Valuing Traditions

Last weekend, I had the privilege of having all  of my children with me in California. They are a blessing and I do want to say, they are mostly happy with each other and get along and are a blessing–your children will grow up and they are listening to you!

Many moms asked, “What did you do to cultivate your children into best friends? How did you help them learn to enjoy each other? I think one way is that I purposed time that we would all spend together, even as they got older. There were some non-negotiable times when everyone had to be home–sometimes it was a Saturday night pizza movie, most times we were always home on Sunday afternoon tea times, or Sunday morning feasts. Of course when they were little all time was family time and that is when you are really securing tight relationships.

I found this older post from 4 years ago. Joy is now almost 16, but I hope you might enjoy this post of yesteryear!
Every May about this time, I find myself wondering how we started so many birthday traditions so that the expectations of each birthday child is so high. I am a little worn out by this time and my mind ponders, “Now why am I doing this? Does it really make a difference?As I have pondered this the past couple of days, I have realized again, that traditions force us to take time to celebrate life.

Pausing, as a family, in the midst of the busyness of life, communicates that we are more important to each other as a family than all the activities that are swirling around in our lives that separate us from each other. In our case, twelve year old Joy doesn’t often have the full attention of her siblings, who are quite a bit older than her. They are always running here and there to a job, to classes or to meet friends. Yet, on this day, everyone takes a break from their other commitments—even Clay stays home the mornings of birthday breakfasts–and says to the birthday child, “You are beloved in this family and we are here to celebrate your life!”

Joy turned 12 today. I have to admit, that in spite of all the work, I think I can see that the traditions have deeply filled my children’s hearts with affirmation, validation, memories, confidence and blessings that they will draw from for years to come. Today was especially bittersweet, as I imagine that by next May’s birthday, probably only Clay, Joy and I will celebrate her birthday as a family! We will have to import new friends as family.

Each birthday morning, the person we are celebrating, has to wait expectantly in their bedroom. They are allowed something to sip–hot chocolate or tea—and then must wait patiently for the other siblings to come to deliver them to our breakfast table. Usually, I have made my whole-wheat cinnamon rolls–the expected favorites–and I make my own special scrambled eggs—with cheese, sour cream, ham or bacon bits. Strong Austrian coffee is dripping through the filter, while one child is setting the table with the ceramic tea set usually used for all birthdays. (The set was bought over several years at a second’s shop in Austria. By now, several of the dishes are chipped or cracked, but, as we cannot buy anymore here in the States, we are happy that the dishes aren’t broken.)

We are all a part of a team seeking to throw things together as quickly as possible, since often, presents are wrapped and cards are written at the last minute. One child throws the gifts into very familiar bags–many of which we have kept for years. As a matter of fact, the kids all discussed which bags were their favorites and warned me never to give them away to anyone else with a present in it, because it is family tradition! (Winnie the Pooh and a pre-Raphealite bag tied for the favorites!) We put every gift, however small, in it’s own bag. Even if something was purchased for a song at Good Will or at the dollar store, it gets fully wrapped. Consequently, each year, it looks as though the birthday child is getting a zillion presents, even though the ultimate value may not be much at all–it is all part of the sparkle and fun of the morning. (Once, a child received a pacakage of ball point pens–each in its own bag!)Life is a flurry as one sets the table, one lights the candle and puts coffee cream out, another is wrapping and putting on music to set the mood and Clay is always looking for the camera and batteries since he is the official photographer.

Finally, at least a couple of kids, go to the birthday child’s room to blind-fold their eyes, so that they have to stumble into the room with no peaking. What a funny sight this year as 6’5″ Joel and 6’3″ Nathan still willingly participated in leading Joy down the steps for her surprise day.

Seems the conversation never varies from year to year—I think your cinnamon rolls are the best, Mom. Yeah, we have never tasted any that even compared. (Of course this is so I will keep making them from year to year and yes, it does encourage me to keep up the work—even the 5th time this month!)

After breakfast is appropriately enjoyed, the birthday child begins opening gifts one at a time–to be marvelled, commented on and appreciated. Then come the cards—each child and parent usually creates a card and message for the birthday child to read and save in a special box.

Humor always adorns every meal we share, whether it is our somewhat retarded golden retriever who almost knocked down the table to get to the leftover eggs, or some extravagant comment. Today did not disappoint us. I was reading a Jane Austen quote outloud from a card Joy received, “It is much easier to kill realities than phantoms!” At which exact moment, the front door mysteriously blew open–and we all looked for the phantoms who must have entered at precisely on time for a great effect! (Maybe you had to be here–but the timing was perfect and made us all giggle!)

Finally, the pinnacle of the morning is when all of us at the table share with the birthday child what they have meant to us and how we appreciate them and how they have grown. I am still astounded that at 23, 20, 18 and 12, my children take this ritual so seriously. I thought when they were young, they would surely giggle and make sarcastic comments and find it difficult to finish the time. Yet, I am truly amazed that they have vested lots of love and thoughtfulness in these times and I can farely observe the heart of the birthday child being watered and refreshed enough to last for months.

Nathan started this year. “I have been amazed at how confidently and professioally you have been performing–through your Youth Performing Arts choir and through the musicals you were in. You have quite a voice and your are so poised and confident. At the last concert, I got my whole row of friends to yell your name at the teen concert. They all said they wish they had a sister like you. I prayed you into the world and I am very proud to have you as my sister!”

Followed by his generous comments, came Joel’s, Sarah’s, Clay’s and mine. “You have really grown in your commitment to the Lord this year and you have such intelligent things to say in our discussions.” “You have really developed in your personality this year. The way you decorate your room is amazing, your writing is very expressive, you’re learning to read music so well on the piano, and you are passing all of us up in your many abilities!” “You have been a real friend to me and you always have such interesting things to say in the car when I pick you up from classes. It is obvious that you are reading and learning a lot. You have also been a lot of fun for me.” And on it goes.

I see before me, these children who have learned to love each other in spite of the personality differences, the various immature and hormonal and argumentative stages of life. I am amazed and grateful. How did this happen—these children who threaten to undo me from time to time with their whining, silly fusses, immaturity and friction. Yet, here they are in their right minds, enjoying each other, laughing at each other’s jokes, discussing issues loudly, and participating in family bonding–willingly, generously. What a gift to me, Lord, to see this picture of watching Joy’s heart fill with emotioal health, before her brothers and sister venture to the far winds-Sarah and Joel to Cambridge, then to Seattle in the fall, Nathan to his classes in another state.

But when everyone goes their way, I see that there will be hundreds of memories shared, loved communicated, prayers offered at our table over the years of celebrations–because we took time to invest in tying our heartstring to each other. These foundations of emotional mental and spiritual health will serve to stabilize and give hope to each of us long after we are separated by miles. Now I see, all the effort and cooking and washing of dishes and wrapping of presents did matter because they provided the frame around which a life of love was painted on the souls of each of my precious children. Ok, move over—I will finish the dishes this morning!

Sisters and Friends make for healthier women! Girlfriends are essential!

 Joy and Sarah enjoying being pals.

When I was a young single missionary living in Poland, I had my precious pal, Gwennie, to live with under harsh conditions. Poland was under the communist rule of Russia during those years. Not much in the way of food to be found–rarely could we find meat. Fruit was scarce except in seasonal times. (Remind me to tell you my banana story sometime!) Life was hard. We were living subversively seeking to lead people to Christ and share Bibles in a country where it was illegal.

However, Gwennie and I, being women created by God to be nurturers,  took care of each other. We spent almost every waking hour together. Walking a couple of miles to school where we struggled through the Polish language. Scouring the market square for some fresh food of some kind. Inviting girls from all over the country to stay with us to learn the Bible, we were partners in everything. 

If one of us was sick, the other took care and made a cup of tea. Every night we would light candles on our little coffee table (didn’t have a dining table), put on music, eat dinner (usually one more kind of eggs as it was one of the only things we could easily get), and have a lovely time of fellowship. After dinner, we would read a chapter of a book out-loud. It was where I first read, Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St. John. What a delight to be with a sister-friend, over candlelight, entering the world of Switzerland, children, and a rousing story, with a cup of coffee and celebrate some moments together.

The single men missionaries, however, did not fare so well. Many times they got sick more often, they became lonely and often returned from the mission field earlier. Why? I think it was because men didn’t nurture each other! Women did. 

Years ago, I decided that women did better long term as missionaries because they were made to be help-meets. They knew how to take care of people–even their roommates.

I found this article below, very interesting, because of my theory all of these years that women, nurturers, are better able to sustain life, as they were created by God to do so. Celebrate womanhood at its best–nurture another woman in friendship, love and memories.


My girls and I with Gwen in a “girl’s club” memory last year. She is an honorary member! 

But for those of you who don’t have sisters or daughters, I believe you can adopt them! I don’t have a sister, but I have my sweet friends. I make time with them, meals, outings, phone chats, visits to far away sisters (Gwen!), because they bring affirmation, love, fun, care and nurture in ways that only girlfriends and sisters can. Sarah, Joy and I even have what we call “Girl’s club” where we make time only for the girls!

So, plan to find a “sister”-friend that you can share life with. It will make you healthier and happier!


Having a sister can be good for emotional health!  

Heartfelt Discipline – And a Giveaway!

Clay’s book on Heartfelt Discipline–hopefully to be back in print the end of the year!

One of the most common emails or letters that I get concerns child discipline. How do you make your children stay in bed at night? My daughter will not obey my husband but runs to me when he tries to discipline her. What should I do? My children are always bickering and I want them to stop.

Now all of these are common habits of children and of course our goal is to help our children to mature enough that they will move toward mature behavior and learn self-control and practice obedience. The maturing of a child is a life-long process that will take many years. But it is possible to have pleasant children, most of the time, who are secure, happy and moving towards godly character.

However, it is not by formula or “follow these rules” that the shaping of their heart and character is developed. This is not a post about how many spanks for lying, talking back, or giving Mommy “the look.” This is not a post about Ten Easy Steps to Make Your Children Obey. Our culture is formula-driven and impatient. We want to know what to do, how to do it, and when we can expect results so we can move on to the next issue. Surrounded by these false teachings, no wonder so many moms are tired and stressed and feel that they have failed when their less than perfect children continue to act like children–and often are out of control from being treated as objects of discipline and punishment instead of unique children with gender and personality and maturity differences.

For many years, I have pondered scripture as well as the ways God parents the Jews and how He seems to parent me. Our Heavenly Father is loving, gracious, and makes all things beautiful in His time. His timetable for my life and for answers to my own prayers and questions seems to take a lot longer than I ever would. He doesn’t seem to mind at all letting me suffer through circumstances–instead He encourages me to hold fast, obey, stay strong and so many times He makes me wait for things. 

As I look at how Jesus worked with His disciples, He was patient with them, put up with their personality differences, often said, “They did not understand,” and let them fail. Aren’t you thankful He loves you enough to stick with you, gently pointing out areas of your life that need work, and allow you ample opportunities to grow in those areas? I know I am! I have often felt that I make so many mistakes that I am disqualified from being in ministry. But He still chooses to use me, by His grace, because His glory is to show His likeness and grace through normal, human beings.

With this kind of a patient, loving, accepting Father, I have no other choice but to be like him as a parent to my children.

The reason I want to obey Him and please Him is because of a deep, heart fulfilling relationship I experience with Him most of the time. But there are times I feel far away from Him, and still He loves me and waits until my heart warms again.  I believe He is trustworthy and has integrity and calls to my inner self–that if I follow Him and obey Him, I will find the best for my life.

He loves me, He cares for me, He teaches me truth, He calls me to excellence, He gives me purpose, He humbles me, He provided beauty and love and intellect to give my life scope, challenge, meaning and stimulation, He provides for celebration and feasts in His plan for the life of His people, He commands rest. He called me into a relationship with Him before He started working on my attitudes, my bad habits, and the areas of sin with which I struggle.

His discipline and love and training for me is a whole life experience, not limited somehow to “paddle-time.”

Several years ago, Clay wrote a book called Heartfelt Discipline. It is out-of-print now, but we plan to put it back in print. So many parents have told us how it changed their concept of “discipline.” In the first chapter, Clay wrote:

We are all influenced by the cultural tendency to view discipline only as punishment. To be honest, this narrow view makes things easier on us as parents. If my disciplinary responsibility is fulfilled by a simple act of punishment or correction, then very little else is required of me. But God has issued a much higher calling. Biblical discipline is much more than an act. It is both an ongoing, heart-to-heart relationship and a continuous spiritual interaction with my children. It is far more than simple correction; it is a parent and child walking together along the path of life. That is the Bible’s bigger picture. ” p. 15 of Heartfelt Discipline

Discipline is about a heart-to-heart relationship,  continuous spiritual interaction.

Does that sound easy? time-consuming? sacrificial? intentional? I have yet to meet a mom who told me she felt so refreshed after working on her child’s character training! What you are doing will affect eternity ~ you are in a battle for the hearts of your children. Your enemy wants you to feel like a failure, he wants you to give up. He does not want you to see baby steps of progress ~ he wants you discouraged. Is it a wonder then that so many moms look for shortcuts to having “the perfect child”?

Many of the shortcuts leave out the relationship completely or allow the child to usurp the parents’ authority. Here are some words from The Ministry of Motherhood (p. 37):

Sometimes we serve our children best and most lovingly by sticking to our guns and not letting them have their way. Loving discipline can be part of the gift of grace. So can teaching with words and exhorting our children to excellence. But the relationship has to come first. Discipline and teaching are most effective when administered in a context of a close, ongoing relationship of love.

Some Biblical Wisdom

1. Discipline is a long term process based on long term family relationships. Timothy is one of the classic examples of a young man whose godly mother and grandmother invested in his life. In II Timothy 1:5 Paul wrote, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” What dwelt in Timothy’s mother and grandmother? How do you think they passed that on to Timothy? They did not have children’s Bibles or Awana or DVDs.

2. Read Romans 2:4, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance? What does this verse say leads to repentance? Whose kindness is this verse talking about? If God used patience and kindness and tolerance (mercy) in relationship to us to lead us to Him, what does that say about our attitude toward our children?

3. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” What are we tempted to do? What will happen if we persevere? How does this encourage you as a mom?


What are some practical ways you can build relationships with your children this week? Fixing ice cream cones (it’s supposed to reach 100 degrees today!)? Playing with them? Reading books to them? Building legos–doing what they want to do! For a list of great family oriented books, see Sarah’s Recommended List of Children’s Literature here.

Give Away

Another way that Clay and I knew how to train our children was that we laid out very clearly what values we wanted to pass on to our children. We published this devotional book that we used as a family. Training is specific and it gave our children something to shoot towards. We will give a 24 Family Ways away next Thursday. 


To purchase or read about Our Twenty Four Family Ways, go here.

 To be entered in the drawing, leave a comment on this post; connect this post to your blog or facebook or twitter, and then let us know by contacting

 Post a comment telling a practical way you are building relationships with your children. We will focus on character qualities we desire our children (and ourselves) to have in next week’s Bible study. Until then, pray to “keep heart” and to not grow weary!

For more on discipline, you can read this older post: Will Training

Fussing, fussing, fussing! and how to tame it!

Hi, Dear Friends,
I have been so blessed to receive all of your comments and letters lately. Thanks so much for taking the time as it really encouraged me a lot. It has been a very busy week with lots of exciting possibilities and there are a few more days of busy-ness, so this will not be as long as I would like! Hate to say this, as it seems to plague us from time to time–someone installed a new software on my computer and 2400 letters in my inbox disappeared as well as the fact that for some reason for 2 days I have been able to receive mail but not send it–so the last week of my mail has been stressed. So know that I love hearing from all of you but have an even harder time responding. I have moved a lot of my email to as I can receive and send from there but now is working again, too. Never a dull moment.

A couple of weeks ago, Clay and I had a few friends over from our Bible study and picked their brains about ministry ideas and subjects to address. One at the top of the list was siblings fussing! So I will attempt to make a stab at some of my ideas about this area today. There is so much to address, so I will just start with some basics.

I will probably address the issue of fussing in regards to children in the next blog. But, I have been thinking about this issue and praying about it and doing some study in my Bible. Fussing comes from a heart issue–it has at its root the basis of all sin–selfishness and self-centeredness. The attitude behind all quarrels and contention says, “I want my way. I deserve to be the center of attention. I need to have all of my wishes and desires met and everyone else is wrong when they violate my needs and desires.”

However, another spiritual contention comes from pride–I know more than you–my religious philosophy is doctrinally more correct than yours, my educational philosophy is better than yours, I am less bad than you or I am better than you and so on. Pride is also at the root of contention.

Fussing is at the root of divorce, family separations, church splits, sibling rivalry, and any kind of contention that separates people. This plague of selfishness is running rampant in America today as we see  promiscuity–which basically says, “I want my pleasure when I want it, but I don’t have to take in consideration anyone else–gratification is more important than love and commitment.” It also is an attitude that communicates, “If you aren’t going to be mature and fulfill my needs then I have the right to move on to other relationships until I find someone else who can fulfill my needs.”

I have always told my children that it is natural to be selfish, defensive, argumentative, full of pride, but it is supernatural to be mature, loving and patient, humble. Jesus disciplines us that we might conform to His image. He is the model for unconditional love, patience, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, encouragement, humility. He of all people chose to separate Himself from the grandeur of God to become one of the lowly, humble, poor humans of this earth. If He so chose in order to really show us what righteousness looked like, then we should ponder His simple, sacrificial, uncomplaining life in order to really take on His character and love.

Choosing to be an instrument of love requires us to obey His word and His will and to make a choice to be peacemakers and life-givers. Maturity is a process of practicing obedience and choosing love while also knowing that it is the Holy Spirit who lives in us, to work out His good pleasure and holiness through us.

Jesus is our model and yet even Jesus showed us that maturity and righteousness was a process of choosing to do the right thing–obedience–choice of our will–not paying attention to what he felt, but doing what he knew was right–this is the essence of the love and patience we need to teach our children and that we also need to obey.

Hebrews 5:8, in talking about Jesus’ example while on the earth, says,”though He was a Son, (of God), yet he learned obedience by the things he suffered.” Jesus learned obedience by submitting His will to the Father. (by practicing doing what was right–learning obedience)

So, all true love and goodness comes from obeying God and doing the right thing for His sake. When our hearts and the hearts of our children understand this, then we will have the right reason to choose not to be contentious and selfish. Loving God and therefore choosing to be loving to unloving spouses, patient with unlovely toddlers or teens, forgiving in church situations when we have the right to be offended, are all for the love of our Lord who was perfectly loving, patient and kind as the servant leader.

If we are contentious to others, or constantly critical of friends or people in our own life, how can we expect our children to “catch” the spirit of love. If we complain and whine and cry as a habitual response to life, how can our children understand the strength and grace of the unconditional love of Christ lived through us. If we tell our children to quit complaining or whining of arguing and then proceed to complain against our in-laws or husband or arguing with others, then we are not establishing a foundation for them to stand upon.  If we are angry and impatient, it will create scars but also  deform them in the ability to move beyond fussing to become healthy adults who can bring grace to relationships.

Eventually young children grow up and will see through hypocrisy. We don’t have to be perfect–but we have to be humble and ask for forgiveness. We must seek to have integrity. Trying to tell our children they have to obey us and lording it over them in harshness will only suffice for a short few years. They will mature and see through the words to the heart and actions and will not follow inconsistencies. I do think parenting is the way God humbles and trains us in righteousness because it requires our best in order to be the best parents we can be.

I have had friends over the years who know a lot of scripture and read a lot of books and put forth a righteous front, but who are critical behind people’s backs or talk in judgment about people and in pious self-righteousness, convinced that they are justified, feel no conviction for their sin.

However,Jesus, while being reviled, did not revile in return, but kept trusting himself to God.Wherever Jesus is there is peace,  gentleness, humility and grace–except for the Pharisees and religious people or the exceedingly, intentionally wicked.

Though as  moms, we tend to be so irritated at the quarreling and immature fussing of our children, it is no more attractive in adults. If we don’t address the general selfishness of all of our culture, then we will not be able to address the issues in our own home. So, I have been convicted over the years, that the first place of creating a peaceful environment in my home must start with me. I am responsible to God to seek to love and serve others because of His love for me.

I will continue writing about this next week as the Lord has taught me so much as I have pondered it all, but now I am off to celebrate our Family Day this weekend–our once a year holiday to celebrate and discuss the faithful hand of God in our lives. Since my two boys are both moving away from home in the next two weeks, we wanted to have one last family day together before we all parted to the four winds.

I am looking forward to speaking in Montreal August 22-23 and preparing to see many of you soon. Then I will be in New York City for 8 days with Clay to help Nathan settle in and to celebrate our 28th anniversary! Have a great weekend!

Passing from pain to eternal light

Thanks so much to all of you who have been praying for our family in regards to my brother’s illness. My oldest brother, Robert Bone, slipped into the presence of the Lord last night. I know that he is so free, now, from pain and the burdens he bore in this life and so blessed to be in the presence of Jesus! Please keep our family in your prayers in the days ahead as we complete our conferences and go to the memorial service. Also, pray that God’s grace and love would be especially evident to his three children. Peace of the Lord be with you.