Reflections of a College Visit

Nearly eighteen years ago, our first baby was born.

A little girl. 

 Today, we walked from building to building, up and down stairs, all around a campus that, in a few months, will be her new home.

How in the world did we get here?

I remember feeling her move around inside me, pressing her tiny feet against my ribs and bouncing my belly with her hiccups. I remember holding her in my arms for the first time- her perfect little fingers, her head full of black hair. I remember how she cried at bedtime until she was five, how she introduced her baby sister as her “best friend” to her preschool class, how she would build a fort during room-time so she would have somewhere fun to read her books.

I remember so much.

And then, somehow I blinked… and suddenly she’s going off to college.

I know she’s ready. And after today, I know this school is the right choice for her. Her face lit up like a marquis when we drove on campus. It is bursting with both opportunity and purpose, just like my girl! 

Her “circles” have been so small in life- not intentionally, that is just how it has worked out. Her school friends, church friends, and drama friends all overlap in the middle of a Venn diagram. There are benefits to this, of course; it creates a small, cozy cocoon in which a caterpillar can transform into something more.

However, she has also felt the emptiness of the blank space in her circles. While small circles can be both safe and comfortable, they can confine you as well, squeezing a little too tightly when you are trying to spread your wings. 

And our girl is ready to spread her wings!

So we spent the weekend exploring her next home. We saw where she will live, eat, study, and learn. I caught glimpses of her future as a group of smiling students hurried past us on their way to class, and in a table of friends laughing as they discussed homework and weekend plans. We started making a list of what she will need to bring for her dorm room and what clothes she will need to buy so she doesn’t freeze. 

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

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

**********

My girl is ready, there is no doubt. She is following the will of the Lord. What more can a momma ask for? 

Absolutely nothing.

Still…

I sure am going to miss her.

My February Book Stack

Can you believe we are already over halfway through February? Where does the time go? My daughter, Sarah, mentioned last week that we are only 14 weeks from her high school graduation. What?? (Cue the crying!!)

Anyway, I have had a few people ask me what I’m reading now, so here is my February book stack, a little late. Sorry about that!

Debt-Free Degree by Anthony O’Neal is endorsed by Dave Ramsey as a resource on how to attend college without going into debt.

When I was growing up, I just assumed that I would go to college. My parents used language like, “When you go to college,” and “After you graduate from college,” so I never realized it was an option to not go to college. Not only that, but I also knew it was going to be up to me to pay for it. My dad was stationed in Germany throughout my middle school/early high school years, which gave us amazing opportunities to travel around Europe. My parents told us they decided it was in our best interest to take advantage of those opportunities rather than saving for college (which I am thankful for), so we would be responsible for our own college expenses. 

That was thirty years ago (yikes, I’m old!), and college was much less expensive than it is now. With Sarah going to college in the Fall, and three more in line behind her, I am hoping this book will be beneficial to our family. The truth is, while I am so grateful my parents raised me to value the importance of a college education, with the way Universities and the work force have changed over the past few decades, I no longer believe college is essential for every student or the best path for every young adult to take. I am curious to see if anything in this book changes my mind or just reinforces that opinion.

In Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need, David Platt shares about how a trekking trip through the Himalayas “opened his eyes to the people behind the statistics and compelled him to wrestle with his assumptions about faith.” (amazon) David Platt is the real deal; his ministry is both authentic and compelling, and I find myself consistently challenged by his messages to be more like Jesus (and not just talk about it). This is definitely the book I am most excited to read this month! Especially since I am almost finished reading the next book on my list…

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a historical fiction book about a (warped) fundamentalist-Baptist missionary who takes his family to live in the Congo in the late 1950’s. Kingsolver does a great job of paralleling the traumatic events of a nation with the equally traumatic events of their family. While I am definitely enjoying reading it, I need to finish it and process a bit before I decide whether or not to recommend it. Reverend Price’s application of Christianity and the Bible is certainly not portrayed in a good light (nor should it be), but thus far, it seems easy for readers to assign that same assumption to all Believers and the Christian faith as a whole, which would be both misleading and unfortunate.

10 Gifts of Wisdom: What Every Child Should Know Before They Leave Home by Sally Clarkson is a book I’ve had on my list for awhile. I pulled it out to read before we send Sarah off to college, and plan to start it once I finish The Armor of God for Teens (which I am still reading from last month’s stack, since I am doing it as a study with my Senior SG girls- and loving it!!).

I am also currently reading The Mysterious Benedict Society with my 6th grade son for school.  He is not a big reader, but he is enjoying this story so much! And with my affinity for middle-readers and young adult books, I decided just to read the whole thing as well. It is a great fantasy story with a young male protagonist that encourages teamwork, good morals, and kindness, among other things.

 Finally, A Lamp Unto My Feet is a devotional by Elisabeth Elliot. Though I never met her, she has been one of my greatest spiritual mentors since college through her writing. I thought I had read all her books, but recently found several I somehow missed along the way. This is one, and I am grateful to have her insights into Scripture speaking into my life once again!

So, there it is. These are the books in my stack this month.

What about you? What did you read last month worth recommending? What is currently on your nightstand?

The Lies We Believe: How Comparison Robs Us of Community

“Don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about me.”

These words were spoken over 20 years ago by a prominent speaker at a National Youth Workers Convention I attended. His comments were intended to humanize himself, a reminder to the rest of us that his life was not any easier, nor was his ministry any more effective than ours was. This is a lie we tend to believe- one that often robs us of the community we were created for. 

He mentioned the temptation for us to think he was somehow better than us simply because he was standing on a big stage, when in reality, his students bemoaned his “boring talks” and “stupid programs” just like ours did. Sure, he had wisdom to share, but he wanted to make sure we understood it was gained in the trenches, not by some royal edict or heavenly proclamation. 

He was “wise” because he had learned from his mistakes. He was “seasoned” because he had travelled long, difficult roads and persevered. He was not speaking to us because he was somehow “holier” than us; he was simply more experienced. 

And experience is not something you gain on the sidelines.

I have kept his statement tucked away since that day.  Occasionally, I pull it out to remind myself that “perfect” people (or jobs or children or marriages) are rarely what they seem on the outside, and if I take the time to investigate, I might find that their story isn’t all that different than mine. 

Fast forward to this weekend.

I was talking with a few friends, and one of them shared some struggles she was facing with her daughter. I mentioned that I had gone through a similar struggle with one of my girls a few years ago and would love to have lunch to compare notes. My sweet friend smiled at me a little sadly and said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure this is on a whole different level than what you’re thinking. But thank you for offering.”

Y’all.

That is a lie straight from the enemy, and I told her so. 

I know because I have listened to it many times myself. Satan was telling my friend that what was happening in her family was an anomaly, something unusual and terrible that no one else could possibly understand or relate to. He was trying to isolate her, because once we are isolated, the only voice we tend to hear is his, and his job gets so much easier. That sneaky Deceiver loves to twist and distort the truth, whispering shame and despair straight into our hearts.

But he is a liar.

The truth is, none of us have perfect families. No one around us has a perfect life, a perfect spouse, a perfect job, or a perfect child. And chances are, whatever we are going through, there are people in our circles who have struggled or are currently struggling with similar things; we just don’t know it. 

See, my friend was comparing what she knew about herself to what she didn’t know about me. And as a result, she might have missed out on the very encouragement the Lord was trying to send her! 

That sounds just like the enemy’s work to me. 

Somehow my friend had created an idealized impression of my family. Now, if you don’t know me personally, I am pretty much a hot mess most of the time, and so is our family. I am a pretty open person, though, and I try to be very genuine in my (hot mess) life, as well as in my writing. However, there are things that simply can’t, in good conscience, be put on display for everyone to know. 

For instance, it is impossible to share some of our children’s struggles, who are wrestling with their identity and independence, and not risk compromising their reputations. Likewise, proclaiming our own faults and flaws to people who don’t know us or care about us can limit our credibility and influence, because they have no context in which to apply it.  So when someone’s life looks shinier than ours, even someone who is very genuine, there’s a good chance their laundry stinks just like ours does… they have just chosen not to hang it all out for the whole world to see.

Proverbs 13:3 wisely advises, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” And Proverbs 12:23 says, “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.” The Bible is full of such admonitions; it simply isn’t wise for us to bear our souls with just anyone. 

At the same time, God also encourages us to pour out our hearts to Him, for He is our refuge (see Ps 63:5, 8). And 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” 

The Lord never intends for us to carry our burdens by ourselves. When we are struggling, we must not listen to the whispers of the Deceiver, telling us to hide our challenges behind closed doors, especially from the Holy One. 

Bad things grow in the dark. The best thing to do with our struggles is to bring them into the Light- to those who can offer wisdom and encouragement, and most importantly, into the Presence of the One who makes all things new.

God created us with a need and desire for community– both with Him and other believers- because He knew the burdens would be too much for us to bear alone. I love this passage from Ecclesiastes (Ch. 4, v. 9-12):

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (NIV)

Friends, if we are tempted to think no one else will understand what we are going through, it’s not true. If you are looking at other people’s lives (especially mine!) and thinking they are perfect, or at least more perfect than yours, you are being deceived. At best, they are a little further down the road. But more likely, they just haven’t put their struggles on display.

I am embarrassed to admit how often I have allowed the fear of what other people might think keep me from reaching out. We cannot let the lies of the enemy or our own insecurities keep us from experiencing the hope and peace Jesus offers us! We need each other!

In what areas are you struggling? What challenge are you facing for which someone else might be able to offer insight or wisdom? Who have you put on a pedestal of perfection without finding out their real story? And who around you might benefit from the difficult lessons the Lord has taught you?

Let’s choose NOT to compare what we know about ourselves to what we don’t know about other people. 

Instead, let’s lean in to the community the Lord has given us, unburdening our hearts and learning from one another, as we share this journey together. 

Snow Day

It doesn’t snow often in Georgia, so when it does, everything shuts down and time seems to stand still. These are just my thoughts about our snow day…

Knees curled beneath me

Warm and cozy in my chair

steaming mug beside me

I look outside.

The sky is falling,

fluttering softly in tiny flakes

gently to the ground.

Gradually, it piles up

color fading to white

Hectic lives

slowing to a stop-

Frozen in this moment.

Anxious children

peeking out windows

Finally, a knock!

Drawers fling open,

clothes fly around the room

searching, finding, layering,

bundling, zipping

bustling out the door!

Children laughing, sledding, screaming

balls of packed powder

find their mark

Bottom, middle, top are rolled

then stacked

Sticks and carrots, scarves and hats

bringing them to life.

And still, the sky drifts down

while time remains frozen.

Back inside, wet clothes dripping

piled up by the door.

Warm blankets, snuggles on the couch

mugs of hot chocolate,

the salty smell of popcorn filling the room.

Minds quieting, hearts slowing

in a contented sigh

of peace.

Out the window

the Winter Wonderland

holds its breath,

melting slowly,

quietly

not wanting to disrupt

this gift of time.

Looking around, I soak it in

the peace, the laughter

all of us together.

I freeze it in my memory

as my heart floods

with gratitude

for this frozen moment.

Why I’m Thankful for the Super Bowl Halftime Show

Full disclosure:

I had to go on Youtube and watch the halftime show before writing this post. With multiple children and teenagers in the house, I have not watched the Super Bowl halftime show in years! And while I had seen clips and pretty much knew the gist of what happened, I didn’t want to comment without seeing it myself and forming my own opinion. Honestly, I’m thankful I did.

I had not planned to comment at all… Heaven knows there are plenty of opinions floating around out there in the social media world already! Who needs one more? 

My girls, that’s who. 

And that’s why I’m thankful for the Super Bowl Half-time show.

So, I will start with what I enjoyed about it. I think Shakira and Jennifer Lopez were great choices to perform in Miami. I understand they were chosen to represent the strong Latin-American population in that area, which makes perfect sense. They are both extremely talented dancers and singers, and their following is huge. It was a great choice!

  • I enjoyed the Latin-flavored dance segments, especially with the men. It was a nice throwback to traditional Latin culture; the music was upbeat and the moves were so fun!
  • Having two teenage daughters who spent many years in dance class and are currently involved in musical theatre, I have a great appreciation for these two women’s ability to dance. Man, can they move! I almost threw my back out just watching them!
  • Their voices are beautiful. Lip Syncing or not, they are both extremely talented singers. I wouldn’t have been able to breathe after about 20 seconds, let alone sing, so no judgement from me!
  • The set and projections were incredible. I barely even noticed things like lighting before I met my friend, Will (who is a lighting genius!), but this was impossible to miss. That stage was on fi-ya!
  • I loved hearing J-lo’s daughter and the other young girls sing. I am a sucker for a mother-daughter combo! And their dresses were beautiful.

Hopefully it’s clear at this point that I am not a racist, nor am I merely a party-pooper or a party-liner. At the same time, I am also not someone who was looking forward to a family-friendly event and ended up shocked by the risqué content. I did not initially watch it because I did not expect it to be family friendly. Which, of course, was the case. 

So why in the world am I thankful for the Half-Time Show?

Because it is a great opportunity to start a conversation on some difficult, yet extremely important, topics with our children. 

You see, while there were some beautiful and powerful elements to that half-time show, it is apparent (based on the social media storm) that they were very much diminished by the hyper-sexualized nature of the show.

The unique flavor of the culture and talented dancers were overshadowed by the pole dancing, crotch-grabbing, and twerking.

The beauty of theses amazing artists was shifted onto their disappearing wardrobe rather than their eyes and smile.

And any political statement they may have been trying to make vanished along with said wardrobe.

While their intent may have simply been to give everyone a good time, instead they communicated a much more powerful (and in my opinion, harmful) message to their national audience, and to young girls in particular… Especially all the young, Latino girls looking to them as role models.

Regardless of what they say, that message was not, “Women are strong! Women are powerful!”

Instead, the message was, “It doesn’t matter how strong, smart, beautiful, or talented you are; the best way to get attention and power as a woman is to show off your body and make people want you. Sexy is powerful!”

I cannot tell you how sad this makes my momma heart. 

It reminds me of two summers ago when we spent a week serving Hispanic immigrants with a small, rural mission church in North Carolina. The pastor told us one of the most difficult issues they faced in breaking the cycle of poverty in their community was the cultural view of teenage sexuality. Apparently, around the age of 14, the teen girls set their hearts on getting pregnant- that way, they could get married and find security in a family of their own. They didn’t realize those actions were trapping them all in extreme poverty with low-paying jobs and no education, among other things. They were simply following the example of those who had gone before them.  They heard the message loud and clear: “The best way to get attention and power is to show off your body and make people want you. Sexy is powerful!” 

Except when it isn’t.

I wish I could gather up every young girl in America, sit them in my living room, and convince them that they are more than the sum of their “parts”. It grieves me to watch so many young girls buying the lie that they have no value apart from their bodies!

Unfortunately, my living room is not that big, and my influence is even smaller. So here are the conversations I will continue having with my own daughters, praying they will impact others as they live out these truths:

  • You are more than the sum of your “parts”.  Who you are on the inside is vastly more important and lasting than who you are on the outside. (For years, Jeff has explained to them that most people will focus on their “frosting”- their looks, body, and talents, when what really matters is what’s on the inside- their “cake”) Girls, if your cake is amazing, people quickly look past your frosting!
  • Your worth and value are found in being loved by God and created for a purpose, not in what you look like or what others think of you. Resist the urge to sell yourself out to a lesser bidder.
  • Your power comes from standing in Truth and being a Light.  Showing off your body and looking “sexy” gains you attention, not power. Those are two very different things.
  • There is nothing wrong with wearing clothes and make-up that make you feel beautiful! But make-up and clothing should accentuate your beauty, not detract from it or draw attention elsewhere. You want people walking away thinking about your kindness, your smile, your laugh- not your body parts. 
  • If you want people to respect you, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of respect. This includes how you present yourself on Instagram and Tik-Tok (and apparently at the half-time show of the Super Bowl).
  • What you do impacts other people. You do not get to choose whether or not you influence people, only HOW you influence them. People will pay more attention to what you do than what you say, so choose your messages carefully. If you truly seek to follow Jesus and walk in His ways, you won’t have to worry about the message- it will take care of itself. 
  • You will get it wrong sometimes, and that’s okay! We all mess up. Mistakes are part of growing up; they are how we learn our best lessons. It’s how you respond to those mistakes that matters. Run to Jesus, no matter what, and know that we will always have your back.
  • You are loved! Completely, unconditionally, immeasurably more than you can think or imagine, by us and even more so by God. Nothing will ever change that! Read Romans 8:38-39.

Our 9 year old boy is still pretty clueless, but I was thankful to use this as an opportunity to also talk to our 11 year old son about one day choosing a girl for what’s on the inside, not the outside. His older sister promptly gave him this motto: “Unless you work in the Publix bakery, I don’t want to see your frosting!” Gotta love big sisters! In any case, don’t forget to talk to your boys as well!

Friends, these conversations are so very important. And they are much more impactful when applied to real life situations! It helps to have an example with skin on (or in this case, lots of skin, and stripper poles, too!) to bring these truths to life. Don’t miss this blessing in disguise!

And for that reason, I am thankful for the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

All We Are is Grace.

Here is a post from our oldest daughter, Sarah, who is a Senior in high school. I am so thankful for how she seeks to follow Jesus and her willingness to share what He is teaching her. I hope this will be a blessing to you today!

All We Are Is Grace.

IMG_5557 The sunrise from the Friday of JTF promising His grace and faithfulness going into that weekend, because I didn’t get a picture of the sunset promise from tonight. 🙂

There’s been a lot of self-reflection happening lately, as I’ve officially moved out of something that’s been a huge part of my life and I am preparing to move to an even bigger, new part of life. The Lord has been so faithful in this season.

This week I met up with some adults who’ve been walking through this year with me specifically to look back at the start of this season, see how far I’ve come, and celebrate His faithfulness. One of them asked me, “What now? What’s your new mountain you need Him to help you climb?” Some struggles with my mentality, how my personality plays into it, and lies I’ve been believing came to mind.

It was the…

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Six Ways Parenting is Like Math

I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “There is no way parenting is like math! There is no easy formula to follow, and no variables to plug in that equal a perfect child.” 

You’re right.

And some of you are thinking, “Yes! Parenting is hard! Math is hard! I get it!”

And you’re right, too.

So if you’re both right, then what in the world am I talking about? 

Just hear me out… 

One of the things I love best about homeschooling is watching the light bulb come on when something “clicks” for one of my kids. This phenomenon is not unique to homeschooling- all parents experience this with their children in different ways. Maybe you are helping them with homework, or teaching them how to shoot a basketball, or even teaching them how to talk when they are little. There is something special about that first time they say your name, make a basket, or solve the math problem. Their eyes get big, their face lights up, and something special passes between you. Success! It is an amazing moment to share.

But those moments are rare, like finding a single pearl hidden somewhere among an ocean of oysters. It takes hard work, perseverance, and is often overwhelming. And in my experience, they usually come about the time I have decided to give up.

I find parenting to work much the same way. There are moments when they get it, when the hard work of character training and spiritual investment align in some sort of magical moment, and we get to high five each other for a job well done. But if your house is anything like mine, before the party’s over, another issue or growth area pops up, waiting to be whacked, and the challenge begins again. Sometimes it’s even the same problem, the one we were just celebrating- apparently prematurely.  What’s a parent to do?

Which brings us back to math. I’ll be honest- I like math, I really do. It has a rhythm and a reason to it; it is logical. It’s like doing a puzzle; you keep the big picture in mind, but mostly you figure out how to fit things together piece by piece, until the picture finally appears. Sounds simple enough.

However, in teaching math to my children I have found it is not always that easy. Sometimes they don’t catch the rhythm, and often they can’t see the logic. So here are a few things I have learned that apply to both parenting and math:

1.  It takes more than one time to learn a lesson.

I’ll be honest; this one caught me completely off guard. I assumed once a child learned long division and experienced the “light bulb” moment, we could check the box, right? No. Apparently kids can completely understand something one moment and then forget everything they know three problems later. It’s a real thing- ask any teacher in your life. It takes more than one time to learn a lesson, even when you learn it well.

The same is true in parenting. “Obey the first time” is an ideal, not a reality. I mean, do you always obey God the very first time every single time? I certainly don’t!  Believe it or not, we will have to teach our kids patience and kindness more than once. We know hitting their brother or talking back is wrong every time, but in their mind, that lesson requires multiple applications to every possible situation before it sinks in. It is not personal against us or limited to only our child. It’s just like math; it takes more than one time to master a concept, which requires… practice and repetition.

2.  Practice and repetition are necessary  for mastery

The idea is that the more you repeat something, the easier it will become. In math, there are two parts to learning basic “facts,” such as addition and multiplication. One must both understand the concept (2 cookies plus 3 cookies equals 5 cookies) and memorize the equation (2+3=5). The first one takes practice, over and over, to truly understand the concept, applying it to different values. The second one requires repetition of the same equation, again and again, until the answer is instinctive. 

How does this idea translate to parenting? There are certain concepts our child will have to repeat over and over again, with a number of different variables, in order to truly grasp the character traits involved. There is no substitution for practicing; we simply must be patient and consistent and understand it is a process. There are other truths they simply need to hear repeated over and over again until they become instinctive. These truths are foundational to the building of their faith and character, just as math facts are foundational to algebra equations. Choose them carefully and repeat them often!

3.  Getting frustrated and angry doesn’t help

Let’s be honest- frustration is inevitable in both math and parenting. However, an angry, yelling parent is not any more effective than a child throwing his pencil in frustration.

One day several years ago, I was helping one of my daughters with her math. I was frustrated because she had “forgotten” a concept she already learned (see #1), and she was not responding well to my extremely calm, patient, loving instruction (in other words, she was being a sassy pants and I was reacting like a pre-teen girl). I said something like, “You would never treat a teacher this way, would you?” and she yelled back, “No, because a teacher would never treat me like you are!”

Ouch.  She was right.

So when you find yourself getting frustrated– in math or in parenting- the best thing to do is…

4.  Take a break and try a different approach 

Sometimes the best thing for everyone is a little break. Take a time-out, move on to a different subject, walk outside- whatever it takes to catch your breath and calm down. And then when you are ready, you can approach the problem again from a different angle. 

As the saying goes, if we do the same thing over and over again, we’re going to keep getting the same result. If something isn’t working, whether it is a math problem or a character issue, try something different.  

Once I quit focusing on how I wanted her to solve the problem and started thinking about how she was trying to solve the problem, I usually saw a new way to approach it. The same is true in our parenting. We can solve a multitude of problems by simply shifting our perspectives. 

5.  Go back to the basics

More often than not, when my kids are getting wrong answers in math, it is because they have forgotten their math facts (see #2). Those foundational truths have gotten rusty and are no longer instinctive, causing them to spend too long figuring out a problem or guessing at numbers. A quick review of the basics generally gets them back on track with minimal interference from me. 

The same is true with parenting. When our children were really little and we suddenly found ourselves with sleep issues or attitude problems, a friend suggested I simplify our schedule and focus on structure, consistency, and my own attitude- the basics. The issues almost always resolved within a few days. 

As they have gotten older, we shift our focus back to heart issues- character, prayer, time in the Word, honoring others over ourselves… all those things we spent so much time “repeating” when they were younger. Okay, and cleaning a toilet often helps, too!

6.  If all else fails, ask for help

Even with our best efforts, sometimes we don’t have what we need to figure it out. In math, that means reaching out to a teacher or a tutor- finding someone who can see things we can’t and who can provide outside perspective we are not able to see or give on our own. 

More than once as a parent, I have been at my wits end, having tried everything I knew to try (usually that was my problem- I was trying to fix something that was not within my power to fix! But that’s a whole different blog post!). Assuming you have already spent time in prayer, the best thing to do is get help. Reach out to a friend whose parenting you respect and admire. Seek godly counsel from a pastor or staff member at your church, or ask them to help you find a solid, Biblical counselor who can give you perspective on your situation. There is no shame in asking for help. People get tutors, hire personal trainers, and visit professionals in various fields all the time. Your children are your greatest investment on this earth. Seek help if you need it!

So… no, there is no formula to follow that will give you a perfect child. And yes, math can be really hard and so can parenting! Both are true. Therefore, instead of wasting time worrying about them, maybe we can learn something from one that will help us with the other, trusting that God will meet us in our efforts to draw their hearts towards Him. 

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” Luke 12:31 (NLT)

My January Book Stack

Well friends, I am off to a slow start on writing this year. Thanks for being patient with me! Now that my 30-day writing challenge is over, it has been more difficult for me to stay motivated and disciplined, especially with Jeff traveling so much and the craziness that comes with four kids. But I have been reading a lot, so maybe I can start there!

I still need to add a few more books to my 2020 Reading Challenge list; I will post it once I have it organized. For now, I will share my current book stack with you.

I am kicking off the year with these six books solely because they are the ones I have access to right now. I already own four of them, and I was on the waiting list at the library for the two writing books while I was doing my writing challenge. I don’t usually read more than one book at a time, so this stack is a little deceiving. I do, however, like to have a devotional (or Christian non-fiction) book that I read during my prayer time, as well as another book to read in my free time.

The Armor of God for Teens book is actually a Bible study that I am doing with my Senior small group girls. It is fantastic- one of the best studies I have ever done with teen girls- so I am excited about finishing it!

None Like Him focuses on different attributes of God, and it was my first devotional book this year. The author, Jen Wilkins, is one of my favorite writers of Women’s Bible studies because she is so committed to accurate Scriptural context and interpretation. I find that many popular authors and speakers today gain a following based on little more than their personality, and too many women are being led into a false or twisted understanding of Scripture simply because the authors are so likable. Jen Wilkins is both relatable and solid in her teaching, and I highly recommend her books. I read In His Image last year and loved it.

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family– I bought this book several months ago after reading some of Paul David Tripp’s other material.  It is more of a philosophical book than a how-to manual, so I am interested to see what insights he has to share. I started it this morning- I will let you know what I think!

Stephen King’s, On Writing, is part memoir and part instruction. I enjoyed reading about his childhood and pathway to becoming an author. His instructions on writing are geared towards fiction writers, as that is obviously his area of expertise. Since I don’t write fiction, that wasn’t very helpful to me, but there were still plenty of tips I hope to apply to my writing, and overall it was enjoyable.

The Tattooist of Aushwitz  is a true account of a young Jewish man who found himself tattooing numbers into the arms of those who arrived at Aushwitz and how that job enabled him (and others) to stay alive amidst the horrors surrounding them. It is also a love story, sharing how he fell in love with a young woman at the camp, and their struggle to survive in hopes of a future together. It reads like historical fiction, but is even more impactful since it is a true story. 

Finally, I just finished On Writing Well by William Zinsser.  Much of the material is similar to what I already read in King’s book, so I found myself skimming quite a bit. This book is geared towards non-fiction writers, thus it was more applicable to my writing than King’s book. While I am glad I read it, I was also glad to finish it! I doubt I will ever read it again. 

And that’s it! Those are my January books. Hopefully I can squeeze in one or two more before the end of the month.

What about you? What books are currently on your nightstand?

Would I do it again?

23 years.

My husband and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary last month. I was 23 when we got married, which means I have officially been married to him for half my life!

As we reminisced about some of the experiences we have shared, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “Would you still marry me again? I mean, knowing everything you know about how life with me has turned out, if you could go back to that time 23 years ago, would you still make the same choice? Would you still choose me?” 

Without even thinking, I replied, “Of course!” 

And I would, absolutely.

But for the sake of deep thinking, I want to stop and travel down that road just a bit. This man has loved me and stood by me for over two decades. He deserves more than a trite answer and a shrug. He deserves to know why I would say yes, why I would choose him all over again. And so I pause…

Because in many ways, while our life together has been beautiful, it has not turned out at all like I expected. When he proposed to me, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into, and so did he. We were both in full time ministry, working on a church staff together. Ministry was pretty much our life. We even chose to get married right after Christmas because that is a slow time on the church calendar, which would make it an ideal time to celebrate our anniversary each year. 

Yes, the future obviously held a long road of ministry life for us. 

I wrestled with what that would mean for me. I knew I had to put him first, and that my role as a pastor’s wife was going to have to be more important than my role as a Youth Minister. 

My young, prideful heart struggled internally with making that sacrifice, as though giving up a title might mean giving up part of my soul. I had no idea at the time just how many titles and identities I would have to surrender. That first one was simply a trial run, a training ground for things to come.

God is funny that way. 

Now, fast-forward to today: it has been over 13 years since we were in full time ministry or since I have been called a pastor’s wife. My former-church-planting pastor husband is now a business man, and I am no longer a Youth Minister or a pastor’s wife. I am just Me, a homeschooling mom who leads a small group and volunteers for various things.  We have moved several times and lived in several different states. Instead of depending on the financial generosity of others, we have been blessed enough to be generous ourselves. So no, it is not the life I expected, but it is a good life, a great life even!

However, if I’m honest, it has not always been easy for me to let go of my expectations and embrace our changing path. Ministry life is hard, for sure, but it is also incredibly rewarding. The long hours and scrutiny from others can be frustrating and exhausting, but having a front row seat to watch God work in people’s lives- well, there is nothing else quite like it. Being used by God to draw others to Him? It is humbling and inspiring and all around just awesome! 

And truthfully, there is something about being in ministry that feels important, like you are really making a difference in the world. Letting go of that life wasn’t easy for either of us. 

It is incredibly difficult to keep one’s identity separate from full-time ministry. Our identity is found in Christ alone, it’s true… 

but sometimes, Jesus and the Church can get a little blurry. 

So, there was a period of time where neither of us really knew who we were anymore. When something that is such a huge part of you is no longer there, it leaves a gaping hole. 

John Piper said, “Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

It took us awhile to figure out how to let Jesus fill that hole, and how the rest of our pieces fit together once the ministry pieces were missing. We asked God some hard questions and had to wait a long time for hard answers. We learned to give one another a lot of grace in the midst of needing a lot of grace ourselves. We had to figure out how to move forward into a future that no longer looked like the one we had always imagined. 

Some of you know that feeling even better than we do. Maybe you have lost a child or a spouse or a parent. Perhaps you are shuffling from job to job in an economy that no longer values loyalty and commitment. Whatever the case, the future no longer looks like you always thought it would. It’s like someone turned out the lights and you’re having to feel your way through, step by step.

I call those our Wilderness years. 

We both felt a little lost.

But even in the darkness, our faith in one another, and more importantly, our faith in the One who was still in control remained strong. I never questioned whether or not we would make it- I was confident we would. I just had no idea where we would end up. So we simply kept doing the next thing, trusting God to lead us as we walked with Him, and He did. 

He still does. 

There have been other twists in the road, other struggles along the way. We have lost friendships and gained new ones. We have learned some lessons the hard way. I don’t think either of us ever imagined we would move away and create a life away from our friends and family, but here we are. And if someone had told me all those years ago that I would end up homeschooling four children and loving it, I would have thought they were crazy! 

Sometimes I look back over this road we have traveled and wonder how in the world we got here. This place is so far from where I always thought we’d end up! 

And yet, it was the right path for us. 

We have learned humility, endurance, and obedience. We have found out who we are in Christ, apart from what we do for Him. We have been blessed with a beautiful family and caring friends. We have seen God move in mighty ways, and we have heard His still, small voice whispering in the silence. We have confronted our own weaknesses and learned how to listen better.

This path has taught us what it really means to love.

And 23 years later, I wouldn’t trade those lessons or our journey together for anything in the world.

But, back to his original question: 

If 23-year-old-Me knew how differently our life would turn out, would I still choose him? Or would I have hightailed it out of there and hopped on a plane to the mission field, leaving all the “what ifs” in a cloud of dust behind me?

The answer is simple, really. 

Given the choice, 23-year-old-Me may not have chosen this particular path, but there was never a doubt that he was the One God had chosen for me. Whatever I imagined for our future back then, I certainly couldn’t have imagined a future without him.

23-year-old-Me would have followed him anywhere

So I did.

And I would absolutely choose him again.

Learning to Try

Mom, do I have to go?” he complained.  “Why did you even sign me up for this? I never said I wanted to play the drums!

Yes. You have to go. And you never told me to sign you up for soccer or basketball or drama camp either! Buddy, just trust me. I know you, and I really think this is something you will enjoy!

Okay, fine. But just remember, I didn’t ask for this.

Thirty minutes later, my pre-teen boy walked back down the hall after his first drum lesson. He was standing a little taller and a tiny grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. His teacher said he would send me a link for the drum sticks and book we should order, then fist-bumped my boy, telling him he did a great job and he’d see him next week. 

Yeah, see you next week!” my little drummer boy replied, swooping his hair back and heading for the door.

The whole ride home was filled with non-stop chatter about what they did and what he learned.  He kept asking me if he was going to get a drum set, when he was going to get a drum set, what it was going to look like, and how much it was going to cost. Finally, I made him look me in the eye and say, “Thank you, Mom, for signing me up for drum lessons and making me try something new. You are the best!”

Okay, so I tried. Instead, he laughed and mumbled “Thank you” under his breath… I’ll take it!

And it made me think. 

When is the last time I tried something new?

New things can be scary because there are so many unknowns. What if we aren’t good at whatever we try, or we make mistakes, or people laugh at us? What if it turns out to be a waste of time or money? What if it doesn’t turn out like we hoped? 

These are all valid questions, and worth consideration.

But a better question is, what if it does?

What if you love it? What if you’re good at it? What if you make new friends and learn something about yourself and uncover a new passion you didn’t know was hiding in there? What then?

A little over a month ago, I felt kind of disconnected from myself. It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on; there was just a lot going on and I was sort of numb to it all, like I was going through the motions instead of really living. So, for several days, I spent some time outside by myself. I took several long walks, breathing in the Fall air and listening to the leaves crunch beneath my feet. The sun sparkled across the lake, and then painted the evening sky with splashes of red. I watched as the world around me slowly revealed the fingerprints of its Creator, and something in me came back to life.

And suddenly, I longed to write about it. More than that, I felt CALLED to write.

I used to love to write when I was growing up, mostly sappy poems about broken friendships and the longing for love which only high school girls understand. But I also enjoyed writing papers for school (shh, don’t tell) and letters to friends. Most people signed yearbooks with statements like, “Have a great summer!” and “Don’t ever change!” but not me. No, somewhere out there are dozens of yearbooks with a full page of my handwriting recounting every single memory I treasured and declaring my undying devotion to our friendship. 

Apparently, I was a writer and didn’t even know it. 

Since then, my writing has been limited to my children’s church and youth ministry lessons and a bazillion private prayer journals. I wrote for my own benefit, never with the intention of showing anyone else. I started a book once, but then I had another baby, and somehow I never managed to finish. I blamed it on my responsibilities- how could anyone expect a homeschooling mom of four small children to finish a book? After all, I was doing good to keep them all alive and squeeze in a shower!

But I knew the truth. I didn’t finish because I was scared.

I knew I wasn’t really a writer, I was just someone who loved to write. Is there a difference between the two? Maybe. I think it has something to do with an audience. In any case, I quit trying, which isn’t like me.

I am a firm believer in life-long learning, so I have spent much of my adult life trying new things. I learned how to scrapbook in my 20’s, and I took sewing and tennis lessons in my 30’s. I learned how to grind wheat and bake bread, and how to homeschool my children. And when my kids started in theatre, I even learned how to change someone’s costume and get them back on stage in 12 seconds flat! So I am definitely not afraid to try something new. 

But trying something new with an audience feels a little different. A little scarier.

So I understand how my boy felt walking into his first drum lesson. 

What if I fail? What if I can’t do it right? What if someone laughs at me or I try my best and no one likes it?

What if I write and it doesn’t make a difference?

But then I remember how he looked walking down that hallway, hiding his grin. It didn’t matter to me that he only played the first page in the book, with a rhythm so simple I probably could have played it, too. It didn’t matter to me that no one heard him play except his teacher. It didn’t even matter to me that his first drum lesson didn’t change the world one little bit.

No, what mattered to me, his momma, was those squared up shoulders and that secret grin. What mattered to me was he stepped out in faith and tried something new, even with the risk of failing. He walked in there a scared little boy and came out looking a little more like a man. That’s what mattered to me.

It gives me a glimpse of what might matter to my Father.

I am not really sure why the Lord is calling me to write, but I am confident He is. Writing is not new to me, but writing for an audience, however small, is. 

Like my boy, I did not ask for this. I am being obedient and trying something new. It is scary and I am uncertain. I am clueless about what to write. I am unsure of my ability, but I am offering my availability, which seems to be all He requires. 

I have no idea where it will go from here; I guess that isn’t really the point anyway. The purpose is not in the outcome, but in the learning, in the willingness to try. 

When is the last time you tried something new?