I found my happiest place on earth!

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The second to last day in South Africa, we visited the Maubane Community and participated in their children’s church service. There are not words to describe how incredible this experience was.

You see, most of these children live right across the street from this colorful playground (that you helped build!) in little homes — mostly made of cast-off supplies they’ve recycled into building materials. Many of these children don’t have parents or their parents are working in the city so they don’t see them but maybe on the weekends.

The majority of these children know hunger and want as a daily part of their lives. They have very few possessions and very little to look forward to. Despite all that, every Sunday, these children gather with Pastor Norman for an exuberant children’s church service.

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To see these children joyfully and enthusiastically clapping and shouting and singing about the goodness of God… it was soul stirring.

I didn’t understand a lot of the words they were saying and shouting and singing at the top of their lungs, but I didn’t need to. Their enthusiasm, their heart, their hope, their happiness all spoke louder than words ever could.

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After they were finished with their church service, the toddlers were called over to line up for food. They had a very special treat that day — Walkie Talkies (i.e. chicken feet & chicken beaks). The leaders there told me that it is rare for them to have meat so this was a very special occasion for them. {Take Action Ministries paid for some of the locals to make this for them as a treat because we were going to be there visiting.}

The leaders also told me that they have the toddlers line up first to give the older children a short break from caring for their younger siblings. Since there are so few parents around in this community on a daily basis, the older children often have to look after their younger siblings much of the time.

These older children shoulder a great deal of responsibility and burden and the church leaders try to give them a break as often as they can by having the toddlers all line up and sit down to eat together so the older kids can talk and play together.

We spent some time hanging out with the older kids. Taking pictures, laughing, talking, and even being quite goofy (as those who know me well know I am an expert at!)

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I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but pretty soon, different children just randomly started coming up to me and hugging me. From the littlest ones to the teens, they all seemed desperate for love and affection. And the more kids who hugged me, the more the line grew of kids wanting to be hugged.

As more and more children hugged me and held on tightly, my heart began feeling like it just might rip into shreds. I tried to look into each child’s eyes and also speak words of life:

“You are loved.”

“You matter.”

“God has something special for you to do.”

“I love you.”

I felt so overwhelmed by the needs. It wasn’t just the need for food and shelter and clothes and schooling. More than any of that, these children are starving for love. To know that someone cares about them. To know that they have value.

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As I found myself surrounded by these beautiful children, I wanted to just weep and laugh at the same time. Because I knew then and there that, going forward, one of my callings in life would be to see to it that none of these children in the Maubane Community go hungry again.

That none of them die from disease. That none of them miss out on an education. But most importantly, that I do all I can to provide opportunities for them to know that they are loved — not only by other people, but by a Heavenly Father who created them and has infused them with gifts and talents and worth.

Right there, on the red dirt of South African soil in that huddle of children, I discovered my happiest place on earth.

Somewhere deep in my soul, I felt right at home. Right where I was supposed to be. Doing what I was created to do. The only that would have made it more complete would have been to have my husband and children by my side experiencing it with me.

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When I finally had to say goodbye, I could barely keep back the tears. One boy who was around 13 years old asked me, “Why are you going?”

I thought, “Trust me, child, I’m asking the same thing!”

But instead, I told him: “I will come back.”

And, by the grace of God, I will. I will come back as often as I can. And when I’m not there I will carry the stories and the faces and the hugs with me everywhere I go.

Because I left part of my heart behind in South Africa. And I will never be the same.

P.S. Thank you, thank you, thank you to each of you who have joined me in this cause that I have become fiercely passionate about. I know not everyone has the wiggle room in your budget to give money and not everyone is called to give to this project, but you have no idea how humbly grateful and excited I am that 130 of you have joined Lisa-Jo and me in making a difference in these poor communities in South Africa!

Your partnership in the #TenDollarTribe is going to make a major difference in the lives of all of the children you see pictured in this post plus many more. And it thrills my heart!

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New family-friendly YouTube app!

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Remember my post on 50 Shades of Frustration? Well, guess what? YouTube heard the voices of thousands of parents across the country and is launching a new YouTube Kid’s app.

Here are a few of the features of this new kid-friendly app:

Family-focused content
For years, families have come to YouTube, watching countless hours of videos on all kinds of topics. Now, parents can rest a little easier knowing that videos in the YouTube Kids app are narrowed down to content appropriate for kids.

You can browse channels and playlists in four categories: Shows, Music, Learning and Explore. Or search for videos of particular interest to your family, like how to build a model volcano, math tutorials, the amazing (and endless) world of trains—and everything in between

Parental controls
We realize every family is different, so we’ve built options into the app that help you control the experience for your kids:

  • Timer: Let the app be the bad guy with a built-in timer that lets you limit kids’ screen time. The app alerts your child when the session is over, so you don’t have to. (You’re welcome. ;) )
  • Sound settings: Sometimes you need a little peace and quiet! You have an option to turn off background music and sound effects, so your kids can keep watching while you catch a breather.
  • Search settings: If you’d rather limit your children to just the pre-selected videos available on the home screen, you can turn off search.
  • Product feedback: Our goal is to improve YouTube Kids all the time, so we’ve included a space for you to give us your feedback.

This app is available now for Android devices on Google Play, and iOS devices on the Apple App Store.

Thanks, Ashley!

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How to Get Kids to Stop Whining & Help With Chores

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Do you have suggestions on how to motivate you children to help with chores and how to minimize whining? I would greatly appreciate any advice. -Amanda

First off, Amanda, I just want to encourage you: your desire to train and teach your kids to work will be such a gift to them. Truly.

You see, my parents were very committed to instilling in us the value of hard work from an early age. And I’m so grateful!

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For as long as I can remember, I had chores that were assigned to me and I was expected to do. When we moved out to the country when I was 10 years old, I was given even more chores and learned more what hard work is all about.

I spent hours when I was in the my early teens working in the garden, watering trees, and mowing our huge yard. At the time, I didn’t necessarily love the chores, but looking back, I’m so grateful my parents taught us the value of hard work and instilled in us a strong work ethic.

In fact, I believe that a strong work ethic is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. It well prepared me for the struggles and setbacks I’ve encountered in the years since I’ve moved away from home and has helped me continue to persevere even when I might feel exhausted and ready to quit.
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Practically speaking, here are 5 ideas to help minimize whining and encourage your kids to work:

1. Start Small.

Don’t overwhelm your kids with a bunch of new chores at once. Start your children out with one or two simple chores and then gradually add more as they catch on and improve.

In addition, make sure your children need to know what is expected of them when you assign a chore to them. If you never let them know what you expect of them, it will only result in frustration for you — and for them!

Need some age-appropriate chore ideas? Check out this post with some chore ideas for kids of different ages. (Keep in mind, though, that each child is different. What might be simple for one 4-year-old, could be utterly overwhelming to another.)

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2. Be patient.

Training requires repetition. Don’t expect a child to do a job well at first.

Think about when you first started learning to ride a bike or drive a car. You didn’t automatically know how to do it.

You had to practice. You had to slowly learn. You had to make mistakes.

It often takes a lot of repetitive teaching, gentle correcting, and practice before a child can do a job well. Don’t expect perfection–especially when they are young. What matters is that they are putting forth effort and trying their best.

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3. Teach By Example

It’s well be said that, “More is caught than taught”. We can’t expect our children to work hard if they don’t see us working hard.

One great way to encourage them by your example is to have your child work alongside you. Most children love to spend time with Mom, no matter what it is you’re doing. So take advantage of this and enthusiastically invite them to help you with whatever chore you’re working on.

While you’re working together, talk, sing, laugh, and praise them repeatedly for helping you. Let them see you working hard and enjoying it.

Yes, it takes longer, but it’s worth it! I remind myself that my goal as a parent is to work myself out of a job, so the sooner I can teach them to work alongside me, the more help they’ll become as the years go by!

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4. Make it Fun

A few ideas:

  • Turn on Music. We love to turn on upbeat music and sing and dance while working — it’s fun, it makes the time go by quickly and it makes chores much more enjoyable!
  • Have a Race. We often set the timer and have a race to see who can finish their chores first. Or, you can race against the clock, instead of racing against each other or see how many things we can collectively pick up and put away within 10 minutes. When we all work together quickly, it’s amazing how much we can get done in a short amount of time!
  • Use Child-Sized Brooms & Mops. My children got mops for Christmas one year from my parents and it was, by far, the hit present. All the cousins spent the morning cleaning Grandma and Grandpa’s kitchen tile after the presents were opened! And their enthusiasm for using them still hasn’t waned!

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5. Find the Good & Praise It

It’s easy to want to focus on pointing out all the things a child does wrong and where they need to improve.
Instead of dwelling on what they didn’t do right, focus most of your energies on praising those things they did well.

Encouragement and affirmation go a long way. In the same way, criticism and harsh words can do a lot of damage.

Make it a goal to praise 10 times more than you point out areas for improvement. Not only will your words of praise build up your child, but they will motivate and inspire them to continue working hard and developing the character quality of diligence.

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Reward Ideas:

Working for a reward is always more motivating! Figure out what motivates your child and then use that as a reward.

  • Have your child work toward a larger prize. This could be something like a toy or DVD or a date with mom. Create a reward chart for them to track their progress.
  • Give instant rewards. It’s a standing rule at our house that once all of your chores and homework is finished for the afternoon, you can watch a movie or have 30 minutes of iPad time. None of our kids want to miss this time so they are highly motivated to get their chores done!
  • Download an app. Both MyJobChart.com and ChoreMonster offer the ability to assign, track, and reward kids for chores. With MyJobChart.com, you can set up an Amazon store and assign points per chore and prizes for points earned. Once a child completes a job and you sign off on it, they earn points. They can then cash out these points in the Amazon store for prizes you’ve pre-determined.
  • Consider paying your children for some chores. We have paid chores and non-paid chores at our house. The non-paid chores are chores you do as part of contributing to our family. The paid chores are extra chores you can elect to do and get paid for. This system has worked well for our family. You can read more about how it works here.

What advice and suggestions do the rest of you have for Amanda?

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