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10 Ideas for Non-Digital Family Fun on Road Trips

July 31st, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle
Whether your family is taking a short trip to Grandma’s house or a cross-country vacation in the family car, these interactive activities will help the time pass more quickly.

With seven children, you can imagine the travel tensions my wife, Ellie, and I have experienced during long road trips: bad attitudes, wars over seat space, and the incessant asking of the timeless question, “How much longer until we get there?”

Whether your family is taking a short trip to Grandma’s house or a cross-country vacation in the family car, having things to do always helps the trip pass more quickly and makes things much more enjoyable along the way.

Sure, it’s easier to turn on a DVD or let the kids use their hand-held devices. But since you already have everyone in one place, why not buck the solo trend and give everyone a chance to connect and enjoy the trip and each other—as a family?

Through three decades of parenting, Ellie and I have adapted some travel ideas from other creative parents, and we developed others out of our own desperation. The following are some of our favorite non-digital activities and games to play on a road trip, short or long. We’ve even included some links to make it easier for you.

1. Mile marker. On all interstate freeways and many major U.S. highways, there are small green signs along the shoulder of the road to mark each highway mile. The object of the game is to call out a “mile marker” before anyone else. Each mile marker earns a point. If a family member incorrectly calls a mile marker (it turns out to be another kind of sign, etc.), a point is taken away. If two people call a mile marker at the same time, no point is awarded. The first person to get 10 mile markers (or 20 or however many you want, depending on how long you want the game to last), wins the game.

2. Alphabet signs. Find all the letters of the alphabet, in order, on billboards, highway signs, license plates, etc. (The only letters off limits are those inside your own vehicle). As a person finds a letter, they call out the letter and the word that contains it. Everyone competes individually, and everyone can call out letters and words at the same time. The first person to finish is the winner.

3. Bible characters. In this variation of the classic game, “20 Questions,” one person secretly selects a Bible character and announces the first letter of that person’s name. All other family members take turns asking yes/no questions to try to narrow down the subject (“Is it a woman?” or “Did he live in the time of Christ?”). Whenever a family member gets a “Yes” answer to his question, he may continue asking until receiving a “No.”

To win the game, a person would ask “Is it _____?”. If the answer is “Yes,” the round is over and the person who guessed correctly gets to choose the next character. If the answer is “No,” the person is eliminated from that round, and the other family members play until someone correctly guesses the Bible character. One more twist: If the person who selected the Bible character can’t answer one of the questions about the character, the family member who stumped him wins. You can also play this game with animals, sports teams, etc.

4. Camping trip. One person, called the tour guide, announces, “I’m going on a camping trip, and I’m bringing a …” To decide what he is bringing, the tour guide thinks of a rule. For example, the rule could be “Only words that start with an ‘F’ are allowed,” so the tour guide could say, “I’m going on a camping trip, and I’m bringing a flashlight.”

The goal is to guess other words and, in the process, figure out the rule. One person might say, “Can I bring a battery?” The tour guide would say “You can’t come,” because he knows that it doesn’t start with an “F.” That person stays in the game, but his turn is over. If the next person says, “Can I bring fun?” the tour guide would respond, “You can come.” The round can end in one of two ways: 1) Those who figure out the rule can keep suggesting items for the camping trip until the other participants catch on; or 2) Someone uses his turn to ask, “Is the rule, ‘Things that begin with “F”‘?” If a person tries to guess the rule and the guess is incorrect, he sits out for the rest of that round.

Other rules that could apply to flashlight might be: words with two syllables, things you’d find in a backpack, words with three consecutive consonants, things that produce light, etc. You can make the game as simple or sophisticated as you want to cater to the abilities of your family members. This game is great for spawning creativity on the part of the tour guide, and building analytical skills for all the other family members.

5. License plate. Each player has a blank map of the United States. When a family member spots a vehicle with the license plate from a particular state, he marks it on his map. One rule: You have to be able to read the name of the state, not just identify the plate by its colors or graphics.

6. The box game. Using a piece of graph paper or a page with 10 rows of 10 evenly-spaced dots, players take turns drawing one vertical or horizontal line from one dot to another. When a person draws a line that completes a box, he puts his initial inside the box. When the grid is fully filled in, the initials are counted, and the person who has the most initials is the winner.

7. Scavenger hunt. Before the trip, develop a list of items that you are likely to see on the trip. When the trip starts, hand a copy of the list to each family member (non-readers can help readers find the items). Our family has broken our items into categories (animals, people, vehicles, structures, landscapes, etc.). The first person to complete a category gets a special treat (for example, any item under $1 at the next gas station stop). Once a person completes a category, he is not eligible for other category awards (this gives everyone a chance to earn a reward), but is still in the running for the big reward, which is given to the first person who completes the whole list.

8. Reading and listening. Plan a visit to the library before your trip. Allow each child to pick out a few books and make sure they have a personal book bag to keep up with their own stuff (you can also add some coloring books, activity books, pencils, etc.). While you’re at the library, pick up some family classics on audio. We actually listened to a dramatized Cheaper by the Dozen during four days of driving. 

9. Progressive scrapbook. Buy a journal or album for each child, along with some tape or a glue stick and car-safe scissors. Wherever you stop, pick up some brochures or postcards. Have the children select pictures or other memorabilia to put in their personal scrapbook, and have them write what they liked about that part of the trip, what they did, etc. Encourage them to write down as many details as they can. They can add family photos to the book once you get home.

10. How much longer? Using Google Maps or another mapping website, print a map of your trip and give it to each family member. When someone inevitably asks, “How much longer…?” have the questioner pull out his or her personal map and point to where you are on the map. Every once in a while, you might announce, “We’re in ______” or, “We just passed Highway ____. Can you find it on your map?”. This exercise gives the children something to do, answers their questions, and teaches them map skills. And you never again have to say in exasperation, “If you ask again, you’ll have a quiet time out for the next half hour!”

Easy S’mores Pretzel Bites

July 5th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

This recipe makes 24 s’more pretzel bites but you can adjust it as necessary.

Leave them under the broiler until they puff up and get a little brown.

These turned out soo yummy with a little salty/sweet flavor! They were great right out of the oven melting and a few hours later was good. Not sure how long they can be kept though.


  • 48 pretzels
  • 2 Hershey bars (24 individual chocolate pieces)
  • 72 small marshmallows (3 per pretzel)


  • Lay 24 pretzels on a cookie sheet (use parchment paper for an easy clean-up).
  • Pre-heat the broiler to high.
  • Place three marshmallows on each pretzel and stick in the oven for 2-3 minutes.
  • Place a Hershey chocolate piece on each pretzel and put back in the oven for 1-2 minutes so they melt.
  • Stick a pretzel on top of the chocolate.
  • Enjoy them all warm or put them in fridge to chill.

Prayer Walks: 9 Reasons to Pray with Your Feet

June 7th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle
“Now that the weather is nice, I’m taking my Catahoula Leopard dog Rogue (right) out for a lot more walks around the block.
I find myself talking to God on my walks and praying for the families and individuals who live in my neighbourhood. I recently heard that the police have noticed a decrease in crime in some communities where Prayer Walks have taken place (for example, Britannia) so I would encourage you to be intentional about praying for your neighbours.” – Care Baldwin
Source: Pray Ottawa
by Pastor Dave HarderWhy should someone prayerwalk? Can’t we just pray right where we are?

Sure we can. We can pray anywhere at any time for any reason. But there is something intentional and powerful about prayer walking. There are many benefits:

  1. It helps you get into a rhythm of prayer. Prayer can be like music. When you hear music you like, you tape your feet and get into the rhythm. It’s true with prayer, too. The strides of your step help you to get into a rhythm with God.
  2. It’s one thing to sit in your office or living room and pray, but its quite another to be out in the community that you’re praying for. Prayer is heaven crashing together with earth. When you look into people’s eyes as you pass them on the sidewalk or you see areas of need in your town, there’s a deeper sense of connection to God’s purposes.
  3. You begin to see things you never would see if you weren’t out praying as you walk. (You see much more when prayerwalking, but don’t think its the same thing as prayerdriving or prayerbiking. There are places for both, but this is different.) You begin to have eyes that Jesus has and see what he sees.It’s great to see what you’re praying for.
  4. Your kingdom imagination is stirred. You ask questions of God when you see new things. God, what does the kingdom breaking forth look like in that neighborhood? What does the gospel look like in this context? How can the gospel restore that park? How can I join you – quite literally – in seeing your agenda lived out in that family/person/business/organization/park/neighborhood/house/etc? What is your dream for that school?
  5. It gives you things to pray for when you don’t know what to say. Whatever you look at, pass, hear, smell – pray for it. Neighbours, Neighbourhoods, Parks, Schools, Businesses, Churches, The weather, People (whether you know them or not). Whatever comes to mind, pray for it. All the senses should trigger longings and yearnings for renewal and shalom to occur in your community by the power of God’s spirit.
  6. When you walk you will begin to feel overwhelmed with the amount of needs you see around you – and this is a good thing. Prayer is helplessness acknowledged. When we pray with a spirit of helplessness and desperation we are truly praying. I get overwhelmed by the physical, emotional, mental, cultural and spiritual needs I feel all around me…and the best thing I can do is to tell God. If he’s in control of His world then I place those feelings of being overwhelmed to him.
  7. Others can easily join you. Invite someone to come with you for 45 minutes or an hour (you’ll be surprised at how quickly the time passes). Do it with your smaller group or your family after dinner. Pray out loud and then when you’re done, stop praying and let those with you pray out loud. When there is silence, pray as you feel led. There’s a special bond when you pray with others for your neighborhood and community.
  8. It’s good exercise,especially as the weather is getting warmer, it allows for a great excuse to get outside.
  9. Most importantly, we pray so that the kingdom of God will break in and through in our communities.We pray so that the gospel will be realized and Jesus will become more famous in our communities and neighborhoods

The Perfect 3-Minute Mug Brownie

June 7th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle
If you need a fabulous mug brownie recipe done fast {like 3 minutes fast!} you must try friend Claudia’s Perfect recipe. It is so delicious and will fill your late night chocolate cravings.

Yield: 1 servings

Prep Time:

Cook Time:

Total Time:


  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • pinch of salt
  • splash of vanilla
  • splash of coffee extract
  • sweetened whipped cream {optional}


  1. In a small bowl {or mug} stir flour, sugar and cocoa powder together so everything is evenly dispersed. Add in wet ingredients and stir to create batter. Spray mug with nonstick cooking spray and pour batter in. Microwave 1-1 1/2 minutes until cake if just baked. Turn out of mug onto a plate and top with whipped cream.

Proof That Prayer Works

May 1st, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

At a time when we hear so much bad news, we want to celebrate the good news shared last week. Since the men of Pine Grove Bible Church have held weekly prayer walks in their community for more than a year, Police Chief Bordeleau notes a “dramatic reduction in crime”!

The men of Pine Grove Bible Church have held weekly prayer walks in their community for more than a year, and the impact of those prayers is now profoundly obvious. Local residents took to the streets on Sunday, April 9, to celebrate what Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau called, “a dramatic reduction in crime”.

Jasmine Crescent is a part of the Beacon Hill neighbourhood known for significant crime. Three young men were murdered on Jasmine Crescent, only blocks from the church, between April 2015 and March 2016.

Pine Grove hosted a prayer vigil at the site of the third murder last year, but it was only part of their ongoing prayer mission for their neighbourhood.

“We really believe that prayer can change the temperature, the climate, and the lives [of those in the area],” says Pine Grove member Wesley Moore. “That’s what our prayer walks are really centred around.”

For some time, the congregation has felt a strong call to Beacon Hill.

“The trend shows that the violent crimes, gang-related offences, drugs, and theft have for the most part decreased.”

“One thing we really felt is where it says in Jeremiah to work for the peace and prosperity of the city you find yourself in and to pray to God for its welfare,” Moore explains. “So to hear that the stats are changing, that crime is down and prosperity is up, that is encouraging.”

And the statistics for the area are very clear.

In the last year, drug-related offences and property crimes both dropped about 15 percent. While the number of assaults increased slightly, instances of actual violence causing bodily harm decreased by 63 percent. There have been no murders on Jasmine Crescent since the prayer vigil.

“The trend shows that the violent crimes, gang-related offences, drugs, and theft have for the most part decreased,” says Ottawa Police spokesman Brad Burleau. “Theft calls have increased in the Beacon Hill South region, however, only six calls to police were made involving theft within the past year. These consisted of minor theft from vehicles, theft under $5,000, and a theft from a locker.”

“Is prayer the only reason?” Moore asks, “No, absolutely not. We’ve been working with the city and community-safety committee to help address this concern.”

The Ottawa Police also did a number of outreach initiatives. They introduced a neighbourhood watch program and worked on crime-prevention initiatives with community groups.

“Underlying it all, our prayer is that Christ’s glory would shine and that people would receive Him.”

“But certainly, from our view,” Moore adds, “everything begins and ends in prayer. Without it we have very little power to effect change for God’s kingdom.”

While the church is encouraged by the positive report, Pine Grove elder Les Woolsey says it doesn’t change their mission or focus. They want to see Christ touching lives and people developing a personal relationship with Him.

“Underlying it all, our prayer is that Christ’s glory would shine and that people would receive Him. I was encouraged to see more churches participating this year [in the April 9 community celebration]. More churches are reaching out and aware this is an area that needs prayer.”

While more churches are jumping on board, Moore says there is always room to grow.

“I would encourage other churches to pray about what local mission looks like to them and how they can partner with what God is doing around them. [Change happens when you] partner with God through prayer and try to walk alongside Him to do it.”

Craig Macartney
Spur Ottawa Writer


Making Music and Babies: Christian Singers Open Up About Motherhood

March 3rd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

What happens when you’re in the middle of living the dream… and another dream comes along?

Jaci Velasquez had spent over half her life recording and performing Christian music by the time she gave birth to her first son a decade ago. “I remember thinking to myself, How can I ever go back? How can I ever make music again?” said Velasquez, whose No. 1 singles include “On My Knees” and “Llegar A Ti.”

Many popular female artists spend their 20s focused on their careers in ministry, releasing albums, going on tour, and picking up Dove Awards and Grammy nominations. But around 30, these Christian singers confront the dilemma that women across industries face: deciding when to start a family and figuring out what their jobs look like after motherhood.

Amid her uncertainty, Velasquez—now a mother of two, releasing her first album in five years—remembered that “being faithful to God is being faithful to all the things God has placed in your life, that being my husband, my children, and my ministry.”
Faith offers Christian artists a sense of assurance in the messy realm of balancing motherhood. For them, being a musician or a mother isn’t merely their choice but a calling affirmed by prayer and counsel. Still, that God-given confidence doesn’t eliminate the practical struggles of raising a family while writing, recording, and touring.

“While I was pregnant, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Babies are so portable! It’ll be a breeze in the first few months! He’ll just absorb into my life!,’” said Audrey Assad, a Catholic singer and pianist, who gave birth to a son in 2014. “I couldn’t have been more wrong about our own specific situation.”

Kari Jobe with her son, Canyon.

For several months, baby Will would only sleep on Assad’s chest, and she stayed up all night nursing him on the tour bus—forced to nap the next day to recover enough to perform. She now schedules shorter tours, flying back to see a happier toddler Will at home.

No amount of popularity, record sales, or sold-out arenas can compensate for the emotions and exhaustion that accompany the earliest months of motherhood. Multiple moms—including Assad and Kari Jobe—described the intense worry that swelled up the first time they returned to the stage.

“I remember just crying to [my husband] Cody and saying, ‘I feel the weight of going back out to lead worship tonight, and I’m worried I won’t remember what to do,’” said Jobe, who went on tour with Hillsong Worship, Jesus Culture, and Passion six weeks after her son, Canyon, was born last year. “I felt so different, being a mom today and a worship leader tonight. I told him, ‘I don’t know how to change these roles.’”

The 35-year-old new mom felt at ease when her husband, a fellow worship leader at Gateway Church, reassured her, “The pressure not on you. It’s on him. God’s got this.” When the two tour together, they take along a sitter to care for Canyon during rehearsals and while they are on stage.

Meanwhile, male artists typically don’t travel with their young kids. “You’d see them backstage before they’d go out, trying to tell their kids goodnight over the phone,” said Jobe, who’s known for her popular rendition of “Desert Song” as well as hits like “Forever.” “You can tell they miss them, and their hearts are aching.”

While singers like Jeremy Riddle and Matt Redman started their big families early (both have five kids each and welcomed their first by their mid-20s), the female singers on today’s Christian music charts became moms a bit later. Women like Jobe, Kim Walker-Smith, Christy Nockels, and Laura Story had their first kids in their late 20s or 30s.

Ellie Holcomb with her daughter, Emmylou.

Ellie Holcomb, who sang alongside her husband in Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, assumed that once she started a family at 30, her performing days were over. “I really quit the band to be a stay-at-home mom,” the Nashville-based mom of two said. “I was telling the Lord that’s what I was going to do, and he had different plans for me.”

Instead, she spent her pregnancy writing songs that ended up on her first solo album, As Sure As the Sun. Motherhood essentially launched her own career, and she earned the Dove Award for best new artist in 2014.

The Holcombs’ lives with four-year-old Emmylou and one-and-a-half-year-old Huck can be unconventional as both parents tour—sometimes separately, sometimes together. Holcomb learned that to avoid ratcheting up the inevitable “mom guilt” she’d have to stop looking beside her for comparison and critique and instead focus on Jesus.

“I’ve been sent into serious shame storms by conversations with people at shows who don’t intend to be critical at all, but they ask questions like, ‘How do you do that? Are your kids okay?’” said Holcomb, who just released her second full-length album, Red Sea Road. “You’re like, ‘Well, if it’s God’s will for my life to be doing this; it’s God’s will for their lives too.’”

Working in the music industry has given their family the opportunity to talk about calling and obeying God with their kids at a young age. When Emmylou is sad at a goodbye, they explain God has “adventures and good works” for all his children to do. They tell her about how they have said yes to this calling just like she will one day grow up to hopefully say yes to an adventure of her own.

Even with less quiet time for contemplation and writing, parenthood brings its own kind of inspiration for making music, particularly worship music, and prompts a deeper recognition of God’s love for his own children.
“Anything I sing that references Jesus coming as a baby (like “Humble,” or “Winter Snow”) has much more incarnate significance for me now,” Assad told CT Women.
A couple of years ago singer Sara Groves—whose oldest kids are now teenagers—talked about how impossible it is to separate her family life, her work as an artist, and her faith. She told blogger Jerusalem Greer:

Faith, our gifts, our relationships are integrated, like it or not. We might try to compartmentalize our time, but I think the best and most true creative expression comes when we don’t compartmentalize our lives, when we push back against definition/labels, and let some unedited stuff come out… To get somewhere, you have to let it all flow together.

Over the past year, Jobe has approached parenting as a challenging, exhausting gift. The birth of her son following her sister’s miscarriage flowed into the themes in her new album, The Garden. “A garden is just significant in our life with the Lord. It’s a place of life, it’s a place of no sorrow, it’s a place to watch things grow,” she said. “Canyon’s doing that for us as well.”

Since different evangelical settings have different expectations for women in leadership, female worship leaders lack an established model for their role in the church and for navigating transitions like marriage and family, according to Tanya Riches, a Hillsong collaborator and researcher at the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Centre. (Hillsong’s Darlene Zschech opened up to CT Women a year ago about how her gender was a particular hang-up when she performed in some US locales.)

Jaci Velasquez with her husband Nick and their 2 sons, Soren & Zealand.

Riches emphasizes the importance of connecting with fellow female worship leaders for solidarity and advice and going deeper with worship as a personal spiritual discipline. “And if all else fails,” she said, “put on Brooke Ligertwood’s ‘Desert Song’ and remind your heart by singing at the top of your voice: All of my life, in every season, you are still God, I have a reason to sing; I have a reason to worship.”

Throughout seasons of motherhood, artists also find family demands shifting. Now that Velasquez’s sons are in elementary school, she wants to be as present and as clear about her priorities as possible; her parents worked in ministry and at times neglected her older brother’s activities, so she doesn’t want the same to happen with her family.
She recounted a recent discussion with her son Soren, who turns eight this year, over her tracks for her new album, Trust, which releases next month.

“He goes, ‘Mom, do you like your songs more or do you love me more?’ I said, ‘Baby are you kidding me? I love you more than everything! You are my heart! There’s no question,’ And he goes, ‘Oh, okay. I was just checking,’” she said. “I have to make sure to continuously remind them they are much more important than anything.”

“Am I still beautiful?” An ISIS Victim Clings to the Truth of God’s Love

March 3rd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle
After suffering an attack from ISIS while trying to escape, a young woman wants to know whether she’s still beautiful.

Christian medical personnel are urgently needed to staff the hospital for deployments of three weeks or longer between now and June 30. Particular needs include trauma/general surgeons, anesthesiologists, emergency medicine physicians, operating room nurses, intensive care unit nurses, surgical technicians, and operating room sterilization staff. Learn more here.

Kaitlyn Lahm is the media relations coordinator for Samaritan’s Purse. She is currently covering our relief efforts among displaced families escaping from Mosul into northern Iraq.

It’s my nature to ask questions, but I’ve learned that it’s never the question that leaves an impact. It’s always the answer. It’s the answer that gives you glimpse into someone’s heart. As a writer, I’m normally the one asking the questions, and I count it a privilege when someone genuinely answers them and allows me to hear their story.

Khayla*, a patient at the  emergency field hospital, gave me this opportunity. She welcomed me to sit at her bedside and hear her heart. Khayla was severely injured when she tried to  escape Mosul. She was knocked unconscious and has no memory of what happened. Medical staff think she was likely involved in an explosion given the deep cuts and burns that cover her face.
Khayla fiercely grabbed my hand and placed it on her face—a face covered in stitches, with one eye swollen shut and dried blood circling her lips, a face bearing the physical scars of the brutality of ISIS.As we wrapped up our interview, Khayla turned the tables on me. She had a request—to ask me just one question and receive an honest answer. Having no idea what question to expect, I boldly promised to be truthful.

With desperation in her eyes, she asked her question—“Am I still beautiful?”

My heart ached with her as I saw the pain and desperation in her eyes, but I knew the answer. I knew she was still beautiful.

She is still beautiful.

Without a doubt in my soul, I saw her beauty. I saw past the bruises, blood, and stitches, and I saw a daughter of the King. I saw a woman created in the image of God. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of how Jesus sees us. He doesn’t see our scars. He sees our beauty.

He sees us as made in His image.
He sees us as His beloved.He sees us as fearfully and wonderfully made.

Khayla’s entire identity was hanging on the words coming out of my mouth. Her question was raw and genuine—was she still beautiful?

As I knelt at her bedside, we wept together, and I declared Scripture over her life. She is beautiful because she is created in the image of God. She is beautiful because she is fearfully and wonderfully made. She is beautiful because Christ calls her His beloved.

Khayla clung to my hands as I spoke these truths. The promises of God washed over her like water in a desert. She asked the question, but she desperately needed to hear the answer.

“For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well”  (Psalm 139:13-14, NKJV).

*Name changed for protection.