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As my neighbors and I head into schooling at home this week, due to the shelter in place order, it has brought back memories of the 7 1/2 years I homeschooled my children during their elementary and middle school years. They’re now both in public high school and will be doing school online for the next 3 weeks (or more), so it’s different from when I was truly in charge of their education. However, there’s one thing I learned from all my years of schooling at home that I will again implement this week, and it’s the most important piece of advice I can share with my fellow parents who are now joining me in this adventure:

Establish a routine, NOT a schedule.

Most of us are accustomed to schedules, and if you grew up in the public school system – like me – it’s probably the only way you know how to structure your day. In preparing to school at home, you’ve probably come up with something like this:

8 – 9 a.m. Breakfast and morning chores
9 – 11:30  School
11:30 – 12:30 Exercise break and lunch
12:30 – 2:30 School

We plan schedules like this for our children because they align to school and what we are used to. I did this at the beginning of every school year until I finally accepted the reality that this kind of scheduling just doesn’t work for me. Why? Because I can’t control how long it takes my children to do something, so no matter what schedule I set it inevitably doesn’t work. Schedules set us up to fail, and homeschooling is hard enough without feeling like you’ve already failed before lunch. I got tired of setting schedules that we couldn’t keep because my daughter works really fast, so she’d be sitting around bored (just like in school). My son works really slowly, so I’d end up getting frustrated at him for not finishing his work on my schedule (just like in school). When I realized that homeschooling was meant to set us free from the kind of frustration that results from rigid scheduling, I tossed the schedule and began to embrace the beauty of routine.

The Benefits of Routine
Routine is different from a schedule that is based on the clock. Routine adds structure to your day, but doesn’t run your day. We need routine to help us feel grounded and make sure we’re staying on task, but a flexible routine gives us freedom to take charge of our schedule instead of being a slave to it. So what do I mean by routine? A routine puts daily activities in sequence. As long as the sequence is observed, it doesn’t matter when activities start or how long it takes to complete each activity (within reason). Here’s approximately what our routine looked like when my kids were in elementary school:

  1. Breakfast and morning grooming (our start time varied based on our sleep needs, whether I baked something for breakfast, etc.)
  2. Go over the day’s activities with Mom
  3. Schoolwork that requires help from Mom
  4. Exercise break (they were encouraged to take breaks whenever needed)
  5. Independent schoolwork/check in with Mom when finished
  6. Daily chores (sometimes before lunch, sometimes after)
  7. Lunch
  8. Bedroom time (reading followed by Lego projects/craft projects, etc.)
  9. Screen time (online educational games, educational videos) and/or outside play
  10. Dinner/family time

Natural Transitions Mean No Need to Bribe
By middle school, afternoon screen time encompassed more focused educational activities on the computer, like Rosetta Stone Spanish. But because afternoon screen time was already part of our routine, it was a natural transition. You’ll notice that there are some strategically placed breaks and rewards in our routine that facilitate transition. This is intentional because the beauty of a routine is that there’s no set time limit on each activity, but you have to do them in order, so rewards always come after doing work. I didn’t have to threaten or bribe my kids to work (because, honestly, threats and bribes never worked with my oldest). Pleasant activities followed completion of work.

Your Needs Should Be Considered
I planned activities that required heavy involvement on my part at the beginning of the day so I’d be free to work on projects later. Having the kids go to their rooms after lunch for quiet time gave us all a break from each other (a must if you have any introverts in your family). I preferred to have my kids do chores while I fixed lunch because I didn’t want to nag them at the end of the day when we’re all tired, or have our morning hijacked by kids dragging their feet.

Routines Accommodate Differences in Pace and Personality
This routine was easy to keep because it fit our natural rhythms, and allowed for my polar-opposite-kids to move through it at their own pace. My daughter always finished her work first, so she enjoyed more free time, but we planned lunch around whenever my son finished his work so our schedules aligned in the middle of the day. Lunch became a connection point before breaking for independent activities again. Afternoon quiet time usually lasted around 2 hrs. Since four of my son’s top 5 strengths involve deep thinking (Ideation, Input, Futuristic, Strategic) and require unstructured time for deep thought, this part of our routine was essential to his development. My daughter became an avid reader who is currently, as a sophomore, reading Shakespeare just for fun. So don’t structure every minute of your day, especially if you have highly creative kids who thrive on unstructured time.

Routines Allow Kids to Figure Out How They Work Best
Within the limited structure of the routine, I gave my kids freedom to choose the order in which they would do their assigned work. My daughter prefers to tackle her hardest/most unpleasant subjects first, to get them out of the way. But my son would get bogged down in his hardest subject, math. If he did it first, and got frustrated, all of his and my energy would be spent trying to get through math, leaving no energy left for the rest of the day. So we moved math to the end of the day for him in order to make sure he had creative energy for his other subjects. Plus, having the reward of free time when he finished his hardest subject gave him motivation to get through…sometimes. Every child is different, and a flexible routine honors those differences.

Routines Allow for Flexibility within Structure
I also gave my kids freedom to work wherever they worked best. We found that breaking up locations also helped add structure. For instance, we would do group reading together on the couch at the beginning of the day for emotional connection. Writing was done at the table. Independent reading was allowed on their bed. Computer work was done at a computer desk where I could easily see what they’re doing. Movement helps break up the monotony of schooling at home. It also adds an element of fun when you allow kids to build a fort and do their work in the fort! When my kids were in early elementary school, I set up a little tent where they could read the Magic Tree House books aloud to each other, to increase their sense of adventure. Not surprisingly, both my kids still love to read because reading was associated with pleasure and comfort. You may have no control over what your kids are learning if you’re not a traditional homeschooler, but you can give your kids some control over how, when, and where they learn, which increases their enjoyment of the learning process.

The blessing of giving your kids an opportunity to discover how they work best now is that this information will be useful to them when they have to work independently later in life. The gift of schooling at home is that it helps kids figure out how/where/when they learn best. It’s common in homeschooling circles to observe that one of the strengths of this approach is that it teaches kids how to learn, which creates lifelong learners. So embrace the best that homeschooling has to offer – freedom from schedules, closeness as a family, opportunities to discover and maximize your kids’ unique learning styles – and roll with the inevitable ups and downs. You’ll have good days and bad days, just like kids and their teachers do in school. Relax, take a deep breath, and go ahead and do school in your pj’s today. Enjoy the gift.

My other top piece of advice is to pray and let God lead you as a parent. To read more of my story and how God delivered me from the stronghold of fear when I put my kids back in public school, download unit 7 of my book on my new website: TillingMinistries.com

For ideas on how to have indoor fun with your family and balance the loss of freedom with joy and celebration, check out my previous post.

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This week I’ve been posting lots of ideas on Facebook for fun activities to do with kids for those who are stressed and overwhelmed by suddenly having kids home for an extended spring break with nowhere to go. In the midst of all the fear and loss, I’m continuing to celebrate with my family. Why? Because God taught me during the 7 weeks my mom was on hospice before she died that celebration is a powerful tool to help us overcome the darkness of grief and despair. During that time, I went through with plans to host a Sunday School party, celebrate my 20th anniversary, and threw parties for Father’s Day, my daughter’s birthday, and the 4th of July. Now, I also spent a lot of time sitting quietly with the Lord and processing emotions, so celebration was not an avoidance activity. Rather, I discovered that the reason God urged me to keep celebrating was that it gave life to my soul so that I did not whither up and die inside while my mother was dying.

This same truth is even more important in our current world situation. All of our focus has been on keeping our bodies healthy and protected, but the health of your body is tied to the health of your soul.

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. – 3 John 1:2

Your soul is made up of your mind, will, and emotions. Doctors have discovered that the health of your body is linked to your mental and emotional state. (For a fascinating look at how fearful thoughts release negative chemicals into your body that, if left unchecked, can result in both mental and physical illness, read Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book, The Perfect You.) The more our minds spin out of control with fear and the more we dwell on loss, the more our immune system is compromised. The very thing we want – health – can be undermined by obsessing over it! However, laughter and celebration counter the negative effects of fear and loss. Focusing on positive thoughts sends feel-good chemicals throughout the body, and laughter is medicine for the soul.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8

We take seriously scriptural commands like love your neighbor, but do we also obey commands like the one above, to fix our thoughts on what is good? This is not an optional suggestion; this is life support for your soul. Instead of singing the birthday song while washing your hands, try naming five things that fit in the above category, and see how that affects your mental state. While washing your hands, imagine washing off fear and discouragement. In the same way you would apply lotion to hands that are continuously being washed, picture adding fun and celebration into your life as putting healing balm on your soul to protect it from being stripped of joy. Your physical, mental, and emotional health all matter to God, which is why the Scriptures address every area of our lives, in order to build us up and strengthen us to withstand all the fiery darts of the enemy.

So how do you keep celebrating and having fun when you’re trapped at home? Take it from a former homeschooler who could only afford homemade fun for several years because of my husband’s unemployment, all you need is a little creativity to turn simple activities you probably already enjoy into epic adventures and lifelong memories.

“March Madness” Tournament
This year, we’re turning family game night into an ongoing “March Madness” tournament. We’ll assign a points system to every game we play and keep track of totals throughout the week, with a final “playoff” between the top 2 scorers. For partner activities, the winning team will get to add points to their individual scores. Each day we’ll likely compete in a different category:

  • Board Games – Games like Life, Candyland, and other games my teenagers haven’t played in a while
  • Outdoor Games – Croquet, Frisbee Golf, and made-up obstacle courses at our local park. (Too cold to go outside where you live? Check out my post on a snow-themed family fun night and have a sock ball “snowball” fight instead!)
  • Video Games  – We’ll dust off the old Wii to play Wii bowling and rock out to Band Hero, then everyone – boys included – will compete in my daughter’s Just Dance game on the Xbox
  • “Chopped” Cooking Challenge – Just like the Food Network show, “Chopped,” contestants will compete to make the best tasting food from a basket of random ingredients. (We may have to take food to my Dad to judge…unless it’s really gross.) Since my daughter’s in culinary class at school, she’ll team up with my husband and I’ll partner with my son for this challenge. I’ve decided it will be leftovers-themed, with the main ingredients pulled from odds and ends in the fridge and freezer. (Bonus – spring cleaning of the fridge and freezer accomplished!)
  • Team Game Night – We’ll pair up in teams for fun games that make us laugh, like Taboo, Guesstures (charades), and Cranium, etc.
  • Craft Competition – I’ll pull out random craft items leftover from our homeschooling days and challenge everyone to come up with the most creative creation. (We’ll likely turn to Facebook to judge this competition.)
  • Word Game Night – My family loves games like Scattergories, Boggle, and Bananagrams
  • We’ve also toyed with the idea of a wacky talent competition, turning to Facebook friends as judges, but we’ll see how much we want to publicly humiliate ourselves…

Themed Family Fun Nights
The easiest way to make an ordinary activity memorable is to combine it with a few other activities in a theme. To accomplish this, I pair a menu with a movie and a related activity. For instance, since our plans to go out to eat and see a movie in the theater had to be adjusted, we’re going to order Chinese food from a locally-owned restaurant because we want to support small businesses that are trying to stay open. To turn take-out into a Chinese-themed fun night we’ll:

  • Eat with chopsticks
  • Read funny Chinese-to-English translations found on the internet (Warning: preview before reading with kids because the top sites contain at least one four-letter word)
  • See who can make up the funniest fortune cookie-type fortune
  • Watch one of our all-time favorite comedies, “Kung Fu Panda”
  • Can’t order out where you are? Make my easy crock pot gluten free fried rice or head to an Asian grocery store to pick up a variety of foods you’ve never tried for a culinary adventure.

Another simple way to do a family fun night is to let one family member choose a game to play, another chooses the dinner menu (from a few choices offered by you), another chooses dessert, and another family member picks a movie to watch together. Everybody contributes, so everyone feels valued.

Outside Experiences at Home
If your travel plans got canceled, why not do a mini version at home? Many museums are posting virtual tours. You can explore almost any place on the internet. But around here, we like to replicate experiences through hands-on activities like:

  • Indoor Camping – Set up a small tent or make a fort in your living room, get out the sleeping bags, and let the kids pretend they’re in the woods. I did this for my kids for years for spring break because they loved it. Some years were more elaborate than others, with chalk sunsets drawn on butcher paper, paper cut-out flames assembled over wood for a fake fire, every plant or plastic tree from our home brought in as foliage, stuffed animals set up as woodland creatures, and flashlights to shine on glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. This year, we won’t be doing that, but we will roast hot dogs and marshmallows for s’mores in our outdoor fire pit.
  • Indoor Fun Park – Had to cancel plans to the local arcade or fun park? Make your own carnival with whatever prizes you can scrounge up at home. Grab the spinner from your Life game and turn it into a spin-the-wheel game for points or prizes. Use the ring from a canning jar to create a ring toss game. We use our Twister mat for a bean bag toss target, but toss whatever you want (like small stuffed animals or foil balls). Turn the living room into a mini-golf course with furniture as obstacles. (If you don’t have kiddie clubs and balls, any ball and stick will work.) Pull out the Nerf guns and set up targets to shoot at. The possibilities are endless.
  • Spa Day – You can find homemade spa treatments online to delight your little princess. Pamper her with a mani and pedi, or let her glam up with your make-up (or inexpensive make-up from the dollar store). Even better, let her do YOUR make-up and hair!
  • Live Out Your Favorite (non-violent) Video Game – Most people turn to video games to live out their fantasies, but we did the reverse. My son’s favorite spring break activity was back in 5th grade when he and his friends were into Minecraft. I gathered up broken toys and miscellaneous junk from the garage and scattered it all over the floor. I told the boys they’d crash landed on a deserted island, the junk was the wreckage of their plane, they needed to use what they had to make shelter and defend themselves from the mysterious predators on the island, then handed them duct tape and said, “Go.” In the process of creating their shelter and weapons, they also created the story they were living in and had a blast. Do your kids prefer Star Wars or sword-fighting games? Scroll to the bottom of this post to find my husband’s instructions for how to make safe, inexpensive boffer swords for sword play (outside, of course).

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Whatever your family enjoys, I encourage you to do it and do it together. Let this time of isolation from outside activities be an opportunity to connect and draw closer as a family. Continuing to celebrate and laugh together strengthens your soul and body. And when fear tries to creep in and steal your joy, remember these words from God:

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

To learn more about how God helps us overcome fear and other strongholds, check out my new website at TillingMinistries.com, where you can download my free Bible Study, “Entering God’s Promised Rest.”

 

 

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“I’ve decided not to have a crabby attitude about Thanksgiving this year,” I casually announced to my husband yesterday. If you can’t imagine anyone having a crabby attitude about Thanksgiving, I call as my witness this post from Thanksgiving 6 years ago. I began this blog nearly 8 years ago to share my journey through several challenges: being gluten free (before it was the popular thing to do), homeschooling a child with behavioral problems and learning challenges, financial strain, health issues, and losing a parent to dementia. Over the past 10 years I have dealt with loss after loss, which has particularly affected me during the holidays.

For years, I dreaded Thanksgiving and Christmas. It began with my son’s gluten free diagnosis the week before Christmas in 2008. Back then, gluten free items were expensive, hard to find, and tasted terrible. You were considered strange if you said you didn’t eat wheat, and no one knew what gluten was. That Christmas, I grieved the loss of a normal life for my son, and I grieved for myself because I would have to learn how to cook all over again with new ingredients that didn’t play by the rules. To this day, whenever I hear the Amy Grant song, “Breath of Heaven,” I remember crying in the car while listening to it on the way home from my first terrifying gluten free shopping trip, and praying, “God, I need you to hold me together because my world is falling apart.”

Then, the week before Christmas in 2009 we took my son out of public school and made the terrifying decision to homeschool him because of his writing difficulty (which I would later discover is Dysgraphia). Again, I grieved during the holidays the loss of a normal life for him and me. Fast forward to 2010, when my husband’s workplace folded because of the recession, leaving him unemployed for both that Christmas and Christmas of 2011. In 2012, he had a job, but it barely paid the bills, and we struggled to rebuild our finances. Then, in 2013, my mom had a stroke that left her with vascular dementia, erasing her memory and personality. That was effectively the year I lost my mom, even though she didn’t die until 2016.

Thanksgiving of 2013 was a particularly low point for me. I already hated how much work it was (back then) to create all our family’s favorite holiday dishes from scratch because there were no gluten free shortcuts like cream of mushroom soup or stuffing bread cubes. I had to dip tiny onion segments in batter individually and fry them myself in order to make green bean casserole. I was bitter over all the work I had to do for one meal that was over in less than an hour. Plus, the expense of gluten free food compounded financial stress. Plus, I had to clean my house for company (which always made me grumpy) because we were hosting my parents since my mom could no longer cook due to her dementia. Plus, I still didn’t know how I could relate to the person who technically was my mom, yet she wasn’t. That ugly Thanksgiving morning, I snapped at my family and ruined breakfast. I cried in my closet over all the loss that came crashing down on me at once. I felt defeated.

In 2016, I reached a tipping point. I lost my mom and put my son back in public school within a matter of months. God redeemed the heartache of losing one of my best friends by strengthening my relationship with my sister through the whole ordeal. She is my best friend (aside from my husband) and also a spiritual warrior who has helped me overcome generational strongholds. That fall, we prayed together and forgave those in our family line who had normalized a life of bondage to fear, and asked God to break the cycle in us and in our children. Within a couple of weeks, God healed me of my food sensitivities that had arisen out of the stress of the past several years, and set me free from my fear of food.

At the same time, God began to whisper crazy things to me about my son, like, “The things you fear are not real.” What? Back in 2016, God challenged me to believe that all the fears I had for my son’s future were based on behaviors of the past that would not carry into his future. I dared to believe God and was able to break free from the stronghold of fear that had gripped me as a homeschooler. But things didn’t get better for my son; they got worse. The stress of school launched health problems for him that have lingered for over two years now.

The week before Christmas in 2016, I was once again on my knees before the Lord in tears, begging God for direction and healing. That’s when God whispered something else totally crazy: “I will heal your son. Just celebrate me.” I was about to put my son on a restrictive diet to see if that would help him get rid of his digestive problems, but God said no. He was more concerned with my son’s emotional health, and wanted him to celebrate Christmas without the loss of favorite foods. So we just celebrated God’s goodness and provision. It was my first Christmas with no mother, and my son’s health issues and school stress were still there. While we were not celebrating any improvement in our circumstances, we chose to celebrate God and fix our eyes on him.

That choice to celebrate God and rest in his provision while believing him for deliverance launched a season of spiritual renewal and redemption. God blessed my husband’s work, and steadily increased his salary. We thought we would never get rid of our second mortgage, but God challenged me to believe that he would help us do what we could not, and I dared to believe him. Last year, we paid off our $55,000 second mortgage after completely draining our savings just 5 years earlier. God heard my cries, walked me through those painful holidays when I had to choose contentment, and worked miracles to provide what we simply could not do on our own. He used those years of financial strain to bring to the surface deeply rooted issues relating to financial bondage, and challenge me to believe that God wanted to bless me.

God then released us from the gluten free diet a year ago, restoring freedom to our family. But most amazing has been the transformation in my son. When I exiled him from homeschool in 2016 it was because he had become lazy, argumentative, entitled, and exasperating (you know, a typical 14-year-old). Two years after I turned him over to God and the public school system to discipline him, he underwent a dramatic change. I can only explain it as a work of the Holy Spirit. His laziness is gone. His resistance to authority is gone. Entitlement has been replaced by humility. As we have celebrated God and continued to read his Word as a family, God has taken hold of my son and transformed him into a new person. The difference in his behavior caused nothing short of shock and awe.

He has learned how to suffer physically, yet choose joy in the Lord. He is uncompromising in his faith and commitment toward obedience to God, which translates into obedience to those in authority over him and being impervious to peer pressure. God has healed him mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. All that is left is the physical healing. Although I have often given credit to the gluten free diet and homeschooling on this blog for tiny improvements in my son’s behavior, he was eating wheat and going to public school when God miraculously transformed him, literally overnight. God gets 100% of the glory!

Yes, those things were important parts of our story because the gluten free diet is what prompted me to start this blog, which is how I discovered that I am a writer. And homeschooling gave me an opportunity to focus on raising my son in the knowledge of the Lord, which is ultimately how God is healing him in every way. While God’s path to change in my son and in my life has been watered with tears, I would not erase it. He is a new person, and the things I once feared no longer hang over me. This blog stands as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to lead us through some of the darkest hours of my life.

My sister-in-law designed this for an apron (which I can’t wear because it’s white – hence the wrinkles from being stored in a drawer). Each part of my blog story shows part of the cross I have carried, but Jesus has the final word over the cross!

Right Back Where We Started or Completing the Lesson?
As I reflect on the past 10 years, which have been documented on this blog, I can’t help but notice that some cycles seem to be repeating themselves. This past week, we determined that my son was trapped in a viscous cycle of health problems being disruptive to school, which in turn caused homework to pile up (despite his best efforts) and lead to more stress which feeds his health problems. So we decided to break the loop and found an alternative schedule that will allow him to take some of his classes online through the school district at home. Essentially, we’re returning to part-time homeschool, right before the holidays again. But this time, my son is determined to be responsible for himself and work hard with a good attitude. This time, we made a change not because my son couldn’t get good grades, but because his A’s came at the cost of his physical health.

We’re also working with a functional medicine doctor to reduce my son’s inflammation, and the doctor has asked us to take him off of both gluten and dairy while we’re in the diagnosing stage, to eliminate those as possible inflammatory contributors. So here we are, the week before Thanksgiving, on an even more restrictive diet than before. Oh, and all of his expensive medical tests and supplements, on top of other big expenses, have left us pinching pennies for the holidays. Again. Those old, familiar temptations to give in to grumbling and despair resurfaced last week. Sure, I’d worked through the trials and found joy, but would I still choose joy if all my freedoms were taken away again? Sometimes we don’t know how much we’ve learned until God gives us a test.

What do we do when we find ourselves right back where we were before, repeating a familiar cycle? Does it mean that we are doomed to repeat the same trials our entire life, or is God giving us an opportunity to apply the lessons we’ve learned and face that same trial with spiritual maturity? I have learned from reading the Bible that the cycles documented in the Scriptures were meant to give both the people in the Bible and us opportunities to learn from the past and mature in our faith.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 

These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

The struggles and temptations you and I face are no different from the temptations humanity has faced for thousands of years. Sure, the specifics may be different, but the temptation is the same. Israel was tempted to grumble when they were stuck in the desert eating manna. I was tempted to grumble when I was stuck with the gluten free diet restrictions during the holidays. Israel was tempted to give in to fear and unbelief when they had the opportunity to enter the Promised Land, and I was tempted not to believe that God would ever restore us financially or give my son – whom I could only view as broken for so many years – a good life. But God gives us a way out of temptation and cycles of brokenness. Jesus came to set us free from bondage to sin and shame.

How God Helps Us Break Cycles
When the children of the unbelieving generation of Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land their parents failed to enter, God purposely led them in a way that would help them break the cycle of unbelief. He brought them through the Jordan River on dry ground, just as he had delivered their parents through the Red Sea on dry ground, but this time he had each tribe gather a stone from the middle of the river to set up as a memorial so they wouldn’t forget what God had done for them. That’s what this blog has been for me. It serves as a reminder not just of the trials I’ve gone through, but of how God has brought me through each one. He has delivered me around or sometimes through every obstacle, and brought me safely to the other side. So this Thanksgiving, instead of giving into despair over the battles still ahead, I choose to gaze at these stones of remembrance and thank God for his faithfulness to our family time and time again.

After crossing the Jordan, the Israelites were circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant with them. God then told them, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt” (Joshua 5:9). God named the place Gilgal, which means “to roll.” We cannot break the negative cycles in our past until God rolls away our shame. For a Christian, sanctification is the process of inviting God to “circumcise our heart” and replace our rebellious, hardened heart with a tender heart of obedience out of love for God, as promised in Ezekiel. “I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 11:19). That is exactly what happened with my son last summer.

Afterward, we encouraged him to be baptized because that is the “Gilgal” for Christians, when we physically experience God rolling away our shame. My son has felt a lot of shame over his behavior as a child and early in his teen years. God does not want him to live with that shame, so he washes it away in the baptismal waters. What a joy it has been to welcome my son “home” to do school and release him from his former reproach. That’s what our Heavenly Father promises to do for all of us! Just as Gilgal became the base camp for the battles in the Promised Land, when the enemy tries to pull us back into shame over our past, we need to return to our Gilgal to rest and declare, “I am not that person anymore. God has rolled away my shame.”

After the Israelites entered the Promised Land and began to eat the produce of the land, the manna dried up and was never seen again. The Israelites would now have to work for their food, and trust that God would provide through them, not just for them. Now that my husband has a good-paying job, as the cycle of financial strain repeats itself, I have to rely on God to help me be a good steward of our resources. I still have to choose contentment and live beneath my means, even though I have more choices available. When I had no confidence that we would ever get out of debt, I had to trust God to provide for our needs. Now that we are out of debt and financially stable, I still have to trust God and not panic when we dip into savings. God wants to end the cycle of fear and scarcity by giving me opportunities to choose contentment whether we have little or much. God is able to bring each of us to the place where we can join with the Apostle Paul in saying, I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

When it was finally time for the Israelites to face their first battle in the Promised Land, God gave them specific instructions that would help them overcome the mistakes of their grumbling parents. They would conquer Jericho by walking around it – in silence. “Do not shout; do not even talk,” Joshua commanded. “Not a single word from any of you until I tell you to shout. Then shout!” (Joshua 6:10). What was it that invited God’s discipline of their parents over and over in the desert? Grumbling! If they had been allowed to talk while marching, they would have no doubt returned to the grumbling ways of their parents. Someone would have complained or voiced their fear, causing the whole army to question themselves or grumble.

God knows it is in our nature to do what we’ve always done or what was modeled for us, so he disciplines us in a way that forces us to take a different approach in order to overcome the past. That’s why he gives us opportunities to face the same challenges our parents faced or that we previously failed to overcome, so that we can try again and do it right this time. The obvious lesson for me, in this holiday season, is to overcome the temptation to grumble about my circumstances. If I have to fix the entire gluten free, dairy free, Thanksgiving meal in total silence, so be it – but I would rather shout my gratitude to God, because that is what gives me the victory over the enemy!

When God brings us back to familiar territory – whether pleasant or unpleasant – the Christian who wants to grow in spiritual maturity will learn to ask God, “What lesson are you wanting to complete in me?” God is not punishing us by allowing us to go through the same trials over and over again; he wants us to learn how to be overcomers through them, no matter how many times it takes. God created the world to operate in cycles of seasons. Every spring we have to prune in order to make way for new growth. Every summer we have to pull weeds or suffer the consequences. Every fall we choose whether to share our bounty or hoard it. Seasons and cycles repeat regularly because no matter how many times we fail to do something right, God wants to give us another chance. The Scriptures show us that God is able to help us overcome our weaknesses by the power of the Holy Spirit, but we must choose to believe and obey the Spirit. As God begins to rewire our thinking through daily exposure to the truth of God’s Word, eventually thought patterns change and cycles of behavior are broken (Romans 12:2). That is my testimony which I have chronicled on this blog.

So here we are, right before Thanksgiving, choosing to be thankful. This year, I will make our gluten free AND dairy free Thanksgiving dinner with a cheerful attitude, and give God thanks for the hope of healing that we have. This year, I will choose contentment with a pared-down Christmas celebration, once again, and praise God for what we have while sharing with those less fortunate. This year, I rejoice that God has rolled away the shame of my past and my son’s past, and given us hope for the future as we prepare to enter our Promised Land. This year, I choose joy in all circumstances, which was and still is the purpose of this blog. The cycle is complete.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

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We needed to be in the car in two minutes, so I called up the stairs to my daughter and told her to come down. “I can’t. My hair is all tangled and I can’t get the tangles out!” she replied in tearful frustration. My daughter has gorgeous, thick, long hair (which is a mystery to me because if I put my hair in a ponytail, it could fit in one of her orthodontic rubber bands). We learned the hard way that if you don’t brush it thoroughly every single day, it will get tangled underneath. She’d been sick the week before, and had let go of her grooming routine while resting in bed, so the tangles didn’t come as a surprise to me. I rushed upstairs to see if I could help, but quickly realized that this problem would not be solved in two minutes. So I smoothed the top of her hair down over the tangles as best I could and took her to school.

Life can get tangled in all sorts of ways, can’t it? Like my daughter’s hair, tangles are often a result of procrastination that we try to brush over with pride, hoping no one will notice. We put off balancing the budget for a couple weeks, then suddenly realize that we’ve spent our whole grocery budget and it’s only half-way through the month. So we start pulling money from other funds to cover our tracks, and tell the kids there’s no money for clothes or activities, when the truth is that there was money set aside but we spent it on impulse buys at the grocery store. Pride keeps us from dealing with the tangle, so we keep repeating the behavior and the tangle grows.

Or perhaps it’s our health that’s all tangled to the point of crisis. Pride makes us put off going to the dentist or taking care of that issue that’s been nagging at us because we don’t want to be scolded by a doctor for our failures or told to do something unpleasant. I finally took our dog to the vet last week because his ears smelled so disgusting that we couldn’t stand to have him in the same room with us. I initially put off taking him to the vet for financial reasons; when you’re barely scraping by, you don’t have $265 to spend on a dog. But even after our financial situation improved, I still put off taking him to the vet because I knew they would point out all the ways in which we have failed to take good care of him (and there are many). So our poor dog got tangled up in my pride and has probably had infected ears for years.

The thing about tangles is that they rarely just affect us. Other people get caught in our tangles when we keep ignoring the effects of our procrastination and pride. My son was almost late to school because of the extra time we spent trying to deal with my daughter’s hair. If the police had been watching for speeders that day, I would have been issued a ticket as I raced my kids to school. Our tangles rarely affect us alone. Even if we think we’re the only ones aware of our hidden tangles, the fact that something is wrong underneath will eventually affect our actions and attitudes in other areas and spill over into our relationships. After school, when I asked my daughter how her day was, she said it had been as bad as her hair that morning. It was time to deal with the tangle.

When we got home from school, I got out her comb and some conditioner, then sat her down in front of the fireplace and started working through the tangles while she watched a favorite show. As I wrestled with those tangles, I discovered they were matted with grime that had been missed in the shower. The only way to get the tangles out was to wash them. So I drew a bubble bath for her while she put on her swimsuit (because 13-year-old girls are the most modest people on the planet).

I lit a candle on the edge of the tub, and watched her slowly relax in the warm water as I washed and gently combed her hair. We talked about how I used bathe her when she was little, and as the memories of childhood washed over her, her spirits began to lift. After she dried off, I gave her a snack to eat while I braided her hair so it wouldn’t be dripping wet when we went to an appointment. Her entire countenance changed after that, and for the rest of the day she was joyful and content.

God spoke so powerfully to me through that experience, allowing me to give my daughter the gift of untangling that my Heavenly Father offers me when I bring him my mess. Sometimes it’s my circumstances that are a mess of procrastination entangled with pride, but sometimes the tangles are in my mind. Yesterday, God invited me to sit by the fireplace while he combed through the tangled mess of my views regarding food and their relationship to my health. It had not only entangled me, but my family and finances, and had grown into a twisted mess of controlling behaviors and slavery to food. In frustration, I cried out to God to fix what I could not seem to fix on my own. He gently separated out each strand of lies I’d believed that had been tangled with the truth in my mind, and washed them out with my tears of repentance and his healing balm of truth from the Scriptures.

God then invited me to choose whatever food I wanted to eat – not what I felt like I should eat, but what I really wanted to eat. While I ate, he began the process of retraining my thinking, much in the same way I’d trained my daughter’s hair into a braid. He would pull at one section of my long-held beliefs until we got to the root of it, then guide me to the truth. We traced many of my tangles back to my mother’s breast cancer when I was 5 years old. The truth that food is correlated to health was deeply entangled with the lie that by eating the “right” foods I can control my health (and the health of my family), which was also tangled with fear of what will happen if I don’t.

I was entangled in the belief that I must eat whatever “experts” say is healthy and avoid what isn’t – which we all know changes from week to week – so that I would not get cancer like my mom. But as God pulled on those strands, he shaped my thinking to reflect the truth that it was because of her cancer that she cried out to God and asked him for a sign if she would live to see her girls graduate from high school. The sign she asked for was a phone call from someone who had never called before. That person called within minutes. This story became not only a building block in my mom’s faith, but part of the bedrock of my belief that God hears and answers prayer. Where would my faith be without my mom’s cancer testimony? Where would my children’s faith be without my firm faith in God? My mother survived the cancer she had when she was 37, and went on to live another 37 years. If God was gracious to her in her weakness, will he not also be gracious to me if I should have to walk down that road?

Just as the memory of my lifelong care for her lifted my daughter’s spirits, and her braid kept her hair from tangling, training my mind to remember God’s constant provision for me and his promise to never leave me is what will keep me in perfect peace and protect my mind from getting tangled again.

I don’t know what tangles have come to your mind as you’ve been reading my story, but I know who is equipped to gently comb through them. God does not shame us when we come to him with our tangled mess. He says, “Oh child, come to me and rest awhile. Let me help you comb through this and be free.” We may cry a few tears because sometimes the tangles are painful to remove. Sometimes there is sin that must be washed out by Jesus’ blood that was shed for our sins, and it might take a lot of combing to remove the lies that led to our mess, but God’s discipline always brings healing and restoration when we cooperate with him. There is no tangle he cannot untangle.

I have heard Israel saying, “You disciplined me severely, like a calf that needs training for the yoke. Turn me again to you and restore me, for you alone are the Lord my God. I turned away from God, but then I was sorry. I kicked myself for my stupidity! I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.”

“Is not Israel still my son, my darling child?” says the Lord. I often have to punish him, but I still love him. That’s why I long for him and surely will have mercy on him.” – Jeremiah 31:18-20

Just as surely as God has been disciplining his children and restoring them with love and mercy since the beginning of time, God will have compassion on all those who bring their tangles to him. Come home, child, and be set free.

No more tangles!

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It was the end of a long, busy day at the end of a long, busy week. I was about to finally head to bed when I spotted blood streaks on the ottoman, then blood stains on the carpet. Our dog must have torn his claw on something and bled everywhere he stepped. In my state of exhaustion, I hastily grabbed the untested carpet cleaner and started working on the blood stains. The good news is that we got the blood out; the bad news is that our carpet now looks like this.

There are no words for this atrocity.

I was so irritated about the “clean” spots that have now ruined our uniformly dirty carpet that I barely slept that night. The real kicker is that when I found another blood stain later, I tried the Oxyclean that I’d forgotten was in our cupboard, and it worked perfectly to get the blood out without bleaching our carpet.

<insert your favorite Christian curse words here>

Why, Lord, why? Why couldn’t I have thought of that earlier, so I wouldn’t have these stupid bleach spots on my carpet! My husband claims that the spots represent the true color of our carpet, so if we just deep cleaned everything it would match again. I, on the other hand, feel like it would be a whole lot easier if we just muddied our shoes and used those spots like stepping stones to make them look like the rest of the carpet. I’m even willing to spill some coffee – cheap hotel coffee that’s been in my pantry for years, of course, not the good stuff – if that’s what it takes to avoid moving furniture to clean our carpet.

I wonder if you can relate. We don’t like spots that stand out and draw attention. It’s much easier to throw some mud on and try to look like everyone else rather than appear spotless and risk standing out. And yet, when Christ cleanses us by his blood shed for our sins, he removes our filthy rags of shame and clothes us with his righteousness. He sanctifies us, and whatever has been sanctified has been set apart as holy unto the Lord. But being set apart kinda makes us weird. We ought to celebrate our deliverance when God does a miracle in our lives, but sometimes we cover it with a rug or just keep silent because we don’t want to look different from those around us. Why do I have these spots on my carpet? To remind me that what Christ has done for me makes me different, and it’s time to stop worrying about blending in.

A few weeks ago, in front of a group in my church, I shared my testimony of God’s miraculous deliverance and provision for me over the past year. And I have never felt so weird. Church ought to be the place where we testify about God’s goodness, and yet sometimes it seems almost inconsiderate to say that God has been good to me when I’m surrounded by those who are suffering. However, when we’re suffering we need to hold on to hope that God is good and able to preserve us in the midst of suffering. How will we know that God still provides for his children and answers prayer if no one testifies that he does? I’ve blogged plenty about God’s faithfulness in my times of suffering. Now it’s time to share my testimony that God not only sustains, but delivers us to victory. So here’s my bleached-spot testimony because God deserves some glory for all his goodness to us.

Over the past year, God has delivered me from slavery to food after years of multiple food sensitivities and frustration with so-called “gut-healing” diets. After years of bowing down to food as my healer, God revealed himself to me as my healer. Even though my family still eats mostly gluten free by choice, we enjoy the freedom of knowing that God is able to bless any food to the nourishment of our bodies if he says he wants to because he’s the one who created it. In fact, he instructed me to go all out last Christmas with every kind of celebratory food my son loved while he was suffering from severe intestinal issues, just to prove to me that he is able to heal us in spite of an unhealthy diet. And he did. Because he’s God. Hear the Word of the Lord:

Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. – Isaiah 55:1-3

I find life in knowing that it is not bread – gluten free or wheat bread – that satisfies me, but the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ! God’s purpose in setting me free from slavery to food was part of his greater purpose of setting me free from slavery to fear – and I don’t mean little fears, like a fear of spiders. I’m talking heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, palm-sweating, panic-inducing, red-hot FEAR. My fear mostly had to do with people, so God started by dealing with my fear over my children. By the grace and power of God, I am now able to stand up to the enemy and pray mighty prayers of faith over my children because I know whose child I am and how big my Heavenly Father is. No matter how huge the obstacle is that’s facing my child, God’s answer is:

But the Lord says, “The captives of warriors will be released, and the plunder of tyrants will be retrieved. For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children.” – Isaiah 49:25

While I await the deliverance of the Lord in some areas regarding my children, my victory is that instead of speaking in agreement with the fears I used to have, I am able to speak words of faith, hope and courage. I am wired to react in controlling ways when I feel fear, so being set free from fear means freedom to respond in accordance with God’s will in situations pertaining to my children, instead of reacting negatively out of fear. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control, and the victory God desires for me as a parent is to be directed by the Holy Spirit when I speak or react to my children. God has been in the process of rewiring my brain and changing my gut-reactions to my children so that I can now respond from a position of faith instead of fear. He has removed the chains of bondage to fear of failing as a mother, and given me this promise:

I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace. – Isaiah 54:13

God has also delivered me from loneliness and slavery to the approval of people.  The day it sank in that I consider Jesus to be my dearest friend, he reached in and pulled out the root of loneliness that had been planted when I experienced rejection as a child. I realized that Jesus had filled my need for acceptance and love with his daily presence as he spoke to me through his Word, and the satisfaction of knowing there’s no need God can’t fill so permeated my heart that I was able to release others from filling my needs. Instead of caring about what people think of me, I am now free to just care about people. This is the purpose of God’s deliverance, the restoration of our relationship to him and others.

Delivering me from loneliness was not just God’s gift to me but to my husband, as well. He recently started his doctorate, which requires him to be in class or doing homework in the evenings. I am able to release him to pursue his dreams without worrying about feeling neglected because I’m no longer looking to my husband to fill what God is able to fill. I am free to love and enjoy whatever my husband is able to give without feeling desperate for attention because I know that God is able to bless me beyond anything I could ask or imagine from my husband.

For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. – Isaiah 54:5

As God set me free and began to restore relationships, he gave me the gift of rest this past winter. My oldest, whom I’d homeschooled for 6 1/2 years, went back to public school. My daughter remained at home, but directed her own learning. I was free to study God’s Word, worship, and rest. I experienced a desire for intercessory prayer like I’d never experienced before. Days would slip by as I soaked in God’s presence, and I felt like that was exactly what God ordained for me in that season. I sensed his delight in my delight for him! Out of this season of rest came a promise from God that he wanted to help us get out of debt by helping us pay off our second mortgage. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew God was going to help us because the day I asked him to confirm that promise in his Word, my daily reading happened to be in Jeremiah 29. The Holy Spirit stopped me on this verse, and spoke it over me as my promise:

I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. – Jeremiah 29:14

Seven years ago, we were unemployed and had to drain every penny from our savings and start over. During that time we learned to trust in God’s provision as he met our needs. Seven months after God gave us the promise that he would restore us financially, we paid off our second mortgage with money that God provided from an unexpected source. We are not only free of debt (except for our first mortgage), we are free from bondage to the stronghold of scarcity.

I know some of you are starting to think I’m preaching a “prosperity gospel” that says if we become a Christian, we’ll get rich and everything will fall into our laps. We are not free from debt in order to bless ourselves, but in order to bless others in need. God blesses his children so that we will share with those in need, causing them to give glory to God for his provision (2 Cor. 9:10-11). The greatest delight in being set free from debt has been the renewed ability to give to others. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says this regarding his “sheep” who listen to him and follow him:

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. – John 10:10

Rich and satisfying does not mean comfortable and easy. A rich and satisfying life comes from confidence that God is who he says he is and can do for us whatever he desires to do. The Word of God is full of stories of God’s power and ability to deliver. It is full of promises that God desires to provide for his children and bless them. Too often, we pray wishy washy prayers that lack faith in God’s ability to do what he flat out says in his Word that he desires to do for us. This isn’t about God providing for our comfort; I’m talking about God giving us victory! In some areas of my life, I have experienced deliverance – from intestinal issues, debt, fear of people – and in others, I’m experiencing the victory of joy in the midst of waiting to see deliverance.

God is not a Santa Clause to whom we pray for the stuff we would like to fill the “stocking” of our selfish desires for a comfortable, easy life. But if there’s a promise in God’s Word that God has pointed out to me and said, “This one is yours,” then I will pray for it with every ounce of faith God gives me, believing that it is mine – even before I see it. That’s how we get victory; we believe God to be God. We take our needs to him first, believing that he is able to provide. The thief wants to kill our joy, rob us of victory, and destroy our faith by keeping us focused on our areas of weakness, our failures, our needs. But the thief can only take from us what we willingly surrender. If you are a child of God, stand your ground and say out loud – as many times as you have to in order to believe it:

God is good.
He is my provider.
He is my shield.
He is my strength.
He is my deliverer.

Yes, this world is broken. We all have areas in our lives that are broken, but it’s time to stop wearing our brokenness like a badge of honor. If we believe that God heals, then let’s take our brokenness to him and pray a God-sized prayer of belief that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isiah 53:5). If you struggle with belief, God accepts you right where you are, just as Jesus accepted the man who acknowledged, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). God has not stopped doing miracles. He still heals, restores, delivers. But like my bleached carpet spots, we sometimes don’t want to trumpet our healing, lest we make others feel bad about their brokenness. Well, here’s the truth: I am broken, just like you. But I am healed, and that’s the label I will wear to the glory of God.

What has God done for you this past year? How has he delivered or miraculously provided for you? I invite you to leave a comment and give him praise. Let’s stand out as bleached spots together, giving God all the glory for his goodness and provision!

 

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As soon as I stepped out my door to go on a walk, I could smell my favorite pumpkin spice candle. As strange as it may sound, the comforting smell alerted me to God’s presence. He had invited me to take a walk with him along the canal by our home on this very difficult day, and the wonderful aroma ushered me into a time of prayer.  Several things had happened that morning to trigger my familiar sorrow that the life I had envisioned for my son was not to be. It’s not that his life is bad in any way, really, it’s just not the one I would have chosen. The death of a dream can cause grief like any other death. I knew it was time for me to let it go and accept that God’s plan was also good, so I began praying a prayer of release and trust in God through my tears.

But then God utterly surprised me. As I walked past a bouquet of dead flowers that were in the middle of my dirt path, God whispered, “Pick those up. We’re going to hold a funeral for your dream, and those are your flowers.” So I picked them up and walked for a while in silence. Then God gently said, “Tell me your dream as a eulogy.” For the rest of the walk, I clutched those flowers and slowly released my dream for my son while I verbalized every aspect of it as though he had lived it, from childhood through adulthood. While delivering this eulogy, I realized that much of my dream for him involved my dreams for myself as a mother, so there was an added layer to my grief that I hadn’t realized before. When I finished describing every detail of the plan I had subconsciously pictured in my mind as I’d held my baby boy in my arms so many years ago, God simply responded with, “That was a lovely dream.” It was a good dream. I had good plans for my boy, and God honored them that day. He did not scold me or shame me for having my own plans; he simply listened and validated my good desires for my child.

I ended the funeral with the usual statement at the end of Christian funerals, that death is not the end. Because of Jesus, we have hope in a better life yet to come. I threw away the dead flowers as I laid my dream to rest. At the same time, I committed my son to God and asked him to show me his good dream. God had listened to mine, and I was ready to listen to his. The next day, I reversed my route and walked a little farther than usual. As I was about to turn the corner to head home, I saw a huge bush of the same dead flowers I’d carried on my funeral walk, only this bush was alive and growing along the side of the dirt road. I’d never seen it before. It wasn’t growing out of someone’s backyard, but seemed to be planted in the dirt among the weeds.

This is God’s dream: my son will thrive and blossom while planted in the dirt among the weeds. My dream may be dead, but God’s is very much alive!

God reminded me of the bold – but naive – prayers I’d prayed sixteen years ago, while carrying my son in my womb. I’d asked God to pour out his Spirit on my child and make him shine God’s light in dark places. I’d asked God to set him apart and make him bold in his faith so that he would make a difference in God’s Kingdom. Oh, the things we pray when we have no clue of what we’re asking…

Over the past month, I’ve begun to see glimpses of how God is using the very qualities that frustrated me as a mother to make my son bloom in the dirt. God is answering my bold prayers by giving me a bold son. The child who argued with me nonstop for years is now the teen who is not afraid to stand up and defend his beliefs. When asked to give a speech that describes him for speech class at school, he boldly proclaimed that he is a Christian, and that God is a huge part of his life because God has helped him through some difficult struggles. He declared that in front of a room of sophomores in a public school without even considering the possibility of a negative response. I used to joke when he was a child that he had two volumes: loud and louder. I now believe that God is going to use that loud voice and boldness to testify to God’s goodness in the most unlikely places, among the weeds.

My son has never cared much about what people think of him, which seems like a good thing, except that it made attempts at behavior modification challenging when he was little. While I recognized the dangers of my own people-pleasing bent, the fact that he didn’t have one at all was often frustrating. And yet, this character quality may be the very thing God uses for his glory. The child who could not be manipulated to do anything – through threats, punishments, or rewards – is the teen who will not bow down to peer pressure. I continue to marvel that he will not do things he believes are wrong or take shortcuts just to fit in. He is content to do his own thing rather than follow the crowd or try to be anyone other than who he is. Instead of responding to my pleas that he would just fit in, God has chosen to answer my prayer that he be set apart. Set apart for what?

God woke me up at 4:30 a.m. this morning to reveal to me that the very hardships we experienced when he was young – emotional struggles, gluten intolerance, learning challenges – were all part of God’s plan to set him apart for God’s purposes. We eat differently. We did school differently for 6 1/2 years as we homeschooled and prioritized character development over academics. Nothing about our lives has been “normal,” but every one of the struggles we’ve faced as a family – the things that didn’t fit into my plan – have shaped my son’s character and trained him in compassion.

  • The child who cried tears of frustration when things didn’t go his way is the teen who tenderly reaches out to a foster girl on the bus who is struggling with financial needs, and offers to help.
  • The child with whom I repeatedly pleaded to own up to his mistakes and take responsibility for his life, is the teen who brought a rebellious teen on the bus – who’d thrown a rock at our door at one time – to repentance with his kindness, and was sent by that child to seek our forgiveness.
  • The child who struggled with materialistic desires and learned to depend on God’s provision during our year-and-a-half of unemployment is the teen who joyfully comes home from selling items at the Farmer’s Market because now he can buy the Lego set he loved as a little kid for his younger cousins, just because he wants to share his joy.

I believe that God is sowing within him seeds of compassion for others so that he will not only be willing to be planted in the dirt among the weeds, he will want to be there because that’s where people most need to be loved. (At one point, when he was tired of being harassed by some kids on the bus, I offered to pick him up from school. He said, “I’d really like that…but I think I belong on the bus.”) The life he is living is the answer to my bold prayer for God to set him apart for his Kingdom; it just didn’t happen the way I envisioned.

I’m sharing my story with you not to bring glory to my son or myself, but for two reasons. One is to give hope to parents who are discouraged over what they see as the death of their dream for their child. I want to encourage you that God sees your good plans and may even agree with you that they are good. He’s not trying to rip them from you. However, until we lay down what is dead, we won’t see where there is life. God has a beautiful dream, too, and wants to open our eyes to see it so that we can enjoy watching our kids fulfill God’s plan for their lives, and rejoice with him. The very quirks that drive us crazy may be part of that plan, which is why we need God’s vision.

The second reason has to do with something surprising I read during my Bible reading this morning. (Hang in here with me. I promise this will tie together eventually!) While reading John 7, which takes place during the Festival of Shelters, I happened to glance down at the footnote in my Bible pertaining to Jesus’ statement that all who are thirsty should come to him.

A water ceremony was held each day during the Festival of Shelters, with prayer for God to send rain in the late autumn. The final day, called “the great day,” was the climax of the festival, when the ceremony was repeated seven times. Water was poured over the altar as Levites sang Isaiah 12:3. (“With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!”) [By saying] “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me,” Jesus fulfilled an essential element in the Festival of Shelters. He himself is the source of living water, available to anyone who believes (NLT Illustrated Study Bible).

Some Christians believe that God’s appointed festivals, as outlined in Leviticus 23, were meant as rehearsals for future appointments on God’s Kingdom calendar. The spring festivals were when Jesus was crucified as the “perfect lamb” (during Passover), and when the Holy Spirit was given (during the Celebration of the First Harvest, also known as Pentecost). The fall feasts, like the Festival of Trumpets and Day of Atonement, are rehearsals for Christ’s second coming “at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52), when he will return to bring judgment and reward. So where does the Festival of Shelters, a celebration of the last harvest, fall on the Kingdom calendar? I can’t say for sure, but it just may be right now.

After googling it, I discovered that tomorrow, October 5, is actually the beginning of the week-long Festival of Shelters, according to the 2017 Jewish calendar! Just as the Jews in Jesus’ day enacted a water ceremony and prayed for the autumn rains, I believe that God is calling his people – the Church – to pour out our prayers for his reign to come in these last days. Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 tell us that our prayers are collected as bowls of incense that are offered on the altar before the throne of God in heaven. Like the water poured out on the altar, our prayers are offered to God. Jesus has already fulfilled the prayer for rain by standing before the people at the festival and proclaiming:

Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, “Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him.) – John 7:38-39

We no longer pray for physical rain, but for God’s Spirit to be poured out during this festival of the autumn harvest. God’s Spirit doesn’t just rain down on the earth, it is poured into our hearts and intended to flow out of us, spreading the good news to everyone around us that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

So what does this have to do with my son and the clash of my plans with God’s? Everything! I believe God is calling his people to pray for his Holy Spirit to rain down in order to increase the harvest, but if I want God’s river of living water to flow from my heart and through my children, it may require breaking down some dams. If God is going to raise up the next generation to help bring in the harvest, we have to release them to God. Jesus said that the wheat and weeds would grow side by side in the field until the final harvest (Matt. 13). If we, as parents, expend all our energy trying to uproot our “wheat” and transplant them into a field of wheat where we perceive they will be “safe,” we may be working against God. Like those flowers growing in the weeds along my path, God may purposely plant our kids among the weeds so that they will bring others to Jesus. That is God’s dream, and it is my prayer as I ask him to “send the rain” and use us for his glory. That is a prayer I am confident he will answer. That is a dream I believe will come true.

Are you thirsty for some living water that will satisfy you more than any good thing this world could offer? Come to Jesus and discover that “with joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!” (Isaiah 12:3). Would you join me in echoing the prayer prayed in Jesus’ day at the climax of the fall Festival of Shelters?

God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.

And let it begin by your Spirit flowing through me.

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In just a few days I would be releasing my sweet little girl, whom I’d homeschooled since first grade, into the giant pond of public school for eighth grade. She was ready, but was I? After hours of tossing and turning, unable to sleep, I decided to get up and read for a little while. Suddenly, I remembered a promise I’d made to myself that I would read my junior high diary before sending my daughter to junior high school (in order to empathize with her and, no doubt, humble myself). Well, it’s now or never, I figured, so I uncovered the carefully hidden window to my past – that I’ve instructed my husband to BURN if I should die – and began reading. Yes, reading the thoughts of my superficial, boy-crazy self was as eye-rolling as I thought it would be, but then something unexpected happened. I found myself getting sucked into the exhilarating thrill of adolescence.

May 10, 1989
Today was cold and rainy and I looked like crap. After school I was standing against the wall when Billy Bob (names have been changed to protect the humiliated) very casually dropped his bag, then leaned up against the wall and said to me, “Hi, Brenda, will you go out with me?” I felt so dumb! I just looked up at him and said, “What?” He laughed kind of embarassedly and said, “Well?” Joe Cool and Donna Dippy were laughing, and I didn’t know what to say. So I asked him if he was being serious. He said I could take it however I wanted. Then there was a pause for what seemed like forever when neither of us knew what to say. I kept repeating the question and he kept avoiding it. I had to make a decision. He kept pressuring me for an answer and I kept stalling for time because I didn’t know how to avoid looking like an idiot.

If that doesn’t make your palms sweat, you must have repressed all your junior high memories. I obviously knew how this Shakespearean tragedy ended, but I found myself captivated by the drama and transported back to a time when the ups and downs of adolescence heightened the experience of being alive. I felt the feels again, and discovered that even the gloriously awkward ones punctuated the monotony of daily life with excitement. Just like a roller coaster, the bigger the ups and downs, the more thrilling the ride. As I closed my diary, I realized that I was actually excited for my daughter to begin her journey from childhood to adulthood and write her own story – awkward moments and all.

Only one thing stood in her way: me.

The challenge I faced when transitioning my son from homeschool to public high school as a freshman was overcoming all my fears for him. God, in his mercy, has helped me do that and has shown me that he will finish the good work he started in my son. But the challenge I face with my daughter is not my fear; it’s my pride. I think we can all acknowledge that anyone who writes a blog obviously thinks she has some valuable insights. Who better to benefit from all my smartypantsery than my own daughter? We’re so much alike that surely she would want to hear all my insights on all the things all the livelong day. Fear is what makes us keep hanging on tight when it’s time to begin letting go of our kids, but our pride (expressed through endless monologues and critiques) is what will make them cover their ears and try to squirm away.

As a teenager, I lived my own life, separate from my parents. I was driving by myself at the age of 15, going out with friends on my own, making mistakes and learning from them as I went. Reading my diary revealed that I wasn’t as fragile as I had previously thought. As a teen, I was learning how to stand on my own and also lean on God. I want my kids to know they can depend on me, but it’s more important that they know they can depend on God. When my love gets tangled up in my pride, I act as though the most important thing I can give my kids is the benefit of my wisdom so they won’t make the same mistakes I did, or so they’ll make the good choices I did. But my journey was for me to learn from. I must trust God to teach my kids just as he taught me, and acknowledge that he may not use me to teach them at this stage.

When our children were little, we were the ultimate authority on everything. We taught them how to walk, talk, tie their shoes, say please and thank you. It’s only natural that 13 years of practice would make us experts in…being experts. But when our kids enter adolescence, they are hardwired to begin to pull away and make their own decisions. We may think we know what’s best for them, but at some point our agenda is going to clash with theirs. How we handle those moments can make or break relationship. If they make bad decisions, we may fear that their future will be ruined, and fear drives us to tighten our grip. Likewise, our pride may be fueling our need to remain in control because we can’t imagine any other future for our kids than the perfect one we’ve envisioned. God dealt with me on this issue last winter when he cautioned me against going with my son to the Engineering program information night because God knew that was the future I’d been clinging to for my boy. Instead, I went with my son to the Automotive program orientation where I saw a light come on in my son’s eyes that was fueled by his passion for cars. I needed to let my dream fizzle out so I could get behind my son’s dreams. Our children’s future belongs to them, not us, and the only way we will remain in it for years to come is to focus on strengthening our relationship – not enforcing our vision.

If we will humble ourselves before God and trust him to guide our kids, then the door to relationship remains open. If our goal is to turn out perfectly behaved, high achieving, popular young adults, we may be able to control them with our myriad instructions and threats, but we will likely shut the door to relationship. However, if our goal is to build a solid relationship with our kids by supporting them when they face the natural consequences of their decisions, it is through that open door of relationship that kids will come to us seeking counsel and advice (instead of assuming they already know what we’re going to say because we’ve expounded on our views every chance we get). How can we take such a risk with our most precious treasure when the world is such a scary place?

Jesus gave us a picture of how our Heavenly Father treats us, his children. When we hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we tend to focus on the father’s gracious response to his errant child who returned home after squandering his inheritance. But what I find fascinating is the father’s response to his foolish son in the first place. When the son asked his father to give him his share of the inheritance now, rather than wait until after the father’s death, the Bible doesn’t tell us that the father set a bunch of conditions, or gave his son a lecture on how to live wisely, or even argued with him. It simply says that the father “agreed to divide his wealth between his two sons” (Luke 15:12). Let that sink in. The father took a huge risk by letting his son go and make the biggest mistake of his life. He could have said no to the request and tried to force his son to make good choices. But would they have been the son’s choices?

The truth is, our Heavenly Father loves us so much he sent his only son to die for us, and yet he does not force us to obey him. He gives us free will to respond to his love or shun it. He speaks to us in gentle whispers, but doesn’t force us to listen. God has all manner of wisdom and help for us in his Word, but it’s up to us to read it and seek his help. When our selfish plans blow up in our faces, he doesn’t lecture us or say, “I told you so.” Like the father in the parable, he welcomes us home with open arms. Sometimes, the only way we will learn a lesson is by pursuing something foolish and learning from our mistake. If God is willing to take that risk with me, I know he can help me give my kids that same freedom.

The key to giving this kind of grace to my kids is to remember how much grace (and patience) God has shown me. Titus 3:2-7 has some good instructions for all believers that I’m personalizing for myself as a parent:

[Parents] must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

I think the reason I felt prompted to read my diary, that night, was to remind myself that I, too, was “foolish and disobedient” at times. I was certainly misled and made a lot of dumb decisions. BUT – God, in his mercy, never let me go. He patiently waited until I was done pursuing my selfish desires and ready to live completely for him. It is by his grace that I am made right in his sight – not because I always made good choices (which I didn’t) or because my parents made sure I went to church. Yes, I need to stay involved in my kids’ lives and support them by providing a stable home that is a respite from the stress of school, a compassionate ear, and an assurance that I will invest in their dreams no matter how different they are from mine. What they don’t need so much in this stage is my mouth.

My prayer for myself, this year, is a paraphrase (with many extra words because I have many extra words) of James 1:19.

Lord, help me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and…

  • slow to say something critical
  • slow to insert my opinion
  • slow to make a situation about me
  • slow to pass judgment
  • slow to offer unsolicited advice
  • slow to argue my point to the death
  • slow to freak out over stupid stuff
  • slow to assume that my child’s current feelings/opinions are forever
  • slow to shut down an idea
  • slow to make my children’s problems my problems
  • slow to point out mistakes
  • slow to react to situations that require prayer
  • slow to become angry.

And when I fail to do this, I will fall at the feet of Jesus and thank him for being so merciful and gracious to me in my failings. Perhaps then I will have the proper posture of humility to address the failings of my kids. Perhaps then I will choose to show grace to them because of how gracious God is toward me.

Jesus, give me wisdom and grace toward my kids or give me laryngitis. Amen.

 

 

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