Fun Family Projects to Encourage Others

This year has been harder than most for many people. While others may struggle with loneliness, sadness, hopelessness, discouragement, depression and other negative feelings at any point in time, the problems and issues of this year have tested almost everyone to some extent. What a great opportunity for your family to reflect God’s love and hope to others.

While there are many things your family can do to encourage someone, this year, it’s important to encourage as many people as possible. It’s difficult to know for sure who is struggling the most at times. The reality is everyone can use some encouragement, love and joy over the remaining few months of the year.

Your family may want to set some sort of specific goal, like making a special effort to encourage a specific number of people each week. Or you may want to find some way to encourage multiple people each day. You may even want to form a lose alliance with other families in your church and encourage each other by sharing ideas or working on a larger project together (but safely socially distant).

The sky’s the limit, but here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Create encouraging chalk drawings. If your neighborhood is like ours, a lot more people are milling about the neighborhood exercising or playing. Why not draw messages of encouragement on your sidewalk or driveway with chalk? If you know for sure your neighbors would appreciate it, you can decorate their driveway, too. Or pull out paper and create chalk drawings for people to display inside and brighten their homes.
  • Interact joyfully with others. Whether it’s online or from a socially distanced neighborhood exchange, encourage your family members to smile at everyone they encounter – even if they are wearing a mask. Give a friendly greeting. Ask how they are doing and actually listen to the response. Have your kids learn some riddles and jokes to ask those who want to engage in conversation a little more. Extroverts and those with severe restrictions on going out are most appreciative of any sort of positive social interaction.
  • Make or purchase and share little treats with others. Place it on the doorstep, ring the bell and run back about ten feet to keep others safe. It’s amazing what some flowers, cookies, apples or other small treat and a few minutes of conversation can do to encourage someone.
  • Send real mail. It’s rare and a bit exciting to get “real” mail. Why not send letters, cards, children’s artwork or care packages to people you know? See how creative you can be in what you send.
  • Offer to pray for everyone you meet. We know a couple who has asked every restaurant server they have had for years if there is anything than can pray about for them. The responses have all been positive, pre-COVID. I can imagine anyone you ask today will have something they would like your family to pray about. If you want to make it truly meaningful, keep a written record, pray multiple times about the request and check back in with the person later to let them know you have been praying for them.
  • Help meet the basic needs of others. Whether it’s job loss, COVID, hurricane damage, wildfire damage or one of the other multiple issues plaguing many this year, a lot of people have unusual needs for basic supplies like food and clothing. Find creative ways for your family to help meet some of these needs…even if it’s just cleaning out your closet and donating clothes and toys to someone who needs them.
  • Run errands or do outside chores for others. Some people are severely restricted in their activities because they are in high risk groups. Or they may still be recovering from COVID or another illness that makes it impossible for them to maintain their yard and exterior of their home. Depending upon your family’s risk tolerance, you and your kids may be able to help with things like yard work, grocery shopping, outdoor maintenance projects and more.
  • Make and share scripture art. You can find all sorts of ideas on our website and on Pinterest. Find verses that are encouraging and create scripture art you can share with others.
  • Sing or play music in your yard. Granted this one depends upon your family’s level of talent and the personality of your neighbors. We have several young people in our neighborhood who practice their instruments outside in the afternoons, adding a little joy to those exercising in the area. We’ve even had a neighborhood troubadour in the past who played his guitar while riding his skateboard around the neighborhood.
  • Go apple picking or fishing and share the wealth. Take an outdoor, safe family outing to an orchard, farmers’ market or fishing area. Share some of what you get with friends or neighbors – especially those who can’t get out or would appreciate some safe interaction when you put it on their doorstep.

What your family does to encourage others is not as important as actually doing something to encourage the people around you. Not only does it help others, but it teaches your kids how to be like Barnabas and become encouragers to those around them. It’s also a great way to teach them how to reflect God’s love by serving others and sharing their faith. It’s a great way for your family to spend time together, too!

Teaching Your Kids Godly Time Management Skills

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15) is one of many verses in the scripture that counsel us to use our time wisely. Unfortunately, many of us were not taught how to really use our time the way God would want us to use this precious gift.

As a result, many of us have developed if not bad habits, then surely habits that don’t reflect our appreciation or understanding of what a precious gift from God our time is. Which means we aren’t setting the best examples for our kids or actively teaching them how to make the best use of their time in God’s eyes.

So how can you teach your kids to use their time, not just wisely, but prioritizing the things God would prioritize? It’s actually a process more than an absolute list, because their life circumstances can change parts of their schedule.

  • Pull out a calendar where each day is broken down by the hour. Depending upon the age of your kids, you may want to start with a day, a week or a month.
  • Have them block out time for non-negotiables, like sleep, meals, bathing and school. Don’t add part time jobs, extracurricular activities or even Church yet.
  • Ask your kids to list some specific things God wants them to do regularly. This list should include worship services, Bible classes, independent Bible study and prayer. For things like worship services and Bible classes with set times, but them in those slots on the calendar. For things like independent Bible study and prayer, discuss with them when would be a natural time to put that in their schedule. If you can connect it to a daily event, it will be easier to remember. For example, if they sit down for a few minutes after school and have a snack, that might be a natural time to read the Bible independently. (Make it even easier by having them set their open Bible where they normally eat their snack.)
  • Ask your kids to list some other things God may want them to do, but not necessarily every day. This is the heart of your discussion. Would God want them developing a gift He gave them that they can use to serve Him? Would He want them trying some new things to see if they are gifted by Him in those areas? Would He want them reading some Christian books for encouragement or learning? Would He want them involved in periodic larger scale opportunities to serve others and share their faith? Where do those daily acts of service, encouragement and faith sharing go on their schedules, here or in the earlier daily area of their schedule? This is where the time management piece can get tricky. If the scheduled time to read a good Christian book or work on a project developing their gift from God is the night before a big test, that could be problematic. Talk about how to differentiate between what they need to do, what they want to do, what God thinks is crucial that they do and what is flexible. Experiment with calendaring in these things. Once a week look back and encourage them to see what things happened and which ones didn’t. Can they switch somethings around so more things are accomplished well?
  • Godly rest. This is quality Sabbath type rest….not playing video games or zoned out watching a movie. This would include exercise, being in nature, reflection on scripture and life, creating something, surrounding themselves with things from Philippians 4:8. These rest times can be fun times, too. Exercise can be playing games. Developing their gifts often means working on a favorite hobby. (Note: Playing video games is not developing a gift. Taking video game coding lessons, however, might reveal a gift God can use at some point.)
  • Extracurricular activities. These should be added sparingly. They should fit into the schedule already created. So, for example, a sports team that requires regularly missing worship and Bible class won’t make the cut. This is where time management gets hard, really hard for some. God’s priorities must come first. God does not want your child missing worship and Bible classes eight weeks in a row because he or she is on a traveling sports team…for a lot of reasons. This is one of those points where parents who raise active, productive Christians split from those who raise kids who only attend or aren’t involved with Christianity at all. Being willing to sacrifice what’s popular and fun from what God wants you to do is a key faith building step. As a parent of a child who has gone through college admissions, I can tell you most universities don’t need to see dozens of different activities that have taken up every free moment. They want to see qualities like commitment, perseverance, leadership and teamwork skills. These skills can be just as easily shown through an activity or two and taking the initiative to serve God by planning and executing meaningful service and faith sharing opportunities or regularly teaching in a Bible class.
  • Everything else. This category will change regularly. It might include a family vacation, a special school project or a youth group activity. It can even include a little mindless entertainment, although having discussions about those choices is also another great conversation to have at some point.

This activity needs to be revisited regularly until you begin seeing consistent godly time management skills in your kids. If they drop the ball in one area, encourage them to try again the next day, week or month. If your time management skills need a godly update, do the activity with them – especially since their calendars often impact yours, too. It’s also a great way to help them understand that if each of your three kids participates in three activities and don’t drive, you and your spouse are running to nine activities…and what that does to your calendar. Teaching your kids godly time management skills will take some time and effort on your part, but if you do it well, it can help all of you spend your time doing more things that are important to God.

Fun Fall Family Service Projects

The more your family works together to serve others and share your faith, the more it will become natural and easy for your kids to continue to live that way as adults. Fall is a great time to serve others. As you serve, you can find ways to point others to Jesus. If you are serving Christians, you can find ways to encourage their faith.

Here are some ideas for fun Fall family service projects to get you started.

  • Apples. Do you have an apple orchard somewhat close to you? Take the kids and go apple picking. When you get home you can create little gift baskets or bags of apples to share with neighbors.
  • Hand Pies. Take some apples and this recipe and make apple hand pies for people. Make sure you are wearing masks and handling them with food gloves after they come out of the oven, to keep recipients safe from any COVID germs your family might be carrying. Adding a reminder to reheat should also kill any germs.
  • Pumpkins. Most areas have pumpkin patches. Grab your kids and go buy pumpkins for at risk people who aren’t getting out much. You can also offer to carve their pumpkins when it gets close to the end of October.
  • Pumpkin spice muffins. Grab a box of spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin (regular size, not extra large). Mix the cake mix, can of pumpkin and about ½ of the empty can of water. No need to add the other ingredients on the cake mix box. Put the batter in a muffin tin lined with muffin papers and bake at 350* until firm to the touch. Once again, wear masks and food gloves when handling cooked muffins. These taste better warmed, so that should also kill any germs when the recipient reheats them.
  • Fall Garden. Winter kale and cabbages as well as some herbs will produce during the fall months. Depending on your zone, you may still be able to plant and harvest foods you can share with others…especially those in food insecurity.
  • Fall flowers and decorations. Sunflowers, mums and other fall flowers are often cheap to purchase. Or have your kids gather acorns and colorful leaves and make an art project. Take them to someone who can’t get out safely to purchase those things and brighten their day.
  • Nuts. You can’t do this in every location, but in some places you can pick edible nuts off the ground. Make sure you are allowed to do it and know you are picking edible nuts (chestnuts for example can be edible or inedible depending upon the tree). Give them quickly as nuts can go rancid over time.
  • Leaf raking. This fall service project staple really does make a huge difference in the lives of homeowners who are in poor health or physically disabled. Make sure you are disposing of the leaves the way the homeowner wants them to be removed or used.

No matter which service projects you choose to do, having your kids make cards or drawings with a note and a scripture written on them, pretty much guarantees their faith sharing scripture will end up on the refrigerator of the recipient. It’s a great way to teach your kids about faith sharing and encouraging others as you help them choose which scripture to use. If they want to get really creative, they can make scripture art to share – with a service project or as a service project on its own.

You will have to carve out time and use some family resources to do some of these family service projects. It’s a great way though, to create family memories and help your kids learn how to put the pieces of a Christian life together.

Can Your Children’s Music Really Influence Them

Full confession. I am one of those people who tends to make up their own lyrics to songs. Mind you, it isn’t intentional. I tend to misunderstand them and choose similar sounding, but inevitably wrong words. During my teen years, I also quickly realized the lyrics of many songs whizzed past me as I did not hang out with a group that regularly used foul slang terms. The lyrics I sang were rather innocent, even if the original lyrics weren’t.

Having said that, I have heard adults for decades claim that the lyrics of songs do influence many, if not most teens. I decided to do some research. Obviously, God would prefer we listen to songs with wonderful lyrics. If, however, your teens prefer more mainstream music, could it really impact their faith journey negatively?

The first study I found was under the oversight of the Prevention Research Center. Their study Music, Substance Abuse and Aggression came to some interesting conclusions.

They found that there did seem to be a significant connection between listening to rap music and alcohol use, illicit drug use and aggressive behaviors when all other variables were controlled. Alcohol and illicit drug use (but evidently not aggressive behaviors) were also strongly tied to young people who listened to techno and reggae.

What is unclear, however, is whether listening to those genres encourages those behaviors or young people engaged in those behaviors are drawn to those genres of music. (Note: In this study, alternative, R&B, rock, pop, country, punk, heavy metal, salsa, classical, jazz and world music did not seem to have the same connection to negative behaviors. None of those sampled listened to Christian music.)

They also found that a young person’s gender, age, sensation seeking and ethnicity had some influence on substance abuse and aggressive behaviors. These were controlled for in the genres of music, but it indicates a third sphere of influence on negative teen behaviors.

Their final conclusion was that a teen’s substance abuse and aggressive behaviors could be connected to their frequent listening to the lyrics of certain genres of music containing lyrics about alcohol, drugs and violence.

Also interesting is the impact music and lyrics can have on emotions. A study by Bharucha found that people tend to listen to music to help them feel a specific emotion. So if they want to feel happy, people tend to choose to listen to happy, upbeat songs. Young people may also choose particular songs because the lyrics reflect their current feelings. When one recalls lyrics are actually poetry, this dynamic makes sense.

A study by Vastjall, found that participants reported significantly less stress in periods when they were listening to music than in periods of time when they weren’t. They concluded that even a passive listening to music can influence mood.

Music can also be used to manipulate the emotions of others. Countries have regularly used music as part of their torturing regimen. Music may be chosen for this purpose because of the tune or the lyrics. Volume was also used to create a response in those being tortured.

So what does God have to say about music? In the Bible, we see many verses suggesting we use music to praise God and encourage and teach others. Perhaps the most applicable verse to our discussion of the impact of negative lyrics would be Philippians 4:8. Paul tells us God wants us to fill our minds with things that are good, pure, lovely, admirable and the like. Why? Because the lyrics that become locked in our minds can influence us and God would prefer that influence to be positive.

Should you ban your kids from listening to anything except hymns? That type of parenting can easily backfire, if you aren’t careful. On the other hand, having open discussions between parents and teens about the music each prefers (Mom and Dad’s favorite tunes might have suspect lyrics, too!), it’s lyrics and how it may be influencing each of them can and should be a regular conversation in Christian homes.

Fun Ways to Include God on Family Walks

There has been a lot about this year that hasn’t been so great for many. One of the positives, though, is that many families have been taking daily walks together. While they are great for exercise and stress relief, you can also use them to teach your kids about God. Not by lecturing, but by having fun as you go.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Play “Name the Blessings”. The Bible tells us God’s creation cries out His name. Not literally of course, but we were meant to look at nature and see God. What many Christians forget is that God is responsible for all of our blessings. He may not have built a house with His own hands, but He created the raw materials and gave people the gifts needed to plan and construct a home. As you walk, take turns naming the blessings from God you see. You may want to play it so that you have to find something for the next letter of the alphabet. Or see who can keep it going without repeating a blessing. Have fun with it. End your walk with a quick prayer thanking God for His blessings.
  • Take a prayer walk. As you walk, notice things or people that need to be prayed over. Perhaps it is the neighbor who has been sick or the family who just had a new baby. Maybe it’s for the children who attend the neighborhood school. You can stop and pray as you think of prayer needs and/or add them to your family prayer journal when you get home.
  • Take a service walk. Everyone appreciates a little act of love and service. My grandfather used to take the paper thrown by the street and walk it up to the door people used and leave it there, saving them a walk. Your family may want to surprise people or for some acts (like weeding a neighbor’s flower border), you may need to ask permission first. Even if the person refuses your offer of service, their day can be brightened by your offer.
  • Meet the neighbors challenge. On an average walk in my neighborhood, I can encounter anywhere from five to twenty five people. Using safe distancing practices (and masks if required), see if you can meet these people and start new neighborhood friendships that last beyond COVID. It’s hard to serve and share your faith with people unless you get to know them. You can start by having your adorable little ones wave and say “Hi!”
  • Storytelling walks. Running out of things to talk about on your walks? Try telling stories casually as you go. They can be family faith stories, Bible stories or any other story that teaches your kids about God and what he wants for them and from them.

Any experienced parent will tell you family walks are incredibly valuable. Use them to really listen to your kids and learn about their hearts. Have fun with one of the walks above. Just keep taking them as often as possible.