The carrot harvest from our garden was so measly this year, that as I pulled them from the ground, I asked myself, "Why am I doing this? Why do I bother? Is it even worth my time?" Yet, I couldn't bring myself to leave them there to be buried by snow and wasted. I never would've bought these ugly things at a farmers' market or grocery store, but I did learn something about their value as I pulled them from the dirt.
“When you're happy, you enjoy the music but when you're sad,
you understand the lyrics.” - Frank Ocean
Music can sometimes help us find words or tones to express sentiments we do not have adequate ways to explain in conversation or writing. I am sharing with you some of the songs that were the cry of my heart during the very difficult time after our step-daughter moved out of our home in a wounding manner. I will give small explanations about my experience with each song below its video. The above song, "Worn" by Tenth Avenue North, clearly expresses how wretchedly miserable and exhausting the constant pain of grief is, especially after the first raw days, weeks, or in some cases, months, are over. The shock, the repeated traumatic experiences all come to a lull and you look around surveying the desolation.
This morning during prayer time I asked God to give me patience- to help me be patient. He revealed to me the correct prayer for me right now is, "Lord, help me to choose patience." I had this idea that God would give me patience as He gives rain. Or transform me (with or without my futile works) into a patient person as miraculously as He adopted me as His child. I've been praying for patience for years while struggling to have patience. Hmmm, praying, yet acting as though I needed to still strive for it myself.
I don't need to strive, nor should I just pray and be continuously disappointed when I fail to be a patient person the very next moment, hour, or day. I regret that I have sown so many impatient words in my relationships with my children and my husband. I could waste time blaming health, stress, or circumstances. Instead, I'm grateful to proclaim, "All my hope is in Jesus. Thank God, my yesterday's gone. All my sins are forgiven. I've been washed by the blood!"
This responsibility to strive toward becoming more patient is not all on my head. I'll continue to fail. It's not all on Jesus, either, He never promises to whisk away our sinful habits without us lifting a finger. What His Word does say is that He will always offer us a way of escape from the temptation to sin. He offers the escape, I need to be mindful it is there, and willing to walk through it with His help. Focusing on the small steps will can make daunting tasks (like that of learning to bite my tongue when I feel we are behind schedule) into reasonable opportunities. So grateful for a Savior Who is in relationship with us!
I understand that this may just seem like a play on words to some people, but it offered me a much needed perspective shift. I will continue to flounder in this area, but that does not change my identity (I'm not a failure), nor does it change God's faithfulness (He's not neglecting me on this journey.) I am sharing it in hopes it encourages another saint who continues to sin at times like myself.
Following Jesus imperfectly, but authentically.
Discipling Your Children without a Bible Curriculum: Lifestyle of Teaching Kids to Practice the Presence of God
With countless curricula available and surrounded by Mrs. Jones's kids who can quote entire chapters or even books of the Bible from memory, sometimes I feel I'm not doing this "teaching" thing quite right. As a Christian, homeschooling, church-going mom, I've had many conversations over the years about how we should teach our children about the Lord and the Bible. I've laid hands on and leafed though pages (and even purchased) some amazing resources that are geared to enrich our understanding of and relationship with the Lord. But, can I let you in on a not-so-secret admission? That curricula is sitting on a shelf. Not being used. Am I doing something wrong here?
I don't think so. I came to faith by reading the Bible and lately, I've been concerned with my own spiritual and mental health state being bogged down by to-do lists and don't-do lists that seem to come at me from many sides: church suggestions and promotions, voices within the homeschool community, Christian books, literature, and online articles. While some of these suggestions are wonderful, they can also serve as distractions from listening for the still, small voice of Jesus in my own life. Many of the voices I listed are speaking at large audiences. Masses, even. They're geared to spread a message to multitudes (often about their own curricula, program, or current priority). Call me crazy, but I think God has an individualized, personal plan for each of our lives. Of course He does, you say. What does that have to do with curricula?
One of the many reasons we choose to homeschool is to provide an individualized learning experience for each of our children. Tailored to their needs and even interests at times. (I say "at times," my kids haven't been terribly interested in percentages, but I will teach them about it anyway!) I'm not indicating that Bible curricula are bad, poor, or a waste of time by any means, but I'm writing this article to encourage those who aren't using them.
There are so many ways to disciple our children. The following ideas don't cost any money, don't need to be scheduled, and are 100% customizable for what fits your families' needs best.
Read them the Word of God. It doesn't have to be every morning, every bedtime, or every afternoon during a time of rest. If you miss a day (or a week or a month) give yourself grace; Jesus offers it to you.
Answer their questions with eternity in mind. This is a lifestyle choice. This can become daily and there's no check-list, prep-time or quiz afterwards. When your kids hear about a pet dying and wonder whether animals go to Heaven, answer the best you can (it's fine to say you're not sure!) and tell them something you do know about Heaven from God's Word. When you're admiring a beautiful sunset, big-clumps of snow falling to the ground, or a fascinating plant or animal, talk to them about the Creator Who made such an exquisite world for us to live in. When you've caught a child in the middle or aftermath of an anger outburst, they may be full of questions (why did he get away with this? Why can't I...?), Slow down and remind them who they are. Children of God, forgiven by Jesus, loved by the Lord of the Universe, created with a purpose, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Tell them who they are so they can repent, rise up and take the right path next time. Answering their questions about sins of others, possible injustice, etc. is often more beneficial after the emotions have calmed and they've accepted their responsibility (if any) in the situation.
Link celebrations and struggles back to the bigger picture. This is similar to answering questions with eternity in mind, but it takes the matter one step further because the parent takes initiative to bring up spiritual matters without getting a que (question) from the child first. Weddings, the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one, individuals struggling with chronic or acute pain or handicaps, a challenging relationship or task, or reaching a long-awaited goal can all be seen in light of God's love, mercy, and care for us. It's not always easy, but we can model looking unto Jesus even in the midst of adversity and trials of life. There are so many unhealthy places people turn to when celebrating or struggling, show them how to navigate the highs and the lows resting in God's faithfulness.
Point out God's protection, provision, and divine intervention in daily activities. If you don't notice any of these yourself, you may need to pray and ask God to begin revealing them to you. That won't be enough, though, you'll also need to start looking for God's involvement in your daily life. You know He's there, so expect to see Him, and offer Him praise when you do.
Pray for your kids, in front of your kids, and with your kids. I don't pray for each of my kids by name daily. I wish I did sometimes, but in reality, I don't. So I'm not preaching that you have to. I tend to have a very private prayer life. I sway between chatting with God like a bestie to approaching Him with deep reverence. I think that's okay since I can do the same thing with elders I respect here on earth. We can have casual, light-hearted conversations or gut-level discussions. Both appropriate in my opinion. Sometimes I am angry with God and I tell Him so. I complain to Him and ugly cry to Him too. If David, a man after God's own heart, can be real with God when the going is tough, I can too. A wise pastor told me that Satan loves it when we give God the silent treatment. If we stop talking to God (or listening via His Word or Spirit) when we are struggling or when things are going great, it creates a vacuum for other voices to speak into. Some of these voices may be godly counsel from wise individuals, and others may very well be lies (some of the best lies are 90% true so you will swallow them). Pray in front of your kids sometimes so they can hear how your "usual" prayers are worded and learn from you how to communicate with the God they do not see. Pray with your kids, encouraging them to pray out loud if they are comfortable. Giving them suggestions when they are at a young age or during a difficult time is perfectly acceptable, but the goal is to encourage them to pray for their own situations, praises, and concerns in addition to you praying for them.
Wait, isn't this just another to-do list?
I sure hope you don't take it that way, as that's not how its meant to be. Please, don't think in your head, I'm going to start doing all these things tomorrow (or next week, etc)! Take them into consideration. Pray about them. Take one here or there and you may just find that they weave into your lifestyle and soon you're teaching your kids to practice the presence of God. Teach them to keep Christ in the forefront of their minds by tearing down the boundary between spiritual and ordinary. We live in a world where spiritual and physical co-exist, yet all too often we try to mentally separate the two.
Lifestyle (interwoven into day) vs. Habit (set time & task) One of my hesitations against using a curricula for Bible or even against requiring my kids to have a set time to read an assigned portion of the Bible is that it will become nothing more than a forced-habit, a check mark on a to-do list that they can fall right out of the habit of and let drop off the list once my authority is removed from the situation. I've experienced this in my own life. I was committed to reading through and emailing out the entire chronological KJV Bible in a couple of years. I was sharing it with others and while it was a worthy project, I found myself turning to the Word less often out of my own desire and more often out of a sense of obligation. After I completed the project, I went a few months without opening my Bible to read without prompting (such as for church, or to read/talk to the children about a passage). Now, I'm not saying I never require my kids to read God's Word, there are times when I do, but I tend to model the behavior and make suggestions more often than requiring reading. My kids aren't fasting from God's Word, my husband and I read the entire Bible to them regularly and my son who can read voluntarily reads his Bible.
It's a relationship with the Lord I choose to foster, not a disciplined religious life.
I once explained to my son like this: Do you know George Washington? He responded that he knew who he was. Exactly. You can read about George Washington, study his life, artifacts from the time frame, and interview people who are experts on his biography. That is knowing about George Washington. I could force you to read 100 books on the first president and you'd know a LOT about him. But you still wouldn't know him. If you want to get to know someone, you have to spend time with them. Even though Jesus is no longer walking the earth in physical form, His Holy Spirit and Word are alive and rich. I don't want my kids to be able to quote the book of James, but to fail to willingly turn to the Scriptures when they are trying to make a hard decision. I don't want my kids to pray as eloquently a Paul in church, but fail to hit their knees or raise their hands in intercession and worship at their homes. I don't want my kids to perform acceptably in a church program or answer apologetic and creation science questions in a curricula but fail to see and serve the lost, hungry, and lonely in the world.
Church programs and religious curricula aren't bad if the messages they send are Truth. My kids attend some church programs and I do hope to casually use one of the Bible curricula we own someday because it is a solid way to reinforce teaching for your kids. However, if you feel like you can't keep up, remember that Jesus taught his disciples by walking with them, talking to them, sharing meals with them, going on a boat with them, praying with them, sharing God's Word with them, showing them mercy and justice and loving them. Deuteronomy 6 gives examples of how parents should teach their children: by talking to them when sitting, walking, lying and rising. Basically, as you go about life, doing the things you do every day- teach your kids to remember, respect, and love the Lord.
On a final note, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence is a short book that tells the inspiring effects of one man's efforts to keep the Lord at the forefront of his thoughts no matter what his activity or circumstance happens to be. I'm not promoting that anyone uses this book as the standard of how to live their life- that's what the Bible is for! Just thought I'd share if someone were wondering where the phrase "practice the presence of God" originated.
This is a small book (6 3/8" x 4 3/8") with a soft cover. As the title indicates, it contains daily prayers for a year. The prayers are not marked by date (ex. Jan. 1- Dec. 31), but rather numbered (Day 1 - Day 365). The font is slightly smaller than most paperback books, but it is not so fine print that the average person without eyesight issues should have any trouble. There is a ribbon bookmark attached to the binding and the prayers are also listed topically in an index in the rear (as well as each prayer having a "topic" listed above it, such as, "A Prayer about _________." Topics are varied from more broad to specific, but you won't find more than one prayer for a specific topic. In other words, they gave a different topic "title" to each of the 365 days prayers, whether they were similar or not. So, if you're looking for multiple days worth of reading on the same theme, be sure to read the whole index and look for potentially related topics. Five days of prayers take up roughly a page, and then the following 2 days (presumably weekend days if you stayed on schedule going through them in order) have shorter readings so there are two per page. I find this to be clever as I am more likely to fall behind on scheduled reading on weekends, so the shorter passages have a purpose.
As one might expect with something containing a large volume of prayers, I certainly found some of them more applicable or easier to relate to. There are a few times in the text that I feel the author takes too personal of a tone and creates a situation where the reader may find it awkward. For example, in one prayer asking for wisdom, he states, "Most would say that I am well-educated and intelligent." He does continue on to point out that knowledge is different from wisdom and he's seeking the Lord's guidance, but I could see this as a real put-off for some readers.
There are other places where the author admits he is an aggressive driver, going into a bit of detail of what goes through his mind. He also admits he has wished people would come to his church rather than attend other Christian churches. I commend him for his authenticity and honesty, but some of it has me shaking my head, wondering, why does this book have the subtitle "Strength and Joy to Begin Each Day"? The author does turn each prayer to the Lord, of course, but some entries feel much more like I am reading someone's personal prayer journal, rather than being led in prayer, praise, and worship. For example, here is a complete entry for a shorter reading day:
A prayer about SICKNESS
This is followed with the verse Luke 4:40 in the NLT translation. There's nothing wrong with the prayer, I guess it is just not what I expected to find in this resource.
There are also many prayers which I appreciate, such as:
There is at least one instance where the Parable of the (Sower and the) Seeds is utilized for only self-reflection and not applied to the spreading of the Gospel to new believers. The author was using the sower parable to request help for dealing with the "weeds" (worries) in his life. I found some of the prayers to follow a pattern of, "Here's my complaint, shortcoming or concern, God. Please, help me with that or just take it away." But there are some which also include a more direct statement indicating a need to repent or apologize over a wrongdoing.
Whether or not this is a good resource for you will likely depend a good bit on your own personality. All in all, I am disappointed that it reads more like someone else's personal prayer journal than a resource brimming with praise and worship reminding me of the steadfast truths, promises and hope that are found in Jesus Christ and His Word. It may be my fault for presuming that the focal point would be more on the Lord than on our daily life/following (application, I guess) in our walk as Christians in this imperfect world. I had different expectations from the front cover, and should have taken the back cover, which states, "Let these prayers help you release your troubles and concerns into God's care." with more emphasis.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of reviewing. I was not required to give a positive review, my opinions are honest.
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect as I've never seen a product claiming to be a "prayer and praise coloring journal" before. I love it. Absolutely love it. It has a durable, beautiful cover that is thick and sturdy. It opens easily to spread the pages flat for writing and coloring and each page spread contains a short prayer, a related Bible verse in NLT, either lines for writing or a space for other artistic pursuits (like making a collage, writing with more freedom for size/space, sketching, etc. AND a beautiful variety of areas to color in yourself. They could've easily left the interior black and white since it's a coloring book, but they added color in just the right amounts to most pages. Some have just a splash of color, some have a full background with areas left black and white to color in, and some are indeed only black and white. I find this book to be very inviting, warm, and its creative beauty welcomes a reader to the devotional experience it allows without making you feel like you'd need to be on a schedule or need to hurry through a lot of text. I think combining the ability to both journal or color will really help me to slow down and dwell on the prayer and Scripture.
Also, I appreciate the thoughtfulness in the writing of these prayers. While the overall feeling of the journal is one of encouragement, love, and appreciation, there are prayers with sound doctrine that prompt us to consider our own sin, to be forgiving to others, and to look for opportunities to share the Gospel with others sprinkled throughout. It's not a pushy to-do list, it's a very gentle reminder and encouragement to live out the faith we've stated we commit our lives to. I would recommend this item to anyone and I think it would make a great gift item for those times you want to give something tangible but just aren't sure what. This could be given at baby showers, graduations, to someone needing a get-well encouragement, as well as birthdays, holidays, etc. Everyone needs gratitude. As the Veggie Tales say, "A thankful heart is a happy heart!"
*In the interest of full disclosure: I received a copy of this book courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of reviewing. I was not required to give a positive review, my opinions are honest.
You can read my review of the new NLT Bible here.
The African Study Bible hopes to enter the scene and fill that void. While there are countless experiences that are common to mankind, I still think there's a huge benefit from gleaning wisdom from someone who has some common ground with you. Like I was saying above. I haven't read any books that were directed at Eskimos, or Islanders. They may be good books, but trying to find life application when the lifestyles they address may be drastically different than mine may prove less encouraging and practical than if the resources matched the needs more clearly.
Please don't misunderstand me, there are Bibles available to the African continent, there just aren't any study Bibles directed toward their culture. The study Bibles available in Africa are written from a Western culture (Europe & the USA) point of view. I am a fan of the KJV for many reasons, but I am also a fan of my old NIV Life Application Bible because the resources are so rich. I believe the ASB is planning to deliver rich resources to the hands of the African people in this NLT Bible and that is why I support the cause. Here are some highlights from the ASB Press Release:
“With the ASB, we’re bringing the power of Scripture to Africa in a new and culturally relevant way,” says Dr. Matthew Elliott, president of Oasis, publisher of the ASB. “Under the leadership of an 11-member editorial board of scholars from across Africa, we’ve brought together 350 writers and editors from over 40 African countries, representing 50 denominations. This is an unprecedented project that will impact the global church.”
“Our goal is to have the first run of the ASB available in Africa by the end of 2016,” says Elliott. “We already know of more than 100 million people in denominations and movements in Africa whose leaders want to use the ASB for discipleship so there is a lot of anticipation throughout the continent.”
The incentives for the Kickstart Campaign start when you give just $5 and increase at the $15, $25, $40, $100, $500, $1000, $3500, and $10000 giving levels. You can check out all the goodies, which include things such as previews, apps, artwork, various editions of the ASB, all the way up to trips to see the launch of the ASB in the USA or Kenya for the launch and a safari!
Here's what I like: No matter how much money you have, or don't have, you can help impact the production of the ASB and bless the African community of believers by keeping this ministry in your prayers. Pray for the discernment & wisdom for those in leadership. Pray for resources to come together and pray for the hearts of the people of Africa to be softening to the Gospel. We are very excited about the growth of the body of Christ in Africa, but in every nation, there are those who resist the Good News of Jesus Christ for one reason or another. Pray that those individuals will be moved to see the Truth, grace, love, peace, and freedom found in following Jesus. I appreciate that, from the limited amount of what I've seen of the ASB so far, it does not appear to be a resource which promotes (falsley) that our lives will become "fixed" or "easier" when we follow Jesus. It is a difficult road we are asked to travel, but we never travel it alone, and we do not have to do it on our own strength, wisdom or resourcefulness. That is the relief of an easy yoke on a hard journey. Pray that the Word of God, encouragement, and applications in the ASB would bring Jesus much glory.
***UPDATE 6/20/16: I have removed the hyperlink to the KickStarter Campaign as that has ended. If you wish to contribute, please check the Oasis webpage HERE, where there should be a "give" link near the bottom of the page.
FYI: None of the links in this post are affiliate links.
This time of year can be hard to enjoy if you have anxiety. It is so close to school starting that anxiety about the change of season (whether or not there are any major differences from last year to this) can stand as an obstacle to enjoying the last couple weeks of summer vacation.
Are the kids ready to transition to more structured days? Am I? Shouldn't I be easing in more routine now?
Great questions!! Either way, time marches on. Some years we've tried to get the kids to reasonable bedtimes starting two weeks or even one week before school starts, some years we haven't. Some years we've started school slowly, adding in subjects one at a time to build up to a regular day, some years we just jump in with both feet. This is really just a variation of the question above. The question above was basically, how do I end summer? This question is, how do I start school? As long as you DO start, you'll get into the groove. Different approaches for different people, for different circumstances and different years. Don't compare your approach to others' approaches, just consider the situation and the options.
Did we get all the supplies we're going to need?
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you got too much, or haven't even started thinking about shopping yet. This is small stuff in the scheme of things really. Anything that can be remedied with less than an hour in Walmart is small stuff in the scheme of things. Keep that in mind and move on. You can always share/donate extras or make another run to a store for needs that pop up.
Are the decisions we made about curriculum and/or activities the wisest for the situation and children?
Did you pray about them?
Woah.... where did THAT come from? Isn't this an anxiety post that's supposed to be a feel-good read about how "I really CAN handle this time of year"??? This is a reality post about life. Decisions that shape the life of your child (or other people's children) should be prayed over. Do you know these kids' hearts? Their futures? God does. Consult Him. If you've made decisions already without consulting the Lord, that doesn't mean you need to scrap everything and start all over again. It means you need to have some quiet time and search your heart.
God, was I so busy and so anxious because I am trying to do this all on my own strength and by my own wisdom? Father, I am sorry; please, forgive me. I know that man can make plans, but You are the One who establishes and directs our paths (Proverbs 16:9). I should have consulted you first. No matter how good, or how off course my plans are, I desire that Your purpose prevails in my life (Proverbs 19:21). Please grant me wisdom, Lord, and a teachable spirit, that I will be willing to make adjustments according to Your leading. I desire to bring You glory with my decisions and I know that no matter how this fall and the following months turn out, You will be working all things for my good because I love You. (Romans 8:28).
In Jesus Name, Amen.
Will I look back at this time period and kick myself for doing something wrong or not doing enough?
Let's use looking back as an opportunity to be grateful for God's provision and protection, to praise Him for His sustaining grace and longsuffering lovingkindness. Let's not allow ourselves to use looking back to beat ourselves over not being perfect. We already know we're not perfect, no need to dwell there. If you need somewhere to dwell, I highly suggest the Word of God. Next time those anxious thoughts are starting to zip around your head with increasing speed and intensity, remember two things.
Remember you are never alone and are cherished deeply by the Creator God of the Universe Who knows all things, is all-powerful, and is present everywhere.
Remember this verse, which is challenging to put into practice, but comforting like nothing else:
We've had the hardest year as a family that I can remember. Maybe 2006 was a close second, but that was when our family was literally half the size it is now. I found myself praying a few weeks ago for God to show me beauty, to encourage me and remind me there is hope. I was in a valley and though my head and my heart know Christ is sufficient and our hope is found in Him, my gaze and my focus seemed to continuously shift to the pain and worries swallowing up our no-longer-normal-routine. It's not like we slipped into a rut and were in a dull drum place. The ground gave way beneath us and we found ourselves at the bottom of an abandoned well. Trauma. Tragedy. Deep questions without answers. Would God meet me where I was* and honor my selfish prayer for something beautiful?
*When I say "meet me where I was" it is not in a literal sense. God is everywhere and knows everything already! I meant it in a personal, relational sense. Did I have to change to move closer to His will or would He swoop into my misery? The answer: Both.
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I am not much of a blog reader. There's only a couple I check on occasion:
Love this girl's writing... feels like she's a long distance friend. Well, her sister is my long-distance friend, so that probably helps. Either way, what an inspiration and encouragement- you just need to check out some of the places life has taken Leah and be strengthened and inspired by the love that oozes (yes, oooozes) from her heart for Jesus, His people and His creation!
If you like nummy recipes, or have special dietary needs (or both!) check it out. ALL of her recipes are Vegan, and many can be made gluten-free. I stumbled upon it when searching for dairy/egg free treats to make for my kiddo and have gotten hooked on several recipes. Okay, "hooked on" doesn't portray it well enough. How about "addicted to"? That's more fitting. Will definitely be going back for more!