April 18, 2016

The Day God Shut My Mouth

The kids must have been about five and seven years old. Their friend, Kayla, was hanging out with us that day. Everything was going smoothly that morning as the kids busied themselves with schoolwork and I tidied the house for our church's Bible study that evening. And then lunch happened.

I'd warmed up ravioli  for the kids and served the girls first. Then, as I brought Jared's bowl to him, he unexpectedly raised up in his chair. His little blonde head collided hard with my hand and the bowl went flying, showering ravioli and sauce everywhere.

It was one of those moments in life where everything seems to move in slow motion. I'm sure I saw the sauce adhering to the table, to the floor, to the wall (and to the quilt hanging there) -- and maybe even to the kids. But what struck me most was that my children's eyes didn't follow the ravioli or the bowl. They both looked wide-eyed at me. They were waiting for the hammer to fall, for me to express my exasperation with Jared for rising when he did, for the great inconvenience this would cause in my day -- didn't they know I would have to spend my precious time cleaning this up so that things would look nice before our church family came over to do spiritual things with us?

Those eyes. In that moment, I was convicted of my selfishness, my impatience, my exasperation. I realized that this was just an accident; no one set out to create more work for poor mom. And in that moment, I realized that my children were waiting for an explosion of sorts. Not a yelling mess (I don't think), but more of an angry guilt trip. They could already see it building on my face.

I repented in my heart, right then and there. I don't remember exactly how it all went down, but I think I was calm. I think I took a deep breath and said, "It's okay." I think I simply cleaned up the table area and served Jared a fresh bowl, then set out to clean up the rest of the mess.

Do you know what was most convicting to me that day? I was most convicted by the fact that I was initially more willing to withhold my anger because I didn't want my best friend's daughter to see me that way. Pride: I had an image to guard. But then, in the slow motion of the moment, I realized that if I could find enough self control to do that, I could find the self control to guard my children's hearts, as well. And while I was at it, I could recognize the difference between a childish accident and deliberate rebellion requiring discipline. In this situation, the only one acting in rebellion was me. So I repented, right there in the space of just about 10 seconds.

The Ravioli Incident still comes up occasionally in our family reminiscences. It's told as a humorous story and one of mom triumphing over the ravioli stains. But I know better. I know that the bigger triumph was over my tongue and my heart, and even over my mind as I submitted to the Lord in that moment.

And I'm still thankful that God taught me a big lesson in those short seconds, an unseen moment turned to His glory.

March 18, 2016

Review: The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross

The story of this book is the story of the whole Bible (but a lot shorter!).

The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross is a beautifully illustrated telling of man's rebellion against and God's gracious plan of redemption. As all good stories should, it starts at the beginning:
A very long time ago, right here in this world, there was a garden.
The author, Carl Lafteron, brings the story of the gospel right down to the level of a three- to six-year-old. Honestly, the simplicity and completeness is something that would be helpful to many adults. Lafteron sums up man's problem in this way:
They decided they wanted a world without God in charge. God calls this "sin". Sin spoils things. So sin has no place in God's wonderful garden....
God said, Because of your sin, you can't come in.
Of course, the story later unfolds the remedy for our sinful situation with much celebration.
God says it is wonderful to live with him. Because of your sin, you can't come in. BUT I died on the cross to take your sin...
Without being Seuss-y, Lafteron writes in an almost sing-songy way. After a few readings, I think parents will find their kids "reading" some of this book for themselves.

Cataline Echeverri's colorful illustrations wonderfully set the mood throughout the book. Echeverri is obviously gifted in using color and style to reinforce the prose. I love that the pictures are designed to evoke a biblical-era feel where appropriate, yet bring in a world-art feel, as well. This adds to the cross-cultural appeal of the book.

I recommend this book not only for parents and grandparents (what a great Easter gift!), but also for churches to make available to their preschool teachers to read aloud. The book itself is printed on high-quality, sturdy paper and is hardbound.

This is the fourth in the Tales that Tell the Truth series, all of which were illustrated by Echeverri and was published by The Good Book Company.

I requested and received a copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review. This post contains affiliate links.

January 23, 2016

Don't Waste Your Snow Sunday

AnnaKate took this photo of Bella two years ago during an unusual snow event in Middle Georgia. This is pretty much representative of Bella's attitude about the snow, which contrasts sharply with my own.

Our church has cancelled tomorrow's church activities, thanks to Winter Storm Jonas. I'm reminded of a time when our oldest was about eight years old. We were staying home from church (due to some complications in my pregnancy), and Jeff told Christopher on Saturday night that we were going to have church at home the next day. When Jeff and I came out to the living room that Sunday morning, we discovered that our son had built a small pulpit out of boxes and books, had selected some songs for us to sing, and had even hand-written bulletins for us! He had a very definite idea of what church should look like!

As I'm sure many of you will be kept home, too, it seemed like a good time to share some ideas for worshiping at home when you are prevented from meeting together (Hebrews 10:23-25). You won't need hand-written bulletins and a make-shift pulpit for any of these, but I have included some links that might be helpful.
  1. Watch another church's live-streamed service. This allows you to see the full service, not simply the sermon. You can still participate to a limited degree, and it's a great opportunity to work with young children on church etiquette. Faith Bible Church and Grace Community Church both offer live-streaming of their services, and you can be certain of God-honoring worship and a sound biblical sermon. Tip: Some live-streaming requires you to set up an account prior to watching. Be sure to check on this prior to the service time to avoid being delayed.
  2. Watch (or listen to) a previously recorded sermon. Both Faith Bible and Grace Community have sermon video available; you can also find audio via their websites or podcasts. Other messages I'd recommend include If God is for Us, Who Can be Against Us? by Don Whitney, and The Church: The Beginning and End of Missions by Thabiti Anyabwile. Tip: Take a few notes to help prompt some discussion afterward.
  3. Read aloud to your family, and talk about what you read. Whether you read a portion of Scripture (maybe from the book your pastor is preaching through), or a book that has encouraged you in your own walk of faith, or a missionary biography (some of these are free to download) share it with your family. Tip: Read enthusiastically -- you and your family will enjoy it more.
  4. Sing together. Find some favorite songs and worship together! If you grew up singing hymns, but your kids aren't as familiar with hymns, this is a great time to introduce them to some solid, time-tested favorites . Or, if you're not as familiar with some of the newer music your church sings, now's your chance to practice together. Maybe there's a song that particularly reminds you of the gospel (In Christ Alone, anyone?); this is a wonderful time to sing it together and discuss its truths with your family. Tip: You don't have to be musically or vocally gifted to do this. Singing together karaoke-style is fine!
  5. Pray together. Really pray together. Tip: Tim Challies shares some wisdom from John Piper about how to pray, and I believe this would be helpful for families praying together.
  6. Enjoy this unique time with your family. Whatever you decide to do, relax and have joy in it. Tip: Remember that the word worship literally means worthness (not workness!). 
 I'd love to hear how your family has worshiped together during times when you've been hindered from going to church. Please share in the comments!

Photo: AnnaKate took this photo of Bella two years ago during an unusual snow event in Middle Georgia. This is pretty much representative of Bella's attitude about the snow, which contrasts sharply with my own.

January 22, 2016

Reasons to celebrate on anniversary of Roe V Wade

On the anniversary of Roe v Wade, I’m celebrating. 

I’m not celebrating the justices who redefined life and liberty on this day many years ago. I’m not celebrating the almost 60 million precious lives taken since the Roe v Wade decision. I’m not celebrating the fact that today, nearly one in five pregnancies end in abortion. 

I’m not celebrating the culture that now surrounds women, one that says, “You are a master of your own destiny... but don’t expect us to help you pick up the pieces should you find yourself pregnant and decide to have that baby,” or, “You can have it all… except a(nother) child.” 

I’m not celebrating the attack on defenseless persons-in-the-womb, deemed undeserving of life because they don’t meet society’s standards, whether due to disability, race, or gender. I’m not celebrating the profiteering non-profit organization that is the largest provider of abortions in our country. I’m not celebrating the departure of so many from the long-held conviction that humans are image-bearers of the Creator.

So what am I celebrating? Bravery and faith.

I’m celebrating the bravery and faith of my own mother, who declining an abortion (and sterilization) recommended for her own health, went on to deliver and raise four children. I’m celebrating the bravery and faith of my friend Lynn who, when faced with an unexpected pregnancy as an unmarried young woman, chose to carry the baby to term and allow her to be adopted but not forgotten; Lynn currently enjoys a wonderful relationship with her daughter, now a young woman herself. I'm celebrating the bravery and faith of friends like Eddie and Patty, who befriended a chemically-dependent pregnant woman and ultimately adopted her newborn son while continuing to reach out to his desperate mother.

I’m celebrating the bravery and faith of my friends like Greg and Marivi, and Nathan and Christine, who are joyfully raising wonderful boys who were created with Down’s Syndrome. I’m thankful for friends like Kathy and Vickie who have given of their time to volunteer at their local crisis pregnancy center. 

I’m celebrating the bravery and faith of many Christians and churches who are beginning to realize that it’s not enough to speak against abortion; we must be willing to walk through the messiness of these situations with the women and men.

After all, like those unborn children, they are also made in the image of the Creator. And that, in itself, is worth celebrating.

Photo credit: bossfight.co; graphics mine.

December 29, 2015

Review: Do More Better

I always considered myself to be a reasonably organized and productive person. Many years ago, while working in the PR department of a Christian college, I was introduced to a jam-up time management system. I loosely followed and adapted it for the rest of my working-outside-the-home career. But almost twenty years ago, when I became a stay-at-home and sometime part-time work-at-home mom, all of that organization (and the accompanying productivity) seemed to fly out the window.

In hindsight, I don't think the problem was so much a lack of organization or productivity. It was likely more a lack of understanding of my new role and priorities. What's more, my working environment and responsibilities had been fairly controlled and regular. Predictable even. This new career field, not so much.

It wasn't so much that I lacked structure (although I probably did). A new system wasn't the immediate answer.
What I needed was a clearer understanding of my role and responsibilities as a wife and mother. And, because the dual jobs of wife and mother are somewhat fluid, I'm still working on that.

Do More Better by Tim Challies is helping.

Before going into the nuts and bolts of organizing life, Challies walks you through evaluating your life. The goal isn't just to do more, to get more done. It's to get more of the right things done.
Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others, and the glory of God. Productivity calls you to direct your whole life at this great goal of bringing glory to God by doing good for others.

 I like that. I'm good at being busy, but, "Busyness is a tricksy little fish." It's easy to fool ourselves into thinking we're productive for the Kingdom just because we're busy. The difficult thing is to figure out what God wants us to do for the Kingdom in our little circle and focus on being productive there. "God calls you to be productive for His sake, not your own."

This book is readable, at only 120 pages. It's practical, walking you through not only determining your priorities, but setting up systems to carry them out. It's biblical, helping you see your to-do list from God's perspective (and reminding you that "Only God gets his to-do list done.").

I've read the book through, and now I look forward to the harder work of implementing what I've learned. (One way I'm doing this is by participating in 10 Days of Productivity. Care to join me?)

I requested and received a copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review. This post contains affiliate links.

December 13, 2015

Dear Wormwood {The Oh Hellos}

Some of my young friends have been talking about a new album from The Oh Hellos. I wasn't familiar with this group, but thought I'd give them a try (especially since I found out how much I'm enjoying Josh Garrel's new album, Home, and I'm thinking he wasn't especially writing for my demographic, either).

I liked many of the songs right away; others are growing on me. The musical style is interesting, and the lyrics are thoughtful and poetic. At the moment, the title track is probably my favorite.

A few years ago, our family read-aloud book was The Screwtape Letters. Jeff made it more fun by giving Screwtape a very austere and ominous voice. (Of course, sometimes he called it The Ducktape Letters and read excerpts in a redneck voice, too. Just part of the package.) It's a great book to read as a family when you have tweens and teens.

Back to The Oh Hellos. When I saw the album was titled Dear Wormwood, I was intrigued. When I heard the song itself, I was drawn in. And when I read the lyrics, I was hooked. I'm a sucker for complex, well-developed music blended well with thoughtful lyrics. It's a powerful song. Listen and enjoy.

When I was a child, I didn't hear a single word you said
The things I was afraid of, they were all confined beneath my bed
But the years have been long, and you have taught me well to hide away
The things that I believed in, you've taught me to call them all escapes

I know who you are now

There before the threshold, I saw a brighter world beyond myself
And in my hour of weakness, you were there to see my courage fail
For the years have been long, and you have taught me well to sit and wait
Planning without acting, steadily becoming what I hate

I know who you are now

I have always known you, you have always been there in my mind
But now I understand you, and I will not be part of your designs

I know who I am now
And all that you've made of me
I know who you are now
And I name you my enemy

I know who I am now
I know who I want to be
I want to be more than this devil inside of me

 This post contains affiliate links.

December 8, 2015

This and that 12/8/15

Photo: The Jungle Photo; alterations by princapecos

Tim Challies recently posted this 2016 reading challenge, and it looks interesting. I've tried reading challenges before but found it difficult to keep up. I think I'm going to try doing this one as a bit of a scavenger hunt. That'll help balance out my reading, and I think it will be fun to see how many checkmarks I have by the end of the year. That's the plan, anyway! (And I loved that this checklist was a topic of conversation at our ladies' Christmas party last night.)

Speaking of Tim Challies, he's just released a book on productivity that I've added to my ever growing wishlist... then he tweeted that he'd send a review copy to bloggers! It'll be a Kindle e-book version, so the real book will still be on my wishlist (because I'm pretty sure this is one I'll be marking up and coming back to. Be sure to check out Do More Better and watch for my review here.

I saw a great quote on Twitter this week: "Wise women know that it is one thing to make themselves attractive and another to make themselves look seductive." (Which reminds me of another book on my wishlist. I want an copy signed by the authors, who are friends of mine, but the $2.99 Kindle price is tempting right now.)

I'm enjoying some fun Christmas giveaways these days. I've followed the blog of Jones Design Company for several years now (she has a fresh, fun style and is so creative). I'm following her on Instagram now, and she and her creative blogger friends have lots of freebies for the twelve days of Christmas -- pretty printables, wallpapers, and holiday helps.

If you (or friends or family) have small children, here's one other giveaway for you. Sally Lloyd-Jones is giving away a collection of her books for children. These are beautifully illustrated and written -- I wish we'd had these when my kids were younger! (And yes, I did enter the giveaway, not just because I'm a sucker for a lovely book but also to share with little visitors to our home.)

 If you like the graphic on the graphic on this page, I've made into a computer wallpaper that I'd be happy to share. Just let me know and I'll be happy to send it to you! Enjoy the Christmas season -- find the joy!