Category Archives for "family"

A Tribute To Grandma

On Monday, we said goodbye to my Grandma.  During the funeral service on Monday afternoon, I had the opportunity to share some thoughts about her.  Here they are:

As grandchildren, I’m sure we all have known the special touch of our grandparents.  Each one of us (seven in all) was always made to feel special whenever we were around.  (I was special, because I was born on Grandpa’s birthday.)  What a blessing!

I’m fairly certain we all have very special memories of Grandma.  She was certainly an amazing lady, and I’ll remember many things about her, but one thing stands out the most when I think about her special qualities.

Grandma was a woman of prayer.

When I was a young kid, I remember special times of prayer at the meal table.  Grandpa might read from a devotional.  We would look at a missionary card to learn more about a missionary or an unreached people group.  And then, Grandma would pray.  Her prayers were always soft-spoken.  It was obvious to me that Grandma knew God, and she was simply having a conversation with Him.

When I was in college, Grandma and Grandpa were visiting our home in New Jersey.  I was out late with friends while they were there one night.  When I pulled in the driveway, the house was dark.  My bedroom was in the basement of my parent’s split-level house, and Grandma and Grandpa slept in the basement family room during their visits.  I unlocked the door and quietly walked down the steps.  As I approached the bottom step, I heard voices.  At first, I thought Grandma and Grandpa were talking to each other.  Then I realized they were talking to God.  I sat down on the bottom step and listened as they continued the conversation.  Together they prayed for Norm and Candy (my parents), Max and Elaine (my aunt and uncle), Lauren (my cousin), Jon, Jane (my cousin), David (my brother), Tom (my cousin), Helen (my cousin), and Erik (my brother).  They prayed specifically for each of us mentioning specific concerns and even praying for our future spouses.  They especially prayed that we would have a relationship with Jesus.  This wasn’t an unusual occurrence.  It was clear to me they prayed for us every night.

After Grandpa passed away seven and a half years ago, I had a few opportunities to visit with Grandma.  These were always such special visits.  After talking together for a while about my family, the Cubs, the Bears, our extended family, and about other details, we would always pray together before we said goodbye.

Last summer during my last two visits with Grandma, It was clear that her memory was starting to fail her.  During my first visit in June, we talked for ten to fifteen minutes before she asked “What was your name again?”  In July, she knew my name, but she couldn’t remember Leanne’s name.  You could tell this was frustrating to Grandma who was always the smartest in the family.  After spending a couple of hours together, we gathered in Grandma’s room to pray and say goodbye.  I prayed, and as I said Amen, Grandma picked up the conversation with God.

In her final year, I understand it became more challenging for her to hold her thoughts together as she prayed.  I’m sure this was a sign she was ready to go home to heaven soon.  Nonetheless, Grandma would look up at the cork board hanging above her bed.  It was here she displayed her family tree which included her two children and their spouses, her seven grandchildren, and her fifteen great-grandchildren.  Even when she couldn’t hold her head up, she would pray for us as she looked up at her pictures.

Grandma will be missed by all of us.  We will miss the conversations, the Swedish pancakes, and the Swedish meatballs.  And I will miss hearing Grandma talking with her friend, Jesus.  I’m so thankful for the faith legacy left by Grandma.

It was sad to say goodbye to Grandma this week, but it was great to be with family.  And it was a privilege to celebrate the life of a saint – my Grandma.

How do you (or how will you) remember your grandparents?

5 Keys To Establishing A Routine That Works


Our kids officially start back to school tomorrow.  They will both be in high school this year.  (How did this happen so fast?!?)

I love back to school time.  It means the start of fall sports, the onset of cooler weather, and the return to routine.

I love routine!

Seriously, I am a creature of habit, and back-to-school means our family gets back into a regular routine.  Getting back into a regular routine can be a real challenge especially after the relaxing summer months.  In today’s post, I want to help you identify essentials to establishing a routine that works for you and your family.

5 Keys To Establishing A Routine That Works

  1. Recognize the positives of having a routine.  A good routine can lead to more productivity, better focus, and higher energy levels.  A routine also helps to establish appropriate expectations and boundaries for our time and commitments.  A routine improves understanding and communication in relationships.  And a routine can lead to improved trust between individuals.  Those who thrive on chaos might argue that having a routine is too boring, but I’ve seen the benefits of routine in my house.  And believe me, our house is not boring.
  2. Start getting back into the routine before the routine is required.  Our kids have been used to going to bed late and sleeping in almost every day this summer.  The best way to get them ready for the routine of school is to start getting to bed a little earlier and waking up a little earlier the week before school.  For example, if school bedtime in your house is 9 PM but your kids are used to going to bed at 10:30 PM, make bedtime ten minutes earlier each night.  This doesn’t just apply to school.  Maybe you are coming back to work after a long vacation.  If this is the case, find ways to get your body adjusted to the work routine before you actually have to go back to work.
  3. Be willing to adjust your routine if necessary.  This is where I sometimes fail.  I become so committed to my routine that I fail to see where I need to make adjustments.  Most likely, your initially established routine is not the best routine.  It’s a great start, but it’s not the very best.  Learn to analyze and adjust.  By doing this, you will eventually establish a routine that works best for you and your family.  When I went to college, I remember playing around with my studying routine to make sure I got the most out of my classes.  Initially, I did a lot of studying in my room, but I soon learned that I needed to find a quieter place to study.  Eventually, I discovered the stacks in the library.  This is where I went when I needed to give my full attention to a specific subject.  This became a routine that paid off with great grades, better engineering knowledge, and solid preparedness for my career.
  4. Talk about your routine with your family and friends.  Talking about your routine with others is a great idea for two reasons.  First, friends and family can help hold you accountable to keeping your routine.  Second, friends and family can help you discern where you might need to make adjustments to your routine.  I tell people about my running routine and goals.  This helps me stay on task in meeting my goals, and it’s also helpful in making sure my targets are reasonable.
  5. Make sure you schedule breaks into your routine.  All focus, all the time is wonderful in theory, but we all need to take time for relaxation, recharge, and recreation.  We were made to work, but we were also made to rest.  I think this is why God gave us the Sabbath.  This applies to you and to your kids.  Your kids need a break from the rigors of academics and athletics.  Make sure they have a little time to have fun.  Going to see a movie, going out to dinner, or simply playing a game together as a family are great ways to take a break from routine.

September is such a great time find a routine that works for you.  Taking these steps will help you make the most of the season ahead.

How does having a routine stretch you?  How could a routine help you be more productive?

Ten Date Night Ideas


My wife and I have been intentional in keeping a weekly date night. Monday night is our night. We keep this night sacred just for us.

It hasn’t always been easy to keep date night. We struggled with this especially when our kids were younger, and we had to find a babysitter. Now that we have two teenagers, it is a lot easier to keep our date night. And actually, our kids look forward to our date night now.

A date night helps keep your marriage strong, and it helps show your kids the importance of making your marriage a priority.

When we tell people about our date night, they often ask us what we do on our date nights. They are looking for ideas. Today, I’ll share ten date night ideas which could help you kick-start date night with your spouse.

Ten Date Night Ideas

1. Picnic in the park. Grab a picnic basket, and fill it with your favorite picnic goodies. Throw a blanket in the car, and head to a local park.

2. Miniature golfing. You used to go mini-golfing before you were married. Why stop now? Miniature golfing is a fun way to spend time together.

3. Ice cream. Need I say more? I love ice cream, and there are several ice cream places near our house. I quick trip out to the local ice cream shop may be just the thing you need to do to sweeten your marriage.

4. Hike on a local trail. My guess is that you live near a few local trails. Simply going for a walk together provides time to reconnect after a busy day, and it provides the opportunity for a little exercise in God’s creation.

5. Movie night. Go out to a local theater, or grab a movie at the local Redbox. Don’t forget the popcorn.

6. Coffee shop. Stop by Starbucks or your local coffee shop, and enjoy a hot beverage together. This is an especially great place to visit when the weather starts getting cooler.

7. Dessert only. Go to a fancy restaurant, and only order dessert. You can get the best desserts without paying for the expensive meal. Eat dinner at home first. Then go grab some creme brulee.

8. Star-gazing. After the sun goes down, snuggle up on a blanket in you backyard and enjoy the heavenly sights. Plus, it’s free!

9. Tennis. Besides the initial cost of tennis rackets and the occasional cost of new tennis balls, it is pretty inexpensive to play tennis. I suppose you could make it about the competition, but I’d encourage you to enjoy volleying back and forth. Meanwhile, it’s another great time to talk back and forth over the net.

10. Dinner out. Plan ahead, and go out for a nice dinner together. We used to go out a lot when we were dating, but we’ve cut way back since our wedding. It costs money to go out, so make sure you budget for these types of outings. Once in a while, you need to treat yourself and your spouse.

Date nights are worth it! If you are married, start dating your spouse again.

What is one thing you can do this week to date your spouse?

Ice Breaker – TV Sitcom Family

Each week on The Stretched Blog, I ask an ice breaker question. The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community. I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments. While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.

(I’m always looking for Ice Breaker question ideas.  If you have an idea, send me an email at  If I use your question, I’ll give you credit and share your links.)

Question:  If you could be the member of a TV sitcom family, which family would it be?  (And why?)

My Answer:  The Huxtables (from The Cosby Show).  This wasn’t the perfect family, but they always seemed to be heading in the right direction by the end of each episode.  I love the relationship between Cliff and Claire.  They didn’t always see eye to eye, but they absolutely adored one another.  Besides, I think Theo could have used a brother in the house with all those sisters.

(By the way, I am very thankful for the family I did grow up in.  It wasn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.)

Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading your response! (As always, feel free to share links.) And keep STRETCHING!

On Track – Life Lessons from the Track & Field is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

As a reminder, I am offering a FREE pdf copy of the interior of the book to subscribers of The Stretched Newsletter.  Head over to the main page of the blog and sign up on the right hand menu bar to get your copy today for FREE!


Guatemala 2013 187

Yesterday was a day full of milestones.

Isaac finished up his time at middle school.  Leanne and I had the opportunity to go the an end of the year awards assembly to watch Isaac and his classmates celebrate their achievements from the past school year.  It was sad to say goodbye to the middle school where our kids have attended for the past five years.  And it’s exciting to envision the future opportunities Isaac will have as he heads up to the high school in the fall.

Hannah finished her sophomore year of high school with a major milestone.  In the afternoon, she passed her driver’s exam, and we know have a licensed teenage driver in our house.  This is very exciting for Hannah, and it’s a little exciting and scary for Leanne and me.

Life does not appear to be slowing down.  It seems like yesterday when Leanne and I were bringing each of them home from the hospital.

I’ve shared in the past about the importance of celebrating these milestones.  Our kids are eventually meant to grow up.  Heading to high school and getting a driver’s license are just two of the stepping-stones on the way to adulthood.  And it’s essential we embrace these milestones.

What’s next?  We’ll see.  We’re taking it one milestone at a time.

Great job, Hannah and Isaac!  We are so proud of you.

If you are a parent, what recent milestone are you celebrating with your kids?

What are some of the milestones you remember from your adolescence?  How did you celebrate these milestones?

Get A Job – Parenting Your Kids Towards Life’s Release Points

Last night, I spend a couple of hours helping my daughter deliver her first job applications to potential employers.

Hannah turned 16 in November, and she is a week away from taking the test for her driver’s license.  This means she will need money for car insurance and gas.  She has done babysitting for a few years, but she has never had a “real” job.  (Some of the babysitting jobs I had as a teenager were some of the most challenging, stretching experiences I had as a working young adult.)

We stopped at a local ice cream place to drop off her first application.  I waited in the car while she went up to the window.  She had the opportunity to speak with one of the owners which I thought was a positive.  She was asked to consider whether or not she would work during the school year or not before she submitted her application.  With a busy athletic and academic schedule during the school year, this will be a tough decision for her.  She then applied on-line for another job when we arrived back at the house.

As I thought about my daughter’s job search adventure, I tried to recall my first “real” job.  I cut a lot of grass and shoveled a lot on snow.  I was the “caretaker” for an eleven acre piece of property owned by an elderly couple from my church.  Then I washed dishes at a retirement center in the community which was connected to our church.  I worked for a land surveyor who went to the church where I grew up.  I painted one summer, and I worked for a medical billing company.  Both of these jobs were with people who went to the church where I went.  I don’t think I had to apply for any of these jobs.  They were all the result of connections.

It wasn’t I went to college and needed a job that I actually applied for a job.  I ended up applying for a job as a dishwasher in one of the dining halls on campus.  I don’t remember the interview process, but I must have passed the test.  I washed dishes for a couple of months before being promoted to dining hall supervisor.

As a dad, I wanted to jump out of the car and talk to the owner of the ice cream shop.  Maybe, I’ll provide a connection that leads to her first job, or maybe she’ll go through the process herself.  I want to help and protect my daughter, but I also want to make sure she has the opportunity to grow up.

Parenting isn’t always easy.  You raise your children.  You teach them.  You point them in the direction you feel is right.  And then, you release them like an arrow leaves a bow-string hoping they will fly straight.

We are in a series of release points with our kids.  They are becoming more and more independent.

I pray for wisdom for my wife and me as we parent, and I pray for my kids as they approach their release points.

How have you handled the release points for your kids?  How did your parents handle the various release points in your life?

What was the first job for which you had to apply?

Raccoon Reminder – Make Your Marriage A Priority


“Hey! Get out of here!”

I yelled this the other night while Leanne and I were camping at French Creek State Park.  We were sitting by the campfire enjoying conversation and pizza pies.  There was a loaf of bread on the picnic table along with cheese, sauce, and pepperoni.  Suddenly, we heard something rustling behind us.  I turned around to find a raccoon on top of the table digging into the loaf of bread.

We were camping here for the weekend without the kids.  Despite the run in with the raccoon on Friday night, we had a very enjoyable time together.  We took walks together.  We kayaked together.  We sat by the fire together.  And we enjoyed spending time together.

We have a goal to go away together without the kids once or twice a year.  We’ve gone to bed and breakfasts.  We’ve gone to marriage conferences (like FamilyLife Weekend to Remember).  And we’ve even traveled to France (to celebrate our 10th anniversary).  This year, we decided to go camping at a nearby campground.

Spending time to together takes planning.  We have to be intentional in order to make it work.  We have to arrange for supervision for our teenagers.  We have to coordinate care for our dogs.  We have to make reservations for a place.  And we have to block time in our schedules for the time away.

Building your marriage takes work.  If you want a successful marriage, you have to be intentional.

If you’re not intentional, wedges will be driven in between you and your spouse.  Distance will sneak into your marriage like the raccoon who surprised us at our campsite.

If you’re married, decide today to make your marriage a priority.

What is one thing you can do today to prioritize your wedding?  When was the last time you got away with your spouse without the kids?  Where did you go?  How did this time away together help your marriage?

Learning To Embrace Life’s Milestones


Life goes by pretty fast.

This was so obvious to me this weekend.

Leanne and I took the day off on Friday, and we took the kids out of school for the day, so we could pay a visit to Messiah College and Grove City College for Hannah’s first college visits.  This hardly seems possible.  It’s a little early as Hannah is finishing up her sophomore year in high school, but we had some connections at Grove City College, and the timing was right to begin this journey.

The weekend was spectacular.  Both of the visits went very well.  We felt welcomed at these beautiful campuses.

I remember visiting Grove City College with my Dad.  It was the summer, so there weren’t any students on campus.  I didn’t know very much about the school, but there was something that seemed to fit just right when I visited to the school. My Dad and I drove seven hours to and from the school which gave us opportunity to talk about the college and about the college decision.  I remember my interview in Crawford Hall.  And I remember a feeling of excitement and fear.  I’d imagine this is what Hannah was feeling this weekend.

I need to get my parents perspective on the whole college visiting, selection, and sending process.  I’m starting to understand that there was probably a mix of thoughts and feelings related to the whole thing.  On the one hand, there is such excitement.  Our daughter will be ready for this.  She is smart.  She is a hard worker.  She is well-rounded.  And she is becoming more and more independent.  On the other hand, there is a mix of feelings that include fear and sadness.  How could it be that we are looking at colleges already?  Why does it seems like life goes by so fast?  Once we send Hannah to college, I know that things will change forever.  Am I really ready for this change?

Life is full of milestones.  These milestones represent a life well-lived.  It’s not always easy approaching these milestones.  It can be scary, and it can be thrilling.  Yet, we must learn to embrace these milestones.  These are the things that STRETCH us.  These milestones cause us to grow, and they take us to new places in life.

I’m thankful we still have a couple of years before Hannah goes to college.  I want to make the most of the opportunities during these years.  I want to celebrate at her track meets.  I want to soak in the sound of her orchestra concerts.  I want to watch (and help) as she approaches some challenging decisions along the way.  And in just over two years, I want to rejoice as we send her off to college to learn and experience new things.

What milestone are you facing soon?  What thoughts or feelings are you experiencing about this milestone?

On Track – Life Lessons from the Track & Field is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.  Click the link below to get your copy today.

As a reminder, I am offering a FREE pdf copy of the interior of the book to subscribers of The Stretched Newsletter.  Head over to the main page of the blog and sign up on the right hand menu bar to get your copy today for FREE!

Many Hands Make Light Work

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.  Michael Jordan

Last night after dinner, I recruited my wife and my son to join me outside to cleanup one of our flower beds.  We gathered our tools from the shed – a wheelbarrow, a rake, a hedge trimmer, a straight-edged shovel, and three pairs of gloves.  Then we proceeded to the flower bed by our driveway.  We started by picking up the remains of last years flowers.  Then we raked up all the leaves that were left from the fall.  Finally, we cut a new straight edge between the flower bed and the grass in the front lawn.  It took a little time, but I was amazed at how quickly it went with three of us working on it together.

Have you heard the expression – many hands make light work?

This was obvious yesterday as we worked together and cleaned up the flower bed in about half an hour.

I confess that I am not always good at asking for help.  I go about tasks on my own.  The job goes much slower.  It doesn’t always get done as well.  And I miss out on the company of others.

We must learn to ask for others help.

We must learn to let others join us in our journey.

Last night, I was blessed with time with my family and a clean flower bed.  I’m glad I asked for help.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:12

What are you trying to do these days?  What are you trying to accomplish all by yourself?

How might it help to ask for someone’s help?  Who do you need to ask for help?

I’m Turning Into My Dad


Miscellaneous JMS Photos 185

Over the weekend, we had the opportunity to visit with some college friends.  We have all experienced changes since graduating from college.  We are older.  We have kids.  We have new jobs, responsibilities, and interests.  Our kids came with us, so they had the opportunity to meet our college friends and to hang out with their kids.

It’s fun to listen to the life updates and stories everyone has to share, and I enjoy jumping into the fray with my own stories.

Saying goodbye always takes some time which isn’t the greatest thing for impatient kids.  I was sharing a story with a couple of our friends right before we left which delayed our departure.  When we finally got in the car, my son began to mock me by repeating my story almost word for word.  I don’t remember is words exactly, but he said something about me droning on and on and on about something few people cared to hear.

It’s funny how the tables turn.  I seem to remember having the same response when my own father would drone on and on and on about this or that.  My friends actually started calling my dad Cliff Claven, the postman from the popular sitcom, Cheers.  Cliff was known for sharing a lot of details about a lot of trivial things. My dad seems to know a lot of things about a lot of things.

I smile as I think about a video my high school friends all refer to where my dad was briefly caught on video walking past a door.  As he walked by the door, he could be heard saying, “Do you remember the All In The Family episode?”  My dad has always been able to relate some sort of pop culture tidbit with a conversation or experience.

My dad is one of the smartest people I know.  Seriously, he knows so much.  His reading over the years and his ability to keep up with popular culture have helped to fill his mind with information.  When you meet my dad, you will eventually be blessed with a story or information taken from the huge database of his brain.  This trait used to drive me crazy as a teenager, but it has come to be something I greatly admire and respect.

As our family drove away from our college friend get together, I listened to my son, and I smiled.  Maybe, I am turning into my dad.  But maybe this isn’t a bad thing.  I wonder if he’ll have the same thoughts in 25 years when his kids give him a hard time about his stories.

How are you like your parents?  What is one characteristic of your mom or dad you’d like to have?