Holiday Musings

A few years ago I wrote a “Holiday Musings” article for Training for Triumph’s newsletter. It has a lot of the same ideals that you will find in this blog—in season and out of season! However, I want to share it with you this Christmas. I pray that you will be moved and encouraged by it.





                                                       “Holiday Musings”
                                                               by Donna Reish






I love Christmas! I love giving gifts to my children; I love lights and beautiful decorations; I love doing family activities over and over again every year; I love baking goodies and giving them away. I even have a verse to substantiate my desire to give good gifts to my kids at Christmas time: “If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your father, which is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11). I mean, God knows that even we mere mortals love to give good gifts to our kids!




Although all of the things in my “I love” list above are somewhat “unspiritual,” we have found through the years there are some common threads that we try to emphasize/do during the Christmas holiday—some to remember and ponder what Christ has done for us more fully; some to deepen our relationships with each other; some to show Christ’s love to the world. Allow me to give you a list of my holiday musings.






1. Think about, talk about, sing about, and remember the true reason for Christmas as a family throughout the month. 

We have found many things that help us focus on the birth of Christ more and more throughout December: singing carols together; reading Christmas picture books with the littles in the afternoons; collecting nativity scenes; reading from chapter books that emphasize the birth of Christ, such as Max Lucado’s Cosmic Christmas, Gene Edwards’ The Birth, and Marjorie Holmes’ Two From Galilee; going to community events that point us back to the reason for the season, such as Christmas plays, live nativities, walks through Bethlehem, Christmas cantatas, movies, and plays that emphasize the coming of the Savior.




2. Create family traditions. 

We have too many holiday traditions to list in just one short article, but research has born out the importance of traditions in building a child’s outlook on many things—and it is so obvious when you hear children talk and repeat that mantra: “We always…” There is something about being able to say that “We always …” or “In our family, we… “

 Two of our favorite traditions are decorating the house together and reading inspirational Christmas stories throughout the month of December. Our older kids laugh until they cry as they give play-by-plays of each ornament making ordeal we have gone through. (Our tree is decorated with only home made ornaments—another tradition we have is that of making ornaments together.) Anyway, they have a joke of holding up the sample ornament (one that I bought that we were modeling after) and holding up one of ours and chiming, “Sample ornament; Reish ornament” over and over. Then they tell about the time I threw the cinnamon sticks across the room in a fit of Christmas stress as we tried to make the “ornaments in a minute” out of cinnamon sticks. Then we all laugh some more—and I try my best to keep from crying as I think about Christmases gone by—and wonder where the years have gone and long for just a day from a Christmas ten or fifteen years ago.






Traditions do not have to be elaborate or expensive. Some of ours (besides the decorating night and ornament making) are as simple as watching certain Christmas movies while we wrap gifts; eating shrimp alfredo while we watch White Christmas; reading about holiday traditions each morning; learning a new carol together each year (all the verses!); having the kids exchange their gifts with each other on Christmas Eve; reading inspirational stories each night before bed; reading one of the Gospels during the month of December; etc.






3. Think about Jesus’ entire life—his birth, life, death, and resurrection—not just his birth. 

Linking the Christmas story to the fact that without it we would have no hope of salvation is important, especially with younger children. Two ways that we do this include discussing, reading about, and singing about the names of Christ and what they mean throughout the month; and reading one of the Gospels—not just the Christmas story—during December. This helps us focus on our salvation even more. (Another thing we have done to focus on Jesus’ entire life is to listen to Focus on the Family’s radio theatre “The Luke Reports.” I will put links to some excellent resources throughout December, so check back frequently!)




4. Reach out to those less fortunate—and do so in a way that costs you and your children something.

 I know that doesn’t sound very “Christmasy”—good cheer and mistletoe and all (btw, I love mistletoe if the right “mistletoe-ee” is around!), but taking a can to a canned food drive or parents buying gifts for the children to leave at the angel tree are not sacrifices for our children—and do not do much to teach our children the true meaning of Christmas—and the true meaning of sacrificial giving.


When I speak of reaching out to those less fortunate, I am talking about giving up time (a few evenings or days?) and money (money with which a child could buy himself something). I’m talking about doing hard things. I’m talking about getting dirty, being inconvenienced, etc. I know that sounds strange, but honestly, what could we possibly do or give that would be too much for our Lord? Find true, meaningful service projects for your children—extensive time spent at a nursing home or group home caroling, making cookies with residents, reading to them, etc.; earning money to be used to give gifts to truly poor or forgotten people (like county home residents or the disabled); going out into the homes of people who never have a Christmas visitor; serving food at a soup kitchen; cleaning mattresses at a rescue mission. Focus on others more than ever before this Christmas—your children will thank you for it eventually. (For the new year, read the stories written by the author of Mandate for Mercy (also the founder of the Mercy Ship ministry) about how his mom made his family squeeze together in the car every week to pick up poor and desperate people to take them to church—and the impact this had on this man causing him to spend his life on the poor and desolate—this is the kind of reaching out we are purporting here.)




5. Reach out to your relatives.

 Yes, those strangers who are watching “bad” things on television the whole family get together while puffing away on their cigarettes. Teach your children to go to family get togethers to serve—not to judge. Start out teaching your children about this concept of serving relatives with a Bible study (ahead of time) on “being great in God’s kingdom by serving” and “doing for others asking nothing in return” and “being a light by your good works.” 

Then, if it is true, tell your children that you have been more concerned about yourself than you have of others at past family get togethers. And that you want your entire family to change all of that. That you want to “do your good works that others would glorify your father in heaven.” Discuss ways that you can do this during this holiday season: working harder to make good dishes to the gatherings (no lentil casserole, please—bless these people with fat and sugar!); helping with young cousins; encouraging grandparents; helping to set up and take down; being kind to each other as an example of family unity to those who might not have any idea what that looks like. 

(Note: Because I always get asked this, I will put a caveat here—I am not talking about reaching out to relatives in any way that would put your children in danger. We recommend that your children never be left with non-Christians and never be put in situations in which they could be harmed.)




6. Really talk to others this holiday season. 

Your ministry of bringing your relatives to Christ will begin not with your family’s judgment of them, but with your interest and concern for their lives in general. Jeff Myers, leadership specialist, founder of Passing the Baton, and current president of Summit Ministries (as of 2012),  gives the following list of things to discuss this year with relatives young and old. Some are one-on-one types of discussions while others would work well for group discussions**:






Express thanks to someone in the room for something they did for you.


“I’m thankful for…” Finish the sentence.


If you could have the attention of the whole world for 30 seconds, what would you say?


One thing I’m thankful for about our country.


What is the key to success in life? Why do you say that?


Tell about a lesson you learned the hard way.


What are some ways life is different now than in the old days?


Tell a story of a decision your ancestors made that changed the direction of their lives-and yours.


Tell about a lesson you learned by watching someone else.


“A person I would like to honor publicly is…”


“Time and money aside, I would rather be…”


Tell about an experience that changed you for the better.


Tell a story about something that started out bad but had a happy ending.


“My first hero was _________.”

Tell about a time when you showed courage.


Describe a teacher who had a significant influence on your life.


Tell about an invention that made your life easier.


“The most admired public figure when I was growing up was ____.” Tell a story.


Tell about a memorable event in your life.


“A famous person I’ve met is _____.” Tell about the experience.


“I got in so much trouble…” Tell the story!


(www.passingthebaton.readyportal.net/page/68289/;jsessionid=6rj638as0ohf7 )




**Note: These are good to print off and use as dinner discussion for your immediate family, too!






6. Express genuine gratefulness to God and others

December is a month to really display the quality of gratefulness—and to teach your children to do so too. Not just mere ”thank-you’s”—but sincere thanksgiving to God for His Son and for others for everything they do for us. Teaching children to say thank-you, write thank-you notes, etc. is a start. However, gratefulness begins with the realization that everything good we have comes from the hand of God. That we are nothing without Him. And that He knows what we need more than we do. It is deepened when we give up materialism—the idea that we have to have this or that in order to be happy—and focus instead on the good things God has done for us. Thoughts on materialism would require an entire article in itself, but when we have to have things to make us happy, when our mood and outlook change as a result of getting more and more, or when we cannot be happy in whatever situation we are in (materially speaking), we are probably steeped in materialism. Praying through this, sharing with our family the importance of giving up our ideas that we somehow deserve this or that, focusing on gratefulness for all that God has done for us outside the material things we are lacking—these are ways to feel and exhibit true gratefulness.






7. Spend quality time reaching into your children’s hearts. 

That’s a tough one, huh? I mean, the busiest time of the year, and we have to add another thing to the list. I remember vividly eighteen years ago when I had five kids ten and under. I still had younger siblings at home who would come and spend a lot of Christmas week with us. I made four Christmas dinners in a row for various relatives. I got up early in the morning to make home baked bread and rolls and went to bed late at night to get the overnight breakfast casseroles in the oven. I get tired just thinking about it. I was trying to serve others, but found myself distanced from my kids by the time the holiday week was over. I can remember looking at Joshua, then ten, one evening after the relatives had all left, and calling him over to ”sit in Mommy’s rainbow” (my bent legs as I lay on the sofa)—and he seemed so far away. I had been with him all week—I was usually with my older kids all the time as they did not have any older siblings to take them anywhere like my littles now have! However, I felt so far from him. I had let the busy-ness of Christmas keep me from those I love the most. Now I have to remind myself that one more home made goody or one more shopping day is not worth distancing myself from my children. Stay close. It’s Christmas!




This Christmas I pray that all of us can ”keep Christmas” in a way that glorifies God and teaches our children deep Christmas truths.


*Copyright TFT 2008

Christmas Story for You: “The Burglar’s Christmas”

Last week I posted a link to a favorite Christmas story (“Gift of the Magi”) that is available online in its entirety. I hope you and your family enjoyed reading that together!

Today I am thrilled to provide a link to another favorite, though lengthier one, by Willa Cather (author of “Oh Pioneers” and “My Antonia”) entitled “The Burglar’s Christmas.” It is rather long and may even require two reading sessions, but it is an incredibly heart-warming story of reconciliation, forgiveness, and a mother’s love.

You may find it in its entirety here: http://www.allthingschristmas.com/stories/BurglarsChristmas.html

Merry Christmas, Positive Parents who are “Character Training From the Heart”! 🙂

Homeschool Tip IX: Teach Like Jesus

 Twelve Tips for Homeschoolers: Learn to Teach Like Jesus


Many years ago we were introduced to the concept of teaching like Jesus taught. We have since delved into that further, realizing that Jesus was not only a model of how to teach concepts to our children, but he was also the epitome of relationship building with people. This has helped us in our parenting and discipling of our children in general (not just in “teaching” or homeschooling).

One of the things that has stuck with us the most is the concept of time in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus taught all the time! He taught Nicodemus late at night; he taught during meals via the last supper and other “potluck” style opportunities. This reinforced the concept in Deuteronomy 6:7 of teaching our children all the time—as we do everything—as we live. Along the lines of different time frames, we also noted that Jesus taught varying lengths of time. Sometimes he taught short and straight to the point (the woman at the well). Other times he had lengthy teaching sessions, such as the Sermon on the Mount. Sometimes he taught so long he went right on through meal times! We, too, need to be aware of our audience—and their time limitations, our scheduling needs, etc.

Jesus also used various types of teaching. This showed us that some kids need a certain type of instruction while others need something else. In Matthew 18:12, Jesus asked the question, “What do you think?” This has become a common mantra for our parenting/teaching. We have wanted to allow the kids to tell us what they already know or what they think—and then we could build on that. Asking open ended questions is a super method for academic training—and for heart training.

Of course, Jesus also taught one-on-one (again, Nicodemus and the woman at the well); small group (twelve disciples); and large group (five thousand). There have been many things in our homeschool that were perfectly suited to one-on-one instruction. Other things were great for small group—and we used unit studies and other “small group” instruction situations with our kids together. Some things were truly best suited to a larger group, such as speech and debate, drama, and choir.

Jesus used storytelling extensively. He used God’s word to tell stories. And he used nature to tell stories—pearls, fish, trees, water were all object lessons. We have taken his concept of using nature to heart. We have used animals via Answers in Genesis materials, zoo trips, etc. We have used Character Sketches books for twenty-nine years to teach character and Bible—half of the book is using nature to teach character! Sometimes we just look at the snow, clouds, stars, ocean—and an instant lesson in spiritual truth presents itself!

Jesus taught in unusual places—which we have found extremely effective and fun—for the kids and parents! Jesus taught in a boat, by a well, on a hillside, in a garden, on the water, under the stars. Kids love surprises and unusual things. And we have enjoyed providing surprises and unusual places to learn—zoos, parks, sleeping at the top of the jungle gym at Science Central, camping out on the “bunks” at the fort, and more have provided us with unusual and enjoyable learning opportunities.

Lastly, Jesus had characteristics of a superior teacher—that we homeschoolers should model after. He knew his audience—and he taught accordingly. He was teachable, even as a teacher: “I only do what I see my Father do.” He had his priorities in order: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).  And he didn’t “just teach”—he discipled: “Come ye after me” (Mark 1:17). Wow, “to be like Jesus”—to teach like Jesus! Now that would make me a successful homeschooler!

Twelve Terrific Times to Talk–#11: When You “Sit” in Your House

#11: When You “Sit” in Your House—Preferably in a “Techno-Free” Zone

Out of all of the times/places that we are told to teach our children diligently in Deuteronomy, “when you sit in your house” has got to be the most challenging. Over twenty years ago, Gregg Harris gave us the greatest advice in his parenting seminar (that we have used weekly and teach others to do the same): Whatever is important to you to do with your children should be attached to something that is already in the schedule. Thus, we attach reading together to rising/going to bed; we attach family prayer to meals; etc. However, finding time to “sit in your house” is another matter—and one that I would like to address as a talk time in this blog post.

How many of us “sit in our houses”? That is, we sit—not to watch television, pay bills, surf the web; play computer games; read the paper, etc., but just SIT. With my AOADD (Adult-Onset ADD—self diagnosed!!!), sitting is not one of my favorite things to do—unless I am doing something else at the same time (i.e. working!). However, this is an often-overlooked period of time that we truly need to tap into in order to talk with our children.

We have to force ourselves to “sit” with our children. We need to make it a habit to just take a seat next to one or more of them each day—no electronics, no work on our laps—and just “be.” These moments are when great communication times as we are “sitting in our house” will occur.

Not necessarily formal teaching, though there are definite times and places for that. But just “being.” Just saying, “Tell me about your day.” And truly listening. Times to listen to their hearts sing the “talking song” that our family adopted as a parenting cue many years ago: “Talk to me; show me that you care. Talk to me; listen to the words I say. Talk to me; there’s so much we can share. I know you love me when you talk to me.” Times to really look into their faces and observe their countenance—to read the signs that show that deep within that son or daughter is an ache, a question, an apprehension, an issue that needs Mom or Dad time.

Recent statistics indicate that teenagers spend an average of less than thirty minutes a week in a “meaningful relationship” with their mothers and fifteen minutes per week with their fathers. Fifteen to thirty minutes a week with Mom or Dad during some of the most critical years of a person’s life! (We have said for years that ages sixteen to twenty are the highest need years for our kids in terms of parental time and support.)

Another recent study of parents and children by an insurance company said that children WANT their parents to spend time with them. Eight out of ten said they resented being put in front of a television (instead of spending time with Mom or Dad); sixty percent said they wished their parents spent more time with them and worked less.

Parents who bring work home (instead of being available for their kids), put their own hobbies and interests before the kids; and are consumed with their home and possessions more than their kids are being coined as “Maybe later” parents. As a mom of six grown kids (ages seventeen through twenty-nine) and one younger (almost fourteen year old), I can tell you for sure that “later” never comes.

So…the first piece of advice we have for establishing talk time when you sit in your home” is to “sit in your home”! Set aside other things and make the time. Fire pits; bonfires; electronic-free rooms; porch swing moments; Mom & Dad’s bedroom for midnight meetings; family meals—all of these give opportunities to sit with our kids. Let’s make it happen!

Twelve Terrific Times to Talk–#8: Daddy Talks

(Sorry it has been a while since I posted. I have been busy with my dad who has been sick. The rest of the Twelve Terrific Times to Talk coming soon!)

#8: Daddy Talks

When our “little boys” were tweens, we wanted them to learn about/hear about sensitive things from their daddy—not from Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, movies, television, or peers! It was about that time that we instituted “daddy talks”—times in which the boys (one at a time or in pairs since they were close in age) would sit down and talk with Ray about these types of things. We called it “daddy talks”—and they knew that if they ever had questions or heard things, etc., they could call a “daddy talk” and Ray would be available. (Have I mentioned here how crucial our availability for our kids really is??)

 I can remember that we started going to a different church about the time one of our boys was eleven and going into sixth grade. At this particular church, there was a special class that took place for that age kids—boys went into one and girls went into another for a couple of weeks to learn about “the birds and the bees” and purity. A boy at church told Josiah that he had to go to the “sixth grade” class—that all kids at church had to if they wanted to go to Royal Rangers. Josiah puffed his chest up, marched right up to that boy, and said, “I don’t have to go to that class. I have “daddy talks”! Too cute!

Sweet stories aside, there was (and continues to be) something powerful in a young  boy’s life when he has “daddy talks.” Something about those talks and that availability keep that boy from straying too far—keep his heart in check and his activities and motives pure.

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