Peace On Earth — But Only Sort Of

The new year is upon us. The Christmas decorations are being put away, and the regular routines of life are resuming. The phrase “peace on Earth,” however, still echoes through our recent memories. It has been sung, read, and recited. In a society brimming with political angst and cultural discord, aren’t we all desperately longing for a bit of peace? Additionally, there is the alarming frequency of natural disasters, illnesses, and tragedies to remind us of humanity’s state of utter chaos. Let’s be honest, though. If we zoom in on our experience as homeschooling families, don’t we crave peace in our own homes too?

Popping over to my place for tea on any given afternoon, you would find a wide assortment of animals announcing your arrival while completely disregarding your personal space. You would likely have to move a pile of books in order to sit down. You would be greeted by three small humans, eager to share with you every exciting thing in their life since their last birthday. Ten minutes later the sounds of sibling squabbles, mishaps, and, yes, even complaining would waft through the house. Then, if we actually got a moment to chat, I might share with you my concerns about Lucy’s upcoming state testing, or Robby’s attitude towards reading. Not exactly peaceful, right?

Being Jesus’ parents was not always peaceful either. In Luke 4:41-51, we find the story of a young boy who disappeared for three days. Can you imagine not knowing where your child is for THREE DAYS? But, wait! If we back up just a few verses in the very same chapter, don’t the angels herald at the top of their lungs, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (vs.14)? Back to verse 48, Jesus’ mother says to him, “Son why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” He responds most matter-of-factly, almost unconcerned with his parents’ ordeal: “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (vs.49).

Mary and Joseph certainly weren’t experiencing peace during those three days of searching for their missing child. But, is that really the kind of peace that God promises?

Take a look at Matthew, chapter 10. Jesus’ very words declare, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword….Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (vss.34,37,38). At first glance there seems to be a mighty juxtaposition between the message of peace at the birth of Jesus, and His words verily declaring war!

I wonder if the answer lies in our definition of peace. Is peace merely the absence of discomfort and disagreement, or is peace something bigger and deeper? Philippians 4:4-9 promises peace that transcends our human understanding if we zoom out, surrendering our narrow perspectives and worries to the sovereign God of the universe. Yes, there will be challenges, anxiety, even pain. But I believe that through the lens of God’s big story of love and salvation for humanity, there is peace. Not necessarily peace in the form of a clean and quiet household, or children who always get along and diligently finish their lessons with a happy heart, but peace in knowing we belong to a God who adores us, that we have a specific purpose to fulfill in the story of humanity and the war between good and evil. There is peace in knowing how the story ends, and in choosing to fight for the Victor. There is peace on Earth, but only sort of.

Planting Seeds of Joy

It’s that time of year again. For many of you the presents have been opened, Christmas dinner preparations are old news, family have returned to their homes, New Year’s resolutions have been made (or at least considered, right?), and life is starting to get back to the “pre-holiday” routine. This can be a relief for some, a letdown for others. So, what now? We often idealize the holidays as the stuff dreams are made of, and we regularly go to great lengths to make sure our family members and friends feel that extra bit of love. How can we continue to encourage our families to live the joy, thanksgiving, and dream-like utopia that we aimed for only days ago, throughout the rest of this year?

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Today, I have a few suggestions for helping to maintain the “Christmas spirit,” and plant those seeds of joy for the other 11 months of the year. Because, really, whether you celebrate Christmas officially or not, it’s the spirit of giving, goodwill, and hope that makes this world a better place, and I strongly believe those are concepts that come directly from the heart of God.

1. Continue the tradition of saying what you are thankful for at mealtimes, family worships, or bedtimes. Thanks begets more thanks. Let your family know what blessings you have experienced during the day, even if it’s as simple as finding a toy that has been misplaced, or making it to a doctor’s appointment on time (in my home, these are actually huge). “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth,” Isaiah 12:4-5.

2. Look for ways to reach out to others. It may take extra effort, but making someone smile always brings one to my face. Drawing pictures, writing encouraging notes, delivering homemade goodies — it may sound clichéd, but it works! “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed,” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.

3. Spend time connecting with your spouse. One of my favorite memories with Josh is sitting on the couch sipping hot chocolate, and looking at the lights on our tree, while he read stories from a book we both enjoyed. It was spontaneous and simple. A date doesn’t have to mean going somewhere expensive. Talk about what you most admire in them. Discover their love language if you don’t already know it.

4. Take time to make your children feel extra special, whether it’s a “date” night once a month, or a surprise “break” day to go do something fun. Tell them what you most admire in them. Discover their love language if you don’t already know it.

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The world will not end if the toys are not picked up, or laundry isn’t folded and put away. I say this to myself as much as to you. Order and cleanliness are near the top of my list, because I generally feel more relaxed looking at a clean house, but there are times when it’s ok to let that stuff go. In general, your family is not going to remember you for your spotless livingroom, perfect kitchen, or whether your children’s rooms look like something out of Good Homes Magazine. They’re going to remember you for your warmth, interest, and caring; it’s the memories of being together that will leave warm fuzzies in their hearts.

6. Last, and most important on this list, take time out to restore your soul. We as parents don’t always do a good job of taking care of ourselves. With 948 other things calling our names (along with the children and spouse of course), the struggle to take care of our hearts is real. I, for one, need a lot more time to recharge than my husband does. It is crucial that recharging time happens because without it, the energy to do the other five things on this list won’t be there. When the primary caretaker (whether husband or wife) is running on empty, the whole family suffers.

My prayer, as usual, is that you will continue to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18), that you will lack no good thing (Psalms 34:9), and that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

Many blessings and blossoms of joy for the new year ahead!

~Kirsten

Teaching Humility

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How do we teach our children to be humble when we so often miss the point of it?

What is humility? How do we protect our children from the sin of pride, while at the same time teaching them that they are valuable and important?

For too many years, I thought humility was to depreciate myself, to cling to my failings and faults in order to refuse value. I thought humility was always being aware of my failings, my sins — to live in degradation because of the things I do or have done wrong…in other words, to continually pay for the consequences of my sins. I have lived in the shadow of seeking to be perfect because I didn’t believe I had value otherwise. I have struggled with teaching my children to be humble because I did not understand humility myself. I have heard parents say they did not want to praise their children’s accomplishments because they didn’t want to teach them to be prideful. I do not want my children to believe they were less than they are. I want them to know I believe in them and I am pleased with their accomplishments!

God has been working on my heart. I have realized that humility is very much like courage. Courage is strongest in the face of danger. A person who never faces a challenge, who never faces danger, cannot be called courageous; so also, a person who does not believe in their value cannot be called humble.

If we do not have an intrinsic understanding of our value, we cannot truly understand humility.

Let’s look at some Biblical examples. Who does Scripture admonish to be humble? At first, it is the Israelite nation. Why? They have intrinsic, God-given value. God made it abundantly clear to them that He held them in high regard. He literally moved oceans, rivers, and armies to prove how much He cared for them. They KNEW, without a shadow of a doubt, that they were chosen to be God’s special people. What did they do with this knowledge, however? A lot of the time they used it to set themselves apart from the other nations. They set themselves up as more valuable than other people because they had God’s favor. So often, they took the special favor given them by God and decided it was their right rather than their gift. They forgot the source of their value. They sought perfection to hold onto His favor instead of seeking Him. They refused to be humble. In turn, they had to be humbled.

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God doesn’t want proud people. Prideful people treat others with disrespect and abuse. He wants us to understand we are valuable and then show others that they, too, are valuable.

Pride is believing you alone are valuable and have the right to hurt or hold others down so you look more valuable than they are.

Then there is self-degradation. Self-degradation is refusing to believe you have value, focusing only on your failings, and believing that you cannot have value until you have achieved perfection. This is disproved in Scripture time and time again.

Self-degradation, the belief that you have no intrinsic value, is pride, not humility. It stands beside pride in believing that you alone are responsible for achieving value.

Though there are many examples through Scripture, you really only need to look at one character to see this: David. David was a simple shepherd, without value in his family of origin, shrouded in mystery, small in size, without anything to recommend him when Samuel anoints him to be the next king of Israel. Suddenly, his life does a complete turnaround and he is pretty much left reeling from the changes. What David does have to begin with is a deep understanding of his value in God’s eyes.

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David understands that all his accomplishments are because God has provided them and protected him. Even knowing that, even understanding that God was beside him and eager to answer any question he had, David was not perfect. Sometimes he forgot to ask God what to do. Sometimes he blatantly chose to sin, such as when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had Uriah killed. Sometimes he made huge errors in judgment because he neglected to check in with God. History, however, tells us that no matter what David did, God continued to show him favor. David didn’t need to be perfect; he needed to maintain his humbleness by remembering where his favor came from, returning to God every time he messed up, and using his favor to help others.

Humility comes from understanding God holds your value; it is a gift meant to be shared. Humility is understanding you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to accomplish it all or be strong enough to sustain life. Humility is remembering where you have come from, what you have survived; it is knowing you have value despite the mistakes and errors made along the way. It is seeing the full journey, recognizing God’s hand in your life and treating others the same way.

This is what humbleness is. Humbleness is knowing intrinsically what your value is and Who it comes from, and helping others to see the same value in themselves.

So, how do I teach my children to be humble? I have to start by teaching them they are valued, that they are loved, that they are important. I need to teach them that their failings and mistakes will never affect their value in my eyes or in God’s. Then, I have to teach them to treat every other person they interact with as valuable also. Only then will they truly understand the meaning of humility.

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The Why of Jesus’ Birth

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace,” Isaiah 9:6.

In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, do we take the time to really think about what the birth of Jesus is all about? There’s also the confusion with the fact that the day we celebrate His birth has its roots in a pagan day.  While we know that Christmas is not the true day of Christ’s birth, we need to understand why He was born at all. Why didn’t Jesus just come down from heaven and live a week or so, then be killed and rise a day or so later? Wouldn’t that have saved us?

With all the controversy over Christmas — from the view that it is totally pagan and should never be celebrated, to the view that it’s roots are insignificant and it should be fully celebrated — maybe we should change our focus to why Jesus would come as baby at all.

As I have pondered why Jesus would come to this earth and be born as a baby, I have seen an importance that we usually miss or pass over lightly. We often look at the cross as being the only thing for our salvation. The cross gives us the forgiveness we need, but His birth gives us the reason and strength to learn how to live godly lives. The why of Jesus’ birth is to give us the desire and strength to live our lives with the connection to Heaven that Jesus had, and to give us the victory over our sinful ways. To have this connection with God in our daily life, as Jesus did, will give us the strength to overcome. This should be something we do every day, so we should celebrate Jesus birth and death every day. Both are vital to our salvation in our lives day by day.

As we enjoy this Christmas season, after all the celebrations and dinners are over, let us not lose the importance of what Jesus came for, and remember His birth every day.

Momma Cat

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We had a couple of stray female cats that showed up last fall, and one ended up pregnant. This cat really liked being outside and wandering around. When she had her babies (seven of them!), she quit going outside and stayed in a box with them. She hardly left the room she was in. She took good care of her babies, giving them baths, feeding them, and making sure they were safe.

While we could take lessons about God from this, I was impressed how like this we should be as mothers. She was willing to give up her freedom and rights to take care of her babies. We need to be willing to change our ways or plans and what we do to fit the needs of our children. Too often, we get tired of changing diapers, picking up toys, washing dishes and clothes, but these only last a little while. Our first work is to raise our children; everything else should come after that.

My favorite quote on motherhood from Ellen White, from Ministry of Healing, in the chapter on “The Mother,” pgs. 377 and 378, says, “There is a God above, and the light and glory from His throne rests upon the faithful mother as she tries to educate her children to resist the influence of evil. No other work can equal hers in importance. She has not, like the artist, to paint a form of beauty upon canvas, nor, like the sculptor, to chisel it from marble. She has not, like the author, to embody a noble thought in words of power, nor like the musician, to express a beautiful sentiment in melody. It is hers, with the help of God, to develop in a human soul the likeness of the divine.”  (My emphasis)