Through the Eye of the Storm, Through the Eye of a Child

Hurricane Irma…another hurricane that will not be forgotten in the state of Florida. For Mom, Dad, and Nana, this was not our first hurricane, but for my children, it was their very first experience to see and feel the heavy rain and wind that passed and hovered over us during our stay in Arcadia, Florida.

As Mom and Dad were watching the news, Adam and his sister, Naomi, had their eyes on their toys. There was no evacuation for us until in the middle of the day. Before the storm, we drove from Charlotte County to Arcadia to experience the feel and sound of it from a safer location. Our first comforting sight when we arrived at the Arcadia Seventh-day Adventist Church was the double rainbow in front of the church.

It did not rain the morning or afternoon that Saturday. The storm hit Florida on Sunday at 2 a.m. Twelve hours later it hit Lee County. Seven or eight hours later it hit Charlotte County, where my family lives. Four hours later Arcadia was hit.

It was the roughest 36 hours for all of us. We adults were trying to prepare for our comfort by selecting pews in which to rest; meanwhile, my son and daughter were finding comfort in each other by playing, jumping and crawling around, positioning their toys in the spot where they would sleep; and finally, together, we were singing “A Shelter in the Time of Storm” and “Psalm 40:8.”

We got the remaining bands of rain and the winds in gentler movements. It was the best way to take refuge in the worst part of the storm. We slept in the sanctuary of the church. We prayed. We got on each other’s nerves. Dad’s birthday was Saturday, but in the midst of it all, we did not get to sing “Happy Birthday” until that night, when a friend and his wife prepared a special dinner for him.

In my son’s eyes you could see a bit of excitement and urgency. He did well getting his toys and helping me gather a few pieces of clothes to put into the suitcase, but during the storm he struggled with being cooped up inside for hours and hours, not able to go outside to play.

There was a moment that my daughter was scared and told me so. So while the wind howled, the story of Noah and the Ark immediately came to mind. She lay on her back, and I lay on my stomach near her feet; we lay still on the pew in pure darkness, talking about how Jesus, in His great power from his Father, calmed the waters after 40 days and 40 nights. I also told her this storm wasn’t going to last as long as the one in Noah’s day, and that brought comfort to her. I prayed with her and shared with her Psalm 46:1, 2, which says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea….”

After it stopped I was hoping to see another rainbow, but God had already allowed us to see that double rainbow on Saturday, prior to the coming of Irma. What a beautiful sight that was to all of us who were able to see it. What also brought comfort to the children and me was the scripture verses, as well as what we were able to do for one of our neighbors.

This storm also helped us with learning to deal with little storms in our lives, and it gave us hope again to live for Jesus and God by becoming missionaries for them. So, thank you, Irma — and good-bye!

 

“Teach Them Your Children”

Poster in our home of the Ten Commandments

There isn’t a vast range of Scripture that specifically covers what to teach our children. Sure, there are several passages that discuss wisdom, knowledge, and important principles, as well as the words of our Savior. However, we may often overlook verses which explicitly deal with what our Heavenly Father has commanded His people to teach and how to instruct their children. One of these passages, located in the book of Deuteronomy, I believe is of great interest. “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth,” Deuteronomy 11:18-21 KJV. These are some pretty hefty verses; nevertheless, I would like to point out a few of the highlights.

Firstly, we are instructed to place God’s Word in our heart and soul. “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul…” This of course is a foreshadowing of the new covenant relationship with our blessed Redeemer as mentioned in the following Scriptures: “…but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people,” Jeremiah 31:33 KJV. “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them,” Hebrews 10:16 KJV.

Next we are told to “bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.” To understand the symbolism here, we need to look at some well known verses dealing with signs/marks upon foreheads (frontlets) and hands. “And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof,” Ezekiel 9:4 KJV. “And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,” Revelation 14:9 KJV. These verses are commonly interpreted to mean of some truth or error settled in our thoughts (forehead) and shown through our actions (hands). With this in mind it speaks of having God’s Word and Truth placed in our thoughts as well as being lived out in our lives.

Now that the groundwork has been laid, the educating of children can commence. “And ye shall teach them (God’s Word) your children, speaking of them (God’s Word) when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” We are to instruct our children His Word while we are at our homes, traveling about completing errands and what-not, as we prepare for bed, and as one of the first things we do from waking in the morning. We should be speaking God’s Word throughout the day to our children, not just at worship time and Bible class.

Then the verse gets interesting: “…and thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates.” Honestly, this part had me stumped for awhile. That is until I started practicing what many other families already do of placing Scripture verses throughout their homes. My personal observation is that ones placed at focal points are more easily read and memorized. Such areas include above the kitchen sink, around the dining room table, and especially doors — places where our eyes are drawn while we are moving about our day.

Poster in our home of 2 Peter dealing with character training

Lastly comes the promise, “that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.” Interestingly enough is how similar this promise is to the one found in the Ten Commandments dealing with respecting our parents: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee,” Exodus 20:12 KJV. These blessings are not only physical, as in this world we live in, but more importantly spiritual, looking forward to the world to come.

Sometimes we can get so bogged down trying to educate our children to the state’s and society’s standards, that we just might lose sight of the importance of true education. However, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” Numbers 23:19 KJV. His Word is clear! As parents we must seek and serve Him daily as we co-operate with the divine agencies in the growing of our relationship with Him. Then, we teach our children His Word by presenting it throughout our daily activities and placing it readily in their sight. By doing so we can do no harm, but instead bring great blessing upon our loved ones and ourselves.

May our Heavenly Father bless and guide you in your endeavor to raise children for His service in this life as well as the one to come, that you too may proclaim as the beloved apostle John did, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth,” 3 John 1:4 KJV.

Tools Trump Toys!

A few weeks ago, my then-ten-year-old son sent me this email:

(I purposely did not correct his grammar and punctuation errors so that you could know it is authentic. We can work on those later.)

Hi, how are you doing? I am doing good. I want a bird (chickadee) cake for my birthday and strawberry ice cream. I  want to go swimming and roast hot dogs on the fire and have watermelon for lunch on my birthday.

Here is a list of present’s:
Drill
Drill bits
Saw
Nails
Screws
Garden tools
Clippers
Love, AJ

Well, my heart smiled, and I immediately sent it to Grandma so that she could share my enjoyment, as well as have a list of birthday suggestions. Then, I studied the list more and began to wonder, “Are these gifts normal?” Do most soon-to-be-11-year-olds wish for clippers, drills, and garden tools?

We have boys. Pretty much from the time they were able to recognize a saw, they used sticks to make pretend ones. You know how it goes: a simple stick can transform into a chainsaw, a sword, or a violin bow, just as quick as the imagination changes gears. I don’t say that this is unique to boys; they are just what I have to observe. I’ve known little girls to turn a cell phone into a pretend ultrasound probe and scan their daddy’s belly. Kids just make up pretend tools according to what they are exposed to, because they want to do “real things.” In fact, if you stop to watch little people, many of their games are attempts to copy what their adults do frequently.It’s no wonder, then, that in our family, when our oldest boy turned nine (a few years ago), he scrimped and saved his dollars to purchase a used lawnmower, so that he could be just like his daddy, who ran a lawn service. Sure, he liked playing with Legos like most boys, but he mostly saved those for the winter months, when he had to be cooped up inside anyway. He always had a desire to do something useful — build something, make something, or try to figure out how something worked. He led the way in the “Tools over Toys” philosophy that we have preferred since we began our family.

We have never been opposed to toys, but as children grow and multiply, so do their toys! I began to inwardly groan whenever holidays and birthdays rolled around, because really, children don’t need as many toys as they generally have. They are hard to keep organized, and easy to lose. Thankfully, our extended family has been very respectful in the types of toys shared. As time has gone on, and especially since we are gearing up for a move into smaller living quarters, I have seen our boys begin to evaluate more closely their possessions. Suddenly, we all have to prioritize, and only the most important items get to go along with us! I’ve seen many toys go out, and we have shifted to the new era of Big Boy Toys.

Big Boy Toys are those that men and boys alike appreciate: power tools, ratchet sets, etc. Once every three weeks or so, my boys will convince me to take them to Harbor Freight Tool Store. I’m afraid I go into that store like my husband would enter a Hobby Lobby — dragging my feet and groaning to myself. I set a timer; otherwise, we’d stay for hours! One reason I go is the very reason I hate to go — I know that a good percentage of what’s sold, or given away for free, in that store is going to be a disappointment. I hate to see good money used up on trifles, but once I’ve stated my opinion of the necessity of some of the freebies, I hold my tongue. Time does teach lessons here — those “free batteries” let you down just when you are getting ready to take that great shot of the eclipse; the “free” headlight really doesn’t provide enough light for your trail; and you can only use so many amazing grabbers! So, the lessons learned by purchasing or acquiring cheap stuff is a good one, better taught by experience than by parental advice. Our sons are slowly learning that there is quality to be found, but they may have to wait, pay more, or both, in order to find it.

Transitioning to real tools instead of toys will likely happen naturally, if the conditions in the home provide opportunities to learn to use them. A girl won’t desire her own rolling pin and apron if she never gets a chance to try out making cookies or looking through cookbooks. Boys who never get to see under a hood of a car will learn to assume someone else should fix the car instead of jumping right in there to see what’s wrong. But, I was very glad last week with my just-turned-11-year old! We were in town, and my father asked us to drive a homeless man to my parent’s house where we would eat together. Dad and our other son jumped into Dad’s truck and took off! Well, my car would not start, and the man in our car was elderly and had crippled hands, so I knew he was dependent on us. Our youngest hopped out, flipped open the hood, and proceeded to tap the battery; then when that didn’t work, he dug out the jumper cables from the trunk and helped the other man who stopped to help us. I felt very proud that our sons had learned some basic lessons (informally) under the hood. It’s because Daddy has allowed them to watch and help that they feel confident to at least try some basic repairs.

In our homeschools, one goal is to graduate our children with the knowledge they will need to do practical work once they leave our supervision. So, practical training is vital to their success in life. There are many recommendations in the Spirit of Prophecy about practical training. We have been reading through the book Education, and the chapter on “Manual Training” is very useful for this topic. A few nuggets that I dug up are these:

“When children reach a suitable age, they should be provided with tools. If their work is made interesting, they will be found apt pupils in the use of tools. If the father is a carpenter, he should give his boys lessons in house building, ever bringing into his instruction lessons from the Bible, the words of Scripture in which the Lord compares human beings to His building,” Child Guidance, p. 356.

“Your means could not be used to better advantage than in providing a workshop furnished with tools for your boys, and equal facilities for your girls. They can be taught to love labor,” Healthful Living, p.137.1.

“While attending school the youth should have an opportunity for learning the use of tools. Under the guidance of experienced workmen, carpenters who are apt to teach, patient, and kind, the students themselves should erect buildings on the school grounds and make needed improvements, thus by practical lessons learning how to build economically. The students should also be trained to manage all the different kinds of work connected with printing, such as typesetting, presswork, and book binding, together with tentmaking and other useful lines of work. Small fruits should be planted, and vegetables and flowers cultivated, and this work the lady students may be called out of doors to do. Thus, while exercising brain, bone, and muscle, they will also be gaining a knowledge of practical life,” 6 Testimonies, p.176.

This sentiment is voiced from several individuals that have experience in educating children. One is Dr. Raymond Moore. He recommends a balanced approach to education, with three areas comprising most of the student’s education: work, service, and study, in equal proportions. Here is his counsel on what will help a child to learn practical skills:

“Instead of toys, give them tools (kitchen, shop, yard or desk), encyclopedias, magazines; use libraries, etc. Don’t be shocked at their interests, even if they are guns or motorcycles! From these they can learn chemistry and physics (internal combustion motors), economics, math, history, geography, languages, cultures, and manual skills (at local repair shops or in home businesses). Girls are usually a year or so ahead of boys, at least until late teens.

“The ‘antennae’ sprouting from the brains of most students are blocked by mass-education’s cookie-cutter substitutes for life that destroy creativity. Kids come out uniform-sized cookies, or sausages.”

You may read more about this tried and true approach to education at the Moore Foundation.

As I was gathering my thoughts about this post, I stumbled across an excellent article here (No Greater Joy).  It has been years since I have read any of the material from No Greater Joy, but in this article, Michael Pearl shares his perspective on why many young people, boys in particular, drift away to an aimless life. He believes that, “Boys have a greater need to explore, invent, achieve something objective, conquer, and compete. They have a need to be meaningfully engaged in pursuits that yield objective results, like rebuilding automobiles, painting a house, cutting firewood, building something that others will admire. They are little kings looking to build a kingdom and furnish it. Idleness (including entertainment) breeds self-loathing and wanderlust.” And also, “The child who is not needed as part of the team will gravitate toward loyalties outside the family.” In other words, our children absolutely need to not just feel needed, they need to know they are needed! It reminds me of another page from Child Guidance that says we need to “let children feel that they are part of the family firm” (p. 126).

A couple of years ago now, my husband did a mulch job for some neighbors. The boys sometimes go along to help out, but this time they didn’t. But, for some reason the gentleman gave my husband a little extra money, designated for the boys, so that they could each purchase a little something. The funny thing was that, when we trekked out to Wal-Mart to buy their gift, they each chose a garden tool! I drove them by the neighbor’s house for them to show him what they had chosen with their money, and imagine his surprise when three young boys marched up to the front door with rake and shovels! He exclaimed, “What’s this? Are you coming to dig a hole?” They simply told him that the tools were what they had chosen with his money. He really did scratch his head over that one, but several years later, when he needed someone to cover his lawn for a few weeks, he gave the job to the boys with the garden tools!

So…we can encourage our kids in the areas that they have an interest, and if we help them to build up their stash of tools appropriate for the task, they will not only be better equipped, but they will also sense that they have our support.

For (not just) boys, the list is almost endless:

  • Garden tools
  • Saws, clippers, and pruners, pocket knives
  • Toolbox tools: hammers,wrenches, screwdrivers, tape measures, drills
  • Power tools
  • Photography equipment
  • Science tools: microscopes, telescopes, magnifying glasses, ID books
  • Rock tumblers, gold pans, metal detectors
  • Knot trying and climbing books, rope
  • Bike fixing supplies: tubes, wrenches, tire tools

For (not just) girls, all of the above, plus:

  • Kitchen essentials: small baking pans, smaller sized oven mitts, aprons, kid cookbooks
  • Knitting needles, crochet hooks, and yarn (Knitting looms are fun and an easy way to make hats and scarves.)
  • Sewing machine and fabric, simple patterns (Boys like this too! My husband always wanted a sewing machine until someone told him they were for girls. But…what about tailors?)
  • Hair cutting supplies
  • Books on wild edibles, compass

The list really could go on and on! I think the point is to get ourselves and our children into a mindset of learning useful skills, and to provide equipment and training so that they gain the confidence to pursue their interests.

Happy learning, and go find some tools!

p.s. The Lord tested me on this on the very next day after I wrote this article. We planned our “first day of school” for that day, only to find that my husband needed help on a project. I struggled, but realized we could be inside “doing school” with him needing help, or I could let the boys go help. I chose the latter, and what a blessing it was to see them working alongside Daddy — with their own tools! We can still maintain the balance of work/study/service. Some days are almost all books, and some are more heavy on the service or work. But, I would not trade the experience that they had working with Daddy — it’s real life, and he really did need them!

Resources:

  1. White, E.G. (1954) Child Guidance. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald.
  2. White, E.G. (1897) Healthful Living. Battle Creek, MI: Medical Missionary Board.
  3. White, E.G. (1901) Testimonies for the Church, Volume 6. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press.

N is for Nutrition

When my son was turning one, we went to Iowa to visit my family. While staying at my sister’s house, my husband brought a Subway sandwich home for lunch one day. He removed some of the vegetables and placed them on the tray of the high chair which my son occupied. My sister walked by as our child’s chubby little hands reached out to enjoy his lunch, and in astonishment said, “I can’t believe how he just eats those vegetables!” Ah, but his nutritional education had begun nine months before, when he was only three months old! As I conducted a cooking demonstration at our church, he slept in his car seat that was placed on the floor beside me, hidden by the table. It was a surprise to the attendees when he suddenly awoke towards the end of the class and let everyone know it with a cry! He may have been the youngest one in the audience, and he may have slept through most of the presentation, but I think the principles of good eating had stuck!

In our home, we subscribe to a plant based diet and try to live healthfully. We believe that God has given us instructions for better living. The acronym NEWSTART sums these up in eight healthy laws of health. Let’s start today with the letter N, which stands for nutrition. As homeschoolers, we can take better charge of what our children eat, because we are with them most of the time. But even better than that, we can teach them the reasons for and benefits of our food choices and how they can pass this knowledge on.

Here are some ideas for incorporating good nutrition into your homeschooling days.

Of course, the obvious way is to feed our kids good food. Our days are busy, but taking a little time to plan and shop for healthy meals is well worth the effort. Attitudes, behavior, learning, physical health, and relationships with God will all improve. Including your children’s imput on the menu plans, letting them help with the grocery shopping, and having them assist with meal preparation are good ways to show them the importance of eating right. My son was only three or four when he asked me to stay in bed and proceeded to make pancake batter by himself, remembering the recipe by heart because we had made it so many times together. Now his favorite way to help in the kitchen is to mix up exotic sauces of his own creation to go with egg rolls, stir fries, etc.

Planting a garden and reaping the harvest makes trying new foods fun. If space isn’t available, some towns have community gardens where one can rent a plot and grow their own vegetables. Even shopping at a local farmer’s market makes produce more appealing. We used to walk to ours each Tuesday, and all the way home my little boy would eat ground cherries, popping them out of their papery skins. Shopping at neighborhood and ethnic markets is always intriguing. Bring something home you have never tried before!

I mentioned my son’s early involvement in my cooking class. Later on he would participate by demonstrating recipes of his own as part of his Pathfinder Cooking honor. This not only reinforced good nutrition, but gave him opportunity to spread the message and gave him good practice in public speaking and interacting with the audience. He would also hold bake sales at my classes. The classes were free for the participants, but he raked in more than $50 with his vegan goodies! His handmade sign with prices was not only a good lesson in writing and math, but a keepsake I cherish.

These days we are planning how to get to the next Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Those of you who are involved in Pathfinders know there are funds to be raised in order to attend this exciting event. We are thinking of selling homemade food as one of the ways to achieve our goal. My son is helping with ideas of what foods to include in our sales. He has also helped figure out how much our costs and profit margins will be so we will set our prices accordingly — good lesson not only in math, but again involving him in good nutrition, because of course we want to sell only the best food to people, thereby selling our health message along with it.

Measuring ingredients, figuring out serving sizes and costs: all wonderful math lessons. My son loves to check serving sizes on food packages to see how much he can have of a certain food to meet the requirement. It has become his personal joke when it’s something sweet, and he wants to make sure he gets to the serving size to obtain all the sweetness he can!

Letting your child leaf through your cookbooks, gazing at all the beautiful food pictures is a great way to whet his/her appetite for good food. Books or videos from the library explaining how food is grown or made are excellent resources. Field trips to food businesses are even better! Bakeries, grocery stores, farms, food processing plants, etc., usually offer tours. Even the tours that don’t necessarily apply to your lifestyle are informative and fun, a good learning experience. For us, these have included a dairy farm, a potato chip factory, and a candy factory. Apple picking in the fall is a great experience. Look around, and you might find a variety of food festivals. In our area we have an annual veg fest touting the vegetarian lifestyle. We have even attended a garlic festival with friends who live in a small town.

There are so many ways to incorporate good nutrition into homeschooling days. You will be giving your child a great start in life, plus handing him the tools to teach others the wonderful diet plan that God has provided for us. Nutrition, the N in NEWSTART: start with it today in your lesson plans!

They are Going to Be OK. (I promise!)

Multiple fires across the Pacific Northwest have caused this smoky haze for weeks. Recently, three fires about 60 miles away resulted in thicker ash and smoke that blurred everything for a few days. There is this sense of uncertainty when smoke and ash cover everything and blur the lines in the distance. I found walking out to my car over ash-covered ground to be an unnerving experience. I looked back and could see my footprints outlined clearly in the ash. Looking forward, the path was fresh and clean. There was nothing to stop me from going forward. Well, except the smoke. Lines were blurred and visibility was limited. I looked up and the sun was hazy and distant. It hurt a bit to breathe also. And the smell? Not the fresh cut grass or the roses in bloom, but wood smoke. Everything felt dark and hazy. There was a sense of danger, regardless of how far away the real danger actually is — a feeling that it would be easy to go the wrong way.

Like the smoke in the air and the ash on the ground, life is uncertain and can feel dangerous at times. You take a few steps on a path and you can see where you have been, but looking forward you are unable to see what the future may hold. Sometimes even the strongest Christian can doubt God’s guidance and plan. We start to doubt our choices. Worry, fear, and guilt set in, making it almost impossible to move forward at times.

This is the life of a parent. Whether you are homeschooling, after-schooling, or deciding to send the kids to school, there are no guarantees that you are choosing, have chosen, or will choose the right path. It feels like all paths are smoke covered and booby-trapped. And, stopping isn’t an option; you have to continue forward.

I have been there multiple times with my four children. I think we have done most schooling options. My three boys have been in public school, in the local Adventist school, traditionally homeschooled, unschooled during a time of major upheaval with my daughter, in charter schools, and in online schools. My daughter, due to her special needs, was in a local public school until she was 20. Mix in volunteering, part-time jobs, therapies, music lessons, youth groups, church functions of all sizes, Pathfinders, Boy Scouts, and co-op, and you have all kinds of ways to stress, worry, and add guilt.

There have been tears, anger, fights, frustration, slamming doors, joy, love, happiness, pride, laughter, and great discussions. And, before each change, transition, or step, I agonized over making the right choice for my kids. I worried I was doing it wrong. Was I permanently damaging them in some way because I taught grammar the wrong year, or didn’t teach one pre-algebra? Did I start too early or too late? I was guilt-ridden over the years we skipped everything except math and reading, even though that felt like an accomplishment. More guilt came over only doing the core subjects without supplements or even field trips. There was worry about when to start (none felt ready or had the desire), early graduation (yeah, right), and transcripts and record-keeping (uh, where do I start?). I failed them. I knew it.

Any of this sound familiar? Here’s a secret for you … There is no right or wrong way to homeschool (or not) your kids. You are doing just fine. And the kids? Make sure they can read, write, and do math. Teach them how to learn everything else. Teach them who God is. Teach them about salvation through Jesus Christ. Teach them to love others. Teach them integrity, hard work, and discipline. They are going to be OK. (I promise!)

I have another secret for you: You are not alone. Do you know what you see when the smoke clears? The path is full of others just like you and me — dads who are doubting they did the right thing; moms who are looking at going back to work, struggling with depression, or just trying to pick the right curriculum; parents who have been right where you are now. You are not alone in your fears, worries, anxieties, pitfalls, behavior issues, time management problems, special needs, or any other issue you can name. Need help? Need prayer? Just need to vent? Go ahead, we are here for you. That’s what a community does; we support each other through trials and triumphs.

Want to know another secret? Jesus has your back! The phrase “do not be afraid” is in the bible 365 times. That is one for every day. Joshua 1:9 (NLT) says, “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Even at your lowest (or highest) moments, you always have God. He holds you as you cry after a particularly long day. And that “AHA” moment when the children get it? He is celebrating right beside you.

So, look at that ash-covered path, look up at that smoke-covered sun. Look into that smoke-covered landscape and take a step. Look around, we are all here — some behind, some alongside, some in front. We support each other, as God supports us. Do not let fear of the unknown keep you from the path God is calling you toward, whatever that path may be.