Focus on the Family


A Gift of Grace

Johnny and Vicky finally received the call about the birth of the newborn they were to adopt. Instead of a congratulations, the doctor said, ""Don't adopt this baby.""

by Tonya Stoneman

I met Johnny and Vicky Babb in the autumn of 1993 when I lodged at their home in Georgia. Besides the bucolic farmland on which they lived, what struck me most about the Babbs was their hospitality. They are simple people who ask you to sit on the porch swing, drinking sweet tea and watching cows graze and geese walk around their yard.

I envied the couple for their quiet life. But I pitied them too. They are the parents of two adopted children, one severely retarded. Vicky once casually mentioned to me that she hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in more than a decade. Every night I stayed there, I heard her make her way into her son’s room long before sunrise.

One afternoon as we sat on the sofa, I asked her what had brought about her circumstances. The heartache of infertility had driven her and Johnny to adoption agencies, her OBGYN, various doctors, lawyers and churches in hopes of starting a family. They tried to adopt for four years, but nothing seemed to work out. After two solid years of regular prayer and fasting, they got an answer. Finally — it seemed providentially — they met an attorney working with a Pregnancy Resource Center in Atlanta to match young mothers with adoptive parents.

They received basic information on the birth mother: she was a Christian, a college graduate, had never done drugs or alcohol and was five months pregnant. Johnny and Vicky agreed to adopt the baby.

Four short months later, at two o’clock on a Sunday morning, Vicky was awakened by a call from their attorney. The young girl had gone into labor. Despite the adrenaline pulsing through her body, she dozed off to sleep again. By morning, she received news of a crisis. The birth mother had been out to dinner the previous evening when her placenta tore. Before they could get her into the hospital, her baby went without oxygen for an hour and experienced a massive brain hemorrhage.

Johnny and Vicky went to church that morning knowing their child had sustained a devastating injury and was on full life support. Vicky was numb, totally devastated. "It was a broken dream," she recalls. "We had a really sick baby. We cried and cried and cried."

They had remodeled and furnished a baby room and agreed verbally to the adoption, but they had not signed any paperwork. The neo-surgeon working with their baby urged them to reconsider the adoption. "You don’t want this one," he said. "Wait for another one."

But they clearly felt that God had given them direction. He had brought them to this place after two years of fasting and prayer. When Vicky toiled with questions she felt unqualified to answer, Psalm 15 surfaced in her mind. It speaks of honor for those who fear the Lord and do not go back on their word. She also reflected on the words of Matthew 5:37: "Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no,’ ‘no’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."

Fourteen days passed before they saw their baby. "He looked like a normal baby," Vicky said. "I thought, 'He can’t be that damaged. He was so precious and sweet.’ The moment I saw him, he took my heart."

They named him Andrew, bundled him up and took him home.

Their tiny baby underwent 19 major surgeries before his 11th birthday. He’s 16 now and the road has been rough. They’ve spent hundreds of thousands — if not a million — on medical bills. The emotional and physical strain has been immense.

I’ve known Johnny and Vicky for a long time now. I’ve seen them sweetly resign themselves to the post God gave them. I’ve seen them weep and beg for the strength and wisdom to go on. I remember a day when Johnny stood behind the pulpit with tears streaming down his face and spoke about his son, the load of his burden distorting his optimistic countenance. "The fire is hot," he concluded, "but it’s good."

What testifies of God’s grace in this world is not the ability of Christians to achieve great things or to conquer immanent evil, but the way they can respond to suffering in supernatural ways. I see something of that divine inspiration in Johnny and Vicky. They are able to take a simple phrase of Scripture, believe it and apply it to their lives; for 16 years they’ve never looked back. I have never heard them complain or question God’s faithfulness.

"In my heart of hearts, this was meant to be God’s will for our lives, His intention, His plan," Vicky says. "I realize that without Andrew, I would not be where I am spiritually. He’s a refining fire in my life and I welcome it. I would do it again."

When I think of the Babbs, I think of people who always give and never seem to receive much. But that isn’t the way Vicky interprets her situation. She can prattle off a litany of things her little boy has given her: "Andrew has taught us to be patient, to accept and love each other in an unconditional way, to be grateful for what God has given us," she says. "He’s polished off our rough edges. We’ve grown. We are not the same people we would have been without him."

The quality Vicky loves most in Andrew is his heart for God. He sits in the vestibule of our church and cries when a tender hymn is sung. When he receives the Lord’s Supper, he puts his hand on his head to bow, because when he was small Johnny and Vicky gently pushed his head down to teach him to pray. Andrew can say about 10 words now, and he hugs and kisses Vicky if she initiates.

Were it not for Andrew, they would be in a very different place. "We might have a condo on the beach somewhere," Vicky once mused. "But it would have ruined us," she added with the sage wisdom of a pilgrim who has traversed the valleys and mountaintops.

For now, in this place and time, what Andrew has given them far exceeds anything they can hope to give in return. They thank God for all of it, and never doubt in the darkness what He has shown them in the light.


A Will Lessens Suffering

A proper will can eliminate needless anguish.

byM.J. Maddox

We often seek explanations for unpleasant circumstances, especially when those circumstances result in pain and suffering. Yet, many families shun subjects that may lessen suffering, such as estate planning. It is, however, prudent to decide now what we desire to happen with our assets after our death.

Priscilla shared her family’s experiences, hoping others learn from their mistakes. Helping her cope with recent, unpleasant events is the story of Job. The Book of Job explores the question of theodicy, the issue of God's relation to human suffering.

Job was a righteous, affluent man. The story starts with a challenge between God and Satan. Satan, the adversary or prosecutor for the divine council, asks God to allow him to challenge Job. God allows it but on condition Satan spares Job's life. Suddenly faced with major pain, humiliation and suffering, even the loss of his children, the challenge to Job's faith was underway.

In our companion story, without warning 56-year-old Ellen was an entrepreneur and the eldest of five sisters. She died unexpectedly. For years, she provided financial support for both her immediate and extended family. She assisted them with mortgages, car notes, credit card dilemmas, vacations — whatever. Everyone assumed Ellen had her papers in order and possessed a will. She had kept excellent records of her business transactions, but she did not possess a will.

Ellen did not have a surviving spouse or children. She her mother Liza survived her.

Confounding the issue was a California law stipulating if Ellen's spouse died less than 15 years before her, then his offspring was entitled to property attributable to him. Ellen's spouse, who died 13 years before her, had a daughter. These and related legal details would not matter had Ellen possessed a will. Consequently, Priscilla's family has been in probate court for more than a year with no end in sight.

What can you expect when an immediate relative dies without a will? First, the state takes control of all the decedent's property, called the estate. The surviving family has the option of appointing an estate administrator. An estate attorney must also be retained.

Most of Priscilla's family reside outside the state of California and therefore have to rely on referrals for an attorney to represent Liza as Ellen's heir. The daughter and others claiming to be heirs retain their own attorney. Some families simply leave settlement of the estate to the state.

An appraisal is taken to determine the value of all real and personal property left by the decedent. If insufficient capital exists to cover the federal estate taxes, personal income taxes, state taxes and other known debts, then property must be liquidated. Ellen's home was first sold, forcing another sister and her child to relocate.

The net value of an estate can erode quickly. Taxes are paid first. Other debts are honored after the legal heirs reach a settlement. Additionally, businesses may have to be sold or dissolved. Are you employed in a business owned and operated by a relative?

Legal heirs, Liza and the deceased husband's daughter are allotted their portions of the settlement last.

If a settlement is unlikely, the judge may refer the case to mediation. If mediation fails, the claimants go to trial.

There is also tremendous mental anguish. It is difficult to grieve when engaged in legal battles. Legal fees can be exorbitant. Family members argue endlessly over unanswerable questions. Anger and frustration mount.

The cold reality is Ellen's estate was never her family's property to dispose of in the first place. But many survivors mistakenly assume the possessions of deceased automatically accrue to them. Not so. Had Ellen possessed a will, her surviving family members could have been spared a lot of aggravation and expense.

Do you possess property rights? Does your name appear on the title or deed(s) to property you think belongs to you and your spouse jointly? Have you seen the deed? Does it include your name? Does state law stipulate in the event of death of one spouse, the property of the decedent transfers to the surviving spouse? If not, then you do not own the property and therefore cannot include it in your will. It is not yours to give away.

The same principle holds for ownership of brokerage accounts, such as stocks, bonds, trusts, treasury notes, etc. In order to list such documents in your will, your name must appear as either owner or beneficiary on the appropriate papers. Otherwise, they are not yours to give away.

To lessen avoidable suffering to survivors, it is advisable to have a will drafted. In so doing, consider the following lessons:

Job remained faithful to God in spite of his illness, public humiliation and the loss of his children and all his possessions. It takes a while but Job came to realize it is impossible for the human mind to function at the same level as God. Mortals cannot judge God.

Job received double restoration of his possessions; and he and his wife had more children. Job essentially received a second chance in life.

Reading this story has taught Priscilla that those of us who try to live righteous lives do not necessarily avoid evil and suffering. In contemporary society, however, one sure way to lessen suffering is to draft a will. Most important, it is through faith that we endure, learn and pick up and move on to our second, third and fourth chances in life.

M. J. Simms Maddox is a freelance writer and resides in North Carolina.


Aborting the Elderly

Other than the unborn, no single age group suffers more from a diminished view of the value to human life than the elderly.

by Kenneth L. Connor

For 20 years I have represented elders who have been victims of abuse and neglect in long-term care institutions. Despite having seen many sad cases, I continue to be amazed at man's inhumanity to his fellow man.

I have represented clients with avoidable pressure sores as large as dinner plates — sores so putrid and infected that when you walked down the hallway of the nursing home you could smell the person's sores before you could see them.

I have seen residents, hollow-eyed and emaciated from hunger and thirst, who would eat and drink ravenously if only someone would take the time to assist them by putting a fork to their mouth and a cup to their lips.

I have seen residents who were victims of violent abuse tremble with fear at the approach of those who were supposed to be their caregivers.

Other than the unborn, no single age group in our country suffers more from a diminished view of the value to human life than the elderly. The utilitarian ethic that was established in law in Roe v. Wade has implications as negative and profound for the end of human life as it has had for the beginning.

Human life is an unbroken continuum that extends from conception to natural death. Devalue life at any point on that continuum, and life at every other point is put at risk.

Once the principle of the sanctity of life is compromised, the lives of those who cost more to maintain than they produce or whose quality of life has become diminished become difficult to defend.

Having stripped human life of its intrinsic worth from the moment of conception until the moment of birth, on what moral or ethical basis can we defend life in its closing stages? Roe set into motion a barbaric cost-benefit/quality-of-life calculus with consequences that are all but impossible to restrain. Once one's net worth is calculated in such terms, the door is opened to unspeakable abuses.

If being "wanted" is the operative ethic for the beginning of life, what is to prevent it from becoming the prevailing ethic towards the end of life? Already it is common to hear discussions concerning so-called "quality of life" issues with regard to the elderly. Stripped of their gloss, these discussions really boil down to little more than the question: "Who would want to live in that condition?"

Let's face it: The terminally ill, the chronically afflicted, the permanently bedridden have, in the eyes of many, lost any meaningful quality of life. Why not dispose of them for their own and society's good? Isn't this humane?

It is precisely this perverse logic that caused former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm ("Governor Gloom" as he was known to many) to declare that the elderly had a "duty to die" and get out of the way.

The key question here, of course, is who gets to define "quality of life?" Who decides whether someone else's life is worth living? Phrased differently, the question is who gets to decide if someone else is "wanted?"

How we treat our fellow human beings depends on certain basic moral attitudes and habits of thought. The attitude that life is basically a negotiable commodity leads easily to abuse and neglect and, in the end, to disposable people. Once we have consciously devalued life, it is but a short step to throwing it away like a worn-out old shoe.

It is doubtful that a generation nurtured on the Roe ethic will be willing to make the economic commitment — let alone sacrifice — needed to protect or sustain the lives of those elderly whose "quality of life" is suspect. Walk through any nursing home and you will find an ample number of candidates for inclusion in the class of "throwaway" people.

Many elderly individuals require round-the-clock care. Many require expensive medication and costly medical procedures. Those afflicted with dementia often have little or no consciousness of their surroundings, family, or even of life itself. Others live out long, lonely, solitary days, without surviving relatives, abandoned by family and friends. These people do not score well when a cost-benefit ratio or quality-of-life calculus is applied to them.

American society is increasingly treating certain classes of human beings at the beginning and at the end of life as though they were property, subject to use, abuse and disposal at the hands of other human beings. Such actions fly in the face of the sanctity of life ethic that arose from the Judeo-Christian view that life is inherently valuable, because it is the gift of God.

Roe undercut 4,000 years of Judeo-Christian teaching on the sanctity of life. More than 42 million unborn children have already paid the price for such arrogance. The elderly will be the next to pay.


Adjusting the Miscellaneous Spending Budget

The miscellaneous budget category is the section most often frittered away. Learn how to manage this budget black hole.

fromCrown Financial Ministries

The Miscellaneous category of the budget is everything not included in regular categories. It is one category that eats up a lot of the money in budgets, and most families can never remember where that money was spent.

Miscellaneous budget allocation

Five percent of net spendable income should be applied to the miscellaneous category of budgets.

This category can include a myriad of items, ranging from daily snacks and vending machine soft drinks to Christmas and birthday gifts, haircuts, magazine subscriptions, and toiletries.

So, if the annual Net Spendable Income is $50,000, the miscellaneous category should be allocated $48 per week or $2500 per year. If $700 is spent annually on Christmas, birthday and special occasion gifts, this would leave just over $34 per week or $150 per month for all other miscellaneous expenditures.

Miscellaneous is the one category that generally develops creeping inflation because it is so easy to justify “borrowing” from one budget category in order to satisfy the latest or current need or obligation. However, seldom is the borrowed money ever replaced, which forces a shortfall in the category from which funds were borrowed. All too often this shortfall is reconciled by using credit cards.

Controlling Miscellaneous spending

The key to controlling the miscellaneous category is to establish a realistic plan for careful spending and stick to it, not allowing it to grow out of proportion.

There is no substitute for self-discipline when it comes to miscellaneous spending.

To help assess how miscellaneous funds are spent, it may be helpful first to keep a diary of expenditures for the next 30 days. Divide the diary into basic categories of a budget: Housing, Automobiles, Clothing, Food, Entertainment, and the rest.

Anything that does not fit logically into one of those categories is Miscellaneous. By the end of the month you will know how much Miscellaneous spending you have.

Then after you evaluate how much is being spent and compare that to how much should be spent on Miscellaneous, you can determine more effectively how to control miscellaneous spending.

One of the most effective ways to control miscellaneous spending is to use envelopes.

Put into the miscellaneous envelope the money that should be allocated for Miscellaneous from one pay period to the next. Then, as you spend it, write on the envelope where your money went.

When the money is gone, no more miscellaneous spending will be allowed until the next miscellaneous allocation.

Miscellaneous saving hints

There are numerous ways in which expenses allocated to the miscellaneous category can be greatly reduced. The following is only a sampling of what can be done.

  1. Limit the amount of gifts given. Set money aside for gifts on a monthly basis in a savings account until the need arises (Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or other special occasions).
  2. Limit the amount of cash carried at any one time to no more than $10, if possible. The more that is carried, the more the temptation to spend the amount carried.
  3. Guard against impulse buying. Don’t charge or finance anything that belongs in the miscellaneous category. Save for it and pay cash.
  4. Set a weekly dollar limit for snacks and vending machine drinks and stick to it.
  5. Consider volunteering for day care service on off days in exchange for day care credit.
  6. Buy toiletries (toothpaste, razors, shampoo) and paper items in bulk at a retail warehouse or discount retail store.

Miscellaneous is the budget category that seems to grow at will and, unless it is held in check with disciplined spending, it can eat up a lot of money. You often have no idea where it went.

Although some of the items in the miscellaneous category are predictable daily and monthly expenses, many more are unpredictable or are needed infrequently.

For this reason, self-discipline is mandatory to prevent miscellaneous spending from getting out of hand and growing out of proportion.


Adjusting Your Recreation and Entertainment Budget

The normal tendency is to escape problems�even if doing so causes financial problems to become even more acute. Put restraints on entertainment and recreation expenses.

from Crown Financial Ministries

Our country is a recreation- and entertainment-oriented nation. That is not necessarily all bad if put in the proper perspective, but those who are in debt should never use the money that rightfully belongs to creditors for entertainment.

The normal tendency for Americans in particular is to escape problems, if only for a short while—even if doing so causes financial problems to become even more acute.

We need to resist this urge and tendency and put restraints on entertainment and recreation expenditures.

Budget allocation

Entertainment and recreation should consume about 5 percent of allocated budget spending. This includes eating out, movies, sporting events, health clubs, golfing, vacations, weekend getaways, paying babysitters, and everything else that is considered recreation and/or entertainment.

If an average income American family wants to stay within its budget and spend only what is allocated for entertainment and recreation, they cannot go out to eat every day.

They most likely cannot go on an expensive annual vacation (although if they saved for a vacation, a lengthy and expensive one could be justified every four or five years). And the typical family probably cannot afford to join an expensive country club or tennis club, and they probably cannot afford annual major recreation purchases like boats, campers, or jet skis.

Families should save for and pay cash for these expenses—not charge or finance them—and there should be at least two or three years or more between each of these major recreational expenses.

However, many families choose not to save for entertainment, recreation, and vacations, opting instead to charge and use credit, thus receiving instant gratification. Unfortunately, the bills always come due and the final financial obligation generally far outweighs any and all instant gratification.

Budget abuse

Vacations and eating out are the primary sources of credit card debt accumulation.

Families overspend on vacations each year because they have not saved enough to go on a vacation. Therefore they must use their credit cards to supplement their budgets.Quite often, the previous year’s debt is not paid off before vacation time comes again. As the debts pile up, there is a greater tendency to want to “get away from it all,” which compounds the problem.

Families in which the mother/wife works a full-time job generally have problems with credit card and budget abuse when it comes to eating out.Because mothers or wives have worked all day, many times they just don’t feel like cooking for the family or, for that matter, fixing lunches for the following days.

Therefore, eating out for lunch and dinner would seem to be the “logical” conclusion and using a credit card the obvious solution to “stretching” to make eating out fit the budget.If a family had an annual spendable income of $50,000, the allocation for recreation and entertainment would be about $48 per week (all entertainment/recreation, including vacations). If the husband and wife spend $10 per day for lunch and another $25 for dinner twice per week, the total eating out bill would be $100, or $52 over budget.Needless to say, this balance would have to be absorbed by credit cards. Is this the type of stewardship of His money that God had in mind?

Alternatives

There are cost-saving alternatives available if families are willing to consider them and are serious about staying within the percentage allocation of their budgets for entertainment and recreation.

  1. Save for extended or expensive vacations.
  2. Plan vacations during off-seasons if possible.
  3. Consider camping vacations to avoid motel and restaurant expenses.
  4. Select vacation areas within a couple of hours driving distance.
  5. Consider swapping residences with a friend, relative, or Christian family in another locale to provide an inexpensive vacation.
  6. Consider taking a vacation with another family to reduce expenses.
  7. If flying, use the least expensive late night or early morning coach fare.
  8. Contact a church in the area where you want to vacation. Some may be willing to provide free housing in exchange for a week of voluntary work.
  9. Play family games in place of paid entertainment.
  10. When eating out, buy one entrée and one salad. Then husband and wife can share if the restaurant permits it.
  11. Take “brown-bag” or dinner leftover lunches as often as possible.
  12. Many times the special of the day is less expensive.
  13. Some restaurants have “early-bird” dinner specials from 4:00 to 6:00, which are far less expensive than menu items after 6:00.

There are many ideas if families are willing to look for them. The certainty is that God always has an alternative to debt.

Once families commit to living within the means that God has provided, He will open all kinds of less expensive alternatives.

God knows we need rest and relaxation, and He will often provide it from unexpected sources, once our attitudes are correct and our values align with His stewardship guidelines.

Every family, whether in debt or not, should seek to stay within the budget percentage parameters for entertainment and recreation.


Advice From a Parent: Keeping a Strong Faith in College

What can parents do to help their children keep a strong faith in college? Read this sound advice.

by Thabiti Anyabwile

The opportunity to counsel people in the midst of important life transitions is one of the great privileges of serving as a pastor. There are marriages, deaths, new birth and career transitions. In all of them, people tend to come for prayer and counsel.

Sherry was about to make an important life transition when her parents brought her to see me. It happens a lot. And it's a joy as a pastor to be there. The young person is about to go off to college, the parents are nervous and the prospective collegian is all kinds of excited.

The trick: How can I both encourage their excitement and not send the parent into cardiac arrest?

What I've found in these counseling situations is that typically the prospective college student has no definite plan for surviving college as a Christian. They've very often been raised in the thick, semi-transparent plastic Christian bubble, and the challenges of toxin-laced, free oxygen-based life is new, alluring, and usually more than the perky teenager is bargaining for.

Sherry is intelligent, a good student who makes friends easily. Her father has invested in her spiritually and given her all "the talks" he can think of. Sitting across the table, he needs the reassurance that comes from having someone else tell her the same things. Sherry needs the external confirmation in order to know her father isn't some overly anxious, overly protective dad. She is smart, but she knows little about the world. He knows a fair amount about the world, but he can't know how his daughter will fare in the world. Ignorance wears many faces ... bliss and worry.

In these cases, I usually share a few basic exhortations.

Find and join a good church

This is task number one. In fact, if there's opportunity to influence the list of prospective students, it's wise to first pick the cities with strong churches and then consider schools nearby. Why should someone neglect their spiritual lives for four or more years simply because they're going to college? Many don't intend to inflict such neglect on themselves, but that's what happens when they head off to college with no idea where they will receive regular instruction from the Word, spiritual care and fellowship.

A good church is one where the exposition of the Scripture is central to the preaching and the life of the congregation. It's a place where membership is practiced; that is, where pastors take seriously their responsibility for overseeing souls in their care and members submit to that care and care for each other, in part, by officially joining the church.

Joining a church is a declaration that you want to be cared for spiritually by the congregation and that you're pledging yourself to care for others. And a good church, then, is a place where accountability, encouragement, and both positive and corrective discipline are practiced.

Forget about the allurements of singles groups or college ministries. Those can be very beneficial, but they're not the stuff upon which a solid church is based.

Sherry hadn't thought of finding a church. She didn't know the area surrounding the campus at all. If she were to remain a growing Christian in college she needed to correct this omission right away. I scribbled a note to contact pastor friends who may have some recommendations.

Choose your friends with biblical criteria in view

Sooner or later, most people come to realize that they need to relinquish their passive approach to friendships. It's better if we realize it sooner rather than later.

Since Sherry wasn't going off to schools with a bevy of friends in tow, she would be addressing this issue very soon. "How will you select friends?" I asked her. "Friends?" she replied. "I assume I'd just meet people and make friends the way people normally do."

Her assumption was that she'd just "bump into" friends. They would grow up around her ... naturally. Though we talk about "making friends," few people really set out to "make" them. However, intentional cultivation of friendships may make all the difference between a rich college experience and one filled with frustration, alienation, broken relationships, and other kinds of pains. Since most adults look back on their college days as the time when they discovered lifelong friends, being intentional at this point is fairly important.

Sherry and I opened the Bible to Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 3. "Why not think about potential friends through the grid of one or both of these chapters? If these characteristics are representative of people that God commends, why not look for these characteristics in your friends?"

Now, I wasn't recommending an interview form with background checks. I save that for the potential courtship talk! But, in order to have a healthy college experience, a healthy set of friends is near essential. Campus Christian fellowships are a good place to start (InterVarsity, Campus Crusade, etc.).

And don't be afraid to keep an eye out for older students of the same gender, Christian graduate students. They'll offer both friendship and mentorship, having already passed through undergraduate school and picked up a measure of skill, responsibility, and mature outlook.

At all costs, remain sexually pure

This is really the point that dads listen most interestedly. His head nods rather vigorously like those bobble head figures glued to automobile dash boards. Moms are more pensive, but they're thinking the same thing: "God, I pray you would keep him or her out of sexual sin."

And, here too, people need a plan. How will compromising sexual temptations be avoided? There are some obvious things to do:

  1. Pray. Be aware of the temptation and the danger before it comes. It's difficult to develop character in a pinch. Develop it in prayer and other disciplines before the temptation comes.
  2. Never place yourself in an intimate setting (dorm room or apartment) with a person of the opposite sex. Simply mark some places as "off limits" and avoid them like the bird flu.
  3. In courting or dating relationships, establish clear boundaries not to be crossed. Save your first kiss for the marriage altar. After all, why even rub your lips together with someone you have no interest in marrying?
  4. Seek transparent accountability with those trusted friends you've made at the good church and campus fellowship you've joined.
  5. Spend the lion's share of your free time with families from church instead of in undirected peer groups. Adopt an older couple as surrogate parents, invest in them and let them invest in you. Though college is seen as a time of increased autonomy, there is no reason that autonomy should be disassociated with family and the nurture of older persons who care about you.

The fleeting, momentary "pleasure" of sexual sin will not be worth the potential lifetime of scars and difficulties that follow. The backs of many a college education, career ambition, and family aspiration have been broken over the strong anvil of sexual sin.

Study

OK, this seems like a no-brainer. But considering the amount of remedial education now being funded in community college and university settings, and considering the dropout rates, this really needs to be said. Study. You are in school to receive an education — and that's a great privilege many people long to have.

But studying also has a spiritual benefit. Whatever it is you've decided to study may be used for the purposes of God. In retrospect, I wish I had been a better student during my college days. Fifteen years after college, I see how much of what was available could now be used of the Lord in the pastorate. I couldn't anticipate it then; I wasn't even a Christian. But I can see it now and there is a small pang of regret.

Almost any degree — engineering, nursing, teaching, accounting, you name it — can take you into world missions or local church service for the glory of God. Don't underestimate the importance of your study in the economy of God.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). The older translations render this verse, "Study to show yourselves approved." It's the pastor's study of Scripture that is in view, but I think a legitimate application can be made to the student in the college classroom or the college grad entering into a new career.

Call home

If I've done my job in these treasured visits, the young adult is a little less sure of himself or herself. They have questions to think about that they didn't have when they arrived at my office. Now for the failsafe option: Remember to call home.

No one has all the answers. No one is prepared for everything that may come their way. And no one has to live their Christian lives alone, as though following Jesus is a solo sport. When you hit those situations that are beyond you, call home. When you have questions that require prayer and careful thought, call home. No one will have your best interest in mind quite like your parents and family who are cheering for you.

And if in God's providence parents or family are not available, see recommendation number one above. Take it to members of your church family who are spiritually mature and who desire to see Christ Jesus exalted in your life and choices.

Remember the counsel of God

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Prov. 3:5-6)

This is really the first, the continuing, and last thing to do as a Christian in college or young adult. Trust God in everything.

Charles Bridges, a famous English pastor during the 1800s, offered some very helpful words on Proverbs 3:5-6. He wrote:

Always plan for yourself in simple dependence on God. It is nothing less than self-idolatry to conceive that we can carry on even the ordinary matters of the day without his counsel. He loves to be consulted. Therefore take all they difficulties to be resolved by Him. Be in the habit of going to him in the first place — before self-will, self-pleasing, self-wisdom, human friends, convenience, expediency. Before any of these have been consulted go to God. Consider no circumstances too clear to need his directions. In all thy ways, small as well as great; in all thy concerns, personal or relative, temporal or eternal, let Him be supreme.

Charles Bridges, Proverbs: Geneva Series of Commentaries (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust), pp. 24-25

In the final analysis, this is the answer for both the worried parent and the excited student. Trust the Lord in everything. There will be every worldly temptation and seduction, every fleshly deception posing as advantage and "wisdom," that subvert continual trust in the Lord. Resist them. Oppose them. Go to the Father in the Word, in complete reliance on Him and His promise.

After exhorting Sherry and her father to trust God, we turn our hearts to the Father in prayer. I can hear mumbled agreements as we ask the Lord for grace, wisdom, peace and every fruit of the Spirit. The prayer ends with a lingering "Amen."

The conversation has stirred more than either dad or daughter expected. Hearing what you know you need to hear has a way of both reassuring you and opening your eyes to the challenge of following Jesus in a fallen world.Warm thank you's are offered. Then the sight I love to see most: dad and daughter walking down the corridor holding hands, smiling, and talking. The transition is still a big one, but they're welcoming it together.


Moving Forward: Dealing With Grief

Over time, the intensity of your grief will likely subside, but do not rush the grieving process.

byFocus on the Family

Grieving the death of a loved one is an individual process. Some caregivers initially feel numb and disoriented, then endure pangs of yearning for the person who has died. Others feel anxious and have trouble sleeping, perhaps dwelling on old arguments or words they wish they had expressed. Sudden outbursts of tears are common in grief, triggered by memories or reminders of the loved one. Even those who are confident that their loved one is with the Lord struggle with sadness over their loss. Not all people grieve the same way or for the same length of time, but dealing with grief is essential in order to come to terms with the loss of your loved one and move on with your life. To do that, you need to be honest in your grieving and ask God the tough questions that help us mature (Read Lamentations 3).

Bereavement Differs

The circumstances of your elder's death can affect your grief. If a loved one suffered with a long illness, death is often considered a blessing. For the families of Alzheimer's patients, mourning begins with the onset of the disease, long before death occurs. Because of the time spent in anticipating death, this kind of bereavement differs from the intense grief over someone who dies following a brief illness, surgery or accident.

Over time, the intensity of your grief will likely subside, but do not try to rush the grieving process. And do not expect your feelings and emotions to be like anyone else's. God made you unique, and your grieving process will be a personal journey. But keep in mind that the weight of grief is lighter when shared. Support from others can help you to handle the aftermath of your loss. God also offers comfort in times of bereavement. Jesus said, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" (John 14:18 KJV).

Coping After the Funeral

When the funeral is a memory and your relatives and friends have returned to their busy lives, you may wonder how you are going to cope. If grief threatens to overwhelm you, try saying with the psalmist, "My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word" (Psalm 119:28 NIV). Cling to God's promises as you work through your grief. "He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength" (Isaiah 40:29 NKJV).

But how does a person "get over" the death of a loved one? How long after a loss should one still be grieving? It is generally agreed that there are four "tasks of mourning" every bereaved person must accomplish to be able to effectively deal with the death of a loved one:

Accept the reality of the loss. Experience the pain of grief. Adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing. Take the emotional energy you would have spent on the one who died and reinvest it in another relationship.1

Accepting the Loss

The first task, accepting the reality of the loss, involves overcoming the natural denial response and realizing that the person is physically dead. This can be facilitated by viewing the body after death, attending funeral and burial services, and visiting the place where the body is laid to rest. In addition, talking about the deceased person or the circumstances surrounding the death can be very helpful.

It is necessary to grieve the physical finality of losing a loved one and come to grips with the fact that you will not see that person again in this life. But the spiritual life goes on. If your loved one was a professing Christian, not only will you see him again in the life to come, but he is now in an immeasurably better place — in the Lord's presence, with no more pain or fear or sorrow. This is true for all who die in the Lord. "'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.' Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new'" (Rev. 21:4-5 NKJV). Therefore, we mourn for ourselves, not for our Christian loved ones. They are where we yearn to be.

Experience the Pain

The second task, experiencing the pain of grief, also confronts the denial that is so common in grieving persons. Many people try to avoid pain by bottling up their emotions or rejecting the feelings they are having. They may avoid places and circumstances that remind them of their loved one. They may try to take shortcuts through the grieving process, not admitting to the feelings of anger or denial that usually exist. However, the only way to move through grief is to move through it. It is impossible to escape the pain associated with mourning. The person who avoids grieving will eventually suffer from some form of depression, or even physical problems. Fully experiencing the pain — most often through tears — provides relief. Jesus wept over the loss of His friend Lazarus, even though He knew He was about to raise him from the dead; we, too, have permission to weep.

We all experience pain in this life, and the only thing worse than the pain of losing a loved one is the pain of never loving or being loved in the first place. In a way, the pain of grief is a gift to us because it is evidence of the presence of love.

Adjusting

The third task, adjusting to an environment in which the deceased is missing, requires the grieving individual to assume some of the social roles performed by the deceased, or to find others who will. For example, a grieving spouse may need help with household chores and cooking. Someone who never learned to drive must either learn how to drive or find other forms of transportation. The alternative is social withdrawal and sitting home alone. A person who dreads coming home to an empty house may find comfort in adopting a friendly pet.

The final task is taking the emotional energy you would have spent on the one who died and reinvesting it in another relationship or relationships. Many people feel disloyal or unfaithful if they withdraw emotionally from their deceased loved one. But the goal is not to forget the person who has died; it is to finally reach the point where you can remember your loved one without experiencing disabling grief.

Some find it impossible to invest in new relationships because they are unwilling to take the risk of feeling another loss. Others were so immersed in caregiving that, now that their loved one has died, they are not sure what to do. Still, investing time in friendships is important for many reasons. Old friends can reminisce about your loved one and also give you encouragement and permission to rebuild your life. New friendships allow you to being again as a person with a future — not just a widow, widower or survivor. For some, getting involved in a volunteer ministry provides structure, a sense of purpose and built-in companionship. Others swap phone numbers with new friends from grief-recovery groups.

Do not feel like you have to hurry to this stage. If attending a lighthearted party seems incongruous with your current state of mind, perhaps having coffee and conversation with a good friend would be a refreshing change of pace. Many surviving spouses enjoy focusing more time and energy on children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Do not rush into making major decisions or changes that could add stress to your life. Give yourself time and space to grieve. If at all possible, do not move for at least one year. You might benefit from setting aside an hour every day or two to "work" on grieving, especially if your loved one's death was recent. To do this, turn to caring family members or friends for support. Read a good devotional book, such as Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman (Zondervan 1997) or Quiet Moments for Caregivers by Betty Free (Tyndale 2002). You may also want to look in a Bible concordance for words like comfort or hope. As you look up the verses, meditate on each one and record it in a prayer journal. Allow God's healing words to sink in. Psalm 94:19 says, "In the multitude of my anxieties within me, your comforts delight my soul" (NKJV).


1J. William Worden, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner (1991).

Baby Boomers and Social Security

Current law states that if you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is now 66—not 65—and your wait would be four years, not three.

Harvey Nowland

Today, every age group has an alias—you know—an also know as (a.k.a.) of some kind. For instance:

And, there are plenty of other a.k.a. monikers, but you get the idea.

Now, anyone is allowed to read this, but it's addressed primarily to Boomers. You know who you are and, even though you may not want to admit it, many of you are pushing the age envelope for Social Security. You are on the verge of turning 62 (born in 1946), remember.

What about Social Security for Boomers?

A typical Boomer question about Social Security goes something like this:

"I know that I can begin drawing Social Security if I retire this year at age 62. But, the monthly amount I receive will be less than if I were to wait until I turn 65. Would it be better for me to wait three more years and then draw more each month at age 65?"

Well, first of all, current law states that if you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is now 66—not 65, and your wait would be four years, not three years.

But, let's say that this year, at age 62, you decide to retire and your current annual earnings are $40,000. Your monthly Social Security benefit amount would be $860.00.

If you were to wait until age 66 and 6 months, your estimated monthly benefit amount (beginning in 2012) would be $1,363.00. This figure uses the present Social Security calculations and assumes some future earning increases.

You would draw about $500 more every month if you were to wait until you're 66 years old.

So, is the decision a 'no-brainer'?

Five hundred more dollars a month—that's a much better deal, isn't it? Maybe it's not, because here's the hitch. If you wait until age 66 to retire, it would take approximately 13 years of full Social Security income, beyond the age of 66, to compensate for the money ($41,280) you could have drawn during those four years between the ages of 62 and 66.

As they say, "Do the math!" And, as a matter of fact, to be sure that you make the wisest decision for yourself, you can calculate your own financial situation by using the Social Security online calculator. You'll find it, and other helpful information at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ Close to the top center of their home page, you'll see "Retirement" and just below it you can click on the "calculate your benefits" line.

Did you know?

Not everyone is aware that you can actually continue to work while you receive Social Security retirement benefits. If you do, it could mean higher benefits for you in the future, because you'll be paying into the program while you're drawing out.

However, the thing to consider here is that the benefits you receive while working will be reduced, but only until you reach your full retirement age (66 for Boomers), using Social Security's formula to determine how much your benefit would be.

For example, if you are under the full retirement age (62-65) for the entire year, Social Security would deduct $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit, which is $13,560. But, once you reach your full retirement age of 66, this reduction would no longer apply.

This may sound complicated. However, again, Social Security has online calculators that you can use to help you make an accurate and informed decision, using your own financial figures.

Don't leave God out of the equation

Here's something very important to consider. Every family situation is different, and there are many factors that enter into making the decision of when you should retire. But the most important consideration is this: What does God want you to do?

You should definitely be certain to take God into account in this important choice. "The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge." (Proverbs 18:15)

Were you aware that the Bible never really speaks of "retirement" as we know it? In fact, the only mention of the concept to "retire" is found in Numbers 8:25.

"Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying ‘This is what applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall enter to perform service in the work of the tent of meeting. But at the age of fifty years they shall retire from service in the work and not work any more. They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting, to keep an obligation, but they themselves shall do no work.'"

So, unless you're a Levite, you may want to assess, or perhaps reassess any retirement considerations very carefully—and be sure they line up with God's plan for your life.

I'm a Boomer and I'm ready, now what?

Okay, let's say you're married and you've gone through the process of discussing this thoroughly with your spouse. You have sought the counsel of a trusted financial planner or friends who have good financial sense. You've prayed seeking God's guidance, and you believe that He has given you the go ahead to retire. But, how do you go about signing up for Social Security?

Well, on that same Social Security online home page mentioned above, click on "Apply for Benefits" in the left hand navigation bar. You'll find all the information you need. The Social Security site will take you step by step through the application process, all the while asking appropriate questions as you complete the forms.

Your completed online application will be forwarded to your local Social Security office. Then, a determination will be made to be sure that they have all the information they need to make an appropriate decision. Of course, you can also visit your local Social Security office and fill out the application forms in person if you wish.

There definitely are pros and cons involved in making this retirement decision. Whatever you determine, before rushing off to apply for Social Security benefits, the most important consideration is to be sure you're satisfied that you have God's approval in the matter.

"How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments . . . wealth and riches are in his house" (Psalm 112:1, 3), because "He who trusts in the Lord will prosper." (Proverbs 28:25)

Harvey Nowland is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga.


Birthday Blessings

A post-50 birthday provides an opportunity to look back at blessings and ahead with confidence.

by Nancy Parker Brummett

It's nice to approach an "over 50" birthday with the firm realization that for all intents and purposes it is a non-event. This month I will celebrate a birthday that isn't a milestone, a miracle or a mistake. But it will be blessed all the same.

It isn't a milestone because it ends in a three, and everyone knows milestone birthdays have to end in zero or five. No black balloons or insulting cards for me this year. (Well, not many, anyway.)

Actually it's hard for me to think of any 50-something birthday as a milestone because my mother and mother-in-law both turned 85 recently - a milestone that overshadows all that come before. That they both still live in their own homes and have optimistic outlooks on life give us much to celebrate.

My birthday isn't a miracle because, by the grace of God, I've been spared any life-threatening illnesses and accidents, so I've arrived at this age with most of my physical abilities and faculties still intact (short-term memory not included).

I don't take my good health for granted, however, because I remember that at this same age my sister-in-law was diagnosed with what proved to be a terminal brain tumor. The same week I celebrate my birthday, one of my best friends will have what we hope is her final chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer. I'm blessed to be healthy.

My birthday isn't a mistake because I firmly believe that the Lord has numbered my days. If I arrive at the day I turn 53, it will be because He ordained that it would be so.

To wake up each morning knowing that the day ahead is a complete and holy gift from Him is a blessing that puts every birthday in perspective, isn't it? For no matter how long we live, better is one day in His courts than thousands of days elsewhere.

Nancy Parker Brummett is an author and freelance writer living in Colorado Springs, Colo. Her books include Simply the Savior, The Journey of Elisa and It Takes a Home.


Budget Busters

Here are simple and commonsense strategies to help you avoid banging your budget to pieces.

by Harvey Nowland

Many Americans spend much more than 100 percent of their income! Can't be done, you say? Sure it can — it's called indebtedness.

Of course, everyone needs a place to live, food and transportation. But fail to control even one of these budget areas and . . . bang . . . you could produce a financial disaster.

You need to plan your spending based on your net income, not gross income. Net income is the money available to spend after taxes and tithe. If you plan your spending based on gross income, you're scheduling a financial catastrophe.

Housing

Housing is typically one of the largest budget problem areas. Total housing payments (mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, phone, maintenance) for a family with a moderate gross income of $40,000 shouldn't exceed 38 percent of net income (not gross income). Don't finance a second mortgage for a down payment, and never finance closing costs.

Food

Some families buy too much food. That moderate-gross-income family mentioned above shouldn't spend more than 12 percent of their net income for food. To avoid potential budget busting food problems, plan weekly menus, shop with written grocery lists and never shop if you're hungry or in a hurry. Avoid expensive prepared and frozen foods, and buy household cleaning and paper products at discount stores. Shop advertised specials, use coupons and try generic or store brand products (this isn't rocket science).

Automobile

If our moderate-gross-income family spends more than 15 percent of their net income on auto expenses (monthly payment, repairs and maintenance, gas, oil, tags, taxes, insurance), they are courting financial problems.

If the car you're driving can be repaired for less than six monthly payments on a newer car, think about repairing, not buying. If you do buy, pay off the car you have before purchasing another, buy quality used cars rather than new ones and avoid car leases.

Debts

If you're restricting yourself to five percent debt for credit cards, bank loans including home equity loans and installment credit, you're unusual because, unfortunately, the typical American far exceeds this amount.

Avoid potential debt problems. Get rid of credit cards you cannot pay in full each month. Establish a payment schedule to pay all creditors regularly and get your debts current. When an existing debt is paid off, reallocate that money to savings or to pay off another debt.

The rest of the budget story

Each of the following areas shouldn't exceed 5 percent of your net income.

Establish some savings in your budget. Otherwise, credit can become a lifestyle and debt a way of life. Savings allows you to purchase items with cash rather than credit.

Anticipate medical and dental expenses and set aside funds regularly to cover the expenses. Don't sacrifice your health due to lack of planning, but at the same time don't use doctors and dentists excessively. Prevention is cheaper than treatment or correction. Ask doctors and dentists in advance regarding costs. Shop around for prescriptions and ask for generic drugs.

Some families in debt must sacrifice in the area of clothing, because of excesses in other areas. Yet, clothing can be provided without great expense with sensible planning and buying. When possible, purchase during off-season and select outfits that are home-washable fabrics that can be mixed in multiple combinations.

Select insurance based on God's plan for your life, not on what someone else says you need. Find a well-informed, trusted insurance agent to determine the best possible provision for the money. If your employer doesn't provide medical coverage, consider buying major medical insurance rather than hospitalization. It's less expensive and can cover up to 80 percent of adverse medical expenses due to illness or injury

Don't use your creditors' money to entertain yourself. Some recreation and fun is necessary, but resist the urge to indulge excessively and control recreation and entertainment expenses.

It's up to you

These suggested budget percentages aren't chiseled in stone, but they could help guard against problem areas that might become financial calamities for you. However, no budget operates by itself. It requires effort, and living on a budget is essential in order to maintain a debt-free lifestyle and keep your finances from going . . . bang!


Children and Divorce

My husband recently left me for another woman. How can I help my children cope?

Answered byDr. Bill Maier

I recently became a single mother of three children under the age of 6 when my husband left us and moved in with another woman. This is especially difficult because this other woman had been a family friend. My daughters, ages 5 and 4, are very confused about what's going on because their Dad is lying to them and contradicting what I've told them about our separation and where he is living now.

My girls are very insecure, yet I don't think it's right for me to hide the truth from them. Worse yet, my husband has begun to miss visits and other events with my daughters. They respond with screaming tantrums and by lashing out. And they've confided to me that they have "a lousy Dad." What can I do to help them? And how do I bolster their self-esteem?

—Kathy

I'm so sorry to hear about your situation and the way your husband's actions are affecting your daughters. It's understandable that they would be confused and angry about what's happened.

By trying to hide the truth from your girls, you're simply compounding the problem. It's important to be honest with them about what's going on, using language that a 4- and 5-year-old can understand. You also need to resist the temptation to badmouth your husband and further alienate him from your daughters.

I suggest you sit down with your daughters and explain to them that mommy and daddy haven't been getting along, and now daddy has made some bad choices that are hurting the family. If they ask about the other woman, answer them honestly, and let them know that it makes you very sad that daddy has moved in with her.

Most importantly, reassure your daughters of your love for them and let them know that you understand how painful this situation is for them. Encourage them to express their feelings of sadness and anger, but don't allow them to engage in aggressive or destructive behavior.

I'd also encourage you to seek out a family therapist who can help your girls cope during this time of stress. Focus on the Family's Counseling Department can refer you to a licensed Christian counselor in your local area. To reach our counseling department by phone, call (719) 531-3400 ext. 2700 weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (MST).


Counseling Services and Referrals

Talk to one of our counselors or get a referral to a counselor in your area.

Focus on the Family offers one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective. We also offer referrals for licensed Christian counselors in your area.

To reach Focus on the Family's counseling service by phone, call 1-800-A-Family (232-6459) weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). Please be prepared to leave your contact information for a counselor or chaplain to return a call to you as soon as possible. The consultation is available at no cost to you. You may also reach our counselors online by filling out our Counseling Request Form.

Questions to ask yourself

Have you spent a great deal of time during the past few weeks thinking and worrying about this issue; are you unable to get it off your mind?

  1. Have you experienced a sudden weight loss or gain recently? Loss of appetite? Sleeping difficulties?
  2. Have you experienced difficulty concentrating or an inability to focus on the task at hand?
  3. Have you experienced prolonged feelings of hopelessness and despair?
  4. Have you begun to use alcohol or other drugs excessively, perhaps to self-medicate?
  5. Have you noticed a decrease in your patience and ability to manage frustration and an increase in the frequency and intensity of anger?
  6. Have you noticed a change in any behaviors in your spouse or other close family members which trouble you?

If you answered "yes" to any of the questions, you may benefit from speaking with a professional Christian counselor. We offer a one-time consultation at no cost to you.

Would you like a referral to a Christian counselor in your area?

The counseling staff may also be able to help you find a professional counselor in your region who can provide more in-depth and long-term help (service limited to the United States and select regions in Canada).

Phone referral for U.S. callers:
Call 1-800-A-FAMILY weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)

Phone referral for Canadian callers:
Call 1-800-661-9800 weekdays 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Pacific Time)

Online referral:

Use our counseling referral database to find a professional in your area.

For more details, review frequently asked questions about counseling services.

Important notices:


Coping With Temporary Separation

by Erin Prater

Whoever coined the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” was likely single, speaking of his pet or, if he was married, taking an afternoon jaunt to the golf range. He probably wasn’t leaving his wife and kids for a three-month contract project five states away, or deploying overseas for six to 18 months.

When we marry, few of us picture spending copious amounts of time away from our mate. Then reality sets in. Be it contract or missions work, relocation, a business trip, higher education, deployment, coming to the aide of an ailing family member or similar situation, uninvited circumstances force us into a world of “temporary singleness.”

During this separation, you and your spouse will need each other more than ever as you “work out” your wedding vows, just as Paul called believers to work out their salvation in Philippians 2:12.

While absence can make the heart grow fonder, long-term separation comes with a host of hurdles: less frequent communication, no physical contact and the potential for danger, to name a few. Though your upcoming time apart will be difficult, it won’t last forever. And good can come of it. Consider Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Whether you’re facing one long separation, or a series of frequent separations, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. There is more to look forward to than the end of this trial. Expect God to use this time apart to strengthen your marriage; anticipate amazing results.


Creating Intimacy and Friendship in Marriage

If you and your spouse are growing apart, you may have overlooked an important piece of the intimacy puzzle: friendship.

by Debra Evans

Companionship

When you hear the word companion, what does the term signify to you? Given the dictionary's definition of a companion as "somebody who accompanies you, spends time with you, or is a friend," do you currently see you and your husband companionably drawing together or separately drifting apart? Author Sheldon Vanauken warns:

In Genesis 2:18, we hear these words echo across the centuries, still vitally relevant to our relationships today: "The LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” Consider that the Hebrew word for helper is ezer — remarkably, the same word used in Psalm 118:7: "The LORD is with me; he is my helper (ezer)." Keeping this idea in mind reinforces the essential role we play within our sacred partnership. The blessing of friendship and tenderness in marriage honors this unchanging truth: A wife's loving companionship was designed by God to meet her husband's number one relationship need.

Evaluate your level of intimacy with your husband, then consider whether you might have been neglecting your husband's needs for affection, comfort, and camaraderie. Ask your husband what he would like to experience with you in this area. Talk about your observations with each other. Reflect on times you have felt closest to your husband — what made the difference? What are your expectations concerning your husband's friendship today? Is spending time with him fulfilling or disappointing? Why?

Have you had a night or weekend away alone together in the past year? What about the possibility of setting up regularly scheduled dates so you can spend time giving one another your undivided attention? If your husband seems less energized about this idea than you are, go back to the drawing board: Keep praying, asking for God's guidance and wisdom about how your marriage friendship can best be strengthened and renewed right now.

Whether you prefer a special night out that involves dressing up and making reservations at an exclusive restaurant, or an evening of fishing in a canoe, spending time together is what counts. Getting out alone, away from the dishes, the laundry, the bills, and the kids — even for a brief time — can do your relationship a world of good. It may seem like a big effort at first, especially if you're not used to spending a few hours a week away from work and family responsibilities. But I encourage you to make this effort. As your bond is renewed by your commitment to regularly schedule time alone together, your entire relationship will likely be refreshed.

Don't be discouraged if you meet with some resistance from your husband at first. Plenty of couples struggle with their "what I want to do tonight" differences. Outside the bedroom, it isn't always easy to find common ground in which to plant the seeds of marital intimacy and friendship. Even so, be patient; please don't give up. In time, you likely will reap a colorful harvest.

Discovery in Our Differences

At this point you may be wondering whether the effort will be worth it. While I can't make any absolute promises, I can speak from my own three-decades-plus experience. Here's why: My husband and I began our married life together without any shared hobbies and with many divergent interests. He wanted to go to baseball games; I preferred going to the ballet. I was an avid reader; he spent most of his free time playing basketball or the guitar. He rarely stepped foot inside the house if the sun was shining; I thrived indoors, regardless of the weather. And so on and so forth.

After we celebrated our first anniversary, I wondered if we had enough in common to make our marriage work. Initially, our mutual attraction to one another had been enough. Clearly, we needed something more to strengthen and deepen our bond.

Even though I was uncertain about the outcome, I began praying. I asked God to strengthen our marriage and opened my heart to His leading in the daily details of our married life together. Though I am still learning (and praying), I can now look back over the years and see a beautiful theme emerging: In learning to respect and even appreciate one another's differences, my husband and I no longer feel threatened by those parts of ourselves that are "apart," or different, from each other. Because both of us have repeatedly been willing to go outside our dissimilar comfort zones — he occasionally attending the ballet or "chick flick" with me; I going to see baseball/football/basketball/hockey games with him, for example — our well-weathered companionship has become more interesting and richly textured, allowing us both to grow together as a couple and as individuals. The blessing of friendship — the willingness to prefer my husband’s companionship above all others — has helped me be more tender toward the man I now know better and appreciate more than anyone else in the world.


Dealing With Physical Distance in Marriage

When we marry, few of us picture spending extended amounts of time away from our mate. Then reality sets in.

by Erin Prater

Whoever coined the phrase "absence makes the heart grow fonder" was likely single, speaking of his pet or, if he was married, taking an afternoon jaunt to the golf range. He probably wasn't leaving his wife and kids for a three-month contract project five states away, or deploying overseas for six to 18 months.

When we marry, few of us picture spending extended amounts of time away from our mate. Then reality sets in. Be it contract or missions work, relocation, a business trip, higher education, deployment, coming to the aide of an ailing family member or similar situation, uninvited circumstances force us into a world of "temporary singleness."

During this separation, you and your spouse will need each other more than ever as you "work out" your wedding vows, just as Paul called believers to work out their salvation in Philippians 2:12.

While absence can make the heart grow fonder, long-term separation comes with a host of hurdles: less frequent communication, no physical contact and the potential for danger, to name a few. Though your upcoming time apart will be difficult, it won't last forever. And good can come of it. Consider Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Whether you're facing one long separation, or a series of frequent separations, there's light at the end of the tunnel. There is more to look forward to than the end of this trial. Expect God to use this time apart to strengthen your marriage; anticipate amazing results.


De-Complicating Our Lives

Are you overwhelmed with the demands of life? Learn how to simplify.

by Greg Hartman

When my wife, Sarah, got pregnant in 1995, I did what every red-blooded American male does when his wife is pregnant for the first time: I quit my job, sold our house and dragged Sarah and our unborn child from Kansas to Oregon so I could go to Bible college.

We arrived, nearly broke, to discover that the married student housing we’d been promised was still under construction, forcing us to put our things in storage and rent a tiny, dingy studio apartment. Moving in took about 10 minutes; all we had room for were some clothes, a few dishes, one chair, a futon and a clock radio on a nightstand, which we jokingly dubbed our entertainment center.

And as we stood there, surrounded by fewer possessions than either of us had had since birth, we made a startling discovery: Almost all those wildly popular books on “simplifying your life” are pure bunk.

My Calendar Runneth Over

Life is overwhelming these days, say the simplification gurus. We have too much work, too much entertainment, too many choices, too many voices, too little free time and no solitude.

Nonsense, say I. Life is hectic, to be sure. But that’s hardly a new phenomenon. Epicurus and Aristotle both complained that life had a nasty habit of overflowing one’s days and draining one’s soul, and they didn’t even have to deal with road rage, soccer practice or ATMs.

The simplification gurus also seem to assume we all, deep down, want to be Thoreau living on Walden Pond, with nothing to do all day but think deep thoughts.

More nonsense. Deep down, most of us aren’t deep at all; we in fact suspect Thoreau was crazy. When Sarah and I faced the prospect of three months in a coed monk’s cell with no diversions and no money, we did not — repeat not — say, “Praise God! Stripped of our normal distractions, we can at last devote as much time as we please to prayer, meditation and enlightening conversation!” And this wasn’t just because we were shallow Baby Boomers needing constant entertainment (although that was a larger factor than I cared to admit).

Like everyone, we complained about being overwhelmed. But like everyone else, we also wanted to be overwhelmed, or at least busy enough to stay distracted. The fact is, it’s terrifying to have nothing but one another, much less oneself, for company. And it’s no better for Christians: We know all too well that we’re sinners, and sometimes the last thing in the world we want to hear is that still, small voice.

Tipping the Balance

The problem, then, is neither new nor external. We hate being too busy; we fear being too quiet. Our circumstances, income, possessions and commitments are usually irrelevant. Few of us ever enjoy — or endure — real peace and quiet unless, like Sarah and I, we get forced into it.

Fearsome as it was, our solitude had its benefits. We learned to like being quiet together. We went to the library a lot, an addiction we still enjoy. We took lots of walks.

And we learned why the simplicity books, bunk though they may be, are so popular. Simplicity gurus, no matter what their methods, know what we want: We want to be proactive rather than reactive. We want to feel in control rather than under control. We want to produce more than we consume without being consumed ourselves. We want to feel that we’ve mastered life, not that life is masticating us. And tipping the balance in our favor, even a little, can make all the difference in the world.

Having been denied the complexity of life long enough to learn to enjoy its absence, Sarah and I managed to keep it from making a full comeback. Being a humor columnist hardly qualifies me to give the sort of career/life goal advice most simplicity gurus do, but I have learned a few tricks to keep my home from becoming Grand Central Station for the runaway freight train of life.

1. Nuke the Guilt

Most self-help books have the same subtext: “You’re not good enough. You’re fat, ugly, lazy, unmotivated, unsuccessful, poor, stupid, bald, a lousy parent or all of the above.” Add to that the annoying perfection of androids like Martha Stewart or Tony Robbins and it’s enough to give anyone the shrieking fantods.

God judges us by our relationships, though, not our house’s color palette, our wardrobe, our weight, our kids’ number of extracurricular activities or whether we can whip up a portabello scallop salad with braised shallots from our window garden.

Scenario 1: Mom gets up way too early Thanksgiving morning and grinds out an exhausting, elaborate feast, all the while yelling at the kids to stay out of the kitchen. Dad tries to simultaneously be helpful and stay out of the way. Finally, the whole family eats a strained dinner in uncomfortable clothes. Both parents glare, daring the kids not to be a living Norman Rockwell painting. This, they explain through clenched teeth, is a treasured family memory in the making, und zey vill enjoy it!

Scenario 2: Mom, Dad and the kids sleep in on Thanksgiving, throw a frozen pizza in the microwave for lunch, play touch football, take a long walk, watch a video and make s’mores in the fireplace before bed, leaving the sink full of dirty dishes.

Sarah and I have enjoyed family gatherings on both ends of this spectrum. If you enjoy cooking and all the pageantry of a state banquet, go for it. But don’t let anyone tell you Scenario 1 is inherently better than Scenario 2.

Maybe your kids snack on Fritos and Oreos instead of carrot sticks and figs. Maybe there’s seven pounds of dog hair under your couch. Maybe you e-mail all your friends and never write real letters anymore. So what? Sometimes strengthening your relationships takes relaxing your standards — at least some of the twisted, shallow standards the world pushes at us. Better a home that will never appear in House Beautiful than a family that would be at home in National Enquirer (Proverbs 17:1).

2. Kill Your Telephone

Telephones exist to serve us, not vice-versa — but lunging at a ringing phone, even if it’s interrupting dinner or a conversation, is a tough habit to break. Not answering the phone is considered as impolite as ignoring someone who’s speaking to you in person. Nevertheless, I won’t pay good money for a box on the wall to tell me what to do. If the phone rings at my house while we’re otherwise engaged, too bad. If I answer and it’s a sales call, I butt in, say, “Not interested,” and hang up.

I have a friend with better manners than I — but who is even more determined not to let his telephone run his life. His method is simple: He never, ever answers the phone. The ringer and answering machine sound are off permanently; he checks the machine once or twice a day. He’s the only person I know who never complains about telemarketers.

Your home is your family’s refuge, a sanctuary against unwanted intrusion (Proverbs 25:17). If you wouldn’t allow strangers or even friends to barge through your front door at all hours, why allow them to barge in through the phone? It’s amazing how much tranquility the phone’s absence can foster.

3. Read Books

Notice I didn’t just say “read.” In The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum’s character, a journalist, complains that his editor’s cardinal rule is all articles must be short enough to finish in the bathroom. Goldblum was right: Most popular reading materials are mental junk food. We’ve all seen surveys on the world’s most influential books. Ever been asked about history’s most influential beauty columnist or movie reviewer?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with magazines, newspapers or Web sites, but reading a book requires more mental and physical quiet, not to mention a greater time commitment. Books have more ideas, larger worlds to explore, more staying power and no stinky perfume ads to fall out in your lap.

And unlike most parental duties, teaching kids to love books isn’t hard: Read with your kids at bedtime, keep lots of good books handy, and wait for the magic. All you need is a library card.

A few months ago, I realized my 6-year-old son, Sam, was suspiciously quiet. I found him in his room, absorbed in a book — and he stayed there for three hours. Who cares if it was a Simpsons comic book? He has the rest of his life to read Les Misérables or City of God, and he will someday, now that he’s hooked. My feet didn’t touch the ground for the rest of the day.

4. Create Something

Many simplicity gurus encourage us to shun modern conveniences. TV dinners, instant messaging and prepackaged everything, they complain, have leached the soul right out of living.

In my humble opinion, though, some of the basics aren’t worth getting back to. Sure, the 19th-century family didn’t have to worry about changing fuses, irradiated food, identity theft or computer viruses. They wouldn’t have had time to, what with all the fire kindling, candle pouring, soap making, flour grinding, butter churning, wood chopping, fabric weaving, horse currying and hundreds of other exhausting chores they had.

I once saw a 150-year-old recipe that started, “Butcher a hog and save the head. Saw open the skull lengthwise, then scoop out the brains with. . .”

No thanks. I’ll cheerfully accept the soullessness of my local modern grocery store.

There’s something to be said, though, for a tangible legacy. Many jobs in our information-driven economy produce nothing that isn’t invisible or abstract. A carpenter can see and touch his work; an actuary, broker or administrative assistant can’t.

Neither of us can build furniture, but over the years, Sarah and I have made our own preserves, vanilla, wrapping paper, bread, candles, pickles, Christmas cards and innumerable other edible or decorative items. Some are much better than anything available in a store; some are much worse. None has been cheaper or more convenient. Most make great gifts, but the real reason we do it is that nothing’s as satisfying as a home (or stomach) full of good things you’ve made with your own hands.

Our world makes it too easy to be lifeless entertainment sponges. Creating something — anything — lets us be more than mere consumers (Ephesians 4:28).

5. Have Guests — Lots of Guests

I said earlier that our homes should be sanctuaries against unwanted intrusion. Fort Knox, though, is not quite what I have in mind.

Advertisers, telemarketers, credit companies, e-mail spammers and the like work so hard to worm their way into our lives that they’re turning us all into hermits. Personal privacy is one of the biggest concerns on most people’s minds and has been for some time.

Opening your home to friends, then, is just that much more meaningful. Whenever Sarah and I start feeling stressed and overwhelmed by life, we invite someone over for dinner as soon as possible. Is it disruptive? Yes. Is it hard to squeeze in guests at a time when we’re already overloaded? You bet. Does having company force us to do just that much more cooking and cleaning? Not really (see No. 1).

Paradoxically, the more we entertain, the less stressful life seems. Over the last few years, we’ve had people over an average of twice a week. We play board games, we talk, we sit in our hot tub and talk some more. When we get up the next morning, there’s a big mess waiting for us, but we’re so cheerful and relaxed that cleaning up is not the drudgery it usually is. The guests, in other words, make the mess worth it (1 Peter 4:9).

Our methods for de-complicating our lives may or may not work for you, but the biblical principles are simple enough to apply to most any situation.

Notice, though, that we prefer easy, commonsense steps. Many simplification methods are far more complicated than the lives they’re supposed to be fixing, requiring schedules, self-tests, priority lists and a hundred other tools to further complicate an already overwhelming life. Others, I think, go too far in the other direction, urging moves to the country, career changes, disposal of possessions, and the like. Not my cup of tea. I save that sort of radical change for my prenatal panic attacks when Sarah’s pregnant.

On the contrary — the smaller the change, the easier to implement and more likely to stick. As I said earlier, you don’t have to turn your life upside down; just a small shift of the balance in your favor can make a huge difference.

You can start right now: Pick up the phone and invite someone over for dinner.


Discover the 'Treasure Principle'

According to Randy Alcorn, once you've discovered the secret joy in giving, your life will never be the same.

by Carol Steffes

Randy Alcorn loves giving, and he wants you to love it, too. Just listen to him talk about it — about joyful tithing and radical generosity. But fear not — Alcorn won't guilt you into giving. Nor will he instruct you to sell your possessions, abandon all forms of entertainment or forego future vacations.

What he will say is this: Once you've discovered the secret joy in giving, your life will never be the same. Alcorn calls this life-changing perspective "The Treasure Principle," and he wants to let the rest of us in on the secret.

While plenty of us acknowledge that tithing is part of our Christian duty, how many of us do so begrudgingly, or not at all? In The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving, financial expert Alcorn reports that, American Christians on average give two to three percent of their income to churches and Christian ministries, while many don't give anything at all.

It's also true that changing established giving habits isn't always easy — so we don't, and we end up feeling guilty. And there's no shortage of reasons people come up with for not giving.

Maybe you're living from paycheck to paycheck, or mired in mountains of school loans, car payments or credit card debt. Perhaps you've vowed to start tithing the moment you get a higher-paying job or that long hoped-for raise. From health care costs to house payments, daily life is expensive and money hard to part with — especially at the expense of personal gratification.

Sure, it's easy to get discouraged over the state of our finances. And that, Alcorn said, is where many people are mistaken.

"I want to emphasize the joy and the pleasure of giving," Alcorn told Family.org. "In Acts 20:35, Jesus says, 'It is more blessed to give than receive.' If we really believe that, then we're missing a blessing when we don't give — and getting in on a blessing when we do."

Joy Through Giving

Since he began telling others about the delight that accompanies giving, Alcorn said he has seen many lives changed for the better. The Treasure Principle is Alcorn's vehicle for taking his message to the masses. He based the concise, power-packed book on Matthew 6: "Don't store up for yourselves treasures on earth. . . Instead store up your treasures in heaven."

Alcorn defines the treasure principle as this: You can't take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. While earthly treasures will be destroyed, treasures in heaven are eternal. Alcorn quotes legendary author and pastor A.W. Tozer, who said, "Whatever is given to God is touched with immortality."

Indeed, joyful giving certainly sounds nice, but when it comes down to it, consistently forsaking a chunk from your checking account hardly seems pleasurable. Another misconception, Alcorn said.

"Giving is completely contrary to the thought that happiness can be found in accumulating money and possessions," he said. Rather, joy is acquired by surrendering the material, and embracing the eternal.

Alcorn continued, "If you literally believe it is more blessed to give than to receive, then you will become a giver. If you don't believe it, you're either saying the Bible isn't reliable and Jesus didn't really say that, or that Jesus was wrong."

So, how can we become joyful givers?

"By giving," Alcorn said. "Don't sit around and wait. Go ahead and give, then you'll develop a cheerfulness about it, and God loves that."

"Don't postpone what God has called you to do," he added. "When you procrastinate giving, it often is procrastinating obedience. James 4 tells us we don't know what tomorrow will bring. So whenever we say we're going to do something in the future, it can be pretty presumptuous."

Save More and Give More, But How?

Alcorn offered several practical suggestions to help families balance responsible money management with giving as God commands.

The first step is to sit down and examine where money is being spent that could translate into giving. "Many of us think we can't afford to live," Alcorn said, "but how much are we spending per month at Starbucks and on video rentals? I don't mean these things are wrong, but God clearly commands us to give . . . and if we're not, something is terribly wrong."

The second step is to record every expenditure during a 60-day period. Write down every transaction, whether the money's going toward a car payment or a candy bar. "We can't effectively trim our spending habits to create more money to give unless we understand where our money is going. I've found that the average person really doesn't know where their money goes. All they know is that it disappears."

Alcorn continued, "When people are recording what they spend everyday and they know they'll have to add up these figures and possibly divulge it to their spouse, spending can go way down."

Yet the point of this exercise isn't to justify expenditures, Alcorn said, because the only account we ultimately give is to God. "He's the one who will do the performance evaluation on what kind of a job we're doing. So, if I don't feel like I can justify a purchase to my spouse, I'll bet I don't feel like I can justify it to God."

A third step in helping keep tabs on finances — and one that involves the whole family — is to create a budget. Begin by setting aside portions devoted to giving and saving, then dividing the rest among your regular expenses. Alcorn suggested using play money to show kids the areas where funds are spent, such as utilities and credit card bills. Parents can even turn a shopping trip into a teachable moment by having children decide which items for sale are things people need versus things they merely want.

And to the notion that joyful giving flies in the face of our greed-saturated culture, Alcorn cites Ecclesiastes 5:12: "The sleep of the laborer is sweet, but the abundance of the rich man permits him no sleep." In short, the more you have, the more there is to worry about.

The Treasure Principle is a helpful — and humbling — reminder that the gospel is about giving. "Grace means giving," Alcorn said. "We participate in God's grace whenever we give as we're made to do. And our hearts rejoice in it."


Feeling the Pinch of a Double Income

Some say less is more. A new book says where money is concerned, more can be less.

by Heather D. Koerner

My husband and I stood side by side in our cramped master bathroom, staring down at the pregnancy test on the countertop.

Two lines stared back.

Just that quick, our lives became a whirlwind of planning: the nursery, the name, the delivery, the gadgets.

And less fun but more vital -- our finances.

In a cold rush of reality, we realized that if I was going to stay home with our baby, things had to change. Quickly.

Within two days, I directed my accounting department to deposit 75 percent of my paycheck into a savings account.

Up to that point, all our money had gone into our checking account. We hadn’t really squandered my income. In fact, we had used it to pay off student loans and one of our cars. But we’d also used it for some vacations, some furniture and some, to be honest, of I don’t know what.

We had little savings, and one income was about to go adios. So for three trimesters, we socked it away.

Luckily, as my belly expanded, so did the account. By the time our daughter arrived, we had a nice chunk of change to cushion against emergency. It was a relief, but also a little depressing.

If we did so much in just nine months, I thought, what could we have been doing for the last four years?

I realized regretfully that we could have done a lot -- saving a heck of a down payment, paying off both cars or building a killer savings account instead of just a nice one.

Thoughts of babies had entered our heads occasionally -- but not enough to change our spending habits.

And we weren’t alone. For a number of reasons -- layoffs, medical emergencies, ailing parents and new babies -- couples are realizing that double-income days don’t necessarily last forever. They’re buying financial help books, refinancing mortgages, shopping warehouse stores and searching desperately for ways to work from home.

They are, according to authors Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, stuck in a “two-income trap.” Their book, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke, tackles the question: Why are dual-income families, who earn far more than their single-income counterparts of past generations, hitting financial bottom?

I was intrigued as soon as I saw this book. After all, I see it happening around me: friends who can’t stay home with their children because of pre-kid financial commitments; Sunday School acquaintances getting pink slips; everybody trying to make ends meet.

Why, if more money’s coming in, is it harder to balance the checkbook?

Warren and Tyagi answer the question in two ways.

First, they say, families “committed” the wife’s salary. Instead of socking her paycheck away, they spent more money for bigger homes in good school districts and for better day care, preschool and schooling. In essence, the authors suggest, a “bidding war” erupted among dual-income families to get the best for their kids. This turned mom’s “extra” salary into a necessity.

Second, families lost their “safety net” -- the stay-at-home mom. “By the usual logic, sending a second parent into the workforce should make a family more financially secure, not less,” they write. “But this reasoning ignores an important fact of two-income life. When mothers joined the workforce, the family gave up something of considerable (although unrecognized) economic value: an extra skilled and dedicated adult, available to pitch in to help save the family during times of emergency.”

Not only are families tired, stressed and guilty about sending their kids to day care; they’re facing the reality that the one thing they hoped for -- financial security -- is what they’ve given up.

The modern two-earner couple is actually more vulnerable than the traditional single-breadwinner family according to these authors. By committing both incomes families have no wiggle room when hit by layoffs (which will strike one in 16 couples every year), medical emergencies or any number of unplanned financial strains.

So what’s a family to do?

Here’s where the authors come up short. I’m not one for regulating the credit and mortgage industries or for universal preschool at taxpayer expense.

But there were some ideas I found intriguing, like tax-exempting all savings and using vouchers for all public school students.

The one solution to the “trap,” though, that would have really helped me and my peers, wasn’t even considered by the authors.

It’s what my brother-in-law calls the best marital advice he’s ever gotten: Live on one income, even though you have two. In other words, don’t enter the trap to begin with.

Though they don’t suggest it as a practical solution, Warren and Tyagi acknowledge this approach has potential: “If two-income families had saved the second paycheck, they would have built a different kind of safety net -- the kind that comes from having plenty of money in the bank.”

But then they scoff at the idea. “Like it or not, women now need those paychecks to pay the mortgage and the health insurance bills. Their incomes are committed, and calling for them to abandon those financial commitments would mean forcing them to give up their families’ spot in the middle class.”

It’s true many American couples have already committed the wife’s salary, and it is difficult -- though not impossible -- to backpedal from those commitments.

But for those who haven’t yet committed -- for college students, newlyweds and young marrieds -- there’s hope.

By depending on only one income couples stand an excellent chance of avoiding the trap. They start by eliminate debt with the second salary. Then they can save aggressively -- for children, a house, a car or an emergency.

Living on one income may mean settling for a smaller, simpler house. But living on one income, while saving the other, also has advantages -- lower debt and a higher down payment -- that can make a single salary, if and when the time comes, go much further.

In the end you’ll have the ultimate advantage -- you won’t lose your home when unplanned crises hit.

As Larry Burkett wrote in Debt-Free Living, “Certainly the purchase of a home for a young couple should never be determined on the basis of their combined incomes, because if one income fails (for example, if the wife becomes pregnant and she has to stay home with the child) the entire purchase will be in jeopardy.”

Fortunately, my husband and I followed his advice -- we didn’t commit my salary to our mortgage and we had a plan for me to stay home with our kids.

But we were still blindsided by a financial crisis we never planned. In January, our four-year-old daughter was hospitalized for almost two weeks. Following the shock, came the angst: just as we were returning to normal the bills started arriving.

We had decent insurance, but co-pays and out-of-pockets still left us with a four-figure bill. You can guess where the money came from -- that nine-month savings account we started when she was still nestled in my belly.

I still wish we had done more with the double-income time we were given. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. Fortunately, with the planning we did do, we’ve been able to care for our family and survive an emergency.

Maybe, with the planning you do, you can do even more.


Following the Drum Major, Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King shared how it is normal for us to want to be out front or seen first like a drum major. People instinctively crave recognition and attention. He warns believers of certain pitfalls if the drum major instinct marches in the wrong direction.

byTiffany Stuart

"Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."-Dr. Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr. had the ability to make people think. More than 40 years after his death, the drumbeat of his life message still resounds. Since 1986, banks, schools and government offices close on the third Monday of January to honor Dr. King's birth and life as a spiritual leader in the civil rights movement.

Born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Ga., Martin Luther King grew up during segregation when whites discriminated against blacks. Following his grandfather's and father's path, he became a Baptist pastor. During his lifetime, he was awarded honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the United States and other countries. In 1955, King received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University. He married Coretta Scott in 1953. They eventually had two sons and two daughters.

The Drum Major

Like a drum major leads his marching band, King led America's greatest nonviolent movement for justice, equality and peace. He pursued his dream of a color-blind society through lectures, nonviolent marches and protests. He suffered harassment, threats, beatings, incarceration—even his house being bombed—but he kept marching for the dignity of all people. He didn't complain behind bars; instead he preached the gospel to the inmates.

In 1955 Dr. King led a protest to desegregate busses in Montgomery, Ala. The following year, the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama's segregation laws unconstitutional. King and other black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 to utilize conflict resolution to end violence. As president, King focused on the goal of black voting rights.

He Had a Dream

In 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., King delivered his famous speech, "I Have a Dream," saying, "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

His first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, was published in 1958. In 1964, King was the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. That same year he made the cover of Time magazine as Man of the Year. Between 1957 and 1968, Dr. King spoke thousands of times across the world, wrote five more books and numerous articles.

King was assassinated on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tenn. on April 4, 1968. Dr. King marched in Memphis the day before protesting low pay for black sanitation workers.

After his death, Coretta Scott King established the King Center to continue his legacy of social change, education, peace and justice.

Dr. King could have been bitter towards whites for the way African-Americans were treated. Instead, he expressed love and forgiveness through his marches, lectures and sermons. Reverend King's messages focused repeatedly on love and loving our enemies.

The 'Drum Major' Instinct

Two months prior to his death, he gave his "The Drum Major Instinct" sermon to the members of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He taught from Mark 10:43 with both warnings and exhortations. In this passage, Jesus' disciples, James and John, told Jesus about their desire to sit at the left and right of Him in His glory. Jesus responded, "whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant."

Dr. King shared how it is normal for us to want to be out front or seen first like a drum major. People instinctively crave recognition and attention. He warns believers of certain pitfalls if the drum major instinct marches in the wrong direction:

<b>Living beyond our means</b>—trying to impress others with our clothing, cars, homes and status.

<b>Over-joining</b>—getting involved in every club, committee and church activity with the motive to be recognized.

<b>Boasting</b>—seeking to be noticed by talking too much about ourselves.

<b>Lying</b>—exaggerating about who we know as a status symbol, or gossiping about someone to make ourselves look better.

<b>Exclusivism</b>—shutting out certain people due to economic stature, skin color, gender, age.

On the other hand, embracing the drum major within ourselves is beneficial. It's part of our God-given design. King exhorted believers to pursue greatness by being first—first to love, to make peace, to seek righteousness and to serve. Reverend King gave his life's service to humanity through all of these avenues.

As Reverend King wrapped up his sermon, he thanked God for the opportunities he had to witness changes in the law and in society. He talked about what he wanted to be remembered for, not for his car or education, but rather for his love for others. His words spoken four decades ago still challenge us today to serve:

<blockquote><i>"Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's 'Theory of Relativity' to serve. You don't have to know the Second Theory of Thermal Dynamics in Physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love and you can be that servant."</i>Excerpted from "The Drum Major Instinct," a sermon by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968.</blockquote>

In his final sermon, "I've Been To the Mountaintop," the day before he was gunned down, Dr. King focused on the Good Samaritan's choice: "The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But...the Good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'"

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is distinguished as a day to "Remember, Celebrate, Act! A Day On…Not a Day Off. "In honor of his life of compassion and service, volunteers all across America get involved on that day, touching the lives of the incarcerated, the homeless, the illiterate and the brokenhearted. They visit, feed, listen and love those in need around them.

We can ask ourselves the same Good Samaritan question: If we don't stop to help others, what will happen to them? Who needs your time, talent, words of encouragement today?

As a member of God's marching band, we can look for ways to honor Dr. King's legacy by loving and serving. We can march to the drumbeat of the greatest Drum Major, Jesus Christ.

He came to serve, not be served.

He loved first.

Tiffany Stuart is a freelance writer/speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo. She writes regularly at her blogs http://www.teawithtiffany.blogspot.com and http://www.thewritingroad.blogspot.com.


Getting Over the 'Holidaze'

By the time we took down our tree and ushered in the new year with a cup of hot cider, I was ready to hibernate for the winter I vowed we would never again overcommit. I knew this wasn't what God wanted for us either.

byKaren O'Connor

Maureen and Don looked at one another over morning coffee.

"I can't face it," said Maureen. "Thanksgiving, then Christmas. I'm already feeling the pressure."

She paused, then winked at her husband. "What do you say we book a cruise and come back when it's all over?"

"I know what you mean," said Don, smiling. "It's tempting. But then we'd miss out on all the fun with the grandkids. You don't really want to be away, do you?" Maureen agreed the children made the effort worthwhile, but she just wasn't up to the usual round of cooking, shopping, entertaining, cleaning and decorating. I'm with Maureen! I remember one year when I hardly looked up from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. Birthdays, anniversaries and Thanksgiving all ran together. Then came the Christmas choral program, holiday parties and cookie exchanges.

By the time we took down our tree and ushered in the new year with a cup of hot cider, I was ready to hibernate for the winter I vowed we would never again overcommit. I knew this wasn't what God wanted for us either.

I decided to look up some verses that apply to rest and guidance. I felt certain that if my husband and I were able to pace ourselves and focus on God's promises instead of our "to do" list, we might actually enjoy the holidays. Here's what I found:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

Jesus welcomes us when we're tired and burned out. He offers the rest and comfort no one else can.

Merchants don't want you to rest. They want you to buy their goods. Bankers want to loan you money for shopping. Friends want you to come to their party. And family? If you rest, who'll prepare the meals and shop for gifts, organize the family get-together and pay for it all when the bills arrive?

Put others on notice that you and your husband are taking care of each other this year. Take your spouse’s hand and accept God’s invitation to rest in Him. Put aside worry about gift–buying, food preparations, whether or not to have a tree this year, entertaining a difficult relative — in other words, all the things that keep you from focusing on the true meaning of the season.

I find it helpful to write down every item I'm concerned about. Read the list aloud together, then give it to God and let it go. He'll show you what's important and what isn't. As invitations to social events come in, compile them and talk them over with your spouse.

Your list may look something like this:

Which of these events really matter? Decide together. If one of your grandchildren is in the play, that's a must! If you don't feel like walking a mile and singing on a cold winter's night, cross out the caroling party or the community sing-along. If the O'Briens are dear friends, say yes to them, and no to something less important.

Being honest with yourself and each other will help you make choices that work for both of you. No one can do everything, and that's OK!

Let Your 'No' Mean 'No'

Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest. (Exodus 34:21, NIV).

It’s up to you to set boundaries and stick to them. Not sure what your boundaries are? If you find yourself resenting the things being asked of you this holiday season, that’s a pretty fair indicator your boundaries — conscious or unconscious — are being trampled.

Wondering why people don’t seem to hear you when you do say “no?” The Bible says “let your ‘yes’ mean yes and your ‘no’ mean no.” Practice saying “no” graciously, but firmly.

Initially, people may be taken aback (especially if they’re used to you being a pushover!). But once you learn to say “no” with conviction, you’ll be amazed how quickly people get the message — and still respect you. Those same folks may be secretly wishing they had the courage to do the same.

Schedule a Mid-Holiday Mini-Vacation

Save a little vacation time for this season. Steal away together as a couple. No children. No neighbors or friends. While you're away, treat yourself to leisurely meals, a gift for yourselves or your home, a long walk, a long nap – or both! Your work will be there when you return.

When we're overworked and overtired, we're more likely to say “yes” when we really want to say “no.” Getting away for some laughter and play may be just what you need to keep your boundaries in place. You can change that trend this year. Surprise your spouse with an overnight getaway and watch your marriage come alive, the “holidaze” disappear and the joy return as you plan your Christmas season together. When you go back to the office, you'll be refreshed and ready to take up your work again — you might even have enough energy for that office party!

Preserve 'Down Time'

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31, NIV)

One evening my husband walked through the front door, tossed aside his jacket and keys, and let out a sigh.

"I've had enough of people," he said, obviously exhausted after a long day behind the customer service counter at the store where he works. "This is supposed to be a happy time of year, but people are impatient, angry, in a hurry. I'll be glad when the holidays are over."

Some soft music, a few moments of prayer together and a good night's sleep helped my husband bounce back. Like Jesus, he felt the press of the crowd and he needed to retreat for a few hours.

When we’re overwhelmed, it's tempting to wish away what’s supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year. But then we miss out completely. Instead, let's strive for a healthy balance of rest and social interaction. Sometimes it's tempting to sacrifice quiet time alone when our job, friends, co-workers, kids — even the church volunteer coordinator — are all demanding our time and attention.

But even Jesus had to remove Himself from the crowds now and then. Likewise, give yourself the time you need to go off alone for a time, to connect with God in prayer, and to assess what is right for you at this season in your life. Then you'll emerge refreshed and ready to approach the holidays in a genuine spirit of joy.

 Karen O'Connor is an award-winning author and speaker from Watsonville, Calif. Please visit Karen at www.karenoconnor.com.


Invisible Gifts

The more precious gifts, however, ones that last all year long, are what I call invisible gifts, because they can't be purchased or packaged. They are rooted in love.

byKaren O'Connor

A new sweater, a new gadget, a new book! Everyone loves to receive a special gift in a beautiful big box wrapped in holiday paper and topped with a bright bow. Each one is enjoyed, even treasured–for a time, but ultimately gets used up, given up, or thrown away.

The more precious gifts, however, ones that last all year long, are what I call invisible gifts, because they can't be purchased or packaged. They are rooted in love. They spring from the heart. And they bless the receiver in a way that a gift in a box never could. They fit any budget and they can be given spontaneously!

This year, consider all the people to whom you'd like to give at least one of these 'invisible' gifts.

A Smile - Here is one of the most delightful of all gifts. A genuine smile can literally change a person's day, bringing a smile in return and a warm feeling that puts a lilt in one's step. Make a point of smiling at the clerk in the cleaners, at the postal carrier, at your co-workers, even at strangers you pass on the street or in the mall. Not only will you be blessing others, you will be blessed, as well.

When we smile we can't help but feel a warm connection in spirit with another person.

Eye Contact. Have you ever noticed that most people don't really look at one another–even when they are having a conversation? It takes courage to look someone in the eye and really 'be' with that person. This is sometimes referred to as 'practicing the presence of people.' Amazing things can occur between you and another when you really look at him or her. It is said that the eyes are windows to the soul. Give the gift of eye contact and you'll notice a growing intimacy between you and your friend or family member.

My husband Charles gives this gift freely all year round. Everyone who knows him remarks on how easy is to be 'be' with him because they know he will give them his full attention for however long they are together–whether it's a few minutes or an hour.

Silence. (especially when you're aching to speak!). What a gift of self this is. Most of us have plenty to say–often too much. What if we were to speak less and listen more? Consider what our silence might 'say' to that person? "I love you." "I appreciate you." "I'm here for you."

These are just some of the invisible gifts that silence bestows, yet few of us take the risk necessary to discovering them–that of listening more and speaking less. Offer the gift of attentive silence this season and you may discover a greater closeness with others, with yourself, and most important, with God.

Small talk.Our children and grandchildren would truly value this! Mine love it when I simply hang out with them and just chat. Author and Christian talk-show host Rich Buhler often said on his radio show that some of his most valuable time with his seven children occurred when he took them along–one at a time–to run errands. Some of their best and most intimate conversations sprang from the serendipity that occurred when he let his presence take priority over presents!

Apology. Now there's a gift in short supply in families, communities and corporations across our country. Most of us are so busy being 'right,' pressing our point, demanding performance, and exercising our authority as heads of our homes or companies, we rarely stop to realize that we could be wrong, could be insensitive, could be ungrateful–at least some of the time.

How wonderful it would be to let go and simply say, "I apologize for hurting you. Please forgive me." It would be a gift to both the giver and the receiver. I doubt there's anyone anywhere who wouldn't appreciate the humble gift of apology for wrongs committed, hurts planted, anger rooted, neglect fostered. This year you might write a letter of apology to those you have wronged. An entirely new level of love and intimacy could come from this simple gift of saying with humility, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"

The joy of giving can include cards, words, song and dance, gifts and games, food and beverages, but the real joy, the lasting joy starts within–with the invisible gifts of the heart that only you can release to others.


Giving Ourselves This Christmas

Now, of course, millions of good-hearted people do their best to find out what will delight the recipients of their gifts. Nothing wrong with that. But, let's consider some possibilities which lie beyond raw consumption.

byEd Chinn

Here's a question to consider as we enter the Christmas season: is the focus of a gift on the giver or the recipient?

Walt Whitman said, "When I give, I give myself." In a classic sense, when we present a gift, we are breaking off a piece of our self and imparting it to the recipient. As a Christian, I see this ancient custom as a reflection in culture of God's gift of His Son to the earth. The people of the earth weren't asking for Jesus. The incarnation was God's idea. He didn't ask the "earthlings" what they thought; He didn't ask for a "wish list" of things they really, really wanted in an incarnate God. He just gave. Then they had to deal with the gift.

Contrary to what consumerism tells us, a gift is about the giver, not the recipient.

Now, of course, millions of good-hearted people do their best to find out what will delight the recipients of their gifts. Nothing wrong with that. But, let's consider some possibilities which lie beyond raw consumption.

Don’t tell my family or friends, but I have to admit something here. When I receive a gift that tells me the giver discovered something I really, really want, I'm always a little disappointed at the absence of imagination, at the lack of heart. I like for a gift to carry the giver's self. I want his or her personal integrity, perhaps his sense of humor, her view of the world, a glimpse of their personal heritage, or his artistic appreciation (I'd rather receive a Miles Davis album he loves than one by Michael W. Smith he thinks I’ll love).

To be honest, I want an entrustment of an intangible pure something which I didn’t have or know before. I want them—my wife, my kids, my friends—more than I want the beautifully wrapped thing which they just placed in my hand.

The best gifts are sometimes a little puzzling. It may even take the recipient a while to slip into the truth behind the present. Great gifts can be like an incandescent light slowly brightening. By the time we realize what it means, the essence of the giver is firmly lodged in our mind and heart. Again, the Christian pattern is useful. As we (often, very slowly) begin to perceive the character of Christ, we become assimilated into the divine nature of God.

I really like Christmas and I love to give gifts. But, I don't like to feel pressure about it. I like to glide through the holiday season, savoring conversations, meals, parties, and laughter with friends and family. As I do so, I catch glimpses of what I want to truly give of myself to him or her. If I don't see anything, I don't worry about it. Of course, sometimes I just go ahead and give that deluxe travel alarm clock; you know . . . the model that makes ice cubes. I know she really, really wanted it.

It's understandable that every idea, tradition, and relationship now has a link to September 11. It was, after all, a tornado through our civilization, a category-five twister that brought turbulence and devastation like we've not seen in these parts. It rearranged many of the assumptions, patterns, and values of life. One of the rearrangements was this: the enormity of the loss brought a depreciation of things. We have a new understanding that commodities simply don't matter very much. People are the real treasures of our lives. They always were and we always knew it, but we seem to know it better now. We're making eye contact again and taking time to listen, to touch, and to care.

What a wonderful time to rethink our reasons for giving. Perhaps this Christmas will mark a time that a few more people stepped around consumerism and gave themselves.

People are the real treasures of our lives. They always were and we always knew it.

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournalcom, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

 


Healing Power of God's Nature

It is in creation that I am able to be still and know that God is God. It is here that I am able to go out in joy and be led forth in peace.

byKaren O'Connor

I slipped into the soft warmth of my down sleeping bag. My husband slid into his. We reached out and squeezed hands before snuggling into our individual cocoons. Stars dotted the black expanse overhead. Wind blew through the tall pines and rustled our cozy tent. I breathed deeply and allowed myself to relax. It was the last night of our annual five-day car camp with our senior friends' group we'd vacationed with for over ten years.

Fifteen of us had converged at a campground in Mammoth Lakes just east of Highway 395 and south of Yosemite National Park. Some folks camped in their RVs, others slept in their van or tent, as we did. Each day our leader took us on exciting hikes in the mountains or leisurely walks around the nearby lakes.

Three of the five nights, we ate dinner as a community. We enjoyed pasta and salad and toasted garlic bread one evening, vegetable-beef soup and side dishes another. Everyone contributed their share. On the free evenings, people cooked on their own, joined with others sharing what they had or drove into town to a restaurant.

Time to Ponder

To pass the time in the afternoon and following dinner, there were assorted board games to play, books and magazines to read and puzzles to complete. And there were plenty of cookies, fresh fruit, cakes and pies to satisfy the craving for sweets.In the evening we sat around a campfire, laughing, talking, sharing stories and planning the next day's activities. One of the highlights of such a vacation is experiencing the wilderness firsthand.

One day as we hiked up, up and up nearly 2,000 feet in tall trees, tall and sturdy against the blue sky, they called out to be 'hugged.' Mountains guarded sprawling meadows, home to a profusion of flowers in full color Lupine, Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, Baby Blue Eyes, Shooting Stars, Monkey Flowers--and Mule's Ears. And snow-melt spilled down the mountainside in cascading waterfalls.

Each day we hiked to a different spot--a far-off lake, a tall peak, a high meadow. It took some grit to get there but it was worth it. My heart pounded, the sun beat down and mosquitoes nibbled whatever bit of bare skin they could find. We stopped for lunch under a tree or by the side of a lake--the best café in town. In the afternoon we'd drag ourselves into camp, strip off our wet and dust-caked clothing, pull on swim suits or beach wraps and head for the nearby showers.

One advantage to setting up in a campground is running water even hot water if you pay for it. As the sun set, we pulled on comfy fleece pants and jackets, caps and gloves.A bear wandered among our tents the first and second nights but he didn't find enough to hold his interest. We had locked up our food in bear-proof canisters, so he went off in search of something better.

Time to Wonder

The last day I realized once again why we had come to the Sierra year after year after year, why we return to this wild place and why we want everyone to know about its beauty and wonder. It is here that we see what really matters. A new outfit doesn't matter, nor the latest automobile, not cruise tickets or dinner at a five-star restaurant--nice as such things are.

What we needed we brought in. What we couldn't bring, God provided. A cluster of boulders and rocks and a few sturdy tree limbs were the only furniture required. A bed of pine needles made a comfortable carpet for our tent. A broad old tree offered a fallen branch for a seat, limbs for hanging wet socks, and foliage for shade. Some of us brought camp chairs. Others relied on what nature offered.

We also found that hours and hours of time to be still in the silence gave us an entirely new perspective on life, both in the mountains where the wild things grow, and in the city where we're too much on the go.

It is in creation that I am able to be still and know that God is God. It is here that I am able to go out in joy and be led forth in peace. And all around me the mountains and the hills burst into song before their Creator, and the trees of the field clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)

Time to Do as You Wish

As our group has aged, some folks no longer hike or don't go as far as they once did. My husband is one of them. But you don't have to hike to enjoy a wilderness vacation. Charles and others like to saunter around the campground, or sit in the shade of the majestic pines, or sketch on a pad, write in a journal or simply snooze. After all, it's a vacation, not a grind. It's time to do what you want, letting the gift of nature soothe your spirit and rest your weary bones. And to God be the glory for all of it.

If taking a trip on the "wild side" appeals to you, but you've never done it before, here are some suggestions for making it happen.

Hop on the Internet and see what's available in your area or in the part of the country you wish to visit. There are campgrounds throughout the United States, providing a variety of settings and experiences..

Get in shape. Load your backpack with tennis shoes and bottles of water to weigh it down. Then start walking. I prepared for my first-ever wilderness trip by hiking daily up and down a hill in my neighborhood with 15 to 20 pounds of gear in my backpack. When I arrived at the trailhead at 8,000 feet elevation that first day I was ready to go. No altitude sickness and no fear of holding my own.

Put aside expectations and any notions you may have about the challenge of 'roughing it' and just go with what occurs. You may be delightfully surprised, regardless of your age, at how rejuvenating it can be to spend a few days and nights on the wild side. You just may return home a confirmed mountain man or mountain mama as has been the case for thousands of seniors all over the world.


Is Assisted Living the Best Option?

Are you considering moving an aging loved one into a care facility? There are a number of things you should first consider.

fromFocus on the Family

Four Tips If You're Considering Assisted Living

Pray about every move, take as much time as you can and pour out your fears, hurts and frustrations to the Lord (Phil. 4:6-7). Your own strength cannot sustain your when emotionally charged issues overtake you, But God's can.

Ask God to make correct moves obvious and to close doors tightly to any wrong moves.

Ask God to bring a trustworthy friend to help you and to listen to you (Heb. 10:24-25).

Seek godly counsel from people and agencies with experience who can help you in concrete ways. Talk with people in your church who have gone through this with their parents or aging loved ones. Maybe you can start a support group at church for other caregivers.

To determine if your elder is a good match for assisted living, consider your loved one’s personality and health needs. If your aging loved one is losing some function but is a sociable person, it may be the ideal choice. If your elder is not fond of congregate living, a better option may be to arrange for help through adult day-care programs and/or home care. Following a hospital stay, extended care/sub-care hospital rooms are offered by some hospitals on a temporary basis for those who cannot go home but do not want to move into an assisted-living or continuing-care facility.

Consider your elder's financial stability, too. Will your elder's income and assets be enough to cover assisted-living expenses for the next few years, including possible increases in monthly charges and additional fees if more services are needed?

A continuing problem with assisted-living facilities is what happens to the elder when she needs care beyond the levels provided by assisted living. She may end up transferring to a nursing home if the assisted-living facility is not licensed or equipped to handle her increasing medical needs. After spending much of her savings on the assisted-living facility, the elder may be asked to leave with no guarantee of where to go. Many seniors have been left "high and dry" by the assisted-living industry when they needed more care. That is why the continuum of care offered by continuing care retirement communities appeals to many.

If assisted living seems to be the most appropriate and welcomed kind of care for your aging loved one, the best time to talk about it is before it is needed. Try to anticipate the day when in-home care combined with community services and family help is no longer viable.


Jumpstarting Your Stalled Marriage

Does the repartee between you and your spouse consist mainly of shrugs and one-syllable grunts? If so, your marriage-mobile may be heading for a blown gasket.

byNancy Parker Brummett

A fifty-something couple sits at a table for two in a nice restaurant. Even the most casual observer can tell they aren’t communicating with one another. Oh, she may ask him to pass the salt. Or, without looking up, he’ll inquire, “How’s your steak?” But there’s no real conversation going on, no eye contact and no sign of the spark that once animated their marriage.

Watching this couple is sad. Becoming this couple is tragic. How did their relationship devolve to a point of coexistence rather than co-partnering? Is their monosyllabic interaction a sign they no longer love each other?

More likely, they’ve simply neglected the regular “checkups” necessary to keep their marriage running optimally in "all weather” conditions.

Marriage experts identify certain transition points in the life of even the healthiest marriage — transitions that, if ignored, can leave couples out-of-sync and emotionally disconnected from one another.

Typical transition points are the birth of a child, when children leave home and after during the retirement of one or both partners. If those life transitions aren’t consciously noted and addressed (Who are we now that we’re no longer devoted to parenting and our careers?), it can result in couples who gradually drift apart and take up separate lives, barely noticing that they’ve become total strangers.

“We have concluded that first-half strategies practiced in the second half of life are a sure formula for failure,” says Terry Taylor, who, with his wife Carol, founded Second Half Ministries in 1998. The Taylors encourage couples to take a deliberate approach to finishing well in all aspects of life, but especially in their marriages.

So, where do you begin? A review of expert advice and conversations with some who have been happily, productively married for 30 years or more reveals practical steps you can take to make sure you and your spouse don’t wind up silently idling your engines. So check under the hood — it may be time to:

Review your past objectively. Forgive yourself and your spouse for past mistakes — then resolve to learn from them. One couple said an ancient disagreement they’d had years before over how to raise their son reared its ugly head again when the wife observed her husband repeating the same behavior with their grandson. “It was a negative sort of déjà vu,” said the wife. By talking things out, these grandparents freed themselves, and their marriage, from the invisible wedge of unresolved conflicts.

Take a personal inventory. Midlife couples should take the time to assess each others’ evolving interests, strengths and differences. What are your personal values, skills and spiritual gifts, and how do they complement your spouse’s? How can you support your spouse in his or her personal development?

Find new activities you both enjoy. For instance, those who never enjoyed camping before may find it’s a great way to get away for some quality time together. “Never say never,” said a couple married for 34 years who acquired a canoe, an RV and a shiatsu massager after the last of their kids moved out. Take language courses or volunteer at a museum — just do it together.

Look outward. Pray about what calling God may have for you, both individually and as a couple. Ask how you can support each other in your callings. Are there causes you both passionately support? Explore ways to get more involved in a hands-on way, and “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man" (Colossians 3:23).

Fight fair. It’s too idealistic to believe that even the most well-planned, intentional, purposefully lived midlife marriage can proceed without conflict. Be prompt, open and direct in communicating your feelings. Make it your goal to heal the differences that come between you, not punish the other person or inflict guilt trips. Get to the root of the issue! “I let my newly retired husband micromanage the kitchen for awhile until I couldn’t take it anymore,” said one frustrated wife. “He was an engineer and actually put everything in the pantry in alphabetical order. Finally I just asked him to stop — and he did!”

Have fun. As the experts and other happily married “second-halfers” will tell you — lighten up! Life is difficult and full of times when you have to be serious and somber. Enjoy leisure activities together. Go to funny movies, save up jokes to tell one another, get silly with the grandkids — whatever it takes to put smiles on your faces!

Dare to dream. If you’ve been blessed with good health, a reasonable amount of financial stability and a sense of adventure, maybe this is the time of life to travel to places you never thought you’d see — or to start the ministry you’ve both always dreamed of launching. Discover your passions and follow them. For all you know, your whole life could have been lived “for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14).

All in all, the key to not winding up like the mechanical couple in the restaurant is to realize that your life together is God’s gift to you. Like all His gifts, it’s meant to be nurtured and cherished each and every day.

Remember when you were dating and you could be together all evening, then talk on the phone until the wee hours of the morning because there was so much more to say? With a little effort, a similar sort of excitement can be a part of your revitalized marriage. May you close down every restaurant you visit!

Nancy Parker Brummet is an author and freelance writer living in Colorado Springs, Colo. Her books include “Simply the Savior,” “The Journey of Elisa,“ and “It Takes a Home.”



Living With Alzheimer's Disease

Living With Alzheimer's Disease

byReginald Finger, MD, MPH

As people live longer, and as more progress is made in preventing the leading causes of death — such as cancer and heart disease — the chronic conditions of older adulthood make a more profound impact on families and society. Of these Alzheimer’s Disease may be one of the most devastating because of its progressive nature and associated disability.

The typical progression of Alzheimer’s is familiar: a person, usually an older, begins to forget details. Errors in thinking become more frequent and serious until they interfere with the patient's and their family’s activities of daily life. Eventually, the victim may fail to recognize familiar people and places, and lose the ability to care for themselves. Death usually occurs due to other illnesses or as a result of complications of the disability.

Although the underlying cause is not fully known, the changes in brain tissue that bring on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are readily recognized. The support structures between neurons progressively become more and more damaged. At least two proteins that are most likely responsible for this damage have been identified. Then, the neurons themselves die. Although a definitive diagnosis can be made only by examining brain tissue under a microscope – usually at autopsy – Alzheimer’s can be identified with reasonable certainty from a computerized tomography (CT) scan and laboratory tests, provided other common causes of dementia have been excluded.

In the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s, family members are usually responsible for most of the care. A familiar, quiet and well-structured environment with a simple, regular routine works best for most people with Alzheimer’s. Family caregivers need support from friends, neighbors and employers in maintaining this kind of environment; they also need support and encouragement for themselves. For example, respite care that enables caregivers to get away for a break can be helpful.

Formal support groups across the nation exist for patients and families coping with Alzheimer’s. Many organizations have published literature about every aspect of Alzheimer’s, available both in hard copy and online. Also, a national bracelet-identification program has now been established to reunite caregivers with Alzheimer’s patients who may have wandered away.

Search by location for Alzheimer’s support at http://www.alz.org/apps/findus.asp*

In the later stages needs are often too intense for family members to handle in their homes. Placement in a residential facility may become necessary. When choosing an environment for a loved one, make sure the facility is clean, has a positive track record with the state licensing agency and specializes in the care of persons with Alzheimer’s. When making your choice, it may be helpful to talk with several families of other residents to hear their opinions on the service and level of care. It’s important for you and your loved one that you continue to be active in their circle of care.


Make Family Camps a Family Tradition

If you're looking for a great way to spend time with your adult children and grandchildren, consider a family camp.

byKaren O'Connor

One of my best memories of my parents during the years my husband and I were rearing our children is the time they spent with us on vacations. Our favorite spot was the White Stallion Ranch near Tucson, Ariz. My mother and I particularly enjoyed not having to cook or make beds for an entire week. We all enjoyed the family camp-like atmosphere without the work of setting up tents and preparing food in the desert or mountains. When our children were young, this kind of trip was a treat for me, as well, because there were supervised activities, including games, horseback riding, dancing and swimming for all age groups.

I had grown up riding horses, so whenever my folks planned a vacation, it had to include horses. They rode, too. I have photos of all of us––Mom and Dad, my sister and brother who still lived at home, my husband and kids and me––lined up behind the leader ready for the early morning ride, followed by a hardy breakfast prepared by the ranch hands.

Today my children, with children of their own, still talk about those special visits we shared. I want to create memories like that for my grandchildren. So three years ago we spent a week at the Mount Hermon Family Camps in Mount Hermon, Calif., near Santa Cruz. We had the luxury of a warm bed each night and good food, which the staff prepared, and we also had access to hiking trails, nature walks and an olympic-sized swimming pool. During the day the kids participated in activities and age-appropriate Bible studies while the adults listened to great speakers such as Christian evangelist Luis Palau and author Bill Butterworth in the chapel/auditorium. At night we mingled outdoors and toasted marshmallows over an open fire. One night we had an all-camp barbeque.

Plan Ahead

If you're looking for a great way to spend time with your adult children and grandchildren, consider a family camp or a camp-like vacation spot. Our neighbors Gino and Shirley return to the same lake each year in Northern California with their three children and their families. It's become a tradition that everyone anticipates. The grandparents pay for the house rental and the adult children cover the food cost––a plan that works for everyone.

The Torr family spends two weeks each July on Catalina Island, off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., mixing with extended family and old friends who have been gathering on the island each year for more than 50 years. Generation after generation has carried on this tradition which brings everyone close together for fun and relaxation at least once each year.

My friend, Kippy, and her late husband Del treated their children and grandchildren to a week at a dude ranch each summer, while the Wheeler family headed for Hawaii every year for a few laidback days at their timeshare.

Whatever suits you and your family, consider making such a trip a priority for at least one week annually. Life is so busy today with everyone coming and going, it can be a chore to get together in a place where each person can relax, have fun, kick back and enjoy each other's company. Family camps and dude ranches make that possible for a fee that is more affordable than a fancy resort or hotel. And because the atmosphere is casual, jeans and shorts and bathing suits are suitable for just about every activity.

Following is a list of the current family camps according to Best Family Camps in America.

Here is just one example of the variety of fun and activities available for all ages: Wonder Valley Family Camp*, Sanger, Calif. has comfortable resort lodging and bountiful buffet meals, provides mom, dad, kids and grandparents with family vacations of a lifetime. From early each morning until late in the evening, you'll enjoy horseback riding, water skiing, fishing, hilarious entertainment, a ropes challenge course, team sporting events, a beautiful trampoline center, two pools and much more!"

Other camps listed on the site include:

If you'd prefer to plan a family camping vacation at a national park, here are the ten most popular with kids according to Best Family Camps in America's web site:

To make the most out of your trip to any camp or national park, take a look at the schedule for the month and year of your visit. Most destinations have detailed information online such as visitor guides and tour schedules. Many also have pdf files you can download to your computer and print out for easy access as you travel. Whatever your choice, the important part of any family camping experience is being together, making memories, snapping photos and laughing and talking as you enjoy time off with one another.


Mentoring �Potential� Achievers Out of Credit Card Debt

In this age of consumerism and easy credit, parents and grandparents have unique opportunities to mentor their adult children and grandchildren into more financially secure, biblical lifestyles.

byEd Chinn

Mentoring is a “hot” new concept (see Ed Chinn's article "Mentoring: An Act of Love").

Mentoring can involve myriad activities from encouraging someone suffering with depression; showing young, nervous mothers how to care for their infants; helping a young married couple get off to the right start or befriending a child in a single-parent family.

With today’s emphasis on consumerism, instant gratification, and easy credit, there is an urgent need for mentors—“successful” or “mature” “achievers” — who have experienced, the rigors of making ends meet. They stand as a resource that can help “potential” achievers who find themselves in a credit crunch.

How many weeks—or even days—go by where we don’t get junk mail with bold, red letters on the front saying “You’ve Been Pre-approved” for yet another credit card. It puts a gnawing temptation in front of those facing cash flow problems or for those wanting something now rather that delaying the purchase by putting savings aside.

I Timothy 6:9-10 says:

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (NIV)

Baby boomers and the generations that have followed have grown up in a world of increasing greed made possible by easy credit and credit cards. Few realize the real beneficiaries are the credit card issuers. Card users pay $80 billion in interest alone each year. Add to that the credit card fees—another $31 billion!

Minimum finance fees, over-the-limit fees, late fees, balance transfer fees and cash advance fees can substantially add to the cost of using easy credit. Many unobservant cardholders are not even aware they’re paying such fees, many which could be avoided. By making minimum payments each month, numerous credit card users may never pay off their balances in their lifetimes!

What an opportunity for “mature” mentors to come alongside in a nonjudgmental, loving way when they see someone in trouble. Don’t intrude. Make it known you’re willing to help. Then wait for a specific request. Go slowly. Don’t push the person where they may not be ready to go.

By applying biblical truths regarding God’s truth regarding money, stewardship and faithfulness, many grandmothers and grandfathers have rich opportunities to lead their adult children out of the confines of heavy debt. They have numerous occasions to teach and mentor their grandchildren so they have a better chance of avoiding such pitfalls. By teaching them what the Bible has to say regarding God’s provisions for them and how not to misuse those gifts, grandchildren are on the way to more securer, happier future.

A good place to start is with Hebrews, Chapter 13:6: Hebrews 13:5

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (NIV)

Want more information on mentoring? Here are a few suggestions:


Parenting Grandchildren

It was an overwhelming task, one I did not ask for but embraced because I love my grandchildren.

byShirley A. Carson

At 47 years old, I started parenting my three oldest grandchildren. TJ was 4, William 2½, and Annie just 14 months at the time. I knew it would be a difficult task, but I felt it was important to keep the kids together and in the family.

The days seemed long, but the years went by quickly, so I made the most of the time with my grandchildren, helping them learn the values and skills they needed to become healthy, well-adjusted adults. It was an overwhelming task, one I did not ask for but embraced because I love my grandchildren.

You may be in a similar situation, or you may be considering the possibility. If so, you'll find the days of parenting again to be filled with constant interruptions, spilled milk, sweet smiles and sticky kisses. It's important to recognize some of the hardships that grandparents may experience as second-time parents and prepare to handle them.

The need for friends

As I began parenting my grandchildren, I felt lost and alone. I needed someone to talk to, someone who understood. I confided in a trusted friend, whose support was helpful on difficult days. I also received support from my family, church and pastor. Support is key to being an effective parent of grandchildren. Call your local church to find if there are any others in the same situation or even a grandparents-as-parents support group. Walking together will make the journey easier.

Change of lifestyle

No grandparent takes in a grandchild for insignificant reasons. These children have been in undesirable or downright dangerous situations and typically need lots of attention. Many of them act out their feelings through negative behavior. Handling their heartbreak is a tough assignment. Being attentive may require that you set aside some of your retirement plans. To keep a positive perspective, hold on to the reality that the stability you provide will have a lasting and profound impact on the lives of your grandchildren.

Increased financial obligations

Raising kids can put a stress on any budget, especially one that's limited. Resources such as food stamps, Medicaid and financial aid may be available through social services agencies, depending on your family size and income.

Exhaustion and personal care

Parenting is tough — it only gets tougher when you add the stress and dynamics that accompany the job of raising grandchildren. There were times I felt exhausted, most often in the early stages. I remember waking up the kids in the morning, feeding and dressing them, and buckling them into their car seats. Then I would sit in the driver's seat with my head on the steering wheel, worn out and crying to God for strength to make it to our appointments.

Stress can take a physical toll, so be diligent with your own health needs. Don't feel guilty if you need to hire a sitter and take breaks away from home. Be sure to get plenty of sleep. Eat healthy foods that will keep up your energy, including vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. Play outside with the kids whenever you can, engaging them in a game of tag or hide-and-seek. They'll love it, and your body will, too.

Legal issues

The legal issues facing grandparents who are raising grandkids can be confusing. Laws vary by state, and it is often necessary to obtain legal counsel to protect the children in your care.

Take the time to understand the laws. Don't be afraid to ask for help and clarification through social services. Educate yourself regarding your rights and how to protect your grandkids.

Addressing adult kids

Sometimes the parents may involve themselves in overbearing ways even though they relinquished their parental authority. This can build anger and resentment for any grandparent. In order to keep a healthy and positive attitude, daily forgiveness is required. If your adult child's behavior is harmful, you may have to set up boundaries for the best interests of your grandchildren.

Feelings of guilt

Confusion and fear may overshadow your grandkids. Perhaps they experience nightmares or act out harshly. It can be tough to come face to face with their hurt. You may ask yourself, Did I somehow cause all this grief because of mistakes parenting my adult child? Am I making the same mistakes again? These threads of thought aren't productive. Remember that you did the best you could in parenting your own children. In areas where you lacked, you can learn from your mistakes.

Our hope

As I was struggling through the growing-up years with my three grandkids, my faith in God was my greatest source of support. I prayed constantly, both for the children and myself. God answered those prayers and brought us through that season, even allowing me to adopt the children as we became an "official" family.

Raising grandchildren is a journey full of highs and lows. But for all the hair-raising moments and sticky situations, there can be just as many warm hugs and cherished memories making every hard moment worth it in the end.


Parents and College Life

College is a time to spread your wings, learn independence, break free. But don't write your parents off just because you're not living under their roof.

by Julie Sierra

Do you remember the day you left for college? I'm sure for some of you it involved an adventure, like a road trip, or a flight across the country (maybe even overseas). You probably felt a mixture of emotions: uncertainty, anticipation, excitement.

My first day of college didn't feel quite as exotic, because I attend a university near my home. As a matter of fact, when I first began taking classes at Florida International University (FIU), it took me thirty minutes to arrive on campus — walking. It took me about four minutes to drive there — ten if it was rush hour.

Two years later I moved a little farther south, so now the drive to school takes 30 minutes driving during Miami traffic, and I'm not sure how long it takes without traffic (I've yet to experience that). My point is that, because my college is so close to home — well — I've never had to leave it. I didn't have to say my tearful goodbyes to Mom and Dad; they never watched as their baby girl headed off to discover new and exciting places. Now for the first time I'm away from home for a semester, and it's made me think about the role that parents play in our lives once we're in college.

Home Sweet Home

I think a major part of the college experience is the independence you are allowed. For the first time in your life, you are on your own, taking on new responsibilities, away from the home and parents. For me though, college was a totally different dynamic. During my first year I relied on my parents or brothers to drive me to and from school, and since FIU is in town, I obviously never stopped living at home. Because of that, I have had countless opportunities to sit down with Mom and Dad and discuss everything I am learning and experiencing in college. And let me tell you, it has been an incredible blessing.

I realize, however, that most college students don't live with their parents, so you may be thinking that this doesn't apply to you, but believe me, it does. Even if you live ten states away from home, you probably still have a relationship with your parents, and they can play a role in your life while you're in college. So allow me to share a little of what I've learned from my mom and dad while attending school and how you might be able to do the same with your parents.

Conversations With My Mom and Dad

I have this picture in my mind: coming home from a long day at FIU, plopping down on my parent's bed and discussing the day's events with my dad. The topic of conversation usually revolved around some controversial issue occurring at school, or my interactions with students and professors.

Regardless of what we talked about, the point is that we talked. Some days I simply felt the need to vent frustration, and my peers were not always the best to approach since they were in similar situations. My parents often times offered wisdom and guidance when others couldn't, but most importantly, they listened.

My parents have also helped me a great deal in discerning issues I face in classes. Because I attend a secular school, I am constantly bombarded with lies. Some professors undermine the Bible, they criticize Christianity, condone abortion and homosexuality, teach that morality is relative — the list is endless. Students may even encounter these pathologies at Christian universities. Regardless, as a human being, I have questioned and doubted my beliefs at times, and I am sure I'm not alone in this. Through it all, my parents have been there for me, and they have not only provided wise counsel, they have also encouraged me to continually search the Bible for answers; they are truly a support system.

What about your parents? When was the last time you called them up and asked their opinion on a certain matter that you were dealing with at school? Do you feel you could benefit from talking to your mom and dad about college life? I'm sure a lot of you do take into consideration the advice and guidance of your parents. Some of you probably talk to your parents often. And that's good; God encourages children-parent relationships.

In Proverbs, Solomon gives his counsel: "Hear, my son, your father's instruction, And do not forsake your mother's teaching; Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head, And ornaments about your neck" (1:8-9, NASB). I believe God intends for parents to play a special role in the lives of their children, and our college years are no exception.

What if Parents Aren't in the Picture?

But wait a minute — "Earth to Julie" — the fact is, not every college student has a great relationship with their parents; moreover, some parents are either not committed Christians, or they're not Christians at all. And what about those whose parents have died, or are unable to communicate for whatever reason? You may fit into any one of these categories, and that is completely understandable. In no way does it mean your college life is doomed, and it certainly does not make you less of a person.

If you have a healthy, solid relationship with your mom or dad, or both, then praise God! You are blessed with that — as I am — and I hope you take the time to communicate with your parents and in turn receive their counsel. If, however, your parents are absent, or not interested in God's will for your life, then I would encourage you to seek wisdom from other godly, Christian adults. You could connect with a married couple from your church or community that you know and trust, or maybe even your grandparents.

For those of us who do have loving, Christian parents, let's never forget to thank God for that. Honor the opinion of your parents, talk to them, allow them to share their knowledge with you; I guarantee that you will receive the treasures God offers through your mom and dad.


Plagued by Senior Moments?

But here's the good news: if you think you're having a few too many "senior moments," there are some things you can do to bring your mental modem back up to speed.

byLynne Thompson

Do you ever catch yourself stopped in mid-sentence — the point you were trying to make suddenly snatched away by a mysterious brain glitch? Ever looked down at the empty glass in your hand, wondering, did I or did I not just take my pills? How about exiting the mall and not having a clue where you parked the car?

If so, don't panic. Absent-mindedness and a general slowdown in mental processing often occur naturally with the aging process. Your mature nervous system (like an older-model computer) may take a little longer to retrieve information than it did when you were younger.

But here's the good news: if you think you're having a few too many "senior moments," there are some things you can do to bring your mental modem back up to speed.

Educating Your Memory

The National Institutes of Health recently conducted a study on "How Training Improves Cognitive Abilities of Older Adults." The five-week session, titled ACTIVE, taught the participants strategies for remembering word lists and sequences of items, text material and details of stories. Results showed significant improvement in cognitive abilities that continued two years after the training.

"The findings were powerful and very specific," says Richard M. Suzman, Ph.D., and

Associate Director for the Behavioral and Social Research Program at the National

Institute on Aging (NIA). "I think we can build on these results to see how training ultimately might be applied to tasks that older people do everyday, such as using medication or handling finances."

Memory Facts

Memory is the ability to remember something that has been learned or experienced, and refers to the brain's ability to store information.

Without it, learning would be impossible. If your brain couldn't recall the past, you would be unable to learn anything new. All your experiences would be lost as soon as they ended, and each new situation would be unfamiliar.

Memory is divided into three types:

Sensory memory holds information for only a second or two, giving your eyes, ears, and other senses time to process the information. This information quickly disappears unless you make an effort to retain it.

Short-term memory contains what you actively think about at any particular time. It can hold a fact for as long as you think about it, like repeating a phone number until you dial it.

Long-term memory stores facts, ideas and experiences after you stop thinking about them, and includes a huge amount of information, some of which lasts a lifetime.

Experts believe that by the end of our lives, our long-term memories have stored hundreds of times the information contained in a comprehensive encyclopedia.

Calisthenics for Your Brain

You can train your mind to help you remember what you don't want to forget. See if these strategies help you:

Wear a bracelet or rubber band on days you have to do a certain task. Use your senses.

When you meet someone new, "see" his or her name by writing it down on a piece of paper. "Hear" that you just finished a task by saying it out loud, "I have turned off the oven."

Name your parking area something that identifies its location; for example: "Treeville" if you parked by a tree, or "Leftzone Three," if you parked on the left side of the lot, third row.

In the mall, take a mental note of what you saw when you walked in (luggage? Men's cologne?)

If numbers stump you, associate them with something you'll remember. For example,

if your locker combination is 45-29-03, say, "I'm 45 years old, but I tell people I'm 29, and I have three children."

Link people's names with things you already know. Heather is as gentle as a feather, and Dustin is also the name of movie star Dustin Hoffman.

Develop routines and put things back where they belong. It is much easier to find things that are in their proper place.

Memorize Scripture; it keeps your mind sharp.

Lynne M. Thompson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Focus on the Family publications. She lives in Turlock, Calif.


Preparing for Adoption

The more information a couple has when pursuing adoption, the more prepared they will be.

by Alexandra Lütz

Adoption, like pregnancy, is filled with both hope and uncertainty, so it is important to be adequately prepared for potential problems and to agree on a comfortable level of medical, financial, legal and emotional risk. The more information you have, the better you can prepare for or avoid some problems altogether. Laws vary among states, so contact your social worker, agency or attorney for current information.

  1. There may be hidden costs. When dealing with an agency, find out exactly what your agency fee covers and what additional expenses may be expected. Some states allow for more birth mother living expenses than others, and some women need this assistance more than others. If your birth mother is not insured and does not qualify for public assistance, you may have to pay for her labor, delivery and hospitalization. If you have a custody battle, there may be significant legal fees. Foreign adoptions involve significant legal paperwork. Public agencies have the lowest overall costs, and even those can sometimes be reimbursed.
  2. Parenting an adopted child is not the same as parenting a biological child. Adoption creates several issues for all parties involved that can be minimized, but not necessarily eliminated, in open adoptions. Do not discourage the expression of grief; do not ignore feelings of rejection; and do not dismiss difficulties with identity, intimacy and personal control.
  3. A birth mother can change her mind. Papers signed before birth are not legally binding. There is no guarantee of placement until after birth (and in some states, after a waiting period) when both parents sign relinquishments. Even then, some states allow a grace period for "change of heart." You may choose to adopt from a state in which relinquishments are generally irrevocable or pursue independent or identified adoptions, in which fewer birth mothers change their minds.
  4. Adoptions can be contested, disrupted (never finalized) or dissolved (terminated). Counseling before placement decreases the risk of disruption, and refusing a risky placement lowers the likelihood of dissolution. Many agencies prefer to place babies in foster care during a contest rather than with an adoptive family. Adoptions from public agencies have low rates of interruption.
  5. Children are rarely coerced, purchased or kidnapped from the birth mother, but it's possible. Research a foreign nation's record with adoption before selecting a reputable international agency. Or build a relationship through an open adoption, but be aware that asking the birth mother to reassure you of her decision can be construed as coercion. The position of the adoptive family is to reassure, not be reassured.
  6. Nonpregnant women can deceive hopeful families in order to receive living expenses. Finalize an arrangement in writing with your attorney after verifying the pregnancy, or work with an agency that requires birth mothers to have a physician-signed medical information sheet that is verified by the agency.
  7. You cannot require the birth mother to receive medical care, but you can deny a match at any point, even after birth, if you are uncomfortable with the medical risk. Review the birth mother's medical history, and request the birth father's and grandparents' histories. (But keep in mind that no one's health is guaranteed.)
  8. A biological father can refuse to relinquish custody, requiring a legal battle to terminate his rights. If he denies paternity, or if the father is unknown, a paternity test and subsequent search are conducted. Although a court can terminate the rights of an unknown father after an unsuccessful search, a biological father could emerge down the road and fight for custody.
  9. Adopting a baby will not automatically relieve the grief you experienced during infertility. Allow yourself to grieve before adopting so you do not try to replace your "lost" biological child — placing unrealistic expectations on the adopted child. Make sure you are emotionally healthy and ready to accept the challenges that adoptive families face.
  10. Adoptive families and friends, especially of children adopted beyond toddlerhood, often unfairly expect children to show gratitude for being "rescued" from bad homes or from abortion. But these children were in a situation over which they had no control. If they were removed from an unfit home, they may have severe emotional needs and should not be expected to "give" emotionally for a while. The position of adoptive families is to provide support and reassurance.

Advice From a Parent: Keeping a Strong Faith in College

What can parents do to help their children keep a strong faith in college? Read this sound advice.

by Thabiti Anyabwile

The opportunity to counsel people in the midst of important life transitions is one of the great privileges of serving as a pastor. There are marriages, deaths, new birth and career transitions. In all of them, people tend to come for prayer and counsel.

Sherry was about to make an important life transition when her parents brought her to see me. It happens a lot. And it's a joy as a pastor to be there. The young person is about to go off to college, the parents are nervous and the prospective collegian is all kinds of excited.

The trick: How can I both encourage their excitement and not send the parent into cardiac arrest?

What I've found in these counseling situations is that typically the prospective college student has no definite plan for surviving college as a Christian. They've very often been raised in the thick, semi-transparent plastic Christian bubble, and the challenges of toxin-laced, free oxygen-based life is new, alluring, and usually more than the perky teenager is bargaining for.

Sherry is intelligent, a good student who makes friends easily. Her father has invested in her spiritually and given her all "the talks" he can think of. Sitting across the table, he needs the reassurance that comes from having someone else tell her the same things. Sherry needs the external confirmation in order to know her father isn't some overly anxious, overly protective dad. She is smart, but she knows little about the world. He knows a fair amount about the world, but he can't know how his daughter will fare in the world. Ignorance wears many faces ... bliss and worry.

In these cases, I usually share a few basic exhortations.

Find and join a good church

This is task number one. In fact, if there's opportunity to influence the list of prospective students, it's wise to first pick the cities with strong churches and then consider schools nearby. Why should someone neglect their spiritual lives for four or more years simply because they're going to college? Many don't intend to inflict such neglect on themselves, but that's what happens when they head off to college with no idea where they will receive regular instruction from the Word, spiritual care and fellowship.

A good church is one where the exposition of the Scripture is central to the preaching and the life of the congregation. It's a place where membership is practiced; that is, where pastors take seriously their responsibility for overseeing souls in their care and members submit to that care and care for each other, in part, by officially joining the church.

Joining a church is a declaration that you want to be cared for spiritually by the congregation and that you're pledging yourself to care for others. And a good church, then, is a place where accountability, encouragement, and both positive and corrective discipline are practiced.

Forget about the allurements of singles groups or college ministries. Those can be very beneficial, but they're not the stuff upon which a solid church is based.

Sherry hadn't thought of finding a church. She didn't know the area surrounding the campus at all. If she were to remain a growing Christian in college she needed to correct this omission right away. I scribbled a note to contact pastor friends who may have some recommendations.

Choose your friends with biblical criteria in view

Sooner or later, most people come to realize that they need to relinquish their passive approach to friendships. It's better if we realize it sooner rather than later.

Since Sherry wasn't going off to schools with a bevy of friends in tow, she would be addressing this issue very soon. "How will you select friends?" I asked her. "Friends?" she replied. "I assume I'd just meet people and make friends the way people normally do."

Her assumption was that she'd just "bump into" friends. They would grow up around her ... naturally. Though we talk about "making friends," few people really set out to "make" them. However, intentional cultivation of friendships may make all the difference between a rich college experience and one filled with frustration, alienation, broken relationships, and other kinds of pains. Since most adults look back on their college days as the time when they discovered lifelong friends, being intentional at this point is fairly important.

Sherry and I opened the Bible to Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 3. "Why not think about potential friends through the grid of one or both of these chapters? If these characteristics are representative of people that God commends, why not look for these characteristics in your friends?"

Now, I wasn't recommending an interview form with background checks. I save that for the potential courtship talk! But, in order to have a healthy college experience, a healthy set of friends is near essential. Campus Christian fellowships are a good place to start (InterVarsity, Campus Crusade, etc.).

And don't be afraid to keep an eye out for older students of the same gender, Christian graduate students. They'll offer both friendship and mentorship, having already passed through undergraduate school and picked up a measure of skill, responsibility, and mature outlook.

At all costs, remain sexually pure

This is really the point that dads listen most interestedly. His head nods rather vigorously like those bobble head figures glued to automobile dash boards. Moms are more pensive, but they're thinking the same thing: "God, I pray you would keep him or her out of sexual sin."

And, here too, people need a plan. How will compromising sexual temptations be avoided? There are some obvious things to do:

  1. Pray. Be aware of the temptation and the danger before it comes. It's difficult to develop character in a pinch. Develop it in prayer and other disciplines before the temptation comes.
  2. Never place yourself in an intimate setting (dorm room or apartment) with a person of the opposite sex. Simply mark some places as "off limits" and avoid them like the bird flu.
  3. In courting or dating relationships, establish clear boundaries not to be crossed. Save your first kiss for the marriage altar. After all, why even rub your lips together with someone you have no interest in marrying?
  4. Seek transparent accountability with those trusted friends you've made at the good church and campus fellowship you've joined.
  5. Spend the lion's share of your free time with families from church instead of in undirected peer groups. Adopt an older couple as surrogate parents, invest in them and let them invest in you. Though college is seen as a time of increased autonomy, there is no reason that autonomy should be disassociated with family and the nurture of older persons who care about you.

The fleeting, momentary "pleasure" of sexual sin will not be worth the potential lifetime of scars and difficulties that follow. The backs of many a college education, career ambition, and family aspiration have been broken over the strong anvil of sexual sin.

Study

OK, this seems like a no-brainer. But considering the amount of remedial education now being funded in community college and university settings, and considering the dropout rates, this really needs to be said. Study. You are in school to receive an education — and that's a great privilege many people long to have.

But studying also has a spiritual benefit. Whatever it is you've decided to study may be used for the purposes of God. In retrospect, I wish I had been a better student during my college days. Fifteen years after college, I see how much of what was available could now be used of the Lord in the pastorate. I couldn't anticipate it then; I wasn't even a Christian. But I can see it now and there is a small pang of regret.

Almost any degree — engineering, nursing, teaching, accounting, you name it — can take you into world missions or local church service for the glory of God. Don't underestimate the importance of your study in the economy of God.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). The older translations render this verse, "Study to show yourselves approved." It's the pastor's study of Scripture that is in view, but I think a legitimate application can be made to the student in the college classroom or the college grad entering into a new career.

Call home

If I've done my job in these treasured visits, the young adult is a little less sure of himself or herself. They have questions to think about that they didn't have when they arrived at my office. Now for the failsafe option: Remember to call home.

No one has all the answers. No one is prepared for everything that may come their way. And no one has to live their Christian lives alone, as though following Jesus is a solo sport. When you hit those situations that are beyond you, call home. When you have questions that require prayer and careful thought, call home. No one will have your best interest in mind quite like your parents and family who are cheering for you.

And if in God's providence parents or family are not available, see recommendation number one above. Take it to members of your church family who are spiritually mature and who desire to see Christ Jesus exalted in your life and choices.

Remember the counsel of God

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Prov. 3:5-6)

This is really the first, the continuing, and last thing to do as a Christian in college or young adult. Trust God in everything.

Charles Bridges, a famous English pastor during the 1800s, offered some very helpful words on Proverbs 3:5-6. He wrote:

Always plan for yourself in simple dependence on God. It is nothing less than self-idolatry to conceive that we can carry on even the ordinary matters of the day without his counsel. He loves to be consulted. Therefore take all they difficulties to be resolved by Him. Be in the habit of going to him in the first place — before self-will, self-pleasing, self-wisdom, human friends, convenience, expediency. Before any of these have been consulted go to God. Consider no circumstances too clear to need his directions. In all thy ways, small as well as great; in all thy concerns, personal or relative, temporal or eternal, let Him be supreme.

Charles Bridges, Proverbs: Geneva Series of Commentaries (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust), pp. 24-25

In the final analysis, this is the answer for both the worried parent and the excited student. Trust the Lord in everything. There will be every worldly temptation and seduction, every fleshly deception posing as advantage and "wisdom," that subvert continual trust in the Lord. Resist them. Oppose them. Go to the Father in the Word, in complete reliance on Him and His promise.

After exhorting Sherry and her father to trust God, we turn our hearts to the Father in prayer. I can hear mumbled agreements as we ask the Lord for grace, wisdom, peace and every fruit of the Spirit. The prayer ends with a lingering "Amen."

The conversation has stirred more than either dad or daughter expected. Hearing what you know you need to hear has a way of both reassuring you and opening your eyes to the challenge of following Jesus in a fallen world.Warm thank you's are offered. Then the sight I love to see most: dad and daughter walking down the corridor holding hands, smiling, and talking. The transition is still a big one, but they're welcoming it together.


Romance and Lifelong Intimacy

Bored with your marriage? Learn how to escape the romantic doldrums.

by James Dobson, Ph.D.

It is essential to cultivate a sense of romance if intimacy is to flourish in a marriage. But romance between a husband and wife is precarious. Like the flame of a lone candle burning in the wind, it can easily flicker and die. Your "flame" must be tended with the greatest of care — on Valentine's Day and every other day of the year.

"My Lover Is Mine and I Am His"

The word romance conjures up different images for each of us, and our expectations of what constitutes a romantic relationship also vary. Women are inclined to describe romance as the things their mate does to make them feel loved, protected, and respected. Wives, especially those married to busy husbands, crave the excitement of romantic encounters. They long for "some enchanted evening, across a crowded room." Flowers, compliments, nonsexual touching, and love notes are all steps in this direction. So is helping out at home. A man who shares in the duties of cooking, cleaning, and picking up the kids after basketball practice is much more likely to win the affection of his wife.

Men, on the other hand, rely more on their senses in the area of romance. They appreciate a wife who makes herself as attractive to him as possible. A man wants to be respected — and even better, admired — by his wife. He likes to hear his wife express genuine interest in his opinions, hobbies, and work.

Perhaps the most evocative descriptions of romantic love come from Solomon's Song of Songs, where we see that it includes both intimacy and emotional excitement: "My lover is mine and I am his" (2:16) and "My heart began to pound for him" (5:4). We see how deep affection inspires desire and complete appreciation for another: "How beautiful you are, my darling!" (4:1). We learn that to be romantic means to pursue the object of our affection -- and to pine when he or she eludes us: "All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him" (3:1). And we see how powerfully a public display of affection communicates romantic love: "He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love" (2:4).

Though romance can mean vastly different things to each of us, for most the word describes that wonderful feeling of being noticed, wanted, and pursued — of being at the very center of our lover's attention. Typically, most couples maintain this sense of romance throughout their courtship and at least through the newlywed phase of marriage. As the years go by and new duties and responsibilities pile on, however, that romantic feeling all too often begins to fade.

The Thrill of the Chase

Whether a few days, weeks, or months after the wedding, something begins to happen to "that lovin' feeling." A man and woman just seem to lose the wind in their romantic sails. It does not always occur, but too often it does.

Their plight reminds me of seamen back in the days of wooden vessels. Sailors in that era had much to fear, including pirates, storms, and diseases. But their greatest fear was that the ship might encounter the Doldrums. The Doldrums was an area of the ocean near the equator characterized by calm and very light shifting winds. It could mean death for the entire crew. The ship's food and water supply would be exhausted as they drifted for days, or even weeks, waiting for a breeze to put them back on course.

Well, marriages that were once exciting and loving can also get caught in the romantic doldrums, causing a slow and painful death to the relationship. But it need not be so. Author Doug Fields, in his book Creative Romance, writes, "Dating and romancing your spouse can change those patterns, and it can be a lot of fun. There's no quick fix to a stagnant marriage, of course, but you can lay aside the excuses and begin to date your sweetheart." In fact, you might want to try thinking like a teenager again. Let me explain.

Recall for a moment the craziness of your dating days — the coy attitudes, the flirting, the fantasies, the chasing after the prize. As we moved from courtship to marriage, most of us felt we should grow up and leave the game-playing behind. But we may not have matured as much as we'd like to think.

In some ways, our romantic relationships will always bear some characteristics of adolescent sexuality. Adults still love the thrill of the chase, the lure of the unattainable, excitement of the new and boredom with the old. Immature impulses are controlled and minimized in a committed relationship, of course, but they never fully disappear.

This could help you keep vitality in your marriage. When things have grown stale between you and your spouse, maybe you should remember some old tricks. How about breakfast in bed? A kiss in the rain? Rereading those old love letters together? A night at a bed and breakfast? Roasting marshmallows by an open fire? Cooking a meal together that you've never tried before? A phone call in the middle of the day? A long-stem rose and a love note? There are dozens of ways to fill the sails with wind once more.

I recall one occasion -- many years after that unfortunate first Valentine's Day -- when Shirley and I explored what we called our "old haunts." We took an entire day together, beginning with a visit to the Farmer's Market, where we had strolled as young lovers. Then we had a leisurely lunch at a favorite restaurant and talked of things long ago. Afterwards we saw a theater performance at the Pasadena Playhouse, where we had gone on our second date, and later we had cherry pie and coffee at Gwinn's restaurant, a favorite hangout for dating couples. We talked about our warm memories and relived the excitement of earlier days. It was a wonderful reprise.

Another time, when I had been away from Shirley and our children for two weeks, I planned a little surprise for her. I asked her to be ready to go to dinner when I flew back home. Then I called Shirley's mother and asked her to be prepared to spend the night with the children, but to make Shirley think they were coming home late.

After we had gone to dinner and the theater that evening, I drove us to a beach community where I had made reservations at a hotel. Shirley didn't catch on until I opened the door and invited her to join me. That evening is still a favorite memory for us. (You see, I really have learned a thing or two over the years!)

Even when finances are tight, just being together with your partner can rekindle that lovin' feeling. All that is needed is a little effort and creative flair. Talk with your mate; ask him or her what would bring new interest and excitement to your marriage. Then enjoy together your own unique brand of romance.


Setting an All-Time Credit Record

Most future-minded college students prize their academic record. But they ignore another kind of record that's even more powerful: their credit record.

by Todd Temple

While most future-minded college students do a good job of looking after their academic record, they ignore another kind of record that's even more powerful: their credit record. Your credit record is your financial reputation. It counts big in this world.

If you want to rent an apartment, buy a house, get a phone hooked up, obtain a credit card, take out a loan, buy a blimp or start a business, you need a good credit record. A company that wants to check your credit can call other companies that have done money deals with you in the past, or they can get a report from a credit reporting bureau. Credit bureaus are private institutions that sell credit information to other businesses. In the U.S. there are many, many small bureaus and three big ones: Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Creditors, landlords and employers pay these bureaus for reports on people they're considering as customers, tenants or employees, to determine their financial character.

The credit bureaus get their information on you from credit card companies and others who have issued you credit. For example, if you have a major credit card, the issuer sends the credit bureaus details about your account: when it was opened, the credit limit, the status of the account (current, defaulted, closed, etc.), current balance, average balance and payment history. If you've made on-time payments every month for the past year, your report shows this in a series of uninterrupted good marks. And if you've missed any payments, these show up as bad marks. At a glance, anyone looking at your report knows how reliable you are.

Your credit record also contains any legal judgments against you such as a bankruptcy or a lien on property. These judgments are part of the public record, so credit bureaus are allowed to include them in your report seven to 10 years, depending on the type of judgment.

Since the credit bureaus get their information from creditors and the public record, if you've never been issued credit and have had no judgments against you, its very likely that they have no file on you at all. Which means, if you want to establish a credit record, you've got to make the first move.

Application Accepted

The simplest way to begin building a credit record is to apply for a credit card. Many banks seek out first-time card applicants among college students; you've probably received their mailings or seen their ads on bulletin boards. If you have more than one application to choose from, go for the card with the lowest (or no) annual fee and the longest grace period.

If you were intending to use the card to obtain cash advances or to pay for purchases in smaller monthly payments the interest rate would also be important. But that's not what this card is for. Your intent isn't borrowing, it's establishing credit. And you'll do that by making a steady series of purchases and paying every credit card bill on time and in full, which means that you'll never pay any interest. More on that in a bit.

The information you provide on your application is especially critical when you have no credit record: It's all the creditor has to go on to determine your creditworthiness. Here's what may be asked on the application:

Income: The longer you hold a job, the better you look. Don't lie about your salary or how long you've worked at your current job; the credit card issuer may call your boss to verify the numbers. If you have other sources of income be sure to list these too. Every little bit helps. If someone pays you in cash, make out an invoice, mark it Paid and get it signed. Make sure that the money you earn can be used to prove your ability to earn more of it.

Expenses: You may be asked to list some of your regular expenses such as rent and car insurance. If they don't ask, don't volunteer it; and if they do, list only what is asked for.

Assets: If asked, list the amount of money you have in savings and checking accounts (they may call to verify these too, so shoot straight). If you have money invested in mutual funds, CDs, stocks, bonds, gold, or pork belly futures, write it down. These things suggest that you know how to handle your money. You may wish to mention any toys or vehicles you own that are worth several hundred dollars or more: an expensive camera, motorcycle, car, helicopter.

Liabilities: If you have any debts such as auto or student or personal loans, you'll be asked to list your monthly payment and the outstanding balance.

If your monthly expenses all but wipe out your income, the creditor will figure that you don't have enough cushion to make monthly payments on a credit card debt. If your liabilities (what you owe) greatly exceed your assets (what you own), they don't want to help you dig your grave deeper. (Actually, they know that once you're in the grave, you won't leave enough behind to pay off the debt.) But if you have a healthy cash flow, little or no debt, and evidence of good money management habits, you're their kind of customer

If you're not their kind of customer, they'll send you a rejection letter. It's no big deal; just apply for a card with someone else. But don't send out a bunch of applications or apply for cards you think you have little chance of getting. Some card issuers submit the rejection information to the credit bureaus. You don't want all those rejections listed in your new record.

Should you strike out in your attempts to get a major unsecured credit card, you might consider applying for a secured card. You deposit, let's say, $500, into an account with the issuer, and get a credit card with a $500 credit limit. Sometimes the issuer will grant you more credit than you have on account, giving you, for example, $750 in credit for your $500 on deposit. Another way to get your first card is to apply at a department store. These cards are often easier to get. Be sure to pick a store that sells things you have use for – you'll need to make regular purchases with that card to build your record.

Building a Reputation

As I mentioned, credit card issuers send regular reports of your account activity to the credit bureaus. If you don't use the card, they've got nothing to report. So it does no good to your record to merely get a credit card: You've got to use it. The goal here is to fill your credit record with good marks – an unbroken series of symbols indicating that every payment was made on time. If you're diligent, you can do this without paying a penny in interest.

The key is to use your card at least once each month for a purchase you need to make anyway: gas or groceries, for example. If you have a department store card, this is a bit tougher to do – you don't want to spend money merely to establish credit. Just try to shop there at least once a month for a single item you need: socks this month, a T-shirt next month, and so on. And if you have no need, it's OK to skip a month. But whatever you do, don't be even a day late with a single payment: A good mark is best, but no mark at all is better than a bad one.

Remember that you need not actually borrow money – that is, carry over an unpaid balance from month to month – to establish good credit. Your credit report doesn't specifically indicate whether you're carrying a balance. It just shows whether you've made each payment "according to terms," – and paying your balance in full each month is in full accordance with those terms. Your purpose is to build a stellar payment history, not to dig yourself into debt.

Once you've established good credit through a consistent record of on-time payments, you'll find it much easier to get additional credit. Maybe too easy. As your credit reputation grows, you might soon find yourself swimming in offers for cards. Toss them. Each application that's submitted ends up as an entry on your record, either as a new account or as a rejection.

There's another problem with carrying too many credit card accounts: When it comes time to apply for something big such as a business or home loan, the creditor you apply to will add up all the credit limits shown on your report. If the total is too high, they'll reject you as too great a risk. Though they want to know that they're not the only ones who trust you, they also don't want to stand in a long line to get their money back if you crash and burn in debt. Hold onto just one or two credit cards and keep your credit record uncluttered. This will also cut down on the junk-mail offers that inevitably come with each account – and the checks you must write to each account if you fall for those offers.

For the accounts you do maintain, make sure that you send every payment on time. It's not the end of the world if you're late once or twice, but it does get noticed by those who see your report, and it's a broken promise to your creditor. If you know you're going to be late on a payment, call the creditor and ask for an extension. Most credit card issuers will grant you a few more days of grace if you ask, and you'll prevent a bad mark from showing up in your record. This works a few times; overuse it and they'll turn you down.

If you're unable to pay a credit card bill in full, send as much as you can afford, but no less than the minimum payment. As long as the money you send is equal to or greater than the minimum payment, and it's received by the creditor on time, the payment will be recorded as "according to terms," which puts another good mark in your record. That's the good news.

The bad news is that you're now paying interest on the unpaid balance. So if your balance is $100 and you make just the $10 minimum payment, you're now paying interest on the $90 that's left. So send in everything you can afford, then pay the whole thing off on the next payment (or before then – there's no rule that says you can't pay bills before they arrive). The minimum payment printed on your bill is ingeniously calculated to ensure that you pay the greatest interest for the longest time possible. In short: It's a bad, bad thing for you. Don't use it.

There's even more bad news. If you carry over a balance into a new billing period, you'll pay interest on any new charge from the day you make it: An unpaid balance erases the grace period. So if you can't pay a bill in full, immediately stop using the card. Put it away until the balance is paid off.

There's a lot more to learn about maintaining your good credit – and redeeming a bad reputation – than I can cover here. If you'd like to find out more on these topics, check out some of the Web sites listed in the sidebar.

The Automatic Door Opener

Both your academic record and your credit record determine which doors will be open to you in the future. But the former loses most of its power the moment you decide to end your academic career; the latter will either lock or unlock the doors in your path for the rest of your life. True, the marks in your record are removed when they're several years old, but that's a long time to wait to see a spotty past fade away. And it may take even longer to break the bad money habits that soiled your reputation.

It's much easier to start things off right. Apply only for the credit you really need, and make every payment on time with no exception. When the time comes for you to buy a home or start a business, your record will precede you, the doors will open up ahead.


Setting Realistic Financial Goals

Financial expert Ron Blue paints a realistic view of financial goals for young couples.

by Ron Blue
We've only been married six months and already my husband is talking about buying a house and setting up several retirement funds. While he's dreaming big, I'm thinking, "How are we going to pay our rent and buy groceries this month?" I'm pleased he's considering our future, but I question whether he's being realistic. What are some realistic financial expectations for newlyweds to have for their first two or three years of marriage?

Several years ago, my wife and I taught a young marrieds' Sunday school class at our church. This was a group of sharp couples who had been married anywhere from a few weeks to five years. The first Sunday, we asked each person in the class to identify their biggest adjustment in marriage thus far. Not surprisingly, they pinpointed financial tensions and expectations. These couples had entered marriage thinking they could start where their parents left off: a house full of furniture, two cars, resort vacations, all the clothes they needed, and all the toys they wanted — DVDs, lawn equipment, boats and so on. Never mind that their parents had worked years and years to reach that point.

The gap between expectation and reality — the "coping gap" — needs to be bridged if a marriage is to prosper spiritually, emotionally and financially. Indeed, a marriage will begin on a much sounder foundation, financially speaking, if you follow a few general principles.

First, as the wedding vows indicate, becoming husband and wife means money and possessions are no longer "yours" and "mine," but "ours." The two of you have become one. It isn’t your income, your savings account, your home, your car, your debt, or your anything. A selfish attitude regarding money or possessions will most certainly undermine the relationship.

Second, make sure you’re both working on establishing good financial habits. For example, don’t spend what you don’t have. The credit crunch is waiting to devour anyone — including you — and it will unless you jointly determine to delay gratification until the hard cash is in hand. These days, such an attitude is definitely countercultural. But rest assured, it will serve you in good stead throughout your married life.

Developing good financial habits will be much easier if you work together on the following.

  1. Jointly commit your goals to paper.
  2. Draft your first will.
  3. Establish charitable giving as a priority.
  4. Follow the sequential strategy for building financial resources.
  5. Avoid foolish tax-planning decisions.
  6. Establish a life insurance program.
  7. Decide wisely about purchasing your first home.

Third, you need to commit yourselves to constant communication. The two of you may have been raised in families where money matters were handled completely differently. If so, you need to talk about those differences now so you can understand each other and, in turn, build a foundation for mutual understandings about when and how money should be spent. If you start out right, you can avoid a lot of pain and frustration down the road and be miles ahead of most other couples.

Finally, you need to create a budget. It takes roughly two years to set up a workable budget: one year to figure out how much you are spending and what you'd like to spend, and a second year to live according to a first-draft budget to see if it is reasonable. The third year is when a couple can actually begin to live within a realistic budget.

A budget can be the most freeing thing any couple can do financially. It gives you a realistic picture of your financial health and, consequently, gives you a better handle on your decision making.


Suffering Brings Wisdom, Perspective

David Jeremiah reflects on his seven-year battle with lymphoma and the lessons he has learned along the way.

Dr. David Jeremiah

"I want to tell you, you can learn a lot from being sick," said Dr. David Jeremiah. The popular author, speaker and media teacher made that observation to a national group of Christian journalists gathered May 6 - 10 in San Diego for the annual convention of the Evangelical Press Association. Participants included writers and editors from Charisma, Christianity Today, Moody, AFA Journal</i> and scores of other Christian periodicals.

Dr. Jeremiah is qualified to address the issue of suffering and sickness. Pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, El Cajon, Calif., he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1994. After treatment, he thought he had weathered the storm, but in 1998 the cancer recurred. Surgery removed a nodule from his neck, and in early 1999 he had a stem cell transplant.

"It was the darkest night of my soul, a nightmare with no hope of waking," he wrote in his latest book, A Bend in the Road: Experiencing God When Your World Caves In (Word, 2000). The book is a chronicle of his battle with cancer and the life lessons God taught him in the process. Today, he again has hope and lives in remission. Jeremiah told the journalists he has learned many things through his experience with cancer, including the power of prayer, the persistence of Satan and the perspective of attitude. He says studies show that attitude can be as important as medical treatment for a cancer patient. "Attitude comes from your personal walk with the Lord," he said.

Dr. Jeremiah's "Turning Point" program is aired internationally on more than a thousand TV and radio stations. In addition to serving as pastor at Shadow Mountain, he is chancellor of Christian Heritage College in El Cajon and has written 12 books, including Jesus’ Final Warning and The Handwriting on the Wall.


Understanding Male Homosexuality - God's Power to Change Lives, Part 1

by Jeff Johnston

“Perplexing and painful as the homosexual Christian’s dilemma is, Jesus Christ offers him or her (indeed, all of us) faith, hope, and love – the faith to accept both his standards and his grace to maintain them, the hope to look beyond present suffering to future glory, and the love to care for and support one another. ‘But the greatest of these is love’ (1 Cor. 13:13).” John Stott1

Homosexuality – The Battle

Homosexuality is one of the most volatile topics in our culture, and men struggling with same-sex sexual attractions find themselves in the middle of a personal, theological, cultural and political battleground.

On the one hand, a monumental shift has taken place in our culture over the last 50 years, with a growing acceptance and celebration of homosexuality. Gay-identified characters are common in movies, on television, in plays and in books. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) groups are regular features of colleges and universities, and gay-straight student alliances are even found on middle and high school campuses. The judiciary has been bombarded with “gay rights” cases, and political battles about re-defining marriage and hate-crimes are a regular occurrence at the ballot box and in state and federal legislatures. Even in the church, denominations have battled about how to address those struggling with same-sex attractions, with some choosing to ordain self-identified gays and lesbians.

On the other hand, God’s word clearly states His plan for human sexuality, and Judeo-Christian teaching has been consistent for 5,000 years – same-sex sexual relationships are not God’s intent.2 For many men and women struggling with same-sex attractions, faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to God’s word are more important than their attractions or desires.

So where does a Christian struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction turn? The culture promotes “Gay Pride” and denounces “homophobia.” But the church and God’s word are clear about God’ intentions for our sexuality. And what about those who claim to have “come out of homosexuality”?3 Are the changes in their lives real?

Friends and family members get caught up in this battle, too. They want to be compassionate and loving, but they also want to follow God’s word. Where do they turn in this conflict? And how should churches and denominations respond to those with same-sex attractions?

Thankfully, there are some answers. For years now, Focus on the Family has sought to address these issues with both grace and truth.4 And while we can’t deal with every issue related to homosexuality in a series of articles like this, we can provide some helpful information about the basics of male homosexuality, and we can point you toward other resources.

If you are a man struggling with same-sex attractions, a pastor or church leader trying to understand this issue, a family member with a loved one struggling with homosexual behavior, a youth worker or educator, a mental health professional, or just a Christian who wants to know the truth, then this article and the ones that follow are for you.

Our primary concerns are to remain true to God’s word and character and to speak the truth about homosexuality in love.

God’s Good Design for Sex and Gender

“In the mystery of creation, man and woman were ‘given’ in a special way to each other by the Creator…. The fundamental fact of human existence at every stage of its history is that God ‘created them male and female.’” John Paul II5

As Christians, we start with the premise that God made us and loves us. As Creator, He designed us with specific intentions about who we are and how we should live. The Bible teaches clearly about God’s plan for marriage and sexuality.

Jesus explained some of this when he was asked about marriage and divorce. He pointed his audience back to the very beginning, to the creation account:

Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. (Mark 19: 4-6)

What do we learn from this?

Jesus took the creation account seriously, quoting Genesis to remind his followers what they were to emulate. For centuries, church doctrine has affirmed Jesus’ words, that marriage between a man and a woman is God’s intent, and that sexual expression is designed for that relationship.

Jesus’ teaching about marriage is consistent with other portions of scripture which teach us that God is relational – He lives in an eternal, loving relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Human beings are created in God’s image to be relational. A man and woman coming together in marriage are supposed to reflect the image of God – living out a committed, caring relationship.

Scripture and experience give evidence that male and female are complementary and designed for each other. Male and female are made in the image of God and bear His imprint – separately, in their masculinity and femininity, and together, in their unity.

God’s word is also clear that He intended marriage to be permanent – a husband and wife become one flesh, and Christ says we are not to separate what God has joined together. God intended for the marriage union to last.

The marriage of a man and a woman portrays a deep spiritual reality. Marriage is the most vivid and consistent image in scripture of God’s relationship with His people. In the Old Testament, God is the husband and Israel is His beloved spouse. In the New Testament, Christ is the groom and the church is His bride.

Finally, but perhaps most obviously, when a man and woman come together in a marital relationship, there is a natural outcome – children! God tells the first man and woman “to be fruitful and multiply.”6 Just as God is creative and productive, he made us that way, too. A man and woman cooperate with God in bringing new life into the world. A husband and wife – in their complementarity – model for their children different aspects of God’s character.

“Here then, are three truths which Jesus affirmed:

  1. Heterosexual gender is a divine creation
  2. Heterosexual marriage is a divine institution; and
  3. Heterosexual fidelity is the divine intention.

A homosexual liaison is a breach of all three of these divine purposes.” John Stott7

Biological Sex – Male and Female – a Divine Creation

“And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created Him; male and female he created them.” Gen 1:27

Humans are made in the image of God – male and female. Our gender and sexuality are part of God’s plan for us and reflect something of who He is. Now let’s be clear, God is high above us, and He is not male or female in the way humans are. But the Bible says He has revealed himself in his creation, and that his image and likeness are reflected in a special way in His creation of men and women.

Think about all that is reflected in male-female sexuality and about what that tells us about God. Our gender and sexuality were designed to lead us to joy, connection, relationships, family, pleasure, children, marriage – God must really enjoy these things to have planned for us to participate in them.

Here’s what one writer says about God’s design in creation:

Physical Reality: Male or Female

God created humanity, in his image and likeness, male and female; but as individual beings, we are either male or female.9 Individually, we are made to reflect God’s image either as a man or a woman. From the very point of fertilization we begin to show those differences.

Because of the ways our culture has changed in the past 40 or 50 years, it’s become politically incorrect to emphasize the differences between men and women. This, despite the fact that scientists and researchers continue to find more physical and psychological distinctions between men and women; indeed, every cell in the male body is different from every cell in the female’s.

God says both male and female are good, they complement and complete each other. The original man – alone and without woman to complete him – was not called good. It wasn’t until both the man and the woman were created and formed that God said that His creation was very good.10

Our culture has certainly worked to blur these male-female differences – but they still exist, and the differences are more than just physical. Our bodies show the deeper reality of masculinity or femininity – a reality beyond biology, a reality that reflects something of who God is.


1John Stott, Same Sex Partnerships? A Christian Perspective, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1998), p. 83.
2See, for example, Robert A.J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001); Joe Dallas, The Gay Gospel? How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread the Bible, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2007); or Dennis Prager, “Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality,” OrthodoxyToday.org, http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles2/PragerHomosexuality.shtml (29 January 2010).
3For example: “Stories of Hope,” http://www.pureintimacy.org/homosexuality/stories-of-hope/ (28 September 2010)
5Pope John Paul II, “Original Innocence and Man’s Historical State,” General Audience, Wednesday, 13 February, 1980, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/catechesis_genesis/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_19800213_en.html (29 January 2010).
6Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 9:7.
7John Stott, 1998 p. 36.
8Jason Evert, Theology of the Body for Teens – Parent’s Guide, (West Chester PA, Ascension Press 2008), p. 5.
9See Ray S. Anderson, “Being Human as Male and Female,” On Being Human: Essays in Theological Anthropology, (Pasadena: Fuller Seminary Press, 1982), pp. 104-129.
10Genesis 1:26-31.

Thanksgiving Memory

The driver pulled over and stopped. Groans erupted as we all realized we might not make it to our respective homes in time for turkey and dressing. We were stranded.

byRoberta Rand Caponey

It was Thanksgiving Day, 1974. I was a college sophomore on my way home for the holiday when I boarded the cramped mid-morning bus for what would normally have been an easy two-hour trip down I-70 to my hometown of Fulton, Mo.

But today, the weather conspired against my itinerary as gusty winds buffeted the bus and the sky grew ominously opaque against a barely discernable horizon. A snowstorm was barreling in from the north, slowing our bus to a crawl.

We hadn’t made it off the rural highway that fed into the interstate when red lights blinked on the bus’s dashboard, signaling some kind of mechanical failure. The driver pulled over and stopped. Groans erupted as we all realized we might not make it to our respective homes in time for turkey and dressing. We were stranded.

The driver radioed to Kansas City — a good 100 miles away — for a replacement bus. We all hunkered down for what we knew would be a long, long wait.

At first, people sat quietly reading magazines or napping. Kids colored in their coloring books. Some simply gazed out the windows, occasionally wiping condensation off the windows to view whitewashed fields and rows of dried-up cornstalks vibrating in the chill wind. Somehow the driver managed to keep the heat going, but as the hours dragged on, people grew restless. Natural inhibitions began to break down.

Recognizing that we had to make the best of a bad situation, folks started moving around, standing up to stretch in the narrow aisles, kneeling in their seats, cracking jokes. Some showed off wallet photos of their kids. A woman cracked open a tin of homemade cookies and passed them around.

As dusk fell, a party atmosphere prevailed. Then someone in the crowd began to lead Christmas carols. It started with “White Christmas,” followed by a rousing Elvis-tinged rendition of “Blue Christmas,” and on and on . . .

There we were, 30 strangers, stuck on a forlorn stretch of rural blacktop, laughing and singing as the “storm of the century” raged outside. Gradually the merriment subsided and the group grew pensive. Several hours had passed. Where was that bus?

Someone began to sing "Silent Night." One by one, everyone joined in. For a few, serendipitous moments, we were no longer strangers, but friends, singing together about the birth of Jesus.

Around 4:30 in the afternoon, the replacement bus finally arrived. Our baggage was transferred, we all gathered our things and climbed aboard. It was almost dark as we pulled onto I-70. The new driver lowered the lights and we rode on in silence, dropping off passengers every few miles.

The bus was nearly empty when it pulled into Gasper's Truck Stop just outside the Fulton city limits. Minutes later, my mother, sisters and I were all gathered in a warm yellow kitchen, nibbling on bridge mix and sharing stories about college life. Thoughts of my recent bus adventure quickly vanished as my focus turned to my "real" family.

As I think back on that day almost three decades ago, the experience emerges from memory, vivid in every detail — the cheerful chaos on the bus, the air dense and humid from too many people sharing close quarters. What stands out most was the total breakdown in the artificial barriers that separate people.

Despite the physical discomforts and inconvenience, I experienced something rare and wonderful that day. I wonder if perhaps I didn’t glimpse a little bit of what Heaven might be like: a place where there are no strangers . . . just friends, laughing and singing — and worshipping together.


The First Lady of Civil Rights

Mrs. King was supportive and a driving force behind her husband Martin Luther King and the American civil rights movement.

by Jimmy Gill

Coretta Scott King, known as the "First Lady of Human and Civil Rights," passed away at the age of 78 on the evening of January 30, 2006, after suffering a serious stroke and heart attack in August, 2005.

Born April 27, 1927, Coretta Scott and her two siblings were raised by their hard-working parents on a farm in Heiberger, Alabama. Her father, Obediah, was the first black person in the area to own a truck, and he eventually owned a small country store.

Coretta excelled in school and pursued graduate studies in music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. During her time in Boston, she met her future husband, Martin Luther King Jr., who was studying theology at Boston University. On their first date, Coretta recalled what King told her, "You know, you have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday." Eighteen months later — June 18, 1953 — they were married at her parents' home in Marion, Ala.

Mrs. King was a supportive wife and driving force behind her husband and the entire American civil rights movement. After her husband's assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968, Coretta carried on Martin's unfinished mission by working for peace, equality and economic justice in the United States and around the world. She devoted significant effort to establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change in Atlanta (founded in 1969) and used it to confront hunger, unemployment, voting rights, racism and "the evils of our society." She also worked for more than a decade to have Dr. King's birthday, January 15, recognized as a federal holiday (established in 1986).

Although much of her life was spent supporting and continuing the work of her husband, Mrs. King left her own indelible mark on society as a true advocate in the fight for justice and equality. It was said that "she was really the living epitome of Dr. King's message of love and forgiveness." She carried herself with dignity, protected her four children and worked tirelessly for peace and racial justice.

Her life was, in many ways, a self-fulfilling prophecy of her statement that, "Many despair at all the evil and unrest and disorder in the world today, but I see a new social order and I see the dawn of a new day."


The Root of Anger

Getting angry is the norm these days. What causes it and what does God want us to do with it?

by Chris Leland

I just finished reading a set of blogs from some upper midwestern college students. Boy, were they angry. Rants about professors, friends, conservatives, God, the President.

I read pretty carefully and found it almost impossible to figure out what was making everybody so angry. I realized after a while that I wasn't going to find an answer in the words on the screen. In fact, as I read, I grew less and less convinced that their anger really had anything to do with the issues and people they were discussing. They poked fun at Christian leaders. They adamantly attacked almost every conservative position. They demonized anyone who questioned their claims. They made wildly uneducated accusations. It was, in general, the stuff blogs promote: opinion without substance. At the bottom of it all, their posts were not about issues or people.

They were about being angry.

The Anger Cycle

After reading these posts I felt myself getting angry. You know the cycle: Someone spouts his opinion and steps on the feet of someone else who, in turn, gets defensive and, by default, angry. This person says something in response and both of them wind up defensive and angry. All of this is normal; but is it productive or Christ-like? Wouldn't it be better if people just kept their opinions to themselves?

The more I study Scripture the less I think anger is a bad thing in and of itself. Scripture doesn't teach that we should avoid making others angry, and it doesn't teach that we shouldn't get angry ourselves. What troubles God is what we do in and with our anger. Some of us feel it's easier to suppress it, so we keep it inside until we either get silently bitter toward everyone or we explode at innocents around us. Others feel like it's better to blow off steam and be done with it. Who cares who I dump on? I'm healthy because I'm not holding it inside! (Maybe, but pretty soon you'll find that there's no one around on which to unload.) Still others talk constantly about their "righteous indignation" (a euphemism for plain old anger). God says not to sin in our anger.

So, we want to be like God? What does that look like? Exodus 34:6 contains the first use of the word "anger" in the Bible. In this case, it is used as a description of God's nature: "And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.'"

God says this after the children of Israel have turned away from Him and Moses has had to come back up the mountain to get the second set of stone tablets that contain the Ten Commandments. Now, put that in the context of your life. Someone turns away from you, destroys the things you find most precious and then does something as offensive as stomp on your grave. Being "slow to anger" isn't what comes to my mind first. Abounding in love isn't at the top of the list, either.

Continue looking for instances of the word "anger" in Scripture and you'll wind up very convicted. The one that speaks directly to me is the one that says, "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control" (Proverbs 29:11, NIV). There are times I hate reading those sections!

Standing In Line

Recently, I was in the self-checkout lane at a store. The woman in front of me had two items. She successfully scanned the first one but the second wouldn't read no matter which way she turned the UPC code. She looked over her shoulder to see if the clerk was coming to her rescue. The clerk was deep in conversation with another employee. A very audible clearing of the throat didn't gain her attention. Finally, she put her fingers in her mouth and let go with a loud-enough-for-the-soccer-field whistle. Everyone froze and turned toward the noise. Now that she had the young lady's attention, the stymied customer said, "Look, you can talk on your own time. This thing won't work!"

Her frustration was understandable, yet she wasn't done. When the girl got over to her, she let loose. The woman berated her for her laziness, her lack of customer attention, and even commented on her attire. Then I saw it happen. The blood began to rise in the clerk's neck and an explosion erupted that would put a sailor to shame.

Of course, that put everybody's attention back on the customer. How would she respond? Remember, she had two items and the second one hadn't been scanned. Her problem hadn't been solved, but neither she nor the clerk cared about that at this point.

This was personal! (I might note that the other three self-check lanes were clear but I wasn't moving to them for anything. I wanted to know where this was going.) The customer stood her ground, threw the two items down on the floor, swore at the girl and walked out of the store. The clerk turned on her heels and walked away. The crowd dispersed and returned to their normal activity. I knelt down and picked up the items. One was a birthday card with a nice sentiment about living it up on your birthday. The other was a book. It was about how we can be Jesus to a hurting world. I'm not kidding!

Roots of Anger

As this situation illustrates, our anger can be cruelly misdirected and brutally overdone. Author Gary Smalley once said that anger comes from frustration, and frustration comes from either unfulfilled or unexpressed expectations.

What boggles my mind is that we so easily get entangled in the sin that comes from anger. If we could just to stop and think about where anger comes from we might be less likely to explode at the next trivial irritation that comes along. Venting might be the world's way of dealing with anger in a "healthy" way, but too often there are casualties in that kind of skirmish.

Think about that the next time you vent your opinion or let loose on an unsuspecting store clerk. Your blogs might not be as fun to read, but they might be a whole lot more civil!


Time Management Skills for Children

How our kids learn to spend their time now influences how they may spend their time as adults.

by Vicki Caruana

Manage Your Time

There is one equalizer in this life: We are all given the same 24 hours each and every day.

As parents we are painfully aware of how quickly time passes. How our kids learn to spend their time now influences how they spend their time in school and, later, how they may spend their time as adults.

The word manager comes from the Latin manus, which means “by hand.” You do it yourself. Time doesn’t rule you; you rule time! Consider the areas in which you can improve as a time manager.

Assess Yourself

What children believe to be true about themselves is largely determined by what others think of them. As parents, we are the first “others” to shape their thinking. If we say they are capable, they believe they are capable. If we say they are “stupid,” they believe they are stupid.

It isn’t until children reach the logic stage of their development (somewhere around the fifth grade) that they are finally able to identify their own feelings. We can build on that ability by asking them to put words to what they are feeling. Are they frustrated? Are they angry? Are they confused? Once a child can accurately identify his feelings, he is ready to move on to becoming a self-assessor.

Take the time to engage in your own self-reflection. Use the rating scale to determine where you are as a self-assessor.

0 1 2 3 4 5neverfrequently

Activity

Create a Portfolio of Learning

One of the most best ways for schoolchildren to become confident self-assessors is to evaluate their own schoolwork. This activity ideally involves the entire family, but the child receives the primary benefit.

You will need:

Divide the binder by subject area. If you choose a binder with a front-cover sleeve, have your child design a cover and slip it in.

Every Friday go through any schoolwork your child brought home for the week and place it in the appropriate subject areas. As you sort through the papers, talk about some of the assignments and what your child learned from it. Also ask your child how he or she can improve in a particular area.

Choose a time to have your child present the portfolio to the entire family. It can be done as often as once a quarter or just at the end of the school year.

When your child shares his portfolio with the family, ensure that it is a safe environment. Give him your full attention. Do not let siblings tease him; it will be their turn soon enough! Maybe prepare a special dessert or go out to a favorite restaurant afterward. If you are doing this with more than one child, let each child have his own night.

Done regularly, creating and sharing a portfolio of learning has several results:

Keep your children’s portfolios from year to year. They are fun to look back on as your kids get older. You will have a record of their schooling, and your child will have a record of his learning.

This article is excerpted from Vicki's book Giving Your Child the Excellence Edge, available in the Resource Center.


Truth in a Broken World

Suffering, redemption and another perspective on sin.

by Holly Dawn Hunter

The first week of October holds special meaning for me. Like most folks who’ve achieved recovery from an addiction, I mark my “sobriety date” — the date I achieved abstinence from my addiction — with gratitude and remembrance.

On Oct. 5, 2003, I thanked God for allowing me to reach three years without cutting myself. Achieving abstinence from that destructive behavior was immeasurably difficult. It took every ounce of courage, grit, and determination God gave me, and a lot of help, including the professional kind, but I’ve found true healing and recovery. In the journey from the psych ward of the local hospital to three years of abstinence, I learned a tremendous set of lessons about brokenness, humility, spiritual poverty, and the love of God.

I started cutting myself during the summer I turned 13. I was struggling with self-hatred, and cutting provided a way of making my outsides match my insides — ugly, wounded and scarred. Its precision hooked me: I could suddenly control how I felt. I was clinically depressed and filled with emotions too powerful to understand or process by myself. I didn’t cut as deeply as I tried to, but I learned something — the infliction of pain provided relief. The pain in my body was a focal point, something to think about that gave me distance from the emotional anguish of hating myself and, somehow, relieved it at the same time.

If that sounds like childish immaturity combined with almost pathological self-centeredness … well, it is.

My self-injury continued throughout high school and into my time at college, which I began at age 17. Shortly after I turned 18, I got my own place and spent the next 18 months medicating my depression with alcohol, drugs, and cutting. My drinking quickly progressed into alcoholism, but my cutting was worse. Almost anything was enough to trigger an episode — any instance of rejection, any failure or setback, any instance in which I didn’t meet my own impossibly high standards of performance — any excuse to hate myself a little more.

Words cannot express how deeply I was hurting.

Though I wouldn’t call them enemies, there are people in my life with whom I’d rather not interact, given the choice. I cannot fathom cutting any of them, no matter the provocation, even if the legality of such an act wasn’t an issue. I simply respect and care for other people too much to imagine harming them that way — even the few who annoy and anger me with some regularity. Yet, for years, it was a driving urge from deep within me to do such things to myself. My self-loathing was that deep.

In April of 1998, I got drunk and recklessly cut myself with a knife. That was a first for me — my previous cutting episodes had involved X-acto knives when I lived with my parents, and straight razors once I got out on my own. The move from small, precise cutting tools that allowed me a lot of control to a large kitchen knife represented the greased slide into utter chaos my life was traveling. I was becoming more self-destructive by the day, and no longer really cared if I lived or died. That episode landed me in the psych unit, as the counselor I was seeing at the time rightly feared that I might end my life.

Of course, such levels of despair and self-obsession separated me from God. I did not become a Christian until I was 21, despite the fact that I grew up in a Christian school and church. My late grandmother was a devout Christian who prayed for and with me on a regular basis, and my mother, as well as my teachers and pastors (of course) were Christians. Through my own character flaws, or deficiencies in my upbringing (most likely, a combination of both), the only aspects of Christianity that got through to me were the do’s and don’ts, the rules and the God-is-gonna-get-yas.

Shortly before my meltdown in the spring of 1998, God brought a Christian mentor into my life who became a father to me. He never preached; he just loved me unconditionally and spent time helping me work through my problems. He gave me my first taste of a father’s love and acceptance, and that made me hungry to know my Heavenly Father.

I knew I was broken. I knew that on my own, I was helpless to stop hating myself. I knew that my very best efforts had led only to shame heaped on top of shame. I was a slave to a painful past, and only one thing was clear: Left to my own devices, I would destroy myself.

Like everyone else in this broken world, I needed a Savior.

My biggest breakthrough came after reading the works of Brennan Manning, a former priest now turned evangelist. Manning’s books, especially his most well-known, The Ragamuffin Gospel, showed me a different God from the one I was raised to believe in. Rather than a fearsome Master whom I dared not approach in my weakness, who was listening in on every thought and making a list of every transgression, I learned from his books that God wanted to be my Abba, my Daddy, my confidante, my very best friend.

Some Christians, including Jessica Inman feel that leaders like Brennan Manning, with their emphasis on human frailty and weakness, implicitly condone sin.

This has not been my experience.

Sometimes I question whether we, as Christians, really believe what we say. We call ourselves God’s children. We refer to Him as our Father. We say we believe the Bible, which states that He is perfect, utterly and inexplicably good beyond measure.

If we really believe that such a Father loves us and claims us as His own, how can that become a license to sin? I know that my best efforts will never approach the holiness of God — my righteousness will always be, compared to His, nothing but filthy rags. Rather than saying “I’m only human,” and giving up on overcoming my problems, my knowledge of His love and perfection and my own spiritual poverty just makes me love Him more. His acceptance of me despite my brokenness makes me long to please Him, to make Him proud of me and to be like Him.

I wonder if those who focus on rules over relationship really understand their childhood in God’s kingdom. Jesus called His Father “Abba,” the Hebrew equivalent of baby talk. As a Father delights in His babies, God delights in us.

This is the message I didn’t get until, one on one, I was shown the love of God. This is the Truth that a hurting, broken world is crying out for, and it’s a message that many of them are, quite literally, dying to hear.

It’s up to us to show them.


Valentine's Day: Separating Money From Meaning

Whether you love or hate Valentine's Day, it is indeed a marketer's dream. Read about the origins of Valentine's Day, how it's evolved, and how not to let commercialism spoil it.

byLynn Waalkes

Somewhere, tucked between New Year's and Easter on the calendar, is a holiday like no other. It's the one time of year, besides Christmas, that sets retailers' hearts aflutter, propelling confectioners, florists and greeting card manufacturers into sentimental overdrive. In late January, the pathetic remains of  Christmas clearance items are swept from retail shelves and replaced with foil-wrapped chocolate roses, candy hearts, teddy bears and other heart-themed  fripperies.

For diehard romantics, Valentine's Day is an opportunity to say "I love you" with extravagant  bouquets and five-pound, heart-shaped boxes of ooey-gooey chocolates. Those who have a  significant other celebrate the day in giddy earnest. Those who don't try to ignore it altogether. Along with New Year's Eve  (another "couples" holiday), no other day on the calendar triggers such a love/hate  emotional response.

Valentine's Day is big business, generating  more than $1 billion a year in candy sales. It's florists' number one sales event of the year — a  whopping 103 million roses  are sold on Valentine's Day. It's no wonder why retailers love February 14.

In the Beginning

Legend has it the holiday was named for an  early-church saint martyred for secretly wedding young people against the wishes of Roman Emperor Claudius. Others believe Valentine was a saint imprisoned for his faith and so beloved by local children that they wrote him loving notes and tossed them into his cell.

Whatever the day's history, it's long been a favorite among romantics of all ages. Cards embellished with puns or snippets of poetry ("Be Mine, Valentine"), are popular year in and year out. Dating back to the 1700s, valentines have run the gamut from lace-trimmed,  hand-painted creations to mass-produced boxed cards geared to children (remember the tiny cards we passed out by the dozens in grade school?).

Men as Shoppers

Although some tightwad Romeos may resort to free e-mail Valentines, many give both a card and a gift on Valentine's Day. Men as a rule tend to be the big spenders on this holiday. Though they often get a bad  rap for being the less romantic of the sexes, men actually outspend women four to one in the "mushiness" department.

And if all the world loves a lover, it's also true that all kinds of businesses love a day that encourages couples to express their ardor by spending money. While most romantics stick to traditional gifts of chocolate or roses, more creative amours might have a star named after their significant other or adopt an endangered animal in their sweetheart's name (for a reasonable fee, of course).

Love and Cheese

Though every retailer would certainly like to have a share of the Valentine's sales juggernaut, for some, it's just not meant to be. Recently the National Beer Wholesalers Association ran a survey, hoping to find that men preferred suds over their sweeties on Valentine's Day. Unfortunately, beer placed a distant second to chocolate.

Also, the American Dairy Association  hoped to romance consumers with a competition to find "America's Greatest Cheese Lover." Entrants needed to describe in 50 words or less how cheese added romance to their lives. The contest was part of a marketing strategy to get consumers to associate cheese with Valentine's Day.Yet one has to wonder if cheese will fare any better than beer. After all, everyone knows that chocolate reigns supreme on Valentine's Day.

Chocolate is King

But even chocolate manufacturers aren't sitting on their foil-wrapped centers. While continuing to push decadent delights like chocolate raspberry truffles, they're also actively promoting the health benefits of the humble cocoa bean. Chocolate, it turns out, is rich in antioxidants that promote heart health. Of course, chocolate also tends to be high in fat and sugar, which can lead to heart disease. The secret, say nutritionists, is to eat chocolate in moderation. (Now, if they would just define what they mean by "moderation.")

Although Valentine's Day is typically geared to lovers and children, 40 percent of consumers purchase gifts to celebrate the platonic relationships in their lives. Whether it's saying "I love you" or "I like you," Valentine's Day offers a fun and festive opportunity to express our appreciation for all the special people in our lives. It's a just-right excuse to go to dinner, rent a romantic movie or spend time with children or grandchildren creating hand-made valentines.

Indeed, few things communicate love more effectively than a red construction-paper heart covered in glitter and globs of Elmer's glue, with the words "I love you" etched in crayon. Such unpolished, yet truly heartfelt, labors of love remain the gold standard by which all other valentines are measured.

Lynn Waalkes is an editor for CBA MarketPlace Magazine. She resides with her daughter in Colorado Springs, Colo.


Want to Get Away Without Going Away?

Want to save money and yet have a fun, memorable vacation. A 'staycation' may just be the anwer.

byKaren O'Connor

You've heard the expression, "there's no place like home." Dorothy said it after returning from Oz and many American seniors are saying it after coming home from trips abroad that leave them weary and cashed out. This year airfare is up. The cost of fuel is off the charts. The price of a restaurant meal has increased. So what's today's senior traveler to do? Toss the expense on a credit card and deal with it later? Or give up vacation plans and settle for TV?

I suggest a third option. A 'staycation,' a phrase I first saw in an article by Melanie Wells of The Wall Street Journal, referring to a stay-at-home vacation she and her family enjoyed one summer when they were in the midst of moving from one residence to another. They had fun together without packing a suitcase, standing in line at the airport, and changing time zones.

I've had an experience of this type of vacation, as well. When my children were young and we were strapped for cash, my husband and I decided one summer to be creative. We looked at what it would cost to house, feed, and entertain our family of five for a week away from home. It would take a bundle! And that didn't include boarding the dog and paying someone to water our plants. We realized that if we slept in our own beds, ate breakfast at home, and brought a picnic lunch to eat on the road, we could still have a great time on a slim budget. As I look back now it was one of the most enjoyable vacations we had.

We lived in Southern California at the time, so we focused our attention on the attractions that were within a two-hour round trip from our home. One day we toured the historic Queen Mary. Another day we went to the LaBrea Tar Pits. One day we spent swimming at a local club and played tennis. Another day we went to a park, took a long walk, fed the ducks in the pond, and enjoyed a picnic with all of our favorite foods. The last day we went to Disneyland. By the end of the week everyone was onboard to do something similar the following year.

Now that I'm a senior and a grandmother, I'm inclined to do the same thing with my husband, and daughter and son-in-law and their family who live close by. There is so much to do right here on the Central Coast of California where we now live. The Monterey Aquarium is less than 30 minutes away by car. San Francisco is about 90 minutes north of us. We could spend an entire day or two there visiting Ghiardelli Square, the zoo, Fisherman's Wharf and Golden Gate Park. Part of the fun is planning.

Consider things you wouldn't generally take the time to do when you're involved in your busy routine. Douglas Trattner in an article on home-based vacations for Fine Living, suggests buying a guidebook for your city and then following a one- or two-day itinerary. You will likely find places and activities you didn't know existed. Your local convention and visitor's bureau or Automobile Association can also be of help. For example: • Take a bus tour of your city. Maybe you live in New York City and have never seen The Statue of Liberty. One of our senior friends had lived in NY his entire life but he never saw Lady Liberty up close till he was an adult and took time to visit the sights in his own city.

Is there a museum, historic house, English garden, or performing arts center in your city that you've never explored. On a 'staycation' you'll have time to visit one or all of them.

If you're looking for a way to have fun both at home and away, consider the benefits of a 'staycation.' Lisa Oppenheimer, a Boston-based travel writer, sums it up this way, "With a little creativity and planning we can duplicate that feeling of relaxation without ever leaving our hometown." I agree.

Side-bar The benefits of a staycation: Your own bed and pillow every night Your own food—the way you like it Low travel costs if you stay at home or in your own community Happy pets—(no kennel fees) Minimal stress—no flight delays or cancellations. No time-zone change. No phone message to change No mail and newspaper delivery to cancel New opportunities to explore what's all around you More fun—as you like it Karen O'Connor is a free-lance writer (and grandmother) from Watsonville, California. O'Connor/Stay-at-home Vacations


What to Consider When Considering a Cruise

Cruising has become my travel mode of choice��not just because I'm older now��but because it offers the very things I'm looking for in a vacation.

byKaren O'Connor

"Cruising? I'd never go on a cruise," I said twenty-some years ago––with more than a touch of arrogance. "That's for old people. I want adventure, fun, excitement!"

Here I am twenty-some years later and cruising has become my travel mode of choice––not just because I'm older now––but because it offers the very things I'm looking for in a vacation––adventure, fun and excitement––and so much more.

Freedom From Everyday Cares

My husband and I went on our first cruise three years ago to Alaska. The following year we chose a cruise to the North Atlantic and last year we cruised the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Antwerp, Belgium. I enjoyed every one of these excursions. In fact, I remember running up the gangway to each ship, with arms outstretched, shouting, "I'm free!" I couldn't wait to nestle inside the protective armor of this massive hotel-on-water, away from daily chores and cares. I looked forward to the pleasure of being at sea, where I'd be served exquisite meals, participate in shore excursions to interesting destinations, learn about the history of various ports, meet fascinating people and relax with my husband.

Today, cruise lines are eager for business and are offering some excellent fares. Decide when and where you want to go, then take your time looking at brochures and online descriptions. If you're new to this mode of travel, talk to your 'cruising' friends, as we did and find out what to expect and what to prepare for and consult a knowledgeable travel agent. To save money choose an inside cabin. You won't spend much time there anyway. Keep your choices as simple as possible so you'll be free to enjoy all that a cruise has to offer.

Tips for Cruisers

Following are some tips based on our experience and those of other travelers. Fill out ahead of time online or with pencil the Guest Information Forms rather than waiting till departure at the port. By then you'll be ready and eager to go onboard as quickly as possible. Book shore excursions online from home or on the first day on the ship. We booked ahead to assure our places on the tour bus and to get the payment behind us. By doing so, we also avoided standing in line at the customer service desk.

Bring a small carry-on bag with you for the first day. Include necessary documents (passport, ship I.D. card, etc.) prescription medications, toothbrush and cosmetics, change of clothes, even a bathing suit. You can then start having fun right away—instead of waiting until your cabin is ready. Head for the restaurant or buffet line as soon as you arrive. Enjoy a light lunch while waiting for the cruise director to make announcements.

Use your Cruise Card, Sea Pass or other identification card to charge all purchases onboard. Gratuities are often included in your 'package price,' as well, so you never have to deal with tips while cruising. Explore the ship. My husband and I enjoyed the library, complete with comfortable chairs, Internet access available for a small fee, cards, board games, books, magazines, DVDs, CDs and a variety of American and international newspapers. It's also a great place to put your feet up and simply stare at the sky and sea. While checking out the amenities, locate the exit doors and follow all drills and directions pertaining to safety during an emergency. Such information will give you confidence and peace of mind.

Keep in Shape

Keep in shape with a daily walk (no running allowed) around the deck. On one ship, three laps equaled a mile so I did twelve laps in order to reach my four-mile quota each day. Ocean liners generally have a full weight room, as well. You can pedal on a stationery bike or run on a treadmill while looking at the beautiful scenery. And if you like to swim, on most ocean-liners you have a choice between an indoor and outdoor pool.

Manage your food intake. For years I believed I'd be wasting my money on a cruise because of all the tales I heard about the extravagant meals, midnight buffets, decadent dessert display. How could I possibly eat so much? And if I couldn't eat all that was available, why pay for it? That was a silly thought. I realized on the first cruise that I could pick and choose as I wished. Food was never a problem. We ate appropriately at each meal and skipped snacks. As for the midnight buffet—we were tuckered out and tucked in bed––well before then. There was so much more to our experience than good food.

Enjoy new people. One of the highlights of a cruise is meeting so many delightful people from all over the world. We visited with them during afternoon tea, on the tour buses, around the dinner table, and in line for the buffet breakfast. One couple became so dear to us we continued our friendship and met again on another cruise the following year.

Pack for Comfort

Pack for comfort. Choose basic skirts or slacks that you can dress up or down for the casual night, the formal night, the Captain's dinner. Gentlemen usually need a coat and tie. A dark suit can replace a tux. Bring good walking shoes for shore excursions, and be sure to pack an umbrella, poncho or rain jacket, and loose clothing for afternoons onboard when you want to kick back. Avoid clothing that requires ironing. Some ships do not allow irons in order to avoid a fires. And anyway who wants to iron on vacation?

Focus on the experience rather than over-priced souvenirs. We saw many things we thought we wanted. But as soon as we walked away and talked it over we forgot about it. When we checked out at the end of one cruise we owed a balance of two Euros for two stamps! People in front and behind were charging several hundred more Euros to their credit cards. We were happy to have stayed within our budget while still having a fabulous trip.

Relax! So few people today take time to rest. Once we were on our way, my husband and I learned just how tired we were. There was nowhere to drive, no meetings to attend, no e-mails to answer, no duties to attend to. We were free to crash in our beds or in a comfy lounge chair and snooze—or just stare into space. We both returned home fully rested and refreshed.

So if you're looking for a vacation that offers adventure, fun, and excitement—with plenty of rest stops, good fellowship and plenty of delicious food and interesting places to visit, consider cruising.


What's a Parent to Do? Part1

The realization that a son or daughter is gay can bring very deep emotional reactions from parents.

by Melissa Fryrear, Michele Fergueson

"Mom, Dad...I'm gay." How should a parent respond?

Hearing these words is often devastating to parents. The realization that a son or daughter is gay can bring very deep emotional reactions from parents: anger, fear, guilt, confusion, shame, hurt and sadness, to name only a few. Many questions immediately arise in a parent’s mind: What did I do wrong? Didn’t I love my child enough? How could my child have lied to me for so long? Doesn’t he or she know this is wrong? How am I going to deal with this? What are people going to think?

When Christian parents learn of their child’s homosexuality, it is very tempting to react more strongly to this situation than to other difficult circumstances such as a heterosexual son or daughter engaging in premarital sex. Much of this particularly aversive response comes from the stigma associated with homosexuality, especially within the Christian church. When the issue is homosexuality, parents feel more desperate.

It is important for parents to understand that it is probably just as difficult for their child to tell them about his or her struggle with homosexuality as it is for them to hear it. It is probably an issue the child has been struggling with for quite some time, even years, especially if the son or daughter is an adult.

Healthy boundaries

Parents naturally want to protect their children and feel a great deal of responsibility for their lives. It is crucial, though, that parents deal with their own boundaries when facing a child’s homosexuality. In their book Boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe boundaries as “that which defines what is me versus what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.”

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries (Rapid City, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p. 29.
In order for parents to deal with their child in a loving and supportive way, rather than in a manipulative or controlling fashion, parents must determine what is “theirs.”

They cannot control the life of his or her adult child—the child’s life is not the parents’. If an adult child declares that he or she is living a homosexual lifestyle, the parent cannot force him or her out of that decision. A parent is not responsible for his or her child’s decisions and actions. Many parents may try to convince a child to change things about him or herself through guilt-tripping, threatening or withdrawal; however, those are not healthy ways to relate. "Nowhere [in the Bible] are we commanded to have 'other-control,' although we spend a lot of time and energy trying to get it!"

Cloud and Townsend, p. 30.
A parent must let go of their desire to have power over a child’s life and start focusing on what is within their influence.


What's the Debate About?

Most of the issues brought up in the abortion debate are mere smoke screens Find out what the real issue is.

by Francis J. Beckwith

Abortion is an issue over which Americans are deeply divided, and there is little chance that this discord will be remedied anytime soon. Each side of this cultural divide consists of citizens sincere in their convictions. But the passions that fuel these convictions about abortion often distract us from understanding the issues that really divide us.

Now it may seem odd to say "the issues that really divide us," since it seems obvious to most people that what divides us is in fact only one issue, abortion. But that is misleading. After all, if abortion did not result in the death of an unborn human being, the controversy would either cease entirely or diminish significantly. So, what we disagree over is not really abortion. But rather, our disagreement is over the nature of the being whose life abortion terminates, the unborn.

But there is another issue that percolates beneath the abortion debate: What does it mean to say that something is wrong? Suppose, for example, you are arguing with a friend over the question of whether abortion should remain legal, and your friend says to you, "If you don't like abortion, then don't have one." Although this is a common response, it really is a strange one. After all, you probably oppose abortion because you think it is wrong, not because you dislike it.

This can be better understood if we change the issue. Imagine that your friend is a defender of spousal abuse and says to you, "If you don't like spousal abuse, then don't beat your spouse." Upon hearing those words, you would instantly conclude that your friend has no idea why you oppose spousal abuse. Your opposition is not based on what you like or dislike. It is based on what you have good reason to believe is true: one ought not to abuse a fellow human being, especially one's spouse. That moral truth has nothing to do with whether or not you like or dislike spousal abuse.

In the same way, pro-lifers oppose abortion because they have reasons to believe that the unborn are full-fledged members of the human community, no different in nature than you or me. And for that reason, the unborn has a right to life that ought to be enshrined in our laws. Thus, in order to defeat the pro-lifer's point of view, the abortion advocate must show that the unborn is not a full-fledged member of the human community. At the end of the day, the abortion debate is not about likes or dislikes. It is about who and what we are, and whether the unborn is one of us.

Is the Unborn One of Us?

There is no doubt that the unborn is a human being from conception, the result of the dynamic interaction, and organic merger, of the female ovum (which contains 23 chromosomes) and the male sperm (which contains 23 chromosomes). At conception, a whole human being, with its own genome, comes into existence, needing only food, water, shelter, oxygen, and a congenial environment in which to interact. These are necessary in order to grow and develop itself to maturity in accordance with its own nature.

Like the infant, the child, and the adolescent, the unborn is a being that is in the process of unfolding its potential — the potential to grow and develop itself but not to change what it is. This unborn being, because of its nature, is actively disposed to develop into a mature version of itself, though never ceasing to be the same being. Thus, the same human being that begins as a one-cell zygote continues to exist to its birth and through its adulthood unless disease or violence stops it from doing so. This is why it makes perfect sense for any one of us to say, "When I was conceived ..."

This unborn being, because of its nature, is actively disposed to develop into a mature version of itself, though never ceasing to be the same being.Abortion advocates typically do not dispute that the unborn is a human being during all or most of its time in the womb. For example, philosopher David Boonin, in his book A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press, 2002), writes:

On the desk in my office where most of this book was written and revised, there are several pictures of my son, Eli. In one, he is gleefully dancing on the sand along the Gulf of Mexico, the cool ocean breeze wreaking havoc with his wispy hair. … In the top drawer of my desk, I keep another picture of Eli. The picture was taken September 7, 1993, 24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clearly enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point. (xiii, xiv)

Why does Professor Boonin hold this view? Like some other philosophers, Boonin maintains that the unborn, though a human being, lacks characteristics that are necessary for it to have a right to life. These characteristics typically include having a self-concept, a particular level of higher brain activity, and/or a desire for a right to life. But there are problems with this approach.

Consider first this example. Imagine that your father was involved in a car accident that put him in a temporarily comatose state. His physician tells you he will awake from the coma in nine months. His conscious experiences, memories, particular skills and abilities will be lost forever and he will have no mental record of them. This means that he will have to relearn all of his abilities and knowledge as he did before he had any conscious experiences. But they would not be the same experiences and desires he had before. That is, he is in precisely the same position as the standard unborn child, with all the basic capacities he had at the beginning of his existence. Thus, if your father has a right to life while in the coma, then so does the standard unborn child.

Another problem with the Boonin-type view is that it provides no real moral reason to oppose seemingly immoral experiments on the unborn. Imagine that there is a scientist who is able to alter the unborn's brain development in such a way that the higher brain and its functions are prevented from arising. And thus, when the child is born, it never develops a self-concept or a desire for a right to life. In fact, its organs are harvested and donated to needy patients.

Conclusion: It's All About Who and What We Are

In the July 9, 2000 edition of the Los Angeles Times (Orange County edition), abortion advocate Eileen Padberg claimed that an implication of the pro-life position is that the unborn child "has more rights than" our "wives, sisters, and daughters."

Ironically, by excluding the unborn from the human community, Ms. Padberg diminishes, and puts in peril, the very rights she jealously, and correctly, guards. For she is saying that the government may exclude small, vulnerable, defenseless, and dependent unborn human beings from its protection for no other reason than because others consider the unborn's destruction vital to their well-being.

But Ms. Padberg would surely, and correctly, protest a government policy that allows for the exploitation and destruction of wives, sisters, and daughters by powerful people who believe they will live better lives by engaging in such atrocities against these women. So, if the unborn is one of us, then whatever is true of our worth and dignity is true of theirs as well.


When Divorce Steals Your Grandchildren

When couples divorce, hard feelings can extend to grandparents — often cutting them off from their grandkids.

byHelen Kooiman Hosier

Heartaches occur when divorce steals grandchildren and the custodial parent refuses to allow the grandparents to see their grandchildren. Nowadays it isn't rare for grandparents to sue for such visitation rights when an ex-daughter-in-law or ex-son-in-law with children no longer keeps in touch or deliberately bans visitation. But litigation is costly and takes time, and even if a court grants grandparents visitation rights, the underlying problems that gave rise to the breakdown in family relations may continue, and a longed-for relationship with one's grandchildren may be strained.

Seek Wise Counsel

It is wise to seek an attorney if you have problems or questions about grandparents' rights. But as Marianne Walters, director of the Family Therapy Practice Center in Washington, D.C., said, "Once you have to go to court to assert your rights as a grandparent, you've already lost something precious." Nevertheless, if it becomes necessary for you to seek legal counsel, your local library's reference department should be able to provide information on family law and procedures. You are well advised to ask yourself some questions: Why are we doing this? Is it because we have the best interests of the children at heart? What does the Lord expect and want us to do in this situation?

A debate arose in the year 2000 when a case involving two families in Washington state reached the U.S. Supreme Court. It drew national attention for its emotional consequences. The grandparents sought more visits with their granddaughters after the suicide of their son, the children's father.

One of the problems related to the fact that their son and the children's mother were never married. Since the death of their son, the mother of the children married. The grandparents were satisfied with a court-approved arrangement of 26 hours a month, one week in the summer, and special visits on the birthdays of the grandparents. But the mother and her new husband appealed the decision, saying it was excessive and disrupted their family life. The Supreme Court then ruled against the grandparents. In siding with the mother, the court declared that in ordinary circumstances no state law can interfere with the "fundamental right" of parents to make child-rearing decisions. At the same time, the court made clear that in extraordinary circumstances courts may still intervene when grandparents seek visitation rights. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in the majority opinion, made it clear that it was not their intent to invalidate all visitation laws, which exist in some form in all 50 states, allowing grandparents to petition to see their grandchildren.

Giving Grandparents a Voice

You can see the emotional entanglement. AARP filed an amicus brief supporting the grandparents and praising the court for leaving the door open to less broad visitation laws. "The case was never about taking away parental control," said Cheryl Matheis, AARP director of state legislation. "It was about giving grandparents a voice in court if there are family troubles and they have exhausted all other ways to stay in touch with their grandchildren."

One family law expert at Duke University weighed in and said, "I love grandparents. They should be involved with their grandchildren's lives. But if the parents object, someone has to decide what's best for the children. And much of society has decided it should be the parents."

Since the high court ruling, some state courts have cited that opinion in deciding challenges to visitation orders, and some experts see the ruling as a setback for grandparent visiting rights, though not necessarily a huge one. Jeff Atkinson, a DePaul University law professor, says that grandparents might have to show an exceptionally close relationship with their grandchildren. An article in the AARP Bulletin speaks of similar cases and points to laws in all 50 states, with no two states being alike. Meanwhile, the emotional wounds of the legal battles remain open for some; for others, the wounds are beginning to heal.

There are grandparents' movements and support groups throughout the country. If you want to find one, search the Internet. More and more grandparents, angry at being cut off from their grandchildren, whatever the family circumstances, are fighting back and petitioning the courts for visitation rights. With so many homes now fractured by divorce, and with estranged husbands or wives keeping their children away from grandparents as a way of punishing the spouse, some children may never get to know their grandparents — another tragedy from the pandemic divorce rate in this country.

Children born out of wedlock who are abandoned by one parent may never get to know both sets of grandparents. The trend toward unmarried women having children — a fashionable thing to do in today's society — has resulted in hundreds of thousands of children growing up without benefit of the grandparent relationship.

Human Help is Not Enough

Evelyn Christenson speaks about human efforts . . . as being, in the final analysis, not enough. This is not to say there isn't a time and place for such efforts by grandparents. But as she pointed out, "Secular intellectual human help is not sufficient by itself Only God has the power to reach down and complete the final healing step that mends the broken family members." Why is this true? "Because from the everyday hassles to those devastating family catastrophes, prayer enlists the help of the omnipotent, omnipresent God of the universe who is willing and eager to release His divine power into the lives of our family members. Only God, not humans, can do that!"

As I was writing this, a letter came from a couple in California relating the heartbreak of the death of their daughter leaving behind two children. A week after their daughter's memorial service, they were informed that visitation rights with the children would be allowed only with the children's father present. The scenario was not totally unexpected — their daughter had married a man from a cult. "Our daughter fought for her life for five-and-a-half years [before succumbing to cancer], during which time we helped care for her and the children. After she passed away, we tried to maintain normal contact with our grandchildren, but it became increasingly more difficult, so we decided to follow Matthew 18:15-17." All efforts at reconciliation failed, although these grandparents were persistent and did all the right things.

There were attorney and psychologists' fees, court costs, and mandated expenses by the court. In the end, they had to give up the fight. "We have moved on because we have our lives to live . . . Our grandchildren live only 15 minutes away, but we haven't seen them in a long time. What we can do and will continue to do is to pray for each of our grandchildren. We have turned them over to the Lord."

Helen Kooiman Hosier is a grandmother, speaker and author of over 50 inspirational books. She lives in Flower Mound, Texas. Excerpt taken from Living the Lois Legacy: Passing a Lasting Faith to Your Grandchildren.


Your Daughter's Experience

from Focus on the Family

Before considering how you might respond to the news that your unmarried teenager is pregnant, take a brief tour of the emotions and thought processes that are likely to be swirling through her mind and heart.

Fear is an overriding emotion in nearly every teen pregnancy. "I can't tell my parents. They'll kill me!" "How can I finish school when I'm pregnant?" "My boyfriend will take off if I don't have an abortion." The adolescent with a crisis pregnancy probably sees nothing but loss on the horizon—loss of love, time, education and physical health. Fear of one or more of these losses propels most of her other responses. Remember that the average age difference between the father of the baby and the teenage mother is 6.4 years.

Denial is common, especially during the early weeks of pregnancy when the only indication might be one or more missed periods, a little fatigue, possibly some nausea or even a positive pregnancy test. The longing for things to be "the way they were" may delay acknowledging the problem and seeking appropriate help for weeks or even months.

Ambivalence about being pregnant may cause fluctuating emotions. One day the only solution may appear to be an abortion, while the next the prospect of a cuddly baby may seem appealing. Time spent with a friend's crying newborn may jolt the emotions in yet another direction. Indecision and apparent lack of direction in such an overwhelming situation are common.

Guilt. When a pregnancy results from the violation of moral values held since childhood, an adolescent will usually feel ashamed and worthless. Her growing abdomen becomes a constant reminder of her failure. This is a time when you can come alongside your child and cement a lasting relationship with her.

Pressure to have an abortion. This may come from several directions. A teenager may be weighing what appears to be a dismal future of hardship and remorse against a quick and relatively inexpensive procedure. "No one needs to know, and I can get on with my life." A boyfriend (who may be dealing with his own fear and guilt, along with concerns about future financial responsibilities) may exert considerable pressure to abort, even offering to pay the bill. He may also threaten to bail out of the relationship if the pregnancy continues. Some parents, worried about their daughter's future or perhaps their own reputation in the community (or even the prospect of being responsible for the actual child-rearing), may also find abortion attractive.

The "cuddly doll" mentality. Some unmarried teenage girls see their pregnancy unrealistically as an escape from a difficult and unpleasant home situation. They may envision a baby as a snuggly companion who will require roughly the same amount of care as a new puppy, not realizing the amount of energy a newborn will take from her without giving much in return (especially during the first few weeks). Teens with this mindset need to adjust their expectations of child-rearing—not to drive them to abort, but to help them make more appropriate plans. If adoption is not chosen as a solution, some careful groundwork should be laid to prevent serious disappointment and even the mother's abuse of the baby.


Zoomer Boomers Explode the Retiree Stereotype

As life expectancy increases and health conscious midlifers stay active into their 60s and 70s, retirement is taking on a whole new look.

byRoberta Rand Caponey

Mention the word "retirement," and the typical image that comes to mind is that of elderly adults spending their golden years in mega-communities far from family, where the most anticipated activity is afternoon Bingo and tuning in en masse to "Wheel of Fortune."

Not for us, say the first wave of retiring baby boomers. In fact, they don't even like the word "retirement." As life expectancy increases and health conscious mid-lifers stay active into their 60s and 70s, retirement is taking on a whole new look.

There's No Place Like Home

One big surprise: Nearness to family and friends is now a primary consideration, right up there with warm, sunny climates.

According to a recent story in USA Today, while many boomers will choose to move to warmer climes when they retire, a growing number say they don't want live in huge retirement villages in distant states — they'd rather stay close to home. This new breed of retiree says year-round summers are not nearly as important as proximity to family, friends and doctors. And since a third of boomers say they'll keep working after they officially retire, they want to stay close to professional contacts.

The Good Life

Besides the good news that they're choosing to stay closer to family, boomers have some very specific demands of retirement. They want to live around people their age in new developments that combine suburban comforts with amenities like spas, gardens and plenty of recreational opportunities. Builders and buyers call them "active adult communities," not retirement centers.

Unlike sprawling retirement communities of the past, today's older-adult communities are more intimate — with fewer than 1,000 homes. They are also more likely to have workout areas, spa facilities and golf courses.

New developments with open floor plans and luxury touches like marble countertops and spa-like bathtubs are attracting more than just boomers. Many recent retirees in their late 50s and 60s — the youngest of the generation just preceding boomers — are also flocking to these new communities.

There's a new word to describe the boomers who demand this kind of lifestyle: "zoomers." And developers are spending millions to predict what this generation wants.

Demographers say boomers are tough to pin down because they're individualistic. But with 13 million boomers retiring in the next 10 years, they're foolish if they don't.

Roberta Rand is a former Online Editor for Focus Over Fifty.