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

A Different Kind of Superhero

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“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak,” Isaiah 40:29.

I’m a control freak. There I said it. I like things to be predictable, well-ordered, and consistent in my life. If I could find a way to keep my house spotless, turn the children into skillful masters in their preferred fields, and save the world at the same time, I would. More often than not, though, the living room is a convention center for cars, airplanes, and Legos; my children sometimes struggle with the three R’s; and, to top it off, my Super Mom uniform shrunk three sizes the first time I washed it, and hasn’t fit since.

My shortcomings become even more obvious as I scroll through my Facebook news feed, and see updates telling about how much my friends accomplished that morning. They finished their shopping, home improvement, gardening, and laundry, all in 20 minutes! WOW! (Okay, maybe not 20 minutes, but close, right?) I cast a weary glance at my half wilted plants, while tripping over clothes/toys/shoes on the floor on my way to the pantry (which is still unfinished), just to find shelves full of nothing I want to prepare or eat. Why did I sign up for this job again? My sink is still full of dishes, and it’s 4:30 in the afternoon. Order is hardly reigning in my house.

Of course there are also other days that I can get the kids’ schooling done, dishes washed, laundry run through, house picked up in a couple of hours, AND have a nice meal cooked and waiting when my husband comes through the door. Martha, eat your heart out!* I have even been known to post my accomplishments for the world (all 200-some of my Facebook friends) to see. But, my reasoning, and I’m sure most other mom’s as well, is more to show myself that I am capable and competent — not to make others feel like they have no chance at a “Mom of the Year” award.

Oftentimes there are more important moments and interactions that are not shared publicly. These consist of siblings playing and sharing nicely, an encouraging word said to a family member, or listening to my children sing a favorite song they heard on our Christian radio station. They may not seem as outwardly impressive as having a sparkling bathroom, but they are significant because they reflect the character training that goes on here. The character training that is being blessed, despite my own character still being a work in progress. Praise God for his mercy towards us!

Looking again to the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus told Martha that some things could wait, and others couldn’t. When I see my house as a disaster area, it’s usually because I took extra time to read to the children, go over a difficult lesson, or fix them a nutritious meal. And, by spending time with my children, educating them, doing social activities, and providing moral, and spiritual guidance, I am a “superhero” saving the world — their world. No, I can’t control their decisions or the ultimate outcome of their lives, but I can give them a solid platform from which to launch. I can infuse their hearts and minds with the building blocks to lead fulfilling, God-centered lives. I can’t guarantee that my life will be predictable, well-ordered, or even consistent, but when I put my trust in God to provide the strength and grace I overwhelmingly lack, He gives it ever so abundantly. That’s exactly the kind of superhero I need.

*Luke 10:38-41

Seeking After God: Seven Topics to Pray About Daily

In today’s world it is more important than ever to be vigilant so that we are not deceived by Satan. We are living in a time where tensions are high, the news is becoming more and more disturbing, and uncertainty plagues the hearts of people both small and great. We know from reading Daniel and Revelation, and from Jesus’ prophecies in the Gospels, that things will only get worse before His return. However, this doesn’t mean we have been abandoned, or that God no longer cares. We do not need to fear, because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). This is the time to strengthen our faith in the One whose Salvation we are sure of! This is also the time to pray earnestly for our children, spouses, friends, and family. Especially as a mother and teacher, I believe warfare prayers are included in my responsibility to God and my children.

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On that note, I want to challenge and encourage you on the subject of prayer for our children and families. The following is a short list of seven topics that I pray about frequently. It changes from time to time, as some issues need more focus, but in general, these are the matters that weigh heaviest on my heart. It is my prayer that this will strengthen and embolden you this school year as you raise and educate your children in the fear of the Lord.

1. Prayers for God to reveal to me what I don’t know that I don’t know. In plain English, these are the areas where I am ignorant, that I am unknowingly blind about. This is an important one since it is my intense desire to know and understand God’s plan for me and my family. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Following closely in this topic are prayers for wisdom and discernment (Proverbs 2:6, Romans 12:2, Matthew 6:33, Jeremiah 29:12-13).

2. Prayers for safety — physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally (Psalm 91). We are fighting a spiritual battle against an enemy that has no scruples, and will cunningly attack us in any way possible to shake our faith in God (Ephesians 6:12).

3. Prayers for strength of character: that we will be quick to forgive (Ephesians 4:31-32), slow to judge (Matthew 7:1-6, Luke 6:37), and graciously show love and mercy to others (Luke 6:35-36). This also includes praying for the character of Christ and the Gifts of the Spirit to be manifested in/through us (Matthew 5:16).

4. Prayers against generational sins and weakness/temptations that may be difficult to overcome. I pray that God reveals what needs changing in order to break the cycle (Exodus 20:5-6). It’s important to note that we often relate to God in the way that we relate/related to our earthly parents. Praying for healing from these types of issues in our family lines can often be beneficial to growing our relationship with God. These will be different for each family:
– Fear
– Anger/hate
– Abandonment/distrust
– Jealousy
– Sexual sin
– Dishonesty/Denial

5. Prayers for the future: jobs, homes, spouses, children. It is my deepest desire that my children delight themselves in the Lord, so that they too may partake of the blessing in Psalms 37:4-5 (Psalms 37:4-5, Matthew 7:11).

6. Prayers for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In order to effectively reach out to our family, friends, and community, we need the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32). No matter what our age or where we go, when we give the Holy Spirit permission to work in us, much can be accomplished. There have been times where I have been amazed at the ministering God was giving me the ability to do, and then I realized it was all because of those prayers, begging God to fill me so that I could let His light shine out to others (Matthew 5:16, again, because it’s the result of this request).

7. Prayers for our will to match God’s will; for Q ualities such as compassion, and love for others, as well as for the truth; for understanding our life’s purpose, and trusting that He knows what’s best for us and our families, even if it doesn’t appear to be (Luke 22:42, Romans 8:28-39).

There are many, many more topics, and I could fill pages with Bible verses further referencing these thoughts, but hopefully this list has triggered some ideas. I’d like to close with a blessing from Deuteronomy 28:3-13, that is my prayer for you this year:

“Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways. The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways. And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of thee. And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers to give thee. The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow. And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them.”

Dirt Trails and Little Boy Tales

This post is one I wrote a few years ago when my sons were four, six, and eight, but I still find it relevant today. With summer vacation already underway for some, or just around the corner for others, it’s good to remember what’s important, and what’s not (as important). While this is geared more toward parents of boys, parents of girls can take these lessons and ideas to heart as well. My prayer is that you and your family will grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord this summer, that you will remember mud puddles have a purpose, and that God is faithful to complete the good work He has begun in us and our children — no matter how many times you have to scrub the floors or walls because somebody “forgot” to wash the mud off before coming inside.

The first time my boys got to play in the dirt, it was love at first sight, and the love affair has only grown over time. There’s something about dirt and gravel that is good for the heart of a boy. With their trucks and tractors, my children excavate roads, parking lots, and lakes in our driveway. They then use the hose to fill these creations with water, which of course, creates mud. By the end of the day, they are thoroughly covered in dirt and grinning from ear to ear. Life for them could not be better.

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Despite being a mom who likes to have a sparkling clean home, I understand the importance of letting my boys be themselves. So often our society tries to fit little boys into molds that are decidedly not little-boy shaped. They must sit still at their desk while doing lessons, they must not get too dirty or climb too high, they must not rough-house and tumble about with their friends. This mentality causes all kinds of pinching, chafing, and general grumpiness, because boys were meant to be — well, boys! They were meant to conquer, overcome, and use their strength (preferably to help others). When our culture tries to make being a male unacceptable, we are left with a generation of boys who are trying to figure out just who they are and what it means to be a man. Extreme aggression and machismo, as well as low self-esteem, can all have roots in boys not being allowed to be themselves. They feel that they have everything to prove, or that there is no point to anything, and have given up.

My husband and I certainly do not have all the answers, but here are a few of the rules that we live by at our place. This doesn’t include rules that help with health and making family life run smoothly (although those are certainly part of our everyday lives); this list includes rules that help a boy know who and what he is (though many can be applied to little girls as well).

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  • Work hard at chores. Play harder. Physical work is fun and rewarding, and play is even more fun because of it.
  • Shout, holler, and yell.
  • Climb things.
  • Conquer your fears by trying new and difficult things.
  • Create your dreams and fantasies in bright colors using a variety of mediums.
  • Build intricate cities and roads out of stones, Legos, and sticks.
  • Always try to do better than you did last time.
  • Know the One in whom your strength truly lies.

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It is the desire of both my husband and myself to raise happy, self-confident boys who are ready for the challenges and joys of adulthood. Their future success lies in the freedom to discover their talents and strengths, and in the supportive environment we give them as parents. So, next time your little excavator comes in and leaves muddy footprints all over the floor, why not offer to join him in building the highway of his dreams?

My Homeschool Decision

I’m embarrassed to admit it. When my oldest two were no more than toddlers, I was looking forward to the day they would finally be old enough to go off to school, and I could have a few hours of peace and quiet to collect my thoughts. Despite being homeschooled for six years myself (and enjoying it), I had no plans to homeschool my boys. Sure, the idea crossed my mind every once in a while, but the situation I was involved with at that point would no more have allowed me to homeschool than to take a three-month vacation to a remote tropical island. My husband at the time resented me staying home with the boys instead of getting a “real job” to help pay the bills. It was a low point in my life. Shortly after the birth of our third son, he moved out. The divorce was devastating not only to me but also to my eldest two — particularly the oldest, who had just turned four. I moved back to my hometown and in with my mother to start attending college and regroup my life (this is another story that proves God is still able to bless in the midst of the storm, but I’ll save it for another time).

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Picking dandelions and playing in the leaves — the best kind of learning at that age

When my oldest was 5½, I enrolled him in our local church school’s preschool program. The teacher was awesome, and my son really seemed to mature as the year progressed. Sure there were a few bad habits that he had picked up, but I figured we’d just continue working on those as they presented themselves, and that eventually they would lessen and go away. The only problem was that the sour attitude and bossiness were not getting better. They were getting worse. I remember going to a birthday party with some friends from his class toward the end of the school year. Everyone seemed to get along famously, but near the end of the party a couple of children didn’t share the swings as my son wished. Instead of asking nicely for a chance to swing, he turned his back, crossed his arms, glared at them, and hollered angrily, “You’re not my friend!” I was shocked. He didn’t do that at home! I immediately told him that was not appropriate behavior, and we left shortly afterwards. This was one of many bad behaviors that I caught (and I’m certain there were many more that I did not catch).

At this point some of you may be thinking, “That’s typical 5½-year-old behavior. Why get bent out of shape over it?” Children need guidance — the best guides most often being parents, who know their child’s strengths and weaknesses intimately. I knew that it was not “more socialization” that he needed in order to break those habits — it was less. He was reacting that way because he was overwhelmed by all the stimulation of the day. (In a future post I hope to discuss sensitivity in children to a greater degree.) A classroom teacher, even the best, most wonderful, loving teacher — which he had, and we still adore her — is not always going to know the root cause of why certain undesirable behaviors are being displayed. The solution to correcting those actions may even seem counter-intuitive.

Over the summer things seemed to go pretty well. We moved out of my mom’s house and into our own place, and some of the behaviors that were so troubling seemed to go away. I decided to go ahead and put my son back into kindergarten that fall, hoping that things would be better the next year. Two days after school started it was very evident that the bad attitude had returned. He felt he didn’t have to listen to me at home, and was very mean and rude to a little girl that he had played with nicely several times before. I was not pleased with the person my child was turning into. He was thoughtful and helpful at home, but was becoming a tyrant to the other children at school. After praying about the situation extensively with my mother that evening, I went in the next day to withdraw him from classes. I told the teacher that it just wasn’t going to work out, and that my decision had nothing to do with finances or her (she is a wonderfully sweet woman who cares deeply about her students). While sad to see him go, the teacher understood I had to do what I felt was best for my son. And mothers, isn’t this is what we are here for — to do the best for our children, regardless of how difficult the road ahead may be?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I was busy working on my college degree, so did not have as much time to devote to homeschooling as I would have liked. For the first year and a half, the bulk of homeschooling was done by my mother. It was slow, difficult progress. My son (six years old by that time) seemed disinterested in actually learning anything that required effort. He resisted, balked, and refused to apply himself. We strained for every ounce of progress that was made. But slowly, with lots of prayer and effort, there began to be improvement both in my son’s attitude and his desire to learn. Eventually I realized that we needed to “de-school” more than anything, so we took a break the next year. There was still plenty of learning that happened; it just didn’t look anything like what I thought homeschooling should. At this point, the style that works best for us is an eclectic mix of unschooling and textbooks. This may change at any time, and it may change for you. Ahhh, the ways in which we grow!

After going through this experience, I am more determined than ever to homeschool as long as God provides a way. So far we’ve been going strong for almost six years. The thing I admire most about homeschoolers is that many of them have a certain demeanor that their traditionally schooled peers lack — one of respect, attentiveness, and engagement. It is exciting to see my sons taking on those traits. When I, or any adult, talk to them, they are there soaking every word up like little sponges. The former indifference and heedlessness is gone. They are finally eager to learn. Sure, there will always be critics and naysayers, but as a parent I know my children better than anyone else in the world. I know what makes them tick. I know what they need to thrive. And, I know that I would not miss this blessed time of learning and teaching for all the quiet afternoons this century has to offer. My quiet afternoons will come one day in the not too distant future…and I’m certain some of them will be spent wishing my three little princes were snuggled around me working math problems, or asking myriads of “what, how, why, and if” questions.