Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life (and the movie too)

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Monday at the ophthalmologist's office we waited two hours to see the doctor for a fifteen-minute check. All four kids were with me. This doctor sees patients from all over the world, having developed a new surgical technique for strasbismus. There were three patients ahead of us, all new and seeking treatment for complicated problems, thus the unusual wait.

 The doctor finally came in and there we were, trying to hide our exasperation, but he's got such a dynamic personality we all perked up quickly. He knew Beth got her tonsils out so he joked with her, asking where her tonsils were now. She glanced at me, hesitated, and then told him with a giggle, "They're in heaven."

The doctor and his intern got such a chuckle out of Miss Beth!

Next, he asked her if she had a pool and if she'd been swimming. She told him no, so he asked if she could dig up her own pool. "No, it's too heavy," she answered. He responded, "Do you have a dog? Maybe he can dig a big hole for you?"

She giggled at that thought and said, "You're so silly!"

Beth loved his shenanigans so much that when he released her from the examining chair, she gave him a big bear hug.

Touched, he hugged her right back and said, "That was the best part of my day."

And I don't know why, but when we left and headed for the elevator, I had tears in my eyes.

Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

My Beth is such a blessing to all of us, and I love it that she's also a blessing to her rheumatologist and ophthalmologist (she gave hugs on Friday to her other doctor and the nurse practitioner too).

The Lord has reasons for allowing health conditions in our lives, and sometimes in the case of Christians, it's to bless our caregivers in some way, perhaps? As the years pass and Beth continues to visit these offices, maybe she'll tell them about her personal faith, and all the love she offered them in the previous years might make them think twice about Jesus.

The best part was, her eyes are clear, despite the recent medication break! Even the doctor was surprised at this blessing.

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,

Giving Thanks to God:

~ My uncle and his friend brought four refurbished bikes over yesterday, and I've got some blessed kids!

~ I took an Easter-type dress out of the closet Sunday morning and presented it to Beth as a church choice. Pleased to see it, she said, "Oh, I thought that dress was only for bake sales." (I merely giggled, but in my head I thought...Bake sales? Since when do we see bake sales at all, especially with fancy dresses on?) I don't know where she gets some of the things she says, but I hope she keeps entertaining me for years to come.

~ Beth asked me into the bathroom to keep her company. She proceeded to tell me, holding up her dress-up princess dress, "I changed my mind; I'm not going to be a candy maker when I grow up. I'm going to be a princess instead, but I know someone will be a candy maker so don't worry about that."

~ Peter's zinnias blooming in the front yard.

~ Watching the family movie It's a Wonderful Life together. My husband, quite affected, teared at the end and I knew God used it to speak to his heart. He gave us all nice hugs afterwards.

~ Yesterday the kids and I went to a ministry meeting at a large fancy house full of toys, home to three children. They had their own creek and tree house, numerous bikes, scooters, skates, a fancy swing set, tons of board games, etc. Peter mentioned how lucky these kids were so it was the perfect opportunity to explain that wealthy people are no happier than others. People get used to having a lot of stuff and quickly get tired of their things and forget about most of them. Their everyday life isn't better. My boys know these kids from church and it didn't take long for Paul to agree, "She's right Peter. Those kids aren't any happier than us." To which Peter had to admit, "Yeah, I guess you're right, they aren't."

~ Ian from the Pray for Ian blog is walking without a walker!

~ The first Mercy House Kenya baby turned two years old!

~ Making chocolate cake with all the kids, even if some are just along for the licking part.

~ All the beautiful, life-sustaining verses in the Bible.

~ The hamster got loose during a cage cleaning, so the children enlisted my help in the search. After twenty minutes in the living room and dining room, I started down the hallway and there he was, right at the end, staring up at me like he found the whole thing amusing. Most of the time I dislike having a hamster in the house, but today I have to admit he's kind of cute. He seemed happy to get back to his cage and didn't try to bolt when Peter reached for him.

~ My husband's hugs.

~ I'm thoroughly enjoying the Eastern Hemisphere Sonlight titles I'm prereading this month. Such meaningful stories, all of them.

Psalm 107:1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

What's blessing you today, friend?

Monday, July 29, 2013

In Defense of Stay-At-Home Moms Barely Making It

I don't often write about the benefits of staying at home with children, but I believe strongly in what I'm doing. Passionately, even. In some cases a woman just can't do it because of a disabled or deceased husband, because of divorce, or other complicated reasons.

God is big enough to make the impossible happen, but I'm assuming these women have already prayed for the impossible, and it hasn't come yet.

Nothing would hurt me more than having to leave my children, and I'm aware of women forced to work who drive their morning commute in tears. Not wanting to add to their burden or sorrow, I try to avoid this topic.

 But today, there's something I have to say in defense of staying at home despite a low income.

Still trying to get my grocery budget down, I came across a blog post entitled "Staying at Home With Your Kids When You Can Barely Afford It", written by a 30-year-old mother of three, and wife to a high school teacher bringing home $40,000 a year gross income. Erin, The Humbled Homemaker author, shares five ways they make it work: budget, buy used, shop sales, don't shop, choose free or cheap entertainment, supplement income with skills.

I loved the article and agree with everything Erin shared, but as I read through the comments, my heart sunk. Most were wonderful comments, but three of them I found sickening.

One woman wrote: "I wouldn't want to be one of your children."

Another woman, nastier in personality, wrote: My tips would be not to have so many children that way you don’t have to have such a boring life. No vacations, no shopping, no going out to eat, no new stuff, no cable….. how boring. I don’t pop out babies like a factory. I’ve got 1, and I can stay home on my husband’s small income without doing any of this (and no, we have NO debt). Better yet – don’t have kids in the first place!

And lastly, one woman wrote this: "Wow. Such a disappointing post. I don’t think you are doing your family any favors by crowding three children into a single bedroom, going without the experience of vacations, and not taking time for yourselves. Good luck though."

Yet another women said she didn't believe God wants us "barely getting by". He wouldn't want us struggling so.

Really? As in, struggling indicates a lack of God's blessing? This couldn't be more untrue.

What popped into my mind immediately were these verses: Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

If travel is your god, you'll feel lost without extra money. If shopping, eating out, new stuff, or cable are your gods, likewise. It was obvious to me that though these commenters were reading a Christian blog, they hadn't yet chosen Jesus over the world, for you can't serve two masters.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

I sincerely hope that after the Holy Spirit works through this Humbled Homemaker's words, these ladies will experience a change of heart. Her post was heartfelt and compelling.

You'll never get Jesus to agree that kids need vacations, rare experiences, dinners out, larger living spaces or new stuff. To think that children would be happier going on a vacation, or going out to eat and having new stuff, verses having mom home all day is a worldview that stinks of materialism. I can't sugarcoat that and my heart aches for all who choose materialism over being home with their children.

You can choose to invest in their hearts, or you can choose to invest in things that moths and rust destroy. Either way, it's a choice (see exceptions cited above).

Sure, children will notice if everyone on the block has a scooter or a shiny new bike, and they don't. They might even complain and wonder why. They're children. We can't expect children to think like wise adults. Teaching them godly values takes over 18 years, and in the meantime we certainly shouldn't be taking our cues from them about what they need, in material terms.

So first, don't let what your children think they need dictate whether you stay home or not. They need food, shelter, clothing, and none of it needs to be fancy.

My children don't have a swing set or a pool, or anything outside except for a large yard, a soccer ball, a bat and plastic baseball, a wagon and their old bikes, which are often in disrepair. And yet, right now they're all outside playing a battlefield game in which the oldest takes the younger "wounded soldiers" to a "military hospital" in the wagon, aka a military jeep, where my second-born cares for them. Intermittently, they switch to being active soldiers in battle. They've been at it 90 minutes, having a blast.

Let me reiterate, children need food, clothing, shelter, and an imagination. The more we try to entertain them with our extra cash, the more we kill their imaginations and with it, their potential. Boredom is not the enemy; boredom is a catalyst for greatness. Satan and his materialistic lies are the enemy.

If you've never had significant time with your family over months and years, you don't know what a blessing it can be. A simple life is a gift, not a curse. I'm never bored.

Now let's turn to health insurance, which is another big and divisive issue. A few commenters wrote that they work for the health insurance, but would otherwise be at home with their children. One woman stated emphatically that they don't believe in using state health insurance.

I'm not trying to change anyone's mind about working for health insurance. There are just too many variables involved to do so, but I do want to highlight another way to look at the insurance angle.

My husband and I do not have health insurance, and even if it were offered, we couldn't afford it for six people. We eat healthfully, we don't take unnecessary risks, and we have good genes. My husband's father is still going strong at 90, and my own grandmother lived until 88. We also floss and brush responsibly, which helps with the dental bills.

In short, we try to prevent health issues; with God's grace, our prevention skills will get even better. In addition to prevention, we use sliding-fee medical clinics staffed by nurse practitioners for our health needs. We pay $25 for an office visit, $10 for routine lab tests, $50 to see a dentist, and a somewhat-reduced pharmacy cost for generic formulations. If expensive pharmaceuticals are mentioned, we reject them for alternatives or we go without.

Our decisions can be summed up this way: We believe God is bigger than the health care crisis. If He has more work for us on earth, He'll make a way to heal us should something serious arise.

My children are covered under state insurance and before you get up in arms about that, consider something you probably haven't thought of before. I homeschool my children, saving the state (with some federal money thrown in) $40,000 a year. The average school district spends about $10,000 per student per year.

That's quite a bit of money over the course of a 12-year education for 4 public-schooled children. If every mother stayed at home and homeschooled her own children, we would own China far less, though I understand not everyone can do it.

Most people don't think of public education as a government hand-out, but I do. For example, it would take property taxes from approximately 8 houses in my neighborhood to pay for one child's public education for one year. Property taxes are a drop in the bucket toward the cost of public education.

That said, we aren't planning on using medicaid for the children indefinitely. Complete independence from any government spending, outside of local infrastructure and public safety, is our goal.

FYI: I can school four children quite well for approximately $600 per year, and even less if I use libraries exclusively.

One last thought about healthcare: The healthcare system is broken in this country and that's not my fault or yours. Consider that in the past even a factory worker could pay for his children's health needs without filing bankruptcy. Most doctors aren't getting rich, but someone is and until profit stops dominating, the system will remain broken.

I know that many women work full-time not so much for material reasons, but because their faith may be too weak. Recently, I was shocked to learn that only two mothers in my 170-person church stay at home, though I don't know the facts on part-time workers.

Ask yourself, are you basing your personal faith on your own understanding, or on the promises of God's Word? Delve into the Bible and see if you don't come up with a myriad of reasons to be home, verses being absent 40+ hours a week.

Consider that in the Bible the Proverbs 31 woman contributes to her family's income by being resourceful and frugal, not by being absent for most of the day.

Going to one income can be a multi-step process. I left full-time teaching in 2002, right after my first child was born, and took a 3-year, part-time, mostly-from-home homeschooling facilitator job for a California Charter School, before moving to Ohio to stay at home full-time in 2005. We've had some spiritual failures, such as credit card use in the past, but God has been faithful to work with us and we now discern things biblically more often than not, and we're more generous.

One thing God said to me clearly early on, after my first child was born, was this: "It's not your job to financially support your family. That's your husband's job. If you each focus on your own biblical roles, you'll do fine."

We can't complain to our husbands about low incomes, even if we think they could do better; that would be sin. Nor can we resent them if they develop a heart condition and can't work anymore. Accept with gratitude what your husband can provide, and pray that he'll realize his fullest potential as the head of the family--both financially and spiritually, not so you can live at a higher standard, but so you can bring more glory to God.

Our lifestyle is not easy. We gross less than the $40,000 mentioned in the article. My husband has permanent double vision (since childhood), so some jobs are out for him (military, some machine operation, postal, driving/delivering). He also has some attention-deficit problems, but regardless of the circumstances, following Jesus is a journey for the whole family. The gospel is lived out in our homes by extending grace to one another, as God works individually in each member.  If you don't have ideal circumstances, that's just more room for God to shine instead of you.

Bless you and may God bring you solidly into His faithful arms, wanting for nothing.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Homeschool and Mother's Journal, July 26

In my life this week:
I recently began a volunteer job at my church as a children's ministry coordinator for birth - Kindergarten. Last Sunday my week begin in a most delightful way...teaching Pre-K & K Sunday School! The age range is 3 to 6 yrs., which I enjoyed immensely, and not just because my two daughters are in there. There are two new students--a 3-year-old boy, Boaz, and his sister, Abigail, who's almost 5. Both really captured my heart.

I've been out of the classroom since 2005 and I didn't realize how much I'd missed it, though in this case there were no behavior problems (I don't miss those).

Beyond that excitement, we went to Beth's rheumatology appointment today. Tomorrow we go to the dentist, then the ophthalmologist on Monday, to make sure the arthritis-associated eye inflammation hasn't returned for my Beth.

I'm enjoying a new-found peace from a couple neighbor kids. One, a 10-year-old boy, did something we found shocking so we had to tell him not to come back for a month. The other child is living elsewhere for now. In both cases we've ministered to these children for over a year, but God picked the right time to take them out of our lives (at least for now). We did what we could to love them in the Lord, and it was a difficult decision, but protecting our children became more important.

In our homeschool this week:
Mary is 6 years old and still needs a lot of instruction to print her lower-case letters correctly. I'm determined not to let her "draw" them. Correct formation is important to me, but unfortunately, I find this kind of instruction incredibly tedious. It takes every ounce of discipline I have to say, "Time for printing practice."

The girls and I enjoyed some fun books this week, some of which I'd like to introduce here.

A picture book we found both hilarious and very educational, was Punctuation Takes a Vacation, by Robin Pulver.
Punctuation Takes a Vacation
Scholastic synopsis: Silliness takes over when the punctuation marks in Mr. Wright's class decide to take a vacation. Students discover how difficult life can be without punctuation, even as they enjoy the amusing postcards they receive from the vacationers. A concise list of punctuation rules is included. (Interest level K-2, grade level 2.9)

Another selection, Saving Strawberry Farm by Deborah Hopkinson, depicts small-town, rural life during the Great Depression. 
Saving Strawberry Farm
A young boy helps save a neighbor's strawberry farm by alerting neighbors about a penny auction. The illustrations by Rachel Isadora charmed us all, and the history aspect was handled expertly for young readers; just enough detail to describe how life was different then. I can't say enough good things about this book. Morally, it's just what you want to enrich your children's hearts. (Interest level grades 3-5, reading level grade 3.7)

Next, we have fun, fun, fun with Move Over, ROVER! by Karen Beaumont.

Move Over, Rover!

Scholastic Synopsis: It's raining cats and dogs! Good thing Rover is snuggled safe and dry inside his doghouse — until, one by one, a soggy menagerie of creatures shows up looking for a cozy place to sit out the storm. But who's the very unwelcome surprise visitor? Skunk, of course. Suddenly that doghouse isn't quite so crowded after all!

The rhyme is quite charming here, sure to be loved by every toddler, preschooler and K student. Even my 9-year-old boy enjoyed this book. I love, love, love rhyming books. So fun to read and wonderful to listen to.

Next up, Aunt Pitty Patty's Piggy, retold by Jim Aylesworth. We really enjoy this author's rendition of The Gingerbread Man, and this tale delights as well.

Front Cover
Google Books Synopsis: Once upon a time, Aunt Pitty Patty took her little niece Nelly to the market, and there they bought a piggy. This fresh, rhythmic version of "The Old Woman and Her Pig" begs to be read aloud again and again!

I love cumulative books because young preschoolers and K students join in the reading after a few predictable pages. Remembering the sequences helps them develop good reading comprehension.

And last but never least, is Bedtime For Frances by Russel Hoban. You'll all have a smile on your face from start to finish.

Front Cover

Google Books SynopsisFamed for her many adventures, Frances made her debut with this title over thirty years ago. In this first Frances book, the little badger adroitly delays her bedtime with requests for kisses and milk, and concerns over tigers and giants and things going bump in the night. Long a favorite for the gentle humor of its familiar going to bed ritual, Bedtime for Frances is at last available with the warmth of full color enriching Garth Williams’s original nuanced and touching art. ‘Here is the coziest, most beguiling bedtime story in many a day.’—Kirkus Reviews (pointer).

Now for the older children's schooling this week: 

Peter, my 11-year-old, has finished all of his 2012-13 Sonlight reading selections, plus some add-ins I gave him. He's now reading American Girl historical mysteries, which he's enjoying. I believe most of them are under his grade level, but I checked them out and the writing and vocabulary are excellent, so I gave the go-ahead.

My son Paul, age 9, is still enjoying the thick American history books I previously wrote about.

Front Cover

Paul's also finished this year's Sonlight books, plus some add-ins. I school the boys together, using a Sonlight core that's between both their grade levels. So far that's working extremely well; I find it easy to provide enrichment for the older one, and to scale down the more mature reading for the younger one.

We school half days from mid-June to August, and then take six week off before starting our new year.

I school the girls together the best I can, ages 6 and 4, but Mary's reading time is separate; she's sounding words out well now--Beth still needs more blending work.

They work together for Daily News, which is a 3x weekly modeled writing I do on chart paper, eliciting sentences and beginning and ending sounds from them as I write, and going over new sounds (blends and digraphs) and punctuation rules.

Helpful Homeschooling Tips and Advice to Share:
If you find a certain subject particularly taxing, such as I do handwriting, reward yourself for every day you do it consistently, even if the reward's just 10 minutes of blog reading, or novel reading, or a handful of chocolate chips. This will push you to practice consistency, which is the hallmark of any successful homeschool.

And of course, pray. The Lord will help with consistency and every other aspect of your homeschooling endeavor. He wants you to do this; you're perfect for it because He's equipping you.

My Favorite Thing This Week...
...The beautiful sunshine and dryer weather northeast Ohio enjoyed the last three days. Nature hasn't been kind in July, so we're thrilled with this heavenly change.

My Kiddos Favorite Thing...
...I haven't provided them with any kind of pool or new sprinkler, and we haven't signed up for anything this summer, except for VBS. Nevertheless, they're having a blast with all their made-up games.  Today they giggled so after making an obstacle course on the driveway for their bikes and their wagon. They only need their imaginations and boredom is the key to ignite them.

Peter caught a dragonfly with his bare hand, then fed it a grasshopper, which he found thrilling. It actually ate right out of his hand for about 5 minutes! Then he let it go, saying, "God really blessed me, didn't he Mommy?"

Peter's thrilled with the praying mantis Daddy brought home for him. It's a young one but it already molted this week, just as Peter predicted after it stopped eating. This is his 4th year of caring for praying mantises, so he's quite the expert.

Peter was also thrilled to find a gray tree frog in our backyard, to keep his green tree frog company. He researched whether they can be housed together and found that it works fine. The green tree frog has been with us over a year and we're all thrilled he has a friend now. Today at a garage sale Peter found a beautiful, large tank that came with a heating pad built in which the frogs need in winter. He was ecstatic to say the least.

Mary keeps finding tinier toads than the day before, thinking that smaller is cuter. She keeps letting them go as she finds replacements. And still, she finds at least one cicada a day.

Things I'm Working On:
I have a goal of teaching all four children the most popular, significant Bible stories from both the Old and New Testaments, to the point that any one of them would be able to retell the stories accurately from memory. The older boys, ages 9 and 11, know many Bible stories, but they can't recount all of them correctly. The stories in the Bible are placed there for memorization, I believe, so that when life becomes challenging, we can draw strength from the lessons provided for us. The Holy Spirit will bring the appropriate story to mind, depending on our needs each day. There's a wealth of faith-building in these stories!

Each day I read another story and review the ones from the previous week. I'll use a few different Bible story books to accomplish this goal, so we don't miss anything significant.

The boys continue to read the Bible on their own each day, so this goal is in addition to their private study. Most nights, we also continue to read Proverbs or Psalms at the dinner table.

I'm also working on prereading all the Core F Sonlight books we'll use next year. Born in the Year of Courage by Emily Crofford is a thrilling story I thoroughly enjoyed about a Japanese boy from the 1800's who learns about life in American and then returns as an adult to his own country to fight Japanese isolationism.

Sonlight SynopsisFascinating historical fiction that closely follows the truth about a brave 15-year-old Japanese fisherman, Manjiro Nakahama, who is shipwrecked far off the coast of Japan, is brought to the United States, and, upon returning home, paves the way for Commodore Perry's successful "opening of Japan" to the United States in 1853.

I'm Grateful For...
...each of my children, whom I enjoy for different reasons. They enrich my life and fill my heart to the brim, even on the bad days. husband, who's a hard-working, solid family man.

...our Compassion children, who fill us with joy through their letters and prayers for us. One of the best things you can do for your family is to sponsor a child. The child needs you, and you need him or her, desperately. Your life and your worldview will never be the same, in a good way.

...grace, grace, and more grace. I couldn't do without the Lord's grace. There are behavior issues, health issues, learning issues, financial issues--issues galore that could drive me absolutely nuts and make me never want to get out of bed, but God never lets that happen. He softens every blow, every hardship. Every single issue becomes an avenue for whole heart, my whole life, laid down for my Jesus.

If it weren't for hardship, I wouldn't be this close to my Savior. Count it all joy! God knows what we need.

A photo, link, or quote:

1 Peter 5: 6,7 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Psalm 103: 1-5 “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

HMJ Logo Landscape 500x337

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mature and Complete, Lacking Nothing

This post has a point, but at first glance only whining may come through; bear with me?

I went to bed last night feeling fine and woke up depressed and headachy. While my rebound headache situation subsided in mid-June (thank the Lord, a big answer to long-time prayer), what's emerged since is a clear pattern of menstrual migraine. It's ugly and two weeks ago it left me begging for mercy.

For many women menstrual migraine spans the three days before the start of menses, and continues until about day 3 of menses. But for me, probably because I'm perimenopausal, it lasts about 8-10 days because the hormones are in more of a flux, leading also to anger, anxiety, mental confusion and depression. Most of the time medication doesn't help these headaches, or it only takes the edge off  for a couple hours.

It's amazing how precise hormones are. They're like a well-oiled machine, sometimes leading to joy (a blue line on a pregnancy test) and sometimes leading to pain.

The same day I woke up depressed and anxious, I also got a headache and my varicose veins hurt and swelled, whereas the rest of the month I don't feel them. All traced to the same cause: fluctuating estrogen. The whole syndrome has become like an illness and I have to plan for it the best I can, knowing I won't be at my best. I won't be a very good mother or wife or friend or daughter, during this time.

Is there enough mercy to go around here at home?

It occurred to me today that I've felt great for two weeks. That's what I can look forward to for a while: two good weeks a month. Some women experience this monthly for decades, but for me it remained mild until my mid-forties.

Can I handle perimenopause? Will I break down and ask for hormonal replacement eventually?

I want to scream "No!" , there's got to be enough grace in the Lord's arsenal to get me through this without medical intervention. Hormone replacement therapy was given to my mother for ten full years, leading to a small cancerous breast lump (though no problems since it was excised 9 years ago).

A friend of mine is 55 and had her last menses in February. Prior to that it disappeared for a few to many months at a time. She still doesn't know if it was her last one or not. Menopause is said to occur after 12 consecutive months of no menses.

This same friend suffers hot flashes at night that wake her up, but she said it's all minor compared to what she went through in her forties. She doesn't know how I'm enduring this with young children, and I don't know how she endured it with teen children around, also in hormonal flux.

At any rate, I need to take the advice I gave my son earlier tonight.

We had to take Peter's bike away for two days because in an impulsive moment, he sent his brother's bike, sans a rider, rolling forward, crashing into our fence. The impact appeared forceful and I was shocked at the senselessness of this like an ADHD child. An impulse hits them and they act on it, experiencing remorse and frustration afterwards. They feel stupid and of course as the parent experiences frustration and anger over the acts, which are sometimes dangerous and/or expensive, the child feels worthless and hated and has trouble calming down, even as everyone in the house moves on and wishes the child would as well.

They can't seem to say, "Well, I made a mistake; I'm sorry" and move on. They have to dwell on it for an hour and make everyone thoroughly miserable.

Peter's OCD makes it more challenging. He starts apologizing profusely, going in a downward spiral of hysterics as he wonders if God will forgive him or if he is "under sin". OCD can have a religious distortion component, which, as I wrote before, Martin Luther experienced. The personal suffering Luther endured eventually led to the Protestant Reformation, which was a blessed thing. We are saved by grace, not by works. As this realization settled Luther's heart and mind, he became a warrior for the Lord.

OCD comes with what's called "checking behaviors". When we have an appointment, Peter will ask 20 times if the elevator is going to malfunction, but more often, around the house, he asks me 20 times if I forgive him.

A friend's OCD child has a fear of throwing up; she asks her parents many times a day if she's going to vomit. If they don't answer, or if I don't answer my son, the child becomes increasingly agitated.

These verbal "checking behaviors" are akin to an OCD sufferer needing to go back to the house to check for the 10th time to see if they really shut off the stove burner, or if they really locked the door. Verbal checking behaviors are maddening to everyone around, while the more personal, quiet checking behaviors normally just drive the OCD person crazy.

At any rate, it's all tragic.

Tonight as my son went on and on asking for forgiveness, I reminded him that the Cross already has it covered.

"Peter, asking for forgiveness is good, but asking for help is better."

I explained that one of the reasons God has us suffer, whether from OCD, ADHD, or perimenopause, is because he wants us to humble ourselves and ask for help. He wants us to need Him. Our weaknesses drive us to fellowship with Him; our strengths drive us away from Him, as we focus on how capable we are on our own.

Weaknesses remind us that life here is not so great, but something better is awaiting. They give us a Kingdom mindset and that's what pleases the Lord most...a grateful, generous heart with a Kingdom mindset. 

I want to encourage you tonight. I don't know what your specific trouble or weakness is, but rejoice.

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Mature and complete, not lacking anything. That sounds wonderful, doesn't it? My idea of a mature, complete person is one who never hesitates to go to the Lord, begging for help. Clothed in humility, this person doesn't waste time trying to endure or solve a tiresome, hopeless situation on her own.

Pride sends us looking for answers within ourselves or elsewhere, but humility sends us straight to the Lord...the source of all true strength.

Proverbs 18:10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

Frustrated tears streaming, my son wanted to know if he would always be impulsive and if so, how would he make it in life? His father has a similar condition and still suffers from impulsivity at times, so the truth is, yes, outside of healing, my son will always fight impulsivity.

But I didn't say that.

I reminded him that the answer lies in his relationship with God. God would strengthen him, sustain him, shower him with grace, and possibly heal him.

Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

The thing we get wrong is that we wait so long to go to the Lord, we suffer needlessly.

This week and next, as my hormones turn my life upside down, I will take my own advice. God may not heal me, but he will soften the blow and sustain me through it. He will also sustain my family.

He's faithful...he's proven that time and again.

Psalm 16:8 I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

As we grow up we stop running to Daddy because that's frowned upon in our society. In earthly terms, running to Daddy means we never really left the nest; we're a perpetual adolescent.

Not so with our Heavenly Father: running to Daddy is the best thing we can do. The wisest thing to do, the humblest thing to do.

It's what mature-and-complete, lacking-nothing people do.

I'm sincerely sorry about whatever you're suffering tonight, but I wish for you the same thing I wish for myself and my son: maturity and completeness, lacking nothing.

You're on your way; rejoice with me!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When Your Child is Your Opposite

I just finished a thirty-minute reading session with my almost-first grader. A tedious session to put it mildly. She has a horrible fear of thunder and northeast Ohio weather hasn't provided a lot of variety in the last month; clouds and thunder rule, with a smidgen of sun here and there.

Thunder sounded throughout our session, making the difficult tortuous.

Mary's attention span just isn't where I'd like it to be and words like see, come, funny, something, which were repeated ad nauseum in the Dick and Jane book, just didn't make it on her radar today. She kept sounding them out over and over, as though her brain hadn't seen them before. And no, she doesn't have dyslexia; I looked at a checklist recently because she keeps confusing u and n and h. She knows all the sounds and can blend them, but she still struggles with a few letter-formation mix-ups.

She lives to be outside catching frogs, toads, cicadas, grasshoppers, and crickets. Nature is her passion, much like her brother Peter. School work she can do without, thank you very much.

Don't get me wrong...I believe strongly that young children should be out observing God's glory, not learning to read at age 4 (unless they want to). Mary's been a young scientist for a long time, and now, at 6.5, I have to move her along intellectually. It's clear she won't budge on her own.

I remember a time when, about 18 months ago, she loved to just sit and write the capital letters precisely on the line. And I marveled and observed from afar. But it turned out to be a stage. She never sits down to write anymore (unless I make her), especially since warm weather arrived.

I've patiently backed off at times, waiting for her attention span to grow, but now it's time to really push her. Intellectually, she appears to be lazy, though I understand how rapidly kids can change.

Do you know how hard that is for me, to come to the conclusion that one of my children is intellectually lazy? I don't want that for any of them. I have to keep reminding myself, with the Holy Spirit's help, that I'm not supposed to be raising a clone of myself. Yes, I'm curious and I like to study. Being outside is nice with my family on a hike, enjoying gardens and foliage and God's glory, but I don't live for the outdoors. For one thing, heat and humidity and I don't get along. Fall is my favorite season and I. can't. wait. for. it.

Mary is perhaps my opposite in so many ways. She doesn't care for dresses anymore, except for a couple hours in church. She's often dirty as a result of her outdoor escapades, and I hate to be dirty.

Her sister, Beth, is much more like me. She loves her dollies, her dishes, her stroller and shopping cart; she plays for hours in the playroom, happy as a lark.

These days my girls hardly play together. They've become so different and it saddens me, though as I said, I know how rapidly kids can change.

It's occurred to me sometimes, after I roll my eyes at Mary's dirty nails and wet, muddy clothes, that if I'm not careful, she's going to think I prefer Beth. And maybe, just maybe, she would prefer another type of mother? One who also sports dirty nails and loves to be outside?

For all the mothers out there who understand one child better than another, I want to reassure you: You aren't playing favorites. Your heart isn't betraying you. Don't mistake understanding one child better, to preferring one child more.

Each person is unique, having been placed in the womb by a glorious, imaginative God. Having intellectual curiosity and enjoying study isn't better than loving the outdoors. Liking dresses and being clean isn't better than loving nature and getting dirty. I believe in our mother hearts, we celebrate differences. God is wise and in creating unique individuals, he gave us a beautiful gift in our fellow man. We get that.

But differences can sometimes be scary. We have to work at understanding our children. We have to work at getting involved in their passions. We have to act on what our heart knows: That God created our children unique and beautiful, each one. They're a story to unfold, one page at a time. In their hearts, they only want to be appreciated for who they are. To be appreciated is also to be loved. The challenge is to push aside our prejudices and appreciate every word, every story plot, every fresh page.

My Dearest Mary,

I love you, darling. I love it when you rush in, shouting with glee that you caught a cicada. I love it when you hunt for tiny toads and treat each one as your special friend. I love it that you spend time catching crickets for your pets to eat, faithfully caring for them as though their lives depended on you. 

I love it when you pray before bed, begging God for sunshine. I love it when you wake up and celebrate sunshine when it dares to come, if only for an hour. Your enthusiasm for God's creation is beautiful and valuable;  I hope you hold His gifts dear all the days of your life, and teach your children to appreciate them.

Your mind is bright and active and God has tuned it for science. Keep on exploring, keep on marveling. Keep on rushing in the house, joyfully telling me about your discoveries. I love you my beautiful, darling Mary. I love everything about you, and I thank God for the day he knitted you in my womb. Thank you for letting me snuggle with you, thank you for loving me. Thank you for having patience with a flawed Momma who's desperately trying to get this right.

All the love in my heart and more,

Your grateful Momma

Monday, July 22, 2013

Enoch Walked With God

In my quiet time I've been studying the great men of the Bible and guess what I've discovered? It wasn't the men themselves who were great. It was their relationship with God. They lived for God; they walked with Him.

Genesis 5:22-24  And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him. 

This sounds strange, doesn't it? He suddenly ceased to exist? Just like that? "And he was not; for God took him." This means God translated Enoch; he didn't die, and he may be one of the witnesses, along with Elijah, during the end times. 

Elijah, one of the greatest men in the Bible, was just like us. He was subject to like passions (James 5:17 AV). One of Elijah's greatest miracles was the altar fire on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18: 

And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.

Jezebel, Ahab's evil wife, was angry that all her false prophets were killed after this Mt. Carmel incident. She reacts wildly and threatens Elijah’s life. Fearful, Elijah runs down to Beersheba in the desert. Leaving his servant, he continues his journey further and finally, under a tree in deep depression, he asks God to let him die. "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"

How could Elijah experience so little faith, after all the miracles he'd performed in his life? Essentially, he was just like us--subject to our same passions. He was flawed.

But he walked with God, enabling God to do great things through Elijah. 

Elijah, like Enoch, didn't die. This is how God took Elijah:

2 Kings 2:11-12 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

Enoch and Elijah were obviously very special to God, but why? 

Just this: They walked with him. They lived the truth of these scriptures:

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1)

Be filled with the spirit (Ephesians 5:18)

He may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16)

God is able to make all grace abound toward you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).

And lastly, Noah? He also walked with God. Genesis 6:9 This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.

These stories aren't new to you or to me, but have you ever thought about these special relationships? This walking with God? Here's the beautiful thing: We can all be like Enoch, Elijah and Noah. We can walk with God. We can make our lives about Him and live in obedience to His will. We can! 

Did you see what Ann Voskamp wrote today?

Breathe in: Lord, I receive what you give.Breathe out: Lord, I give thanks for what you give.
It’s the syllables of sanctuary, a surrender to His sovereignty.

To walk with God means to surrender to His sovereignty and to live by faith in His love. We merely have to k e e p  on  w a l k i n g, giving thanks, staying right there with Him, enabling Him to do great things through us.

When our time is up we probably won't be "translated". But let it be said on our headstone: She walked with God.

Prayer Time: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the examples of Enoch, Elijah, Noah, Daniel, and Paul the Apostle. You've made it clear, God: their greatness was in their relationship with you, not in themselves. Help us to remember how they walked with you, God, so we too, can walk faithfully with you all of our days. We want to live in the strength of your love and grace, and be filled with the Spirit. We want to do big and small miracles in your name, everyday. And we can. Thank you that we can, Lord. 

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Giving Thanks:

~ For a wonderful Vacation Bible School week.

~ For a house newly clean after 14 days of busy.

~ For little Beth's healed tonsils and adenoids. Deep breath there; she's way too skinny again, but time will heal that.

~ For no arthritis flare resulting from her Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis medication break (20 days off for surgery). Yeah, joints look good!

~ For grace during ADHD flare-ups.

~ For new friendships through children's ministry at church.

~ For Elijah and Enoch and Noah, teaching us we only have to make our lives about Him, instead of about us.

~ For morning glories climbing the fence.

~ For a pumpkin in the garden.

~ For the will to keep going when God asks something new.

What are you thankful for today, my friend?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Triumph in Christ

2 Corinthians 5:7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.

Yesterday I wrote about my first day as Vacation Bible School teacher. There were, um...challenges.

We had enough faith to know that without prayer--without God's invention--we were a sinking ship.

So we prayed for wisdom and mercy and changed a few things. God multiplied our loaves and fishes gloriously and the children were excellent listeners! The lesson and activities went famously and love abounded. 

 I drove home far less exhausted, not wallowing in grief over what I witnessed. My heart soared and I gave thanks to the glorious God who never fails me.

Exodus 34:6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Loaves and Fishes at Vacation Bible School

It was the first night of Vacation Bible School and at times I wondered...why did I sign up for this?

Vacation Bible School! Come one, come all! A time when the church invites the community in, going door to door with flyers.

And, yes, the community came, in the form of a foster mother, bone tired. She dropped off two little preschool boys, both of them probably drug babies.

The little one ran from the group during sidewalk chalk. Fearing he would run into the street, I gave chase, finally grabbing a corner of his shirt before he reached the parking lot. He fought me on the way back and I wondered why preschool teachers aren't paid $100,000 a year.

College professors? Is their job so hard, compared to the everyday preschool teacher? We get it so wrong, don't we, when it comes to caring for our nation's children--when the preschool teacher resorts to food stamps and the college professor buys tickets to the symphony and orders the steak and lobster?

I looked into the older ones eyes as he tried to wriggle away during closing ceremony. Such a vacancy there, it shocked me.

He kicked, howled, laughed at his own antics and I wondered about his future. Would he be bound in handcuffs and locked away before age 16?

Who does something like that...takes drugs and destroys a babe's mind in the womb, so that containing the child takes experts and institutions? Who destroys the gift of life and then expects someone else to handle the foster moms and preschool teachers?

Grieving, I held him the best I could, but I didn't want to come back the next day. We had a group of preschoolers who represented a fallen world's woes: drugs, divorce, custody battles...sin, sin, and more sin.

I showed up there to love and teach, but the children couldn't sit still long enough to receive. If I really believe that nothing is so big love can't eclipse it, where does that leave drug babies?

I felt guilty at closing ceremony, for wishing I didn't have to return the next day. Is that what Jesus did when the humans down under got under his skin? Did he say, "Why did I sign up for this?" Did he tell his Father he didn't want to come back the next day?

If I want to resemble Jesus, I have to invite the woes of the world in. I have to sign up to receive the community, while they are still sinners.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Tonight I teach preschoolers about the loaves and fishes and the 5000, and I feel just like that: I've got way too little to offer. 

Prayer Time: Dear Heavenly Father, we love you. We thank you that you stayed here, Lord. You didn't go Home until your appointed time. You never give up on us and we want to be like you. We want to believe that nothing is so big love can't eclipse it. Take our meager loaves and fishes Lord, take what we have to offer and make it enough. Make amatuer preschool teachers and everyday mothers into enough. Eclipse our brokenness, our imperfections, with your love, with your Cross. Help me speak you, tonight, Lord. Create a miracle today, like you did so long ago, please? 

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

When Anxiety Hits Like a Tidal Wave

My daughter's surgery just happened to come 5 days before my Vacation Bible School teaching commitment, and the first week of my children's ministry coordinator job. This is a tough surgery to recover from, so I'm not able to keep up with laundry or dishes, much less work on VBS lesson planning.

I've been holding my little girl. A lot. She's been feverish, which is normal after a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy. The fever can go up to 102 degrees and last a week. I'm choosing to sit and hold her, kiss her, stroke her hair, whisper I love you--supporting her through the pain.

When I get up, finally, I do think about the lessons I haven't finalized, and the church commitment I hope I'll be able to live up to. Not to mention the clutter that's collected while I've held my daughter; I have to look at it so of course it adds to the overwhelming feeling.

Panic this week felt like a tidal wave about to hit, several times. The good news is I'm getting better at controlling anxiety. I feel the waves but I don't let them hit me. My self-talk has changed, by God's grace.

I think about the Lord and his standards for me. I remember that I need only please Him. I remember that it's his strength that sustains me. His wisdom that carries me. I remember that if I'm living for Him, than my tasks are for Him, too.

When panic threatens, I do a heart check. Panic and fear are not from the Lord. His yoke is easy; his burden is light. I ask: For whom am I laboring? For myself, or for the Lord? Things straighten out pretty quickly after that, whether it's anxiety about raising children, fulfilling other commitments, or just getting it all done.

We develop unreasonable expectations when we seek to please ourselves or those around us. Naturally, anxiety sets in as a result of our thwarted vision; our evil intent.

Oh, yes. Even church ministry can swim in evil. The Lord says our hearts are deceitful.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

I remembered today that He loves the little children and he will serve them well, through me. I don't have to impress anyone with a fabulous lesson for VBS. I don't have to impress anyone with my ministry coordinator skills.

What does the Lord want from children's ministry? Simply that the children will feel safe and loved at Sunday School, that the volunteers would reflect His love and grace, and that the parents will feel comfortable leaving their children long enough to go serve or hear a sermon.

A good lesson would be wonderful too, but the Lord cares about relationship most of all. If our commitment is to build relationship--to love our neighbor as ourselves--whatever we teach beyond that will be more readily accepted.

Women wear so many hats nowadays; anxiety is, unfortunately, commonplace. We need to change our self-talk and check our hearts. For whom are we laboring? And what does the Lord want, versus what we want? 

When we match our vision with His, Peace is our companion.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Beth's Surgery and a Volunteer's Heart

My little Beth had her tonsil and adenoid surgery yesterday morning. She and I stayed overnight and arrived home this morning. She woke up about every two hours last night and the stay wasn't much different than my time in hospitals with my newborns.

Exhausting. Nurses in and out frequently.

When they first brought me into recovery Beth was crying inconsolably, and despite my best efforts, the crying continued. It wasn't long before I felt like crying myself, overwhelmed with her need and my own emotions over seeing her in pain and so helpless.

I prayed for strength, and for her to relax so the pain medicine would work.

A volunteer senior citizen stopped by her bed, noticing she'd been upset. He was God's angel.

Children's hospitals have a strong volunteer staff from the community, represented largely by senior citizens. We go to this hospital many times a year--Beth's rheumatologist is there, as well as the ophthalmologist who treats her intermittent, arthritis-associated eye inflammation.

This sweet volunteer brought Beth a volunteer-crafted, fabric-covered teddy bear, gorgeous and girly, full of tiny butterflies and pastel prettiness.

One look at that beautiful teddy bear made Beth stop crying. She accepted it immediately and hugged it to her breast, as though all the love put into it flowed into her little heart.

Tears in my eyes, I touched his arm and told him how grateful I was. He was just so pleased, his eyes telling me how much he loved his job.

As I watched Beth, a dedicated little mother, hug that teddy for the next 24 hours, I knew that in my old age I would be a hospital volunteer, helping children and overwhelmed mothers overcome moments of hospital despair.

Nothing is so big that love can't eclipse it. Hasn't our Heavenly Father taught us that? That the greatest of these is love?

1 John 4:7
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Colossians 3:14
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

When You Feel Inadequate

This morning, driving home from a Children's ministry meeting, I felt so inadequate. How did I get involved in this, God? Why was I the only one who responded to that request for help in the church bulletin? Surely the right person is not me, but someone else?

I love children, I love teaching, but my job won't entail much of either, really. 

Do you ever feel inadequate for the work God's given you? 

My main spiritual gifts are teaching, faith, giving and exhortation. And yet, the job I'm called to do involves managing staff people, parents and Sunday School classrooms from birth thru Kindergarten. We have two classrooms in this age group, and hope to add a third for the 3-year-old preschoolers who are too young for the 4- to 6-year-old curriculum.

I'm warm and I smile a whole lot, but I'm also shy. I don't walk up to people I barely know and start chit-chatting. People reach out to me initially and in subsequent weeks I grow comfortable with them and begin to check in with them socially before or after service. The relationships are a blessing to me, but they exist because of someone else's good social skills, not mine. Someone was brave enough to take a chance with me.

And the ministry job before me? It's a highly interactive one, as well as a detailed-oriented one. I can handle details well, but the people? How will my shyness affect my job? Will people misinterpret and think I'm unfriendly...or worse, snobby?

My home church meets in an elementary school and has no extra ministry for children; there's just Sunday School. I asked and I'm told I can plan a Vacation Bible School next year. I would really like to, but could I manage such a Herculean task, which is, more than anything else, managing people, resources and time? 

And did I mention, my children are always with me? (I like it that way, really.)

With these changes in my life, will I still be able to write regularly, which is such a blessing to me and such an integral part of my relationship with the Holy Spirit?

Driving home today, I remembered that Moses felt this way too when asked to serve.

When God appealed to him, Moses was eighty years old and felt very inadequate.  Excuses abounded. "Who am I that I should go?" (Ex.3:11). "But they won't listen to me" and "they won't believe me." (Ex.4:1). God told Moses what to do to win over the people. But Moses' next excuse was: "But I don't speak good" (Ex.4:10). Finally, God told Moses to take Aaron with him to speak for him.

Ideally, we would all serve in the capacity best suited to us. This is precisely why spiritual gifts inventories are so popular in churches nowadays. Most Christians have probably taken at least one.

So why didn't God ask a good speaker to do the work, rather than Moses? And why did God ask me to be a socially-adept manager, when clearly I'm not?

Joshua also fought feelings of inadequacy. In Joshua 1 God tells Joshua, more than once, to "be strong and courageous". Another three times God said, "Be strong and of good courage" (1:6), "be thou strong and very courageous" (1:7), "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed" (1:9). 

Solomon was a young king. Was it feelings of inadequacy that prompted him to ask God for wisdom, above all else?

In Jeremiah 1:6, Jeremiah tells God his fears: I'm too young and I don't speak well.

When Samuel appealed to Saul about God's desire for his life, Saul replied, "am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel; and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin?" (I Sam.9:21)

Spiritual gift inventories are nice, but obedience is more important

At some point, God will ask you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or inadequate, whether it's to stay with the spouse you despise, raise a special-needs child, handle a cancer diagnosis, care for an aging parent, or manage a huge ministry undertaking, such as Vacation Bible School.

You will want to make excuses, like Moses and Jeremiah and Saul. And like me.

When we stay in our comfort zone, who shines? We do. Conversely, when we step out in faith and obedience to do something hard, who shines? 

The Almighty God.

Scripture speaks to us of this phenomena in the verses below, and we mustn't be afraid. For doesn't the fear come from the sin of pride, really? We want to shine, but we fear we'll fall, instead?

We must step out humbly, joyfully, obediently, with our eyes on God and His power, not on ourselves.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

John 15:5
“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me – and I in him – bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing.

Philippians 2:13
for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God.

Philippians 4:13
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Your turn now. What difficult things has God asked you to do?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Stop Envy & Discontent in 7 Steps

Let your conduct be without covetousness; and be content with what you have: for He has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you. – Hebrews 13:5

Do you struggle with envy or discontent?

We all do, but rarely for the same reasons. For example, I don't envy people for their things or destinations or vacations. I don't envy a childless woman's flat stomach or her pretty legs clear of varicose veins. I don't like my varicose veins, but I remember when my legs were clear too. Every women gets her turn to have her body in its virginal state; my turn is past, the same as it is for wrinkle-free skin and hair without white strands.

Envy is a struggle for me in this regard: family gatherings.

When I see cars at people's houses around holiday times, probably indicating a family get-together, I feel depressed that we're so lonely on holidays. I envy the people inside for their laughter and good cheer, and for their support.

It's just us here so I'm always on duty for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner and every other holiday preparation. Holidays can feel exhausting, not relaxing, though husband helps with the kids and the cooking. But a woman knows: there's still the planning, shopping and budgeting of food and time.

I know what some of you are thinking: The more extended family you have around, the more dysfunction you deal with, because every family has dysfunction. Maybe you'd rather cook for days than deal with hours of dysfunctional sibling or parental tension.

Yes, true, but when I drive by a happy party I don't think about the dysfunction inherent in these settings, I think about the good cheer, the togetherness, the support. The grass just looks greener over there, on holidays.

A time will come when my kids are older and we'll have more time to make friends, perhaps creating a merry table with them. God heard our cries and blessed us with our single Christian friend Dean back in January, whom we knew in California and who now lives 45 minutes away. He comes when he's feeling well, enjoying the children and vice versa.

I know this: God is not honored by envy. It's a sinful snare--the enemy's lies prevailing in our hearts for a time.

I know His plan is perfect, regardless of my feelings. My reaction is the problem, not God's plan. I'm good about counting my blessings except at holiday time.

Whatever the reason for your own envy, along with me, you can benefit from these strategies:

1. Repent 

Envy is the sin of covetousness, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 11:10). We should fear His reaction to our ongoing sin, as a people who love him and want to please him and bring him glory. We need to confess before God and turn 180 degrees, signaling true repentance.

2. Be spiritually prepared--head off Satan by praying ahead of time

If it's that certain woman's flat stomach or shiny new mini-van, pray before you see her: for a pure heart, for a grateful heart, and that you'll be able to: rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

3. Do a topical study to gather Bible verses about your personal envy issue. 

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Gather all you can about your specific topic, and about contentment and gratitude in general. Read all the scriptures and then pray them into your heart, which is an act of faith that God will change you--it's an important step to true heart change. We can read a scripture and think it sounds wonderful, but change comes when we care enough and believe enough to ask God for help; we can't change on our own. 

"Dear Father, I ask that this scripture be realized in my heart...that I would live its truth and bring you glory. Change me, Lord."

4. Keep track of your progress. 

Psalm 103:2 Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits--

Next time you see that woman and don't give her van or her flat stomach a single thought, rejoice. Tell God thank you. He's heard the cry of your heart. He loves you; he rejoices in you. He's faithful.

5. Count your blessings
Psalm 40:5 Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

Counting our blessings is not about being thankful for what we have in comparison to others. It's about realizing that in Christ, we have everything.

6. Be generous with your blessings. 

Acts 20:35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

7. Trust God and surrender completely. 

Mark 14:35-36 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Know that His plan for your life, including how you spend holidays, is perfect. Recognize and celebrate His sovereignty, perfection, and faithfulness. Give up having it your way: Lay down your life, your plans, your hopes, for the glory of God.

There's no greater joy, no greater gain, than when we surrender to our Lord completely, our white flag indicating we love Him more than we love ourselves. 

When His glory finally becomes our goal, we can be perfectly content.

Relevant Scriptures:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. – 1Timothy 6:6-7

Let your conduct be without covetousness; and be content with what you have: for He has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.Hebrews 13:5

A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. The heart of him that has understanding seeks knowledge: but the mouth of fools feeds on foolishness. All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart has a continual feast. Better is a little with the fear of Yahweh than great treasure with trouble. – Proverbs 15:13-16

A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy is rottenness to the bones. – Proverbs 14:30

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am in to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13

Prayer Time: 
Dear Heavenly Father, how we love you. Thank you for your beautiful, steadfast, sacrificial love. You gave it all to redeem us and we want to live for you, honor you and bring you glory. Change our hearts, Lord. Whatever state we're in, teach us to be content and thankful. Help us to truly repent of envy, to be spiritually prepared through the power of prayer, to study your Word, to track our progress, to count our blessings, to be generous, and to surrender fully to you. We have everything in You, Lord. Open our eyes so we can truly see what the Lamb of God has done for us.

In Jesus' Name I pray, Amen.

Giving Thanks Today:

~ sunshine on Monday

~ fireworks

~ kids bowl free (Mary got 4 strikes and 3 spares in two games--by rolling the ball!)

~ a little headway on our fruit fly problem

~ morning glories climbing the fence

~ neighbors loaning my boys and the neighbor kids a bike ramp

~ little Beth's tonsil & adenoid surgery is this Wednesday. Breathing normally will be such a wonderful thing for her after all these months.

~ Paul playing beautifully on the piano

~ Beth playing with her dollies so sweetly

~ God's Word

~ Knowing that He is so faithful and loves us so much

~ Compassion letters

~ four precious children filling my home and heart

Giving thanks with Ann Voskamp today for Multitude Monday, at Holy Experience.

What are you thankful for today, my friend?