Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Talking About Life and Death

     by Sally Matheny
Talking About Life and Death

     We were seventeen years old and looking forward to graduation when it happened.

     Our friendship began only a year and a half earlier. Her family had recently moved to North Carolina from Ohio. The school year had already begun. She was the new kid without friends and she had cancer.

     Our Junior Civinettes club went to her house to welcome her to the neighborhood and to introduce ourselves as her new friends. We were nervous about going because we didn’t know anyone our age with cancer. I knew my boyfriend’s mother had survived Hodgkin’s.  That’s what this girl, Jan, had so she was probably going to be alright.

     Jan and I became good friends. We hung out at school and visited each other’s homes. We never talked about cancer or life and death. We didn’t talk about it when her sandy blonde hair began to fall out. She only asked if I’d help her brush off the loose hairs from her sweater.  I did.

     We didn’t talk about life and death when she came to school one day wearing a wig and people began to whisper. And stare. I just walked with her.   

     We didn’t talk about life and death when she grew weaker. She only asked if I’d help carry her books.  I did, and when I couldn’t, I enlisted others to help.  Jan had many friends. She always smiled and made conversation easy for those who dared to come close to her. A teen with cancer is a difficult thing to understand. I tried not to think about that. Jan was fun to be with and I knew she would get well.

A teen with cancer is a difficult thing to understand.

     So, we didn’t talk about life and death. Not when we had to stop and let her rest a lot when playing tennis, not when she missed school, not when I drove her to chemotherapy, not when she had to have a hysterectomy.

     I thought life and death were things people talked about when they got old.

     Except Jan did not get old. She died.

     Then, I panicked because Jan and I had not talked about life and death. As nice as she was, I didn’t know if my dear friend believed in Jesus Christ. And then, it was too late.

     Sure, I had considered talking to Jan before. But, I was afraid that if I talked about such things, she would think that I assumed she was going to die. I didn’t want her to think that because I didn’t think she was going to die.

     My heart grieved the loss of my friend and ached because I had failed her. The burden became too great. Before the funeral, I asked Jan’s mom. She assured me Jan was a Christian. Relief came, but not peace. I still failed my friend. I could have been more encouraging to her during her difficult journey by talking about the hope in Christ we shared. Why had I not prayed with her instead of just for her?

     I was given a bittersweet gift my senior year in high school—a glimpse of how quickly things pass— opportunities, friends, life. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. No one.

Life is fleeting.

Today is the day to talk about death and eternal life.

         

Monday, September 22, 2014

10 Clues Your Family’s Faith is Like a Fairy Tale

    by Sally Matheny 

    

    Once upon a time, there were parents who wished upon every shooting star for their kids to turn out okay. Shiny pennies were tossed into fountains and wishbones pulled, in hopes that their children would grow up to be joyful and productive citizens of the land. Imagine the parents’ sorrow and dismay when they did not.

     Is this your family’s philosophy? Are you sure? Check out these 10 clues to see if your family’s faith is like a fairy tale:






1.  Your children have no idea where the location of their Bibles. However, you keep your copy under the seat in the car, just in case you need it one Sunday.

2.  A Bible isn’t used at home for individual study or for a family time of devotions.

3.  Someone says a blessing before meals, but only when company is present.

4.  The only time you pray with your kids is at bedtime—when you remember—and actually, that’s your child praying her usual list.

Is Your Family's Faith Like a Fairy Tale?
5.  At Christmas, discussions are mainly about being good for Santa and about presents. At Easter, the focus is more about emptying a plastic egg than the miracle of Christ’s empty tomb.

6.  Quite often, your family chooses to attend to many things on Sunday, except church.

7.  When you do attend church, you focus more on what’s in it for you than how you can serve others.

8.  At home, there is more talk about reality shows than the reality of God, His love, and His will for your lives.

9. When sin occurs in your home it is often justified rather than dealt with it in a just manner.

10.  Family members’ speech and behaviors are vastly different outside the church walls.
      
     
     The true story is families are not living in a fairy tale world. God is real. And so is Satan. We can’t live out our days haphazardly, hoping our sons eventually turn into knightly men and our daughters don’t become damsels in distress.

      We live in a sinful world. How are you strengthening your family for spiritual battle? A fairy godmother is not going to show up and make your troubles disappear with the wave of a wand. It requires standing firmly on faith and living by the Sword of Truth. Gather your family and get back to basic training. Actively participate in a church that teaches and practices God’s Holy Word. Make your testimony real to your children.
     
     You either make-believe or you do believe in Jesus Christ. One belief leads to chaos and the other leads to a joyfully ever after.


     

Monday, September 15, 2014

First Lines Make Lasting Impressions

by Sally Matheny

    
“My name is Sally.” Remember that famous first line? No?


     “My name is Ishmael.” How about that one? Even if you’ve never read Moby Dick, you probably are familiar with that first sentence. 

        




       Over the next two months, a class of teens will have my full attention as we indulge in the delicacies of creative writing. Today, the teens discussed the importance of grabbing readers’ attention in the first line or shortly thereafter.

        I read the first lines from several books to them. First, they told me the book they thought the line came from and second, they told me if it intrigued them enough to keep reading.


        See if you recognize what books hold these first lines:

1.   “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”

2.   “When I was in elementary school, I packed my suitcase and told my mother I was going to run away from home.”

3.   “The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold wet day.”

4.   “Grandchildren, you asked me about this medal of mine. There is much to be said about it.”

5.   “That Sam-I-am! That Sam-I-am! I do not like that Sam-I-am!

        Did you guess correctly? 1. Holes  2. My Side of the Mountain 3. The Cat in the Hat 4. Code Talker 5. Green Eggs and Ham

Words quote by twowritingteachers
        
         This is a fun activity to do with children of any age. Just choose books of which they are familiar. I guarantee most teens will fondly remember those Dr. Seuss books even if it has been ten years since they last heard them read aloud.

        My son recently got into watching trivia game shows. He’s nine and almost all of the questions are out of his realm of comprehension. However, he loves the challenge aspect. Noticing this I now have greater results when I quiz him on school subjects if I do two things. I use my best game show announcer voice and use the words “challenge,” “advance to the next level,” and “you won!” If I cut out pictures of cars, dishwashers, and luggage to present as “prizes,” I wonder will he find that fun or cornball. It’s a fine line, you know.

     The first lines of a book can have a lasting impression. So too, adults have the potential to influence a young life, just by what they say to them:

first thing in the morning,

first thing after school,

first thing after not being successful.

     Make your first lines positive and they’ll definitely have a lasting effect.



Photo by JanusCastrane


(*And by the way, when I was a child, one of my favorite books is Try Again, Sally. I wonder why.)
       

        

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pet Rocks are Pointless—Survivors have Purpose

by Sally Matheny
  
   
Survivors have Purpose
     
     Today is Pet Rock Day. I didn’t want a pet rock composition but when I initially began writing about the Relay for Life’s cancer survivors, I felt incompetent.  I can’t do cancer survivors justice because I’m not one.  Hard as I try to express their ordeals, I can’t even go skin deep where cancer is concerned.
 





Pet Rocks are Pointless


  But, pet rocks are pointless. Cancer survivors have purpose. Who cares about pet rocks? They have hearts of stone. Cancer patients feel fear, anger, and pain. Hopefully that's followed by love, comfort, and peace.
 

   

      I’ve experienced fear, anger, and pain. I know love, comfort, and peace. However, for those diagnosed with cancer, they quarry a new level of emotions from a different part of the heart—somewhere deep and previously untouched. A place the good health civilians have yet to discover.

     My desire is to tell those with cancer, don’t give up. You can do this. Sometimes they need to hear our cheers. Other times it's best for us to just be there and listen.  So, as much as my encouraging spirit wants to give a rally cry, I’ll refrain.  At least today.

     Today, I’m reflecting on the Relay for Life event we recently attended.  This year, we went especially to honor my husband’s sister, Susan, a survivor of thyroid cancer and amyloidosis.  Love and pride welled up as we watched her march around the track with her purple-shirted comrades. Seeing so many familiar faces brought bittersweet joy.  Some showed more battle-fatigue than others. Each clutched a purple balloon, soon to be released, to victoriously mark another year. As Susan neared the finish line, we met her with hugs and more balloons. The Relay for Life coincided with her 49th birthday this year. It was a wonderful evening for celebrating life.

   
Celebrating Another Year
      My family’s presence brought encouragement and support to Susan. We will continue to cheer her on in her journey the best way we know how. But all those, wearing shirts bearing the name SURVIVOR, will be the ones who understand best. Although each champion's path is unique, they’ve fought in that same valley called cancer.
     
      The bad news is 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will suffer from cancer.

      The good news is of January 1, 2014, there were nearly 14.5 million children and adult cancer SURVIVORS.  There is hope. Thanks to medical research, physicians, volunteers, donations, and definitely to prayer. Ten years from now, it's estimated the number of cancer SURVIVORS will increase to almost 19 million. (www.cancer.org)

       The best news is declarations of "cancer-free" and the discoveries of cures.    
     
       Friday, September 12 is Stand Up to Cancer Day. That’s better than Pet Rock Day because we can ALL participate. We  can volunteer, donate, and pray.

         How will you stand up to cancer?

Monday, September 1, 2014

3 Crucial Reasons to Attend Your Next Family Reunion

by Sally Matheny
Smushy Kisses at Family Reunions

     Is there cringing, wincing, and gnashing of teeth at just the thought of a family reunion? Perhaps you had an agonizing experience as a child. Some crinkled stranger planted smushy kisses on your cheek. Then, pulling you away from your mother, the stranger weaved you through a chattering sea of unfamiliar faces. Finally, she anchored in front of another foreign body and the torture began.



     “This is your mother’s great aunt’s, second cousin, Bertha, who first married Joe Schmitt, who was a tire salesman, but then he died, and about ten years ago she married John Brown, who manufactures straight pins in Detroit and he just so happens to be your dad’s podiatrist's first cousin! How about that?”

Excruciating. But you’re an adult now and here are three crucial reasons why you need to attend your next family reunion.


Remember

     When multiple generations gather, there will always be times of remembering special moments from the past. Births, school days, weddings, funerals. While certain memories will mean more to some than others will, this is your heritage.
     Even if you’re attending your spouse’s family reunion, you can learn a great deal. Maybe listening to your mother-in-law’s childhood memories will give you a better understanding of why his family celebrates Christmas the way they do. What annoyed you in the past, you may perceive differently now.

Too often, an unforgiving spirit
is a person's only legacy.
     Pausing to reflect on the past brings joy, knowledge, and healing. Perhaps the reason many people resist a family reunion is due to a past hurt.   
     Aunt Bertha said or did something she shouldn’t have five, ten, or fifty years ago and for whatever reason people chose to hold onto that strife rather than letting it go. Bitterness was chosen over forgiveness. Pain over joy. Too often, an unforgiving spirit is a person’s only legacy.
     What healing might take place if you go to your next family reunion?


Record

     If there’s emotional or physical healing in the family, record it! Everybody has a story. A family reunion is a wonderful time to record those stories. Make a scrapbook or journal. Better yet, make a video.
     Are there any veterans willing to share their experiences? Those who survived a war can instill fresh perspectives on freedom.
     Who survived an accident or a disease? A problem at work or their first day of high school? Survivors bring strength and hope to the family.

Survivors bring strength and hope to the family.
    Ask the older ones to recall interesting tidbits about the family’s ancestry.
     Even recording opinions on current events will be an interesting piece of history for the next generation.
     No family reunion will ever be the same. The dynamics change. People come and go, jobs vary, and events alter our lives.
     So often, we never submerge past the friendly greetings. Families need to go deeper conveying their life experiences. They inspire us and we can encourage them to keep pressing onward. Everybody has a story that can affect others. You need to share your story.


Recount

     If nothing else, family members need to recount God’s blessings to the next generation. How have you seen God working in your life and the lives of others?

     Describe times when God answered your prayers, when he brought healing, and when your needs were met.

    Share experiences where your faith was tested and God was glorified. Consider the value others could glean from lessons you learned through setbacks and poor decisions.

     If you carve out time for your next family reunion, and share the love of Christ, what eternal rewards are possible? It is not within our power to fathom how God can use us. He is quite capable of making transformations we never thought possible.

 

…which he commanded our ancestors
    to teach their children,
 so the next generation would know them,
    even the children yet to be born,
    and they in turn would tell their children.
 Then they would put their trust in God
    and would not forget his deeds
    but would keep his commands.
Psalm 78:5b-7 (NIV)


     Is it time for a family reunion?

Live out your faith at the next family reunion!
     Reflect on what’s worth remembering, and what things are best left in the past.
     Record family stories to share for generations to come. Recount God’s blessings and faithfulness.

     It’s quite possible, family reunions will have a quirk or two. With a large gathering of imperfect humans, we’ll experience occasional flawed moments. For some, showing love to family is more difficult than it is to friends. God freely offers His assistance with that. He’s the master demonstrator of mind-boggling grace.  
     If you truly believe you’ll attend a perfect, glorious, and joyful heavenly reunion one day, then live it out at your next family reunion.