Saturday, November 30, 2013

God's Adventurer

I'm 42 pages into another missionary book, called God's Adventurer, about Hudson Taylor, missionary to China.

God's Adventurer   -     By: Phyllis Thompson

I have the Sonlight Homeschool program to thank for my new interest in missionary books. We bought several this year as part of the Eastern Hemisphere studies, and I picked up a few more from the prolific Benge series, Christian Heroes Then and Now.

Each new missionary book tugs at my heart a little more, pulling me into a place of deeper faith and greater reliance on God. This deeper faith swirls in my heart, eager to be set free, compelling me to ask, "What can I do for you, GodHow can I grow your Kingdom?"

It's confusing, this stirring within me. Most missionaries either have missionary college degrees, or some other strong recommendation or training. I only have my faith to offer, and my imperfect love.

On a spiritual gifts inventory 10 years ago, faith was one of my top five gifts, but an inventory last summer revealed that on faith I got the highest score possible for any single gift. What does this mean, and what can I do for God?

In the current book, God's Adventurer, about Hudson Taylor, an entire chapter was devoted to how this young man tested God in the months before leaving for China. Hudson wanted to learn to rely entirely on God for everything, so he refused to accept any start money from his parents, or from the missionary organization he signed with.

There were several instances covered in the first chapter in which Hudson found himself in dire straights financially, and once with his health. He prayed each time, knowing God would provide.

He was required to obtain medical training before leaving for China, and during the training period he lived quite poorly, physically speaking. Once he gave an entire half crown piece to a family who was starving, even though it was the only money Hudson had, and back at his rented room, he had only enough oatmeal for two more meals, after which he would be destitute and starving himself.

He found it very hard to give up the coin from his pocket. Several times he wished it could be split up, giving some to the starving family, and keeping some for himself, to last until his physician's assistant payday.

But God didn't give him any other option; he had to give it all.

As soon as it was out of pocket, young Hudson felt joyous and free. While fingering it over and over in his pocket, he'd felt wretched, in contrast.

In a euphoric state of mind, he walked back to his room, marveling at how wonderful it feels to depend on God for everything.

Still, waking the next morning and eating his second to last meal? It was hard. He knew that if God didn't provide by the end of the day, he would go hungry the next day.

Once again, he prayed with faith.

In the middle of his oatmeal, the landlady brought him a letter, surprising him, because he never got mail on Mondays. He opened it and a coin dropped on his table, enough to last him until payday. He had no idea who it was from, so he rightly assumed God sent it.

I can't wait to finish this book. I can't wait to marvel at the creative, seemingly impossible ways God provides. He worked another miracle in our own lives just today--one that will grow my children's faith, particularly. The more we pray and rely on him for every single thing, the more he delivers, along with new challenges to grow our faith.

The coin in Hudson Taylor's pocket, the one he fingered nervously for so long, was a symbol for every Christian. The minute we give up what we think we desperately need, spiritual blessings flow. The "coin" is different for every Christian, but in truth we all hold something back from God.

Tight-fisted, we limit what God can and will do, for us and through us.

He wants to free us. He wants us to walk in joy, but first we must open our hands and let go.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Are the Poor Lazy?

In order for our hearts to develop a religion that is "pure and undefiled", we have to let go of prejudice. In dealing with some neighbors over the past 14 months, I've been so challenged in my thinking. Slowly, God has dealt with my self-righteous, ill-conceived thoughts by interjecting an article here and there, and speaking to me personally from Scripture.

My heart took issue with my neighbors' cigarette smoking habit, their spending habits, their lack of gratitude, their habit of sending uncomfortable children over to beg for milk, sugar, bandaids, eggs, cash, etc., rather than coming themselves. Not to mention the idea of them burning children's paperback books I sent over, for whatever crazy reason.

I didn't consciously think I was better than them, but deep in my heart, that was my sin.

Scripture tells us that our hearts are deceitful, and yet deep down we stubbornly think this means other people, not us. When we're confronted with the truth, which is inevitable if we're in the Word, the next step is bending low, declaring: "Yes, God. You're right. My heart is vile and deceitful. Please change me."

Compassion must scream loudly from the heart of a Christian. How compassionate we are speaks of how grateful we are. It speaks of how thoroughly we understand our position before God. The Beatitudes tell us "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The poor in spirit understand their position before God. They freely admit they are bankrupt, devoid of anything redeeming, outside of the indwelling Holy Spirit bought by the blood of the Cross.

I invite you to take this journey with me. This poverty-of-spirit journey to help us fully understand what God has done for us.

Here is an article that will change your heart regarding the poor. It will explain why the poor make such seemingly stupid decisions, like buying cigarettes for themselves, rather than ensuring enough milk for their children. It will challenge your thoughts about how hard the poor work. In truth they often work very hard, rarely resting, the hope of even a mini-vacation a cruel joke. You'll understand more fully why compassion must be our middle name.

Before you click, let me say that not all the observations in the article are about the author's life. She draws from her own experiences, and the experiences of people she knows. It's raw, with a few F bombs, but please, click. More money in her life is not the answer. Christ, and his true Hope, are the answer. Joy comes not from enough comfort, convenience, or money. It comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit, who gives us joy regardless of our circumstances. Pray that for her, and pray that God removes the blinders from our eyes, so that we can do the compassionate, heart-changing work he desires of us.

We can't just read such an article and say, "Wow, that's sad." It has to change us...give us a pure and undefiled religion that compels us to live for Christ, so that hope can be planted in desperate hearts.

Poverty is the absence of hope, as the article will demonstrate. We can't obliterate poverty, for the Bible says we will always have the poor. But hopefully not the abject poor. Their numbers are dwindling, but they're is much work left to do. As our hearts purify, their numbers will reduce further. As we let go of our prejudices, so will their bellies let go of hunger.

“So wickedly, devilishly false is that common objection, ‘They are poor, only because they are idle’.” ~ John Wesley (The year 1753)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Testimony of God's Faithfulness

I've been blessed in my Christian walk whenever someone has given testimony of God's faithfulness. These testimonies are valuable, and yet sometimes it's hard to discern whether a faith incident should remain in secret or not. Scripture tells us to give in secret, to pray in secret, so we don't draw attention to ourselves as a Pharisee would do.
Yet, when the Lord has challenged me to do something out of faith, it's the Old Testament stories and the testimonies of other Christians that have helped me decide, "Yes, God. I will do it!"
So here's a testimony:
Our usual experience with Operation Christmas Child has been more of contributing to boxes packed at AWANA, which is a smaller financial commitment then packing one of your own. This year we are in a different AWANA and the Operation Christmas Child emphasis was more a "pack your own box with your family" commitment.
This was quite a challenge to us, and at first we felt burdened. But as AWANA day approached and it was time to fill a box, we had a wonderful time as a family. Truly a pleasure, from start to finish, as has been praying for the 5- to 9-year-old-boy we filled a shoebox for.
When the bill at the cash register came close to $45, my husband and I exchanged glances and gulped. "Wow, God. That was expensive."
But we believed, and we told our children we believed. The transaction left us with $50 to last until payday, and not enough groceries to stretch us until payday. Still, we knew God's math is not like the world's math.
We told the children that when your plans are for the Kingdom, God would provide. When your plans are for yourself, this is not necessarily so. Thus, when discerning what to do, decide what you are truly working for...your own advancement, or God's?
Exactly three days later, $100 came in the mail from a friend whose family struggles to make ends meet. I was stunned, and definitely wasn't sure that accepting it was the right thing to do. I walked around the house with the bill in hand, confused and conflicted, at first not remembering our shoebox price tag.
I asked her..."Are you and your husband sure about this?"
Do you know what she wrote back?
"Oh, yes. We are very sure it came directly from Command Control." This she wrote with a smiley face. (Command Control of course, meaning God).
Then it hit me. It really was from Command Control, just like our pull to fill the shoebox in faith was from Command Control.
We needed milk; I try to make sure the children drink 3 glasses a day, which is a hefty financial commitment. While I expected God to provide for groceries, I didn't expect Him to provide more than double the cash register total for the shoebox.
Amazing. That's what God is. That's what His math and His heart and His radical grace is. Amazing.
When we step out in faith, God has far more opportunity to prove He's amazing. When we give testimony of his faithfulness, his Glory reaches more hearts, changes more lives, creates more occasions of glory, growing God's Kingdom.
God doesn't need our help. But he wants it.
He created us to bring Him glory (and to fellowship with him).
Please, share your own testimony of God's faithfulness?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mom's Survival Guide: Cold & Flu Season

I've spent a stressful couple nights with my cold-virus suffering four-year-old daughter, who also happens to be on an immuno-suppressant drug, and boy did it bring back memories. Some years when all my children were little, it seemed like we went from one cold to another, with week-long breaks in between. The nights were grueling, with more than one child up coughing, and croup a frequent visitor for Peter, up until he reached 6 years old.

I learned that many different cold viruses lead to croup for susceptible children, that some cold viruses lead to suspicious rashes in the younger set, and some lead to harmless fever. Some viruses are more likely to bring on sinus infections and bronchitis and ear infections, though 90% of these end up viral, against which antibiotics are worthless.

I finally learned to stay away from doctor's offices unless fevers had gone on too long (more than 3 days), or unless there were breathing difficulties, or the child became listless and acted seriously sick. Visiting the doctor in the winter just invites more viruses to your home; the more children you have with you, the more likely this is.

I'm experienced enough now to say that 80% of doctor's visits for colds and related infections are unnecessary, especially if you breastfeed. I wish someone had told me this in the beginning, because I actually brought my first baby to the doctor at 7 months old, just because he had his first cold virus, and some baby book said to take a baby to the doctor if it's a first cold.

What? Who writes these things?

The doctor treated me like an idiot because my baby had only minor cold symptoms, and I had no other complaints. This is the same pediatrician who later on answered my question about how long to feed baby rice cereal with this snarky remark: "I don't care if you feed him Frosted Flakes for breakfast."

Okay, so my baby was 12 months by then, but still.

Last night for the second night, Beth suffered a low-grade fever, and she had discharge from her eyes all day. "Just shoot me if this is pinkeye, God. I never want to deal with that again."

New last night was an hour of restless itching everywhere on her body, during which I panicked, wondering what kind of strange cold virus brings on itching. "Could it be meningitis, God?" She went to the world-famous ophthalmologist last Monday, who sees patients from many different countries. I wondered if a foreign family unwittingly deposited strange germs in the waiting room.

It's amazing what exhaustion can do to a mother. Today there's no itching, no fever, she's active, and the eye discharge was obviously just part of a nightmare cold virus that brings profuse leaking--nose and eyes.

Tips for Mom's sanity during the winter:

~ I can't prove this, but love works. Drop everything and hold the sick ones. Pray over them and kiss their foreheads. Read them stories, tissue box in hand, and watch movies with them. They will always remember that Mommy was the best, most attentive Mommy when they were sick. These memories will cover over a multitude of your mothering sins.

~ Yes, the house will get very, very cluttered during sick weeks. After being up half the night, you will be tempted to say up another half-night to set the house to rights. Don't. They will need you again when the post-nasal drip brings on a terrible coughing spell, so sleep when you can.

~ Make easy dinners, even if you just had spaghetti two nights ago. If you order take-out, you'll just bring home more cold viruses.

~ Before cold and flu season hits, stock up on supplies. Buy multiple tissue boxes laced with lotion, and multiple generic bottles of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, but don't medicate a mild fever during the day. It's a natural part of immune system function. At your weekly library visits, check out movies that will keep them lying down for a couple hours, and buy liquids they will drink, even if you normally wouldn't choose them.

~ If your husband helps, great, but don't fight with him if he doesn't do the dishes himself, even though you haven't slept in four nights. Consider this: if your husband stays up late to help, and then gets sick himself, he will miss work and drive you more crazy than your sick kids. Just sayin'.

~ They're a cruel parenting joke, these cold viruses. You worry yourself to a tizzy and watch your sick child's labored breathing through the night, only to wake up to a chipper, happy, snot-faced child who doesn't understand why Mommy is cranky and tired. Colds are always worse at night, so never decide in the middle of the night if a doctor's visit is warranted, unless you have a young infant and you suspect RSV or other form of bronchiolitis.

~ As soon as your child feels well again, you'll be sick as a dog with a horribly messy house and no relief in sight. Life will seem incredibly grueling and you might just cry, because you were so worn down when you caught the cold, that a sinus infection comes quickly, leaving you begging for mercy.

This too shall pass. Before you know it, your youngest will be almost five and you'll feel like crying because there are no babies left. No soft cheeks to caress and kiss. No bare, sweet bottoms to laugh at as they toddle down the hall, giggling and running away from you at bathtime. No sweet-smelling babies to lie against your elevated chest in the middle of the scary, exhausted nights.

These snot-nosed days are the best years of your life.

Let it all go, Momma. The house, that perfectionist bent, that pride over your multi-tasking skills. If you're in cold and flu season and your house looks great, you're choosing the wrong thing. 

With Love,
From a Momma who's been there


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Operation Christmas Child: There's Still Time

You still have time to participate in one of the most important acts of the Christmas season. Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are in delivery week, which ends this Monday, November 25. Click here to find a drop-off location near you.

If you don't have time to put the box together yourself, click here to build a box online.

We went to the dollar store, knowing it would not be packed with Thanksgiving grocery shoppers, and still found quality brands.

If you want to do it yourself, here's how:

1. Obtain a shoebox. Use an empty cardboard or plastic shoebox (average size). You can wrap the box, lid separately, but wrapping is not required. Don't wrap the box and lid together, because Samaritan's Purse puts evangelical materials into every box.

2. Choose gender and age.
Decide whether your gift will be for a boy or a girl, and the age category: 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14.

3. Bring the shoebox (to size everything) and go shopping with your family. Get the kids involved. It will be one of the most meaningful things you'll do this season; your hearts will be filled with joy throughout the process!

4. Include a personal note and picture of your family. If you include your name and address, the child might write back.

5. After you pack it, download and print the appropriate boy/girl label. Mark the correct age category and tape the label to the top of your box.

6. Place a rubberband around the closed box, and deliver the box to the drop-off location during National Collection Week, November 18–25. Visit the Drop-off Locations page (check the times for drop-off) to find the closest collection site. Or, call 1-800-353-5949.

7. Help cover shipping and other costs related to delivering your shoeboxes to children overseas by donating $7 for each gift you prepare. You can give online to discover the destination of your box. Or, you can write a check to Samaritan’s Purse (note “OCC” on the memo line) and place it in an envelope on top of the items inside your shoebox. If you are preparing multiple gifts, make one combined donation. Note: Follow Your Box is only available through online giving.

8. Pray for the child every day, throughout the year.

Gift Suggestions:

  • Toys: Include items that children will immediately embrace such as dolls, toy trucks, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas, yo-yos, jump ropes, balls, toys that light up and make noise (with extra batteries), etc.
  • School Supplies: Pens, pencils and sharpeners, crayons or markers, stamps and ink pad sets, writing pads or paper, solar calculators, coloring and picture books, etc.
  • Hygiene Items: Toothbrush, mild bar soap (in a plastic bag), comb, washcloth, etc.
  • Accessories: T-shirts, socks, ball caps, sunglasses, hair clips, toy jewelry, watches, flashlights (with extra batteries).
  • A Personal Note: You may enclose a note to the child and a photo of yourself or your family. If you include your name and address, the child may write back.
  • Do Not Include: Used or damaged items; war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures; chocolate or food; out-of-date candy; liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans.

  • Samaritan's Purse Background Information:

    "Since 1993, more than 100 million boys and girls in over 130 countries have experienced God’s love through the power of simple shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child. Samaritan’s Purse works with local churches and ministry partners to deliver the gifts and share the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ."

    "Soon, millions of gifts lovingly packed by individuals, families, churches, and civic groups will be on their way to children in need in 117 countries around the world. The gifts will be delivered by every means possible—boat airplane, wagon, foot, horse, and even exotic animals such as elephants and camels." (Quotes courtesy of Samaritan's Purse)

    Samaritan's Purse Personal Testimony:
    Sue grew up in war-torn Bosnia. Shootings and bombings afflicted her surrounding neighborhoods, and many people were nearly starving due to food shortages. But despite the devastation around her, she found hope in an extraordinary gift when she received a shoebox during the winter of 1993-94.

    A little girl named Jenny from Ohio sent a shoebox gift to Sue containing a Barbie toothbrush and toothpaste; shiny pencils and erasers; notepads; a pink and purple hat; gloves and scarf; a coloring book; a My Little Pony; and her favorite gift— a pair of pajamas with glow-in-the-dark stars.

    “You may feel that it is silly I cared so much about my pajamas while people around me were getting shot and starving,” Sue said. “At the time, I didn’t understand it either. That little blue box made me happier than a piece of bread did.”

    For her, the shoebox gift was the extra measure of comfort that made the greatest impact.

    “Being provided with food is normal and expected,” she said. “However, being provided with love is exceptional. Being comforted is miraculous. And receiving Milky Way pajamas when I knew I didn’t have to have them meant exactly that to me—that somebody loved me and wanted to comfort me.”

    Please join volunteers around the country and world in sharing this kind of comfort that can be sent through a simple shoebox gift. Remember to pray for each child who will receive shoebox gifts this year, specifically that they will feel loved and comforted, despite their current circumstances, and that they will get the opportunity to receive the greatest gift from God, Jesus Christ.

    Friday, November 22, 2013

    Homeschool and Mother's Journal Nov 22

    In my life this week…
    Okay, so, I got on a soapbox here...didn't really mean to, but my mother instincts took over. Skip this whole "in my life" section if you don't want to read a soapbox about the media and our children's hearts.

    This week I'm grateful for so many things. I'm grateful that when I was 31, the Lord plucked me from this world, and he's still plucking. There were such contrasts this week, and each one filled me with gratitude for being spared.

    We live sheltered here, with no TV signal and an Internet speed too slow for videos. Much of what goes on in the world escapes us, but we do read articles in an attempt to follow real news.

    It bothers me that when Bing comes up on Internet Explorer, along with it come trashy pictured article teasers to choose from, mostly about celebrities, complete with cleavaged pictures I hate for my children to see (pictures my Internet filter doesn't do anything about). Today I decided, that's it! I'm searching for a child-friendly browser.

    America has become so calloused and immoral, few in the business get it. In Italy, where I spent 14 months as a pre-teen, one got used to seeing trashy p-rn magazines on newstands. Right away, Europe's fallen morals stood out to Americans, but now, not so many years later, look where America is?

    It's time for Christians to take a stand. I can't say how each family should take a stand, but I know we are responsible before God for preserving our children's innocence. We are not powerless, though it would seem like it. The Lord tells us that if our eyes cause us to sin, gouge them out. He's that serious about us making pro-God decisions.

    This week two of the kids had dentist appointments so we ended up in a waiting room with cable TV, on which there was a morning talk show with the trashiest topics--mostly about Hollywood. We all had books and tried to read, but the unkind, gossipy show host had such a big mouth we couldn't escape her (no controls on the TV that I could see).

    Right away I felt sad that such a show survived--that anyone thought it worthy. Why are celebrities so intoxicating to people? Fame often leads to tragic downfall, and the intoxicated audience shares much of the blame. When we don't click on a celebrity article, we're doing the celebrity a favor.

    After fifteen minutes the talk show got worse and I was more angry than sad. In a gutsy-for-me move, I got up and told the front desk that the show was so trashy my children shouldn't be hearing it. They apologized, saying they don't keep track of what's on. One of the women absentmindedly changed a soap opera, just as offending.

    I wanted to kiss Jesus right then and there, that for four years now, cable TV has been absent from our home. I can't imagine even changing channels without my children becoming more corrupted by the minute.

    It would seem that in order to raise good children nowadays, we need to recreate the atmosphere of the 1800's in our homes, so that when our children have their wings, they will be grounded, rooted in countless hours of family devotions and Scripture, wholesome whole-family entertainment, excellent literature to feast their hearts on, hardwork and camaraderie, and the confidence that comes from it.

    In the current atmosphere, I fear there is just no way to ground children. Never has there been so much available to confuse children (and parents), countering Truth at every turn. When mainstream media starts looking like Sodom and Gomorrah, it's past time to for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

    Turn magazines over at the check-out counter, asks clerks to turn off the TV--show your children not to be ashamed of the Gospel. Never fear the prudish label or the whispers, when standing up for Truth. Never before has it been truer--you are either for me, or against me, saith the Lord. Christians can't just shake their heads in disgust anymore...we need to act, or the Enemy wins...and we lose our children.

    In our homeschool this week…

    The boys are starting The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti (gorgeous illustrations), and keeping on with their regularly scheduled Sonlight F reading.


    Homesick, by Jean Fritz, is the autobiographical story covering two years of Jean's childhood, spent in China where her parents worked for the first ten years of her life. A Newbery Honor book, it promises to stay in our hearts for some time, as we hang out in China with Sonlight Core F (Eastern Hemisphere). The book deals with some serious issues, so it's definitely one for parents to pre-read in order to teach, discuss, flesh-out.

    Publishers Synopsis: The accolades speak for themselves: "Fritz draws the readers into scenes from her youth in the turbulent China of the mid-twenties. One comes to appreciate the generous affection of her nurse/companion Lin Nai-Nai, the isolating distance in her mother's grief over losing a second child, the dynamics of a suffering population venting its hostility on foreigners, and most of all, the loneliness of a child's exile from a homeland she has imagined constantly but never seen....A remarkable blend of truth and storytelling."

    The very cold weather has awakened a cooking and baking fire in the boys' and Momma's heart, so we're scaling back school a tad to make time for baking and cooking lessons--part of the one-piece life, in which life and school flow together, rather than school being a separate beast, after which real life beings. It makes sense to heat up a cold house with the oven fires burning, and then gather joyfully to eat the fruit of our labors, which today bring us a crumb apple pie and homemade cinnamom rolls, and a crockpot roast chicken with mashed sweet potatoes.

    Mary and Paul are learning to peel apples, and Beth helps where she can, but her dollies are still her first love.

    Mary, first grade, has gained some independence in her schooling. She now prints her lower-case letters well enough for me to walk away, if needed, during copywork and journal work, and she can do Explode the Code by herself, which I added to supplement her spelling. She can do a math sheet on her own, read some on her own, though her Sing, Spell, Read, Write books are gaining rapidly in difficulty, meaning I need to be there more often than not.

    Beth, almost 5, varies daily in her interest in school. Her late birthday--like her sister's--means she doesn't technically start kinder until next fall, so I'm not forcing it, but it would work well for her to be in a schooling duo with sister, like the brothers are. If she can stay motivated for just an hour of school a day, I can have her reading alone by summer, to start a Sonlight Core with her sister by next fall. We will see.

    Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…

    Beth had her three-month opthamologist appointment this week, which brought good news for the third consecutive time. Her eyes show none of the inflammation that less than 20% of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis patients suffer from. Her only eye inflammation came in the first year of the disease. Praise God for one less reason to be concerned about her future.

    Yesterday brought a long library visit during which I perused the Christmas section. In our library this section is vast...two rows long, so if I don't start today, I won't have time to share all the Christmas literary treasures I found for the season.

    I look for books that depict Christmas as a joyous Christian celebration, as opposed to an event besieged by the modern marketplace and the Enemy. Thus, many of them depict Christmases of the late 1800's and early 1900's. We'll start today with a few:

    The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski

    The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

    Publisher Synopsis: Jonathan Toomey is the best woodcarver in the valley, but he is always alone and never smiles. No one knows about the mementos of his lost wife and child that he keeps in an unopened drawer. But one early winter’s day, a widow and her young son approach him with a gentle request that leads to a joyful miracle. The moving, lyrical tale, gloriously illustrated by P.J. Lynch, has been widely hailed as a true Christmas classic.

    The widow McDowell and her seven-year-old son, Thomas, ask the gruff Jonathan Toomey, the best wood-carver in the valley, to carve the figures for a Christmas creche.

    I read this riveting book--the one shown above--in the library and nothing could turn my attention from it, save Beth's too-loud library voice as she played on the library train cars (yes, there is a train in our children's section, but lest you feel jealous, let me also say that our main children's librarian is a mean-faced lady who scares me).

    As soon as we arrived home, I made dinner, and when the last mouth stopped chewing, I gathered everyone for "one of the best Christmas stories ever." (My words). I read it in place of our dinner devotions, in fact, as it's truly a masterpiece of storytelling and rich meaning.

    The Gift, by Aliana Brodmann (Hanukkah story, but about dying to ourselves to care for the least of these, and how that is gift itself to the giver's heart.)


    Publisher Synopsis:
    With her Hanukkah money in her pocket, a little girl eagerly sets out to find the perfect way to spend her treasure. Will she choose a fancy hat? A new doll? A soft, gray kitten? Nothing seems just right until she hears a lovely melody from a street musician's accordion. Suddenly she knows what to do with her gift -- and in giving from her heart she receives the best gift of all.

    Ben's Christmas Carol, by Toby Forward, Illustrated by Ruth Brown

    Front Cover

    Publisher Synopsis:
    Toby Forward and Ruth Brown have collaborated on a wonderfully original story about the mice who live beneath the floorboards of a great London mansion, the home of Ebenezer Scrooge. It's Christmas Eve, but a miserly mouse named Ben feels no special cheer. For him, Christmas is just another day. After an unexpected visitor takes him on a ghostly tour of London, the awed creature decides he'll never be mean again. Full color.

    An Orange for Frankie, by Patricia Polacco. Ah, the way this family celebrates's the perfect, meaningful Christmas, full of love and joy and the spirit of giving, but the only gift for the children? Oranges, which absolutely delight their innocent, loving hearts. But in the year of the story, there's a beautiful twist on their traditional Christmas orange.

    An Orange for Frankie

    Publisher Synopsis: The Stowell family is abuzz with holiday excitement, and Frankie, the youngest boy, is the most excited of all. But there's a cloud over the joyous season: Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and Pa hasn't returned yet from his trip to Lansing. He promised to bring back the oranges for the mantelpiece. Every year there are nine of them nestled among the evergreens, one for each of the children. But this year, heavy snows might mean no oranges . . . and, worse, no Pa!

     This is a holiday story close to Patricia Polacco's heart. Frankie was her grandmother's youngest brother, and every year she and her family remember this tale of a little boy who learned--and taught--an important lesson about giving, one Christmas long ago.

    My favorite thing this week was…

    Reading teary Christmas stories at the library, and sharing them with my family at home.

    My kiddos favorite thing this week was…

    Cuddling for family stories, the promise of snow in the weather report, baking together.

    Things I’m working on…

    At AWANA I serve as needed, meaning I run between Sparks and Cubbies, depending on which teachers are absent. In Sparks one week I noticed a small boy, probably 5 or 6, who wore filthy, ill-fitting clothing. He was the sweetest young boy, as one might expect. The unspoiled ones are usually the sweetest at this age.

    I wanted to go immediately to the thrift store for him the next day, but I knew I'd be using our grocery money, so instead, I sent out an e-mail to our Freecycle network. Two days later I picked up some clothes from a kind lady, but while there were some good sweatshirts and shirts and a church outfit, there weren't any jeans, save for a play pair with holes.

    No one else responded to my Freecycle e-mail, so I waited a few more days, and then went to Goodwill, telling God I was trusting him to provide for the little boy, and for us. Not only did I learn it was 35% off day, but also, when I went home with my like-new, numerous items for this little boy, including four very good pairs of jeans, my husband shared that he had an opportunity for overtime for the next two Fridays. Yippee! God is awesome!

    It is Operation Christmas Child time, so I'm counting on God to work another miracle as we put a shoebox together to take to AWANA.

    Sometimes, it doesn't come down to the numbers on the lines of your budget. If it did, I couldn't be home with my children...the numbers just don't add up in our favor. It comes down to your faith. If your plan is for the Kingdom, God makes a way.

    I’m cooking

    meatloaf, crockpot whole chicken, whole wheat pancakes, potato soup (yes,'s sooo good), bowtie pasta with sausage marinara, chicken noodle soup, baked ziti

    Baking pumpkin bread, crumb apple pie, cinnamon rolls, all with the kids' help.

    I’m grateful for…

    ~ God's kind of math

    ~ friends who can relate

    ~ kind words

    ~ wholesome books

    ~ four children

    ~ winter comfort food

    ~ sweet 5 year old boys at AWANA who make God's glory shine

    ~ snow on the way

    ~ online friendships

    ~ for Franklin Graham and his wonderful Operation Christmas Child ministry

    ~ Compassion children to celebrate Christmas with, even if only in letters

    ~ a good, hardworking Christian husband who listens to my Christmas picture-book pics with tears in his eyes

    I’m praying for…

    My 90-year-old father-in-law left a rehab center in Florida against the doctor's orders 3 days ago. He is not doing well in his home. He is weak, depressed, but still as stubborn as ever. Every time he doesn't answer the phone, I worry; I can't get him out of my mind. I told him again how happy we would be to have him here in our home in Ohio, but he just says it would be a burden. God will make a way, I told him. He dreads the trip itself. Though the trip would be hard at his age, God would help, I assured him.

    I am praying for his safety, and that he will allow God to decide what is best for him. I fear his stubborness will be what kills him.

    A  quote to share... (hurray for God's plans!)

    Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

    Thank you for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    Thursday, November 21, 2013

    Wanted: A Taste of Heaven This December

    The kids all in bed for the night, I ran to the grocery store. Usually I shop Aldi's and Save A Lot, but they can't meet all our needs, so unfortunately I end up at Walmart once a week.

    Arriving at the front entrance, I couldn't believe the live Christmas trees standing outside. Are you kidding? Live Christmas trees a week before Thanksgiving?

    Then, upon entering, it was all Christmas, everywhere. Fake, fully-decorated trees, special towels, dishes, table linens, decorations, and poinsettias.

    Regular readers probably already know I hate Christmas for what it is in this country. Every year around this time I sink into a depression and it takes me weeks to pull myself completely out, but all the while, the Lord is with me, talking me through it. I fully believe everything He tells me, but I still struggle, in my flesh.

    Every new December I think surely I'm beyond these feelings emotionally and spiritually, by now?

    But it's always that first trip into the fully decked out Walmart that gets me. Not five steps in, the feelings return and I immediately think, "I hate Christmas!"

    Christmas is for the more fortunate, not the less fortunate, at least in this country. My family and I have many spiritual blessings and much to be grateful for, but financially, we're always barely making it, and Christmas, America's way, isn't for us.

    Oh, I try. I do plenty of baking with the kids. I check out comforting, meaningful Christmas library books. I read lots of Scripture aloud. I buy cheap craft supplies to help keep us happily busy, creating traditions of our own.

    But the kids know our Christmases are not like most American households--not like those of my childhood. As they become adults and consumers in their own right, they'll understand the special spiritual blessings that come from non-material Christmases, but right now, as young children, they feel deprived.

    They have a sweetness about them that comes from not being indulged, and I treasure that. I truly do, and I know that to have money to indulge them even a little, would reduce some of that sweetness.

    They know cognitively that they're blessed, but they have trouble fighting their feelings, as I do. December is probably our leanest financial month because of the extra holiday food and the few crafts that I buy, along with the extra baking and higher utilities. Food is more expensive than ever and our budget just can't be squeezed any further. Already every trip I wonder if I'll overspend and my debit card will be rejected.

    This trip as I walked through aisle after aisle of Christmas reminders, it was incredibly hard, walking back to the drug aisle to put the vitamins away. Vitamins would have to wait until the next paycheck. The ten dollars was going to put me too close to a rejected debit card.

    I'm too used to this to cry, but as I saw other people filling up their carts with a little of everything Christmas, my spirit groaned.

    Yes, I choose this. We choose this. I can make more money teaching than my husband can as a low-wage custodian, but my heart is fully at home and his is not. Also, his ADHD would make it very difficult for him to run the house, the meals, the laundry, the paperwork, and the homeschool. And public school is so poor a choice from our spiritual standpoint, that we never consider putting the kids in a brick and mortar school.

    Our situation is what it is. The longer we're married, the more I see parallels between my husband and my son, in regards to the ADHD and accompanying issues. Many people think of his Bible college degree and wonder, what happened? Why can't he do anything else?

    Outside of neurological healing for my husband, our income will stay low, with some relief coming when my teacher retirement kicks in at 55.

    That's a lot of Christmases and I don't want to feel this way every year, nor do my children. They anticipate the gifts from my mom and from Daddy's sister, and because we can't personally buy them gifts, I shudder to think of what will happen when my mother passes away and Christmas does too.

    I purposely seek out meaningful Christmas reads, both online and in the library. I try to make Christmas about giving something immaterial. I know the true blessing...the coming of the long-awaited Savior we so desperately needed. We never stop needing Him and he is absolutely the Gift.

    As long as I stay in my cozy home I feel this in my heart, and I see it resonate with my children and husband, too. In our personal space, except for the absence of Christian family, we're fine and blessed.

    It's only when we venture out into the world, with it's prettily-wrapped Christmas all around us, that we experience the familiar pangs of sin. Because, yes, that's what this feeling is...this feeling deprived. It's sin, plain and simple, because we're not supposed to live as the world lives, or even want to. We're supposed to trade the prettily-wrapped Christmas with all it's cheerful, delightful trimmings, for the miracle in the barn.

    Christmas is not gorgeous red or ivory tablecloths and the latest in tree fashion. It's not a sea of gifts or expensive trips to the Nutcracker Ballet, or the most beautiful holiday cards money can buy.

    It's the baby in the barn. It's Hope, come in the flesh. It's the promise of everlasting life, where there are rooms in our Father's House waiting for us.

    I won't find Walmarts in heaven selling merchandise I can't afford. I won't have to listen to my kids beg for outdoor Christmas lights, like everybody else has.

    A meaningful Christian life is lived upside down. The first are last and the last are first. It hurts to be last, here on earth. We can be last in terms of income, last in the looks department, last in the status race, last in material blessings...last in everything that is of worldly value. But in heaven, the last will finally be first...hallelujah.

    I know people who are more last than us, and for them too, I say hallelujah for Heaven.

    It's during December that I most look forward to Heaven. It's during December that I come closest to fully understanding this: how we gain our life when we lose it.

    It's hard to live outside the norm and feel deprived, but it's even harder to have everything that's worldly, and give it all up for Christ. Some people actually do that, like Katie Davis? They sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, and then they follow Him.

    I love you, Lord. I love your upside-down doctrine. I want to give up everything and follow you. Make the upside-down doctrine mine, too, down to my marrow. Infiltrate my heart and mind, and that of my children, and give us a taste of heaven this December.

    Friday, November 15, 2013

    Homeschool and Mother's Journal Nov. 15

    In my life this week…

    Our week started with a delightfully beautiful snow--about four inches!  The children were beyond excited and stayed out for a couple hours building snowmen and starting a snowfort. It warmed up too much over the next couple days, melting the beloved snowmen, but the beginnings of their snowfort took several days to melt entirely.

    A week or so ago I bought a small sewing kit so I could hem some pants. The children discovered it and a fire started in their hearts. A sewing fire. It started with Mary asking me to teach her to sew (I was only taught to hem myself, not really sew). She was inspired by the Quiltmaker stories we read a couple weeks ago.

    Now, a few days and one Hobby Lobby visit later, the three older children are sewing quilts for their stuffed animals. Their patience and diligence have amazed me all week. They've actually spent every spare minute sewing.

    The carpet is full of thread and we now tread around in shoes because they can't quite keep track of their needles, but all in all, I'm thrilled they've discovered a handicraft just before winter sets in.

    Here is Peter's first finished product. Sure, it's not the straightest quilt, but his stuffed bunny, beloved since Peter was two and kind of forgotten now, will be thrilled at the sudden attention, don't you think? He kept asking me if it's okay for boys to sew, and I told him he would someday have to hem and repair his own clothes, perhaps, so it's a good skill to develop.

    My boys are loud and boisterous and can barely walk down the hall without an impromptu wrestling match, so a quiet activity thrills me to the point of happy dancing, whether it be reading, sewing, or playing board games. Mothers of boys unite! Quiet is a rarity and something we'll cherish until the empty nest, at which time it will be far too quiet, and we'll reminisce about those wrestling matches down the hallway.

    Last Saturday was our dinner party for my aunts and uncles, and we had them snap a photo of us. Whole-family photos are hard to come by. Some of us are too silly, and one of us is too serious, but we're all in one frame. It got a little hot in the kitchen, cooking all that soup, so Mommy and Daddy are too shiny, but oh well.

    I made a delicious potato soup for my own family the week before, but when I tried the same recipe in the crockpot the day of the party, it didn't work out. I had three other soups to serve, fortunately.

    What's the secret to adding sour cream or other dairy to soups? The first time I had no trouble, but when I added the sour cream to the crockpot, it made a mess and curdled up, though we tasted it the next day and it was fine. Just too ugly to serve at a party. Will the veteran cooks out there let me in on the secret? Was the broth too hot? Was I supposed to wait a bit?

    In our homeschool this week…

    As part of Sonlight Eastern Hemisphere studies, the boys read a delightful, riveting story, The Kite Fighters, by Linda Sue Park, about Korea in the 1400's.

    The Kite Fighters

    goodreads Synopsis: In Seoul, Korea, in 1473, Young-sup and his older brother Kee-sup are excited about the New Year kite competition. Young-sup is an expert at kite flying. He knows just what his kite wants him to do. Kee-sup has trouble handling his kite, but can build and design a kite fit for a king.

    Each brother knows his own talents as they practice together for the New Year kite-fighting competition. But according to tradition, Kee-sup, the first-born son, must represent the family. Young-sup knows he must help his older brother and stay in second place. But that doesn’t stop him from hoping for the chance to show his great skill as a kite fighter.

    During the reading and after, I kept hearing similar comments from both boys, "This is a really good book. The best of the year so far. I can't put it down!"

    Now for what I'm reading aloud this week....

    I absolutely love picture books! The feel and smell of them. The shiny covers, the illustrations...everything. So when I come across a book like The Lonely Book, by Kate Bernheimer, which captures the magic and charm of picture books, I simply must read it to my kids so they can understand their Momma just a little bit better. I will never stop loving picture books. They're for all ages and I want my children to treasure them always and pass that love on to the next generation.

    The Lonely Book

    goodreads synopsis: When a wonderful new book arrives at the library, at first it is loved by all, checked out constantly, and rarely spends a night on the library shelf. But over time it grows old and worn, and the children lose interest in its story. The book is sent to the library's basement where the other faded books live. How it eventually finds an honored place on a little girl's bookshelf—and in her heart—makes for an unforgettable story sure to enchant anyone who has ever cherished a book. Kate Bernheimer and Chris Sheban have teamed up to create a picture book that promises to be loved every bit as much as the lonely book itself.

    Another delightful pick from the picture book section of the library is this masterpiece by Anders C. Shafer entitled The Fantastic Journey of Pieter Bruegel, sure to enhance your art history studies, or any studies featuring the 1500's.

    The Fantastic Journey of Pieter Bruegel

    goodreads synopsis: In the 1550s, a gifted young painter traveled south from Antwerp to study the art and ruins of Rome. He was Pieter Bruegel, now recognized as a Northern Renaissance master. His dangerous, beautiful journey changed his work forever.

    Embracing what is known, Anders Shafer has envisioned Bruegel's two-year sojourn in a series of brilliantly imagined diary entries and colorful paintings. We see Bruegel joking with peasants, confronting thieves in mountain passes, caught in a naval battle, working in Rome, and more, always astutely observing and drawing human nature. This unusual book vividly evokes Bruegel's growing sensibility and shows how art carries our common humanity across the centuries. An Author's Note and a gallery of Bruegel art are included.

    Black Cowboy Wild Horses: A True Story by Julius Lester is about a famous black cowboy and former slave, Bob Lemmons, whose tracking ability as a Texas cowboy was legendary. The prose is excellent, the images of the frontier beautiful, painted by Jerry Pinkney. This book captures a bit of American history and honors a famous black American.

    Black Cowboy, Wild Horses

    From Publisher's Weekly: A spirit of freedom pervades the pages of this picture book, accompanied by the sound of thundering hooves and the feel of the heat and dust of the plains. Based on an incident in the life of Texas cowboy Bob Lemmons, the tale centers on his success in corralling a herd of wild mustangs with only the aid of his horse. Possessed of a legendary tracking ability, Lemmons, a former slave, follows the drove day and night, infiltrating the herd astride his black steed, Warrior. In a dramatic climax, he defeats the mustang stallion for possession of the herd. Lester and Pinkney, who previously collaborated on John Henry and Sam and the Tigers, reunite in an impressive display of teamwork, transporting readers, through the alchemy of visual and verbal imagery, to the heart of the action.... Notable for the light it sheds on a fascinating slice of Americana, this book is essential for anyone interested in the Wild West. Ages 5-up.

    Jerry Pinkney, the illustrator, has been illustrating children's books since 1964, and has been the recipient of five Caldecott Honor Medals, a Caldecott Medal, and five The New York Times "Best Illustrated Books".

    Having grown up in Southern California, I went to school with black students and other ethnic and cultural groups representing the melting pot that is America. But my children, growing up in semi-rural Ohio, aren't exposed to as many races, so I strive to bring home books that help them understand the varied cultures that represent America.

    Last but not least is a fun book about winter, told in delightful rhyme about a boy who loves winter, contrasted with his sister, who can't stand it...until the end. This book is fun, fun, fun! Especially when followed up by steaming cups of hot chocolate.

    Oh, doesn't that sound cozy? Excuse me while I go prepare a cup for myself...

    Winter is for Snow
    Publisher Synopsis:
    Winter is for sledding,
    friends, snowmen, penguins!
    Winter is for snow!
    In a rambunctious ode to everything winter, two siblings explore a snowy wonderland . . . and end up in the cozy warmth of family. Delve into Robert Neubecker's expressive and rejuvenating illustrations that celebrate snow and the coziness of friends and family at home. Only Robert Neubecker's magic touch could make kids love winter this much!

    Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…

    As you look over the labor of love that is homeschooling at week's end, don't think about the lessons you never got around to, but remember instead what you did do to further their heart growth. Did you fit in devotional time? Did you discuss Scripture and how to apply it to their daily lives? Did you pray together many times? Did you use your time wisely, as to be a role model for your children? Did you humble yourself to apologize when you were wrong? Did you ask for God's help? These are the things the Lord looks upon. He doesn't add up the lessons we missed and give us an F. He smiles upon the hard work of putting Him first in all we do. He knows how hard this is, and how much the enemy fights us on it at every turn.

    If we put Him first--the most significant act of our will ever--he will fill in all the gaps and make successful all our other parenting endeavors, including the academic ones. I honestly believe this to my core. With Him at the lead, we cannot go wrong.

    My favorite thing this week was…

    Watching the children sew to their heart's delight. Seeing the excitement in their eyes as their projects grew. And watching my littlest one, Beth, age almost 5, play with her dollies serenely while the older ones sewed their free time away. She just accepted that she was too young for needles--something I thought would be a fight.

    My kiddos favorite thing this week was…

    The snow and the sewing.

    Things I’m working on…

    ...My winter wardrobe. I prefer to wear skirts and dresses, but my main supply happens to be summer and spring styles and colors. I shop exclusively at thrift stores and I'm having trouble finding as many feminine choices for winter. Most of the skirts and dresses in thrift stores are too trendy and short, so recent trips have been frustrating.

    I did have a little money in my paypal account from selling curriculum though, so I used it to buy two long jean skirts on ebay. They were like new and not too expensive, except for the shipping. Now I have four long jean skirts I keep mixing and matching with sweaters or long sleeve shirts. I prefer them because I don't have the budget to buy skirts that fail to match a lot of other things. And with jean skirts, I don't have to wear a particularly dressy or uncomfortable shoe, and there's generally no ironing involved. Around the house I wear flats with the long skirts, and when I leave the house this time of year in a skirt, I change into long boots.

    Once at the end of the summer I put on cropped, ankle-length jeans because I was behind on laundry--after weeks of skirts and dresses only. My four year old said, "Mommy, why are you wearing those pants? I can't tell if you're a mommy or a daddy in those."

    That was about the strangest thing any of my children has ever said to me, but it drove home that femininity is important to me. I want to look different than my husband. I love being a woman.

    I won't force my girls to dress either way, especially since we have a muddy yard much of the year, but I do want to present a feminine model for them to follow when they start purchasing their own clothes. Beth already prefers dresses, but Mary is a tomboy and loves the outdoors too much to feel comfortable in dresses as a rule right now, and I usually have Beth change out of her dresses when she's ready to go outside, to keep them nice and stain-free.

    I’m grateful for…

    ~ the times I write a post and the Internet works long enough for me to post it in its entirety, which apparently isn't going to happen tonight. I'll have to copy this now and paste it into a post when the Internet is working again.

    ~ my children's zest for life...all of it...winter, spring, summer, fall.

    ~ picture books

    ~ Mary is printing better and I don't have to stay right with her anymore, to make sure she doesn't start her letters from the bottom.

    ~ my husband's strong, warm arms

    ~ Christian friends

    ~ another new baby will join us in the church nursery this week. Another two-month-old. Can't wait to hold her!

    ~ Mary praying to find a grasshopper in the yard yesterday, and the Lord giving her three! Imagine that? Grasshoppers still around after a snow! Only the Lord could make that happen. I love that Mary prays whenever she needs help with anything.

    ~ My boys behaving far better at bedtime. Been more peaceful around here at night lately. I have them turning in earlier and getting up earlier.

    ~ winter comfort food to look forward to

    ~ time in the kitchen with my children (or husband)

    A quote to share...

    Proverbs 16:3 Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

    Thank you for reading here today! How was your week?      

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    Thursday, November 14, 2013

    When You Feel Discouraged

    Suppose I asked you to list three forms of suffering in your current life? Which trials would you deem the most serious? Can you even think of three, or are there far more?

    I ponder this myself at a discouraging time. Trying not to sink into self-pity--which I consider a grave sin--I'm comparing my trials to my blessings, and guess which come out on top?

    I started a daily dose of the antidepressant drug Elavil (25 mg) nearly two weeks ago to fight my migraines, and I've had a headache every day since, two of which caused me to miss appointments (speech for the kids, and helping in AWANA). I read such rave reviews about this drug's ability to fight migraines, that I never considered it might not work for me.

    I know it sometimes takes time for a drug to be therapeutic, but still, I'm discouraged. Canceling things makes me feel like a failure; I don't like to let people down. They probably don't consider that it's the sin curse letting them down, and not me?

    I have to wonder if it would be better to stay on the rebound headache pattern and just take a daily dose (or two) of Tylenol and caffeine. Surely those are better for the body than a daily antidepressant? Am I gaining anything by trying to fight this with prescription drugs, and adding side effects into the mix?

    In the past I rejected the idea of prescription migraine drugs because I was either nursing a baby or pregnant (2001-2013). Suddenly, Tylenol and caffeine (1000 milligrams and 128 milligrams, respectively) don't seem so bad. In the past, fewer of my headaches landed me in bed, so I'm going backwards.

    That's my story today, and I'm sure you have one too.

    What can we cling to when life seems so hard? How do we fight discouragement?

    Here's what I'm clinging to, and maybe you can add your own list in the comments?

    1. Paul the Apostle tells me my troubles are momentary (and I believe him).

    2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

    2. I am not alone in my suffering.

    We shouldn't be grateful that our troubles are less serious than the next person's. Should our gratitude really lie in comparing ourselves and deciding we come out on top in terms of suffering? Is that true be grateful I only have to take medicine, rather than living my whole life in a wheelchair? Or learning that I'm dying from cancer? If gratitude lies in comparisons, what does the dying cancer patient have to be grateful for, or the wheelchair patient, or the Indian girl sold into slavery?

    Instead, I gain perspective by remembering that all humanity suffers. I'm not alone in feeling that life is very hard sometimes. It's very hard for all of us. The good news is that because Jesus became flesh, he can identify with our earthly suffering. We are never alone.

    3. I can bring Glory to God through my suffering.

    All people suffer, yes, but they don't all suffer well. With the power of the Holy Spirit, through prayer, I can manage my suffering well, to the glory of God. I can refuse to wallow in self-pity; I can count my blessings. I can focus on others, not on myself. In the midst of a headache, I can lay low and pray and pray and pray. Illness stops us in our tracks; sometimes we need a kick in the pants to embrace a life of prayer.

    I mentioned that I feel like a failure when pain causes me to cancel things, but in truth, what really makes me a failure? I'm a failure when I live for myself, rather than for God. If God wants me to have headaches so I can better my prayer life, then He has my full blessing. I submit to your will, Lord.

    4. Suffering gives birth to compassion.

    2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

    Whenever I come across someone who suffers chronic pain, my heart aches for them in ways it never would had migraine never entered my life. I think of them and pray for them often, and this in itself is gift. It takes my focus off of me, which is victory.

    5. Suffering tests my faith.

    John Piper on suffering: "All experiences of suffering in the path of Christian obedience, whether from persecution or sickness or accident, have this in common: they all threaten our faith in the goodness of God and tempt us to leave the path of obedience. Therefore, every triumph of faith and all perseverance in obedience are testimonies to the goodness of God and the preciousness of Christ -- whether the enemy is sickness, Satan, sin or sabotage.

    Therefore all suffering, of every kind, that we endure in the path of our Christian calling is a suffering "with Christ" and "for Christ." With him in the sense that the suffering comes to us as we are walking with him by faith, and in the sense that it is endured in the strength that he supplies through his sympathizing high-priestly ministry (Hebrews 4:15). For him in the sense that the suffering tests and proves our allegiance to his goodness and power, and in the sense that it reveals his worth as an all-sufficient compensation and prize."

    Yes, I have headaches. But I also have...

    ...a Heavenly Father who loves me with a wild and beautiful grace.

    ...the Holy Spirit as a down payment on my eternal inheritance.

    ...a new heart in Christ.

    ...victory over my sin nature.

    ...eyes that spiritually see.

    ...everyday graces in my children and my husband.

    ...fellow believers to share my burdens with (that's you, friends, and thank you!).

    ...the Bible as the living Word of God.

    ...the ability to truly love, through Him.


    ...His faithfulness.

    ...His power.

    ...His Truth.

    Dear friends, how rich we are! Hallelujah.

    Monday, November 11, 2013

    Making Peace With Your Problematic Child, Part 2

    As we resume our talk about difficult children, I want to begin with a few preventative measures that help keep meltdowns and horrid days at bay.

    Establish Routine:

    All children benefit from a daily routine, but with high-needs children this is especially important. They're less able to adjust to change, so once they realize we've mixed things up, their stress levels elevate and poor behavior emerges. Think of it this way: When a child's internal regulators are faulty or immature, causing the child to act impulsively, a routine, predictable environment functions as a substitute regulator. When we mess with their substitute regulator, they're lost and frustrated.

    I'm the first to admit that it's hard to get up every day and do the same things in the same order, but this is what most kids need to feel secure.

    For example, if I'm behind on bill paying and I'm forced to sit down in the morning and get paperwork ready for mailing, my children will notice the change of routine, and sure enough, within twenty minutes I'll see behavior problems.

    Routine is comforting to kids, not boring, but most of them can't articulate or understand this. When they get cranky, they don't always know why.

    When I was teaching first grade the worst behavior I saw came on specialty days (field trips, awards-assembly days, field days, and during holiday celebrations). It's wonderful to give kids something to look forward to, but be ready for a more taxing day and try to prepare them ahead of time for the altered schedule.


    High-needs kids also need more time to relax--a segment of their day they can use as they wish, with no demands placed on them. They can't handle as much errand-running or as many extra-curricular activities. It's temping to think that if we keep kids busy enough, they'll stay out of trouble. But how do we feel when every minute of our day is filled? Cranky, right?

    Johnny may swear up and down that he wants to play soccer this season, but does he really understand what the new schedule will look and feel like? Can he predict that it's going to make everything feel rushed (homework, dinner, bedtime...everything)?

    It helps to remember that unlike us, children have little control over their schedules and that in itself can be difficult, especially for strong-willed children. Give them a segment of time each day to call their own, and if they need assistance coming up with free time ideas, you can help them brainstorm a list of available options, emphasizing that the goal is to relax.

    Positive Feedback--Running Journal Conversations:

    I mentioned last time that I wanted to discuss ways to counteract negativity in daily interactions. One way to do this is to keep a running journal conversation going with your child. Sit down at night after all are in bed, and write a letter to your child, recording what he did that impressed you or made you feel proud. Tell her how much you love her, and how blessed you are to be her mom. Also, if your child is old enough to write back, respond to the last entry he wrote in the journal, and try including key Bible verses that will help your child feel the depth of God's love for him.

    This is a time to say all those lovely things you were too stressed to say during the day. They really need to be said and a journal is perfect for this. When they're in trouble frequently during the day, the positives get lost in the fray while mom or dad are trying to recover emotionally and mentally from frequent altercations.

    Often, the more we get upset, the less they feel loved, and the more unloved they feel, the more they misbehave, even if they can't articulate exactly why. It's a vicious circle that must be broken by an explosion of positive feedback.

    Positive Feedback--Fill Their Emotional Cups:

    Carve out a few minutes during the day to fill up their emotional cups, starting in the morning. Some kids might enjoy a hug and a loving morning greeting, others a story, others a cup of cocoa and some conversation. The more children you have, the harder this is to fit in, but it really does work.

    When our husbands, for example, take the time to fill our emotional cups, doesn't it set the tone for a lovely morning? We all need this.

    Positive Feedback--Stop comparing:

    It goes without saying that kids don't appreciate being compared negatively with their siblings or peers. Deal with the issue at hand without bringing in hurtful comparisons. When we blow this, we need to offer an apology quickly.

    For one thing, when we compare, children get the impression that they're the cause of all the trouble in our lives--as though without them, life would be peachy. What a way to empty their emotional cups and invite more trouble!

    Positive Feedback--Daily Impromptu Prayer Sessions:

    Sit down with your child as soon as you feel the stress level rising between you. Hold hands and pray together, asking God to intervene in your relationship. Your child will appreciate that you care enough to ask God for help, and she will learn that God is your strength and your song, and that this same close God-relationship is available for her too.

    Positive Feedback--Finish Strong:

    If your child's a handful at bedtime, this one is especially hard, but try to finish the day strong in the Lord. Even if the last minutes are strife-filled, take a few minutes to calm down, and then walk back into their bedroom and kneel and pray together. Humbling ourselves before God in this way, hearts as one, reminds us that we're in this together, and even though Satan is trying hard to bring us down, we will still triumph if we lock hands and hearts with the Father.

    Something to take with you....It takes a lot of positive feedback to counteract everyday mistakes made while parenting high-needs, high-maintenance children. We have to take responsibility before God for our parenting mistakes, and ask Him to direct our path as we work to accentuate the positive and leave negative relationship patterns behind.

    Very often, when there's a difficult child in the home, there are also broken relationship patterns that need fixing. We are not the cause of our child's difficult issues or difficult personality, but we can certainly be part of the problem.

    Prayer and humility go a long way. Praise God that we serve a gracious Father who's always willing to give us a fresh start.

    To recap:

    ~ Establish Routine
    ~ Ensure Relaxation
    ~ Have Journal Conversations
    ~ Fill Their Emotional Cups
    ~ Stop Comparing
    ~ Impromptu Prayer Sessions When Stress Levels Rise
    ~ Finish Strong in the Lord

    What works in your home? Do you have a high-needs child?