Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Lord Blesses My Peter

 Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Pheucticus ludovicianus                     

Peter woke up earlier than usual, while I was in attending to Beth's cries. When I came out of her room, Peter could barely contain himself:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Pheucticus ludovicianus

"Mommy! Jesus told me to read the Bible and have my personal prayer time. And so I did. And guess what! You wouldn't believe it! Right after that I went to the window and saw a rose-breasted grosbeak at the feeder! Jesus blessed me because I obeyed him, didn't he? And then he told me to read another chapter. And I did, so do you think I'll see the grosbeak again today?"

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Pheucticus ludovicianus

I told Peter he was absolutely right. Jesus intentionally blessed him. Jesus loves to build a child's faith by actively displaying His faithfulness and steadfast love. And I added that, yes, I did believe he would see the bird again today.

After breakfast, during spelling, the rose-breasted grosbeak blessed all of us by another quick visit to the feeder!

Today's Devotional Text: Psalm 92

It is good to praise the Lord
and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
and the melody of the harp.

For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord;
I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
How great are your works, Lord,
how profound your thoughts!
Senseless people do not know,
fools do not understand,
that though the wicked spring up like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they will be destroyed forever.

But you, Lord, are forever exalted.

For surely your enemies, Lord,
surely your enemies will perish;
all evildoers will be scattered.
You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox;
fine oils have been poured on me.
My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries;
my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes.

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him."

Prayer Time: Dear Father, thank you for the Psalms. They sing to our souls of your love and faithfulness, Lord. How much we need this life-giving music. Thank you for blessing my son, for building his faith. May he walk closer and closer with you, Lord, along with his brother and sisters. May your Word sing to their hearts. May they pray for and love the lost and the least, and live according to your will. May we, as parents, shine your light in our home, each and every day. Forgive us, strengthen us, have mercy on us, Lord. Thank you. I love you.

In your Son's name I pray, Amen.

Linking with Laura today

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rethinking Summer For Kids

When I began as a homeschooling mother five years ago, I tried to recreate an institutionalized setting at home, complete with calendar time, desks, and the Pledge of Allegiance. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Gradually though, I began to loosen my mind from the mass education mold I'd grown up in and taught in professionally. Thinking outside the box, I grew into our freedom as homeschoolers.

We've schooled into mid August for two years now, and taken part of August, all of September, and part of October off.  The humidity, and the weather in general, are better in September and October, making them ideal months for outdoor activities like hiking and biking.

Now, five years into homeschooling, I'm rethinking the structure of a school year entirely. Why does the traditional structure exist? When did it begin and why?

When mass schooling began in America, students were given the summer off to help on the family farm. Their abled bodies were needed; paying for farm help wasn't an option for most families. Family sizes were typically much larger then too, further facilitating family farm life.

Is our country structured the same way now? Decidedly not. Family farms are disappearing in alarming numbers, much to our dismay. That way of life seems ingrained into my ten-year-old. He wants it with his whole heart--large family and all.

We can only pray, along with Ann Voskamp and her husband--a Canadian farm family fearing their own demise--that family farmers find a way to preserve their way of life. And we can commit to buying local produce.

Now that children aren't working family farms all summer, what are they doing instead?

The unfortunate answer? Not much. We've replaced summers of hard work, with summers of leisure. I don't mean you or me personally, but our country as a whole. Kids are driven to this or that program or experience, one after the other, all summer. Instead of instilling a work ethic in our young people, we're spoiling them. Treating them like summer camp customers we'd like to see again the following summer.

No wonder our young men are "failing to launch" when they hit eighteen, either as college students, trade students, or working hard in some field. They simply aren't prepared emotionally and mentally, after living such a pampered life.

Yes, thirteen years of school is hard work, but kids need other responsibilities as well--other kinds of work and discipline, to be fully prepared for a life of work. After Adam and Eve, life became work. We can mourn this all we want, but it is reality.

But absolutely, kids need down time, just as we do.

Let's analyze how their down time is best used. Is structured activity the best?  I don't think so. The people who invent, plan, structure, and carry out activities for others? They use higher level thinking skills and leadership skills. The people who participate in the activities? They sometimes need thinking skills, but not as a rule. Generally, they're being entertained, or working on one skill, or maybe they're exercising.

What if kids had to invent their own fun? Plan puppet shows, design sets, write scripts? What if playing a team sport meant planning it with the neighborhood kids--deciding on the rules, times, equipment, recruitment?

Do we have to farm every childhood experience out to "experts"? Or can we allow kids to become experts themselves, by experiencing process? You've heard it's not the destination that matters, but the journey itself?

Have you ever been asked to teach on a certain passage of Scripture? You have to study pretty hard, looking at background and history, different interpretations, and then you have to decide how to present the material to your group.

By the time your lesson is over, you've potentially grown in many ways. And perhaps best of all? You realize anew: You get out of something what you put into it. If kids want a summer to remember, let them put something into it--besides just Mommy and Daddy's money.

If you're a homeschooler, remember that you don't have to do anything a certain way. Not the summer, not the school year. You can blend the best of both worlds, by structuring your year the way it works best for you and your family.

We don't need summer to teach what we can't teach during the school year. How about making life a smooth one piece? To that end, we're praying around here about moving to a Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday school schedule, year round, with Wednesday, Friday, and the weekend off, except for heavy snow months. In January and February we'll school five days a week, to total around 180 school days per year.

And the weekends? Except for cooking, I plan to have no-work weekends. Strictly family time. Down time. With Daddy working 54 hours a week, we need to make the most of the hours we're together. When we do chores seven days a week, it wastes the rest time God wants for us. Leaving one day free to worship God together in different ways, beyond just church? It makes sense for the soul.

Having Wednesday and Friday off from school (or whatever arrangement we decide on), as well as the weekend, gives my children more time to explore their interests and invent their own activities, practicing leadership and higher level thinking skills, and cooperative learning skills.

It also gives them more time to help our home run smoothly. Mommy and Daddy shouldn't have to do everything, save for the twenty or so minutes of chores our older children do. I am a manager of my home, yes, but I needn't be swamped every minute of the day. That's just bad management. Kids should move into adulthood knowing what hard work feels like. They should be capable of taking over as manager, by the time they leave our home.

The girls will someday, God willing, have their own homes to manage. And if they aren't blessed with children, they'll probably have some type of job to manage, as well. And the boys? They'll need management and organizational skills for whatever endeavor they pursue.

On Wednesday and Friday, their days off from school, the children will be my partners. No, not all day. If we work as a team, this home can be better than it ever was, in far less time.

Whether you homeschool or not, think about what summer can be. Think outside the box.

I can testify--and you can too--that it's hard to let kids loose with their time. It's messy when they invent and create. And it's noisy. There are false starts, with sibling rivalry and whining. And teaching them to help around the house in productive ways? That's very challenging as well. We have to patiently train, and consistently check up on their progress and work ethic.

But what is our goal? To have as much peace as possible? To have as many kid-free hours as possible?

Or to release God-fearing, hardworking, creative people into the world, to impact it for Christ? 

photo credits:
 first photo
second photo
third photo
four and five and six
last photo

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Multitude Monday; Psalm 100

Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God. 

It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving 
and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name. 
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; 
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Giving Thanks: 

~ smiles on the train ride

~ Paul and Mary picked for the magic show at "A Day Out With Thomas"

~ hearing "I had a really good time."

~ for those who gave it all, so I can live in freedom

~ playing basketball with my three-year-old at the picnic

~ her giggles

~ husband's hard work in the garden (no fancy garden tools)

~ most of the planting done

~ grilled meat and sweet corn for the holiday

~ strawberry shortcake

~ husband's steadfast love and patience

~ no temper tantrums today

~ 32 like-new girls' garments made by Old Navy, The Children's Place, Oshkosh, Jumping Beans, Sonoma, and others, all for $64 at Goodwill

~ Tesha wrote in the comments section a couple weeks ago that she prays I can find the feminine clothes I desire, and praise God, I did find three pretty skirts and two dresses, like new! Thank you, sweet friend. Tesha has one of the biggest hearts in blog world.

~ the heat wave is over (tomorrow)

~ Peter's love of gardening; he did 3/4 of the planting and some of the tilling

~ two more oriole sightings

~ a bunny eating the apple Peter set out for the squirrel

~ Peter excited about his praying mantis egg sac, which will hatch sometime in the next month or maybe two

~ Paul having a great time playing football at the picnic

~ a delicious pasta salad someone made

~ they liked my brownies

~ Tuesdays and Thursdays off from school this summer

~ our two computers are very old and slow, with annoyingly slow Internet speed, but at least we own computers at all

~ daily frustrations that send me to the Lord for comfort

~ going through hard things, and then being able to minister to others

~ the formerly on-the-verge-of-divorce couple happy together at the picnic

~ a clean refrigerator

~ the happy wonder of seeds becoming something big and beautiful, or something tasty
~ our very own, albeit small, strawberry patch producing delicious fruit

~ kids grabbing strawberries as fast as I can wash and cut them

~ mint chip ice cream

~ though Mary's arm got alarmingly fat from a honey bee sting, she didn't need medical care

~ listening to children pray

 What are you thankful for today? 

photos taken summer, 2011 at a local nature park

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Zephaniah's Ministry


The Book of Zephaniah, a prophecy, was written around 640-620 B.C., during King Josiah's rule: 640-609 B.C.

King Josiah of Judah sought to reverse the evil trends brought by the two previous kings of Judah--Manasseh and Amon. There was no world super power at the time, so Josiah had influence among the nations. He was able to institute religious reforms. Zephaniah's prophecy may have motivated those reforms.

Zephaniah 1:2-3
"I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth", declares the Lord. 
"I will sweep away both men and animals; 
I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. 
The wicked will have only heaps of rubble 
when I cut off man from the face of the earth", declares the Lord.

If we only read the New Testament, and if we skip the Book of Revelation, we don't get an accurate picture of God's nature. He is Holy and he cannot tolerate sin. His wrath and anger are as awesome as his mercy and love. If our picture of his character is a warm and fuzzy New Testament one only, we're in trouble, because we won't fear him. We won't obey.

And idols? Oh, how they ignite his anger. Don't think just Baal and Molech. Think power, prestige, image, careers, sports, money, possessions...anything that takes our time away from God. Our God? He is jealous, indeed. Think you don't have time for Him? Think again. God's jealous heart desires that we make time.

Zephaniah 1:4-6
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
the very names of the idolatrous priests —
those who bow down on the roofs
to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
and who also swear by Molech,
those who turn back from following the Lord
and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”

Josiah's reforms changed things a bit, but not for long. The people were too far from God to heed any correction. Their hearts had hardened and judgement did come, via the Babylonians, within twenty years of Zephaniah's ministry.

Zephaniah 2:1-3 (emphasis mine)
Gather together, gather yourselves together,
you shameful nation,
before the decree takes effect
and that day passes like windblown chaff,
before the Lord’s fierce anger
comes upon you,
before the day of the Lord’s wrath
comes upon you.
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
you who do what he commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility;
perhaps you will be sheltered
on the day of the Lord’s anger.

Judgement is coming to us, too. We will be judged for our sins, for any indifference to God. But if we remain faithful to God, he will show us mercy. 

From these verses, we hear again how much the Lord loves humility. He sent his Son as a babe, who grew into a humble man, who died a humble death. "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land. Seek righteousness, seek humility." 

If we get nothing else from Zephaniah, we will hopefully get this: The Lord loves a humble heart.

More on the hate God has for haughtiness in these next verses (emphasis mine):

Zephaniah 3:1-5
Woe to the city of oppressors,
rebellious and defiled!
She obeys no one,
she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord,
she does not draw near to her God.

Her officials within her
are roaring lions;
her rulers are evening wolves,
who leave nothing for the morning.
Her prophets are unprincipled;
they are treacherous people.
Her priests profane the sanctuary
and do violence to the law.
The Lord within her is righteous;
he does no wrong.
Morning by morning he dispenses his justice,
and every new day he does not fail,
yet the unrighteous know no shame.

Do we accept correction from the Lord? Do we confess our sins, humbling ourselves enough to do so even among loved ones? Do we pray and read the Word regularly, knowing that this makes our own hearts known to us? The Word of God exposes us for who we really are. We become haughty when we fail to understand our position before God. The more we crowd God out of our lives, the haughtier we become. Then our hearts? They harden, making it more difficult to see our own sin.

Zephaniah ends with hope, speaking of the Lord's faithfulness to the remnant. It's hard to read this without's so full of hope.

Zephaniah 3:9-17 (emphasis mine)

9 “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples,
that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
and serve him shoulder to shoulder.
10 From beyond the rivers of Cush
my worshipers, my scattered people,
will bring me offerings.
11 On that day you, Jerusalem, will not be put to shame
for all the wrongs you have done to me,
because I will remove from you
your arrogant boasters.
Never again will you be haughty
on my holy hill.
12 But I will leave within you
the meek and humble.

The remnant of Israel
will trust in the name of the Lord.
13 They will do no wrong;
they will tell no lies.
A deceitful tongue
will not be found in their mouths.
They will eat and lie down
and no one will make them afraid. ”

14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.

16 On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”


The reforms in Judah were merely outward--not from the heart. They were simply going through the motions of faith. Their hearts remained far from God.

Since the day of our own salvation, what has happened in our hearts and lives? Is there real change, or do we still live for ourselves and pursue other Gods? 

The steps to true heart change? Humility, Faithfulness, Prayer 

If we are faithful to spend time with God, he will humble us; and as we continue in Him, we will remain humble. 

Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing

Prayer Time: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for Zephaniah's ministry. Thank you for your Word, for the way it washes us clean. May we remain faithful to spend time with you. Humble us, Lord. May we receive your correction with glad hearts. May nothing take your place in our hearts and lives. May we live for you, replacing our will with yours.

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Day the Water Ran Dry

Fine Art Print of The Pinch of Poverty, 1891 by Thomas Benjamin Kennington
The Pinch of Poverty, 1891
Thomas Benjamin Kennington

I awake to a trickle of running water and my world falls apart. It feels so desperate, not flushing toilets, not taking off my bathrobe to enjoy my shower ritual. Within ninety minutes, feeling dirty, looking disheveled, I'm holding back frustrated tears.

Checking the Internet, I insert our zip code and find that a water main broke at 2 AM and should be fixed by 9:00 AM. The clock says 9:45 AM...and still just a trickle.

I wander the house aimlessly, thinking of the things I can't do. Laundry, dishes, flushing, showering, mopping, making lemonade.

The children? They can't go outside until I get my shower, but otherwise they're unaffected and probably not understanding their Mama's angst.

For four hours we go without water and I try to count blessings. We can wash our hands with a trickle. I think of that bright fact but nothing else comes to my spoiled mind.

Shame fills me as I realize how my Compassion children wake up every day. How long do they go without being immersed in water to clean their whole bodies? Can they ever shower or bathe, or is it just sponge baths or contaminated river baths? And their mothers, how do they stay clean after childbirth and what do they do with the stench of their own bodies?

The thoughts haunt me, until I remember Jesus. He's all they have and He is more than enough. Every person who goes on Compassion trips mentions the hope in Jesus in these impoverished but saved families. The joy evident in the children.

Who needs rescuing really? Me from my plenty...or them from their lack? If Jesus is enough for them, but I need Jesus plus running water and a daily shower and three meals a day plus snacks, who is richer? What does blessed even mean?

The ache of love for them overwhelms me and I need to see them. I pray again that we can meet them someday. Then I copy drawing lesson pages for Raphael, Divya, and Nelson and prepare letters to mail out, while I wait for the water.

In this work I find peace. Vertical love from God, turned into horizontal love for these children, it heals my self-centered heart. Love heals.

People ask...why does God allow such poverty? What do some go hungry and look like bones, while others get fat on steak, salad, and baked potatoes with butter and sour cream?

And on this day, I know the answer. He allows it so we can rescue each other. For when poor and rich love each other, it's earthly love good as it gets here on earth. It's the heart of God, realized. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

80% of people live in poverty. 20% live in plenty. The 20% can never get enough. There's always something bigger, better, newer. New idols form so easily, even as we read our Bibles and go to church and pray.

The 80%, with nothing, can't get enough of Him. He's there for both sides, but they feel him more. They love him more. They worship him more.

They need us to help fill their bellies. We need them to help fill our souls.

Won't you sponsor a child today and take advantage of a relationship God deeply wants for you? A relationship you desperately need?

At 11:40 AM I get my shower, desperately taken in a heavy trickle of water pressure. To be squeaky clean again? It felt glorious, but by then I knew the truth.

Love washes us clean.

Water? It's just an outward sign of an inner change.

Painting found here

Monday, May 21, 2012

Solomon's Wisdom and Multitude Monday

In the middle of the night it starts. A nasty cold in my little one; germs gathered from the physical therapy gym. Knowing I will miss church in the morning, I rise early to read Scripture. Ecclesiastes, the whole 12 chapters, because I'm mesmerized and I can't put it down. I want more wisdom to match these wrinkles, I suppose?

This Solomon, he did it all and felt it all and watched it all...everything under the sun.

He starts thus (Ecc 1:2):

"Meaningless! Meaningless!"
says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless."

And twelve chapters later, he concludes (Ecc12:13-14):

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter;
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Solomon fell away from God during his life, but at the end he repented of his foolishness. He wants us to learn from his mistakes. Stop scurrying around, chasing after the wind, pursuing this and that. Remember God now, right now.

Ecc. 12:10
Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
"I find no pleasure in them"--

If we're constantly chasing after something--success, money, recognition, possessions, power, pleasure--we don't put God first. We make idols of the things we chase. Later, when we're old and our years are wasted, we'll grieve that we didn't remember God. We will be judged for how we spend our time. Each day is a gift and it matters what we do with it.

So...what is worthwhile? How should we spend our time?

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun that to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun. Ecc. 8:15

Ecc. 9:7-12
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil (signs of happiness and celebration). Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun--all your meaningless days. For this is the lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planing nor knowledge nor wisdom. 

I have seen something else under the sun:

The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does the food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come:

As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so men are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.

We should live with joy! In celebration with the ones we love. "Time and chance happen to them all." We do not control our own destiny, though it's tempting to believe we do. We won't have a better destiny by toiling too much.

Whatever God has given you--whether much or little--give thanks and enjoy. Not pursuing pleasure only, or work only. But in the right measure--which God will show you as you walk with Him--work hard with a glad heart

And because Solomon testifies that how we spend our time matters, here is a link about crafting a family mission statement (same one I shared yesterday). And here is an online inventory to discover your spiritual gifts...another tool to discover what God wants from you.

My joy list, because Solomon says joy is worthwhile:

~ Cuddling with four sick kids.

~ Holding a coughing three-year-old against my chest at 4:00 in the morning, smelling her sweetness and living the blessing, as she slept more soundly in the upright position

~ Having an unbelieving relative tell me "Perhaps you shouldn't be giving Compassion International $38 a month (for Nelson in El Salvador) because doesn't your own family need that money? Doesn't charity begin at home?" By the grace of God, I was able to tell her that He always gives that money back to us and more, each month. Just two days before her advice, we were given six tickets to go to "A Day Out With Thomas". It's an expensive Thomas the Train event in which you get a twenty-five minute ride on a train coupled with Thomas the Train. At each train stop there are Thomas-related activities to choose from. We were given six tickets by the hospital Beth goes to for her arthritis-related needs. In addition, the same hospital gave us free tickets to the local zoo, along with lunch and fellowship (and education) with other families who receive services from the pediatric rheumatology department. All patients and their families were invited. You can never out give God! And we should never fear that if we give, we won't have enough. Enough doesn't come from us, but from God.

~ A loving and loyal husband to spend my days with. One who lets me take his picture with a pink toy teacup in his hand.

~ Roses blooming and the girls all excited.

~ Watching the sparrows gather grass for nests.

~ Veggie Tales to watch on sick days.

~ Making cookies for sick ones, including Husband, and hearing their thankful hearts.

~ So far, no arthritis flare from Beth's nasty cold. I am praying hard!

~ An e-mail invite to a wiener roast on Sunday, right after Peter asked, "when can we go to a bonfire and make smores?"

~ The temperamental lawn mower, which works one time in fifteen, worked this weekend, long enough to do the whole lawn! God provides, just not always in our timing.

~ Extra time to fold clothes, since the kids are too sick for school.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jesus Came to Dinner

The invitations, handmade. The event? Saturday night pizza and watermelon at our house, followed by a tea party. With a honey pot, of course. Okay...that part I made up...just an excuse to put our good friend Pooh up there.

The guest of honor? Our new neighborhood friend, that Lexi girl--also known as Pipi Longstocking. (Because she makes up her own rules, just like Pipi.)

What better way to tell someone about the reason for your hope than to invite them for a meal? Jesus dwells here and we love Him. Won't you meet him here, too? Won't you, too, experience His hope?

But alas, the guest didn't show. When she told me on Friday that her mom said yes, I sensed lying eyes, but we prepared everything anyway. She appeared to be gone the whole day, so there must have been prior plans.

But anyway..the handmade invitation melted her heart. She felt loved. "You guys are the best," she said upon reading it.

Guess who did show up? Jesus! He never misses a chance to dine with us.

You've heard this? The family that prays together stays together.

I say: The family that prays and dines together, stays together.  

Whatever you plan as the manager of your home, and possibly of your schedule, don't forget these two things: family prayer time; family dining time  Each is a like a gift to unwrap. Gifts that keep on giving.

We had a blast, each doing a silly toast with our play tea cups.

~ Peter toasted the birds.

~ Paul toasted football on the first round, and basketball on the second round.

~ Beth toasted chocolate chips on the first round--clearly a child after my own semi-sweet heart--and going to the park on the second.

~ Mary toasted the bunnies.

There are many ways to make dining more meaningful. We like to ask a question and go around the table, giving each person a chance to reflect and answer. "What are you most thankful for today?" "What was your favorite part of the day?" "Tell me one thing you learned today."

You'll laugh'll marvel at your'll look adoringly into your husband's eyes, so glad you married him and created a family together.

This time spent leisurely together, rather than rushing from here to there in the evenings? It cements you as a family unit. Your children will remember the lessons taught at the table...the discipling that went on there. You'll build their trust as you take time to really listen to them.

A lot of things will compete for this time, the enemy will assure that. Some of them, like sports and other extracurricular activities, will seem so beneficial and fun. Everyone's doing them and you don't want to be the odd family out.

But what is your family's mission? What does HE want from you? Maybe right now it is sports.

But have you asked Him?

If you've never sat down and crafted a family mission statement, look first to the greatest two commandments, and then at your spiritual gifts. They will point to a mission for you.

Matthew 22:36-40
 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Pooh found here

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On Why I Must Write

Playing in the ophthalmologist's waiting room.
Instead of germ infested toys, this waiting room features a bright red carpeted thingy my children love.  It's amazing how it sparks their imaginations. This week it was a castle with a mote.

Writing several times a week is a significant time commitment. Sometimes it means less sleep. Sometimes it means the dinner dishes get soaked only, and loaded in the dishwasher in the morning. Or sometimes it means I go to bed at 9:30 PM and get up at 4:30 AM, to read, reflect, write.

Many a day, it's clearly wiser to tell myself no. Don't write today. But so often I can't not write. My heart and soul need to reflect on this journey, to record the beauty and ashes of life. To record His redemption. His faithfulness. When a reflection comes, it begs to be processed sooner, rather than later.

In the reflecting and writing God clarifies for me what my heart must look like, to be a heart after His. As such, writing is a form of worship for me.

People who love writing will tell you that to completely process this life, they have to pen it. As the words flow, as the sentences take shape, clarity of mind comes too. And peace comes with clarity. A lot can be going wrong in my life, but if I understand it all from His perspective, I can cope with it, give thanks for it, experience peace through it.

Some people need to talk to process. They talk on and on until they've arrived at clarity. Some need a quiet place to process, alone. They can't stand noise or crowds too often.

Tonight it's mothering and children I reflect on. I must soak up these children with all my heart. Everything about them. The way they smelled after the bath, the way they giggled at each other's antics, the way they marveled at the baby sparrows peaking out of an attic-vent nest on the side of the house. The sparrows have nested there for two years now. We all count ourselves blessed to have a property graced with sparrow and robin nests.

And this year, bunnies are plentiful too. We saw a baby one just yesterday. Not edging your yard and flowerbeds and fences means you create a haven for wildlife. Last year we found a turtle in our yard, hiding in the tall grass at the fence line.

The children delight in every sighting. This morning they ran from one window to the next, following a bunny's wanderings.

I want to remember the sound of their squeals. Their wonder and excitement at what God created for their good pleasure. The world is a wonder. I want them to reflect on who made it that way, and give Him thanks with their whole hearts.

Nature is an intentional gift from God. Beauty is an ever-present grace. Our hearts can break over something, but when we look out the window, there's that cardinal standing in the snow, or that goldfinch gracing a branch near the window.

Look for His graces. This is what I want my children to know. That robin struggling with a worm right before your eyes? That cardinal sitting on a snowlined tree branch? That goldfinch or oriole sighting? That baby bunny scurrying by the window?

Not an accident. It's Him, saying I am here with you. I know your sorrow, your troubles. I have a plan and I'll never leave you or forsake you.

These children? I can't get enough of them during the day. I can't soak up enough of their cuteness, their wonder, their love, because caring for them keeps me so busy. Sitting here at the computer, alone with my thoughts made into words made into sentences, I can soak up the blessing entirely, reflect on it, marvel at it, and give thanks for it. And the next time they pass by me, I'll scoop them up and love on them, remembering that I don't want one day to pass without them knowing they color my days happy. That I love them fiercely.

That no matter how many times they wet the bed and wake me up, spill their milk or walk outside in their socks, or leave bits of Playdoh all over the floor, I am not really undone, though I may look it. I am really blessed. Blessed so much I can't record the feelings fast enough. 

For the moments turn into days, turn into weeks, turn into months, turn into years, faster than my heart can process.

Words on a page? Can they slow time down? Can the recording of a day make it live on?

I want to think so. And so I write.

After bath books together

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jesus in the Neighborhood

(Note: I accidentally linked this to Emily's blog twice. Sorry!)

"Dear Lord, we pray for nice neighborhood kids to play with. Please help someone move in soon."

Many a time over the last seven years, that prayer we uttered.

She has brown, shoulder-length straight hair that bounces, a sweet little heart-shaped face. Ten years old, she said. "We are living with my grandparents right now, because my mom's boyfriend went to jail."

She sees pretzel rods in a plastic container on top of the fridge. "Can I have a pretzel?"

I get the plastic container down and open it. She grabs three large rods.

They ride bikes, this Lexi girl and my own ten-year-old. A little later, she wants more pretzel rods and can she see the hamster Peter told her about?

"Can I have some water?"

The Holy Spirit, he says offer hospitality without grumbling.

I think it's Him talking?

I give her a water bottle. "Is it just me Lord, or is this girl demanding?"

The hamster, he looks traumatized and I think of the wood floor and how it could kill him.

"Put the hamster back now, will you Peter?"

They go outside again, the two ten-year-olds, my five- and three-year-old, and my eight-year-old.

The water bottle, it spills on the concrete. "Go ask your mom for another water bottle."

Peter comes to the door, embarrassed to ask me.

I roll my eyes, in spite of the hospitality warning. "Tell her no more today."

My aunt, mother of six, told me not long ago it's better when siblings just play with each other. They get along better that way. Her kids are middle-age now, but she remembers well the trouble with neighborhood kids.

"Do you want to see my pond?", Peters asks her the next day. The group of five goes to our backyard, where the container pond is. Lexi gathers the tadpoles up with the net, repeatedly.

Peter comes to the door. "Mom, she keeps scooping up the tadpoles. I told her they might die, but she won't listen."

I roll my eyes. Don't I have enough trouble, Lord? Opening a back window, I shout. "You kids go back to the front now."

She doesn't come for two days. Peter doesn't know if he likes her or not.

"She's so pushy."

When she comes around on Saturday, he's happy. Even though she keeps asking for food, which embarrasses him.

"Do you want to see a robin nest?", he ask her. But seeing it from the ground? That isn't enough for this Lexi. She starts to climb the pear tree.

Peter comes to the door, stressed.

"Mom, she's climbing the tree to see the nest."

"But she'll knock it down," I say.

Peter nods. "I told her that, but she said: 'I'm going to see that nest and no one is going to stop me.' "

It's like this every visit, and at dinner each night we discuss Lexi. "I know she isn't the playmate we were hoping for. But she's the one God brought. And for a reason. We are to pray for her."

Sheepishly, Peter admits, "She cusses. Dang it, crap, and shoot. She says them all the time."

One day I tell her, "We have to go to the pharmacy now, Lexi. We'll see you tomorrow."

She wanted Peter to go to the drainage ditch with her to catch tadpoles. I told Peter to wait until Daddy got home.

In the van on the way to the pharmacy, Peter tells me "Mom, she kept telling me to ask you again and again about the ditch. She's so pushy I don't know what to do."

"I told her we had to get my medicine because I have ADHD and OCD. And Mom, she said she has a discipline problem."

At this confession, I'm not surprised. I sensed Oppositional Defiant Disorder in her, a condition one of my former students had.

Husband, the only evangelist among us, says at dinner. "Let's invite her to church."

To me, a former public school teacher, this seems outrageous. "But we don't even know her mom! What if she's crazy and accuses us of something?"

He thinks about this, and then we realize there's no room in our van for her anyway.

"Let's tell her about Jesus, the reason for our hope," I offer.

"I could never do that", Peter says.

"I can't either", Paul adds. "I'm not brave."

That night, lying in bed, Lexi takes over my thoughts. God amazes me. How he strategically places people to grow us. What if Jesus came as a difficult child? I must see Jesus in her. I must love her as He does.

And my kids, they must learn to stand for their faith. Not be ashamed of the Gospel. This is easy for my husband, hard for me, and even harder for them.

Her family lets her run all around the neighborhood, barging in this door and that door, surprising the once-quiet, rather boring neighborhood. I never hear anyone calling for her.

How would I feel, as her mother? I know the way a child can bring you to your knees. And this mother, she has other problems too, if she was living with a boyfriend--one who went to jail, even.

Suddenly I know what to do. Invite all three of them to church--the mother, the five-year-old brother, and Lexi.

I think of our prayer, all these years, for a neighborhood child to play with.

He thinks we need Lexi? We need this girl? The one who climbs our pear tree, claiming she'll see that nest and no one will stop her?

I smile to myself, knowing God gives us what we need, not what we want. Yes, she's the one.

Linking with Emily at imperfect prose

Linking with Jennifer at Getting Down With Jesus today, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Devotions, Psalm 37

Fine Art Print of On Strike, c.1891 by Sir Hubert von Herkomer
On Strike, 1891
Sir Hubert von Herkomer

Today's Text: Psalm 37, selected verses

1 Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.

I got troubles, yes I do. I got troubles, how 'bout you? 

Yeah, we all have troubles. At times it may seem like yours are the worst on the block, but this is rarely true.

Two of my children have very serious problems and two more have minor problems. 

In the aftermath of a 2009 job loss, I've been sued by a creditor and there's a judgement against me. I can no longer have a bank account; if so, it will be attached. My husband will soon be sued by his creditor. Within months--because we don't choose to file bankruptcy at this juncture--his wages will be attached. Our house payment just went up $30 because of higher taxes and a higher insurance rate. 

We have little family or friend support; we live a very unusual life that people don't quite understand. We're the only family in our church that homeschools, for one thing. And when you're impoverished, people stay away from you. They wonder if it will rub off on them, perhaps? People are afraid of what they don't understand.

The toilets are still not fixed, the lawn mower just broke, two drawers in the kitchen are broken, the car and van are extremely old and things go wrong with them fairly frequently, and the list goes on.

Yeah, I got troubles. But not because God doesn't love me. Not because he's forgotten me. He has a plan to prosper me spiritually

Keys to Surviving Troubles

1. Focus on the spiritual. If you don't have spiritual troubles, you're doing well. 

2. When your mind wants to grumble, give thanks instead. It starts as a mental exercise but quickly becomes a heart exercise. It changes you on the inside, for good.

3. Don't feel unloved because of troubles. God doesn't hate you. If you're a believer you're set for eternity. This life is like a vapor; hold it loosely. That includes your troubles--loosen your mental grip on them.

3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Even when things go from bad to worse, trust God. He'll use it for your good. A worsening of trouble is rarely a sign that God isn't listening. Troubles, in fact, help you loosen your grip on this world. And that's always a good thing. 

Dwell with him (stay very close), do good for others, and enjoy your spiritual safety. Delight in the Lord through song, Scripture, prayer. He will put his desires in your heart, and then grant them.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.

Give every aspect of your life over to the Lord--parenting, money, friends, marriage, jobs, family, possessions--give it all to him. Dwell not on your understanding, for it's terribly short-sighted and flawed. Make a list of what the world loves. Make sure you don't love any of it.  Live not as the world lives, and he will make you shine.

7 Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Fretting is a sin...the opposite of being still. Don't dwell on all the people who have it "better" than you. Make a blessing list instead, so you can be still

Remember these key verbs from the verses above: trust, dwell, delight, commit, wait

8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret —it leads only to evil.
9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

Right now, I probably have reason to be angry and fretful.

Beth's arthritis-related eye inflammation did come back, though not as serious this time. She has to start on steroid drops again. The inflammation can come and go for years and years, especially when it starts this young. The doctor feels he can save her vision ( he's a famous ophthalmologist and all, but he's not God. Nevertheless, I choose to believe him.) He said the worst that might happen is that she'll get cataracts from repeated use of steroid drops. And cataracts are treatable.

She also has wandering eyes (strabismus) and will need glasses for astigmatism. (Unrelated to her arthritis) Glasses might take care of the strabismus, and if not, he'll try a patch. If necessary later, he will do surgery--something he's world-famous for.

Peter's OCD improved when we increased his Strattera dose to 18 mg. However, it's obvious now that the increase from 10 mg to 18 mg (both doses are lower than recommended for his weight) have caused mood swings. So, we need to go back to 10 mg. Hello OCD again. The OCD really bothered his spirit, but he wants to be free from this anger. We're stuck between a rock and a hard place. The anger is obviously unhealthy for the whole family.

My husband gets more and more angry with each new problem. His spirit is tormented. But he knows this life is a vapor. He'll return to relative peace once again. It's hard to see him so angry, but I can only pray in response, and listen quietly while he vents. Everybody processes life differently.

Whatever happens, don't hold on to anger. It may show up as a grief symptom, but process it quickly. Pray to be free of it.

Our hope is in the Lord. Not here. Things will improve here, perhaps, but they'll just get tough again. Don't wait for things to "calm down". Live fully right now. Live like you've just inherited the land.

The rest of these verses are not in order, for brevity sake, and I've left many out.

18 The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
19 In times of disaster they will not wither;
in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.

No matter how bad things get, you are indeed under the Lord's care. Through him, you will not wither. You will enjoy plenty.

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

He is upholding you. You've not fallen, and you won't fall.

25 I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be a blessing.[b]

He will provide. But maybe not in the usual ways...and that has to be okay with you. Trust him for your daily bread and be generous. Even the poor can be generous, if they know from Whom all things come.

34 Hope in the Lord
and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

Prayer Time

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you for this Psalm. I thank you for upholding, delivering, saving. I thank you for the inheritance of the land. For the safe pasture. For the refuge. For the plenty.

Some readers are having horrible troubles as well. Help us all to trust, dwell, delight, commit, wait, and hope. Help us to refrain from anger and fretting. May we live in joyful hope, abiding in you. Help us to do good and be generous.

In your name I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Curious Thing About Prayer and Humility


I live with five other people, intimately. Much can be learned about human flaws through home observation. Each separate family is uniquely capable of shaping its members through divine appointment. 

What God has brought together, let man not separate. If we want to reach our highest potential in Christ, we'd do well to spend time with our families. It's therapy for free.

As we've prayed together more and more, I've noticed something important. To be humble is not natural. No one wants to acknowledge personal sin before God and man. We can pray very important things easily, but when it comes to a uniquely personal sin we're struggling with, we remain mum. Or we only mention it in private, before God. 

I'm discovering there's a reason the Bible says to confess our sins to each other. I never thought about it much before now, but this is huge

James 5:16
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

At any given time each person has a long-standing sin the Holy Spirit is working to eradicate--be it anger, ingratitude, idleness, harshness, etc. In our haughtiness, when we ignore the Holy Spirit, the sin persists for a long time. It's the thing we struggle with the most. It's the thing we're least likely to admit to anyone. But as sins go, it isn't necessarily something jaw-dropping, like adultery. 

It's our own Achilles Heal, if you will. It doesn't fit with the image we want to present. At times we fail to see ourselves as we really are, because we're so caught up in our image of ourselvesWe know this Achilles Heal makes us an impostor. 

And who wants to be seen as an impostor?

We deceive ourselves into thinking we can take care of it. We try different things with wavering motivation, but always, we fail to eradicate it.

The Humility of God

Noticing this aspect of human nature, I had a discussion with my children about the humility of God. He came to us a helpless baby, though he was God. He let them nail him to a tree, though he was God. He died a slow, agonizing death, though he was God.

His example for us screams this word: Humility

After speaking with them about Jesus humbling himself, I explained how hard it is for us to humble ourselves and admit sin. Heads nodded in response. They get this

But if we love God, if we want to be his disciple, we must do this. We must choose humility as Jesus did...go low before our loved ones. Reveal who we really are, so God can make us new.

Peter's been struggling mightily and mumbling prayers begrudgingly lately. He really listened to my words. And then...he said it. Quickly, before he lost his nerve. 

Dear God, Help me with my anger.

Behold, He makes all things new. Hallelujah!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Devotions, Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God; 
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 
 Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge. 
 They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world. 
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. 
     It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, 
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens 

    and makes its circuit to the other; 
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.
 The law of the Lord is perfect, 
    refreshing the soul. 
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, 
    making wise the simple. 
 The precepts of the Lord are right, 
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes. 
 The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Prayer Time:

My Dear Father, how I love you. You are worthy of praise. Thank you for the wondrous beauty to feast my eyes one. Thank you for your Word to feast my heart on. Thank you for your grace, for it humbles me. Your sacrifice, it saves me.
Forgive me for my sins, Father. Cleanse my heart. Thank you for making all things new. Make me your instrument of grace and love today. Bless me, after a poor night of sleep, as I take the children to the ophthalmologist to have Beth's eye inflammation checked. If the news is good, I praise You. If not, I still praise you, but please comfort us in our sorrow. Take away our fear. Give us the strength to trust in your plan for her life. 
Give us a good learning day; may your spirit prevail. May I, and all the friends reading, keep our eyes on you, whatever the day shall bring. May each friend find a blessing from you today. May we give thanks to you in all things.
In your name I pray, Amen.