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Archive for March, 2011

Every one of us goes through times of discouragement.  Blame it on the weather, hormones, finances, stress, kids – and some days, all of the above!  Whatever the cause, discouragement can creep up on you and rob you of joy.  If left unchecked, it can grow into depression and interfere with daily life.  We’ve been going through the early spring “blahs” lately, and feeling an overall lack of energy and enthusiasm.  It’s been constantly cloudy and rainy for the last month.  (I don’t know how you folks in the Pacific Northwest handle it!)  Plus, we’ve been stuck in a holding pattern for 6 months while we wait to see when my husband will get a job, which means perpetually tight finances with no relief in sight.  So what do we do when we feel “off,” or a little down, or just plain discouraged?

What do we do when these times coincide with church services when everyone around us seems emotionally moved and we don’t feel a thing?  (Ever been to a Christmas or Easter service and tried to will yourself to be moved emotionally, as if by sheer concentration you could conjure up a tear?)  I’m bringing up this last question because I think all of us know that we go through emotional ups and downs, but when our “downs” happen to coincide with others’ spiritual “ups,” it can cause us to question our relationship with God, and even our salvation.  While I don’t claim to be anyone’s spiritual guide or holy guru, I’ve gone through this experience enough to know that it happens to even the most spiritual person, and it is often a test to see if we will choose to obey God when we don’t feel the warm fuzzies, which is part of being a mature Christian.  But knowing that it happens to the best of us, still doesn’t answer the question: What do we do when we’ve got the blues or blahs?

I think the first step is to pray Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Sometimes we get too busy and neglect our spiritual walk, and that “off” feeling can be the Holy Spirit trying to get our attention.  When this is the case, if we quiet ourselves and open our hearts to examination by the Holy Spirit, I believe God is quick to reveal whatever area is in need of repentance or action.  (In my case last weekend, God called me to take action and deal with an area of my home that needed to be organized, and was going to drain energy from me as long as I avoided it.)  When God disciplines, it is always specific, beneficial, and for the purpose of restoring relationship. Any feeling or thought that is centered around notions of being a failure, an idiot, or some other form of self-loathing is a poison dart from the enemy.  The Holy Spirit brings conviction so that we may repent and be restored to a victorious life in Christ.  When the voice that we’re listening to is saying, “If you’re not experiencing the same spiritual high as those around you, there must be something wrong with you,” then carefully consider who might be speaking.  If we have asked God for forgiveness of any known sin, and have opened our lives for examination and not felt a specific conviction or call to action, then I believe our feelings of discouragement are a battleground where we can either choose to give in to despair or pick up the Sword of the Spirit and fight with the power of praise in God’s word. I addressed the issue of fear a while back, and I believe the antidote for fear is the same for that of discouragement: praise.  Particularly, praising by praying the scriptures.

When we lift up the name of Jesus the enemy must kneel, for “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10).  When we praise God – regardless of our emotions at the time – we are affirming his lordship over our lives and over the earth, and reminding the enemy that Jesus is Lord.  When we pray the scriptures, we are calling on the same authority Jesus used when tempted by Satan in the desert.    I believe there is no greater weapon than the scriptures when under attack, which is why I believe every victorious stand against the enemy begins with kneeling in prayer and daily scripture reading. There are no shortcuts to a victorious walk with Christ.  Sure, you can be a Christian without reading the Bible much, but the only way I know to fight discouragement from the enemy requires knowledge of the scriptures. If you’ve never prayed the scriptures before, begin by reading a passage and:

  • affirm back to God your belief that it is true
  • give thanks for any promises
  • and state your desire to obey any commands.

Memorizing scriptures gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to bring these to mind when confronting the enemy.  When Jesus promised his disciples that God would send the Holy Spirit, he told them that the Counselor would remind them of all the things Jesus had told them (John 14:26).  It’s like having a tutor standing next to you while you take a test, reminding you of the answers you learned.  But the Holy Spirit can’t remind you of something you never learned!  We don’t memorize scriptures so we can get candy at Sunday School or so we can appear pious by quoting scriptures to others.  We memorize scripture because it is how we battle against the enemy of our souls. To give you a picture of what this looks like, here is a sample of what I have prayed when under a cloud of discouragement.  By the time I finished praying this recently, the cloud had lifted and the attack was over – to God be the glory!

Lord, I praise you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).  I thank you that I am your workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which you prepared in advance for me to do (Eph. 2:10).  I thank you for having a plan for my life, and that you cause everything to work together  for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Rom. 8:28).  Thank you for loving the world so much that you sent your only son, so that by believing in you I may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  I thank you that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  If you are for us, who can be against us (Rom. 8:31)?  I acknowledge that you have not given me a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, and love, and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7).  I pray that you would give me power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is your love (Eph. 3:18).  I thank you for pouring out your love into my heart by the Holy Spirit, whom you have given me (Rom 5:5).  I thank you that you discipline those whom you love (Rev. 3:19).  Help me to love you with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, and show me how to love others (Mark 12:30).  I thank you that your perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).  I thank you that you promise to keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you (Isaiah 26:3).  I trust in you with all my heart, and pray that as I acknowledge you in all my ways that you would direct my paths (Prov. 3:5-6).  I desire to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness, and I trust you to provide everything I need (Matt. 6:33).  Bless the LORD, oh my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name (Psalm 103:1)!

By the way, don’t worry if you don’t know the scripture reference or exact wording – trust me, the enemy does.  (While I know all these scriptures from memory, I had to look up many of the references to add to this post.  I’m not trying to impress anyone, but to simply demonstrate what scripture prayer looks like in my life.)  If you would like to join me in daily Bible reading through the New Testament and Proverbs this year, and begin the exciting journey of praying the scriptures, the current week’s Bible reading schedule is always available on the Faith tab above.

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My budget for homeschooling materials varies from month to month, but it is generally less than $10/month for my 2 kids.  We mostly rely on the library, dollar store or Costco materials, and Christmas/birthday gifts (like books, science experiments, and craft supplies).  So to keep learning fun without spending a lot of money, I like to turn games and household supplies into educational materials. My kids prefer to practice their math skills through games, so I figured out how to come up with a variety of games they could play using homemade flashcards and games we already have in our closet.  Chances are, you probably have some of these games, too.   Whether you homeschool or help your kids with homework, you can make learning fun without buying expensive educational supplies.  Here are the instructions for how I make flashcards, and ideas for a variety of ways you can use them.

Homemade Flashcards

  1. You can make these as big or as small as you like.  Simply cut some paper into rectangles that are all the same size.  These should be long enough to be equally divided into thirds: 2/3 for the problem, and 1/3 for the answer.
  2. Depending on what you’re working on, you may want to color code several sets.  For instance, when my son was working on learning his multiplication tables, we made each set a different color.  That way, it’s easier to put the sets back together when you mix them in games later on.  This also works well for addition/subtraction fact families (i.e. 5+8=13, 8+5=13, 13-8=5, 13-5=8), to help your child identify that there are groups of numbers that go together.  (Addition and subtraction are a cinch when your child knows his fact families.)
  3. To use these as a learning exercise initially, you can write the problem and have your child write the answer in the corresponding color.  Have a few extra back-up squares for answers that need to be corrected.
  4. Cut the answer squares so that you have problem rectangles and answer squares (preferably all the same size).

Games Using Homemade Flashcards

  • Matching – When first learning multiplication or fact families, it’s easiest to have the problem facing up in one column, and the answers facing up in another column.  Your child then tries put the right answer next to each problem.
  • Memory – Turn the answers and questions face down in a grid.  Turning over two at a time, your child tries to find a match.  Continue until all problems and answers are matched.  (This also works for any subject with questions that have similar answers, like matching states with state capitols.)
  • Bingo – Make a 4×4 or 5×5 grid with the answer squares (mixing different sets, if necessary) facing up.  Put the problem cards in a stack, facing up.    Using pennies, cover the answer as you solve each problem.  The first person to get 4 (or 5, depending on size of grid) in a row wins.  The great thing about this game is that you can have 2 kids working with separate cards based on their abilities, solving different problems but competing to see who gets Bingo first.  (We played this today with my son reviewing multiplication and my daughter reviewing subtraction.)
  • Race Car Math – All you need for this game is a set of flashcards (homemade or store bought), a board game with a path that leads from start to finish (like Candyland, Life, Mousetrap, or even a homemade loop divided into squares), dice or a spinner, and small matchbox cars or race cars that will fit inside the game spaces.  Players take turns rolling the dice (or spinning the spinner) to determine how many spaces their car will advance if their question is answered correctly.  If the answer is incorrect, they don’t get to move.  The first person to cross the finish wins.  Again, flashcards can be tailored to each child’s ability.  (I tend to prefer store-bought flashcards for this game – which we buy at the dollar store – since they usually have the answers on the back, which allows the kids to check their own answers and play independently.)

Other kids games you can modify as educational games:

  • Trouble – There’s something satisfying about pushing down on the bubble and having it pop the dice for you.  We first used this game with clock flashcards for practicing telling time.  You can play this as a flashcard game by simply requiring a correct answer before a player can advance (as in Race Car Math).  Or you can make a set of number flashcards from 1-20 to be used in reviewing addition (by adding a number card to the number displayed on the dice), subtraction (by subtracting the number displayed on the dice from the flashcard number), or multiplication (using numbers 1-10 to multiply by the number displayed on the dice).
  • Phase 10 Dice – This game has you rolling different sets of numbers for each round, and adding up your total.  So it’s great for practicing adding several numbers, and introduces the concept of multiplication when you have to add a set of 3 or 4 of the same number.  Since you’re also keeping a running total after each phase, you can practice double and triple-digit addition.
  • Scrabble – The first time we played this with the kids, my son said, “Hey Mom, we can play this for both spelling AND math!”  We put a twist on this game by changing the “double letter score” spaces to “multiply by 6 (or 7 or 8 or whatever multiplication set you’re reviewing).  Each child has their own score pad and is responsible for adding their points for each word to their overall total, which involves double and triple-digit addition.
  • Candyland – This game, like Trouble, can be used with any flashcards.  When my son was in kindergarten, we used his sight word cards.  Now we’re working on adding money, so I’m using cards with various dollar amounts that determine how much you earn for each square.  Each child takes the appropriate amount of coins to add up to the amount listed on the card drawn (i.e. $.22), using either play money or real money (I use real money, since we have a lot of change).  If you land on one of the special spaces (i.e. gumdrop), you have to go to that spot on the board and put back the amount of money on the card for that round.   The first person to reach the finish line gets a $1 bonus, but whoever has the most money in the end wins.  You can make the dollar or coin amount as high or low as you want, depending on the level of each child.  Or you can reverse the game and give each child a certain amount of money to begin with.  Each card drawn then determines how much they have to pay, with special spaces serving as a bonus that allows them to earn the amount of money on the card drawn.  The person with the most money left at the end wins.

Obviously, just about any game can be used with flashcards, but the key is to find out what your kids love to play and try to turn it into a learning opportunity.  What works for your family will probably be different from what works for mine.  For instance, I invented “tickle numbers” when my son was learning to recognize numbers 11-20.  If he identified the number correctly, he got to tickle Daddy.  If he was wrong, he got tickled.  It worked because our kids love to be tickled (and to tickle Daddy!), so they loved to play this game.

Games are a great way to learn and review just about anything, and any game can be used for educational purposes.  Games regularly go on sale, and can be purchased inexpensively at thrift stores or garage sales.  Of course, the best place to start is with whatever you already have that your kids enjoy playing.  Make a cheap set of flashcards, and let the learning fun begin!

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It all started with the “Around the World Cookbook” for kids by Abigail Dodge.  I had picked it up at the library when my son was reading the classic, “Around the World in 80 Days.”  I thought it would be fun to squeeze in a little geography and explore some of the countries the main character visited in the book.  This turned into a spring break staycation that we called, “Around the World in 8 Days.”

I chose some countries spread out over the globe, then found recipes from the children’s cookbook to try along with a few of our favorites to match each country’s cuisine.  I also scanned our home library and the public library for movies and books to go along with each country.  I had picked up a children’s atlas at a used book sale, so that provided our geography material.  I wanted to include music and crafts or games to go with each country, but some countries were easier to find materials for than others.  Since the emphasis was on having fun and creating a sense of adventure, we settled for whatever we could easily find, and let the kids’ interests determine how in depth our study went.

Some of the countries were a hit, like our Caribbean night when we discovered Jamaican Jerk Chicken – YUM!  (That was also the night we discovered that we can’t broil anything containing sugar without setting off the smoke alarm.)  Other countries weren’t quite as popular, like our Australian disaster when the kids hated watching “The Man From Snowy River” (set in Australia), and could care less about listing to Uluru music.  But by the end of the week, the general consensus was that we had fun and learned some things, and both kids were saying, “Can we do this again next year?”

So if you’d like to add an educational twist to your spring break staycation, and throw in a few countries to explore, here are some ideas for countries to “visit” based on what we did last year, as well as a few new ideas.  Also, be sure to check out my other post on cheap Spring Break Staycations for inexpensive places to visit and activities to do at home.

Caribbean Islands:

  • Food – Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Caribbean Sweet Potato Fries.  The seasonings for these sound really bizarre, but trust me, IT’S SO GOOD!  This recipe is not very spicy, because it came from a kids cookbook.  So if you’ve had super spicy jerk chicken before, don’t shy away from this recipe for fear of it being too hot.  We also tried making fried plantains, but it didn’t work very well.  Since mangoes are now in season, you can round out the meal with a tropical fruit salad served in a coconut half.
  • Movie – “Cool Runnings” or “Pirates of the Caribbean”
  • Activity – Play some steel drum music during dinner, and don’t forget to play a game of limbo!  If you’re going with a “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme, pull out some big empty boxes for the kids to turn into pirate ships.  We did this when my son was reading, “Treasure Island,” and the kids had a blast.  They decorated the outside with markers and named their ships.  (I can’t remember what my daughter called hers, but it was something ridiculous like “The Fluffy Bunny.”)  I gave them wrapping paper tubes for the mast, which were duct-taped to the inside of the box on one end.  Then we poked a chopstick through the tube for the yard arm, and hung a dish towel attached with safety pins for the sail.  I made a treasure map with various landmarks for the kids to find around the house (like “Mermaid Cove,” using my daughter’s Ariel doll), then sent them off with their ships to find the buried treasure (some fake gold coins buried beneath throw pillows on the couch).

Europe:

  • Food – We love Shepherd’s Pie, which works for England, Ireland, or Scotland.  Scottish shortbread cookies are a yummy way to round out your meal.  If you want to study England, you could go with fish and chips instead.  For a study of Germany or Austria, you could have sausages and mustard with hard rolls.
  • Movie – If you like musicals, this is a great opportunity to pull out a favorite musical from childhood.  “Brigadoon” works for Scotland.  “Mary Poppins” and “My Fair Lady” are set in England.  “The Sound of Music” is set in Austria.  Your kids might even pick up a history lesson from some of these movies!  There are lots of more contemporary films to chose from as well, so chances are you can find something in your DVD library at home.  (Even “Beauty and the Beast” would work for France, after a meal of French Toast, of course!)
  • Activity – If you’re studying England, you just have to have high tea with your little girl!  Practice your yodeling when studying Austria, or come up with some silly Highland Games for a Scottish theme.  Highland games, by nature, are pretty ridiculous, so anything goes!  Have a contest to see how many stacked pillows you can jump over, or who can toss a ball the farthest using a shovel.  Or go online to find ideas for Scottish kids games.  To listen to some bagpipe music, just google “bagpipe music.”  If you’re studying Germany, you could add a little music appreciation lesson and play music from famous composers born in Germany, like Bach and Beethoven.  Mozart was born in Austria.

Middle East/Africa:

  • Activity – Last year, spring break took place the week before Easter.  So we took advantage of this time to teach the kids about the Passover, since Christianity is rooted in Judaism, and Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover meal.  I have a copy of the Haggadah (liturgy used in the traditional Passover celebration), by Joan Lipis, that I bought through Jews for Jesus.  It ties in both Jewish and Christian symbols.  I pared down the seder to fit my children’s attention spans, and tried to focus on the elements that involved the most participation.  For instance, they loved finding the hidden matzoh, or “afikoman.”  Since we don’t drink wine or eat gluten, we substituted grape juice and gluten free flatbread (for which you can find the recipe here).
  • Food – My Homemade Chicken Soup recipe is actually taken from an authentic Passover cookbook.  The potato dumplings are also from a Passover recipe.
  • Movie – Every year we watch “The Prince of Egypt” at Passover time.  And every year it moves me.

Asia:

  • Food – We love Stephanie O’Dea’s Crock Pot Fried Rice recipe, which is a hoot to read online.  Don’t have time to fix something in the crock pot?  Add some frozen peas and carrots with your Ramen noodles (or Thai Kitchen Spring Onion flavor rice noodle, for a gluten free soup), then stir in an egg with a fork once the noodles finish cooking.  Voila!  Chinese egg drop soup!
  • Movie – We love “Kung Fu Panda” and “Mulan”
  • Check online for instructions on how to make simple origami projects with scraps of wrapping paper or construction paper (then call it “recycling” and pat yourself on the back for being environmentally conscientious).  Or clear away the furniture, pad a baggy shirt with pillows in front and back, and have a sumo wrestling tournament.

North America:

  • U.S.A. – You could focus on a particular area of our country, like New Orleans (jazz music, jumbalaya, and “Princess and the Frog” for your little Disney princess).  Or watch the movie, “Bolt” (available on Netflix streaming), and give the kids U.S. maps they can draw on to follow Bolt’s journey across America (while you’re eating waffles, of course).  Last year, we watched the musical, “Oklahoma,” and had fried chicken with corn on the cob for dinner.  This was also the night we set up the half tent inside and let them sleep out under the (glow-in-the-dark) stars.
  • Mexico – Everyone likes some form of Mexican food, so this is an easy one!  Dance to a little mariachi music with the kids, then watch “The Three Amigos.”

These are just a few ideas to get you started.  Be sure to have an atlas or globe on hand for your “journey,” and let the kids pick a few places, too.  You can check out library books to make it educational, and probably find most resources you need online.  Whatever you do, remember to have fun, and share with us what you did in the comments section below!

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This is one of my favorite grilled chicken dishes.  The seasonings may seem strange, but trust me – it’s awesome!  The coating keeps the chicken moist and juicy, and it’s not too spicy.  If using chicken breasts, cut them into tender-sized strips so they’ll cook faster, since the sugar will make them brown quickly.  I actually prefer using thighs for this recipe.  The Caribbean sweet potato fries compliment the chicken really well, but if you’re not sure you’ll like it, just season half the fries and use salt on the other half – although you’ll wish you’d seasoned all of them!

2 T. canola oil
3 T. brown sugar
1½ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. dried thyme
¼ tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or skinless thighs

Stir together oil and seasonings in a medium bowl.  Add chicken to bowl and toss to coat.

Broil:
Heat broiler on high and broil chicken in foil-lined pan for 6 minutes on each side.  (Be aware that broiling sugar can cause smoke and, thus, set off your smoke alarm.  Ask me how I know this…)

Grill:
Grill covered, over medium heat for 6-10 minutes on each side, depending on size of chicken pieces.  Cook bone-in chicken longer.

*Serve with grilled pineapple, cooked over medium heat for 10-15 minutes.

Caribbean Sweet Potato Fries

1 T. brown sugar
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
2 T. canola oil
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
Coarse salt (regular works, too)

Cut each potato in half (or quarters, if they are large).  Cut each half into 3 or 4 long wedges.

Combine oil and first 4 seasonings in a large bowl.  Add potatoes and toss to coat.  Spread in an even layer on foil-lined jellyroll pan.  Sprinkle with salt.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

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We love this recipe which can be frozen and reheated later for an all-in-one, satisfying meal.

2 T. butter or dairy free margarine
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 carrots, chopped
1 T. flour (or GF flour blend)
2 c. (16 oz.) beef broth (we like jarred “Better Than Bouillon,” which is GF)
1/2 c. tomato sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2-1/2 c. (1 lb.) ground beef or turkey, cooked
2 c. leftover mashed potatoes (preferably made with cream cheese)
1 egg

Melt butter/margarine in a large saucepan and fry the onion and carrots until golden brown.  Stir in the flour and cook one minute.  Gradually stir in beef broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oregano and seasonings.  Cover the pan.  Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and add cooked ground meat.  Mix well.

Mix an egg into mashed potatoes.  Pour meat into greased 8″x8″ pan.  Top with potatoes.  Cover with foil and freeze.  Or bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until topping is brown and meat is heated through.  To heat from frozen stage, add 10-15 minutes more baking time.

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d share my secret for Reuben Sandwiches without the rye bread.  Long before we were a gluten free household, I decided to see if I could come up with a substitute for rye bread because it tore up the inside of my mouth.  Since I had a bottle of caraway seeds – the little seeds that give rye bread its distinct flavor –  I tried sprinkling them on the sauerkraut in a Reuben sandwich made with whole wheat bread instead.  It worked!  So here’s how I make my mom’s Reuben Sandwich recipe (which doesn’t use Russian dressing like some people use, but feel free to modify it according to your tastes).

A firm, multigrain bread works best because you don’t want the bread to get soggy from the sauerkraut.  Luckily, most GF breads are pretty dense, so your favorite bread should work.

  1. Butter one side of each slice of bread.
  2. Place one slice buttered-side-down on a warm griddle or frying pan, and top with thin slices of corned beef.
  3. Remove sauerkraut with a fork and press against the side of the jar to drain excess liquid before layering on top of meat.
  4. Sprinkle with a generous amount of caraway seeds (which you can probably find in a bulk spice section for pennies).
  5. Top with a slice of Swiss cheese and remaining piece of bread.
  6. When the bottom slice of bread is lightly browned, flip and cook on the other side until the bread is browned and cheese is melted.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Joyful Faith: Be Still

It was a particularly busy day, with homeschool lessons flowing into laundry, assembling chili for the crock pot, a dentist appointment, blog post, then family devotions and a movie with the kids.  After saying prayers with my little girl, I finally had an opportunity to relax and enjoy a warm bath by candlelight.  While soaking and savoring the quiet, I discovered something I’d never noticed before.  In the stillness of the water, I saw an almost perfect reflection of the candle and wall above it.  It was then that this thought settled in my mind:

Only in stillness can you see the reflection of the light.  Only when I am still, will others see the light of Christ reflected in me.  For the only light I have is what I reflect from the One who said, “I am the Light of the World.”  No one will see it unless I am still.

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10.

How can we be still in 2011?  Most of us who are raising kids and trying to juggle a variety of responsibilities barely have a moment to slow down, let alone be still.  We race from one activity to the next, and the technology that was supposed to give us more free time has simply allowed us to cram more activity into our days.  Have you ever gone through a particularly busy week, and once it was finally over found that you couldn’t seem to relax?  Sometimes it feels like we’re in a hamster wheel; always running but going nowhere.  So let me ask a very difficult question (for both you and me): Who is benefiting from our constant busyness, our inability to be still?

Our culture tells us that if our kids don’t start playing sports (or an instrument, etc.) when they’re 4-years-old, they won’t have what it takes to be successful later on, but sports and extracurricular activity schedules are common factors in stressed out families today.  Do our kids really benefit from schedules that don’t allow them (or us) to be still?  We keep up our frantic pace out of fear that our kids will suffer somehow by not being the best at everything by the age of 10.  (Ironically, most high school coaches will tell you that it generally doesn’t matter whether or not kids played the sport when they were 8.)  When my naturally athletic daughter (who sooooo doesn’t get it from me) started kindergarten, we made her choose between gymnastics and dance class, to keep our schedule from getting out of control.  She chose dance that year, and now she’s doing gymnastics in first grade and taking a year off from dance.  It was a hard decision for her, but she made it, and doesn’t seem to be devastated (nor is her future in dance somehow doomed).  When we give our kids opportunities to make tough choices and limit their activities, we are teaching them how to say no to our culture’s pressure to “do all, be all, have it all.” In order to be still, we need to figure out how to get our family off the hamster wheel.  It doesn’t mean we cut out all activities, but we carefully chose what will enhance our lives, and say no sometimes to good things if they interfere with what’s best for the family as a whole. For our family, whenever we add an activity, we also take one away or find a way to spread them out over the course of the year.

It’s not just our American culture that wants to define us by our accomplishments and activities, but the culture within the church can put the same amount of pressure on us to appear “holy” by being busy in the church.  Holiness and church involvement are not the same thing.  I noticed, when reading the passage of scripture from Matthew 3:16-17 describing Jesus’ baptism, that when God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” it was BEFORE Jesus’ earthly ministry began.  God was pleased with Jesus before he performed a single miracle or preached a sermon. So why would I think I have to head up a committee, teach Sunday School, lead a Bible study, attend every church event and sing in the choir in order to please God?  Not that any of these are bad things, and I recognize that we are called to serve in the body of Christ, but if I sweetly teach Sunday School to the preschoolers on Sunday morning, and yell at my kids all week because I’m so busy that I snap at everything, is that really bringing glory to God?

If God is more concerned with my heart than my accomplishments, then I will have to make it a priority to “be still and know that [He is] God.”  I need to absorb his light before I can shine it.  I can’t just view my morning devotions as an item on my to-do list that gets checked off first thing in the morning.  I need to slow down and allow time for reflection.  Meditation.  Stillness.  The Bible lists several occasions when Jesus went off by himself to pray.  He had incredible demands on his time, with crowds following him everywhere he went, but he knew that he needed to rest and pray.  If the Son of God needed time to be still before God, what makes me think I can keep running on empty and be any kind of effective witness for Christ?

So back to the image of the candle reflecting on the still water.  When I’m constantly in motion, I’m a poor reflection of God’s light.  However, when I have been diligent about protecting our family’s schedule from too many outside commitments, and focus each morning on being still while meditating on God’s word:

  • I am much more likely to stop and comfort my frustrated child instead of yelling at her to stop whining.
  • I’m more likely to interrupt my children’s bickering to remind them that we should speak words of kindness that build each other up, as mentioned in Ephesians 4:29, instead of just yelling up the stairs for them to knock it off.
  • I’m more likely to be playful with my kids and creatively solve problems, instead of giving them an ultimatum or threatening them with punishment.
  • I’m more likely to listen to my husband and respond to his needs, instead of brushing him off because I’ve got too much on my to-do list.

Jesus was – and IS – all about relationships.  I need to be still so that the light and love of Christ can shine through me to those around me.  My activities and ministries are secondary to my primary calling: to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27).  To love God with all my strength means that I can’t devote all my strength to keeping the perfect house, raising kids who are the best at every activity under the sun, and heading every committee at church. Only when I nurture that first relationship by being still, can I successfully fulfill my second calling: to love my neighbor.  And if the activities I’ve chosen – no matter how good they may be – interfere with my ability reflect Christ, then prayerful changes must be made.  I must follow Jesus’ example and find a quiet place to be still before God.  After all, what does my “holy busyness” gain me, if my children do not see Christ reflected in me?

If you don’t already have a daily devotional and quiet time, I’d encourage you to find a time to be still and join me in reading from the books of Mark, 1 Corinthians, and Proverbs.  This week’s Weekly Bible Reading Schedule (which will take us through the entire New Testament and book of Proverbs this year) is always available on the Faith tab above.

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