For the Love of Literacy

For International Literacy Day which is today, Friday, September 8th, I have asked my very good friend and media specialist, Mrs. Sheri Schubbe, to share how we can influence our children and grandchildren to love reading. May Sheri’s ideas inspire you and the ones you care about to have a love of literacy…

As a school library media specialist and former junior high language arts teacher, I have spent my entire career encouraging students to develop excellent reading skills and appreciate the beauty and power of language. Recently, I was speaking with my curriculum director and he told me something that I’ve always known, but hearing it from him was impactful. He told me that he had attended a conference on the effectiveness of homework with different age groups of students. The presenter told the audience that for students in grades kindergarten through third, homework has few benefits to improving academic achievement. Instead, the most important factor is a child’s exposure to text. As a “professional reader” (as my students call me), of course, I believe that being a reader has benefits that reach far beyond the classroom and one’s school years. Indeed, reading is formative and can have life-changing impact. During school should not be the only time children are exposed to the importance of literacy and reading. Here are some ideas for families who are raising readers to “get the pages turning” at home.

For younger children:

● One of the first steps toward literacy is vocabulary and sequencing. You don’t even need books for this. Look at pictures with your child. If they are from a family gathering or a trip, tell the story of the event as you look at the pictures. Better yet, encourage your child to do it. Picture books are also valuable for this. I remember a weekend many years ago when I took care of my two young nephews. I took pictures of them with my own children throughout the weekend, printed them out, and put them in a little photo album for them to take home and tell the story of their weekend to their parents.

● Talk to your young children, even infants, in complete sentences, using descriptive vocabulary. Throughout the day, tell your children what you’re doing, even if it’s just washing dishes or folding laundry. This encourages language development.

● Have lots of books in your home, and have a specific place to store them. Choice is important. Young children can be taught to carefully handle books and treat them as special possessions. Books can be purchased inexpensively at garage sales, community book sales, or thrift stores. They are also perfect birthday and holiday gifts for children. Have some books in your car, too!

● Some families like to have a reading routine with their children. Reading at the same time of day together or in the same place, like a favorite chair, can be comforting and enjoyable.

● When reading to your child, pause and talk about the illustrations in the book. Ask your child to name different objects or describe how a character might be feeling based on the illustration. Also, read with appropriate expression and voice inflection.

● Encourage your toddler or preschool child to “read” to you. Choose a familiar book and have him/her tell you the story as he/she turns the pages.

● Model reading. No matter how old your child is, he/she learns to be a reader from watching a parent read!

● Visit the local library often. Once your child can read, allow him/her to have a library card. Public libraries offer a wide variety of free children’s programs that not only encourage literacy, but also social development. Also, have a library bag, and fill it with books that your child selects from the library. Check them out and return them regularly.

For older children:

● Talk about what you’re reading with your older children, and ask them about what they’re reading at school and at home. This is important no matter the age of your children. My children are young adults now, and we have great conversations about books they are reading in college and for pleasure. I love hearing their thoughts on various topics.

● Use an ipad for ebooks, animated books, or audiobooks. Of course, I’m a big fan of printed books for younger children, but electronic devices certainly have their place, and can be a fun and motivating reading alternative. Encourage teens to get ebook/audiobook apps on their phones so they can have reading options with them all the time. In my state, two popular apps that are available through many public libraries are Overdrive and Axis360. They are free and offer thousands of titles to check out with a public library card.

● Write notes to your children. Put notes in their rooms or in their lunches for them to read. This can be fun with children of all ages. For younger children, provide paper and writing utensils in a spot that is easily accessible.

● Play word games like Scrabble or Boggle with your children.

Children who grow up in homes that foster literacy tend to do better in school and become lifelong readers. Coupled with the benefits of helping children develop problem-solving skills and empathy for and acceptance of others, reading is essential in a child’s development. Good readers are usually good writers, critical thinkers, and inquisitive seekers of information. It all starts in the home. What amazing potential parents hold in their hands when they open a book and share a story with their child.

Sheri Schubbe
Library Media Specialist

Recipe for a Blessed Marriage


Tena with her son, Mitch, and husband, Steve, at their son, Daniel’s wedding.

While there are many minor elements for a successful marriage, there are three necessary ingredients for a life-long blessed marriage.
Ingredient #1. Pray continually
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 states, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (NIV).
It is God’s Will that we speak directly to the Lord continually. We need prayer everyday. Our marriages require prayer daily. Our husbands benefit from our sacrifice of time in prayer for them. We can help our husbands when we expand our prayer list to our all-powerful God to include:
attitudes, choices, reputations, health, fears, finances, work, relationships, purpose in life, fatherhood, self-image, and any other difficult situation, circumstance, assignment, or trial that they are going through. In addition, husbands benefit when we pray with passion for their discernment whenever they must make a difficult decision.
We also need to be on bended knee for ourselves as wives as well. Often, we need to pray deeply that our attitudes and actions would be a blessing to our loved ones. During those times when we are depleted emotionally and physically, we should petition the Lord to replenish us.
Ask anyone who has faithfully interceded on behalf of her husband, and she will exclaim,
“Pray WORKS!” Develop a richer prayer life for your husband.
Ingredient #2. Forgive daily
Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV).
Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgive you” (NIV).
If we don’t regularly extend this demonstration of love, we will grow bitter. I love what Stormie O’Martian writes, “Forgiveness is a two-way street. God forgives you, and you forgive others. Forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right; it makes you free.”
When Christ died on the cross, it was not a partial payment for our mistakes and sins. It was a payment in full. When we repent completely of our sins and acknowledge Christ as Savior, we are forgiven completely. Once we have experienced this undeserving forgiveness from Christ, we are capable of extending the same gift of grace to others. We are commanded by God to forgive as Christ pardoned us. Marriages that have spouses who give the gift of forgiveness grow sweeter not bitter.
Ingredient #3. Serve lovingly
Galatians 5:13 says, “Serve one another in love” (NIV).
We live in fast-paced world that that shouts, “Me first, me first!” That me-centered mindset does not work in a marriage. Preoccupation with self separates instead of unites. We must exchange selfishness with selflessness. A couple that stays together through the trials and joys is a couple who puts each other first after God. As Godly wives, Elizabeth George has some helpful advice. She says we can ask two questions of our husbands each day, “What can I do for you today?” And “What can I do to help you make better use of your time today?” This makes our husbands a priority in our lives. We need to season our days with Christ-like service.
Make a fresh commitment to develop the habit of helping your husband.
Three main ingredients for a long-lasting and blessed marriage:
1. Pray continually
2. Forgive daily
3. Serve lovingly
May God bless all of our marriages!
Father God, we ask You to bless our marriages each and every day. Amen.

Dealing with Overwhelm Podcast

The Matters of (1)

Hello Mommas!
Are you feeling overwhelmed as you try to balance all of your different roles and tasks? Then check out the interview I did with Kabrina Budwell on her podcast. I share a few ideas that have worked for me when dealing with feelings of overwhelm. I would also like to hear your suggestions on how you handle those times of overwhelm in the comments below. It is a common feeling for leaders and moms.
Here is the link:

Overwhelm with Tena DeGraaf :: TheMOM

And the Winner Is…

Congratulations to Jessica of California! She is the winner of a free copy of my Hidden in My Heart video! My next drawing will be Saturday, August 12th! You can be entered by signing up for my newsletter at
http://tenadegraaf.com/site/contact/
AND entered again by liking my Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/tenadegraaf/
until August 12th.
Blessings, Tena

Celebrating Father’s Day


In honor of Father’s Day, I am sharing two poems my dad, Rich Latta, wrote. One is about fathers and the other is about me. What AMAZES me about these poems which were written many years ago is that each of their messages is as true today as the day Dad wrote them. May these poems inspire you to cultivate your creativity, something that my dad was always pursuing.

Fathers
One thinks of fathers
As something permanent
Like weather;
Always there;
Sunny at times.
At times angry
With storms
But most of the time
Just there
How quickly we’ve
Learned otherwise.

Tena
You learned how
to fly with wings.
You’re ready to
soar
where bluebird sings.
But remember it
all takes time and care
to get
from here to there.

Father God, thank you for my dad, although gone from this earth, still speaks to me and others through his written words. Amen.

How To Include Children with Disabilities at Your Church

I am excited to share this important blog post written by my friend, Kabrina Budwell! You can more about this topic and others at her website: http://imaginationsigning.com/?s=disability

Have you ever wondered how your church handles and includes people with a disability? Did you know that only 50% of people with disabilities decide to even walk into the door of a church? (Harris Poll)
 This is an issue that is difficult for many churches to wrap their minds around because it is vast, there are many different disabilities, and, because of separation of church and state, churches are not “required” to adhere to the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).
To narrow down this big topic, we will be discussing children with disabilities in the church and some basic starter ways to include them in your programing and events.
These families have one or more children with a disability, but most of the parents do not have a disability. The parents of children with disabilities are under much of the same stress other parents are, however, they have the added worry of people accepting their child for who they are not what they look like or what they can or cannot do.
It is nerve racking enough to walk into a church where you know no one and drop your child off, but having to worry about how church staff as well as other parents and children view your child can be painful, especially when there is a lack of education about inclusion of those with disabilities.
Making the church more accessible should be a main priority for all churches in order to follow the mission set forth by Jesus in Mark 16:15. This mission states “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.“

So how do we include these families, make them feel welcome, and give their children the attention and accommodations they need without breaking the bank or stretching ourselves to thin?
 
Enlist Volunteers That Have A Heart For Those With Disabilities

This is the first, and easiest, step for churches of any size, to accommodate children with disabilities. By having these type of volunteers on hand, a church can take the collective knowledge of the body and build from it. Because these individuals already have a heart for those with disabilities they will, more than likely, have some understanding of disabilities from experience or formal education.

In a survey completed by Melinda Ault Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky in 2010, 90% of parents surveyed said that a church community that was accepting of those with disabilities took the stress out of attending church, however, only 80% of these parents found that acceptance at the churches attended.

How sad would you be if you desperately wanted your child to learn about Jesus with other children, but could barely walk in the door without a scoff or a stare from, not only people around, but leadership and volunteers as well?

By having dedicated volunteers, you not only give a more welcoming atmosphere to these families, but other people in the church have someone to point these families to making the message the same across the board instead of some people knowing the right resources and others having no idea.
 
Make Sure Basic Communication And Mobility Needs Are Met

The ability to get where you need to go and communicate with the people around you is an essential need for everyone. Those with wheelchairs will need access to an elevator, ramp, or wheelchair lift to get to areas of your church that have stairs. Individuals who are blind will need braille signs and/or assistance from another individual and those who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing will need Closed Captioning or an interpreter.

That can all seem very daunting, but there are many ways to go about placing these resources in your church. Ramps for wheelchairs start as low as $110 and can be easily installed and removed for convenience. Closed Captioning can be done while a message is taking place on screen by church leadership or a volunteer and reaching out into your church body may reveal an interpreter or a student training to be one that would be willing to volunteer. Finally, Braille signs can be easily made and start at just $14 a piece. 

Ensure The Child Is Included During Service

Children, especially young children, do not understand that certain words and actions can hurt another person’s feelings. This is especially true when someone seems different. What a great teaching opportunity for all children about being loving to all people though! Leaders do not need to feel like they need to follow the child around if they do not seem to need it or it has not been asked for, but it is wise to stay in arms and ears reach away. This allows for the leader to easily step in and address any conflict or confusion that may occur.

For Example:

Situation: You have an autistic child who is not super comfortable with other people touching him when another child comes up to give them a hug.
 
Talking Point(s): Explain to the child who wanted to give a hug that sometimes not everyone wants a hug right away, but that they can play together (rolling a ball back and forth, playing cars, playing with dinosaurs, making a meal with pretend food, etc.). Show the children how to play together and get them started on an agreed upon activity.
 
Take Away: This gives the child with autism the ability to get comfortable in the environment while teaching the other child about differences and playing with someone else in spite of the differences.
Allowing these children and families to have the resources needed to participate is such a blessing to them as well as to the church body. Every person deserves the ability to walk into a church and hear about Jesus and accessibility should not be a hindrance.
 
For more information please visit:

1. Disabilities and Faith– http://www.disabilitiesandfaith.org/
 
2. The Church and People with Disabilities by Peggy Johnson
 
3. Joni and Friends International Disability Center– http://www.joniandfriends.org/
 
4. Mission Frontiers– http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/the-deaf

You can also contact me by email at imaginationsigning@gmail.com with any questions.
Check out Imagination Signing at imaginationsigning.com!

Lessons in Leadership with Jill Savage

All images © Michael Gowin Photography, 217-737-7908, www.gowinphotography.com, Lincoln, IL. Images may not be printed, copied, reproduced, or distributed without written permission from the photographer.

I have been influenced and inspired by Jill Savage since 1995 when I attended my first Hearts At Home conference. Also, I had the pleasure of meeting Jill when I was a speaker at Hearts At Home. When Jill agreed to meet with me to discuss her experiences as the CEO of HAH, I was ecstatic! Jill recently transitioned out of the CEO position to focus on her speaking and writing. Sitting in her lovely farmhouse drinking ice tea (Jill) and ice water (Tena), we chatted about her twenty-four years as the CEO of Hearts at Home. I found most of these thought-provoking questions at https://michaelhyatt.com/20-questions-to-ask-other-leaders.html
1. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life? Growing up, I had several people such as my mom, Sunday school teachers, youth choir leaders and youth leaders. My dad was a principal and a superintendent in Indianapolis. When I was a teenager, the receptionist went on vacation, and my dad had me do her job. I developed leadership skills as I ran the switchboard. Currently, Bill Hybels is the most influential leader for me. I started going to his Global Leadership Summit and have attended almost every year for the past twenty years. GLS fills me up as a leader. A secondary influencer currently is author, Patrick M. Lencioni. I have learned so much from these two books: The Advantage Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business and Death by Meeting. (Note from Tena: I ordered the audio version of these two books from my library to check them out and listen to on my way to and from work! Both contained excellent information for those in leadership positions!)
2. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization? Staying on your knees. Prayer is the foundation. Prior to starting Hearts at Home, I was part of a Moms in Touch (Moms In Prayer) group in which we prayed for our children. This practice of praying became an integral part of the Hearts at Home planning. HAH began by my asking like-minded moms to pray. I told them that we were not going to plan, and we were not going to brainstorm. We prayed for months and watched as God opened doors. Prayer is the cornerstone of HAH.

3. How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization? Brainstorming. When we brainstormed, we told the team that there were no stupid ideas. One idea might be the stepping stone for the actual idea we would use. For example, one year someone suggested that I zip line onto the stage. Although this idea was outlandish, it did lead to some great ideas for our superhero theme for moms. GLS also often helped get the wheels turning. We attended events together to encourage creative thinking.
4. Where do the great ideas come from in your organization? Brainstorming. Social media also generates great ideas by our thinking maybe we could do something similar with a different angle.
5. Which is most important to your organization—mission, core values or vision? All three are equal. All three are needed. Our mission changed naturally as the number of attendees increased. When HAH began, our target audience was mainly stay-at-home moms. By the mid-2000, we were at 50/50. Half of the moms were working outside the home and half working in the home. We rebranded from mainly reaching out to stay-at-home moms to reaching out to any mom. When we realized most women were attending for other topics such as parenting and marriage tips and not just for the stay-at-home support, we officially made the switch.
6. How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the “core values”? The “core values” were printed up and framed. Core values were talked about with decision making. They served as a lens. Core values were taught in meetings.
7. Do you set aside specific times to cast vision to your employees and other leaders? In the early years of HAH, we did a fall kick-off and a spring kick-off for volunteer and paid staff. More recently we have used monthly employee meetings.
8. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? Possessing perseverance and a thick skin. As a public entity, people make known what they think about what we are doing. Sometimes, we need to consider the criticism given as it may be valid. Oftentimes, we must let things roll off our backs. I have told my team many times when dealing with a very critical person to dig for the roots not just the symptoms of what she is saying. Then, we can solve the real issue.
9. What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today? It is the same as moms: Using social media to compare our insides to others’ outsides. Social media is one of the best things to learn and benefit from the wisdom of others. However, it is too easy to compare. We often feel better than others or less than others. Neither view is healthy.

10. What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others? I see leaders trying to do it using their own wisdom, knowledge, and strength. This goes back to prayer. We are human doings and forget to be human beings. As leaders, we naturally think, “I’ll do it.” We must resist the doing and focus on the being. God is far more interested in whom you are becoming rather than what you are doing (Tena-LOVE THIS!).
11. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers? A lack of margins in their day to day activities. Lacking white space. They push it until they have reach their limitations and are done. Then, they leave other people hanging because they cannot keep their commitments. In the eyes of others, the leaders have become unreliable. I am reminded of the life of Christ. He went to bed and not everyone was healed. We need to understand our limitations. Needs will never stop, but we can train people to respect our margins. I saw this a lot while working with pastors and their wives who were involved with church planting. The wives of the pastors would regularly tell me that they never saw their husbands. (While chatting, both Jill and I recognized that emergencies do occur, and we need to be flexible for them in a church setting, but it’s still healthy for pastors to have boundaries).
12. What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader? ECFA-Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is one.
“Founded in 1979, ECFA provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, transparency, fundraising, and board governance. The Christ-centered ministries accredited by ECFA include churches, denominations, educational institutions, rescue missions, camps, and many other types of tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations. Collectively, these organizations represent over $26 billion in annual revenue” (ecfa.org).
Also, subscribe to the email list for Best Christian Workplaces at http://www.bcwinstitute.com/ for great content.
13. What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? Resist the “Savior Complex.” You can’t save people. Your job is to bring them to the Savior. Recognize your limits.
14. What do you like to ask other leaders when you get the chance? How do they refuel their tank? I learned from Bill Hybels about a silent retreat. He said it took until the 3rd day to get rid of the chatter in his mind. This inspired me. I took a five day silent retreat in Florida. I had not been quiet for that long. While I was there, I also fasted for three days from my car so I had to walk wherever I needed to go.
15. How do handle doubt when it plagues your mind? When doubt enters my mind, I ask myself, “Am I lacking peace or entertaining fear?” Usually that helps me know how to proceed.
16. When insecurities pop up, how do you counter them? Fear would pop up when big decisions needed to be made. I would remind myself and others that we may not know the next step. For example, my background was in teaching music and not having a business degree. It is okay to feel insecure if we are secure in Christ.
17. What ways have worked for you do deal with worries? I have to remind myself that God equips the called, and He doesn’t always call the equipped. This is why we must always be on our knees. Scripture memory is also a way to combat worry. I’ve come to understand that worry is the worship of circumstances.
18. How do you deal with feeling overwhelmed when it occurs? We must learn to say no. For example, I receive five to six emails a week asking me to endorse books. While my heart wants to say yes, I don’t have the time to read the books in order to endorse them so I often have to say no to these types of requests.
19. Do you schedule time off to avoid exhaustion? If yes, what does your scheduled time off look like? I am reserving Fridays for myself. I am calling them “Fun Fridays.” On these days, I am having lunch with friends, going grocery shopping, painting a bedroom or whatever creative project I would like to tackle. I am learning more and more to take time for myself.
20. Do you have a friend of group of friends to help you when you feel discouraged? How do they help? Absolutely! I have a dear longtime friend who is a truth teller. She also has a lot of wisdom and compassion. I also have several other honest and open friends that I intentionally spend time with.
21. What advice would you give your younger self if you could? To learn to be more compassionate. I have a strong side that can come across as a harsh. I have been on a learning curve as I dealt with my marriage crisis, my battle with breast cancer, and my son who has a mental illness. Through these experiences, I have become much more balanced with both my strength and compassion. It’s made me a better wife, mother, and leader.
22. Do you have a special word or verse you are focusing on in 2017? Philippians 4:13 is my life verse. It has carried me through everyday challenges and the really hard stuff as well.
Jill, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experiences with us. I wish you a blessed 2017 as you focus on speaking and writing. If you would like more information about Jill’s speaking availability or Hearts at Home, here are the links:
www.JillSavage.org
www.NoMorePerfect.com
www.HeartsatHome.org

National Day of Prayer 2017

National Day of Prayer 2017
May 4, 2017 is the 66th annual National Day of Prayer. The theme this year is “For Your Great Name’s Sake! Hear Us… Forgive Us…Heal Us!” Taken from Daniel 9:19, which says, “O Lord, Listen! O Lord, Forgive! O Lord, Hear and Act! For Your Sake, O My God…”.
Let’s join together and pray. Here are a few ideas for prayer:
1. For children, that…
they will know Christ as Savior.
they will obey their parents.
2. For parents, that…
they will be imitators of God.
they will walk in wisdom.
3.For families, that…
they will be committed to loving the Lord and loving each other.
they will be protected physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
4.For schools, that…
students will grow academically and socially in safe learning environments.
students will learn Christian values and morals.
5.For churches, that…
pastors will clearly proclaim the Gospel.
all church activities will continue to glorify the Lord and draw people closer to Him.
6.For missionaries, that…
they will feel loved and encouraged.
they will be safe as they share the Gospel of Jesus with others.
7.For the government, that…
government leaders will seek the Lord as they lead others.
public officials will live lives of integrity.

And the Winner is…

Congratulations to Mary of Ohio! She is the winner of a free copy of A Heart of Praise! My next drawing will be Saturday, May 13th! I am giving away a copy of I’m Glad I’m a Mom! You can be entered by signing up for my newsletter at http://tenadegraaf.com/site/contact/ AND entered again by liking my Facebook page-Tena DeGraaf-Author & Speaker https://www.facebook.com/tenadegraaf/until May 13th.
Blessings, Tena