Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Slave of All?

I was recently considering the phrase, "Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant."  I just looked up the passage and Jesus goes on in His teaching to His disciples,

"And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  Mark 10:43b-45

Especially the idea of "slave of all" stands out to me.  I've been mulling over it for a few days.  I've been considering my life and my choices and trying to match it up.  Do I serve others as a slave to them?   What would that look like?  Do I lay my life down for the people God has placed in my life?  I think I do.  I mean, many or most of the tasks I perform in a day are important services for my children and for the improvement of our home, whereby everybody benefits.  It would seem that my life is devoted to serving others...but...is it?  

My spouse and I have been talking through some conflict off and on this week and it was this that caused me to consider further if I am really taking a servant's mindset.  I was noticing last night how much I want to lean on him and depend upon him, which affects my decision-making.  If he is reading to the kids, I am just glad that he's handling it so that I can get something else done or get a minute to myself.  I disappear.  Then I'm nowhere around when it's time to put the kids to bed and he ends up doing it.  If he regularly pitches in with the dishes, I begin to assume that he will take care of that and I can use the time to accomplish a personal task that's important to me.  I had been thinking of these types of decisions more in the light of being task-oriented and dividing labor effectively.  But I find I am being naive about my motives in certain regards and actually depending on him instead of being dependable for him.   

These days I don't like to waste time.  I want to get a lot done and there is A LOT to do!  Sometimes other people are just too slow for me.   Let me emphasize the last words of that last sentence, for me.  (doesn't really sound like the slave of all, does it?)  Being task-oriented can be good.  But I think it can actually militate against a true servant mindset sometimes.  It takes setting aside my own agenda, no matter how good it is, to just be available for others, whatever they need.  Man, that can be hard.  It isn't wasted time, but it sure can feel like it initially.  When I realize that I view it that way, then I can see how it must come across to those who are depending upon me. 

My pride resists this kind of self-rebuke.  The things I'm doing are important.  Really, I ought to be recognized for them.  But the truth is that the people around me need to feel important.  Important enough that I stop everything to be there for them (not just for emergencies).  That I set aside my own goals to be actively pursuing activities that will make them feel supported and able to depend upon me. 

I was considering Jesus' life as I was mulling over these thoughts.  He made Himself the embodiment of other people's needs.  I have begun a Bible-reading program for the new year and look forward to working my way through the gospels and focusing on looking at His life, that I might gain more insight into how to live this way.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Central Criteria for Living Correctly

Gal 5:14  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 

I have found lately that my fundamental decision-making criteria is being shaped into the simple directive above.  God has made me a parent.  Parenting can seem so complicated.  There are so many choices.  Which specifics do I make an issue over with my child/children?   I guess I had better do something about the screaming tantrum, but why?  How important is it whether or not I push my child to eat his green vegetables?  What about sharing a cherished toy with another child?  This only gets harder as the kids get bigger and there are more of them.

As the Lord has convicted me of my own blindness and sin and graciously allowed me to be refined by His revelation, these parenting questions are getting simpler for me.  Parenting is essentially teaching children to live correctly.  Correct living is defined by God as revealed in His Word.  Only as He shows me how to live correctly myself can I exemplify it and teach my children to do it.  All of God's Word is useful for learning correct living, but Galations 5:14 tells us that the whole law is fulfilled in one word.  Amazing!  "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Every moment of every day I should be asking myself, "What SHOULD I be doing right now?"  The answer is based on the criteria given in the Galations directive.  Taking all things into consideration, what do the people around me, that God has given me responsibilities towards, need from me right now? 

When I wake in the morning, there are some basic things that usually always need doing.  Most of the time the answer to the above question is going to include showing my kids consistency through: making my bed, straightening my room, putting thought and a little time into my appearance to look nice for them throughout the day, reading my Bible, greeting them each cheerfully, meeting any immediate needs such a diaper changes or help getting dressed, giving directions and getting breakfast started.  Usually the most pressing need is for consistency in these things so that the children believe that they actually are important and I/we do them for a reason.  All of the things that I just listed, but especially consistency in doing them, by the way, are not my strength.  Victory in this has only been recent.  

Sometimes the most pressing need changes and this is where my true motives can be tested.  Each day when I wake up, I don't know exactly what I'm waking up to.  God has it planned and He doesn't always mean for me to to get that shower I needed or the quiet time of reading I was trying to be consistent at.  Should I be OK with this?  How do I know when this is from God or when it's my emotions getting in the way?  Loving my neighbor, doing what's best for those around me is the criteria. 

For example, having a long conversation with my daughter about the meltdown she's having about her favorite shirt being in the laundry and not available to wear might be exactly what is most loving and needed and my goal of starting school at 9:00 isn't what God had in mind after all.  I need to let it go.  There's no failure or need for feelings of failure because I didn't keep to the schedule, if I was faithful to do what the Lord had for me.  Another time, I might perceive that the need for my daughter to conform to the schedule for the sake of the whole family is just the lesson she needs taught and the long conversation isn't going to be the ticket.  Either way, my heart is at peace with whatever parenting task the Lord has for me and that's the key.

Becoming flexible in this way is entirely freeing.  I serve one master, Jesus Christ.  I am not in bondage to a lot of rules and programs.

A big part of this process of learning for me has included becoming comfortable with "mess."  How can one have victory in consistency and increase in tidy habits while becoming more comfortable with "mess," you say?  Though it sounds contradictory, the first two things are only possible with the third one coming into play.  Getting uptight about a disaster or sin or whatever mess there is, never helped anyone to overcome it.  It's bondage to rules and programs that creates this uptight-ness and frustration when things don't go as planned or look like what I pictured.  The tranquility that comes with dependence on Christ, looking at the big picture in the midst of a mess is exactly what gives me the fortitude to continue on the path and persevere with clean-up.

Functioning with a central criteria also helps me know what to "put my foot down" about when it comes to taking up issues with my kids.  The main thing that I shouldn't tolerate is behavior that runs over or hurts others.  Of course, I can only teach this if I, myself, am behaving this way in the lesson.  I must not tolerate it while not tolerating it in a loving and kind way.  I used to be so muddled in my head about where to place compassion and where to exert authority.  I see now that I gave "compassion" to my children many times when their heart was wrong, they were harming others or in rebellion.  That was not biblical compassion at all.  I see now that that was extremely unloving behavior that enforced their sin and made it look OK.  While my motive may have been somewhat sound, my actions were in reality selfish, unloving and harmful to my child.  Real compassion teaches a child when his heart is selfish and does not protect him or make excuses for him in his selfishness.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Singing & Slaying: Book Review: When Helping Hurts

 When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself
Singing & Slaying: Book Review: When Helping Hurts: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett My rating: 4 of 5 stars Just a...

Peter reviewed the book When Helping Hurts earlier this year and you can find his worthwhile review at the link above.  We read the book together and I find the concepts are applicable this time of year (think soup kitchens and other charity ministries).

I also find that the concepts illuminate a lot of trouble and mistakes I've made in the past and continue to make in personal relationships.  Peter says in his review, "They [the authors] encourage Christians to never do for someone else what they can do for themselves."  This is, admittedly, a tricky balance to find when we want to obey the scriptural directive to give generously.  I continue to find ways that my giving isn't about giving what is truly helpful to someone else. It is actually about making myself look wise (giving random advice on the internet or elsewhere?), keeping my kids dependent on me, "fixing" someone else so that I'm not embarrassed by them or other terrible motives.  Yesterday Peter said to me that he thought women, in general, were prone to wanting to be helpful.  That's a nice way to say it.  I think he's right, but that doesn't mean we do what is actually helpful, more like what we think is helpful.  I know he gives me the benefit of the doubt a lot on this kind of thing.  He's generous like that.  :-)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Last night during our family worship time, Peter asked "Directly after Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended, what happened next?"  The kids answered that he went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for 40 days and 40 nights.  Peter shared that we shouldn't be surprised that isolation and temptation were the very next things after the coming of the Holy Spirit and baptism.  We, as Christians, shouldn't be surprised or disappointed when we find ourselves sent out alone to do battle, where no one else sees, either.  The truth is that we're not alone, just as Jesus was not.  God gives the Holy Spirit and He is fighting the battles for us.

I am thankful this Thanksgiving, that through the battle and isolation God brings about a slow transfer of our reliance on people and their affirmation to a reliance on Him as we see Him conquer the Foe for us. 

Bronwyn Turns 2

 Bronwyn is our 2nd October baby.  Going back to when we had leaves on the trees, here's a few pictures of her birthday celebration.
 She is picking out a pumpkin pancake from the big pile flipped by her brothers and sisters for her pancake feast.
 Breakfast for dinner makes Bronwyn happy!  Actually, I think we were singing the birthday song to her.  She loved it.
 This was her first time to open gifts when she knew what she was doing.  But she still required a lot of help.
 She needed some explanation and demonstration to see that this was a flashlight with several functions.
 Now she understands.
 Yum, yum fruit snacks.
 More explanation and assistance.
 Bronwyn's sisters picked out a set of plastic horses for her because she can comb their hair and take them in the bathtub.
 "Here's the comb..."
 Finishing with dessert, of course.  We made blooming roasted apples from a recipe shared on Pinterest.
She knows how to celebrate!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Writing as Obedience

I do not like writing.  It does not make me happy.  It is tedious and full of all kinds of detail that I hate to worry about or mess with.  This probably accounts for why I've never worked on it and improved my ability to do it.

The Lord has been showing me that I have had a view of obedience to Him that could be summed up by "doing what He says when it is what I want to do or planned to do anyway."  I'm slowly beginning to experience, not just mentally assent, that real submission is doing what is required of me at this time that I don't want to do.  I know.  It seems basic.  But somehow I'm only beginning to get it and really work on it and one of the things that I'm painfully exercising this in right now is...writing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Resources, Investment & Clean Up

Some History
There was a time when Peter and I wanted a big family.  We were newly-weds and planning our desires for our future.  We both loved children.  We knew we wanted to homeschool.  Peter grew up with a large family of four children.  Our conclusion was that a large family of four children was our desire.  Fast forward to when we had two children.  Admittedly, having kids was a lot harder than we had presumed.  We felt maxed out on a practical level, but our conviction about having a large family hadn't changed.  We certainly had to outdo the average family out there and be a role model of amazing-ness to all of our peers.  But we could also sense that God intended for our lives to be invested in more than a lot of what we were seeing in the world around us.

About that time, Peter accepted his first position as a senior pastor.  This suddenly allowed him more time to read and search for answers to many of the questions he had about the dispensational theology he'd been taught in college and the practical function of the American church.  Long story short, his reading led him to reformed theology and he found himself convicted of a lot of beliefs that didn't fit with our church backgrounds and that changed the whole direction of our lives.  One of the convictions had to do with birth control and trusting God with the size of our family.  We spent hours talking these things over as he'd share with me all that he was reading about and answer all of my questions/objections.

As I gave birth to our third child we both felt a different sort of excitement about adding another son to our family.  We saw him as a gift from God in a way that we hadn't viewed our first two children.  Something had shifted and we saw the whole act of procreation as more about furthering Christ's kingdom than about fulfilling our own desires.

After our fourth child and a number of difficult sacrifices made in order to live in obedience to our new convictions we began to "count the cost."  How many kids would God end up giving us anyway?  How would that work out financially and in terms of our time resources?  We worked through many questions but ultimately believed that the Bible taught us 1)God is to be trusted with all of it 2)raising children is an eternal investment and what would we rather be doing or would God rather us be doing with our money and time than that?  In theory, we prepared to give up other pursuits and comforts in order to invest all that we had into raising children. How could a large, nice house, for instance, compare to the blessing of more family and the reward of investing in Christ's kingdom?  We understood we would be making a trade-off.  We realized that we would watch other families around us have different lives with different flexibility and ease.

That trade-off was much harder in reality as we went on to have several more babies.

The Present
I am now pregnant with our 9th baby.  I went through a number of years of horrible struggle with my life and my inability to carry out the task and responsibility involved in the choices we had made.  The more I had to sacrifice, the more deep-rooted selfishness came to the surface.  I am now at a  different place with my perspective on this than I was a couple of years ago with my eighth child.

The truth is that resources, (i.e., my body, my time, my mental and physical energies, my belongings, my "wealth") are all given to me by God.  All that I have belongs to Him.  Anything He gives me, I now see, is only correctly used when seen as an opportunity to do good to others, for His sake.  As God has cleaned up my heart, he has convicted me to clean up my life and get busy repairing the ruins and turning my home into a blessing to others, my family members and extending out to minister and spread the gospel to the world around us. 

As I began to learn and work on this earlier this year, I found out I was pregnant and it felt a little in-congruent with God's directives.  I was thrilled and truly at peace with the pregnancy, but wondered how God wanted me to keep up the "clean up" while growing this baby in my close-to-40-year-old body.  Even so, I trusted Him and I knew by now that His plans were always for the best.     

This growing child within me is several weeks away from being born.  God has faithfully shown me how perfectly this work of growing another human life fits in with the lessons He was/is teaching me. Many aspects of "clean up" that I had been doing had to slow down or stop completely, but the Lord had other ones for me to be working on. 

A few thoughts:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Homemaking 101

 Yesterday I posted some pictures on Facebook of doing morning school with my littlest kids.  Above you can see Millie and Cecily counting out their dimes and pennies for the daily coin cup in the math meeting before their math lessons begin.
 Elijah is coloring in the Bible Story Coloring Book that came in a 6 book preschool book set that I got him. 
 Cecily's math lesson using pattern blocks.
 Millie's math lesson involved setting up a "store" where she labeled everything with a price, picked out two items at a time, wrote them on a receipt, totaled the prices and paid for them using dimes and pennies.
 NOW...here is today.  More math.  More preschool.  Can you guess what I spend hours and hours doing every single day? 
 The kids are great at helping each other out...
 ...yet, there is many hours of tutoring required of me every day without fail.  Today I helped Ben and Cal look up a weather map with the high and low temperatures for the whole USA for tomorrow.  We documented the projected temperatures for about half of the state capital cities so that they will be able to graph them tomorrow.
                    I love teaching my kids and watching them learn, but there's a duty to this task that goes beyond anything I love to do.  They need my daily, consistent investment into their expanding knowledge as a big part of helping them to become strong, healthy plants in this garden of a household I am trying to manage.
                    I got to thinking today about how all of the many aspects of homemaking are meant to work together, like an ecosystem in a garden, to accomplish the end of strong, healthy plants that are bearing fruit.  Of course, the end of that end is glorifying God and growing His kingdom.  This isn't about me.  I play a role that God has laid out for me and I work for His pleasure.  All of the jobs I perform as a homemaker are a part of this role and they are meant to work together to produce healthy, thriving plants here in my home.  You can't remove any aspect of it.  They all work together:  the cooking, the laundry, the shopping, the cleaning, the discipline and time for training, the spiritual nurturing, the educating, the bathing and grooming, the soul nurture through generous giving and serving and providing things that they delight in, the continual looks and touches of affirmation and affection.  
                   I have a long ways to go when it comes to getting all of these aspects to function efficiently at once.  The truth is that my garden is far from lovely.  In fact, I feel a lot like Elijah, trying to learn the basics of drawing a straight line and stopping at the right spot on the bottom line(pictured above).  As I was teaching him this week and marveling at how such a simple task was difficult for him to get down, I was reminding myself that it's a building block.  First he's got to get the line straight.  Then we work on stopping on the bottom line at the right place.  When he's figured it out through repetition, we can move on to some curved lines and attempt the number 2.  Even holding the pencil is so awkward for him right now, but one day, Lord willing, he'll be writing essays and who knows what else.  
                  I recognize God doing the same kind of training with me.  Is it hard to be content with this?  Sadly, yes.  My pride wants to be the "accomplished housewife."  It's just this kind of weakness that indicates that I couldn't  handle being that yet anyway.  If I were, I would fall prey to so many temptations and it wouldn't be about God's glory anymore.  He has me where He wants me and He's writing my story.  I trust in this.  And I am content.  I could look around at all of the weeds left in my garden, still needing to be pulled, and become discouraged or ungrateful.  Instead, I believe the Lord wants me to reflect with praise on all that He has wrought in my life with His faithfulness, look with gratitude on the progress He has allowed me to make and view the weeds with a sense of hope and ambition to get busy!
                    Lord, I ask your forgiveness for all of the pride and self-reliance that I have brought to this task and for all of the weeds that I have subsequently sown.  Thank you for the hope you have given me and the opportunity to work for your glory instead.  May this garden you've given me ever glorify you.
Side note:  Will's chopping work today.
And my 32-week pregnant self heading out the door to spend some spontaneous time with my husband. God is good.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Cecily's 6th Birthday

 Birthday celebrations are one of those things that rely almost entirely on me.  Other family members pitch in a lot to make it happen, but especially the cooking depends upon the head cook, as we usually try to make something special, that we wouldn't ordinarily have.  This year we settled on coffee cake for breakfast, but this particular week was an especially bad one and Cecily's birthday came at the climactic end of it.  When we woke up that morning, I tried several times to get going on that cake, but came to realize that I just couldn't do it, for once.  Lots of times, I just need to push through and do it even though I don't feel like I can, but this wasn't one of those times.  I took some time to think it over and I knew that even though I would feel disappointed, Cecily would not feel disappointed if we went and got doughnuts and yogurt and ate at the park.  So we did.  Does she look disappointed?  I'm thankful for such options on such days.  I had to remember the goal of a birthday celebration in the first place and get over my own ideals about how I wanted it to look.  It's the spirit of fun, enjoyment and celebration of the individual who is being recognized and thankfulness to God that matter.  That can be conveyed in so many different ways.  I'm thankful this year that the Lord helped me not be selfish and feel upset about the inability to make a coffeecake and have a homemade birthday breakfast for my girl, but rather to focus on a celebratory attitude for her sake and enjoy a good thing with her instead.  A slumped over, discouraged mama doesn't exactly speak, "This is about you and about thanking God for you and the good work he's doing in your life."

Thank you Lord for helping me not to do that this time and for forgiving me for the many times in the past where I couldn't resist the temptation.

 This was a beautiful morning to be outside, and a big treat and she was delighted. 
 We let the kids run off a little energy at the playground before we went home.  (Truth be told, we didn't go directly home, we ran to Target to get a gift, because none of my plan-ahead plans had worked out, including a gift.)

 Happy Birthday girl.
 Also thankfully, we had planned an easy dinner of turkey burgers and frozen fries.  Amelia and I did manage to get a birthday cake made in the afternoon, which you will see shortly.
 Time for gifts.  Lousy picture quality is due to being in the basement at night, with inadequate light.
 Nail polish!
 The bag had some snacks in it that the boys picked out for her.  She is holding some bunny cookies that they found.
 Her own wallet, from Grammy and Papa.
 Millie helped her check out all of the compartments and tell her what they were for.  ("This one's for your debit card....")
 We bought Cecily Spirograph (last minute) and she also got a Make A Plate from my parents.  Both of those gave her some new artistic things to work on.
 Amelia wrapped her stick horse up in a blanket and gave it to Cecily.  I let her because it was generous of her and I knew Cecily would love it.
 The Oreo Cake.

Something worthwhile to celebrate: God's gift of life to this girl.  She's really so easy to please and such a treasure to me.  Thank you Lord!

Friday, October 17, 2014

JoAnn's Halloween Utility Apron

My sister started a little crafting blog not too long ago to share projects that she is working on, mainly with crochet.  Tonight I saw that she posted some new pictures of a utility apron that she made to wear to work at the craft store she works at.  Everything she makes, she pretty well designs herself and I'm always so impressed.  I thought I'd put a link here so that you could check it out, if you want to see her handiwork.  Her birthday is October 30th, so she's always been a little attached to Halloween, which is part of the explanation for the effort she put into this themed apron.
Click the link below to see her post:
JoAnn's Halloween Utility Apron For Work

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Baby Jones #9

I got a sweet surprise yesterday when the ultrasound technician gave me this picture of our new baby boy, kicking around inside of me.  I thought some of you might like to "see" him too.  I am in my 28th week, by the way.  That leaves less than 12 weeks until my due date.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Summer Evening Walk

You will know who took these pictures if you pay attention to who is not in them.  I picked out my favorites.  
There were many deer and fawns lying in the long grass in the meadow to the left in the picture above.  Some of them roused while we walked by.

A rare picture of myself.  I thought of you, JoAnn, when I posted this. 

One of the last summer outings of the year.