Vacation with the Family on a Budget!

Downtime with the family is very important. Yes, we are in the midst of a pandemic but getting away together to relax, recover and reconnect is essential, especially for the kids who were stuck behind a screen for the last year. But how can we safely give the kids a good time on a budget? Well, when you have 4 children like me, an all-inclusive stay can be very expensive. So, opting for a villa with a pool/beach and a playground can be a great cost-effective alternative. This week I am therefore delighted to share some of the main lessons and takeaways from our recent all girls trip to St. Ann!

The view is a whole mood!

Opting for a villa can give you a longer stay for the budget you have so consider that option carefully. A 2-night stay at an all inclusive could probably pay for a 5-night stay at a villa which is very compelling, especially for the kids who just want to stay in the pool/beach all day! Of course, the main downside is having to preparing meals for the kids when you are also trying to have a break yourself. But that brings me to my next point – preplanning!

Thoroughly pre-planning your vacation is important when staying at a villa. Plan each meal and the ingredients required so that no one will starve, and you won’t feel like a maid! Of course, easy meals like burgers, hot dogs, cereal, ramen, icicles, yogurt or ice-cream are par for the course and are options kids can prepare for themselves (depending on their age). You can also plan a day when you will eat out together and another day for cooking a nutritious balanced meal.

The girls at a beach near our villa

Preplanning must also include a schedule of the places you will go and the costs. Although our villa had a beach and pool, we added other places to the vacay schedule including Puerto Seco Beach, Green Grotto Caves, Mainland China Restaurant & Ocho Rios Jerk Centre. I asked the girls which part of the week was their favourite. While they all admit that each venue had its own fun and charm, the caves were the most interesting! Imagine that! I guess it’s because they learnt that bat poop (which covered several sections of the caves) can be explosive! I am not joking. Big up to the tour guide and all the courteous friendly staff at Green Grotto! Of course, my bigger girls also really enjoyed the floating water park at Puerto Seco!

In awe inside the caves at Green Grotto

Finally, after the vacation with the kids, also plan a day or two for you as the parent/s to unwind without them. Yes, we love our kids dearly, but solitude and adult time are also important for your own rejuvenation.

How are you planning to spend the rest of August? Back to school (whatever that looks like) is around the corner, so please make the few remaining weeks count!

Shelly-Ann Harris is the Editorial Director of Family & Faith Magazine.

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Best friends from high school – Sean & Ruth-Ann Taylor’s Love Story!

This week we continue our Happy Marriage Summer Series with beautiful couple, Sean and Ruth-Ann Taylor, who have been married for about 13 years. The couple have 4 children: Caleb age 11, Eden 9, Benjamin 8, and Israel 5. Sean is presently the Head of Digital Marketing at Barita Investments Ltd. and one of the Pastors at Grace Family Church. Ruth-Ann, who has homeschooled the kids up to this point, is in the midst of a transition where she will be working as a breastfeeding specialist helping new moms to successfully nurse their babies. The Taylors shared their marriage story with Editorial Director of Family and Faith Magazine, Shelly-Ann Harris.

Shelly-Ann: How did you know that your partner was the one?

Ruth-Ann: Sean and I dated from high school on and off and we were best friends. I personally knew because God whispered to me one day that he was the one. I then carried him to all the people who loved me and who I trusted, and we went to several different counselors together.

Sean: Ruthy was and still is my best friend. I would be sorry for any other woman that I would have married. They would be jealous of our closeness and I knew I would not want to lose our relationship. Simply put – she is a godly woman who I loved and wanted to marry.

Shelly-Ann: I had a chance to hear you introduce your husband who was the main speaker at Grace Family Church one Sunday. Your intro was sweet, vulnerable and honest – what’s the thing you value most about your husband Ruth-Ann? And Sean, what do you value about Ruth-Ann?

Ruth-Ann: I guess it would be how humble and teachable he is.

Sean: Ruthy daily shows us what it means to live sacrificially. She is who I call my “end-times woman” because there is nothing she puts her mind to that she isn’t able to do. She chooses every day to live a life of service to God and her family.

Shelly-Ann: What’s one of the most challenging issues you have faced as a married couple and how did you overcome it?

Ruth-Ann: Getting married so young meant there was lots we had to learn so I would say the hardest part of the learning was doing so while being very sick during pregnancy and raising several babies at once with adequate but not much money while still loving God, my husband and maintaining a church community.

Sean: They tell you to study hard, get good jobs and make enough money so you can start a family. We have chosen to walk a path that isn’t the norm. That has meant we have often been in a season of life that looks different from most people our age. That looked like choosing things like living in a one-bedroom apartment, with 3 children, while Ruthy stayed home during the formative years. Or deciding that we would move our family overseas while I studied to be a Pastor with our entire family not knowing exactly how we would do that financially. Such things add pressure to any marriage, but being willing to learn from others and being engaged in Christian community have been important means of God’s grace to keep us strong.

Shelly-Ann: Describe the role your faith plays in strengthening your marriage?

Sean & Ruth-Ann: Jesus is our everything. He is our rescuer, our sustainer and in Him we also have hope for his return. These truths shape our every interaction in marriage. We take the Bible very seriously and seek to live out the Gospel truths in our conversations. That in mind, we say sorry often. We are quick to revisit arguments until they are things we can laugh about together. We have had a single income family for years and have trusted God to provide because we wanted to prioritize certain things with our kids for years. Sean left his Job to pursue pastoral study because He felt God was leading in that way, which meant no salary for a family of 6; again a walk of faith. We have given ourselves in humility to the church and to believers there to speak into our marriage and we have welcomed it through the years as we have seen in scripture the importance of prioritizing such things.

Sean, Ruth-Ann and their 4 lovely children.

Shelly-Ann: Has parenting challenged or strengthened your marriage?

Sean & Ruth-Ann: Parenting has humbled us immensely and has definitely caused us to rely on Jesus more and more. It has caused us to see aspects of ourselves that has had us repenting on a regular basis. We have always seen our kids as the blessings that they are and the ways we have been able to grow in our character and our skill sets in raising them have been amazing. Godly counsel has really served us in these years of parenting, warning us to prioritize our marriage while we parent. So, we have sought to continue building our marriage. We have date nights weekly (in house or out of house) and that’s prioritized by us and respected by our children, church meetings and work schedules. We also try to get away often; at least once a year together. We try to prioritize growing in affection in the midst of the chaos so that we grow while they grow.

Shelly-Ann: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learnt about marriage and family over the years?

Sean & Ruth-Ann: Trust God and His Word and live according to the things His Word says. For example, “do not forsake the fellowship of believers” – we have not always felt like it; sometimes fights get in our way but we continue to prioritize what God’s Word says and it has served us tremendously.

“A soft answer turns away wrath” when applied is powerful and true.

“Love bears all things, hopes all things…” When applied God is at work. We depend on God being at work in us to live out these truths daily and in every moment.

We read marriage and parenting books yearly to help to revive our marriage and strengthen our parenting.

We are part of a local church and we have submitted to its leaders. This helps with accountability for both of us and our kids. Staying in community has definitely served us tremendously.

We did choose as a family to homeschool for the early years of our children’s lives and that has served our family tremendously. Both financially and also in being able to bring stability in the early years. 

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God, wife, children, then others – Michael & Lynier Watson share powerful insights after 16 years of marriage!

This week Shelly-Ann Harris connects with Michael and Lynier Watson for Family & Faith Magazine’s Happy Marriage Summer Series. Michael and Lynier have been married for 16 years and have 3 wonderful children: Michaela (14), Michael Jr. (11) and Matthew Mikhail (6). The two also own and operate ePOH Jamaica Limited, a growing company that provides IT services for small to medium businesses. Michael is also a singer and actor and Lynier is a teacher and actress. The creative lovebirds are also both Ministers of the Gospel.

Shelly-Ann: How did you know that your partner was the one?

Lynier: I had a crush on him from the first time I watched him playing basketball on the court of my alma mater, Edna Manley College (EMC). The Holy Spirit whispered to me at the time that he would be my husband. The only thing is that I wasn’t a mature enough believer at the time to know it was the Holy Spirit and thought it was in my head, especially since I was engaged somewhat to someone else at the time. We became friends and were just inseparable thereafter. I felt he was family and just couldn’t imagine not being with him.

Michael: While playing dominoes on the EMC Campus Dorms, one day I looked up and saw a gorgeous woman open her windows and fix her curtains, after which I saw her beautiful figure silhouetted behind the curtains as she fluffed her pillows and got ready for bed.  I was so invigorated by the experience that I decided that I would sit in the same position every night to “play dominoes.”  I was determined from that time that I had to do something to get this girl’s attention.

Shelly-Ann: Whenever you speak of Michael, you always have a sparkle and admiration. What do you value most about your husband? And Michael what do you value most about Lynier?

Lynier: It’s hard to give just one answer for this but at the top of the list would be his faithfulness and commitment to God and his family.

Michael: Lynier is like no one else that I know.  She loves big and allows nothing to stop her from expressing that.

Shelly-Ann: What’s one of the most challenging issues you have faced as a married couple and how did you overcome it?

Michael & Lynier: We can’t identify one specific event that we could say was the greatest challenge we faced. We have faced many tough challenges including financial struggles, temptations of infidelity, struggles with in-laws – you name it we’ve tasted it. However, our greatest challenge comes not in the tough events because we often deal with those quite well. The toughest times in our marriage is when we turn our eyes on ourselves and look away from Christ and each other. Satan has a field day with our selfishness and floods our minds with thoughts that magnifies the simplest of things. We forget who we are and begin to accept all of satan’s lies about each other. “He doesnt love me, he only cares about himself so I have to take care of me,” is an example of these lies. These thoughts then influence both our behaviors and before you know it, we are constantly arguing.

We have identified that these thoughts are not our own. Whenever we refocus and set our thoughts on God’s word, He gently guides us back into truth. We still struggle from time to time especially when we are to minister. Satan comes at us with everything he has.  Through discipleship with more mature believers and dedicating personal time with the Lord and in His Word, we are learning more and more how to defuse the flaming darts.  As a result, arguments are way less and far between. We forgive each other for teaming up with the accuser of the brethren and we refocus on walking in the peace, love and joy that God has blessed us with.

Shelly-Ann: Turning to the children now, has parenting challenged or strengthened your marriage? Describe how.

Michael & Lynier: Parenting is one of God’s greatest blessings to humanity. Whether you give birth to a child or not we strongly believe that every Christian couple should raise children. According to Malachi 3, it is one of God’s purposes for marriage. We find parenting to be God’s greatest gift to us. We recognize that everything God gives us is geared at building our character. Like gold, character is tested when it goes through fire. Parenting is a character builder. Sometimes it is overwhelmingly rough but at the end of the day it strengthens who we are. As our characters are built so is our marriage, so yes parenting has certainly strengthened our marriage.

One practical way that this happens is that we have to always keep in mind that we are a team. Every disagreement concerning the children must be discussed on the sidelines and not on the court. The kids must always realize that we are a team. If Daddy says no, then it’s no and if mommy says no its no. This gives the children stability and builds our relationship as a couple. It’s not always easy…especially when inside you strongly disagree.  But with the help of the Holy Spirit it can be done and benefits the family greatly.

Shelly-Ann: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learnt about marriage and family over the years?

Lynier: God’s design and order for marriage is perfect. The world, our flesh and satan war against this. We are therefore in continuous warfare and can only win by learning and submitting to God’s way. Secondly, my spouse is not my enemy. We are on the same team. Keeping this at the forefront helps us to see situations from a clearer perspective. It helps us to identify the true enemy.  Finally, we must choose to forgive immediately.  Forgiveness is a decision not a feeling. No matter what is done we can choose to forgive. That frees the Holy Spirit to guide us through working through the challenge. When we choose to forgive immediately, the pain heals faster (though it still takes time), restoration comes and wisdom to not make the same mistakes is given.

Michael: That my primary relationships are God, my wife (the marriage union), my children, our extended family, church family, close friends, then everyone else.  Missing this order can be detrimental to everything.

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It was love at first sight and then a daily decision to love for Monique & Jerry after 13 Years!

This week we continue our Happy Marriage Summer Series with the McLeods! Gorgeous couple, Monique and Calvert (Jerry) McLeod have been married for 13 years and have been blessed with 2 remarkable children, Matthias age 6, and Niara age 10. Jerry is an Urban Planner and Monique is the Founder and Creative Director for Everything Creative Advertising Agency and a professional makeup artist. The two share their journey with Family and Faith Magazine’s Editorial Director, Shelly-Ann Harris.

Shelly-Ann: How did you know that your partner was the one?

Monique: I knew this soon after we met. Lol. The realization took my breath away and I was somewhat scared because this was so new and different from anything I had ever experienced.  I knew Jerry (Calvert) was the one because of a combination of incredible things. By the way, we could talk for hours and lose our sense of time and space. He was charming and humorous. He challenged me but always supported me. His ambition was vast, and I believed he could achieve anything with his drive. He was brutally honest (and trust me sometimes it was not received well but I loved that he would tell it like it is). He was gentle but firm. His love for God was marvelous to watch. When he looked at me, I felt like he was peering into my soul lovingly and fearlessly. I knew I wanted to experience all life had to offer with him, forever.

Jerry: The first time I saw Monique, my physical, emotional and spiritual being were all in agreement that she was the one. At that moment I asked God if she could be mine and we all know how the story unfolded.

Shelly-Ann: You and your husband have been together for a while and have 2 beautiful children. What do you value most about your husband and your life together?

Monique: I value our experiences the most – the good, the bad, and the in-between. I value his commitment, friendship and his connection with God. No matter what life throws at us, he is always by my side and we are a team. I love that he strives to put me and our family first. I love his business sense and his drive to succeed at whatever he touches.

Jerry: The thing I value the most about my wife is her unwavering faith and deep-rooted connection for God which are then translated into her love, devotion, and dedication to me and the children. I also value her spontaneity, creativity, love for life and positive nature.

Shelly-Ann: What’s one of the most challenging issues you have faced as a married couple and how did you overcome it?

Monique & Jerry: Accepting each other as we are, and practicing selflessness were the most challenging areas within our marriage. We have very strong personalities and are set in our ways. So, earlier in the marriage, it was difficult to become one in our thoughts, goals, and desires. After all, we are both individuals with lifelong dreams, expectations of marriage, and baggage from previous relationships.  However, we give God all the credit for all these years and the years to come. The lessons are hard due to our own selfishness and focusing on our own feelings. But with prayer, spiritual and emotional maturity, dependence on God as well as time, the pieces came together.

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Shelly-Ann: Has parenting challenged or strengthened your marriage?

Monique & Jerry: Parenting most definitely challenged our marriage. We grew up differently and had our ideas of how a parent should look, act, and simply be. I grew up without a father and had a mother who was plagued with mental issues, so I wanted to immerse my children in love and affection. My husband on the other hand grew up with his mom and a father who left when he was very young, which forced him to grow up quickly and live a disciplined life to survive. So, you can imagine an artist and a planner coming together and creating a family. It was an interesting ride indeed. However, we both wanted a loving home that was safe, secure, and God-centered; a home with both parents, something we didn’t experience. So, to answer the question it did both challenge and strengthen us. I believe every challenge gave us a new perspective, and either made us stronger or wiser in how to deal with other issues.

Shelly-Ann: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned about marriage and family over the years?

Monique: A marriage requires God to be at the very center, hands down. It requires dedication and effort. You won’t like your spouse sometimes because of unrealistic expectations, unforgiveness, unresolved issues, stubbornness, or if there is a focus on each other’s faults/weaknesses. Instead, our focus must be set on being the best version of ourselves, using kindness and open communication to build the marriage. Surround yourself with like-minded, faith-based friends and couples. They will hold you accountable and give you a safe space to grow and learn more about this tumultuous marriage journey. Be your spouse’s biggest and loudest cheerleader and always fight your battles on your knees in prayer.

Additionally, my family has taught me how to love unconditionally and not to take them for granted, instead create experiences together to forge deeper bonds. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s a part of life so practice forgiveness daily.

Create a safe space for your children, communicate honestly and listen to understand their point of view, and teach them conflict resolution. Most importantly demonstrate God’s love through your words and actions.

Jerry: I’ve learned that each marriage is unique because it is a union between 2 unique individuals. Opposites don’t attract. Marriage is a union that works better when the individuals are like-minded. It is a daily decision to love your spouse in spite of. Additionally, no other earthly relationship is more important than the one you have with your family.

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Faith helps us to forgive when can’t see the best in each other – Paul & Andrea still happy after 34 Years!

With news that a record number of divorces were filed since the start of 2021, Family and Faith Magazine (FFM) is excited to launch our Happy Marriage Summer Series showing that there is still hope for long term relationships and keeping families together. We begin the series with the inspiring story and insights from lovebirds Andrea and Paul Russell who shared openly with FFM Editorial Director, Shelly-Ann Harris that on August 19 of this year, they will celebrate 34 years of marriage, God willing. Blessed with 4 wonderful children, Andrea is a guidance counselor and Paul works in sales.

Shelly-Ann: How did you know that your partner was the one?

Andrea: I was attracted to Paul’s energetic personality and friendliness. He is handsome too. After praying about him being my possible partner, I felt a peace about him and got confirmations in a number of ways that he is the one.

Paul: I noticed her and was very attracted to her.  During that particular summer I asked the Lord for guidance on who would be my wife. I processed what I felt and shared it with my support system and got confirmation before I approached her. We then realised that we were both each other’s one.

Shelly-Ann: As Pastors, you and your husband have been helping other couples to strengthen their marriage – what are your top 3 tips for keeping marriages sweet and strong over the long haul?

Paul & Andrea: 1.  Always pray for your spouse and relationship, during the good and bad times. 2. Recognize that the spouse you married is a “good willed person” and has your best intentions at heart. 3. Focus more on your total interactions over the marriage, 85% of the time you interact is usually great. Place less focus on the 15% of the time when your interactions are not positive. 4. Always look for the opportunities to create great memories – after a while the thing that will keep you holding hands and smiling will be the memories of the wonderful moments you created. Finally, it is also very important to practice marriage God’s way (Ephesians 5:25) and to keep the marriage God centered and 3 stranded (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Shelly-Ann: I notice that you and your husband are not only devoted husband and wife but also very good friends who laugh together often, what do you value most about each other?

Andrea: I value the fact that he is a dreamer, forever hopeful and expecting the best. He constantly looks forward to how things could be made better. This is for everything, for the children, our church, the couples we support, the young men he mentors just about everything. He is always thinking, “If this could be done, then you know how good that would work?” He loves to talk and is a funny storyteller. He always has something to share, always remembering something or noticing something the children or the dog does and makes funny comments. You can’t help but laugh.

Paul: Her love for and dependence on God (this inspires me); Her genuine and sincere heart (no guile); and her commitment to our marriage (she’s in it to the end).

Shelly-Ann: What’s one of the most challenging issues you have faced as a married couple and how did you overcome it?

Andrea & Paul: We had a miscarriage early in our marriage, the loss of our first child. I remember Paul pulling off the side of the road soon after it happened and just sobbing, our hearts were so broken. That was very hard for us. We were young and that was our first big challenge. The Lord was the source of our strength in this challenge. He continues to be our strength. He has provided us with family and friends. In every challenge He showed himself in love, through the Scriptures and in the people who surrounded us.

Shelly-Ann: Has parenting challenged or strengthened your marriage? Describe how.

Andrea & Paul: It has done both.  It challenged us, as there were a number of occasions, we argued about how a parenting issue should be handled. Yes, some of these discussions happened with the children present. We have reacted impulsively and emotionally and truthfully some decisions made were not the best. These resulted in unnecessary conflicts. Thankfully as the years progressed, we learned and applied better parenting skills.

It has strengthened our marriage in the sense that we realized that we were raising God’s children and as a result we needed to depend on the Lord’s leading to work together as one. With the Lord’s guidance all the provision of resources, love, emotional and spiritual support were made available to us, which helped to strengthen our marriage. As a result, we are blessed with wonderful adult children that we are honored to know.

We have found that faith in God and its expression through marriage, allows couples to experience something that is closer to the nature of God than any other human experience.

Shelly-Ann: Describe the role your faith plays in strengthening your marriage? Do you think marriages truly built on Christ have better outcomes?

Andrea & Paul: Our marriage is built on and thrives because of our faith in the Lord. We make it a point to pray for each other and our relationship. We have chosen to apply biblical principles to our marriage, one of which is the principle of Love and Respect as set out in Ephesians 5:21-28. Marriage is hard and couples will face many troubles, as is stated in 1 Corinthians 7:28. This is true for us too. However, once the truths given in the word of God are applied, they quench the fiery darts sent against marriages. This makes us excited. We have so many testimonies of how the Lord has made provisions, healed, protected, created paths in impossible places during these 34 years of marriage. Faith helps us tap into something deeper than our understanding, keeps us balanced, helps us forgive when we are hurt and can’t see the best in each other. Our faith reassures us that there is beauty and joy in marriage. It allows us to accept that marriage is an instrument and a process for us to deepen our relationship with the Lord.

 As a result, we definitely believe a marriage built on Christ will have a better outcome. When couples are taught skills based on scripture and intentionally, deliberately use them, applying selfless love according to 1 Corinthians 13, for example, it is very likely they will successfully navigate the troubles guaranteed to come with marriage.

I would like to suggest to couples to take on a challenge for the next few weeks. Research all the words and phrases mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

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Harming a loved one may be associated with mental illness

In recent months there have been several reprehensible stories of violence in families – domestic violence, intimate partner violence, emotional, verbal and physical abuse and sadly some acts of violence have resulted in the murder of children. This week, Family and Faith Magazine searches for answers by examining the impact of mental health on violent behaviour.

We asked noted counselling psychologist, Andre Allen Casey about some of the signs that a person’s mental wellbeing is compromised. He explained that stressful and traumatic events can trigger mental illness in a person with a vulnerability to develop a mental disorder. He indicated that if you want to determine if your mental wellbeing is compromised you must look at how well you are managing stress and if you have emotional, physical or behavioural stress overload.

SIGNS OF STRESS

“You need to look at the cognitive signs of stress – cognitive signs may be memory problems, inability to concentrate, poor judgement, constant worry. The emotional symptoms would include agitation, short temper, inability to relax, feeling overwhelmed, sense of loneliness, low energy. Physical problems can be like impotence, low levels of libido, inability to experience organism, digestive problems, gas, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, chest pain, back aches, awareness of heartbeat, high blood pressure, tingling and numbness in the hands or feet, menstrual disturbances and hormonal imbalance,” the experienced counselor at Family Life Ministries listed.

Allen-Casey also pointed to behavioural problems triggered by stress overload such as “separating yourself from others, sleeping too much, procrastinating responsibilities, taking drugs to relax, nervous habits like pacing, biting nails, poor performance and accident proneness.”

Family life can be impacted

Of course, all these symptoms will have a direct impact on family life. “Parenting can be impacted because you have poor judgment. Your work can be impacted which affect how efficiently and effectively you provide for your family. Your social life is going to be impacted because people don’t want to be around you because of your constant mood swings,” Allen-Casey outlined, adding that “as a result of all of these things we can develop mental health disorders; the stress overload can matriculate into a mental disorder.”

Mental disorders include conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and antisocial personality disorder, among others. Characterized by a lack of conscience, antisocial personality disorder can affect not only families but also the entire society. “So, people who have this disorder are prone to criminal behaviour. They believe victims are weak and deserve to be taken advantage of. They tend to lie and steal, they are careless with money, they take action without thinking about consequences. They are oftentimes aggressive, and they are more concerned about their needs than the needs of others,” Allen-Casey articulated.

Can the killing of a loved one be a mental health issue?

We therefore asked the counselor if the recent spate of men killing their partners and loved ones is a mental health issue. Allen-Casey stated that “the killing of partners and loved ones can be associated with a mental health issues but unless an assessment is made, we can’t definitively state that it is so.”

Notwithstanding, he noted that “a person who is schizophrenic can be prone to doing something like that. A person who has borderline personality disorder can do that and a person who is depressed. Remember that depression speaks to confused thinking, prolonged sadness or irritability. Depression speaks to extreme highs and lows, excessive fears, worries and anxieties, seeing things that are not there, hallucinating (which is also akin to schizophrenia), growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities, suicidal thoughts. So, if you see that your partners possess some of these things then we are saying you need to do something about it to protect yourself,” he warned.  

Allen-Casey is advising persons to report violent behaviour to the respective authorities and crisis centres. Persons can also reach out to Family Life Ministries (Tel 876-926-8101) for counselling support.

The experienced family therapist and several others including Former NFL Pro Athlete Jay Barnett and Dr. Winston De La Haye will participate in a timely conference on mental health titled: Vital Signs Mental Health Conference on June 1 and 2 at the Emmanuel Apostolic Church. For more information on the conference visit http://www.vitalsignsjamaica.com.

In the coming weeks we will attempt to explore how faith can impact mental wellbeing.

Comment below or send an email to familyandfaithmagazine@gmail.com

Shelly-Ann Harris is author of God’s Woman and The Goodies on Her Tray. She is also Founder of Family and Faith Magazine, blogger, podcaster, women’s advocate and a media, communication, change management expert.

Mommy Dates, Eating Together & Making Home Nice for Child Month!

It’s Child Month and all of Jamaica’s children are still largely stuck at home. Well, that sucks, doesn’t it? As a mother of 4, I have firsthand information on how ‘boring’ home life can be for growing children who are used to frolicking in the outdoors, playing with the friends, going on field trips and spending Saturdays at the beach. But even with the restrictions and limitations, there are still quite a few activities that can keep boredom at bay and keep kids engaged.

I take my daughters on mommy dates – a one-on-one time for enjoying something they like doing. Typically, I would take my teenager to the movies but with the cinemas closed we recently decided to eat out at 100s on Hope Road. Of course, given the COVID protocols we dined on the Terrace and we were sufficiently distanced from others. It was a blast – the food was exceptional, we enjoyed a comforting view of the beautiful mountains and got a chance to talk ‘teenager stuff’ without her younger siblings. A pedicure is the next stop for daughter number 2 and that promises to be another great time for bonding.

In these times we understand that kids already spend all day on a device and many parents who work from home face the same scenario – but how about creating a period where no devices are allowed? This time can be used for reading actual physical books such as comics, novels, magazines and of course the Jamaica Observer etc. This could be called the ‘Paper Hour’ and could be paired with pizza or something nice to make it a ‘thing.’

Have dinner together. It is easy to sort of allow everybody to eat when they are ready especially with work sometimes encroaching in family time but eating together has several benefits. According to a recent article titled, The Benefits of Eating Together For Children and Families, by HealthLink BC “People of all ages eat better when they share a meal with others. They tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods.” The article goes on to point out that, “Eating together gives young children the chance to learn more words and how to communicate better. Other benefits for kids and teens include: healthier eating into adulthood; healthier body weight; lower risk of disordered eating; less use of cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol; fewer behaviour problems and decreased early sexual activity; better self-esteem and less depression; better grades and higher scores on achievement tests at school.”

With so many compelling reasons to eat together, how can we make it more enjoyable or interesting? You could consider having dinner outside together under the moonlight. Use a retractable table if available and spread home cooked or catered food buffet style. Or simply place a few stools or plastic chairs under a tree and enjoy whatever you have available for dinner together. Of course, you can also simply use the dining table and just be present in the moment – ask questions, listen and perhaps share a joke.

Cooking can also be a special time for bonding with children and can give them a sense of achievement. Schedule a day and time to teach them something. Also, listen to some of their own ideas – if instead of stew chicken they want to make quesadillas, oblige them. Get the ingredients and try it together!

Reinvest in a card pack and board games like chess, checkers, snake and ladder. Playing cards with the kids while sharing childhood stories can be a great way to spend the evening. You could also play a game of boy, girl, animal, place, TV show etc. – All you need is paper, a pencil and maybe a few treats for prizes.

You could also pull out those old photo albums and old phone photos and tell the stories behind the pictures. Let the kids tell their own stories too about the photos on their devices.

Finally, you can always take a drive out and take photos of places you miss. Share stories together of why you miss those places and in so doing create a time of bonding with your kids.

What else can we do to make life a little more interesting for our kids during these times? Send your ideas via email to familyandfaithmagazine@gmail.com or comment below!

Shelly-Ann Harris is author of God’s Woman, President & Founder of Family and Faith Magazine and a media, communication, change management professional.

Rest and Then Ask!

It was going to be a long hectic demanding day, so I decided to start the day with prayer. Instead, it was more like throwing my stressors and issues at God like darts on a bullseye: “Lord, I have 6 meetings and events today and I don’t see how I am going to blah blah blah… as you know, my housekeeper is out sick and I don’t see how I am going to work and prepare meals for the girls blah blah blah, I am so tired I haven’t had a good nights sleep since blah blah blah….I am concerned about the girls and how school is going, please help them to blah blah blah…” and then I felt the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit to pause, rest in God and then make my requests. The Spirit was urging me to rest in El Shaddai; to exhale and inhale the goodness of God’s presence. I rested and worshipped knowing that in Him I move and breathe and have my being. I rested in His majesty, His sovereignty, His love. I felt His calming presence easing my tizzy. I worshipped some more and then from a place of peace and better clarity I was able to better discern what I really needed and wanted and then make my petitions.

One of my main issues was trying to figure out how to juggle 2 very important face-to-face meetings that were to happen at around the same time. I sensed that the Lord wanted me to participate in both meetings, but the timing was bad. One meeting time was unchangeable but if I could get the 4pm one shifted to 11am that would be perfect for how my day was already structured. After I had prayed, I called the organizer to see what times they had available even though historically a change on the same day was next to impossible. The organizer, said, “no, I am sorry we don’t have any other time today” …. Then, they paused and said, “the best we could do is possibly 2pm.” “I already have a 2pm so that would not be possible for me,” I told them.

I came off the phone without a solution and simply whispered to God, “help, I need an 11am.” I left the issue in God’s hand being at peace that if the meeting had to be cancelled or rescheduled so be it. Remember that story with the three Hebrew boys when they told the king that they know that their God is going to deliver them but that even if He doesn’t, they were not going to bow? A bit of a dramatic reference I know but the peace I was enwrapped with was sort of like that – if it works out great, if it doesn’t, I am not bothered. God is on His throne and I am staying in a place of rest.

I went about the day with this peace and rest and not the tizzy I woke up with. And then at around 10am, I receive a callback from the organizers – “Hi, sorry for the short notice but we literally just had a cancellation and now have another time slot available. How is 11am for our meeting? Of course, I accepted the 11am while smiling broadly in my Spirit at how God works. What are the odds that they would get a cancellation for the exact time that I need? God is sovereign. All things work together for good. It was a brilliant meeting and my other meetings went well on that hectic day.

Friends, I have been walking with the Lord for a long time but there is something I am still learning and applying to my life – the power of resting in His presence, biding in His peace and then without anxiety make my requests. God still hears and answers. Let’s rest and then ask and see Him work.

Shelly-Ann Harris is author of God’s Woman and President & Founder of Family and Faith Magazine.

Mother, Teacher, Hero!

As we observe Heritage Month and go back to school this October, we are pleased to celebrate an exemplary mother, teacher and hero in this week’s edition.

With two mouths to feed at the time, my mother, Mrs. Ermin Blossom, Mair, at one point in her life had to get ackee from the tree in the yard where we lived to hopefully exchange it for sugar at the shop down the road, in order to make sugar tea for supper that evening. A dignified respected teacher who put herself together well, no one really knew her troubles during those early years. But that is the sort of woman she has been; one who innovatively provides, relentless cares and proudly puts one foot after the other as she played her roles of exemplary teacher, faithful wife and devoted mother of six.

As a child I use to think mom was miserable. But as I look back I realize she was just stressed by all of the financial and emotional challenges in our family. The truth is that she was a hopeful striving woman. She would use tamarind and coconut to make treats for sale to augment her teacher’s salary and help make ends meet; ends that were as basic as us eating well and getting a sound education and as lofty as seeing the pantomime often, visiting Jamaica’s varied attractions (such as Coconut Park and Dunn’s River Falls) and going to Disney World when the opportunity arose. If you looked at her salary, we couldn’t afford those things. But if you looked in her heart and the strength of her determination, we would and we did. We grew up, educated and exposed to the great possibilities in the world. Now as adult children and parents ourselves, we can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for the love and dedication of this woman who still mothers us to this day and spoils us if you ask me.

Certainly at different stages as children we didn’t deserve her sacrifice and kindness. I remember my teenage years when back answering was a main feature of our relationship. I remember the many times that I tested her faith, how I didn’t honour her but how she still held firm, dispensing discipline while cutting me some slack. I remember how she still loved me, covered me, and bore with me; how she provided for me and all of us, even in the face of lack and the many stressors in her life, including the albatross of a difficult marriage.

Tears come to my eyes now as I imagine the excruciating burdens at the time being exacerbated by the stinging ‘back chat’ of the feisty child I used to be. I know it was a stage, partially puberty, partially my frank personality, partially a heart that had not yet been made whole by faith, but I still look back and shake my head at myself for some of the disrespect that I showed her as a teenager. And even as I am shaking my head at myself, I am marveling at her grace. I remember the soft comfort of her duster (housedress) that we would rest our head upon when we got sick with chicken pox and measles and whatever other communicable diseases that was going around at the time; I remember the slow deliberate pacing of her slippers coming to check on us in the middle of the nights even when she was suffering with unappeasable migraine. Sacrificing for us was her way of life. And yet she thrived.

In addition to being a master teacher at the primary who has taught and studied both locally and internationally, her culinary and confectionary exploits led to involvement in many extracurricular activities. No wonder she was eventually tasked to develop the 4H programme at the various primary schools that she taught during her 30+year career. She can crotchet, make clothes and repair shoes! There isn’t much this girl from the rich red soils of St. Elizabeth cannot do!

Today I am happy to say that this overcoming woman who has done quite well for herself and has pumped thousands of dollars in our varied business and professional ventures; wisely warning when things don’t seem to make sense financially yet continuing to provide support to all 6 of us. Many a times you could find me, now a mother of 4, acting very much like a child at mom’s house where she would skillfully chop a coconut and pour it into a tall glass for me to drink when I am stressed about life and parenting. She is gracious, attentive and kind.

Plus she doesn’t have any ‘airs about her.’ So she is the kind of woman who makes real friends everywhere she goes and at every stage in her life. I suspect it is also because of her sense of humour and humility. When mom eventually bought her first second-hand car, we would always have someone who she was taking home. Soon enough, with the long hours to get home in Portmore all those years ago before the toll road was built, they would become her close friends and friends of the family. Even now well over 60 years, my mother has made a new close female friend. If you saw them you would almost think they grew up together. 

I am thankful that today this hardworking woman is now retired, well, sort of, because based on who she is, she can’t really stop working and contributing. She now teachers a grade 4 class online at a prep school in Kingston. Indeed more expert retired teachers could be brought into the mix virtually to strengthen the education system, pandemic or not. 

This tireless mother and educator will always have my love, admiration and respect. Today we are not merely mother and daughter, but close friends. There isn’t a relationship quite like a friendship between mother and daughter. Your mother knows you; knows the ugliness and the shortcomings as well as the talents and the beauty, and nevertheless loves you and will love you in and through all of your iterations. It is the closest thing to God’s love and that is why I honour her this heritage month. 

As we reflect on our history and celebrate our national heroes in this season, I choose to celebrate my personal hero – my teacher, my mother, my friend.

Who are the real life heroes in your life? Tell us by submitting a comment below!

Loving a Husband Through COVID-19: How a wife’s dedication saved her husband from succumbing to the virus

After enduring days of high fever, lethargy, difficulty breathing, loss of taste, loss of appetite and severe weakness, Bradley James was extremely tired, and incredibly, he had lost 20 pounds in less than 10 days. The 7-mile runner had tested positive for COVID-19 after working as a DJ for a party event for some church friends in Florida. He had worn his mask and tried to keep his distance from guests but sadly he left that mid-June gathering exposed to the virus.

His wife, Kiva remembers those early moments when they were wondering if he had gotten infected.

“One of the things he said when he returned home from that party is that he was annoyed that people were approaching him. He had a mask on but I don’t know if he was consistent with it when he was trying to talk and pull it down sometimes,” Kiva shared with Family and Faith Magazine.

“He was annoyed that quite a few people kept coming up to the DJ booth which was separated and distanced from everybody. But as they were drinking and becoming less inhibited they were being more bold and coming and requesting music, commenting and high fiving and he said he was reminding them to back away but I don’t think they were very cooperative because as I said they were less inhibited – that was on the 13th of June,” Kiva recounted.

Unusual Symptoms of COVID-19

Days later he was suffering from a backache which his family thought was as a result of falling during a soccer game with his kids or his medical history with kidney stones. But they were wrong. Instead, it was the beginning of a frightening fight with the COVID-19 virus.

“He continued to have the aching on Wednesday and then symptoms of vomiting started. He just had 1 or 2 episodes and 1 bout of diarrhea and I was like this is not as a result of your falling (in a soccer game),” reasoned the wife and the mother of their 2 boys, ages 12 and 8 years, and a girl, 10 years old.

Kiva (left), Bradley (right) and their three children.

On the Thursday he started having classic respiratory symptoms and a fever and that is when they decided to get tested. “We got the test that day and I remember that evening he got a couple calls from people who were attending that party saying that there were one or two people in attendance that ended up being positive between the time he started showing symptoms and got tested. So at this point we felt pretty confident that this is what we are dealing with while we are waiting on the results. So we
contacted people we were personally in contact with between the 13th and the 18th and informed them,” the responsible wife revealed.

Bradley’s results came back 2 days later as positive. At this point his symptoms were progressing – the fever was spiking to around 102.5, he was more lethargic and started to lose his appetite. With her husband testing positive, Kiva moved quickly to look about the rest of the family.

“His test came back positive on the 20th. I went and scheduled a test and I was able to get in for the following day, Sunday for a test. At that point I had no symptoms at all. And then on Friday, my 12 year said he was tired and was going to take a nap. He laid down on the floor and took a nap. He never does that in the day. No fever no nothing. He napped for a couple hours and then he was fine. My 8 year old son said he was also feeling tired, I took his temperature and he had a very low grade temp of like 99.5 for about 24 hours and that was it, he was fine running, around, didn’t want to rest much and his fever was gone the next day. My 10 year old daughter had zero symptoms, no complaints, acting normal no fever, nothing,” Kiva remembers of her children’s brush with the virus.

The kids were therefore doing well and interestingly Kiva’s test results came back negative at first. Her second test however came back positive. Fortunately, she was largely asymptomatic but Bradley’s symptoms continued to worsen.

“His respiratory symptoms and lethargy and the weakness were progressing; the appetite was down. He was taking Tylenol when his fever was spiking and he had trouble resting and his back was hurting and I was checking his respiration,” Kiva, a veterinarian by profession explained. Both Kiva and Bradley were born and raised in Jamaica and received their Bachelor’s degree before relocating to the US. The two have been married for 14 years.

After Bradley’s symptoms continued to progress, Kiva, meticulous and forward thinking, started to take more action.


Useful tools and tips for fighting COVID-19

“At this point I had gotten a pulse oximeter – a finger held oximeter – which measures oxygenation. And that is a great tool because a lot of people won’t know when their oxygen levels are falling until it is way too low. Monitoring it early is a good idea and it was like US$20 or US$30 dollars for that so I had ordered it very early. I think I ordered it the Thursday and I think it came the Friday on the 19th . So I was checking it and checking all of ours and we were normally 98% but his was hovering around 96, 97 so he was a little lower than the rest of ours so I was using ours as a reference point. So he was maintaining that until early into the following week when his symptoms (the tiredness, the weakness, a little cough) were progressing and his breathing rate was increasing,” she continued.

The nights were particularly difficult and he had trouble sleeping. Moreover, his oxygen levels started deteriorating even further.

“I started checking his oxygen more often because it started hovering at 95, 96 so it was slowly dropping. We didn’t want to get below 94, 93 which is when I would get really concerned. We were told to practice some breathing exercises which we saw some YouTube videos about; just stretching to open up the lungs, putting our arms in the air and taking deep breaths,” Kiva shared with Family and Faith Magazine.

She added that, “one of the things we knew from the beginning is not spending a lot of time on your back. That seem to be the single most important thing which is kind of the opposite of what most people would want to do when they are feeling this way because they are tired, they are exhausted, and weak. So he did want to be on his back and laying in other positions kind of makes it a little harder to breath. So I had to insist that every few hours he is getting up (which became difficult because he was feeling weak and tired) moving around, so that you’re kind of getting your lungs moving and doing the breathing exercises. The nights were the most difficult. He would feel a little better in the morning but as the day progresses he would feel tired and it seemed like breathing was tiring so as the day progressed it required a little more effort to breath.”

In addition to medication and the oximeter, the Jamaican-born wife added potent herbal teas to her husband’s healing arsenal. “I was steeping ginger, garlic, onion, mint for flavour and mixing that with lemon and getting that at least 3 times a day which was the only thing he would consume plus lots of water,” Kiva revealed. “I said you have to stay hydrated, hydration is super important for the lungs. I also tried to give him broth and he would take a little bit of it,” she explained, noting that his sense of taste had diminished by then and his fever was spiking at nights.


Going to the Hospital or Staying Home


By around day 9 or 10, things had gone to a head. “I realize that at this point this is when people end up in the hospital and the reason is that your body can only fight an invader (virus) for so long. It requires a whole lot of energy, of resources – rest, nutrition – all these things for your body to put up an optimum fight. It can do that for a certain amount of time. After you do that your body is going down and the virus starts to win. At that point, we started getting really scared because we realized he was not beating this. It was weakening him,” Kiva recollected.

But the loving determined wife had prayer support and a plan. “Tons of prayer, everyone in Jamaica, here, because it got to the point where by now I had packed a bag for the emergency room. I talked to the children and I told them they may wake up and not see me or daddy so I would leave a note and we discussed that.” Of course in a situation like that it would be tricky to have someone come over to stay with the children when the family was battling COVID.

Thoughtful and diligent, Kiva continued to put things in place for any eventuality. She continued checking his blood pressure, his lungs, pulse oxygenation and recording them. But after around 10 days, the virus wasn’t only taking a physical toll but an emotional toll on Bradley as well. He was so drained he wanted Kiva to decide on if he should go to the ER.

“And I said we need to go. The bags are packed. But the look of defeat on his face – it was really hard. And I was like he can’t go into the hospital with this attitude and feeling like this,” the woman of faith insisted. Plus Kiva herself was tired and didn’t feel confident about going to a hospital.

“I wasn’t confident about what I was hearing about the hospitals and the stories about ventilators and how they do more damage to the lungs…It forces air into the lungs… in cases of pneumonia and COVID…you are going to cause damage even if not leading to the death, it is long term. But then you are in between a rock and hard place because if we don’t go he could decompensate quickly,” the medical practitioner reasoned. Plus she was no longer comfortable caring for him at home: “I had passed the point of feeling comfortable treating him at home and as much as we didn’t want to go to the hospital I didn’t think we had a choice.”


Telemedicine Support

However the couple came up with a compromise. Kiva would keep monitoring Bradley closely and then they would do a telemedicine appointment the next day. If the doctor insisted that they go to the ER,
then they would go.

Armed with days of meticulous records of Bradley’s heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and breathing metrics, Kiva was able to provide the doctor with useful data. The doctor was essentially trusting Kiva’s ears and eyes in order to determine the way forward – hospital or home. Via telemedicine, the doctor prescribed a nebulizer and prednisone for Kiva to treat her husband and if that worked they wouldn’t need to go to the ER. Of course, with the support of her medical colleagues, Kiva had to figure out how to set up and use a nebulizer, which she did successfully.


Bradley Starts to Recover

After the first day of nebulizing, Bradley started to feel a little better. “By day 2 on the nebulizer he started playing cards with the kids. By day 3 he was looking better. Each day was appreciable improvement,” Kiva testified.

Of course in life threatening situations like these family and friends have an abundance of advice. One of them was to put an onion under Bradley’s shirt on his chest. Although not seeing the science behind it, Kiva acquiesced and placed an onion on his chest and elsewhere in the house, while administering the nebulizer and prednisone. And over time the father of her three children steadily improved.

“It took a while for his strength to come back. He was still very weak even though his respiratory symptoms were better and now (August) he is fully recovered. He hasn’t put on back the weight but that is intentional and his hair looks a little fuzzy which I think is long term impact but his lung capacity is back. He is back to running his 7 miles,” Kiva told Family and Faith Magazine.

The good book asks the question – a wife of noble character who can find? Another version asks it this way – an excellent woman [one who is spiritual, capable, intelligent, and virtuous, who is he who can find her? Well, Bradley found Kiva.


Life Lessons from COVID


With the ordeal behind them now, Kiva now reflects on the meaning of life with appreciation and new purpose. “During that time, of course it crossed my mind that I could lose my husband. This is real. And you start to think about all the things that are not important – if he gets through this then you’d be a better wife,” she committed.

“There are just so many things that don’t matter that we think are important that aren’t because at the end of the day all you want is that person to be there,” Kiva confessed, noting that all they now want to
do is spend quality time together. Since the ordeal, Kiva has also had a spiritual awakening.

“I have gone on a journey – I am doing The Purpose Driven Life (book) now. I have gone on this journey of seeking my purpose because you realize that your time on this earth is temporary. And God has trusted things to us to take care of it. Nothing is ours. Not our life; not our possessions and they are all temporary. I am trying to redefine my life and purpose,” she declared.

Submit comments and queries below!