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A Time to Mother and a Time to Write - March 28th, 2017
By Becky Cerling Powers
When I was a young mother it was the desire of my heart to write. My major in college had been journalism. Since my parents had been unable to help me much financially, I had worked my way through college by winning scholarships and working at a variety of jobs. Now, married with three small children, I thought I should be using that hard-earned education, right? I should be writing for publication.
But I had an undiagnosed thyroid condition, so I needed a lot of sleep. And my children were young. Needy. Matt was an exuberantly curious toddler with a genius for tearing the house apart. (His pediatric dentist nicknamed him Crash.) Erik was a kindergartner who kept begging me to teach him to read. Jessica, age three, stopped taking naps and insisted on being wherever Mommy was.
I kept trying to retire from the circus to write, but the circus followed me.
One day, just after I’d scolded Jessica for not giving me a minute to myself, the thought dropped into my head, If you keep telling this little girl every day to go away and leave you alone, when she gets old enough, she’ll do it. Permanently.
At that moment, I realized I didn’t like the mom I had become—irritable, impatient, angry. There are laid-back, healthy women who can balance the frustrations of deadlines with preschoolers gracefully, but I was too intense. I couldn’t focus on getting published and still have patience for the constant needs of preschool children.
My children’s interruptions were keeping me from writing, and my impatience with the interruptions were blocking my mothering. So I wasn’t getting published, and I wasn’t being a good mother, either.
It dawned on me that the author of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible was putting his finger directly on my parenting problem when he said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Eccl 3:1).
When I set my writing goals and made plans to publish, I neglected to consider the season of our family’s life.
It season was not the season to concentrate on getting published. It was the time to teach our kindergartner how to read—while he was eager to tackle the new skill. Nor was it the season to start the grinding process of assessing markets, sending out queries, and obtaining writing assignments to launch a free-lance writing career. It was the time to build our daughter’s self-confidence, by accepting her companionship and encouraging her to work alongside me during her short bouts of enthusiasm for housework. And, although I made the decision reluctantly and with tears, this certainly was not the time to feel sorry for myself. It was the time to retrieve my sense of humor, recognize Matt’s search-and-destroy missions as normal, and let our toddler’s exuberance rub off on my soul.
But did all that mean it was the time to stop writing?
But did all that mean it was the time to stop writing?
NO! Although the season for publication was later, there was no need to thwart my writing desire—just to redirect it. Edith Schaeffer’s wise counsel in her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking encouraged me to be willing to lay aside public ambition and develop my writing gift behind the scenes, in ways that enriched the lives of the people in my house and in my heart.
So I kept a journal. I wrote down the funny things the children said and did. I composed letters to relatives and friends, and I used stories about the children from my journal to make the letters interesting. And then, before I knew it, a half dozen years later I found myself regularly publishing for an audience of 100,000, writing family features and weekly parenting columns for The El Paso Times.
It turned out, unexpectedly, that by working with the season instead of against it, I gained everything in the end that I had hoped to achieve when I tried to focus on publishing instead of parenting. My writing seasoned through my children’s preschool season. Describing the children’s funny remarks and poignant moments taught me how to write anecdotes. Composing chatty letters to loved ones established a personal writing tone. And throwing myself into the task of parenting gave me a wealth of material to write about when the season for publication finally came.
Worth repeating: There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every [a]event under heaven—
2 A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
5 A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
Today’s prayer: Lord, what is the proper season for my life today? And what is the proper season for the people You have given me to care for? Am I working with the season or against the season? Please help me to recognize and receive your answer, however it comes. And please give me wisdom to take advantage of this season in my life and the lives of those I care for.
Honey Tree - November 15th, 2016
My father grew up in Elmhurst, Illinois during the Great Depression of the 1930s. His own father, my grandfather, lost almost all his money, and there was hardly any work for him to earn more. The family was poor. They mostly ate beans, bread and oatmeal, with vegetables from the garden during the summer and meat when my dad’s older brother was able to catch small animals hunting in the 50-acre woods behind the family’s house.
One day when Dad and his two brothers were playing out in their back yard, they noticed something wrong with a box elder tree on the other side of the street behind the house. It looked like a storm had broken the tree so it was half gone.
When they checked on the tree they found they couldn’t get near it. A cloud of angry bees was zipping around a large hole about ten feet up. “We didn’t realize it then,” Dad says, “but this tree was a ‘windfall’ in more ways than one.” They ran to find their father and tell him what they had found.
Grandpa told them this was a honey tree. He showed them how to smoke out the bees to get their honey store. They each got a broad brimmed hat and an old lace curtain to tie over their heads. Gloves, long pants tucked into heavy socks, and a jacket protected the rest of their bodies. Then they chopped a hole at the base of the hollow tree and set a smoky fire there to drive out the bees.
When the bees left, they cut down the tree and scooped 40 or 50 pounds of wild honey into buckets. They saved some of the comb (it tastes so good on fresh baked bread), but mashed up most of it and heated it in their mom’s double laundry boiler. Then they poured the honey into Mason jars.
My grandfather saw this as a gift from God for his struggling family in those depression years. There was far more honey than his family could possibly use, so he sent his three sons door to door in their home town, selling that honey.
Money was too scarce to provide allowances for kids in those days, but sale of the honey provided badly needed cash for the family plus a little commission for each of the boys.
After that, Dad said, Grandpa used part of the money they made as a fund to develop a small family business. He made regular trips after that into the country to buy more honey, which the three boys then sold in town.
Food for thought: Dad says, “My father recognized an opportunity when it came knocking, and he used it to help the whole family. In that way, he also was showing us children what to do with opportunities: recognize them, work hard to develop them, and then build on them.”
Worth repeating: The Bible says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Prov. 13:11 NIV).
Today’s prayer: “Lord, help me recognize and use the opportunities you are giving me right now, today.” Amen.
Junk Doll - February 22nd, 2015
by Laura Jane Cerling
In the early 1950’s a huge box of second hand clothing and toys arrived at the Open Door Children’s Home in Hazard, Ky. Thelma Brown opened it and was sorting the contents when she pulled out the ugliest doll she had ever seen. The body was fixable, but the face was cracked and misshapen.
Who would bother to even pay postage to send such a thing, she thought with disgust. It was always disappointing to her when donors appeared thoughtless in the things they sent — as if any old rag or object was good enough for an orphan.
With a sigh, she tossed the doll onto a pile of trash.
Shortly afterwards, Thelma’s 4-year-old son Maurice came along, looked carefully at the discarded doll, picked it out of the trash, and hugged it. “Mama, I want this doll,” he told her.
She started to protest, but he said, “It’s so ugly, nobody’s ever going to want to love it. And this doll needs to be loved. I’ll love her.”
Then he named the doll Joash.
In Sunday School the week before, Maurice had heard the Bible story about the wicked woman who killed all her grandchildren so that she could become queen when her son, the king, died. A kind lady rescued baby Joash, one of the royal grandsons, before he could be killed. Then she raised him in her own family until the people found out that he was alive and made him king.
Maurice was only 4, but he had an adopted brother. He knew that sometimes people adopted someone else into their family, rescuing a child from a bad situation.
So Maurice adopted Joash and gave her the love he figured no one else would give her. Several years later, when his family moved to another state, the doll had to come along — even though its owner was half grown by then and his attention was centered elsewhere. As a teen and later as an adult, Maurice still had a tender heart toward those who were being put down by other people.
You never know what might happen – or what you might learn yourself — when you tell a child a Bible story.
Today’s scripture: “…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven….” (Matt 18:3)
Today’s prayer: “Lord, help me to be as responsive to your words as Maurice was to the Bible story he heard.” Amen.
Exiled to Gansu Province - September 7th, 2012
“What happened to the Canaan Home orphans and their families after New China forced Laura Richards to leave China?” readers of Laura’s Children often ask. This fall Xiaomei Lucas, whose mother grew up in Canaan Home, gives us a glimpse through her essay, “Exiled to Gansu Province” in That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone, edited by J.L. Powers and published by Cinco Puntos Press (www.cincopuntos.com).
Her memoir begins like this:
I used to get so angry with our children when they wasted food that my husband Barry must have thought This lady has to be crazy!! But when I was growing up in Gansu Province in China, I knew children who were so hungry, they tied a rope around their stomach so they could sleep in spite of their hunger pains.
My family was exiled to the impoverished province of Gansu in 1969 during the early part of the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was a power struggle among China’s top leaders. In 1966 Mao Tse Tung began encouraging young Red Guards to attack authority figures. The Red Guards mobbed and ransacked people’s homes, beat and humiliated people in public, and burned everything that represented “The Four Olds”—old ideas, old thoughts, old habits, old customs. Then they started attacking religious believers and intellectuals. As the Revolution spread, people began manipulating mobs to get personal revenge against fellow workers and neighbors or they accused other people out of fear, to distract attention from themselves. Tens of thousands were beaten to death and hundreds of thousands were sent to labor camps for “re-education.”
In those days the government determined people’s job and residence assignments. My mother was working as a nurse for a famous hospital in Beijing. Vice-Chairman Lin Biao wanted to test his power, so he issued a policy that all the big hospitals had to send some of their doctors and nurses to work in the countryside. Mom’s hospital chose to send her. They wouldn’t say why….
Giving Kids Brains Like Velcro - March 30th, 2011
Last weekend I talked with a homeschool mom that I met a dozen years ago when they were adopting a 8 1/2 year old girl from Russia. She told me that an article about Velcro Brains that I published about that time in the El Paso Times gave her the mental image she needed to homeschool her new daughter. “Her first three years in American were pretty much just helping her get on board,” Kim said. “But once she learned the language and felt emotionally part of the family, the academics fell into place.”
Understanding how to give children brains like velcro helps all kinds of kids catch up in school – emotionally traumatized children, ESL kids, late bloomers, reluctant readers…the list goes on.
My husband Dennis came up with “The Velcro Theory of Learning” slogan once when we were discussing a school district that tried a reading experiment with two groups of kindergartners. The district gave the first group a lot of formal reading instruction and gave the second group hands-on science. Read the rest of this entry »