Above: Amy Julia and Me
I want to introduce you to a seminary friend of mine, a friend who has gone on to write and touch thousands. Amy Julia Becker is a regular blogger for Christianity Today on Thin Places, and an author who has now published five books. But most importantly, she's a mom who wants faith to make a difference in her parenting.
Her newest book is entitled Small Talk: Learning from My Children about What Matters Most. The title certainly intrigued me. But AJ's story does too. She is a mom to two girls and one boy - and her first daughter was unexpectedly born with Down Syndrome. AJ has gone on to become an influential Christian voice on disability in our generation.
For those of you who are familiar with her writing, you know that she does not shy away from tough topics. I appreciate how she tackles some pretty meaty theological issues in her book, but under the guise of ordinary mommy life. From fights in her minivan to venting frustration by eating nachos and drinking wine (haha), AJ presents a very real glimpse into her family, and her insights on a variety of topics are a gift.
I love how children can give us snapshots of the holy through their unfiltered candor and innocence. Sometimes things my boys have said have brought me to my knees, even as I hear their little voices muddle through a prayer. I am reminded of how Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children (Matt. 19:14). After reading Small Talk, you will believe it.
Favorite chapters of mine include Rest, Disability, God, Spirit, and Laughter. This week, you can win a free, signed copy of her book! Register by clicking here. The contest will end tomorrow at 12 pm EST on Thursday. All entrants will receive an invitation to join my email listserv - just click on the link that will come in your email if you want to accept! Be sure to visit my blog for some favorite book snippets I've shared exclusively there this week!
Above: Zondervan, 2014
The other night I was in the city. As in New York City. As in crazy hustle and bustle and I hadn’t even left Penn Station yet. Everyone was filing off of the train, eager to board the escalator that wasn’t working (again), to start the long climb up the stairs and into the corridor. Picture someone climbing in front of you, to the side of you, and right in back of you to the point that if you really thought about it, claustrophobia would definitely get the best of you. But you don’t have time to think about it. You just look down and keep climbing.
I was about to start mounting the escalator, I mean stairs, in this oh so familiar scene when someone did the extraordinary. Someone looked up. A young man with his hands full looked up, noticed a woman to the side of him, and stopped to let her go ahead. She nodded quickly in acknowledgement as strangers do.
That young man’s simple act of courtesy may seem so small. It may seem insignificant. In fact, you may be wondering, “Why does it bear repeating at all?” I’ll tell you why: Because to a mother, it means everything.
I am a busy mom of two little boys. A fellow mom embarking on a similar venture once stated, “My goal is to raise little gentlemen in the world. The world needs more gentlemen.” And just like that, a parenting goal of mine was born.
I have been tempted to think that we craft the future trajectory of our children in the big things. It’s alluring to get hung up on the schools we choose, the sport or instrument they play, and the friends they associate with. Yes, all of these choices matter. But I wonder if we overlook the cauldron of their character in an effort thrust ahead.
Character is crafted in our everyday decisions. When we choose wisely time and time again, we develop it. It does not matriculate from big accomplishments. In fact, it can best be demonstrated when there is no accolade to be gained at all. One of my favorite quotes on character reads, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him” (Malcom S. Forbes).
Character is something that we as parents need to intentionally nurture. We can be the people who are looking now so that our children can make the right decisions when no one is looking down the road. They will remember what we taught, encouraged, and applauded so that our voice will be a guiding one when we are not right there beside them. Our job is to catch the little things: the sharing we witness at a play date, the self-sacrifice we observe for a friend, or the unprompted concern we see demonstrated for a stranger.
But fostering character in our children involves even more. It means cultivating a home culture where respect for others is the norm and manners still matter. Yes, this mom of a three-year-old who throws his food on the floor as a sign that he’s not interested, still believes that teaching manners is worth the fight – I mean effort.
Last month, KJ Dell’Antonia wrote a piece entitled “Why Schools Should Undermine Moral Teachings” for The New York Times Motherlode. She argued that it was a parent’s job to teach “morals, values, and opinions” to their children, and the school’s job to encourage students to question them. This is how a society can mature, self-correct and stay on the “right side of history,” she says. While there is value in teaching our children independent reasoning, her argument means that we as parents have an even more important job to do.
Because you see, I want to raise boys who look up. Everyone else was just climbing, climbing the stairs of Penn Station that evening, but there was one young man who stopped and looked up. He evaluated his surroundings, chose to break the norm, and showed someone else a sign of respect. No one was applauding him. In fact, some people were pushing him from behind to keep moving. But he chose chivalry instead.
I do not want to be the kind of parent who wants her children to keep climbing, climbing in life oblivious to what’s going on around them. And superior to any reasoning power is the value base that informs it. Yes, I want great things for my children. Yes, I dream big dreams for their accomplishments. But it’s funny - the things that will one day make us the most proud just might not be what we expect.
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6
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The magic of Easter isn't just the candy-filled memories. It isn't just the pitter-patter of little children discovering the thrill of their first egg hunt. It isn't just the family gatherings when spring is more than a coming season - it's in the air. Easter is special because it is the holiday that champions HOPE. Scripture says, "Death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55) We worship Jesus, who overcame it. And he offers us that same hope not only beyond the grave, but in our everyday life.
I want to introduce you to Stefani Healey. She is the Vice President of the Brooke Healey Foundation, a foundation that Parents Magazine recently named as a Powered by Parents Top Charity. Even more, she's a mom like you and me. In fact, I met her in the preschool halls. But in the wake of the unthinkable, she is living and breathing hope to hurting families through her important work. I want you to know about it. What follows is my interview with her:
1. What is the name of your foundation, and why did you start it?
The name of our foundation is The Brooke Healey Foundation. It was started because our daughter, Brooke, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain cancer called DIPG, or Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. She was diagnosed in January of 2013 and passed away later that year, 6 days after her 5th birthday.
Stefani's daughter, Brooke
We were overwhelmed with generosity during Brooke's struggle and we knew that we would need to pay back others who had helped us. We also learned of, and met, so many children who are diagnosed with cancer. Some children have a great chance of recovery, and some, like Brooke's, need much more research in order to find a cure. We were unaware of the pediatric cancer world, for the most part, and probably didn't think about it further because it was scary, and we thought it could never happen to us. We are determined to raise awareness about pediatric cancers and specifically what help children and families need.
2. What strides has your foundation made, and what more needs to be done?
Our foundation is still new and growing, yet we have done wonderful things so far. We have helped children who have needed things like a new bed, air conditioning, and funding for medical treatments. We have given Broadway tickets, purchased adaptive equipment for kids, and donated to families to allow a parent to stay home from work and be with their child. Just as important, we are also funding research through a dedicated and specific group called the DIPG collaborative. This year, as a collective group of parent-run foundations, we have raised over $2,500,000.00 for the research of DIPG. In April, four of our board members will travel to a DIPG symposium with the leading doctors from around the world to learn more about the disease and to decide where this money will be spent. We will also participate in discussions that will shape how doctors, nurses and other medical caregivers can better serve these children.
There is much, much more to be done. There will be many kids diagnosed with cancer this year. 27,000 parents will hear the words, "Your child has cancer" this year alone. These children will need help in so many ways. It is unacceptable that only 4% of The National Cancer Institute's budget goes towards pediatric cancer research. These are the things that need to be changed. We are branching out with our fundraising each year, and we are looking for volunteers to help us grow further.
3. Finally, how can others help?
Others can help in many ways. Supporting a local family who is currently battling cancer by bringing them dinner. Speaking the name of a child who has died, so that they are never forgotten. Simple things like that help. There are also opportunities to create real change. Becoming a volunteer, committee member, or committing to be a board member for a charity is probably the best way that I can think to help. Our foundation, as is true with others, cannot survive without help from others. Finally, attending fundraising events or donating to a cause is vital. We need funding to create change and promote awareness. These children are too important to ignore.
Do you want to work for cancer justice on behalf of little ones? Please share this post and help spread the word!