Identity Lessons on the Red Gravel Trail

red gravel
I’m honored that my friend, Julie Neils, is allowing me to share one of her blogs here today. Please read it. Your heart and mind will be stirred. Your thinking and thoughts can be transformed. What Julie understands deeply because of her experiences we must all believe. Lives depend on it. – Kathy

Identity Lessons on the Red Gravel Trail

I could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of someone behind me. I turned to offer a courtesy nod to the passing hiker. A trim, perfectly coiffed blond smiled. Nodding at my four children ahead and my littlest one in tow, she exclaimed, “Wow! Are all these children yours?”

“Yes,” I smiled — used to the question by now. “They sure are.”

“My goodness! Do you all come here often?”

“No, but today is a special day,” spilled out.

Her inquisitive look begged a more thorough response.

Examples Of How “Smarts” Can Amplify Blessings

Even though Christmas was a month ago, I still quickly smile when remembering my three weeks with family. There was so much that was so right. Although gifts are a minor part of the entire experience, my smile is broad when thinking about a few special gifts.

1-21-15 Ezra'sMoneyGiftMy family enjoys surprising each other with things we think to purchase. We also share a list of needs and wants with each other to make it easier. This year I asked my family for money in addition to some things that I knew they could purchase for me. The money was going to be used to reimburse myself for things I needed, but needed to choose for myself or that I couldn’t fly back with from Atlanta. I made sure to tell my family that gifts of money are not boring and very much appreciated. Perhaps you agree.

This year my niece’s fiancé, Ezra, was in on the gift giving and when I chose to open his gift my niece immediately stood up and got her phone ready to take a picture. In my family that signifies something special is about to occur. It often has to do with capturing the person’s facial expression when unwrapping the gift.

I knew something different was up when Katie stood behind me. Ezra is a creative graphic artist and a really fun guy, but I never would’ve predicted what he took the time to do. Rather than just giving me a check or cash in an envelope, he taped many dollars together so that I could have the joy of pulling them out of a creative box. It was a really fun experience and I very much appreciated the time it took for him to do something so unique.

Which smarts did Ezra use to think of and then create my surprise?

1-21-15 Andy'sMoneyHeartEzra’s gift was not my only surprise related to money. My nephew, Andy, is also creative. He’s an engineer and has always enjoyed creating, building, and designing. His Christmas gifts to me demonstrated these gifts.

As I chose to open gifts that were from Andy, he immediately told me to be careful. Of course I thought that meant each box might be something breakable and fragile, but that’s not exactly what the boxes contained. Instead each contained origami money.

1-21-15 Andy'sMoneyManAndy had taken different bills and folded them creatively together to make a person and a heart. I was stunned. I love how thoughtful he was to make something special and different. I also enjoyed his joy. He clearly liked surprising me with something only he would think to do in our family.

Which smarts did Andy use to think of and then create my surprises?

Ezra and Andy reminded me that an investment of time and love is huge. Love can activate smarts that are strengths and motivate people to use those that are not strong. Time enriches, strengthens, deepens, and personalizes love. Together, time and love are life-giving. Both caused me to feel known and valued. I remain grateful!

What can you do in the next few days with your time and your smarts so people in your world know they matter to you?

Dream. Dream big. Dream large. Dream gigantic.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Change. It’s a word and a concept that results in many strong reactions.

There’s not a person alive who doesn’t have something they could change in order to have a better life.

More productivity. More peace. More joy. More friendships. More hope.

Less fear. Less trouble. Less trauma. Less loneliness. Less despair.

Change will more likely work out well when all five core needs are met in healthy ways. This gives us a lot to count on during the sometimes shaky transitional times surrounding change.

How do we get started? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and legacy we celebrate in America today, believed a dream was essential. He was right.

Discontentment is too common. In this video, Dr. Kathy shares her concerns about children being raised in an environment where no one is happy or satisfied. Do you agree that discontentment is far too common? If she asked your children, would they say you’re content or discontented? Does it matter?

Inspirational Teens Demonstrating “Smarts”


Children. Teens. Love them. All of them!

Family and friends who have known me my entire life were not surprised when I quit my job as a university professor and began a ministry with the name “Celebrate Kids.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved and celebrated kids. Their talents delight me and remind me God is good to create us as He does. If you’ve followed me for a while, you probably know I’m passionate to help kids believe in themselves and their abilities and talents.

The earlier our children discover something worth pursuing, the better. Check out these three beautiful examples. Perhaps they’ll inspire you to have conversations with your children and to look more carefully to find interests you can help them develop into talents.

EPSON MFP imageRachel, an eighth grader, has been blogging for a while. About her writing, she says, “I want to use my writing to glorify God.” In fact, her primary motivation early on was to write something her cousins might read and be willing to discuss with her. She has hoped this would allow them to discuss spiritual matters more often.

In her mom’s words:

A few years ago, I began to notice the deep, spiritual insight Rachel has about various topics. Then about a year ago, she told me she’d started a journal – writing in the voice of a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust. Before long, she started several other journals, including one where she jotted down her spiritual thoughts. When she asked if we could send some of her pieces to interested friends and relatives, it only made sense that we start a blog. So now she writes regularly for “One Girl’s Words with Meaning,” and she was recently asked to write a regular column in our church’s women’s newsletter. It’s clear from what she says in her writing as well as how she relates to the writing process itself that God has given her a gift, and I’m so thankful that we’re able to help her nurture it right now.

If only more children had parents this alert, approachable, and helpful. And, if only more parents had children willing to think through their thoughts, own them, and want to influence others through them. What can you do to inspire your children?

Here’s are two of my favorite posts. I trust you’ll be inspired. Remember, she’s just an eighth grader! You may want to check out Rachel’s other posts at One Girl’s Words with Meaning,

Faith in a God Unseen

Moses listened to God and instructed Israel in his laws, but he never saw him. Gideon led an army because God said so, but he never saw him. Jeremiah taught God’s law to the people, but he never saw him. Paul taught many people to believe in Christ in many different lands, but he never saw him. All these men had faith in a God they had never seen. You can have the same kind of faith. Believe that God has a supreme hand in everything, believe that you’re never alone. If you just have faith in a God unseen.

Bright Circle

A long time ago when darkness fell, families would gather in the living room. Father would clean his gun, Mother would sew, Older Brother would work on a puzzle, Older Sister would knit, and the little once would tumble around with the dog. Sitting in the living room with family is a precious thing – a time to hear stories, or listen to the radio. But enjoying the family nowadays is not as important to many as it was before. Everyone rushes off to do their own things. Let us not lose this wonderful feeling of family togetherness. Let us come into this bright circle of love and laughter together.



My second inspiration today is Audrey, a seventh grader, who enjoys theater and works hard at it. I love her reasons:

Audrey_Cropped_SoloI chose to go into Spotlight Youth Theater because the art of theater is one of my most favorite things. Just being able to be on a stage, sing, and act is wonderful to me. There are several things I love about theater, one you get to meet new people. I’ve met a ton of friends and through all the rehearsals we learn more about each other. Two, you’re on a stage and you are being somebody you’re not. It’s fun to act like someone else and create someone’s personality’s voice and how they should say something. Three, I know we have our beliefs in common and we get to act and sing because God gave us that talent.

And, from her mom:

As for me as a mom, I love the community theater because it has taught Audrey to try her best (auditions) and how to take disappointment gracefully when she isn’t cast into the part she was hoping for. The other aspect I love about this group she is in, Spotlight Youth Theater, is that they have a Bible verse for each show that they memorize, they do devotions together, pray together, do a worship service every Sat morning before practice (that’s optional), and at the end of every show they take a bow and then point up to God signaling that all the glory goes to Him.  They are taught through this group that their gifting and talents come from Christ and so they return the praises back to Him.  It’s highly emotional to watch all these kids between 1st-12th grade purposefully and knowingly acknowledge that this show is not about them.

Might Audrey be the one to inspire you and your children?


My final illustration today is Dylan. an eighth grader who has taken piano lessons from my sister-in-law for just two years. This is him playing a part of a song he composed by himself just because he wanted to. I love that he wanted to share it with all of us at the recital. He’s talented! Maybe he’s going to be the one to encourage you and your children to discover talents and gifts. That would be great!

Do your children think they can do nothing? Do they wonder if they could develop a talent? I pray these examples might be used by God to encourage them.

The New Year Calls For Planning And Flexibility

2015 Construction

I prefer planning my schedule and knowing in advance what I’ll be doing. Given my travels, planning is essential. Sticking to the plan isn’t always. People are more important than my plans.

Do you agree? Does your behavior line up with what you say you believe?

Last month, I was reminded that it’s often appropriate to be flexible. Even though it’s not my preference, I’ve learned I can go with the flow.

I want to do a better job of holding my schedule lightly this year. I’ll honor it when I must. I’ll honor people first.

Putting others first is beautiful. It’s related to healthy belonging. We can sometimes say “yes” when we’re asked to do something we hadn’t scheduled. It’s good for them. It’s good for us. It can lead to good times.


We have a right to say “no” and to have scheduling boundaries. In this way, we appropriately honor ourselves. For example, maybe you’ve learned you need to stay home on Thursday nights or you don’t have the energy to finish the week well. Therefore, you’re less likely to do something spontaneously on Thursdays. That’s okay. It’s actually wise.

A long time ago, I started scheduling dinner out with friends 1-3 weeks in advance. I learned that I needed to if I was going to see them regularly. It was too stressful to leave it to chance with our busy schedules. At first I was afraid they’d feel less important – like a task I was scheduling. But the opposite occurred. Knowing I wanted to prioritize them blessed them.

Our belonging has been strengthened by both our planning and our willingness to be spontaneous when we can be. I’ve learned if a friend calls late in the afternoon and wants to go to dinner that night, saying “yes” is an easy way to bless her. Even if I have plans, changing them or delaying them when I can is honoring. Prioritizing friends over plans works.

A scheduling boundary for me is to rarely do anything out of my home the night before a ministry trip. I will go to my Pastor’s Bible study, but typically nothing else. Yet, I’ve even learned I can go to dinner with friends the night before a trip if it’s the only night we all have free. To honor my schedule, friends agree to eat at a restaurant near my home on nights like this. That means I get home earlier to take care of last minute tasks and to pack. This is only possible because I stand up for myself and ask them for this concession.

We need to know what works for us. We can have necessary boundaries. We can communicate our needs to others. We can be flexible when possible.

People first. Plans second.

Can you successfully be both planned and flexible this year? Will you?

A version of this blog was published on December 10, 2012.

You Can Join Our “Screens And Teens…” Launch Team!

SaT blog banner

We know that having some people read a book before it’s officially released can help to get the word out about the book. Because we want as many people as possible influenced by the ideas in Screens and Teens, launch team members will be very important.

You can apply to be a launch team member! If you decide to apply, please click on the link below to answer a few questions for us. Please do this before January 17 and the sooner the better. We’ll let you know no later than January 20 if you’re accepted. If you are, you’ll receive a complimentary copy of the book when it comes out March 1 as well as other Celebrate Kids products.

The Launch Team will be active from the moment you’re chosen and continues through the end of March with the height of our activity happening before and around the time the book is released. You will receive an e-book when you are accepted.

It’s “Smart” To Be …


Rather than posting about being intelligent in different ways, as I normally do on Wednesdays, what if I wrote about just being smart? Yes, I think I will.

Imagine how much better off we’d all be if we behaved in smart ways. In light of what’s going on in the world, I haven’t been able to shake this idea.

You might not agree with me, but I actually believe the behaviors I’ve listed here are possible. Yes, they are. What may happen less often in the world if we were smart in these ways? More often?

This list was fun to compile. What would you add to it? Are there any you’d remove?

I think it’s SMART to be…

Accomplished, accurate, alert, appreciative, articulate, attentive, available, aware… Believed, bold… Calm, careful, caring, cautious, certain, cheerful, coachable, community-minded, compassionate, competent, confident, conscientious, content, courageous, creative, curious… Decisive, dedicated, dependable, determined, devoted, diligent, discerning, discreet, dynamic… Eager, earnest, efficient, empathetic, encouraged, encouraging, enduring, energetic, engaging, enjoyable, enterprising, enthusiastic, ethical, excellent… Fair, flexible, focused, follower, forgiving, friendly, fun… Generous, gentle, genuine, giving, goal setter, good, good sport, gracious, grateful, guided, hard-working… Healthy, helpful, honest, honorable, hopeful, hospitable, humble, humorous… Imaginative, improving, independent, industrious, ingenious, innovative, insightful, inspired, inspiring, interested, interesting, intuitive, inventive… Joyful… Kind, knowledgeable… Leader, learning, likable, lively, logical, loved, loving, loyal… Mature, merciful, merry, motivated… Neat, nice… Obedient, open-minded, optimistic, orderly, other-centered, outgoing… Patient, peaceful, people-oriented, perceptive, persevering, persuasive, planned, playful, pleasant, polite, positive, prayerful, problem solver, prudent, purposeful… Quick… Reasonable, relational, relaxed, reliable, reputable, resilient, resourceful, respected, respectful, responsible, rested… Secure, self-assured, self-controlled, self-disciplined, selfless, self-reliant, self-starter, sensible, sensitive, service-minded, sincere, smart, solution-focused, spirited, spontaneous, stable, steadfast, strong, successful… Tactful, teachable, tender-hearted, thankful, thorough, thoughtful, thrifty, trusting, trustworthy, truthful… Understanding, understood, unique, unselfish, upbeat… Versatile, virtuous, and Wise.

Don’t Let Old Tapes Ruin Your 2015

loose cassette tape

Don’t let old tapes ruin 2015.

Or, if you’re too young to know what I mean, don’t let old CDs ruin 2015. Or old MP3s.

The past is tricky, isn’t it? It can stay in the past or it can rule the present and direct the future.

Our past may have been good. Our memories of past years, family times, and Christmas celebrations may be beautiful.

Even positives we remember can affect us negatively this year if we’re not careful. We can compare the things that go well: “We had a great time, but it wasn’t as much fun as last year.” Or, “Even though this pie is good, we’ve had better before.”

Past poor experiences can also negatively affect us. We might be pessimistic as this year begins. If we expect nothing to go well, that’s what might happen. We may not have a good year. Disappoints may outweigh good times.

Our attitudes and expectations make a difference.

Because of what’s in our mind, we may not be able to see what’s going well. Or hear it. Or believe it. Or live it. And, that will be a shame.

I pray your past years will not negatively affect you this year. Toss the tapes, CDs or MP3s. Clean the slate. Wash the board. Start from scratch. Open your eyes to something brand new.

Look for it. Listen for it. Believe for it. Get ready to live it.

Leave the past where it belongs and move forward with freedom and joy.

An earlier version of this blog was published on December 3rd, 2012.