A Season of Blessings and Thanksgiving


Late summer and early autumn swirled with Texas heat and ran high with emotion. We buried my grandmother in late August, started homeschooling in September, and tried to find a new life rhythm throughout many illnesses in October. The funeral brought with it hard questions from my four-year-old son. “Mommy, if you go to heaven before me, who will take care of me?” He would break down in tears for missing his great-grandma a few times a week. This little boy of mine has dealt with difficult things and shown wisdom beyond his years.

In this midst of trying to settle into a new normal, my two year old somehow managed to get salmonella poisoning; he’s an ardent thumb sucker, so he picks up germs like a magnet. We’ve gotten to the point of keeping him home from the church nursery – every couple of weeks he contracts some respiratory illness or stomach virus – my husband takes Asher to his class and volunteers at guest check-in, while I stay home with Keane and attempt to watch the sermon online. I’ve become a bible study dropout as well as a marriage class dropout…for the sake of keeping my little family unit sane and somewhat healthy.

The changing of seasons has brought a restful, hopeful anticipation (hopefully cooler temperatures will soon follow). To prepare my heart for the coming season, I’ve focused on finishing L.R. Knost’s Jesus, the Gentle Parent, as well as cultivating an atmosphere of thankfulness in our home. Amazingly enough, these two endeavors have gone hand in hand. One particular portion from the last chapter of her book birthed a purposeful question in my mind and heart.

She writes:
“So often when we read God’s word we hear what we’ve heard from the pulpit instead of hearing the voice of a Father who loves unconditionally, sacrificially, and eternally. And so often what we’ve heard from the pulpit is accusation, damnation, and condemnation. It’s no wonder we have problems trusting in God’s unconditional love if all we hear are commands, demands, and reprimands echoed in those misguided voices…it can feel like…you’re digging and sifting and winnowing your way through years of hearing human interpretations from God’s Word spoken from the pulpit and from Sunday School teachers and Bible camp counselors and parents and friends and relatives, etc…”

Those impactful words led me to this question: Am I listening to echoes of misguided voices, or am I listening to the still, small voice of God?

Granted, I’ve been blessed with fabulous parents, pastors, teachers, and counselors along the way. However, I have also been exposed to more than my fair share of skewed, judgmental, unloving Christians. None of us are perfect. Especially me. I’ll be the first to admit unloving, harsh, judgmental things have lived in my mind and heart, and have been spoken from my lips. I pray that I am forever changed in that regard. I can easily think back to my childhood and recall several poignantly defining moments that are forever etched in my soul. They shaped my views of God, because a child’s first exposure to God is based on the people in his or her life. We are either the hands and feet of Jesus, or a stumbling block in someone else’s path.

I remember hearing about the scandal of a pastor’s daughter’s teenage pregnancy…and I don’t remember any kind words said about that situation as it was whispered between the adults at church. I would have been four or five at the time, and I still remember the lack of grace. When I was in the seventh grade, I witnessed firsthand women from our church, who we called friends, tease my mother behind her back. I guess most people assume children don’t pay attention or won’t remember – I definitely did both. As a young teenager, I witnessed an adult youth group leader remove various students’ True Love Waits cards from a bulletin board when there were rumors of premarital sex. Inadvertently, I was taught to be judgmental and harsh from this lack of grace played out by those I looked to for guidance.

For me, based on my history of experiences, I know how easy it is to slip into those old mannerisms, because those old voices still roll around my heart and head. For better or worse, they became part of my formative years. My goal as a parent is to never let my children experience those types of behaviors in our home. I can’t control the outside world, but I can control the people we welcome into our lives. I can control my own words and responses to situations. I can teach grace and love by modeling them in my speech and actions.

As a pastor’s daughter, I’ve heard more of my father’s sermons than I can count, but one of the lessons I most remember came not from the pulpit, but at a restaurant. My family was eating lunch at Chili’s on a Sunday afternoon in Mansfield, TX. It was very busy from the church lunch rush, and our waitress was remiss in refilling our drinks the entire meal. When the check came, I urged my father not to leave a tip, because she had given such poor service. As I watched him write in an amount for the tip, I objected once more. He spoke words that I will never forget as long as I live, and bring tears to my eyes even now: “Robin, it’s called grace.” I remember feeling speechless, a major feat for my talkative teenage self.

Four words, not a three-point sermon, are what I’ve held on to throughout my adult years. I have been the recipient of God’s unfathomable grace more times than I’ll ever know. It’s that type of grace and love that I long to impart to my children. It’s this particular season of the year that heralds such a message. Before the craziness of Christmas comes the quiet of Thanksgiving. I will work to create a loving, graceful, thankful environment in my home. I will teach by living instead of simply speaking. I will strive to cultivate a safe, nonjudgmental space that speaks truth in love. The past couple of days have found me working to implement tangible traces of grace in our home. I’ve created a list of family goals for November, and have made a Doxology printable (complete with a photo I took in our neighborhood’s nature preserve). We begin our mornings by lighting our Thankful Tree and singing the Doxology. While these may not be monumental for my young children, they work to bring a sense of peace, calm, and an attitude of gratitude to my mama-heart. I pray you will find the same in this season of life!


Our Shalom Summer

Late spring and early summer proved to be a bit busy for our family. My husband and I were involved in a Sunday evening marriage enrichment course and a Thursday evening discipleship study — long nights for two little boys, lots of homework for Mommy and Daddy, and about twelve weeks of being stretched thinner than usual. Both courses greatly enriched our lives, and we came away from the experiences with a bevy of new friends. Win-win! We were also ready for a break…which led to our laid-back, Shalom-style summer. Lots of rest and peace for this family!

In the weeks since, we’ve kind of sheltered-in-place at home. I’ve been planning and prepping for homeschooling, spending more time in the kitchen, and allowing my mind and heart space to breathe. Nearly two months ago, I permanently deleted my Facebook account…and it has made a world of difference! Motherhood is my current mission and ministry, and I needed to prune away distractions for my own sanity. Over the past several weeks, a handful of people have asked me when I’m coming back to Facebook; I’m so relieved to say, “Never!”

This time has also allowed me to finalize our core values and family mission. Our core values came about when I was listening to a Wild+Free homeschooling podcast. Our goal for homeschooling is to create disciples and life-long learners who marvel at the world and how it works — I chose our core values based on the goals we want to achieve as a family, and the lifestyle I want our children to value. The idea for our family mission was born out of our discipleship group; I got the idea when we were talking about how our lives fit into God’s story, and how he is the author and perfecter of each of our stories. Hopefully, it will keep us mindful of our purpose.

  

The boys and I have started making sourdough bread — they make wonderful messes while learning about fermentation and feeding the starter. Keane is a big fan of burying his hands in the einkorn flour, than flapping his arms like a bird. This has proved to be a patience-building exercise for Mommy! My goal is to stop buying pre-made foods; I want them to value what goes into their bodies and appreciate the baking process. They eat their sourdough bread with almond butter (not yet homemade) and jelly (with dewberries and grapes they helped handpick). Next on the homemaking to-do list: homemade kvass with the leftover bread crusts, and then homemade cocoa almond butter. I’ll attempt these next kitchen adventures in a few weeks…baby steps!

As a former teacher, I’ve no doubt over-prepared for our inaugural homeschooling year. My main struggles will most likely be consistency and balance (things I struggle with in my personal life, as well). Although, I do have the benefit of Asher’s ultra-consistent personality and his passionate tenacity to learn. He’ll keep me on track…probably more than I’d like! I’m so excited to share the adventures of education with my children. It is an honor that God is allowing me to speak truth into their lives, and I do not take this journey lightly.

With the dawn of each new day, I attempt to implement spaces of Sabbath margin. If my heart and mind are intentionally focused on restful Shalom, I find that I’m more patient and peaceful with my family. I’ve traded the fancy brewing machine for a whistling kettle and teapot; I light candles to create a mellow atmosphere; we listen to music throughout the day instead of allowing the TV to be our constant soundtrack. I also scaled back my photography endeavors, which leaves more time at home with my family. Small things tend to make a world of difference in my home. My days have become a beautiful blend of delicious tea, intoxicating candles, calming essential oils, Andrew Peterson, J.J. Heller, Jill Phillips, and Andy Gullahorn. I lack the time and money for spa days and weekend getaways…but I do have the ability to craft a peaceful home.

Along with scripture, I’m working my way through several books by some of my favorite authors: Sally Clarkson, L.R. Knost, and S.D. Smith. Filling my mind and heart with beautiful words written by inspired authors keeps me focused on truth, goodness, and beauty. It’s those very elements that I long to instill in my children. Of course we still endure some crazy, chaotic days, but the foundations of Sabbath and Shalom keep me grounded in the midst of it all.

My Faith Story

I was raised in a Christian family and vividly remember asking Jesus into my heart at age four. With a childlike faith, I understood that I needed Jesus in my life, and was baptized a few months before my fifth birthday. Growing up, I always knew Jesus loved me and that I was made to worship, serve, and love…but as I became an adult, things weren’t as easy as I’d always understood them to be.

I married while still in college, and soon began teaching fulltime. The long hours I kept grading papers, planning lessons, figuring out classroom management, reading endless books, and generally just trying to survive, left me exhausted and nearing depression. In an attempt to maintain a happy demeanor, I ended up spending more time with one of my girl friends than my husband. I was extremely naïve and lacked wisdom (although at the time I never would have recognized that about myself) — I didn’t realize I was dealing with depression; I just knew I felt “happier” when we stayed out half the night, laughing and dancing at the bar.

That entire time, I was running from my problems, running from God’s grace. It led me down the path of an emotional affair and eventual divorce. I resigned my teaching position. I packed up and moved to England to pursue a very wrong relationship — under the guise of following my dreams of teaching in another country. A lie to try and hide my blatant sin. My depression deepened because I felt like such a failure to God and my family.

The entire time I was in England, God kept pursuing my heart. I began to read scripture and online devotionals because within my heart of hearts, I knew the only way out of the pit of pain and depression was through Jesus.

Early one morning on the train from Cambridge to London, I broke down and called my parents. Through that difficult phone call, I began to admit the extent of my sin; they responded with God’s love and grace. I knew I deserved their anger and disappointment, but they chose to offer the healing balm of holy love. Over the next couple of weeks, I filled in the gaps and details of my hidden story via email…and again they extended grace, filling the dark places of my heart with hope.

I remember sitting in Westminster Abbey during an Easter service, tears streaming down my face. In the midst of a beautiful liturgy, I knew that God never gave up on me. No matter how far I ran or how badly I messed up, he wasn’t finished with me. Not long after that, I came back home to face the consequences of my decisions. Through it all, God placed people of faith and encouragement in my path to speak truth into my life. He kept tangibly reminding me he loved me, and that I was worthy of his love. I was never beyond his reach. After a lifetime of knowing about God’s grace in an academic sort of way, I finally fully experienced it — not just in my head, but in my heart. Along the way, I met and married a godly man who helped me further understand God’s unconditional love, and we’ve been blessed with two sons.

Eight years after my greatest failure, God spoke to my heart at the end of a church service. He reminded me of how far he had taken me. I lived the life of a prodigal, and he ran to me while I was still far away. When I couldn’t do anything but hang my head in shame, he gently lifted my chin to dry my tears and kiss my cheek. At that moment, I felt called to be baptized again, this time as a testament to his relentless grace, and my life of hope in him.

What are you drinking?

My husband and I recently had the pleasure of hiking several trails in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, OK. We spent twenty-nine kid-free hours reconnecting with one another, surrounded by natural beauty.

Before setting off on our hike, we chatted with a park ranger who proudly spoke of the natural features we would encounter. She told us her favorite trails in a friendly fashion, but her demeanor became a bit more serious when we asked which water sources were safe for drinking. Looking us square in the eyes, she explained that only one spring on the trail was safe drinking water, as it is filtered through miles of underground rock, but the streams — in spite of the flowing waterfalls — were not safe because they originated from stagnant sources. Important information, no doubt!

We returned home from our mini-getaway refreshed and ready to tackle the daily grind of life. The past several months have been busier than we could have anticipated — sometimes it’s difficult to come up for air. A new job for my husband, birthdays for all three of my guys, gearing up for homeschool in the fall, a discipleship class on Thursday nights, and a marriage enrichment course on Sunday nights. Bedtime routines have been in disarray since the beginning of our evening classes — which seems to overthrow daily schedules and nap times, too. Motherhood takes no breaks; some days I tread water, sometimes the current pulls me along nicely, and other days are hard-fought battles where I’m forced to swim upstream.

In the midst of this season of life, God has been gently speaking to my heart, pruning the overgrowth. He’s been drawing me into his arms, inviting me to sit at the table he has prepared specifically for me. For so long, I’ve danced around that invitation with the excuse of demanding children, laundry piles, and dishes that spill out of the sink. The thing is, I pride myself on not leading a busy life. I do my best to limit our commitments so we’re not constantly pulled in different directions…but the pace of my life still managed to overtake me. I’ve allowed the static to creep in and drown out the rhythm of Shalom. I did not protect the quiet places reserved for hearing the voice of God. Day in and day out, I drift past the table He set for me, letting my cup grow cold and leaving my Ultimate Companion with an empty seat.

I recently came across a quote by Derek Webb that deeply resonated within my core…

It gut-checked my newly-busy routine and harried schedule. The ugly truth is that I’ve been telling The Creator that I am too important for him.

When I filled what should have been quiet spaces with Facebook, articles, and other social media outlets, I drank from stagnant waters that could not satisfy. Sure, that stream may have looked appealing — babbling and bubbling with excitement — but it wasn’t a potable source for my soul. When God called me to sit at his feet and drink the cup in his hands, how many times did I walk away? In the spaces that should have been reserved for giving my children my full, undivided attention, how many times did they see a phone in front of my face?

Months ago, I felt God specifically speak to my heart that it was time to permanently walk away from Facebook. Please understand I’m not saying Facebook (or any social media) is wrong or evil or un-spiritual. That is absolutely not the case, and that’s not my intent for sharing my heart on this personal issue. At the time, I knew deep down what I was supposed to do, but I wanted to do it on my terms. I deactivated my account for a while…then logged back in and eventually resumed business as usual…then logged out and changed my password for a bit…then a couple of weeks later logged back in as usual. Each time, I was able to justify my actions; each time it was selfish disobedience. In my prayer time, I felt God telling me (time and time again) that I wouldn’t be able to fully hear him until I submitted this area of my life. I even wrote it down. More than once.

There were plenty of times I heard it again and again without writing it down…over a period of nine months. I could take the cute angle and joke about how stubborn I am, but I’m taking the honest angle and calling out my blatant, willful, repetitive disobedience. There even came a point when I knew full well that I wasn’t going to get the next piece of the puzzle, hear any sort of next steps or instructions, until I did what was asked of me. Yet I continued to ignore it, convincing myself it wasn’t truly significant.

It became so easy for me to justify keeping my account because I wasn’t engaging in anything shady or unscrupulous, I was simply connecting with friends and staying semi-active in a few photography, fitness, and mom groups. Nothing illicit or scandalous. Just run-of-the-mill, stay-at-home-mom Facebook stuff. But I was willfully ignoring a “small” thing God had asked of me. I wasn’t yielding and submitting in a very specific area of my life, which spilled over into my relationships with my husband and children. How could I be an attentive, graceful, loving wife if I wasn’t drinking from the Spring of Life? How could I be patient, merciful, and understanding with my children if I kept inviting distractions into my mind and heart?

I finally pulled the plug this month and deleted my account. Sure enough, as soon as I chose obedience and submission to God’s will, the static began to clear. The voice of truth once again became audible. My delayed obedience (which is actually disobedience) had, in essence, dammed the flow of living water within my spirit. Repentance and right action brought restoration. 

How about you, dear friend? Are you joyfully plunging headlong into the reckless raging fury they call the love of God? Drinking deeply from his living water? Dripping with overwhelmingly abundant life? I pray that you are! Maybe you’re like me…sipping stagnant streams and searching for Shalom. All it takes is one willful act of obedience to begin to break the barrier. Be willing. Your table is already set — he is ready, willing, and waiting!

A Flood of Ink and Tears

It took two days for the dam to finally break. After 48 hours of purposefully busying myself with projects around the house and running errands, I was faced with an empty house and an inky powder keg.

A box of rubber stamps fell out of the hall closet, burst into a mess on the tile floor…and I burst into tears. I sat down on the floor in a heap to sort the animal stamps from the alphabet stamps. The upper case letters from the lower case. The ink pads from the colored pencils. All I wanted to do was grab an old towel from the closet so I could paint my nails — I needed to keep my brain occupied with another menial task so I could ignore the emotional storm brewing in my heart. Not forever, just for another day or two. But those pesky stamps changed everything.

In between sorting, organizing, deep sobs, and torrential tears, I began to come to terms with my grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. Our family just got the news two days ago — on my dad’s birthday no less. I’ve been through this before with my other grandmother, and it just about wrecked me. However, this time it’s different. Back in 2007, I wasn’t a mother. I didn’t have to navigate the waters of explaining illness and death to my children. Then, I just had to deal with my own grief…which proved much more difficult than I anticipated.

It would be different if my children were both too small to understand, but Asher is definitely old enough for an age-appropriate conversation. Keane lives in beautiful toddlerhood oblivion, of which I am currently jealous. Asher, though, has been asking tough questions about death, dying, and going to heaven for quite some time now — several weeks, actually. Perhaps God has been preparing his little heart.

The easy answer is to do the culturally-approved American thing: tell my almost-four-year-old nothing. Let him live in sweet ignorance and cross the big bridges when we get there. The more I’ve considered this option, the less comfortable I am with it. Sure, it will be easier in the short term. I wouldn’t have to answer a barrage of questions…wouldn’t have to explain difficult concepts…wouldn’t have to answer even more questions…wouldn’t have to open him up to harsh realities… (Did I mention not having to answer a gazillion questions?)

In doing nothing, I would be robbing him of a chance to build his faith. Robbing our family of a holy opportunity to fall at the feet of Jesus when things get difficult. The easy thing is to continue on — busying myself with nature journals, loads of laundry, and menu planning — but I have not been called to live an easy life. I am called to raise up my children in the way they should go, so that when they are old, they will not depart from it. I am called to do hard things for God’s glory, not my comfort.

I can turn on an episode of Paw Patrol and go reorganize my closet in an attempt not to think about it, or I can show my children how to pray in the face of uncertainty. Granted, there will be days when I rely on Ryder and his team of pups to save my sanity for 30 minutes (or an hour) at a time, but my aim must be steadied on Christ. In the midst of overwhelming emotions and big questions from little people, I can live out my faith in a tangible way. I can physically show my children what it looks like to rely on God and not myself.

I have no doubt we will experience hiccups along the way, but God is faithful. Yesterday morning, while preparing Asher’s waffle and chocolate milk, he caught me off guard with this seemingly out-of-the-blue statement: “Well, I know that not even death could bring Jesus down! When his body stopped moving and his lungs stopped breathing, death couldn’t stop him. And after three days, he rosed from the grave!” Less than twelve hours after hearing that dreaded diagnosis for my adventure-loving Grandma, my three-year-old reminded me that we serve a God who has already conquered sickness and death.

Navigating the Seasons of Motherhood

It’s taken me almost four years to allow myself to begin following my passions outside of being Mommy. In the first few months of marriage I published a children’s book; it was an exciting project and my husband was my biggest fan! Fast-forward nearly five years, and mothering two small children is beyond a fulltime job — there are no nights or weekends off, no breaks, and no vacations (at least not yet). Being a nursing mother adds another plot twist that makes it quite difficult to just drop the kids off at Camp Grandma & Grandpa for a weekend of “freedom.”

Before Keane was born, I ventured back into the blogging waters. It’s been a great way to let my creative juices flow and fulfill my passion for writing. A year after he arrived, I decided to get serious about figuring out my DSLR…I didn’t want childhood moments left to chance on auto settings or my never-enough-storage-available iPhone. Now that I’ve gotten a handle on shooting manual and am developing my eye for photography, others have asked me to capture their special moments and beautiful families. It’s truly an honor that gives me a sense of joy and allows me to stretch my creative legs.

This new endeavor has been teaching me that it’s not always as easy to navigate the waters of motherhood and doing things for myself. There is balance for all things, but it’s not always easily found. Voices tear at me from all directions:

You’d be happier if you had a career.
Don’t define yourself by motherhood.
Just take a vacation without the kids.
Letting them cry it out won’t kill them.

While everyone is well-intentioned, my aim cannot be to hit someone else’s mark of motherhood. Advice that works for some women is not a fix-all bandage for all womankind. It’s easy to get caught up in other people’s ideals, but I’ve learned that my finger must be on my own pulse…not those of friends, family members, or social media personas. The one piece of advice that seems to surface from seasoned mothers is this: This is only a season, enjoy it while you can.

I find that particular wisdom to be of utmost help. My children won’t be so incredibly needy forever. One day (hopefully), they will both sleep through the night without assistance. There will come a day that they won’t crawl up in my lap, and will be out of the house more than I’d like. Until that time comes, God has placed it on my heart to savor this season. I can take care of my children while honing my photography skills; I can document their childhood with talent, but I don’t need to feel forced into a business that would just add unnecessary stress. As time allows, I can document other families’ memories on a more regular basis…but my priority remains at home. Of course it’s nice to get away for the occasional session, but I’m nowhere near ready to give up our family’s evenings and weekends.

This season will be over in a blink of an eye. I will pine for it in my old age. My goals for this season are simple: Glorify God. Nurture my family. Live a quiet life. Savor each day.

How we Celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas

I wait for Christmas all year long with great anticipation and excitement. Since having children, I long to impart that same hopeful joy to them throughout the holiday season. I credit my parents and Granny Jean for filling my heart with beautiful memories of advent, Christmas carols, and endless laughter with family. While I do remember a handful of my childhood presents, those pale in comparison to my memories of lighting advent candles, praying over the Christmas cards we received — asking God to bless those families throughout the coming year, and gathering around the kitchen table to swap stories over chips and dip.

This is the Christmas experience I want for my children. Not making endless lists of stuff and going over the top with gifts. Sure, it can be fun to spoil our kids…but not at the expense of losing sight of what truly matters. With at three-and-a-half-year-old and an eighteen-month-old, our little family traditions are just beginning, but I am very intentional about how we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Christmas AND Hanukkah

We read in the bible about Jesus celebrating Hanukkah; it’s called the Feast of Dedication in John 10:22-40. Christianity, for the most part, doesn’t pay enough attention to the Hebrew calendar — which is a bit of a shame considering it is rich with tradition, history, and depicts a beautiful picture of God’s perfect timing. I have a fantastic book of biblical holidays that describes how Jesus fulfills each of the Jewish feasts. It is important for me to impart to my children how our Jewish roots are an integral part of Christianity. (For a concise reference to each biblical holiday, I also have a pamphlet that quickly ties everything together.)

This will be the first year we light the menorah, and I’m very excited about using one my dad brought back from Israel earlier this year. To explain the history of this sacred tradition, we read a children’s book about the Maccabees, and discuss how God miraculously allowed the menorah to burn in spite of a lack of oil. We have a traditional seven-branch menorah, as well as a DIY kid-friendly Hanukkah menorah (because toddlers and candles make me nervous).

For our family, the focus is Jesus. I adapted nightly Hanukkah readings from A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays to fit our young audience’s attention span. Each night focuses on different aspects of Jesus being the light of the world. If you’re interested in learning how Hanukkah fits in with Christmas, here is a short, helpful blog and video. If you’re trying to navigate the tricky waters of commercialism versus Christ, there is a great DVD available for you and your kids to watch together.

Instead of building up a belief in Santa, we tell the story of the real Saint Nicholas. Even at three years old, Asher understands that every Santa Claus we see reminds us of the real Nicholas, and how he served others because of his love for Jesus. I want my boys to be rooted in the things of Christ from an early age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re Santa-haters…it also doesn’t mean we tell them that he comes down the chimney to bring presents. We celebrate Saint Nicholas day by reading a book about the real person, then we playfully sneak around and leave coins in each other’s shoes. This year, Asher insisted on sneaking the coins into his own shoes — fine with me! He really enjoyed himself and fully comprehended the concept.

In addition to a traditional Christmas tree, we also have a Jesse tree that tells the story of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. Each day from December 1st to the 25th, the kids get a new ornament that depicts a piece of the story. We sit cuddled together to read the corresponding scripture before adding the ornament to our Jesse tree. This is our version of an advent calendar — Asher loves getting a new ornament and reading the Bible each morning! If you’re up for a crafty kind of Christmas, your kids can make their own Jesse tree ornaments.

Whatever your family traditions may be, I wish you and yours abundant blessings of peace, love, and joy this sacred season! May we be free of commercialism’s chains as we remember how Christ came as a baby, and wait with hopeful anticipation for his return. Merry Christmas!

Radical Christianity: The Proper Response to ISIS

This is where many of you become offended, raise your eyebrows, scratch your heads, hit the back button, and truly believe I’ve gone off the deep end. And that’s ok. I began writing this in early September, but at the time I felt like I wasn’t supposed to finish it. Then today, God impressed upon my spirit to get it out there.

At this point, to remain silent is to be disobedient. Please know that each word I write is drenched with prayer and sincerity. May they fall on receptive ears, eyes, and hearts. And if they don’t, that’s ok. My job is only to write.  

There is a discernible difference between righteous indignation and hate-fueled anger for the atrocities, persecution, and unspeakable acts committed by ISIS. It is right and good to be angered by the murder of innocent people. Harness the holy anger, that righteous indignation, and focus it on a proper response to terrorism. As Christians, we are given clear scriptural directives about how to respond to our enemies: with prayer and love. Not by amassing a cache of weapons, not meeting hatred with hatred, not vowing to kill and destroy. For those of us who have forgotten how Christ commands us to respond to those who hate us — who would like to blow us to bits, who seek our annihilation — let yourselves become steeped in the Word, not the world.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matthew 5:44

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Romans 12:19

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12

As Christians, we do not get to pick and choose who receives God’s grace. He freely extends it to all…even the people we may not like. Especially those we are inclined to hate. God longs for the hearts of those fighting for ISIS, believe it or not. They, too, are created in his image. They, too, have eternity written on their hearts. If you truly feel burdened to bring the fight to ISIS, then let me introduce you to a recruiter friend of mine. He will happily sign you up to be involved in the business of fighting on behalf of the United States military — a truly noble profession.

However, if this does not interest you, then your responsibility is simple. Pray. Pray hard prayers. Pray for the members of ISIS. Pray for God to intervene in their actions, in their lives, and in their leadership. Pray for their plans to be thwarted, of course, but also pray for them to have dreams and visions of Jesus. Pray that many of them would have the same dreams and visions on the same night…and be compelled to talk to one another about them.

These things are already happening. Pray that they keep occurring. There is a website dedicated to praying for Isis — they offer daily guided prayers for Christians. Get a group praying together. If you don’t truly believe that God is far more effective at “fighting” than man, it’s time to spend more time in the scriptures. It’s time to expand your horizons and deepen your faith. Praying these prayers will absolutely do that.

True radical Christianity looks nothing like a hate group. It is an absolute love fest. It is a broken-hearted people seeking the face of God. Radical Christianity looks like a people on its knees. If you want to defeat the enemy, stop fighting of your own accord. Let God bring the fight to their hearts by fundamentally changing your heart through prayer. It’s easy to sit and do nothing. It’s easy to spout hate and complain. It is a hard thing to beseech the throne and ask God to show them his face. Which response brings God glory and furthers his kingdom?

Homemade Elderberry Syrup Recipe

It’s that time of year! Coughs and colds can derail your family if left unchecked — prevention is the best medicine. I try to keep a mason jar full of this magic juice in the fridge all throughout the fall and winter. It’s taken me a few different attempts to tweak the recipe to perfection; I started off with two different recipes I found online, then adjusted the ingredients to fit my family’s palate.

Ingredients
4 cups water
1 cup elderberries
2 cinnamon sticks
1 heaping teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 cup raw honey (switch to grade B maple syrup if using with children under 12 months)

Instructions

  1. Pour water in medium saucepan, add elderberries, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Do NOT add the honey yet.
  2. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour (until the liquid has reduced by almost half). Remove from heat and let cool enough to be handled.
  3. Pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl. (I like to strain it twice.)
  4. Discard or upcycle the elderberries. In the summer months, I boil them again, strain the berries, then mix the juice with lemonade. (Asher loves elderberry lemonade!) Other times, I simply compost them in the garden.
  5. When the juice is warm (but not hot), add 1 cup of raw honey, and stir well. You don’t want to add raw honey to the hot liquid, because it decreases the health benefits of raw honey.
  6. Store in a mason jar in the fridge!

Dosage
Our standard dose is 1 teaspoon for the kids, and 1 tablespoon for adults. Many recommend taking it every other day, or on weekdays but not on weekends. If the cold or flu strikes, take the normal dose every two to three hours until symptoms disappear. Or, if you’re like my husband, just drink shots from the jar.

Living a Life of Sabbath Margin

I recently finished up a group study of Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe, and it has been an absolute game-changer. Over the past ten-to-twelve weeks, God has really been speaking to my heart — teaching me to rightly order my affections for him — and Breathe flowed perfectly with what God had already been showing me. A leisurely stroll through our neighborhood with Asher allowed me to reflect on God’s presence in every aspect of life.

 
Since finishing the study a few weeks ago, my priorities have changed, my lifestyle has shifted, and I’m absolutely in love with simplicity. Creating margin in every aspect of my life has allowed me to flourish as a wife and mother. Of course there are still crazy, chaotic days…but I know where to go for solace and peace. 

Living a lifestyle that lends itself to celebrating the Sabbath creates clarity and presence of mind. The Sabbath isn’t simply about The Seventh Day…it’s much more than that. Incorporating elements of the Sabbath into every single day have allowed me to focus on the things that matter most, and not get caught up in crazy-makers, background noise, and mama-drama from outside sources. I’m creating space in my house — goodbye old baby clothes, books that I’m not reading, and toys that accumulate dust. I’ve started limited my time on social media — focusing mostly on family and long-time friends, instead of several happening mommy groups. Leaving one particular moms’ group was difficult; I enjoyed dialoguing with my favorite mommy friends throughout the day…but I lacked boundaries and over-indulged on a regular basis. We got rid of cable — and its accompanying monthly bill. The less there is to distract me, the more my heart is focused on truth, goodness, and beauty — and my soul is anchored in God’s Word.