Shaping your Child’s Story

dsc_7775-edit

Each child has been created and formed with the fingerprints of God. As parents, our job is to look at our children through the lens of grace, paying special attention to the unique Imago Dei stamped onto their hearts. Stories shape us from the very beginning; we were all born with the Redemption Story imprinted into our souls. The stories we read in our homes spark unseen flames within the minds of our children. Reading hero stories leads them into creative worlds where their imaginations sprout wings and soar above the heights.

One of my homeschooling goals is to launch my boys into unseen realms of imagination and creativity — be it crafting Lego worlds, making endless art projects with copious amounts of glitter glue, or writing their own stories. I welcome boredom and use it as a catalyst in our home to bring my sons to adventure into the wilderness of learning.

Early on, I realized Asher, my oldest son, simply bubbles over with stories. He spends endless time in the backyard wondering and musing and imagining. So, I bought him a journal. He takes that journal into nature and writes whatever is on his heart. My youngest son, Keane, comes alive with artistic creativity; Monet’s art held his five-year-old attention in ways that blew my mind. So, I bought him an arsenal of art supplies. He’ll grab his art boxes, spread them out on the floor, and create for hours at a time.

When Asher began crafting elaborate imaginative stories, I told him to write them in his journal. The “problem” was that his imagination and vocabulary exceeded his young writing ability. The solution? I set him up with a microphone and an iPad in a quiet room, and had him dictate his story as a video. Clipping that microphone to his little shirt made him feel so important! He recorded six chapters with eagerness and excitement, and then proudly brought me the iPad. I took his recording, typed it up, printed it out, and helped him create his first book. If that’s all we did, that would have been enough! He proudly showed off his book to all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

But, I decided to go further. I reached out to one of my cousins who is a professional artist; I commissioned artwork for the characters in Asher’s story. Then, I took that artwork and used the magical powers of Amazon to publish my eight year old’s story as a Kindle version and a paperback version. I wanted to launch his efforts and story-filled imagination into the world so he could tangibly see that the stories God has placed on his heart are important. He has a message worth sharing — we all do!

What have you seen in your own children that is begging to be launched into the world? Their passions should guide education far beyond workbooks or curriculum. God has created them to share his story of redemption in ways that only they can, with their God-given talents and abilities! May our eyes be opened to the Imago Dei artfully crafted into each one of our precious children.

 

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

dsc_8269-edit_original

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.

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.

 

A Day in the Life: Our Homeschool Routine

Poetry tea time!

We’re three years into our homeschooling journey, and my boys are currently ages six and four. I taught high school English for six years as a young adult; that experience solidified my desire to home educate my future children. Every day is an adventure, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! As the seasons come and go, time has taught me that I’m not one to stick to rigorous time-stamped schedules. Routines and rhythms ebb and flow with our family’s needs, so following the Holy Spirit’s guidance it paramount to thriving where we’re planted. (Enter Sally Clarkson as my discipleship guru and mentor.)

At this age and stage of life, I’ve come to realize we (my two boys and myself) successfully operate in twenty-minute increments before we all need mental breaks. I follow a basic routine about three days each week. The other days are reserved for our homeschool community day, forest school (we take hikes in a local nature preserve), and field trips thrown in here and there. On Friday afternoons, we have a standing art playdate with our sweet friends in the neighborhood. We enjoy doing projects from Masterpiece Society!

Below is a general overview of our at-home days. Please understand we don’t follow this to a T! (Times are all approximations clearly denoted by the highly technical term “ish!”) I follow my boys’ needs as they arise, so it’s rather easy to switch, change, and rearrange our routine.

Play breaks are built in throughout the day; I don’t ever expect them to sit still for longer than five or seven minutes at a time, we’re not big on workbooks, and nature walks are my secret weapon! Sometimes those “play breaks” involve them helping clean the house! (These fun sweeper socks leave them practically begging to clean the floor.)

Cleaning is fun when we turn it into a game!

If things are going a little crazy, we pop on our shoes and go collect leaves or hunt for minnows in our neighborhood pond. If they’ve been big helpers around the house (or if I need a change of scenery), we’ll drop everything and head to the zoo, LegoLand, a museum, or the park. We listen to memory work, audiobooks, and fun learning songs as we drive.

The following “schedule” is an attempt to (hopefully) answer that persistent question all homeschoolers encounter: What do you do all day?!

6:30am — I wake up for quiet time and a cup of tea.

7:00ish — The kids wake up and eat breakfast.

8:00ish — Everyone brushes teeth and gets dressed.

8:30ishThe 3Rs: handwriting practice, read one book out loud to me (or Dad, if he’s home), and practice math facts.

9:00ish — The kids go play outside while I do a bit of dishes/laundry or finish getting myself ready for the day.

9:30ish — Morning Time, prayer, and devotional. Check out Pam Barnhill’s website for more info about Morning Time. We do a loop schedule for nature study, grammar, logic, and idioms at the end of Morning Time.

10:00ish — The kids go play in their bedroom or outside, depending on the unpredictable Texas weather.

10:30ish — Snack time!

11:00ish — Reading aloud and narration. I read while they “quietly” play with Legos/magnet blocks/playdough, and then the six-year-old narrates what he heard. Check out Know and Tell by Karen Glass for more info on narration, and Sarah Mackenzie’s website for info on reading aloud. Some days I read Story of the World for history, and other days I read a few pages of Theodore Gray’s books for science.

11:30ish — The boys continue playing with Legos/magnet blocks/playdough while I do more housework and make lunch.

12:00ish — Lunch time!

1:00ish — The boys watch some type of educational show while I do more housework. (Because it literally never ends!)

  • DVDs: Preschool Prep, WhistleFritz Spanish or French, Song School Latin, or Schoolhouse Rock
  • YouTube: Kids Learning Tube, Jack Hartmann, or NatGeo Kids

2:00ish — The TV is turned off, and the boys listen to educational songs, an audiobook, or memory work music while playing in their room.

2:30 (on the dot!) — TEA TIME! I read poems, a missionary biography, or a fairy tale while we have tea. The boys drink lemonade in the spring and summer, then cider in autumn and winter. I drink tea all day, every day! Check out Julie Bogart’s webpage for more info on Poetry Teatime.

3:00ish — The boys clean up all of their toys, and then I read aloud some more. This time they choose their own books; we snuggle up on the couch with soft Celtic music playing in the background. Sometimes they fall asleep…sometimes I do, too.

3:30ish — I start prepping for dinner while the boys color or do some other simple project. They can also play in their room, look at books together, or play outside. Basically anything that doesn’t require my help and doesn’t make a mess! Once I finish dinner prep and everything is in the oven, I attempt to kick back in my rocking chair and read for myself…this is a rare occurrence.

5:00ish — Dinner time!

6:00ish — While I clean up the kitchen, it’s Daddy playtime! Dad also gets them bathed and brushes their teeth. Then we put away more toys that have inevitably been hauled back into the living room.

7:00ish — Bible reading with Daddy — they cuddle up with pillows in the living room floor and listen while Dad reads Bible stories.

7:30ish — Bed time show. They’re really into Peter Rabbit since we’ve been reading lots of Beatrix Potter. So, one night they get to watch Peter Rabbit (Amazon), and the next night they’ll watch SuperBook (RightNow Media and Amazon).

8:00ish — Bedtime blessings and lights out! They fall asleep listening to Celtic lullabies and an audiobook. One night it will be James Herriot, the next it will be Beatrix Potter. We tried listening to The Action Bible for a while, but it just kept them awake!

Handwriting practice involves writing letters to family!

Drawing practice helps my 4yo learn proper grip!

That One Time God Hijacked Netflix…

abandoned antique close up design

Charles Stanley interrupted my Netflixing at 1:00am. I was halfway through one of my House Doctor episodes when the TV suddenly went black. The remote sat untouched on the arm of the chair, and I sat confused nestled down in the couch cushions. After a brief black screen, Charles Stanley – in all of his suit and tie glory – appeared behind a polished wooden pulpit out of nowhere. Now, I know too much about God to ignore something like that. As much as I wanted to see the chimney breast’s new wallpaper and updated master bedroom, I knew God was after my attention. I resisted the urge to grab the remote and troubleshoot the issue.

Earlier in the evening, while in a bit of a funk, I asked God for guidance in my spiritual life during a half-hearted journaling session. A few hours later, the power of the Holy Spirit broke through my complacent cookie-eating and chocolate-almond-milk-drinking pity-party to remind me of His power…and to show me point-blank how much I’ve been blatantly ignoring Him.

The past few weeks I’ve found myself dragging – up too late at night, in bed too late in the mornings, always trying to play catch-up. My lovely boys have seemed too loud, too much, and too needy. My husband has seemed too busy, too impatient, and too insensitive. I’ve been struggling to handle it all and instead of running to God and begging for his help, I’ve done my best to “just keep swimming” until I’m barely treading water. This whole time, I imagine God has been right beside me, just waiting for me to ask for His strength to continue. To cry out for his reserves of patience and energy. To diligently pray for guidance not just to make it through the day, but to thrive each day.

I have a terrible history of thinking that being self-sufficient is somehow godly or beneficial. That people who muse about “letting go and letting God” aren’t really trying – that they’re guilty of some pie-in-the-sky mindset that little songbirds are going to flit through their windows and clean their kitchen. I’ve often harbored the idea that God is needed so much more in Somalia and Afghanistan and China that I should just handle my life to the best of my abilities. In doing so, I’ve put God in a box. I’ve denied the Holy Spirit access to my heart and mind, and I’ve set myself up to think that I’m capable of loving my husband and children in my own power. I’ve placed my own needs last by not making time to sit in His presence. When I don’t drink the living water, how can I provide a peaceful home for my family?

The Holy Spirit is there.

When I’m struggling, it’s because I’m living in the flesh. I’m trying to take care of my family through my own power – not relying on The Helper. He has given me the capacity and enabled me to do everything God wanted me to do at this particular age and this particular circumstance, throughout the rest of my life.

He who has indwelled me and is running over inside of me is my guardian; the source of my energy, power, and purpose. Jesus Christ forgave my sins when I asked him, and the Holy Spirit sealed me at that moment. I immediately received the Holy Spirit. That receiving was instantaneous, but living it out is a lifelong process. He convicts me, forgives me, guides me, and guards me.

He intends for me to live for Him by trusting in Him every single day. (Luke 24:47-49, Mark 16:15)

I need to claim the presence and power of the Holy Spirit of God. I need to stop relying on myself and lean on Jesus, who is living in and through me. He is prepared to equip me…but I must be prepared to let Him lead. The power of the Deity is living inside of me, but if I’m not acknowledging or claiming Him, I’m ignoring him. He did not ask me to do the best I can. I am designed to do what the Spirit of God will enable and allow me to do.

The Power of the Holy Spirit is God’s divine energy and authority released in the life of the believer for the purpose of godly living and fruitful service. (So says Charles Stanley. I know because I took sermon notes in the middle of the night. While not watching Netflix.)

I’m equipped with the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I’ve been attempting to live in my own power. I haven’t given myself the time and space to sit in His presence, to reflect on His power, and to genuinely ask for His guidance. Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed, and spread too thin. In the midst of it all, I have not stopped once to seek His help. I haven’t made time to seek His presence or counsel. He’s my seal, my salvation, my life. He wants me to live in His strength, His power, His life, for His glory and honor. To be spirit-filled means confessing, repenting, yielding, surrendering, acknowledging His ownership, and allowing Him into every nook and cranny of my heart and mind.

So, in response to my cursory prayers of “What should I do, God?” he gave me a very clear and concise answer! I will be looking up verses about the Holy Spirit and researching the Greek and Hebrew words referring to the Holy Spirit. I will be daily asking for His guidance and wisdom. And with his guidance and wisdom, I will be reading through Proverbs to hide that wisdom in my heart.

Ask and ye shall receive…even in the doldrums of midnight Netflixing.

 

My One Word

Since 2015, I’ve prayerfully considered and carefully chosen one single word to focus on each year. In lieu of New Year’s resolutions, My One Word allows me to cut through the ever-present pressures and white noise of life. At the end of 2014 I was juggling a new baby and a two year old; I was overwhelmed by parenting two little boys, preparing for the homeschooling adventure, and attempting to keep my head above water with household duties. The word nurture helped me rightly order my priorities. I needed to nurture my children, nurture my marriage, and — most importantly — nurture my relationship with God. That focus word became a lifeline while navigating the adventure that was 2015.

As 2016 loomed on the horizon, I longed for a purposeful vision that would sustain my hopeful family ideals. God placed the word intentional on my heart, and I began to focus on it with laser precision. By the summer of 2016, I had permanently deleted my Facebook account in an effort to be fully present for my husband and kids. I intentionally invested in specific books, authors, and podcasts that spoke into my life in a meaningful way. My broad and wide friendships were culled down to a small handful of deep and intentional relationships that can weather any storm. The ebb and flow of this intentional lifestyle anchored me to Christ and kept unnecessary distractions at bay.

As the sun set on 2016, the pace of life had quickened beyond our comfort level; the dawn of 2017 found my husband and I in need of rest. Simplify became the cry of my heart. We cut out activities that kept us on the go — to include bible studies and marriage-building classes at church — choosing instead to focus on our family at home. I purposefully stopped blogging for most of the year in an effort to simplify my mind and heart. It became a time of sheltering-in-place to build a biblical foundation that will (hopefully) sustain our family for generations to come. Instead of a weekly women’s bible study, I began to read the weekly Torah portion. As a family, we simplified life by celebrating biblical holidays rather than getting caught up in cultural, quasi-religious agendas that, in the past, just kept our wheels spinning. Friday nights have become a beautiful celebration of God’s commandment to rest; Shabbat dinners at the dining table on Granny’s fine China are now the highlight of each week. Far be it from me to alter our Shabbat routine — my children won’t allow it! Living a simplified life has blessed our family beyond anything I could have imagined in January of 2017.

Looking back, I can see how living a nurtured life led to an intentional vision of simplification. During the times I neglect nurturing my soul with God’s word, my stress levels rise and I become an impatient, graceless mess. If I allow myself to get caught up in the endless oblivion of my phone screen, I lose intentionality and am carried along by wisps and whims of nonsense. My family deserves better…and so do I. Were I to try and sign my kids up for every enrichment activity under the sun, we’d end up cranky and stressed from overextending ourselves. It’s my responsibility to carefully weigh our commitments and simplify family life. I am the gatekeeper and guardian of our home, may I not be caught sleeping or chasing after the wind during these precious, formative years.

As yet another year draws to a close, I am brimming with hope and possibility for 2018. The word flourish has been flitting and fluttering through my heart for the past couple of weeks; I long to see how God uses this new One Word to guide me through the next twelve months. I will continue to nurture my family and my soul. I will seek to be intentional in all of our dealings and decisions. I will carefully simplify anything that can possibly be simplified, and — with God’s help — I will flourish in the process!

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!


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!

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!