We’re giving away our kids’ Christmas toys

We’re giving away our kids’ Christmas toys

My oldest son was two years old when he received his first “big” gift: a Thomas the Train track set.

It had everything a two-year-old – or even a 22-year-old – could have wanted. Fifty-two wooden pieces. A bridge. A tunnel. A crane. Even a tall, fake waterfall. And it all could be assembled on a wooden play table that was just-his-size.

He would play with it during the morning, afternoon and night, pushing Thomas, Gordon and Henry around the track. Over. And over. And over.

Seven years later, though, that train set gets little attention from my oldest son, or even from his younger brother and sister. Instead, it resides in a cluttered side of our basement amidst other toys that my children have received over the years – toys that on most days also get neglected. To borrow a phrase from a classic Christmas cartoon, it’s our own “Island of Misfit Toys” – and they’re all looking for a loving home.

Those toys can be an eyesore, yes, but they also can be convicting.

We’re giving away our kids’ Christmas toysConsider, for example, the items Samaritan’s Purse recommends packing in its Christmas shoeboxes that go to less-fortunate children in other countries. The list includes balls and dolls but also pens, pencils, socks, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Toothbrushes! Meanwhile, I and countless other Americans watch 42-inch televisions and wonder if it’s time to upgrade to something much larger for our Christmas present.

Experts tells us the United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children yet purchases 40 percent of its toys. [1] But we shouldn’t point fingers at our kids. They didn’t buy those toys.

Besides, we adults are quite good at collecting our own “toys.” Continue reading

‘What’s the definition of beauty?’

‘What’s the definition of beauty?’My daughter is only four-years-old, but sometimes, I think she’s 14.

That was the case a few weeks ago, when she walked purposefully into the kitchen, sporting a pink dress, glitzy shoes and shiny fingernail polish, and asked me through a sweet smile: “Daddy, do you think I look beautiful?”

I chuckled at the situation and responded quickly, “Of course, I do!” She walked back into her room to continue her game of dress-up and I finished eating my snack, but later I began to ask myself: What am I teaching her? In other words, what is she learning about beauty?

If I’m not diligent, then she will learn all the worldly, wrong things as she grows older: that beauty is skin-deep, that worth is based on a perfect figure and the right clothes, and that her body is to be put on display like a cheap weekend sale at Walmart.

I thought about that recently when my family and I stopped at a gas station to fill up the van and to get snacks during a short road trip. There in the gas station window was the magazine rack, and there on the magazine rack were the latest “gentleman’s” magazines flaunting barely dressed models – easily seen by anyone who did not even enter the station. Such as my daughter.

But we don’t have to stop at the wrong gas station to be confronted with worldly images of beauty. We see it every Sunday during the fall, when the TV cameras switch from the football game to the cheerleaders and we’re left wondering if “thin, half-naked and blond” were the prerequisites. We’re faced with it during commercials, when Hardee’s trots out soft-porn images to try and sell us – of all things — hamburgers.

Heck, we even see it in during Disney and Pixar cartoons, which promote not immodesty but perfection. How many average-looking heroines can you remember from the most popular animated movies?

Then there’s social media. A recent Pew study found that 61 percent of teen girls — but only 44 percent of teen boys — regularly access Instagram, the picture-based platform where, essentially, only “glamour shots” are posted. As director Delaney Ruston discovered in the documentary Screenagers, Instagram and platforms like it are destroying the body image of middle school and high school girls, who feel constant pressure to look flawless for their friends and romantic interests. Continue reading

‘Dad, what’s wrong with her?’ (4 things to teach your kids about disabilities)

‘Dad, what’s wrong with her?’ (4 things to teach your kids about disabilities)

My oldest son was munching on French fries and looking around the restaurant, as the rest of our family finished a meal on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

His mind, though, was not on the topic of conversation. Instead, he was staring at an adjacent table, where another family was sitting.

“Dad, what’s wrong with her?”

Almost immediately, I knew what he was referencing. Sitting at the table was a woman in a wheelchair, maybe in her 20s, who was mentally disabled. Every now and then she would look our way and smile, and I would smile back, but my son – who at the time was in the second grade – did not know what to do.

“She keeps looking over here, Dad.”

My son was confused, not knowing what to think, and I was searching for answers. And I knew that this conversation would apply to every area of his life.

No matter where he goes – to school, to church and (one day) to work – he will encounter people who look different, sound different and act different. His friends might be tempted to say “she looks weird” or “he acts goofy,” but I pray he will respond with the heart of Christ, and not with the words of a bully.

After all, the entire point of the Gospel was to help those who are helpless. Sure, the core of it was Jesus saving sinners, but if we study His life on this earth, we discover He had a heart for the disabled: the leper, the blind man, the lame person. And what about the story of Zacchaeus (a despised tax collector who was so short he couldn’t see over anyone) or even Paul (who had an undefined “thorn in the flesh”)?

If my son gets this lesson right early in life, then he will have the courage to stand up for the humanity of the mentally disabled woman in the restaurant … or even the skinny, acne-prone boy in science class.

As we walked away from that restaurant, I made several points: Continue reading

6 secrets to ‘eating out’ — peacefully — with children

6 secrets to ‘eating out’ -- peacefully -- with children

The first time my wife and I took our newborn to a restaurant, time seemingly stood still. Sweet elderly ladies “oohed” and “aahed” over our little bundle of joy. Waitresses stopped by our table to take a peek, amazed by his long eyelashes and quiet manner. Heck, even a few rough-looking grown men—the type you don’t want to cross—cracked a smile.

It was, in one word, “wonderful.”

Fast forward two years, and restaurant visits were no longer the highlight of our week. Yes, our son, Graham, was still precious, but instead of sleeping, he was randomly putting pepper shakers in his mouth. Instead of calmly drinking a bottle, he was stubbornly tossing macaroni on the floor, wondering why Mommy and Daddy were stressed and the people at the next table were laughing. Then there was the time when we ordered our food and he immediately began pitching a fit. Unable to calm him, we boxed up all of our food, hopped in the car and drove home.

Not every instance with our then-2-year-old son was taxing, but there were enough tough moments that we began evaluating what we could do better to make visits to restaurants more enjoyable.

My family views “eating out” much the way people viewed meals during Jesus’ life—as a time of leisurely fun and fellowship. We’re not there simply to eat. We’re there to talk and enjoy one another.

So, can a family of small children eat out regularly without chaos ensuing? Yes.

Here are a few tips that helped us … and may help you, too:
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3 ways to teach your kids about Easter, death and the cross

3 ways to teach your kids about Easter, death and the cross

My 4-year-old daughter Maggie has always been a bit studious for her age. She knew colors when she was 2, was reading the entire alphabet when she was 3, and by the time she turned 4, could read a digital clock.

So I was a bit surprised when my wife told me toward the end of last year that Maggie had failed a holiday pop quiz. The question from my wife was the same one that Charlie Brown shouted to all of his friends: What’s Christmas all about?

Maggie’s answer: “presents.”

I’m sure she said it in an oh-so-sweet voice, and I bet she even had an oh-so-precious smile on her face, but she also was oh-so-wrong. Christmas, my wife told her, is about Jesus—even if presents can be part of innocent holiday funBy the end of the day Maggie had watched a cartoon about baby Jesus and had been read a book about baby Jesus, and it’s safe to say she went to bed that night knowing that Christmas wasn’t all about dolls, dollhouses and pretty pink necklaces.

Of course, it’s easy to teach children about Christmas, with its spotlight on a sweet tiny baby surrounded by animals and shepherds on a clear, starry night. It’s such a “sterile” and “clean” story that even non-Christians are attracted to its power.

But what do we do about Easter? Instead of a baby, we have a bruised and bloodied man. Instead of shepherds in worshipful awe, we have mocking, hate-filled onlookers. Instead of a stable, we have nails, a crown of thorns and a cross. And instead of a story about life, we apparently have a story about, well, death. How do we teach our children that?
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