Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Kids, Thoughts from Scripture

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I recently had a conversation with my girls about books they are reading during their quiet times.

First, let me back up and say that Scripture reading is the number one most critical portion of our morning devotional times. We have daily Bible readings (many years all five of us go through the same plan) and we all copy a portion of Scripture every day, just to help us slow down and truly meditate. But, we all also enjoy adding other thought-provoking books into the mix. We usually pick a devotional to read, then often have another book or two going as well.

My oldest decided to move slowly through James with me this year, and we are using two books to help us work through them: James: A Devotional Commentary and The Book of James: A New Perspective: A Linguistic Commentary Applying Discourse Analysis, both by Dr. William Varner. The second of these two books is highly academic. And here we are, a high school junior (a smart high school junior, but still just a junior) and homeschool mom a long way from her academic pursuits trying to push our way through a very academic look at the book of James.

Needless to say, we frequently feel like we’re in a bit over our heads.

Meanwhile, my nerdy middle child is always searching the bookshelves for something new to stretch and challenge her. Her current attempt is Knowing the Character of God by George MacDonald.

As we discussed the books, both girls admitted to sometimes staring at the page with no real understanding of what they are reading. And, if I’m honest, there are days I do the same. I have to go back and read and reread to try to process and let the concepts sink in. All three of us confess that, sometimes, it doesn’t feel worth the effort when we could focus our full attention on books more on our level.

But, about the time we had this discussion, my youngest unwittingly contributed to the contemplation. His Sunday school lesson that week had been about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. You can read the whole story in Acts 8, but there are two verses that really rang in my memory as I listened to my son.

Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Acts 8:30-31

The key was this: if the man had not been reading something he didn’t understand, there would not have been an avenue through which he could learn about Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. We can – and do – very often grow through books (and tasks as well) that are closer to our level of understanding. They stretch us in different ways. But, there are also many ways in which we need to push ourselves beyond our apparent capabilities. If we never reach – if we always just stay right where we are doing what we’ve always done – will there ever be an avenue of growth in our lives? Will we ever learn more, experience more, grow more, or be capable of more?

I can’t help but picture a baby taking those first tentative steps, a child choosing to give no training wheels a try, or a teenager first sitting behind the wheel of a car. From birth, we learn and grow because we stretch ourselves. Why should we not do the same as adults?

What more do you need to do this year? Where do you need to step up and challenge yourself to dig into something you don’t understand or don’t really feel capable of in this moment?

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Posted in Marriage, Thoughts, Thoughts from Kids

What Do They See?

Over the past few days, I’ve had the privilege of watching two teenage boys interact with two teenage girls: my daughter, a brother and sister my daughter has known for as long as she can remember, and a new friend (but you never would have known it from the way he jumped right in!). Thrown into the mix, and also relevant to my observations, were four younger siblings.

I watched them closely, because I was curious what their interactions would look like over the course of our five days of togetherness. And I loved what I saw. First, I saw full-fledged interaction. The teens never separated themselves from the younger four. I look back through pictures and see full and precious integration of all eight children, from oldest to youngest. They truly enjoyed each other.

But, I also saw complete respect and comfort between the four teenagers. In a culture where we would expect the boys to be acting all macho to attract the girls and the girls to be giggling and making themselves crazy over the boys, I instead saw friendship. Respect. Conversation. Play. Fun.

I started pondering why all of our children automatically knew how to interact well with one another. True, all but our new friend have known each other for years. But, we’re talking teenagers, people. Need I say more?

Respectful interaction is not something we verbally hammered into them. We didn’t give them a pep talk on Wednesday saying, “This is how you need to interact while you are all together this weekend.” If we had, their interactions would have been stilted and awkward instead of natural and delightful. So, what happened?

I want to be careful when I say this because I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn. But, I firmly believe our teenagers could interact freely with one another because all their lives they have seen friendship modeled by their parents. All of those kids have parents who highly value solid friendships, starting with the friendship shared between Mom and Dad. Yes, marriage involves romance. Yes, marriage automatically results in a different kind of friendship. But, our children know that each marriage represented was formed from a friendship more than from a flashy romance.

They also see that Dad and Mom are friends with others. Our children watch us intermingle with other men and women and know how important those friendships are.

So, it’s no surprise that they would, as a result, make friendship their priority as well. True, honest-to-goodness, unadulterated friendship.

Some day, each of those teenagers and their siblings will experience the deepening of friendship into something more. Maybe even with each other. (I wouldn’t complain!) And maybe thoughts of future possibilities did flit through their minds over the weekend. But, for the most part, they’re leaving that to their future. They’re trusting. And they’re building a solid foundation in the meantime.

They’re not doing it because we’ve drilled into their heads that they aren’t allowed to date or that they have to pursue relationships a specific way. They’re just mimicking what they’ve seen. They’re doing what comes naturally to them.

The bottom line is that the whole weekend served as a strong reminder that our children are watching closely. They pay attention to what we are modeling. They watch how we interact with one another in our marriage. They watch how we relate to friends. And they mimic those interactions.

It’s humbling, because I know how many times I’ve screwed up in the relationship department. I know how often I fail to be the wife and friend I should be. But I also know how I want to be. I know what I strive for. And I know that my goal is to exemplify Christ. Period. So, maybe through all of my blunders, He truly is shining through.

And they see it.

Wow.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts, Thoughts from Kids, Thoughts from Life

Not Overwhelmed…Focused

Over the past few weeks, our family has spent at least half of every Saturday chopping and burning tree branches.

It started when Doug was able to borrow a pole saw and deal with some of the limbs that had been hanging over our house and yard. We wanted to get it done before winter, knowing that an ice storm could wreak havoc on the trees and our roof.

I really didn’t think it would be that big of a job. I mean, I knew there were quite a few branches hanging over the house, but not that many.

For the record, it’s amazing how much bigger and more numerous they seemed when piled on the ground!

The first Saturday, we dove into the pile of what Doug had cut earlier in the week. But when we were only about halfway through the front yard pile (there was another pile on the side of the house and yet another in the back yard), Doug climbed up on the roof and cut out a few more branches.

Have I mentioned there were a LOT of branches?

The next week, we left the front yard and worked on the back yard, chopping, burning, and salvaging logs for the fireplace. We even roasted hot dogs and made s’mores, just to make it a bit more fun.

But it was still overwhelming. And we still had the side yard. And Doug cut down a few more branches in the backyard.

Yes, there were a lot of branches.

On that second Saturday, my oldest was manning the fire. We had a huge pile of branches beside the fire, waiting to be burned. But for two solid hours, that pile didn’t seem to shrink any. We kept cutting and piling, adding branches to the pile and to the fire itself. Finally, we had the back yard cleared – well, except for the huge ever-growing pile still waiting beside the fire.

My daughter, tired and hot from standing near the fire, looked at the huge pile with dread. “That will take forever to burn through, Mom!” she sighed.

Wrapping my arm around her, I turned her toward the rest of the back yard. Her eyes grew wide as she saw bare ground where branches had been piled not long before.

Life has a way of doing this to us. We see only what is right in front of us. Sometimes it is because what is right in front of us requires all of our energy and attention, leaving us no choice. Other times, we choose to keep our attention close, ignoring the broader picture.

Still other times, God closes our eyes to what is beyond the immediate. He knows that seeing it all would be like seeing all of those branches lying in the yard at the same time – overwhelming. The task before us would be too great. All we can handle is what is right in front of us.

But God knows that we can, in truth, handle it all. He knows He can walk us through each step until the job is done. We just need to keep our focus on Him and the little bit right in front of us.

There are times when God wants us to open our eyes to the bigger picture, seeing how He is working beyond our tight, little world. Other times, though, He simply wants us to obey in what He has placed before us right here, right now.

How can you focus today?

(PS – We finished the task last Saturday. Which means tomorrow we get to finally put out fall decorations instead of doing yard work. YAY!)

Posted in Marriage, Thoughts from Kids

Marriage Monday: Wisdom from the Teen Years

My oldest stood expectantly in her doorway, watching me.

“You don’t want a hug, do you?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I am a teenager, after all.” With a grin, she wrapped her long arms around me and squeezed tightly.

My daughter just entered her teen years, and we frequently chuckle over what many teens find to be unacceptable behavior. On this particular morning, a close relationship with Mom was the topic of discussion.

As we talked, I gave her a bit of advice that I learned as a teenager: Never get into gripe sessions about parents.

Negativity feeds negativity.

As a teen, I was blessed with a few older women I could occasionally confide in. Some were journeymen fresh out of college. Others were older single missionaries. Either way, I knew if I had a real problem, they would listen. But they would also not accept any bad-mouthing from me about my parents.

Peers were a different story. If the conversation ever turned toward frustration with parents, conditions could quickly escalate from minor frustration to outright anger. Something that was small could quickly become a wedge between parent and child. I hated those conversations. I knew what they could do to my contentment and attitude, and I did not want it.

So, I made it a point to never bash my parents publicly. If I really needed to vent or seek advice, I knew who I could trust.

As my daughter and I talked, I reminded her that there will be times of frustration for her. She will, on occasion, want nothing more than to gripe with friends about how unfair and cruel her parents are. But, I am praying now that God will provide that safe place for her to vent. I want her to have wise counsel like I did.

Isn’t this a marriage post?

You’re probably wondering why I have spent over three hundred words gabbing about parenting on a Marriage Monday. Let’s just say that my little “never gripe about parents” practice in high school has been perfect training for marriage!

There are times I get frustrated with my husband and I need to talk it out. But, there are very few people who will ever hear me speak negatively about my husband. Why? Because griping breeds griping whether you’re a teenager or a full-grown adult. When wives get together and complain about their husbands, those poor men suddenly have no chance. Their wives discover that they are agitated about things that had never bothered them before, simply because a girlfriend started griping about that particular issue in her own marriage.

When I need to truly talk something out, I go to one of those rare friends who will listen, identify, and then do whatever they can to help strengthen my marriage. Those conversations ease my frustration. Those conversations help me refocus. Those conversations leave me both relieved of my burden and stronger in my love for my husband.

Are you tempted to gripe today? Prayerfully seek a trusted friend who will help you refocus instead.

Posted in Thoughts from Kids

To Say I Love You

Yesterday was my oldest’s day to empty the dishwasher and put everything away properly. Typically that is not a problem, even for a Sunday. But yesterday was an exceptionally busy Sunday, and she never had a chance to complete the job. So, because it was left until today when my middle child was supposed to do the chore, we asked the girls to complete the chore together. When they were done, I intended to go back and refill it with the dishes stacked up on the counter.

A little while later I walked through the kitchen to find the counter clean and every dirty dish loaded into the dishwasher.

Now, I have great kids. They do their chores very willingly and without complaint most of the time. But, they don’t always think to go that extra step. They had other chores to complete this morning. It would not have been unreasonable for them to unload the dishwasher and then move on to the vacuuming and dusting.

But they didn’t stop there. They went the next step and gave me the gift of some extra help.

Let me go ahead and say right now that I love that the job was done. I’m so thankful to them! But, I’m more excited about the heart of the matter. My sweet girls did not do the job because it needed to be done. They did it because they wanted to do something for me. They wanted to show me love. They knew that refilling the dishwasher would accomplish that.

Does my heart look like that? I get caught up in being productive. I want to get the job done. I’ve said so many times that I want a checklist. Tell me what I can do for you, and I will be glad to do it!

But sometimes showing love is about doing something just because. Not because it’s on a checklist. Not because I’ve been asked. Not even because it’s really needed. But because I want someone else to know I love them, whether that someone else is another person or my Savior.

I don’t always work well that way. It is not a natural way of thinking for me. But it is natural to the Holy Spirit, and He lives in me. He can love through me if I will let Him. He can see little ways to reach others if I will look with His eyes instead of my own.

This week I want to love like that. Spontaneously. Unexpectedly. With the love of Jesus.

Posted in Thoughts from Kids, Thoughts from Life

Easy to Forget

Once upon a time, I was the mother of young children. I did not think it was that long ago. But this week my two nieces, ages four and 15 months, are staying with us. It is fun. They are precious. But there are so many things about having a toddler and preschooler that I have forgotten. I suppose it has been longer than I thought.

It is so easy to forget where we once were, isn’t it? It is not so much that we forget having the experience. For example, I remember clearly the first year of my second born’s life, even though she is now well past her tenth birthday.

Yes, the experience is solidly entrenched in my memory. But the how-to of truly living out that experience has escaped me. Were I to start a year like that all over again right now, I would have to relearn the details of daily life, just as I am having to relearn how to have a preschooler and toddler in the house.

But it is not just about relearning the coping mechanisms. It is about restructuring life. Ten years ago, my life was structured to have little ones. My girls were six months and almost three. My whole schedule, routine, and home were built around having children that age.

Nowadays, I can give advice based on how I lived life back then. But, I would have to completely readjust my life to get back to that point. Nothing about where we are right now as a family is conducive to the permanent residence of young children.

We all would do well to remember that truth when others come to us for advice. Are we truly still familiar with what it takes to live certain phases of life? How much adjustment would it require? How easily could we truly step back into that role?

This week I will thoroughly enjoy my sweet nieces. Then I will send them home and life will return to normal routine. But I’m thankful for this snapshot. I’m thankful to have seen a glimpse of what would be required were we to return to toddler/preschool life. And I hope that glimpse will allow me to truly be helpful when other mothers ask me for parenting advice.

Posted in Thoughts from Kids, Thoughts from Life

Just Don’t Want To

Some days I just don’t wanna do it.

I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to teach my children. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to keep life together. I have seen several “just keepin’ it real, folks” statements on social media. Well, I suppose this is mine. Some days I just don’t want to.

Over the years, though, I have learned that giving in to my “don’t want to” temptations does not solve anything. I cannot run away today and suddenly feel motivated tomorrow. In fact, the more I run away the less motivated I feel tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Life falls apart when I run away.

I have also had to learn the difference between giving up and truly resting. Giving in to the “don’t want to” feeling is running away. It is laziness. It is a lack of discipline. Rest, on the other hand, is biblical. It refreshes me, refocuses me, and truly energizes me to get back into the game.

I don’t think I realized I had learned this lesson until recently, though. You see, I have been particularly unmotivated lately. I have felt a little bit maxed out and very behind on just about everything. That always intensifies the “don’t want to” feeling. It has been a hard fight lately.

Meanwhile, when the time changed we rearranged bedtime for the kids a bit so they could stay outside a little longer, enjoying whatever pretty weather comes our way. That has meant a later wake-up time for them as well.

I go in to awaken two of my three children, but my oldest has grown to prefer her own alarm clock. This child has always loved sleep. She is my latest sleeper and the one most likely to enjoy loafing around in her pj’s all day. I expected her to most enthusiastically welcome the later wake-up time every morning.

Imagine my surprise when, just a few days after the schedule adjustment, my daughter was up at the old wake-up time. Her explanation? “I just feel better when I get up earlier, Mom. It’s not exactly fun, but I know it helps me be more diligent and relaxed with my day.” It might be less fun, but it’s more restful. How profound.

This thinking is not in my daughter’s nature any more than it is in my own. But, as we have trusted her to be more in control of her time, she has watched us. She has seen how we deal with our mornings. She has observed the differences between our days of diligence and our days of laxity.

She has learned because we have learned.

Diligence on those “don’t want to” days does not just impact me. It does not just grow me. It does not just strengthen me. It makes an impact on those around me – especially on my children. It gives them the foundation upon which to build habits and decision-making skills that will carry them far as they grow.

Today, I must admit, is very much a “don’t want to” day. But, I cannot help but smile as I do it all anyway. My baby girl is watching. Even when nothing else matters, that makes it all worthwhile.