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.”

 

Discreet Ways to Answer Difficult Questions

If your children are anything like mine, they ask a lot of questions. Questions that require factual answers are pretty easy, but questions about relationships and reproduction can be tricky. As parents, it is our role to guard our children’s hearts and to teach them a godly perspective in every area of life. Here are some suggestions for how to approach some tricky subjects until your child is ready for more details.

Answer only the question that is asked.

The story goes that a boy asked his mom, “Where did I come from?” His mother got very quiet, took a deep breath, and started into “the talk.” The boy listened patiently and his mother sighed deeply as she finished her last sentence. The boy quickly spoke up. “That’s not what I meant. Joshua said he came from Cincinnati, Ohio, and I just wondered where I came from.”

Sometimes we give our children more information than they need or they are ready for. Our family philosophy has been to answer the question asked. Sometimes the answer leads to more questions, but other times it satisfies the curious child until another day.

Keep discussions in a biblical context.

Please Note: I have substituted “socks”  for a similar sounding word, not because I am embarrassed to use the real word, but because I don’t want the article to be blocked by internet filtering software. 

Yes, it’s important to give your children the facts about “socks,” but it also important to put the information in the context of how God created it. Don’t just explain the details about the act, but give the context that when a man and woman are married, God created a way for them to have a baby that also gives the couple pleasure and causes them to grow closer emotionally. It’s also important for them to know that certain behaviors are 

Keep it simple.

Before you ever get to “the talk” you’ll probably get a lot of questions, especially if mom or someone close to your family is pregnant.  Here are some answers we’ve given to challenging questions. Yes, they are simplistic, but we had future discussions to expound upon the nuances of these topics. You can use anatomical terms, if you prefer.

Q. Where do babies come from? OR  How does the baby get in there?
A.  There is a seed inside the mommy that grows into a baby when God says it’s time.

Q. How do you get pregnant? (or some form of the question)
A. Several options: 
When a woman treats a man like her husband, there is a tiny seed in the mommy that begins to grow into a baby. 
Before I was ready to have “the talk”: Right now, your body can’t have a baby but when you can I will be sure to tell you.
Close to having “the talk”: That’s a great question. I’m not ready to have this conversation today, but let’s set up a time where we can talk about it real soon.  (And then schedule something, like a Lady Day, Purity Weekend for girls or Passport2Purity for boys or girls, and follow through.)

Q. How did she get pregnant if she isn’t married?
A. She treated a man like her husband.

Q. Is the baby in your stomach with all your food?
A. No, God made a special place like a bubble (or use anatomical term) where the baby can grow, and eat special food, and be protected.

Q. How do babies eat when they are in your tummy?
A. God made a special tube (called an umbilical cord) that connects from mommy’s tummy to the baby so the baby will have food to eat and grow.

Q. How does the baby get out?
A. God was so smart and made a special hole just for the baby to come out when it’s time. (Depending on the child and the specific situation, I may go on.) That works for most mommies, but sometimes it isn’t safe for the baby to come out of the hole so the doctor has to cut the mommy’s tummy and help the baby come out.  

Q. Where is the hole?
A.  The hole is close to the hole in the mommy where the urine comes out.

Q. What’s circumcision?
A. God asked the Israelite men to mark themselves in a way that mean that they belonged to God.

Q. Where is the mark?
A. On the man’s private parts.

Q. What is adultery? 
A. When a married woman treats another man like her husband, even though she isn’t married to him or when a married man treats another woman like his wife. The Bible says that the people who do that won’t go to heaven. 

Q. What is fornication?
A. When a woman who isn’t married treats a man like she would if he was her husband or a man who isn’t married treats a woman like he would if she were his wife. The Bible says that the people who do that won’t go to heaven.

Wait for the right time.

Obviously, the answers above are simplistic responses most suitable for the younger set. In time, there was “full disclosure” and complete explanations, including any scriptural references that applied. 

Our girls were all pretty curious, but one was exceptionally so. At the age of nine, she asked me directly, “What is ‘socks’?” I must admit that it caught me off guard. I’m sure I took a long pause, made a plan and then responded, “Oh, you mean on the standardized tests where it says, ‘“Socks”: Male or Female’?”  She told me, no, that wasn’t what she meant.  I told her that I didn’t think she was ready to have this conversation. (I was sure I wasn’t ready either!) I also promised that we would have the conversation in the future but that if she couldn’t wait, she should come back and ask me again instead of asking someone else. We went through this scenario twice before we finally had our Purity Weekend and I was able to answer all of her questions.

Later, I asked my sweet daughter what had caused her to ask about “socks.” She said that when someone mentioned the word, everyone seemed to react in a panic and she wondered why. I thought I had acted nonchalantly when the word unexpectedly popped up, but evidently my concern and fear were greater than my acting ability. It certainly made me more aware of my own responses to unexpected situations.

Remember, you are the parent. Don’t let anyone else’s time frame or fear that your child will find out from another source become the determining factor for your family. God can protect your children from hearing things they aren’t ready for and He will stir your heart when it is just the perfect time to tell them about the birds and the bees. I know, because that’s what He did with every one of mine. Trust God to direct you. He is faithful.  

Purity Is about More Than a 3-Letter Word

Pure: without any extraneous and unnecessary elements, free of any contamination

In a culture saturated with sensuality, it is a gargantuan challenge to raise children who are pure yet are also “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). There are many scriptures that call all believers, no matter what age, to live a life of physical purity, but there are also scriptures that call believers to have a pure heart and to think about that things that are pure.* 

Nothing Ever Changes

You may feel that purity is an impossible goal in the current world we live in, but truly our culture is not so different from the culture New Testament describes. Galatians 5:19-21 provides a warning to the believers in Galatia who engage in certain behaviors, a list that sounds very much like the challenges for Christians in our 21st century. Satan’s schemes haven’t changed, but neither has God’s call for us to live free from the contamination of sin.

In the scriptures it is clear that God calls His children to be physically pure, but there are also many scriptures that call us to be pure in heart—in our thoughts, intentions, and attitudes. God’s idea of purity includes being free from contamination like jealousy, anger, rivalry, envy, and anything else that doesn’t reflect who He is. Raising pure children in a pleasure-driven culture isn’t easy; it requires intentional parenting. 

Set a Standard

When God entrusts us with His precious little ones, He is asking us to be His agent, one empowered to act for or represent another, to raise His child as He would. Since Satan masquerades as an angel of light and children are not born with the wisdom and experience to recognize evil, it is our responsibility as parents to establish boundaries that reflect God’s standards. 

Setting a standard is important, but it is equally important to explain why the standard is important and to connect it to God’s expectations so that someday they will be able to set their own wise guidelines. It is our responsibility to educate and maintain standards in areas such as  interactions with friends, management of money, and use of media, just to name a few, but it also means that we need to hold our children accountable for impure actions or attitudes by confronting the sin and bringing correction—an infinitely more challenging role than merely enforcing rules.

Set an Example

When I was studying to be a teacher, I learned the saying, “More is caught than taught.” I believe there is some truth to that. Our children are observing us every day and learning about acceptable behavior for adults. If we have one set of guidelines for our children and another set for ourselves, it makes us hypocrites but it also demonstrates to our children that standards of purity don’t matter as much or at all when you’re an adult.  

If we want our children to be adults who live pure lives, then we must show them the way. If we want our children to grow to be adults who love God, then they need to see us loving God. If we want them to speak respectfully to us, then we need to speak respectfully to them and our own parents. If we want our children to be free from anger, rivalry and envy; then we must lead the way. When we set an example of godly character, we are saying, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). We need to be the kind of adult we want our children to become.

 

*For specific references, please see: http://www.openbible.info/topics/being_pure. Click on the scripture to change to a different version.

Why I Don't Want to Raise Religious Children

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One of my 2015 goals is to read more but my love of reading is inversely proportional to the amount of time I have to read. (SAT study with our youngest is affecting my vocabulary!) I just finished Mimosa, by Amy Carmichael, and I am currently reading Thinking. Loving. Doing., a collection of writings by various authors which was an assignment for my teacher2b daughter at Regent University. 

Theology ≠ Religion

In the chapter I read today, the author recounted a story about a Christian University that had renamed the “Department of Theology” to the “Department of Religion.” He went on to define the difference between religion (the study of human beings and how they react with things they consider sacred) and theology (the study of God). It is an important distinction that is often not understood.

Religious ≠ Christian

As Christian parents, we want to pass our faith to our children and so we teach them to pray, to read their Bible, to go to church, maybe even to fast or tithe, based on Biblical mandates. These behaviors may inspire our children to become religious and devout, but being religious is not the same as being a Christian. 

Christian = Follower of Christ

Christians, “little Christs” as the word is translated, are followers and imitators of their Savior, Jesus Christ. They have a relational connection to the God of the universe who is the Lord of their lives. Their behavior isn’t based on completing a legalistic list of behaviors to avoid guilt, but a genuine motivation of love for the God who first loved them. Christians pray, not just at meals or in church, but to communicate with the Lover of their souls. Christians joyfully go to church to learn more about Christ and to serve and to worship God for who He is. Christians read their Bible throughout the week, not to check off an obligation, but because the Word is life, like refreshing water for a dry soul. 

Christian = Lover of Christ

And Christians love others extravagantly. John 13:25 says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Christians love. The only way we can truly love is to be filled with the One who IS love. Love is the key. When we fall in love with the God who created us and Jesus Christ who gave His life to pay for our freedom, I believe we will want to pray and read our Bibles to stay connected relationally, and to share God’s powerful love with others who have no hope. When our children see us live this way, they will follow in our footsteps and connect themselves to the God we love.

Lover of Christ = Light to the World

If we as parents only expect our children to do religious things and they obey, we have successfully raised religious children who may appear to be Christians on the outside. But if we set expectations by our example and encourage our children to develop a vibrant relationship with Christ, we will raise Christian men and women who will live like Jesus, pointing others to the Father through their extravagant love.

How Our Family Celebrates Valentine's Day

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Our family likes to celebrate. We celebrate holidays and people and babies who haven’t yet seen the light of day. Valentine’s Day is no exception. In the course of homeschooling, we taught our young girls about St. Valentine and the historical basis for the celebration, but we also focused on Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate the love of God and the love of family. 

Love is Giving

Our sweet little ones grew up and somewhere along the line, our gift of miniature heart-shaped boxes of chocolates morphed into bags of Lindt truffles and Valentine’s cards carefully chosen by Dad and signed by both of us. But that’s not what my girls are looking forward to this Valentine’s Day. 

Love is Sharing

I’m not even sure when our tradition began, but I remember thinking that girls want valentines. They want to feel special and valued and loved. I figured that if they didn’t get that at home, they would search for it elsewhere. So 10-plus years ago I decided to share my valentine. 

Love is Faithful

Yes, I think it’s important that our girls know that their dad and I are in love and that I am his #1 woman, but celebrating Valentine’s Day with overpriced restaurant dinners and red roses isn’t the only way to show our love. The girls see how my husband honors and prefers me every day of the year, how we serve each other, how we have faithfully planned date nights every month for the past ten years, and how we want to be together. Just the two of us. As much as possible. So I don’t mind sharing for a few years, because after that he’ll be all mine.

Love is Honoring

Since my birthday falls during the week of Valentine’s Day, we have a date to celebrate both occasions and then we celebrate Valentine’s Day as a family. We try to honor the girls as we would someday expect their husbands to, by making it a special evening with dinner served in the dining room on china or our nicer plates. The menu usually includes a new recipe of something elegant, sometimes several courses, and always concludes with a delicious dessert. Sometimes the girls dressed up, sometimes dad cooked, and sometimes we moved a table into the family room. But the best is what happened after dinner. 

Love is Belonging

Every year Harold turns on the same CD, one that he and I often listened to while we were engaged, and then he takes a turn dancing with each daughter—yes, I get a turn, too! I love to watch the whispers, the giggles and the smiles as they each have their moment feeling special, and treasured, and loved. Sometimes the daughters went back for a second dance, sometimes they dressed up in my old bridesmaid gowns, sometimes sisters danced with sisters since our family is sorely lacking other male dance partners. But at the end of the night, each girl knew that they belonged to a family who loved them dearly.  

Love is Preferring

This year we were honored to be invited to participate in a special dinner event at our church on Valentine’s night. Of the two daughters at home, one was working late and we considered having the other join us at the event, but we realized that our youngest would probably only have two more Valentine’s Days with us. She was overjoyed to learn that we had chosen to stay home and that we will be continuing our Valentine Family Celebration tradition.  

Love is Timeless

Life changes so quickly but we never outgrow love.  Last year we celebrated with only the youngest. The other daughter living at home had chosen to be a part of an amazing regional event of Christian young people who were gathering for prayer and worship, another daughter was settled in Dallas, and another was serving as a missionary in Mexico. In April, our missionary daughter returned and that night, her Dad put on the “dancing CD,” held out his hand and said, “We missed our Valentine dance.” As I type this, I am still teary-eyed as I remember the love in his eyes and the tears on her face as she was once again reminded that she was special and treasured and loved by our family. Some would say that it was a little late, but love is always on time.

Prayer=Connecting with God

If you want to build a good relationship with someone, you need to regularly connect with them. Prayer is connecting with God, whether we speak or we listen. As our children learn to pray, it grows their connection to Christ. For the next two weeks, we’ll focus on some goals in the area of prayer. Let's start simple.

GOAL #1: Mealtime Prayers

One of the simplest ways to introduce prayer in your family’s routine is to consistently pray before each meal. If this is a new idea for your family, I have some ideas for you! If you’re already praying before meals, good for you! You may want to take a moment to consider a few things that may help your family continue to grow in this area: 

  1. Do your children know why you pray before meals or is it just a habit?
  2. Do each of your children take turns praying before meals?
  3. Are your children praying from their hearts or just from their heads?

Make Connections

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I try to find biblical reasons and references for what I ask my children to do. Jesus set an example for us in Matthew 14 when he gave thanks and blessed the food before he fed the five thousand. Later in Matthew 26, he blessed the food at the Last Supper in the same way. Consider reading those chapters together as a family to introduce mealtime prayers or to reinforce why you do what you do. Here are some other benefits of praying before a meal:

  1. Pausing to thank God before we eat shows that God is important to our family and that we value connecting with Him.
  2. It is an act of self-control when we choose to pray before we eat, overruling our growling stomachs and natural desire for food.
  3. Thanking God for our food acknowledges that He is our Provider, not our job or our paycheck. 
  4. A prayer of thankfulness also cultivates a heart of gratitude, even for food that may not be our favorite. 

Say the Word

There is no formula for what to say or special words you have to use at a mealtime prayer. Jesus thanked God for the food and then He blessed it. Many people also include a prayer to bless those who prepared it or a blessing that the food would “strengthen and nourish our bodies.” I once visited a church where every member prayed for their pastors during each mealtime prayer. Ask God what He wants your family to include. 

Prayer is talking to God, so speak like you to do to a friend. If you are working so hard on making the prayer eloquent, then the focus is on you and not the prayer. Not only will a simple, heartfelt prayer help your young children understand what you’re saying, but it will show them that they are able to pray, too. 

We did try to keep the length of the prayer proportional to the age of the child. For the infants in a high chair, a lunch prayer might be, “Thank you, God, for our food. AMEN.” For toddlers, you may want to find a rote prayer, such as “God is great,” that helps them know what to pray. In time, they should become more comfortable with praying from their hearts. 

Lead the Way

If this is new to your family, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind. 

  1. Communicate with your family that you are beginning a new tradition and give an age-appropriate why. (ex. to help us connect with God, because the Bible asks us to pray, etc.)
  2. You may want to put something on your table, like a candle, to remind you to pray before each meal.
  3. Consider what posture your family will have when you pray. When my kids were little, I had them fold their hands and bow their heads. Some families hold hands to make a circle. When I was growing up, we just rested our hands in our lap so we didn’t sample the food during prayers. 
  4. It may be easiest for parents pray for a week or so to set an example. Eventually, you’ll want to rotate among family members so everyone has a chance to lead in prayer. 
  5. Under no circumstances should you force a child to pray. If you are facing opposition, address them in private after the meal. Pray with your spouse that your child will have a change of heart.

If your family already prays at meal time I’d love to hear about your traditions, and if this is new to you, tell us about what you are doing for your family!

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far

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The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

It’s funny how true that is. Many days I walk past a mirror and think, “I have become my mother.”  It’s true for our physical appearance, but it is even more true of who we are on the inside. The things I value like God, church, family, cleanliness, organization, and creativity are all things that my parent’s valued. No one ever said, “This is what we value.” Their behavior showed me every day what was important and what was not accepted or tolerated.

Our children will most likely become who we are.  

This is a sobering thought for some of us. We can so easily see our weaknesses and hope that our children don’t fall into the same patterns. But if those are the patterns our children see day after day and year after year, they are the easiest for our children to replicate. 

Do what I say, not what I do.

That doesn’t work. If we want our children to value prayer, we need to make it a regular part of our family life. If we want them to value serving, they need to see us serving others. If we want our children to guard their hearts and minds when it comes to entertainment, we need to guard ourselves and set an example. Kids, especially teens, quickly lose respect for parents who have one standard for the children and another for themselves.

Yeah, team! Hallelujah!

We are all on the same team. We are all learning what it means to love and follow Christ in every area of life. My husband and I may be a little ahead of our children in the process, but we certainly don’t have it all figured out. As a tangible sign to our kids that our family was a team, we changed our bedtime prayers. Each prayer begins with the leader: “Thank you, God, for our team.” Family: “Yeah, team! Hallelujah!” It was just a small way to say, “We’re in this together.” The tradition continues to this day. 

THE PLAN isn’t just about kids; it’s about families who are choosing to focus on becoming a reflection of Christ as they come in contact with the world and as they interact with each other. It isn’t easy, but I’ll be cheering for you. Go, team, go!

Tomorrow we begin with the first trait--Prayer.

The Perspective that Changed My Parenting

   A water-damaged picture beside my kitchen sink, taken Mother's Day 1999   

A water-damaged picture beside my kitchen sink, taken Mother's Day 1999 

Once upon a time, I was a mom of four girls, ages six and under. My life goal had been to be a mom, and I wanted to be the best one ever. But no one told my girls that. They argued and fought and screamed and cried and complained to go to church and said unkind things to our adult friends—all things that normal children do to embarrass their parents. I read parenting books, prayed, cried, and disciplined—sometimes for the same repeated disobedience many times in one day. Their character wasn’t growing, but my anger sure was. I considered myself a failure before the oldest was even 10.

Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. (I Sam. 16:7)

God showed me one day that I was trying to raise “trophy children” so everyone would see that I was a good mom. Truly, my primary goal was that their outward behavior would be socially acceptable and make me look successful. (That sounds so selfish and ugly, but it's the truth.) I repented, and God changed my perspective. This time my goal was not a temporary behavior change for a particular situation, but a forever heart change that would cause them to make godly choices for a lifetime.  

When I asked my girls to do something or to change their behavior, I tried to connect my request to a Bible verse which helped them understand that it was God’s request, not just mine. This perspective had some unexpected benefits. First, it caused me to carefully consider each request and align it with God’s Word. I also tried not to ask the girls to do something that I could do myself, like retrieving an item. I also realized that when the girls chose not to obey, I didn’t take it personally or get bent out of shape about it, because I realized that they were choosing not to obey God. That perspective disarmed my emotions of failure because their obedience was not about me personally.

Doing the right thing for the wrong reason doesn’t make it right.

God calls us to “Train up a child in the way he should go…” (Prov. 22:6), but it isn’t so that we’ll look like successful parents. That would be all about us. He wants our children to have pure hearts so that they will “shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Phil. 2:15) Our goal is to train our children to love God and to make wise choices that honor Him when no immediate reward is involved and no one is watching, to be bright lights that lead the way for others to encounter Christ. That change in perspective of parenting has made all the difference in the world for me and my family. Tomorrow we PREPARE.

THE PLAN

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Do the next thing.

Elisabeth Elliot introduced me to this phrase that continues to give me direction in chaos and confusion. I don’t need to formulate a complete plan. I just need to do the next thing. One thing. And then, do the next thing.

This is not an easy concept for a slightly OCD person like myself who really wants to start EVERYTHING new in January. The idea of starting a new habit or routine in April just seems wrong to me. But I have found that I can only change so many things at the same time and maintain those changes over time. For me, small changes over time produce big results in the future. After all, raising children isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. 

You need a bite-sized plan for a God-sized goal. 

As Harold and I were setting goals for our young children many years ago, I ran across I Thessalonians 5:23-24: “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. the One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” This one verse helped us to categorize the goals we set for our daughters’ lives: Spirit—how they related to God, Soul—how they related to others, and Body—how they guarded themselves. My husband and I talked about the behaviors and heart attitudes that we believed were critical in the godly character formation of the girls and then created a list of goals for each category. 

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. ~Tony Robbins 

Achieving a goal begins with putting it in writing and breaking it down into smaller action steps. THE PLAN outlines the character trait goals that we chose for our family. I wish I could say that the girls mastered every one in the span of a year. The truth is that we’re all still a work in progress, but we look more like Jesus that we did when we began this journey. 

There is more than one way to raise a godly child.

There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all solution to raising children who love and honor God. THE PLAN is only one tool in the sea of many options that helps parents to be intentional about raising godly children. (Click here for a printable copy.) It is a simple chart that suggests one or two character traits to focus on throughout the month. I’ll be posting scriptures, activities and ideas from our family that focus on that particular trait. You may choose to focus on one or both of the traits for the month, or you may focus on one trait for several months. You’re the parent and God will give you wisdom about what is best for your family. The goal is not a number completed; the goal is a changed heart. 

The first change starts tomorrow—PERSPECTIVE.

#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.

   

How to Bless Your Children by: Harold Moore

When our daughters were very young, Joy and I were exposed to our first teaching on the power of the blessing.  The significance of blessing is woven throughout God’s Word but we often don’t hear sermons or teachings on the importance and the impact blessing can have on us and particularly on our children.

I like to boil down teachings to simple “take-aways” (something I can remember) and, as a guy, a “to-do” list, which helps me stay on task.  For me, the “blessing”, in its simplicity, is a declaration of God’s truth and favor over an individual.  A verbal or written blessing brings life, vision, and hope to the recipient.

With a better understanding of the potential impact of blessing, I recognized that as much as I loved my daughters, I was not intentionally speaking blessing over them on a consistent basis.  I also realized that as my daughters grew they would become more interactive with other people and involved in a variety of social and community situations – from expanded friendship, church, ministry, and work.  They would be bombarded by lots of words every day, but very few of those words would speak to their heart about their value, worth, or truth of God’s purposes and plans for their lives.  In fact they could very easily declare the opposite.

How could I, as their dad, speak blessing over my daughters so that they would consistently hear God’s truth about them and their lives?  If I could come up with a plan it would help me remember to do it.  And if I did it consistently, my words would carry far more weight then those of friends, co-workers, and others. Now I had a new task on my “to-do” list.  The solution: “Saturday Morning Blessing Time @ The Moore’s.”

For our family, Saturday mornings are the most consistent time we are all together.   On Saturday’s I make breakfast for the family (giving Joy a cooking break).  After breakfast and before we cleaned up the table and kitchen, I gather the family together and I simply pray/speak blessing over my daughters and my wife.  I don’t always do it the same way and I don’t have an agenda what I’m going to speak over them nor do I have a set time or duration for the blessing time.  Life is often complicated with schedules and with demands for our time and sometimes it doesn’t happen. But it happens more often than not – and it certainly happens more often than it did before I became intentional.  The goal is not to add another “religious” activity.  The goal is to do it and to do it consistently.

Here are simple “take-aways” for you and/or your spouse:

Set a time (day/time) that your family could most consistently gather together for blessing time.  It doesn’t have to be a big chunk of time.  Start with 10 minutes and see what happens.  Make that time priority for your family but if circumstances force a change, give yourself grace and re-schedule.

Pray blessing over each family member.  Speaking blessing over the entire family is great and valuable but nothing will have the impact of looking your child or spouse in the eyes and proclaiming the truth of God over them and reminding them of their value and worth.

Bless them with truth.  You could speak a scripture truth over them, bless them with reminders of how they are beautiful and created in the image of God, or speak about the future God has for them - to prosper them and give them hope.  You could bless them by proclaiming the godly spouses that God is preparing for them or the protection of God over them wherever they go.  The possibilities are endless.  Ask the Holy Spirit to place in your heart what they need to hear. Don’t be religious sounding. Bless them in your words.

Here is a short example of a blessing I could speak over one of my daughters:

“Father, thank you for Elisabeth.  I thank you for creating her as a beautiful woman, both inside and out. 

Elisabeth, may you be blessed, knowing how valuable you are.  God’s hand and favor is on you because He created you and called you to do mighty things for His Kingdom.

I bless you as you seek His face and follow the call He has placed on your life.  May you always walk in His presence and know that you are never alone, for He is with you always.  I bless you and your work in school – that you will be blessed with clarity and understanding for all that you are learning. 

I bless your future – that poverty and sickness will never overtake you and the favor of the Lord will rest upon you, that He will provide protection and provision all the days of your life.

I thank God that He has placed you in our family.  You are a blessing to me as your Dad and to your whole family.  May you be blessed knowing how much you are loved.”

Make the words your words and speak them in ways that connect to your child or spouse.  The genuineness of the Holy Spirit speaking blessing through you will impact your family for generations. 

Harold.

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.

Searching for Treasure: Saving with Coupons

Until last month, I WAS a coupon clipper.  Twenty years ago when I was a new mom, I had time to clip coupons weekly and maintain an organized coupon wallet. Time passed, more babies were born, I started homeschooling and suddenly there was no time for couponing.  With less time, I discontinued couponing, consolidated my food shopping to one store and bought as many generic brand products as possible.  Fast forward twenty years and now our economy is struggling and we have two daughters in college.  If there was ever a time that I need to save my pennies, it’s now!  I’m certainly learning as I go, but here are some things I’ve learned over the past two months:

General Principles for Couponing
Look for ways to save money on the groceries you regularly buy.  You aren’t saving money if you use coupons for items you don’t usually purchase!

  • Be adventurous and try new brands of items that you have coupons for, if the coupons make the item cheaper than your old brand.  You may find a new favorite.
  • Think ahead and stock up on deeply discounted items.  Stock up on discounted toothpaste or toilet paper—after all, you know you’ll use it!  Purchase discounted baking items in the fall so you’ll be ready for holiday baking.
  • Know how much you are spending .  Save your register receipts and write down the cost of the products you most often buy.  Use this as a guide to compare at other stores or for future discounts.

Where Are the Coupons?
Newspapers We cancelled our newspaper subscription many years ago; however, I’ve recently learned that I can subscribe to my local paper for Sunday and Wednesday delivery for 75 cents per week.  Another friend recommended purchasing a paper at a dollar store.

Mailers Even though we don’t get the paper, we still receive a weekly Red Plum mailer that includes grocery store advertisements and coupons.  You can sign up to receive the Red Plum mailer at:  www.redplum.com.

Printable Coupons There are several sites that allow you to print coupons.  These are not the same coupons that come in the newspaper, even if they have the same company name.  Most sites require you to download the coupon printer before you can print a coupon, but you need only download it once.

Weekly Advertisements Check out the front page specials of the grocery store circulars, usually featuring the deepest discounts called “loss leaders” that are designed to get you into the store to spend more money.  Don’t forget the bogo specials (buy 1, get 1) and discounts on meat.  Meat can always be frozen for future use.

Friends If you have friends that get the paper, ask them if they’ll keep the coupons for you.  Ask for pet coupons from friends who don’t have pets.  There are also organizations that facilitate trading coupons, but I haven’t explored that yet.

What’s the strategy?
Organize Your Coupons When I first started clipping coupons, an envelope worked just fine.  Sometimes I’d see other moms with fancy binders, but I had no idea how to set up one myself.  I just found this link for a binder you can make on your own:  Make a coupon binder.

Know the Coupon Policy for Each Store Each store has its own coupon policy which states how many coupons are accepted per day or per transaction, the maximum coupon amount accepted, and which coupons, if any, can be doubled or even tripled.

Use your Coupons Wisely Avoid using coupons at high-priced grocery stores.  Instead, save your coupons for shopping trips at stores that already have lower prices.

Shop on Double Coupon Day We have a local grocery store that offers double coupons each Wednesday and super doubles once a month or so.  Though this store generally has higher prices, I collect my l amount coupons, which will be doubled, and purchase just those items.  Again, you need to know how much you usually spend so you know if you are truly saving money.

Research the Blogs There are so many websites/blogs devoted to helping people save money.  Let them do all the work!  Here are a few of my favorite sites that have deals on groceries, restaurants, and other products.  Sometimes there are even free samples if you sign up for a mailing list.  Keep a look out for posts about match up items and dates for double coupon days. Here is a list of some of my favorite blogs: moneysavingmom.com southernsavers.com thecouponconsultant.com couponchallenge.com passionforsavings.com

Purchase Matchup Items Most blogs have a weekly post of match up items for a specific store—discounted items purchased with a coupon at a significant discount or even free.  The best blog for you to follow is the one that includes your local grocery stores.  Posted matchups can save a lot of money, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  I don’t always have the coupons.  Also, the matchup items are not always available at my particular store and when they are available, often the items are already out of stock by the time I arrive in the afternoon.  The early bird definitely gets the worm!

Sign Up for Group Discounts Some organizations offer discounts to their members.  One such company is Groupon.  I signed up to receive a daily email featuring a discount to a local business or service.  Most offers are available for purchase for just 24 hours and a new offer will arrive in your inbox the next day.  Generally, the discount is usually 40-50% and the coupon may expire anywhere from 3-12 months.  There is a minimum number which must be purchased by the group before the discount takes effect—hence the name “Groupon.”  After you pay by credit or debit card, you print the Groupon and present it as a coupon at the place of business.  There is no membership or handling fee.  My favorite Groupon purchase was 50% off a flying lesson at our regional airport—a Father’s Day gift for my hubby.  Groupons are a great deal for gifts or things that you regularly purchase.

One such group discount is available through Homeschool Buyers Coop.  Members sign up to receive a free newsletter which communicates all available discounts on various homeschool curricula.  Each discount is available for purchase for several weeks.  There are three levels of discounts, based on how many orders are placed—more orders equals a deeper discount.  If you purchase early at a lower discount and more people purchase later, you receive price based on the number sold at the close of the deal.  You may pay by debit or credit card and the product ships after the deal has expired—which may be several weeks after you made the actual purchase.  I was able to save about $50 on a music curriculum for the fall.

 

Be Ready to Learn
Really, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much to learn--and it takes time to master the art of major savings.  If you are an “Extreme Coupon Queen,” please post a comment to this article and share your favorite secrets for saving money with coupons.

Note: Groupon compensates me for new referrals; however I posted about it because it has saved my family money, not because I'm trying to make money.

September Organization Challenge: Finances

Getting a handle on your finances takes some time, but is an inexpensive way to cut down on household expenses.  When bills are accessible, it is easier to pay them on time and save money in late fees or rush shipping.  When receipts are organized, broken items can be returned or serviced for free under a warranty—if you can find it!  The savings can really add up.

Set up a system As soon as you get the mail, put the bills and bank statements in their place—preferably somewhere above arms reach of little ones.  Don’t lay your bills down anywhere else, lest they get lost or moved by another family member.  I use a letter sorter which has enough space for a few blank business envelopes, stamps, rolls for coins, and a pen.  You could also use an expandable file folder with a sufficient number of pockets for your filing system.

Keep  debit and credit receipts Collect your debit and credit receipts in your wallet or in your filing system.  Enter them regularly in your checkbook, Quickbooks, or whatever system you use.  Keeping an accurate balance of your finances will help you avoid overspending.  Clearly mark the receipts that have been entered.  File receipts necessary for warranties, stapling them to the user’s guide or other warranty information.  We file all other receipts by month in business envelopes, in case something needs to be returned.

Print receipts for internet transactions Internet purchases can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of daily and weekly expenditures.  Print out receipts from internet purchases and file them with your bills and bank statements.  Record them regularly so there are no surprises at the end of the month.

Pay bills regularly  This seems like such a simple idea, but it is so easy to put off paying the bills until next week and then you realize that you have a bill due tomorrow!  Paying bills regularly saves money in late fees and overnight shipping.  If you need to keep a record of a paid bill, record the date and check number on the stub before filing it in your filing system.  (I’ll save that one for another article…)

Keep a file for warranties and manuals Create file folders for warranties and manuals of products that you purchase.  Staple the receipt to the manual so you have all the information for the warranty.  You can even mark your receipt if it was paid by credit card because some credit cards double the manufacturer’s warranty.  Also, record the serial number, especially for electronics.   When some of our personal items were stolen, he mentioned that he would be able to trace items if he had a serial number.  Now I record those on the cover of the item’s manual.

Technically, I have more than one warranty file: one for outdoor items such as the lawnmower and tools, one for kitchen tools and appliances (toasters to stoves), one for electronics (stereos to phones), one for everything else luggage), one for jewelry and one for kids furniture and toys.  My girls have their own file folders for items that they own.  A little bit of time could save a lot of money down the road.

Monitor bank statements Be sure to balance your checkbook, double checking all expenditures, automatic withdrawals, and deposits. Banks sometimes make mistakes.  Once out bank direct deposited my husband’s paycheck TWICE.  We were only looking at the bottom line and didn’t catch the error for two months.  It was a blow to our budget when the bank withdrew the second deposit from our account!  More importantly many banks are changing their fee structure and charging for various services.  Know if you’re being charged, what for, and how much.  Shop around and see if you can find comparable services for less.

Use cash Whenever possible, use a cash system.  Withdraw money weekly or biweekly for gas, groceries, entertainment, or clothing and store them in separate envelopes.  Before you make a purchase, consult your envelope to see how much money is available for your purchase.  This does require an amount of self-control not to spend over the limit or spend on items other than the designated categories.  You may also find it helpful to save receipts for cash purchases so that you can accurately budget for the future.

Whether you use cash, check or credit, be sure to keep receipts you might need for returns or warranty purposes.  When I purchase clothing or shoes, I keep the receipts for at least one month in case there is a defect in the product.

Make a budget—and follow it I saved this one for last because it is a little intimidating.  Making a budget does take some time and sticking to it takes a lot of self-control, but spending only what is budgeted is guaranteed to save you money.  There is no need for me to detail the process of making a budget since there are so many other organizations that specialize in budgets and finances.  Years ago we used Larry Burkett’s budget system to get out of debt.  (It’s now called Crown Financial Ministries.)  Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is another successful system for eliminating debt and living within your means.  Which one is best?  Well, it’s like a famous body builder once said when someone asked him which exercise equipment was the best.  His reply was, “The one you use.”

Sometimes life passes by so quickly that we easily fill our days meeting the urgent needs without giving thought or attention to looking ahead.  Take some time to organize your finances, evaluate where you are and set some goals for where you want to be.  Not only will it improve your bottom line, it will be time well spent.

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.

Reflections on Letting Go and Launching a Daughter

Five weeks from today, our oldest daughter will begin a new season.  She will be furthering her education in the areas of Bible and worship.  For the first 17 years of her life, I had envisioned my sweet daughter finishing her high school education, maybe attending college from home, and finding a wonderful husband so that they could pursue a life together serving God.  But God challenged my ideas for her future while the two of us were serving on a missions trip to China just before her senior year. Close to the end of our time in China, we had the opportunity to take a short hike to an overlook in a remote village.  As I stood gazing at the expanse of the incredibly beautiful mountains piercing the sky, I heard in my spirit, “This is your Mount Moriah.”  Immediately my mind flashed to a picture of Abraham with his son Isaac, standing before an altar.  His heart may have been filled with pain and grief, but through his surrender came great blessing to him and the world.

God:  Are you willing to give me your daughter? Me: I did that years ago during a baby dedication service at church.  Of course she’s yours. God: But this is different.  Will you surrender her to Me—and to China? Me:  But she can’t go to China.  She’s not married yet.  Certainly you don’t want her to be here alone (God had clearly called her to China during a Kindergarten geography lesson in our homeschool, but we had imagined that would be after she was married.) God: Must she wait until I send her a husband?  What if she never marries?  Can she not return to China?  Do you trust me to take care of her? Silence. Me: (through tears) Yes.  I trust You.  She’s yours.

This whole conversation was a surprise to me.  When our children were babies we understood that it was important to commit them to God’s care and follow His direction for them.  It was no surprise that our children belonged to Him, but I had imagined that our girls would stay at home, learn a skill that could bring in money from home and then they would be married.    I had not considered the possibility that our creative God might have other plans.  When we returned from China, I shared the revelation with my husband and with Victoria.  Together my husband and I released her to follow God’s direction for her life—whatever that looked like.  She continued to pursue her love for China and training for worship while she studied graphic design at the community college.

Fast forward two years.  Victoria was about to finish her studies at the community college.  Clearly God was growing Victoria’s passion for worship and expanding her gifting.  Leaders in the church confirmed her gifts and gave her opportunities to grow.  Victoria sensed she needed further training beyond what she could receive in our area, but she was reluctant to even dream about what might be beyond our community.  We could see God’s hand guiding her and knew He was expanding her vision.  After prayer, long discussions, divine appointments, confirmations, and our blessing, she applied and was accepted to a program to study Bible and worship.  I knew it was God’s will but my heart held a seed of fear that I was losing my daughter—and my friend.

One day in my quiet time as I was praying about this situation, God showed me that my daughter was like a bird.  “She’s a bird made to fly and it isn’t good if she was allowed only to sit in your nest and sing.  She has a gift and she will bless many ‘nests’ with her voice.  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 prefer birds in cages and they may not understand.  But I created birds to fly.  Some fear the birds will never return, but I created migratory birds to fly away for a season and then return to the same location, a safe place.  She will always treasure the safe place of your home.”  I realize that only outside the cage can she fulfill the purpose of her Creator.  First and foremost she belongs to God and I know He loves her so much more than I ever could.  I trust that He is guiding her and that she is following His voice.

The next five weeks will pass all too quickly.  We’ll spend time together, sharing quiet moments, shopping for necessities and making more memories.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the day Victoria checks in at school is three years to the day we departed on our life-changing missions trip to China.  She may be thinking of her new adventure, but I’ll be thinking of the mountains of China and Mount Moriah.  I know that through surrender will come great blessing.

 Note:  Victoria is currently recording her first CD.  It will be available in the Daughters 4 God Shoppe in early August.       

July Organization Challenge: Bedrooms

Organization—Bedrooms Summer is the perfect time to organize, switch, or spruce up bedrooms.  During the school year, we try not to make major changes and try to keep everything as orderly as possible.  (I don’t have proof, but my personal experience says that an ordered world promotes better concentration and learning.)  Organizing a bedroom can be one gargantuan task that may take many hours or even many days.  Sometimes moms try to accomplish this job alone because it takes less time.  Instead, think of this as a teaching opportunity so that someday they can do it without you!  Younger ones can be part of the process so that they learn how to be organized and how to prioritize what items should be kept and share in the joy of giving to others.  For the teens, I communicate my expectations and set up a time for us to work together to accomplish the task.  Though I’m mostly moving things to appropriate piles, this is a teaching moment for them and I believe the job moves much faster with my supervision.

Last month we took 2 weeks to organize and update one daughter’s bedroom, 2 days to organize another, and I’m currently in the midst of purging another bedroom for an imminent move to college.  There is no right way to do this, but here is our plan for those who are interested.

Assess the situation before you do anything. Too often I've started a project before I counted the cost or made a plan.  An assessment is like “bedroom triage.”  (Please don’t quote me on that!)

Is the furniture suitable?  Have they outgrown it?  Are we adding or removing a sibling to the room? Does the furniture need to be cleaned, repaired, painted, etc.?  Is there adequate drawer space for storing clothing?  Do we need all the furniture in the room?  Do we need to purchase something else, such as a desk or bookshelf?

How are the linens (sheets, pillows, mattress pad, comforter, curtains)?  Do some need to be replaced or mended?  What does the budget allow me to replace?

Does everything have a home?  When I ask something to be put away, does my daughter have a place to put it?  Can she find what she needs when she needs it?  Does she need more storage containers for items she has recently acquired?

Should everything currently in the room stay in the room?  Is it time to shift some items/toys to the attic, to another room, or another home?  If we need to move things, do I have a place to move them or can they live in the garage until I find a good home?  **This may be one of the most important questions you answer.  Make sure you have a plan for what will be leaving the room.  You don’t want to organize one room only to find that all of the “stuff” is merely piled in the hallway, garage, or worse yet the master bedroom!  This may determine your time frame.  If you know a friend wants the extra desk in about a month, you may want to store it in the garage temporarily or maybe wait on your project.

Make a plan. Decide how long you think it will take you to make the necessary changes.  My guess:  a whole day for a full closet and full desk, half a day each for bookshelves, dresser, under the bed, redecorating.  You may think you can go through things more quickly, but remember the goal is to organize and find a home for everything that doesn’t belong.  I also find that if we stay focused on one mini project until completion, we can stop in the middle of the whole project and still live in the room!

Organize the closet. I always start with the closet first so that we make room to store other things that may be elsewhere in the room.  Be sure to have some paper nearby to start a shopping list for things you need.

Go through hanging clothes and put them in four piles: Keep:  It fits and the child wears it.  LAY THE CLOTHES ON THE BED Mend:  It fits, the child wears it, but it needs to be mended--hemmed, button replaced, etc.) FOLD THE CLOTHES IN A PILE AND SET THEM ASIDE. Put Away/Give Away/Sell: doesn’t fit, child doesn’t wear, still in good shape.  You may choose to store it for younger siblings, give it away to friends or a charity, or sell it on consignment—or some of each!  PUT AWAY CLOTHES IN A PLASTIC TOTE, GIVE AWAY CLOTHES IN A GARBAGE BAG, SELL CLOTHES KEEP ON HANGERS AND WASH OR DRYCLEAN BEFORE SELLING. Throw Away:  Not in good shape. PUT THE CLOTHES IN A GARBAGE BAG Vacuum the closet and the baseboards before you put things back in.  All “Keep” clothes should be returned to the closet (opposite season to the back of the closet) and all other piles should be taken care of appropriately.  Be sure you have enough hangers so that there are no excuses for clothes that aren’t hung up!  Add them to the shopping list if you need more.

Sort shoes and other accessories (belts, scarves, scrunchies, etc.) Use the same four piles system, as above.  Be sure there is a home for everything.  We use boxes or hanging organizers for shoes, a hanging organizer for jewelry, a special hanger for belts, and a special hanger for scrunchies/scarves.  Add anything you need to your shopping list.  Be sure that only “Keep” shoes and accessories remain in the room before you move on.

Organize shelves in the closet. Take down one item at a time.  If you take everything down, you are stuck with reorganizing it all in one sitting—or your child has to live with stuff piled around.  (Can you hear the voice of experience?!)  Go through one box/bag/item at a time using the same four pile system that you used for clothes.  Sort all items on the shelves and wipe off the shelf before you return items to the closet.  Use the storage in the closet for things that your children don’t need access to: breakable items, or keepsakes, games with small pieces, or seasonal clothing.   All other piles should be taken care of appropriately.

Work your way around the room. I organize rooms like I clean them—starting at the light switch and working my way around clockwise.  Vacuum or wipe down the baseboards as you go.  Here are some suggestions for the remainder of the room, as you encounter each situation.

Organize the dresser. Using the same four pile system, sort through one drawer at a time.  Wipe out the insides of drawers before you replace the items.  Our drawer system looks like this:  one drawer for socks, undies, camis, and slips/hose (organized with one shoes box for each item type), another drawer for swimsuits (in a shoe box) and pjs, another drawer for seasonal everyday pants, another drawer for seasonal shirts.  Everything else gets hung up.  During the summer, we keep winter clothes--sweaters, corduroys, turtlenecks--in a clear plastic tub in the closet or under the bed. In the winter, the same plastic tub is filled with shorts, capris, sleeveless shirts.   Note:  In lieu of a dresser, we've also used a plastic drawer “cart” in the bottom of the closet, just above the hanging shirts.

Organize under the bed. Using the same four pile system, sort through all of the items under the bed.  Use storage under the bed for bins of toys, seasonal clothes or other things that your children may need access to without your assistance.

Organize the desk. Using the same four pile system, sort through the items on/in the desk.  Start with the desk drawers, one at a time.  Again, keep only what your child needs and be sure that there is a system for organization—a home for everything.  Also, if your child is using the desk for homework or school, be sure that they have all the necessary supplies (pencils, erasers, calculators, etc.)  Next, clean off the top of the desk and decide what should stay.  Discard or put away all other items.

Organize the bookshelves.Using the same four pile system, sort through the items on the shelves.  Wipe off every shelf before you replace the items.  On our shelves:  top shelf for trinkets, middle shelves for books, bottom shelf for fabric bin with stuffed animals.

Organize the nightstand. Using the same four pile system, sort through the drawers.  I call them “treasure drawers.”  Each drawer has a shoe box for the little things and space for papers/books on the other side of the drawer.  When the girls were younger, this is they kept their “treasures” that would've been destroyed by the toy box—bouncy balls, fast food toys, book marks, and other little gifts and items that I probably would've thrown away!  We periodically sorted through the treasures since affections change—and wisdom comes with age. J  Don’t forget to wipe out drawers before you refill them.

Repair, rearrange or replace furniture, as necessary. Repair or refresh furniture, as needed.  Remove and replace furniture, as needed.

Redecorate. Wash or replace linens, as needed.  Wash the windows when you replace the curtains.  Evaluate what is currently hanging on the walls using the same four pile system.  Purchase any needed items such as picture frames or mirrors.  Hang items.

Switch Rooms or Paint. That may seem like the opposite way to do things, but it’s much easier to switch rooms or paint a room with less stuff!

 

This may seem like a long process, but so worth it.  I try to do this for every bedroom during the summer.  Yes, it does take a lot of time, but much less time if we aren’t switching rooms or furniture.  In the long run, it helps our home stay neater and more organized if there is space for everything and if everything has a home.  Happy organizing!

Packing for College or Apartment Living

In about a month, our oldest daughter will be starting her first semester of college outside of our home.  Since this was a new road for me, I did some research to find out what she might need.  I found an incredibly long, but comprehensive list online.  So many things to buy.  So many things I hadn’t even considered.  So many things that would put a dent in our budget if I bought them all at one time!  I made a plan to do a little at a time and spread out the expenses. Here is the comprehensive list I found, plus some other items that we’ll be packing.  If you think of something we’ve missed, please post a comment and let us know!

January—Medical and Laundry Medicine Med Box/Container Aspirin Tylenol Motrin/Advil Cough syrup Cough drops Cold medicine Benadryl Band aids Dayquil/Nyquil First aid ointment Rubbing alcohol Cotton balls Cotton gauze pads Tums/Mallox, etc. Eye drops Thermometer

Laundry Laundry bag(s)/hamper Laundry soap Dryer sheets Stain remover: Shout stick Clothespins Clothesline/drying rack Quarters: Some schools use a card system Needles and thread (blue, black and white) Safety pins

February—Kitchen and Cleaning Supplies Kitchen Kitchen box: large shoe/boot box Plate(s) Bowl(s) Knife, fork, spoon (s) Serving spoon(s) Hand can opener Paring knife Measuring cups Measuring spoons Water bottle Travel cup/glass for making tea Pot for cooking Dish washing detergent Dishwasher detergent Brita filter Coffee maker Microwave Refrigerator

Cleaning Window and mirror cleaner Paper towels Bathroom cleaner Comet Sponges Dusting spray Dusting cloth Swiffer or mop Swiffer refills Bucket

March—Technology and Tools Technology Mp3 player Digital camera, batteries/battery charger, rechargeable batteries Stereo CD’s DVD’s Clock radio/alarm clock Extension cords Multi plug outlet Phone Lamp(s): Desk, free standing, clamp one for your bed Hammer Nails Screwdrivers Flashlight Nightlight Light bulbs: 40/60 watt Trash can(s): Most colleges only have one Trash bags

April—Personal Items Purse(s) wallet money Watch(es) Jewelry: Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings Glasses Sun glasses Contacts, contacts case, and contact solution(s) Nail clippers, Emory boards Nail polish, nail polish remover Cotton balls Brush/comb Hair stuff: Head bands, barrettes, rubber bands, scrunchies, styling gel, etc. Feminine supplies Boxes of Kleenex Toilet paper Cologne/body sprays Deodorant Hand lotion/body lotion Razor/shaving cream Make-up Hair dryer Flat iron Curling Iron

May--Clothes Socks: All kinds Pantyhose/knee-highs Shoes: Dress, tennis, flip flops, shower shoes! Underwear Bras/sports bras Slips/half slips Camisoles Pajamas/bathrobe/slippers Shorts: Play and dress Dress pants/slacks Casual pants/jeans Casual shirts: Long sleeve/short sleeve T-shirt: Long sleeve/short sleeve Tank tops Sweaters Vests Blouses Dress: Some colleges have winter formals Bathing suits Belts Sweatshirts Jackets: Lightweight, wind breaker, winter Gloves/mittens Scarves/hats Hangers Suitcase/duffel bag

June--Bed and Bath Bedroom Two sets of sheet/pillow cases Comforter/bedspread (Stores have special “dorm sets” that they advertise beginning in June.) Mattress pad Egg crate Blanket/throw Pillow(s) Soft butt pillow for desk chair Sleeping bag/air mattress (for guests!) Stuffed animals: College kids with stuffed animals make better grades

Bathroom Towels, hand towels, wash cloths

Bathroom rugs

Shower caddy (holder for shower supplies) Toothbrush, toothpaste Hand soap Soap/shower gel Shampoo, conditioner Shower cap Water glass/cup Towel rack for your door

July--School/Homework Supplies Computer (look for a back-to-school deal) Monitor and cables Printer and cables Lan cable: 25 feet Computer paper Ink Surge protector Calendar Day planner Notebooks/binders Pocket folders Notebook paper Stapler/staples Paper clips Scissors Sticky tack Post-it notes Push pens Pens Pencils Ruler Zip drive/jump drive/thumb drive Hole punch: Single and 3 hole Pictures/posters High lighters Permanent magic marker(s) Erasable message board with pens: These come on most of the dorm doors, but just in case, or if you want one in your room Cork board/bulletin board/magnet board Book bag Stamps/envelopes Address book, telephone numbers Year book, photo albums, pictures, picture frames Novels, books, Bibles Journal

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.