God loves you this much

Meditating on Psalm 139:1-18 this morning....

He knows everything about you v.1 ... what you do v.2 , what you think v.3 , your goals and your resting (even laziness!) v.4

He knows what you are going to say even before you say it v.4

He completely surrounds you, even above... His hand is on your head v.5

He is everywhere, you can't escape Him v.7-10

Nothing, not distance or darkness, can prevent God from guiding you v.8-12

He is the One who made you, in a fearful and wonderful way v.13-16

Although you were hidden away in your mother's womb as you grew, He still saw you v.15-16

He knows exactly the number of days in your life and has since before you were born v.16

He is with you, sleeping and waking v.18

May you experience the joy of the Lord this day, and rest under His mighty hand. 

photo by Matthew Hull

Taking the Time to Choose People Over Things ~ Mom Heart Thoughts, Part 2

My favorite people in the whole world, plus me.  :-)

In my notes from the recent Mom Heart Conference in Texas, I have written Sally Clarkson's observation: "You can not pass on passion without a relationship."

All weekend long I kept thinking about relationships.  About how Christianity is unique in that it is a relational religion.  Our progress in our faith is founded quite simply on a growing relationship with  Jesus Christ.

As I thought about this I realized it underscores everything in how I interact with the world.  The two greatest commandments...

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-40

Both about relationships.

If I want to be a good Christian?  Have to focus on the relationship.

If I want to be a good wife and mother?  I have to nurture my relationships with my husband and each child.

This seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?  Patently obvious?  And yet in the course of our days, how much time are we focusing on things, on tasks, instead of on people?

I know we all have lots to do, and yes, the dishes do have to get washed.  But is there a way we can think about our lives differently, and let those pebble tasks fill in the spots left after we focus on the big rocks... the people in our lives?

What if my to do list looked like this:

~ spend time in loving conversation with Jesus, through reading my bible, journaling, praying, singing
~ look deeply into my husband's eyes and tell him something I love about him; ask him how I can help him today and be cheerful about it
~ be silly and playful with my teenager even when he is gloomy
~ be patient with my intensely emotional daughter and help her redirect her outward response to her inward feelings
~ spend as much time as it takes with my four year old to gently bring him to an understanding of his wrongdoing and lovingly restore him

These things take time.  Lots and lots of time.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you'll have read about a woman in our community who is in a very difficult situation, and whom I have been trying to help since last year.  I have had only a modicum of success.  She has suffered so severely that she has shut down in many ways.  She is a person who seems almost incapable of relationships.

I have shared the joy of discovering that she responds to children, and how that has impacted me.  But we had sort of come to a stand-still.  I was thinking and praying about her recently and realized that our entire relationship had been built around me doing things for her.

When I would talk with her she would pretty much just give me a long list of her woes and what she needed help with.  She rarely initiates a conversation or asks me personal questions, and when I ask her about anything other than her physical needs, she finds a way to return the conversation there.

I realized we needed to become friends.

So the day I returned from the Mom Heart conference I sat down with her, and said "You know, I really don't know that much about you.  If we are going to be friends I need to know more about you!"  Then I started telling her what I did know.  As I went on, she started to smile.  I think she was genuinely surprised that I remembered all the tiny details I have gleaned over the past few months.  I asked her a few new questions, which she answered, then as usual she turned the conversation back to her troubles.

Praying silently, I said, in a light but firm tone, "You are in a tough place right now.  Things are very hard for you and we talk about that a lot.  But life is full of blessings, so every time we talk I want you to tell me one great thing in your life. What is something you're thankful for from last week?"  To my surprise she got a huge smile on her face, looked me in the eye, and told me how a man from our church had fixed her refrigerator.

She made eye contact.  She was not talking about children.  She smiled.

In that little moment, our relationship deepened.  It made me want to be her friend more.

At the conference, Sally told us that she had been taught, as a young Campus Crusade for Christ leader, "You can not build a successful ministry without time."

If we think about relationships as ministry, which they should be, we have to give them the gift of time.  Not only time spent with one another instead of doing yet another chore, but also simply the passage of days and years.

My relationship with my husband is so much stronger now, after twenty years of knowing each other.  My relationships with my children grow deeper and more rich over time, especially when I take the time to hear their hearts.  And without doubt my relationship with Jesus (His ministry to me) has grown extraordinarily over the years. 

All this takes perseverance.  Perseverance is my theme word for 2011.  I am seeing it in almost every aspect of my life.

And with my troubled new friend I see it again.  Through relationship, with a commitment to persevere, my ability to love her and serve her is growing in a meaningful way.

I have to be intentional about my relationships, or the distractions of the world will overwhelm them.  I have to choose to spend the time to love the people in my life as they need, despite the obstacles, taking the long view.

And boy am I thankful that Jesus takes the long view with me!

Have you found growth  and joy in changing your focus from tasks to people?  Is there a relationship that you need encouragement to persevere in?  I would be privileged to pray for you!

Discipleship and Family Ministry ~ Mom Heart Thoughts, Part 1

With Sally Clarkson at the morning tea. Can you tell I was happy?

I had the privilege of attending a Mom Heart Conference in Irving, TX this past weekend.  Mom Heart is part of Whole Heart Ministries, an organization run by the incredibly gifted Sally and Clay Clarkson and their family.

This was the fourth conference I have attended put on by Whole Heart Ministries, and it was just as inspiring as all the rest, if not more so.  My mind and heart were overflowing as I left, and my rekindled passion for my life as a mother continues to feel strong and fresh today.  I do encourage you to attend a Mom Heart conference if ever you are able.

For the past few days I have pondered how on earth I could possibly distill such a rich two days into one blog post.  I have given up!  You will be seeing quite a few posts from me that are the fruit of new ideas kindled or old ideas fanned into flame this past weekend.

Today I want to talk about discipleship.  One of the things that I took away from the conference was the desire for a family ministry.  Because we homeschool we are blessed to be able to cultivate the relationships within our family intensively each day.  Yet even in a homeschool setting it is easy for each of us to be going our separate ways. 

I have watched the Clarksons over the years, and how they have involved their children in their ministry.  The children do a lot of the back-end work and each of the Clarkson children in attendance is expected to stand up and share something.  Often they speak, sometimes they perform music.  I strongly believe that part of the reason their family bond is so strong is the fact that Whole Heart Ministries is not just Sally and Clay's vision, it is a family vision.  Most of their children are now adults, and yet they still continue to attend, to help and to enjoy one another.

Sally talked about how Jesus ministered intensively to his disciples, and how the disciples in turn went out into the world and ministered.  Think about it... Jesus didn't sit down and write the gospels while He was on earth in bodily form.  It is because of His disciples and people to whom they witnessed and ministered that we have the New Testament.  And it is because of their faithfulness in writing that countless people over millennia have come to know Jesus Christ.  This practice of disciples making disciples is God's good design!

Isn't this just what we as parents are called to?  We minister to our children, to teach and strengthen them to go forth and minister to others.  In the season of life with young ones under our roofs it really is the most pressing ministry we have!

There are many aspects to the how-to's of this, of course, but the one that is most on my heart right now is a family vision, a family ministry.  What is our family's message to the world, and how can we live and share it together?  There is so much need, and we have hearts for service... how much better for it to be service together!

I fervently believe that this will greatly equip our children to be warriors in a dark world.  I don't believe God calls Christians to hide away from the world, but rather to be light-bearers... hope-bringers to hurting people.

Now, to be clear, there is a time for everything.  Our littlest ones need shelter.  Like chicks under a mama hen's wing they need nurturing and peace to grow strong foundations.  But as they grow, it is our privilege and responsibility to prepare them for service in this world and increasingly expose them to it.

Sally reminded us that our youth are called to be as Daniel in Babylon.  That they are in the world with a purpose and a calling.  They are to influence the world, not be influenced by the world.

Does it sound scary?  Are you afraid to allow your teen into the world?  I completely understand; I struggle myself.  A mother's tender heart wants to protect her child.  Yet as Sally reminded us, if you only try to do what you can do yourself, you are living in works.  Live by faith, not by fear!

The fact is, you can't protect your children from the evil in the world.  So equip them!  How much better it will be for them to face worldly challenges with your loving guidance as they grow, than to be sheltered until adulthood and thrust out into the world unprepared.

The Clarkson's youngest daughter, Joy, who is almost 16, shared a beautiful song she had written, as well as this message: Trust your teen.

Our children will face struggles and suffering no matter what.  Deepening our relationships with them and speaking truth and hope into their lives is the model Jesus gave us for making disciples.

Through openness and humility with my children I seek to grow a relationship built on love and trust.  I want them to know that for the rest of their lives, they can turn to me for love and encouragement.  I want to always point them toward Jesus.  Not only when they are small and think that I am the Queen of Everything (oh how I love those days!) but also when they are towering over me and struggling with the world.

I am not sure where God will lead us as we seek Him for a family vision and ministry.  But I believe it will be an amazing journey.  As Sally said, "God is only limited by our faith."

Do you have a family vision or ministry?  I would love to hear how your family seeks to be Daniels in Babylon!

A Busy Mama Really Can Dwell in God's Presence

 Piles.  Everywhere.

Dish towers on the counter waiting to be loaded into the dishwasher.  Color-coded hills of dirty clothes awaiting their turn in the washing machine.  Wobbly school book towers on the table waiting for young hands to turn their pages.  Paper, paper, paper.

Everywhere more to do, an endless landscape of piles to be leveled.

The to-do list grows.

And the noise!  Chatter of newly learned history facts.  Fussing about who did what, when and why.  Requests for help.  Playing, singing, doors slamming, thudding feet, dogs barking, roosters crowing... so. much. noise!

Dwelling in God's presence, here?

Do you live in a real family like I do?  I'm guessing that, like me, you do not live the life of a contemplative, but are surrounded by people and sound and stuff.  Yet in the midst of the swirl of life, you and I really can dwell in the presence of our holy God!

The fact is, we live our lives in His presence, but we often forget.

Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.  Luke 17:21

I stand in my house and look at all those piles and hear all that racket and I have a choice.  I can let my mind walk down the road of panic and being overwhelmed, or I can choose to take captive wayward thoughts and walk into His presence.

How can I dwell in God's presence and still be a part of real life?

There are many practices that can draw us into His presence.  Some are simple, others for when we have more time of quiet.

1) Prayer

Perhaps you choose to get up early and pray in the wee dark hours.  But it may not be the season of your life to do this.  The bible reminds us to:

Pray without ceasing1 Thessalonians 5:17

Throughout your day, you can keep a running conversation with God.  Worship, confession, thanksgiving, requests, all blend together when you think of it as a conversation.  Just as your conversations with your best friend weave in and out, your conversations with God will have many facets.

2) Scripture

In a conversation, two people talk.  So how do we hear from God?  Through His Word!  Jesus said:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to youJohn 14:26

Read your bible every day.  Put scriptures that speak to your heart around your home.  A great place to put them is right in front of the kitchen sink - you probably spend a lot of time there!  Listen to music with lyrics from scripture.  Make it a habit to memorize scripture that speaks into your life (yes, mamas, scripture memorization isn't just for your kids!).

I can't count the number of times I have been praying and upset, and a scripture perfect for the situation has come to mind.  It is such a blessing.

3) Singing

Listening to scripture-based music not only allows God's Word to settle into your bones, singing it is a joyful way to pray, and bring you into His presence.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your heart to GodColossians 3:16

And your kids will love having a happy singing mama!

4) Our minds

What we think determines how we act.  Are you prone to stinkin' thinkin'?  God knows how much our minds are a battleground and there are many scriptures that address this topic.  Perhaps the most basic was said by Jesus:

And He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."  Matthew 22:37

I find myself often remembering this scripture:

...we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  2 Corinthians 10:5

A way to think about this is like a four year old knight-superhero-cowboy-wannabe might (I think I've mentioned I live with one)... lasso those varmints and hand them over to the authorities!   When you start noticing stinkin' thinkin' you might picture yourself literally grabbing those thoughts and giving them to Jesus to deal with.

Other scriptures about the mind include, Romans 8:6, Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 2:16

5) Our actions (obedience!)

It's simple.  Jesus said if we do what He said to do, we will remain in His love.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.  John 15:10

In Psalm 15:1-5 David asks "...who may dwell on Your holy hill?"  The answer is a description of a what a godly man does and does not do.

Choosing to be obedient does not make us more loved by God; it blesses us and grows us in joy.  It strengthens our trust in Him, which deepens our relationship.  We more easily are drawn into His presence.

We have a choice.  

We can dwell in His presence, ignore His presence, or actively turn away from Him. 

He's there no matter what we choose.

Do you long to dwell in His presence throughout your day?  What will you do to grow your awareness of His constant presence this week?

How a night owl became an early bird

I have never been a morning person.  My school days with their 7:15 bus pick up were torture.

As I got older I acquainted myself with caffeine.  When coffee proved to be devastating to my internal organs, I switched to tea.  Something had to get me through the day after burning the 2:00 am oil!

This habit became entrenched when, as a young mom with frequent nighttime nursers, I got used to spending the beginning of each morning in bed.  I enjoyed snuggling and playing with my little ones at the start of the day, but breakfast at 9:00 was just too late for everyone.  When our oldest reached school age I knew it was time to get the breakfast plan under control.  But I still never rose before dawn.

Over the years I had awakened early at one time or another, but never with any consistency.  About a year ago, I spent some time with a cousin who rises at 5:30 each morning.  Her family was very organized and her life seemed to flow effortlessly.  But 5:30?!  I decided to try.

It was hard at first but fruitful.  The problem?  I still could not seem to go to bed early.  I would become more and more exhausted, and eventually the whole schedule would implode.

Last August I began writing again regularly.  It was a good thing for me, but I was very concerned that it not detract in any way from the life of my family.

In September, I read that Kat from Inspired to Action was teaming up with Michelle from So I Married A Mennonite to challenge moms to be intentional about their morning time.  With great trepidation, I decided to join the challenge starting October 1.  I did okay with it, but it wasn't until I re-committed in November and joined the twitter accountability group that I began to see real change.

I was going to bed earlier and getting up earlier.  Months of waking in the dark grew a passion in me for those still early hours.  I lingered over my bible and in my prayer time.  No need to rush!

I decided to use that early time for writing as well, but found that because I did not want to feel hurried in my prayer and study, I needed to set my internal clock back a bit more.

Would you believe that my wake-up time is now 4:00 am?  And yes, this means a much much earlier bed time.  It is a rare night indeed that I am still awake at 10:00 pm.

It is truly a miracle that this chronic night owl is now such an early bird.  I joyfully anticipate the wee morning hours.  The fruit of my quiet time in the dark is greater peace in the light.  I am so grateful!

photo credit Michael Connors

Order is good, focus is better

A wee update on my goals to attain greater order in the joyous swirl of mayhem that is our homestead...

The three goals I set for February:

1) list all of our to-sell homeschooling books on homeschoolclassifieds.com

2) clear off the laundry room counter and find a home for every single thing

3) finish designing and launch the website

And how I (mostly randomly) projected to undertake these tasks:

homeschool book listing - 1 hour a week
laundry room counter - 5 minutes a day
website design - 2 hours on Monday nights, 30 minutes during my pre-dawn writing time each day.

I did work on the laundry room counter, but nowhere near as diligently as I intended (read: not every day).  I actually kept forgetting about it.  I am totally an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person. 

Homeschooling books... aack!  This I have not come close to getting done.  I refuse to allow piling books to sell to count, because that is just life-as-normal.

I have worked quite a bit on the website but not at all during the time I expected. Turns out I just can't plan anything for the evenings except reading to my kids and sleeping.  I have trouble even staying awake until 9:00 pm.  Might have something to do with the 4:00 am wake-up time! 

And here would be a good place to insert one other observation from my original plan:

"I am not really sure I am setting reasonable goals. I just really want these things done!"

This is my ongoing challenge.  Which is why I have been focusing this week on dwelling in God's presence.  It does help an awful lot with prioritizing.

I am trying out a new prescription for my life-glasses.  Taking off my look-what-you-haven't-accomplished glasses, I am putting on my look-at-how-blessed-you-are glasses.  I never notice myself putting that first pair back on, but I sure have to yank them off a lot.

Thankfully, the more focused I am on dwelling in God's presence, the more sharply focused and firmly attached my blessing-glasses become.

And, actually, they seem a more natural fit. 

Linking up with the 3 in 30 challenge...

photo by clara natoli

What Color Are God's Eyes?

One evening, after scribbling intensely at the dining room table, our daughter came to me with two sheets of paper in hand. "I wrote a poem" she said...

What Color Are God's Eyes?
a poem by The Princess, age 9

What color are God's eyes Mama?
What language does God speak?
Does God's face get all red
when he reaches the cold mountain peak?
Or is it already red
or maybe orange-y pink?
Or is it black or even brown?
How much does God think?
What color is God's hair?
Does He keep it short, or long?
Does God play an instrument?
or have a favorite song?
We can wait on some of these questions,
But there's one I can't postpone;
How many answers can we know
and how many are known?

(Mother's answer)
God's eyes don't have a color.
God speaks to our souls.
God never gets cold so
He needs no hot coals.

God doesn't have a skin color,
Because He has no skin.
And yes, God thinks, He thinks a lot.
He knows 'bout every fish's fin.

No color for God's hair either.
And definitely no length.
God plays us many tunes,
'bout love, grace, then His strength

He plays it on the harps of our hearts.
And about His favorite tune,
It's how we'll stay loving Him,
In times both later and soon.

So I can know all the answers,
And all of them I know,
Because I've read the bible,
Which is 'bout how God loves us so.

Seeking Him for each moment

glorious_sky by joyfulmama, on Pix-O-Sphere

We live in a fast-paced world.  Six and a half years ago my husband and I moved our little family to the country to try to slow down.  The pace came with us.

In fact, just being in the country increased the pace in some ways.

Every time I think I can not possibly add one more thing to my to-do list, I add one more thing to my to-do list.  My big picture list looks something like this:

~ spend time daily in prayer and bible study
~ prioritize my relationship with my husband
~ make sure each child feels loved and precious, and knows the Lord
~ educate the children well and thoroughly
~ teach the children life-skills
~ keep the house tidy, including re-organizing
~ feed the family healthy, home made, frugal meals
~ produce as much of our own food as possible (so far meat, eggs and vegetables)
~ maintain relationships with friends across the globe
~ write regularly
~ support other women writers
~ design and maintain a website
~ host and lead a monthly bible study
~ teach Sunday school 4 months of the year

The list grows and grows.

These things are all good things.  But, obviously, not all of them can be priorities.

It seems like it would be easier if there was a very clear list of what to do when. You know, if God could just write up a calendar?

But there isn't a calendar like that.  While I have found some ways to make my daily schedule more reflective of my priorities, and the farm is teaching me about seasonal priorities, every day I struggle in some way to decide what to do and what to let go of.

This is a struggle I have had my whole life, especially so once we started homeschooling and homesteading.  I have found one answer, and only one.

I have to live in His presence.

This means that I start every day talking to God.  The days when I get up in the wee dark hours are increasing now that my children all sleep through the night, and it is such a blessing.

But even if I am running late and can't snuggle on the couch with my bible, I whisper hellos and thanks and offer my day to Him as I drag my sleepy head off the pillow and to the kitchen.

It also means that all through the day I must keep checking in.  In fact, I should never check out.  I must dwell in God's presence, work there, think there, speak there, constantly.

Only then can I discern what is the needful thing for each moment.

It will come as no surprise that I do not succeed at this all the time!  But it is my heart's desire, and my prayer. 

When I dwell in His presence, the menial tasks of my day are miraculously converted to joyful service.  When I dwell in His presence, I can quickly see through the fog of details to the one needful thing.

When I dwell in His presence, I find myself dwelling more in the present. 

It is a blessing that God doesn't hand over a to-do list and a schedule, because it means I must seek Him throughout the day, and grow not in my own strength, but in abiding in Him.

How do you remember to dwell in His presence daily?

Meeting Arnol


I've been wondering when it would arrive.  November we sent in the form... please send another child.

Kamila is 19 now, almost out of the Compassion program.  I have watched her grow from a tiny girl to a woman.  Her picture was on my refrigerator before I became pregnant with our oldest child.  I worry about the heavy look that has grown on her face over the years.  I pray for purity for her... pure heart, pure hands, pure mind.  And for protection.

But we've been waiting for another.  The pain in my stomach, reading and thinking about poverty-stricken children, has led us to sponsor another Compassion child, first new child since 1994.

We received news of Golmon in December, then just as quickly learned that he had turned 19 a few days later and was no longer eligible.  I made a phone call.  I learned a new name.  And we waited again.

Finally it arrived.  His picture.  All the details...

16 years old

His white shoes tell the story of his loves... running and soccer.

He is a teenager, loves listening to music.

Today we will write to him.  My newly-turned 14 year old, on the cusp of everything, will write to this 16 year old boy with so little physical means at his disposal.   But the same loving God.

Five minutes to write, no editing, one prompt: What's the best mail you got recently? Thanks again to The Gypsy Mama for this great idea that allows my writing fingers to fly without hindrance.

A Day in Our Life

Last week was the first I'd heard of the Day in the Life meme, and I knew right away I wanted to try it. I love taking photos, but I'm as amateur as they come, so an excuse to play with my new camera was more than welcome.

I decided to use Saturday, January 29, 2011 as my shooting day, hoping on a non-school day I'd have more chance of remembering to take pictures every hour. I did miss a few, and there were circumstances that made me a bit off schedule a few times, but in the end this really does capture our day.

Since it was Saturday I slept in a little.  The first shot I remembered to take was...

6:35 am
Little Warrior comes to the couch prepared for quiet time with Mama

7:32 am
frying up farm eggs for breakfast

8:39 am
breakfast for chickies

9:42 am
making bread

10:46 am
braiding pipe cleaners into The Princess' hair for her show
(taken by Farmer Boy)

{In the 11:30 time frame there was too much drama getting
The Princess to Drama for me to even think of photos.
Around here we do theater on and off stage}

12:43 pm
waiting for the show to start
musical adaptation of Through the Looking Glass

{we were asked not to publish photos of the show due to copyright issues}

2:10 pm
backstage between acts, minus her Mad Hatter hat

3:07 pm
cast party after the show ~ chessmen cookies, naturally!

4:52 pm
driving home (taken by The Princess)

around 5:30 pm
playing on twitter

around 6:30 pm
dinner ~ pesto chicken with whole wheat penne and veggies

7:45 pm 
playing around in the kitchen with
miniature-plastic-armor-wearing Farmer Boy

8:21 pm
story time on the couch with the older two
we've come full circle ~ see the blanket from the first picture?

9:36 pm
time for bed!

And that's a wrap!

Thanks to Rebekah for the wonderful idea to photojournal our day.  Click on her button below to see her photos and links to other folks who participated...

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