Is it really better to go to a funeral than a party?

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OK, let’s be honest, attending a funeral is usually not high on our list of things to do as no one enjoys saying goodbye especially when death is unexpected.  However, we are told in the Bible that it’s better to go to a funeral than a party. Why?

Attending a funeral has a way of refocusing our attention on what is really important in life. A funeral allows one to contemplate their own death and whether they are prepared to meet God (Romans 2:6-1114:10). Also, when we hear the testimony of a life well lived we tend to reexamine our own life as we each have a dash between our birth date and death date.  This dash symbolizes our entire lives—the time we have to create meaning for God, our families, our communities, and ourselves.

At funerals I tend to examine my life as I’m responsible for what I’m doing with it.  We’re told our days are fleeting, life is temporary, and our length of time is not promised. Death is certain for each of us and only God knows the number of our days.

Job 14:5 You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.

This year I’ve attended four funerals or, more accurately, “life celebrations.”  Honestly, I can say that these four men all profoundly touched the lives of so many and each left behind a beautiful legacy.

Back in March we received the incredibly sad news that our friend’s son was killed in an auto accident.  On December 13th he would have been 25, the same age as our eldest daughter which made his death harder.  Josh had recently graduated from Wheaton, had a promising career, and was newly married. The death of someone so young is so perplexing.   When I think of Josh I will always remember his smile and zest for life.  I left the memorial service realizing that death can happen at any moment to anyone of us and at any age.   A recording of Josh singing I Can Only Imagine that was played at the service providing peace, hope, and encouragement for those of us left behind, as Josh was in awe by the presence of Jesus.

In July, my friend Stacy lost her in-laws in a tragic car accident.  Jon and I felt lead to attend her father in-laws funeral to show our support and love for her.  While we had never met Ron Buck we both left the service saying we wish we had known him as others shared about this wonderful Godly man.

On December 5th, Ronnie Smith was gunned down during his morning jog near the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. He and his wife moved overseas about two years ago to teach high school chemistry and to be a blessing to the Libyan people.

I first met Ronnie about five years ago as he was a teaching leader at our church. He was passionate about teaching and equipping those who took his classes.  What I will remember him for is the passion for which he had for memorizing God’s word.  The most impactful sermon I ever heard was given by Ronnie incorporating scripture from Genesis to Revelation reminding me of God’s History of Redemption.  A beautiful table book was complied and completed in 2010 to accompany the second time Ronnie preached The History of Redemption, before heading overseas to teach and love others.  This book is a beautiful keepsake and the perfect gift to give to others plus a tangible way to support Ronnie’s family.  I am thankful that our lives intersected and for the wonderful legacy that Ronnie leaves behind.  My prayers are with Ronnie’s wife Anita and his son.  A special fund has been set up to support his family in the untimely death of their husband and father.

On December 10th, Michael Adams succumbed to his two year battle with cancer.  He lived in our neighborhood and lived life fully with more optimism and hope than many people I know.   Michael always made time to talk and was interested in what you had to say as well as interesting to listen to.  I, like most people, will miss seeing him ride his bike in the neighborhood with his huge grin.  It broke my heart when I saw his wife and four children (15, 12, 7, 7) at the funeral as they will greatly miss him.  He requested that family and friends ride their bikes to the church plus wear his favorite color green or a bike jersey.

Last month I read When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story. This is an incredibly inspirational and heartrending memoir about the life of Ben Breedlove who died on Christmas day of a heart attack at the young age of 18.  I’ve known Ben and his family for years and his story is amazing. The week before his death he posted a remarkable video, This is my Story describing the peace and bright lights he’d found the other times his heart stopped. Ben makes it clear that death is not something to be feared. This book offers peace and hope in knowing that someday we will see those who have preceded us in death.

Psalm 39:4 “O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
5 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah

So indeed more wisdom and insight is gleaned when attending a funeral verses a party. Since we all must die, one is usually faced with their own mortally when attending the funeral for family or friends.  Are you living with no regrets? Will you be proud to stand before your Maker? Christmas is only a week away so remember Jesus Christ came to earth so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. He also came to die and shed His blood as a substitute in our place.

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Meaningful Traditions

Meals Together = A Werner Tradition

Meals Together = A Werner Tradition

Sharing about warm fuzzy family traditions used to bother me. You see, I grew up in an environment with few traditions to pass on. My husband, on the other hand, had a different experience. His family had too many holiday traditions. As such, we had to sort through where and how to celebrate the holidays. Together we decided what traditions we desired to keep and we also set out to establish new ones.

Traditions are invaluable as they are the super glue that holds families together. They give children a sense of security and comfort, because they provide continuity in an ever-changing world. Traditions also give the family something to look forward to throughout the year lending to a sense of closeness within the family. As families establish and follow traditions, the family is strengthened and grows in unity and love.  So make an effort to establish some significant practices that you repeat yearly.

What are Family Traditions?

Traditions are practices or beliefs that help create positive feelings, a sense of belonging, and are often repeated regularly. Many traditions are handed down from generation to generation, but every family can create its own traditions as well.

Traditions are the “we always” of families, like “We always say God be with You when we depart from each other or usually we sign “I love You” or “We always” have dinner together as a family.  Because such traditions have meaning that is special to an individual family, they create feelings of warmth and closeness. By spending time together in a fun and special setting, family members grow closer. Effective traditions promote a sense of identity plus a feeling of belonging.

Make sure you have spiritual traditions and incorporate spiritual truths into your traditions. Traditions that bring family members closer to God should be a family’s first priority. Some of the simplest spiritual traditions include praying together, going to church together, serving together, etc..

Establish new traditions especially as your family dynamics change.  Choose traditions that include every family member and are sensitive to the needs of all family members. Remember that every family is unique; do what works for you. Also don’t overwhelm the family with new traditions. Pick one or two and see how things go.  If it does not work no problem let it go.  I have tried many new traditions that never amounted to anything other than a good laugh.

From time to time, evaluate your traditionsTo make sure your traditions are working for your family, it’s helpful for families occasionally to identify and evaluate traditions they already have and make plans to add new ones. Also as your children grow you will find yourself letting go of some traditions that worked well while they were younger i.e. family game/pizza night, evening devotions, etc..  My older girls are now independent and living on their own so I need to evaluate what traditions we will use with Cayley and when all together.

I will share some things my family has done and continues to do.  Remember we are the Werner family and these are things that work for our family.  Feel free to write down those that are of interest to you but I encourage you to talk to your husband, family and God before implementing them.

General Traditions

  • For birthdays, each family member chooses his or her favorite menu for the day or they may choose a favorite place to eat out.
  • For birthdays we play The Beatles “Birthday Song” and the birthday person dances with other family members as we videotape them.
  • For religious milestones such as accepting Christ as personal Savior (Spiritual Birthday) or baptism, our girls were given a Bible or other things to remind them of that special day.
  • We make eating together at the dinner table a priority. This greatly impacted our daughters and promoted openness within the family during meals. To encourage conversation, we would play “high point, low point of the day,” by each sharing what a high point of their day was, as well as any low points.
  • Our family has a special RED dinner plate that says “You Are Special.” We use this plate to honor a family member who has a reason to celebrate – a good report card, promotion, birthday, etc.
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  • We would read our girls bedtime stories & pray with them before bed.
  • We enjoyed going to church together as a family as well as sitting together.
  • Another cool idea is to keep a family journal. I have an individual journal for Jon, Caryn and Courtney. I used to write in them when the girls were home and they would write back.

Thanksgiving Traditions

  • Serve others as a family.
  • Focus on being thankful and having a grateful heart during the month. Write thank you notes.
  • Go around the table and share 3 things you are thankful for.
  • Reflect back on the blessings of the year.
  • Invite those without families of their own over for dinner.

Christmas/Hanukkah Traditions

  • Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas by keeping it Christ centered. We’ve enjoyed Adorenaments by Family Life.
  • These picture ornaments tell the names of Christ.  The ones hanging are Lamb of God and Good Shepherd.  There is a scripture reference and devotion for each ornament. Best of all they are durable and non breakable for small hands.

    These picture ornaments tell the names of Christ. The ones hanging are Lamb of God and Good Shepherd. There is a scripture reference and devotion for each ornament. Best of all they are durable and non breakable for small hands.

  • Celebrate Advent.  There are many wonderful books to guide families through the Advent season.  We found Jotham’s Journey and Bartholomew’s Passage to be wonderful for school aged children.
  • These Advent books hold the attention of children 8+ and each evening ends in a cliff hanger having the children asking for more.  We truly have enjoyed these books for the past eight years.

    These Advent books hold the attention of children 8+ and each evening ends in a cliff hanger having the children asking for more. We truly have enjoyed these books for the past eight years.

  • I have a Family Christmas Journal that I began in 1992. I write where we celebrated Christmas, with whom, and special details of the season.  I also have a place where I store previous Christmas greetings (cards/letter and family photo we have sent to family & friends).  It’s fun to go back and look at the photos and read the letters we wrote.
  • Take a family photo to include with your Christmas letter.  What fun it is to look back over these.  Be sure to keep a photo for each child for when they leave home.
  • Our Christmas Journal

    Our Christmas Journal with 2009 Christmas letter and Family Photo

  • When the girls were younger, we made homemade gifts and ornaments, snowman wraths, scented candles, etc…
  • Collect or make one ornament each year that has special meaning to the family and each child.  Our family picks out an ornament together when we are on a family vacation, or if a child played a particular sport or started a new hobby, we will find something to signify that event. As the children get older they will have their own collection of ornaments that are significant to them in some sweet way.
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    WINE GLASS for daughter who turned 21, CAMERA for daughter who is a professional photographer, and Taylor Swift GUITAR for daughter who went to her first concert “RED”

  • Visit a nursing home to bring good cheer.
  • As a family, put up and decorate the tree making it a fun event with music and good food.
  • We have various movies we watch during the Christmas season – It’s Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, Polar Express, Christmas Carol, The Grinch, etc…
  • Collect Christmas stories and read them.  I now have a box of books that I pull out in November. A favorite read is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson.
  • Act out the Christmas story or use a flannel board to let children tell the story.  We bought each of my girls a small nativity and when they were young they would play with them and I’d ask them to tell me the story of Jesus’ birthday.
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    Nativity made of felt we made back in the 90’s

  • Drive around the neighborhood looking at lights and listening to Christmas music. In Austin we visit the Trail of Lights.
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  • Have children put one piece of straw in the manger for every act of service they do in December. By Christmas it should be soft and comfortable for baby Jesus.
  • Find a live nativity to visit.

New Year’s Traditions

  • Write thank you notes for those who blessed you during Christmas. I include thank you notes in everyone’s Christmas stocking to make this task easier.
  • Set resolutions for the family as a whole.
  • Ring in the New Year with a traditional southern meal.  Each of the different foods represents a good wish for the year to come. With black-eyed peas symbolizing luck, mustard, turnip, cabbage or collard greens representing money and ham for never going hungry, this tasty meal is delicious as well as lucky.

Valentine’s Day Traditions

  • This is Jon’s birthday so we allow him to decide what we do on this very special day.
  • Call relatives or send cards and tell them you love them.

Easter/Passover Traditions

  •  Resurrection Eggs – The Easter Story for Children by Family Life.
  • Have neighbor kids over to make their own resurrection eggs as you tell the story.
  • Host an Easter egg hunt.
  • Enjoy the Passover service together, including include prayers, scripture readings, songs, hand washing, a meal (including the eating of hard-boiled eggs as a symbol of the renewal of springtime), eating of green and bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and wine (fruit of the vine).

In closing if you struggle to know what traditions to implement, I encourage you to be just relax and be creative.  What is your favorite family tradition? How will you create a new family tradition?

Let’s Talk Sex – High School and Beyond

But they are still my baby?! Your children will always be your babies, but sexual attraction does not cease with age and it is advantageous to be aware of this fact. Sexual attraction is normal. It is part of life. Are you keeping yourself educated as the parents and are you intentionally engaging with your children about topics including dating, crushes, school dances, and healthy boundaries? More than these outward manifestations, are you engaging with your child’s heart? Are you purposefully spending time with each child and making yourself available as a safe space for your children to share information and ask questions? These are important questions to ponder throughout the rest of your child’s life. Presently, however, there are some things that you may want to be aware of as your child journeys through high school.

Gone are the days when boys called the parents home phone in order to ask the daughter out on a date. Cell phones have taken the place of the family phone and texting has been substituted for calls. As such, it is wise to talk to your children about sexting. For those that don’t know, sexting is the modern equivalent of what we used to call phone sex. You don’t think that sexting is a real issue? Let me share some statistics that might change your mind. The percent of teenagers who have sent or posted nude/ semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves:

  • 20% of teenagers overall
  • 22% of teen girls
  • 18% of teen boys
  • 11% of young teen girls ages 13-16

The percent of teenagers sending or posting sexually suggestive messages:

  • 39% of all teenagers
  • 37% of teen girls
  • 40% of teen boys

While it is extremely important for parents to teach their children about Internet and phone/texting safety, such as online privacy, it is also important to discuss more tangible activities like school dances. Before school dances, it is wise to talk about physical boundaries. In today’s day and age, school dances look a lot more like sex with clothes on than innocent fun. Remind your children that they are powerful and don’t have do things simply because everyone else is doing it. One way to bring this up is to talk to your children about twerking, the new dance move that is common amongst teens and is seen in Miley Cyrus’ new music video. Essentially, this dance move involves hip thrusting movements in a low squatting position. This style of dancing is not uncommon at school dances and is helpful to discuss before your children attend these dances.

As a family, it is important to have open communication regarding what age you feel it is appropriate for your children to date. There is no magical age, but it is wise to have some basic ground rules and convictions set in place before another young girl or boy comes into the picture and infatuation matures. Our family, for instance, encouraged our daughters to wait until they were at a marrying age to date. We often talked about the purpose of dating, which we decided to view with a bit more intentionality than most people. As such, our girls decided to not date until after high school. In the meantime, we encouraged them to form friendships with the opposite sex and learn how to appreciate others likes, dislikes, and values. This helped our daughters begin to establish their own values and recognize their own persona.

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While our daughters decided to wait to date until they were out of high school, it is important to reiterate with your children what purity is and discuss topics such as STD’s regardless of what your family decides about dating. Obviously, the purpose of this isn’t to scare your children but to make them aware that the notion of “safe sex” simply isn’t true. Have you ever looked at the statistics on STD’s? It is shocking!  As such, it is better to over communicate with your children than assume that they understand these things. This should include bringing up topics such as oral sex. Many children are led to believe that oral sex is safe because it doesn’t produce a baby, but what they don’t know is that it can lead to sexually transmitted diseases. In return, this is often where teens draw the line because no one talks to them about sex or the consequences of their choices. Here are some statistics to be aware of:

  • Although 15–24-year-olds represent only one-quarter of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half (9.1 million) of the 18.9 million new cases of STI’s each year.
  • Each year, almost 750,000 U.S. women aged 15–19 become pregnant.
  • The US has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world.
  • Each year in the United States, about 750,000 adolescent females become pregnant, 20,000 young people are newly infected with HIV, and nearly four million new STI infections occur among 15- to 19-year-olds.
  • By their 19th birthday, seven out of ten teens have engaged in sexual intercourse.

Boundaries are an important thing to discuss with both your sons and daughters. Teach your daughters how to practically say “no” to sexual advances and teach your sons how to respect a woman and how to handle advances from girls. Show your teens how to reinforce physical limits, maintain their personal boundaries, and use their voices. Practically, this might look like encouraging them to not enter into the opposite sex’s bedroom when alone or even home if the parents are not there. Teaching your children these things at a young age, and giving them tools to avoid advances, can help prevent date rape. Sadly, studies show that nearly one in four college women are sexually assaulted. Of those, about 70% knew their attacker. Before your teens go to parties, talk to them about the importance of not accepting a drink from a stranger. One of the best practical protections against date rape is to not allow your teens to go to parties alone and remind them to always trust their gut instincts. While this may be a scary talk to have, especially with your daughters, remind them that they can call you at anytime and you will pick them up.

Clearly there is a lot of information to discuss with your children as they enter into adulthood. The key is to encourage open communication and be engaged in your children’s lives. For parents, this might look like keeping up to date with chat acronyms, text message shorthand, new movies, and popular music. While it is a lot of information, relax and don’t be so serious. Ask your teens questions and take them out on fun dates for goodness sake! Get to know their friends and make your home a place that they will want to come home to and invite their friends to.

More statistics to be aware of:

A resource for understanding teen slang: