The Light Bulb Dawns

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By Devon Robinson

Riverbend wRiters

Growing up, my mother would tell me with frustration how hard-headed I was. I’d roll my eyes and think how out of touch she was with reality about whatever it was I wanted to do that led her to say that. Around the age of twenty-nine, I realized my mother’s wisdom. Hey, it only took me close to three decades so I can’t be that stubborn, right?

From a toxic friendship during my high school/college years, an ill-advised first marriage at twenty-three years old, and searching for a unicorn career (and those are just the things I’ll admit to on the web), I made pivotal life decisions before the light bulb dawned: my strong will, if left unchecked, becomes detrimental stubbornness.

In each scenario above, people tried to tell me to think carefully about the paths I chose to walk (or rather, the paths I sprinted down with reckless abandon). I didn’t heed anyone’s advice. In my head, everyone else was the fool. I was obstinate to the point that I removed anyone who challenged these choices of mine. I saw them as unsupportive, disloyal, and jealous. If you wanted to be in my life, it was essentially an Emperor’s New Clothes type of situation.

When the friendship died a fiery death, the marriage crashed, and the job-hopping resulted in a resume with multiple personalities, I finally stopped to think about how my headstrong personality played a part. I heard others’ warnings and challenges for how they were intended – as guidance, concern. I realized others weren’t trying to control me or rain on my parade. They saw things I couldn’t see with my tunnel vision and wanted to intervene before damage was done. With humility, I acknowledged I’d been the fool, insistent on learning the hard way.

I admit I still have a healthy dose of will that I work at keeping in check but I’ve come to the point of welcoming others’ counsel. I seek wisdom from those who thoroughly know me. I’ve incorporated a lot of open-hearted prayer into my life. One of my daughters is showing glimmers of a strong will and I’d be lying if I said I’m not inwardly frightened for her. So I guess that’s a silver lining: I’ll be able to speak with genuine experience as I try to guide her. Let’s hope she learns faster than her mother!

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The Shoebox Chronicles: Honoring America’s Pioneer Women – Edition 5

By Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters

As I continued reading through my family history via the shoebox letters, I identified hundreds of correspondences I considered throwing away.  They were simple letters written to and from my grandmother and her three sisters between 1909 and 1973.

The letter’s contents were nothing remarkable at first glance.  Written on inexpensive and often recycled note paper, they contained mundane family updates, gardening tips, an occasional recipe, and always some mention about the weather.  What stood out to me was what was not in the letters; this is what made them so special.

Never was there a complaint or a longing for a different life. Mostly these letters were filled with words of support for each other and encouragement in the midst of less than desirable circumstances. The first decades of all of their lives were laced with difficult daily labors and great tragedies.  Such was the fate of the American pioneer woman. My grandmother and her sisters’ first homes contained no telephones, electricity or indoor plumbing.  These letters — their only means of long distance communication — tell the story of a breed of woman who laid the cornerstone for our national values, work ethic, and moral compass – and passed these traits on to future generations.

My grandmother, Mrs. Eula May Davis (Gram), was the epitome of all pioneer women of her time.  Born in 1889, she worked unselfishly to help her husband eke out a meager existence on their small family farm. With the exception of only 10 minutes of quiet time with her Bible after lunch, I never saw her rest. There were always cows to milk, eggs to collect, vegetable gardens to weed, and of course endless meals to prepare and clothes to wash.  Even though she outlived her husband and three of her four children, she considered herself to be a blessed woman.

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None of the pioneer women in these letters seemed to have any regrets about their lives.  Simply because each hardship they overcame brought them closer to their dreams of a better life for their children and grandchildren.  I remember seeing Gram absolutely glow with happiness when she saw the educational opportunities afforded me as a young boy. I now understand it was a feeling of complete and total satisfaction that all her struggles were worth it.

Her entire philosophy and simple attitude about her life was summed up in a recently discovered letter she wrote in 1972 to my mom about her own funeral.   Gram’s only request was that her favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:19, be read at the service.  She obviously wanted her last message to be that in times of adversity, God is adequately sufficient to “supply all your needs.” This was the mantra that brought her great comfort on this earth as she now joyously reaps her heavenly reward.

Writers Note: Part 2 of this blog titled “Pioneer Spirit Lives Today” highlights how modern women have built on the past lessons of their ancestors to keep the American Pioneer spirit alive.  Letters written in more recent year’s show the conveniences of life may have changed but the life challenges have not.

 

Simple Steps: Summer Family Faith Guide – Week 1

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With the onset of summer, we know that church attendance can be a bit more infrequent for families. Therefore, the Riverbend team and I have developed a guide that will help you stay active with your kids’ faith development. The first devotional guide is below.

When it comes to faith, the family is the the primary context for kids to develop their faith. Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to pass on our faith to our kids. Moses instructed us in Deuteronomy 11:19 to teach our kids about God “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Therefore, every moment of family life can be an opportunity to pass on the faith.

In order to help you capture these moments to develop faith in your kids this summer, we want to offer you this guide called, “Simple Steps,” to help you develop faith, hope and love at home. No matter if they are infants or teenagers, there are simple steps we can take to invest in their relationship with God.

All it takes is a little creativity, and a commitment to be intentional. Our hope is that this guide will help you with both when it comes to spending time with your kids.

Grace & Peace,

Scott Vermillion, Pastor

 

What to do about Sunday School?

Every Sunday is an opportunity to get in on the investment of faith that was made at church, but most parents miss it. It’s not that we don’t try. In our attempt to connect with our kids, we ask the standard follow-up question, “What did you learn today in Sunday School?”

Most kids hate this question (no matter if they are preschoolers or teenagers). Why? It’s a boring question! Kids don’t want to give parents reports on what they learned. They want to live in the moment. Here are some ways to make the most out of Sundays on your way home from church:

Infant: Obviously, infants are not in a position to talk…yet. However, take this time to be intentional with your kids by praying over them in the car ride home. They aren’t going to be able to understand what you’re saying, but God will. What is important is that you are creating a space to bless them. You can take what you learned and turn it into a prayer of blessing your child.

Preschool: Ask them to make up a song about the story they read on the way home. Most toddler’s love singing, and when you ask them to make up a song about their experience in Sunday School, they will no doubt be surprised by the request and be willing to fulfill it. You might need to start it off if your kids are a little shy. You can start by making up a song about what you learned, and encourage them to join in.

Elementary: Ask your kids to describe the characters in the story they read together in Sunday School. Don’t settle for boring descriptions. Get them to tell you what kind of clothes they would wear, what kind of hairstyle, and what color socks they would have. Ask them to tell you what kind of kids they would be if those bible characters were in their class at school. Would they hang out with them on the playground? Why or why not? When you ask slanted questions instead of direct questions about what they learned in Sunday School, you will engage their creativity which will be fun for them and get them talking freely.

Middle School: Ask questions about how the passage they read together would help them in various circumstances. For instance, you could ask: “How would what you learned today help you when you face life circumstances like feeling rejected, or school stress, or having success, or when you see someone being left out?” When you connect their everyday circumstances with what they are learning, you are helping them see how what they learn is practical for their everyday life. *Special Note: Sometimes it’s best to wait for dinner to ask these questions as moods change frequently in this stage.

High School: Ask questions about the values of the characters in the story that they read. For instance, you could ask, “What values did the people in the story have? Which of those values are you attracted to? Why? How would you go about adding those values to your life?” Then conclude with this question, “How can I be praying for you this week?” Then pray for them out loud, right there. Believe it or not, teenagers want to know that their parents care about them. As much as they are trying to find their own identity, they still need our encouragement and investment in their lives (even if they say they don’t). Praying for them is a great way to keep our investment going. *Special Note: Sometimes it’s best to wait for dinner to ask these questions as teenagers are often at their best at dinner.

Questions are built in curiosity generators.

If we learn to ask good questions, we can begin to help our kids envision a world where a relationship with God is valuable and desirable. So, let’s up our game this summer when it comes to asking good follow-up questions to our kids on our way home from church.

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Going the Extra Mile:

For Preschoolers and Elementary Kids:

Let the passenger parent record the song or conversation for a keepsake. Or you can do this over lunch and record the songs. These little moments will be treasures forever.

For Middle Schoolers:

Have the passenger parent write down or record at home the ways that those stories would encourage them in various circumstances. Then when your kids encounter those circumstances, remind them of what they said about those passages in order to encourage them.

For High Schoolers

Have the passenger parent write down or record at home the values your kid is trying to adopt. Then, when you see those values emerging in your kid, tell them how you see that value developing in them. This will go a long way to encourage them when they know you see those values lived out.

Download the ParentCue App

If you don’t have this by now, stop what you are doing and download it from your app store (http://theparentcue.org/app/). This app follows along with the content that our children’s ministry uses, so we as parents can be better equipped to help our kids take home what they learn at church. It is an exceptional resource for you to coach your kids in faith, so get it today… and don’t forget to open it up and use it throughout the week.

WARNING: There is a right way and a wrong way to ask questions.

If your questions are open ended (not answerable with ‘yes’ or ‘no’) and allow for your kids to take the conversation where they want to go with it, chances are you will find your kids enjoy the experience as much as you do.

However, if your questions are more like a police interrogation room, then your kids are going to shut down. This happens when we try to lead our kids to a conclusion or to have some epic revelation about God.

Remember, spiritual growth is primarily God’s business. We can get in on it by asking good questions. This helps our kids generate curiosity about God. The moment we take over to make sure our kids “get something out of Sunday School” will be the moment we are working at cross purposes with the Spirit in their lives.

Be patient when asking questions. Questions can be used to develop faith in our kids even if they don’t engage the way we hoped they would. Just keep at it. Question asking is both a skill to be developed and an art to explore.

How to Bloom

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By Lauren Kinzie, Riverbend wRiters

I don’t happen to believe that people who are truly spiritual are even aware of their spirituality. And here I am writing a spiritual blog, stumbling from one lesson to the next, inviting you to come with me. But, I think that’s the point. In sharing our stories of imperfect stumbling and discovery, we are sharing the most vulnerable and important part of ourselves, and are exercising our spirituality.

So much of our spiritual lesson is loss, and dealing with it. We are bulbs stuck in the dark, yearning to see the light and open. But, when we finally blossom, the light is glaring, and we feel exposed, and maybe afraid. There are prettier blooms out there! We have left the safety of the dark soil behind.

That is loss. Life requires us to shed the things we can’t carry or that belong to someone else on our journey.

Sometimes, we’re presented with the necessity masquerading as an option, to shed people, or bad habits, or a way of coping with life that is fearful, critical, or foolish. I personally can fill in the blank with 100 different things that don’t get me anywhere spiritually or anywhere else. They’re stupid habits, that provide momentary comfort, that are ridiculously hard to drop! It’s even more difficult to opt out of certain relationships in the realization that you have changed beyond them and they just don’t want the new you—they want the old version. All of these things or circumstances are innocuous in and of themselves, but they can eat up other options, even a calling.

Sometimes, the lesson is more brutal, as someone who occupies a chamber of our very heart is ripped from our lives. How to make sense of the brutal pain? I’m watching someone I love go through this now. Why did it happen? No mortal can answer the question.

I don’t think God is doing something to us or taking the things we lean on to make us grow. I think we can’t help but grow, if we let the tears out and let them water us like rain, letting our hearts open to the sunlight that’s still there, and always has been.

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The Shoebox Chronicles: Remembering Well – Edition 4

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By Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters

Last weekend an airline flight delay leaving Washington D.C. gave me a couple of rare free hours. I could choose to see new monuments, a museum, or just visit favorite landmarks in this wonderful and uniquely American city. I opted for Arlington National Cemetery.

I have been to this historic landmark numerous times and I have always been emotionally impacted by the scene of 624 acres of rolling hills marked with over 400,000 white grave markers of American soldiers. This trip was especially impacting as preparations were underway for Memorial Day remembrances. Volunteers were already positioning crates of small American Flags around the property so that other volunteers can place them on each grave as a Memorial Day tradition.

Memorial Day is a time we as a nation honor Americans who died in military service. Unfortunately, the real purpose of this day seems to get lost among announcements of super blowout sales at the local mall and the bedlam associated with the start of summer vacations.

In my shoebox files is a large envelope of letters titled “Norvin Davis letters”. Previously, I only knew that I had a second cousin named Norvin who died in World War II at the age of 22. But from these letters I learned about his dreams, his philosophy about his own death, how he died, and why he was honored to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary.

At West Point his classmates nicknamed him “Smiley” and he was considered the ultimate optimist and team leader. He loved to fish, was an avid horseman, and signed up for every volunteer military competition with his fellow cadets. He and his roommate, “Saint”, took early graduation to enter the war effort where Saint went to the European theatre and Norvin to the Pacific. The letters passed between them as fast as time and distance would permit.

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I learned my cousin dreamed of getting married and starting a family. But he did have his priorities and the first thing he was going to do when the war was over was get his “very own big yellow dog.” In one of the last letters to Saint, he wrote of dying: “I am not afraid of dying, but the hard part is knowing the ones I love will suffer.” He would have been comforted knowing his academy classmates and the entire squadron he commanded devoted much of their post-war lives to comforting my aunt and uncle with calls, personal visits and all those letters.

 

 

Lieutenant Norvin Davis – 1921 -1945

In one condolence letter, Lt. Gen. O.W. Griswold, Commander of the XIV Corps, wrote fondly of Norvin, concluding the letter by saying: “I have no doubt we will win this war. What concerns us all after that is whether the people themselves can win and keep the peace. If this can be done I feel that our American boys who fell in battle will have as their memorial the greatest monument ever built by the human race.”

I am grateful these letters were preserved as an important part of my family and our nation’s history. Philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Therefore, it is vital to the future of our nation that we take time on Memorial Day to remember all soldiers who died in military service. They shaped our national history. Most importantly – we cannot just honor our dead – we must learn from them. The future of this great nation depends on it.

On the Fringes…

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By Devon Robinson, Riverbend wRiters

In my opinion, it’s daunting to be vulnerable with Christian women. In a room full of seemingly Ruths, I feel more like an Eve (or a Jezebel on a really bad day. Eek!). The stress involved: Am I enough? Do I talk about God’s perfect love enough even in the midst of moments when I still wander “are you there, God”? Am I hiding my insecurities, faults, mistakes, and imperfections enough? Do I look wholesome enough? Am I smiling enough or is my RBF out? Even writing this blog post has me stricken with anxiety because strangers are getting a glimpse into my psyche.

Feeling like this, how do I make connections with women within the church?

I know vulnerability is a two way street. I’ve had experiences with Christian females in the past that have left me with a sour taste preventing me from going back to the table for seconds. Unfortunately, I do not think I stand alone here.

But….

The fact of the matter is these thoughts are all about me and my comfort, and that’s not Christ-like. Christ-like is finding the woman alone in the back pew and making sure she feels welcome. It’s reaching for the hand of the woman next to you because you know by observing her restlessness that she’s grappling with something painful. It’s revealing your need for grace so another can rest assured grace is there for her, too. It’s putting yourself out there again and again in the hope and faith that you will make a positive difference in someone’s life who’s in desperate need of love.

Because, at our cores, aren’t we all basically like the Woman at the Well, thirsting for the truth and acceptance of Jesus Christ?

Atticus Finch is Dead…

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By John Harrel, Riverbend wRiters

Human rights activist Desmond Tutu once said, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”

Atticus Finch is a fictional character from the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” brought to life by Gregory Peck in the movie of the same name. Atticus was a single (widowed) father to two young children in rural Alabama in the 1930’s. Based upon the author’s father, Finch was a man of unshakeable character who did the right thing, even when the right thing was unpopular and potentially life-threatening.

Where have men like Finch gone? The malady of generational poverty and future criminal activity can be directly attributed to fathers who abandon their children.

According to a study authorized by the U.S. Department of Justice, children from fatherless homes account for 63 percent of youth suicides, 90 percent of all homeless and runaways, 71 percent of high school dropouts, and…75 percent of rapists driven by displaced anger. Another study funded by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation found that children in low-income, two-parent homes outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes! Fathers matter!

But what about those of us whose fathers didn’t leave our families, but we wished they would? My father was an emotionally unavailable, angry, physically abusive, cruel person. My mother played the  victim to his incapacity to be kind and decent. Where was God’s gift in my family? Every day I felt hopeless as I put on a façade that everything was fine in my life, hoping no one saw through to the truth. It is nothing short of a miracle I didn’t remain angry and bitter, considering the hate, rage and pain I felt in my youth.

Before I had children, I consciously decided the generational malady of abuse would not continue. When I became a father, I was like a carpenter without tools. The only examples of good parenting I

had observed were from television, and I knew life wasn’t scripted like that. I sought advice from people I believed were solid parents, read books and articles, and I took what made sense from those sources and developed my own style of parenting.

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My life experiences have given me a heart for people, especially kids. We hear the term “at-risk” youth which in schools is associated with children from lower income families, yet every child is at risk. We don’t know what type of life kids go home to. Alcoholism, drug abuse, physical and emotional abuse, are alive and prevalent in society. Children in dysfunctional homes feel alone, helpless and hopeless. When you feel hopeless you are at risk of losing it all.

Atticus Finch was my first, true role model. I find it odd that I look up to a fictional character, yet I am grateful I found Atticus when I did. Only through thoughtful reflection have I been able to see God’s gift to me in the family I was born into. I certainly didn’t see it when I was in the middle of the storm. Without having the background I did, I would not have developed into the person I am today, and for that I am forever grateful.

Never quit, never lose hope. Find an Atticus…