Thursday, October 29, 2015

What God Has Done in 18 Years

I do love to write still, but can't seem to get to this space for my usual fix. This week, however, I wrote out a personal testimony of submission to God for my middle schoolers in Trek class. We were finishing up an entire 7-week unit on submission.

Some of you have read a bit of my story before, but this is everything God has done in my life in the last 18 years, as written to the middle schoolers. It's long, but then, 18 years is a lot of lessons.

7 Weeks on Submission

Reviewing Concepts

1. The path to greatness is through serving.

2. We should aim not to be first, but to be last.

3. Christians need to tell factual stories of what God has done in the Bible, and about what he has done in our personal lives. Another word for these factual stories is testimonies.

4. It is not easy or always safe to be God’s servant.

5. Satan knows how to tempt us. He knows our desires, and he will tempt us all through life, especially when we are vulnerable (feeling weak). We can follow Jesus’ lead and defeat Satan just like Jesus did during his 40 days of temptation.

6. God’s servants will be rejected by the world.

A Personal Testimony about Submitting to God

I grew up in a non-Christian home and it wasn’t until age 31 that I came to know Christ as my personal Savior. I was single all that time, teaching first grade in the high desert of California, about 90 minutes from Los Angeles. After my ninth year of teaching--two years after I became a Christian--I married a Christian man, continuing classroom teaching for two more years after, during which I suffered a miscarriage in my fifth month of pregnancy. I waited a long time for a husband and family, and I wanted my baby more than anything. All my dreams were shattered when they told me during an ultrasound that my baby boy had no heartbeat—and this after I saw him doing flips on ultrasound a month earlier, seemingly healthy.

The miscarriage occurred only 17 months after my wedding day, and even though I was happily married, for several weeks I wanted Jesus to take me home. The baby seemed like everything to me and I just didn’t have hope anymore. People told me that such things occur to women all the time, and that I best just accept it and get over it—that I wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last to suffer a miscarriage.

The facts are, about 10% to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages, and most of them before 12 weeks gestation.

My heart was broken and the callous remarks left me feeling emptier and more alone. Like Elizabeth in the Bible, I felt shame because my body didn’t perform as it was supposed to. I began noticing dozens of largely pregnant, happy women. Yes, it didn’t make sense, but I felt unworthy of being a woman. I trusted God and loved Him just as much even through the worst of the grief, but I had lost my innocence about happiness. Previously I thought that happiness was attainable—that everyone was going to experience happiness in some way. I felt entitled to happiness before that miscarriage.

I was desperate to be pregnant again. Really desperate, but it didn’t happen for five long months. In fact, it didn’t happen until I completely submitted to God in regard to my future as a mother. He might make me a mother, or He might not, but it was his story to write.  I might be happy for a time, or not, but it was His story to write. I was finally like Mary, saying to God…”Let it be to me as you say.”

I grew as a servant of God. I grew to understand that God promises His presence, His love, and His provision. He doesn’t promise that we’ll have everything we want, or even most of the things we want—including a spouse and family.  His purposes and His plan are higher than ours, and as his servants, we have to submit to that plan, no matter what it costs us.

I did get pregnant again, and finding out was the best day of my life!  I wept, while worshipping the God who gives and takes away, but would never forsake me.

The bliss didn’t last the whole pregnancy, for at the 20-week ultrasound they told me my baby had hydrocephalus (brain swelling) and a swollen kidney. Those first few days, I forgot all about my plan to submit to God, and I lamented…”How could this be happening, God! Why would you allow tragedy twice in a row?”

While I trusted God, I began to believe even further that as Christians we cannot anticipate happiness in earthly things. Children get sick. They die. Spouses die. Nothing is for sure. Only God is unchanging, ever-present, always loving, and always working for our good. He deserves all of our allegiance, even while our hearts are breaking.

Joy in Christ is always ours for the taking. But happiness is circumstantial—it depends on what’s happening in our lives. Happiness comes and goes.

Two days after our bad ultrasound news, a specialist could only confirm that my baby had swollen kidneys; there was no sign of brain swelling. We rejoiced, once more believing we might be parents yet. I dared to hope that everything would come out okay, and even though there were some pre-term labor problems, everything did come out okay. My baby was born at 37 weeks gestation. After birth, he had no kidney or brain problems.

Twenty-two months later I had another son, Paul. We were overjoyed.

After my first son was born, I had quit teaching full-time and started working part-time as a homeschooling facilitator in California, where our home was. My husband did not make enough for me to stay home, but God in his graciousness allowed me to work mostly from home. I had prayed desperately for months for the ability to stay home; to be a mother to the miracle in my arms was all I wanted. I now saw children as a gift, not as a right for every adult woman. Babies were placed in my arms by my loving Heavenly Father, and everything I did as a mother was an act of gratitude. 

God managed to give me a position that only required a babysitter for several hours a week, which was a miracle, for quitting work entirely wasn’t possible. My income was needed to avoid bankruptcy and defaulting on our obligations.

Though the situation was ideal, it wasn’t what I wanted for my children. It was just second best. There was a great deal of stress in trying to work as a mother of a baby and a toddler.

Little did I know, that God was at work still, planning to give me the desire of my heart.

I got pregnant again (third child) and since I was already having trouble keeping up with my professional work, I knew something had to change. I couldn’t be both a good mom and a good employee. My heart was at home and leaving my children for even a couple hours left me feeling extremely anxious. Some women can do both well (balance work and home), but God didn’t create me like that.

We put our 3-bedroom, modest California home up for sale in 2005. We had only owned a home for three years, but if it sold in that high-market period, we would have enough equity to pay off $26,000 in student loans, plus paying off two cars and other bills, and leaving enough to move and get a mortgage on another modest house in a cheaper state. We decided to go without a job to the new state, on faith that one would be obtained.

The house sold in two weeks, and I began speaking with an aunt in Ohio about housing prices. We had no family left anywhere in California, and having at least one aunt around—who happened to be my only Christian relative--seemed like a dream.

Unfortunately, as soon as we sold our house, I suffered another miscarriage at 10 weeks gestation. It was devastating, but we moved anyway since we had sold the house. It seemed as though God had orchestrated the whole thing.

After the move I began staying home in Ohio with my two boys full-time.  In what still seems like a miracle, God gave me the desire of my heart. Peter was 3 and a half, and Paul only 22 months. I babysat for extra money, and my husband worked very hard for us in a modest, relatively low-paying job.

I was 39 when we moved to Ohio, and to my amazement, two surprise babies were born to us when I was 40 and 42 years old, and they are fabulous blessings—two girls, now 6 and 8. God was so faithful to the desires of my heart, but he didn’t have to be. He blessed me beyond my wildest dreams, and even though my children have some troublesome health problems, I feel incredibly grateful and blessed. Things are not perfect or easy, but God is faithful and loving, always.

Our lives took a sharp turn in 2009 when my husband lost his job, and we experienced real, first-world poverty. Although 14% of America is hungry, which is unacceptable, it is still true that no one usually starves in America. So our first-world poverty was vastly different than third-world poverty, which consists of cooking outside of a leaky-roof shack without running water, without toilets, and sometimes without electricity. We still lived like kings and queens, from a third-world perspective.

We were like outcasts in our own land, however. We felt left out of everything, and I began learning in earnest about poverty around the world. My eyes were miraculously opened to how arrogantly Americans live, in light of the way the rest of the world lives. I learned that as Christians, we had been missing something BIG about what God wanted from our lives. I felt we had been Christian in name only, along with many other American Christians.

But God is gracious to meet us where we’re at. We all start out with a lot of sin and blindness, and God moves us along with love and patience. This period of learning about world poverty began a major restructuring in my mind of what it meant to be a Christian.

We were scared and devastated about the job loss, already barely making ends meet, but we had great faith and believed God would provide, so I didn’t go to work.

In fact, I had taken on something significant at home, in the year prior to the job loss. We had read that 82% of public-schooled Christian children left their faith after high school, while only 7% of homeschooled Christian children did. Despite this statistic, I am not advocating here that homeschooling is right for every Christian. It was just right for us.

It became clear to both of us before we even finished reading the article. We pulled our first-born son out of kindergarten in the fourth week of school, welcoming homeschooling as a way of life. It allows us large amounts of time to diciple our children.

A major submission in my life came through our ongoing, relative poverty. While God provided, it was nonetheless seriously challenging to be the have-nots in a materialistic society. Not long after the job loss, my husband—who was 50 when he lost his job--began working 54 hours a week for a low wage. Even though he worked harder than most, we represented the working poor—working high hours for a low wage. My husband’s age didn’t make it easy to find a decent job, nor did his Bachelor’s degree in theology, which brought spiritual benefits but not always material ones. 

Whether you have a college degree or not, know that your daily bread comes from God. There are no magic formulas for an easy-living lifestyle.

We learned quickly that we no longer fit in anywhere—not even at church. Everyone talked about the places they went and the things they did, or the remodeling they did on their house. We listened politely, but we avoided talking about ourselves, knowing ridicule was likely regarding our choices. I avoided women’s ministry because I couldn’t join in any of the conversations. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, or ridicule me for not working, when my family obviously needed more money.

To choose to be poor for the sake of the children wasn’t something people could relate to. Our society thinks children need things and experiences, and thus my children were at a disadvantage in their eyes—they were to be pitied, in other words. They were pitied by people who knew our situation, even though they had toys (Goodwill has good toys), and clothes and food, and a warm, loving place to live. They also had a yard, which is far more than most children in the world have in terms of space.

There were no vacations, or any lengthy road trips because of the cost of gas. We never went out to dinner or to movies or to events that cost money, unless someone gifted us with tickets. All our garments come from careful, meticulous thrift-store shopping—finding the best there is so everyone looked respectable. No one guesses, most of the time, what our lifestyle is like because we don’t wear it on our sleeves, so to speak.

We also didn’t fit in with relatives, who thought we were ignorant. Because we could rarely go anywhere or do anything, we visited libraries and parks. We did a lot of living through wonderful books. We grew to love God’s earth and see Creation as a love song to us. There is much that is free, given to man as a gift from God, to amaze us and amuse us and remind us of Him.

Even with faith, a low-income lifestyle is stressful. A car repair could mean not enough food, and too much food could mean not enough gas. Everything’s a struggle, but alongside us there has always been God’s grace and the joy of raising children.

The greatest challenge to my joy, year after year, was Christmas. I dreaded it. We couldn’t buy anything for our children, unless a relative or friend sent Christmas money, though twice over the years near-strangers blessed my children with a ready-wrapped Christmas.

We couldn’t buy anything for others, either. Scraping up money for holiday baking, a holiday turkey, or Operation Christmas Child, were all faith walks. While others were spending hundreds or thousands, and going out to eat with every shopping trip, and going to productions like the Nutcracker, I was hoping Christmas would be over soon. I began to desperately look for meaning in Christmas, knowing that when we view things eternally, we always find the deepest and most satisfying meaning.

Finally, after studying and contemplating, I grew to believe that Christmas was a commercial enterprise, not a biblical enterprise. The first Christmas is not celebrated in the Bible, outside of the shepherds coming to worship Jesus after His birth, and the wise men coming to worship the toddler Christ child—who by then was no longer a baby. Even though the virgin birth of Christ was one of the most significant events in all history, there wasn’t a biblical feast or holiday declared.

Christmas and I came to an understanding, however. It could be used to annually acknowledge the miracle of the virgin birth and Emmanuel, God with us, even though, as Christians we’re supposed to be reveling in that miracle every day.  For me now, Christmas is a time to perform random acts of kindness toward our unsaved neighbors, and for the less fortunate. That’s the best use of it, my heart and mind finally decided, though we still bake cookies and cook turkey and put on living room Nativity plays. We invite the lonely to celebrate with us.

I don’t hate Christmas anymore because I have learned true gratitude. I have learned to count eternal blessings more than earthly ones. I concentrate on what God wants, and not on what I feel. What I feel is unimportant. God gives me His spirit and changes my selfish feelings to match his sacrificial ones, the more I submit to Him and practice gratitude as a way of life.

How did my children fare in all of this? My children to this day do not know what the inside of a movie theatre is like, or the inside of a restaurant besides Pizza Hut. They have lived a very different life than their peers, and right now as my boys acclimate to youth group for the first time, they feel all the feelings I have felt over the years. They don’t fit in, in terms of lifestyle, and everyone is talking about things they have never seen or done or had. “You don’t know what a Game boy is? Are you serious? You don’t play video games? Are you serious? You’re weird.”

These are real comments made to one or both of my boys, and though no harm or disrespect was intended, it still stung and made them feel marginal—on the outside of life, looking in.

They are staying strong, though. They have already learned to distinguish between wants and needs, and they understand what a distraction consumerism is. It is excruciatingly hard sometimes, but they understand they are blessed to have a unique perspective, even when Satan is there, telling them they deserve this or that like the others have.

They, too, are learning gratitude.

For a long time I thought God was trying to teach us important eternal lessons, and when we had learned those lessons, we would be less poor. But that hasn’t happened. Nothing has changed materially in these six years following the job loss. I have come to peace with, and submitted to this lifestyle, and I see the blessings inherent in having to depend on God for everything. I feel more blessed than ever before, even though I’m still a marginal character to those around me.

Wealth is only a blessing if you share it. If you don’t it will likely be your spiritual downfall. It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to get to heaven. Rich people don’t need God—though their souls do, of course. Rich countries don’t need God. Thus, America is more godless than ever. China and Africa are gaining comparatively more Christians than we are. We’re losing Christians.

I want you to imagine a simple, tiny wood house without running water or commercial furniture, without closets or different rooms--just a shelter over your head and cooking done camping-style, outside. I’ve seen many videos of this and I’ve read about it. Christians who live like this feel a very real and amazing presence of God all the time. They have a deep soul joy and a faith we richer Christians don’t often experience, in all our comfort and self-reliance.

Every single thing you add to that simple existence distracts you more and more from God. The electronics, the convenience tools, all the things that make life easier and pleasurable, such as luxuries and vacations…they all change us. They take up all of our time and attention. They crowd God out and as we crowd him out, we no longer feel the abundant spiritual life he wants for us. We look for more and more things and experiences to fill the void in our lives, never understanding that we successfully crowded God out, without even realizing it. Whoever loses his life for Me will find it. We don’t find our life in things or comforts. We find it in God alone. God is what our souls are hungry for, though as you learned in this unit, Satan will always be there telling you this is a lie.

As I learned more and more about world poverty, I fell in love with an outstanding Christian organization called Compassion International (, which is a child-sponsorship ministry that serves millions of children the world over, all in Jesus’ name. They help children and their families come to know Jesus, as they relieve their suffering and provide hope for their futures—all for $38 dollars a month per sponsored child. Personal letter writing by sponsors is a huge part of Compassion’s ministry. The letters are like gold to these children, some of whom have never been told they are loved by anyone. Their parents, just trying to survive daily, don’t often know how to nurture their children, though they do love them.

As part of another faith walk, knowing that all monies come from God, not from us, we sponsored a young lady from Uganda, and a young man from El Salvador, for a total of $76 a month (plus family gifts to them at our tax refund time, to ensure they have roofs that don’t leak and a mattress to sleep on, and clothes and shoes). God always provides the money to do this, even though on paper it doesn’t work out for our budget. 

When God wants something from us, he provides the means, often through weird occurrences like unexpected refund money from the dentist or insurance company. Once, 3 or 4 years ago, our 1998 van was on its last month of life and we had no idea how we would cart our four kids around, since my husband drove a 25-year-old sedan.

I got hit by a car coming back from the grocery store. It was a miracle, especially since no one was hurt and I was alone in the van. The insurance company gave us $4000 more than we expected for the value of our Toyota Sienna van. We bought a used van, a 2003, for $3000, and the rest went to other obligations and to our Compassion children.

Our Compassion family has grown over the years. We also write to four other children whose sponsors do not write to them--from Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, India, and the Dominican Republic. Besides my own children and husband, these children are the joy of my life. Their four to six letters each per year fill us with joy. Checking the mail has become a treat. I love impacting them for Jesus, and I love how they impact us with the joy of simple belief…simple, child-like faith…simple living. Our monthly letters to them remind them that God has not forgotten them. Poverty tells them they are worthless. They need to be told a different message, in Jesus’ name. I tell them I love them and that God loves them and that He has plans to prosper them and not harm them, to give them a hope and a future. Not a material prosperity necessarily, but a spiritual one.

If you want to get involved with Compassion International and don’t have the $38 a month, you can call them and ask to be a correspondent sponsor for children whose sponsors do not write to them. This experience will change your life, and the life of the child you write to. You can become a sponsor online at, but to be a correspondent you need to call them directly at 800-336-7676.

A man from Kenya recently came to American for the first time, to meet with a ministry partner here in the States. His American ministry partner took him along as they stopped at a couple mega-churches to pick up promised ministry donations. The Kenyan man, having grown up in abject poverty—looking in trash cans for food as a youngster--looked at the huge, fancy churches with their cafes, and bookstores, and their huge playgrounds and he said, puzzled…”Do they worship the same Jesus?”

I have learned that worshiping Jesus means giving up a respectable life. It means giving up the notion of ever fitting in. My heart must bleed for what Jesus’ heart bled for…for the oppressed, the orphans, the widows, the poor and the lame…and about souls most of all.

I have learned that the American Church has it all wrong. This church, however, has it more right than most, since we have several ministries that serve the poor and oppressed. Be proud that your church stands out in this way--different from the usual American pact of churches. And work personally to do more as you grow up in this church.

We aren’t supposed to pursue the American dream of a house, nice yard, bigger and better things, and nice vacations. We’re supposed to be pursuing something greater than that…something greater than ourselves. We are supposed to be getting in last place, so someone else can go ahead of us in line, for the glory of God. It’s not that we have to make ourselves poor with our giving, just that we should give until it truly hurts and truly makes us depend on God. In all this we identify with Christ in his suffering, and feel the abundant life he desires for us.

Our faith then stands out as a miracle, and points to God’s glory, goodness, and provision.
I believe God put enough of everything on this earth. There is enough food, enough land, enough water, and enough trees for shelter. Yet some people can’t sleep for the rain that leaks through their makeshift tin roofs. Some people walk around hungry all the time, and walk hours to get water for cooking. Kids work in fields and never go to school, because eating is more pressing than an education.

But this doesn’t have to be. This doesn’t occur because God is heartless. It occurs because we are heartless. We have loved ourselves, instead of our fellow man. God expected us to distribute our extra and we failed. We were supposed to be his hands and his feet to all those who have not enough, or who have nothing, and we failed. The gap between rich and poor is growing even in our own country as we read this.

You young people are the future of our country. I want you—God wants you--to see through materialism. Compassion International has an excellent blog about child poverty and helping in Jesus’ name. Find it and read it often, with your parents’ permission, at Read about the 80% of the world living on less than $2.50 a day. It’s an inconvenient truth nobody wants to know about, but open your eyes and really understand this reality and your Christian responsibility. 

Adjust your gaze so that it is on God, and not on yourself. Look at your life dreams and be willing to set them aside as Mary and Joseph did, when they accommodated an embarrassing and recriminating pregnancy. Think about that pregnancy and what it looked like in their culture. It placed them in a position of shame and ridicule and extreme loneliness. They became outcasts.

In your lives, aim to lead the American church to redemption…to true worship and true knowledge of what it means to follow Christ and to love Christ.

The path to greatness is through what?

Through serving others.

Friday, October 23, 2015

3 Christian Marriage Essentials

Though neglected in this season of life, I do notice something about this blog: roughly 40 to 80 people a month land on this post: An Open Letter to Unhappy Christian Wives.

For the Church that's reason to grieve. Often when I pray about the anonymous readers, wondering what brought them to that post, I wonder: What can the Church do to save Christian marriages?

Here are some compelling marriage stats from a Christianity Today article:
In her newest book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Shanti compiles some stats and conducts some research of her own on marriage, and specifically, what makes for a happy marriage.
53% of Very Happy Couples agree with the statement, "God is at the center of our marriage" (compared to 7% of Struggling Couples).
30% of Struggling Couples disagree with the statement, "God is at the center of our marriage."

She writes, "Highly happy couples tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfillment and happiness" (pg. 178, Highly Happy Marriages). (See her book for the methodology.) Dr. Wilcox finds that "active conservative protestants" who attend church regularly are actually 35% less likely to divorce than those who have no religious preferences. In all cases, notice the active element of the faith commitment. "Nominal" Christians, however, those who simply call themselves Christians but do not actively engage with the faith, are actually 20% more likely than the general population to get divorced—perhaps there is a link between putting on a show in the religious and relational context.

With this data in mind, here are three considerations for those desiring an enduring marriage:

1. Focus on God, and on the marriage the Holy Spirit is working out.

Trust God implicitly to mold yours into a godly marriage, regardless of how it looks today.

If God is at the center of a marriage, than it stands to reason he's at the center of both the husband's and wife's individual lives. However, if not, you can't force your husband to read the Bible. Focus on what you can do spiritually, and pray for your husband. Don't nag or be antagonistic. Your faithfulness and patience will be rewarded. The Holy Spirit will change hearts--any open heart, that is. Keep your own heart open using prayer and the Word as cleansing agents. A closed, bitter heart is the beginning of the end.

Your marriage is only as good as your reliance on Him.

2. Don't be a Christian in name only.

A nominal Christian has one to two feet in the world at all times, and the world destroys the sanctity and beauty of Christian marriage. If you're a nominal Christian, good luck with that 50th anniversary thing. It probably ain't happening.

Keep your feet and heart and head out of the world. Forsake the world's ways and save yourself and probably your marriage and kids, too. Ask God if you're a nominal Christian. His answer is all that matters, and it will be clear enough. Just ask. The Holy Spirit will then step in and clean house.

3. Remember what you deserve, and what you were given instead.

End entitlement in your heart and practice gratitude. God has given you exactly what He thinks is good for you. You don't agree with him? Be obedient anyway, just like you would expect from your children, who don't always know what's best.

Here's my story: My marriage is hard, but there are no on-going resentments. We aren't fighters. Moments of tired irritation occur for both of us, but that comes with having special-needs children. Special needs press in on a marriage. Date nights and all the other tricks to keep the home fires burning? They're a dream to couples dealing with children's problems. Such marriages thrive by the grace of God, not because of date nights or anything planned.

A godly marriage doesn't have to look romantic or ideal. It has to have a rock-solid foundation--which is Christ--and two flawed people extending grace toward one another, continually. When you look at your partner, look with Jesus glasses. Jesus sees a sinner in need of grace. Can't we do the same?

The Holy Spirit continually reminds me that I am receiving in Jesus Christ's far more than I could ever hope or imagine. Aren't the vast majority doomed to hell, sadly? The Bible overflows with love toward me and my husband, and because of that we want to honor God with our marriage. It's as simple as that. Gratitude. Our marriage is a gift to God, not to ourselves. Though with this perspective, the marriage is mutually satisfying. It does turn out as a gift, but not from each other. A gift from God, rather.

When you look at marriage-success advice, you'll see date nights and enough sex and other things the couple is supposed to do. But every family has a different situation. Some are caring for aging parents; some are caring for other special needs; some couples have disorders or diseases themselves. Many are exhausted and nothing about their lives looks ideal--for years on end, not just for a season. Are these couples doomed, without the date nights and all the sex and the candle-lit anniversaries?

What about, say...the Pilgrims from 1620? They came here and endured years of hardship, often with no privacy or security of food or life. Fifty percent perished the first year. Survival was the only thing on their minds, and yes, sometimes God has this kind of existence for us. All through history life has been very hard and from that perspective, our modern-day "date nights" are comical. 

Commitment, and faith in something greater than themselves, held the marriages of old together, not date nights. You either live for yourself, or you live for Someone greater. Nothing legacy-worthy comes from living for ourselves. The me-centered leave nothing behind, except the echo of their selfishness.

It's not about whether we remember anniversaries (July 3rd and we usually remember too late), or whether we buy gifts for one another (we don't), or whether we go to marriage retreats (we never have), or whether we spend time alone (maybe 20 - 30  minutes before sleep, a few nights a week). My husband's got an aging father to attend to, first of all.

It's about finishing the race we started on July 3, 1999, for His glory. There's no stopping, turning back, or wishing we chose differently. God is writing the story and we already know how it ends.

For his glory and our good.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How Comfortable Are You?

My earthly father is 76, and unsaved. He's living in the Philippians currently, with his young Filipino wife (fifth wife). They lived in Las Vegas for years and just recently moved. I emailed him the other day following a news report about a typhoon, but it was in the north; his area was unaffected.

Something he wrote in his long email back gave me an opening to talk about the Lord, so I gave an invitation to both of them to accept Christ.

When dealing with family, evangelism is risky. I've been rejected before by other family, and it looks as though it's happened again.

And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household."
- Matthew 13:57

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.
- Matthew 19:29

Oftentimes, being a Christian is extremely costly. When it's not costly, we're playing it too safe and God never promised safe. He never promised we'd have a lot of people to love us. He never promised loud, lively family parties at holidays and birthdays. When one's own family rejects you because of the Gospel, it's particularly painful and lonely.

The more comfortable we are here, the less comfortable we'll be in heaven. The less comfortable we are here, the more comfortable we'll be in heaven.

Live for that because you can bank on it.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?… Matthew 16:25

If someone asks..."What's your ambition in life?" What will you say? 

My ambition is to love God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, even when it makes me extremely uncomfortable. 

Be willing to suffer pain and loneliness and rejection, for the sake of the Gospel. For the sake of one more soul...because the Lord goes to great pains to chase that one.

Don't go for popular, or fashionable, or lovable. Go for the camel's hair and the locusts and honey like John the Baptist, who got the job done because he lived for one thing. Souls.

The god of this world labors hard to make it all about us. The God of Heaven labors hard to make it all about souls. 

Who will you follow?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Weekly Homeschool and Life Wrap-Up - October

Homeschool Philosophical Musings

We've hit a stage in our homeschool in which all four children are receiving a lot of formal education--the youngest having hit first grade. It's much more challenging to fit everything in for each child, and my perspective as to what constitutes "school" continues to mature. 

It's very tempting to view homeschooling as schooling at home, but it's much more than that. It isn't about defined grade-level expectations or taking government the same year as your public-schooled peers. As a homeschooling mother, it's about tailoring a garment to fit each child as well as possible considering their individual growth and stature--the garment being the education. 

Sometimes your 11 year old does better than your 13 year old in math, even as your 13 year old comes into his own as a courageous, discerning sibling leader. When you perceive homeschooling as a one-piece life in which learning is part of everyday existence, not a separate entity, then your definitions shift. 

The home front is the most important classroom and the schooling is learning how to live for the glory of God. Sometimes that includes 5 days of formal math lessons, while at other times it includes laboring in love for someone at church, or reading aloud long because everyone is frazzled and needs to recenter their hearts via Christ-rich content. Sometimes it includes learning how to keep clutter from taking over, and still other times includes brainstorming how to shave $100 a month off the already-shaved grocery budget. 

And very often for one-income families, it includes lessons in how to live with far less than those around you, while still feeling that the term abundant life fits your existence--because it should if you're in Christ. In our "homeschool" the lessons are deep and wide and the love even more so because it has to be. The challenges are just right and grace abounds because God is good. 

This is the Holy Spirit's shaping and as a mother I must help my children identify and be thankful for that shaping, rather than wondering where God's blessings went or why prayer isn't being answered this month. I want them to have lovely souls and that means bitterness and envy cannot take root. Shielding our hearts from ugliness means living a life of gratitude. It means understanding how the Potter shapes the clay and how the clay loves the Potter's work--even when the molding hurts.

Life is not about accomplishment and trappings, no matter what the world screams at us. It's about responding to each day and each trial with mercy and grace. It's about growing in grace rather than growing in goodness (growing in grace being something Ann Voskamp once said, but I don't remember where.)

And all that, my friends, is why schooling is part of a one-piece, big-picture life. That compass is how I measure my days, and I'm continually learning to navigate with it better and better, even as I inch closer to a substantially-wrinkled 50 years old. 

Why must wisdom come with wrinkles...and maybe that's why they both begin with w

The Week in Pictures:

My little Beth is such a delight! She's always creating something. Here's a doll bed made from an oatmeal container for her Rapunzel toddler doll--a doll acquired from a thrift store last week. Some days Rapunzel is reading Jane Eyre, and other days library picture books. "She's only three, Mommy, but she can read now." This, Beth tells me, after she "read" to Rapunzel herself for days.

Having a creative child means a messy house; I had to learn to define my housekeeping skills in broader terms than tidiness, having come to terms with my choices: I can break her spirit by insisting on tidiness, or I can come alongside her to clean up time and again, keeping our relationship sweet and satisfying.

We went to our favorite apple and pumpkin farm.

A hayride to the orchards on a 1950's tractor.

My Mary loving the lambs.

Beth and I, and me marveling that a precious one still fits in my lap!

About the tenth photo Daddy took, as you can tell by the so-not-enthused expression.

Always a doll or a stuffy with her. They need outings too, you know.

15 pounds of apples, which we've been happily feasting on--including one batch of applesauce, an apple crumb pie because I'm lazy about crusts, and one double-batch apple crisp.

This kind man, with a baby in one arm, was happy to introduce his springer spaniel to my smitten girls. It didn't work out with our stray dog last month, by the way.

Daddy with our boys. I believe Peter is 5'5'' now--gaining on Daddy's 5'8' and past my 5'3''. Doc says he'll be six feet.

Peter and Paul are well loved by their sisters. His OCD, though it drives us all crazy, doesn't impact their admiration and love. It may even increase it, in fact.

Two weeks ago Beth searched our property for fall nature samples. We have a lot more yellow, red, and orange this week.

Fall means Kent State University football games. They don't care for pro football, but college football rules their fall fun (or at least Paul's). They even play it out back with their sisters, which is a hoot. My husband is frequently gifted with tickets from various people at one of his workplaces, which makes up for the fact that we don't have cable to watch games. They see a few online via ESPN3, however.

I'm using recordings more and more in my homeschool. Here Beth is drawing from a library book while listening to Psalm 23 on my cell phone with headphones (recorded by my voice). She memorized it for AWANA this week and each time she recited it I choked up. Few things are sweeter than a six year old reciting Psalm 23.

Life News:
One of our Compassion International correspondent children left the program due to her family becoming more independent. They felt they could take care of her by themselves, leaving room for another needy child. She's been a delight to correspond with this past year, as our newest child, eight years old from Nicaragua.

That night, after Compassion called me about Abdi, they put a new correspondent child on my account: Brayan, a 13-year-old boy from the Dominican Republic; he lives with his mother and sadly, his father is deceased. I went into my account to write the October letters to our children and there he was... a precious new heart to share with. They told me they'd put me on a waiting list, so that was fast!

A correspondent child is not a sponsor child. Someone else, often a big company, will sponsor children but not commit to writing--writing being something that, along with helping in Jesus' name, is the cornerstone of Compassion International's program. They immediately assign a correspondent for these children.

We became correspondents in 2011, before we could afford to sponsor for $38 a month. After that we were so hooked on the experience, we sponsored a child without waiting for the budget numbers to work out. We've never missed a payment. Then we acquired another correspondent child, and then leaped ahead with another sponsor child. The last two have been correspondents, and that is the end of our faith walk for now. We can't squeeze another inch from this budget, though my heart longs to come up with more and more increments of $38, because these children are precious to their core and their letters are like gold. Outside of marrying and giving birth to my own loved ones, these children are the highlights of my life.

Call Compassion at 800-336-7676 to be a correspondent to a third-world child, which is a fantastic heart and learning endeavor for the whole family. Your children will grow in gratitude just by being exposed to these wonderful children...and they will fall in live with each one. You should try to write every six weeks or more often, which you can do online at Compassion (and you can attach photos).

 You can send monetary gifts online (for sponsor children) or over the phone for correspondent children. These gifts profoundly impact daily living conditions, like providing shoes, mattresses, or a non-leaky roof--all of which improve their performance in school. The personal letters remind them that God loves them...that he has not forgotten them...that he has plans to prosper them and not harm them.

Praise God for being able to speak these things into their lives. If you've been reading my blabber about this for years now, but haven't taken the leap, go right now to Compassion to have your life changed. (But use the phone number above to become just a correspondent. You can only sign up for a sponsorship online).

Homeschool Readings:

~ The boys finished Treasure Island, which Peter liked. Paul felt that though it was exciting in the end, it dragged at the beginning and it was too dark. Now they're reading Susan Warner's 1850 Christian, sentimental novel, The Wide Wide World, considered the first bestseller. It isn't listed in any of the literary analysis sources I invested in, but literary analysis is available online. We started reading it free on the Kindle, but that copy had so many errors we switched to a Gutenberg Project copy, which is how we read Elsie Dinsmore novels too. Did you know that Elsie mentions reading The Wide Wide World in Elsie's Girlhood? After I spoke about that famous novel and they heard Elise talk about it, they wanted to read it next.

I'm reading Pilgrim Stories to all of them, which is very interesting, and next we'll read The Courage of Sarah Noble, as part of the girls' Beautiful Feet Early American History.

The boys really love two things in particular so far this year: General Science by Apologia, which they've really taken to after years of Sonlight Science, and The Story of the World history series. They have one and a half books to go in that history series. They'll certainly be sorry to see it end!

Here are some 2015 across the curriculum Picture books we've enjoyed:

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson, published March, 2015:

Synopsis: Kadir Nelson, acclaimed author of Baby Bear and winner of the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Awards, presents a resonant, gently humorous story about the power of even the smallest acts and the rewards of compassion and generosity.

With spare text and breathtaking oil paintings, If You Plant a Seed demonstrates not only the process of planting and growing for young children but also how a seed of kindness can bear sweet fruit.

The Full Moon at the Napping House by Audrey Wood published September, 2015.

Synopsis: In the wide-awake bed in the full-moon house, everyone is restless! The moonlight is pouring in and no one can get to sleep: not Granny, her grandchild, the dog, the cat, or even a mouse. It's not until a tiny musical visitor offers up a soothing song does the menagerie settle down, and finally everyone is off to dreamland.

With a perfectly crafted text and stunning paintings, Audrey and Don Wood reveal once again why they are picture book creators of the highest order. The Full Moon at the Napping House, the highly anticipated follow-up to their beloved classic The Napping House, is the ideal book to share at bedtime or anytime.

Voice of Freedom: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Fannie Lou Hamer, published August, 2015

Synopsis: Despite fierce prejudice and abuse, even being beaten to within an inch of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats. Featuring luminous mixed-media art both vibrant and full of intricate detail, Singing for Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with an inspiring message of hope, determination, and strength.

Lillian's Right to Vote:A Celebration of the Voting Acts Right of 1965 by Jonah Winter, published July, 2015

Synopsis: An elderly African American woman, en route to vote, remembers her family’s tumultuous voting history in this picture book publishing in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, makes a “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees more than trees and sky—she sees her family’s history. She sees the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time. She sees her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery. Veteran bestselling picture-book author Jonah Winter and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Shane W. Evans vividly recall America’s battle for civil rights in this lyrical, poignant account of one woman’s fierce determination to make it up the hill and make her voice heard.

The Bay Boy & His Violin by Gavin Curtis (not a new book)

Synopsis: Reginald loves to create beautiful music on his violin. But Papa, manager of the Dukes, the worst team in the Negro National League, needs a bat boy, not a "fiddler," and traveling with the Dukes doesn't leave Reginald much time for practicing. 

Soon the Dukes' dugout is filled with Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach -- and the bleachers are filled with the sound of the Dukes' bats. Has Reginald's violin changed the Dukes' luck -- and can his music pull off a miracle victory against the powerful Monarchs? 

Gavin Curtis's beautifully told story of family ties and team spirit and E. B. Lewis's lush watercolor paintings capture a very special period in history.

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, published April, 2015

SynopsisEnormous Smallness is a nonfiction picture book about the poet E.E. cummings. Here E.E.'s life is presented in a way that will make children curious about him and will lead them to play with words and ask plenty of questions as well. Lively and informative, the book also presents some of Cummings's most wonderful poems, integrating them seamlessly into the story to give the reader the music of his voice and a spirited, sensitive introduction to his poetry.

In keeping with the epigraph of the book -- "It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are," Matthew Burgess's narrative emphasizes the bravery it takes to follow one's own vision and the encouragement E.E. received to do just that.

Let's Knit: Learn to Knit With 12 Easy Projects by DK publishing, published September, 2015

Synopsis: This guide for budding beginner knitters shows how to master the basics of knitting. Includes easy to follow steps for projects such as Brilliant Bracelets; Finger Fun; Fred's Hat and Scarf; and more. Ages 8-12. Fully illustrated in color.

How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz by Jonah Winter, July, 2015

Synopsis: In this unusual and inventive picture book that riffs on the language and rhythms of old New Orleans, noted picture book biographer Jonah Winter (Dizzy, Frida, You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?) turns his focus to one of America's early jazz heroes in this perfectly pitched book about Jelly Roll Morton.

Gorgeously illustrated by fine artist Keith Mallett, a newcomer to picture books, this biography will transport readers young and old to the musical, magical streets of New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century.

Boy, Were We Wrong About the Weather! by Kathleen Kudlinski, published August, 2015


Ancient Sumerian warriors used to think that lightning and thunder were caused by an angry weather god —boy, were they wrong!

Even today once common ideas about how our weather and climate work are changing as new discoveries are being made. Kathleen V. Kudlinski and SebastiĆ  Serra team up to debunk old—and sometimes silly—myths about weather and to celebrate the pioneers that made meteorology the science it is today.

This award-winning series is especially meant for the budding scientist and is perfect for children who are fascinated by the natural world and how it works.

Thanks for reading some of this here novel of mine. Didn't mean to make it soooo long. Have a blessed weekend!

Weekly Wrap-Up

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Updated: Christian Millennials Delaying Marriage


(Earlier errors have been corrected): October is Missions Month at our church, and last weekend a late 20's to 30-something lady spoke about her work with CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ). She grew up in our church and began working for the organization while attending Kent State University, after speaking with ministry representatives at a missions table during orientation week.

She seemed like such a wonderful, kind, sweet, sincere person, completely sold out to Christ and the Great Commission. We were all inspired by her work with young, part-time staffers across various Ohio universities. Part-time work with CRU is an option for students who want to complete their education, but don't want to wait until after graduation to begin working in missions. My boys, especially, were very intrigued by this idea.

My post today is not really about missions, however. I'm ashamed to say that by the end of her talk, I wondered why her life story hadn't included marriage and kids yet.

Yes, I know. What's wrong with me? Didn't Paul say it was better not to marry, if one had the gift of one could dedicate an entire life to full-time service to Christ? A marriage presumably encumbers workers for Christ, so everyone not harboring a burning desire to couple would do better to stay single, while laboring hard for the gospel.

And isn't that what this lovely lady was doing? So...what's my problem?

Only that fewer millennials are marrying and if the trend continues, the church is in trouble. Heck, we're already in trouble: those who aren't marrying in their twenties or thirties are still having sex.   A big part of following Christ is loving holiness. When we get over holiness, the church looks like the rest of the world.

Maybe they're not advertising it, but the majority of evangelical young people have given up on virginity. It's acceptable to love Christ, live for Christ...even labor for Christ, all while making up one's own rules about sexuality.

In biblical times youth married early--while barely out of puberty in most cases. There wasn't much time to be tempted by sexual sin, much less to engage in it. The individual didn't count for much during an era when people went directly from belonging to family, to creating a family.

As a mother to both boys and girls, I want to know what's behind today's trends, and ascertain what I can do to prepare my children for both godly marriage and godly singleness--whichever God has for them.

During my research I encountered a article by a 24-year-old, career-driven Christian girl who shared five reasons she thinks she and her girl friends are not marrying as early as other generations. Before delving into her points, she shares some statistics:

According to the Pew Research Center, only 26 percent of Millennials, those born roughly between 1981 and 1996, are married. This is a decrease from previous generations: by the time they were in the current Millennial age range (18-33), 36 percent of Generation Xers, 48 percent of Baby Boomers, and 65 percent of the Silent Generation were married.
Millennials’ median marriage age is also the highest of any group in modern history — 29 for men and 27 for women. Though most unmarried Millennials (69 percent) say they’d like to marry, they’re not in a hurry.
Do these statistics surprise us? Don't we all know at least one or two single Christian women (or men) who aren't married yet, for reasons we can't fathom? The young lady also shares what her research uncovered about the sexuality of the unmarrieds:
The majority (77 percent) of evangelical Millennials agree that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong. But that hasn’t stopped most of them from doing it. In fact, 80 percent of unmarried Millennials who self-identify as evangelicals have had sex, according to a study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Of that 80 percent, 64 percent reported having sex in the last year, and 42 percent say they are currently in a sexual relationship.
Even using a stricter definition of “evangelical,” a study by the National Association of Evangelicals found that 44 percent of evangelical Millennials had premarital sex. One Gospel Coalition blog said sex outside of marriage is the Millennial generation’s acceptable sin.
Are you with me on this? Doesn't it seem that the majority of these unmarrieds do not have the gift of singleness? They're not delaying marriage because their love for Christ burns stronger than all else.

What about the secular world? Is the Christian world just following societal trends? 

Well, in the secular world something else is going on, but there is common ground between the two groups. First, in the secular world feminism has led young women to believe that men are expendable. A woman doesn't need a man for anything...especially now that bisexuality is a fad. What's up with this "fluid sexuality" thing? Are we in the end times or what?

Both the secular and non-secular single women are career-driven. Both are having sex. Both find singleness attractive. 

On some level singleness is attractive: the idea of living for oneself, coming and going as it pleases you; hanging out with friends while spending money on food and vacations and clothes; or staying in to be alone to enjoy books or other hobbies; cleaning and cooking as it pleases you.

Sounds pretty free and easy, doesn't it? 

While these women may at times be lonely, they're decidedly not miserable. Their freedom, along with the like-minded company they keep, make their lives more than tolerable.

Here are five reasons millennial Christian women are staying single, according to our 24-year-old Faith Street author: 

1.We're driven by our careers.

2. True love isn't waiting. (The pre-marital sex thing).

3. Men are acting like boys. (We knew that was coming).

4. Christians don't know how to date. (We're awkward about it; we believe it's a precursor to marriage, which creates too much pressure.)

5. Singleness is attractive. (For this, she gives reasons similar to mine above.)

Let's talk a little about the "men are acting like boys" thing. 

The number of men in their 20's and 30's who spend hours playing video games--having started the addiction by middle school or high school--is astounding, for one thing. But she lists other reasons too, along with research:
Kevin DeYoung, author of Just Do Something, says that a number of commentators, Christians included, have noticed a trend in Millennial men — they aren’t growing up. The common question he hears from young Christian women around the country: “Where have all the marriageable men gone?”
DeYoung contends: “The Christian men that are ‘good guys’ could use a little — what’s the word I’m looking for — ambition.” I heard a similar response when I asked a few unmarried Christian guys in their early twenties why marriage is being delayed. They said guys now tend to be less forward about their intentions, made easier by the ability to hide behind indirect forms of communication (think text messages, email, Facebook).
For a generation where its commonplace to play Madden for hours on end, live at home well into adulthood and not be able to maintain a savings account, marriage might take a backseat because growing up has, too.
I researched further, despite the compelling reasons listed by this young single woman. As a mother to boys, I wanted to hear the other side, too.

And boy was there another side! I found this gem of an article: 9 Reasons Why Christian Single Ladies Can't Find Their Boaz, David, or Joseph.

Tobi Atte lists the following excellent reasons, all of which he fleshes out quite well. I can only quote the basics here. I urge you to read his excellent article in its entirety, whether you're married yourself, single, and/or a mother. His reasons are quite convicting for all women:

1. Many Christian ladies want a man that “knows where he is going”… but God’s men usually don’t have a clue: Think about that for a moment. Think through the Bible…all the great men that had relationships with God and who he used and blessed….they usually didn’t have a clue about where they were going and (here is the even crazier part) even if they had a clue, their lives for a long time did not reflect that great place God said he was taking them.

2. Many ladies approach relationships from the perspective of “Low Risk, High Reward”: Meaning, they want to get the absolute best man with the least amount of risk. (And I’m not just talking about finances here)They don’t want to put themselves out there at all.

They want the man to take ALL the risks…to be utterly convinced he wants to be with them before they open up about who they really are. You know who you are…You act like YOU are the ONLY prize in the equation. He doesn’t know anything about your background but you turned into a private investigator to make sure he is good enough for you. You are financially irresponsible and an impulsive spender, you’re spending insane percentages of your income on your hair, shoes, bags, and your “package” but you want a man who knows how to make and keep money. You have not grown your faith or prayer life to where it needs to be but you want a demon chasing, tongue speaking, Bible spitting warrior of a husband…because “he is the leader of the home”.
3. Many ladies forget that good Christian men look for women who share similar non-romantic, non-spiritual values: Sure he should be romantic and sure he must share those spiritual values but eerrmmm ladies…these Christian brothers are looking for those other character traits as well that speak to the OPERATION of your possible lives together. Dependability, thriftiness, work ethic, time management, hard work, follow-through and so on.
4. Many ladies pre-qualify their leads: This is one of the most CRITICAL reasons. In fact, there is a powerful 2 part series on just that here
5. Good Christian men know their worth too and don’t want to settle either: Yea ladies…men are understanding their worth a bit more too. Christian men are getting more and more comfortable attending relationship seminars and getting information about seeking God’s face for a wife. They are realizing how powerful of an impact a wife has on the outcome of their lives and ministry, and they are spending more time trying to see what is beneath the surface. They know that a woman can make or break everything. They realize that a woman’s desires can accelerate him towards purpose or derail him.

They are praying more and they are realizing that while you still remain a prize, they too are precious in God’s eyes and want to do right by him. They are realizing that a wife can make or break a man.

Yes they are praying for a Ruth but they are also praying against Delilah as well.

6. Many Christian ladies have no testimony with men:
7. Many Christian women want a Proverbs 31 Man:
8. Many Christian ladies want to be married but they are not truly ready to be led:
9. Many young married Christian women are painting a fairytale picture of marriage to their single ladies:

And if this article isn't fantastic enough, this same author shares an article about the flip side: 11 Reasons Why Single Christian Men Can't Find Their Ruth, Esther, or Mary. This article is equally compelling and convicting for both single and married men.

So, what did I decide to do with my research? Share it with you, and with my children during the next 3 devotional nights. Our family will go over all the reasons both authors gave, and discuss each point, with the goal of growing both boys and girls who are ready for the most glorious marriages well as a godly singleness, should God have that for them.

Side note: I married 16 years ago, at the age of 33. The reasons I married late had everything to do with growing up in a dysfunctional family; they were not part of a societal trend, by any means. However, I did enjoy my career...until I burned out on classroom discipline problems in my 10th year of teaching. I know how incredibly blessed I was to have a career to help me endure singleness, and how blessed I was that God kept me single until two years after I came to know Jesus as my Savior. I married a Christian, thank the Lord.

A couple of the reasons I married my husband were rooted in dysfunctional, even at 33, but God has redeemed that. My marriage is hard but we're both led by the Holy Spirit, and we realize our marriage has a purpose in God's Kingdom, and that it's bigger and more important than both of us. It's a mission and a race that we will finish, for the glory of God. 

Love seemed nearly perfect for the first seven years, then we woke up. That is something every young person needs to understand. It doesn't stay perfect, and for some people it never felt anything close to perfect. We have to expect to wake up from our honeymoon stupor--wake up more than ready to think of it as a race and a mission that is bigger than ourselves. It isn't about what we deserve, or what our partner deserves. It's about bringing God the most glory.