What I Learned in June

Psalm 25:4-5, Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

IMG_0581June! The month with the longest day of the year. Days full of light. More freedom from routines.

I love this path photo above. Sometimes the Lord just lays out the path in front of us. He says, “You have been stumbling over the rocks, sticks, and waves long enough. I have set this path before you. Take it! Follow Me!” He cuts away what needs cutting away and reveals His perfect way. His way which may not feel perfect, definitely doesn’t feel easy, but nonetheless, it’s His sovereign, Holy, wise plan. When I follow it, His fruit is displayed and my heart is at peace. Oh, Father, you are so good!

Books I am reading (which are encouraging me to follow Him):

  • Matthew
  • Taming the Giants: Stripping the Power from Overwhelming Emotions by Cathy Dickinson
  • Anything by Jennie Allen
  • Quick Tips for Busy Families by Jay Payleitner

Books I am reading with my girls:

  • 24 Family Ways
  • The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein
  • The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Fox

We are participating in a reading challenge, which encourages us to read books from all over the world: Give Your Child the World. Some books we’ve thoroughly enjoyed during this challenge:

  • Owen and Mzee The language of friendship. By Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu
  • Off to class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World by Susan Hughes
  • Stories to Solve: Folktales from Around the World by George Shannon
  • A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World

June books

A Summary of My Learning This Month: 

Traditions

Kids love traditions! They love having special things that are unique for our family. They love knowing they can count on the repetition of the fun activity or event or food. We have developed a couple of easy, new traditions which are helping to bring greater family connection. With our girls nearing the teenage years, we are facing a new dynamic…our kids don’t always want to spend time with us! It’s strange, new, sometimes nice, and sometimes a threat to our closeness. Traditions are helping to maintain some together time.

America’s Funniest Videos (AFV) in the big bed! We ALL load up in our king-sized bed. All the humans in the house as well as our 2 cats and we laugh and gasp at the crazy things people do on video. Fun, light-hearted time to relax and laugh together is a beautiful thing.

Visiting Tree Houses! Can a tradition be a tradition if it’s only happened once? I don’t think so. But, can we can count it a tradition if we plan to repeat this activity? I think so! My husband found us the most lovely “House in the Trees”in Tigard, Oregon where we played games, ate snacks, read books, watched Lassie and Little House on the Prairie, pretended to be pirates, slid down a slide to exit the house, drank coffee, and connected as a family. This activity is begging to become a tradition!

Sunday afternoon tea. We bake gluten free scones, put some cheese and fruit on a plate, and each get a warm beverage of our choice, and enjoy a little sit down, lovely time together before the busyness of the week takes off the next day.

Schedules

Although my children fight the idea of using a schedule for homeschooling, we all breathe a sigh of relief now that we have made the adjustment to having blocks of learning times scheduled each day. I purchased some cheap, very basic planners from Michael’s. I have always resisted using any kind of planner or schedule book because I feel so boxed into the format they use. But, the planners I found have very little on them. On a two page layout for each week, they contain only 5 days of the week, Monday-Friday, and contain 6 boxes per day, as well as a notes section.

Planner pic

Sunday evening, I sit down and think through our week and each day. It takes a considerable amount of time and brain power, but it avoids so much conflict, anxiety, and debate throughout the week. We often make adjustments to our schedule. It’s all written in pencil. But, it’s working very well for us to have a general idea of what each day holds. It’s also giving us a chance to see how long things actually take and helping to provide necessary and important breaks.

Recently, while visiting a science museum, our children’s anxiety and moodiness heightened after we’d been there for several hours. No one was ready to leave, but there was so much talk about what we were going to do next. I thought of our planners and the boundaries they provide, and quickly and verbally explained a rough schedule for the rest of our time at the museum. Everyone let out a deep breath, and my one daughter looked at me and said, “Thank you, mom. I just needed to know what was coming.”

I pray you are learning, growing and seeking what the Lord has for you. I’d love to hear what new “take away” you have to share. Please consider sharing in the comments. Blessings, dear reader!

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.

loving-sisters-2

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

 

 

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.

beach

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”.

peaceful-night

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.

turtles-climb-on-log

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.

press-on

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.

Free to Listen

I am on a journey to live with more focus. My journey began with repeated prompting from the Lord. Again and again, He revealed to me all of the distractions I allowed into my life. Again and again, I heard Him, yet continued in disobedience.

The Lord is using Hands Free Mama to guide me along practical steps to decrease the distractions and increase my focus.

My family and I just returned from a long trip. 11 days away from home. 11 days of no regular routine. 11 days of no time to myself. 11 days to quickly turn my back on the work the Lord is doing in my life to refocus me.

It started on the airplane we took across the country, traveling to Orlando.

“WHAT? There’s a movie screen in the back of EVERY seat? We can watch movies ALL the way to Florida? Best day ever!” my screen deprived children exclaimed.

After seeing our children snuggle into their movie comas, without a word, my husband settled back to watch a “shoot ’em up” movie, the likes of which he hasn’t seen ever since Veggie Tales, Barbie movies, and America’s Funniest Videos overtook our TV screen.

I looked around and noticed every single person within my vision glued to a screen. Some focused on the screen on the seat in front of them. Some on a hand held screen. Some with both screens flashing. Nothing left for me to do but listen to the audio version of Hands Free Mama and play a mindless game on my phone. Sucked into my own screen without thought of the miniature sized games or read aloud books we had packed with plans of connecting with our children during the long flight. Everyone was content with their choice of activity. But, no one was interacting.

Not only were we not interacting, we were not listening.

“Would you like a snack? WOULD YOU LIKE A SNACK?” the flight attendant repeats her question to my children a little louder.

My girls were unable to hear the flight attendant talking to them without physically removing the headphones from their ears. In fact, they completely missed the first time she spoke directly to them. There was no chance of them even noticing her coming down the aisle with her oversize cart, asking all the other passengers the same question.

It wasn’t until days after returning from our trip that I realized that was exactly what I suffered from during my 11 days away. The inability to listen.

Due to my distracted state, I was unable to hear the Lord’s still small voice. 

2 Corinthians 10:5 in the Amplified Bible states, We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ.

Your word, Lord, tells me to take every thought captive, every purpose captive…in obedience to you.

But, how can my thoughts be dominated by Christ, when my eyes and mind are bound to what displays on a screen?

The answer, the only answer is that they cannot. My thoughts cannot be bound to Christ when they are already bound to what ever my eyes see on the screen.

take-every-thoughtI cannot hear the Spirit whispering to me. I do not notice the Spirit nudging me. I am blind and deaf to the Spirit’s leading.

Thank the Lord for His mercy.

We are home from our trip and I am right back to hearing the Lord instruct me. He never left me. He will not allow me to go down in my disobedience. He remained with me. It’s just that now I am back to having my eyes, ears, and mind unbound from what the enemy uses to distract me. Instead I am wide open to hear the Lord.

I am free to listen once more.

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My journey to focus: 

Lessons Learned at 3:00 am

New Beginnings

Are you on this journey as well? I have heard from several lately that God has them on a similar path. Please share your story in the comments. Your stories encourage me. 

Child-Like Faith

The stage lights shut off and the auditorium lights brighten. Standing up from our seats in the large auditorium, Mikayla notices a young woman sitting alone in her seat.

child-like-faith

“Mom, I feel like I should go talk to that woman?” my sensitive, heart of gold girl says.

Amongst the hundreds of people in the room, I have no idea what woman she was seeing. Before I had a chance to really focus on who she was talking about, my inquisitive Abby began her rapid fire questions, “Where are we going now, mom? Can we swim now, mom? I am hungry. Can I eat something?”

We slowly rise from our seats and begin the gradual exit from our row. Turning my head the direction I last saw Mikayla go, I see the most beautiful sight. Mikayla is leaning towards the crying young woman she had spotted earlier, with her hand on the woman’s shoulder. Both have their eyes closed, heads bowed. Praying to the Creator. The Comforter. The Counselor.

After Jesus was crucified, resurrected and then appeared to the disciples, He explained the power the disciples held by abiding in Him, the power we hold, and the power Mikayla called on when praying for the young woman.

Mark 16: 17,18: And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.

Mikayla laid her hand on the young woman, and called on the power of the Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen her.

This week at AMTC (Actors Models and Talent for Christ) Shine has been a whirlwind. We watched our 11-year-old, Mikayla, act and model all week in front of hundreds of spectators. Our family saw her smile and enjoy herself doing something she loves: perform. She came alive in front of the camera and audience.

in-frong-of-camera

But, the moment that took my breath away, was watching Mikayla pray with a woman more than twice her age. Encouraging the woman in the way the Spirit led her. After this powerful encounter, Mikayla joined us in walking out into the lobby. No mention of the selfless act she just performed. The performance from the week I can just imagine caused God to smile with delight.

With jam-packed days, with people always around, I am embarrassed to say, it wasn’t until a day or two later that I followed up with Mikayla about her encounter with the woman. When I did, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

“Mikayla, I keep meaning to ask about the lady I saw you talking to the other day in the auditorium.”

“Oh, the woman, I prayed with?” she casually asks.

“Yes. Is she okay? What was wrong?”

Mikayla sensitively begins, as if she’s right back in the moment with the hurting woman, “She said she just wants to feel closer to God again. She said she feels like she wants to have faith like a child again, to just trust God. So I prayed with her, mom.”

My body fills with a flood of warmth. Tears instantly stream my cheeks.

Isn’t that just like God? To bring a faith-filled child to pray and encourage a young woman in need of child-like faith? 

Oh, God. You know our needs. You know the best way to meet our needs. You know the best time to meet our needs.

Of all the proud moments I had this week, I was never prouder than seeing my 11-year-old following the lead of the Spirit, forgoing her flesh without a thought, and reaching out in faith and love.

shine-stage