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Our Unwillingness to Change Blocks Our View

Recently a mentor of mine was helping me work through a couple of current conundrums in my life. At the end of our discussion, she reminded me that I had no control over the actual people in my conundrum or their own personal outcomes. I find this frustrating since I am a problem solver by nature. I pleaded with her, tongue in cheek, to just give me a few steps for successfully changing them. She just laughed and reminded me to consider what is in my area of influence and what can I personally change.

In other words Judy, what can YOU change in YOURSELF to make YOU better? So that those around you benefit in the process? I think that is so true in parenting and marriage too.

When You Can’t See the Forest for the Trees…… Photo Creds: Judy McCarver

Sometimes we want instant solutions to make our children behave or to get our spouses to do ____________XYZ! I did recently write five-great-habits-for-getting-your-kids-to-listen. And it’s true we need tried and true methods of handling situations in our life and parenting. Yes yes yes! But the truth is a lot of relationship building and successful parenting is about how much WE are willing to change ourselves. We are often so intent on manipulating others, that we cannot as my grandmother used to say, “see the forest for the trees.” In other words, we can’t see solutions because our big giant egos are blocking the view. We can’t see what would bring us joy or happiness. We can’t see what would actually help! We are just blinded by our own unwillingness to change things in ourselves that perhaps need to be changed and that can be changed.… For example, I recently recommended to someone the financial peace program by David Ramsey for helping squash her debt. It’s actually a proven program that has helped literally hundreds of thousands of people reduce or eliminate millions of dollars of personal debt. Anyway, she was super offended because unbeknownst to me, she was atheist and said she would never do that program since Ramsey is a Christian. Oops, I felt bad. I had intended no harm whatsoever in offering this advice and I apologized for doing so unwittingly. I then shared with her the truth that I am a Christian, and yet one of my very favorite leadership books ever written was by a Mormon (The Severn Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey). Moreover, I added that I have a handful of solid parenting books in my personal library written by various experts in their fields, which make no reference to Christianity. Along with those, I also have parenting books authored by some of my favorite Christian authors. I have learned from all of them. But she couldn’t see the forest for the trees. She couldn’t acknowledge that this was a perfectly good tool to debt free living for her and her children. She was blocking her own view.

I was blocking my own view back in my early 20s. I made bad decision after bad decision, and conveniently always found someone to blame for my bad decisions. It is true that I had been dealt a difficult childhood of sorts. But only when I acknowledged that my life was about more and more of me and less and less of anyone else, did I finally have the wherewithal to ask God to please pick up the pieces of my brokenness and help me move forward. And not only that, but the wherewithal to ask other people to help me. I finally figured out I was blocking my own way out of misery. It is true that my life had been hard. But I still managed to be my own worst enemy.

That realization and awakening was the beginning of a new lease on life for me. I was able to be in healthy dating relationships for the first time in my life. I was able to build friend relationships without undue expectations of those I was befriending. This led to healthy parenting down the road. Knowing I cannot change people around me makes me a healthier individual and therefore, more adapted to parenting kids (now young adults) who are also healthy emotionally. Knowing I can ultimately only change myself led me to be better equipped for parenting my kids with purpose.

Being in relationship with our kids as we are raising them is a different thing all together than what it means to be in relationship with our spouses or parents or adult friends. And I want to make that clear. There are multiple scenarios we find ourselves in with littles where we do have to tell them what to do. And we can and should expect them to obey us. But God has created them, like you, fearfully and wonderfully. (Psalm 139) When we recognize that He has created all of us with purpose then we can look at all of our relationships through that filter and not through the filter of our pride or our past or our unmet expectations.

What can you change about yourself today? How will that set you on a path of better parenting and more joy in your relationships?

How NOT To Raise Blue Ribbon Haters

Photo Creds: Emma Gulitti

In my daughter’s business there are a lot of haters. She’s a journalist. A young college journalist, not yet graduated into the greater world of news reporting outside the walls of her university, but still a journalist.

I told her to put her armor on. This is going to be a tough road.

She has already encountered blue ribbon haters. On one occasion, she inadvertently addressed a source in an email as he, but it was in fact a she. She ripped into my young college student who had no malicious intent whatsoever. She just made an error, and a minor one at that, based on the source’s name. My daughter apologized of course. But that didn’t matter to the offended. No forgiveness was granted. And not only that but the opportunity for a grown professional adult, (more than ten years older) to teach my student something about her life and her work in a life giving way, was completely lost.

Dang it!

The offended one only had it in her heart to hate, not to teach, not to grow, not to share. This person, who I believe felt like she had to fight hard to gain respect in a man’s world, lashed out at an unsuspecting young reporter, when she felt that position was threatened. She presupposed that this young woman somehow must have known that she was a she, yet intentionally referred to her as he, with the sole purpose of personally offending her. The student in this case had no malice aforethought at all. Indeed, she is by all accounts a studious and sincere student and employee. Not perfect by any measure. Case in point, an error was made. But rather, full of integrity and the desire to report truthfully. It seems crazy to me that you would just assume a complete stranger has it in for you. Yet, people take up this position frequently. They do it all in the name of some grand cause. But the truth is, these days, hate meters are pegged by the slightest provocation.

Let’s be clear. There are extremely serious offenses that happen in our culture, our communities and our world every day that leave deep scars and make the necessary art of forgiveness a challenging one. And rightly so. But more and more, the bar for hating in our culture has dropped dangerously low. The slightest mistake, rendering nothing more than perhaps a typographical error or a poorly timed statement, is elevated to a level of scrutiny for which it is simply not worthy. The truth is that a much more troublesome quandary idles deep inside of the hater. Whatever trivial event they trumpet on the outside as reprehensible, is a reflection of something much more spurious and bitter on the inside.

If you are in the running for a first place trophy in the contest of hating someone, whose only “real” offense is that they are not perfect, you might need to adjust the lenses through which you view all of humanity. Maybe the real issue (the spurious and bitter one) is that this person looks different from you, acts differently or votes differently. It is for all of us to examine difficult situations we find ourselves in, personal and professional and pursue a way to make positive changes, correct mistakes, and in the process grow yourselves and others. However, when we knowingly exploit a person’s mistake or his life and work inexperience in order to tear him down and even destroy him, then in that moment, you are a blue ribbon hater.

Do you see yourself or your child anywhere in this scenario? Are you a blue ribbon hater? One day I was perusing my old neighborhood’s online help site. It’s a place where you can post things for sale or ask questions like where to get a good car mechanic. As you can imagine, it can be very helpful. However, on this particular day a discussion started about an incident at the local high school. The person who initiated the discussion was unhappy with how the school administration handled ensuing communication with parents. By the end of this thread, over 50 grown adults were slinging mud at one another, using words as missiles. There was not a single constructive element to this online conversation. The whole intent of the majority of contributors was to verbally annihilate their perceived foe. These parents were themselves bonafide, blue ribbon haters. Naturally, our kids learn by “monkey see, monkey do.” How sad that truth can be when we, the parents, are acting like a spoiled, selfish, angry 2 year old.

Blue ribbon haters are on the radio too. One of my favorite radio stations does a “birthday scam” every few days. At the bequest of a person’s loved one, the DJ calls that person, and pretends to be a representative from an actual organization or place, who is complaining about their yard being unkempt or the fact they owe money for a cable bill. You get the picture. Almost every single phone call ends with the birthday girl or guy blowing up in anger. Conflict resolution be damned. Threats, swearing, you name it, full scale nastiness ensues. Finally, the DJ says, “Hey this is so and so from such and such radio station, and your husband wanted us to call you and say happy birthday.” By the end of the birthday scam, the only way to describe the birthday girl or boy in that moment is a “blue ribbon hater.”

Blue ribbon haters are characterized by a number of fundamental traits: 1 They have very few conflict resolution skills. If something goes amok with their grades, or their bills, office policy, or their project they hired out, or with their neighbor, or with a co worker, or their aunt, uncle, spouse or child, they go 0 to 60 in a hot minute. Erratic are the emotions of the day. Their responses are shallow, reactive, and angry as opposed to steady, thoughtful, and discerning. They simply don’t have conflict resolution skills that involve the ability to listen before responding, gathering information before acting, and only then advocating for themselves or their organization with both veracity and professionalism. 2 Blue ribbon haters never seek reconciliation, only punishment and self satisfaction. This is self explanatory. The punishment may only be a verbal assault as in the example of the birthday boy on the phone being scammed by the radio DJ. But whatever the case, punishment and a sense of self satisfaction is the goal. 3 Blue ribbon haters are not interested in mentoring relationships. Mentoring threatens to dismantle their platform of discontent. In their minds if they either reconciled with or mentored the person who offended them, that would condone the offense. Mentoring would require mature and well thought out responses. Hating only requires a knee jerk reaction. It’s less work. 4 The goal of the hater is to tear down. It isn’t to build up. To deconstruct, not instruct. The hater asks, “How can I make you feel worse?” And then they do that thing. 5 Blue ribbon haters are primarily interested in advancing their own agendas. Compassion and generosity are always secondary to that. Therefore advancing the cause of personal or professional growth is often viewed as an obstacle. 6 Blue ribbon haters are typically disgruntled in one or more areas of their life. If that is the underpinning of your relationships and your daily demeanor, then the stage on which your life plays out and unfolds will always be marked by conflict and discontent, never resolution and growth.

The title of this article is how NOT to raise blue ribbon haters. Okay. Go back to the last paragraph. And be sure to teach your children the opposite of numbers 1-6. And if you are a Jesus follower, be certain that these tenets didn’t begin with us. Teach them: 1 Conflict resolution skills. (Matthew 18:15-17 & James 1:19-20 & Proverbs 18:13) 2 The necessity of both reconciliation and accountability in order to create positive change. (2 Corinthians 5:12-21) 3 Ongoing mentoring relationships. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I think it is also true that an ounce of mentoring is worth a pound of healing. (Proverbs 15:22-23 & Proverbs 27:17 & 2 Timothy 2:2) 4 To build up others whenever and wherever we possibly can especially when we are in a position of influence and control. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 & Romans 14:19) 5 Compassion and generosity are not just for the weak-minded as you might have been told. They are in fact indicative of strength and self-confidence. Teach your children the truth about these two tenets. (Ephesians 4:29-32) 6 Discontent that stems from a disgruntled heart, can paralyze you in life and keep you from all good things. Truly, discontent with real issues can lead to real action and change. But, discontent that is rooted in bitterness is a breeding ground for hate. (Philippians 4:10-13)

Don’t. Be. A. Blue. Ribbon. Hater. And don’t teach your kids this either. Assess the situation that is tempting you to proceed with hatefulness. What are the facts involved? Was it personal and malicious? Sadly, personal and malicious, even if they are present, are also not excuses for being a hater. Hate just perpetuates hate. But it helps to make an assessment of the situation to determine with truthfulness how serious it really is or isn’t. Because clearly this is going to inform the level of response required (if it even requires a response). Does the situation you are in, whether you are the offended or the offender, require a response? Does it require change? If it does, then grab ahold of the opportunity to construct not deconstruct, to heal not destroy. To offer solutions, not additional chaos and conflict.

Featured post

LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!

Art work by Emma Gulitti

I think most of us categorize lying right at the top of the worst offenses our kids can do. I mean getting out of their chores or whining or fighting with their sibling or not sharing, are all things we see as NORMAL right? But lying?? Ahhhh! Our morality meter pegs immediately. There is just something about lying that sets us off and increases our parenting fear! “What’s going on with my child that she would LIE?” We go 0 to 60 in our irrational thoughts from them being a lying little 6 year old scamp to a homeless con artist at 20. But honestly as rotten an offense as it is, and clearly needs addressing, we must be careful not to go haywire over making it any worse a “sin” or offense as other things like selfishness, not sharing, refusing to do homework or wash the dishes. Lying is not that uncommon in kids, and it’s not unusual for one sibling to struggle with it and another one not to. We also tend to think “Well if a particular behavior is normal for children, then all my kids will _______”   But that’s not true either. Just as some kids are more emotional and some more serious, some playful and some not, some keen on math and others keen on reading, so there are some who tend to have a propensity for one offense over another more than their sibling. This also does NOT make lying more evil and twisted than another form of disobedience. So I would just say be careful parents about assigning it more evil points than for example, not doing their chores or fighting with siblings. Because if you do assign an inordinate number of evil points to lying, that might be your filter for how you deal with it, and perhaps that will be out of balance with how you handle other behavioral misconduct. To some degree, that sends a message to our kids it’s okay to act out and disobey us in certain areas of instruction, but never in this one particular area-lying! And also assigning it to the darkest of the dark side, will put us into a frenzy of worry that is perhaps unnecessary and that too will rob us of our joy and peace. So while there is no magic bullet for this, any more than there is for getting them to eat their veggies, there are some fundamental steps we can take to address lying as well as a few fun suggestions:

1. Be consistent and follow through with consequences. Remember we don’t give our kids consequence because it works.  Every. Time. Right. Away.  We are in this parenting thing for the long haul.  And sometimes it’s a long haul. But our God is faithful. And where necessary, they should always pay restitution for their act of deceit when possible. 

2. Model integrity.  So important parents! Don’t let the kids see you lie to someone, i.e. saying you can’t go to their home jewelry party because you have a commitment, when the kids know you don’t have that commitment. Be honest with people yourself. It’s the little things that get us into trouble with our young’uns. Model integrity. They are watching.

3  Find The Veggie Tale movies: (Excellent for littles) Larry-Boy And The Fib From Outer Space! It’s all about telling the truth. And also, “The Little House that Stood” which is all about making good choices.

4.  Be on the lookout for real life examples of someone (maybe a child that your child knows) who was not truthful and that choice resulted in pain. (age appropriate stuff)  Maybe this could be an example of a child at school who was dishonest with a teacher and it didn’t turn out good for the child. Just be on the lookout for those stories brimming with life lessons. 

5. And finally, use scripture. It’s timeless. It’s our ace in the hole. It’s truly raising the bar for them. It’s not just your parents saying “blah blah blah.” It’s God’s desire for us to be truthful. Score! Do you read the bible out loud with your children already? If you do, find scriptures (in an easy to understand version for your little one, tween or teen) that remind us of the character of Jesus. For instance, James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. Questions you can ask: “What are some of the perfect gifts that God give us? What are shifting shadows?”  Maybe they will look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Or maybe they will just say “I don’t know.” Then you can say something like  “Shifting shadows are people and things that lie about the truth. God is not like that.”  

Or Galatians 5:22-23:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” This luminous gem is about the fruits of the spirit. And one of those fruits is faithfulness which underscores integrity and honesty. 

When you feel your child is ready for John 8:44, it is the mother of all verses on lying because it clearly tells us that “you know who” is the father of lies. The enemy, the devil. Indeed, lying is his native language. This can be heavy for the littlest of kids. So start out with easy to understand verses on the importance (and commands) of being honest, and work your way up.

Maybe these are all things you’ve already thought of. Sometimes we just need affirmation that what we are doing is okay especially when the problem continues. Keep fighting the good fight. And know that consistence is key! 

Empowering our girls God’s way

Girls Girls Girls

An article I wrote was graciously published today by christianparenting.org If you have girls (or boys as well) I am sure you are being pummeled with information about how to make them strong and empowered. Some of it is dicey. Because the worldview of empowering our girls often excludes the necessity to teach them compassion and kindness. Don’t fall for the idea that compassion and self-confidence cannot coexist.This is a lie. Please read and share! We need to fight back!

Empowering Our Girls God’s Way

Five great Habits for getting your kids to listen.

Unfortunately there are no easy 5 step plans to make your kids listen well. But there are some tried and true habits we can employ. And they involve kids of all ages. These methods work at virtually every age, but the younger your kids are when you get started, the better they work  when your kids are older. Each of these habits have demonstrated success over and over by a whole passel of parents who have gone before you. Furthermore, there are wonderful (extra) parenting perks to be had with each habit besides just getting your kids to listen. I call that “Advantage Parent.”  So let’s get started.

Habit #1  Quit allowing them to interrupt.  Our littles all the have the same middle name: Interrupter. If you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone else, take their hand and place it on your arm or shoulder and squeeze it. You can even wink at them for extra affirmation.  But all the time you are holding their hand so they know you’ve not forgotten them. When you have an opening with the other person or a good pausing place, you can look at your little and say “Okay what was it you wanted?” The whole while you where holding their hand gently against your arm, or face or at your side. This probably won’t work the first time you do it. The key is patience, and diligence in training. If they are old enough (3 or 4), you could probably even have  a conversation with them about how this works before incorporating it as a new habit. AND you can practice it at home while conversing with your spouse.  The more you practice this at home, the better it works when you utilize this technique inside or outside of your home visiting with friends. I found this to be a conversation lifesaver when my girls were little. Advantage Parent:  It simultaneously teaches your child to be respectful of others while also validating your child’s needs.

Habit #2 Quit threatening. Do what you said you were going to do the minute they disobey.  If you say, “The next time you use the toy to hit your brother, I am taking away the toy,” then the very next time they use the toy as a weapon against their sibling, immediately take it away. Threatening does nothing but teach them not to listen. Without a doubt, the minute the offender breaks the rule, and you say “That’s it; the toy is gone,” he or she is going to explode into cries of remorse: “I’m sorry” or “I won’t do it again.” Don’t fall for that. They should’ve been so sincere the first time you gave them fair warning. Threatening just adds to the chaos. Advantage Parent: Your kids quickly learn from a “follow through” kind of parent two very important things. 1  Your plans cannot be thwarted by their drama.  And 2 You are an honest person. They can trust you. Both of these things will be important when you are establishing appropriate boundaries in the teenage years.

Habit #3  Make deposits into their emotional bank accounts.(Concept borrowed from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)  In moments, minutes or possibly hours apart from those necessary blocks of time devoted to instruction, discipline, and daily tasks, we must spend quality and quantity time with our child. If we only feed them, cloth them, and instruct them, but never allocate time just being with them, validating their ideas, playing games with them, going to coffee (or tea time), or reading books together, the chances of them being good listeners are very slim. It’s all about credibility. Our human nature cries out loudly “Why should I listen to someone who doesn’t care about me personally?”  Advantage Parent:  We build trust with our children that is reciprocal. Life is more fun. It’s exciting what we learn about our children when we share our time this way. We build up their self- confidence and self-esteem. They make better relationship choices because they know they are loved and cared for at home. 

Habit #4 Be hospitable.  When you invite someone over to your home or out to dinner, and your kids are invited too, they learn to listen. Because when you invite other people into the intimate spaces and places of your life, learning about those people is inevitable. And the way that happens is to ask questions and listen. Our girls learned a heap about other people’s lives, their fascinating jobs, and their spiritual journeys, all at dinner around our table. We just listened. And naturally, our guests asked us questions too. So there’s this fun exchange of information that propels and enriches the conversation.  It all starts with a desire to be hospitable. It ends with our kids being better listeners. Advantage Parent: We teach our kids the value of community and hospitality. They meet new people who can have a significant and positive influence in their lives for years to come. We make life long friends. We teach our kids the power of personal versus electronic communication.

Habit #5 Model good listening skills for them.  As adults, hopefully we already know how to be active listeners. In other words, we actually listen to what another person is saying to us before we draw conclusions, make judgement or offer responses. Our body language is also a huge indicator of our attention to another person’s words. If our kids see or hear us constantly at odds with their other parent, or if they see us monopolize every conversation we are in, chances are  we are teaching them how to be a poor listener. Any other methods  we utilize to teach them good listening skills will be null and void, if we cannot ourselves model good listening skills.  Advantage Parent: Our kids learn that they are not the center of the universe. They also learn conflict resolution skills and how to bring change to a hurting and broken world. 

We all want our children to listen to us.  Toddlers, tweens, teens, and young adults. We want them to listen when we say “Quit using the toy to hit your brother,” and also when we say, “Don’t drink and drive.”  And of course we want them to listen to us when we say “I love you.” It’s imperative that we cultivate good listening skills in our kids. In my book I talk about having “Life Saving Conversations” with your children. If we have not taught them them how to listen, they will struggle with grasping the importance of those life saving conversations. They will tune them out. The ones regarding their safety, security, relationship building, reconciling conflict, or a whole host of other important discussions that require their listening ears. 

Parenting With Gumption and Grit is now Available for Purchase

Finally, I have released my book, and I am happy to announce it can be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Target. This project has been a long time in the making. It is something I am very passionate about, and I have a deep desire to  help equip  parents with the tools necessary for raising positive kids in a culture that is not always so.  Take a chance on this easy but powerful read. You won’t regret it. 

 

Shout out to the producer and videographer of my first promotional video, my wonderful daughter, Kate Ann.

A guide for Reading (connecting) with your kids and Book Lists For All Ages!

Forever and a day I have been working on a book list. My friends and fellow parents know how passionate I am about the importance of reading. And so, they frequently ask for book recommends. I LOVE talking about books. I have also written one. Recently I released a book titled“Parenting With Gumption and Grit.” It is a book of 52 tips for virtually anyone who parents or mentors a child. One of those tips is “Read With Your Child.”  I would add to that: do so at every age and stage of their life. When my 3 girls became older teens, I had required reading, which I added to their own queue of books. Yes, it’s true. I had required reading. And with few exceptions, they always read the book before seeing the movie. And now as young adults, I heartily dish out suggested reading for them. Usually they humor me and comply. They do this because they love to read and because it is an activity we have done together literally for years. So, I have a little credibility with them when it comes to recommending a book. Books are a faithful friend. They don’t betray, abandon, hurt, or withhold forgiveness or mercy from us. They are always there for us. They are faithful. They teach our kids literally everything. How to be a kid. How to be a grown up. How to be generous, compassionate, and really-how to live well. They are capable of teaching life lessons to our kids virtually without us lifting a finger. Yeap I’m in.   

I have included a list of my own favorites below. This is not all inclusive. Not even close. But I went through my shelves, literally and figuratively, and did my best to compile a list of books I love and cherish. I asked my girls to do the same. Clearly, their input was vital. There are a handful I have in the last section which they have yet to read. For instance, Left to Tell, The Liberator, and a few others. Don’t worry. I have them on their “suggested reading” list. Likewise, there are some on that same list which my girls have read, but I have not (yet). When Shelby was just a toddler, and we said, “Shelby get your books,” she literally walked across the living room floor carrying a pile of books almost as tall as she was. What a sweet memory. And then there was Paul reading chapter books at bed time. I will never forget when he was reading Charlotte’s Web, and as Charlotte died, he turned and looked at little 6-year-old Shelby, who was absolutely silent with big droplets of tears rolling down her cheeks. And just like that she experienced the death of a friend. She experienced loss in a profound way, by reading it in a book. It helps prepare them for the real-life experiences that are sure to come their way. We can’t stop those real-life experiences. So we should let books lend us a hand. Halle and Katie Ann had their favorites too. Besides E. B. White, we must have read Princesses Are Not Quitters, Just Us Women, and The Relatives Came,a thousand times. Arthur, DW, Henry, Mudge, Eloise, Katie Kazoo, Nancy Drew, and so many others were all personal friends of ours. It seemed as if they lived in the same house with us. 

On “Judy’s Favorites List,” please use your own measuring stick for your child. In other words, if you feel like there is something on the “Elementary Age” list, that should wait for “Tweens/Teens,” then that is your prerogative. I categorized the lists based on my own experience with my three girls. You can and should custom build your reading lists for your children.

A final thought. I am a Jesus follower, so there has always been a generous number of faith filled books on our reading list. Francine Rivers for instance is one of our favorites. Shelby and I read “Her Mother’s Hope” and “Her Daughter’s Dream” simultaneously. Rivers’ book “Redeeming Love” is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written about a woman’s worth and not only that, but how a young girl’s opinion of her own worth impacts her sexual choices. We have tons of favorite Christian authors for sure. But secular books have had just as powerful an impact on my kids and on their faith journey. The Glass Castle is a poignant memoir about a young girl who was raised in a sea of dysfunction. It’s a book that made my girls’ childhood look like a tiptoe in the daises. They need to see that. They need to know and understand that other people live lives in stark contrast from theirs. The book Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw is a jaw dropping story of American surgeon Sumner Jackson and his family who lived and died after the Nazi occupation of Paris in WWII. It is a riveting and true story. And how could we ever forget To Kill A Mockingbird? Every person’s experiences and journeys hold life lessons for all of us. Our faith guided our choice of reading for sure. But it did not censor our choices. The two things are not the same. We have always tried to steer out kids away from the inane, pointless, shallow offerings of the world. The same is true in our choices of books and media. One day Shelby picked up what she thought would just be a short fun read based on the fact we had just seen the movie of the same title, Confessions of a Shopaholic which was rated PG. She figured the movie was cute, so why not read the book? Quite on her own, she intentionally left it behind in the hotel where we were staying. When I asked her why, she said “language.”  Wow, and just like that, all those years of age appropriate reading and guiding them into age appropraite books (and media choices) seemed to instill wisdom in her. Suddenly they had their own sense of books that were worthy of their time and those that weren’t. Books that point them to truth, fiction or non fiction, and those that don’t. Sure, all three of them have read a lot of books since then with colorful language and content. But the language and the content served a purpose. In those cases, it was neither shallow or pointless. 

We also found that reading age appropriate books with our kids in an environment where they were loved unconditionally helped us quite naturally graduate them to the next level. As they moved into different stages of growth, so did their books. For instance, if you let them read the Hunger Game Series in the 3rd grade, they may never want to read The Little House series or Chronicles of Narnia. And how sad would that be?

The best thing ever your child will say to you one day: “Mom you have to read this book. Then we can talk about it. You’ll love it.” That is exactly what Halle said to me after reading The Poisonwood Bible for her Senior AP English Literature class in high school. You can bet I grabbed it up and devoured it. Because guess what? It rendered an in-depth sit-down discussion with my sweet girl that happened all because we read the same book. 

Happy reading everyone.

My book list is below along with other resources. On the links provided, click twice, once here and once again on the next page.

Additional resources that I highly recommend:

  • The Bible
  • “Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, and Elaine Bruner
  • “Honey For a Child’s Heart,” by  Gladys Hunt
  • “Honey For a Teen’s Heart,” by Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton
  • “For the Children’s Sake,” by Susan Schaeffer MacAulay

Judy’s Favorite Books list https://judymccarver.com/?attachment_id=2400

Additional Wondeful Book Resources : Book Lists and Guidance https://judymccarver.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Reading-Resources-For-Children-and-Parents.docx

Link to Judy’s book “Parenting With Gumption and Grit” https://www.amazon.com/Parenting-Gumption-Grit-Must-Read-Influence/dp/1595559442/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1C20JIY5H42DI&keywords=judy+mccarver&qid=1562697716&s=gateway&sprefix=judy+mcc%2Caps%2C153&sr=8-1

Faith part 1: Believing God Can even when he does not…

I have only to consider the beauty of nature when I wonder for even a single second if God “can.”

This may be an oldie (post) but a goodie.

Recently, an acquaintance made an innocent statement that said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will.” I think this could be misleading. Okay, I think in some cases it could even be bad theology-depending on what the writer is referring to-our preferred outcomes OR God’s power. I flip this around a little bit. Because I believe faith IS indeed believing that God can– even when He does NOT. Faith is believing in the power of God even when the outcome is not to my liking. If your life doesn’t turn out the way you planned, does that render your God powerless? The short answer to that is “No.” But how often do you unconsciously act this out in your life, “My faith will be strong when_________” “I will believe in the power of God when I see this happen:_____________” Well, let’s see, When I meet the perfect man or woman and get married. When I have a baby. When I get that great job. When I see my children to adulthood. “ OR I will believe in the power of God as long as ____________ (fill in your own blank) Really? Is God’s power contingent upon our preferred outcomes? The bible says that God’s plans will not be thwarted. (Job 42:2, Isaiah 14:27) It doesn’t say the same thing about our plans. In fact, it says just the opposite. (Psalm 33:10; Isaiah 8:10 and Proverbs 19:21) Many Christians are missing great opportunities to serve God and cheating themselves of the abundant life promised us in John 10:10- because they are still waiting on that perfect marriage, that perfect church, perfect children, perfect job and ministry, and well-a perfect life by a standard that perhaps for years has been propagated by false theology, “Faith is not believing that God can but that God will…” (Fill in the blank) make my marriage perfect; Save my children from disastrous outcomes; give me the perfect job with the perfect boss with the perfect salary. 

Another way this might manifest itself: Well, maybe, rather than talk about problems in our marriage with a close and trusted Godly friend (of the same gender,) we keep it to ourselves. After all, if my marriage is in trouble, it must mean I don’t have enough faith, or the faith I have isn’t strong enough to ignite God’s power. It couldn’t be that sharing the daily issues of anxiety and strain and seeking out Godly counsel might put my marriage on a different path. Or, maybe rather than join a small group or enlist a mentor, I would avoid investing in deep intimate relationships, and not expect a small group or mentor experience to help me grow into spiritual maturity. If I need the help of someone else for that, then my faith must not be strong enough. Remember in this scenario, faith is not believing that God can, but that God will…” so that if he doesn’t then it must be me and my lack of belief. I think this theology possibly leads us to thinking that as a “Christian,” we must have it together at all times and always have the answer to our problems. If this were true, then Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, David, Esther, Ruth, Paul the Apostle, Peter, and a host of other Godly biblical men and women were the wrong people for the task at hand. Christianity would most certainly have died in the 1st century. It wasn’t perfect marriages, or perfect ministries, perfect leadership or perfect children that caused the glory of God to shine forth through these men and women. Rather it was their imperfect lives striving to be more and more like Jesus that made all the difference. 

I love love love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Look at Daniel 3 with me. Okay, are you there yet? (Humming my favorite song.) Giving you time to go to Daniel 3 in your hard copy bibles, or your electronic bible; Okay got it? Now read verses 13-18. What do you see there? Some of the most powerful words in scripture you will ever read about 3 of the most faith filled God followers you will ever know. The Pagan king Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw the three teenage boys into a hot fiery furnace if they did not bow down to him. This was there reply. And no matter how often I read it, it always gives me goose bumps. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is ABLE to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

They knew and believed that God was way more powerful than that fiery furnace. They trusted 100% in the power of God to rescue them from that furnace, but they also knew that God’s plans would not be thwarted even if their desired outcome was different. “But even if he does not choose to rescue us from death or give us what we want or what we think we need, we will still believe in Him.” (paraphrase) 

Okay, we know the end to that story. God did indeed save them from the fiery pit that day. But similar accounts did not always end this way. During Nero’s reign as Roman emperor from 54-68 AD, he arrested and tortured Christians in Rome, before executing them with lavish publicity. Some were crucified, some were thrown to wild animals and others were burned alive as living torches. This included men, women, and children. Indeed Paul the Apostle was martyred in Rome around 64AD and this would have been under Nero’s reign of terror. We also know from scripture and history that all the disciples of Jesus (not including Judas Iscariot) met with violent martyred deaths, with the exception of John who ostensibly died of natural causes on the Island of Patmos. One might ask, “Was their faith not strong enough for God to show God’s power?” 

God is always faithful. God is always good. God will always prevail. How do we know this? The lesson was played out on the cross. The empty tomb reminds us that the One to whom we raise our hands and voices is King over all. The Creator of this Universe is more powerful than anything we could hope or imagine 1st and foremost. This power PRECLUDES our existence! Grappling with this truth will render us hopeless and “fruitless,” as we expend our energy waiting and hoping for someone or something to fill in all the missing blanks of our lives so that our faith can “prove itself.” On the other hand, grasping this truth will free us from a stronghold of futility and hopelessness and position us to grow in the knowledge and joy of Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8) Are you grappling or grasping this truth?

The Parenting Club

If there were ever an unofficial club I enjoyed being part of, it was and is the parenting club. Remember when your kids were babies and toddlers and you hung out with moms and dads of babies and toddlers? You shared stories of sleepless nights, first steps, first words, and potty training. Then you moved into the next season of parenting school-aged littles, and offered one another advice on a myriad of topics about sports teams, dance studios, the best schools, birthday parties, discipline, meal planning, and the list goes on and on. If you were really lucky, you took your parent friends with you into the years of puberty, hormonal imbalances, homecomings, high school, and the drama of teens all of which subsequently caused all of us to question our sanity even on the best of days. You lamented together about teaching your kids to drive, the challenges of talking to your kids about sex, and the hopes you had for their future. And then young adulthood happened. Suddenly you were moving them into college dorms, and you wondered where did all of those sweet years go and how in the world did they pass by so fast? But even here, you don’t have to lament alone. Because you have surrounded yourself with other parents, imperfect like you, but still striving to do their best job with the charge they have been given. Now this club, of sorts, you have belonged to perhaps since birthing classes, has catapulted you to a new stage of parenting young adults. And then? Married kids. Perhaps grandchildren. Kids on their own dime. Congrats. You have achieved lifetime status in your club. Parent first and foremost with your parenting partner, the other parent of your child. And secondly, find a “club” of fellow moms and fellow dads who lovingly and with compassion are willing to come along beside you and prop you up in the most joyful of times and the most difficult. That latter part is especially paramount if you don’t have a parenting partner. This is the hardest job you will ever do. But it should also be the most joyful job you ever do. It should never be entered into lightly or alone.

I have a book set to release May 14th, 2019 called “Parenting with Gumption and Grit: 52 Must-Read Parenting Tips for Anyone who has Ever Loved a Child Enough to Want to Influence Their Future.” Tip #1 Don’t Go it Alone. I hope this book also addresses a LOT of the particulars listed above that are simply inevitable at every stage of parenting. No, my parenting club is not a card carrying private group. It’s just a big bunch of close friends who have ridden out this journey with us as we laughed, cried, hoped, prayed, and grew our children together. And my club is not necessarily only composed of parents. It could be aunts, uncles, grandparents, mentors, “Anyone who has Ever Loved MY Child Enough to Want to Influence Their Future.”

I  have no grand illusions about this book selling millions of copies or about being invited to the Ellen Show. Indeed Tips #1-#13 Smart Parenting Choices may even make you drowsy. Tips #14-#18 Teach Them Life Skills may seem super basic. Tips #19-#22 regarding the Parent Trap and Letting Them Go might make you mad. Tip #25 The Sex Talk might make you downright uncomfortable. Tips #33-#35 Managing Their Media may tempt you to stop reading any further. Character Tips #36-#42 such as teaching them Kindness over Tolerance or True Faith not Religion or No Excuse for Rude, all may challenge you deeply. And Tip #44 I Messed up: Do the Next Right Thing may encourage you exceedingly. Tip #49 Just Parent your Child may convict you.  Tip #50 None of us Gets a Free Pass may frighten you.  And Tip #52 simply reminds you…of what is important. I hope all of these emotions happen when you read this book and more, (Except the drowsy part).

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, + One Boat: A European Travel Blog

GERMANY, BULGARIA, ATHENS, AND CRETE

North Rhine-Westphalia :  This two-week adventure started out in the beautiful villages of a small part of Germany in the region of the North Rhine-Westphalia. This is a special place to me because our family lived there for 4 years, and also because we made lifelong friends there who we now love to visit. Absolutely you can and should visit the grand cities of Germany. Berlin was one of our favorites. Köln, Dusseldorf, Munich, Dresden (still haven’t been to Dresden) and many others. But like any country, it is not surprising to know that some of the best visiting can be had in the small towns and villages. They tell you a different story of the people, their history and what they stand for. Isn’t it the same in the USA? I think everyone should be able to visit and enjoy the likes of NYC and Chicago for instance, at least once! But my husband and I both agree that bringing our international friends to the rolling hills of the Texas hill country, or the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, or through the small quaint towns of the lower South like Hattiesburg, or one of my personal Southwest favorites, Oklahoma City, OK, these embody so well the diverse demographics and geography of this country. All of these places would undoubtedly give them an insider’s look at our great home and the Americans who inhabit it. A far different landscape than what is offered by the largest cities in America. So that brings me back to where we started. Yes, what I fondly refer to as the GK area of Germany. GK is a region on the borders of Belgium and Holland, so named for the bigger, but not so big town of Geilenkirchen where a NATO base is tucked away in the countryside surrounded by numerous small villages. The villages are all connected by miles and miles of intersecting farm roads useful for walking your dogs, running, biking, or just frolicking, while dodging the occasional farm tractor. On this particular trip, it was my intention to wear down my jet lag for a couple of days while simultaneously visiting my dear friends in the sleepy villages of GK before heading off to the uncharted territory of Bulgaria. (Uncharted is simply a euphemism for no stamp in my passport). I was pleasantly rewarded with beautiful sunshine and highs in the 60’s-not usual weather for February in Germany. On a practical note, you might be thinking “But Judy where would we stay? Where are the Holiday Inns? The BNB’s in these little villages?” No worries. German Guest Houses (die Gästehäuser) are peppered virtually all over the country. Many of them have breakfast options. All of thehave extreme ambience and friendly hosts! 

 I flew into Amsterdam, practically charged through customs, and with no checked bag, proceeded directly to the train ticket queue and bought myself a train ticket direct to Sittard, NL. Sittard is literally a part of GK but on the Holland side. Don’t worry they all speak English. Nederlanders (German speak for Netherlanders) have been watching American television for literally their whole lives, not to mention, they start English at quite an early age in grade school. Super friendly people. Frankfurt Airport is also just a short 2.5-hour drive to GK. Dusseldorf even closer. You’ll most likely want a car for tootling around the villages. As an added plus, they drive on the right side of the road in both Holland and Germany! You might be interested in knowing that GK is an excellent springboard to all points Belgium, Luxembourg, beautiful Alsace, even Paris. (Yes, that is Paris, France) I will let the pictures I have attached here do the rest of the work of this blog in explaining why it is I love this place so much. But remember, you don’t have to go to GK to find this! Pick a “small town” part of Germany you have always wanted to visit and go! You will find the same farm roads, the same ambience, and the same friendly people. Auf Wiedersehen for now. 

North Rhine-Westphalia

BULGARIA: Once I was in GK, I picked up a traveling partner, a good friend of mine who shares my wanderlust for travel. It was also Rebecca’s first time to Bulgaria so that made the journey even sweeter. We turned a rental car into its proper place at the Frankfurt Airport, and from there caught a flight on a regional airline, (this time Aegean Air-$34 plus about $20 for my checked bag) to Sofia. It was just over a 2-hour flight into the small super manageable airport of Sofia, Bulgaria. We were met by friends. Wouldn’t you know it? Expat friends who now live here. Such are the opportunities one exploits when one has friends living in, not only other areas of the world, but even other areas of the USA! We offer the same hospitality in return. So, I don’t have any hotel info to give you with regard to Sofia, since we lodged with our friends, but I will tell you that one of my favorite booking sites for Europe is Booking.com. You can apply an abundance of filters. I simply have them listed in order of their reviews, starting with the highest to the lowest. I find a price that works for me matched with nothing less than a score of 7 (out of 10 possible review points). It’s a great hotel booking site and the AP is super good. And about the food here, delicious and so cheap. You will not be disappointed by the quality or the price!

 Bulgaria is a fascinating country in that they were oppressed and ruled by many factions since ancient times. But in 1396, the Ottoman Empire completed its conquest of Bulgaria. And for the next five centuriesit was known as the era of the “Turkish yoke”. (BBC.com) After hundreds of years of oppression by the Turks, Bulgaria mostly gained their independence by way of the Treaty of San Stefano – signed by Russia and Turkey at the end of their war of 1877-78. But then with only about 36 years under their belt managing a very fragile and ever developing independent state, WWI started, and the Bulgarians were allied with the Germans. From one frying pan to another they did go. The same was their fate for WWII, and in 1944 the Soviet army invaded German-occupied Bulgaria adding Bulgaria to the long list of Soviet Eastern Bloc countries where communism could oppress and consume its inhabitants. Finally, in 1991 a new constitution proclaimed Bulgaria a parliamentary republic and provided a broad range of freedoms. A president was elected for the first time ever in 1992. Oftentimes, I have been in Eastern Bloc countries and felt like the people there were a little stiff, rough around the edges, and not overly friendly. Well, that’s a natural fall out of both oppression and living under post war communism for years. But surprisingly (or not so) Bulgarians were the opposite of this. They were by and large, very friendly and super open to tourists treading the streets of their cities and forests. I knew not one single word of Bulgarian, but they did their very best with the English words and phrases they knew. The Bulgarians still use the Cyrillic alphabet. BUT as an added bonus for touring here, all placards and signs are in English alongside the Bulgarian language, including the Metro system. That is a huge benefit. The ability to navigate a city’s metro system in your own language can never be understated. Take it from me. In fact, I find the NYC subway system much more confusing. (I mean seriously what’s wrong with just using normal destination points for your anchors? I mean what’s with all the uptown, downtown stuff??) All my NYC friends and family members are laughing about right now. 

 In Sofia, we did a tour with Association 365 tours, https://365association.org/These are free city tours and I highly recommend them. Nikki was our guide in Sofia. His English was near perfect and his demeanor light and friendly along with a great sense of humor and large heart for his city. I love these kinds of tours especially when I am in a new place. It offers a great overview of the history and culture of the country with specific information about the city you are touring. Likewise, we did a day trip to Plovdiv and also did a 365 tour there, this time with Elijah who, like Nikki in Sofia, was a native of Plovdiv. The “old town” Centres of Plovdiv and Sofia are not going to look like the “old towns” of most western European cities. Indeed, that is a distinct difference between the Eastern and Western Bloc countries of Europe. It’s as if the personal histories of the Eastern Bloc countries were sort of frozen in time as they were oppressed by dictators. Their creativity and freedom so inhibited and squashed for so long, they are still catching up to the ambience and the quaintness of what you get accustomed to seeing in western Europe. Sofia, in the downtown area, and even stretching beyond that boundary, still have the buildings and the architecture from the Stalin era. Those geometric shapes and sharp corners seem cold and ominous compared to the more personal and intimate experience you find when you wander into the side streets of Sofia and Plovdiv. There you will find the Centre, or old town, not nearly as pristine as their western neighbors, but yet a culture (their culture) that has slowly reemerged and is even yet emerging, from the rubble of hundreds of years of violent and oppressive rule both in ancient times and during the cold war of post WWII. I found this to be a personally invigorating reset button for my own appreciation of the freedoms I take for granted. Freedoms to be creative. Freedoms to love and serve others.  And freedom to just live without the yoke of oppression in a place where I am FREE to move about, worship, work, serve, speak, and drive. Well, you get the picture. 

Sofia

Plovdiv

 One interesting story about Sofia and Bulgaria in general, then I’ll move on. According to Nikki, of all the countries from which Jews were deported to concentration camps during WWII, it just so happens that Bulgaria is not on that list. Nikki explained that in perfect Bulgarian fashion, it was one of their most annoying habits, a hallmark character trait of Bulgarians everywhere, which saved the lives of Bulgarian Jews. They simply procrastinated. They did not hand over any Jews to the Nazis for deportation, claiming, “Oh we still need them for this or that factory or for this or that task.” Somehow or another, when that wrathful war was finally over and done, not one single Jew had been deported to the concentration camps from Bulgaria. Really, that is amazing. Meanwhile, however, this was not the case for Jews living in Bulgarian-occupied territories such as Greece and Macedonia. About 11,000 Jews from these occupied territories ended up in death camps. Ostensibly, they were too far out of the reach of those efforts being made insideBulgaria. But history would certainly indicate that Bulgarians did all they could to aggravate the Nazis in their evil effort. And I think thatdeserves notice. 

 My favorite day in Bulgaria was had in the mountains just under 2 hours from the city of Sofia. It was mostly highway driving to the Rila Monastery which sits at the foot of the beautiful Rila mountains. After touring the monastery on our own, we found the untrodden, off the beaten path to the Ossuary (literally means a place for the bones of the dead). This short walk took us blissfully away from the crowds at the monastery right next to the babbling brook and beautiful waterfalls of a beautiful creek along side the Ossuary. The Church of the Ossuary was built specifically for cemetery rituals. It was completely deserted when we visited it. Golden silence so that all you could hear were the birds and the rushing waterfalls of the creek. If you visit the Rila monastery, don’t miss the Ossuary. The path entrance is located directly behind the monastery and to the right of the restaurant and shops.  After the Ossuary, we got back into our car and took the road farther still about 4 or 5 km on past the monastery, to a trail head for Saint Ivan Rilski’s cave. Parking was very easy. Rilski was the first Bulgarian Hermit. He was born in approximately 876 AD. His cave is about a 20-minute hike that is pretty rocky so make sure you have good hiking shoes. When you get to the top, you will see a small chapel. Right behind it you will find a small dark cave in the rocks – the place where the saint spent some years fasting and where originally, his remnants were buried. Enter the cave and climb the wooden stairs leading to the higher exit through a tiny rock chimney. Thankfully I had my iPhone flashlight. If you keep climbing a little further up after the cave, you will see the prayer rock where people can write down a prayer and stick it in crevices of the rock.

Bulgarian Mountains: Saint Rilskie’s Cave

ATHENS:  Another new stamp in my passport. And apparently there are multiple flights direct between Athens and various commercial airline hubs in the states. That’s helpful for traveling between the two. Even if you book extra connections in order to get lower price tickets, your preferred US commercial airline may indeed fly right into Athens. On another note, even if they don’t, they are generally allied with European partners. Like for instance, my preferred airline (UAL) is a part of the Star Alliance that includes both Lufthansa and Aegean Airlines. Delta and American all have their own alliance partners. I am just saying this because, it is yet another feature of major air travel that makes your seemingly crazy travel itinerary even more doable.  

Back to ATHENS!  The history, and as well, the bible history in Athens is incredible. The Roman and Greek history is off the chart. And I have news for all of you, Roman and Greek history is OUR American history as well. In some form or another, we have roots in Ancient Roman and Greek culture. Whether that be ethnic heritage, theology, faith, superstition, or our career fields. These two forces of human spirit and ingenuity forged a path for art, architecture, bridge building, plumbing, civil engineering (every type of engineering you can imagine), politics, law, not to mention relationships (whether good or bad). They certainly have offered us a timeless framework of leadership: how to or how not to lead others. Athens has a bigger, more modern city for sure, but it is ensconced by ancient history, rich with stories and voices of the past. Stories that bridge the ancient with the modern in an extraordinary and telling way. The Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Temples of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, Mars Hill-The Aeropogus. Athens is simply jaw dropping beauty and the hiking is wonderful, so put on your hiking shoes! The newer Acropolis museum is a delightful accompaniment to the Ancient Acropolis itself. And soon (I must go back) they are opening up an entire new exhibit on the lower floor, actual excavated ancient city structures that you can meander through and among. You can see the beginnings of it now under a glass walking path as you are entering the museum. The Athenians are pretty welcoming people too. And in case you’re wondering, yeap I booked my hotel on booking.com here and had a simply marvelous hotel right in the Centre of old Athens called Phidias Hotel. The breakfast was seriously off the chart, one of the best ever I have enjoyed eating. It was included in my hotel price. Delicious. Now, I was there in comfortable February weather. I don’t think this hotel comes with air conditioning (most European hotels don’t unfortunately), and I can only imagine how warm it might be in the summer. So, if that is a consideration for you…… 

Ancient Acropolis

Around Athens

            I try not to spend too much time in my travel blogs giving you the historical details of each site. I want to. I want you to get caught up in the excitement and the passion of the rich and fascinating history of these places just like I am. But, part of my goal is to get you to explore further on your own. There is an enormous amount of wonderful factual information on the web about all of these places. I just want to give you a glimpse into my own journey, maybe offer up my personal travel hacks and favorite places, entice you with the pictures, and then send you OUT to research and plan on your own, drawing on a plethora of wonderful resources available to do just that. But I want to add a personal note here about my faith journey on this trip. I was so emotionally moved while standing at nearly the very spot on the Areopagus where Paul the Apostle spoke the exact words you find in the last section of Acts 17. I could easily imagine what he was dealing with at the time. He was surrounded by temples to pagan gods as far as the eye could see. Read Acts 17 for yourselves. Include that in the research you undertake on Athens. It is a part of you too, whether you believe in God, in Jesus or not. Just like the prolific paganism of ancient Rome is an intricate and undeniable part of our ancestry and our own inheritance and theology that we have today, so is God, Yahweh. He has a place in your history too. Whether you are a believer or not, bible history is still a part of your past, a past that has shaped our own culture and who we have become these thousands of years since. 

Ancient Areopagus

ANCIENT CORINTH (Day Trip from Athens):  We did a private car tour with “Tours by Locals” to Ancient Corinth. I really like Tours by Locals because they give you private drivers! And the tour guides are truly knowledgeable. Not in all cases though will they actually accompany you to the site. They will answer any and all questions you have while in the car together, but they deliver you to the tourist spots to do a self-tour. Vassilios did not accompany us to the site in Corinth. He was a talkative and totally engaging person and full of great information and questions. Anyway, Ancient Corinth should be largely absorbed in beautiful silence, introspective meditation, and contemplation. It was also here that Paul the Apostle spent the better part of two years living with the Corinthian church he had planted in this very place, teaching and admonishing them. There is a museum adjacent to Ancient Corinth that is run by Americans of all people.  The building was designed by Stuart Thompson, following the architectural model of the “Chicago school”. It is a really terrific museum. And this is why I would say you need more time here at Corinth than what the Tours by Localstour afforded us. It was a full day tour that took in several sites in Athens before leaving for Corinth. So, I did not have enough time in Ancient Corinth to include getting through the museum. 

Ancient Corinth

            But now more on our tour guide. He had great questions about my personal faith and my church. Like, “How many times a week do you go to church services?” For instance, most Athenians are orthodox Greek and by the time they are out of their teens, they only go to church occasionally. He was stupefied by the fact that I go to church weekly and, stop the press, have a small group that meets in our home. He was further fascinated that we don’t require a priest either for our church services, or for taking the holy sacraments of communion. I explained the role of our pastors. They bring the gospel to the local churches weekly or as often as they meet, admonishing them and encouraging them in the Word, not unlike Paul the Apostle. And also, pastors are charged with challenging their church family (just like the Berean Christians in the middle of Acts 17) to open up their own bibles and read the scripture on their own, “testing” what the pastor says against what they find for themselves in scripture. Bill was super impressed by my bible knowledge. Now, I want to add here the irony of this. He would have been super impressed by most American protestant bible knowledge. Because in the Greek Orthodox faith, they simply don’t study the bible for themselves. So, suffice to say my tour guide was fascinated by our personal faith stories.

THE CORINTH CANAL:  The Corinth Canal is a waterway that crosses the narrow Isthmus of Corinth to link the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf. As such, the canal separates the Greek mainland from the Peloponnese, turning it into an island. The Corinth Canal is an important navigational route which once allowed ships to enter the Aegean Sea. Dug through the Isthmus at sea level, the canal is 6.4 kilometers long with a width of only 25 meters. Impossible for modern ships to go through, the canal has now lost any significant economic importance it once had.” (The Culturetrip.com) It was a site to behold just before heading into Ancient Corinth. 

Corinth Canal

CHANIA, CRETE:  This is my second time to visit the beautiful island of Crete. Specifically, both of those visits have been to Chania (pronounced Hon-ya) So yes, I am feeling strongly like the next time I get to Crete, I need to explore another part of this lovely island. 

Getting there from Athens:  Again, you can fly super cheap from Athens.  And the flight is only about 40 minutes from push back to landing. OR you can be extra adventurous and do what my friend Clarissa and I did. We took the ferry. Yeah, finally remember the title of this blog, “Planes Trains and Automobiles, + One Boat? ”Well, the one boat was indeed the ferry. Specifically, Minoan Lines, and we sailed on the ship Myokas Palace. It’s an overnight ferry. We set sail about 8:30 pm fromThe Port of Piraeus in Athens and docked in Chania about 4:30 am. You can spend next to nothing and just sleep in fairly comfortable recliner seats all night. They look a lot like airplane seats, but they recline more, and they have triple the leg room. OR you can do what we did, still spend next to nothing (59 euro per person) and actually get a room with beds and a shower. I have to lay down in a bed and sleep as much as possible. I am getting old. The ship is loaded with bars, grills, restaurants and fabulously comfortable lounges with comfy chairs, couches and tables. For 5 euro you can get 10 hours worth of wifi. But I warn you. It’s not that good. We docked right on time and disembarked incredibly quickly. I have a feeling the ship will get much busier in the summer. Our ride picked us up and off we went. Oh yeah, I stayed with an expat friend here too. So, no lodging this time. BUT, the first time I was here (July 2016), my friend Rebecca and I, along with 4 kids between us, reserved a BNB and got a beautiful apartment, super big and loaded with amenities for 750 euros for 4 nights, which we split between two families. So, BNB’s are prolific here and don’t forget my favorite hotel booking website, booking.com. It’s always good.

Myokas Palace

            Chania’s old town is especially beautiful. The alleyways of the oldest district, which seems to be the artisan shop district, is simply enchanting. You can’t miss it. It is directly behind the Fort. Also walk through the many fun shops in the next section over which dumps you out to Starbucks (surprise surprise) and the lovely Chania harbor. Walk the long, but lazy meandering way to the lighthouse. Bask in the beauty of the Mediterranean and take a ton too many pictures because you just can’t help yourself. I was here in July the first time I visited, and it was lovely but hot. This time February was just captivating. And the mountains were all still snowcapped.

            Besides old town and the harbor, other favorite sites adorned with jaw dropping beauty and wonder are the ancient Aptera ruins just outside the city. Also, Balos Lagoon and Stephanou Beach are absolute must sees. The summer is especially nice because they are great swimming spots, especially Stephanou Beach. The Mediterranean Sea is by far my favorite swimming hole. NOW driving to both the Balos Lagoon and Stephanou Beach is a little scary. You can get on a boat in Chania that will sail you to Balos. But we didn’t know that. Yes, rent a car in Chania. It’s nice and necessary for getting around the island unless you’re literally staying in Chania town and can cab everywhere. But you won’t do that after reading this blog right? Anyway, knowing how to drive a stick shift is a nice skill to have here, but if you can’t, make a special request for an automatic. I also found the stick shift helpful for driving up up up to Balos Lagoon and Stefanou Beach (which when you arrive at each of them, you must then hike down down down to the beach). So, make sure you have go with hiking shoes, loads of sun screen, drinking water, snacks, and an off the chart anticipation of the ginormous explosion of nature that awaits you.

 On my most recent trip to Chania, Clarissa, Keisha and I visited the Gouverneto Monastery just East of Chania. We were able to park our car at the monastery and the drive there was easy! But from this monastery we hiked (yeap solid hiking shoes and a hiking stick are helpful) about 2 miles to a nearly deserted and rocky beach that had turquoise waters and offered another stellar surreal swimming experience. Between the starting point of the Gouverneto monastery and the beach is a trail which takes you past multiple ruins in the sides of the mountains of old abandoned monasteries, for instance Katholiko Monastery, or Monastery of St John the Hermit, or simply Katholiko. After the last abandoned monastery, you find yourself hiking the last few minutes in the Avaki Gorge. This was the best last day I spent on this most recent trip to Chania. I think hiking in nature is close in proximity to the very heart of God. Thus, when I am in a place like this, beholding such beauty, I can’t help but stare into the heavens and just say, “Thank you God.” I hope you get to experience this hike in all of its natural wonder and glory. The craggy beach at the end is a sweet sweet reward for the moderate hike. (Compared to the hike down to Stephanou beach, this one was easy peasy.) The water changes colors as the sun shines on it. The way it feels on your skin when you’re swimming or floating in it, is also indescribable.  

Avaki Gorge Hike

FOOD IN GREECE:  Remember what I said about the Bulgarian food? Same for Greece. Yeap, ditto! It is ALL GOOD. I mean delicious. And again, the yogurt in this place is better than the best ice cream you have ever eaten. Not to compare it to ice cream. Because it is not a worthy comparison. I just want you to know what pleasure awaits you as you eat either Bulgarian or Greek yogurt.  

Protestant churches though few, are synonymous with diversity here. You truly get an idea, at least on some level, what it must have been like for Paul the Apostle as he traveled the region with his spiritual brothers and sisters planting churches. I love my church home in Houston, and one reason I love it is because my pastor and the leadership, and all my fellow church attendees are so intent on being a colorful congregation, not full of folks who look exactly alike. But I am not going to lie. It doesn’t come natural to us in the USA to do this. We all just naturally tend to segregate ourselves in churches. Yes, some churches are a better blend of multiple ethnic backgrounds than others. But as a whole, it is still a struggle in 2019. As a general rule, this is not so among protestant gatherings when traveling in Europe.  It is so when you are in orthodox churches in Europe. But though the protestant offerings are very few, I feel it is exactly BECAUSE of that reason, that generally they are very diverse. Anyway, not to beat a dead horse, just a fascinating observation. And not only that, but they are some of the most loving bodies I have ever known. They don’t hand out surveys or have you jump through lots of hoops if you are in need. They just act and look so much like the church of Acts 2. Pooling their efforts and their “stuff” and then making sure that people who are hurting have what they need. I had the opportunity to attend a diverse Hillsong service in Sofia Bulgaria. And in Crete I had the special privilege of attending a protestant church that meets in a coffee shop. They are small but mighty. They include English, Americans, Cretans, Russians, Afghani Refugees, and many others.  What love they showed to me a complete stranger. What lessons they gently taught me about love and Godly hospitality. 

WHAT THE LOCALS SAY ABOUT……..

Their government: The Bulgarians and Cretans that we had the privilege of talking to about such things, beyond food and tourism, both cited a strong distaste for years of oppressive governments. Whether that was communism or socialism. Our Bulgarian tourists emphasized the oppression and violence that was a hallmark of their government for so long. It was stifling and murderous. In Bulgaria during communism rule, you could be murdered for being a song writer. Only in the last two decades has Bulgaria really began to emerge from the damage resulting from years of communism first, and then socialism. 

 Our Crete tour guide lamented that today, about 75% of a person’s earnings is taken by the Greek government for taxation. Shops are closed by the scores. The reason is two-fold. First, the shop owners are so heavily taxed, they cannot stay afloat. Secondly, this is coupled with the locals who themselves are so heavily taxed, they can’t afford to shop. So business stops. And we were witness to the scores of shops and restaurants closed along our route. Our tour guide said that personally he enjoys eating out and socializing at his local restaurant as well, but he cannot go often because he is so heavily taxed. He also added that the only two groups who can be bribed in Greece are the very rich and the very poor. Greece seems to be one of those countries with one foot in “developed 1st world country,” while the other foot struggles to stay out of “under developed 3rdworld country.” 

On my tour in Sofia, I made friends with “Mike,” from London. Mike was visiting Bulgaria for a dental appointment to do routine dental work with dentures. I asked why in the world would he come all the way to Bulgaria for dental work. He said, “In England, it would take a year to get this routine work done.” His additional comments were not complimentary of the health care that is available in the UK.  I have a Dutch friend who is a cancer survivor. She said she strictly sees a homeopathic provider now because the traditional health care provided by the State doesn’t pay for anything to the point of refusing standard and necessary tests. This is not a new story of how health care operates in most of western Europe. I have received many such stories from my European friends. 

And Their God:  I find a majority of people on two ends of the religious spectrum with a much smaller number in between. On one end are the devout orthodox still committed to the liturgy found in their orthodox services. And on the other end are those who have walked away from religion all together because it holds no personal meaning for them. In Europe, religions have long been a product of the state. Very seldom is there any such thing as separation of Church and state. Indeed, in Germany and many other countries, part of your taxes is paid into the state Church. Typically, you must renounce yourself from that religion in order to extract yourself from the tax obligation. Protestants have been present among the religious throngs for centuries. But their history in Europe (believe you me) is not pristine either. Centuries of religious hostility and violence coupled with longstanding legalism, form a backdrop for the total disdain you find today among much of the younger (and middle aged) people across the continent. Indeed, the bible’s message of Grace has yet to be fully injected into the mainstream of religious bodies in Europe. 

So there, a little of this and a lot of that. I hope you have enjoyed this travel blog. It is a lot different from my usual travel blog. But my goodness there are so many stories and insights and so much more to be learned about our European neighbors. Do whatever you can to get there. You will never regret it. The beauty of both landscapes, people and nature continue to blow my mind. 

Greece