Setting Out for Kindness

At the end of January, I set out on a quest. The goal? To instill kindness in our hearts, with the hopes of deepening my children’s love for each other and bringing peace to our home. Doesn’t that sound lovely? It sounds like heaven to me.

My vision: starting each morning by reading Bible verses about love and kindness. Journaling reflections about what God is doing in our lives to teach us about kindness. Each child writing a kind message to her sister every day.

loving-sisters

Reality: Angry words muttered between children. Me, “Oh, yeah, please take out your kindness journals.” Must have kindness. Each of us sitting down to read our verses. Me coercing the children to write something kind about her sister. Them, briskly pumping out the words on paper, slamming notebooks shut, and then promptly getting annoyed with each other. Me, “Remember what you just wrote about you sister???” Repeat this 22 days in a row and you get the idea. My vision, failed. Well kind of.

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In my quest for kindness…(hey, that has a nice ring to it…quest for kindness), I became more aware of messages about kindness. The King James Bible uses the word kindness 73 times. A quick search on Amazon reveals book titles such as, The Power of Kindness, Each Kindness, The Hidden Power of Kindness, and Kindness Counts.

I picked up the book The Kindness Challenge: 30 Days to Improve Any Relationship. There were daily assignments which focused on avoiding all criticism and instead looking for the good in another person and saying it aloud, writing it down, and telling others.

These exercises were beneficial for me. I was completing the tasks with my husband in mind. Sending him an encouraging, thanks-filled text each day, telling others what I appreciate about him and making a genuine effort to avoid nagging and criticism. I began seeing him in a more positive light. It became noticeably easier as the month went on. I’d see things he had always done: take out the trash, hug us when he got home from work, remain dedicated to his work, make his health and the health of our family a priority, etc.,etc.,etc. as things I was incredibly thankful for.

But, the hearts of my children…hmmm…I saw little change in the first 22 days. On the days in which they remembered to write down an action step, a specific step they would take to show kindness to each other, there was sometimes an outward sign of kindness. One girl would play what the other one chose. One girl would help the other girl with her math. One girl would make breakfast for the other girl. This was nice. This was really nice. But, was it producing a heart change?

On day 22, the clouds parted and God shed His understanding on our need.

Thankfulness.

We need thankfulness first. Sometimes there’s an order to these things. I think about the Bible reading we talked about that morning, “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4. We talked about how each trait is like a rung on a ladder. Each step necessary before ascending to the next step.

This exercise in noticing good things and kindly stating them was working for me because I had been practicing thankfulness for years.

Years ago, during a particulaly uncertain time in my life, the Lord began working in me to find things to be thankful for every day. Every day includes both the good days and the bad days. I began listing 5 things I was grateful for at the end of the day. Somedays it is easy. Children are learning, the sun is shining, energy is flowing, and the gratitude list practically writes itself. Other days, I sit like a stubborn child, blank mind, sour attitude, refusing to acknowledge there would be anything to be grateful for that day. But, it’s on those days that the list is more important than ever. It’s those days when my heart has a chance to soften as I note the goodness in what the Lord allowed into my life that day.

Thankfulness changes hearts. Thankfulness is changing my heart. Thanking God in the midst of the trial is what changes my heart. I start to see what the Lord has for me at the moment.

When sharp words war between my children, I can look for God through thankfulness.

When lab results return, I can look for God through thankfulness.

When the day drags on, I can look for God through thankfulness.

Ann Voskamp, in 1000 Gifts writes, The only way to fight a feeling is with a  feeling. Feel thanks and it’s absolutely impossible to feel angry.

Yes, it’s thankfulness we need. Giving thanks in ALL things will bring heart change. Words of kindness will flow when our hearts are softer from accepting what God allows into our lives and responding with gratitude. 

bejoyful

 

 

Faith Becomes Their Own

2 Timothy 3:14-15, But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

In my early 20’s, as a new Christian, I remember being in a Bible study group of women, each giving a brief recount of our testimony. The Lord had graciously given each woman a testimony. A story of grace, forgiveness, redemption, healing…beauty. I distinctly remember one woman starting her testimony with a bit of an apology.

“Oh, you guys all have amazing stories. Wow. I could listen to you all day,” she gushed. “I am afraid my story isn’t as exciting. There isn’t really any drama. No real high point, but no low point. I just grew up always knowing the Lord.”

She may have continued on a bit longer, but I am not sure. I was stuck on those last words uttered from her mouth, “I just always knew the Lord.”

As a new Christian, I was elated about knowing the Lord. I couldn’t believe I had lived so much of my life without the peace and joy He was bringing to my life. And to think that this woman “always knew the Lord” just blew my mind. And, to hear her tell her story as if it was some kind of let down, was beyond me.

What a blessing. What a privilege. What a story she had.

From that day on, I took special note of the people God brought into my life who could not remember a time of not having the Lord. I often asked them many questions.

What I really wanted to know was what did their parents do to instill that knowledge of the Lord?

Most often what I heard came down to this…Jesus was at the center of everything. They talked about Jesus. They studied Jesus. They went to a church that taught about Jesus.

Okay, I can do that. I can tell my children about Jesus. We can learn about Jesus together. And, for sure, we will search for a church that teaches about Jesus.

I made this decision years before becoming a mom. Our daughters came and life became busy, distracted, loud, and messy. But, the decision to include Jesus in all that we did remained.

Our girls are almost 12 and 9 1/2. I don’t know what the future holds for them. But, I am holding onto these promises:

Deuteronomy 6:7, You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

I see my girls sharing their faith and testimony with others and I know the Lord’s truth has penetrated their hearts.

The following 3 ideas are helping to give our girls their “own faith”:

  • Tell them stories about God’s presence in their life, from the earliest time you can.

The first “God story” I shared with my girls was their adoption stories. Both of our girls have unique, God-orchestrated stories of how God chose them specifically for our family. Our oldest loves hearing about our meeting her birth mom and biological sister a week before she was born and how her biological sister was the one to choose us to be her parents! And, our youngest loves to hear about how if the doctor hadn’t made a “mistake” and said she was going to be a boy, she may have gone to another family. That family only wanted to adopt a girl. Oh, God, you do have a sense of humor!

Another story my girls love to tell about God’s amazing, incredible power and provision took place in the snow. Our oldest was 3 and our youngest was 1. We encountered a sudden snow storm when we were driving home one night. We lived up a very steep, long hill. My husband pulled over to help a lady that was stuck in the ditch. When he got back in the car to continue up the hill, we just began sliding backwards down the hill. I began praying out loud, “Help us, Jesus. Help us, Jesus.” The girls began repeating the words in their sweet little girl voices. We came to a sudden halt. Certain we had backed right in to something causing probable damage, my husband got out to inspect the car. He got back in a minute later looking a little pale. He explained that there was no damage because there was nothing behind us to explain the sudden stop. We know, without a doubt, the Lord heard our prayers, and saved us.

My girls tell those stories to others, to anyone who will listen. They tell others about God’s presence and activity in their lives. I encourage them  by reminding them that those stories are theirs to tell. God gave them those stories not only to remind them of His faithfulness, but to tell others so that they may come to believe in the same power.

snowy-hill

  • Share what God has done in your own life.

Tell your children your testimony. Don’t try to paint a perfect picture of your life. Tell them about how you have limped through life at times, and leaned on God for your strength, healing, and power. Show your children that you know the God of the word not just the word of God. “People may profess with their mouth’s, yet deny him with their lifestyle. True righteousness is evident in the heart of the life that has been reborn, renewed by the power of God. The outward behavior reflects the inward transformation that has taken place.” Quote from Virtue Harvest women Bible study series.

  • Share God’s word and what He says about His love, authority and provision for them.

First, you must be in the word.

Next, share with your children what you are reading and how God is using that in your life.

Next, teach your children the word. There are many different ways to do this. We have used devotionals, Bible reading plans, independent Bible reading assignments, and Bible studies. Also, be sure your children are learning the word at church. Talk about what you each learned at church on the way home in the car.

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Our families are surrounded by evil in this world, constantly trying to deceive us, whispering lies in our ear. We can combat that by allowing God to be God and to shine all over our lives.

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us each a story. It doesn’t matter how young or how old we are, because we were created by You, we have a story. Help us to share our story and the works of your hands with our children. Amen.

 

Humbling Through Homeschool

We often receive curious looks and questions when people learn that we went from being fully emerged in public school to being fully emerged in our homeschool.  We were in the thick of public school. Not only were our two children in public school from kindergarten on, but I was teaching public school, and loving it. I loved my students.  I loved their families. I loved putting myself into helping my students succeed. I loved forming relationships with my students. I found so much fulfillment in teaching them.

“Why would you leave that?” is the question that follows the skeptical looks.

The Lord made it clear that it was time for a change. Our family followed in obedience. You can read more about that decision here: Overcoming School

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First Day of Ostreim Academy 2016

I mistakenly thought the decision to follow in obedience and begin homeschool was the lesson. I didn’t realize that with each passing week, it was me that was receiving an ongoing lesson.

I am the teacher, right? But, the Holy Spirit is my teacher. What’s on the lesson plan on a weekly basis? Humility.

Again, Lord? Humility again?

Yes. As I read through chapter 6 of Galatians, the lesson plan is clear. The application to me as my child’s instructor, is clear.

Galatians 6:3-4,  For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

Since beginning homeschooling my children about 18 months ago, the lessons for me have come at a rapidfire pace. Lessons on spending less money due to going down to one income. Lessons on the importance of teaching my children the Word. Lessons on being more flexible on how our day is structured. Lessons on the unique learning styles of my children. But one consistent lesson that has remained from day one until now is humility.

Who knew that homeschooling was going to bring even more growth to me than for my children?

I love Paul’s straightforward approach. My paraphrase, “If you think you are something, you are wrong!”

Sitting down to help my husband with a tax document, these verses came alive for me and my lesson on humility glared at me straight in the face.

“We just need to create a table for these expenses. We will fill in these totals and then total these columns. The total for this row will go there,” my husband rattles off the instructions.

I stare at the document in his hand. Then back at the computer screen. A full minute must have passed before I managed to say, “What?”

Riffling through his papers, he halfway mumbles, “What? What part are you saying what to?”

“The whole thing. What do you want me to do?” my head hurts at the same time as being completely blank.

He continues on with a longer explanation and my brain slowly begins to engage enough to know how to at least begin the task.

Creating the empty columns and rows and titles begins to flow. I am doing okay until it’s time to start entering information.

“Enter this number here,” he requests.

Okay, I can do that.

“Now total this section here,” he continues.

Uh oh. The glazing over is back. What? Where did he say to put the number? What number goes there? I am hesitant to ask my questions. He’s going to groan in frustration, right? At least show a small annoyance that I am not understanding.

I am expecting that reaction because that’s what I do. When the girls are not understanding a direction or a problem on their math. It’s just about impossible to answer without showing at least some sign that I am frustrated. I just gave the direction. They couldn’t possibly need me to say it again.

Now my distraction working with my husband has nothing to do with my lack of understanding but it has everything to do with the Lord showing me my less than humble attitude when teaching my children.

Oh, Lord, you are right. I am waiting on a sharp word from my husband or a sigh of frustration, because those are behaviors I have when teaching my girls. 

This prideful attitude didn’t just appear. It’s been here all along. It didn’t get exercised on a daily basis prior to homeschooling. It also didn’t get refined prior to homeschooling.

My words of disappointment or my groans of frustration are telling my children that I really think I am something.

Further down in Galatians, Paul continues, And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:9.

During morning chores and Bible time, grace-filled words ring from my tongue. Warm greetings and compliments come easy at the beginning of the day.

Hours into the morning, when blood sugars are running low, the to-do list is piling up along with the dishes, and the push and pull of the world is heavy at work, weariness sets in. Where a soft tone once was, now there’s a growing volume to my voice. Where patience was once in abundance, now hastiness is creeping in. Where encouraging words once flowed, now a sharp tongue is heard.

It’s at this point in our day when my weariness in doing good has set in and my pride, my thinking I am really something, has heightened.

My futile attempts to do good at this point are just that, futile. I have turned my back on the grace the Lord so lavishly bestows on me and I am walking in my own prideful flesh.

Time for some more restoration. Mending of my brokenness. Filling of the Spirit.

Time for the incredible reminder that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.

If that doesn’t bring the necessary humbling, what will?

Dear Lord, thank you for your lessons. Thank you for your refinement. Thank you for never leaving me the same as I was yesterday. And, Lord, my loving Heavenly Father, thank you for your abundance of grace raining over me. 

sun-and-rain

Restoration

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. Galatians 6:1.

…restore him gently

While reading chapter 6 of Galatians, the first words draw me back over and over.

…restore him gently

My heart softens and peace fills me as I allow the words to fill my mind. This filling only happens when I am still and quiet before the Lord.

Restore: to bring back into existence; to bring back to a former, original or normal condition; to bring back to a state of health, soundness or vigor. 

Gently: kindly; gradually; not severe.

Paul was giving instruction to the Galatians who had strayed from their original teaching on faith. But, this morning, it was instruction for me. During my quiet, undistracted time in my prayer closet, something beautiful happens.  The Spirit opens up my mind to the truth.

The leading, guidance, correction…restoration I read about in the Lord’s Word, brings me back to the restoration of my heart.

My step-dad restores cars. The cars enter into the driveway, rusted, gutted, shells of past greatness. My mom sees the pile of metal approaching their lives and wonders what they have gotten themselves into. But, Jan, my step-dad envisions the masterpiece it will be. No wheels, little paint, no windows, no mirrors, no steering wheel, no seats. But, Jan is able to see the potential. He sees what it once was and is confident it will shine once more.

For months, Jan spends tireless hours, carefully modifying the chassis to accept the new style engine. Months are spent making the body structurally sound and preparing the body for the new paint. There are times when we go visit that we are not to enter the garage because it is set at just the right temperature for paint to dry or some other critical transformation to take place.

before-restoration

The instruction for gentle restoration to the Galatians is for every believer. We are to restore our brothers and sisters gently. Much like a fragile old car is to be brought back to life, this restoration brings life to the believer.

If you are like me, you may struggle with the gentle part. Especially in parenting.  I can point out the flaws…got that one down. I can teach the correct way…yep. I can discipline when the sin just continues over and over…uh huh. But, add in the gentle restoration? How Lord? Will they listen? Will it make an impact?

Rereading the verse once more, I am reminded of the Holy Spirit as my teacher, granting wisdom and understanding. Whenever I ask, “How”, the Spirit reminds me that I am not alone.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

The Lord graciously shows me how He “restores me gently” each morning when I come to Him.

I come to Him broken, rusty, and needing repair. I come to Him with a focused, quiet mind, I am open to His restoration. He lovingly shows me what He has for me that day.  Through His word, He reveals to me what needs cutting away or building up.

Just like my step-dad, so carefully and gently restoring his cars in just the right conditions, the Spirit works on restoring my heart in the quiet of my prayer closet…just the right conditions for growth.

Also, like the effective restoration of a car, one area is restored at a time. Jan doesn’t paint, install the seats, and rebuild the engine all in one day. And, the Spirit doesn’t overwhelm me with the restoration He has for me. He reveals one or maybe two areas that need restoring. Or, He may call to mind something He worked to restore months ago which needs attention once more. There are times, I mistakenly think an area of sin is behind me, just for it to creep up once more. Just like when the car engine once more needs rebuilding. It was working well last year, but now, alas, it needs attention once more.

I am so incredibly grateful for this gentle, loving restoration. It’s all for my good. He never leaves me the same. And, He never overwhelms me.

When I come seeking, gradually, the Spirit brings renewal.

after-restoration

 

Less Fighty

My girls and I have been on a journey. It’s been a journey to reconnect. To regain the closeness and relationship we had when they were little. To establish  a regular time each day to spend individual time together. Talk Time.

To say that we love it is an understatement.

I try to begin each Talk Time by asking, “What was your favorite part of the day?”

I cannot count the number of times the answer in reply has been, “Right now.”

Me too, Dear One, me too.

I love the slow pace of Talk Time. The lights are low. Just a corner lamp on. Soft music playing in our oldest daughter’s room. Nothing to do. No list. No stuff. Nothing in our hands. Nothing but time to talk.

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If you have met my children, you know they love to talk. If you have met me, you know, I do not love to talk. God has such a sense of humor, doesn’t He?

So, in order to meet all of our needs and allow for a reasonable bed time, I set a timer for 10 minutes. It may sound cruel and controlled. Maybe it is. I don’t know. But, it works for us. The first few times we heard the timer beep, I heard each girl groan…”Not yet, the time isn’t over yet, is it?” A twinge of guilt lingered for a moment, until I realized that we were truly on to something. Obviously we needed this time together. The sadness we felt when our Talk Time was over was just the motivation I needed to continue this new routine.

But, just to make sure we were on the same page, I decided to check in with each girl.

“How are you liking Talk Time?”

Leaning in close, reaching out her arm to place around me, “I love it,” Abby simply replies.

“It’s great,” states Mikayla. She continues, “It’s weird. It makes me feel less fighty the next day,” giggling as she finishes her observation.

Less fighty. Yes, less fighty. Me, too. When I am sitting close, enjoying the ones I love. Just looking at them in the eye. Listening to their thoughts. I feel less fighty. And, yes, even the next day, the less fighty feeling continues.

When I walk in obedience with the Lord, I am less “fighty”.

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John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Press On

Over and over again the stubby-legged turtle climbed up the steep, slippery side. Each attempt brought the turtle to the same height, only to send him right back into the pond. Without hesitation, the turtle repeated it’s original ascent. Unfortunately, the determined turtle slid right back down again and again.

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As I watch the turtles futile attempts at reaching it’s goal, I think about my lack of persistence at times in pursuing God’s plan for me. My whiny times of wishing my situation was different. The way I’d focus so much on my circumstances. My “shortcomings” which I wrongly assumed made me stuck. Unable to climb back up to reach toward God’s calling.

God’s creation, the turtle, didn’t show any sign of losing focus. The turtle didn’t heave a loud sigh when his short legs failed him once more. He didn’t throw a fit, trying to remove the hard shell hindering his labor up the slope. No. The turtle just went right back to the original plan, and repeated it over and over. The turtle accepts it’s lot in life. He accepts his short legs, hard shell, stiff feet, and short stature. Each time he falls, he doesn’t waste a single second doubting his original plan, bowing down in defeat, or whining about his circumstances. 

My girls and I watched this turtle  (turtle video) for several minutes. Unfortunately, I was so taken by the turtles tenacity that it didn’t occur to me to video his attempts until the end when he finally succeeded. With big eyes and laughter on our lips, we watched the turtle with sheer delight. And, when he finally reached his destination we clapped and cheered for the turtle.

My whiny defeat was quiet, but yet it lingered in my heart for far too long. At age 25, when I was diagnosed with a chronic, life-threatening, life-altering disease, you wouldn’t hear me complaining about my circumstances. But, the Lord heard me. And, of course, even when I didn’t vocalize my complaints to the Lord, He knew what was in my heart.

My whining sounded something like this:

Why, Lord?

Why did you give me these high energy kids when I am a mom with low energy? 

Why do I keep facing the same trials over and over? 

Why do I continue to experience one rare disease after another?

And, the constant looming question, what is your purpose for my pain, Lord?

Not only was I repeating the same trials but my growth was stunted. I was stuck.

The apostle Paul writes about a remedy for this pattern in the book of Philippians in the Bible.

Philippians 3:13-14, Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Rather than being stuck in the past, focusing on previous trials, even yesterday’s trial, Paul says to forget it.

When the turtle slid back in the water, after another failed attempt, he didn’t float around in the water, with his head slunk low, rehashing his failed pursuits.

In all my questions and struggling to make sense of my circumstances, my attention was stuck in the past.

Paul, not only tells us what not to do, he gives us further instruction. “Strain forward to what lies ahead”.

I noticed the turtle continued to keep his focus on his goal. Each time he descended into the water, he kept his narrow head pointed in the direction of the slope he was to climb. He never turned away.

Once I stopped looking at the trials I had gone through, I was open to the Spirit leading me towards what the Lord had in front of me. I could see the truth.

The truth was I had faced life threatening trials, but I was still alive.

The truth was I had faced the inability to bear children, but I was a mom.

The truth was my life wasn’t much like I had planned it to be, but it was the life God had for me.

Then Paul continues on by stating, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The turtle looked upward. We never figured out why the turtle was determined to climb up the slope, but his call was clear. He didn’t look back at where he’d been. He pushed and pulled his way upward.

Jesus’ call is upward. He’s not calling us backward or lower. Each step I take along this walk with Jesus, takes me higher. Closer to Him.

Don’t you hear Him calling?

Press on, my beloved.

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Talk Time

Throughout my time listening to Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford, I heard about the idea of “Talk Time”.

Talk Time: 10 minutes of uninterrupted, focused time with each child at a regular time each day.

From early on in the book, Stafford told about her precious time with her two daughters and the way it cultivated an atmosphere of peace and love in their home. Her two children looked forward to “Talk Time” and began to count on it as one of their favorite times of the day.

Not a time to teach, nag, remind, instruct, change behavior, or give a lesson.

Just a time to talk. Connect. Love.

Listening to Stafford describe times of laying in bed with her girls, smelling their scent, noticing their growth, and hearing them talk, took me back to the earlier years when this was a regular night-time occurrence for our family. Reading books, singing songs, praying, talking about whatever their little minds thought up.

What happened to this sacred time? At what point did I decide my children didn’t need a time to connect at the end of the day? When did it become easier just to read one book to both girls at the same time, forgoing their unique interests and need for one on one time? And, what confused my mind into thinking scrolling Facebook at night was a better use of my time than focusing on my loved ones?

As I neared the end of listening to Hands Free Mama, I heard it again. One last punch about “Talk Time”. My mind didn’t wander this time. I heard it loud and clear. This 10 minutes of focused one on one time can change your family.

Due to multi-tasking while listening and overload of information input at times, I will need to listen to or read the book again. There are valuable tips that have already escaped my mind. But, due to the Spirit intervening and engaging my mind at just the right moment, I have not missed the importance of “Talk Time”.

John 14:26 describes how the Holy Spirit intervenes to help us learn, understand and remember what is necessary for us to live the life the Lord wants us to live, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

Because the Holy Spirit led my learning, no longer will I tell myself, “Tomorrow”…

  • “Tomorrow, I will have the energy at the end of the day to focus on my kids”
  • “Tomorrow, I will make them a priority”
  • “Tomorrow, I won’t be too distracted”
  • “Tomorrow, I will encourage an earlier bed time so we can enjoy that special time”

Nope, today is the day.

  • Today is the day to look into the eyes of my girls and surprise them with my time.
  • Today is the day to lay down next to them just like when they were toddlers.
  • Today is the day to hear the thoughts they end the day with.
  • Today is the day they will go to sleep knowing their mom wanted just a little more time with them.john-14-26

    Today is the day our regular adventure with Talk Time begins.