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Aug 26, 2009

The other side of fiction – Escaping Reality

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Ironically, right around the time of Heath Ledger’s death, the following was on the marquee at a local theater:

Heath Ledger in
I’m not there

As I looked at this every day on my way to and from work, the sadness of that title was profound. And though, not trying to draw too many conclusions or metaphors from the title, I could not help but think how in many ways, that when we are at home with our spouses and our children, often we are there in body, but not really there in mind.
I hear parents ask the same question: “when my son is home, it seems like he or she is not really there. Or “all my son wants to do is sit in his room and play video games. He seems withdrawn and distant. What those parents seem to be saying is that they are with us in body, but are not really there in mind. While it is easy to ask that question aloud concerning our children, I wonder how true it is for us as not only spouses, but also as parents.
How do we anchor our children to reality and to us as parents, when so often we are disengaged ourselves?
We live in a self-created fiction yet cannot ignore reality even in our fiction. That is a pretty deep way to start to answer the question, but it is true…we create our own sense of reality. Our children merely emulate our behavior. This virtual world that we see in the internet, 500 different cable channels, thousands of movies, an author on every corner, text messaging, living life on phones did not create itself. We have created a world, a fiction that surrounds the universe of me. As parents, we have passed that on to our children and given them new tools and a faster way of doing it.
But how real is that fiction? And what is the problem with doing it anyway? Everyone likes to escape reality from time to time don’t they? I know I do.
For me, I use entertainment as a way to escape reality. Often it is a book, a movie, or even a television show. Lately, the internet has been a way for me to explore my interests….a virtual library at my fingertips. Is there really anything wrong with me doing this?
This is when I begin to live in my own fiction. The fiction that tells me I am the only one who matters: the only one I need to worry about pleasing. In the words of Terrell Owens; “I love me some me, and that is the crux of the problem. We are generally so enamored with ourselves that we really are not there. “There, is the reality of life. “There, is the place most often we are trying to escape. We often have trouble anchoring ourselves as parents and our children to the reality of life. Life exists on the other side of fiction.
What does that mean? Heath Ledger, truly, is no longer here, and that is the reality of life. He was trying to escape from his own reality with no knowledge of the consequences that would come. Drugs for so many people are an escape, yet they are perilously used to seemingly add color to a life that seems dull…black and white.
Life is fleeting and it goes all too quickly. Yet given the speed of life, how do we establish a sense of permanence in our children? How do we anchor them to the reality of life and the permanence of hope?
Certainly it seems that anchoring our children and ourselves to reality is a challenging task. Life, in many ways, seems odder than fiction. A newspaper on any given day can make that point for us, but a recent article suffices. According to the Australian newspaper, The Telegraph, “suicidal pets are getting anti-depressants, particularly tropical birds such as parrots which seem to have been the most affected by depression.
The news and the advances of technology on any given day make it seem as if reality is a moving target and challenging at best. From birds taking Prozac to robots that are being developed so we can have virtually interactive sex, it would appear that reality changes with each generation.
However, in a shifting culture, there are principles that we as parents need to embrace so to anchor our children and ourselves to reality.

  • Reality is not relative nor, is truth. If reality and truth were relative, then no one would ever be wrong.
  • Truth does exist. O.J. Simpson either did or did not kill his wife. The fact that you or I do not know the answer does not mean that an answer does not exist.
  • In the words of Dr. Samuel Johnson: “The fact that there is such a thing as twilight does not mean that we cannot distinguish between night and day.
  • We cannot merely live virtually, apart from others. E-mail, voice mail, and the phone, are all ways that we now seek to live our lives without interacting with others. The virtual touch has become easier than the personal touch. We however, are built to be in relationship. Virtual interaction, will never be as good nor as challenging, as the real thing.
  • We all need down time. We all need to relax. Weariness is not an excuse to entertain ourselves into isolation, into our “own reality.

Technology and culture will change. The movement of society is not an excuse to let ourselves and our children be absent in our own homes. Weariness is not an excuse to let our children retire to their rooms, live virtually on the phone or internet, watch their TV, apart from us. We allow them to do those things because it is easier. It allows us to live our own lives, while ignoring theirs. But it is not reality. We as parents need to guard ourselves from escaping reality. In doing this, we can prevent our children from escaping into their own fiction.
The other side of fiction is reality. It is a world we all live in, and we are not alone in it.


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Aug 25, 2009

Teach your children to be prepared for tragedy (Part 3)

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Dealing with questions and fears
What should we teach our children in order to help them be prepared for tragedy? Here are ten truths that will be helpful as you speak to your children about tragedy that has happened and tragedy that is yet to come.

  1. In a fallen world, in which we live, tragedies will happen. They may strike near us in our community, even in our own family.
  2. Our God, our Heavenly Father, knows us, our needs, and our capabilities. He knows our beginning and our end. He loves us and will take care of us. He will deliver us from evil and the evil one. Even if we die, He will receive us into His heavenly home to be with Him forever. All those who trust in Jesus will be together again. Death cannot separate us forever.
  3. We may not know in this life all the reasons for a tragedy, but in Heaven we will see clearly the answers to all the questions we have now. Until then, we must live by faith in the promises of God. We can trust Him!
  4. Sadness and tears may last for a short while, but joy will return again.
  5. No matter what happens, God will never leave you or forsake you. He will never forget you. Do not forget Him!
  6. Stay near to God and talk to him all the time: before, during, and after a tragedy. Pray for others for God to heal them and comfort them.
  7. Help others with your kind words. Serve them without being asked, do something for them. Always be thankful if someone helps you.
  8. Remember that Jesus experienced great pain and suffering. He knows what you are going through when you hurt and are sad. He will always be with you.
  9. Pray now that no matter what happens in the future, God will strengthen you to endure and you will not fear what could come. Pray how you can encourage other people who are suffering.
  10. Always remember, nothing can ever happen, not even the worst tragedy, to separate you from Jesus and His love for you.

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Aug 24, 2009

Teach your children to be prepared for tragedy (Part 2)

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Dealing with questions and fears
In the late 1960’s I was an Infantry Platoon Leader in the Vietnam War. As I was being trained in the United States in the months prior to my departure for the jungles of Viet Nam, I was extremely cognizant of the dangers and horror that awaited me once I arrived there. I knew for example that the life expectancy of a Rifle Platoon leader was literally minutes on average in any battle. This recognition honed my attention to what I was being taught in the classroom and in the training fields of Ft. Benning, Georgia, and Ft. Sheridan in the Panamanian jungles. I knew that my ability to respond with knowledgeable instinct, spontaneously without the necessity of much thought, was vital to my survival and that of my men. The battlefield is chaotic and lends itself to what combat soldiers know as the “fog of war. There is no time to check your notes or try to remember what you have forgotten. Your first response needs to be the right one!
There are great similarities here in preparing for the physical and spiritual realities of any tragedy. We need to know the nature and revealed intentions of our Heavenly Father, the experience and work for our salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Satan desires to rob, steal, and destroy. Those who have wrestled with God know the tactics of the enemy and have prepared themselves with such head and heart knowledge: these are the people to whom those who are suffering turn when tragedy strikes.
It is not enough for parents to prepare themselves. Our children should be prepared for tragedy as well. As parents, concerned about our children’s well-being and emotional health, we tend to shield them, as much as we can, from the trauma that is common to tragedy. We do not want them to have nightmares or be traumatized by specific knowledge or sight of violence, accidents involving serious injury or death, or anything we deem better handled by mature minds.
When living in Scotland many years ago our two oldest children were only one and three years of age. We came across a devotional book written for little children called Peep of Day, first published in Scotland in the 1800’s. I was struck by the honesty with which it spoke to their infant minds about the fragility of life and what could happen to their small bodies in a great fall or similar accident. It spoke to them in simple words about their bodies being wonderfully made, but also containing breakable bones, “losable blood, and woundable flesh. It addressed the real possibility of death even at a young age. My wife and I were impressed about how naturally we parents try to shield our little ones from knowledge about the harsh realities of life–things they may very well face in their earliest days. It is just as true that we underestimate what they can understand about their Heavenly Father and His personal involvement in their lives: truths we must help them see and appreciate.


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Aug 22, 2009

Teach your children to be prepared for tragedy (Part 1)

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Dealing with questions and fears
We as a nation have and will experience tragedy. With the upcoming anniversary of 9-11 as a reminder or the memory of those killed on the campus of Virginia Tech, it is not hard to remember. But a few years ago we were horrified by the heinous killing of the young Amish school girls. The 10th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School has just passed. These and others are tragedies to the nation or community because of the large number of people affected in a location where killing is never expected. Death in a war such as Iraq and Afghanistan is not unexpected though it is still tragic. The mass killing at Virginia Tech came as a shock and left us with many questions and fears.
My wife and I recently experienced profound sadness in the drowning of a little 1 1/2 year old boy very dear to us. This is a tragedy in our lives and family as much as Virginia Tech’s massacre is to the nation and the families of those who were murdered. We normally use this word “tragedy to refer to the sudden, unexpected loss of a family member, a loved one, or someone very close. It may speak of the death by accident or crime of a number of persons in our life or community. We label any variety of painful events in life “tragedies, even when the loss is less than human life; whether health, possessions, freedom, or livelihood.
Tragedy and God are not foreign to one another. Most Christians understand that God is good, and tragedy is bad. So what do they have to do with each other? When tragedy happens, some may be quick to blame Satan, the purveyor of evil. Seldom is God left out of the picture, because we expect that if He is all powerful, He could have prevented this. Tragedy can turn some to anger toward God, an anger that lasts in some cases a lifetime. Some even cease to believe He exists. Ironically enough, they retain anger toward Him even while claiming His nonexistence. Job was angry with God, but he never doubted His existence. In the tragedy of his life, he came from knowing about God to the place where he truly saw Him. Tragedy can evoke blame toward God:“God, if you are good, if your promises about our care and protection are true, if you can prevent evil from overtaking us, why did you allow this to happen? Why 9-11, why Hurricane Katrina, why Virginia Tech, why Columbine, why my child?!
Why, indeed! “Why is always THE question with which we struggle after tragedy; it is usually addressed to God when we can find nowhere else to place blame.This is a part of our human nature, to assign blame, but tragedies often leave us with no one to blame, and so we wrestle with God.
In tragedy and its aftermath remember that it is not a bad thing to wrestle with God. For it is always and ultimately Him with whom we have to ask the question! He, not Satan, is the anchor of all life; the only One who can and will answer all our questions.
I believe the book of Job is the primary text God has provided for the problem of evil and for dealing with tragedy in life. Not that there are not many other texts in the Bible helpful to us at such a time. But it is the story and lesson of Job thatGod in His wisdomuses so that we might wrestle, and come by faith to an understanding of tragedy, pain, and the “evil of suffering. On purpose I have placed “evil in quotation marks in describing suffering. This is because both the Bible and our spiritual experience teach us that suffering in life has a beneficial purpose. If not immediately, eventually we come to understand its nature in increasing our faith and deepening spiritual maturity. This is the message of such texts as Romans 8:18-39 and Hebrews 12.
However, we certainly do not pray for tragedy in our lives. We pray for protection from it. We ask God to keep it from us and those we love. Even Jesus prayed for God to remove the “cup of suffering that He would undergo for our salvation, because in His manhood He was not sure He could endure it. Nevertheless, He went willingly to the cross in the strength of His utter faith and trust in His Father. No one desires tragedy, but then no one should believe that it will never come. Rather we should prepare our hearts and minds for it, and teach our children what to do if and when it comes. This should be done and can be done in a manner that does not instill a paralyzing fear of life and the future. The tragedies that have come upon us as a nation, and the personal tragedies that we have suffered closer to our own homes, or even in them, can become useful tools to teach our children about the reality of tragedy and how God uses it to bring needed spiritual growth in our lives.


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Aug 20, 2009

The “It’s Going to Happen Anyway Philosophy to Parenting and Society

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The Momentum of Compromise
On October 18th, 2007 an Associated Press report from San Francisco Chronicle stated the following:
“City health officials took steps Thursday toward opening the nation’s first legal safe-injection room, where addicts could shoot up heroin, cocaine, and other drugs under the supervision of nurses.
Public health officials from San Francisco are considering such a measure because they hope a “shooting gallery will reduce the high number of fatal drug overdoses in the area. Bertha Madras, Deputy Director of Demand Reduction for the Office of National Drug Control Policy said this about the potential new facility: “This is a form of giving up.
Whether the “shooting gallery has merit in addressing these health and crime issues is not the point. At the end of the day, having to answer the problem of drug abuse with a “shooting gallery is reactionary. In other words, the problem has become so complicated we now deal with the leaf on the tree, not the root of the problem.
In the face of what is seemingly an overwhelming problem, we prefer to just concede the ground, shrugging our shoulders not knowing what else to do.
A component of philosophy is focused on answering the questions of how we should live. A method of approaching the problem of, “it’s going to happen anyway is like the tail wagging the dog. We merely give up and quit. Isn’t that what we naturally want to do when problems or challenges get too hard?
This past summer I participated in a 1/2 Ironman which consisted of a 1.2 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike ride, and concluded with a 13.1 mile run. The thoughts running through my mind within the first 300 yards of the swim were: “What am I doing? I have got to be nuts! Let’s just shut this down and stop. The only way I could overcame these thoughts was to set reasonably easy goals. After reaching these smaller goals, I gained confidence and settled in for a long, challenging, but rewarding day. In doing this, I forced myself to address the root of the problem. If I had spent all of my time fixing superficial issues (like people swimming on top of me), I would have flailed around making little progress at all. Most of my energy would have been spent avoiding the core issue which was being afraid. Once I dealt with my fear, the other concerns were easier to tackle.
The same philosophy that San Francisco is considering by having a “shooting gallery, is promoted regarding sex: abstinence will not work so we are better off educating about all kinds of sex. In others words, sex is going to happen anyway. Working with teenagers, I am not so naïve to think that telling teenagers to abstain is going to solve the problem. On the other hand, only teaching youth about condoms because it “is going to happen anyway is equally as naïve.
Has this philosophy trumped a reasonable way of thinking? Have the problems grown so large, that we no longer know where to tackle them and are instead reacting? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.
Without dealing with the root of the problem, it will invariably grow and become complicated. The issues facing society and teens today are challenging, complex, and difficult to navigate. Shrugging our shoulders doesn’t make it any easier for this generation or the next. With a simple shrug, comes the momentum of compromise.
As parents, we must acknowledge the complexity of the issue in the world and deal with the root of the problem in our children. Railing against society doesn’t move the mountain and shrugging our shoulders only causes us to slide further down the hill. Teaching our children how to face the challenges in this ever-changing landscape is where we have to start because if we don’t teach them someone else will. This problem is not going to go away on its own.


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Aug 19, 2009

Safeguarding your children online

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Tactics in protecting your children in an internet world
Using the Internet has become second nature for children and youth today. Online homework, school based web boards, and chatting with friends is now commonplace for this generation. At the same time the internet is a very dark and dangerous place where monsters prowl, eager to devour children and curious teens. For this reason, parents must be vigilant in protecting their kids. Here are some important guidelines:

  1. Develop an expectation of trust with your child early in life. Tell him that betrayal of trust not only hurts families, but will also limit their freedom.
  2. Teach your child that the Internet is a good source for educational, recreational and creative searches, but also has some things that can hurt them
  3. Remind them that your job as a parent is to protect them from harm and danger and you take that responsibility seriously.
  4. Keep your computers in open, easily visible areas in your home
  5. Show them how to use the Internet, email, and instant messaging (with approved friends only). Ask them to show you their buddy list regularly.
  6. They are NEVER to post pictures of themselves on the Internet.
  7. No MySpace or Facebook Account (I prefer Face Book over My Space) unless they are over 16 and can prove to you that there is a constructive purpose for the account, that is consistent with your family’s faith, moral beliefs and values. The last condition is that you must approve all content, contacts.If your child agrees, then you must monitor the site frequently. Also be aware that there are other sites in addition to MySpace and Facebook.
  8. Tell them to notify you immediately if they receive an email or instant message from someone they do not know, or has sexual or inappropriate content, or anything that makes them feel uncomfortable–and most importantly, to never respond the message.
  9. Explain the dangers of giving identifying information such as name, address, school name or telephone number to anyone.
  10. Let them know that the rules for using the internet apply even when they are at a friend’s home or at a public access computer.
  11. Find out what safeguards are used at the homes of your child’s friends.
  12. Check their history files often!
  13. If you come into the room and they nervously click off a website, or shut off the monitor, investigate immediately.
  14. Spend time with your child on-line, and have them show you their favorite on-line destinations.
  15. Use the “Parental Controls” provided by your Internet Service Provider and/or blocking software.
  16. Maintain access to your child’s on-line account, and randomly check his or her account.
  17. If you have reason to suspect your child is viewing inappropriate sites–approach your son or daughter calmly and with respect but follow through with the consequence.
  18. Keep in touch with the parents of their friends and compare notes regularly.

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Aug 18, 2009

I have a child who… refuses to go to church or participate in family devotionals

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I have a child who… refuses to go to church or participate in family devotionals.
Key verse: Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
There is a world of difference between the words “teach” and “train.” Teaching is the verbal imparting of truth, whereas “training” applies those teachings moment by moment, day after day. The dictionary defines “Train: to mold the character, instruct by exercise, drill, to make obedient to orders, to put or point in an exact direction, to prepare for a contest.” As parents, we must walk out that which we say we believe.
Have you trained your child at home or have you left that responsibility to the church? If you have not trained him at home, the first step is to ask the child’s forgiveness. Consistently have daily devotionals. After the child responds to these, begin to attend church as a family.
Ultimately, the real reason for rebellion is one of control. It is important that you remember that you are the parent and set the standard for your family. “Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)
You need to ask yourself, “Who has control? It is vitally important for parents to provide clear boundaries and expectations of a child who lives under your roof. No matter how much teens say they do not want rules…they desperately want to know where the limits are and what the consequences will be for disobedience. Teens act out because they have not been consistently corrected when they have been disobedient.


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Aug 17, 2009

I have a child who is lazy

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I have a child who is lazy.
Laziness results when parents require nothing of their child. It is easier for parents to do things themselves rather than take the time to teach their child and work with him while he learns. Teaching a child a good work ethic is one of the most wonderful gifts a parent can ever give him. A child should be taught from a young age that he is expected to clean up the toys in his room at the end of the day. As he ages, he should be responsible for making his bed, emptying trash, mowing the lawn, and participating in the chores around the house…without pay. He must learn that to maintain a home requires work, and everyone needs to help.
Teaching a proper work ethic involves six steps:

  • Explain in detail how to do the job
  • Let him do it
  • Check the job when it is finished
  • Praise him for the things he did right
  • Give instruction on the areas that need improvement
  • Have him do the job until he does it well. Well does not mean perfectly. We discourage our child if we do not accept him for the level of ability that he has.

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Aug 15, 2009

I have a child who has run away from home.

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I have a child who has run away from home.
The first thing to do is pray. In the interim, notify the authorities. It is important that you do not “rescue him from the consequences of his actions. His leaving is his ultimate act of rebellion by defiantly refusing to submit to your authority. However, this may well be the turning point that eventually brings restoration to your family. Let us share one young man’s story:

This young man’s mother and father were good, well-meaning people, but they did not know how to handle him when he became a teenager. He left home at age 16, determined to live on his own and get away from anybody telling him what to do. Basically, he slept on the side of the road, and to hear him tell it, “It was okay. You’d be surprised at the places you can sleep if you drink enough. “His life continued its downward spiral, as he stole for food. He explained, “Of course, I could have afforded food if I had quit buying dope with my money, but I didn’t want to do that. The only joy I had was being high.” Over the next two years, he was arrested eight times…for either DUIs or burglary. Once, he was placed in a prison cell with a sex offender. That experience frightened him so much that it played a significant part in his rehabilitation.

Although it is hard, be patient, your child will eventually hit bottom, and it is at this point that you will be able to help. While that does not immediately resolve the situation and may not provide comfort while you are hurting, pray that when the time comes, you will be able to find the appropriate place for him outside of the home. Like the young man above, it took time, but eventually, an opportunity came. Be prepared for his call or return to you.


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Aug 14, 2009

I have a child who has aerosol cans under the bed.

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I have a child who has aerosol cans under the bed.
Drug use among young people surfaced in the 60’s as a sign of rebellion and a way of acting out against “the establishment. The drugs of choice were marijuana, alcohol, and speed. Over the years, inhalants (aerosols, gasoline, butane, freon, correction fluid, glue, etc.) became more readily used by younger children because of their nominal cost and availability. Those that experimented with inhalants often turned to marijuana and harder drugs. Since the 90’s older teenagers continued to use inhalants by themselves and in combination with other drugs.Inhalants are one of the most destructive kinds of drugs because of the damage they cause to the brain, liver, and kidneys.
Because of the danger to your child’s life, act swiftly. First of all, have a frank discussion with your child to explain why you are taking such harsh actions: you love him and have been entrusted by God to look out for his welfare. Since he obviously does not regard the foolishness of his actions and the danger it presents to his/her well being, you are imposing a strict punishment in order to make him understand the consequences of drugs. If this does not stop the behavior, you need to seek intervention. Addiction is deadly!
Explain that you are going to be extremely vigilant to see that he does not slip into this behavior again. Even though it appears that a child wants “freedom, he really wants the opposite. When he knows that his parents care enough about him to monitor his behavior closely, his sense of security increases.

  • According to the 2007 SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 17.2% of youth indicated that inhalants were the first drug that they used.

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