*SPOILER ALERT* If you read through the post, you’ll get to see a VIDEO of the “von Trapp…” err, I mean “Muskrat Family Singers!”

My little family went on a church-led mission trip last week to the South Texas Children’s Home (STCH) in Pettus, Texas.  We had a great time!  STCH is a beautiful ranch-land campus in south Texas made up of several foster homes (or “cottages”) with 8 foster children per home.  Children are placed there for a variety of different reasons, but they each receive counseling, education, the gospel, and lots of love.

We played with the foster children in the mornings and evenings, we helped a family move, and we hosted a large cook-out on the last day.  It was such a blessing to be able to share this experience with my family and with other families from our church, and I would love to make family mission trips a regular tradition.

Traditions provide continuity, security, and unity— a sense of belonging.

I grew up in a family steeped with traditions.  Every year at Christmas, ever since my brothers and I were toddlers, our family would celebrate the birth of Jesus by lighting the Advent candles.  Every Sunday (the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Eve), we’d take turns lighting the candles, reading the Bible, and singing our favorite Christmas songs.  Those quiet, candlelit moments were always very special and meaningful to us.

Advent

Another tradition included “Family Night.”  Every Friday night (and sometimes other nights, depending on my parents’ teaching schedules) we’d have “family night,” which would usually consist of watching movies or old sitcom re-runs in the “family den.”  It was the only air-conditioned room in the entire house during my childhood, so it was naturally an ideal hangout spot during the summer.

We each had our own special thermos cup and favorite place to sit for these cherished family occasions.  If we didn’t watch a movie, we’d play a board game or card game.  Favorites included Monopoly, Pictionary, Nertz, Phase 10, and Mexican Train.

We even had daily traditions.  Every day of the week, we three kids would have specific days where we would set and clear the table, sit between Mom & Dad, and pray over the meal.  We also had assigned days where we opened and closed the vehicle entry gate outside our home.  We viewed each of these days and tasks a special privilege— or at least most of the time we did.  On cold or rainy days when we had to get out of the car and open the vehicle gate… maybe not so much.

And how can I forget our beloved “Thea trips!”  Every summer and winter we’d travel to “Mission Meeting,” a bi-annual gathering of all the IMB (International Mission Board) missionary families who were actively serving in Argentina.  It was held at the “Thea” campgrounds in the town of La Falda, a beautiful, quiet city nestled in the mountains of the province of Cordoba.

It was always a fun-filled, week-long spiritual retreat where we got to visit with our missionary aunts and uncles and play with our MK (missionary kid) cousins.  Some of my most favorite childhood memories occurred at “Thea”— and I think almost every Argentine MK would echo that statement.

Family traditions bring families together. 

Last, but not least, one of my MOST FAVORITE family traditions— one that will forever hold a special place in my heart— is when my family sang together.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “The family that prays together, stays together.”  While that may certainly hold true for families, my family could also abide by, “The family that sings together, stays together.”

Family singing at Thea older

My parents made it a point early on to involve us kids in their music ministry and mission work.  We started singing with them as early as three years old.  We kids loved it, and I know I speak for my brothers when I say that all three of us deeply appreciate our parents for teaching us music and involving us in their music ministry.

Rehearsing wasn’t always fun.  I’m sure there were times when our parents probably felt like they were pulling teeth when they asked us to rehearse.  There were times when we were tired and in sour moods, perhaps in the middle of a sibling squabble.

But we still came together to sing and practice our instruments because it was important to us as a family.  It was a part of our family identity, and it certainly was a family tradition that filled us with a sense of unity, meaning, and love.

Family singing around piano

Handbells - Copy

Famiy singing at Thea younger

But it wasn’t just the music that brought us closer together.  What truly united us was the fact that we were praising God together as a family, and we were working towards a common purpose— sharing the Gospel through our love of music.

Even as a quiet, shy little girl who nervously sang Jesus Loves Me in front of a congregation in a crowded church tent, I recognized the value of our family tradition, and I was thankful we could serve God together as a family.

We need family traditions now more than ever.

Today’s society is so rushed and busy.  We fill our days with the hustle and bustle of work deadlines and after-school activities.  Time spent with family is sometimes few and fleeting.

Quick, TV dinners are the norm now.  Kids— and sometimes parents— would rather eat their meals in front of a television screen versus talking about their day around the table.  And even if a family is sitting at the table together, you’ll more than likely find some of them glued to their phones or other preferred devices.

Being glued to your phone deserves an entirely separate blog post altogether, but it’s true that today’s society is so fixated on technology and on quick, superficial communication, hiding behind a screen of emojis and text abbreviations.  SMH (shaking my head).  They say social media promotes social connections, but in all honesty it can also promote isolation.

One of my church pastors mentioned not too long ago how he found five or six teens sitting on a couch in a church lounge, all staring at their individual phones, texting each other instead of talking with one another.  He asked them to put the phones down and to talk to each other, face-to-face, for five minutes.  They complied.  But as soon as the five minutes were up and he started to walk out of the room, the kids were immediately back on their phones again.

It’s called an iPhone for a reason.  It’s all about “I,” “me,” “mine.”

Family traditions can help break that isolation.  It’s time to put away the phones and really and truly develop closeness together.  It’s time to say “no” to some of those extra-curricular activities.

Don’t get me wrong— extra-curricular activities are very valuable and fun (especially if they involve the whole family), but if they’re not involving the whole family and/or are not producing quality time together, I encourage you to make sure you do leave enough time for “family time” in addition to having “me time” or “them time.”  Yes, everyone does need some separate time to themselves, but it’s all about finding the right balance and keeping your priorities in check.

For my own family, we’ve already started an Advent tradition, and we’d love to start an annual camping trip where we “unplug” for a few days.  No phones.  No distractions.  Just our little family, taking in God’s beautiful creation, which also includes each other.

We’d also like to participate in more community service projects and mission opportunities together as a family, be it local or long-distance.  Delivering meals, visiting older adults who have no nearby family, helping the community, sharing the gospel, going back to STCH in Pettus, Texas, etc.

We want to work together as a family towards a common purpose, and when that purpose is loving and serving Jesus and making Him known to the world, I believe it brings the family closer and deeper together, which ultimately brings glory to God.

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  -Joshua 24:15

I’d love to hear from you!  What are YOUR family traditions?  If you’re just starting your family, what are some family traditions you want to develop?

I leave you with a VIDEO of my family singing together.  It was filmed in 2004, and it has been 11 years since we have sung together, just us five (in 2006).  In the video, my family sings an acapella medley of praise songs that my parents arranged, which is followed by a piano and organ duet, and then the video ends with a final family song.

I hope it blesses you and reminds you how important family is and what a blessing it can be to serve God together as a family.

– Amy

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