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!

December 4, 2015

Dancing with our daughters

A friend recently shared a podcast on Facebook with these questions: “This REALLY spoke to my heart today. Are we raising our daughters to think of marriage as plan A; career/education as plan B? Is this biblical thinking?” She followed up by asking me (and several other women) for our thoughts on it. I thought I’d share my response here, in hopes it might spark some conversation and encourage some of you.

Jen, I’m not sure if/when I’ll have time to listen to that podcast, so I don't know what direction they went with it. But I can share my own thoughts on this topic with you.

First, the term “Plan B” in this scenario has always rubbed me the wrong way, at least since I came into an understanding of God’s sovereignty. While I do believe in being prudent, this makes it sound as though God has given a young woman a desire to be a stay-at-home-wife/mom, yet she may need to venture outside of this plan just in case God doesn’t come through. That may not be what is intended, but it kind of comes across that way.

So here’s what I think. If a young lady has a God-given desire to be a stay-at-home-wife/mom, encourage that. As you encourage that, knowing that fulfillment of that desire may be deferred indefinitely, also encourage her to pursue development of her God-given gifts and abilities. If she has a creative bent, help her to explore many different expressions of that bent. If she is good with children, either formally teaching or informally caring/nurturing them, help her to explore that. This young lady may be interested in science, math, mountaineering, literature – help her to explore. This exploration may or may not include college or formal training. All the while, continue to also train her in the home arts, as they’ll likely be needed whatever path she follows. I think (and I’ve probably been guilty of this) some parents are afraid that if their daughter pursues a college degree or the like, she will desire to become a career woman and abandon any thought of being a SAHM for their grandchildren. For homeschoolers, especially, this can have very scary implications!

Here’s what these parents are forgetting. This beautiful young woman is a masterpiece of our Creator. He made her, He numbers her days, He holds her. Only He can direct her heart. We are stewards of the gift of our children, but as they get older, our stewarding influence must lessen and they must begin to steward their own lives. This is hard. I hate to break it to the parents of toddlers out there, but raising young adults is the hardest work you’ll ever do. It’s probably not as hard physically, but it is much harder emotionally and spiritually. It’s heart work, and it’s a dance. I don’t know that I’ll ever figure out all the steps to this dance (the rhythm changes so often!). But I’m thankful to know Who has all of these steps planned out.

I am case in point.

When I was in high school, I set some lofty goals for myself. I had a strong aversion to any kind of secretarial work. I wanted to be Vice President of a corporation (with a male secretary, no less). I worked to earn a full-ride scholarship to a university in my state. I was on my way.

But then God intervened in the form of a great humbling and a God-chasing young man.

As I worked my way through my freshman year, it was such a struggle. College coursework didn’t come as easily to me as high school, but it was also harder to put my heart into it. Much of it seemed irrelevant to me, and some was downright offensive (such as the pornographic film played for my health class). But I buckled down and persevered. In December, that young man shared with our church that he was feeling a calling to full-time ministry and, in February, we were engaged. I struggled through that second semester, explored changing my major from marketing to… what? In the end, I pursued a backward transfer to a local community college with the end goal of completing an Associate’s degree (which I did do, after we were married). It was very humbling, and it took God changing my heart for me to relinquish my plan to follow His.

Guess what job I held during our engagement? Yup. I became a secretary. At my church (best job I ever had). Guess what job I held while Jeff was pursuing seminary degrees? Yup. Secretary again.

It wasn’t really until we began thinking about having a second child that I felt a real yearning to be a stay-at-home-wife/mom. God has provided a way for me to follow this new career (in some really amazing ways, actually). And those secretarial skills have served me well in not only assisting my husband in his work, but have also helped me earn income through several work-from-home jobs over the years.

You know, for many of my growing up years, my mother was a SAHM. In fact, she was the penultimate SAHM, a real Proverbs 31 woman – cooked from scratch, made clothes for us, made our home feel like home. She did occasionally work outside the home as well; even then, we knew that her focus remained on us, her family. When my heart was turned homeward, I had a great example to follow. The Lord had provided that, as well.

Talk with your daughter, model for your daughter, release her to explore, and trust God with her steps. Dance with her and enjoy this season of life.

November 27, 2015

Death to Life

It's November, and I'm surrounded by
death and decay.
As the leaves hit the ground
and begin to brown and crisp,
it occurs to me that
fall is a picture of the fall
of man.

All through the bleak winter the trees will
point and reach.
When they stretch heavenward,
it's as though they are crying
out to God for new life.
They yearn for something beyond
the bleak.

And in the spring their buds will
burst forth brightly.
Unbeknownst to the trees,
God was already stirring life
within them, irresistible.
Soul's spring is impossible without
our God.