A Qualified Homeschool Teacher?

I am a certified educator who taught high school English in Texas and in England for a total of six years. My teaching experience includes gifted and talented education, pre-Advanced Placement, Advanced Placement, accelerated courses, and university-prep courses. After leaving public school classrooms, I went on to teach in a private pre-kindergarten program for a short stint. The last few years found me involved in adult education where I co-led Shakespeare classes for military veterans. I’m also in my eighteenth year of service in the Air Force National Guard, where I’ve received top-notch leadership training. Since 2011, I’ve authored, co-authored, and contributed writing to four published books. I’ve been interviewed by local media, a prominent podcaster, and—quite miraculously—found myself as an official staff member at a nationally-recognized theatre. Oh, and I’ve homeschooled my two sons since the very beginning.

All of that sounds really good on paper, doesn’t it? But I want to let you in on a little secret: None of that qualifies me to be a homeschooling educator.

What does qualify someone to be a homeschool teacher? A love for one’s own children. If you love your babies—even those giant, overgrown babies—from the depths of your being, you are qualified to teach your children! I can confidently assure you that my university degree, state certification, and leadership training do not make me a good homeschooling mom. In fact, my experience in formal classrooms was more of a hindrance than a help. A love for my children and a passion to learn alongside them is the only qualification I need.

Sweet Mama, if you are feeling less than confident, anxious, fearful, or inadequate, please hear me: No one is more qualified to come alongside your children and walk this educational journey than you are.

You were created in the image and likeness of God!

His works are wonderful, and you know that full well!

You have the mind of Christ!

Go back and read those statements again. Put them in first-person and say them out loud. Repeat until you believe it! You stand on HIS truth, goodness, and beauty. God is in the business of redemption; if you feel your own education was inadequate, He will redeem your education as you teach your child!

Walking in faith is hard. Saying yes to the unknown is hard. What you’re doing—whether it’s for a season or for the duration—might seem impossible. But I’m here to tell you it’s not! When you give God your yes and invite His holy interruption, He will show up. He will equip you to do the hard things. He will give you the strength for each day, the wisdom to lead, and the passion to persevere. There is plenty of oil for your lamp, and He’s waiting to give it to you!

Courage, dear heart! Where you’ve been called, you will be equipped. Remember He is for you and He will never leave you nor forsake you. Please know I’m cheering you on every step of the way. You’ve got this! May you rest in the arms of the One who painted the stars in the canvas of heaven.

Mothering with Grace

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The myriad of threads woven into the fabric of your day make up your family’s tapestry of faith. What we see mid-process looks like loose threads and knots, but God is taking those gloriously quotidian efforts and crafting a masterpiece. Remain faithful in your weaving, dear mama. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6). Here are some of the daily rhythms that have enriched our family’s faith journey…

Biblical Affirmations

When you begin the day by speaking biblical words of affirmation over your children, it not only reminds them of who they are in Christ, it reminds YOU of who they are in Christ! Our affirmation statements are based in scripture; this idea came from a Wild + Free podcast I heard many years ago. Every morning at 9:00am, we sit together, hold hands, and I look them in the eyes as I say:

  1. You are a mighty man of God.
  2. You are a leader of leaders and a follower of Jesus Christ.
  3. You are a blessing wherever you go; you are never a burden.
  4. You walk in favor with God and man.
  5. You are bold and you speak the truth.
  6. You are creative, artistic, athletic, and intelligent.
  7. You will marry only whom God has intended for you.
  8. You will lend to many nations and you will never borrow.
  9. The Fruit of the Spirit lives inside you.
  10. You are a Ludwig young man, and you are destined for righteousness!

After affirmations, I chose a couple of scriptures to pray over them. When we routinely begin our days in this manner, we all tend to treat one another with more kindness, love, grace, understanding, and respect. When we become swept up in life’s craziness and move away from this anchor, attitudes deteriorate and there’s more fussing all around.

Take Authority

When those inevitable sibling squabbles arise, I’m quick to take authority and lead my boys in the act of repentance. “Son, the Bible tells us our words have the power to give life or death. Did you speak life or death over your brother just now?” Starting there keeps me focused on the actual issue at hand: We are all sinful people living together in one house; the enemy would love nothing more than to bring division, and then keep that division going with an upset, angry response from one or both parents.

Recognize the enemy’s plans, and thwart them through the power of the Holy Spirit. After they speak words of apology and forgiveness, I hold their hands together in mine and pray: “God, thank you for giving these brothers to each other for life. Your word says it is good and pleasant for brothers to dwell together in unity, and I pray you break the spirit of frustration between them, and bind them with your unity.”

Does it magically make them both happy? Do glittery butterflies and rays of light shoot out from our hands clasped in prayer? No and no. But it absolutely takes the sting out of the situation. Inviting Jesus right into the middle of a disagreement always makes a difference. This is discipleship-based discipline over punitive punishment.

In our family vocabulary, we call this “planting a Kingdom flag.” I wrote a parable story for my boys to explain spiritual warfare in a way they could understand. We all know that the battles we fight are not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). Simply yelling at my kids for their behavior and sending them to their room doesn’t get at the root of the issue. In so doing, I’ve aimed my worldly arrows at flesh and blood. I need to exchange my “weapons” for God’s and redirect my aim!

I believe this story was divinely inspired after three days of fasting and prayer, in which I experienced palpable spiritual warfare. As a writer, I normally follow a creative process when I set out to write something. Not this time! This story was nothing like anything I’d ever written. The best I can explain it was God instantly downloaded it into my brain, and I could barely keep up with getting it on paper. With it came a direct instruction: “Tell your children.” I did, and they gained an immediate understanding of what happens in the spiritual realm when we pray and take back ground from the enemy. They understood that the enemy was defeated long ago, and we–as Christians–have authority to enforce God’s victory. I share this story with you in case you’d like to use it in your own home. Genuinely, I can’t take writer’s credit since God gave it to me.

Click to read the story: THE KINGDOM KEEPERS

The story itself may seem unfinished, but I believe that was done on purpose. There was simply no more “divine inspiration” past that point, and I didn’t feel at liberty to add more or attempt to finish it on my own efforts. However, I strongly felt God tell me to take my boys on a prayer walk to finish the story. After reading the last line, I charged my boys with this statement: “Let’s go plant flags for the King, my princes!”

We then set out on a prayer walk where semi-violent protests had taken place the night before. (No protests were taking place at the time we went out, all was physically safe.) I held their hands as we walked to the police station–now covered with graffiti and strewn with trash–and we prayed for God’s unity and healing to be released in our state and nation. We prayed for God’s angel armies to be released in battling the spiritual forces of violence and division. We planted Kingdom flags together! They tangibly understood their part in spiritual warfare. I’d say that was infinitely more powerful than any story ending I could’ve crafted!

Teach your children about spiritual warfare as soon as they come to Christ. Don’t give them a watered down cartoon version of “Sunday School Jesus.” My friend Jillian often reminds me that there is no Junior Holy Spirit, and she is absolutely right! Have your children pray big prayers with you, and rejoice over every single answered prayer. Invite them into your walk with Christ, and tell them what the Holy Spirit is teaching you.

When we take nature walks or spend time in our garden, we collectively marvel over God’s creation and openly thank him for the lovely flowers. For the bees, squirrels, and doves that so often visit our windowsill. Everything is an opportunity for praise and worship.

Personal Faith Stories

Both of my sons made the decision to follow Christ at an early age, and I wanted to mark these special occasions with something they could physically hold on to. We worked together to write faith stories (testimonies) by using their actual quotes and photos shortly after each of their baptisms. This allows them to take ownership of their personal decision to follow Jesus. They are so proud of their books and read them often. Here’ a video preview of their faith stories…

The Baptism Book

Missionary Stories

I want my children to understand that following Jesus means living a life of sacrifice. American cultural Christianity often tilts toward a hyper-grace-prosperity-gospel. Yes, God provides for us and abundantly gives us His grace–and for that I am eternally grateful–but I don’t want my sons to fall into the broken mindset that God only shows his love by padding our bank accounts or that grace exempts us from obedience to the Father. Missionary biographies are frequently part of our family read-alouds, and we openly talk about the difficulties our real-life missionary friends face around the world. We turn those struggles into prayer petitions!

Someone recently told my boys that China was a bad communist country who hates America, which planted a lie in their hearts that China, and all its people, are bad. I stepped in and told them that Jesus died for the people of China. I told them that he wrote eternity on their hearts. I told them of the underground churches and persecution, and how it’s our job to pray for them. We then prayed for God’s angel armies to be released to fight against the spiritual forces of darkness and oppression. After praying for China, my oldest son’s eyes grew wide as he said, “We just planted a Kingdom flag!”

The next morning, I pulled Hudson Taylor’s biography off the shelf so that my boys will have an encounter with someone who dedicated his life to bringing God’s truth to China. Someone who loved them with every ounce of his being and saw them through the eyes of Jesus. Speak God’s truth over negative mindsets and don’t allow any seed of hatred to germinate in your home.

Discipline vs. Punishment

This next bit may seem controversial, so I offer this up simply as something I do in my own home, based on searching the scriptures and prayerful revelations. Here it is: I don’t yell and I don’t spank. Have I ever yelled or spanked in the history of my parenting journey? Yes. But now, I rely on my Savior not to do those things. In the past when I have spanked and yelled, I repented to my children and to God, asking their forgiveness.

From my personal experience, spanking is a lazy shortcut, and yelling only goes to show that I am severely lacking in the Fruits of the Spirit. How did I come to this less-than-conventional Christian parenting decision? Scripture. I researched the actual Hebrew words used in the “pro-spanking” verses and learned that the Hebrew word used specifically refers to an almost-grown male, NOT young children. The actual Hebrew words that translate to “young child” are not used in the book of Proverbs. The word that is used in the “pro-spanking” verses is naar, which Jewish rabbinical tradition considers to be males between the ages of 16 and 24. So, the practice of spanking young children is found nowhere in the original translation.

I grew up in a very pro-spanking household, and what did I truly learn from it? How to conceal things from my parents, and how to be a very good liar to avoid another spanking. I lied to my parents, to myself, and to God. Avoid getting caught to avoid the punishment! It took lots of prayer, searching the scriptures, and wise mentors of the faith to bring me to this question: “Am I willing to trust God to help me discipline my children rather than trust a ‘proven’ and obviously more practical method?” (Clay Clarkson posed this question in Heartfelt Discipline.)

If you’re remotely interested in exploring this aspect of biblical parenting, I highly recommend these books:

Clay Clarkson’s Heartfelt Discipline 

Clay and Sally Clarkson’s The Lifegiving Parent

Tim Kimmel’s Grace Based Parenting

L.R. Knost’s Jesus, the Gentle Parent

Their collective wisdom, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was instrumental in bringing me to a place of repentance and understanding. I choose to parent by faith and discipleship instead of fear and punishment. This road is not easy. It’s a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute choice–one that cannot be made apart from Christ’s strength. Shockingly, it actually works!

Parents are the first impression children have of God. For the life of me, I couldn’t find any examples of Jesus smacking his disciples when they went against his instruction. If I’m going to call myself a Christian, I’m supposed to be like Christ. Ten years ago, I was absolutely 100% pro-spanking. That change only came about through the power of God.

Understanding my children’s intricate personalities has also been instrumental in my parenting journey. We shouldn’t ever punish personality, but many do. We all encounter people who grate on our nerves without actually doing anything wrong…you may experience this in your own home. Paul and Barbara Tieger’s Nurture by Nature helped me pinpoint my boys’ and my husband’s personality types, which opened my eyes to how God made them. This knowledge has solved many problems before they’ve ever started.

Motherhood is an adventurous journey with many uphill battles. I fail often, but I cling to His grace. Sweet mama-friend, stand firm in the faith as you stand in the gap for your family! May the God of Peace bless you with wisdom and discernment as you shepherd your precious flock.

 

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!

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!

The Ugly Truth of Beautiful Grace

“The root of all sin is self-sufficiency — independence from the rule of God. When we fail to wait prayerfully for God’s guidance and strength, we are saying with our actions, if not with our words, that we do not need him.” -Charles E. Hummel

This blog has been about ten years in the making. The words that follow have rested on the tip of my tongue, on the tips of my fingers, and on the edge of my heart for about five years now. My story is not unique in that it displays God’s grace, forgiveness, and redemption…but it is unique to me. The decisions and choices that I made between the years of 2004 and 2008 set the stage for my life from 2009 until today. I’ve lost count of how many times I sat down in front of my keyboard to type out the events that led me on an unbelievable and unexpected prodigal journey into the arms of Jesus, and the heart of God. 

And then, after reading Hummel’s quote in The Tyranny of the Urgent, it all came tumbling out. God said to my heart, “Now. Tell them. For my glory.” And that is exactly what I intend to do…

In 2005 I married a godly, salt-of-the-earth guy who I’d dated all throughout high school — he was the only boyfriend I’d ever had, and we were involved in church activities just about every time the doors were unlocked. I was living as a good preacher’s daughter should. In 2006, I graduated with my English degree and began teaching high school, we bought a house in our hometown, led worship on Sundays, and were sponsors in the youth group. In 2007, I started teaching at a brand new campus — I was responsible for two different preps (sophomores and seniors, if memory serves) on an A/B day schedule, and I was cosponsoring an after-school extracurricular activity. I usually got to work around 6:45am to get everything ready for the 7:25am class. By the end of most days, I had mounds of grading to accomplish, copies to make, and lessons to plan, so I’d stay at work until 6:30pm. By the time I got home, I was exhausted. After a few months into the school year, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from the long days. I didn’t know it until years later, but I was flirting with depression due to lack of sleep and being overworked. (I say this not to blame my bad choices, blatant mistakes, and deliberate sin on depression, but to make the link that once someone is depressed, they generally don’t care about long-term consequences of poor decisions…which is why there is often a string of really dumb decisions that don’t make much sense to outsiders.)

During this time period, I tried my best to help a good friend through a break-up, which meant we hung out in downtown Fort Worth an awful lot. I had never partied, drank, or “went out” until I was 24 years old. At first, we just hung out together — two girls laughing the night away — then it snowballed into a lifestyle that left me spending more quality time with a girlfriend than my own husband. I was naïve and ignorant, and paid no attention to the fact I was making terrible decisions. This left me open to major temptation, and my spiritual life had withered into nothing more than a song-and-dance routine I performed on Sunday mornings. Let me paint this ugly picture: I would go out on Saturday night, stay out until 2:00am, and sing praise and worship songs on stage with a microphone…nursing a hangover. It disgusts me to type that out and see it in black and white. But it is so necessary. I can look back on my former life through the lens of grace and God’s forgiveness, and I can now see it for what it was: Sin. Ugly, selfish sin.

I grieved those who loved me the most, and I betrayed those who trusted me. This “just having fun, no harm done” mentality led me down a path that no one — not even me — saw coming. That’s how sin works. That’s how The Enemy so efficiently steals, kills, and destroys.

Backtrack a few years to 2004: I met a guy on a military training tour in England — he was a friend of a friend, and we all spent time together over several days after we were off duty. Had I been involved in prayer and scripture on a daily basis, I would have been able to see this man for what he was — temptation. After returning home from the 2004 training exercise, we emailed back and forth for a few months…something I never should have done. In early 2005 I decided to stop emailing him — I was now married and knew enough to realize it was an inappropriate relationship.

Fast forward to 2007 — flirting with depression, almost zero quality time with my spouse, and even less than zero time spent in prayer. Out of the blue, we reconnect via MySpace, and the emailing begins again. He’s in England, I’m in Texas…I knowingly lie to myself, saying it’s harmless because there is literally an ocean separating us. Distance doesn’t matter where sin is involved. My heart was deceitful, and I was involved in an emotional affair. Keep in mind, at this point I was staying out late on the weekends, working twelve hour days, and treating my husband with no respect. I was in a tailspin of sin, going down in flames quicker than anyone noticed. By the time someone from church confronted me about my lifestyle, my heart had become hardened. I no longer cared that the façade was crumbling and people were starting to see me for who I was…and who I was not. I didn’t care that I was committing the sin of adultery, because I was still lying to myself, repeating the mantra that it’s all just a harmless friendship. A lie straight from the pit of hell.

I hated my life. I wanted to escape. I couldn’t believe this was the person I’d become. I felt too far gone to come back…so I ran. I ran fast and I ran far. Incredulously, I applied for teaching jobs in England, never expecting to get an offer. Turns out, if you seek out sin, it is easily found. In early 2008, I was called for an interview on my way to work one morning, and offered a position within a week. I accepted the position without ever consulting my husband. I resigned a good teaching job half-way through the school year, waited for my work visa, packed my bags, and left. I destroyed my marriage, and broke my family’s heart. I entered my own Lo Debar, and I settled in for the long haul. When I arrived in England, he was there to pick me up from the airport.

As I well deserved, this man quickly began cheating on me and became downright mean. I was the recipient of his anger, and I knew I deserved everything he could dish out. No doubt, my parents were praying for their prodigal daughter in the midst of this terrible time. I knew I had disappointed them, and that knowledge alone left enough of a crack in my heart to eventually lead me back to my Heavenly Father. After a particularly rough week, I confessed to my parents via email how deep my sin had become, and I knew I was on the precipice of the point of no return. There, in my self-made-misery, I began to seek the face of God. He allowed me to hit rock bottom and feel the weight of my choices, so that he could be glorified…the same way he allowed Lazarus to die so that he could be resurrected, for God’s glory. All of my sinful choices were rooted in the ultimate sin of self-sufficiency and my desire to be independent from the rule of God.

After two months in England, I resigned my teaching position, packed my bags, and headed home. My parents were there to meet me at the airport. I returned home to face divorce, broken relationships among friends, and shame. But, I still wasn’t done sinning. I proceeded to indulge in drive-by-dating, thus further injuring my bruised and battered heart. I knew I was in desperate need of God, but I was still running. This time I just happened to be on U.S. soil. I refused to just be still and know…instead, I racked up a series of broken relationships before meeting the man God had reserved for me. God used my pain and brokenness from my sinful choices to solidify my need for his grace.

In The Tyranny of the Urgent, Hummel goes on to say, “The opposite of such independence is prayer in which we acknowledge our need of God’s guidance and empowerment. In this respect we have seen the example set by Jesus in the Gospels. He lived and served in complete dependence on his Father. Contrary to popular views, such dependence does not limit or repress human personality. We are never so fully personal — free to become our true selves — as when we are living in complete dependence on God.”

Having been utterly laid bare before God, I know I am nothing more than a sinner in dire need of his grace. Having been the recipient of his unharnessed, matchless grace, I am nothing more than a vessel through which that same grace flows to others. To whom much is given, much is required. I have been clothed with much grace, love, and forgiveness. I have experienced God’s faithfulness in a way I never thought possible. In the seven years since my return from Lo Debar, my mission in life has been to extend God’s grace, love, forgiveness, and faithfulness to others. After everything I’ve received, how could I not?

May you be clothed with grace and mercy. May your heart forever be open to God’s voice. May you walk in the power of his love and forgiveness. May you run into his open arms, and never leave.

Cutting Through the Noise

 
The past ten weeks have found me changed. Through a beautiful series of events, my heart has been captured anew by the God of All Things. A transformation has taken place; my priorities have shifted and realigned. I have been wrecked. Corrected. Corralled. Freed.

I found my life filled with many different voices — the voices of friends, of authors, of bloggers, of ministers — my ears and heart were abuzz with positive voices, but my spirit was restless. In His mercy, God cut through all of those voices and reminded me that there is only one voice that matters: His. Not the various bible studies I was involved in through church, not the well-meaning input from my various mommy friends, and not the preaching and teaching of esteemed pastors.

In my efforts to fill my life with good things, I spread myself too thin. Rarely did I find my heart at rest or my mind still. I was mentally exhausted, and I couldn’t blame all of that on my children.

Life can be filled with good things — things that make me smile, make me feel happy — but unless my heart is consumed by the best thing, everything else is meaningless. It becomes just a life filled with things…not a life full of the God of All Things. There is a huge difference. (Although, I’ve learned that the majority of Western Christian Culture doesn’t delineate between the two.) 

There are many things I could be doing, but what must I be doing? I must be about my Father’s business. Intimacy with my Abba should be my priority. How can I say I truly love Him if I am not consumed with prayer? With reading scripture? Weekly bible studies, praying a few times a week, and attending church on Sundays simply doesn’t cut it…and I’ve allowed myself to rest on the laurels of “busy motherhood” for far too long. I allowed a season of life to become an excuse.

I’ve been diligently working to cut away the “good things” that aren’t the best things. My vines and branches have been greatly trimmed to allow my roots to grow deeper. The fruit I bear and the character I display in my words and actions far outweigh any ideas of giftedness, good works, or good efforts.

I’m relying on Mark 12:30-31 to cut through the noise. I reordered my world to focus on loving the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength…and loving my neighbor as myself. I am far from perfect, but my efforts are sincere. When my alarm goes off for morning prayer, it takes everything in my body not to hit snooze. Some days, I still do. Every day is a work in progress. Aside from turning off my alarm, my goal is not to use my phone until I’ve read the Word. Are there days I fail? You bet. But every day I’m getting better. My heart has become a place of peace. My mind is calm. My God is faithful.

As a Christian, my actions demonstrate whether I know and love Him, or whether I know and love myself. Are my daily efforts leading me deeper into an intimate relationship with the Lord? If not, then my daily efforts are a waste of time. I don’t say these things to pat myself on the back — I’ll be the first to tell you I fail daily. Multiple times a day. I say these things in case your heart is troubled, or your faith is weak. Be wrecked. Be corrected. Be corralled. Freedom is only found under Christ’s yoke — the only voice that matters is His.