My Last Day of School

May 7, 2016, was my last day of school. After 20 years of homeschooling four daughters, our youngest finished her last day of senior year. It hasn’t been easy, but it was the best educational choice for our family and I have absolutely no regrets. I have learned so many lessons.

What I consider a lack of provision is often God’s direction.
When I began this journey in 1996, I thought I was homeschooling the oldest for only one year until we could afford private school. During that Kindergarten year, I discovered that teaching my daughter to read was ten times easier than potty training! Her love for learning opened up new possibilities for her and she declared a love for the nation of China that remains to this day. Her younger sister listened to our studies and she began reading at the age of four, though she was not yet in Kindergarten. We still didn’t have the money for school so I continued schooling them at home. 

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean I should stop doing it.
Homeschooling was incredibly hard in the early years. I felt alone. I felt lonely. I felt exhausted. I had a lot of “yellow bus” days—“Yellow bus, please come get my children!” At night, I tried to devise some good excuse not to do school the next day, but my OCD side took over and school almost always won. During the day I yelled and threatened and pulled out the phone book to call any school I thought would take them! In my heart, I sensed that I was supposed to keep homeschooling, so I did. But I wasn’t too happy about it.

Commit to the present and wait for the future.
In those early years, I was so focused on the future options for my children’s education that I had missed the present opportunity before me. I didn’t realize that indecision and uncertainly were robbing me of mental and physical energy. After much prayer, I committed to homeschooling every day of the school year and to reevaluate our options at the end of the year.

Change in my school started with me. 
My short temper and yelling was not helpful to create a good atmosphere of learning. Often my kids responded in the same way I responded to them. God revealed to me that if I wanted them to talk respectfully to me that I needed to model it to them. Little by little, day by day, He grew my patience and grace—for myself and for my children. Gratefully, the younger ones don't remember the yelling years.

I don’t have to have all of the answers.
Although my husband was supportive, I really needed to process and brainstorm with a fellow homeschooler. In His graciousness, God sent me a dear friend and ally who was as “iron sharpens iron” in my life. We discussed curriculum options and learning styles, individual learning challenges and how to challenge our kids to greatness. For ten years, we had our own two-family co-op where we partnered together to cover topics both academic and extra-curricular. She inspired me and challenged me beyond my self-imposed limitations. I was a better teacher because of her friendship.

Don’t underestimate what my children can do. 
In the course of our homeschooling, one had significant learning challenges. After years of working with a speech therapist, then a reading specialist, then a vision therapist, and then a tutor, she was still struggling. During the summer after eighth grade, she discovered Ben Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands, and set a goal to attend nursing school at Johns Hopkins. We discussed what it would take and I told her that she would have to “up her game.” At the end of her first semester of freshman year, that student had all A’s in her average to advanced high school level courses. Later, she decided on a different school, but continued her focused attention. During her high school career, she earned a total of 29 college credits with nearly all A’s. She is amazing.

Comparison kills joy. 
No matter what we did in our homeschool, it always seemed like someone else was doing something better, more creative, more academic, more something. As I began to plan each spring, I would ask God what He wanted my kids to learn and I planned accordingly. But many times I doubted that our school was academic enough, fun enough, thorough enough, challenging enough, etc. Instead of trusting God, I second-guessed my decisions and found myself frustrated as I tried to achieve the perfect homeschool. Eventually, I realized that the perfect homeschool is as unique for each family as each of the uniquely created students who are being educated.  

And so this is the close of one chapter and the beginning of another. Homeschooling was not easy, but it has been worth every minute. I “sail into the uncertain future surrounded by the faithfulness of God.”

 

"Scrape the bowl, and start again."

Some seasons of life are busier than others and this past year has been especially busy for our family. Somehow even when my schedule is tight, I often seem to take on even more, sometimes at the expense of things in my life that are important.

This morning, I woke up with a picture in my mind of a hand mixer twirling in a mixing bowl filled with ingredients becoming cookie dough, and these words came to mind: 

Scrape the bowl, and start again. 

Turn off the hand mixer. Choose to unplug, slow down, and be present in every situation. I created you to enjoy this life I’ve given you.

Scrape the bowl, and start again.

When you mix ingredients, chunks fly to the sides of the bowl. You can look at those disconnected pieces and see failure or weakness because you could not keep everything together, but I do not judge you. Leave the past in the past. Every day is an opportunity for a new beginning.

Scrape the bowl, and start again.

Those pieces of dough are necessary if you want a tasty outcome or a balanced life. Take time to gather all of the pieces on the sides of the bowl and gently fold them back into the mix. Take your time. Don’t let the process become a burden, but find joy in the small things.

Scrape the bowl, and start again. 

I am grateful for a God who cares about the concerns on my mind and gently restores my anxious heart. Today, I’m going to scrape the bowl, and start again. 

#IntentionalParenting2015

Happy 2015! 

For the past week my email box, Facebook feed, and online advertisements have been filled with systematic plans for meeting new year goals—Couch to 5K for the running enthusiast, a 12-month plan to organize your home, a 30-day menu and shopping list for clean eating, daily email assignments to declutter your brain, and the list goes on. This morning, it occurred to me that I haven’t seen one article about one of the most important goals in my life—raising godly children. 

Achieving a goal doesn’t just happen. 

Achieving a goal takes a plan, behavior changes and lots of hard work. After talking about losing weight for the last 20 years, my husband finally achieved his goal in 2013 and lost 80 pounds. (Yep. 8-0) He made a plan to use the My Fitness Pal app to chart a course and record everything he ate. Finally, he bought a used bike with a comfortable seat and disciplined himself to ride. Nearly every day. In about 6 months, he had lost 50 lbs. A year later he had reached his goal weight. Eighteen months after that, he has kept it all off.

One bite at a time.

The saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” When you have a big goal, it’s easier to achieve when you break it down into smaller goals. Raising a godly child is huge goal and sometimes overwhelming, so I’ve made a 12-month plan broken down into various character traits. I am not promising to blog every day, but I am committed to post at least weekly to provide some ideas for you and your family. I welcome your questions, but I hope you’ll post your suggestions for the others who are also following this series. 

As with any goal, it always helps to have someone who is walking beside you in the journey. If you are married, I highly recommend that you and your spouse decide together what this will look like for your family. If you’re a single parent, you may want to find another parent who will act as a sounding board and an encourager. I may not live in your town, but I hope this series will be a source of support for you, too. You can do it!

During this year, I plan to post ideas and our own family experiences on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #IntentionalParenting2015. I hope you’ll do the same so we can share experiences and encourage each other.

Big goals require big changes. 

If you are serious about raising godly children, it will require planning, change, and incredible dedication. I believe that the goal is worth the sacrifice. Tomorrow I’ll post the plan, but the behavior changes and hard work are up to you. 

A Private Message That Forever Changed Our Family

I never intended to homeschool high school. As a high school student, I did well in English, history and foreign language; but I had needed a tutor to make it through Algebra 2, and I never took a science course beyond Biology. (I didn’t need to for my degree in music.) I hadn’t been successful when I TOOK those classes and I couldn’t imagine that I would be remotely successful TEACHING them. I was sure that it wasn’t God’s plan for me to homeschool high school. 

In June, just three months before high school was to begin, I was attending a women’s conference and the speaker said, “God can give you wisdom beyond your experiences.” I knew that God was sending me a message; He wanted me to homeschool high school. Part of me was angry. “God, when I had agreed to homeschool, I didn’t think that high school was part of the deal!” The insecure side of me felt too inadequate. The selfish side of me was looking forward to only having three to homeschool and didn’t want to be responsible to teach those challenging subjects. But after talking with Harold, we said, “Yes.” In return for our obedience, God poured out abundant blessings I could never have imagined.

Our family has grown in unity. Each of us has grown in character and grown closer to each other. We have learned how to serve each other, and we have learned how to work together to serve others. Our girls are more than sisters or classmates; they are truly each other’s best friends. As parents, these years have allowed us to grow strong relationships with our daughters that will stand the test of time.

Each daughter received a customized education that best prepared her to achieve her future goals. All of my graduates took college courses during high school, which prepared them to excel in their college studies and gave them space in their college schedules to pursue a minor or other field of interest. The flexibility of homeschooling allowed our girls to use their time to explore and pursue their God-given callings through life experiences, travel, education, and extra-curricular activities.

Most importantly, our girls flourished spiritually. Homeschooling allowed us to mentor and disciple our daughters through the critical teen years. We were able to read the Bible and discuss it together, to talk about the consequences of choices made in various situations, to memorize scripture together, and to guide them as they learned to make wise choices. Though we used carefully chosen textbooks and materials with a God-centered worldview, we also educated our daughters in other world views and religions so they could think critically about the influences in their lives. As a result of intentional spiritual discipleship, each daughter has established her own vibrant relationship with God and is positioning herself for continued growth.

I’m not saying that you have to homeschool high school if you want your child to be a Christian, because truly there is more than one way to raise a godly child. I am saying that homeschooling was God’s choice for our family and the experience has been an incredible blessing that has forever changed our family. I am grateful that God loved our family so much that He sent me a private message.

   

Leading from Legacy

The Gift of Music
Musical ability runs deep in our family.  Family history on my mother’s side says that around the turn of the century my great-grandfather, a music teacher by trade, courted my great grandmother with an autoharp.  I vividly remember my maternal grandmother using that same instrument to play hymns, though she could’ve also played on the piano, the organ and the guitar.  She and her husband passed on that love of music to their eight children, of which my mother was one.  Each of them learned to play an instrument for the family radio program which included hymns and gospel music followed by a sermon by my grandfather.  Six of the eight grew up to use their talents regularly for Sunday morning worship and one even graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education.  Many of the 28 grandchildren, including myself, studied music and still play.  Our family reunions seemed more like mini-recitals for the grandchildren followed by a hymn sing for the adults.

Whether it was practicing piano, singing with my mom, or studying music education in college, music was a big part of my life.  The day I met Harold, he was leading worship at my grandmother’s church.  Even before our children were born, we envisioned music to be important to our family.  It was only natural that we pass on our passion and heritage to our four daughters.  While we gave them opportunities, we did not force their participation.  Their musical gifts and talent led them to include music as a part of their lives.  All four play piano, three play a second instrument, two have sung on the worship team at church, and one has recorded a CD (Read more…) and is now studying worship full time.  Music still continues to play a major role in my life.

A Family Call
I believe that family lines often have a common destiny and that God gives gifts to achieve that call.  In the Old Testament, God set the precedent and called the family of Levi to a common destiny—to care for and serve in the tabernacle.   Throughout history, businesses and trades have been (and continue to be) passed down to the next generation in the family.  History is replete with examples of families who governed—dynasties in China, monarchies throughout Europe and Russia.  Although we in the United States have the privilege of voting for our leaders, there is often a pattern of generations of families who serve in governmental leadership.  Generation influence is also strong in the area of acting, Olympic participation, professional sports, military service, missionary work, and even pastoral ministry.

Both my maternal grandfather and my father were ordained ministers; Harold’s maternal grandmother was an ordained minister and evangelist.  The day Harold was ordained, his mother came into his office and began to pray fervently for him with tears streaming down her face. She later explained to us that she felt compelled to pass on the anointing of her mother.  It was an incredibly powerful moment.

Leading from Legacy
At some point, every child struggles to find their place.  What am I good at?  Where can I excel?  What should I major in?  What job should I get?  What is God’s plan for my life and my future?  Here are some ways to lead from the legacy God has given your family:

Consider your family tree.  When guiding children of any age, study past generations.  Do you see a common passion or gift throughout the generations?  Is there something that God has called your family to accomplish?  Ask God if your child is part of that legacy and listen to your child’s areas of interest.  Our girls are inspired when they hear of how God has used their grandparents and honored when they think about following in their footsteps.

Broaden your focus. For instance, though our family has a legacy of music, the gift of teaching has also been passed down from my great-grandfather.  Two of my aunts and several of my cousins are professional teachers.  I combined the two and became a music teacher.

Think outside the box. God doesn't always follow the same path; sometimes he does something new.  In our family, two of our four are passionately pursuing music as part of their daily life.  One daughter is pursuing education and another is pursing medicine.  To my knowledge there is no gift of medicine in our family, that doesn't mean she can’t or shouldn't pursue medicine.  God sometimes skips a generation or even establishes a new stream.

Be intentional. Before filling the schedule with more activities, be intentional.  Strengthen the strengths of your child and help him or her choose activities that grow skills or talents.  At twelve Victoria gave up ballet so that she could spend more time on the music she loved.  Her time was well spent.  Ask questions and help your child focus on what is important for today and for the future.

Redeem the gift. Maybe your family isn’t full of great examples of Christian life or ministry.  God’s gives gifts, but it’s up to us how we use them.  You can still discover hidden treasures in your family line, but God may call you to use them differently.  For instance your may be from a family of successful but unethical businessmen, but God is calling you to use that same business acumen to multiply wealth for missions or ministries.  Redeem the gift.

Search out the legacy of your family and walk in the blessing that God intended it to be.

A Secure Investment: Investing in Your Children

(Note:  This article is by no means intended to criticize working moms or moms who don’t homeschool.  God calls families to different ways to raise their children:  there is certainly more than one way to raise a godly child.  My heart is to encourage moms who have chosen motherhood as a career.  It is a wise investment.)

After investing diligently for twenty years, my retirement account still stands at zero.  It has nothing to do with my broker or with the economy, but it is a direct result of how I invested.  For more than 20 years I have been a full-time, stay-at-home mom for our four daughters.  I have invested money, time, and energy into teaching, training, and mentoring these young women and it is an investment that has paid high dividends.  (Of course my husband has also played a significant role in their development, but this article is not for the Daddies.)

Before our children were born, I was a public school music teacher who also taught several classes of hearing-impaired students.  Most of the 750 students I saw each week knew my name and some even regularly visited my classroom for extra time together.  I had a decent income, a retirement account, and summers off.  My career afforded me the opportunity to make great dinner conversation as I described how I taught music to hearing-impaired children.  I taught for two years and loved my job.  In the eyes of our culture, I was successful.

God blessed my husband and I and three days after the last day of school, I found myself at home with a newborn baby girl who wasn’t interested in my teaching success!  My ultimate career choice was to be a wife and mother, but somehow this wasn’t what I thought I had signed up for.  Everything was new to both of us and it took some time for us to learn.  Even more disappointing was the reaction of friends and acquaintances when I told them I was a stay-at-home mom.  Some of them questioned what I did all day and others politely smiled and found someone else to talk to.  It was painfully clear that society did not approve of my

No matter what the view of others, I stayed true to God’s call for me and our family.  There were joyful days and there were difficult days (when wanted to quit or resign!).  Most every day was full—full of laundry, cooking, cleaning, straightening, counseling, teaching, repeating, training, undoing, redoing, correcting, repeating, disciplining, discipling, and did I mention repeating?  We read the Bible together, prayed together, talked together, dreamed together, and cried together.  Sometimes the progress was infinitesimal and my dream of God-fearing daughters seemed elusive, but still my husband and I prayed and stayed the course.

As with any investment, there was risk.  Would it be better if we had a second income so we could provide better?  Would a one-income household limit what they could do?  Should we send them to school so they can be taught by the “experts” instead of an inexperienced mom?  What if I ruin them?  The enemy of my soul tried to discourage me and cause me to doubt our choices and my value, but I held to the truth that I am a precious daughter of the Most High God.

Today, our investment continues to yield a high rate of return.  We have four daughters who are lovely, inside and out.  They aren’t perfect, but they know the Savior who is and they’ve been saved by grace.  They know the Word, and they obey the Word.  They are carriers of His presence who sow seeds of Jesus’ love everywhere they go.  My time as a stay-at-home mom has been the best investment I’ve ever made.

The Family Orchestra

More than twenty years ago, I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education.  Today my musical teaching is limited to helping my daughters with their private lessons, but my mind still thinks in musical terms.  Recently I’ve been thinking about the similarities between a parent and a music teacher or an orchestra conductor. Music teachers, the first instructors for beginning instrumentalists, teach the basics and endure hours of repetitious and often out-of-tune practice.  Parenting young children is often like being a beginning music teacher—you build the foundation and repeat the same instructions though the process is sometimes tiring and you may see little progress.

On the other hand, orchestra conductors direct instrumentalists who have mastered the basics and are ready to perform with other accomplished musicians.  It is quite similar to the role of parenting during the teen years.  If we parents do our job in the early years, our children won’t need the same level of instruction during their teen years.  Instead of being music teachers, we become more like an orchestra conductors.

We make sure everyone is on the same page.  You can imagine the cacophony of sound that would emerge from a symphony if only one  player was reading music from the wrong page.  Similarly, the beautiful melody of a family can only be achieved if we are on the same page.  When the girls were very young, we tried hard to communicate what was important and why.  We talked about what it means to follow God.  We explained why we chose certain activities and didn’t choose others.  Today, Harold and I try hard to communicate our goals and expectations not only for the girls personally, but also in regard to our schedule—what family commitments we have (We keep a master calendar.) and how each person can best serve our family during a certain period of time.  Our children can’t read our minds.  If I don’t communicate, I can’t expect that we’ll be on the same page.

We set the tempo of our home. As the girls have grown, so have the number of activities and opportunities they have opportunity to be involved in.  When the girls were young, Harold and I discussed which activities were beneficial for the girls and for our family.  Today, the girls come to us with requests and together we discuss the commitment and all of the ramifications to our family life and to our schedule.  As a pastor, my husband has many responsibilities and commitments so we try to look at the calendar and set a reasonable pace for our schedule.  We live in a fast-paced world that seems only to speed up with each passing year.  We try to set a reasonable family pace, balancing busy days and busy weeks with times of Sabbath and refreshing.  Some Saturdays we declare a family day—we disconnect our home phone and Harold turns off his cell phone.   The world has much to offer to fill our days, but it’s our job as parents to set the tempo.

We direct entrances and exits. With two drivers who are very committed to church and attending college, I sometimes feel like we have a revolving front door.  Our culture tends to accept the division of children and their families—children of all ages are involved in sports, music lessons, school activities, church activities, youth group, part time jobs, etc.  None of these activities are bad in and of themselves; however when activities become a “drop and shop”—drop the kids off so you can do what you want—it can divide families.  Give thought to the “entrances and exits” in your home.  All too soon your precious ones will be exiting the front door to start their own home.

We control the volume. In a house of four girls, this one is pretty tough.  Those who know our family well know that there is a certain level of excited chit-chat that accompanies our daughters.  (Some call it noise; I call it happy sounds.)  It is sometimes easier to live a life full of noise and activity than to take time to be silent and alone.  It is important that we teach our children to choose moments of solitude so they can think, process, create, and most importantly, hear the voice of God.  If the volume is turned up too loud, we may miss the still small voice of our Father.

We encourage each one to listen to the other. In an orchestra no one instrument should stand out louder than another, unless they are playing a solo.  Each player needs to carefully listen to those around them.  Listening can be a challenge in our home.  It seems there is never a lack of response to any comment made by one member of our family.  Most certainly at least one other member has an opinion or suggestion about the topic at hand.  More often than not, I hear overlapping layers of conversation interspersed with laughter.  I believe that all individuals, no matter their age, have a desire to be heard and understood.  I sometimes feel that my job is to be the “conversation traffic police”—stopping conversations that don’t build each other up, encouraging one speaker at a time, and reminding speakers to slow down so I can understand.  Monologues are like solos, but dialogues allow the beauty of each individual to shine through so that each one feels heard and understood.

If you are a parent, you are like a music teacher or orchestra conductor.  You may not be capable of teaching piano lessons or conducting a large group, but God has given you, and your family, the ability to create beautiful music that will bring honor and glory to Him.  Soli Deo Gloria.

In His Presence

This is a summary of a teaching I gave at a women’s conference entitled “In His Presence.” I only hope this will whet your appetite to seek Him more. We serve an incredible God who wants to be in relationship with us.  I’ve known God for many years, but the reality of His desire for an intimate relationship with me has changed my life.  I was raised in a very conservative denomination, saved at the age of 12 and baptized in water shortly after.  The only time I remember feeling God’s presence was when I felt convicted when an altar call was given.  I wasn’t sure what God’s presence looked like or if I wanted it, but something inside of me was hungry for more.  The last several years, God has been revealing Himself to me in such sweet ways.  I’m learning that I am His precious daughter and that my value is not in what I do, but in who I am.  I’m also trying to comprehend the idea that He wants to be with me as much and even more than I want to be with Him.  This isn’t something I made up.  The Word shows us that God has always desired to be with us.  There are countless examples in the Bible of God pursuing His creation, but I’m going to focus on just a few.

Creation

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  Genesis 1:27

God created man and woman in his image.  Then He created a beautiful garden for them to live in and enjoy.  He walked in the garden with them and talked to them face to face.  This was the perfection of relationship with God with no walls between them.  As we all know, sin entered the world.  Adam and Eve immediately reacted by trying to hide—they tried to hide their nakedness, and then they tried to hide themselves from their Creator.  Our all-knowing God was well aware of their sin, yet He asked, “Where are you?”  He didn’t say, “Get away from me,” or “I never want to see you again.”  When you lose something valuable, you search for it.  God was searching for His precious children.  However, the consequences of sin—punishment, separation, and death—remained.  From that moment, God put a plan in place to reconcile the sin and to restore intimate relationship with His creation.

Tabernacle

When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai.  For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud.”  Exodus 24:15-16

Hundreds of years passed.  God chose to give His son Moses very detailed instructions about how to build a tabernacle, a “place of dwelling,” built to hold the presence so God could dwell with His people.  It was as if God said, “I want you to know where I live so you can come and be with me.” Interestingly enough the same verbal form used for God’s walking back and forth in the garden is used to describe God’s presence in the tabernacle.  God’s heart was to restore the relationship that had been lost in the garden.  However, God could not dwell with sinful people, so He made a way of reconciliation—a way to restore friendship and harmony with His creation through the shed blood of an animal sacrifice.  This system provided for the forgiveness of sins and restored intimate relationship with one man, the high priest, who was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies only once per year on the Day of Atonement.  God was pursuing His people.

Crucifixion

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:16-17

More years passed and the Israelites made many animal sacrifices, day after day, year after year.  In the fullness of time, God established a new covenant by sending Emmanuel, “God with us.”  Up until this point, God’s presence was found in a building—in Moses’ tabernacle and then in Solomon’s temple—but God was not satisfied.  God sent his Son, Jesus, in bodily form, to live among sinful people—not to condemn them, but to be in relationship with them.  While Jesus walked this earth, He was able to meet face to face with many of His precious ones, though He was still limited to relationship with those He came in contact with.  Ultimately, Jesus became the once and for all sacrifice to make permanent reconciliation for every sin we would ever commit.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, He declared, “It is finished.”  At that moment, the curtain that hid the holy of holies in the temple was torn in two—from top to bottom—as if God was saying, “I’ve made a way for you to be in relationship with me.  All of you.  Nothing can separate us.”  God opened our eyes to a facet of His beauty we had not seen before.

Several weeks later, He continued His quest for relationship with His children.  He sent the Holy Spirit—one who dwells inside of us.  Since that moment, He had revealed Himself to us in greater ways.  Our God is able to be in relationship with many people—simultaneously!  Everyone everywhere has the opportunity to be in His presence--my mom in PA, my new friend Janico in Africa, and Karen my sweet sister in Christ in China.  We all have the opportunity to daily live in relationship with our God, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, yet our eyes cannot yet look on all of His beauty.

Heaven

The final piece is Heaven, a place our Lord has prepared for us to live with Him forever.  We’ll experience and know every facet of who God is.  We will be able to gaze on the fullness of His beauty.  This is the culmination of the plan He put in place thousands of years ago to restore the relationship that was lost in the garden.  Once again we will be able to walk with Him and talk with Him face to face!

What does it look like to experience His presence?

Maybe you’re thinking, “If God wants to be with me so much, how is it that we keep missing each other?”  In my early days of being a Christian, I had an agenda for my quiet time with God.  I made a list for what to do—10 minutes for prayer, read one Old Testament chapter, one New Testament chapter, one Psalm, one Proverb.  There is certainly a time for prayer and for Bible reading, but I believe that sometimes God wants to just be with us.  I’m sure God liked my checklist as much as my husband would like if I had a checklist on our date:  hold hands, give compliment, kiss, end of date.  Intimacy is not found in a checklist.  Intimacy, by definition, is marked by close acquaintance, association, or familiarity; relating to or indicative of one's deepest nature; essential; innermost; marked by informality and privacy; very personal; private. Intimacy in marriage doesn’t come on the first date and neither does intimacy with our Heavenly Father come quickly.  The Lover of our soul wants an opportunity to lavish His love on us.

I’m certainly not an expert, but here are a few things that have drawn me closer to my Savior.

1.  Holy Spirit

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.  Acts 4:31

The Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, part of God Himself.  Before I was filled with the Holy Spirit, my only experience with God’s presence was being in the right place at the right time.  It depended on the location or the company.  After I was filled, His Spirit came to live inside of me.  His Spirit gave me boldness to witness; His Spirit gave me peace; His Spirit gave me wisdom beyond my knowledge.

2.  Praise and Worship

Psalm 100:4—Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.

Praise and worship is the gateway to His presence.  Most of our church services begin with a musical expression of praise and worship which is an invitation for God to come and be with us.  I find that there is great peace when I play praise and worship music in our home.

3.  Be Still

Ps. 46:10  Be still, and know that I am God.

I had the first two for years, but the last puzzle piece has started to fall into place in the last 18 months.  I discovered that God often spoke to people in the Bible in the quiet times.  I’ve never been good at being still.  At 12 months I learned to run, not walk, with both hands high in the air.  My parents often said that if I kept going at a million miles a minute, I would burn out before I was 20!

Ex. 33:14—My presence will go with you and I will give you rest (OR dispel your anxieties)

Throughout my years on this earth, I often recognized that my heart was not at peace or at rest, but I just thought that was life.  I pushed through and often reacted badly.  But now I know better.  Now I know to quiet my mind, quiet my hands and focus on His goodness—another word for glory.  I may feel torn in many directions, but being still helps me focus.  Sometimes He asks me to set things aside and move forward.  Sometimes I ask God questions like, “Why is this bothering me?”, “What do you think about me?”, “What do you want me to know?”  Sometimes I write what He says to me, but sometimes I hear nothing.  Even then I know my time isn’t wasted.  Sometimes I feel his tender affection, like recently when my mom needed to be moved to a nursing home.  Sometimes I feel nothing immediately, but I realize my heart is lighter two hours later.

For me, being still is like having a heart adjustment.  Many people go to a chiropractor to have their spines aligned.  In a moment’s time, the adjustment is made and everything is realigned.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite like that.  A heart adjustment takes some time.  Being in God’s presence is a heart activity.  Think of an old dried up sponge and another sponge that’s soaking in water.  When the stress of life comes and twists our life, what will happen?  The old sponge that is not filled with the water of His presence will shed pieces of itself.  On the other hand, if we have been soaking up God’s presence when those stressful times come, we have an abundance of His presence to give.  We can only give what we have inside.  God wants us to be carriers of His presence and to give out of our abundance.

So why don’t we come to him?

It sounds so easy—and it’s free!  I’m sure each one has reasons, but here are some reasons that have kept me from intimacy with my Father.

1.  Walls

Sometimes we build walls that keep us from intimacy with God.  Walls can be built through fear, unconfessed sin or judgments made about people or situations. When there is conflict, we respond like Adam and Eve.  We try to hide and separate ourselves, but God only says, “Where are you?” and continues to pursue us.

2.  Busyness

We each have 24 hours and the choice of how we fill them.  There are so many things vying for our attention—things that are important, things that are necessary, things that are valuable.  Sometimes we need to be like Martha and care for our families, but we also need to be like Mary who chose what is better. (Luke 10:42)

3.  Anger/Disappointment

Life can be painful, even for those who follow Christ.  Maybe you have led a life honoring to God, but people around you have made different choices.  Circumstances of life bring pain which can lead to disappointment, anger and bitterness.  These three can harden our hearts as we try to protect ourselves from the pain of these emotions.

Ultimately it is our choice whether we position ourselves to experience His presence, whether we choose to come to Him with no agenda except to spend time with the one who loves us or whether we fill our days with the urgent.  I find that I need to realign my heart every day.  When I am tired, he brings me rest.  When I am worried, he gives me peace.  Today, take some time to be still.  Put on some peaceful music and pour out your heart to Him.  Listen to what He is saying to you.  Be still and enjoy the presence of your Father.

Jude 24-25  Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever, AMEN.

Sweet Words from Abba Father

February is the month our culture has designated to celebrate love.  I am so glad that Jesus showers His love on us throughout all 12 months of the year.  He sends us love notes nearly every day, whether we recognize them or not.  He calls us to Himself and longs to spend time with us.  What more could we ask for! During the past two years, I’ve been on a journey with God.  I’ve learned so much, but I’m still learning about His unconditional love for me and for you.  I’m learning how to balance, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21 KJV)  and "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."  (John 15:15 NIV)   Ultimately, I want to be so close to my Lord that He would call me His friend.

Recently during one of my quiet times, I confessed to God I didn’t feel close to Him and asked Him what that meant.  These sweet words came from my Abba Father.  Though I was the receiver, I believe He would like me to share these words with all of His daughters.

Being in My presence goes beyond feeling.  Quiet yourself and focus on Me—on who I am, on My faithfulness, on My never-ending mercy.  Sit in My lap and be at peace.  Nothing else is required; nothing else is expected.

Lean back.  That posture is not one of warfare, but of intimacy.  It is easy to whisper in your ear what others cannot hear.  When you lean back, you can feel the warmth of My breath; you can hear the beat of My heart.

I didn’t say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you STRENGTH.”  No, I said, " I will give you REST". (Matt. 11:28 NIV, emphasis mine)  Even in the midst of so much to do, I ask you to rest and trust in Me.

Why must you go at breakneck speed?  I didn’t set that example.  The spirit of the knowledge of good and evil enforces the need to earn your value and title of being exceptional.  You are exceptional!  I created you.  There is no one else just like you in all of creation.  I made you in my image.  You need not do anything more than breathe and smile.

It is my prayer that you’ll join me as I learn how to be a human being and not a human “doing”.  Make time to sit in the lap of the Creator of the universe who just happens to be the Lover of your soul.

Wisdom for a New Year

This year I want to make a difference.  I want this year to count more than all the others that I’ve lived thus far.  I don’t want to leave a word unsaid, a deed undone.  Life is short.  Yes, it sounds cliché, but the statement is true nonetheless.   I realize more than ever before that every day is a gift and it is our choice what we do with it. My Auntie Eleanor put my thoughts into words.  Though she was confined to her home and sometimes even bedridden, she regularly sent friends and family words of encouragement.  Titled “Love More in ’94”, this poem was sent to a friend just months before she passed away.

Mend a quarrel

Seek out a forgotten friend

Write a love letter

Share some treasure

Give a soft answer

Encourage youth

Keep a promise

Find the time

Forgive an enemy

Listen

Apologize if you are wrong

Think first of someone else

Be kind and gentle

Laugh a little

Laugh a little more

Express your gratitude

Be honest in pain

Grieve without embarrassment

Gladden the heart of a child

Take pleasure in the beauty

And wonder of the earth

Speak your love

Speak it again

Speak it still once again

By:  Eleanor Ginder

Simple Gifts

Purchasing Christmas gifts can be one of the most intimidating responsibilities of the Christmas season.  I love to give gifts, but I think shopping is as enjoyable as cleaning the oven.  Fortunately my love of giving gifts outweighs my strong dislike of shopping!  Here are some of the tips I use to simplify my Christmas gift list. Keep a list.

I haven’t fully embraced the digital age (or the prices of the electronics!) so I still use the notebook planner system.  When I am able to write down important dates and events, I don’t have to keep them in my brain and I can stay more organized.  In the back of the planner, I keep one section devoted to a yearly Christmas list.  When someone mentions that they need or would really like to have a specific item, I write it down in my “Christmas List” section.  When I go to my mother-in-law’s house and she says her cookie sheet needs to be replaced, I write it down.  When I am inspired with a gift idea for a daughter, I write it down.  When Christmas arrives, I have a head start on my shopping list.

Set a limit.

I remember the first time I heard about families who gave their children only three Christmas presents.  I never imagined I’d be one.  After all I love to give gifts, especially to my children, but one Christmas convinced me that my generosity wasn’t always best for my children.  The Christmas our oldest was four, she opened one present after another and loudly demanded, “What’s next?!”  We had sacrificed so she could have a remarkable Christmas and it seemed that she was less than grateful.  The next year we instituted The Three-Present Tradition—technically they receive four since there is something small in their stocking.  Though the number of presents has decreased, my girls are very grateful for what they receive.  The expectations are clear and no one is disappointed.  It also causes me to evaluate my purchases more carefully.  Recently the girls were talking about Christmas traditions and said they would like to continue The Three-Present Tradition with their families--if it was ok with their husbands.

Make a budget.

Before you go shopping, determine how much you plan to spend on Christmas presents.  No matter how many presents you buy for your children or other family members, it’s easy to go “hog wild.”  You see something that you know your family member would love and then you look at the price tag.  Well, it’s more than you wanted to spend but you rationalize that the recipient just has to have it.  Soon your Christmas budget has been thrown out the window and you’re paying for Christmas until March!

Know the rules.

If you exchange presents with your extended family, find out what the exchange looks like—individual gifts for everyone, individual gifts for children, or family gifts.  It is a little awkward, but you may also want to discuss a budget limit so that everyone is on the same page.  Again, communicated expectations make for fewer disappointments.

Shop all year.

Since I don’t like to shop and rarely find myself at a retail establishment that doesn’t sell canned food, I shop for Christmas all year long.  If I happen to be in a store in February, I look for winter clothes sales.  During the summer, I found a great deal on Christmas plates to hold my homemade goodies.  Consider seasonal sales, going-out-of-business sales, or home parties as great opportunities to do some early Christmas shopping.  When we’re on vacation, I keep my eyes open for unique gifts.  Gift shops are sometimes expensive, but may have the perfect gift.  On our vacation this year, we spent a day at Springs Folk Festival where we found handmade items from wood, leather, textiles, pewter and other metals.  I picked up several pewter Christmas ornaments that were significantly less than Hallmark prices.  Several years ago, I purchased cloisonné jewelry during a missions trip to China.  Shopping year ‘round can save money and ease the December budget by spreading expenses over several months.

Be creative.

Handmade gifts are unique and personal.  It just doesn’t seem like Christmas to me if I’m not making some of my gifts.  In last year’s December newsletter I wrote an article entitled, "Gifts from the Heart," a collection of handmade gifts that I’ve made over the years for family and friends.  You may also find ideas for handmade gifts at organizedchristmas.com.

Simplify.

One way to simplify is to give family gifts.  Two families have been the inspiration for simplifying some of our gift giving.  Each year the Bowen family gives us homemade cinnamon twists, one for each member of our family and the Shedd family, originally from Ohio, makes homemade buck-eye (chocolate and peanut butter) candies, one for each member of our family.  Each family has gifted us these same treats for nearly ten years and yet we still anticipate these treasures.  Recently, we started our own tradition of giving homemade peppermint bark to families.

Another way to simplify is to buy in bulk.  When I find something that I really like, I sometimes buy a bunch!  When giving gifts to everyone in a group, like a Bible study or a group of Sunday School volunteers, it works well to give the same gift to everyone.  This year I found a great sale on a leather-bound devotional book, so my husband will be giving it to all of the men he is mentoring.  Last Christmas, I made a dozen pair of star earrings for my friends.  Giving the same gift saves planning time and shopping time.

Prepare to wrap.

I love to give gifts that look beautiful but I hate to wrap and I’m opposed to using gift bags for everything.  One way to make things easier is to be organized and prepared.  Before Thanksgiving, I purchase boxes, tissue paper, wrapping paper and matching wired ribbon from a $1 retailer.  Sometimes I buy the sticker gift tags and other times I use decorative scissors to cut gift tags out of cardstock.  At home, I have a large plastic tub to store boxes, gift bags, tissue paper, and gift tags—the front for year-round and the back for Christmas.  I keep an extra pair of scissors and scotch tape with the wrapping supplies so that everything is easily accessible.  When I have to wrap, everything is in one place.

May your Christmas shopping and wrapping be full of peace and joy!

Merry Organized Christmas

Long before there were organizing experts or special stores devoted solely to organizing, my mom had set up my dresser drawers with separate shoe boxes for socks and “unmentionables.” She color-coded the photo albums, school folders, and even bath towels. Christmas was no exception for her organizational skill.  Mom made lists in September and had her shopping done before Thanksgiving.  Nearly 80 Christmas cards were hand-addressed, signed in her perfect penmanship, and sent on the Friday after Christmas.  The every box of Christmas decorations was clearly labeled and the wrapping was finished long before Christmas Eve.

I am grateful that some of that organization has filtered down to her daughter, but I sometimes wish that my Christmas (and my closets!) were a little more organized.  I believe the key to organization is prior planning and lots of lists (so the information doesn’t have to stay in my head!).  If you’re looking for some tips to better organize your Christmas celebrations, check out organizedchristmas.com. You’ll find a Christmas countdown with a daily assignment, holiday tips, recipes, and printable forms for a budget, gifts, Christmas cards, menus, and lots more. (There are enough forms to keep you busy until next Christmas!)  Certainly it isn’t necessary to fill out each form, but I find it helpful to choose forms that apply to the most unorganized areas of my Christmas celebration.  When I make notes, it helps me better use my time and resources to accomplish my goals.  This year I plan to use the Ornament Journal to record the history of special ornaments that hang on our tree and the Holiday Menu Planner.

Most of all, don’t let the enemy of our soul use disorganization to steal your joy and paralyze you.  Choose not to compare yourself to anyone else and remember you are a precious daughter of the King of Kings.  His love for you isn’t based on your organizational skills.  Ask God to give you direction and help you make a plan.  Do the best you can with the time and money you have, but don’t forget to choose to be fully present in the moment.  Find joy in the chaos of decorating; find joy in the long (and sometimes loud!) trip to visit relatives; find joy in being with friends; find joy in remembering Jesus who was born to give us life, and life more abundantly. (John 10:10)

 

Quick and Easy Christmas Brunch Recipes

I enjoy cooking but I don’t want to spend Christmas morning in the kitchen! Because we save these recipes for Christmas morning or overnight guests, everyone looks forward to this special meal. Not only are these recipes family favorites and Christmas standards for our celebration, but each recipe is simple, can be made in advance, and tastes yummy! Menu

Easy Oven Omelet

Overnight Coffee Cake

Quick Fruit Salad

White Grape Peach Juice (our juice of choice for family celebrations)

Easy Oven Omelet

Ingredients:

16 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese

3 T. all-purpose flour

4oz. can of chopped green chilies, drained

½ t. salt

16 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese

8 eggs

1 ¼ c. milk

8 oz. tomato sauce or salsa

Preparation:

THE NIGHT BEFORE:

Grease 9x13 baking dish.

Layer Cheddar cheese, chilies, and Monterey Jack cheese.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

IN THE MORNING:

Beat milk, flour, salt and eggs.

Pour over cheese mixture.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until set in center and top is golden brown, about 40 mins.

(Note: If baking Overnight Coffeecake simultaneously, add 10-15 mins. baking time.)

Let stand 10 mins. before cutting.

Heat tomato sauce until hot; serve with omelet.

Serves 8-10.

Overnight Coffeecake

Ingredients for cake:

2/3 c. butter or margarine

1 c. granulated sugar

½ c. brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

1 t. baking powder

1 T. cinnamon

1/2 t. salt

2 c. flour

1 c. buttermilk

Ingredients for topping:

½ c. chopped nuts

3 T. flour

¾ c. brown sugar, packed

3 T. melted margarine

THE NIGHT BEFORE:

For cake, in large bowl, cream butter and sugars.

Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Mix dry ingredients.

Add alternately with buttermilk to creamed mixture.

Pour ½ of batter in greased 9x13.

Mix all topping ingredients.

Sprinkle batter with ½ of topping.

Pour remaining batter. Top with remaining topping.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

IN THE MORNING:

In the morning, bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes.

Serve warm.

To serve as a dessert, garnish with whipped cream.

Serves 12-15.

Fruit Salad

Previous fruit recipes I tried were limited by the types of fresh fruit available during the winter. The ingredients in this recipe are always readily available, even in the winter. I sometimes add strawberries or kiwi for color, if I can find them.

Ingredients:

1 large bunch of grapes, cut in halves

14 oz. can mandarin oranges, undrained

20 oz. can of pineapple chunks, undrained

2 bananas, sliced

Mini marshmallows, optional

THE NIGHT BEFORE:

In serving bowl, combine grapes, oranges, and pineapple. Cover and refrigerate.

IN THE MORNING:

Add bananas and mini marshmallows just before serving.

Serves 8-10.

Four Ways to Help Daughters Dream Big Dreams

Anna isn’t afraid to dream big dreams; dreams that will only become reality through the supernatural power of our magnificent God.  What seems to be impossible is a challenge she readily accepts; her faith is keeping me on my toes. D4G:  Tell me about Blessing Wells International.

Anna:  It is an organization I started to raise money to provide clean water for the people of Africa.  I first thought of Blessing Wells about two months before my thirteenth birthday.  I didn’t want to be selfish so I decided that I didn’t want to receive any birthday presents.  I wanted to give back to the people of Africa.  I wanted to make a difference and help the people of Africa survive and live without diseases and to have clean water.

I also wanted to give other people the opportunity to help build a well on a more personal level.  Even though they give in a small way, it makes a big difference.  Without other people I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.

D4G:  What was your first goal?

Anna:  My first goal was to build a family well in one year.  I achieved that goal and raised $750 in about 11 months.  I partnered with Samaritan’s Purse to be a part of a well project in the mountains of Sudan.

D4G:  How do you raise money?

Anna:  I take donations, I’ve sold candy, but mostly I design and make sterling silver and gold-filled jewelry.  I started with simple earrings and now I’m doing single strand necklaces and bracelets.  At first my mom helped me, but now I do all the work myself.  I’m learning wirework and hoping to make rings in the near future.

D4G:  How do you choose your designs?

Anna:  God.  I go to the bead shop and God shows me.  God definitely helps me choose the beads and things.

D4G:  Where do you sell your jewelry?

Anna:  I sell my jewelry at flea markets and personally to people at my church.  I’m hoping to set up an online store soon.

D4G:  What message do you have for other girls your age?

Anna:  Do hard things and make difference.  You’re never too young to do something important.  You don’t have to wait until you’re a certain age to do something important.  After I started Blessing Wells, I read the book, Do Hard Things (by:  Alex and Brett and Harris) and it really encouraged me that I’m not the only one who is working hard to make a difference.

D4G:  What is your current goal and how long do you think it will take to achieve it?

Anna:  My current goal is to raise $6,000 to fund a community well by the time I graduate from high school in June, 2014.  I am still in the process of looking at different organizations to partner with, but my goal is to find one where I remain anonymous.  I would love to help build the well, but I don’t want my name on it or any other special treatment.  It’s God working through me and not just me.  We’re just God’s vessels anyway.

A Note to Parents:

If your daughter has a dream that seems bigger than life:

  1. Resist the temptation to shoot it down. It may seem completely illogical and impossible, but pray about whether it is a dream from God.  If it is something on His heart, look for opportunities to partner with her.
  2. Be creative and look for connections.  The flea market at our church has been a great way for Anna to market her products.  Consider partnering with people or organizations that are already doing what your daughter wants to do.  It’s a safe way to find out how invested she is in the dream.
  3. Use the network you have. You don’t have to do everything; find some friends who are experts in what she needs to know or to do.  One of my friends designed a brochure, a business card, and a website for Blessing Wells so Anna could advertise.
  4. Look for teachable moments. I allowed her to host a jewelry party in our home so that she could start launch her collection.  It was a great opportunity for her to practice her public speaking skills. Helping make the jewelry was one way I could support her, but as soon as she was old enough, we took a jewelry class together so she could improve her skills and work independently.

While Blessing Wells International has required thought, planning, time, and investment on Anna’s part and some encouragement and work on my part, I am certain that the blessings for God’s children in Africa far exceed the little we have given.  I am grateful to have the privilege to partner with God and with my daughter to dream big dreams and to bless His Kingdom.

 

Reflections on Purity Weekend

It’s over and I survived.   All of my girls know about “the birds and the bees” and I lived to tell the tale.  A few weeks ago, I took my youngest daughter on “Purity Weekend”--my fourth and last.  You’d think I’d have felt relieved, but I found my feelings to be different. When we started the tradition of Purity Weekend with our oldest daughter, I was insecure, uncertain, and fearful.  How will I know when she’s ready?  How will I know when I’m ready?  What if I say something wrong?  What if I forget something?  I recognized the need to inform my daughter about the creation of new life, but I felt completely unprepared.  Since I was raised in a very modest home, this topic wasn’t discussed and the thought of having such personal discussions made me quite uncomfortable.  After much research, I collected some resources and planned the special event.  It was a great success.

As I prepared for our third daughter’s Purity Weekend, God impressed me to write a collection of information and object lessons to help parents inform their daughter about purity, sexuality and courtship.  The Gift of Purity:  Letters to a Daughter About Guarding Her Heart was released in April, 2009.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this resource, here is a short diary of how we used The Gift of Purity for Abigail’s Purity Weekend.

The week before the event I made an invitation for Abigail, telling her of the dates of her Purity Weekend and time we would be leaving.  I kept the location, the topics, and my planned activities a surprise.  Although it would’ve been great to mail the invitation, I ended up sliding it under her door.  With tears running down her cheeks she ran down the stairs and hugged me, hardly believing that the day had finally come.

When the big day arrived, Abigail and I loaded the van, said our good-byes.  As we drove, I hinted around a bit and then asked her if she wanted to get her ears pierced—something she had been anxiously awaiting for several years.  She was ecstatic and a little nervous, but so excited when she saw the results.  After dinner we checked into our oceanfront hotel at the beach (a great deal on Expedia).  She was overwhelmed by the ocean view.  We got settled in and then sat outside on the balcony as we completed the first section entitled, “Purity,” defining purity using biblical standards.  Abigail enjoyed the “Purity Point” object lesson demonstrating that you can’t identify pure water by sight alone.  We closed in prayer as together we dedicated each part of our body to our Lord and Savior.

Our Father gave us the beautiful gift of a clear morning and a glorious sunrise.  We completed the second section of letters about God’s creation of intimacy in marriage and the object lesson demonstrating the power of sexual intimacy to tie two people together.  We finished with some warnings of how Satan tries to pervert God’s precious gift.  The sunny day beckoned us out of the hotel room and we walked several blocks to a little restaurant serving a great breakfast buffet and some gigantic chocolate chip pancakes.  As we walked back to the restaurant, we visited a few shops and crossed a few things off our Christmas shopping list.

Back at the hotel, we began the last section of The Gift of Purity, entitled "Courtship."  Abigail was sad when she realized it was the last section.  We talked about the difference between courtship and dating and why her dad and I had chosen courtship as the process to discover her spouse.  The "Purity Point" object lesson reminded her that giving away a kiss is giving away a little of her purity.  When we concluded, she joyfully agreed to abide by the process of courtship and signed the Commitment to Courtship.

Now it was time for some fun!  We drove to a local spa where I had scheduled an appointment for a manicure.  The spa was lovely and her technician made her feel like a pampered princess.  Her first professional manicure, it was a memorable experience for one who wants to study cosmetology.  We returned to our hotel just in time to change our clothes and freshen up before dinner.

Abigail and I decided to take pictures on the boardwalk before going to dinner.  Actually, I decided that because it was a set up for Abigail.  I told her we'd ask someone to take our picture together, so I called to a man nearby, "Sir, could you please take our picture?"  Abigail immediately recognized her father, the would-be photographer.  Surprise and joy in her heart brought tears to her eyes.  For several moments, she was completely still in her daddy’s embrace and then together we drove to our dinner destination.

Over dinner we talked of courtship and the commitment Abigail and I had just signed.  Harold reminded her of her preciousness and presented her with a lovely purity ring.  Again, tears swelled in her eyes as Dad slipped it on her finger.  The three of us continued our celebration.  Abigail repeatedly looked at her manicure and the lovely ring on her finger—I’m not sure which one she liked more!  Dad returned home after dinner while Abigail and I stayed at the hotel one more night.  Neither of us wanted it to end.  Following a relaxing night of sleep, we gathered our belongings, checked out of the hotel, and arrived at home in time for our Saturday morning pancake breakfast.

Purity Weekend is over, but every one of the girls has mentioned that they want to go again.  I’ve told them that there isn’t anything else I have to tell them, but they insist it doesn’t matter.  According to my four delightful daughters, the best part is just being together.  I enjoyed the time as much as they did.  Maybe I’ll start another tradition.

Time to Soar

Twenty years ago this month I discovered I was carrying our first child.  Though seasoned parents repeatedly mentioned how quickly the years would pass, I still found it difficult to comprehend.  Now I completely understand.  It seems like just yesterday our Victoria was born and yet today she is preparing to graduate from the community college, searching for a job, and planning her next steps.  Our second daughter is not far behind, having begun her college education nearly three months ago.  It would be easy to let fear overwhelm me, but God has given me tremendous peace during these transitions.  He even spoke a special word during one of my quiet times. It is my hope that these words encourage those of you walking the same road of transition. “It’s time for her to grow and to soar.  You have kept her protected and nourished her well.  She has lived in a palace, knowing her place and her destiny.  Now it’s time for her to leave the safety of the palace.  This will open her eyes, grow her compassion and strengthen her faith.

Everyone is right when they say it will never be the same, but I say it will only be better.  She is a bird who was made to fly.  It would not be good if she were only allowed to sit in your nest and sing.  A captured bird becomes unhappy and unfulfilled.  As she fulfills her call, joy will overflow, both in her life and in yours.

There will be some who think birds should stay in cages.  They may not understand, but I created birds to fly.  As she flies from one location to another, she will bring songs, and life, and laughter to so many.

Some fear the birds will fly away never return, but I created many migratory birds to return to the same location, a safe place where they can spend the winter.  She will return to her safe place in my perfect time.”

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?                          Matthew 6:25-27

 

Happy New Year!

I was born to celebrate—birthdays, holidays, and major or minor accomplishments.  I celebrate New Year’s Day like many other Americans and make a list of Yew Year’s resolutions, but in my heart I’ve always felt a sense of new beginnings in September.  So many things in my life have transitioned or begun in the month of September.  Several years back I contemplated why I value September as a season of new beginnings.  I concluded that it was owing to the school schedule that I’d followed for so many years, first as student, then as public school teacher, and more recently as homeschooling mom. This year our family was privileged to join a local celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish New Year, known in the Bible as the Feast of Trumpets.  I was riveted as I heard about the celebration of the birthday of the world, as Jewish tradition calls it.  Though we had studied Jewish feasts a few years back, it was as if I had never heard the traditions and meanings connected with the Old Testament celebration.

I was especially drawn to the tradition of “casting off the sins of the previous year.”  I love the idea of a time of cleansing and starting anew.  It was an epiphany moment for me.  God had planned this season to celebrate new beginnings, which confirmed what my heart has felt for years.

I appreciate my heritage as one “grafted in”, but I also recognize that we are no longer under the law.    When Jesus came to this earth in the form of a man, everything changed.  Through His blood we can “cast off our sins” any day of the year. Praise God we don’t have to wait a whole year to be forgiven!

May this fall be a time of new beginnings for your family—a time to renew your passion for your Father, the Lord and Savior who has bought you with His blood.  And, as the Hebrew greeting says, “May you be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a good new year.”

Back-to-School Memories

Planning for school is quite a task—choosing curriculum, ordering books, purchasing supplies.  It takes a lot of time and thought.  My mother never homeschooled her five children, but her job to prepare us for school was just as challenging.  She had an incredibly organized system to accomplish that goal, but the process never took precedence over making each of us children feel special.
 
A TRADITION IS BORN

In early August we took inventory of our clothing.  Mom sat on the edge of my bed with notepad in hand, recording my needs with the most beautiful cursive writing.  Ours was an extremely frugal family and often my list was short since I had an older sister whose hand-me-downs supplied most of my wardrobe.  My sister was much taller than I and the clothes never fit perfectly, but Mom altered them often by ripping out the seams and remaking the garment using the worn material.  There was one exception and that was the outfit for the first day of school.  Mom always made sure that we had something new to wear.

Our first stop was the upstairs sewing room where we’d pour over boxes of patterns and stacks of fabric my mother had bought inexpensively at a local warehouse.  I’d choose a pattern and fabric for my new shirt, skirt, gauchos, or pants.  If the fabric inventory was low or mom didn’t have a pattern in my size, we went to the fabric store, sat side-by-side paging through pattern books, and searched the remnant table for the perfect piece of fabric.

A few weeks later, with list in hand, Mom and I went school shopping for the things she could not sew.  This was a highlight of my year!  With four siblings, I recognized the treasure of having Mom all to myself for a few hours.  We generally started at Kmart (before the Wal-Mart years) and purchased the “foundational garments” mom couldn’t make.  Sometimes we bought shoes but our family most often went to a friend’s store to purchase everyone’s shoes at the same time.  We bought new notebooks, folders, notebook paper, a new box of 64 Crayola crayons complete with sharpener (I still love the smell of those crayons!), and whatever else we needed that year—a lock for a locker, an assignment book, or a book bag (pre-backpack years).  When every item on the list had been crossed off, Mom let us pick out something special that we wanted.  Once I chose a set of watercolors.  Another time we got a treat from the Kmart food counter—cherry red Icees with pictures of polar bears on the cup.  When I came home with my bags of treasures, I presented them to my siblings and later to my dad when he got home from work.

Our shopping days changed a bit over the years.  When I was in eighth grade, we went to the outlets in Redding, PA.  The following year when I was in high school, there were only three children at home and money wasn’t quite as tight.  We began to buy jeans and a few other things at the mall, but Mom still sewed whatever she could.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but she managed to make stylish clothes by combining several patterns for one garment or allowing us to help design our own pattern.  On our last school shopping trip, for college, she helped me find a rug remnant and coordinating comforters for my dorm room.  I remember little of the items we purchased over the years, but I still feel the warmth of uninterrupted time with Mom.

EMBRACING THE TRADITION

Now I am making precious back-to-school memories with our four daughters.  The first year I began to homeschool, I had a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and a six-week-old.  I wasn’t really thinking about shopping.  I was just glad to have my curriculum!  School days were short and we had many opportunities to shop for new clothes or school supplies we needed.  As the girls got older, I recognized the need to spend one-on-one time with them and my heart remembered those special shopping days with Mom.

We adopted the tradition of back-to-school shopping days, but with a Moore family twist.  We still take inventory of clothing, pass along the hand-me-downs (a rare thing since all the girls are now nearly the same size!) and I make a list of what each one needs.  We also take inventory of what school supplies each daughter has and will need in the coming school year.  I schedule a day for each daughter and together we “conquer the list.”  There is no sewing room or fabric or patterns.  I high-tail it to Wal-Mart!  We collect our school supplies first, and then we pick up any “foundational garments” and hit the sales racks.  Depending on what’s on the list, we may end up at our favorite thrift shop.  In our area of Virginia, it’s not always easy to find winter clothes in August, so we often finish our shopping later in the season.

Like my mom, I let the girls choose something they’d like—something that isn’t a necessity.  Over the years, Abigail chose a bendable pink ruler, Anna chose a collapsible ruler, Elisabeth chose a paint-by-number picture of a horse, and Victoria chose a beautifully decorated journal notebook.  If it fits in the budget, we may get some ice cream or even have lunch at a fast food restaurant.  Most of all I make opportunity laugh and to listen.  I don’t want it to be a totally serious time, but if it seems appropriate I’ll ask what they liked or disliked about the school year before, what they’re looking forward to, and what they’re thinking about for the future.  And like days gone by, when we return home one sister joyfully shares her newly-purchased treasures with the other sisters.

This year I thought we’d try something different.  Since time was limited because of our Guatemala missions trip, I thought we’d do a joint shopping day at an outlet center sometime in the fall.  It seemed like a good idea at the time since two are at the community college and didn’t really need much in the way of supplies or clothing.  But here I am, three weeks into school, feeling the loss of those special moments with my girls.  I don’t miss the shopping, but it’s not really about shopping.  I miss the one-on-one time with my daughters, one way I can communicate to them how precious and valuable they are to me.  It doesn't matter that we’ve already started school.  I’ll squeeze in some time with my girls between Chemistry and Algebra 2, and thank my mom for taking time to make back-to-school memories with me.

Our Guatemala Missions Trip Update

The memories of eight years ago are still clear to me today.  While visiting my husband’s parents, their church hosted a joint Sunday morning service with a Hispanic congregation.  My 8-year-old Elisabeth fell in love with a little Spanish girl and together they shared their native languages with each other, pointing to objects and repeating words for the other to learn.  That experience made quite an impact in Elisabeth’s life.  Several years later, we talked about what God might have for her future before He sends her future husband.  (From that conversation, the book Becoming a Daughter of Destiny, was born.)  After a time of prayer she said that she wanted to work with Hispanic children and maybe even start her own orphanage. Over the years, Elisabeth’s love for the Hispanic people grew.  She studied Spanish, listened to Spanish Christian radio via the internet, and dreamed of the day she could travel to South or Central America.  Last year she heard about a team who was going to Guatemala to teach orphans about worship.  She was interested, but it was too late to join since the team was leaving in only two weeks.  She prayed that another team would go the following year and put her name on the waiting list.  Throughout the year, Harold and I prayed and sensed that this trip was God’s plan for Elisabeth.  In early April Elisabeth and I were accepted to be part of a return trip scheduled for July, 2010.

Before we left for Guatemala, God put in my heart to print a Spanish translation of Lady Day that could be used in orphanages.  God provided a friend to translate the book and the finances to print a colorful cover designed especially for the girls of Guatemala.  We brought 100 copies and prayed for God to open doors.

Our ten days were packed with ministry to orphaned, abused or under-privileged children and to orphanage directors, house parents, and Guatemalan believers.  We held a Worship Festival at three different orphanages.  The first day the team played with the kids (ages 4-18) for a few hours to build relationships.  We brought balls, bubbles, jump ropes, kites, and balloon animals, and a giant parachute.  We had a time of singing songs in Spanish and English like, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” And “I am Free to Run.”  We also shared a meal with them.  The next day or several days later, we returned to teach them about worship.  We began with a time of singing.  Then we broke up into small groups and rotated

through several “stations” about how to worship God through music, dance/movement, crafts and soaking. In music, we taught the kids a little about reading music and matching pitches.  Elisabeth and her friend Kara were in charge of the dance/movement.  They taught the kids how you can worship with dance and planned movements (a lot of jumping!) to the Spanish version of “You Have Turned My Mourning into Dancing.”

I was in charge of crafts.  Through a translator, I talked about how God gives us artistic abilities and how we can use our gifts to worship Him.  Then the kids made a musical “tooter” with wide craft sticks and a prayer journal with blank pages to keep a record of what God says to them.  Sometimes they used their journals in “soaking,” a time of being quiet and still before God and soaking in His presence.  Before we left, we gathered the children back together and presented a mime about how God the Father loves us and gives us gifts,  but Satan tries to steal them and keep us from the Father.  We concluded with a call to salvation and a time of individual ministry, including a time of praying for physical healing.

During our stay in Guatemala, we visited four orphanages where I was able to present Siendo Una Senorita, our Spanish translation of Lady Day. One worker remarked how beautiful the books were and that it was a great translation.  She was thrilled.  A director at another orphanage commented that just that morning she had had a discussion with the girls of the orphanage and realized she needed a tool to teach them about such things.  She cried at the thought that God had cared enough to provide for the girls.  Another director said that just yesterday the leaders of the orphanage had discussed how important it was to have discussions about growing up and how they were going to approach the subject.  In each case, God had prepared the way.  I feel privileged to be part of God’s plan for the girls of Guatemala.  Praise God for His faithfulness to His beloved daughters!

While we were there, God opened up other opportunities that weren’t on our original schedule.  One day we drove nearly two hours to a small village near the volcano that had erupted in May.  About 100 underprivileged children from the area came to a small community center where we sang songs and played games.  After about half and hour, our team leader asked Elisabeth to tell the children a story that would make them ask Jesus into their hearts.  Through an interpreter, she told the story of the Prodigal Son.  Nearly all of the children raised their hand to accept Christ and Elisabeth led them in the sinner’s prayer.  I was so proud of her.  It was a sweet moment for a mother’s heart.

Another day, we spent about an hour at an orphanage with HIV positive children.  In that short amount of time, we sang with the children, told them how much the Father loved them using the story of the Prodigal Son.  Many prayed to accept Jesus.  As we gave the girls balloon crowns and the boys balloon swords, we spoke words of blessing over the children (Ex.  You are a warrior of peace.  You are a princess of faith.).  We were encouraged to hear testimonies of how God had healed three of the HIV-positive children and we prayed for more children to be healed.   Still another day we went to the Red Zone, a dangerous area of the city for natives and foreigners.  With a guide, we were given entry to a gang-infested neighborhood where we gathered in a small courtyard surrounded by corrugated metal walls.  Again we sang songs, presented a mime drama about the Father’s love, and crowned them as princes as princesses—this time with paper crowns donated by the Burger King where we had eaten breakfast.

While the majority of our time was spent with children, God also gave us opportunities to pray with people from all walks of life:  a family of Guatemalan believers who are involved in government, another family of Guatemalan believers whom God has prospered through business, and several American couples who serve as directors at the Christian orphanages we visited.  On the Sunday we were there, we attended a Guatemalan church where our team led worship and our team leader preached.  Many responded and came forward to receive prayer.  Several were healed.

A few of my favorite moments, in no particular order:

Seeing Elisabeth’s reaction to how God answered her prayers for a balcony at our hotel

Worshipping as a team at our hotel--the presence of God was so sweet

Listening to Elisabeth use her Spanish with the children

Watching Elisabeth ask the children if they want to accept Jesus and watching all the little hands go up

Praying for a young woman, knowing that God was calling her and changing her destiny in that moment

Presenting the Siendo Una Senorita books to the orphanage worker/directors

It was a privilege to travel with my daughter to Guatemala to love the people and serve my Father.  Neither of us will be the same--and I don’t believe that Guatemala will be the same, either!  Elisabeth is continuing her Spanish studies with renewed vigor and is praying about her next steps.  Spanish is definitely part of the equation.  In Guatemala, there are many children who now know of a Heavenly Father who loves them and who has given them gifts.  They have a new perspective of who God is and of their value as sons and daughters of the Most High God.  These children will become spouses, parents, businessmen, lawyers, inventors, government leaders, pastors, or worshipers who will shape the heart and soul of Guatemala…for the praise of His glorious grace.  All praise to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

A Walk on the Beach

A few weeks ago, I chose to spend some time sitting still and enjoying God’s presence--not reading, not singing, not praying, only being.  It’s not easy for a type-A person like me to depart from my “To Do List” and just “do nothing.”  Our time together is so sweet and most always leaves me feeling refreshed and recharged.  This time was no different. In my mind’s eye I saw Jesus walking on the beach with me.  I saw only our backs.  Every so often, I would stop and write in the sand why I was unworthy—unworthy of His love, unworthy of His attention, and unworthy to be in such a close relationship with Him.  Jesus didn’t stop to wait for me as I wrote, He just kept slowly walking.  As soon as I’d finish writing or sometimes before I even finished, a wave would come and wash away my excuses.  I ran ahead catching up to Jesus so I could walk beside him and hold His hands.  Several times I stopped to write but each time His response was the same and the waves erased my list of faults.  When I finally gave up writing and focused on walking with him, He turned to face me looking into my eyes with a smiling face of radiance and eyes of love.

Even as I’m writing this, I realize that He is teaching me what it means to be a daughter.  A daddy (a healthy and whole one) loves to hold his daughter’s hand and spend time with her.  A daddy already knows many of his daughter’s weaknesses, but his love for her keeps him from always focusing on the negative and breaking her spirit.  Certainly part of his job is bringing correction, but He patiently waits for the right time and then he gently guides.  Their relationship is more important than correcting her faults.

Thank You, God, that you desire a relationship with me more than you desire perfection.  Thank You for seeing beyond my faults, especially when I keep reminding You about them.  Thank You for accepting me and loving me just the way I am and for patiently guiding my path and forming my character.  I know that the more time we spend together, the more I become like You.