Monday, November 30, 2015

How To Have the Best Christmas Ever + Some Links for Extra Reading

I am of the tribe of Jacob.
I'm a doubter, a trickster, a liar, and one who wrestles with God.
And yet, He loves me still.

I'm frail;
I fail;
I flail;
I fall.
Still, God's matchless grace keeps hunting me down, chasing after me, letting me grapple and fight with Him until I learn that I am nothing and He is everything.

Like Jacob, I'm not quick to remember all God's goodness to me. And like Jacob, fear is often my default mode. The solution to my Jacob-like wonderings?
I must choose to think truth.

Now we come to the time of year when lies can drown out the truth that could be filling our days.
Cries for "more" and "louder" and "faster" diminish the important words like "enough" and "quieter" and "slower."
Opportunities to dwell on Christ can be found in each glimmering star and each carefully wrapped package if our eyes are open to see them.

As a family, we've chosen to fill this season with traditions that point us to Jesus, stringing each one like a glowing light on our garland of December days.
We go as a family to the school where John teaches every Wednesday morning and share the real Christmas story with them.

We read Jesse's story, and watch the root grow out of a stump day by day.

We share the best story with our Bible club children and our Sunday school friends.

We bake lots of cookies for those we love, and fill our minds with the best stories of Christmas.

We make gifts for each other, and try to choose the presents we buy with much thought.

We make our Christmas hut to remind us that Mary and Joseph needed a place to stay.

We join with our brothers and sisters in Christ and share our common food and play together.

And I have days when I forget the reason we are doing all of these things, and I make poor choices, and I sin.
Though like Jacob I may "walk" with a bit of a limp, I rise, knowing I've seen the face of God.   

* So December is a quiet month around here, but I thought I'd leave you with a few things to read, if you're interested. If you wish, take the time to read the links throughout this post. They are a reflection of how we try to honor Jesus at our house and in our church and community each year. Maybe something to inspire you for the future?
I also wanted to link to some things that have been a great blessing to our family ~
   1. Kari over at Stone Soup For Five has just released a Doodle Study on the Promises of Christmas.
I'm looking forward to doing this starting December 1.
   2. A simply amazing piece of writing about Feasting as an Act of War. Perfect for these Holy-Days!
   3. If you are a fan of C.S. Lewis, you will love these Youtube videos of his original radio recordings of Mere Christianity with doodles added for understanding.
   4. And one for the missionary friends ~ a travel tree!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

For the Days When You're Tempted to Choose Fear Over Faith: What God Really Wants of Us in Troubled Times

This world has been flooded, overwhelmed, virtually drowning in fear for some time now.
It seems each dawn brings a new wave of foaming, crashing terror down on the heads of anyone who dares to turn on the news.
I have lived like that.
I've had days when I was scared to leave the house, and nights I've laid in bed rigid and stiff, refusing to sleep lest the noises morph into nightmares.
When I was a child, it was the fear of the pine tree crashing through my bedroom during a storm, and as an adult it has been the fear of a thief breaking down doors to steal those things most precious to me.
There are times I've shut myself into the bathroom and huddled on the floor crying, scared of myself, my unbelief, my sinful soul.
I can't count the number of days, months I've lost the battle against one of the Evil One's greatest weapons.
And I refuse to live that way anymore.
Though I cannot recall the day or the circumstances, I do remember the moment I understood that the opposite of faith was not doubt, but fear.
And when that truth dawned in my heart, it shed light on so many other areas I was continually falling in, failing to see my fear for what it was -- sin.
But without faith it is impossible to please him, and every time I let fear grip my heart, I was no longer living in faith.

When God called us to Ghana, He gave us a promise, and part of it was a command to fear not, and though I've often broken that command, He has never broken His promise to me.
As a family, we've chosen to take hold of this truth to fear not, and we wrestle with it, and work at it, and train it into our children's minds, and preach it to ourselves, and get back up when we fail, because there is NO reason to ever live in fear when God is our Father.
He's working and moving and turning every evil thing into something good, and I cannot understand Him, but I can trust Him.

As this truth grows in our hearts and minds, and our eyes are opened wider and our vision becomes clearer we can see God in this world, and His goodness surrounding and yes, His hand protecting us from all this evil world could be, but is not.
I see His faithfulness in the sun rising and setting on the just and the unjust.

I catch glimpses of His glory filling even the quiet, dusty corners with golden light.

 I see His countless gifts to us as I clean up our dishes after eating the food they contained to nourish our bodies.

And we daily count the blessings of toys our hands can play with, and living books that light a fire in our souls, and a shining moon in the sky to fill the dark with the light, and the tiny spider weaving it's silvery web just because God wanted him to.

And we build castles in the air and lots on our tables, too, and we try to gather up these fleeting moments as a second by second reminder of just how good God is to let us live this life.
A friend brings a gift from the village, and a tree forms food for the plucking, and we take paintbrush in hand to copy the masters whose skills God bestowed on men so they could in turn fill the world with just a bit more beauty.

We see God's goodness in the life of a new baby, the soft creaminess of her new skin, and the hope that every baby is born with: that she will grow to someday be a child of God.

We find plants that not only give joy to the eyes, but also health to the body, and we listen as the birds chirp their sweet songs of praise to God, and we take the torn and worn and and refashion them into a day of enjoyment, and all because God is good and He can be trusted and faith is a choice I must make daily.

We live in a shadowland, and none of these things are clear pictures of all God is, and there are days when it seems so dark that the sun might be snuffed right out, but the bounty that surrounds us is a faint image of all the beauty God is, and can't we find gladness in longing for all he is preparing for us someday?
So we fight the fear with faith, and we open our eyes to the gifts that surround us, and we trust Him in the good He is doing, and we walk by faith not by sight, and we let the truth of Who He Is wash over us, drenching us in His everlasting love.

Friday, November 20, 2015

For the Days When You Can't Seem to Remember What You MUST Remember....

I twist it thrice around my wrist simple links of brass, bird, beads, and nest.
It's been a while since I've worn this piece of jewelry.
This slight weight used to rest reassuringly on my collar bone, just enough to know it was there, but the constant rubbing of metal on the hot, sweaty back of my neck forced me to set it aside for awhile.
Wound around the wrist is the best place to wear this bit of ornamentation that's really more.
It's not a matter of looks or "a look", rather something to make me stop and look:
to remember to open my eyes to the small, the insignificant, the lessons He has for me today.
I feel a bit like a Jew with phylacteries tied round me, but maybe it will work.....
maybe it will help me to remember?
I wonder.

I read my Bible first thing in the morning; I write; I pray.
It's good, and it's spirit-nourishing, but give it a few hours of cooking and cleaning and schooling and kiddos, and I'm empty and hungry, and the truths of the early morning have all but faded away.
I want to recall what I've read, but it seems to have slipped through the cracks of my busy mind as I sweep up a mess here and deal with an attitude there.

Remembering is important.
We are commanded to memorize Scripture, and I've done lots of that in my life time, but why does it seem that I can never remember what I know when I need it?
I've tacked note cards here, there, a bathroom mirror, a refrigerator's face, the dish cabinet, the chalkboard, and yet I forget to read them.
How does one remember to remember?

Our days whirl and spin, us caught like twigs in the current of everyday life, and as I go 'round again, I ask myself how? 
How to remember?
If I'm gonna get this one life speeding by so quickly right, I've got to remember what I should already know.

As I lay open my reading for the day, the answer is looking me right in the eye.
James wrote it right there near the beginning of his book, this book written to the Jewish people scattered and suffering persecution, a group of people who really needed to remember truth every single day: "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."

I think about it as we walk to a friend's house to drop off cookies, and lay a baby fighting sleep down for her nap, dirty feet and all, and as I divvy up granola bars, and as I put clean dishes away so I can wash some more.
Could the problem not really be in the remembering, but in the doing?
Have I been deceiving myself?
Maybe the reason I'm not remembering rightly is because I'm stopping at the hearing.
Instead of hearing the truths and then doing something with them, I'm trying to just remember the words.
James makes it clearer later on: faith without works is dead.
If I want to have a faith that's alive and vibrant, and faith that can get me through every day, a faith that remembers, I've got to work it out.
I've got to do something with it.
I've got to practice my faith.

I can hear one practicing the piano, up and down and over and over her fingers fumble for notes, I hear her counting again.
Another desperately wants to make a feather pen and get out all mama's calligraphy things and learn to write beautifully all in one day. After just a few swipes of ink, she casually mentions that this might be a little harder than she thought it would be and maybe they could try it again soon?
Some days it's water color messes and other days it acrylics smeared all over the porch table and a disgruntled look that reminds that the picture hasn't turned out quite to one's liking.
Sewing needles and embroidery hoops and scissors and thread are picked up with excitement and then cast away after the string gets knotted one too many times.
Time and again I repeat the same refrain to frustrated hearts, "It takes time to learn something. Just keep practicing. The more you do it the better you get at it."

They are my words and they certainly sound good when I'm trying to train my daughters, but can I take my own advice to heart?
It's time to try.
If I'm ever going to live this life full of good works, fulfilling those things God has already ordained for me, living my life as a shining light in the darkness, and for goodness' sake remembering what I've read in my Bible this morning, I've got to actually DO what He says to do.
And the only way that's going to happen is by practicing.

Practice is the key that unlocks the door of remembrance, so I pull out that rusty old thing and twist it in the lock.
And it scrapes and catches when there is a sticky mud mess right before church, but I breathe deep and smile wide and ask everybody to kindly get cleaned up quickly and could they please wash the mud off the walls, too?
The key slides a bit.
Now the babies want to help with the meal and more carrot pieces are on the counter and in their hair than are on the plate, and I'm quite sure there's a bit of skin gonna be mixed in when I toss those carrots in the skillet, but I ask God to still my too-quick tongue, and try to find something to praise when all my untrained eyes want to see is the mess.
And the key clicks a bit farther.
Then the internet explodes and headlines scream and the world is rocked with hatred from those who can't know better and those who should know better, and I ask God to guide my mind into truth and to cool my flaming emotions and my flash-point temper......and He does.
The messes keep coming, and the blocks get scattered again, and "just one more story" turns into ten, and supper runs late, and laundry piles and topples, and every seeming hard thing is a chance to practice doing it right.
As a wise woman once said, "Daily disciplines are doors to full freedom."
I practice and practice and practice and practice, and the key turns a little further each time.
So maybe tomorrow I'll pick up the bracelet and strap it on for beauty's sake, but for remembering I'll pick up the key and open those doors a life full of not just hearing, but doing.

Monday, November 16, 2015

For the Days When You Fear For the Safety of Your Children....

It was just a pile of twigs and grass hastily shoved into the barest form of a nest.
Wedged between the concrete wall and the curtain rod, this tiny home had been built by a lazy bird, not one overly concerned with looks or safety.
This was the second time we'd arrived at church to find the pigeon's nest gracing the front of our meeting room, a bedraggled mess to ornament our place of worship.
John reached to pull it out of it's semi-hiding place tucked along the top of the curtains just like he'd done the last time we'd been to church.
This bird needed to find a better place to care for it's young.
But this time when he tugged that handful of dirt and sticks, a perfect white oblong tipped over the edge.
He caught that tiny egg in the instant before it smashed into the floor and then placed it carefully back into the quiet hollow of its home.

In those few seconds, my mind sped backwards to a dull, taupe dorm room with rough brown carpet thousands of miles and many years from where my body now stood.
I had been seeking God's clear direction about the steps ahead of me, steps that included marriage, a move halfway around the world, and the hazy future of trying to live out the rest of my life sharing the gospel with those who'd never heard.
These were big, exciting, intimidating steps, and I was afraid.
While I wanted to get married with everything in me, and I did not doubt God's call for me to go, I was terrified of trying to raise my future family so far from anything I'd ever known.
As I sat huddled in a corner of that room, God opened my eyes to a verse of Scripture...
Psalm 84:3 ~ Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of Hosts, my King, and my God. 

As I mulled it over, my love called and said he had something he wanted to tell me, but first he wanted me to talk to his mom.
She assured me that she didn't want to bother me, but she wanted to share a verse God had given her that morning that she thought might be an encouragement.
It was the same one I'd been pondering just a few minutes before.
But why? What about this verse had she been able to grab a hold of that seemed to be alluding me?
As John got back on the phone, he shared that he too had come across the same passage and immediately thought of me.
When I questioned what exactly he was referring to, he began to paint a word-picture of the smallest of birds looking for a place to build her nest.
In time she flitted into the quiet of the Tabernacle. It seemed safe inside.
She darted from pillar to corner to curtain's edge until she spotted the altar, and there began weaving sticks, twigs, and grass into a home for the little ones to come.
It wasn't a safe place, all these flammable materials crowded under the leg of a burning altar, but it was her home and this is where she would lay her young.

God wasn't calling me to a safe place to raise my own children.
To pack up all my hopes and dreams along with some clothes and towels and cooking pots and fly halfway around the world and begin a life, and raise a family, and preach the gospel could be called anything but safe, but if it was where God wanted me, could I not trust Him to take care of me?
Could I trust Him though the fires might rage above me?

As my mind leaped back to the present, I was awed.
Amazed that God had not only brought me to the place He had for me, but had given us a home here, and blessed us with four children here, and given us spiritual children and a church family to love and train and learn and grow with here, and had proved Himself to us over and over here.
This place where He'd brought us through the fires......
here....a nest in His altars.

*The print is from BeSmall Studios which sadly doesn't sell them right now. Maybe someday!

Monday, November 9, 2015

For the Days When You {And Your Kiddos} Feel Like Throwing a Fit: Practical Helps for Bad Attitudes and Bad Days

In the last week...two weeks?...she's learned how to open every door in this house, including the refrigerator's.
She can climb up onto her big sister's top bunk bed.
She can light matches.
She has dumped out an entire brand-new bottle of shampoo {which happens to be VERY expensive here}, smeared an entire container of toothpaste all over the shower floor, written all over the schoolroom wall with a dry-erase marker, and covered herself in flour, oil, chapstick, mud, and a few other smelly things that I can't recall right now.
And unless you've had a kiddo with this certain personality type, maybe you can't really appreciate all of that.
Maybe you think I don't train enough, or I don't discipline enough, or I'm inconsistent, or I'm totally negligent, and maybe you'd be right.

When one of these things happen, I'm tempted to be angry.
As if I don't have enough going on, yes, I'd love to clean up another mess.
Sure, I want to jot one more thing on my list of things that have to get done that's already a mile long.
Oh, please, can I give you one more bath today? Because I've got nothing better to do with my time!
And the fear that this time she really IS going to knock herself out/impale herself/cause an explosion adds to the pressure.
But on the days when the list of offenses just continues to grow, or the weeks when the mischief that girl can find seems to have no end, my fuse tends to get shorter and shorter until one day ~ BOOM!
Mama throws a fit bigger than the one the two-year old just threw when she was told no for the fourteenth time in one hour.

So maybe you're laughing and recalling with delight the fact that you are well beyond the toddler years, but maybe you're facing the conflicts with a tween who wants to do her hair her way, a teen who hates to do his homework, or a child that is sure she is old enough to get a smart phone, even though mama knows she isn't ready for that kind of responsibility.
There are days when all of us, no matter how "good" we are at this mothering thing, or how "well-behaved" our children are, want to throw a fit that'll give any toddler's temper tantrum a run for his money.

I remember the Sunday morning I got to sit under the inspiring teaching of a dear pastor's wife at one of the churches we were visiting while in the States on furlough.
She's raised three great children, twins and then a son with Down Syndrome, and has now moved into the grandmothering years, yet she had such practical advice for me as a young mother.
She told a story of a very trying morning when her twin girls were young. They'd done something quite naughty, and she began to yell at them.
As she finished shouting, she realized that she had just done something she'd taught her little girls never to do - shout in anger......and so she sent herself to her room.
Because, as she put it, when mama throws a fit, she should be punished for it too.
Oh, how encouraging and convicting that was to hear.

How often do I respond to my children in the very ways I'm teaching them NOT to respond?
And how quickly I excuse it in my mind, because they are the ones sinning.
If they would just be obedient, then I wouldn't have to react that way.
Sadly, we lose all chance to teach our children truth when we return sin with sin.
It's a bitter pill to swallow, but when I respond in anger to my children's sin, I'm sinning too.
When my little one throws a fit because she has to sit in her chair instead of climbing on the table, I have the opportunity to live out the right way for her to respond.
I can be the example of what she should do.
But when I get angry and yank her off the table, force her into her chair, whack her on the rump, threaten her with punishments I'm not really going to carry out?
I'm teaching her that might makes right, anger gets you what you want, and I don't always do what I say I'm going to do, so therefore, I can't be trusted.

As you may have guessed, these are things that we've been working through as a family for some time now, and no, we don't have all the answers.
But maybe a few of these real, nitty-gritty, I'm-in-the-trenches-too ideas might be a little bit of help for the days you want to throw a fit in the worst kind of way?

1. Step Back ~ When the situation/offense comes slamming in hard, don't react. 
I make sure everybody is safe, and then remove myself from the problem so that I can calm down. Sometimes that means turning around and taking a deep breath, other times stepping out of the room, or even giving myself a time out. I might need to send the offender elsewhere so I can deal with a mess needing immediate attention. But I try not to deal with the situation immediately, because my emotions are never a good guide.

2. Rise above ~ Distance is needed to identify the real problem.
If I'm going to act the right way, I must ask why my child did what she did. Is she hungry? bored? wanting to do her own thing? feeling ignored? just acting like a two-year old? showing that old sin nature?

3. Seek strength and wisdom ~ Wisdom and strength to choose wisely and act justly come from the Lord.
No matter how many parenting books I've read, I'm not smart enough to do this on my own. Regardless of why my child is doing what she's doing, I need to respond the way Jesus would. At times, God's Word will come to mind, illuminating the way I should deal with the situation. Other times, I might need to take a few minutes and search the Scriptures for clear direction.

4. Carry it out ~ Act on truth.
Once I know how I'm going to deal with the situation, I need to carry it out in love. If she needs to be disciplined, I discipline her, not with harshness but with love. If she needs comfort, or food, or a change of scene, I take care of her needs, not with resentment but with love. If I'm expecting too much of her, I change what we are doing, not grudgingly but with love. No matter what the truth may be, I must do it in love.

There are days like today when we swing between crying and giggles.
Sundays are long and today was hot.
Nap time didn't happen, because by the time she could crawl into her bunk, she was overly tired.
For a half hour or so she had to cry it out, because sometimes our babes need to know that life is hard and they aren't always going to get their way.
At service tonight she was grumpy and wanted to fight sleep with everything in her.
As she struggled in my arms, I grappled with the best way to love her and guide her in that moment.
I began to kiss her sweaty neck, right at the sweet spot all mamas of wee ones know.
She began to giggle and then squeal with laughter as I found all her most ticklish spots.
I loved her the best I knew how, until she was gasping for air from laughing so hard.
She then scooched right up into the crook of my arm, popped her fat thumb in her mouth, and drifted of to dreamland with a smile on her face.
No fits on either of our parts necessary.