Well, I did something new this month: I headed back to full-time employment after 17 years of part-time writing projects and full-time domestic engineering😊 I love using a wider range of skills in the workplace again, but even three weeks in, I’m aware of how fiercely I need to guard my family time and prioritize my people. No matter what your situation is, I bet you, too, are finding that family life can feel anything but peaceful these days. So, I asked veteran mom, grandmother, and fellow-writer Debi Ronca to weigh in. She guest-blogs today to answer the question, “How do we intentionally develop a family culture that honors, values, and encourages each other?” You are going to love the tool her family has used for over 35 years, which is now the topic of her internationally-bestselling book, The Family Letter.
When you read those words, you may feel that this is a daunting project for the family and wonder if this is even possible. Life is busy. How can we create a culture when we don’t seem to have the time or the energy?
Having raised three children of mine own, I so understand that thought. There is a battle for the culture of the family, and so I want to share with you a very simple tool that my family has been using for over 35 years that has cultivated this environment. This tool, which has become our tradition, has connected our hearts, strengthened our relationships, and I am thrilled to share it with you. So, whether you are in the season of raising your children or in the magical season of being a grandparent, this tool is for you!
From the time our children were young, my husband and I knew how important it was to teach them about the power of their words and the power of encouragement. We wanted them to know and hear that they were loved, valued, and celebrated. This is God’s design for the family: to fill our children’s emotional tank with words of affirmation, praise, and value, and remind them who they are in Christ.
I believe everyone has a longing within their heart to be known, valued, loved, and celebrated.
God created that desire to be fulfilled in relationship. We were designed to build each other up with the power of our words. The power of encouragement brings life to dry and thirsty souls that need to know their value and worth.
My husband and I decided that the culture of our home would be for us to use life-giving words to each other and to our children. We noticed that it was more difficult for the children to do the same, especially with their siblings. They felt unsure, and really didn’t know what to say or how to express what they felt in their heart, and they struggled to communicated it.
Pondering how to solve this became the genesis of what we lovingly call in my home, The Family Letter.
We decided as a family that on every birthday, letters would be written to celebrate that person. To make it easier for the children, we created guidelines or a template of what needed to be shared in the letter.
When they were young, it was a simple as:
As our children grew, the guidelines grew as well by adding:
If the person has gone through a difficult trial, encourage them on how you have seen them walk through it. Share with them God’s perspective on their trial and give them hope.
Celebrate and recognize any accomplishments they may have experienced, and share your excitement in how the Lord has blessed them and how He is using them in their place in life. This could be school, business, at home, etc.
Share how the Lord can use them in future endeavors as they grow into different seasons of life. Use scripture to encourage and inspire.
This was and continues to be one of the most special moments we share as a family. Each birthday, whomever is being celebrated receives a letter from every member of the family. We sit down together and one by one, each letter is read out loud. The power in reading them out loud is the key. Everyone shares in the moment, everyone hears what the others have written and as a result, all of our hearts are touched. The one who writes, the one who receives the letter, and the ones who get to listen are all touched in different ways. We laugh, we cry, and when its over, you know without a doubt that you are loved, valued, and celebrated.
This is a treasured tradition in my home, and I can tell you that it has borne fruit that lasts. Our relationships have been bonded and strengthened, and my children have shared that the letters have made them closer as siblings. Writing letters is a safe and simple tool to convey your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes when we verbally try to share, we can forget what we want to say. Writing it down is a gift that remains.
In one of the chapters in my book, The Family Letter, I asked my grown children to give their perspective of what it has been like to grow up with this tradition.
One of my sons said, “There are times you just have a bad day, and I can go back and read one of my letters, and remember who I am through the lens of my family through the words they have written.”
My 7-year-old grandson has grown up watching this tradition at our home. One day he said, “Nana, do you know what I want for my birthday this year?” I said, “No Kellan, what would you like this year?” He said, “LETTERS! I WANT LETTERS!”
And now our tradition has moved to the next generation. My heart is full!
Let me share one more idea: I have readers whose families live out of town and have created Zoom letter-reading time. Or you can use FaceTime. You don’t have to wait for a birthday. Choose someone in your family to write a letter to and set up the call. Email the letters to the person right before the call so they can’t read them ahead of time. Gather together and let the reading begin! You will be blessed.
In the season we are all experiencing, the family needs to be nurtured, strengthened, and protected. The Family Letter is a tool that you can start to bring healing to your family. The Lord loves your family, and His heart is for you. It’s never too late. God Bless you and your family!
Rounding out our soul care series with more from Dena and Jason Hobbs, authors of When Anxiety Strikes: Help and Hope for Managing Your Storm. Last week, they shared that “anxiety is a body-related event” and why it’s helpful to discover ways to calm and settle the body first before addressing anxious thought patterns. I loved Jason’s example that when a small child is crying, you don’t just stand there saying, “Calm down,” but pick the child up, speak soothingly, and help her settle before investigating what made her cry. In the same way, adults suffering from chronic anxiety have more success tackling anxious thought patterns if they can also find ways to soothe the full-body experience of anxiety with all its attendant symptoms. That may include medication and counseling, but can also include many of the practical suggestions in Dena and Jason’s book, such as breathing exercises, body care, and gentle movement.
The last few posts have had an unofficial “soul care” theme to them as we’ve explored alternatives to fuming over a world gone mad, how to get along with our “difficult people,” and tips for filling our minds with scriptures that bring joy and peace. Hey, that sounds like a good bootcamp for the final months of election season, right?
For some, though, the hardships of 2020 coupled what could best be described as a dark spiritual climate have sent us to a new level of distress. We’re not talking a few worrying thoughts here. We’re talking chest-tightening, sleep-wrecking, stomach-churning misery. If that’s you and it’s been going on for two weeks or more, it’s time to talk to your doctor about your health. If it is chronic anxiety, it’s not “just in your head,” but a real health problem with real treatment options. That may include medication and counseling, and as I’ve learned from my friends Dena and Jason, authors of When Anxiety Strikes: Help and Hope for Managing Your Storm, it may also include new ways of caring for your whole self. Here’s what they had to say:
Cassia: I’ve heard you both mention that “anxiety is a body-related event,” not just something that happens in our minds. Can you explain that and how caring for the body affects our experiences with anxiety?
Dena: For me as an anxiety sufferer, I’ve come to think of it as a back and forth exchange between my body and my mind, which Jason has helped me see aren’t really as separate as we like to think. When my mind churns up anxiety, the resulting adrenaline and cortisol wreak havoc on my body. My gut gets funky, my muscles spasm. Sometimes I get bodily sick in ways that require medical intervention. On the other hand, when I am in a good place and keep up my bodily self-care such as walking, doing breathing exercises, limiting caffeine, and eating healthy foods, I can stave off anxiety.
What’s the last habit that really “stuck” with you? Oh, I can tell you plenty that have NOT hung around for me – most of them involve exercise, housework, and carbohydrates—but every once in a while, something manages take root until it’s part of my routine and then, part of my life. One that may be well on its way is something I learned from my friend Jennifer Perez over the summer: making my phone lock-screen a place for images and phrases that help me meditate on scriptures from my devotional time.
I’ve had nature photos to remind me of the Good Shephard, quotes to bolster my courage, and Bible verses to tuck into my memory. When I reach for my phone—which is definitely a habit—I now see something that prompts me to meditate on God and His Word. In fact, Jennifer taught me a number of fresh ways to make God’s word “stick” through her devotional book She Laughs: A 40-Day Journey to a Heart Filled with Joy and Peace. This week she graciously guest-blogs on how scripture meditation can be a game changer in helping passages travel from head to heart. Thanks, Jennifer!
This weekend, I decided to go all in to argue my point about a particularly important topic.
Tensions ran so high that I had to excuse myself to go wash my hands but really to go get a grip on my emotions.
And to do some Google fact-checking to bolster my argument because I planned to go back to that table to win that thing.
Did I mention it was date night? The first time for just the two of us at our favorite spot in a really long time?
Well, somehow between the car ride over and the arrival of our food, my husband and I decided that nothing would pair better with wings and craft beer than a heated discussion over Disney’s Mulan release strategy.
We were both in it to win it, and had the sweet waitress not arrived with our order when she did—making us grin sheepishly as we realized just how much we needed both food and the laid-back ambience of that place—we probably would have wrecked our whole evening.
My point is, in this season of stress and chaos, we’re all just one argument away from going nuclear on the people we love the best, not to mention the folks that habitually rubbed us the wrong way long before 2020.