An Interview with Author Glenys Nellist

Author PhotoIs going to the mailbox a highlight of your day? (Maybe not if all you’re expecting is bills.) But what if you’re looking for a letter from someone special?

A love letter, perhaps!

Children especially love to receive and open mail. So a picture book filled with letters … love letters … love letters from God—what could be better?

That’s what Glenys Nellist decided, and her debut picture book Love Letters from God was published by Zonderkidz in 2014. (Read my review here.) Now there’s a lift-the-flap board book version too—Little Love Letters from God. It features rhyming text that toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy.

Glenys is a wife, mother of four sons, and grandmother to three little boys and one little girl. She also serves as children’s ministry coordinator for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. I’m happy to welcome Glenys to my blog today!

Glenys, you grew up in England and have family there. Do you visit there often? What are your favorite things to do on visits home?

I was born and raised in a little village in northern England, where I lived until we came to the United States fifteen years ago. I am so blessed that I get to go back “home” every year, to visit my seven siblings and numerous nieces and nephews. Whenever we go back to England, we love to walk by the side of the canal where we lived (usually in the rain!), eat fish and chips—and Cadbury’s chocolate!

How did you come to live in the United States?

My husband is a pastor, and our denomination offers an international exchange program for pastors and their families who want to participate. Basically, this means that for six weeks, you swap pulpits, homes, and cars (that’s scary because you guys drive on the wrong side of the road!) with another pastor anywhere in the world. It’s a wonderful opportunity to experience life, culture, and ministry overseas.

In 1999 we asked our four young sons, where shall we go? Their immediate reply, in unison, was  “AMERICA!” (This was really because they wanted to visit Disney World.) So we came to Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the summer of 1999. We absolutely fell in love with the USA and the possibilities of ministry here, so much so that we came back one year later, and have been here ever since. But we still haven’t been to Disney World.

Did you read a lot to your children as they grew up? What were your favorite books?

I’m so glad you asked this question! Yes! As a primary school teacher in England, and an avid reader myself, our house was full of books. Our all-time favorite book was published in 1986, and I still have our battered copy. It was called The Jolly Postman, and told the wonderful story of a postman who delivered letters to nursery rhyme characters. Written in rhyme, its innovative feature was that the pages were actual envelopes that contained real letters.

I can still remember the joy of snuggling with my four young sons on the sofa as we poured over its pages, and the delight of my youngest son as he reached his chubby little hand inside the envelopes to take the letters out. It was this little book that would inspire me to write Love Letters from God.

Do you have more book projects underway?

Yes! I’m so happy to say that Christmas Love Letters from God and Girls’ Love Letters from God, along with their board book versions for toddlers, will soon be available. Beyond that, I have more Love Letter projects in the works and a new board book series, called Snuggle Time—Snuggle Time Prayers, and Snuggle Time Psalms—to be published later this year. God is good, and all the glory for the words I write goes to him.

What do you hope to be doing in five years?

I hope to be doing what God wants me to! But if it is part of his plan, then I’d love to have more adorable grandchildren (to add to the four I already have), be able to be writing more books, and perhaps live on a little lake, where we might have room for the wooden boats my husband builds in his spare time. (We are already up to boat number four, so living in the city is not very conducive to his hobby!)

Thank you for visiting, Glenys!

Zonderkidz is offering a free copy of Little Love Letters from God to readers of my blog! To be eligible to win, you must live in the US and have a street address (no PO boxes.) To enter, just post “I’d love to win” in a comment below. The giveaway will stay open through 11:59 pm EST on Friday, January 22.

Little Love Letters CoverWant to know more about Glenys and Little Love Letters from God? This post is part of a once-a-week blog hop. You’ll find the full blog hop schedule at Glenys’s website.

– Diane

10 Tips and a Book for POMs at the Holidays

Do you know any POMs—parents of missionaries?

(Not sure? Are you involved with missions efforts or agencies, or sending churches? Most of the missionaries you work with do have parents!)

Our family-oriented Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are coming, and they can be tough when beloved children and grandchildren are half a world or more away.

Even when you’re proud and happy to be a POM.

So I want to put in a little plug for a book I co-wrote in 2008 that is still selling and still helping POMs thrive and stay connected when their children and grandchildren serve cross-culturally.

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In a recent issue of Tell magazine

In a recent issue of Tell magazine

You can see an outline of the contents and read reviews and endorsements and find links for purchasing the book here.

It would make a wonderful Christmas present for any POMs who don’t have a copy yet.

And I also want to offer some tips to POMs (or anyone else dealing with sadness or loss) for getting through the holidays intact.

Yes, you can.

If these would be helpful to anyone you know, feel free to copy and share! (Just be sure to include the copyright notice, please.)

Ten Tips for Getting Through the Holidays as a POM

1. Plan ahead to avoid exhaustion, which accentuates all other feelings of sadness or loss. How could you simplify Christmas this year?

2. Giving up the common expectation that throughout life we would be able to enjoy our adult children and our grandchildren is a loss, and losses must be grieved. Try to identify where you are in the grieving process.

3. Let go of the “oughts” of the season, including how you “ought” to feel. Just be yourself. It is normal to experience distress in the face of loss.

4. Brainstorm ways you can insure adequate personal and emotional support for yourself throughout the holidays. Some examples: Schedule personal “down time” throughout the season. Find a close friend who is willing to listen without judging. Have some extra “God time.”  Plan a new kind of holiday activity and invite others to join you.

5. Identify interpersonal issues within your family that need to be addressed before the holidays in order to prevent unwanted tensions.

6. Clarify your personal expectations about the holidays and communicate those to family members in advance to avoid misunderstanding, surprises, and disappointments. Learn the expectations of others. Find mutually agreeable solutions.

7. List all the good new things God has provided even as you have had to endure the absence of loved ones on the mission field.

8. List all the good things you can think of about having an adult child in missions.

9. Locate other POMs in your area. Work out a plan to stay in contact, even once a week, during the holidays. If possible, plan to attend together one event that everyone would enjoy.

10. Find news ways to include your missionary children and grandchildren in your celebration or to be a part of theirs. Make your own “books on tape” for grandchildren, write and send an email “journal” about holiday preparations and activities, open gifts together while on the phone, learn to send digital photos, invite your children’s friends to join your celebration. Think creatively and plan ahead.

© 2003, 2006, 2014 Diane Stortz and Cheryl Savageau

– Diane

Jesus, Halloween, and a Little Book I Wrote

LetsShineHDDo you find Halloween unsettling?

Scanning e-mail one morning a couple of years ago, I saw a link to a roundup of viewpoints about observing Halloween in Christian families. In one of the entries I found a reference to my little book Let’s Shine Jesus’ Light on Halloween.

Growing up, our family went from one extreme to the other on how we celebrated Halloween. With our own family to think about now, my husband and I have changed our opinions on a few things over the years, but the overall thought is the same – we want Christ to be the center of whatever we do. We participate in a fall festival at our church, but don’t go gather candy from neighbors. We do carve pumpkins, but we always do one that is based on the book Let’s Shine Jesus’ Light on Halloween and The Pumpkin Patch Parable, and focus on what the light of Jesus and what He has done for us. We can’t avoid all the decorations that we see in the weeks leading up to Halloween, but we can talk about the scary things together. As believers we can still share and be the light of Christ during a holiday that is focused on darkness.

–Jolanthe, blogger at homeschoolcreations.net

When I was growing up, Halloween festivities were, well, festive.

Actually, where I grew up—Anaheim, California—had the largest Halloween celebration in the country for a while. Schools closed, children painted downtown storefront windows and marched in costume in a morning parade, and that evening an even larger assembly of floats, marching bands, and drill teams paraded through town.

On Halloween night, dusk hushed the little orange-grove-turned-subdivision street we lived on, and then, as porch lights and jack-o-lanterns glimmered one by one, costumed children ventured down walkways and onto sidewalks. The entire neighborhood transformed for two hours. It was magical.

And at times a little scary.

But outwardly at least, Halloween wasn’t nearly as dark and violent as it can be today.

Still, some families want to give their children the fun of carving pumpkins and dressing up and going house to house at night (or store to store in the mall). They can’t prevent their children from seeing every one of the spookier outdoor displays (even our wonderful Cincinnati Zoo decorates on the scary side much more than I would like, especially for the littlest kids).

These families focus on the fun of appearing in wholesome costumes; they talk with their children about the reasons they don’t decorate with witches and ghosts.

They aren’t naive about the realities of the underside of Halloween and they avoid them, confident in the greater power of the One they belong to as Christians.

That’s the spirit of Let’s Shine Jesus Light on Halloween.

Halloween is jack-o-lanterns, costumes, and candy on a dark and spooky night, but Jesus is the light of the world! 

I love this little book, and although it’s now out of print, I’m thankful to hear that my words and Rusty Fletcher’s art did make a difference!
– Diane

The Right Way to Praise Children

Sol2We speak thousands of words in a day. With many of them, we try to encourage a positive self-image in our children or grandchildren:

“Good job, buddy” when he successfully builds a tower with blocks.

“You did great!” when she adds the final puzzle piece.

“You’re so strong” when he makes it across the crossing bars.

“You’re a good helper” when he hands you clean flatware from the dishwasher.

But what if our praises have an effect exactly opposite to what we want to accomplish? What if we’re not helping children feel good about themselves at all?

Researchers, parenting experts, and educators all suggest there are perils in too much praise and the wrong kind of praise.

We give children too much praise when we do it almost without thinking and when we give it whether anything praiseworthy has actually happened.

Are participation trophies given with loud cheers to every kid on the team truly deserved praise? NFL linebacker James Harrison didn’t think so, and sent his 6- and 8-year-olds’ participation trophies back.

“While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy,” Harrison said in a post on Instagram. “I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.”

Children begin to tune out praise when it is insincere—and much frequent, offhand praise is just that. The painting really isn’t amazing and beautiful, and the child knows it. At the same time, children can become “praise junkies,” needing their parents’ constant approval rather than valuing their own accomplishments and depending on their own judgments. The result is a child who believes worth is tied to performance and who fears failure—and becomes reluctant to try new things or face challenges.

Children DO need encouragement and praise—but let’s make it the right kind. Experts say to praise the process, not the person.

Person praise focuses on the child’s traits, like intelligence or musical ability—”You’re a good boy”; “You’re so smart”; “You’re really good at this.”

Process praise focuses on the child’s effort and output and doesn’t make a judgment. It gives the child feedback with specific information—“You used a lot of colors in your drawing”; “I can see you are working hard to build your sandcastle”; “You helped your sister up when she fell. That was kind.”

Person praise reduces motivation; children begin to feel that their abilities are fixed and there is no reason to try to go beyond them. The Bible is right when it says, “A flattering mouth causes ruin” (Proverbs 2:28)!

Process praise encourages children to take on challenges, confront weaknesses, and grow. It also communicates family values.

I’ve never counted the number of times I say “Good job, buddy” when I’m with one of my grandsons, but I know it’s a lot. Changing this habit is going to take some work!

– Diane

5 Ways to Help Little Ones Learn to Talk

In the early months, your baby moves from crying as her main means of communication to vocalizing, smiling at you, and maybe even mimicking your facial expressions. It’s an exciting time!

Here are 5 ideas you can use to keep your baby moving along that exciting path to acquiring language.

1. Talk, babble, sing, and coo. From baby’s earliest days, interact with him or her. Talk about what you are doing as you go through your day. “Baby talk” is fine, but mix in real words too. You also can imitate sounds your baby makes, and wait for him to respond.

2. The more words and conversation they hear, the better. And these words need to be actually spoken to the child and to others around him; words heard from a screen don’t count—but the words you use as you talk to your child about what is happening on the screen do.

3. Speak slowly, clearly, and in complete sentences. Ask questions. Connect gestures with language. If your toddler points to the refrigerator, for example, ask, “Do you want a snack?” and wait for a response. “What do you want to eat? Yogurt? OK, let’s get some yogurt.”

4. Make music a part of your life. Learn and sing classic childhood songs as well as newer favorites. As children hear and learn the words, they learn to understand and repeat them. Songs with motions (like “The Wheels on the Bus”) make learning a whole-body experience.

5. Introduce books early. Young babies are drawn to simple, high-contrast pictures (like those in Jimmy Fallon’s Dada). And your baby will enjoy hearing your familiar voice reading books with rhyming or rhythmic text. For older babies and toddlers, choose books with board pages and right pictures. Activities like touch ‘n feel elements, lift-the-flaps, pop-ups, and sound chips are a plus.

SayPrayThumbnailBooks don’t have to be “educational” to pack lots of learning for little ones. Whatever the subject, name and point to objects and people in the illustrations. Include a good Bible storybook in your child’s library, and use it to introduce your child to Bible words and people. I wrote and designed Say and Pray Bible to encourage little ones to point and name.

You can find lots more information about how children acquire language and tips for helping them at www.kidshealth.org and clicking on the Growth and Development tab. “Choosing Baby Books and Toddler Books” on Scholastic.com has more tips for choosing books just right for your child too.

– Diane

Say & Pray Bible: First Words, Stories, and Prayers

Reed4Today I’m CELEBRATING the release of my new book, Say & Pray Bible: First Words, Stories, and Prayers!

It is JUST RIGHT, truly age appropriate, for introducing little ones to God’s Word!

There are 20 stories, 10 Old Testament and 10 New Testament. The stories are SHORT … just one sentence (or two very short sentences). Here’s one.

Baby in a Basket

Little baby Moses slept in a basket while his sister watched.

Yup, that’s it!

But there’s also a Scripture reference (Exodus 2) plus a short Bible verse and a short little prayer.

Say and Pray

He cares for you. —1 Peter 5:7

Thank You, God, for sisters and brothers! Amen.

Did I mention the stories are SHORT?!

Babies and toddlers LOVE turning pages. So that much text is about all they will absorb until they are older.

Some days you might just read the stories. Another day, just the verses. Yet another reading, just the prayers.

And some days, you might just talk about the pictures—bright, simple, whimsical illustrations by Sarah Ward. Objects in the artwork are LABELED (I am SO HAPPY about this!).

Because toddlers love to POINT and NAME pictures of objects and people they are learning to recognize and say!

Reed3It’s all wrapped up in a sturdy board book with rounded corners and a padded hard cover–practically indestructible!

The little boy in the photos is my #3 grandson. He loves his books and naming and pointing to objects in the pictures, and he was the inspiration for this book!

SayPrayThumbnail

I’m praying for SOOOO many little ones to learn of God and hear his word (in many languages, I hope!) with this book for years and years to come!

Want to know more? Check out the sampler and find links to retailers here.

– Diane

How Your Little One Learns to Talk

DadaIn Your Baby’s First Word Will Be Dada, determined animal dads try—but fail—to get their adorable offspring to say Dada.

It’s a quirky, funny take on the fascinating human task of learning to talk.

For quite a while, I’ve wondered how it is that babies can seem to understand so much, and even think, long before they can speak. And it turns out that no one really can explain this yet, although researchers have documented word-and-picture association in children as young as six months.

Learning to talk involves both the mental task of acquiring language and the physical task of learning to speak. This post is an overview of the stages of language learning.

Babies are born with the capacity to hear and make all the sounds in every language (English has about 44), although by the end of their first year they are losing the ability to distinguish sounds not in the language spoken around and to them.

Around six weeks of age, babies begin to make vowel sounds, especially aah, ee, and ooh. They eventually progress to consonant-vowel pairs, such as boo, da, and even mama and dada—but these “words” have no meaning to babies yet. They still have to determine “word boundaries” in the sound combinations they hear around them.

Most children begin to say single words with meaning, always nouns, at 12-18 months. This is the stage when children can point to—and eventually name—photos or illustrations of objects in their books.

One of my grandsons enjoyed his books immensely when he entered the pointing-and-naming stage.

Pointing2SayPrayThumbnailIn fact, it was interacting with him that gave me the idea for my book Say & Pray Bible. (You can learn more, see a sample here, and find links for ordering here.)

Around 24 months, children begin to say two-word, noun plus verb sentences, such as “Cat run.” In time, sentences become longer and include adjectives and adverbs, but no function words: “Big cat run fast.” Last to develop is the use of function words (such as the and an) and more complex sound combinations and sentence forms.

Human beings seem to be hardwired to acquire language and learn to speak—evidence that, as the Bible says, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139). But there’s a lot we can do to help little ones learn and have normal language development.

– Diane

Lizzie’s Prayer—This Is Why I Write

I’ve shared this story over on the Christian Children’s Author’s blog, but I don’t want anyone to miss it so I’m posting it again here.

SarahSometimes an author gets to hear how a book she wrote impacted a child’s life. This is one of those stories!

DunnFamily2Tim and Amy Dunn serve the church I’m part of, and Tim is a varsity football coach in our community too. Tim and Amy tried for 8 years to have a baby, and then God blessed them with their amazing Lizzie, now 6 and finishing up kindergarten.

If you had asked them, Tim and Amy would have said that if God wanted them to have another baby, he would have to open up that door for it to happen.

Last fall, Tim helped me provide the marketing department at Tommy Nelson with some video about my new book Words to Dream On, and he and Amy enthusiastically agreed to be influencers for the book when it came out. When their copy arrived, they began reading it to Lizzie, one story a night.

Not long after that, Tim let me know that Lizzie was praying for God to give their family a baby like he did for Abraham and Sarah.

And not too long after that, a family friend contacted Tim and Amy about a potential opportunity to adopt. And Lizzie changed her prayer to “Please let us have a baby like Sarah did, or let us have THIS baby.”

Tim and Amy were thrilled by the possibility of adopting a baby. They prayed and then told their friend they would LOVE to be considered. And they were! They met with the young mother, and she chose them as the couple she wants to adopt her baby.

And a month or two later, Lizzie had a baby brother.

And I have a story to cherish and share about the impact of God’s Word in the life of TWO children … Lizzie and the baby she prayed for.

– Diane

Dads, You Matter!

Did you know Father’s Day spending in the US typically runs 40 percent less than Mother’s Day spending?

That could suggest that dads are less important to kids than moms. But that just isn’t true.

Young, old, or in between—dads, you matter!

Last month I flew to Seattle to celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday! With family and friends, we celebrated and paid tribute to the quiet but strong man we call Dad or Grandpa or Uncle Jim or Brother.

From the backyard barbeque on Friday night to the stretch limo ride to Ray’s Boathouse on Puget Sound on Saturday, we all had a fabulous time!

FridayCakeDadEarlier, in the airport and on our flight, I noticed younger dads equipped with diaper bags, pushing strollers, keeping little ones calm and happy.

One sweet dad across the aisle from me patiently pulled toys and books out of his toddler’s backpack and later, when it was nap time, wrapped his son in a blanket, held him close, and rocked him a bit until he fell asleep.

It’s wonderful to see dads connected with their kids like that. But not surprising anymore—I see my own two sons-in-law do this superbly too.

Children with an involved, caring father are likely to be more confident, emotionally secure, and have better social connections as they grow older. They do better in school, an effect that extends even into the teen and young-adult years.

And if dad isn’t there? Strong relationships with other adult male relatives and friends greatly help to fill his important role. God’s heart for the fatherless is clear early on in the Bible, when his law for the Israelites included these words: “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child” (Exodus 22:22). And the psalmist wrote, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Psalm 68:5)

So as Father’s Day nears, here’s to dads! You matter. A lot!

DadMe
– Diane

Let’s Ease the Pain of Mother’s Day

RoseThis coming Sunday, May 10, is Mother’s Day … as all the ads and flyers and greeting card aisles have been reminding us, every day now for weeks. But the joy and gladness of the advertising and retail worlds rarely reflect reality.

Mother’s Day can bring a lot of joy . . .

To new moms, first-time moms, moms whose children are succeeding and accomplishing goals, moms with healthy babies, women whose own moms are loving, understanding, and supportive.

But Mother’s Day can bring a lot of pain . . .

To women who can’t conceive, women who’ve miscarried, women with sick babies, women who’ve lost children, women who’ve had abortions, women whose children are prodigals, women whose own moms were not shining examples of motherhood, women in grief.

Mother’s Day is a happy day for me. But along my road as mother and as daughter, I’ve experienced losses of various kinds and had to deal with grief.

One of the worst kinds of grief is disenfranchised grief, when people grieve “without the benefit of social support or others’ recognition of their struggle.” **

The Bible tells us to honor our parents. The honor is due them for their position even if, for some reason, not their behavior.

But the Bible doesn’t mandate a special day for churches to make a big deal about the happy moms and new babies in their midst. And definitely not at the expense of those who already woke up on Mother’s Day with heavy hearts.

Churches have often recognized moms or dedicate babies on Mother’s Day. I’m not sure why. Yes, we are to honor one another (Romans 13:7), and moms deserve honor and encouragement, and those babies can make for an entertaining morning.

But if the observance doesn’t also acknowledge the real hurt of women who grieve and women who long to be moms but are not … then those who struggle find their grief disenfranchised by those who should be the first to love.

So this is a plea for all of us to be aware.

If your church celebrates Mother’s Day in any way that disenfranchises grief this year … maybe you can help turn things around for next year.

And maybe you know a woman for whom coming to church on Mother’s Day will be a struggle. Maybe you can speak a simple word of acknowledgement, or write a note, or give a hug.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

POM** The quote is from my co-author, counselor Cheryl Savageau, in the chapter on grief in Parents of Missionaries (IVP).

This updated post was first published at ChristianChildrensAuthors.com in 2013.

– Diane