My March Book Stack

Well friends, one of the good things about being at home indefinitely is that it frees up my evenings for reading!

I entered the month of March with several of my February books unfinished, so I wasn’t sure how this month was going to go. Fortunately, I have had plenty of time to catch up! I was even able to sneak in a quick trip to the library before everything shut down, so I grabbed a few YA fiction books (my guilty pleasure!) to get me through this month. I just found out our local used bookstore is offering call-in purchases with curb-side service, so I plan to utilize that in April!

I lightened up my list a little this month with some fun books, and I even read one authored by a longtime friend of mine! So exciting! Here are some quick reviews for those of you looking for books to add to your reading list.

Made to Move Mountains: How God Uses Our Dreams and Disasters to Accomplish the Impossible by Kristen Welch. I so enjoyed reading this book! Kristen Welch has a gift for communicating her heart in a very authentic manner, and Made to Move Mountains is no exception. I love that she doesn’t try to wrap her stories up in shiny packaging and pretty bows, because how often in life is that really the case? No, one mountain often leads to another, and we rarely have time to recover before we are forced to start climbing again.

And yet, we don’t climb alone. Kristen continually points our eyes to Jesus and His faithfulness, reminding us of His invitation to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Kristen’s books always challenge me to live beyond complacency, and this one is no exception! Reading it on the heals of David Platt’s book, Something Needs to Change, made it even more impactful!

The Cage Series (which includes The Cage, The Hunt, and The Gauntlet) by Megan Shepherd is a trilogy in the YA Fiction/Fantasty/SciFi genre. The first book drew me in quickly with likable, well-developed characters and great world-building, and the plot carried well throughout all three books. I found myself especially drawn in by the action in the third book! Overall, the characters and writing were engaging enough to keep me reading, which is exactly what I look for in this genre!

The Cowboy’s Twin Surprise is a romance novel written by my dear friend and amazing author, Stephanie Dees. I do not typically read romance novels, but I have wanted to read Stephanie’s work for a long time and finally got around to ordering one of her books. It did not disappoint! This was a sweet, well-written story with many layers beyond just romance. Reading it felt like watching a Hallmark movie! Stephanie did a great job tackling some tough, real-life issues with compassion and hope. If you like romance novels, you definitely need some Stephanie Dees books in your life!

And finally, Living Prayer by Robert Benson. This is another book that has been on my list for awhile, and I am so glad I finally ordered it! It is, in essence, Benson’s journey into the world of liturgical prayer and what he has learned about faith and God Himself through the rhythm of the Ancient prayers. I’ll be honest… I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. But it is rare that I am unable to find something redeeming in a book, especially when I like the author, so I kept reading.

Y’all. There is so much good stuff in it, I don’t even know where to begin! My prayer journal is filled with quotes and passages that have been speaking to me as I read, and I have been reminded of experiences along my own journey which have paved the way to my understanding of prayer. I have one chapter left- I have been reading a chapter a day during my God Time- and I am actually sad to finish it; it’s that good. Benson kind of has a folksy flair to his writing (and life), so if that style irritates you, then maybe you should skip it. Otherwise, I highly recommend it!

And that’s what I’ve been reading this month! What’s in your book stack? Any books you recommend? Feel free to share in the comments!

Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part 2): Guidelines for Staying Safe, Steady, and Sane On-line

(Note: This is the second post in a three-part series on parenting teens in a virtual world. Click here for the first post on 8 things you can do before giving your teen access to social media. The next post will be about developing a Technology Contract with your teens.)

Do you remember what it was like when you were having your first baby? If you were anything like me, you read all the books and talked to all the people and bought all the stuff, because that’s what good parents did. But the reality was, we had no clue what we were doing! 

I will never forget the first night we brought Sarah home from the hospital. She was screaming her little head off and then doing this weird gagging thing, like a cat with a hairball. As her face turned purple, we panicked and called the nurse line, and all I could think was, “How in the world am I supposed to keep this little person alive?!” 

Parenting teens in the technology age can feel a lot like that.

It’s scary and dangerous and there are so many unknowns. It can be hard to know where to start and even harder to control. We want to protect our children and give them independence at the same time, all without causing World War III in our homes. Is that even possible?

In Part 1 of this series, we covered some things you can do before your teens enter the digital world (you can read about that here). Today I want to share some things we have learned as we’ve navigated this challenge with our teen girls over the past few years. Much of this wisdom was passed down to us from people much wiser than we are. Some of it we have figured out on our own, and some of it we are still trying to implement. 

Notice the phone in her hand!!

Please do not think we have mastered any of this! On any given day (including today), you will find us either confronting or ignoring any number of these suggestions in our own home. We have loosened our boundaries in certain areas where our girls have proven themselves trustworthy (and also, let’s be honest, where we have gotten lazy), but many of these things really are essential for the well-being of our teens. 

So I encourage you to read through this and discuss these suggestions with your teen. Hopefully this conversation will help you as you develop boundaries and expectations for your family and put together your Technology Contract (more on that in Part 3!).

The following bullet points are written as though addressing your teen; there are some additional details in the talking points section directed towards parents. This is obviously not exhaustive- feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comments!

SAFE: (Safety/Privacy)

Keep all maps & locations turned off. Always keep your privacy settings as private as possible.

Never give out (or post anything which will give out) private information, such as your full name, age, address, phone #’s, school or activity locations, etc.

Only “friend” and “follow” people you know personally very well.  Ask permission before following famous people, etc. Be careful about who you are allowing to influence you!

Never block your parents from seeing any of your posts.  If you feel the need to block them (other than for a surprise party!), chances are you shouldn’t be doing it.

NEVER agree to meet someone in person without your parents knowledge, even people you think you know well. Online traffickers are sneaky and manipulative; it just isn’t worth the risk. 

STEADY: (Integrity/Accountability)

Always ask people’s permission before you post a photo of them or tag them in a photo.

Before you post anything, stop and THINK: Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind?  If not, don’t post it! And don’t post anything your parents, grandparents, siblings, and youth pastor would not approve of. This includes profanity, bullying, humor at someone else’s expense, naked or “sexy” pics, etc.

If you see something inappropriate, tell your parents immediately, and DO NOT DELETE/UNFOLLOW/ETC it until your parents have seen it.  This includes negative comments, images, bullying, and more.  Please care more about doing the right thing than protecting your friends. (NOTE: Most teens don’t know you can be held legally responsible for images you receive that are not reported, not just what you send.)

Keep an updated list of all your accounts and passwords where your parents can access it. Understand that having your parents “follow” you and occasionally check your phone provides some accountability to keep you safe and help you make wise choices. 

Stay away from temptation. Don’t use the “Search” and “For You” features unless you are looking for someone specific. Don’t Facetime from your bedroom. The Bible cautions us again and again to flee temptation for good reason; just stay away.  And if (or when) you do accidentally see something you shouldn’t, tell a parent or trusted adult. It may seem like it’s no big deal, but trust me- bad things grow in the dark. Bringing it into the light will help you process your feelings and provide some accountability. 

Remember Social Media can be used for “good or evil”… be the one who uses it for good! Make the most of your opportunity to be a Light in a world that needs hope.

Sane: (Stress/Emotional Health)

Have a central charging station (not in bedrooms) where all family members, including parents, charge their phones overnight. Set a time (9pm?) for all phones and devices to be put away each night.

Limit your platforms. The temptation is to do all the things, but no one can really manage more than one or two platforms well anyway.  Choose one or two which are most useful to you and keep it at that. 

Limit your technology time. It is so easy to get sucked into the digital vortex, where 20 minutes somehow turns into 2 hours! We need time and space to rest, to be creative, and to connect with physical people. Decide now how much of your time you are willing to give away to your phone or video games, and set restrictions to hold yourself accountable.

Don’t confuse important with urgent. You don’t have to immediately answer every text/snap/DM, join every game request, or reply to every comment (even if it shows that you read it). Nor should you expect others to be at your beckon call. Respect yourself and your friends enough to give each other space without constantly taking things personally.

It’s okay to stay silent. You don’t have to tell the whole world how mad you are or how much that person hurt you. You don’t have to confront every lie or engage in every argument. Learning when to speak and when to stay silent is an important life skill- social media offers a great opportunity to develop discernment.

Know when to step away. Social media and technology affect everyone differently; if you feel stressed, angry, or sad and you don’t really know why, try getting offline for a few days. The constant comparison and desire for “likes,” “followers,” “wins,” or “kills” can create pressure without you even realizing it. Stepping away for awhile gives you a chance to breathe and reset yourself. Do this occasionally, even when you don’t feel like it is necessary, just to make sure you are mastering it instead of letting it master you. 

********************

Here are some additional talking points for parents, explaining some of these guidelines in  more detail. If all of this is new to you, take a few minutes and read through the rest of this.

Talking Points for Parents

  • Our girls started with Facebook. Since it is a platform used mostly by adults, it helped them learn not to post anything they wouldn’t want their parents, their friends’ parents, youth pastor, etc. reading. It also gave them a safe place to get their feet wet without embarrassing themselves with nerdy posts, etc. This is especially true if they are gaining access during their middle school years. My girls look back at some of the things they posted when they were 14 and are mortified (and grateful it was on FB and not Instagram where all their friends would have seen it! Ha!)
  • Encourage them to use their platform for good. There are so many ways they can be a LIGHT: texting friends who are struggling, sharing verses or encouraging posts about what the Lord is teaching them, making sure their words are kind and uplifting, confronting false ideology in love with Truth, etc. Make sure you notice when you see them doing this and encourage them!
  • Keep an eye on their followers and the people they follow. If you take the time to show them how easy it is to gather information on people with a public account, they should not argue too much on this point. But teens often feel like a friend of a friend isn’t really a stranger, and neither is that guy or girl they talked to for 3 minutes at their theater competition or baseball tournament. The people they follow have a voice in their life (this includes the “famous” people they follow). This is a great opportunity to talk about choosing wisely who we allow to influence us.
  • Hold them accountable. Just knowing their parents are going to see what they post (and what their friends comment) will provide a level accountability which helps keep them out of trouble. Require them to give you all their passwords; “like” their posts and talk to them about what they’re doing so they know you’re paying attention. 
  • Our kids know that we will both follow them on social media AND monitor their social media and texting activity from their phones. THIS IS ESSENTIAL. I don’t care how great your kid is or how much they love Jesus, follow rules, etc. It is imperative that you check on them occasionally. There is no such thing as a perfect kid, and there are all kinds of things that happen that are difficult for them to talk to us about. They need us to walk alongside them in this journey.
  • ***NOTEThis is not an opportunity for you to spy on your kid or learn all their secrets. It is more about scanning to make sure you’re not missing anything… are there signs that they are depressed or anxious, lying to their friends or you, being bullied or bullying others, etc.? And if you find something, try not to freak out! We have had to have multiple conversations with our daughters about things that we have found, and it has rarely been as bad as it seemed. Take time to pray about it before your confront anything. Often you can approach it in a way that doesn’t relate back to their phone; just bringing up the topic creates an opportunity for them to share what is going on. We need to choose our battles wisely. If we are constantly confronting them with things they post and text, it is likely they will eventually shut us out and hide their online activity from us. That is definitely not what we’re going for.
  • Limit their platforms. Seriously, as an adult I have a difficult time monitoring how much time I spend on social media. This is an even greater challenge for teens! They don’t need access to everything. Help them determine which one or two apps will best serve their purpose and limit it to that. Snapchat is extremely difficult for parents to monitor, so I don’t suggest starting with it. We showed our girls an article interviewing the creators of Snapchat in which they share how they created the app for the sole purpose of “sexting.” This was eye-opening to our girls and helped them understand why it was not something we wanted them to use. Our oldest daughter does have it now, but that came after several years of earning our trust in how she handles herself online and in real life. She shares her snaps with us… mostly they just send each other pics of half their face or with the camera looking up their nose. Not sure why that’s fun, but apparently it is…
  • Help them recognize when their connectivity is stressing them out and let them know it’s okay to step back for awhile (or for good). Some people cannot handle the constant comparison to other people’s lives or the pressure that comes with waiting for “likes.” They might find themselves feeling anxious or left out or angry; they may start being tempted to do things they don’t want to do or become someone they are not in order to fit in. If so, they need to step back. One of our girls would bring us her phone on her own every few weeks and ask us to keep it for a few days so she could have a break. She knew she needed a break, but she also knew she wasn’t strong enough to step back on her own. 
  • Beware of the Search Feature: the “Search” feature is one of the most dangerous parts of Social Media. A friend told me this was the reason her boys wouldn’t ever have Instagram, so we checked it out… within the first five minutes we saw a man expose himself, as well as a college-age girl “vlogging” in her car, who then ended up masturbating on camera! WHAT???? So we basically just explained to our girls the kinds of things they would see, that they couldn’t “un-see” those things, and that our expectation was for them to not use the Search feature (or videos/people you might like, etc) unless they were searching for a specific friend. Protective software (like Covenant Eyes) does not monitor inside apps, btw, so we basically just had to trust them. Again, we know them well enough to know that they would not really be interested in that, just like they are not interested in viewing the trash on Tik-Tok. But we still monitor and try to keep on top of whatever they ARE watching.
  • Parents, we must follow through! If we say we are going to follow their accounts or check their devices, we must actively do so. If they agree to set time limits, we must enforce them. Our teens have enough friends; they need us to be the parents!

Above all, pray. Pray for your teens- for their protection, their safety, their purity, their influence, their relationship with you, their friends, and their relationship with God. Ask the Lord to reveal anything hidden that needs to be brought into the light, and to prompt your heart when something isn’t right. Every single time I have found something in our girls’ digital life that needed addressing has been a direct result of a prompting from the Holy Spirit. Of all the things we do, prayer is the most effective tool we have in navigating these digital waters with our teens.

Do you have anything to add (to this very long post!!)? Feel free to comment! And click HERE for Part 3 on developing a Technology Contract with your teens…

Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part One): 8 Things to Do Before You Give Your Teen Access to Social Media

A sweet friend recently asked me for some advice about how to introduce her 16 year old daughter to the world of social media. Yes, you read that right- her daughter is 16 and does not have social media. Obviously, I should be asking my friend for parenting advice!

But it got me thinking about things we’ve done both right and wrong when it comes to technology use in our family. I am going to break this topic into three different blog posts since there is so much information to cover. In this first one, I will share eight things we did before we ever gave our teens access to social media. Consider this the foundation that everything else is built on. The second post will cover how to navigate the various issues that come along with social media (click here to read Part 2), and the last post will be about things to include in your social media contract (click here for Part 3).

Jeff and I spent countless hours reading articles and talking to friends with older children before our teens ever entered the virtual world. We took our responsibility as parents seriously- and that is where I think we need to start when discussing this topic.

YOU are the parent.

You ARE the parent.

You are the PARENT!

Whichever word you want to emphasize, the fact remains that you are the parent and it is your responsibility to guide and protect your teen through the virtual world. Surely you would not drop them off in a strip joint or at a club with a bunch of strange adults and assume they could handle themselves. (If you would, you can stop reading now because you are not going to like anything I have to say!

That sounds ludicrous to most of us, and yet those are some of dangers- among many- that await our teens in the virtual world. If we pretend they don’t exist, we are putting our head in the sand and our teenagers in danger. This is not an area in which we can afford to shirk responsibility. If your teen wants social media, please, PLEASE commit to being involved, setting limits, watching things you don’t want to watch, keeping communication open, and saying no when necessary. Your teen needs you, even if they won’t admit it. Your role is so important!

Also, I should be honest with you. If it were up to me, our kids would never have gotten phones or texting or social media. Ever. Between the danger and drama and addiction, I would have been happy to pick us all up and move to the Amish country. Fortunately for our kids, Jeff is way cooler than I am, and he was able to convince me that technology- and social media- are likely going to be a part of their lives forever. 

“We have a choice,” he told me. “We can deny them access now and risk them sneaking it behind our backs or having to figure it out on their own in a college atmosphere, or we can choose to navigate this road alongside them, allowing them to make their mistakes with us by their side to guide them, and if necessary, protect them.”

Yeah, I married a good man. I think I’ll keep him.

So anyway, here are eight things we recommend you do BEFORE you give your teen access to social media:

1. WAIT until they are 13… and then wait a little longer.

This is by far the number one suggestion experienced parents give, and many older teens actually agree- delay it as long as you can! Almost all social media platforms require users to be at least thirteen to set up an account, and there are reasons for this. The virtual world has the potential to expose your child to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges that require great maturity, integrity, and self-control. The older they are when they face these challenges, the less at risk they will be and the more likely they will be to avoid them altogether. 

One friend shared that, of her three children, “the one who waited the longest (before getting social media) is the one with the least amount of social anxiety.” This, by far, is the best thing you can do to protect your teen.  Care about them enough to say NO and wait until they are really ready for what they are getting into.

2. Look at their TIME.  

Since our girls were among the last of their friends to get access to social media, one of the best things we did was talk about how they saw it impacting those around them. Social media seems so glamorous from the outside, and it is easy to feel excluded, like they are the only one who doesn’t have it (validate those feelings; they are very real!). However, if your teen looks a little closer, they will notice how much TIME their friends spend on their phones and how quickly they stop actually talking to one another. Staring at a screen together is not the same as experiencing LIFE together. Use this time before your teen is on social media to help them notice what others are missing out on.

One of my 12th grade small group girls gave up social media over six months ago as part of a challenge by our student pastor. She shared with me that it was surprisingly freeing to let it go- she was less stressed, happier, and suddenly found herself with a lot of free time. The hardest part was actually being around her friends because even when they were all together, she often had no one to talk to since they were all on their phones. It’s ironic that the thing they desperately want in order to connect with friends often keeps them from doing just that.

This probably is not going to stop your teen from becoming attached to his screen, but it might delay it and make it easier for you to step in and reestablish boundaries when he gets out of control. After all, it is always easier to see things in other people than it is to recognize them in ourselves. Having this conversation now will give you something to refer back to down the road.

3. Find out their WHY. 

Talk with them about why they want social media. What are they hoping to get out of it? How do they see themselves using it? What are their expectations and fears? What boundaries do they think are reasonable and important and why? Having this conversation will help you both better understand what areas may create temptations and where to set boundaries. 

As a parent, pay careful attention to their why. The biggest lie of social media is that our worth is connected to what other people think of us. We must constantly, continually, lovingly remind our kids that they are more than the sum of their parts or the sum of their “likes.” Their worth lies in their identity as a child of God and nowhere else. Our teens WILL get sucked into this trap without even realizing it. It is up to us to stand guard, watching for the enemy’s lies, whispering (and sometimes shouting) Truth to our kids. Their “why” helps us know where their insecurities are so we can help guard against them.

4. Show them the Dangers. 

One of the most impactful things we did was to spend 15-20 minutes on several different occasions showing them how easy it is for strangers (and future employers, etc) to gain information about us through social media.                   

  • I started with a “friend” who had private settings, and we scrolled through her posts, pointing out information she was unknowingly giving- where she works, where her kids go to school (based on a sign in the background or a logo on their shirt), what time she picked them up (from the time stamp on a carpool post), what restaurants she liked to eat at (from “locations” or a photo), what her hobbies are, etc. I made a list of what we had learned in 5 minutes and we talked about how easy it is to accidentally give away information we are trying intentionally not to post. 
  • Next, I clicked on a “friend of a friend” (who I didn’t know) and showed them how different privacy settings either allowed or restricted me, as a stranger, access to their information. I chose someone with public settings and we made a list of how much information I was able to gather in 5 minutes just from what they were posting. It was pretty eye opening for all of us! 
  • We also used this as a tool to show how what you post can lead to certain impressions of yourself and why it’s important to be careful. I pulled up profiles of different people they don’t know and asked them to tell me how they perceived them based on the photos they posted. I intentionally picked some of my friends who post selfies of workout pics or suggestive poses so they could see what it really looks like when they don’t actually know the person (I found this didn’t work as well with their friends- they were quick to defend them and see it as attractive and trendy rather than desperate). We looked at photos of married friends who post as though they are single and talked about what impression they are giving off. We looked at teens who shared “emotional” or “rebellious” posts and discussed how that made them a target for predators. 
  • We looked at posts from some of our high school and college-age friends who were using profanity, complaining about a job or teacher, or sharing “funny” (but offensive) memes. We discussed how that might hurt someone’s feelings or affect them being offered a scholarship or a job one day when someone checks their social media to help determine their character. Sure, they were just posting for their “friends,” but what were their posts really conveying? A picture paints a thousand words…
  • If you have Snapchat, it’s great to show them how you can take a screenshot of a “snap” before it disappears, making it no longer “temporary.” If they already have a phone, select an embarrassing photo or scroll through their private texts and screenshot something “personal” they sent (or use yourself as an example), and show them how nothing they send is ever really private or personal. This is a great way to help them see why it is so important not to post or send anything they don’t want the whole world to see. They will forget this lesson (don’t we all?), but it still lays a good foundation.
  • It is also important to address the issue of porn, which unfortunately is prevalent and easily accessible through social media. It will only take you about five minutes using the “Search” tool on Instagram to get an eyeful of things you can’t un-see (and it’s likely some of their friends will post inappropriate things as well). We’ll address this more in the next post, but it must be included here, especially if you have a boy. I don’t recommend actually showing them images, as that just invites temptation. But don’t avoid the topic, either. They need to know they likely WILL encounter it and what to do when that happens, as well as specific ways they can limit their exposure.
  • As I mentioned, we did this on a few different occasions and it definitely made a greater impact than any lectures we gave them about being safe and cautious online. 

5. Talk about HOW.  

What will social media look like in your family? How do they want to represent themselves? How can they use their “voice” for good? How can they avoid attracting unwanted attention? How should they handle it if they receive an inappropriate message or a friend posts something that makes them concerned? How can they keep themselves from growing attached to their phone or drawing their worth from their followers? How can they know when they need to step back?

6. Work on Communication. 

Actually, all of these ideas lay the foundation for great communication! Doing this before they get social media will help you be able to better guide and protect them as they navigate this new virtual world. Be intentional about keeping this communication open- which may mean watching a bunch of stupid videos or making a fool of yourself doing tik-tok videos with them- but it is well worth it! Whatever it takes to keep the lines of communication open, just do it! This is your most valuable tool.

7. Discuss Guidelines and Boundaries. 

Be specific. It is important for your teen to understand that the guidelines and boundaries you put in place are for their good and because you love them. Hopefully you have some of these same boundaries in place for yourself- that will make it a little less painful! In any case, it is extremely important to have boundaries set in place before they begin using social media.  You will use these guidelines to form the basis of your social media/technology contract. We will cover this and suggestions for the contract in the third part of this blog series.

8. Sign a contract. 

Have them sign a contract and be part of choosing the consequences (in advance) if they break their word. There should also be expectations for you- what you agree to do to keep them safe, how you agree to not overreact if they come to you for help, etc. The contract is not an attempt to control them or punish them; it is created for their protection and benefit. It should be signed by both of you and kept somewhere where you both can see it (we put it in a file, and I find myself not enforcing things because I can’t remember what the contract said!).

Hopefully this gives you some things to start thinking about. Feel free to share any other ideas in the comments!

Ready for the next step? Click here for Part 2: Guidelines for Staying Safe, Steady, and Sane On-line!

So You’re Suddenly a Homeschooler… Tips for Surviving (and maybe even thriving!) During the Quarantine

I wish I had a dollar for everyone who has said to me, “Oh, I could never homeschool my kids. I don’t have the patience!” or “I couldn’t do that; I would kill my kids!” The truth is, NO ONE has the patience to homeschool, and all of us get frustrated with our children!

Most of you know we have four children whom we have homeschooled or hybrid-schooled for the past 10 years. What I learned during our early years was that homeschooling was about way more than learning and teaching educational information. It was about learning how to communicate and how to resolve conflict. It required listening and observing more than I talked, and recognizing (and admitting) when my children were right and I was wrong. It involved planning and being flexible and embracing the opportunity for my kids to be bored, which often led to great creativity.

There have definitely been a lot of struggles along the way- raised voices, tears, an occasional slammed door- but there has also been great joy and bonding when we worked through challenges and found a solution together. I believe parenting our girls’ in their teen years has been easier and much more enjoyable because of the patterns we all learned and the relationships we built during those years. And I’m hopeful the same will be true with our boys.

But chances are, that is not your story…

If you are reading this, it is likely because life as we know it has changed drastically in the past week, and you suddenly find yourself at home with your children. In addition to being their parent, you now also bear the responsibility of being their teacher for a few weeks (or more), and it’s not something you chose.  I imagine these first few days have been bumpy as teachers, parents, and students all try to navigate the shift to “on-line” learning.  

And on top of teaching subjects you have not studied yourself in decades, you also have the added bonus of enforcing that work gets done AND filling up all the free-time that comes along with cancelled activities and “social distancing.” Hooray! 

This is totally what you signed up for, right? 

Sigh.

But don’t lose heart, friend! Believe it or not, this time is a gift, frustrations and all. We will talk about this quarantine for years to come, and right now is when we get to choose how we will spend it. What do you want your kids to remember about this global pandemic? Fear and frustration? Or love and laughter? I am choosing to embrace this gift of time together (you can read about that here), and I encourage you to do the same.

I know, I know… that is easier said than done; and not just at your house, but at mine as well.  So here are a few tips I have learned during our homeschooling years that might help you not only survive your sudden schooling-at-home status, but hopefully even embrace it. 

Lower your expectations

Whether you are a working parent who is trying to put in a full day of work at home while homeschooling your kids or a stay at home parent who has a list of all the home projects you want to accomplish now that you have no where to go (like me), just stop. It’s not going to happen, at least not at the level you’re hoping. One of the biggest frustrations I face as a homeschooling mom is expecting to be productive myself during a homeschool day. The reality is that being a teacher is my JOB… and for the next several weeks, it is your job, too. And that means that several hours of our day will need to be spent teaching, or at least supervising, the educational activities of our kids. I cannot stress this enough!

It is not fair to our kids to expect them to school themselves, and it is not fair to ourselves to expect that we can do more than one job at a time. So for this small window of time (and really, while it may be a huge inconvenience right now, in the grand scheme, it truly is a small window), lower your expectations and allow yourself to feel like a success if, at the end of the day, most of their school work has been completed and your people have been fed.  And yes, cereal totally counts. 

Create a Routine

Even if you are a creative, free-spirited individual, a routine is going to help you in this season. And if you are a schedule-oriented person, understanding the flexibility of a routine will help you as well. My dear friend and homeschooling mentor, Tina Jobe, shared the following advice in a Facebook post, explaining the difference between a routine and a schedule:  

A schedule is rigid. Each time has a purpose. A routine means you do things in a certain order, but times are not assigned. Routine means if you start an hour late, it’s ok. Something else gives… If you are enjoying a read-aloud and the kids don’t want to stop listening, keep reading. Just jump back into your routine after lunch.”

Your kids are used to having a specific order to their day at school. Creating a similar routine at home- adjusted for your own circumstances and priorities- will add some consistency to their days and will help all of you know how to plan. We generally start with one or two quick and easy subjects and then tackle their hardest/longest subject, and alternate from there. Figure out what works for you and do it.

Build in time for what you need to do 

I know, I told you to lower your expectations, and you should! Go ahead and lower them again while you’re at it! But let’s be real… there are also things we have to do. The laundry and dishes need to get done, bills need to be paid, dinner needs to find its way into the crockpot, those of you with a job need to accomplish something to keep the paycheck coming in, and who are we kidding- we all need a few minutes to hide in the closet and stuff our face with chocolate!

Here’s how I attempt to make that happen (especially the chocolate part): Before I go to bed, I make a list of what I need to get done the next day. Then, true to my first tip, I try to cross off half the list. Next, I look at our normal routine and figure out the best windows of time to fit those things in. For me, that might look like starting a load of laundry as soon as I get up and then having my God Time while the kids are eating breakfast. I figure out which subjects they can do fairly independently and have them do those while I clean up the breakfast dishes, answer emails, swap the laundry, etc. We spend a few hours of concentrated schooling time (our girls are in high school, so they work independently for the most part, but my boys still need quite a bit of help). For me, this works best if I just sit between them and bounce back and forth between them as needed. If I know I need to spend concentrated time with one, I try to get the other one started on a subject they can finish without me.

Generally, for middle school and below we are finished with schoolwork by lunchtime which leaves the afternoon somewhat free. But in order for that to happen, we have to…

Start Early

One of the blessings of homeschooling is that you get to set your start time, and it doesn’t have to be when it’s still dark outside! Absolutely let your kids sleep in a little bit if you want! But almost all of my homeschooling friends agree that our kids are most productive in the morning. An assignment that takes us 30 minutes in the morning may take us two hours in the afternoon; I guess their brains get tired? I don’t know, but it’s definitely a thing. So keep that in mind when you create your routine. If you are working from home, you may be able to get a couple hours of work done in the morning before they start school, or you may want to get them started early so you have the afternoon free. Do what works for you! But don’t let them waste those morning hours, especially if you find schoolwork is taking All. Day. Long. 

Let them be bored

This goes against the very fiber of our over-scheduled society, I know, but it is one of the best parts of homeschooling… and also the hardest. Chances are, many of you have realized this week that schoolwork doesn’t actually take all day and you are wondering WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THE REST OF THAT TIME?! The answer, simply, is to let them be bored. Kids need time and space in order to create things, so letting them actually be bored for a change is a gift! Who knows what will happen when they are given time to explore a new interest or develop a hobby?

Just don’t let them tell you they’re bored. My friend, Tina, also mentioned this tip in her Facebook post, and her now college-age daughter replied in the comments, “ ‘I’m bored’ was not allowed… if we said it, we’d be put to work cleaning!” She went on to mention the secret form of communication they used in order to sneak outside and play to avoid having to do chores. I love it!!  That’s another tip: Cleaning is definitely the best antidote for boredom. Keep a list handy of cleaning jobs to assign when someone complains of boredom (wipe down baseboards, wash windows and mirrors, clean toilets and tubs, sweep the floor, clean out a drawer- many of these can be done even by preschool age children!).  You will find that phrase disappears quickly, and they will come up with all kinds of creative messes all by themselves!

Brainstorm activities with them

Okay, so it’s not really fair to fill every second of their week with activities and then suddenly thrust them into hours and hours of unstructured free time every day and expect them to know what to do. But it also isn’t your job to entertain them that whole time either. Supervise them, yes; entertain them, no. So, what’s a parent to do? Take some time to brainstorm:

  • Put together a list of all the chores you expect them to do daily.
  • Have them make a list of all the board games and creative activities in your house, and all the things they can do outside (walk the dog, ride a bike or scooter or skateboard, play basketball, etc).
  • Look up some ideas online of age-appropriate activities and hobbies and have them choose some things they are interested in learning.
  • Make a list of Netflix shows and documentaries and on-line activities/games/experiences they can watch.
  • This is also a good place to throw in some of those projects you’d like to work on around the house. Cleaning out closets, sorting through seasonal clothes, catching up on scrapbooks… add these to the list!
  • If just the thought of organizing this overwhelms you, ask an older child, babysitter, or grandparent to come up with some ideas instead. This might be a great way for them to be in contact with your children while they are unable to see them due to the quarantine.

Once you have all this information, build it into your routine. We do chores and schoolwork first, and we include walking the dog, practicing music, and reading for 45 minutes in our chore list. After that, you can either schedule independent time and sibling play time, or structure it around activities- creative time (art, writing, singing, dancing, building), outside time, physical activity time, technology time, etc. Do whatever works best for your family.

If your children are younger, they will need more structure and parental involvement. Once they reach middle school, or even upper-elementary for some kids, you can simply tell them to check their list and choose an activity. Either way, having a list is a fantastic resource and will help you avoid the “I’m bored” scenarios. Our boys have spent the past two days making contraptions in our basement using construction paper, legos, and ping pong balls after watching a few episodes of Dude Perfect. Sshh… don’t tell them they’re actually doing S.T.E.M.!

If all else fails, put on some music and have a dance party! 

Or take a break and watch a movie, go on a hike, or bake some brownies. Have some fun! Life is busy and stressful, and you won’t have always have this time together. Make memories together, and make sure some of them are good.  It’s okay if you’re not a perfect teacher or a perfect parent. Remember that thing about lowering your expectations? Yeah, go back and do that again.

And when you feel overwhelmed or frustrated or weary, take a deep breath and let the Holy Spirit fill you with whatever you need most in that moment. His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in our weakness.

Remember, no one has enough patience to homeschool! But we know the One who gives it. You can do this!

(Feel free to reach out to me personally or in the comments if you have specific questions or need help. We’re all in this together!)

Coronavirus, Toilet Paper, and Slowing Down Time

Friends, we are living in crazy times. Schools are closing in an attempt to contain the coronavirus, fear and cynicism are rampant, and people are hoarding toilet paper… I don’t think any of us ever expected this! 

I have read a lot of different perspectives and comments over the last couple weeks, and the words I’ve been noticing are frustrated, frightened, irritated, unnecessary, confused, and afraid, to name a few. 

The one thing I haven’t heard anyone say is, “I am so thankful for the coronavirus and the quarantine.  I wish time would slow down so we could really enjoy it!”

Nope, I think most people are just ready to get through this uncharted territory and get on with life… 

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I don’t usually choose a “word for the year.” I’m not sure why; it just hasn’t been something I felt compelled to do. 

But this year, a word chose me. 

As I prayed over all the changes and transitions this year would hold for our family, especially with Sarah graduating and going off to college, I found myself dreading the days to come. The years we spent homeschooling have created a strong bond within our family, and the thought of this stage of life (having all my baby birds in the nest) ending just makes me sad. I get teary-eyed even thinking about her last show and last prom and graduation. I never would have dreamed it would be so hard to launch a child into adulthood! How I wished I could rewind the clock or at least just slow down time!

So I poured all these things out to the Lord, all my grief and fears and dreading. And as I sat there lamenting the change of this season, the Lord whispered a word to my heart.

Embrace.

Embrace these moments, I heard Him say. Don’t dread them. Savor them, treasure them, immerse yourself in them. For you are right, they will be gone in the blink of an eye, and you don’t want to miss any of it because you are too wrapped up in your own pity party. Lift up your eyes, open your hands, and receive these little gifts of joy. You can’t make time slow down, but you can slow yourself down enough to embrace it.

Embrace.

That word has changed everything for me this year.

I find myself returning to it again and again. I’m not going to lie- there are still tears in this season of “lasts.” But they are joyful tears, the kind that overflow from a full heart, marking these moments as something to be treasured.

And that word- embrace– it shifts my perspective when I start holding on too tightly. It reminds me that all our days and years and moments are known and numbered by One much greater than me. It enables me to rest in His promises and seize the day, leaving the future in His hands.

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This word, embrace, has been echoing in my mind these past few days as well. 

Obviously, I don’t rejoice in people getting sick or being afraid or missing work. I realize it is a hardship for many, and it has altered everyday life for all of us. People need help with childcare and groceries. Events are being cancelled, and school and worship services are being held online. These are strange days we are living in… I mean, we just delivered a package of toilet paper to some friends, for goodness’ sake! Definitely strange.

Am I really suggesting we should embrace it?

That is exactly what I am suggesting. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Give thanks in all circumstances, not for them…

Sure, our lives are being disrupted. But in the midst of this strange circumstance, what can you be thankful for? Gratitude is the key to embracing.

For me, I am grateful that, just for a little while, time is slowing down. Our hybrid school has transitioned into a more academic, private school model over the past few years, and while there are advantages to that, I have really missed our homeschooling days. Between school, church, drama, small groups, college ministry, sports, Jeff travelling, and the girls working, it is not very often that all six of us are in the same place for very long. It has become difficult for us to even eat dinner together one day a week! 

And I miss it. 

So, the thought of having all of us under the same roof for a whole week, maybe two, with no outside activities and no place we have to be is like an unexpected gift! As I watch these not-so-little-anymore people growing up before my eyes, I have longed for time to slow down… and now, just for a little while, it has. 

For just a few days, we will sit at the table and do school work together, just like we used to. We will look for opportunities to be generous to those in need and share with our neighbors. We will eat home-cooked meals and play board games and watch movies. There are books on my nightstand and cookies ready to go in the oven. And yes, like any good mom, I have several cleaning projects for us to tackle as well!

On a bigger scale, I am not really sure what the next week or two (or more) will look like, or how this epidemic will ultimately affect our country, our world, and perhaps even our family. The reality is, it is way out of our hands and far beyond our control. Dreading it or resenting it will not help anything; it will only rob us of peace. 

Instead, I choose joy. I choose gratitude. 

I choose to let time slow down, and embrace it.

(And I am happy to bring you some toilet paper if you need it. Just sayin’!)

Putting on my Peace Shoes (and Walking What I Talk)

It never fails.

Have you ever heard the old adage, “Be careful what you pray for, because you might just get it?” Or maybe “Don’t pray for patience or the Lord will put you in situations that require you to use it”?

Well, whenever we are teaching on Biblical truth, you can bet that we will promptly be presented with opportunities that require us to put that truth into practice. 

Yesterday was no exception.

I have been leading my 12th grade girls small group through Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God Study for teens over the last several weeks (which, btw, I highly recommend!), and this past Sunday we talked about the “shoes of the gospel of peace.” 

We discussed how peace is not the absence of chaos or conflict, but a sense of calm in the midst of it. We mentioned how Paul associated peace with the Roman soldier’s shoes because God’s peace moves with us wherever we go and the spikes help us keep our footing when we are on rocky or slippery ground. This kind of peace isn’t natural to us- it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit living inside us, and has to be accessed. Like shoes, it is something we have to intentionally “put on” each day. 

I had them write down some areas in which they were struggling to feel God’s peace, whether in their mind or heart or relationships. We talked about different things people substitute for the peace we so desperately long for, things that numb or distract us, such as social media or alcohol or relationships. 

We finished our discussion by looking at what the Bible says about how we go about putting on those “Peace Shoes;” how choosing to focus on Jesus and be grateful enables us to access peace in the midst of the crazy circumstances of our lives. They went through each of their areas of unrest and found something in each situation for which they could be grateful- a way they could see God working, the fact that it caused them to depend on His strength, an opportunity in which they could be a Light, and so on.

And then, before we left, we prayed that the Lord would help us intentionally put on the Shoes of Peace this week; that no matter how crazy the chaos around us became, we would choose to be grateful and stand firm in His peace.

Do you see where this is going?

I should have known. The Lord is faithful to always give me the chance to live out the truths I claim to believe when I teach. But more than that, the enemy is not going to let me teach a lesson like that and not use it as an opportunity to make me feel like a hypocrite!  

So, when the bottom dropped out yesterday, I should not have been surprised. 

And yet, I was. 

Jeff and I are in the middle of preparing for multiple major events this week, and just about everything that could possibly go wrong yesterday did. I won’t bore you with all the details- I’m sure you’ve had a day like this before. But we spent all afternoon working through challenges and putting out fires, only to have another one pop up somewhere else!

Let’s just say I wasn’t really feeling a lot of peace when I woke up this morning.

Before I even opened my eyes, I was going over my endless to-do list in my head, and before my feet touched the floor, I already felt defeated. 

Where are you, Lord?  

As the wind and waves of my circumstances swirled around me, I couldn’t even concentrate. How are we supposed to handle this, Lord? What do we do now? How are we possibly going to get everything done? Help me, Lord!

Help me!

An image popped in my mind of Peter standing out there on the water, storm raging around him, arms outstretched towards Jesus. “Lord, help me!” And that’s when I remembered our Peace Shoes from Sunday. 

Peace is not the absence of chaos, but a calmness in the midst of it”… and boy, was I in the midst of it! I wish I could say my first response to the craziness was fixing my eyes on Jesus and finding something to be grateful for, but it wasn’t.

Not even close.

It wasn’t until I was neck-deep in the waves of my chaos that I remembered where to lift my eyes. When I finally looked up, I saw Jesus. And something began to change. 

I remembered that peace doesn’t come naturally to us; we have to choose it. 

So, I took off the fear and frustration that were consuming me and strapped on my “peace shoes” in their place. I reached out to my sweet Small Group girls for prayer. I looked around at our shifting circumstances and then focused on Jesus, my solid Rock.

I thanked God for the opportunity to show my girls that I am willing to live out what I’m teaching them. I thanked Him for answering my prayer, even when the answer didn’t come in the way I wanted. I pried my fingers open and turned my palms up to the Lord, willing to receive whatever He would give. And with each exhale of thanksgiving, I breathed in peace.

His peace. 

The kind of peace that can’t really be explained, that defies all logic. The kind that helps you catch your breath and makes you feel grounded, even when the terrain around you is uneven.  The kind that expands to fill all the crevices which were carved out by the fear and frustration, until it all becomes a little easier to let go of. 

I’ll be honest- it took some effort. My thoughts kept returning to those stressful conversations, while my emotions fluctuated like an EKG. But 2 Corinthians 10:5 says we can demolish the enemy’s strongholds by taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” and so I did. 

I visualized Peter, walking on water, keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus while the storm raged around him. I found myself singing an old hymn from my youth, proclaiming in faith, “It is well with my soul.” And I continued to look for reasons to be thankful. 

More peace.

So, I am grateful tonight for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days we sometimes face, as they provide an opportunity to lean into Jesus. I am grateful for the chance to put legs on my lessons and walk out what I teach, even when it’s hard. I am grateful that a delayed response to my Savior does not disqualify me from receiving all the good things He offers His children. And I am grateful most of all for His unexplainable peace.

Now… what should I teach about next week?

Open Hands

Last weekend, our Student Ministry hosted U-Turn, our annual discipleship weekend. Our theme was “20/20 Vision,” but by the end of the weekend we all left with a different take-away. God’s message was clear- He wants us to approach Him and our crazy, unpredictable lives with a posture of  “open hands.”

Open Hands.

What does it really mean to come to God with open hands?

It means coming to God desiring what He wants more than what we want. Our hands are open to receive whatever He gives, even if it is something we wouldn’t choose.  It requires recognizing that He is God and we are not; His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. But He is good and can be trusted.

This all sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, it is not so easily accomplished. 

Why?  Because our hearts are deceitful. 

We think our hands are open, willing to receive whatever the Lord has to give. Yet, so often when I come to God believing that my hands are open, I am already clutching something else in my grasp. 

“Lord, heal me!” I cry, reaching out in faith for healing. 

“Lord, guide me!” I plead, seeking answers and direction.

“Lord, empower me!” I say, looking for opportunities.

And the whole time, I think my hands are open. I believe He will answer, and I know He is able to give me what I’m asking for. Surely I will receive it, according to my great faith, right?

Only I don’t realize I cannot receive anything because my hands are already full. If I look closely enough, though, I begin to see what fills them up… 

My expectations. 

I am reaching for healing, not the Healer

I am seeking direction, not the Guide.

I am seeking opportunities, not the Source.

I do not recognize Him when He comes because He doesn’t look like what I’m expecting. I do not receive what He has to give because my hands are too full… and yet, still empty.

Now, friends, we come by it honestly. The Bible is filled with people’s stories who were given what they desired and expected because they believed:

  • Hannah prayed in her barrenness and God gave her a son. 
  • Jonah prayed and God rescued him from the belly of a whale. 
  • Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for three years.
  • Blind men cried out to Jesus and were healed.
  • A bleeding woman was healed by just touching Jesus’ robe. 
  • The servant was healed as a result of the Centurion’s great faith. 

And on and on and on…

Surely all these examples confirm that God rewards those who trust in Him with whatever they are expecting from Him, right? After all, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV).

But, wait. 

Paul was given a “thorn in his flesh” and pleaded with God to take it away, but He didn’t. Instead of fulfilling Paul’s expectation, God told him His power would be made perfect in Paul’s weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)

When John the Baptist, from prison, had his followers ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we have been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Mt. 11:3 NLT), Jesus sent them back to John proclaiming all the miracles he was doing as confirmation that He was indeed the Messiah. Yet, John still ended up beheaded at the request of Herod’s stepdaughter. (Matthew 14:3-11)

Probably not quite what he was expecting…

I don’t know about you, but I am not one to question the faith of John the Baptist or the apostle Paul. So, maybe there isn’t a magic formula after all!

Which leads us back to Jesus. If ever there is an example of how we are to approach the Father, it is Jesus. The Son of God could have commanded the heavens to open and the angels to come to His rescue, but He didn’t. He could have zapped the guards and turned the Pharisees into pillars of salt, but He didn’t. He did plead with His Father to let there be another way, though He already knew there wasn’t, since He was part of the plan all along. So what did he do?

He opened His hands.

“Not my will, but Yours be done.”

And there it is. Open Hands. No expectations, no demands, no hidden agendas. Just a surrendering of self and a willingness to receive with gratitude whatever the Father gave.

Which, in this case, turned out to be a far greater gift than we could ever have imagined.

Friend, what do you need to let go of in order to open your hands to Jesus? What hidden expectations are getting in the way of receiving what He desires to give you? What is it you’ve been desiring more than Christ Himself without realizing it?

It has been a week, and I am still asking myself those questions. 

My hands are open, Lord. Thy Will be done.

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)

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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.