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Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children pt. 3

Part 3 of 4

In two earlier blogs I began to share some ways to make your celebration of Christmas a joyful time, instead of a period of tiresome, meaningless rituals that have little to do with the birth of Jesus the Christ, and leave you an exhausted, bundle of raw nerves. You and your family need to first refocus on Jesus. Then you can properly . . .

Focus On Others

1. Emphasize to your kids that Christmas is a time for giving, not getting. Teach them how to be generous toward God by giving to others:

a. As a family, help to serve a meal in a soup kitchen on Christmas Day.

b. Let the kids help to make and serve a special Christmas meal in your own home to which you invite homeless people, or neighbors who have no place to go for the holiday, or people from your church who have no family in the area–single people, elderly adults, or foreigners and aliens residing in your town or neighborhood.

c. Visit someone in a nursing home or a children’s hospital on Christmas Day.

d. Bake cookies for neighbors, shut-ins, or service people (the postman, garbage collector, etc.), considering dietary limitations if you are aware of them, such as those of diabetics.

e. Send a money gift to a Christian organization that deals with world or national hunger, housing for the homeless, etc., in the name of someone on your list who is hard to buy for. Have your children write a card to the person in whose name you are making the gift, explaining what your family did in that person’s name.

2. While your child is still young, teach him/her about personal generosity that reflects God’s generosity to us. Let’s face it: none of us were born with natural generosity. We learn how to be generous by example and teaching from others.

David and I have some friends who encouraged their young son to select a few of his Christmas gifts, before opening them, to take to less fortunate children. He learned to give. Today, as an adult, he donates time and money to such enterprises as Habitat for Humanity. Several other families have their children give some of their toys that are in good condition to children who have none; or to spend some of their own money to purchase gifts to send to a less fortunate child somewhere in the world.

More to come . . . Part 4

©2011, Marcy Alves

edit and re-post 2012


Thanksgiving: A Time of Reflection

Thanksgiving Day is fast approaching.  All too soon, if not already, you will begin your preparations for whomever, whatever, and however you will be spending the day.

A friend of mine said recently, “I’m not interested in Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’m just not looking forward to the holidays.”

I can understand the lonely feeling that is often experienced by singles during the holiday season; I was single once myself and away from home during several Thanksgivings and Christmases. It’s nice to be with family or a special someone to celebrate these holidays. Neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas began as a celebration of “me”, but rather as recognition of “us” and “Him”.

How did Thanksgiving begin?

There are several different scenarios regarding the original celebration of “Thanksgiving” on American soil. It is thought that the Spanish were first to celebrate a day of thanks in 1565 in St. Augustine, FLA. Later, in 1619 the Virginia Colony held a Thanksgiving feast in celebration of the one-year settlement of that colony. The Pilgrims in Plymouth, MA celebrated a good crop year with a feast of Thanksgiving in 1621.

Thanksgiving was established as an annual national event in the midst of the Civil War in 1863, by a presidential proclamation from President Abraham Lincoln, as an offering of thanks to God for His provision and preservation of the United States. It was thought that establishing a national day to observe the giving of thanks would help to foster a sense of American unity between the southern and northern states.

So you can see, Thanksgiving as a celebration was about “us” (a group of people) and “God” and our gratitude to Him.

This also demonstrated that during earlier times in our country there was a belief in “Someone” to thank, besides the federal government.

Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect. There are many things for which I am thankful; some of which are the following:

  • my relationship with my heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus, who came not only to die for me on the cross, but also to show me what God the Father is like
  • a Christian husband who loves me and treasures our relationship above all other human relationships
  • family members – parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews
  • our “heart adoptions”

Though I was pregnant a couple of times, I was unable to maintain pregnancy; so God brought children into our lives, first as youth group leaders and in a youth pastorate. Then a “daughter” came to us in a more permanent relationship; she is like a birth daughter to us.  There are two other young women, foreign students, whom God brought into our lives who lived with us for several years – one as a teen and the other as a young adult – who are family to us. All three of our “daughters” now have husbands and families of their own. There are quite a few more loosely connected “daughters” in our lives.

In this we follow the pattern set for us in our own lives: my husband was legally adopted by a wonderful couple as a child of five years of age.  And after my parents died, a pastor and his wife took me as one of their three adopted daughters.

We also have a few “sons”, “nephews”, and “nieces” whom we have taken into our hearts along the way. There are others as well who have adopted us as their parents. I sometimes feel like the barren woman mentioned in Gal. 4:7 & Ps. 113:9:

“Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”

  • Friends

We have many dear friends that we have made over the years, scattered across the country and around the world; people whose absence of years fades away immediately each time we are reunited with them. Plus there are many friends from our two pastorates. Some of these people are closer than birth family in our on-going relationships with them.

  • Opportunities

God has given me many personal opportunities over the years to develop and use my gifts of music, writing, public speaking, and spiritual ministry to bring others to Him and to encourage the body of Christ, across denominational lines. I’ve traveled up and down the east coast, in the mid-west, in Canada and in several other countries to share my faith in Christ with others. It has given me a broader picture of the body of Christ. There have also been opportunities for television work in my early ministry and for co-hosting a radio program with my husband for a couple years. I’m thankful for the ability to express faith in God through my current writing venues.

  •  Challenges

I am thankful for the many challenges in my life that have tested, tempered, and firmed my faith in a loving God who is worthy to be entrusted with my life. Losses, health issues, lack of regular income, disappointments, and some temporary discouragements have been a few of those challenges. They have served to secure my faith-walk and deepen my peace.

I trust that as you see Thanksgiving Day approaching you will get your eyes off of the minor disturbances of your life, and train your eyes to see the good things that often are obscured by petty irritations and worthless drains of spiritual and emotional energy – things that tend to empty your life of peace and joy, rather than to fill it with awareness of the good gifts of a loving God.

Ask God today to show you how you can add to someone’s experience of Thanksgiving Day – a call, a note or email, a visit, or an invitation to share Thanksgiving dinner at your house. Be sure also to share with someone else the things for which you are thankful.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Self-Concept: Who’s Your Daddy?

Pedro Martinez at some point in his pitching career made the statement that the NY Yankees were his “daddy”.  In the third game of the 2004 World Series the NY fans reminded him of that statement. Pedro was pitching for the Red Socks against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium.  As he was pitching, in the third or fourth inning, the New York crowd began to chant, “Who’s your daddy?” Pedro appeared to become flustered and walked three straight batters. The coach brought in another pitcher.

It’s an interesting question that the crowd asked: “Who’s your daddy?”

When I was a child growing up in what was then a small town, Franconia, Virginia, I could not go anywhere that there was not someone who would comment, “We know who your daddy is.”

I knew who my daddy was and so did everybody else; if ever a daughter looked like her father, I did.

And I wanted to please my daddy. I needed his approval and worked hard to get it . . . good grades, clean house, yard and garden work – those things won his approval. I’m sure he would have loved me even without my hard work to please him – but verbal approval was what I thrived on.

It’s been said that fathers, more than mothers, affect their child’s self-image, and to a large degree I believe that to be true. Even an absentee daddy affects his children by his very absence.

Someone once said: “No person can consistently behave in a way that’s inconsistent with the way he perceives himself.”

You can’t see yourself as “brave” and be living in fear.

You can’t see yourself as “unacceptable” or “factory reject” and be confident of yourself or your performance, friendships or relationships.

If you view yourself as a failure, you won’t become a success.

Our self-concept is not necessarily obvious to us. Our parental heritage and other influences can affect us in ways and on levels that our rational mind often does not comprehend. We live as much out of the subconscious as we do the conscious mind.

Not only is our personal self-concept affected by our “daddy”, but the way we view our earthly father greatly affects our concept of God.  We tend to see God somewhat in the image of our dad, until we get to know Him better.

When I became a Christian as a young teenager I initially saw God as someone I could please by hard work and self-sufficiency, like my daddy. Because we were financially “poor” by American standards, I also saw my heavenly Father as someone who would supply the basics – food, clothing and shelter -but not the extras. If I wanted extras, I had to earn money and buy them for myself.

I don’t think I saw God as stingy – because my biological dad was generous with what he had. But because my daddy had a limited income as a railroad worker, a phrase I often heard was, “You don’t really need that.” So, in my head I heard (and sometimes still hear) my heavenly Father say, “You don’t really need that” before I even asked Him.

As I said, I knew that God would provide the basics, but I thought that anything beyond that I would have to do for myself or do without.

As I have continued to walk in the Lord and develop spiritual maturity, my view of God has changed. And along with that, my view of myself and of others has also changed.

The more I am able to view myself as a child of God and the better I get to know what my heavenly Father is like – from pictures of Him in Scripture and in my spirit as the Holy Spirit reveals God to me – the more I learn of His love and how to trust that love, the better my self-concept has become; the more confidence I have in Him and in myself.  Wow! I am a loved child of an awesome Father.

John 1:10-13 says: . . . to all who received him [Jesus], to all who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God; who were born, not of blood [not from human bloodlines] nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

The spiritual genes I received from my re-birth experience have been slowly and steadily over-riding the imperfections and weaknesses of self-concept resulting from my birth family genes and experiences.

2 Cor.5:17 If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, all things are made new. (KJV)

God is the One who can change us from the inside out. I don’t have to be handicapped for the rest of my life from familial mental, emotional, and spiritual inheritance. I have a new inheritance through Christ, who made me one of God’s loved children.

I am now a child of God. He is my “Daddy”.

So, who’s your daddy? Knowing that can change your life.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Surrogate Fathers

There are many awesome fathers who are not birth-fathers; there are many birth-fathers who are no more than sperm-donors. I don’t mean to ignore all the great fathers out there who are birth-fathers, but I’d like to pay homage to those men who have filled the gap for many “fatherless” kids.

There are many reasons why you may not have produced any children of your own:

  • You are not married and know that to bring a child into the world without a committed relationship to the child’s mother would not be what is best for the child, for the mother, or for you.
  • You have not met a woman that you would choose to be in an on-going relationship with.
  • You and your wife are both so intent on your career that it would be a disservice to any children you might produce.
  • You and your wife have not been able to conceive for physical, emotional or providential reasons.
  • You and your wife have felt that God’s plan for your lives would be hindered by having children of your own.

For whatever reason, you are not yet a birth-father. But somewhere along the way, God has put children in your life through your work, your church, your extended family, your neighborhood, or your volunteer positions.

God has put kids in your life whose own fathers cannot be there for them due to extended military service, death, or sickness; or who are present, but are abusive or negligent in their father role; or those who don’t know how to father their kids, because of their own lack of a good father role model.

Many a messy divorce has resulted in distance between kids and their birth-fathers, who don’t know how to bridge the gap. Perhaps a child you know is merely a product of a sperm-donor and has never had a father in his/her life.

For whatever reason, God has placed you in the life of a fatherless child, and you care about that child. You have used your opportunity to be a father to someone else’s child. You are a surrogate father and you deserve honor as we celebrate Fathers’ Day.

The Bible reveals God’s heart about surrogate parenting:

James 1:27 “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction . . .” (ESV)

Psalm 68:5 “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” (NIV)

Being a father is no easy task, but even the smallest efforts at being there as a surrogate father for the kid(s) God has put in your life can result in fantastic rewards, both for you and those children.

My husband, David, is a surrogate father – and he is a fantastic dad to many kids whom God has brought our way over the years. We are one of those couples that God chose not to have our own children. When we did conceive, there were miscarriages. We chose not to go the route of mechanical medical means of conception – we wanted children from God, not science.

And the Lord has brought many such kids into our lives over the course of our 33-year marriage. We have worked with youth groups, as Sunday school teachers, as speakers and counselors at youth camps, and informally with kids – children of our friends, relatives, and church members and others. We love children.

The Lord put several kids in our lives who have become “family”. We have heart adoptions that are as real to us as if they were our own kids. We have one special daughter whom God brought into our lives through our youth group ministry over 20-years ago, who is still in our lives today.

David has both a human and a Godly influence on our “kids”. He does fun things with them, just to have fun. He also gets into deep conversations with them on matters of the soul – the way they live their lives – and on their relationship with God. He truly has a “father-anointing”, which is recognized not only by young children and teens, but also by young adults – matter of fact, he also “fathers” older adults who are “spiritual children”.

My husband amazes me with his ability to know when and how to do certain things with his “kids” – fun things; work projects, in which he instructs as he works with them; pizza or coffee times that lead to deeper discussions. He has that uncanny ability to know when to press in and when to lighten-up.

These “adopted kids” – who are not from government programs, but were placed in our lives by a higher office – know that David loves them with the right kind of love, that he is interested in them, that he accepts them. They also know instinctively when the lifestyle or action they choose at any given moment would hurt him or betray the values he has shared with them – at those times they distance themselves – David does not pursue, he waits for their return to God and to relationship.

I have witnessed the effects that my husband’s life has had on so many children and adults; I know that both he and they have grown from those “father encounters”, those times of confrontation and encouragement to be all they can be as children of God.

If you have not yet had the joy of surrogate fatherhood, extending God’s love, offer yourself to the Lord God for that purpose.  Trust Him to give you all you need to be a father to the hurting, the lost, the fatherless, the confused – those who just need a father-friend.

If you have allowed God to use you in this way as a father in some child’s life, you are in the place where God has positioned you. Continue to persevere, to reach out, to befriend those fatherless children, and to love them with God’s love. Don’t give up on the kids He has placed in your life. Hold them in prayer continually before the ultimate Father of all fathers.

Happy Fathers’ Day, surrogate dads.

©2012, Marcy Alves

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