Last week, those I worship with and I were challenged to set some real, tangible goals to help us go into the world and make disciples this year. Foundationally, that means knowing and loving Jesus, well. Two suggestions to help along those lines that really resonated with me were to 1) Focus on one gospel this year, reading it entirely one time each month, and 2) Copy that gospel on paper this year. I did a scripture-copying challenge in November and I can't tell you how helpful it was to mull over scripture as I put pen to paper, so I latched on to that one. Ben, who preaches for us, said he'll be spending the year in Luke. Since it's been awhile since I've focused on Luke, and since I figure he'll naturally be preaching more from it, I decided I'll do that too. Reading it once a month is simple enough--but how do you tackle copying more than 1100 verses? With a plan, of course. So I came up with one and I'm sharing it below. 52 weeks, with verses for each day of those weeks--it's actually just an average of three verses a day. And I know, I know--it's already January 12! But if you're a stickler about finishing by December 31, you'll just need to add a verse or two over the next couple of weeks to be in line for the end of the year. I can't tell you how humbling and uplifting it was just to do a cursory glance at Luke while I put the list together. I'm excited to dig deeper into it as I copy it this year. I hope this is a blessing to you--please use it and share it as you see a need. And if you have any questions about the method or what you find in Luke--by all means, let me know! I'm excited to hear what you see in the scripture, too.
P.S. Someone asked what I plan to use to write Luke in. I'm going to use one of these journals, which is portable and sturdy, but you can use plain ol' lined paper if you so desire.
“I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise.” Psalm 138:1
Last week, shortly after I posted my theme for 2016, I had a younger woman ask me, “How do you do that? How do fill your heart with gratitude?” It was not entirely incredulous, I think she was just asking for some practical advice on how to rid our lives of discontentment. I generally figure for every person who asks a question out loud, there are probably a few more silently wondering the same thing, so I decided I’d take a minute and explain a few things I find helpful in practicing gratitude.
I hope this is helpful… It’s a small example, but small discontentments grow if we don’t displace them. Let me know if you have had similar experiences, have additional advice, or if you need help finding the gratitude in a situation.
2016 Theme: Gratitude
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world”
Philippians 2:14-15 NET
Join me this year, in choosing gratitude and glorifying God in the face of temptation to complain, grumble, and argue. Feel free to use the images below as a cover image or phone screen to keep you motivated. May God bless you in 2016!
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
It happened faster than anyone was prepared for. My husband, our three-month-old, and I were lingering over coffee at one of the campsites we were sharing with several other families for the weekend. We were enjoying being in the woods with a group that has been going on this annual camping trip for more than a decade now. About two dozen children, including our two older children played in groups either in the woods or on the playground.
Suddenly, rising above our conversation, the bird noises, and the squeals of happy children, was a sound quite unlike any I’ve ever heard. It was a scream, a child’s scream. It seemed to go on and on. Instead of the usual dissolving into sobs, it grew louder, more urgent, and was soon joined by the same scream from other children. I suddenly understood fully why such a sound is described as ‘blood curdling.’
As fast as Melissa, another mother in the group, could say “Adults. That’s a cry adults need to go to!” there were about ten of us on our feet, trying both to move toward the sound and to figure out who the screams belonged to.
As the sound persisted,I thought “Someone in this group is going home without a child.” I wasn’t sure what mess we were about to behold, but I pictured blood, or lost limbs, or small bodies being crushed. Or all of the above.
One of the teenage girls was already holding our baby, so I was able to start running, but I was nowhere near as fast as the men in the group. Before I could even reach the trail, they were there, and helping the three children who were being attacked by a huge nest of yellow jackets.
My six-year-old , frozen in fear, was getting the worst of it. It was her piercing scream that had first punctured the air. Faster than it seemed possible, our friend Clayton had gotten to her, leaping over a creek and snatching her from near the nest. He literally threw my sturdy, 63-pound child back over the creek to my husband. They moved onto the trail, with my older daughter and another little girl. I got there as they were stripping her down and rushing her further away from the nest. My older daughter and her friend were being attended to by a couple of other people. It was now that I realized it was some sort of stinging insects, and I realized I was completely helpless to do anything to help my children—I tested allergic to them in my teens, and I’m supposed to carry an Epipen for it.
In another instant, as the rush to get the girls away from the nest continued, the remaining insects began to swarm. I saw a black cloud some yards away, and heard the buzzing of what had to be thousands of angry yellow jackets. “They’re swarming!” someone yelled. “Get to the tents!” I saw that another friend had the baby, and was headed away from the bugs, so I headed for our tent. As I approached it, our oldest, who had already gone to take cover there, came shrieking out of it. She ran to me, and I could see that she was still covered in yellow jackets. They were on her shorts, her shirt, and in her very long hair. “Mommy! Mommy!!!!!!” she cried. My instinct was to help her, but I also was terrified of being stung myself. Another dad in the group was nearby and I shouted at him “Jared! Help her! Take off her clothes! I’m sorry, I’m allergic!” He stripped her down and I got inside the nearby tent where someone had taken the baby.
Things got calmer after that. From inside the tent, I could see my husband and some of the others taking care of both our girls. I could hear the anguished wails of my middle daughter. They stopped counting her stings at thirty. My husband had about ten; my oldest had eight. The other little girl had two or three. Some of the other adults had five or so. I could do nothing but listen and ache to be near them.
When it finally seemed safe to get out of the tents, I went to them. It was around then that someone mentioned Clayton. I didn’t realize until this point that he had gone straight into the area of the nest to get the children out. “How is he?” I asked.
“Pretty bad,” they said. “He’s in the shower. They got him pretty bad.”
Pretty bad, indeed. My six-year-old wanted to see him as soon as possible to thank him. At first, he seemed okay, and felt better after his shower. But as the minutes passed, he started to swell. He developed welts in places he wasn’t stung. The nurse in the group looked distressed, and soon sent him and his wife off to town to go to the ER. We prayed and waited to hear word.
Finally his wife texted the only one of us who had cell service, that he was hooked up to an IV and was getting steroids. He arrived back at camp several hours later, less puffy but clearly drained. By this point, the children he had helped were a little itchy and swollen, but after some Benadryl, also ready to eat burgers and s’mores and settle in for another night of camping.
I was, and still am, in a place of extraordinary gratitude to God for watching over our children that day, for giving them Clayton and the other adults who flew to their rescue, and for sparing them from any long term damage, or worse. I also have been pondering since shortly after that incident, the question of, how do you adequately thank someone who saves your child’s life? If she’d continued to be the target of an attack that vicious, it’s entirely possible that we’d be planning a funeral today, and not her birthday party.
The bottom line is, nothing seems enough. Clayton, a father of four himself, dashed in to a very dangerous situation to save a child who was helpless in the face of extreme danger. When he got to her, she was frozen, mouth agape, screaming, while being stung repeatedly. Did you know yellow jackets leave a scent on the mark of their fury, signaling that others should attack there, too? She needed rescue. She needed it fast and she needed it desperately. He put his own well-being aside to help a small, weak, human, and ended up taking the brunt of the pain in return.
I was not the direct recipient of the saving in this case, but I can’t shake the feeling of helplessness that I experienced in not being able to aide my own children. And nothing—except our condition outside of Christ— compares to how truly helpless the children were to get out of danger. They couldn’t save themselves. But someone paid a price to get them out of harms way.
“He saw me plunged in deep distress
And flew to my relief;
For me He bore the shameful cross
And carried all my grief,
And carried all my grief.”
In the stillness of the nights since then, as I nurse the smallest of my children, those words from “Majestic Sweetness” have resounded in my head. My savior saw the deep distress I was—we are— in without him. He recognized my complete inability to save myself from my sin, from my own stumbling ways, and from the attacks of the devil. And before I even realized I needed him, he gave up Heaven to come down and save me from it, at the cost of his own life. I can have only reaction—I have been completely humbled by my Lord's sacrifice, and I am forever grateful.
Saturday night, knowing that Clayton had spent the day in the hospital and that he had paid his own very steep price to help her, I noticed that my daughter could hardy look him in the eye. She's a smart kid, and I think she knew to a degree what he had done to help her. And she knows she can’t do anything to help him back. But I know she is grateful, as am I, and that we always will be.
So much more I must show my gratitude and service to the one who paid the ultimate price for my distress. When my soul is in danger, when I am under attack, he is there for me. Always. And for that, I am eternally humbled, and grateful, and ready to serve.
“Since from His bounty I receive
Such proofs of love divine,
Had I a thousand hearts to give,
Lord, they should all be Thine,
Lord, they should all be Thine.”
On Being Pruned
Saturday I saw a man working to prune four crepe myrtles that I have been privileged to see grow and bloom for years now. I am not a gardener by any stretch, despite my many failed attempts, so I'd have never noticed their need for pruning. But I saw the result of his work on a couple of trees, before he'd reached the last. The difference was stark. The pruned trees looked stout and sturdy, with many strong branches ready to produce the leaves and flowers that will come when the weather turns. At their base were piles of small, scrawny branches. The remaining tree to be pruned looked unruly and wild. I could see how those wild and unruly twigs could eat up nutrients while not being prepared to grow produce as much as the stronger branches below. It was a passing glance at the work this man was doing, but it was certainly noticeable that he was serving a purpose in pruning back the waste.
Then on Sunday, in our study on the Gospel of John, this:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." John 15:1-8 (ESV)
We had an interesting discussion on the process of pruning and purification that we go through as we work to abide more in Jesus. It is never easy. It is often painful. Let's face it--we have used our nutrients-- be it time, energy, money--to grow those weak branches, and despite the lack of return, it is hard at the time to see them be lopped off. Even when we know logically that the fruit we will bear will be bigger, richer, and more pleasing to God, it can be hard to contemplate taking the knife to them.
I've had two different careers that I've had to prune out of my life in order to be more fruitful. As a Highly Ambitious Person, it was not the easiest thing to give them up. I really loved my work, in many ways. There are still times when I'd love to be in a newsroom covering something important or interesting, or when I see a wedding I'd have photographed differently. But then I look at Galatians 5. Working the long and often overnight hours of television robbed me of my patience and much of my self-control. It was hard to cultivate goodness when I was surrounded by images of destruction and sorrow. Constant, ongoing competition to book weddings was never a place of peace. Never. Both took precious time from what I could have been spending helping my marriage and working with my children--easily the most visual potential fruit I have been given stewardship of, not to mention the ability to study more or to help others.
Another example: This past weekend the Grammy's were on. I know this not because I watched them, but because my Twitter feed was blown up with commentary on them. Quite honestly, I had no desire to watch them as I didn't want to assault my eyeballs with...whatever they were going to dream up to assault my eyeballs with that I could not then un-see. But in fact, I couldn't watch them even if I'd wanted to because we no longer have cable. (Full disclosure: I think there is a way for us to tune in at least one or two local stations, but about the only time I do is for storm coverage.) Cable was a hard-ish thing to give up, as I feared what I would be missing out on both in entertainment and in the ability to take part in discussions on the entertainment. However, the benefits of this pruning have been many. We have more money in our monthly budget. When we do watch TV, we watch whatever is available on Netflix. That means no commercials, and you know what happens without the commercials? You don't want all the non-essential stuff that is advertised so well as must-haves! My husband and I really don't watch much of what's on Netflix at all, and since it's always available to be continued, we are free to go to bed earlier, get up earlier, and have quiet time to study, write notes, plan our budget, go for a run. All of which, I think it's safe to say, are far more able to produce love, joy, peace, patience, and the other fruits of the Spirit than oh, say, anything that comes on in prime time.
The pruning process can look different depending on the individual, of course. Those are just two examples of what I personally have been through in recent years as I've been pruned and made more ready, I pray, to bear fruit. I know there is more waste that needs to go. Other things that I and those I know have cut off in an effort to be more ready to serve: friendships, romantic relationships, job promotions, expensive houses, styles of dress, social media (and even the internet all together), team sports, cars, extracurriculars... I'm sure there are more but those are some examples.
I can tell you this: Every time I've gone through the process, what is left afterward has been so much better than what has been cut off. The way I spend my time now is so much better than how I spent it before. More faith in God, more knowledge of scripture, more time to devote to guiding my children's hearts--honestly, even more rest!-- trumps less money, far less status, and less to contribute to a conversation about what was on TV in spades.
I hope, that if you are in the process of being pruned that you will look forward with hope at the fruit you will bear instead of looking down at the fallen twigs with despair. It is for this that we were made--to bring Him glory. And He knows best how to bring it about.
I love technology. I was looking recently at a history of the Apple brand of computers in history and chatting online with my dad about the different computers we'd used when I was a kid. I still love it when my tech-geek husband comes home and tells me about new technologies.
One of the most useful technologies I can think of is the ability to stream audio and video. I love being able to listen to a good podcast or piece of audio while I'm fixing lunch or dinner and the girls are playing. Also, living in Atlanta, we spend a LOT of time in our cars. Probably a lot of you do, too. And even if it's not a big chunk of your routine, you have probably found, like me, that you have to work pretty hard to find something that's decent to fill your ears and mind with.
Time really is one of those things that we either take charge of or that simply gets away from us. We are not always in control of how we use it, but we can at leasIn light of that, I wanted to start linking to some audio that I think is useful and beneficial for redeeming the time that otherwise might not be working to build us up.
We were recently treated to a series of three sermons on God's grace that I found to be extremely uplifting and inspiring. I don't know if you're like me, but I don't remember hearing a whole lot about grace growing up, and some people I knew always seemed skeered to talk about it. After I was grown, I realized why--lots of grace rhetoric is just wrong. You know the kind I'm talking about--it gives the subtle (or not-so-subtle) implication that because of grace, we get to do whatever we want! "God forgives--lighten up!"
But these sermons really flip that concept on it's head. In fact, if you truly understand God's grace, you will be more moved to work for the Lord, to spread the word about what His son has done for you, than ever before. What He has done for me and you is amazing, you guys, and other people need--desperately need-- to be exposed to, shown, and taught about it, because He did it for them, too!
So, if you want to stay comfy and cozy and keep God all to yourself, don't bother clicking on the links below. But if you want to be challenged, listen in.
The Gospel of Grace, Ben Hall
Radical Grace, Ben Hall
Grace on Mission, Ben Hall
Well, it's January. Deepest, darkest January. (I'm pretty sure you are already aware of that.) I don't know about you, but I struggle with January. There are times I feel like I am in hand-to-hand combat with January. In ways, it is so nice to get back to a routine after the constant amusements, delights, drama and stress of the holidays. In other ways...it's January. Gray. Cold. Bleak.
I can tell I'm not the only one struggling, this year in particular. Lots of people I've spoken with have expressed that they are having difficult times right now, for any number of reasons, many of which go far beyond the mere fact that it is winter. I know of those currently struggling with marriage difficulties, the deaths of parents and grandparents, discouragement because of unfaithful loved ones, despair over spiritual leaders who are not walking right, job problems... you name it, and this winter does not seem to be a kind one to many of us.
I had a friend directly ask me this weekend for a blog post, because, she said, she needed encouragement. So today, I would like to encourage you to do three small things that I think will bring some much-needed uplift to your day. They are small, easy, and effective.
1. First, read Ephesians 5:15-21.
"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
2. Second, consider which of the things from the above scripture you can do today that would be wise in light of how dark, dreary, even evil these days might feel. I don't claim to know all the reasons why we are commanded to do what's listed here, but I can tell you there are clear benefits we can gain before from practicing them.
So first, make a plan. Walk carefully, Paul says (v. 15). That means, with care. If you are deep in despair or depression, it can be so hard to get out of the fog and actually do something. The first step I am suggesting is to carefully, mindfully, resolve to change something--and for now, make it just one thing. Anything grandiose may overwhelm you. Make the best use of your time (v. 16) in one small way today. Get that accomplishment under your belt, then let momentum from that spur you on. There are a number to choose from:
a. Understand what the will of the Lord is (v. 17). Get in the scripture and search for understanding. This never fails to bring focus and guidance for your day, even in very small doses, if that's all you can muster right now.
b. Do not turn to a source of comfort that is not going to aid you spiritually, and especially one that can harm you greatly (v. 18). Resist the temptation to wallow, or to use a comfort aid that is not God-approved. It will only hurt you in the long run, so steer clear. Paul has listed here several other clear methods listed here that will help you, and, believe it or not, even help others, through your tough times.
c. Reach out to someone, with spiritual encouragement. If you take the time to look up something that will encourage someone else... guess what? It will likely encourage you, too. As I'm writing this, I think of my childhood friend Polly sitting beside me at church, and the joy on her face when the song leader would choose "Sing and Be Happy." If the skies above you are gray, you are feeling so blue... She would look over at me and her obvious happiness would make me happy. I honestly can't imagine calling up a friend and singing to them, but maybe I should. I can certainly think up a few encouraging psalms and hymns though, and could pretty easily email or text the words to them. Finding them, writing them out, sending them, and then discussing them with a friend... really, how could that not be encouraging? Or having a cheerful tune or uplifting words stuck in my head the rest of the day and actually singing them aloud while I'm making lunch or driving to an appointment? It certainly beats wallowing in my thoughts right now, y'all.
d. Give thanks to God (v. 20). One of the most beneficial exercises I've begun to practice when I'm feeling low--and even when I'm not-- has become saying a prayer of complete thanks. No requests allowed. Just thankfulness and praise. When you really get down to brass tacks with the Lord and all He's done for you, despite current circumstances, it's probably not going to be a short prayer, and it can be a major mood-lifter and attitude-adjuster. You may be in a place where you have requests of God, and certainly He wants to hear them, but try doing a prayer that contains only thankfulness and gratitude and see if it helps. My hunch is, it will.
e. Call and see how someone else is doing--without revealing your current struggle. Trust me--someone else out there needs your help. This is an act of submission--putting down your desire to talk it out or vent and instead listening to and aiding someone else. Not only does it help them and glorify God, but it will be a few minutes spent not dwelling on whatever is plaguing you (sweet relief!) and may give you more perspective still on your problems. I am not at all saying that what you are dealing with is not legitimate and that you don't need help dealing with your own challenges. This is just one suggestion of many that might bring you comfort and get you out of whatever winter rut you may be stuck in.
3. Now take the one thing from the above list and do it. Just one. It can be small. But mindfully, carefully resolve today to do one thing different than what you have done so far this January--especially if what you've been doing hasn't been working for you. If you need to do more--do them! Do all of them if you can, whether it's today or over the next few days! The practice will bring you joy and help you through this time.
Show January who is boss. God is the boss, and you have strong guidance from Him on how to handle discouragement. So do it. And while you are, remember, spring is just 66 days away.
Seven Ways to Reclaim the Holidays
Every year, I make the same pledge: to simplify the holidays and make them easier. I want holidays that are warm and glowy, like the lights strung everywhere I go. I don't want to be stressed out, running here and there, yelling at the kids, and spending so much that I'm in a payoff hangover until February.
And every year, it seems, I still fail in some if not all these areas. But every year I fail a little less miserably.
My mother, a psychologist, has always reminded me that even good change is stressful, which means that though the things we add into our schedule during the last part of the year may be fun, they can also cause us to be more harried.That may be why everyone I talk to seems to find this time of year stressful. But y'all... it should not be that way. It just shouldn't. Thankfully, we can take it back, one mindful choice at a time. Here are some ideas I have either tried or want to try in order to make it less so.
1. Spend less money.
This one just seems so obvious, and it's a big one, but it's hard to stick to. But really, if I just set a budget, and stick to it, it simplifies so many things. Doesn't make it easier--just simpler. And it's really important to have a budget for just about everything right now. Gifts, groceries, clothes--it all gets tempting in December.
This year I am considering doing the envelope thing, especially when it comes to restaurant outings and grocery shopping. This is where I tend to overspend, because everything right now should feel special, right? Well, no. Not EVERY outing has to be EXTRA SPECIAL between now and January 1. If I'm honest, it is the time I will spend with people that will matter far more than the spread I put on the table. We are Americans. The vast majority of us eat pretty well, or at least pretty generously, at all three meals every. single. day. So why the pressure over the Christmas dinner? With a little planning and resourcefulness, I feel confident I can still make a beautiful holiday meal that everyone will enjoy--and not have to spend like it's only meal I'll eat this year. Now, I just have to figure out what the right combination of deliciousness and conscious spending is. When I've got it, I'll let you know.
I also intend to spend less money on Christmas attractions and decorations. Sure, I could spend $80 to take the kids to the lights at the local Gardens. Or I can spend $6 in gas and homemade hot chocolate and take them around to see the lights that ordinary, festive folks have put up on their homes. I don't have anything against the big light displays, and we've certainly enjoyed them very much in the past, when we were sweetly gifted with tickets from a friend. But when I consider paying to revisit them, I see an opportunity instead to simplify. Frankly, if our family is together, we are all pretty happy, regardless of what we've spent. As for decorations, I plan to make my house feel festive by playing music and having things that smell good around--something delicious on the stove or one of those four-dollar cinnamon brooms from the grocery store will do. So simple and doesn't require all new tree decor or dish sets from Target. And then I'll have the time and energy to sit back and enjoy everything else.
I'm not planning to host any parties this year, but if I were, I'd potluck it all the way. Thankfully lots of people I know are comfortable with potluck parties--where everyone pitches in and nobody is stuck footing the entire bill for the thing. If you're planning to hostess an event, this will take a lot of stress off of you. Even Evite knows that pitching in is cool--I got one last month with a new(-ish?) option to ask people to bring items to round out the menu.
2. Fewer 'Thing' gifts for the grownups.
So, I just spent a solid week decluttering my home. My hunch is, most of you could do the same. I can tell you that after you do, you will think "I never want to bring another Thing into my home again." We need so few Things. So many of us buy the Things we do need or are of the means that when a good mid-year deal comes along, we pick it up then. I'm over it. I would honestly rather have a good cup of coffee with my husband or my friend than any Thing you can get on Amazon. My hunch is, most of the people you know feel the same way. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
a. A pound of good coffee, some K-cups or some nice tea.
b. A race or athletic event registration.
c. A gift card to a new (or old favorite) local restaurant.
d. Pitching in with other family or friends for one big-ticket, long-lasting gift. Case in point: Thanks to my husband, my mom and my sister, plus a great deal at a factory outlet, I'm getting a much-nicer-than-I'd-normally-buy purse that should last for years, if not decades.
Also, consider drawing names if your family is big and setting a limit on the cost.This is especially helpful as your family grows with marriages and children.
(A note, I know some of these ideas will not sit well in some families, so just remember that you don't have to convert everyone to the Simplicity Train all at once. Little changes this year will make a big difference, and set a precedent for years to come.)
3. Mindful gifts for the kids.
Our kids are overrun with toys, and certainly don't play with everything they do have. Don't give in to the commercials, the circulars, the idea that now is the only time you will have to get these great deals, or that you need the Things that are on sale anyway. If you don't need it, or if it will cause you too much stress later--it ain't a good deal. I think it's also important to remember that Christmas is not the only time of year you get to make memories and do things for your kids and for other people. You are also not going to resolve your own issues from childhood by overdoing Christmas for your kids. I'm not sure they could articulate it, but I'm pretty sure most any kid would rather have 12 months of good times with happy parents than 11 months of mediocre times and one month of Things and Stressed Out Parents.
Here's how we are handling the children. This year, my kids are getting one gift from us--a doll desk for each of them that my thrifty friend Tina found at an estate sale last summer. We will probably stuff their stockings with clementines and gum and maybe drawing paper and Scotch tape (I know, I know. Who can explain kids? But we gave them tape last year and they loved it. It got USED and that made it a gift worth re-visiting). Now, lest you think I'm a complete curmudgeon and that my poor kids will be chewing Trident and scotch-taping fruit peels together while everyone else rides their new Huffy around, please know that part of this decision comes from the fact that they have generous grandparents and aunts and uncles who give them thoughtful gifts, too.
Here are some other ideas for more meaningful gifts:
a. Memberships to the local zoo, aquarium, museum. Then you have something to do--together-- all year long.
b. A gift card to the local bounce-house or trampoline place, restaurant they love, or doughnut shop, that the child can decide when to use. Then you make a memory--and don't add to the stuff. And giving THEM the power to decide when to do something--that is sheer glee to a child.
c. A classic read-aloud book. My English teacher sister-in-law recently told me about a study that children NEED to be read aloud to until they are 12. And what holiday wouldn't end up better with family time centered around a great book? (And yes, just one. Not this 'Book a Night for 24 Nights business.' Too. Much. Stuff. If you want your kids to love to read--take them to the library!)
d. Popcorn-and-movie gifts. A favorite movie on DVD and a popcorn bucket with the promise of family time to come. Preferably in your jammies--(but jammies need not be part of the gift! You probably do not need new jammies. Especially Santa jammies that you won't want to wear in a week.)
4. Limit the parties. Oh, I have the worst time with this. I do love the parties, and my kids feel the same. But I find my limit, per week, is probably about one weekday event and one weekend event before the stress starts to outweigh the fun. I have not done a good job so far of limiting this for this year, but knowing that I am already overcommitted for some weeks, I will simply have to manage my schedule for those weeks better in other areas. Thankfully none of the parties I'm attending are forced-gift parties, so that makes it simpler and less costly. I am intent on not spending any money on new holiday clothes for these parties; we will use what we already have to make our current wardrobe a little fancier (I may let my children borrow some of my costume jewelry, for example), and be done.
5. Take care of yourself.
It's a vicious cycle, isn't it?--you get busy, you eat garbage either while you're running around or at The Parties, plus you don't exercise, and you definitely don't get enough sleep. Then you're still busy, but now you're cranky and don't feel well enough to take care of yourself. I got in this cycle just before Thanksgiving and I'm determined to fight my way out before it become a six-week long Experiment in Misery. It will take a lot of self-control, to continue to cook healthy food, hit the gym, and limit the holiday sweets. But self-control is better than self-loathing, in my book (and way better than being laid up in bed).
6. Give of your time, to someone you know.
This is probably an extremely unpopular opinion, but I'm not a big fan of outsourcing my good deeds. And by that, I mean that I think my greatest opportunity to affect real change in people's lives is by ministering to the Real People that I know. Then I'm there to follow up and make sure they also get help after the Christmas tree has been taken down and the wrapping goes in the trash. I'm not saying that an Angel Tree gift or something similar is a bad thing to do, but it is absolutely not a substitute for getting involved in the life of a person that you can continue to follow up on. Maybe it's a kid in your congregation or school whose parents are having a rough time who would love an afternoon with you. Maybe it's a widow in your congregation who doesn't see her grandchildren enough who would delight to bake some cookies with your kids. Perhaps it's a college-aged student who can't go home for the holidays because they have to work who would appreciate a home-cooked meal. The real gift to them will be the follow-up you do throughout the rest of the year and their lives. It is more of an emotional investment to do this, but it's also a bigger payoff for them, and for you, and it truly is a gift that keeps on giving--for years.
Of any gift I could give my children, I am shamefully, 100% certain that a day completely unplugged from technology would be the best gift of all. I know my husband would appreciate it, and I would love the same from him. My mom has said repeatedly "Y'all sure were a lot more fun before you got iPhones." But best of all, it would be a gift to myself--a day away from information overload, marketing schemes, and envy-producing humble brags from the masses. And the clear way I think after even a couple of hours without my phone--it's great. I'm not ready to give it up every day, but I'd like to try for some larger chunks of time this holiday season.
Listen, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with many of the traditions out there. The things you may choose to spend money on that may simply be different from what I choose to spend mine on. What I'm saying is--be mindful about how the holidays can affect us. We need to stop feeling like we have to do it all and buy it all, all in the span of 25 or so days. Take back your time and use it in the way that truly benefits those you love, by giving you time and space to breathe and enjoy your loved ones.
I'll leave you with this: The most treasured holiday memories of my youth are a blurred mixture of warmth, and food, and the presence of my family at my grandmother's house. I cannot tell you a thing I got, or what clothing I was wearing, or how much money any of us spent in those years. But I remember my Nanny's voice, and my Grandaddy's popcorn, and the most clear part of the memories is that no one was in a hurry to be anywhere else. I think of my Dad poring over a new book by the tree, and I hear my mother's big laugh, and that is where I want to be. May we all make memories like that--memories that are worth revisiting, this season and always.
Last night I spent some time on the phone with a woman I haven't spoken to in years, but who reached out to me to ask me some questions about homeschooling. I've heard her story before:
"I think this is right, but I'm overwhelmed."
"I have parts of it figured out but I'm worried about academics/socialization/support."
"I need to choose curriculum and there are so many options!"
I wanted to take a few minutes and tell you some of what I told her, and what I tell anyone who is considering homeschooling.
1. If you are thinking of doing it, you probably can.
The fact that you are interested in it, that you are researching it, that you are reaching out to others who do it indicates that your desire is strong. And if you desire to do it, you will find a way. So many parents are intimidated by teaching because they are not teachers by trade. But the beauty of homeschooling is that you don't have to be. You are dealing with very small student-teacher ratios, and so many curriculums walk you through step-by-step on the things you may not know. Plus, you have the irreplaceable bonus of being their constant guide, and the lessons they'll learn from you being there, loving them, helping them when they stumble--as only a parent can--are valuable beyond words. The teaching skills will come as you grow into the process. I will add that you will want to search out a mentor. They can be your cheerleader and practical support, and are especially valuable if not everyone in your current circle is down with homeschooling. Lean on them; they will be a great help to you (and soon enough, believe it or not, you may find yourself mentoring someone else!).
2. Commit to a year.
JUST ONE YEAR. Want to know a secret? When I think of homeschooling a kid who is a senior in high school, prepping for college and SATs and doing extracurriculars and DRIVING and about to leave home and be on their own and without me and reading Beowulf and using those big fancy calculators for calculus or whatever it is...I GET INTIMIDATED TOO! But then I remember: I'm not homeschooling a senior in high school! I'm homeschooling a kindergartener and a 2nd grader. I don't have to think about those things right now. I can deal with those when we get there. Right now I just need to think about things like memorizing the Beautitudes and segmenting spelling words and doing the Doubles Plus Ones. We will get those things down and then we will move on to the next step. And all those steps will, Lord willing, lead us to Beowulf and the Big Calculator, when it is time to deal with Beowulf and the Big Calculator. And driving. Oy.
3. Go to a Convention.
Know who goes to conventions? People who have been right where you are, and are willing to help you through it. You will be encouraged by their stories. Know who else goes to conventions? Curriculum vendors. That means you get to see and touch the curriculum, and ask questions. I will caution you to not stress out over making it to every single session or learning everything you need to know in one day or weekend, or even buying all your curriculum then. It can be information overload, so measure your time and spend a lot of it on the expo floor, asking questions. (Just remember that while vendors' answers can be helpful they are trying to sell you things that you may not need, at least not yet. I recommend making a budget before you go. They'll always be happy to take more of your money later, right?).
4. Re-think True Socialization.
If you've mentioned that you are considering homeschooling to more than 1.2 people, you've probably gotten that worried look and The Question: "But what will you do about socialization?" I could say a lot about this, but here are just a couple of things to consider: If kids in institutional schools are so well-socialized, why are there local, state, and national initiatives designed to stop the massive problem of bullying? And, even if a child manages to escape the bully's taunts, is it really socialization if the only people they are interacting with are their same age? When you homeschool, you have the ability to influence their concepts of respect, politeness, and hospitality. You can (and must) teach them those things in the home, then model and oversee them in practice. You are the one at the grocery store who teaches them to watch out for others in the aisles, to help the person who dropped a can of beans, and to look the cashier in the eye and say "Thank you" when complimented. You can have an elderly woman, a woman with younger children, or a friend their own age into your home at any time of day, and teach your child how to make someone feel welcome, warmed and loved. You can visit others, serving them and teaching them to respect other peoples' rule and possessions. You can make corrections in real time, help them navigate interpersonal problems with other kids and deal swiftly and intensely with real issues concerning how they treat others. And if they still need to learn things like how to stand in line, take turns and wait for you to stop talking, take them to the post office and the children's museum and on play dates where you'll be talking to other adults--those are prime opportunities to teach all those things. THAT is practical socialization that will serve them well all their life, and far more skills than what they would learn from 8 to 3 in the school room.
5. Do Bible first.
As you get into the practicalities of homeschooling, there will be days when Life will interfere with School and you will have to make choices on what academics you will accomplish that day. I say, always do Bible, no matter what. It teaches your children that yes, knowing God and serving Him truly is the most important thing, every day. Also, it will help keep all of you rooted in scripture for whatever else the day throws at you. Pray with them. Read from the Bible or their Bible lesson book (I'm a big fan of Egermeier's), sing a hymn (or lots of hymns, especially if you are in the car!). Work on memorizing verses. Talk about God's will for their lives as you start and go through your day. Eventually, the math curriculum will get done. They will learn to read one day. But the time to impress on their young hearts what will truly matter at the end of their life is short. Use it.
Obviously I am thrilled with the homeschool life, and will always encourage people who are interested in doing it. These are the things that helped me when I was starting out, and I hope you find them helpful as well! May God bless you on your homeschool journey.
For more good stuff, you can check out my Homeschool Encouragement Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/lbwolfgangmast/encouragement-for-the-amazing-homeschool-life/
Encouragement Spoken Here
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11