Thursday, February 25, 2016

Oh Sickness.

The sickness I've endured this winter has outworn its welcome.

The first few years Mark and I were married I never got a cold. Not once! I would brag about my immune system anytime illness was brought up. To be fair, I did have my share of stomach illnesses, but colds, bronchitis, allergies, I was definitely too good for all that.

This year, that story has changed. Thankfully, I've had far fewer stomach bugs, but I am on cold number four since November. Nine days, going on ten, if I don't wake up miraculously well tomorrow.

My kids have been so sweet. Cole has written me several cards, saying things like "I'm sorry you're sick" and "I hope you feel better." Sometimes after a coughing bout, he'll look at me sadly, almost with tears in his eyes, and say "I'm sorry you aren't feeling well mom." What a sweetheart!

But honestly, I'm not sure what else to say. I'm sick. I'd love to sleep more than a couple hours in a row. I'd love to fall asleep without coughing for an hour first. I'd love for my head to stop hurting, my nose to stop running, and to generally feel excited to be alive. But we pretty much always have wishes about life, right?

If nothing else, this illness is a reminder of those suffering illness far more permanent - or fatal - than what I have been dealing with this week. I am reminded that God does not promise me good health, and this has helped me be a tad more patient with my kids. I don't have the energy to respond as quickly or fiercely to their fighting or whining, and I see how most of our situations still turn out completely fine at the end of the day. Through all this sickness, I am also reminded that one day, I will never have to feel this way again, to feel exhausted beyond all means.

I was telling my husband how I've almost forgotten what it feels like to feel good. Honestly, my brain can't even go there. But can you imagine forgetting pain? Being so gloriously happy, full of energy, fulfilled so deep in your soul that you literally enjoy every single second more than you've enjoyed even one second before? Me neither. But it is our promise, dear Christian. Isn't that wild? Totally unfathomable!

The closest I get to imagining this is a scene from the movie Prince Caspian. Near the beginning, the children are whisked away to Narnia again, but this time, they are on the ocean shores, on a gloriously sunny day. The music, the lighting, the freedom and fun the children experience, makes me long for that day. To be able to put off every awful thing, every dreadful feeling, every sad memory and bask eternally in the light of God is something I can only imagine. My human mind cannot comprehend the magnitude of that gift. The tiniest glimpse of that future leaves me sad I am not able to see it today. I'm sure if I could really grasp it, if I could truly understand how amazing of a gift it is, I would live differently.

I am trying to remember these truths and not to despair in this temporary sickness.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us."(Romans 8:17) and "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). Paul was the expert on suffering, and he did so willingly! My illness is far from suffering willingly, but his strength in the hope of God's promises enables me to endure my temporary affliction.

But please do pray for me! I still want to be well, to take care of my family and give them my best. I hope you can relate to the weight of what it feels like to be sick for longer than you thought was possible. But don't stop there. Let those feelings and thoughts make you pursue knowing God more deeply, to rely on His promises more. In the midst of it, let it remind you to reach out to others whose suffering exceeds your own. We've all been down the road of illness, some further than others, and we can all walk alongside one another to find hope in more than just feeling better tomorrow. I hope that's what I get, but thank goodness God has more for me than just that!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Encouragement to Encourage.

Ever find yourself browsing Facebook or Instagram, feeling like you are looking for something, but you're not exactly sure what? You open the app, scroll down, think about the people or places you see, tame your jealousy over your friend's amazing vacation, get to the point you last left off, close the app, and feel like something is missing? Or worse, find yourself even more cranky afterwards? I find myself doing this several times a day, despite never finding what my heart really needs.

I am pretty confident I go to these social media outlets looking for confirmation of the way I am living my life. I have a secret hope to receive some form of validation from someone I admire, telling me I am doing a good job, that my work is important, or that I am a special person, with a unique calling. Sometimes I see an encouraging word or hear from a dear friend, but mostly, I leave this time of browsing feeling empty, allowing Facebook to tell me I am not actually important.

It's easy to blame friends and family when dealing with these feelings, to think they are not living up to their role, to think they have neglected to let me know I am valuable. However, it's unreasonable to blame people for not doing the same exact things I am not doing. I cannot look at everyone else, see how they fail to encourage those around them, then fail to encourage those around me. I often grieve the lack of a mentor in my life, feeling disappointed that many of the older women today are not investing in the younger generation. I ask my friend "Where are all the 45 year old moms with high school kids? Why do I feel like they are all too busy for me?" and we chat about our opinions of how it is driven by our economy, World War II, or maybe even feminism. We concede that this doesn't all stem from one event or problem, and she always reminds me "We cannot let our disappointment in a lack of a mentor keep us from being that mentor to someone else."

My friend is right! But it is hard to follow through on this. It's hard to be a supportive friend when you feel unsupported. It's challenging to sacrifice for your family when you feel like they don't sacrifice as much for you. It's hard to devote time to your children when it feels like their demands are ever increasing. While all of these statements are true, it doesn't mean these things cannot be done. It's also very possible you have friends who feel the same way, dear ones who are struggling to serve others because they don't get the help they desire.

We all need more encouragement, but we can't keep sitting around, waiting for someone else to do it. This is where I am going to challenge you, and myself, to take the first step. My husband challenged me in this, after complaining about feeling some angst in a friendship. He said if I spent some time praying for her, my heart would soften to be more gracious, and I would start to truly desire to see her do well, instead of just looking at what I wanted her to do for me. Then, four days later, I read the same advice in a book on friendship. Coincidence? I think not! So, here is what I am going to do, and I hope you will do it with me.

1. Look at several of my friendships that seems a little stale, where I might have some general complaints or hopes for becoming deeper, and pick one lovely friend.

2. Pray for this woman every day this week. Pray for her circumstances, pray for her heart, pray for our friendship, pray for God's Spirit to move in both of us to love each other better.

3. Text or call said friend in an attempt to get together. Ask to get together for coffee, dessert, play-date with the kids, or even having the entire family over for dinner.

4. Write an encouraging letter. Not an email, not a text, nor a Facebook message, but a real, hand-written note. Use a meaningful card, a hand-painted note-card, or even just an ordinary, boring piece of paper. Everyone loves to get mail and practicing writing out encouragement to others will bless my heart as well.

Seems easy, right? But how often do we do this? I obviously don't because I have a drawer filled with unused blank note-cards. But I am going to make it a priority to do this more often. Plus, I will take any excuse to buy more cute stationary. See? I bought some already :)

The last couple years I have wrestled to understand why women's relationships are so complicated, why so many of us simply cannot or will not get along. I have actually had a fairly easy time with other women, and no one usually explodes suddenly at me, but I often feel alone, like my friendships could be better, deeper, and more satisfying. While I don't have a clear-cut solution, I believe these four steps will improve any relationship we have. Any effort spent on understanding your friend's circumstances or knowing more about the her will encourage both of you and will probably leave her feeling genuinely thankful to know you. Don't do this in an attempt to make people like you, but truly turn your heart to God, to your friend, and seek to see how God is using your friendship to shape you for His eternal purposes.

I am going to be doing this each week. I might slip in a few other letters or cards to random friends too, just to practice encouraging others and spread the love. If we put forth effort to fill each other with God's love and His Word, we will all find ourselves a little more filled up, with less desire to find encouragement in places where little exists. You might even find yourself browsing Facebook less and caring more for the other women in your life.

Hebrews 3:13 says "Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."

It is so good for us to give each other words from God. Not words on what we hear God telling our friends to do or not do, but words about who they are in Christ. Let's give our friends words affirming their pursuit of holiness, service, excellence, and greater faith. In doing this, we keep each other from sin, we strengthen each other for the tasks ahead, and grow in our love for one another.

So make your list! Choose one friend this week. Pray for her every day. Pray for her family, reach out to her, and make time for her. Trust in God's work and know your efforts will not be in vain.

The book on friendship I mentioned is called A Friend in Me by Pamela Havey Lau. I met her at a recent writer's connection meeting and she is simply lovely. Her desire to have women grow in their relationships was evident as she spoke. Her vulnerability and willingness to share her experiences just confirms how she lives out what she encourages other women to do. I hope you'll buy her book and take her compassionate advice to heart.

Lastly, tell me how it goes for you! I want to know who you reached out to, who responded, and what you saw from the whole experience. I will be checking in, so do your homework and get ready to allow God to add His blessings to your labor.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ordinary Days.

Homeschooling is filled with ever so many uneventful days. This is often a great blessing, but can also cause some of us moms to daydream about grand days, bustling with success and fulfillment. With this in mind, I'll give you the rundown of a "normal" day for me. This is not a day filled with impossible obstacles, nor a day filled with numerous monotonous chores. This day is like many others; ordinary.


My husband usually gets up a little before me, and does a large part of the breakfast routine, depending on which kids got up first. He makes coffee while helping the kids get cereal, toast, juice and yogurt. I usually help a little too, making smoothies for any who is in the mood, but mostly for myself.

After breakfast, the kids are supposed to go get dressed and brush teeth. This usually involves lots of thumping, laughing, arguing, and several demands from the littlest one. On this morning, we decide to hit up the library and coffee shop before we go to the store. The boys each take 15 minutes to do some Khan Academy while I read my bible and try to down my smoothie.

Once we've gotten dressed, gathered books, tied shoes and packed a snack, we pile into the car and try to find a parking space near the library. Our favorite coffee shop is only a block from the Library and on a Tuesday morning, parking is not usually the stressful endeavor parking in Portland tends to be. We walk down to the library to discover they aren't open! Why do I always forget they open so late? Off to the coffee shop to kill 20 minutes. The kids find a deck of cards and "play poker" while I order drinks. Lots of white chocolate and whipped cream went on, which all but one child thoroughly enjoyed :)

Back down to the library. The kids race down the block & shout back "It's closed!". What? That's weird, it's 10:03am. I look at the door, realize it's only Tuesday, and the library doesn't actually open until noon today. Oh well. Plot twist. Off we go to Target!

Dollar section, paper section, kitchen section, and groceries. Despite me saying no a few times about looking at toys, the kids do fairly well. Whew! Back in the parking lot, I finally make my six-year-old hang onto the cart because he is consistently, completely unable to stay within 15 feet of me while walking to the car, or really anywhere we go. I can't say I really enjoy saying "Cole, come closer to me please!", and I can't say it has actually changed his behavior. Oh well, no energy to deal with that for the moment.

We use the 20 min drive home to torture ourselves. The two-year-old has a new wand, which makes magical sounds. The six-year-old has a new balloon thing, shaped like a Ninja Turtle head, which he blows up and enters his world of pretend. His imagination is all narrated at a lovely volume, with lots of karate type of sounds. The seven-year-old wants to blast Owl City. After letting all of this be, and convincing people to keep to themselves, I just drive, wide-eyed, and do my best to not think about the chaos.


Unload groceries, make lunch, read while I diffuse arguments and discontentments at the table. Soon, I put Jovi down for a nap. Despite being a terrible sleeper for most of her life, she actually goes down for naps and bedtime pretty easily; the problem is staying asleep.
We hop right into reading for Cole, spelling for Asher and then some read aloud time reading from our History book. The goal is always to get in some schooling and some down-time for me before Jovi wakes up. Today's workload is pretty light, and thanks to Khan Academy, I can work on reading with one child while the other does math mostly independently. Yesterday we had almost three hours to do all this! Such a blessing. Today, a little more than one hour will have to do. And, as usual, Thumbelina is requested right when I ask my girl how she slept. I don't feel like dealing with tears, yelling, two-year-old despair, and the like, so we concede and laugh at the high level of cheesy-love involved in this movie.

Honestly, I have no idea what happens between 4pm-5pm most days. I think I typically either catch up on emails, scroll Instagram, read articles, or stare off into space and wonder if life will always feel so ordinary but so difficult. The kids go outside for a bit, get muddy, then find ways to get into arguments around the house every 15 minutes.


Around 5-ish, I start making dinner. Usually I can get the kids to read (while earning stars for TV time), color or entertain Jovi in her room. My husband, Mark, is usually home just before 6pm and we try to enjoy this time together. We talk with the kids, catch up on each other's days, talk about future plans, manage the chaos level at the table (again) and just generally try to keep our spirits and energy high for a few more hours.

After dinner, the boys often get to play soccer on the Play Station 3 with Mark, or some nights, they play together while Mark manages the kitchen for me. Jovi will often go downstairs to visit and read books or play games with Mark's parents (they have their own living space in the basement level). I either do dishes, sneak off to read a book, or contemplate the purpose of my existence on a couch. Most the time, I ignore the children and read a book, like every mom needs to do every once in a while. I just do this a little too often. I mean, I aspire to be a "real" writer someday, so it's more like homework, right?

Once the kiddos are in bed around 8pm, my husband and I chit chat, watch a movie, or do work-related things. Tonight, he works on an app for a company he's involved with on the side, and I work on fulfilling a small jewelry order. I decide to put on an audio training or two from Compel and listen while I work (and my husband endures or ignores this all rather well while he works). It's easy to get distracted or inspired, so I make a few other necklaces too. I want to go to the gym early tomorrow, so I finish up and turn in at about 10pm.

I'm learning to dread these simple days less. There is still room to impact the world on these uneventful days, inexplicably filled with chaos. We are made up of a million experiences, and the impact my joy will have on my children is more than I can ever fathom. From all of this, what I really want you to know is you are not alone. Millions of people are living life, enduring boring days, then doing it again tomorrow. Our days can be mind-numbing, exhausting, boring, enlightening, filled with grief, or filled with joy, and God uses them all. It's impossible to know what they are all for or how they can possibly be used to produce holy fruit, but each one gives you the opportunity to see something beautiful. If you can find that beauty, pass it onto your kids, and show them who has made it beautiful, this is something to be treasured! Don't pass it up.

When you feel like your life is too boring, too uneventful, or too normal to really impact God's kingdom, turn to God for peace and assurance. Our place before Him is not determined by how lively or important our days seem. There is an entire realm of activity we cannot see, a universe of spiritual warfare we cannot understand, and Satan would love for us to feel meaningless, useless, or too simple to be important. But those are all lies. Your persistent faith in service will do more good in that war than a one-time, awe-inducing, flash-in-the-pan type of adventure. Keep going, keep pursuing Him, and show your children you will never stop trusting God's faithfulness in your beautiful, but possibly monotonous, life

Romans 8 always gives me confidence in God. Read it, and let this give you courage and joy. He desires to give joy and hope in what He has already provided, and what He will provide for us in eternity. It will be worth it!

Romans 8:31-39 says:

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His won Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

'For your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

All the events going on in these verses seem grand, powerful, and important, but they apply to us "regular moms" too. Don't let anyone tell you a simple, boring, ordinary life is less worthwhile, less impactful, or less important. Keeping your hope in God's love for you while living in constant exhaustion-inducing monotony is a challenge worth rising up to. Be willing to do anything, to go anywhere, to sacrifice anything, or pursue anything in the name of Christ, but don't be ashamed if that calling is serving the smallest member of your household. As Jesus says in Matthew 35, "Assuredly, I say unto you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." This will have a reward you will not want to miss! Chin up.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Homeschooling When Service is Not Your Gift

It's no secret; service is not my greatest strength. It doesn't matter what setting I am in, it almost never crosses my mind to jump up and serve. I can be at a pot-luck, with kids at a social event, or with family at a party and everyone else around me may be helping in some way while I am sitting around chit-chatting. During the first several years of our marriage, I cannot tell you how many times I went to a family event and, after the meal, I would be the only woman in the room not washing dishes, or clearing plates, or helping children. My husband's family is well-gifted (and practiced) in service, and also in manners, so it took me a while to notice this weakness of mine.

I can't recall anyone ever telling me I was bad at serving. When I am serving, I do it well, and try not to complain, but I am not naturally drawn to most forms of service. On every single strengths survey I have ever taken, service has come up as my lowest scoring trait. Always! Teaching is usually somewhere near the top, which lends itself well to homeschooling. Knowledge, or rather, the desire to learn, and ambition, are often some of my top strengths as well. While these are wonderful traits to have when you desire to educate your children at home and have high hopes of changing the world, service is absolutely necessary too. In fact, if you cannot serve joyfully and continually, this homeschooling gig will be a struggle. And too often I despair in the weight of this struggle.

There are so many parts of homeschooling I love. Seeing my children learn to read, being with them as their minds understand a difficult or new math concept, guiding them to make connections between historical people and places they have seen on a map - these are all experiences I would hate to miss. Watching them grow in their knowledge is exciting, invigorating, and confirmation of this path we are walking. However, offering my time endlessly, while doing dishes, and helping my children learn manners, and social etiquette, while also taking them to the library, the rock museum, the park and more, might be a task better suited for those who love to serve.

Does this mean I should give up? Resign to put them in a more formal school setting? I don't think so, not yet at least.

To accomplish these tasks I will have to learn, practice, and ask for help with the skill of service. The Lord has been so gracious in helping me endure for this long, but I can feel myself starting to crumble under the pressure. All these service-related tasks in my day feel like heavy obligations. When other tasks begin to appear during my week, like nursery duty, a big project, or hosting people in my home, I feel the quick tingle of adrenaline hit my heart and try to take deep breaths.

To many people, these tasks are simply expected, a normal part of life. But for me, they feel like an eternity of doing things I am terrible at, or running a marathon when I can barely jog an entire mile. Before I begin my enormous list of service-related tasks, I am already despairing, looking to when I might be able to find a free half-hour to read. When I arrive at my free half-hour, I am tired, exhausted, and then despair over how short half an hour is. This is when I curl up on the couch and tire myself out by thinking endlessly about what I can possibly do to rid myself of serving so much.

If you are gifted in service, this might seem pretty comical. I assure you I am only being slightly dramatic. In one sense, I cannot help what my brain naturally does with all of these challenging tasks. It just goes, and goes, and continues going down that path of weariness and dread for a long time. But, I can make valiant efforts to keep my brain from traveling too far down that road.

The simplest trick I use to help me jump into a service-related task is to start without thinking too much. When I jump off the couch and announce "Cole, time for spelling!" and simply get to it, I am more quickly rewarded with being finished (duh, right?)! Plus, I've reached a rewarding milestone for where my strengths lie; accomplishing an important task. I get to cross spelling off my well-planned homeschool calendar, and I don't have to think about it anymore. The "undone" doesn't haunt me the rest of the day. Yes, I still spent a chunk of time and energy serving, but I also got to taste the rewarding fruit from it.

I can see God working on me in this area of being able to serve without hating life by helping give me some wisdom in how my curriculum choices affect our days. You already know I am a control-freak, but I'm finally becoming willing to give some things up. For instance, Math. No, I am not giving up the subject entirely, but I am beginning to let Khan Academy teach for me in order to preserve my serving time for other tasks in need of my effort. I would prefer to be hyper-involved in leading the kids in their math progress, but that is becoming an expensive trade-off. With the time and effort Saxon requires, I consistently have less patience and less time to read books, take walks, or create art with all three kiddos. I have less time overall to manage my home, and less flexibility to leave my home when math is still calling. I will admit, I am a little nervous the boys might "miss something" when I am not the person leading every skill introduction, but I am attempting to trust God, trust the process, and give up some control for a better home life.

Homeschooling is definitely primarily a service-oriented job. I need to come to terms with this. Despite my reluctancy, this year I can see myself slowly growing in this area. I have no problem with the other aspects of homeschooling more suited to my gifting and this gives me some hope. I can research curriculum and plan our entire year, then come away feeling ready for that marathon. I can talk to person after person, sharing all the ins and outs of classical education, Charlotte Mason, beautiful books, and wonderful adventures, leaving each conversation ready to engage in another. Sharing and learning fuel me for life! Understanding the importance of service, and letting that deeply impact me in a way that leads to revitalization in my soul, eh, that is hard work. Work I cannot do by myself. Work I desperately need God to do in my heart.

Giving up my preferences is the first step in letting God direct my heart toward service. I have to look at our home life and let that guide my curriculum choices a little more. I need to look at my kids' emotional responses to my frustration and let that motivate me to be patient and kind. I'm not exactly sure what else I need to do, but mostly, I need to be open to change. Both change in our daily life and God changing my heart and mind. Change is always hard, but it is also one of the few things guaranteed in our daily life. Circumstances, prices, jobs, cars, friends, health, houses; everything will change at some point.

Changing often feels a bit like admitting I was wrong. Like if I change my curriculum, I am saying "Oops, I guess I shouldn't have done that!" but this is not true. It's okay to change, to see the benefit of learning from what you were doing and then to be excited for what you will be doing. It is better to change with cheerful expectancy than glum remorse. It's also okay to spend the majority of your day serving, doing menial tasks, and possibly feeling like your accomplishments are small. Small does not mean unimportant, and important is made up of many small things, no matter what field, industry, or task you are involved in.

Homeschooling against and despite your weaknesses is a sharpening, challenging task. But it isn't impossible. And you will see fruit in it. If you are feeling discouraged, find the root. See that challenge or problem for what it is worth and look honestly at what is does to your family. Making homeschooling less discouraging will probably mean some type of change; in your heart, in your obligations, in your curriculum, in some way. And if you make that change out of love and sincerity, it will bless everyone involved. Even if you are not incredibly excited about said change, but go into it looking for the goodness it will bring, you will be blessed and grateful for it too.

If nothing else, when you feel discouraged about how hard serving your family feels, know I am right there with you! And then email me, or text me, and remind me we won't feel this way forever.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Giving Meaning.

I have been in a funk off and on the past month. Maybe it's been more like the better part of a year. I get like this every so often and sometimes it takes me a while to get back to "normal". Whatever that really means.

Early in our marriage, these funk days were pretty problematic. My husband wanted to help by getting me out of the house, but I wanted to sleep all day.  He wanted to go have fun, but I wanted to sit and figure everything out. Eventually, I realized a lot of these "funk" days were just bad days. The type of days where you wake up in a mood and nothing can lift you out. I learned to hang on, wait out the sad feelings, try to forget the swirling thoughts, and not make any important decisions until a few days later, when I felt a bit more stable. This often works pretty well for me, at least, it did until I had several children!

While homeschooling kids, a funk day is a recipe for disaster. I try to make these days good for the kids, but sometimes I totally lose my cool. Then I live with the regret, the analyzing of every decision I've ever made, and then try to repent and apologize for my bad behavior, all while also trying not to actually admit I have a problem.

This problem has been cropping up in weird places lately. For instance, I used to love taking naps. When my second son was a baby, I took four or five naps each week until he was 18 months old. 18 months! After having my daughter two and a half years ago, I've taken about ten naps total. And most have been on the couch while she watched Frozen or Thumbelina. Part of this is because I literally do not have time to nap, but another part is the insane guilt I feel about sleeping when there are other things I could be getting done. It doesn't matter what those things are - folding laundry, washing dishes, making jewelry, reading books, working out - I cannot stand the idea of forfeiting an important activity to catch up on a little sleep.

I've been having the same problem at bedtime. How can I go to bed at 9:30pm when I could potentially get another hour of reading in, or online training, more earrings made, or folding laundry? Okay, maybe not the laundry.

Every day I have this burning desire, or sometimes a weighty obligation, to cram in as much meaningful, productive, important activity into my day as possible. The more items I check off my list, the better I feel. But lately, I am still going to bed with this strange uneasiness, even on my best days. I'm still frustrated, disappointed, feeling unaccomplished, still longing, but I can never really put my finger on why.

Finally, the other night, I had an epiphany: I keep looking at my day, for whatever I accomplish or achieve, to give meaning to my life, to make my activities and efforts worthwhile and important. I see how my kids act, how clean my house is, and how my meal plan is coming along (don't worry, it's not) and then at 11pm I try to convince myself I lived a day worth living. And it's not working. I mean, I've known it hasn't been working, but I've been stuffing that suspicion down for a while. The other night, I finally nailed down this problem.

I don't give my life meaning. God gives my life meaning. His work, His timing, His agenda. Not me, not my kids, not my efforts, or personal accomplishments. It's so simple, it feels a little crazy! But if I can manage to turn to Him and say "There it is. There's my day. Thank you for letting me live it. I cannot wait to see what you do with it." then I can go to bed, resting fully in His promise to redeem my life and I can finally sleep well, sleep happily. And I will wake up happy. Or at least not filled with dread. It's a heavy burden to try and make my homeschooling, stay-at-home life be meaningful. I know it's a blessing to my kids and husband, but it often feels small and unimportant in the grand scheme of life.

My kids' lives will be meaningful, because God makes them meaningful. My efforts to give my kids a fun dessert will be meaningful, because God makes meaning out of my service. Instead of trying to figure out what is the best possible way to make my time meaningful for those around me, I can tune into God, see the gifts of His beauty all around me, and enjoy it! The most wonderful part about this is how He often takes tiny, unexpected things, and makes them immensely meaningful for the unsuspecting person. How awesome is that? It doesn't rely on me! I just have to show up with a willing heart. I've been incredibly independent and controlling since I was pretty small, so it's weird I haven't figured this out before. My desire to control meaning, to control what makes my life valuable, actually inhibits me from enjoying the life God has given me. I mean, my husband has told me this maybe 1,000 times, more or less, but I feel like I am finally seeing how it practically works out in my day. I hope this is a helpful insight I can to pass along to those of you experiencing the same dread I was navigating.

Do you plan activities based on how important you think they will be for your kids? Do you go on adventures with a grand plan for how your family will remember the day? Do you pick out books for them to read, hoping they love it as much as you, then are unable to shake the disappointment when it doesn't work out how you hoped? Our hopes for a meaningful, important life are normal. But, they are set in the wrong places. Our God is bigger than an activity, an adventure, or a book. He is everywhere, working in everything, and you don't have to plan one second of it. Yes, you should plan dinner, and maybe some fun family outings, but you don't have to consider or carry the burden of how meaningful they will be. There is no level of performance necessary for God to use any particular moment to shape your child's life.

Let's take a little pressure and self-reliance off our plates. It will be good for our souls. And it will be healthy for our families as well. Of course, I'm still working this all out in my family, but I don't doubt God. I know trusting Him for an outcome is always a safer bet than trusting myself. He has already given us more than we realize, more than we can ever take advantage of. So expect a little more from Him, yet again. Hand Him that plate of meaning. Let Him show you what all those goodies are and how they were made. It might require you to wait, to trust in Him more, but it'll also allow you to enjoy the time you spend waiting to see what else He has concocted for you. This makes tomorrow way more exciting. Heck, it might even make Mondays really good too!

Last thought, and a mostly related verse to remind you of what we have in Christ:

"He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all; 
how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" 
Romans 8:32

God gave you the very best gift while you were His enemy. Now, as part of his team, He alone will give your life, your efforts, and your sacrifices meaning. Give it all to Him.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What We Expect.

One of my best friends always says to me "You just need to lower your expectations a little."

Now, she doesn't say this in regards to expecting politeness from my children, or in regards to how often we are doing math. She says this to me when I feel discouraged about how soon I fold my laundry once it comes out of the dryer, or when I've only fed my kids one vegetable that day. Expectations can make or break us, and the crazy thing is, what we let them do to us is actually in our control.

I woke up yesterday morning feeling the blahs. There were dirty dishes, it was laundry day (which is on the basement level), I was already behind on homeschooling, and a long to-do list awaited me, filled with things like sweeping the floor, taking out garbage, and cleaning up kids' rooms. I've been thinking so much lately about doing God's will, and being willing to do whatever He would ask, but I couldn't manage to get excited about my day. Realistically, who really is excited for all of that?

I spent a lot of time thinking hard about why I was so grumpy, about why my soul was so disgruntled. Obviously, I just didn't want to do all of these things. I didn't want to spend my day doing mundane things, and cleaning up after everyone else. I wanted what I wanted. I wanted to read a book, to have Jovi play happily while the boys excelled in their schoolwork (I can't help but giggle a little at this idea). I wanted my kitchen to be clean, for my floors to be swept, and to not find dirty socks under every piece of furniture. Honestly, I was discontent with what God had for me that day.

I tried to convince myself that my life was hard, but I failed pretty quickly. After all, I had money for food, coffee, a husband who loves me and works hard to not only provide for us, but to lighten my load as well. My kids are healthy, (we have colds, but nothing major), we have clothes, heat, TV, books, toys, and more. No, my life is not actually very hard. Maybe busy, and challenging, but I am pretty privileged by most standards. Again, I had to face my discontentment.

It really has to do with my expectations and my lack of faith. For some reason, I have an idea in my head about what I deserve. It's distressing to admit I have no idea where these expectations come from, and I'm scared of giving these same expectations to my children. I want, and want, and want, and want. I get, I take, and I purchase some more, but still I am still left in want. I expect an easy life, and I strive continuously to find it. I want to do amazing things for God, but rarely look for ways to honor Him every day at home. Yesterday, I spent far too much time thinking about how to solve my problems, rather than simply starting the work and getting it done. Yes, laziness is another flaw of mine.

I didn't want to admit that all of these tasks, chores and small jobs were God's will for me. In my head, I knew they were, but it was obvious my heart was not following along. I decided I would have none of it. I was tired of being held back by my inability to cheerfully do "meaningless" work. Was I willing to set my expectations aside for the day and see what God would do? Was I willing to work hard, possibly never seeing significant fruit from today's efforts? Could I trust God enough to wash my dishes happily?

This seems so silly now. Why wouldn't I trust God? Why wouldn't He use my happy heart? Even if that day amounted to nothing, I would still enjoy it more if I was happy than if I was discontent. I texted some friends, who replied with wonderful encouragement, mutual struggles, and powerful verses. It was just the push I needed to admit how out of whack my heart and mind can be. Did I feel a rush of happiness? No. Were my chores easily and quickly accomplished? No. But I was able to get through my day, acting in line with what I believe, and not worrying about what would come of it all. God controls what will come of my days, not me. I am called to walk in these good works, no matter what they are, trusting His goodness and His plan. It seems harder than it really is.

My expectations need to change. What I want for my life, for my kids, for my husband, everything needs to be rearranged around God's plan. And if God's plan is faithfully doing laundry, who am I to argue? My desire for a grand life is out of a fairytale, and it's full of lies. To have a perfectly fulfilling life, all you have to do is be perfectly fulfilled! Not by money, not by things, not by family, achievement, or success. All of these things are fleeting. The only perfect fulfillment is obtaining the joy from knowing our eternal position before God. We are glorified children through His work on the cross! This joy will enable us to live better than any king in history, and if you let it, it will help you fold your laundry with a smile on your face too. Sounds trite, I know, but I dare you to try it out for a month.

Expect Him to fill you up. Expect Him to give you the energy you need. Expect Him to give you wisdom in schooling, child-rearing, job changes, career endeavors, friendships and more. Nothing is impossible for Him, and He desires to fill our hearts with His gladness. Not just once in a while, but any day you are willing to be filled. It's humbling to admit we are unwilling to be happy, but it is worth the effort to remove this from our hearts. Trust His plan, choose to be glad to follow it, then go about your business. This will require you to examine your heart and determine what you are willing to surrender in order to live happily in His plan. I hope you know He can be trusted. He is more capable than we will ever be, and He knows what makes our hearts glad better than we ever will. Go for it! Trust Him with those dishes, those diapers and that schoolwork. Tell me what happens.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Why I Cannot Help It.

I understand you might not believe in God. I know you have probably been offended, hurt, ripped off, or even treated maliciously by a Christian at some point in your life. Maybe you've been shocked at the horrific way Christians have treated those with opposing beliefs. I admit, I have done these things to people in my ignorance or sinful choices too. But feelings are not the guiding principle of the world. Your opinions of right or wrong should not be what leads you to decide who rules the universe. What seems good and noble to you will have no bearing on what happens to you after you die, and this is what concerns me the most. This is why I write.

I've always wanted my writing to be applicable to many people. Not just Christians, not just homeschoolers, not just women. More than anything, I want the chance to impact people's lives, to lead them to God, and give them the courage they need to live free from their burdens and anxieties. I want to give people hope, challenge them to live beyond their fears, and strive for excellence in all they do. But the more I write and the more I think, I discover I cannot write to the broad audience I had once hoped to reach. At least, not in the way I had originally envisioned.

When I was in High School, I shared with a select few my desire to write about the Bible, to write about how to live as a Christ-follower in our distracting and despairing world. In college my eyes were opened to several different genres of literature and my desires began to shift a little. I've always been a reader, and some of the books I enjoyed in High School and college seemed a bit beyond my years and understanding, at least to an outsider. I'm sure I would gain even more from books like The Grapes of Wrath and Brave New World, but even in my limited understanding of the world at 17, I saw there were deep truths to be grasped in secular literature.

After getting married and having kids, my home library grew, but consisted of mostly Christian titles. There were lots of Bible study type of books, lots of Christian-Living books, and lots of books written by prominent women in the Christian culture. I was fine with this at the time, as these books almost always set my heart back to God and encouraged me to grow in my knowledge of the Bible. It was only the last year or two that I began to enjoy a good fictional novel again. I jumped right in and am so thankful for all the lovely recommendations I've received.

These fiction books have inspired something in me, something that burns to share the gospel with people who want nothing to do with God. I hope those opposed to God would read a book, having no clue it would share the redemption story, and eventually see what is missing in their lives. I wouldn't call it a pipe dream, but it certainly feels a bit lofty for where I am at right now. The problem is, every time I sit down to write, I cannot help but talk about the way God holds me together, or how He stirs in my heart, or how He empowers me to love my friends and family. I don't especially want to be classified as a "Christian author" but there is this crazy fire in my heart, forcing me to just come out and say "It's true, you need God".

How often have you thought about your death? What brings you comfort thinking about a loved-one who has already passed away? Do you ignore it? Do you simply try to be happy until death appears at your door? These are questions I could not face without knowing my eternal standing. And these are the same questions I think about for others, for all my unbelieving friends. And this is why I cannot help writing about God.

I want to be earnest with you, unbelieving friend. I want to beg you to think about your death. I know it seems morbid, but I can't help but wonder how much thought you have put into it. Death is inevitable, and it could happen tomorrow, or even today! Are your really ready? Am I?

Francis and Lisa Chan published a book called You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. It motivated me to consider more greatly how I view eternity in light of this world. On page 134 Francis says "If you'd rather watch your kids grow up than see the face of your Savior today, you don't grasp the beauty of God. If you worry about what would happen to your children if you were gone, you don't understand the providence of God." This seems incredibly extreme, and Francis says so too. But it is the truth, and we need to consider it with reverence. How happy would you be to be in Heaven tomorrow? How happy would you be if your child got there before you? This addresses the root of what I think makes Christians these days poor examples of living for God's eternal kingdom. (I am not talking about grieving the death of a loved one and missing them, but rather the weight of the value we place on being here on earth.) We care far more about living comfortably here on earth than we care about the souls of people around us, about experiencing the eternal happiness of being with our Creator. Most Christians admit to believing in Heaven and Hell, yet make little effort to store up treasure in Heaven, much less save those perishing right beside them.

If you don't believe in God, do you believe in Heaven? Have you considered what you believe about it, and why? Can you logically reason through all of your beliefs and come up with something even close to plausible?

I ask these questions out of genuine curiosity and concern. I'm not going to detail everything about God, eternity, Jesus and more right here, right now. But I would be happy to have a real conversation with you about it, in person preferably, via email if necessary. Not because I feel the need to win people over, or because I want to be "right" in my own eyes, but because I honestly worry about what will happen to you after you die. And this is what compels me to keep writing, to keep sharing.

This is why I cannot help but mention God when I talk about what I am struggling with or what I am having victory over in my life. He drives everything. I cannot claim to be a Christian, then go on living the same way the rest of the world does. There is nothing I have found to live for here on earth better than getting ready for living forever after I die. This means everything I pursue is thought through all the way to my death and beyond. I look at every endeavor and say "Will I be glad I spent my time and effort on this in Heaven?". I look at what I believe and ask "Would I still believe this if I lived in a shack in India?". If I cannot answer these questions and see how they work with God's desire to make Himself known to the lost, I have no choice but to give up these desires and beliefs. Sometimes they fall easy, sometimes I get lost in them for a long time. Always, I wish I had the guts to toss them aside at the first sign of being rooted in my desire for fulfillment in things apart from God.

That is where I want to be everyday. Wholeheartedly desiring to be fulfilled in God alone. And this is why I cannot write to you only about living on earth, or only about homeschooling, or only about getting along with my children. If I am giving you advice that allows you to live apart from God and feel okay with that, let me be forever unable to share! While I cringe at the idea of being a "Christian Writer" I cannot pursue anything else without ignoring my conscience. And for all my friends who do not believe, I can only hope you will consider my words with love and honesty. I pray God will reveal Himself to you, and that you will desire to know the truth of our existence in this universe, and not settle for only the here and now.

I could keep going, trying to reason through the impact we leave behind, whether we believe in God, eternity, or nothing, but my post would be far too long. Instead, I want to challenge you to read two books. First, read the bible. If you've never read the bible, read the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Heck, even read just one! See Jesus firsthand. Then, if you want to get all philosophical, and see the roots of what you believe, read The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer. Christian or not, he will enlighten you as to the long road our beliefs about the world take us down. He gets to the root of how we can determine good vs. evil, reality vs. what is only in our minds. It's a bit intellectual, but you will not regret straining your brain on this book.

Lastly, please don't hesitate to engage in a conversation with me. I'm not looking to point out sin, to mock you, disregard your struggles, or call you some ridiculous name. I want to share God's loving grace with anyone willing to hear. I hope with all my heart this will include you.

"And I tell you, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened unto you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."                                    
Luke 11:9-10