Hold On To Your Teens

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to contain the subject of raising teens within one blog post, nor am I claiming to be an expert.  This will likely be my first of many posts on the topic simply shared from our experiences as well as what we’ve observed and studied.

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We live at a time in which I feel there’s this battle raging against childhood.  There’s an influx of busyness, screens, pressures to perform, comparisons made all too easily with perpetual testing and social media, often a lack of parental boundaries and loving guidance, and in our culture especially, peer orientation has become the norm that folks accept without question.  Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate cover this topic in their book, Hold On To Your Kids:

For the first time in history, young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults, but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role – their own peers. They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from adults.  Instead, children are being brought up by immature persons who cannot possibly guide them to maturity.  They are being brought up by each other.

Even in home educating families, this can be a devastating issue if parents aren’t intentional regarding their connection to their children and are unaware of the danger of peer-orientation.

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“But aren’t we meant to let go?” many parents ask. “Aren’t our children meant to become independent of us?”  Absolutely, but only when our job is done and only in order for them to be themselves.  Fitting in with the immature expectations of the peer groups is not how the young grow to be independent, self-respecting adults.  By weakening the natural lines of attachment and responsibility, peer orientation undermines healthy development.

Children may know what they want, but it is dangerous to assume they know what they need.  To the peer-oriented child it seems only natural to prefer contact with friends to closeness with family, to be with them as much as possible, to be as much like them as possible.  The child does not know best.  Parenting that takes its cues from the child’s preferences can get you retired long before the job is done.  To nurture our children, we must reclaim them and take charge of providing for their attachment needs.

Since our Gavin turned 16, (he’s now 17), we’ve been asked several times if he’s always gone. Is family life viewed as something to escape, rather than a place in which you are loved as you are, heard, guided; a place where you work hard and play hard and share in the rhythm of feasts and forgiveness?
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I wonder, if abandoning home life is the mindset, then has it become the norm for parents to throw up their hands in surrender, giving up on cultivating family life and parenting once a teen can drive, or even as early as puberty?

Yes, I believe independence increases over time, but it is a s l o w increase – one that is dependent upon a teen’s character and level of responsibility, but home is still home. 

We believe teens need our unconditional love, guidance, encouragement, boundaries, and sometimes consequences. They need to feel it deeply – that we are for them and believe in them. They feel secure, rather than restrained, within healthy boundaries.

Teens will gravitate where they feel heard and supported the most.

It’s all to easy in this age of peer orientation to believe it’s hopeless to connect to our teen’s heart.  Many believe the lie that their teens don’t want to have anything to do with them, that to pursue a close relationship is pointless.  But at the heart of every child and teen is the longing to have those close ties with a parent who loves them unconditionally.

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Many parents, in an attempt to avoid coming off as controlling, resort to the other extreme.  They retire their role as parents prematurely, often as early as the onset of the teen years when resistance swells. Possibly due to their own negative experiences with figures of authority, they view exercising authority as a power-hungry act rather than an act of love, protection, and connection.

But in allowing a young teen (or an older teen who has not proved to be responsible in maintaining a healthy balance) to determine how many hours they will spend on a screen each day, how often they will hang out with friends, and to basically manage all the details of their young lives, (in most cases) these parents are setting their kids up to be disconnected from the family.

The pressure of too many decisions and options can weigh heavily upon them.

 

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A teen lacking strong family ties is socially and emotionally volatile, often lacking the grit to overcome challenges as well as lacking confidence.  The boundaries that provide security and training as to how to live life in a healthy balance are not present.

I’m often asked what a healthy limit for screens is.  I think in all areas of parenting we need to lean into the Holy Spirit for guidance as there’s not a perfect answer.  It will look different in our unique families.  For us, we’ve had peace with waiting until a child is driving to allow them a phone.  This gives more time for their character to develop before setting such a device in their hands, more time to be free from the pull that can steal from a wonder-filled childhood.

Once they have a phone, we set an hour limit per day that includes texting, email, and social media as they are learning to balance it in their lives; Dan and I rarely spend more than this on ours, apart from Dan’s time at work. When school is demanding, it is less; when sick, it is more.

As they grow in maturity and responsibility, demonstrating they can wisely manage their time, we give them the increased freedom to do so.

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If there’s a lack of kindness and respect toward siblings or parents, the phone is taken away for a while.  A ‘vacation’ from the phone at this point has done a world of good, and once we see that the family connections are truly tended to and made stronger, the phone is given back.  This has taken anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months.  We’ve seen this time ‘off’ do its beautiful, restorative work as deep connections become the focus.

Yes, dear friends are part of their lives, but not their life.
Screens are part of their lives, but they do not consume their life. 

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Hold on to their hearts. Bravely create a different family culture than the norm. Don’t fear healthy boundaries- they still need a parent to assist in guarding their hearts and to (gently and firmly) confront them over concerns.

Love them wildly, come alongside them in supporting their interests, and watch them flourish.

A Day in Our Home Educating Life — Spring of 2017

This post is a time capsule, a post that I will always treasure as it is how we have lived so many of our days together over the years. Yes, there is some variation from day to day and year to year, but this has been the flow of our school days for the most part.  A natural rhythm that developed over the years and became our own.  This year is looking much the same, except we are using The Good and the Beautiful curriculum for Quinn and Ellie’s Language Arts and History, (and absolutely enjoying it so far), and Gavin (15) is now taking dual-credit college classes online.  I grieved this summer over this change for Gavin, though we knew God was saying it is time, but I’m learning my role as teacher in his life is still just as crucial as I help him adjust to his new responsibilities and expectations in college.  And he shares with me about each chapter he reads, so great discussion has ensued.  Okay, enough with the introduction!  Join me as I lead you through our day; I’m so glad you are here.

 

With some difficulty (not a morning person) I rise around 7 each morning and get started on breakfast.  This morning Ellie surprised me with eggs ready.  She’s my early bird and frequently helps in this way, knowing how much it helps her morning zombie of a mama out.  (Mamas of young children – easier days – they are coming)!  By the time breakfast is ready, the younger kids are up and Gavin (15) joins us with a little help. 😉 We’ve all agreed we prefer to get going somewhat early so that we can move through our day at an unhurried pace and have time for what matters.  At breakfast, we pray together and I read a verse (currently out of Proverbs), then mostly it’s them talking and mama sipping coffee, zoning in and out.

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We do our main reading aloud time over lunch once my blood is flowing and my reading is better than monotone.  Soon as we’re done eating we tackle the kitchen together.  Half the time they do this on their own while I get the laundry moving.  I don’t feel the house needs to be perfect when we start our day, but I’ve found if there are clean kitchen counters, a swept floor, and dishes put away at the opening of our day, we are all more content and can think clearer the remainder of the day.

We can usually finish this in less than 10 minutes and we head to our own quiet spaces for ‘God Time’.  This is a peace-filled time of refueling and a way I can have that time alone to be filled at the start of the day without having to wake before I’m ready. This supports our priority of connecting to God and jumpstarting our day in gratitude.

The kids take turns caring for Willow at this time and treasure this one on one time with her.  So I’m (almost) guaranteed time alone with my Creator without my wee monkey climbing on my shoulders and ripping pages of my Bible.  After 20 minutes or so I ring our old school bell and it’s morning chore time for all.  I put on lively music, we brush teeth, make beds, get dressed, Gavin feeds the pig and sweeps under the table, Ellie wipes the table, Quinn heads to the barn to feed the dog, I dress Willow, tidy around the house, etc.

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Then, what follows just might be my favorite part of the day, morning person or not!  We head outdoors to partake of the majesty of the earth awakening.  It almost seems to whisper, ‘all things new.’  This rouses our senses as we head out, alert to what has changed around us as we listen to the birds songs.  We may find a new nest, observe earthworms after a rain, find new flowers in bloom, head over to our little pond to check on tadpoles and water bugs, watch the squirrels busily scamper from tree to tree, or check on our favorite tree ‘Big Elm’ over at the edge of our property.

We often start out with our nature journals, and after the kids have sketched or painted something of interest, they set the journals aside and swing from trees, or dig in the moist dirt. My teen will usually run laps around the property at this time to keep in shape for the Spartan races he and Dan regularly run together. Today we ventured back on our forest trails and used the Birdsong ID app to identify some of the newer birds that have nested here and tried to spy their nests as well.  One of our current read alouds is the Bird Burgess book and this has inspired Quinn (8) to start a feather collection so he’s on the hunt.

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I’ve become increasingly aware this year of the fleeting time, especially now that Gavin has surpassed me in height!  Over the last year especially, I’ve pondered what I really want their days – their memories years from now – to look like and make that the basis for our days.  It’s an effort to really seize the time (not that I haven’t had days of mere survival) but it’s a grace-filled goal. Venturing out just after chores to see what awaits adds a layer of richness to our day, fueling our curiosities. It revives us all.
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Unless the kids are involved in an epic adventure, we head inside by 9:30-10 and they begin their independent work, all of us filled to the brim.  I have struggled this year as we can’t head out on long camping trips or kayak down rivers as often as I crave.  We’re finishing up the building of our home as well as a fixer upper we bought to flip – this on top of Dan working full time.  But my eyes are being opened to the fact that we all have more nature closer to us than we realize, and it doesn’t take but a patch of grass to observe a new world with a child.  They don’t have the same wanderlust we do, and are born with a wonder we must preserve.
In the book, ‘Caught Up In a Story’, Sarah Clarkson states, “The wonder natural to childhood is precious, something many adults spend a lifetime trying to reclaim, and as such must be preserved and maintained, especially while children are young. Your role as parent is key: how will your children encounter nature?  Will they be too distracted by technologies set in their hands since birth, or will they have learned to look, to love, to hold the world around them as holy?”
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Independent studies time is generally from 10-12, but often the younger ones finish earlier and play.  During this time they do math (we have used Teaching Textbooks for years now and it’s been a game changer), scripture memorization, copywork, Grammar, spelling.  Gavin also reads Notgrass history and writes a narration daily.  (I rotate between history and nature study with Quinn and Ellie in the afternoon – more on that later).  I’m not big on workbooks as we’ve been down that road and learning transformed into drudgery for us, but I use a workbook for grammar (Easy Grammar) and it has been painless and effective.
I need to interject here and say that the little bit of curriculum we do use, I very much ‘own’ rather than letting it rule us.  I only use what I believe to be helpful for the child, and don’t pay much attention to the grade recommended.  I once stressed over fully finishing workbooks and paid more attention to completing a curriculum that in observing what the child is absorbing and possibly lacking.  Now I only use what I believe to be helpful to the child.  Other than Easy Grammar, the only workbook I use is for Quinn (8) – Horizons Phonics.  He enjoys the colorful pages and I’ve had him do a little a day since the beginning of his first grade year.  Horizons is extremely advanced so I have him doing a first grade workbook when technically he’s finishing up second grade.
While he’s working on that I stay close by to help, but the remainder of the morning the kids rarely need my assistance so I keep laundry moving, and snuggle up and read to Willow (22 mos).  And just before lunch I rock her and her 3 baby dolls as we sing ‘Old MacDonald,’ then I put ‘them’ to nap.
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Lunchtime. As soon as Willow is napping I gather the kids to help prepare lunch, usually right around noon.  This is another favorite part of my day with the rich read alouds that unite us all and much laughter. On a loop (so that they’re rotated day to day) I read a historical novel, then the following day from the Burgess Book of Birds (our current nature read aloud), then the next day is picture books, followed by poetry. Quality picture books are a large part of our book collection and combine art with story.  We do our literature read aloud each evening at dinner so dad is always a part, which he appreciates (currently reading Understood Betsy).  For our history read aloud, we completed Johnny Tremain – it was all American history this year – and I followed it with one aimed at my younger audience, Squanto.
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So we often linger long at the table at lunch and dinner.  As soon as the kids finish eating they grab their sketchbooks nearby and draw, or grab a quiet toy and play until I’m finished reading. Then I often ask one to verbally narrate.  They never know ahead of time who will be called on so this keeps them tuned in.  This has helped to sharpen listening and verbal skills as it “strengthens and challenges all the powers of the mind”  as Karen Andreola put it. This has become as natural to the kids as breathing, and it continually amazes me how accurately and in what detail they can share what they heard.
We didn’t study composers this year other than merely playing Mozart occasionally as they painted, and no official geography this year either. I knew before this school year began that I needed to be reasonable and kind to myself this year with a highly active and often clingy toddler.  We’ll jump into map work next year and maybe I’ll play Bach during their painting then.  😉  I think it’s important to be aware of what season to lighten the load and steer clear of comparisons to others.  We all have a unique set of challenges and a unique set of kids.
After lunchtime we put our dishes away and do ‘lunchtime chores’. This is a system I implemented years ago and it has worked beautifully. Each child has a different chore each day, for example Gavin washes the mirrors on Monday, while Ellie sweeps her room, and Quinn dusts his. This is separate from morning chores which are identical each day. I love this system because rather than waiting until the house is filthy and having to clean all day – overwhelming the kids and me – we take care of it one chore at a time.  The house is NEVER perfect, but it is usually halfway decent.  This takes about 5 minutes.      
Then, it’s our quiet reading hour, 40 minutes of peace-filled calm in the middle of our day.  It’s my introverted method of refueling so I’m still a nice mama come 4:00, and it’s equally beneficial to the kids.  For the first half the kids read a book that relates to their period of history, and the last half they read a book they’ve chosen from our growing library of living books.
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We don’t eat out, buy jewelry, or fancy cars – we buy books!  I take this time to feed my soul as well and don’t allow myself to tackle household tasks, but I read as much as Willow allows. I’m currently rereading ‘The Charlotte Mason Companion’, ‘Simplicity Parenting’, ‘Caught Up in a Story’, and ‘Hold on to Your Kids’. Anyone else jump between 4 books at a time?
After Read on Your Own time in the Spring, Quinn and Ellie are free to pursue their interests and usually head outside three days a week after helping to put away laundry, on the other days I snuggle up with them on the couch and read nature study one day (currently Pagoo) and history (Stories of the Pilgrims) the other. (In the Winter we do history or nature study together 4 days a week, but come Spring I encourage much more time for outdoor exploration).
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Afterward, they paint in their journals and write about what we read. They are increasingly enjoying painting and have been inspired by some YouTube videos I’ve pulled up. Once they start painting I take Willow to help me pull clothes out of the drier as she thinks this is great fun or pull out a sensory bin to keep her out of the acrylic paint! Meanwhile Gavin (15) works on his apologia Biology and coding program from Sonlight. He’s my science and tech guy and (praise God) happily conquers these subjects. Geometry, on the other hand, he won’t miss.
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Our afternoons and evenings often look like Ellie baking while Quinn plays with legos and Gavin practices guitar and Willow hangs on mama. Today it looks like all 3 of the older kids on the trampoline while Willow plays in the sandbox. (They’ve created endless trampoline games using an exercise ball. Take away the ball, and I can hardly get them to jump on it.  Just a little tip there)!  Or Quinn whittling on the back porch while Ellie plays with Willow in #elliesprairiehouse and Gavin runs with dad in preparation for the Spartan race while I do dinner prep. Or the boys arguing over something stupid and then copying scripture for a while.  It’s not always Norman Rockwell, but I believe being home together has nourished and deepened their relationships, the closeness forcing us to deal with heart issues. We’re involved in church, music lessons, and occasionally tumbling, but those are our only commitments, so for the most part we are home.
We’ve been asked why we don’t have the kids in organized sports. For us personally, considering the commitment and all we would miss out on, it didn’t feel right. We headed down that road before and our family ties grew weaker as it drained us all. I know some thrive off of it and it’s what they love. But I think many jump in blindly because it’s what you’re expected to do without stepping back to first decide what they truly want their family culture to be. Doing Spartan races has been a wonderful alternative to organized sports as we can train as a family in our own time, deciding how much time to give it. Once we decided to live counter-culturally, slow and meaningfully, to dare to say no so we can say yes to what are hearts beat for, our lives haven’t been free of challenge, but there’s a freedom and joy we feel like we’re dancing in. “Although our culture seems to worship being busy, constant activity will slowly undermine our perspective on life and kill our souls.” ~ Sally Clarkson “Consider saying no – Dare to ‘miss out,’ and find out what you really would have missed had you said ‘yes.” ~Jennifer Dukes Lee
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Each night before we tuck each child in we gather around the living room and read a bit from the Bible, the Gold Thread, or Hero Tales. It’s a calming and inspiring way to wind down together. This season of life can be exhausting, but I’ve never loved what I do more. My hope and prayer is that you too will find deep fulfillment in what you do, that you will have wisdom as to how to guide each child and run your home, that you would know what to embrace and what to say no to, that you would know you’re loved, that peace and overflowing joy would fill your hearts and home.

Celebrating the Season: How We Simply Make it Meaningful

“Christmas is often seen as a season of excess. What it ought to be is a poignant season of remembrance. The point of all the food and song and gifts is not some hedonistic, once-a-year immersion in material over-indulgence. The point is to put flesh and expression to joy. If we lose sight of the Christ child’s coming, if we forget the heavenly joy we are trying to embody, then Christmas can easily become a season of mere excess. But when the incarnation is at its heart, then every song, every special meal, every planned event becomes a pageant in which the drama of the heavenly story is lived out. The Christmas festival becomes a tiny taste of eternity, rising up in time.”
~Sarah Clarkson

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Given the times we live in, it requires true intentionality on our part to make the meaning of Christmas the focus in our homes, to keep Jesus as the heartbeat of our holidays. It is all too easy to be swept up in the culture’s material lust for more, belittling Christmas to nothing more than a time of hustle and bustle and satisfying our wants. I know all too well, as this once was the nature of our Christmases. But as our family grew so did our desire to instill meaning in our holidays, to create traditions that would ground us and deepen our ties as a family, to build growing anticipation in all of our hearts as the celebration of the coming of the Christ child draws near. There are 3 courses of action we take to ensure our season is filled with the hope and joy of Christ. Doing these, we found, have been the key to truly magical Christmases, deposited in each of our hearts.

Simple Traditions

There is something about traditions that knit us as a family. They are rituals that we look forward to fondly and the kids know they can count on; they become part of our family identity and give each member a sense of belonging and pride. This may seem like a long list of traditions, but they are all very do-able. We started our parenting years with only one tradition – just reading the Nativity story on Christmas Eve. Our traditions have slowly increased over the 15 years of parenthood. For young families I recommend adopting one or two new traditions and then growing from there. Please don’t let my list overwhelm you!  I’m all about baby steps.

Over the years I have collected Christmas-themed books (mostly used ones from Half Price and Amazon) that we store in the barn, only to be taken out for this season. Ellie and I wrap each one in dollar store wrapping paper in the days following Thanksgiving. This has become one of our cherished mama-daughter traditions. Then, beginning December 1st the kids take turns opening one each afternoon and we pile on the couch together as I read aloud books that resurrect old memories – the warm and fuzziest kinds. Books that point to Jesus, books that inspire us in the joy of giving, and books that are just plain fun.

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Then in the dark of each evening with only the light glowing from the fire and the twinkling lights of the tree, we gather around and Dan reads a devotional from Ann Voskamp’s, “Unlocking the Greatest Gift.” I highly recommend this devotional, especially created to be read each December evening to build the anticipation of Jesus’ coming and keep our focus on Him. On Christmas Eve over a candlelit dinner, we read the story of Christ’s coming – from the book of Matthew.

When admiring the glow of the lights from our tree, we discuss all the wondrous symbolism there. The tree representing the cross He gave His all on, the lights representing the one true Light, the evergreen tree representing eternal life, and then there’s the fruit and the candy canes and the star on top of it all – a rich illustration. We fill our home with cinnamon and spruce candles burning, choral and instrumental Christmas music, and the aroma of breads and treats baking in hopes of creating memories they will savor for years to come, memories that add to the richness of home and hint at the wonder of the season.

We keep the World Vision catalog out on our coffee table and ask the kids to choose what they would like to give. Sometimes we buy a goat, and other times we take on a child to sponsor from that point on, adding another member to our family in our hearts. This is the most important gift giving we will do and is priority. We talk to the kids about how this is truly giving to Jesus, as it is indeed His birthday.

Cinnamon salt dough ornaments and garland are so simple and satisfying to make. We thoroughly enjoy rolling the dough in our hands while the cinnamon aroma fills the house and using cookie cutters to shape them while ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ or ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ plays their familiar scenes in the background.

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When we travel during the holidays we listen to the audiobook of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol.’ This classic is worth listening to every year, and is written so that it captivates everyone and opens our eyes to see people and Christmas differently.

Another simple tradition of ours (usually done just days before Christmas when the kids are crazy with excitement and could seriously use a job) is to buy a gingerbread house village set and loads of white frosting, already made and ready for fun. Each of our kids are in charge of decorating one of the homes and we set them all on a piece of plywood so that a somewhat spacious neighborhood can be created complete with an ice skating pond, streets, and snowmen.

Endless geometric structures can be built just from toothpicks and green/red gumdrops! I love to sit back and watch the creativity unfold with this one. Dads get into it as much as anyone.

Simple Schedule

In order to have a meaningful Christmas season, and to have the time and energy to do any of the above, we have to be intentional in protecting our schedule. There are so many places we could go and things to see at this time, and if we’re not careful we’re racing all over only to come home frazzled and overwhelmed by all the wrapping and baking that need to be done. In order to simplify, we say yes to only one non-family party, I do almost all of the shopping online, and enlist kids as well as dad to help with the wrapping and baking. If your kids are old enough to help, this is not only more efficient, but are some of our favorite parts of the season as we work alongside each other with Christmas music filling the air.

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“Don’t have guilt over saying no – because every no is saying a better yes.” ~ Ann Voskamp

“Although our culture seems to worship being busy, constant activity will slowly undermine our perspective on life and kill our own souls.” ~Sally Clarkson

Battle of Materialism

Maintaining an atmosphere of giving rather than materialism is a vital component of a Jesus-filled life, and it will likely be carried on throughout the year. Years ago we took our son to the toy stores before Christmas and birthdays, allowing him to hungrily peruse the toy aisles, planning his wish lists. As you can imagine, the lists were ridiculously long. Even though he received more than plenty of gifts, it was difficult for him to be content as other toys he longed for were lingering in the back of his mind. Once we made it a point to stop exposing him to all the things, we had a happier child. Occasionally we allow our kids to browse worthwhile toys, books, kayaks, hiking gear, swings, and board games on certain websites to have a say in what they would prefer, all while monitoring the effects on their hearts and keeping it all in check. But greed takes over when we allow them to peruse the toy catalogs and aisles.

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Over the last couple years my eyes have been opened to the effect that clutter has on all of us. It increases anxiety, brain fog, and is a weight on parent and child alike, whether the child fully realizes it or not. Clutter has become less of a constant battle in our home since I’ve learned much of it is an issue of guarding our children’s hearts as well as our own – it’s more a battle of materialism. This statement hit home with me, “Possessions don’t make you rich. They make you possessive.” Once I personally had the breakthrough of realizing how much heaviness I carried from all the stuff in our home and crammed in our barn (items I thought we needed for optimal living), and donated stuff by the truckloads, I was shocked at the new level of contentment in us all. The kids are surprisingly eager to give to kids who have less once they become aware of how others live. God has placed us as gatekeepers over our homes so that they can be a restful, life-giving haven to all, and as guards over our children’s hearts over what may weigh them down.

Reading books aloud such as “Little House on the Prairie” and looking at the World Vision catalogs regularly have helped them to grasp how much is enough, and even to be turned off at the thought of too much. Regularly sending letters and gifts to the African girl we sponsor helps instill the habit of giving and awareness of others.

This is still a process for us to be sure, but for the most part we are free of the constant lust for more and that is a mighty good feeling. But most of all, we long for the way in which we celebrate to point to Him, to lavish love on Him, to bring a smile.  It is – after all – His birthday.

“So Christmas, for us, was not simply a season of material experience. It was a season of renewal – because ultimately, the point of the Christian faith is that God has come to renew and redeem. The ending of the biblical story is a wedding feast, a Kingdom, a mysterious city with streets of gold and gates of pearl and jeweled foundation stones. This is the reality at which our Christmas celebrations hint. This is the real future we glimpse in the color and beauty, the feasting, laughter, and music of our most marvelous celebrations. Our remembrance is a kind of promise, our spoken hope in all the beauty that is to come. So let the feasting begin!”
~Sarah Clarkson

The Uncluttered Life – How We Live Free From Hurry and Make Room for What Matters

~This article can also be found on http://www.cohesivehome.com – an inspiring community of intentional families ~

We were living the only way we knew. Our schedule was overwhelming. Our 6 year old, Gavin, was in baseball and Tae Kwon Do a couple nights a week, and we often brought our younger kids along. There was also heavy involvement in church activities and many responsibilities we had taken on there. With all of this piled on top of the time Gavin was away at school, there was little time remaining for us to be a family. There was an emptiness in all the busyness, and a hurt in all the hurry.

My husband, Dan, was the first to challenge the way we were living. I recall us arriving home late one school night, his hands full carrying Ellie (lying limp over his shoulder) and my hands full with Gavin’s baseball gear. Gavin was exhausted, walking alongside his father as he held on to him, his head bobbing against Dan’s side. Dan paused, released a troubled sigh, and very seriously said to me, “Why do we feel the need to live like this?” Truth be told, we were drained, but until that moment I assumed that was the only acceptable way to live. A lifestyle free from hurry seemed scandalous. We had felt the worldly obligation to over schedule and rush and had jumped in without questioning it. Life wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was a life in which we were not truly connected as a couple, nor in tune with our children’s hearts, nor grounded with purpose. We were spread a mile wide and felt an inch deep.

When Dan questioned the way we were living, I was reluctant to change initially. There were fears of our kids ‘missing out.’ After much thought and prayer a sense of relief began to wash over me as my eyes were opened to the fact that we were already missing out on what mattered, and that whether we lived in the 21st century or not, we could choose a different path.

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This marked the beginning of a shift in our thoughts and a pivotal change in our lives as we began to disregard the messages of our culture and instead uncover the longings God had placed deep in our hearts. Little did we fathom then that this would eventually lead us to homeschooling, moving 100 miles from the city and everything we knew, buying a little house on 11 acres and adding chickens as well as a milk cow!

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Now we were on the course to simplify our lives and to guard our time. For the first time we dared to dream of a life rich in simplicity, a life that would give our children a strong foundation and tie us together as family. A life lived open enough that we could spontaneously bake a batch of cookies together, venture on wildflower hunts, identify the constellations while lying on the grass, grab our kayaks and head to the lake on a whim, learn to build a barn and our home together, linger long over dinner as we read aloud another chapter, worship alongside each other in our home and our country church, open our home to share hearts with others, create trails on our land for exploring and go cart driving. And by the grace of God, this is our life. A life in which there is time enough for the kids to explore their interests, whether it’s learning to build a magnetic generator and reading all the great books, taking his kayak out on the lake or playing his guitar (Gavin), writing the story of our family since we’ve moved to the country, floating in her kayak, taking painting lessons from her aunt or playing the piano (Ellie), climbing yet another tree, figuring out how to build what’s in his head with his Legos as well as wood, and completing his Wild Explorer Club assignments (Quinn), or all of us out on our land playing around.

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It’s often messy with all this togetherness and we screw up more than I like, but that gives us opportunities to learn to love well and practice forgiveness. Our children’s relationships with each other go deep. They truly enjoy each other as they have ample time and space to do so free from the pull of screens and distractions. There is time and space to hug, create, play, laugh, explore, share hopes, discover passions, thoroughly deal with heart issues, and be. To just be. It’s vital for our soul’s nourishment and growth, but is the most rejected activity today.

Throughout the years we’ve realized that anytime we gravitate toward a busy lifestyle (even recently) we begin to deal with our children as tasks, moving through our days giving them orders and going through the motions of family life. However, when we are living intentionally and slowly, rather than merely dealing with our children, we have found that we truly see them. At those times we have the capacity to hear their hearts and share ours. We’ve also seen a strong correlation between an over-scheduled life and negative, disrespectful attitudes in our children (and us). When our lives are cluttered it can be difficult for me to even recognize that there is an issue in my child’s heart, and even harder to take the time to get to the root of it and address it.

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“It’s easy, given the times we live in and the implicit messages we absorb each day, to equate a good life with having a lot and doing a lot. So it’s also easy to fall into believing that our children, if they are to succeed in life, need to be terrific at everything, and that it’s up to us to make sure they are – to keep them on track through tougher course loads, more activities, more competitive sports, more summer programs. But in all our well-intentioned efforts to do the right thing for our children, we may be failing to provide them with something that is truly essential – the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures.” Katrina Kenison

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We realized in order to maintain this kind of life in our hyper-scheduled world we would need to have a game plan. I personally love to plan and this has often been my downfall, even after we resolved to live simply and drop unnecessary commitments. I have been far too eager to fill up our calendar. This has led to no less than me crumpling under a panic attack, and bickering among the whole family as we race around attempting to keep up.

So the decision was made several years back that before we commit to anything from an extracurricular activity to hosting friends for dinner we are to pray through what we are giving a ‘yes’ to and especially what we are therefore saying no to. We question whether this commitment will be beneficial to the child 10 years from now more than time spent curled up with an inspiring book, or in the quiet schooling of nature, or time spent in lessons from a neighbor or family member. Is it a more valuable use of their time than time with siblings or “the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures,” as Kenison stated. What are the influences in the environment? Do I want to put them in an event to see them perform or to win a medal? Am I longing to see them accomplish something because I wish I had? How will it affect the whole family? Is it more important that they learn to do a back handspring in a gym on a beautiful day, or hike in the outdoors where perspective is renewed, where they are refreshed, and learn to reverence God and grow a respect for all living things?

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Seven years ago after our marriage had taken a devastating turn for the worse, Dan and I developed the habit of praying together each evening after we put the kids to bed (and this has done no less than transform our marriage in amazing and surprising ways). The more we have sought the Lord together, the easier it has become to hear His voice on the matter. Early in our marriage we prayed together occasionally wrapping it up with a quick Amen, but never taking the time to listen. To be still and expectant together. This has turned into my most anticipated part of each day. When we take the time to seek Him, He doesn’t leave us in the dark. And when we turn down a commitment because God is leading us to, we carry freedom rather than guilt. We’ve never regretted a decision we made after seeking God on the matter, but I’ve uttered a thousand ‘thank you’s’ to the Lord for steering us clear of the ‘too much’ I would most certainly have signed us up for otherwise. God has led us to a life that is not void of challenges, but a life in which we can focus on what matters at the end of the day, rich in simplicity and deepening joy.

Our Secret to a Satisfying Marriage

12 years ago was a devastating time in our marriage. (See The Ugly Beautiful (Women’s Retreat Speech) Part 1)  We had taken on too much and the busyness of our lives prevented us from investing in our relationship as we should have. I made one poor ‘small’ decision after another and fell into an emotional and somewhat physical affair. I was drowning in darkness and hopelessness, and knew I couldn’t continue down that path. So I grabbed hold of God’s hand and He walked me through reconciliation with my husband. We were now on the path to our marriage being restored; we woke up to the fact that something had to change or we would continue living as an easy target for the enemy. IMG_0037 We simplified our life dramatically and began to regularly pray together, though in the beginning, ‘regular’ was a couple times a week. Then it became so addicting – seeing prayers answered that we had sought the Lord together on – that we developed the habit of praying together every night. Initially, we shared our hearts with the Lord and wrapped it up with a quick Amen. But soon we decided to also spend time just being still together in the Lord’s presence, wrapped up together under the sheets, listening for the Lord to speak.IMG_0064

This has honestly become my favorite part of our days as we wait expectantly for Him to reveal His heart. We’ve learned to seek God together on everything from how to discipline a child, to what activities we should commit to, to what houses we should flip, to how we should spend our money, to how we can help others. Through this time the Lord has given us clear answers, and at other times we’ve stepped out shaking, a little unsure, but once we’ve stumbled out on the water He is there.  DSC_0036

Through this time together God also led us to minimize screen time dramatically (for us and our children). Up until this time, once we put the kids to bed we would usually sit in front of the TV or work separately online. We found that when we simplified our lives and cut screen time to a small fraction of what it had been, we had ample time and energy to pray together, as well as time to communicate our hearts with each other and read books that grow us. I tell younger couples often that regularly praying and seeking the Lord together knits your hearts together in ways not possible otherwise. Through it God multiplies your love for each other.

We began to flirt with each other as our relationship evolved from one that was dry (as we just focused on the tasks around us) to a playful, intimate relationship in which we truly see each other.  It’s not all champagne and roses, but we live in the mindset that we’re on the same team and are more aware of the concerns, joys, hopes the other possesses.  Together, we’ve been floored at the ways God has revealed Himself, provided for us miraculously, and given us guidance in the details of our lives. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27-28

A Letter to My Son on His 13th Birthday

*With a house full of people gathered for Gavin’s Rite of Passage Blessing Party, I shared my letter to him just after we sang a couple worship songs (Gavin had chosen) around the piano.  Then his father read his letter to him and prayed a blessing over him.  We then presented a gift to Gavin, a leather corded cross necklace with the word ‘Radical’ stamped on the metal cross.  Then family and friends shared things that they see in Gavin and other words of encouragement.  All was recorded so it will be included in a keepsake book for him.  Our pastor then prayed a blessing over Gavin then we concluded with even more feasting and celebration!  Here is my letter:

 

How clearly I remember the sweet smell of your velvety newborn skin, your chubby 2 yr old hand in mine,  and here you are, almost my height and far beyond me in your knowledge of technology and science!

What a treasure God has placed in our hands. What an indescribable gift it has been to be your mom. Joy unspeakable.

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Your fierce love of God has not faltered. May it only increase in you. Your natural confidence, the way you can make anyone laugh and become anyone’s friend – these are gifts God has placed in you to touch the world.

You were 3 and I found you down the aisle from me chatting with an older gentleman about the weather in your very adult way, bringing a large grin to his face. Old or young, you have a gift of connecting with people.

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Don’t forget- it is through your hands and words that God wants to embrace the lost and wounded.

I pray that you will know the presence of God full well and live in it. Then joy will be your language and His intense, never-stopping love your drug. His love that runs hard after you, that will hunt you down.

Know this. His love is the most powerful and satisfying drug of all.

I pray that God will right now give you a deeper revelation of His love for you and that it will wash you to your innermost being.

When you regularly ingest the love He has for you, you will look for nothing else to satisfy. Not food or drink or friends or fame or money. You will know and feel that you already have far more than you need and it will overflow into the lives around you.

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May God deepen your love for others. I pray that you will be one who truly sees people, that you will go out of your way to help, to speak words that heal into others.

May His love be the driving force in your life and be the one thing everyone will experience while in your presence.

His love already shines in your eyes. Times when I have begun to doubt the depth of God’s love for me I often see it there. Right there in those kind green eyes of yours. A bright life-giving spark that goes right to my core. Just as it is in your sister’s heartfelt embraces and your brother’s laugh.

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I have failed at this parenting gig multiple times. Thank you for being quick to forgive, for regularly patting me on the back and surprising me with a shoulder massage, for your thoughtful ways.

How I cherish our walks and bike rides we’ve taken together. Thank you for sharing your heart with me, your concerns and loves. I pray that our relationship only grows deeper as it evolves with time. Through your teen years may there be even more laughter, more games played together, more campouts and hikes that awaken our souls.

God, help me to wake up to the gift of the here and now – these 13 years have flown by and I desperately don’t want to waste a second more. I pray that I won’t live another day with my to do list at the forefront of my mind, ignoring the precious souls right in front of me.

Remind me daily to connect with them, to sometimes leave dishes in the sink for a walk with my firstborn in the woods. To ignore the ringing phone and play Stratego with him. To share hearts and tears and belly laughter over a plate of cookies and let the emails wait. To truly listen. Help me to abandon all that is pulling at me and run wild with them in a game of hide and seek before I wake up and realize it’s too late.

Gavin, continue to expect me (from time to time) to just stare at you, as I soak up the gift of you. Expect that I will continue to squeeze you and not let go, and to share the things with you I feel so passionate about.

Thank you – for accepting that we do things differently in our family. Thank you for not being bitter, but respectful and supportive of the guidelines God has given us. You are aware that the amount of time we spend in front of the glare of screens is but a tiny fraction of the time others do. And we are incredibly thankful that you see the reasons we choose other activities over screens, as well as over hyper scheduling our lives.

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We want you to live a life that is balanced well and focused on what is important. We love how you already see it is a life that is rich.  As Ann Voskamp said in regards to all the books her family had read, “I will never regret every page we chose over screens.”

Live with eyes wide open and allow your soul to be touched by the little things. Because there really are no little things. Painted sunsets, the flight of a hawk, the roar of a jet, an embrace from your brother, the twinkle in the eyes of an old man. They are His messages of love to you. I pray that you will never miss them.

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“The sum of how you see the ordinary is what makes an extraordinary life,” Ann Voskamp says. I have no doubt.

Rebel against low expectations of the teen years. Your teen years are not a time for irresponsibility, but a time of training. A time of strengthening your self control and deepening your character. A time to be stretched so you will grow. A time to practice being alert to the voice of God and responding.

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Take this seriously. “What you will become later in life largely depends on what you become now.” This quote from the book you are reading now, “Do Hard Things,” is a fact.

These years will be the foundation for the rest of your life.

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The habits you develop now will be carried into the future. Guard your thoughts especially. Be aware of the enemy’s traps. Nothing is worth opening a door and letting evil take root.

Remember who you are in Christ. He has already approved of you. You have nothing to prove to anyone.

I pray that transforming your worries into prayers will be your unforced rhythm.

I pray, and always will, that God will be what you crave most and His voice will be what you are tuned into.

Never doubt that God is for you, that He is calling you to be a world changer.

God has placed strength within you and you have stood for what is right when it was hard. Continue to do so.

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May you be bold, and radical enough to never let the culture define how you will live. Because God will be leading you down a different path – yes often even different from what is the Christian norm. Stay alert to His voice. He is the only One you need to please. His leading and love is your greatest gift.

Don’t allow your mistakes to get you down. As long as you’re on this side of heaven you will make them. You can be so hard on yourself, like your mama.  Embrace His mercy and move on.  Swim in His grace.

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‘So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.’

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‘Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.’

Do I Dare Hope?

It is sometimes difficult to believe it ourselves.  But a gift has been promised to us from God, one that Dan and I have prayed for 5 long years now, to come this Spring.

There’s been countless tear-stained prayers uttered from my lips for this.  I’ve seen this gift given to others around me and have had to swallow the bittersweet, truly joyful for them while my ache deepened.  The vastly empty ache, the disappointments, the losses.

Then, January 17th, we are listening.  And Dan can hardly swallow what he hears.  God speaks clearly and boldly.  This Spring.

I gasp.  Then tears of relief flow as His love wraps around me.

We had come so close.  Up to the edge of letting go of hope.

Over the next several days I (at that point overflowing with hope) contact many close friends and family, sharing the promise with them.  How sweet it’s been to have friends praying and hoping alongside us.

Trusting in God’s timing is possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever practiced.  I was going to say ‘hardest thing I’ve ever learned, but that would imply I have become more proficient in this dance of trusting than I truly have.   How I love to rest in knowing God’s got this, but I have faltered often.

When I let go of how I believe it should be, and rest in His plan, oh the freedom, the calm that envelops me.

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How do you believe a promise when the circumstances shout the opposite to be true?

I look back.  And I don’t have to look far..  when I had the fear-inducing pain in my appendix region for weeks and we prayed and God told Dan it would continue until Saturday night (it was Thursday) and then stop.  That I wouldn’t need to go to the doctor.  Then that’s exactly what happened.

When Gavin’s leg was injured and he couldn’t walk for weeks, all signs pointed toward a fracture but God was whispering that he was fine.  That just so happened to be during the month his insurance lapsed.  So we desperately prayed about what to do.  He continued to tell Dan that his leg would recover, that there was no need to see a doctor.  Weeks more and he could still hardly walk on it.  Others told us we were putting his leg at risk.  We finally took him just to get an x-ray at the chiropractor and sure enough, the bone was fine.  Another week went by and his leg was completely healed.  And we felt relief as we never had before.

Even our house reminds me.  It was the house and land we longed for, and God had told Dan it was going to be ours.  But there was a contract on it already, and it was hopeless according to the realtor.  She tried to no avail to interest us in other houses.  Then Dan boldly told her (with the nudging of his wife) that we needed to relentlessly pursue this house as God said it’s the one for us!  So (with a big sigh, no doubt) she looked deeper into it.  After a couple months of drama, and for the most part things appearing against us purchasing the house, we signed the papers on what happened to be my 32nd birthday.

Then there was the time God told Dan he was going to be chosen for the principal position at his school mere weeks before he was promoted, though he was less experienced than others.

And since the very 1st of this year I’ve heard it whispered to me repeatedly, “This is the year of change.”

So here we are again.  The time is drawing near.  Do we dare believe it?

Today the circumstances don’t look good.  5 years we’ve been praying for this.

But God speaks.  And that is more than all we see.  That is more than we feel.  It is everything.

 

The Ugly Beautiful (Speech for Women’s Retreat) Part 2

So how has this worked out for us, this trusting in God?

Well, we had lived in the city of Fort Worth all our lives, but we long for the country.  It’s a dream we believe that, like many others in the city who wish for the same, will never come true.  Both Dan and I have aunts who live out in the country and have many acres to play and explore on.  When we are growing up we are never happier than when we are there.  I walk down that long gravel driveway, the crackle of the gravel underfoot, with towering pine trees rising up along one side and a cow pasture on the other, nothing but scenes of nature all around, a reflection of the tall pines in the pond, the gentle moo of the cows,  the large garden with its plump red tomatoes rising up, my aunt hanging clothes out on the line and the white sheets swaying with the breeze, my uncle always in his cowboy attire with his thick tanned skin, my aunt’s hard working hands…  Growing up, I never feel more at home than I do there.

We don’t understand then that these dreams deep down inside us, the dreams that we rarely entertain because they seem unattainable, far beyond anything we believe we can ever grasp…   These dreams are planted inside us by none other than Almighty God. I don’t understand that the longing of our hearts is none other than God’s plan for our lives.

So we push the dreams aside, calling them foolish and unlikely if not impossible.

Then, some of our friends boldly move out to the country, 100 miles away.   We go to visit them, not expecting anything more to come of it.

But then.  We start to jokingly toss around the idea of moving out there.  We laugh at the foolishness of it.  However we soon realize that when we dwell on it there is a joy, a peace, an excitement that is lacking when we think of staying in Fort Worth.  As we began to pray about it we find God is most certainly in it.  We laugh at the craziness and wonder of it all.  We know we are embarking on the adventure of our lives.

We visit Cottonwood Church and know it’s home, and I’m at peace knowing a church family awaits.

Then begins the longest 7 months of our lives as Dan searches tirelessly for a job out in the country.   I remember that May of 2010 walking across my bedroom with a feeling of discouragement all over me.  Clearer than I have ever heard God up to that point, He says, “You won’t be here long.”  I know I have heard the voice of God and the discouragement melts away.  Hope fills its place.

Within that month Dan is offered a job at the school he has loved most from the beginning of the job search, but it is only as a teacher’s aide.  This is a pay cut for us for sure, but God is saying this is the way.  I’m sure many people think we are crazy to pack up and go for such a job.  So we move in a mobile home on our friend’s land and live off of faith.

It is a sweet time of growing in trust in the Lord at a rather rapid pace.  We know God is calling me to homeschool, something just a couple years before I thought I would never do, but turns out to be something I can’t imagine living without.

We know God has brought us here and He will provide.  And He does.  Money shows up in the mailbox, and is given to us anonymously at church several times.  It is the happiest year of our lives up to that point.  And we are far far below the poverty level, but as God is the One who provides for us and not Dan’s job, we have more than enough.

The following school year he is promoted to a teaching position that has opened up.  Just before he is to begin, Dan comes across a home for sale online, a home on 11 beautiful wooded acres.  I think he’s crazy and believe there’s no way we can be approved for it.  We find that we cannot get this place out of our minds even though we’ve never seen it.  We head out on a walk, asking God that if it’s not the place for us that He will help us to let go of it.  Dan hears the Lord clearly say to Him that it is the place He has reserved for us.  Dan even struggles to believe this.  Tears come to my eyes because I know it’s ours and am overwhelmed with God’s goodness.

Then we find out there’s a contract on this place, and our realtor (believing it foolish to pursue that land) continues to send us pictures of other homes for sale.  We are not interested!  Dan tells her boldly (after some encouragement from me ;)) that God has told us this place is ours!  So finally she digs deeper into it.

Things appear hopeless for several months, but long story short, God moves and the place is finally ours.  And the day we sign the papers just happens to be on my 31st birthday.

The following year, after just one year as teacher, Dan is promoted to Principal, and still is today.  Yes, this guy who dropped out of high school as early as he could, spent years on drugs, and finally came to the Lord at 19.

God delivers.

So now we have more than we dreamed possible.  All while I am at home with my family, doing something that is more fulfilling and more full of purpose than I ever conceived.

God is the One who births dreams and so He provides a way.

He transforms marriages, delivers us from ourselves and the pressures of the world, and is the author of dreams.

Are there longings buried deep inside you because of unbelief or because you’ve listened to the world rather than God?  I believe God wants you to revisit those dreams, to talk to Him about them, to give them over to Him and trust that He will do amazing things, beyond what you can imagine.

Does your marriage need new life or to be raised from the dead?  God’s in that business too.

Is it time that you shut out the voices of the world, and bask in the freedom that comes when you listen only to God?

It requires intentional living to tune out the voices.  Everywhere we look we are told we are not enough.  Not thin enough, not smart or educated enough, not successful enough, not sexy or beautiful enough, not spiritual enough, not a good enough mom, our home is not pretty enough.

Ann says, “It’s the same lie from the very first ever told.  That one back in the garden.  The serpent spoke.  And she listened.  God is withholding from you.  You are not enough.”

These pressures will rob your peace, joy if you listen to them.  You forget who you are in God and cannot come close to freely loving Him and loving who He created you to be.

But when you begin to abide in God, delight in Him, you will hear God..  truth sinks in and freeing peace with it.

Henri Nouwen sums it up well:

“I have called you by name, from the very beginning.  You are mine and I am yours.  You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.  I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb.  I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace.  I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child.  I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.  Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch.  I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst.  I will not hide my face from you.  You know me as your own as I know you as my own.  You belong to me.  I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, and your spouse… yes, even your child… wherever you are I will be.  Nothing will ever separate us.  We are one.”

Let’s pray.

God I ask that this will sink in deep with each of these women.  That they ARE enough.  That you accept them and adore them and love them infinitely RIGHT WHERE THEY’RE AT.  Not just in the future when they’ve rid themselves of bad habits, not once they feel they are spiritual enough, not when they become more loving, but NOW.  Thank you that you take us by the hand wherever we are and love on us to our very core.  And You gently guide us.

I ask that you will open every woman’s eyes here.  That you will show us any areas of our lives in which we are listening to the world rather than your all knowing, all powerful, always loving voice.

Open our ears that we may only hear You, and change our hearts until Your voice is the only one that matters.

Amen.

The Ugly Beautiful (Women’s Retreat Speech) Part 1

The main longing God had placed in my heart from my earliest days is to be a mom.  To nurture, love, and train young souls to love God and rise to His calling.  I always loved the idea of teaching, but never felt God was leading me to necessarily be a school teacher.  Growing up, there is no paid occupation that I can muster the least bit of interest in.

As I grow the voices come at me from every angle..  in school, TV, magazines, movies, and yes even people from church.  ‘To be a mom is not good enough.  You must go to college and get a degree you can be proud of first and foremost.  Then a career.  At that point you can start thinking about marriage.  Once you’re settled and you’re both making plenty of money, only then do you start a family.  But don’t let that family get in the way of your career.  Oh no.  Because to be ‘just a mom’ is not good enough.”

I want to be accepted and admired more than anything growing up.  So early on I get the message: to become what my heart truly longs for is not acceptable.  I am constantly told to hold on to my dreams, but it is clear that this means only as long as they involve a money-making career.

I don’t realize that my longing to please people is choking the very life out of the dreams God has placed inside me.

I am instead learning that my hopes for the future are unacceptable and must be suppressed.  And as I push them away, part of me dies.  The deep down joy I know as a child is lost and I don’t look forward to the future. at. all.  I know I don’t fit into any of the career boxes.  So I only look at the future with dread.  And this begins when I am 10.

This makes it difficult for me to draw near to God because I feel He is calling me to do things I will find no happiness in.  Trusting God with my life sure seems unattainable and rather scary.

If only I could have heard then that a mother is the shaper of souls.  That there is no higher calling.

Sally Clarkson, who has written many books on motherhood and parenting and who is my mentor, says this:

“For thousands of years the view of motherhood described in the Bible was generally respected in western culture.  Motherhood was seen as a noble and important calling.  Women considered themselves blessed to have many children, and it was considered normal and good for home and family to be the central focus of a woman’s life.  The office of ‘mother’ was respected and revered, and it was generally assumed that entire generations were shaped during the time they spend at the mother’s knee.

Now it has become a lifestyle option – and to many a lesser option – rather than a divine calling.

Friends and teachers had encouraged me to do something important with my life, which meant choosing a career and a type of work that would make the best use of my talents and personality.  I could marry and have children if I wanted but not at the expense of fulfilling my potential.  Even many of my Christian friends and mentors managed to convey that being ‘just a wife and mother’ would somehow be less than God’s best for me.

God designed motherhood to be a deeply meaningful role.  We have the opportunity to influence eternity by building a spiritual legacy in the lives of our children.   Through our teaching and influence, morality can be learned and modeled, love and kindness are taught and received, purpose and vision for their lives are ignited and passed on if the mother’s relationships with her children are strong.”

Such truth.  How I love Sally and wish I had her books when I first became a mama.

As we walk through life with our kids each day, sharing our hearts and hearing theirs, sharing in good books and good food, playing and learning together, seeking and serving God together, we are molding these eternal souls who are learning the goodness and love of God and who are being filled with His love.

Raising these souls will impact the world.  When the time comes they will be shapers of souls as well.

A month after I graduate from high school I am in breathtaking Northern Ireland on a missions trip.  And this is where I meet him for the first time though we are a part of the same missions team from TX.  This guy pursues me, this guy who boldly shares his testimony on the streets there, this guy with the big brown eyes that fully captivate me and leave me breathless.

3 weeks after we meet, we both feel our relationship will be forever.  We make a forever commitment to each other.  We don’t see it so much as a boyfriend/girlfriend thing, but we see our relationship as one preparing for marriage.

So a year later on the bright green coast of Northern Ireland, towering high over the rocky blue waters below, we cross a rickety rope bridge to a small island.  Dan bends his knee and asks me to be his wife, with dear friends surrounding us.

A year later, and 2 years to the date of committing to a relationship with each other, on August 5, 2000, we nervously exchange promises and rings.  I am not nervous because I doubt if Dan is the right one, but because my head is filled with shame as we are getting married before our culture deems it proper.  a.k.a. before we finish college, and certainly before we have money-making careers.  I feel I am failing in some way.   But now, looking back, I know we were married at the right time.

6 months later I am pregnant.  I thought we had taken the proper precautions to prevent that.  I struggle with an opposing mix of utter joy and devastation.  The world is saying my life is over.  I am breaking the cardinal rule, having a baby before we have finished college and have plenty of money rolling in.  What should have been one of the most joyous times of our lives is drenched in grief.

Then we begin to hear God.  He gently says, “I’m in this.  You are blessed.  It’s going to be alright.”  And we try to believe it.

The world is calling us irresponsible.  God is calling us blessed.

I know the Scripture.  I know God calls children a gift and that nothing is created apart from His will.  I know of His promises to provide, and His promises to provide don’t depend on if you stay within the acceptable 2 kids limit, nor do they depend on college degrees.  But even the Christian world is telling me something different.

Once Gavin comes, my blue eyed, chunky, perfect Gerber baby, I am smitten.  The role of motherhood seems a perfect fit for me and I soak up every minute, kissing those cheeks, tickling those baby rolls.  Yet I still have the shadow of how the world perceives me gnawing at me.

I go back to school.  Before long my world is caught up in making all A’s, even being the top of the class, and all the recognition that goes along with that.  My ego is being fed.  And my family is taking a backseat.

During this busy season in which we are both in school, with each of us working as well, we put our marriage on the back burner, each believing the other will understand.  We each think we can just pick our marriage back up when we have more time.  We fall for another one of Satan’s lies.

We don’t know then that we are giving our marriage a death sentence.  And die it did.

This is a lonely time.  The little time Dan and I have to be together is spent with us studying in different corners of the house.  We and I are not connecting.  My heart aches that I don’t get to spend the time with my toddler that I long to.

But this pressure rages on inside, the pressure to do it all.   The pressure to be everything but what I truly want to be.

My days at school are long.  I make a friend who is there the same hours I am in the business building.  He is seven years older, hard working, mature, makes pretty perfect grades.  We have much in common (but not necessarily those things) and enjoy each others company.  In Business Calculus whatever I am struggling with, he excels in, and I do well in the portion he doesn’t understand.  So we begin meeting together to study.  It makes sense, but is one bad decision that seems innocent and small enough at the time.  Satan set it up well.

Before long he is the one I am connecting to and sharing life with instead of my husband.  Over time this becomes an emotional affair.  This guy is truly genuine.  He speaks to me in a way that makes me swoon, all the right words.  At all the right moments.  And says them with such depth.

I recall lingering in his car with him one time.  I am looking out the window, then when I turn back toward him he is gazing at me and says, “Damn, you’re beautiful.”  He holds the weight of me with these words and I melt.

He makes me feel like a goddess.

Being with him gives me such an adrenaline high.  I am addicted.  And my ego is thriving.

During this time I feel no attraction toward Dan.  I think even God can’t fix it.

I am torn.  There is a war waging inside of me between this addiction, this lust, and God’s hold on me.

I have already listened to the world so much that it is natural now and I continue to.  I listen to the world say I haven’t experienced enough.  I was a virgin when I married my first boyfriend.  The world is saying I missed out on something.

There is a battle in me between these thoughts and what I know to be true.

And now my relationship with this guy is deepening and becoming physical.  We make out in the elevator and in the car after school.  But I am surprised to learn that the more I am with him the emptier I feel.  This lust can’t be quenched, can not come close to being satisfied.

I eventually find myself in bed with him, but I can never go through with it.  God has me.  And even though parts of me want to helplessly give in to the temptation and not give a rip, for the most part I am screaming internally.

I know I can’t continue to live like this, with all the inner turmoil, without God and my family as priorities.

I know enough of God’s character by now to know He is waiting with open arms.  And I am ready to run toward them.

I miss who Dan and I once were.  I hope God will restore our marriage, that He will raise it from the dead, but I have a difficult time believing it possible.

Finally, I open up to Dan about it all.  I know this is the only way to the healing.  Heartbroken, anguished, but still full of love for me, he forgives.   And I am overwhelmed by his goodness and his rich love for me that I have missed.  All because of the lies I have listened to.

Dan sees how he has neglected ‘us.’  I know I have done the same.  We have ignored the red flags.

We work to pick up the broken pieces of our relationship and start over.  This time with new vigor, being all too aware of the fragility of marriage, and knowing it’s something we have to fiercely protect.

I have 2 early miscarriages at this time, within 4 months.  As we grieve God knits our hearts together afresh.

During this time I learn that the sacrificial, unconditional love of my husband may not always bring on that adrenaline high, but is deeper, more satisfying, and far sexier than anything the world has to offer.

I learn that lust, the lust to be admired, the lust for that next adrenaline high, is nothing but a black hole that is never satisfied.  It sucks you in deeper and deeper but produces nothing but darkness and emptiness.

I continue on in school but at a different campus.  God gives us our daughter, Ellie.  Quite a gift.  I have never been happier, with 2 precious kids and long to be with them.  But this pressure inside rages on and I feel I must forge on in school.

By this time I am in the senior level operations management business classes.  These classes require far more than I have peace about giving.   Challenging case presentations.  I can’t do this and be the mom I know I need to be.

For the first time in my life I began having chest pains continually.  I end up in the ER.  I try to control the stress but the pain continues.

Dan and I venture out on a long walk together and I share with him how I’m trying to figure out what to do with these struggles, this unhappiness.  He simply says, “What if it isn’t God’s will for you to finish school right now, or ever?”

Not God’s will!  The thought had never occurred to me.  I have always heard it from Christians..  so I have figured it is from God, it was always implied that you get.a.degree.  This is what our world puts their faith in.  No one ever said to seek the Lord on the matter.

But in that very moment I know.  And I see clearly for the first time in my life.  In this moment God’s peace floods me and I hear Him say, “I’m not in that.  Not in that pressure to finish school, that heavy weight like chains all over you, this way of life that robs your joy and keeps you from your family.  My promises to provide for you are not based on you acquiring a degree.   The longing to be with your kids and the vision you have of the mother you want to be is there because I placed it inside you.”

An indescribable peace washes over me and I am released from this people-pleasing bondage I have lived in far too long.

I am set free.

Set free from the weight of it all, this hunger to be accepted by others and the fear of what will happen if I am not, set free from my dim view of God and what He is calling me to.

And in that moment I am aware that I have made pleasing and impressing people my god.   I have longed for the world to validate me and it has blinded me.  Blinded me from a life that is not easy, but rich and full of joy.  It blocked me from an intimate, trusting relationship with God as I thought He was calling me to that which every fiber of my being found miserable.

So I stop in the middle of the road with Dan, tears in the sunshine, and there’s this sweet release.  These chains all over me – this heaviness from trying to please others – is lifted.  Gone!   And I no longer give a rip what others think about our choices.  Only what God says.

I am delivered.

I know God’s holding my hand and leading me down the path I had dreamed of all along.  And I fall in love with Him all over again; joy is now attainable and a reality.

It is the sweetest surrender.  I feel light as a feather and as though God and I are dancing together, rejoicing together.

So Dan and I embark on this life long journey, going against the flow of our culture.  Little do we know at this point that this will affect all areas of our lives, that He will lead us to something radically different even from what we often see as the Christian norm.

Freedom comes when you listen to God’s voice and tune out all the others.  As well as a rich life.

And at this point in our lives we are set free.

Romans 12:1b-2 says,

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

I spent so much of my life looking for approval, not understanding that Jesus had already accepted me.

Ann Voskamp says,

“What if the beautiful reality of His extravagant, lavish, ardent, complete acceptance became your everyday reality?

What if your complete acceptability became your complete identity?

We need to learn to live loved.  This frees us into the art of life.

When identity is not drawn from a performance- but drawn toward a Person, the Person of Jesus- this is the place where a life makes music.  If your performance is fueled by your need for acceptance, this is what BURNS your life OUT.

But when His already acceptance is the very fuel of your performance – this is what ignites a life into pure glory.

An erupting relief of grateful joy moves you to dance, knowing the completeness of your acceptance.”

We need to allow this to sink in, how completely He loves and accepts us now.  Not when we’re spiritual enough, not once we’ve rid ourselves of our bad habits,  but NOW!

When we surrender fully we are met with a life sweeter, more satisfying and fulfilling than we ever dreamed possible.

Because it is the life He has created us for.

Scandalous

I’m sitting here stroking the letters on my laptop, knowing what my heart longs to share, praying for this message to be translated properly into words.

Because what I long to say isn’t easy to share.  It even feels downright scandalous today.

But isn’t that as it should be?  God calls us to that which registers as scandalously radical to the world.  The path is not an easy one for people pleasers like me.

I did the responsible thing.  With plenty of time before the deadline, I registered our Elizabeth for ballet.  Because I heard it often from other mamas there and saw it myself, how talented she is.  A natural little ballerina.  A natural grace about her that has always been.  We looked forward to watching her perform in recitals over the years as her grace and ability matured.

When making such decisions I feel as though the weight of the world is on me as many mamas do, thinking of all the future implications of either adding an activity to a child’s schedule or withholding.  I don’t want her to miss out on one thing God has for her.  The mere thought of it is suffocating.

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Nor do I buy the lie that a full schedule makes a complete life, though I did once.  This hurrying around from one activity to another, this busyness has become a sort of idol today.  We say it is for our kids and often believe it’s for their good, but as Ann Voskamp says, “the hurry hurts the kids.  All our rushing ends in nothing.”

I’ve made the mistake plenty of times.  I see the extracurricular activities as good (and they often are) and so I’ve signed up, without giving thought to what it will cost our family, without seeking the Lord’s will.  Sometimes we need to say no to that which is good so we can say yes to something so much better.

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Why are we afraid?  Afraid to live slow enough so that there’s time for kids to be bored and imaginations to flow, time for us to have heart talks over a random baking session, time to gaze curiously at the path of the beetle, time for mud pies and long books read by that sunny window, time to knit and build a fort, time to soar like the wind on our bikes, time to snuggle up under the stars and discuss the greatness of God, time to pray together, time to laugh, time to love.

It almost feels scandalous.

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“To make the time to love because what else in the world is time for?”  ~Ann

Those who live simply live richly.

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I felt God’s gentle tug to pray this through.  Dan and I had talked about it.  How we knew God was calling us to run from assuming, from blindly swimming along with the flow, and to seek His will in these decisions.

To hear His heart before committing.  Then surrender.  Then bask in the freedom it brings.  Oh the peace!

We crawl into bed, hands held tight, once again praying and waiting for a response.  My mind flutters around from one distraction to another as minutes pass.  Then I study Dan’s face, as I often do at these moments, trying to discern if He is hearing anything.  I detect a curve at the edge of his mouth and he looks at me knowing what I’m up to.   I know by the light in his eyes that He has seen or heard something.  And I bite my lip, eagerly awaiting as a child at Christmas.

He saw a large thriving tree.  Then he saw someone mercilessly chopping it down.  He had wondered why, asking God to interpret.  Then he heard the Lord say that for Ellie to attend ballet last year was good and healthy.  She learned far more than just ballet, and was stretched in many ways.  And if that ‘tree’ is taken down now it can be used in building upon.   A healthy thing.  But if that tree is to remain then it would begin to deteriorate, to rot.

The answer is clear.  To remain in ballet would not be what is best.  We don’t know why nor do we need to.

We smile.  Tears fill our eyes as we’re not only grateful for an answer, but we’re touched.  Touched that this God who stretches out the universe has once again answered one of our seemingly insignificant questions as we’ve sought Him together.  Touched that He loves our little girl more than we ever could, sees the beginning from the end and knows how it will affect her heart.  The peace floods us both and we rest in God’s guidance, falling in love with God all over again.

How thankful we are that God is not some distant being, leaving us on our own to make these decisions.  No, He is this ever present lover of our souls who knows the number of hairs on our head and is always at work within us.

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“Sometimes doing the most important thing eternally – doesn’t look like you are doing anything noticeably.” – Ann

It’s another Saturday and like most Saturdays, we’re all here together, playing and working alongside each other.  There’s a breeze rustling the tall shady oak trees and I hear her laugh as she swings, tossing her golden head back and flying forward.  Joy that cannot be contained as we smile wide and our spirits soar.

And there’s this satisfaction that dives right into the deep places in which I’ve desperately needed his peace.  And this peace flows and I can’t wipe the smile off.  Peace because we have this ever present God who guides those who seek Him.  And I can rest knowing we’re doing what’s best for her, because we don’t want her to miss out on one thing God has for her.

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“In quietness and rest shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

“Simple living anchors a child’s soul and prepares the heart to know God.” ~ Sally Clarkson (and you thought it would be Ann)  🙂

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disclaimer:  Please understand that I’m not saying all extracurricular activities should be avoided.  We have our son in fencing as well as all kids in Choir and AWANA on Wednesday nights.  However, I do believe we should seek God’s guidance rather than just jumping in.  There, living intentionally, we will find peace and meaning.