate, are a big hit at my house. During last year’s Christmas celebrations, my grandson decided to read  each of the Advent calendar messages aloud to our family. It planted Jesus right into the middle of our gifts, where He belongs. Truly, His is the greatest gift anyone can ever receive.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

Let’s all get into the true spirit of Christmas. Let me know what you’re doing at barbhowe.org.

“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.