Teaching Children to Be Thankful (and a Conversation About Poop)

Thank You for the world so sweet,
Thank You for the food we eat,
Thank You for the birds that sing,
Thank You, God, for everything.

Do you remember learning this little rhyme? I do. And children still learn it and use it as a table grace. One of my pre-K grandsons recited it just the other day.

A Focus on Thanksgiving

November’s arrived, and that means “the holidays” get underway too. A focus all month long on thankfulness, and then figuring out how to carry that over into the plans and dreams your kids have for Christmas, right?

How DO we teach children to be thankful? Grateful even? Not entitled?

You can find a lot of good advice if you go looking. Just today I discovered this post from Tyndale House Publishers, with a new book about raising grateful kids at the end.

My one piece of advice is simple: Direct your child to the Giver.

A Conversation About Poop

Just today (after he had a ginormous poop), that same pre-K kid wanted to know WHY we poop.

“Well,” I said, “it’s from the food you eat. The part of your food that your body doesn’t need becomes your poop. God made your body to work like that.”

“Yeah,” he said, “and my body gets well. Like that scratch I had on my leg. It’s gone.”

“Yep.”

“Why did God make my body like that?”

“Because He loves you!” I said, with a hug for emphasis. I should have added, “Thank You, God!”

See, even a conversation about poop can become a time for turning a child’s thoughts to God and His great love for us, for which we are thankful and glad.

Growing in Gratitude

As children grow, projects like a Gratitude Jar or a Thankfulness Journal (or even a Thanksgiving Cootie Catcher!) can help children focus on their blessings.

So can sponsoring a child in poverty through a Christian organization as a family, or giving away possessions to benefit others.

The important thing, I think, is to direct your thankfulness to God.

It’s good to be thankful for beauty, for kindness, for fun, for family and friends. But all those things come from God, so focus on that with your child in all you do, in conversation, prayers, and songs. In big and little things, easy and hard things, be thankful to God.

I grew up singing the Doxology every Sunday:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

I actually haven’t thought about those words or that tune for a long time, but both are there, stored in my memory by their repetition, and floated to mind as I sit here writing this post.

A good reminder that our being thankful should begin and end with God.

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– Diane

4 Easy Ways to Show an Author Some Love

Photo, Morguefile

I wouldn’t want to be “lost” in a corn maze. That feeling that your friends are somewhere, but at the moment you’re alone.

Being an author can feel like that. Writing a book is solitary to begin with. You know your readers are out there, but where? How do you find them?

Authors reach out to readers with newsletters, social media, speaking appearances, book signings, launch teams, and contests. But it’s still a lonely trek through a corn maze unless readers reach back in return.

Want to show a favorite author you’re out there? Want to reach back? Here are four easy ways.

1. Sign up for the author’s newsletter.

Did you know that with Facebook (and other social media), authors have no guarantee their posts will even show up in your news feed? That’s all controlled by the social media platform. But an author can communicate directly with readers with a newsletter!

2. Like and follow the author on social media.

Christian authors, especially, try hard not to measure their success by the numbers. But we’re all human, and creating and curating content to share with you on social media takes time. Let us know you’re out there and interested!

But just hitting Like or Follow on an author page isn’t enough (although we appreciate it very much!). Which leads to the next point …

3. Like, comment, and share the author’s posts.

Publishers do watch the numbers, by the way, so the number of people following an author does matter. But engagement matters even more. Authors care about what you think about what we’re doing and posting, and publishers care that we’re connecting with you.

In addition, responding to an author’s posts ensures that you’ll actually get to see most of them in your news feed. It only takes a few seconds to hit Like or Share or leave a quick comment. The more you do this, the more posts from that author you’ll see—the more often the author gets to connect with you on that particular social media platform.

Your responses share author posts with your friends … letting them know about your favorite authors and their books—a win for everyone involved.

4. Let the author know that you or your children have enjoyed a book.

Here are two easy ways to do this.

One is to write a short review on an online site. Don’t let the word review scare you. Just a sentence or two about why you like the book is all you need.

The other is to communicate directly with the author. Yesterday a friend posted a photo on my Facebook page—two little boys she cares for sitting side by side, one with an open copy of my Say & Pray Bible and the other looking at Say & Pray Devotions. Along with the photo, she wrote, “These two have been ‘reading’ your Say & Pray books for over 20 minutes!!!”

That kind of encouragement feels just like finding a friend when you’re lost in a corn maze. Finally,  you round a corner and see a friend up ahead. Relief!

Now, if you’d like to show this particular author some love today:
Sign up for my newsletter using the box on this site.
Like Diane Stortz Books on Facebook (help me reach the 600 mark!).
Go to amazon or christianbook.com and leave a short review.

Thanks SO much, and let’s stay connected!

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– Diane

“Thinking Bigger” at the Ark Encounter

Photo, Ark Encounter

“Think Bigger.” Last month I obeyed the ads and finally was able to visit the Ark Encounter theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky.

At the center of the park, of course, is a life-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible.

And it is BIG.

510-feet-long-85-feet-wide-51-feet-high-BIG.

According to the Ark Encounter website, the ark is “the largest timber frame structure in the world, built from standing dead timber.”

I had anticipated this visit a long time, and I expected the ark to overwhelm me at first sighting. But it didn’t.

My husband in front of the ark

Yes, it is impressive. And did I say it’s BIG? The closer you get, the more you know that.

But something other than size impressed me even more.

The “doableness” of the ark.

Building it, stocking it, filling it, living in it—all doable! The three decks inside show you how.

Photo, Ark Encounter

From how the animals were housed, to living quarters for Noah and his family, even to how waste could have been disposed of—doable.

I’ve always believed it. But now I can visualize it. And I was reminded of this verse in 2 Corinthians:

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”  2 Cor 1:20 NIV

One of my favorite exhibits inside the Ark Encounter ark is Noah talking to visitors and answering questions. He’s animatronic, not an actor, but so realistic that was hard to remember.

Another area reminds visitors that God himself is the one who shut the door to the ark after everyone was in, and that just as the ark served as the door to safety from the destruction of the flood, Jesus is our door to eternal life with God.

As we headed back to our car, we spotted my friend Jenna, who lives nearby and now works at the ark, answering questions from visitors about the exhibits.

“I love it,” she told us. “We ‘have church’ up there!”

If you have the opportunity, visit the Ark Encounter, and take your children! Older kids and teens can enjoy many of the exhibits inside; with younger ones you’ll probably need to keep moving and pass up taking in all the information that’s available.

But that just means you’ll want to go back again.

 

– Diane

Praying for California

The devastation of the California fires this week shocks me. Have you seen the images and listened to peoples’ stories in the news and social media?

Photo, The Digital Story

I grew up in Anaheim, ten minutes from Disneyland, where eerie orange glowing skies and falling ash taunt the theme park’s “Happiest Place on Earth” slogan.

Two agents and a staff member from Books & Such Literary Management, including my own agent, Janet Grant, evacuated their Santa Rosa homes earlier in the week. Agent Rachel Kent’s husband is one of the firefighters bravely battling the flames. Assistant and author Michelle Ule has two adult children who live in homes in the affected neighborhoods as well—one of them in the house he was raised in.

Will they will lose everything or return to their homes? It’s impossible to know. So they wait.

Needless to say, the authors in the agency are praying. And watching Facebook for updates.

These three women aren’t just agents and office staff. They are their clients’ friends.

Would you take a moment to ask the Lord to comfort and sustain them? To calm the wind, and even to send rain? To ease the suffering throughout the state? To strengthen those fighting the flames?

Thank you!

– Diane

Here’s How You Can Help Houston

Texas Military Department via EPA

I keep wondering how it would feel to be a mama or grandma in Houston today, needing rescue or shelter, food and necessities. How grateful I’d be for that bottle of water or box of diapers, and for the people who provided it.

People I’d probably never meet. Strangers “out there” who simply care.

But since I’m here and not in Houston, I’ve got to be one of those who simply care, and show it.

I’m pretty sure you feel the same way.

So if you’d like to join me in making a difference, here’s a list of organizations I’m aware of that are hard at work in Houston and welcome your help. Just follow the links to donate.

American Red Cross
You also can text HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Samaritan’s Purse

Salvation Army

Matthew 25 Ministries

Catholic Charities USA

Houston Food Bank

Galveston County Food Bank

Texas Diaper Bank
This news article tells about the work of this group.

SPCA of Texas

Austin Pets Alive

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10

We have opportunity, friends. If you have other suggestions for how to help, please share in the comments.

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– Diane

Living a Godly Legacy—Part 4

In this series I’ve said that how we live every day becomes our legacy, that God instructs us to communicate faith in Him to the next generation, and that He tells us how. We’ve also looked at specific ways to help our kids and grandkids experience and grow in faith by how we bring God and His Word into the family activities we’re already doing day by day.

Here in the series conclusion, I want to encourage you. You can do this! Here are some important reasons why:

God cares about your legacy. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs express general principles, not promises. So this famous proverb isn’t a guarantee, but it does tell us that God cares about your efforts to train your children for Him and that you can expect your efforts to have a good result.

Children of believers are set apart. First Corinthians 7:14 says, “The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” This isn’t a promise of salvation, but it does indicate some kind of special concern in God’s heart for the children of believers.

God’s Word achieves His purposes. Isaiah 55:11 says, “My word shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Our job is to teach our children the Word. The results aren’t up to us, but the good news is the power and purpose of the Word always succeed.

Small beginnings please God. After seventy years of exile in Babylon, the Jews returned to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the temple, but the work was slow and faced much opposition. The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Then another message came to me from the Lord: ‘Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation of this Temple, and he will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me. Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand’” (Zechariah 4:8-10, italics added).

Your efforts to live your legacy and teach your children and grandchildren about God may seem small to you right now, but they are a starting place. Or maybe you need to restart your efforts, or dive in for the very first time. The Lord rejoices with you to see the work begin. So begin, keep going, don’t stop. You CAN do this!

If you missed the previous posts in this series, you can find them here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

– Diane

Living a Godly Legacy—Part 3

You want your children or grandchildren to know that God and faith are important parts of daily life, but sometimes it seems impossible, right? Getting everyone off to school or childcare and getting everyone to bed on time can seem like herding cats. How can you add one more activity to your family’s busy schedule?

The good news is, you don’t have to. Just bring God into the things you are already doing with your family.

Part 1 of this series explores what it means to live the legacy you want to give your children and why that’s important. Part 2 looks at the starting place—our own relationships with God and with our children—and what God’s Word tells us about sharing our faith with the next generation.

Here in Part 3, I’m sharing ways you can begin to live a faith legacy for your children simply by bringing God into more of your family’s activities.

Talk

Help babies, toddlers, and preschoolers begin to connect God with their expanding worlds. For example, at the zoo or the beach or the park, talk about creation and thank God out loud for making what you see. Make it natural—“God gave the giraffe such a long neck!” “Thank you, God, for the birds we hear.” (Yes, we can talk to God without bowed heads or folding hands!)

If a child is afraid of the dark, remind him God is always with him as you give a hug and turn on a night light. With children of all ages, talk about the things you do and why you do them—celebrating holidays, serving others, or going to church, for example.

Form the habit of talking with your children to show them who God is while they are young. Someday you will need to be talking to them about how knowing God relates to drinking and drugs, sex, abortion, evolution, and a host of other issues.

Share the Word

Your children won’t know the Bible is important to you unless they see you reading it. During a crisis one Christmas, a friend’s young daughter grabbed her mother’s Bible and sat down to “read”—although she didn’t know how to read yet. She had seen her mother go to the Word for help and decided help was needed!

Besides the traditional devotional time some families have with their children at bedtime, other parents read the Bible aloud at breakfast with their children, or do their own reading aloud as children play nearby. They won’t understand everything, of course, but you will be surprised by how much they do understand and remember.

What kind of music plays in your home and your car every day? Little ears (big one too) easily absorb God’s Word set to music. Try Scripture Lullabies at bedtime. We also love the CD included in My Sing-Along Bible by Steve Elkins for a musical journey through the Bible especially for kids.

Pray

We all learn to pray by praying, and children learn by hearing you pray and praying with you. So be sure to add prayer to the times you are already with your kids—meals, bedtime, and anytime you’re talking about a problem.

When my daughter Sheila was five or six, a neighbor boy continually pestered her. Finally we told her, “The next time he bothers you, tell him that if he doesn’t stop, you’re going to let hit him back” (and she did). That ended the problem, but at work I heard another mom telling how her first-grade twins were handling a bully at school. Each night, she was praying with her twins for the child who was bothering them.

Why hadn’t I thought to do that? Praying about problems hadn’t become a natural choice for me yet.

Accomplishments, disappointments, illness, pets, your family’s needs and the needs of others—show your children how to bring each day’s experiences to God.

Serve

Involve your children in service with you. If you make a meal for another family, take a child with you when you deliver it. Are you passionate about a cause? Let your children experience why. One of my daughters takes her children when she cares for the children of refugee women while they attend English classes. Her boys are learning to value caring for others who are different from them.

Find Christian community

Show your children that not only their own family has faith in God—others do too. Include friends from church in play dates and social events. If extended family members aren’t believers, look around for those who could be surrogate grandparents or aunts and uncles to your kids and get together with them for holidays and special events.

Sometimes we hear that faith is more caught than taught … but the truth is, it is both. And your example—your choices every day—can model faith and teach it too. Just choose to bring God in to the activities your family is already doing.

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– Diane

Living a Godly Legacy—Part 2

mother with her children at the seaside at sunsetIn Part 1 of this series, I talked about living a legacy for our children and grandchildren—realizing that the way we live every day is the legacy we will leave. Is a legacy of faith your goal like it is mine? Then here in Part 2, let’s begin by looking at our own relationship with God, as well as our ties to the young ones we love so much.

Relationship with God

We all need to evaluate ourselves honestly (and periodically too). Do you have a deep, rich connection with God, or if you’re new to faith, are you working on it? How does that show itself day by day? Bottom line, if we want our kids and grandkids to know, love, and obey God—how well do we know and love him, and how well do we obey?

I don’t remember a time I didn’t believe in God or believe Jesus is God’s Son and my Savior, but even years after I formally chose to follow Jesus, I couldn’t truly say that I knew God. Not until 2000, when I was invited to join a group of women who would read through the Bible in a year and meet weekly to talk about what we read, did everything began to change.

If you feel the need to be more connected to the Lord, begin by reading the Word simply with the purpose to know Him better. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV).

Need a good reading plan? Go here. Want to listen rather than read? Try BibleGateway.com or the YouVersion app. You can find reading plans on those sites too.

Connections with Our Children

Next, ask yourself some questions about your relationship with your children. How well do they feel known by you—seen and heard? Do they feel respected? Do they talk openly with you, bringing you their serious questions? How deep is your heart connection?

In order to guide and teach them, we need to know what children are thinking and feeling and understand their personalities, talents, and quirks. Be the expert on your child. Ask questions that invite conversation, and listen to what they have to say. Model sharing and connecting. Draw them out.

Knowing children—or grandchildren—well makes it easier to pray specifically for them too!

Sometimes, situations from the past interfere with the present. If you’re carrying around baggage you don’t want to be part of your legacy to your children, don’t be afraid to find help from a qualified professional counselor.

What God Says We’re to Do

The Bible is not a rule book. But it does contain instructions for living as God’s people, and those include how to share faith with our children.

Make God a natural part of daily life. “Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” —Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NLT

Invite and answer questions. “And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’” —Joshua 4:20-22

Tell the next generation.
“O my people, listen to my instructions.
Open your ears to what I am saying,
for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the LORD,
about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
even the children not yet born—
and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
not forgetting his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
refusing to give their hearts to God.” —Psalm 78:1-8 NLT

Love and memorize God’s Word.
“I have hidden your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
I praise you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.
I have recited aloud
all the regulations you have given us.
I have rejoiced in your laws
as much as in riches.
I will study your commandments
and reflect on your ways.
I will delight in your decrees
and not forget your word.” —Psalm 119:11-16 NLT

Teach and instruct about God and His ways.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” (nurture, training, admonition)
“Fathers, don’t make your children bitter about life. Instead, bring them up in Christian discipline and instruction.”
—Ephesians 6:4 NLT; GW

Prepare our children to receive salvation.
“But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” —2 Timothy 3:14-17 NLT

Step Up to the Challenge

Our children’s faith will be severely challenged in our broken world. But we can equip them for the fight. Next week in Part 3, I’ll share some tested ideas you can put to work in your family every day.

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– Diane

Living a Godly Legacy—Part 1

iStock photo

Last fall two different events—a sermon and a MOPS talk—got me thinking about how we pass faith on to the next generation. I realized we don’t just leave a legacy, we actually live it too.

Legacy: “A gift; something passed on; something received from the past; the influence of a person or thing.”

What we do every day, even the simplest choices and interactions, form the legacy we give our children and grandchildren.

For my grandchildren (and if I were raising children in my home today), I want them to grow up to know, love, and obey God all their lives. For me that includes knowing and loving God’s Word, having servant hearts, trusting Jesus for salvation, and growing to be more like Him. That’s the result I want my influence to have.

I do want them to remember me with smiles, but more important than their memories of me is the outcome, the effect, the influence of my life upon theirs. That’s what I know you want for your children too.

I need to be reminded just about every day that all my actions have impact on the present and the future. Maybe you do too. We will be remembered one way or another. We will influence others one direction or another.

The legacy we leave is the life we are living today.

Does that mean our bad days and wrong decisions ruin our legacy forever? Nope. God is in the business of redemption, and He is more than ready to help us leave a legacy of faith to our children and grandchildren.

It’s the overall pattern of our lives that has the most effect, and it’s never too late to begin to write a new ending!

Lessons Learned

What I want to share with you about living a godly legacy is based more on the mistakes I made and the things I didn’t do than what I did right when my children were young. But I also can encourage you because my daughters are godly women and mothers today, actively building faith in their own children.

Over the years and along the way, I’ve learned a lot—by getting to know God better, by parenting adult daughters, and by becoming grandmother to five little boys.

In this four-part series, I’ll share some of those lessons with you. We’ll look at our relationship with God and with our children first. Then we’ll see what God says we’re to do and look at ideas for how to do it.

Finally, I want to encourage you—you can do this!

– Diane

10 Kids Easter Books for All Your Easter Baskets

Helping children catch and understand Easter joy can be as simple as choosing a book to add to an Easter basket or give as a gift. Here are 10 good choices for you to consider.

indexMy First Easter (Worthy Kids/Ideals). Bright photos of Spring and Easter objects, one per page. Includes a simple cross.

51GX+JRlazL._AC_US500_QL65_The First Easter (Zonderkidz). A little lamb tells the resurrection story.

610bjnWrX7L._SX497_BO1,204,203,200_My Easter Basket (B&H Kids). Links the colors in a child’s Easter basket to a simple telling of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

71lJfWU4vmLThe Story of Easter (Worthy Kids/Ideals). A simple introduction to the meaning of the day—Jesus loves us.

61ZtS8jdIyL._SX381_BO1,204,203,200_      978-1-4964-0311-7

Jesus Lives! and Easter Surprises (Tyndale Kids). Both with stickers for completing the illustrations and other activities too. These books are a wonderful value.

71tS2bIh2wLThe Sparkle Egg (Worthy Kids/Ideals, above) and The Legend of the Easter Robin (Zonderkidz, below). Picture books for elementary grades both focus on God’s love and forgiveness.

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51vqC9wn1hL._AC_US500_QL65_My Friend Jesus (Thomas Nelson) introduces elementary-aged kids to the story of Jesus and having a personal relationship with Him.

HFEDKHope for Each Day: 365 Devotions for Kids (Tommy Nelson). Short daily devotions for children and families too.

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– Diane