Welcome to my musings...

After a 3 year hiatus from blogging (too busy parenting teens to have time to write about it!), I have decided to revive my blog. I look forward to sharing my perspective on mothering as I am at the tail end of my child-raising journey. Nothing could be more beautiful, more full of joy and pain and anguish, than the divine calling of motherhood. I pray my musings will bless you on your own journey, and that you will feel encouraged and equipped!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just Like Mary

Yesterday, I watched my son undergo a procedure to biopsy his esophagus, stomach and upper intestines. Noah has been suffering for months from various physical ailments including gastrointestinal problems, headaches, insomnia, pain and a failure to gain weight. In the past week, he has endured three doctor visits, allergy testing, a biopsy and a great deal of pain and suffering. As I have walked through this with my son, my heart has suffered right along with him. As I stood beside his hospital bed and held his hand and talked him through an IV (he is NOT fond of needles!), my heart broke for him. I wanted to pull him out of that bed and beg them to take me instead. The pain in his eyes as he bravely endured all they put him through was almost more than I could bear. To hear him politely thank the people who were causing him pain made my heart swell with pride in him. To see his body lying unmoving on that bed after the procedure was over terrified me. I reached down and stroked his head and kissed his cheek, but he didn’t even stir. I looked up at the nurse in panic, and she calmly said, “He’s fine, just sleepy.” I wanted to say, “But are you SURE?” His beautiful dark lashes didn’t even flutter and he looked so very young and pale against his pillow. I wanted to gather him in my arms and hold him, even though he has long been too big for that.

As I watched him go through this experience that I longed to spare him from, I thought of another mother destined to watch her son suffer. I pictured this young woman, giving birth to a very special baby, in the very worst of circumstances. I imagined her wishing she was bringing him into the world with her mother’s assistance, in a clean and private room with everything she needed close by. I thought of her rocking him gently, holding him close and whispering of the future she envisioned for him. I wondered, “Did she know what was in store for her very special son?” Obviously, she knew that he was destined for big things…being the Son of God would seem to guarantee that. But did she know the pain and suffering that would be his? I think God must have spared her from knowing too much too soon. If not, how could she ever have survived? How could she have felt joy in his birth or in his growing up years? I believe God must have been merciful to her and not revealed all that her son would experience.

I imagined this same mother, thirty-three years later, watching her darling baby boy be mocked and reviled and then hung on a cross to die a horrible death. Her heart must have broken in two as she witnessed his unspeakable suffering. Surely she longed to take his place, to spare him from his pain. I’m certain her mother’s heart cried out to the God she loved, asking Him to take this anguish from her beloved son, to save him from this terrible fate. My heart aches for her, as I imagine her watching the son she cherished breathe his last breath. How did she ever endure such a thing?

There is one thing I know for certain--she could only have endured it by trusting in the Father who gave him to her in the first place. Even though she couldn’t possibly understand what God was doing, she believed. She believed that He loved her, and that He loved their son. She believed that He had a plan, and that it was good and right and just. How tenaciously she must have clung to that belief as she watched the drops of blood and sweat pour from the one she loved with all of her being. How doggedly she must have grasped that belief with all of her might while her son lay in his grave. How she must have rejoiced when she saw him again, and came to understand that God’s plan was indeed good and right and just.

All of this flashed through my mind yesterday as I stood beside the hospital bed of my sleeping son. Although I do not know why my son must suffer, I too, must believe that God has a plan for him. I must believe that the God who made him loves him even more than I do, and that He knows what is best and will bring good out of his suffering. He alone knows what Noah’s future holds and I must release him into the hands of Him who determines that future. While I will never be able to watch my beloved son suffer without my heart breaking, the best gift I can give him is to cling tenaciously to what I know to be right and true, and to teach him to do the same…just like Mary.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Passing of the Torch

Yesterday was a day of mixed emotions for me. There was much joy as we celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents and some friends, giving thanks for all that God has done for us. We laughed and feasted, shared what we were thankful for, and watched the children play games and have fun together. Underlying the joy, however, was a bit of sadness as well. As I pulled out my grandmother’s china, an ache filled my heart. I remembered the many, many holidays celebrated at her house in Tulsa, eating off these same beautiful plates. I remembered her sweet, servant hands cooking and serving an amazing meal and making it look so easy. I remembered our special relationship and how very much she meant to me, and I missed her deeply.

It was also the first time I was in charge of the turkey. After almost twenty-one years of marriage, believe it or not, I had never really cooked the turkey. We were always either at one of our grandparents’ or parents’ houses, or visiting a sibling out of state. Even the very few years we were at our own house, my mom and dad usually handled the turkey. Yesterday morning, as I wrestled a stubborn and slippery 17-lb. turkey and thought, “I sure hope this turns out!”, I felt as if a torch had been passed. As I picked up the phone (several times!) to call my mother for advice, the thought occurred to me, “How will I do this without her advice when she is gone?” Again, my heart ached. As my mom and I discussed this, I learned that she, too, was feeling these things. She confessed that she felt the same way when my grandmother died. She had become accustomed to having her sweet mother-in-law on the other end of the phone, lovingly dispensing advice for these big occasions, and she missed her.

Then, as my oldest daughter joined me in the kitchen as I cooked up the Thanksgiving feast, she sadly said, “I only have two more Thanksgivings at home after this one.” My mind flashed ahead and I pictured being at home, alone, cooking the Thanksgiving meal and waiting for my children to arrive. I imagined being the one who was supposed to have all the answers, without my mother to turn to for advice. I imagined Molly cooking her own Thanksgiving feast and calling me on the phone to find out how to cook the turkey. All of a sudden, I could see the swift progression of time and the continual passing of the torch from one generation to the next.

In our Thanksgiving devotional, my husband shared about our goal of teaching our children to love and serve God, and then teaching them to teach their children. In this quiet way, we can profoundly impact our world. It is a passing of the baton of faith, from one generation to the next. We are deeply convicted that we must have a multi-generational vision of training up our families. We must be praying, not only for our children, but for our future grandchildren and great-grandchildren . In the same way that my mother learned to cook a Thanksgiving feast from her mother and mother-in-law, and then taught me to do the same, we must be passing on the tenets of our faith to our children, and instilling in them the desire to do the same with their own children.

As I looked around at the faces of my family at our Thanksgiving table, I breathed a silent prayer. I prayed for many more years of enjoying my mother’s teaching and to savor every moment of time that God has given me with her, learning from a woman who is the embodiment of a gentle and quiet spirit. I prayed for my children, that they would grow up to love and serve their Heavenly Father and raise their children to do the same. I prayed for my husband, and thanked God for his spiritual leadership. And, lastly, I thanked my Lord for so graciously giving me these precious souls to cherish and asked that He help me to be ready to face this coming passing of the torch.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

When Firsts Become Lasts

Being a mother entails being the keeper of many “firsts”. Ask any young mother when their baby got their first tooth, and you will likely get a rapid response. On the contrary, ask a father, and he will likely answer, “The baby has a tooth?” For some reason, God has made mothers the keepers of such memories. We notice every first our children accomplish, from their first steps to the time they read those first few words from a book. Many of us faithfully record these instances in baby books and scrapbooks, preserving the memories for the future (at least until we have more than two children…then our scrapbooking efforts often get a little sketchy!).

I’ve noticed, however, that the “lasts” tend to pass by unnoticed. One day, we realize that no one has asked us to tie a shoe for them. No one has asked us to read a bedtime story or dress a doll for them or place a Band-Aid on a wound. In what seems like the blink of an eye, we’ve gone from providing for every need to occasionally assisting. And, in the hustle and scurry of everyday life with children, those “lasts” have slipped by without us recognizing them. I have to confess, this makes my heart sad until I remember that this is God’s design: we are given a tiny little being to mold and shape and love and nurture into an independent, God-fearing adult. If we have done our job well, we will reap a harvest of blessings in watching our children serve and love the Lord as independent adults.

I am starting to feel like I am entering that season of lasts. My oldest daughter is a sophomore. She is driving, has a job and is starting to think about college. We are working on a high school transcript, figuring out when to take the PSAT and SAT, and beginning to talk about college and future plans. While I share her excitement as she figures out where God is leading her, my mother’s heart also aches at the coming changes. Today, I am helping her get ready for her first formal dance, a Civil War Ball that she is attending with her father. As I hem up her hoop skirt and help her choose a hairstyle and paint her nails, I wonder…is this the last time she will ask for my help in such matters? As I watch her learn to be more and more independent, my emotions are a jumble. I am thrilled with her maturity and her growing wisdom. I love that she is so capable…she can clean, cook, sew, take care of children and she loves God more than anything. Yet at the same time, I see that serious little brown-eyed girl who followed me around with endless questions and I miss her. We’ve already passed so many “lasts”…how many of them did I even notice?

So, if you are a young mother, overwhelmed by the daily tasks of bathing, diapering and feeding your young, please listen. While the days seem long now, I promise you the years will fly by at an unbelievable pace. After years of “firsts”, you will suddenly find yourself grieving the “lasts”. Take the time to enjoy them…enjoy the funny things they do that make you laugh. Treasure every time they crawl up into your lap with a book for you to read. Soak in every moment of quiet conversation at their bedside as they ask you the questions of their hearts. Listen to just one more question when you are weary to the bone. Give an extra hug or a kiss and store up those precious moments in your heart. For all those “firsts” will all too soon turn into “lasts”.

The days they crawl, the years they fly
As one by one, they pass me by.
Some days are years, but years are days
As they grow up beneath my gaze.

Just yesterday they were so small
How can it be they’re now so tall?
They used to cuddle on my knee,
And now it is their eyes I see.

Sometimes I worry, fret and pray,
I wonder what to do and say.
The days with them are precious few,
The years with them are precious, too.

Will they be ready on that day
When far from me, they fly away?
Will I have trained them, taught and shown
Enough to help them when they’re grown?

It matters not what they become
As long as they don’t wander from
The One who made them, and loves them best
Who gives them love, joy, peace and rest.

If they grow up to serve him well
As only time and God can tell
I’ll know that I have finished strong
The job that seemed so short, so long.

--Wendy Metzger

Monday, October 19, 2009

The "Balloon Boy" Hoax

Our beloved town of Fort Collins made world-wide news this week. We were spending a peaceful afternoon at home when the phone rang. My mom was calling to ask if we were watching the news, as there was a breaking story involving a family from our town. We quickly tuned in to hear that an experimental balloon-type aircraft had been accidentally released from a home in Fort Collins, and that the family’s six-year-old son was believed to be on board. The aircraft traveled about 50 miles from their home, and was believed to be capable of reaching 10,000 feet of altitude. We watched with anxious hearts throughout the afternoon as rescuers tried to find a way to reach the balloon and save the boy. We prayed continually and fervently for this child’s safety, and for the parents who were undergoing such a traumatic event. Several hours later, the balloon deflated and landed in a field. When rescuers cut open the aircraft, no boy was found. Our hearts fell as they speculated on when and if the boy could have fallen out of the craft, or if he could possibly have escaped alive. My mother’s heart was stricken at the thought of this family losing their youngest son in such a terrible way. I couldn’t escape the images in my mind of this poor little boy falling from a great altitude to his death, especially after a news report claimed that someone had seen something falling from the craft.

Some time later that afternoon, the local sheriff announced that the boy had been found, safe and sound, hiding in the family’s attic. The media immediately pounced, asking the sheriff if this had been a hoax. Stories began circulating about this family, and about their previous media experiences. Clips were shown of this family participating in a TV reality show called “Wife Swap”, showing their children as ill-behaved and rambunctious. It was released that 911 calls had been previously made from this home involving domestic disturbances. Tales were told of this family’s “storm-chasing” experiences, and how they had taken their children directly into the path of danger.

At first I felt angry at the media for attacking this family without any proof of wrong-doing. The relief was so strong that this child was unharmed that I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) believe this family would put people through such an experience. As more time went on, however, it came out that this was indeed an elaborate hoax, staged by the family in hopes of gaining a contract for a reality television show. This hoax was uncovered by a slip of the tongue of the boy while being interviewed on television (he said, “we did this for a show”).

I have to say, I am appalled. These parents callously used their six-year-old son in an effort to gain publicity for themselves. They put a great number of police officers in a very stressful situation and wasted a lot of taxpayer money in a fruitless search and rescue operation. They disregarded the anguish every parent in Fort Collins felt as they watched this story unfold. They are now almost certainly going to be charged with at least two misdemeanors and two felonies for their reckless scheme. In my opinion, however, their worst crime is one that won’t bring any arrest or fine. The choice they made that tears my heart out is this: They willfully taught this little boy that it is okay to lie to get what you want. The consequences of this action will reap terrible fruit. This boy will grow up to believe that it is acceptable to manipulate people, distort the truth and do whatever it takes to get what he desires. To me, this is the ultimate tragedy in this terrible story.

So, what can we learn from this? It’s easy to point fingers and be appalled at this family and their choices, but what does it have to teach us about parenting? To me, the lesson to be learned can be summed up in this: We need to teach our children to love truth. God makes it very clear in His word that He hates lying tongues (see Proverbs 6:16-19). We need to make teaching our children truthfulness a top priority. Telling lies, exaggerating for effect, “stretching the truth” are not harmless activities. Each lie or perversion of the truth leads to more lies and culminates in a character that is dishonoring to God. As we watch the news stories about this family, let’s examine our own hearts and our children’s character and see if we, too, are guilty of teaching our children to be untruthful, whether by words or example. Let’s resolve to stand on the Truth that is found only in God’s word and to raise children who are passionately committed to Him. It’s the only way we will raise children who can change the world…and I, for one, don’t care to live in a world where parents use their children to gain fame and fortune for themselves.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stealing Lexi's Hope

This summer, my youngest daughter participated in a two-week drama intensive camp. They met from 9 am to 5 pm each day, learning singing, acting and dancing skills, as well as rehearsing a Junior Broadway production of “Annie”, which they performed in two shows at a local theater. Lexi has long held a love for acting, singing and dancing, so this was a wonderful opportunity for her. She talked about it for weeks and was so excited when the first day finally arrived. She and I drove to the studio on the first morning, and as we walked in, I felt her excitement turn to apprehension. It quickly became apparent that almost all of these kids knew each other, and had acted with this theater group before. They loudly and wildly greeted each other, ignoring this tiny blonde newcomer. She clung to my hand, which Lexi almost never does, and I could tell that she was reluctant for me to leave. I, too, was having a hard time leaving, as this was really the first time I had turned her over to other people for any length of time (she has always been homeschooled) and it was very unusual for her to turn shy. She is my adventurous one, the one who makes friends quickly and has never looked back when you drop her off at dance class or Sunday school. Her out-of-character reluctance fed my own fears of leaving her with this group of strangers. I had grave misgivings as I finally left the building after the parents’ meeting. I confess, I cried all the way home.

On top of my anxiety about her sudden attack of shyness, I was worried about my daughter’s heart. I knew that they would be giving vocal and acting auditions this first day, and would learn their part by the end of that day’s camp. Lexi had very emphatically told me what part she wanted in the play…that of Lily St. Regis, the blonde bombshell scam artist who, along with her partner Rooster, tries to con Daddy Warbucks. She was most definitely not interested in being an orphan or even in the part of Annie, but had her very heart set on receiving this part. Being the practical and protective mom that I am, I tried to gently warn her that because she was the youngest age in the camp, and being especially tiny, she would probably not win an “adult” role, since they might not find it believable to have the role of Lily played by someone shorter than most of the orphans. I knew she had the ability to play any role in the play, but knew that physical appearance often plays a major role in determining who fits each character. She assured me that she could win it, and I again argued with her that it would be fun no matter which role she received and to not have her heart set on any particular role. I was so afraid that she would be disappointed, and pictured her tears upon receiving an “orphan” role. We discussed this many times over the days preceding her camp, and I tried in vain to dissuade her from expecting the part of Lily. The day of her audition, I was a nervous wreck. I kept picturing her sad little face as I left her at camp, and prayed continually for her audition and for her response when she found out what role she had been assigned.

Later that afternoon, as my son and I drove to pick her up, I worried out loud about how she was doing, and how she had handled the auditions and role assignments. Had she cried when I wasn’t there to comfort her? Was her heart broken? Had she made any friends at all in this group of kids who seemed to not even notice her? Upon arriving at the studio, we walked in to hear a conversation between one of the mothers and one of the women who worked there (who also had a child in the camp). The mother asked the camp worker how the kids had done when the parts were announced. The camp worker replied, “There were quite a few tears.” My heart twinged as the mother asked, “Was it mine?” The worker laughingly replied that it was mostly hers, who as an “experienced” camper expected to waltz in and get a leading role without much effort. She said that many of the kids who had participated before were surprised to be cast in smaller roles, thinking that they deserved all the best parts. Then she went on to say that there were a couple of new kids who had come in and wowed the judges with their auditions. She continued talking about one in particular, who she called this “tiny little blonde thing” who came in and asked to audition for Lily and then stunned the judges by reading the role with a hilarious Brooklyn accent. The worker said they were falling out of their seats laughing and knew immediately that she should have the part. Noah tugged on my sleeve and whispered, “It’s Lex, Mom”. My heart began to pound and I waited anxiously for Lexi to come out. As she entered the lobby where we were waiting, she looked downcast and wouldn’t meet my eyes. She said, “Let’s go, Mom.” I was pretty sure she was faking, but anxiously followed her to the car. She slowly buckled herself in and waited until I finally said, “Don’t keep me in suspense…I’ve been waiting all day!!!” She sighed deeply and said, “Well, I really had my heart set on the part of Lily…and THAT’S WHAT I GOT!” Then I asked her about her audition, and if she was the one who auditioned with a Brooklyn accent. She looked at me smugly and nodded with a grin. I asked her, “Do you even know where Brooklyn is?!” to which she shook her head “no”. I laughed and asked her how she knew what a Brooklyn accent sounded like. She answered, “I’ve seen the movie, Mom…I just pretended I was Kristin Chenoweth!”

Later, as I thought about this experience, I realized something. While my intentions were good (protecting my daughter’s heart), my actions were wrong. In trying to prevent the possibility of her pain, I was stealing her hope. Because I had experienced disappointment in similar circumstances as a child, I wanted to spare her. I knew the crushing disillusionment from a failed audition, and I did not want my precious little pixie to experience it. Instead of encouraging her to go for her dream, I wanted her to be “safe”. I thought if she had lower aspirations, it wouldn’t hurt as much if she failed, like I had. I loved drama growing up, but I was cursed with a sometimes paralyzing shyness when it came time to audition. The one time I valiantly overcame my fear and gave an awesome audition (my senior year), the director called me back for the lead role, but then gave it to the other girl (a junior) because she was reluctant to believe I could do it, since she hadn’t seen that in me the previous years. She told me that although I read the role better, and seniors usually got the lead, she wouldn’t give it to me. It absolutely broke my heart and that was the last time I acted.

Now I see that I was viewing Lexi’s experience through my own failure. I desperately wanted to protect her from the pain that I had felt. Instead of giving my daughter wings, I was tethering her to the ground, so she wouldn’t be hurt. And, boy, did she show me. She went in, gave it her all, and succeeded. She had the best two weeks of her life, and the experience of playing “Lily St. Regis” in Annie, Jr. is something she will never, ever forget, as long as she lives. She was an unqualified success, bringing the audience to laughter and rave reviews (people stopped us outside the theater to compliment us on her performance). But as much as she learned, I think I learned more. My job is not to clip her wings, but to help her fly. Life is full of disappointment, but if I shield her from it, she will never learn to persevere through it. I need to teach her the tools to flourish even in the midst of disappointment, not keep her from ever experiencing it. In trying to protect her, I was actually doing her a disservice. I think, in our society, we have failed our children by trying to protect them from every disappointment. We have created a generation of kids who expect to get what they want when they want it because we don’t want to “disappoint” them. We have created a school system that has removed all competition and reward, because it might hurt someone’s “self-esteem”. Instead of teaching our children to give it their best, and how to go to their Father’s arms for comfort when they fail, we have tried to prevent them from ever failing.

Next time, I will try to let Lexi hope without tarnishing it for her. And if she fails, she will know that her mother is here to hold her, and to share her hurt, and to help her find her way to the Father of all comfort.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mothering Myths - Part I - The Myth of "Me"-Time

One of the most common complaints I hear from mothers is their lack of “me”-time. Weariness sets in and mothers long for an escape…for an hour alone to sleep, read a book, or go shopping without an entourage of strollers, diaper bags, and cranky toddlers. Mothers dream of a long, hot bubble bath without little fists banging on the door, shouting “Mommy! Jeffy spilled juice on the carpet!” They imagine long afternoon naps, uninterrupted by babies crying, clothes dryers buzzing and siblings fighting. After long days and weary nights of meeting physical, emotional and spiritual needs, sometimes for years on end, their hearts cry out, “But what about ME?”

The world’s answer to this problem is to demand our rights. We DESERVE a break, we NEED a nanny or a housekeeper or a more sympathetic husband. We OUGHT to find something that fulfills us, such as an art class or a part-time job or the time away to write a book. Our culture tells us that we couldn’t possibly find fulfillment in something as mundane as mothering, so we need to look elsewhere for our happiness. Probably the most common question I am asked (and decidedly my least favorite) when people hear that I homeschool my children is this: “But when do you have time for yourself?”

I believe that God’s answer to this dilemma is one that turns the world’s wisdom upside-down. Nowhere in Scripture does God tell us to satisfy our own needs or pursue our own desires. Instead, He instructs us to serve with humility and with our whole hearts, and to rely on Him for the strength to do so. Even more powerfully, He gives us an example of what this looks like in His son, Jesus Christ. Mark 10:45 says that “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." The Messiah himself came to earth and served endlessly, purposefully and uncomplainingly. He served when he was tired, when he was grieving, and even just hours before he was facing a horrifying death on a cross.

How did he do this? The Bible tells us that Jesus was fully human, facing all the temptations and limitations of inhabiting an earthly body. How did he keep going, keep meeting needs day after day after day? I believe he was able to do this because he had one goal—that of pleasing his heavenly Father. He drew his strength from God himself, and kept his gaze firmly fixed on his Father instead of firmly fixed on himself and his own needs and desires. The happiest moms I know are those who have fixed their eyes on Jesus. They have resolutely surrendered their own agendas and have invested their whole hearts into serving their families with love and selflessness. On the contrary, the most unsatisfied moms I know are clinging to their own wants and have listened to the world’s messages that tell them they can’t possibly be fulfilled by this role of mothering. They feel empty and unfulfilled and busy their lives with more and more activities, trying to find satisfaction.

Is being a God-focused mom instead of a me-focused mom an easy task? Absolutely not. Have I achieved this myself? Decidedly no. This is a daily battle for every mom—will I live in selfishness or surrender? While surrender is painful, and oftentimes frightening, the fruit is incomparable. When we surrender our will to God’s, He not only provides peace and joy and rest, but the strength to carry on in His power. In Isaiah 1:19, God tells the disobedient Israelites, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land”. I believe the same holds true for us as mothers. If we are willing and obedient to the calling God has given us as mothers, we will see the fruit of our wholehearted mothering. A passage that I discovered early in my journey as a mother (and have clung to ever since) is found in Isaiah 58:9-11:

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

I absolutely love this passage. Although it was written by the prophet Isaiah countless years ago, it speaks to the heart of mothering. We are laboring under a yoke of oppression that the world has thrust upon us. We have swallowed the lie that mothering is a menial task instead of a divine calling. We are struggling to keep parenting in our own strength, instead of taking part in the divine power that God offers us freely. This passage teaches us that God is our source of strength and satisfaction and that if we willingly give ourselves to our children (the hungry and oppressed!), He will provide all that we need to flourish like a well-watered garden. Notice that it doesn’t say we will just survive, but that we will flourish!

Am I saying that we never need a break from our task? Of course not. Even Jesus stole away for a few hours of refreshment (and was often interrupted by his needy disciples—sound familiar?). Taking some time out to refresh and restore our souls is vitally important, but we need to make sure we are receiving our refreshment from the right source. Taking the time for a manicure or a girls’ night out can be fun and relaxing, but don’t neglect to spend some time taking in God’s refreshment by reading His word and praying daily. The lover of our souls is the one who knows exactly what we need and is ready and waiting to supply it.

So how about it? Are you willing to try an unconventional approach to mothering? Are you willing to give up the world’s quest for “Me” and devote yourself to loving service to your family? Although it won’t be easy, God promises us that He will provide the strength and joy and peace that we need. When we turn over our rights and desires to God, He promises that He will satisfy our hearts and strengthen our bodies. He will sustain us in those long days and weary nights, and help us to find joy in this season of mothering. Even better, our families will flourish when we are surrendered and are giving to them out of love, not out of obligation or guilt.

“Me”-time is a myth…we will never find satisfaction in feeding our own souls. Only in God can we flourish in this season of mothering and successfully love and train these precious children that have been entrusted to us.

Monday, August 31, 2009

"It's My Pleasure"

My oldest daughter began working this summer at a fast-food company that is known for being a Christian company. The experience has been a really great introduction to the working world and she has learned a lot of very valuable lessons. Her boss is a dedicated Christian man who sees his ownership of this restaurant as his mission to help teenagers learn to work in a safe and wholesome environment. The people who work at this place have strict rules to follow: no tattoos, no weird piercings, no outrageous hairstyles or colors. They wear a very particular uniform and their earning free food each shift depends on arriving on time, and on being tidy with shirts tucked in and fingernails clean. There is also a huge emphasis placed on their manner toward the customers. They are taught to greet each customer a certain way, to smile and be respectful always, and that the customer is always right and they are to humbly apologize for even an imagined slight. Molly has learned how to run a cash register, make change, interact with customers and many other assorted tasks. My favorite thing by far, however, is a certain trademark phrase that all employees of this restaurant use. If an employee does something for you (such as open the door or hand you your food) and you say “thank you”, they do not respond with “you’re welcome”. Their unusual reply is this—“It’s my pleasure!”

In a world where service is almost a lost art and cranky fast-food employees thrust food at you without a single word, this place stands out. From the employee who stands in the rain to walk you to the door with an umbrella, to the hard-working table cleaners and the friendly cashiers, a noticeable difference is felt. Upbeat Christian music plays on the speaker system, fresh food is prepared as you order it, and it is served with a smile. Another employee comes around offering to refill your drinks, and seeing if you need anything else. Service is offered with a willing spirit and a friendly smile. The best part of my daughter working at this place is the attitude of willing service that she brings home with her. “It’s my pleasure” has become her standard reply when I ask her to do something. Now, this is not the world’s standard for a typical 15-year-old! She has learned the valuable art of serving with a truly willing heart. It lifts my spirits and warms my heart every time I hear these precious words come out of her smiling face. Every so often, they come out with a bit of effort, but even then, I know she has learned a hard lesson…giving service when you don’t feel like it.

How would our world be different if we taught our children this art of serving? Instead of being the “Me” generation, we’d be raising a generation of kids who can truly be salt and light in this world—a true portrait of Jesus. Just like this particular restaurant stands out in a crowd of other fast-food restaurants (where the food is barely passable and the attitudes of the servers barely civil), children who know how to serve others would be an amazing beacon of God’s love. How do we teach our children this long-lost art? First of all, look in the mirror. Do our children see us serving others begrudgingly, because we know we should, or do they see us serving joyfully, because it brings glory to God? This is so hard sometimes…we are so caught up in the busyness of our own lives, that the idea of doing something for someone else is almost more than we can cope with. Yet some of the best servants I know are the ones who have the busiest lives. I know young moms who care for another young mom’s children to give them a break, even though they are barely making it themselves. I see people with very little money who are the most generous when they see someone else with a need. I know people who take meals to someone at the drop of a hat, when it may be very inconvenient for their own schedule. To me, these people know a secret… they are choosing what is more valuable over what may seem more urgent.

I am trying to work on this in myself. I want to serve without complaining, to be more aware of the needs around me and to do what I can do to help fill them. I want my children to see a willing spirit in me, so they, too, will learn to serve with willing hearts. What an amazing change it would be if more people responded with “It’s my pleasure” instead of “Yeah, whatever.” Thanks to my daughter’s employer, there is now one more family inspired to give of ourselves more willingly. Surely, if they can take pleasure in supplying fast food, we can take pleasure in supplying people with Jesus’ love.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aroma or Stench?

Recently, I had an experience that impacted me profoundly. My two younger children had been participating in some music videos for a Christian publishing company. On the first day of our shoot, a mother and her four young daughters caught our attention. Two of the daughters were involved in the videos, and they were accompanied by their younger siblings. In the car on the way home, my son asked me if I had noticed them. Several things about this family set them apart from some of the other families present. The way they interacted with each other was noticeably different. The girls were very obedient to their mother, even though they had plenty of energy. They were skipping around the rooftop where we were filming, and when the mother told them it was time to be still and quiet (when the camera was rolling), they immediately came and sat quietly by her side. The girls looked at books and played quietly with small toys and never were a distraction or caused a disturbance. Even the baby (less than a year old) was quiet and happy throughout the morning. The oldest daughter also impressed us with her friendly nature and how she made a point to compliment everyone else on their efforts.

A few days later, at the next video session, we ran into this family again. I had thought about them several times, and determined that if we were together again, I would make the effort to meet this mother and her children. My son had also mentioned that he hoped we would see them again and have the opportunity to get to know them. We ended up meeting this family right away, as soon as we walked into the park where we were filming. We were able to spend the entire morning and most of the afternoon together and a friendship was born. Being around this family was a breath of the freshest air. The way the siblings treated each other and treated me and my children was so appealing. Their sweet, open natures drew us to them and made us want to see these girls again. In a world where children are almost expected to be cutting and cruel, and where bullying is a serious problem in schools, resulting even in tragic shootings, these girls were delightful. The older girls treated the younger ones with kindness and compassion, not with mean spirits and impatience. They patiently helped their little siblings and didn’t try to exclude them or mistreat them. Were they perfect? Of course not, yet they showed an understanding of Jesus’ love that is rare to see even in adults today.

It was a good reminder for me. When my children were small, I was diligent about training them to treat each other kindly. Harsh words were dealt with, bad attitudes were corrected. Now that they are older, I fear that sometimes I let these things slide in the busyness of life. Being around another family who shared our vision for family unity and honor reminded me that this is something I treasure and that God still expects me to train my children in these things, and that we aren’t finished yet. I realized anew that children who treat others with respect and honor are a powerful witness to others, both Christians and non-Christians alike. These beautiful children were the “aroma of Christ” to us, and we found it pleasing indeed. As my children and I discussed how much fun it was to be around this family, we were inspired afresh to watch how we treated each other and the people we came into contact with.

My prayer is that my children will be such an influence on others around them and that I will be diligent in training them in these matters. I earnestly desire for my family to be such a blessing to others as this sweet family has been to me. So I encourage you to ask yourself, “Are my children the sweet aroma of Christ to those around them (including their siblings!) or do they reek of worldliness in how they treat others?”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In the Hands of God

Three nights ago, I had a terrifying experience. My son had complained of a migraine, so I decided to keep him home from church. My husband and daughters left for church, and I sent Noah to bed with an icepack for his pounding head. About fifteen minutes later, he stumbles into my room, gasping for breath and crying, “Mom, something’s wrong…I can’t breathe!” I looked up from my laptop and saw a terrible sight—my son, with his eyes swollen almost shut, his nose twice the size of normal, clutching his chest and panicking as he tried to draw a breath. I jumped up and raced to help him, praying silently in my soul for God to rescue us. I calmed him down, as his panic was making the asthma attack worse, grabbed his inhalers and a Benadryl pill and helped him get the medicine down a throat that was almost swollen shut. I quickly made a decision to get him in the car and race to the nearest ER after determining that the inhalers had eased his breathing enough to buy us the time to get to the hospital for help. We raced down the road, pushing the speed limit—I figured if I got pulled over, the policeman could help us get to the hospital faster. We arrived at the Emergency Room, walked in and when the triage desk took one look at my son, they immediately grabbed a wheelchair and took him to the back, in front of several other waiting patients. That, more than anything, scared me.

As the nurses got my son hooked up to a pulse oximeter (which measures the amount of oxygen in the blood), I could see that his oxygen levels were very low. He was now covered from head to toe in angry red hives, and his hands were swollen to the point of being unusable. A doctor came in almost immediately (another ER first for us!) and ordered an epinephrine shot and some prednisone to reduce the swelling. Within minutes of the shot, Noah’s breathing eased dramatically and he relaxed against the pillows.

The doctor, who was wonderful with Noah (the best we’ve ever had in an emergency room situation), believed that his reaction was probably due to something airborne, but was unable to determine what that might be. He decided to observe Noah for 2-3 hours before releasing us, to make sure he was stable. He warned me that when reactions come on this fast, it is very dangerous. He gave us a prescription for an Epi-pen (which delivers an emergency dose of epinephrine), so we can be prepared for next time. “Next time?!” my anxious heart silently cried, “I don’t ever want to experience this again!” We spent the next 3-1/2 hours waiting for his symptoms to subside so we could go home. Noah and I had some great conversations, watched a little TV, and I watched with relief as my boy’s hives faded and his swelling subsided. Inside, I prayed fervently to the God who made my little boy to protect him and to help us through this terrible ordeal.

I know that God was with us during those dark hours as I watched my son suffer. I felt His hand on me as I was able to calm Noah with soothing words and a calm demeanor, even though inside I was panicking, too. Both my husband and my son later commented on how unruffled I was throughout the whole ordeal…I know it was only because God provided what I needed to help save my son’s life. Noah and I also believe that God provided for us through Noah’s headache, as strange as that may sound. If he had felt well, and we had gone to church, I would not have had the tools to save his life. I was no longer carrying his inhalers with me, as his asthma had improved so much in recent years that it seemed unnecessary. I wouldn’t have had Benadryl, either, which helped to counteract the allergic reaction. Another provision that made the whole experience much more bearable is that from home, we were only about 7 minutes from our brand new hospital, with a terrific emergency room team. If we had been at church, we would have had to go to a different hospital, where we have had horrendous emergency room experiences. Looking back, it is so easy to see how we were held safely in God’s hands. Even though I was alone dealing with this crisis, I never felt alone, knowing that God was with us every step of the way.

Two days later, Noah and my husband were scheduled to go to the mountains for a father-son retreat. My heart was filled with fear at the thought of my son being outdoors, with all those possible allergens, and having another attack in a remote place without a hospital nearby. I did everything possible to ensure his safety—locating the nearest ambulance service, writing out detailed instructions for my husband for Noah’s medications, suggesting that my husband find the nearest landline in case his cell phone didn’t work, etc. Finally, though, I had to release control of the situation…it was out of my hands. I had to watch my husband and son drive away, knowing there was nothing I could do to protect him for the next couple of days.

Ultimately, it comes down to this…do I really believe that Noah belongs to God and is in His care? Am I willing to trust Him that whatever comes, He loves Noah best and has a perfect plan for his life? Why is it so hard to let go, and trust, and realize that I can’t keep him safe in this world? Sometimes I believe that God gave me Noah just to teach me these lessons in surrender. Those of you who know his whole life story know that God has saved this boy over and over again. He is a miracle many times over, and God has faithfully watched over this precious young man, working His will in Noah’s life. And I will rest in the peace that comes from knowing this: Noah is safe in God’s hands.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

In God We Trust

Today is a special day, a day for reflecting, for rejoicing, for thankfulness. Two hundred and thirty-three years ago today, America was born. It was conceived in the hearts of men who dreamed of something better: a land governed by the principles set forth by God in his holy Word. They dreamed of a place where all could live in peace, working hard together, worshiping together and raising children in a land of freedom. This freedom did not come without a price--these men fought, bled and died to establish this land that they loved. They suffered, they persevered and they were victorious. With God’s blessing, they began a new nation and they prospered.

Today, most Americans will have barbeques, watch fireworks, play sports and drink beer. At best, maybe they will hang out an American flag and give a passing thought to the founders of our country. Most likely, however, today will be about having a party, being with friends and eating lots of food.

What will we teach our children today? Will we tell them of the honorable men who fought and suffered to give them the freedoms they now enjoy? Will we read them quotes from the founding fathers, showing how devoted they were to their Creator? Will we explain the flag we fly, and what it stands for? Will we get down on our knees and thank the Lord for giving us such freedoms, and beg him to restore our nation to one that reveres Him? Or…will we just grill hot dogs, and shoot off firecrackers and go on blithely about our day?

I feel sad today. I see our nation on a downhill slide, away from all that is good and moral. Every time I open the newspaper, I am shocked by what goes on every day in the country that I love. I read about murders, assaults, abuse and abortion. I see families torn apart by drugs and alcohol and unfaithfulness. But most of all, I see a people who are entertaining themselves to death. It burdens my heart that this country, which I love, has turned its back on God and all that we were created to be. And I fear for what must become of us. Thomas Jefferson, the signer and principal author of our Declaration of Independence said this: “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

George Washington, first President of the United States, agreed. He said, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” Our founding fathers were convinced of one thing: that God was the ruler of this nation, and that all men must bow to His authority. Another early President and signer of the Constitution, James Madison declared, “Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.”

Recently, I heard our nation referred to as a “post-Christian” nation. That phrase made my blood run cold. America the Beautiful, founded on the blood of men who believed whole-heartedly in God’s rule, is now considered to be past all that “religious nonsense”. And we have stood by and done nothing while this has happened to our beloved country. We said nothing when abortion became legal, we said nothing when prayer was removed from our public schools, we remained silent as we watched the traditional family unravel.

Today, as we contemplate our freedoms and all that we hold dear, let us remember this: the Bible teaches us that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 33:12) God also promises us that “if my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Today, while we are enjoying time with our families and friends, may we remember, and repent, and ask God to heal our land and return our country to one that reveres Him and follows His ways. May God bless the United States of America.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Father's Love

When I was a little girl, my daddy filled many roles in my life. He was my protector, my champion, my playmate. He kept me in line with just a look of disapproval, guarded what came into our house and family, and showed me what real love looks like. He taught me that the most important thing in the world was to love God and walk in His ways. He showed me what compassion means, demonstrating a servant spirit by the way he helped anyone and everyone who crossed his path, even if it was inconvenient. He always took time to teach me things, to hear my stories, and to listen. He made many sacrifices to provide us what we needed, and often what we wanted, even if it cost him dearly. To this day, I know that he would do anything for me or for my family. He is a beautiful picture of a father’s love.

When I grew up, I met the man of my dreams. It only took one date for me to know that this was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Three and a half years later, we were married, and five years after that, our first child was born. Little did I know that the love I felt for this incredible man would be multiplied many times the instant I laid eyes on him holding our first child. He took to being a daddy instantly, not fearing the dirty diapers or late night rocking. He spent hours just holding our babies, then reading them books, playing cars and watching movies. He works hard every day at a job that is very demanding just to provide for me and our children. He never complains about getting up at 5:30 every morning, while the rest of us are sleeping. He, too, would sacrifice anything to protect and provide for his children, and his deepest desire is to see them grow up to serve and love Jesus. He loves being a daddy, and he is amazingly good at it. My heart melts when I see him with our children, when I hear their laughter as he teases them and when he encourages them to be all that God has planned for them. He, too, is a beautiful picture of a father’s love.

As if that weren’t enough, I am also blessed with a Heavenly Father who loves me. He exemplifies all these things I have seen in my husband and my dad. He, too, has sacrificed everything to take care of me…even at the cost of His beloved Son, Jesus. He did this so that I could be with Him forever, so that I would never have to be separated from Him by my sin. He forgives me, is patient with me, and He wants to spend time with me. He has given me an earthly father, and a husband to father my children, so that I can see a tangible picture of who He is and what a Father’s love looks like.

Because these two men love the Lord with all their hearts, He has been able to use them to bless me and my children. So, on this Father’s Day, I want to honor the men who have shown me the Father’s love. Dad, I love you, and I’m grateful for all that you have done for me. I just want to say thank you for all the sacrifices you made to give Scott and me a great life, and for the example of Jesus’ love that is so evident in your life. Thanks for loving me unconditionally and for loving my husband and children the same way. Alan, you are the best husband and father any woman could ever dream of having, and I am so thankful for you. I love the way you are passionate about being a father and the way you are so purposeful about our family life. I appreciate how hard you work and how you provide for us without complaining. I am so blessed by the way you support me in our homeschooling, not with pats on the back but with rolled up sleeves and an attitude of “how can I help?” You are an amazing man, and I am abundantly blessed to get to be the one who walks by your side in this journey of life.

Most of all, I praise the Father of all Creation, who has blessed me with these men and given me a picture of the Father’s heart…it is beautiful indeed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wasn't It Just Yesterday?

I just dropped off my oldest child, Molly, for her first day of work at her new job, a local fast-food restaurant. Watching her walk in the door, after praying together in the car, my heart felt a tug. Pictures flooded my mind of an adorable toddler with light brown, wispy curls, holding a piece of paper and a crayon as she seriously took my “order”. Seconds later, she would reappear, bearing a plastic tray with plastic food, which she usually managed to drop once or twice on her way to the Little Tikes table where I was sitting with my knees nearly touching my chin. As I pretended to taste her food and proclaim it the best I’d ever had, she would put her hands on her hips and suggest, “You want some more, don’t you, Mommy?” As I watched her disappear inside the restaurant and prepared to return home, my heart wanted to cry “Wasn’t that just yesterday?”

It seems that lately, there are too many “firsts”, which are starting to feel way too much like “lasts”. My daughter is growing up right before my eyes. Seemingly overnight, she has turned into a young woman, with insights and wisdom that sometimes catch me by surprise. Our conversations have turned from childish things to topics such as colleges, spiritual questions, and planning for her future. She has become my favorite shopping buddy, my right arm, and even, at times, a shoulder to lean on. The little girl who used to pepper me with endless questions about how things worked or speculations about imaginary princesses now invites me in for late night “girl talk”. The sweet child who used to play dress up with my fancy bridesmaid dresses and satin shoes now races in to say “Mom, can I borrow that white sweater?” The tiny ballerina who used to dance from room to room in her favorite “twirly” skirts now makes me weep with the sheer beauty and elegance of her grace as she dances en Pointe.

While I am overwhelmed with pride as I watch her fulfilling her dreams and reaching for her future, my mother’s heart also aches as I release yet one more of the heart strings attaching her to me and watch her spread her wings just a little bit more. What a bittersweet thing it is to see your daughter grow up, to be thrilled with who she is becoming even as you miss what she used to be. While I love the relationship we have grown as she has matured, sometimes I miss that tiny girl who climbed in my lap, begging for one more story, one more song. My mother’s heart will always see those chubby cheeks, those sparkling brown eyes, that charming girl who flitted around the living room, pretending to be Cinderella at the ball or Snow White running through the forest, even when she is all grown up.

We have many more “firsts” ahead in the next few years—first driving lesson, first date, first car, first love. Each year brings new opportunities, new challenges and new experiences. As she continues to grow into a beautiful young woman of God, my prayer is that I will be able to rejoice in the “firsts” without grieving too much over the “lasts”.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

We Cannot But Speak...

Usually, this blog is devoted to writing about things related to the calling of motherhood. Occasionally, however, a topic lodges itself in my soul which can only be purged by writing about it. This morning, while reading the newspaper over breakfast, an article inflamed my spirit. It was a description of President Obama’s recent visit to Buchenwald, a former concentration camp in Germany. An estimated 56,000 people died here, and it is a testament to the absolute evil that can reign in the human heart when people turn a blind eye and refuse to help their fellow man.

I have visited another such concentration camp, Dachau, and I can honestly say it was the most chilling experience of my life. I was sixteen at the time, an exchange student to Germany, and visited this horrifying site with several of my friends, without our chaperone (who was German, and did not care to accompany us). We wept as we walked the utterly barren pathways, sobbed as we entered the gas chambers and saw the ovens where the bodies were cremated. When closing time arrived, and the gates were clanged shut (while we were still inside the camp), absolute terror swept over us and we ran for the exit, fearing we would be trapped inside this terrible, hopeless place. It was an overwhelming experience for a young girl, realizing for the first time the depth of evil possible within the human heart.

Mr. Obama stated that Buchenwald “teaches us that we must be ever-vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that others’ suffering is not our problem, and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests”. While I agree with his statement in regard to the atrocities of Hitler in World War II, I shook my head at the audacity of this man. Our President has revealed himself as a man who will not stand against another holocaust happening right now in our very own country. He is no friend of the unborn, seeking to ensure abortion rights for all women, establishing policies and appointing people who are ardent abortion-rights supporters. Read Mr. Obama’s quote again: [Buchenwald] “teaches us that we must be ever-vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that others’ suffering is not our problem, and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests”.

According to the National Right to Life Organization, since 1973 (the year of Roe v. Wade), there have been 49,551,703 abortions in our country. Almost 50 MILLION babies have been denied their chance at life. Countless women have been subjected to the heartbreaking consequences of abortion because they were told that it was only “a mass of tissue”, not a human life. And yet, we have looked the other way, believing that the suffering of these women and their unborn children is “not our problem”. Babies, who might have grown up to be scientists, composers, teachers, inventors, or even presidents, have been discarded to “serve the interests” of others, including the abortion industry. My heart breaks as I realize that WE are responsible. We have turned our eyes aside as this holocaust has continued for years, not recognizing or resisting the evil that dwells among us. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And that is what we have done…nothing. In studying the horrifying events of World War II, it is easy to condemn the people who knew what was happening to the Jews of Europe and who simply turned away, doing nothing to help them. But I have to ask myself, am I any different? What have I done to resist this holocaust we are experiencing right now? Years from now, will history condemn us in the same way we condemn those who didn’t resist the Nazi holocaust?

As Billy Graham said, "Our motto too often seems to be, "Stay aloof. Don’t get involved. Let somebody else stick his neck out." In the face of all kinds of conditions screaming to be rectified, too many of us find ourselves afflicted with moral laryngitis......Christianity grew because its adherents were NOT SILENT. They said, "We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard." Nor did they stop with expressing the great faith they had found. They stormed against the evils of their day until the very foundations of decadent Rome began to crumble. Is the church doing that today?" I pray that we will repent of our passivity and that God will give us the courage and the strength to stand for what is right, no matter the cost.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hearts of Stone

Tonight, as my family and I were out for an evening of dinner and errands, we wandered into a video game store. My attention was immediately caught by a young couple shopping with their son, who appeared to be about three or four years old. The mother was showing this little boy various video games and asking him which one he wanted. The father came and got him and then told him he had an important question to ask him and to pay attention. He said, “If I buy you your own Xbox, so you won’t have to stop playing your games when Daddy wants to play, would you like that?” I confess, at this point, I moved closer while pretending to peruse the shelves, just so I could hear the rest of the conversation. The little boy jumped up and down in excitement, and then began whining because he wanted to play the store demo model. The mother ran over with two video games in hand, and asked her husband which version of “Resident Evil” they should purchase for the little boy.

Now I was certain I could hear something else…the sound of my heart breaking for this little boy. His parents were buying him his own video game system so he could play in one room, while his father played in another. They were also purchasing him a video game, rated “M” for “Mature” (although my 9-year-old questioned whether a truly mature person would play this game!). This game is classified as a “survival horror, third-person shooter” game, involving multiple weapons, evil spirits and significant gore. In case you didn’t catch it, let me reiterate…this little boy was three or four years old. He should be watching Veggie Tales while sitting on his daddy’s lap, not blowing people to bits on his own videogame system while his daddy plays his own games in another room. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it will take before the innocence in this handsome little boy’s eyes is completely gone.

How does this happen? Did his parents wake up one day and decide that these were appropriate games for their son to play? I don’t believe so. Instead, I think that they probably grew up playing such games themselves, being sold a bill of goods by the world that we live in which told them that this is appropriate fare for childhood consumption. Games, books, movies, and other forms of entertainment have steadily grown worse and we have become numb to the effects they are having on our society and on our children. Like the proverbial frog who never noticed that the pot of water was steadily growing hotter until it was too late, we have slowly become so jaded that we think nothing of buying a three-year-old an incredibly violent game or of feeding our teenagers a steady diet of sex, violence and foul language via the TV, video games and popular music and books. And then we wonder why our society has no respect for life, as is evidenced by the number of abortions performed annually in our country and the laws slowly being passed to support assisted suicide. We wonder how tragedies such as Columbine can happen, why our kids are bullied at school, or how children can be beaten to death by their siblings while play-acting games such as “Mortal Kombat” (for those of you outside of Colorado, this happened here recently).

Over the past few years, my husband and I have become ever more concerned about the degree of our own jadedness. We’ve discovered movies that we enjoyed as children now seem immoral and profanity-laden. We’ve discovered that books that we used to love now seem unacceptable. What concerns us most, however, is what we might be missing. As God reveals more and more things to us that we never before recognized as being opposed to His will for us, we wonder what things we have stubbornly or ignorantly missed. As He teaches us more and more how to raise children who are wholeheartedly devoted to Him, we learn to beseech Him for eyes like His to evaluate the choices that we make for our children. We learn to not just accept something because “everyone else does it” or because it “seems okay”. We learn to make decisions that are often unpopular, sometimes with our children, and even sometimes with other Christians. We learn to pray fervently for wisdom, strength and discernment in all of our choices, and to not make decisions by default…and we pray for God to remove our tarnished hearts and restore us to purity. For God promises us: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

I pray for that little boy, that God will protect his heart. I pray for his parents, that God will show them the error of their ways before it is too late for him. I pray, too, for all of us, that God will open our eyes so that when we see such things as we saw tonight, we will not walk away feeling self-righteous, but will examine our own hearts and our own degree of corruption, and that we will be broken before Him and will ask for His forgiveness and purification. May God remove our hearts of stone…

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Gift of Praise

When was the last time your child gave you a gift? Was it Mother’s Day, your birthday or just a day that he colored you a picture and gave it to you “just because”? Did you love that gift because it was expensive, or because it was exactly what you wanted, or just because he gave it to you to show you his love? Sometimes the best gifts our children give us are “best” because of the love expressed, not because of their monetary value or intrinsic usefulness. One of the best gifts my oldest daughter ever gave me was for Mother’s Day last year. She bought a bright pink basket with a lid, and filled that basket with notes full of love and encouragement. The notes expressed her love for me and her appreciation of the sacrifices I have made in order to homeschool her. She may not know this, but I turn to that precious basket often…on days when I need to feel valued, on days that are frustrating or discouraging, and on days that I just need to know that I am loved and appreciated. It is water when my soul is thirsting and comfort when my heart is weary.

We all need praise. Marriages die for lack of praise. Children wither for lack of praise. Even our Father in heaven desires praise from His children. When was the last time you gave your children the gift of your praise? Sometimes we mothers can be so diligent about correcting our children’s faults and misbehaviors, and yet fail to offer them praise when they do something right. How many times has your child brought you a beautiful picture that they colored especially for you and instead of noticing the vibrant colors and creative drawing, you instead bemoan the marker all over their hands or new white T-shirt? Have you ever seen that little face fall as they receive your criticism instead of your sought-after praise? How about the child who “helps” you by attempting to fix breakfast or “clean” something and instead of receiving your gratitude, she receives a heartfelt sigh at the mess left in the kitchen or bathroom? Sometimes their little hearts work ahead of their abilities, leaving chaos in their wake instead of true helpfulness, yet don’t they still deserve our appreciation for their efforts?

After all, think about the messes we bring to God, longing for His approval. “But I meant well,” we say beseechingly, and He receives us lovingly, in spite of the damage we have wrought. The few paltry gifts we bring to the Ruler of the Universe pale in comparison to what He has done for us, yet He delights in us and in the gift of our praise. No matter what we have done, or haven’t done, for that matter, He welcomes us, taking us in His loving arms and giving us more than we could ever deserve. I love the picture painted in Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Picture a father, swinging his child up into his arms, throwing back his head in laughter as he delights in this little child of his heart. Picture a mother, rocking her child in her arms, singing softly as she soothes this child whom she adores. This is how God feels about you and me…wow. If the God of the Universe can feel this way about me, then surely I can demonstrate some of this powerful love and praise to my children, even when they’ve left a mess in the bathroom or spilled their juice for the tenth time on my freshly mopped floor. Humbling, isn’t it?

So, how about giving your children the gift of your praise today? Instead of watching their little faces fall, watch them light up in delight as your loving words soothe their hurts and fill their hearts with joy. And then sit down together and praise your Heavenly Father, who delights in both of you.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bless You, Mom

One of the greatest blessings God bestowed on me came in the form of a petite, quiet, gentle-spirited woman. She never held any high-powered job, although she is extremely intelligent. She was never rich in material possessions and never sought after fame or fortune. She was content to “feather her nest” and make a wonderful home for her loving husband and two sometimes appreciative children. She lovingly cooked our meals, sewed us lovely clothes, and played dolls and baseball and board games without complaint. She kept her house tidy and organized and drove us to baseball games and play practices, youth groups and music lessons. She submissively served her husband and packed our household and moved us cross-country more than once, even when it was not what she wanted. She took care of us when we were sick (which in my case, was a lot!), dried our tears and shared our laughter. Our friends wanted to play at our house because she was so welcoming. They wanted to eat at our house because she was such a good cook. Most of all, they just wanted to be included in her circle of loving…and she always complied, even if she was tired, or had a headache, or just wanted to be alone.

Without her, I don’t know who I would be. She inspired me to respect and desire the role of motherhood. She taught me to love my Heavenly Father and desire to serve Him first. She taught me what a quiet and gentle spirit looks like in real life. She gently countered the worldly influence telling me that I needed to attain some great career, not stay at home and mother children. She showed me all I ever needed to know about grace and beauty and contentment. She taught me how to listen, really listen, with my heart as well as my ears. She taught me to love words and reading and writing, and encouraged my first efforts at expressing myself through the written word.

She showed me I was important by the way she dropped everything when I arrived home from school and allowed me to tell her the most insignificant details of my day over a snack. She gave me confidence by listening with her full attention. She taught me the value of touch as she lovingly stroked my hair as I lay with my head in her lap after a rough day. She demonstrated the necessity of spending quiet time with God as I watched her with her Bible open on her lap and a cup of tea on the table by her spot on the couch.

Everything I needed to know, I learned not at the hands of my kindergarten teacher, but by the side of my precious mother. Her sacrifices, her patience, her tenderness all communicated to me that I was loved, I was important, and that my choices mattered. In the process of growing up, I may have wanted to be a doctor, a veterinarian and a singer, but deep down I knew I really only wanted to be one thing when I grew up…I wanted to be just like my mother.

I pray that someday, my children will look on me with the love and respect I hold for my mother, even though I don’t deserve it. I pray that somehow, through the grace of God, they will learn from me what it means to be unconditionally loved and accepted, and that my daughters will grow up desiring this most divine calling of motherhood.

I’m humbly grateful that I had a mother of such “noble character” and this Mother’s Day, I “rise up and bless her” (Proverbs 31:10, 28). Happy Mother’s Day, Mom…I will always love you.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Homeschool Hints - Part III

It’s hard to believe, but it’s that time of year once again…time to choose teaching materials for next year. In this installment, I thought I would share some of my favorite resources for purchasing curricula, as well as some of the resources we have personally used and enjoyed. Being the Type-A person that I am, I have spent hours each year researching the various options, so if you have questions, please feel free to email me and I will be glad to help you.

Homeschool Resource Companies:

1. Rainbow Resource Center – Started as a family business, they now have over 40,000 products in all subject areas (and great toys and books, too!). They have great customer service, and you can’t beat their prices. This is probably my favorite resource company of all. Visit them online at: http://www.rainbowresource.com/

2. Christian Book Distributors – This is probably my second most-used company. While they are known for great prices on Christian books and music, they also have a great homeschool department. Again, great service and great prices and a huge variety of resources for all budgets. Address: http://www.christianbook.com/

3. Library and Educational Services - This is a great place to purchase books, audiotapes and audiodramas (such as Adventures in Odyssey and Focus on the Family) for amazing prices. Check out “The Truth Chronicles” by Adventures in Odyssey—our family favorite for teaching worldview to children. Address: http://www.libraryanded.com/

4. Apologia Educational Ministries - An excellent resource for Creation-based science programs. More about them below… http://www.apologia.com/

Specific Subject Recommendations:

1. Math – Our favorite Math program has been Math-U-See. This is a great hands-on program that stresses mastery and understanding over just memorizing facts. The videos are helpful and funny, and compared to some other programs it is relatively affordable. Website: http://www.mathusee.com/

2. World HistoryThe Mystery of History (Volumes 1-3) is one of my all-time favorite resources. Linda Hobar takes you through History starting with Creation. This is from a Biblical worldview, and teaches Bible history right alongside world history, teaching our children that the “stories” in the Bible are NOT stories, but historical fact. There are activities for young, middle and older students, making this a great resource for multi-level teaching. http://www.themysteryofhistory.com/

3. American HistoryTruth Quest History is a “living books” curriculum, involving reading many books, both fiction and non-fiction. They have an elementary and an older-level course. It is really a glorified reading list, which I have supplemented with other resources, but it makes finding the books much easier. http://www.truthquesthistory.com/

4. Science – I have a couple of recommendations here. Overall, we have thoroughly enjoyed anything from Apologia (see above for website). Their middle school and high school courses can’t be beat if you are looking for a college-prep, Christian-worldview science course. They also offer elementary level courses, which are wonderful. My kids love their science courses. We also recently discovered an elementary curriculum by Richard and Debbie Lawrence (a local couple), which are now marketed by Answers in Genesis (http://www.answersingenesis.org/). We tried the chemistry course this year, and my son especially loved this one. It is called God’s Design for Science.

5. Language Arts – I confess this is the area I have most struggled with in finding teaching materials. While there are many available, there haven’t been many that I have liked! We have found good materials for grammar (Easy Grammar – available at most of the resources above) and spelling (Reason For Spelling), and have tried many different writing courses, finally settling on The Institute for Excellence in Writing (http://www.excellenceinwriting.com/). While this course is truly excellent, I have also found it somewhat difficult to use (and expensive), requiring many hours of preparation time that I don’t have! If you have any suggestions for me in this category, please feel free to leave me a comment and share your wisdom…I would welcome your suggestions. I feel as though we have tried just about everything out there in the course of teaching three children, without finding just the right fit for Language Arts.

I hope you find this information helpful. There is such a plethora of materials available, it can be difficult to wade through them all and find the right fit for your family. Just remember, what works for one person may not be right for another. Keep your children’s learning styles, interests, and temperaments in mind when selecting materials, as well as your own. If you dislike certain material, that will definitely be communicated to your children, and none of you will enjoy the learning process. And that is what is important…teaching your children to love learning, no matter what the subject.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hope is Alive

Yesterday morning, I sat down to read the newspaper while I had my breakfast. As I read, I felt my heart slowly sinking into despair. I went from stories of senseless shootings and mass murders to stories about how our President wants to make changes which will require all health care workers to perform abortions, even against their consciences. Later that day, I read the headline story on MSN.com (which was the cover story in Newsweek magazine) about the “decline and fall of Christian America”. Every day we are flooded with such stories, telling us how evil abounds and how our country turns farther and farther away from our godly foundation. More and more often, my husband and I discuss the state of things in our world, and worry for the future of our children and grandchildren. As I read these depressing stories, one of my children suddenly piped up, “Mom, it’s Easter week!” And in the midst of the darkness, I glimpsed a great light.

Over 2000 years ago, something newsworthy happened. A baby was born, one who fulfilled all the prophecies of long ago. He came in a humble manner, not in a kingly fashion, as was expected by the Jewish people who awaited his arrival. He grew up, traveled around ministering to people and meeting their needs in a quiet, humble way. And then, one day, he entered the city of Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, and was greeted by the people. They waved palm branches and yelled their praises, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” In the midst of their suffering and struggle against the Roman oppression, their Saviour had come and hope was born.

Things were no different then. They had problems, and violence and suffering. People were sick, they made poor choices, and they had hatred and discord, just like us. They, too, needed hope, just as we do today. They were under Roman oppression and needed someone to save them. We are under the oppression of sin, and need someone to save us. In the Jewish religion, it was required to make a blood sacrifice in order to obtain forgiveness for their sins. (Hebrews 9:22 says, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”) We, too, are in desperate need of forgiveness. I see, more and more, the darkness overtaking our society. Immorality is rampant, the very definition of marriage is crumbling, 40% of new births in America are born to unmarried mothers, alcohol and drugs are being consumed in vast amounts and by younger and younger children, and the pursuit of pleasure has become the sole purpose of our existence. We are desperate for someone to save us.

A mere seven days later, that Saviour was arrested. After a sham of a trial, he was brutally nailed to a rough, wooden cross, where he suffered unimaginable pain and grief, separated from his Heavenly Father, and bearing the weight of all the world’s sin…past, present and future. He was mocked by those he came to save, tortured and reviled by those he had treated only with the purest of loves. And yet, he looked on them with grace, and pleaded with his Father to forgive his tormenters. After crying out to his beloved Father, he breathed his last. Hope was dead.

His disciples holed up in their houses, defeated by their grief. Their king had apparently failed them. There was no battle, no mighty warrior who freed them from the hated Roman rule. They were cast into despair, not understanding that the story was not over.

Three days later, the sun rose on their grief. Early in the morning, Jesus’ mother and some other women went to the tomb to anoint his body. Upon reaching the tomb, they were surprised and frightened to see that the stone (which sealed the entrance) had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a man, dressed in white, and were alarmed. After reassuring the women, the man gave them some astonishing news. “He is not dead…He is risen!” Their Saviour had not failed them…hope was alive again. Jesus had risen, just as He promised.

And in this resurrection, Jesus offers us true freedom. He paid the blood offering for our sins, once and for all, and offered us the chance for a true resurrection…to a new life and a promise of eternal life with Him in heaven. Hope is not dead, no matter what you read in the newspaper. Hope is alive and well, in the person of Jesus Christ. If you know Him, and follow Him, your hope can illuminate the darkest night, no matter what you are experiencing right now. And that is what we celebrate this coming Sunday…that we have a Saviour, and that He most definitely lives.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Homeschool Hints - Part II

In Part I of this series on Homeschool Hints, we talked about some basic principles to help in your transition to homeschooling. Now I’d like to move into some practical tips to help your day run more smoothly.

  • First of all, the key word is PLANNERS. Buy a teacher’s planbook from a teacher supply store. And look for the planner with the most space…you’re going to need it, especially if you are schooling more than one child. If these are too expensive for your budget, never fear. You can create your own using Excel, or a piece of paper and a ruler, if you are technically challenged. You can also find templates to print for free on the wonderful website of Donna Young (http://www.donnayoung.org/). She has an abundant supply of free planning forms available for homeschool parents to use. If you are a Type-A planner like me, you will find this website addictive! Now that you have a planner, buy or create one for each of your children. At the beginning of the school year, you can purchase these inexpensively at any store with school supplies (or you can create your own). The year I decided to use a planner for each of my children was the year homeschooling became manageable…yes, really. Every weekend, I write in each child’s planner, listing their individual work for the whole week. While this may seem an overly simple idea, it revolutionized our homeschool. Now, each child knew exactly what was expected of them, without my having to tell them. No longer did they ask me every ten minutes, “What do I do now, Mom?” interrupting while I was trying to work with another child. No longer did I have to check my planner every ten minutes to see if everyone was on track for the morning. And, best of all, my early–riser children began getting up (BEFORE me) and completing a good portion of their independent work before breakfast, leaving us lots of time for reading great historical fiction books, science experiments and art projects. I used to spend time every weekend planning out all of our work for the following week. Now that I am more experienced at this, I have it down to spending time about once a month, planning out our work for an entire month, thus freeing me up for other things. Trust me, the best thing you can do is to invest in some planners for everyone!

  • Another tip that seems like a small thing but has big results is this: Don’t answer the telephone. We tend to do school in the morning hours at our house and are usually done shortly after lunch (my kids are early risers). When we began homeschooling, I purposed to not answer the telephone during school hours, knowing it could be a major distraction. Interruptions of any kind when you are trying to teach your children are disruptive to their learning, and a quick “five-minute conversation” can easily turn into a half-hour wasted. My friends know to call me in the afternoons if they want to talk to me, and an answering machine insures that important calls aren’t missed (it also allows us to pick up if it’s Daddy!). Your kids will appreciate having your undivided attention and their learning will benefit from a focused environment. We also added a sign to our front door that discourages solicitors (“No Soliciting—Homeschool in Progress”).

  • And now, the MOST important tip for today: Before you do anything…PRAY. Don’t enter the arena without putting on God’s armor and provision. Homeschooling is not an easy task and we need to be sure we are leaning on God’s strength to be the patient and loving teachers our children need. The days that nothing seems to go right at my house tend to be the days that I stumble out of bed late and don’t take the time to pray before going to greet my children. I try to pray for each of them individually, for our school day, for strength for me as their teacher and for all of my friends who are beginning their school day as well. I don’t want to ever presume to undertake this high calling without leaning on the divine help of the Saviour.

In the next installment, I will provide some curriculum reviews and some resource recommendations. Please check back soon for Part III.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Dearth of Manners

As I write this, I am sitting in an airport, waiting to return home from an incredible eight days at sea in the Caribbean. My husband and I decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary in a very memorable way and to escape together for a few days of relaxation and romance. Our cruise took us to several tropical locations as well as several “at sea” days.

During our journey, we noticed one thing over and over again. The crew members on our ship were absolutely amazing. They had so obviously been well-trained to treat each passenger with the utmost respect and cordiality. Each crew member would greet you politely when you passed in the hallways. The waiters at meals would pull out your chair and seat you with a smile. We heard many “sir”s and “ma’am”s and were served with the utmost respect. If you had a special need, they would bend over backwards to make it happen. Their behavior seemed to hearken back to an earlier time, when good manners were the norm, not the exception.

In contrast, however, was the behavior of many of the passengers. While some were very pleasant (such as our wonderful dinner companions), the majority were not. Time after time, we would be the ones to step aside in the narrow hallways, while the other guests plowed on through without even an “excuse me” or “thank you”, as if it were their God-given right to be first. We heard complaint after complaint about the pettiest of issues. Here we were in the closest thing to paradise on earth, and people found something to complain about! We also were appalled at our cigar-smoking neighbors in the stateroom next door, who daily chased us off our balcony with their noxious fumes. Even simple items of courtesy, such as “please” and “thank you” seemed to be absent among many of the passengers.

We couldn’t help but ponder what the world would be like if everyone acted with the same courtesy as our Royal Caribbean crew. People would be appreciative, eager to serve others and polite in their social interactions. Our assistant waiter, Manuel, had a response that we found noteworthy. Whenever we thanked him for filling our water glasses or giving us bread, he would look us in the eye and gallantly reply, “It is my pleasure”. He seemed so sincere in this statement, making us feel that it truly was a pleasure for him to serve us. What an honor it was to be served by someone who made you feel as though nothing was more important than fulfilling your every need.

It’s time for us to start a revolution…let’s teach our children old-fashioned manners and then turn them loose to change the world. Let’s be diligent in teaching them to speak politely, to seek opportunities to serve others (and to take pleasure in it), and to just be aware of the needs of the people around them. If Royal Caribbean can manage this, surely we can, too!