Raising Disciples

Journeys of Faithfulness, ch. 12: Always a Happy Ending

journeys[box] Read chapter 12 of Journeys of Faithfulness. [/box] Don't you love happy endings?

The guy gets the girl. The hero overcomes his enemy. Relationships are restored. We breathe a sigh of relief that our inner sense of justice and rightness is satisfied.

Throughout this book, Sarah has introduced the idea that God is the author of the One Great Story, started in eternity past, with an ending in eternity yet to come. We are now in the middle of that story, in between Act III and Act IV. Amazingly, He weaves our ordinary little lives into this huge epic that He is writing, whether we are working through our mundane moments where no one sees what we are doing or whether we are on the stage with the spotlight shining on us.

This concept of our lives as part of God's epic story has really captured my heart and is slowly begin to reshape my vision of how I see not only my life but the life of others. For if this is true---and I think it is---then not only do we have a job to do, but I do not need to envy the roles the others around me play. As a mother, this has helped me to then look at my children not as an extension of myself, but as a part of God's great story…and to do all I can to help them to prepare for their role---even now.

In God's story, there are no bit parts or insignificant characters. All are important. I doubt Ruth knew what was in store for her future when she made her monumental decision to leave all she knew to follow her mother-in-law to a strange new land. I am sure she did not see herself as a heroine as she went out to glean in Boaz's fields each day.

But God was behind the scenes, orchestrating and prompting and acting and moving. He was the one that brought Naomi and her family to Moab. He was the one that connected their families, arranged her marriage, and set her in a happy home. He taught her about Himself and strengthened her faith. He also was the one that decided when to take Mahlon out of her life. He led her to Boaz's field. He cleared the way for Boaz to marry her. And through her faithfulness in responding to His direction, even when it was difficult, uncertain and tiring, God was able to use her little story to bless our lives now.

As we wrap up this book, I ponder at what this means for me. Right now, we are in the midst of a very challenging season with Anah. We are waiting for the day when it will get better. There doesn't seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. I sometimes wonder if there is any point to what we do every day with her as it doesn't seem to make a lot of difference. I don't know what Ruth was thinking, but maybe it was similar: Get up in the morning. Get dressed. Make breakfast for Naomi. Walk out to the fields. Pick up one grain of barley. Then another. And another. Fill my bag with grain. Bring it home. Help with dinner. Wash up. Go to sleep. Wake up in the morning to do it all again.

So it is with us today. I won't bore you with the details, but because of where Anah is at developmentally, things are pretty structured at our home. Even weekends aren't breaks for us, because any lapse throws her off. (Well, even if we don't have one, it still throws her off.) I often wonder what God is doing behind the scenes in our story. Sometimes I wonder if He is even there.

But I have to believe that even though He seems to be letting the camera run without any directions, He is watching me behind the lens. He may be silent, but He is present. I know I do that with my kids. I am in the background, watching them deliberate on whether to keep trying with that frustrating Lego or throw it down in despair. I don't always rush in to fix things. I do this to see what they would do when they need to make their own choices. Would they choose the high road or wallow in self pity, get angry, throw a fit?

In my own journey, I believe this is where God actually refines me. What am I going to do when I have to say the same thing for the 100th time in an hour? What am I going to do when I get the blank stare even though we've done it the same way for months on end? And every time I choose His way, He further cements His grace and character in me.

I'll have to admit that more often than not, I don't always make the right choice. But when I do, I am reminded that He is still writing my story. When I submit to the life that He has for me today, even if it is not one I would choose for myself, I am choosing in faith to believe that it will contribute to the happy ending He is writing for me. I don't know what it is. And even if I imagined it, I don't think I would do as good a job as He would.

One line in Sarah's devotional really resonated with me this week. She said, “God is the bringer of hope. He is the maker of happy endings.” Like Ruth, I do not know what the ending is going to look like. But it's going to be good. He can do no less.

And so, until that day comes, I will keep going, picking my grain (off our kitchen floors), doing my work, and waiting for my Bridegroom to come.

And one day, He will.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does knowing there is a happy ending change how you look at life?
  • Where do you place your hope---in your own changing dreams or in an unchangeable God? What will it look like in your life to place your hope in God alone?

Journeys of Faithfulness, ch. 11: Growing in Faithfulness

journeys[box] Read chapter 11 in Journeys of Faithfulness.[/box] For every thrilling moment in life there are a thousand ordinary days. At least, that is what I have discovered. Sarah, in this chapter, says it this way: “For every brilliant moment in the life of a hero, there are a thousand faithful minutes in which nothing exciting or noble happens at all. There are countless days during which all the hero does is clean, work, and love in dull, daily rounds.” She says it more poetically than I do, but I have found this to bear out in my own life.

I remember the excitement of graduating and giving our class valedictory speech. That was quite an honor. But before that, there were endless days of homework, exams, and papers. And lots more afterwards too!

I remember the moment on my first missions trip when I saw at least four of my summer ESL students give their lives to Christ. Though I was not the one to share the gospel with them, I knew that the sweat, mosquito bites, bus rides, and hours of lesson prep paid off, and now we will share eternity in heaven.

Then there was the day I got married. I remember standing before friends and family with my best friend, reciting vows I had memorized (okay, so I am a bit of an overachiever!). But after the honeymoon, there were boxes to unpack, thank you notes to write, meals to cook, and now, laundry for two to do.

janna1And then, of course, there are the amazing moments when the nurse finally hands you your brand new baby (or the caregivers bring your new little girl to your door). You finally get to meet these little people that you have been waiting for months to see. I particularly remember the birth of my first child over 30 hours after I was admitted into the hospital and then finally delivered via c-section. I marveled at everything about her.

And then we went home. And the sleep deprivation, countless diapers, baths, meals began. Now, it's preparation for graduation from high school.

In our society that glories in these highlights of life, little is said about those ordinary days in between. The days when nobody sees what you do. The days that are so boring and monotonous you think you'll scream. The days when it is hard, but you know you need to hunker down and press through it.

And yet, what I am learning is that if we expect life to be at high pitch all the time, we fail to benefit from one of the greatest things that these ordinary days can teach us: how to be faithful when nothing exciting is going on. For more often than not, that is what life really consists of.

And that is what Ruth, our heroine, had to face too. In between the bookends of her decision to follow Naomi to a new home and embrace her God and her fairy-tale wedding to Boaz, Ruth most likely had to do many rounds of mundane tasks. Picking up grains of barley behind the workers probably ranks up there with (literally) backbreaking work. But from Ruth, we see that this was not a waste of time at all, for it built her character and though unknown to her, was building her future as well.

Life for me today is a dull, monotonous round of therapy exercises, schoolwork, meals, laundry, and volleyball games. There are days when I feel like going out to the grocery store by myself is a treat, and I linger over the task as long as possible to keep from having to go back home to face what lies there. It is in these moments that the lesson from this week's chapter really spurs me on to keep going.

Dear friends, wherever you are, whether you are a teen or collegiate doing homework every night, a young graduate in your first ground-level job, a newly married young woman setting up your first home, or a brand new mom wondering what on earth to do with a screaming baby, these are all the precious moments God gives us to grow in our faithfulness. And to Him, what is more important than the type of work we do is our character.

Luke 16:10, a verse I am memorizing right now, says "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much." It seems like what is more important is the amount of faithfulness, not the "littleness" or "muchness" of what we are doing. This shouldn't be a surprise, for He really is after my heart, not my productivity.

Sarah writes:

“Faithfulness is an undervalued trait in our society. We live in a culture so steeped in the attitude of ‘get it now while it’s hot’ that we have a hard time waiting for anything. Even many believers think loving God means having their problems solved and desires provided the moment they pray about them. But true faith remains steady through feast and famine alike. A faithful heart is one that does not change allegiances, because it is founded on trust much bigger than any ups or downs we may be experiencing.”

So whether you sit down again to tackle that homework assignment, that next project, that next meal, or that next dirty diaper, remember that God is present in this mundane moment. It is a gift to us to build something eternally more valuable---the godly character of faithfulness.

And that realization can make every moment an exciting moment as we remember that even the little things done for Him bless His heart. (Matt. 25:40)

Discussion questions:

What are some of the dull things you do each day? Ask the Lord to help you reframe your perspective and show you how you can do these things for His service and to His glory (Col. 3:17, 23). Then go and do it!

Journeys of Faithfulness, ch. 10: Making My Choice

journeys[box] Read chapter 10 in Journeys of Faithfulness.[/box] This week's chapter as we start our section on Ruth brought back a flood of memories for me. It was 1989, and I was a young pre-med college student, entering my senior year. I had just returned from my very first overseas missions trip and my life had been turned upside down. I was able to witness God work in an amazing way before my very eyes, as I watched Him reach the hearts of my dear students and change the course of not only their eternal destiny, but mine as well.

I had been a Christian since I was in junior high and was very good at knowing all the right answers. I served in our youth group's leadership team. I was a small group leader in our campus fellowship. But it wasn't until after that summer when I made my first real declaration of faith. Even though I knew it would cost me to change my direction from medicine to ministry, I knew that God was calling me to follow Him into the great unknown. Would I follow Him?

I knew I could play it safe and continue on with Plan A. But would I really be safe? There was no telling what might happen if I stuck with my original plans. But if I didn't follow Him, I would forever wonder what would have happened. And as Aslan says to Lucy in Prince Caspian, we are never told what would have happened if we pass up an invitation like that.

Since that time, God has done more in my life than I could have imagined. That first decision to follow Him has led me to places that I would never have imagined: campus ministry, homeschooling, and now, adoption. There were times when I wondered if God really knew where He was taking me. Sometimes I even fight against Him. (Well, I try.) I rant and rave, cry and complain, pout, whine and rebel.

But He always waits patiently for me until I wear myself out and realize anew that I am at another crossroads. I can keep fighting Him or I can again choose to follow. And I am sure that choosing His way over my own will continue to the end of my days.

This is especially true when life is painful and difficult, as it was for Ruth. She had lost her husband and had to decide whether she was going to follow Naomi's suggestion to go back home to all that was familiar and safe, to remarry one of the local boys, to start a family of her own.

But instead of going the safe way, she made a choice to leave all that she had known to follow a grieving widow into a foreign land and into a culture that would most likely scorn and abuse her. And yet, it was because she made this hard choice that her destiny and future changed.

It was this choice that led her to boldly declare to Naomi, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV) Them's serious words. In Ruth's case, it was not a wedding promise but a declaration, not only Naomi, but to God Himself.

Sarah says,

“No woman who says she will love and follow God can do so secondhand, by casual acceptance of the faith of family or friends. You cannot love God with half yourself and expect Him to inhabit every moment of your life with holiness and miracle. If you want to be a true follower of God, to blaze with His light in the darkness of your time, then at some point, you will have to answer His call. The moment of choice will come when the hosts of heaven lean down to hear your response.” (p. 190)

While not all of us are going to be asked to leave our homeland, we will all have those crossroad moments in our story. Will I follow Him on the narrow way even if no one else comes with me? These moments often define our faith and take it from a ho-hum existence to an exciting adventure.

Ruth did not know what awaited her in Bethlehem. Likewise, we often don't know what will happen if we follow Him. I know I certainly didn't know. He usually doesn't give us the whole picture, but He does give us enough to make a solid decision.

This is especially so if you are in a painful juncture in your own journey. Even in these moments we have a choice. It is a choice to trust and believe that He will carry you through and that as you continue to love Him and trust Him, He will do above and beyond what we can ask or imagine. (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 3:20)

Discussion Questions:

Make a timeline of your faith journey. Consider the points in your life where you had to make a choice to trust and follow God. What did you choose? How did it impact your spiritual life?

Where do you stand with God today? Is He inviting you to make a choice? What are you going to do? If possible, find a way to declare your allegiance verbally to another.

Journeys of Faithfulness, ch. 9: The Power of Beauty

journeys[box] Read ch. 9 in Journeys of Faithfulness.[/box] It is no secret that the female species is drawn to beauty. I remember my daughter when she was a little girl. I never had to teach her to like pink and purple, glitter and shimmer, or twirly dresses. Even though she isn't really a girly-girl today, I know she still cannot pass up a pretty flower or a cute sparkly notebook.

In a world where physical beauty is so highly prized, it is easy to overlook the inner beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:3-4). For many young (and older) women, beauty is enhanced or even idolized. It doesn't take much to realize that with beauty comes power: power to attract the attention we crave or the love we long for. So, sadly, instead of utilizing their beauty, many hone it and pursue it to get what they want.

Now to make it clear, I do not believe that putting on makeup or doing your hair or wearing the latest fashions is a sin. The bigger question is why? Is it for my benefit or sense of well-being and worth, to boost my self esteem? Or do I care for myself so that the beauty of God can shine out from me and draw others to Him?

Clearly, God is a lover of beauty too. One only has to look at the vibrant colors of a springtime bloom or the wispy pastel clouds of a summer sunset or the delicate wings of a butterfly perched on a flower to know that He does not skimp on His creation. Even the creation of woman in Genesis 2 reminds us that unlike man who was "formed," the female form was "fashioned" as if it were artwork.

As women, we have a great challenge before us: stewarding our beauty and then using it to bless and create and nurture those around us. And we all know we can use some of that around us in this world where bad news reigns. Whether we realize it or not, we have an incredible power within us to change the tide of our culture, simply by extending that beauty to others.

Lest we think that this is something beyond our reach or only for the super spiritual, think again. While not all of us are going to be Esthers living in palaces, we do have our own domains in which we rule. If you are a young girl, your domain may be the four walls of the bedroom you share with your younger sister. It could be the classroom you enter each day at 7:30 a.m. It could be the cubicle you sit in or the office in which you work or the smiling young faces that look to you for guidance.

For mothers, it means our homes. Ever notice how our home atmosphere often corresponds to our perspective? If I am content with the work of mothering and homemaking, even if it doesn't change the amount of it, the spirit in our home often reflects that. On the other hand, if I am constantly grumbling, it doesn't take long before the atmosphere in my home follows suit.

Whether we are queens of our home castle or any other realm, we need to start with where we are, adding beauty in any way we can--a cheerful word, a helping hand, an act of service. For others, it may be a vase of cut flowers from the garden, a plate of cookies to share, or candles to add light and scent. From there, God can multiply these simple gestures and acts of beauty to infiltrate our culture with His loveliness. This thought from Sarah really put this topic into perspective for me:

“The longer I walk with God, the more I am aware of the joy that fills his soul. I feel his laughter, I remember that the new heavens and earth will begin with a feast (Rev. 19:6-9). And I realize that each meal I serve is a small reflection of His goodness, an offering of beauty to win the hungry hearts of my time.” (emphasis mine)

Did you notice that last phrase? "To win the hungry hearts of my time." This isn't just about beauty for its own sake. It is beauty with a purpose.

As the mother of a young woman, I pray that I will paint that grand vision for my daughter. I have to tell her---and myself---over and over that God has given us the opportunity to make our surroundings beautiful, not merely for beauty's sake, but to bless the hearts of others. For God Himself is beautiful.

Esther knew that. Whenever I think of Esther, I think of a beautiful woman. But what she did with that beauty did more than provide mere eye candy for her husband. She used it on behalf of her people, to reach the heart of her husband, the king, so that it turned the tide of the future.

Now that's real power.

Discussion questions:

How does a woman become beautiful in spirit? What does it take? What is its potential impact?

What is one way God can use you to bring beauty to the world around you? Is there someone in your life today that could use some of God's beauty through you?

Journeys of Faithfulness, ch. 8: For Such a Time as This

journeys [box] Read chapter 8 in Journeys of Faithfulness.[/box]

If I had to pinpoint the times in my personal history where I made the greatest leaps and bounds in my faith, I would see that they were often connected to my biggest spiritual "a-ha" moments. The realization of the truth of Romans 8:35-39, for example, brought me to a new level as I was dealing with a painful relationship. Understanding the commission of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 redefined my purpose in life, not only as a campus minister to college students, but as a parent. Little by little, God has used His Word to shape and build into me a strong foundation of truth that has directed my choices, decisions, and actions.

In Esther's story this week, we find her installed as the queen of Persia, a position that may have its perks but also its perils. Evidently, being the queen did not guarantee the king's favor, for when she was asked by her uncle Mordecai to speak up on behalf of the Jewish people to save them from their imminent annihilation, Esther instantly thought of her possible demise. Not a marriage made in heaven, to be sure. 

And yet, when challenged by her uncle, Esther also knew what she needed to do. Through the years of being brought up under Mordecai's faithful teaching and care, she also had built up a strong foundation of faith that helped her to make the hard decisions of life. Even though she knew that approaching her husband uninvited could result in her death, she was willing to do it.

For the past few months, I had been struggling a lot with our decision to adopt Anah. It was definitely not what I had signed up for. I berated myself for letting one cute little photograph change the course of our family's destiny. Grief, anger, and bitterness poisoned my heart. By God's grace, He provided friends who were willing to wade into these waters with me to lift me up, love me, and minister to the honest questions of my soul.

As I had shared last week, God had to help me to grieve my losses, but I also knew that I needed to move forward. I could not stay where I was and be any good to anybody. Like Esther, I felt like God was waking me from my self-centered stupor and asking me, "What are you going to for such a time as this?" I cannot turn back. I can only move forward, even if that future is uncertain and at times, depressing.

All that I had learned about God in the past: His faithfulness, His goodness, His unconditional love, His wisdom---all these truths needed to inform the next steps I needed to make. It was tempting to think that God was punishing me for making what appears to be a foolish choice. But that flew in the face of all that I knew about Him. He is not that kind of God, sitting up in heaven laughing at me for falling for His bait of a cute little girl in a photograph.

Other things that I had learned: His heart was for the orphans, His priority in making disciples, His desire to mold me into Christlikeness---all these truths also came flooding back into my consciousness. The reminder that this world is not my home, my life is not my own, and that there will be hardship and suffering as long as I live here also floated to the surface. His desire to use me to further His kingdom, to do good works, and His call to love my neighbor came into the spotlight of my awareness.

As all these truths long stored away in the recesses of my heart came back out, I knew that even if I didn't like it, where I am today is not by mistake. Like Esther, I am realizing that perhaps all along, He has been preparing me "for such a time as this. Like her, I have a choice: to step up into that place or to reject the opportunity.

Honestly, I would much rather not have to take care of a mentally delayed child for the rest of my life. But the fact is, God has put me here for a reason. I don't know why. I don't see the big picture yet. And there is no guarantee or promise that I will ever know in this lifetime.

The future is uncertain. But if I continue to bank on the things that are firm and sure, I will be able to consistently (not perfectly) make the best choices when they come up. And in order to do that, I will need to keep rehearsing His truth in my mind over and over.

“So let me challenge you to speak out your faith. Affirm what you believe in the deepest part of your soul. Write a statement you can read aloud if it helps, or find a creed to give you words to articulate the truth on which your life is founded. Take the time to consider exactly what it is you believe and give voice to it every day. Then when someone comes to you with a question about your faith, when you are forced to say what you believe, you will be prepared because you have hidden the truth in your heart.”--Sarah Clarkson

And so here is mine for today:

He is still God.

He is still good.

He has good works planned for me.

He is the God of hope.

He is creating me in the image of Christ.

He is preparing me for something better.

This world is not my home.

He has a purpose for what I am going through.

He loves me unconditionally and will never leave or forsake me.

He is sovereign.

As I hang on to these truths, I pray that like Esther, I will be able to play my role in His magnificent story. And as I rehearse my lines now, I trust He will help me live them out when the spotlight shines on me.

Reflection questions:

Whether you are in a difficult situation or not, what truths about God, about yourself, about this world, about life, do you need to rehearse in your mind today?

What difference can these truths make in how you live this moment?

Journeys of Faithfulness, ch. 7: Dragging Life In

journeys[box] Read chapter 7 in Journeys of Faithfulness. [/box] This week, we began our first chapter on Esther. Esther, the beautiful. Esther, the chosen. Esther, the brave. If any woman exemplified both humility and power, she was it. 

My guess, however, is that she wasn't brought up that way. Until she was taken into the palace, she probably was just like any other young Jewish girl growing up in exile. She probably had a home she helped to care for, her uncle Mordecai's family that she loved, surroundings that were comfortable. Like other Jewish girls, she may have been hoping to find love, even in an arranged marriage. Most likely, she did not set her sights on being the queen of a pagan king.

I had never thought much about Esther's former life, so Sarah's view that Esther struggled with being in King Xerxes' palace was a new one for me. I think we are often so focused on the fact that she had daily spa and beauty treatments for a year (who wouldn't want that?) to think that maybe, just maybe, she really didn't want to be there.

Have you ever been in that kind of situation too?

Like Esther, many of us older folk can think of the "good 'ol days" when life was simpler, easier, whatever. For me, I have found myself bemoaning how much more time I had before Anah came to write, read, create. For others, it may be the life you had before cancer invaded your home, before your husband lost his job, before you had to start caring for your aging parents. For you younger readers, perhaps it is before you met your difficult roommate, before you ended that relationship you thought would end in marriage, or even before you started your first 9 to 5 job.

And when we get into those kinds of situations, it is easy to start getting disgruntled or even bitter and angry. I know I did. It is easy to let our grief for the days gone by cloud our perspective on what we face today. As I looked at my daily existence, I felt depressed, like I was trapped in a cage---one that I chose, no less---and could not get out.

But sometimes, we do not have that choice. Illnesses, accidents, or maybe being taken against your will into the king's palace thrusts us into a situation or circumstance that we would never have chosen on our own. In those choiceless moments, do we still have a choice?

Yes, I think we do.

Sarah makes this insightful comment:

“We know from Scripture that Esther found favor in the eyes of her keepers, so she must have kept a kind and tender heart. She had lost everything from her old life, but instead of shriveling up in a ball, she made the choice to live, to love, and to seek and obey the will of her Lord.” (p. 134, emphasis mine)

The choice we have is to

live

love

seek God

obey His will

It's so easy to feel like the victim, isn't it? Poor me. No one has it as bad as I do. If only life was different.

If I learned anything from Esther this week, it was this: in situations where I feel like I have no choice, I need to remember that I can either let my circumstances kill me or I can drag life---His life---into my circumstances. By His grace, mercy and power, I have all I need to bring His life into the situation I find myself in.

As I shared with the girls this past Sunday, Esther did a few preliminary things. First, she mourned the life she lost. I'm not talking about being stoic and pretending your loss didn't affect you. The real trick is not staying there. I know I let myself just focus on all that I had lost: my freedom, my future, my dreams. And not surprisingly, I felt very dejected and hopeless. That is where the next step comes in: thank God for the life you had. Thank Him for the days of health, the dreams, the hopes, the memories of a happier time. Gratitude does a healing work in our hearts that we cannot comprehend.

Anah and meAnd when we have worked through these things, then we are able to take a deep breath, look reality square in the face, and move forward. There still are days when I regress and go back to my pity party, but I am finding more often than not, I am less likely to stay there.

So now, I am on the long, slow journey of learning how to accept my life as it stands today. And you know what? I am realizing that when I was so focused on what I had lost, I was totally unable to see what good God has in store for me as a result of this change. Only when I was willing to move forward could I begin to see the gifts He has in store for me. He is helping me to realize that what I am going through now may open up doors for future ministry and influence that I could never have in my old life.

I'll close with Sarah's well-written conclusion:

“Sometimes, loving God looks very different from what you think it will. Sometimes God asks you to live a life, or even a phase of life, that feels like the opposite of everything you hoped or wanted. Sometimes there are people so difficult to relate to you think God is punishing you, or a job so ill-suited to your passion that you feel persecuted just to do it.

“Yet God knows the plans He has for us. God knows when a young girl is in training to be a queen, or a teenage shepherd is on his way to ruling a kingdom. When faced with a desert time you don’t understand, you have a momentous decision ahead of you. You can do as I did at first and hunch down in a despairing little heap and refuse to look life in the face. Or you can do what I think Esther (and so many others in the Bible did) and face your new circumstances with a fight.” (p. 133)

Reflection questions:

Are you in a season of life that you don't want to be in? Do you need to mourn your past? What can you thank God for as you reflect on what you have lost?

How do your difficult circumstances influence your perspective of God? Is it in line with the truth of His Word? If not, what truths do you need to focus on? What difference could they make in your life?

What is one way you can drag life into your circumstances today, through the power of His Spirit?

Journeys of Faithfulness, ch. 6: Crossing the Bridge

journeys [box] Read chapter 6 of Journeys of Faithfulness.[/box]

Wow. This chapter left me speechless. God knew my deepest struggle and dealt it a death blow.

And what is that struggle?

Control.

I like to be in control of my own life. To be more blunt, I want to rule my own life. Basically, I want to be God.

Hmmm. That sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it? (Take a peek at Genesis 3:5,6). It really isn't new, so I shouldn't be surprised.

It's easy for me to fool myself into thinking I am exempt from these thoughts. After all, didn't we just take a big step of faith in adopting our Anah? Homeschooling through high school? Staying home instead of earning a second income? Choosing a life of ministry over a career in medicine?

Yes, it was easy to think that because I had taken such big steps of faith that God was really in control of my life. I mean, it looks like it from the outside. But deep inside, it was a different story. And God is not fooled.

Over the past six months, I have desperately been trying to gain some order over my chaotic and messy life. My goal was to make my life manageable again. Being a visionary, I know that I dream big. Together, my husband and I have prayed and waited and watched God move in our lives, slowly directing and shaping a unique ministry for us, which was starting to materialize. Things were starting to come together.

And now, I am happy if I can just get dinner on the table at night. What happened?

I do not like flying by the seat of my pants. Some people may like it, but not me. I want to live my life intentionally and purposefully. I'm Type A all the way. So when I feel like life is out of control, when I am living day to day and scraping by, it's very hard for me. I have begun to wonder if God really loved me or if He was punishing me instead.

As I sat stewing on this chapter, I realized that maybe I don't know God as I thought I did. As Mr. Beaver says in The Lion and the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is not a tame lion. And neither is my God.

Somehow over the years, I have come to believe that if I did what God wanted, He owed me an easy life. After all, that's fair right? I serve You; You take care of me. Of course, I construed that as having a painless, comfortable life, life the way I want it to be.

But that is my problem. That is where I have turned the tables. That is where I have falsely believed that by obeying Him radically, I somehow deserve something in return, not more hardship.

Instead, if I truly loved, trusted and followed Him, I would make no such conditions. I do not make them intentionally, but I realize I expect them, something that becomes very evident when life gets hard. When I begin to complain and whine, my hidden agenda reveals its ugly face.

It is here where Sarah's words find me:

“If we trust God to lead us in His own beautiful path, if we remove our white-knuckled fingers from the wheel, He will take us just where we need to go and make us all that we need to be. To truly belong to Him, we must lay down every expectation except the sure knowledge that He will uphold us. And when you are cradled in the palms of love itself, you don’t have to be afraid.” (emphasis mine)

She writes about her mother's experience of "crossing the bridge" in her devotional, something that I have done more than once in my life. And today, I find that I need to do it again. Perhaps this time it is not a grand adventure, like a missions trip or homeschooling or adoption. Today, it's crossing the bridge from living a life under my control to living a life that's completely under His control. No ifs, ands, or buts. No expectations. No conditions.

This is not about foolishly throwing my life away. It is rooted in a faith in the very nature of God's trustworthiness and character. I may not be sure of anything else, but I can lay it all down because He is sure. He is reliable. He is good. He is all that my heart longs for.

In my journey with God, there are many bridges to cross. Some are little foot bridges. But some seem like delicately arched constructions over gaping chasms. I wonder if I dare trust it. I know that the view is spectacular if I am willing to take that step of faith. But it does begin by choosing to put one foot in front of the other and move towards Him.

Let the adventure begin!

Reflection Questions:

What are some expectations you have of God? How do you respond when He does not meet them?

Are you willing to lay these expectations down and surrender them completely to Him? If not, what is holding you back?

Journeys of Faithfulness, ch. 5: Where I Fix My Eyes

journeys[box] Read chapter 5 in Journeys of Faithfulness.[/box] It has been a very hard six months, adoption-wise. It still is. There are moments when I despair that the reality we know now will be all there is.

Blank looks.

Constant repetition.

Exhaustion.

Two steps back for every step forward.

Grief.

Fear.

Discouragement.

Doubt.

There have been days when I just keep silent because I am afraid I will regret what will come out of my mouth. And so it just sits in my soul, in my spirit, and I feel so alone. What has started out so well has turned into a struggle that I fear will never end. There are days when I wish that I will wake out of this nightmare only to find that it isn't just a bad dream but reality.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus' mother, Mary, felt the same way. When the glory of the angel faded, when the visit with Elizabeth was over, when she was installed back into her home and community, she had to face some very hard things.

Snide comments.

Blatant accusations.

Threats.

Loss of friends.

Averted eyes.

Whispers behind her back.

Abandonment.

Shame.

Grief.

Fear.

Discouragement.

Doubt.

I have a feeling that Mary went through a very hard time too.

If you live long enough, you will inevitably find yourself in that position too. Maybe you're in that same position yourself. The key is not about how to get out of it as quick as possible but how to be victorious in that journey. I'm so tempted to run away, hide, and hope that things will get better on its own.

This is where I've really been challenged this week. Sarah puts it this way:

“When it comes right down to it, everything I believe in lies just beyond my touch. But my love of God drives me to live in a certain way and compels me to picture my hope in my words, my actions, and the set of my face as I encounter the world daily. Though the world is fallen, God’s goodness can still be seen there, and the promise of restoration is at the center of my hope. By learning to see His grace, I learn to survive, to be strong, to bear the hurt of living in a fallen world. To look for beauty, to fix your eyes on the starlight, is to live out hope in the perfection of God.” (p. 99-100, emphasis mine)

It really all depends on where I look. Am I looking at my circumstances? Or am I training myself to look for the unseen and often hidden evidences of God's goodness? Where I choose to fix my eyes will determine whether I walk out of this defeated or victorious.

This isn't really a new idea. Jesus Himself had to do this.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis mine)

Because He focused on the joy set before Him, I too am exhorted to run with perseverance, fixing my eyes on Jesus, my example, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I know I tend to be a pessimist. More so now than when I was younger. Sometimes it seems like it will take all of my energy to lift my head to even look up. But look up I must, or the weight of my circumstances will push me under.

As we talked about last week, we are living in Act Three, but we must always remember Act Four is still to come. Life here isn't a Disneyland theme park. It hurts. It wounds. It stings. We are in the midst of a battle. Sometimes we are on the front lines. And the battle may be to face the enemy, refusing to listen to his words of doubt, discouragement and despair.

Where do you fix your eyes? What is your focus? For where we fix our eyes may determine the next scene in our story.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.--2 Cor. 4:18

Reflection questions:

  • How might understanding God's story make a difference in my perspective during difficult times?
  • What are some ways we can train our eyes to look at God?
  • Think about a past or present trial or difficult circumstance. Where can you find glimpses of God?
  • Sarah shares how she and her brother helped each other out during a season of discouragement and doubt. How can we help others who are struggling with doubt right now? How can we help them to focus on God without giving pat answers or shallow cliches?
  • If you're using this as a discipleship tool: consider sharing a difficult time in your life and how God helped you to walk through it.

 

Journeys of Faithfulness, ch. 4: My Role to Play

journeys
journeys

[box] Read chapter 4 in Journeys of Faithfulness.[/box]

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."

--William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Have you ever wondered if Shakespeare is right? Are we really in one big cosmic play?

John Eldredge, in his book, Epic, thinks so. In it, he outlines what he thinks are the four "acts" of the story:

Act One: Eternal Love

All good stories start with a "once upon a time." And in our story, long ago in eternity past, it all started---not with us, but with the eternal Trinity. In this narrative, it begins like this: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)

Why is that important to know?

For starters, it reminds me that the protagonist in this story is not me. It never was. It never will be.

It's also important because it gives me context. I know my children like to know that they are wanted, that they came out of a loving union.

And so, the first Act, is one of love…what it was like before the first star was placed in the sky, before the first flower bloomed, before the first lion roared. Before all that, there was Love.

And Love forms the backbone of the whole story, for God is love.

Act Two: The Entrance of Evil

Have you also noticed that every story we read has a villain? The Big Bad Wolf, Darth Sidius, Sauron, the White Witch.

Did you notice there's also a villain in God's story too? He is referred to in several ways, namely Lucifer or Satan.

In God's drama, Lucifer once dwelt with the Trinity in the heavens, but he rebelled, taking 1/3 of the angels with him. Don't believe me? Read Ezekiel 28:13-19. In it, Ezekiel directly addresses the human king of Tyre, but at another level also deals with the one who was ruling through him. (This post gives a great explanation of the hermeneutical principle of double reference if you would like to understand how it can refer to both a human and Satan himself. This post also looks at Isaiah 14 in the same manner as a reference to this event.)

Why is that important to know too?

Too often, we forget we are not living in our final destination yet. We are confused and puzzled when hardship enters our lives. When we forget that there is a very real enemy, it helps us to put things in perspective. Though he may not be behind every bush, he is alive and active in the world today. This is his home…at least for now.

Just as God is the protagonist, Satan is the antagonist. So where do we fit in?

theater
theater

Act Three: The Battle for the Heart

Did you notice that it's the third act, and we haven't even entered the picture yet? Yup, that's because the story is not about me. It's not about you. We like to think it is, but it isn't. (Remember what I said in Act One?)

What's amazing is that even with Satan's rebellion, the Trinity still decides to create us. Genesis 1:1 takes place right here. Like parents anticipating their first child, they decorate the nursery: creating the right lighting and atmosphere, adjusting humidity levels, temperature, climate. They stock it with greenery, fruit trees, living creatures--water, sky, land. And when everything is finally set, man and woman are created. And it was very good. There is nothing as beloved as this pair, created in the image of the God who loved them so much. It truly was Paradise, as these two humans walked in loving relationship with their Creator.

This explains then the extreme hatred of the enemy. Satan knew he was no match for God. So what's the next best thing? That's right. Target the ones He loves the most. We know what happened, and their choice to listen to the voice of the Deceiver has shattered Paradise forever.

But that's not the end. Even in Genesis (3:15), the foreshadowing of a great rescue takes place. Over the years, from Noah to Joseph to Moses to the prophets, even through their exile and return, from the moment Adam and Eve ate the fruit, Jesus began making His plans to inhabit human flesh, die on the cross and redeem us from the enemy. His sights were set on restoring His beloved back to the Father. Like the prince who fought dragons and thorns and dangers to reach his princess, our God fought through all hell to reach us.

Why is this so important?

First, if you ever wondered how much God loves you, this should be strong proof. He wanted you. He planned for you. And He will spare no expense to bring you back to Him.

Second, because you and I are so deeply loved, we are also deeply hated by the enemy. And therein lies the battle. Who will have your heart? Who will be victorious?

And that, my dear friends, is where we are today. Right now. Right this minute. We are in a battle zone.

But lest we think that's the end of the story, let's finish this up, shall we?

Act Four: The Kingdom Restored

You didn't think that was the end, did you? If so, that was a depressing ending. But wait, there's more to come!

How do all good stories end? "They lived happily ever after." Most of us have become cynical in our day and age of the storybook ending. We have been hardened by the realities of life. And because we have become callous, it is easy to forget or dismiss this ending and just focus on getting through life here.

But let's think about this a little more. What does the Bible tell us? Not only in the last book of the Bible, but all throughout Scripture, promises abound regarding our future. The King, our Hero, will come again to establish His righteous rule and reign. All sin, disease, pain, and suffering will be eradicated. We will walk once again in intimate fellowship with our Father. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Why do we need to know this?

Because herein lies our hope. If we do not have this ending to frame our understanding, to color our vision, we will be trapped in a world where injustice, suffering, pain, and war become our reality. Just take a look around you today. If that is all there is, life is not worth living.

This is not to say that life will be roses and sunshine. Because we live in between Act Three and Act Four, life will be difficult. But because we live in between Act Three and Act Four, there is a future to look forward to. And its as real as the rest of the story that has already taken place.

You and I, we live in a war zone. The battle still rages for the hearts of humankind. We're not in Paradise yet. Jesus makes it clear that in this world we will have trouble. Look at Him. He died a sinner's death though it was completely undeserved. He knows what He's talking about and doesn't sugar coat it.

But because we know what is to come, we can have hope. We can walk bravely through the mined battlefield, stoop to care for our wounded friends, use what we have to make the world a more beautiful place, steward our gifts to further the Kingdom of God until He returns. There is still work for us to do. Work for me. Work for you.

If you don't know where to start, I strongly encourage you to start immersing yourself in the Story. Read it. Soak your mind in it. Let it entrench deeply in your heart so that it colors all you see, hear, think, do, experience. Why? I think Sarah Clarkson says it so well in this chapter:

"I…think God meant Scripture to be the story we live, the epic in which we are immersed. God's story is the one great, true story of the world, as wild and woven with mystery as the myths and legends and fairy tales of old. In it we are the knights and fair maidens, the Davids and Esthers and Daniels that people His story. But only those who know and love and live the story of God will be aware of the part they have been called to play." (emphasis mine)

I know this is a long post, so thank you for sticking with me this far. But this message is so important for us today. We've got to keep the Story alive in us, not let the realities of life quell its power. Noah knew it when he boarded that ark. Joseph knew it when he was alone in the prison. Moses believed it when he was dealing with those complaining Israelites in the desert. David was sure of it when he faced Goliath. Daniel was immersed in it as he descended into that lion's den.

What about you? What role will you play as the Story continues?

Reflection questions:

  • Consider each of the four Acts in this drama. How does each contribute to your understanding of life?
  • How well do you "know and love and live" God's story?
  • What is something you can do to more deeply grasp and internalize God's Word in your life?
  • How does this Story put your life in perspective today?

Credits:

  • Thanks to John Eldredge and his book, Epic, that inspired this post.
  • Theater curtain image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono, FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Journeys of Faithfulness, chapter 3: You Want Me to Do What?

journeys[box] Read chapter 3 in Journeys of Faithfulness.[/box] As I was preparing for our Journeys of Faithfulness study this past week, the Lord took me in a direction I was not anticipating orplanning. (I love how He does that!) As is often the case, He surfaced for me an area that I have always struggled with. You probably struggle with it too.

Noise.

As a mom, I know literal noise. I've got two boys, and they make plenty of it. But what I'm really struggling with is the silent noise. You know what I'm talking about? E-noise, if you want specifics.

I hide out in my bedroom and what do I do? I pull out my iPad and absorb myself in a story. I check my email for messages. I browse on Pinterest--most of the time, not out of necessity, but just to see if there's anything interesting. I read Facebook statuses to see what my friends are up to.

Talking, talking, everywhere talking. Only now, it's not face to face with a friend, but virtually--online, texting, blogging (yes, I know I'm adding to the noise). We are always "plugged in" lest we miss out. And we wouldn't want that, would we?

What really brought me up short is realizing how much more time I spend with virtual people than I do with real people. Worse yet, how much time I spend with God.

Because I do not live in a vacuum, who I become is largely dependent on who I am listening to the most. If my silent moments are filled with the voices of others, whether it be a Pin or a status update, I quickly begin to measure myself with those standards. Inevitably, I will feel like a failure.

When I realized this, I thought--Wouldn't it be better to let my Creator define me? Wouldn't it be wiser to go to Him to determine what I need to be doing? To do this, I need to spend time listening to Him instead of all those other voices. Of course, the obvious problem is: where will I find the time to do this?

The answer, I think, is actually very simple. You ready for this?

Unplug.

I said simple. I didn't say easy.

How do you do this? Try fasting from the computer for a day. If that's too long, try half a day or even three hours. Just turn the computer off (or simply don't turn it on). If needed, tell your friends what you are doing (and bravely resist the comments and complaints you might hear) so they don't think you're mad at them. This includes any type of screens or devices: phones, radios, computers, tablets, video games, you name it.

In this week's reading, Sarah Clarkson writes this:

“If we want to be as Mary in our own time, I think we must understand that the choice to know God is ours. The Spirit of God is alive and calling out from the very core of our hearts. We have the Bible available to us, and we can offer a prayer at any moment. But the great requirement is that we be still enough to listen. We must hush our hearts every day so that we can learn, hear, and follow.” (emphasis mine)

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14510036Lest you think I am advocating being a hermit, please allow me to put this in perspective. I am not saying that all technology and social media is wrong. Far from it. I love being able to interact with others, even when I cannot see them. I have had opportunities to minister and speak to people across the world and people I've never even met. Our advances today hold so much potential for good.

But as with all good things, it is only one small step from good to god. Our goal is not simply to unplug, for if left alone, the vacuum will quickly be filled with other things. Instead, let's use the space that is freed up for something infinitely more satisfying--connecting with our Maker. Instead of reading words on a screen, I can interact with the Word of life. Instead of griping on my Facebook status, I can pour out my griefs to one who can actually help me. We need the silence so we can hear the whisper of His voice.

And then, when it's time, we can plug back in again. And this time, instead of being the victim, the follower, God can use me to be a positive influence, a blessing, a minister. This is my prayer every time I update, post, write or pin. When I have been quiet with God, He gives me something worthwhile to share. When I pull back to let Him fill me with Himself, I have much more of value to give to those around me.

And that's not a bad tradeoff for a little bit of quiet.

Reflection questions:

  • How noisy is your life? Step back and observe your own day from an outsider's perspective. How much time do you spend texting, surfing, socializing…?
  • What is your response to quiet? Fear? Discomfort? Awkwardness? Do these responses drive you to fill up your quiet moments?
  • Plan a day (or whatever is a stretch for you) of quiet for the express purpose of spending it with God. Journal. Meditate on Scripture. Process with Him. Ask Him to show you what He is doing in your life.

Journeys of Faithfulness, chapter 2: Walking through Pain

journeys[box] Read chapter 2.[/box] Let's get one thing clear: This week's chapter is not a fun one. After all, who wants to talk about pain?

And yet, if we live in this world for any length of time, we will encounter and have to face pain:

  • The pain of losing a loved one.
  • The pain of being stabbed in the back.
  • The pain of rejection.
  • The pain of loneliness.
  • The pain of failure.
  • The pain of dashed hopes and dreams.

And the worst?

The pain of feeling abandoned by God.

There is no end to the many types of pain we can face in this world. Yet, what is important is not the types of pain we will face but what to do when it enters our lives.

Martha and Mary were faithful. They loved Him, served Him, gave Him their best. And yet, when their need was the greatest, when their beloved brother lay dying…He waited.

They knew He could save him. That was why they asked for Him to come. But He didn't.

If that ain't painful, I don't know what is.

However, unlike Martha and Mary, we have the gift of Scripture. We know what happens. They don't. What impressed me in Sarah's retelling is Martha's willingness to believe, even though she did not know what was going to happen at the end of the story. She didn't know that by dinner time, Lazarus would be sitting around their table again. They didn't know what Jesus was going to do. But still she affirmed, "Yes, I believe." (John 11:27)

What pain do you live with today? What hurts and wounds do you bear in your heart? We are usually not equipped to face pain. We want it to be heaven now.

But we're not there yet.

However, there is good news, and it is this: We follow a Savior that not only knows about pain, He has willingly entered into this sin-stained world we live in, dwelt in it, experienced it. And not only that, He has gone through the most unfair, the most shameful, the most painful experience any human being can ever imagine. And He did it willingly.

We are not alone. We are not abandoned.

What do we do then? Sarah writes:

“To live a life of redemption means to trust God even with the pain you cannot understand. To reject the way of redemption leads only to a life of bitterness. If you cannot trust God with your pain, then you will hate Him for it.”

It means to trust Him when it doesn't make sense. It means choosing to stay faithful to Him even when you are so tempted to walk away. It means believing even when your heart is breaking and being willing to place that broken heart into His wise and gentle hands.

Over the past six months, I have been walking through my own painful valley. I have had a hard time writing about it. So I haven't. I felt like God had dealt me a bad hand. I felt like He was doing it on purpose, punishing me. Life made no sense to me. And to be honest, it still doesn't.

I wish I could say that I was faithful to Him as Mary was. But I think my reaction was more like Martha's. Which is why this particular chapter really spoke to me. It reminded me that He was nearer than I thought. In my tears and weeping, He was with me. Like Martha, I too, do not see the end to this story. But also like Martha, I have a choice. His question to me is the same, "Do you believe this?" Do I believe He is the resurrection and the life? Do I believe that in Him, amidst the pain and sorrow, He is doing His good work still?

“Redemption isn’t always easy or apparent because it is God’s grace working amidst utter brokenness. But if you choose to embrace this way of walking through pain, you will see the very life of God become real in your circumstances. You will find the ability to hope where you never expected it. And you will see God strengthen your heart and guide you through the darkness.” (Sarah Clarkson, p. 42)

And that is my prayer for you and for me: that we would not only aim to "get through" our painful times but to choose to walk in childlike trust. I can say that it is not at all a natural response. My natural response is to run, fight, or rebel. I've tried all of them over the past few months. Let me assure you that none of them work. They only turn us into bitter, angry, and hateful people.

Instead, I need to reach out to the One who sits with me in my pain. I need to walk with Him through it. I need to trust that with Him, there is hope, there is strength, there is peace---even in the midst of that pain.

And one day, like Martha, we will understand what He has been doing all along.

If you're using this book in a discipleship context, consider discussing the following questions:

  • What is your natural response to pain and hardship? Run? Fight? Rebel? Something else?
  • Where do you see Jesus in these hard times? Near? Far? What is He doing? (see Luke 22:44, John 11:35, Luke 19:41-42) How might this make a difference in your life?
  • Is there a hardship or heartache you are currently facing? What keeps you from placing it in the hands of Jesus in trust? Would you be willing to respond with your own, "Yes, I believe!"

Journeys of Faithfulness, chapter 1: Where We Must Start

journeys [box] Read: Chapter 1, Learning to See. [/box]

I am most definitely a Martha.

You know the type. Bustling. Doing ten things at once. Bossy.

Sometimes it takes every ounce in me not to do something, even write a paper for class because I know it will lower my grade. I know I am driven, and if I'm honest, I secretly like it. It makes me feel like I am accomplishing something important as I flurry around. Sitting? That's for lazy people.

Unless.

Unless it is an invitation to fellowship. If I'm sitting when I know I should be fulfilling a task that has been given to me, then yes, I am being irresponsible. But there are also times when the Lord has asked me to pull aside, to rest, to dwell in His presence, to sit at his feet.

As a mom, it is easy to get so wrapped up in what I need to do that it's hard sometimes to remember the end goal is ultimately ministry, not just completing a job. It's equally true even if you're not a mom. Sometimes our to-do list becomes more important than the people we seek to serve, especially the ones in our own homes.

The secret to keeping things in perspective? It's actually very simple though I'll be the first to admit it's hard to do. But when you really think about it, it makes the most sense in the world.

Ready? Here it is.

When life is at its busiest, when you really don't think you can stop for anything, when you are overwhelmed and up to your eyeballs--whether it be homework, chores, responsibilities, commitments--is to stop, drop, and…

SIT.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14510036

Yep, that's it. That's all there is to it.

I can hear you now, so just say it. Go ahead, I won't judge you.

"Yeah, right."

Why is this the secret? May I share something with you? Something I have learned in the past, but still need to keep reminding myself of, over and over and over.

If I truly believe that my Heavenly Father created me, if I believe that His Son has laid down his life willingly to redeem and save me, if I believe that His Holy Spirit now dwells in me, wouldn't it make the most sense to find all I need in Him? All I dream of, all I hope for, all I seek to accomplish in His name--wouldn't it come best from Him? In order to make sense of our lives, I need to find out what He intended for me all along. In order to find the motivation to keep going day after day, I need to be reminded of the One who gave everything for me. In order to live out each day as a reflection of His character to the people around me, I need His Spirit to infuse my heart and strengthen my weak hands and feeble limbs.

I'll be the first to admit it's hard to find the time. Who doesn't? And the way our world is going, it really isn't going to get any easier.

It is really a choice.

A choice to trust Him when it makes absolutely no sense to stop. A choice to sacrifice your agenda so you can hear His. A choice to love Him more than yourself.

But if you learn this lesson when you are young and make an effort to establish this habit in your youth, you will be miles ahead of the rest of us who are knee-deep in the frazzle of life and struggle to make it a priority.

Let me close with a quote from this chapter. The emphases are mine:

“As we begin this study, as we set out with souls hungry to know and serve God, let us begin by dwelling in love. Let us sit at the feet of the One whose heart holds all beauty, whose love created every kindness in this world. This is where we must start. This is where we fill ourselves with grace for the journey we have just begun. We start not by walking, but by basking in the great love of Jesus.” 

They say that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

What's yours?

If you're using this book in a discipleship context, consider discussing the following questions:

  • What have you learned about the love of God in your journey with Him?
  • How do you work in Mary moments in your day?
  • What have you learned or discovered about making time?
  • Select a passage to read together, utilizing lectio divina. Discuss any insights you discover.

Book Club: Journeys of Faithfulness

journeys I love to read. (Can you tell?) Many times, I would finish a book and think, I just have to share this with someone! However, most of the time I just put it back on my bookcase, and I end up being the only one who benefits from it. Even then, I forget what I have read or fail to really interact with the book because I am not processing it.

This quarter, I have the privilege of meeting with my daughter and a few of her friends. I have never led a small group for high schoolers before so I feel a bit old. And yet, I count myself truly blessed with this opportunity to meet with these beautiful young ladies and pour into their lives over the next few months. We will be working through Sarah Clarkson's Journeys of Faithfulness, one of the books I keep mentioning in various posts over the past year. (Here's my review of the book for the Schoolhouse Crew.)

Each week, over the next twelve weeks, I plan to post a reflection on each week's chapter highlighting a key concept or point. I invite you to share your thoughts and insights as you are led. I truly would love to hear from you. Whether you are able to join me now or in the future, I invite you to take the time to put into words the thoughts that come to mind. Even if you haven't read the book, I hope the excerpts and reflections shared will provide you with some food for thought. Along with the reflection, I will include a mother-daughter topic for discussion, should you wish to use this book as a discipleship tool with your own daughter.

If you have a young teen daughter, I highly recommend grabbing a copy. Even if your daughters are young, I encourage you to consider reading this in advance in preparation for the future. I wish I did, but I am glad that I have the opportunity now, even as my daughter is on the verge of moving into the next stage of her life. It's never too late. If you do not have a daughter or your daughters are grown, this is a wonderful book to go through if you disciple or mentor young women. I have even found it challenging for me as a mom. This does not deal specifically with teen issues but heart issues, and we can all learn something! I know that there will be some future posts that are going to really stretch me to write.

So, are you ready? I hope you'll join me as we journey with our Savior and walk with women who have lived faithfully.

PS. Just to let you know, I am doing this on my own and am not endorsed or paid by the author.

If you'd like to join us, you can pick up your own copy from the Whole Heart store or from Amazon (especially if you're interested in the Kindle version). Check out this page for the schedule!

TOS Review Crew: PeopleKeys

This year, I'll be graduating our first student from our home school. It's hard to believe how quickly these last 13 years have gone by. My daughter and I have spent many hours discerning, watching and waiting as God slowly has been unfolding her next steps for the future. This review came at a great time for us as we continue to seek the Lord's direction for Janna. peoplekeys-logo_zpse1faa0a6

Company Information: PeopleKeys is a worldwide leader in behavioral analysis that has developed the online technology to  help employers and employees alike best understand personality, strengths, career style, cognitive thinking style, and more. Using the popular DISC assessment, their student workbooks and online reports help aid children as young as nine years old to discover their unique mix of traits and how best to use them to their greatest advantage.

Though the company appears to be geared towards businesses hiring employees, the assessments that the TOS Review Crew received are appropriate for students, generally age 13 and up (though they do have an assessment for younger students as well!). This allows me, as a homeschool parent, the ability to help guide my students as they explore their options for the future. 

peoplekeys-discprofile_zpsfb30d227Product Reviewed: DISC Career Style Report, online. This profile is completed online, with results compiled into a report outlining the general characteristics of your particular style and how that style can best fit in the workplace. The report also includes tips on how to help you to better communicate with co-workers of different styles and suggestions for careers that are a good fit for your particular style. Scrolling down this page and clicking the "eDISC Instructions" link in the additional downloads section can give you a peek into the process and what the assessment looks like. 

Price: $32.00

Age Range: Ages 13 to adult.

Parental Preparation: After purchase, a link to access the assessment will be provided by e-mail. After agreeing to the terms of use, your child can take the assessment, which takes about 10-15 minutes to complete. After completion, a PDF with using the responses from the assessment will be generated and sent to you.

Of course, the accuracy of this evaluation will depend on how honest you are with it. It was important to remind Janna to complete it without trying to think too hard about it or to try to come up with what she thought was the "best" answer.

How We Used It:

Janna already has a good idea of what she'd like to study and focus on, but this assessment helped her to understand how her personality fit into the mix. After taking the assessment, we spent some time evaluating whether or not she thought the description fit how she saw herself (which she said it did for the most part). We also looked through the list of suggested best careers, but found that her interest, photography, was on the "close match" page. However, it did give us the chance to talk about other options to consider.

What We Liked:

  • The assessment was very simple and quick, with results that pretty accurately described Janna. She did not have any trouble completing it on her own. 
  • The results provided a good way to initiate conversation between us. The page on "Tips for Your Professional Style" was especially helpful to discuss together. Some of the tips really opened up some very real issues that I've already seen in Janna as she deals with responsibilities and her work, which are good to keep in mind.
  • "Homemaking" was included in the list of best careers for Janna. I'm glad that it is acknowledged and valued!

Thoughts:

  • Janna's S" and the "C" scores were one point apart. As they were so close, we were wondering what the "C" results would have said about her or if they are factored into the report.
  • The assessment is geared towards those who were looking into jobs in the marketplace, but I think that the suggestions given can help even if you own your own business or "work" in managing a home. However, this may need a parent to help make the connections or modifications.

Overall Summary:

For many years, my husband and I worked on the college campus as campus ministers. I can't tell you how many times I have seen students switch majors a couple of years into their studies because they found that they liked something else. What a waste of time and money! I didn't want my kids to do that! I know we couldn't afford it.

Although $32 seemed like a lot of money for a 15 minute test, it's definitely a smaller price to pay than several thousand dollars of college tuition! Also, if administered in the junior high or early high school years, I think this would help give time for you and your child to explore possible career options while they are still at home.

All in all, I think it's a great tool to utilize. It gets you moving in a direction that best fits your child, opens doors for discussion and gives starting points for practical training in work skills. I'm planning to have my junior higher take the assessment in a year or so, as he gets a sense of what he enjoys doing. I remember my daughter in her junior high years really starting to take a strong interest in graphic design and photography, which helped us to plan her high school course work. It would have been nice to take the assessment earlier, but as it is, it has proven to be affirmation for her in what we have already been noticing.

If you've ever wondered how you can serve your children as a career guidance counselor, this may be a great tool for you!

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TOS Review Crew: Greene Bark Press

Here's a short and sweet review today from... greenbarkpress_zps9eade074

Company Information: Greene Bark Press is a family owned publishing company that publishes only books that they believe will be of benefit to young readers. Books are selected based on originality, colorfulness, and imagery. Even with all the technology that is available today, they believe that the printed word is still the best way to reading and language comprehension. They also carry select items from other companies that compliment their books.  

lookleftlookrightlookleftagain_zps08f68e39Product Reviewed: The board book, Look Left, Look Right, Look Left AgainThis book focuses on a simple way to teach kids how to cross the street safely. The story follows Little Wally Waddlewater as he takes a trip to the mailbox with his mother to mail a letter to his grandmother. It goes through various scenarios where he will need to cross the street. Throughout the book and in each situation, he repeats a simple refrain that is easy  for children to remember. 

Price: $8.50, plus shipping

Suggested Age Range (on website): Ages 3-8

What We Liked:

What we liked about the book was that it offered a simple way to remember how to cross the street. This led to a discussion of left and right, which Jonathan has not quite mastered yet. (We all have one of those things that we take for granted and forget to teach our kids, right?) Anyways, it took awhile for him to realize that looking left is in relation to his position and not an external object or landmark. I had to show him that depending on which direction he was facing, left could be a different side. Lesson number one!

We put the book into action right away when we went to swimming lessons and had to walk through the parking lot. I liked the fact that Mama Waddlewater reminds Wally that looking once in each direction is not enough. Things can happen quickly on the road so we talked about the importance of taking one more look before crossing. It needn't take a long time, but we need to make sure! (If you're living in a country that drives on the other side of the road, you will need to reverse the refrain!)

The book also illustrates several scenarios that this technique can be applied: stop signs, when crossing the street to get a runaway ball, at traffic lights and crosswalks, railroad tracks, etc. This then led to a discussion of when we would need to look in our neighborhood.

The last thing we enjoyed about this book is the sweet illustrations. It was definitely appealing to my five-year-old, who immediately asked me to read the book to him when it first arrived!

What We Didn't Like:

While the concept behind the book is important for kids in the age range suggested, the storyline and illustrations may be a little young for kids on the older end of the spectrum. For us, it was a great time to use it as the concept and the presentation of it fit Jonathan right now. Depending on your child, they may find it a little too young for them. You may need to find another way to teach this important concept!

Overall Summary:

I'd recommend this book to kids in the 3-5 year old range as a great way to introduce the concept of how to cross the street safely. As there is really only one way to use the book, we didn't really read it more than a couple times. Here's an idea: If you are in a playgroup with other young moms, once you finish using it, pass it on to another young child...and keep it going! It is definitely sturdy enough to stand the use and would be a great way to bless and help other moms...and to get the most out of your investment!

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Let's Read!: Everyday Graces

Everyday Graces
Karen Santorum; Intercollegiate Studies Institute 2003

 While I was reading Dr. Dobson's book, Bringing Up Girls, this month, I was challenged to look into more intentionally teaching manners to my children. In one of his chapters, he included an interview with Karen Santorum, wife of Rick Santorum, former presidential candidate and author of Everyday Graces.

As I have found, stories are often far more effective than lectures in reaching the hearts of my children. Everyday Graces, however, is not your ordinary anthology of children's literature. Instead, each section of the book focuses on a particular skill, such as good manners at home, using words wisely, table manners, washing and dressing, etc. Within these sections are subsections that focus on even more specific lessons.

What makes this book unique is that it seeks to move beyond just good manners and outward behavior, and into the heart. In her opening note to parents, Mrs. Santorum writes, "When we speak of politeness, we may think of something that can be easily learned from reading an etiquette book. Such may be the case with simple, isolated behaviors like selecting the proper fork or keeping ones elbows off the table. But true politeness requires more. For it is the mirror of a person's heart and soul--it is an outward expression of inner virtue. And inner virtue is best learned through constant practice and examples."

From simple rhymes to longer selections, this book is full of wonderful examples. Classics and hidden treasures can be found in its pages. Along with each selection is a little commentary you can read to your children, using it as a springboard for your own discussions. The selections vary in length, but because they are stories, children usually have no problem sitting for these "lessons."

I have not started reading this yet to my children, but it has inspired in me a desire to not only teach my children basic academic skills, but to consider actively incorporating teaching on manners and politeness as well. (And I have to say that it is not just my children who need the help!) This 380-page tome will keep us busy for years to come. I hope to start with the poetry and easier selections for Jonathan, and as he grows, keep cycling through the various topics at increasingly deeper levels.

I usually don't write reviews before reading a book from cover to cover, but as we have been discussing books this month, I didn't want to wait on this one. My prayer is that as a result of going through this book together, my children will have a larger heart for God and for others.

Let's Read!: Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends

Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends
; Tomorrow's Forefathers 2002

 I grew up the oldest child, with one brother and two sisters. I wish I could say that we are all best friends now, but that wouldn't be telling the truth. While we are not at odds with each other and we still get together for major holidays, I know that there were more times when we tolerated one another instead of enjoying each other.

So when I saw the title of this book, I was immediately intrigued. Sarah, Stephen and Grace Mally are brothers and sisters that not only enjoy each other, but have teamed up together to serve the Lord together and to minister to others. What made it more interesting to me is the fact that Stephen is adopted. And as anyone who has both biological and adopted children knows, that can be an interesting journey to take! (Even if you don't, it's still a challenge!)

I enjoyed this book because it gave the perspectives of each of the children: firstborn, middle child and the baby of the family. What I appreciated most was the emphasis on learning how to treat your family well. So often, we treat everyone else better than our own siblings. And yet, the kids reminded me that I need to not just accept the fact that "that's just the way siblings act," but to call my kids to a higher standard.

If we allow our children to treat each other like dirt at home while pasting on Sunday faces at church, we are only enabling them to be hypocrites. As a mother, I need to tell this to myself! It is so hard to love those you see all the time, the ones that know you best, the ones that mess up your bedroom, break your toys, or take forever in the shower. And yet, can you imagine---if our kids are able to love their brothers and sisters sincerely, how much better prepared they will be for their future roommates and spouses!

Even though this book was written by kids (22, 16, and 12 years old at the time), I thought it was very well done. It was written for kids, but I think it's a great read for parents---so we have a better idea of what we can discuss and work on with our kids!

No, this book won't tell you how to keep your house from becoming a war zone, but as it says in the subtitle, it's all about learning "how to fight the GOOD fight at home." Instead of pitting one sibling against another, it has given me a vision for how my children can join together to fight for Christ and His kingdom.

If you have just tolerated sibling rivalry, screaming and yelling, and catfights, then I encourage you to think again. I think the Mally siblings have done a great job in convincing me that there is another option. I hope they will encourage you too.

Let's Read!: Bringing Up Boys

When I first found out I was going to have a boy, I wasn't quite sure if I was happy about that. I had a beautiful, happy, quiet, sweet little girl. She liked to play by herself, color, read, and all the things I enjoyed. I understood girls. I did not understand boys. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I started my journey with Matthew. Almost seven years later, I became the mother of another son.

But you know what? I have come to love boys. There are times when I could do without the battle noises, the running and jumping off furniture, and the toilet seat left up, but I know I wouldn't trade my boys for a million girls. I love the way boys take risks (though it can be scary at times). I love how they don't play those games that girls do---you know, the "You're not my friend anymore" kind of comments. (I think a girl said that to Matthew once, and he just shrugged his shoulders.) I love their inquisitiveness and curiosity and sense of adventure. Yes, I really do!

If you've got boys, or even if you don't, I would highly recommend Dr. James Dobson's book, Bringing Up Boys. In it, he combines research with practical applications that have really challenged me to look at raising boys differently. Instead of trying to make them into civilized girls, I have felt encouraged to appreciate the unique gifts that boys can bring into this world and help them to nurture them.

We live in a world where if the feminists had their way, there would be only be one gender: female. But that is not the way God created humanity. Both men and women have a valuable contribution to make. As a mom, it is easy to try to raise boys in my bent. And yet that cannot be done. I need to raise them and train them to be what God has created them to be...and that is different than me.

Some of the research presented in the book can be discouraging or downright frightening. But that is more a picture of the world we live in, not what is guaranteed to happen to every boy. There are options, and even if boys will be boys, we still have an opportunity to help shape them into godly men.

The one thing that Dr. Dobson says in this book, and he also mentions it in Bringing Up Girls as well, is that parenting requires sacrifice. I cannot hold on to my comforts, my preferences, at the expense of my children. It's not just about giving up material things or time. It's about being willing to step out of my comfort zone. It is about being willing to take the hard road that no one else takes, if it is going to benefit my son. It's about talking about uncomfortable topics, setting boundaries even though he won't like it, and believing in him when the odds seem against you. It's about doing things you thought you'd never do, things that are against your personal bents. That is a hard message to hear.

Our world needs godly young men who will boldly lead and sacrificially love. And those things are not going to just happen. God has placed us as mothers (and fathers) into the lives of our sons, that we may be able to help guide them, encourage them, protect them, and train them so they can take their place in this rapidly decaying world.

Are you up for the challenge? Then check this book out!

TOS Review Crew: High School Prep Genius

When my daughter was due to start kindergarten, I had no idea that I was supposed to register her with our local school district. No one ever told me! By the grace of God, it was brought to my attention a month before registration was supposed to happen. I waddled around, eight months pregnant, checking out the schools in our area. My husband registered Janna into the school of our choice while I was in labor with Matthew. All went well. I wish I could say that I learned my lesson and thought about preparing Janna for high school a couple of years in advance. Nope. The summer before her freshman year, I still had no clue what I was supposed to prepare for. Poor Janna. If only I had known about College Prep Genius then, both of us would have been better prepared. Fortunately, I have learned my lesson this time around for Matthew!

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Company Information: Jean Burk, homeschooling parent and author of College Prep Genius SAT Prep classes, learned that by helping her son and daughter succeed in this standardized test, she was able to open the door for her kids to receive scholarship money for their college tuition. Besides the College Prep Genius program, the company also offers VocabCafe series of videos that are designed to help your students learn and master vocabulary words for the SAT in a useful context and other e-books regarding college-related topics.

Untitled-1_zpsac2e8af4Product Reviewed:

Though the focus of the website is their SAT prep program, College Prep Genius also offers High School Prep Genius, a handbook for high school students. This 400+ page paperback book, written by Mrs. Burk and her daughter, Judah, cover a wide range of topics pertinent to high schoolers so they can succeed personally and academically as they prepare for the future. Also included are ideas on how to build a college and career notebook, student timelines for your children as young as middle school, and how to build your homeschool transcript.

Price: $29.95

Age range: 9th-12th grade, but I would recommend starting this if your children are in 6th-8th grade.

Parental Preparation:

The beginning of the book introduces the college prep binder, which you may wish to assemble for your child. I read through the introduction and thought it would be a worthwhile effort for Matthew. I just wish I had learned to do this for my older daughter! If you would like to also create your own binder, you will need a 3-ring binder plus at least seven divider tabs (with pockets). If you do this during the back to school fall season, supplies should cost less. Update: Pages for the binder can be found on this page!

As I was putting the binder together, I also skimmed through the book. In addition to chapters for the students, there are parental notes at the end of each chapter. You will need to decide whether you want to discuss the book with your child or if you plan to simply hand it over to them to read on their own.

How We Used It:

As I was reading through the first section of the book, I thought that it would be appropriate to use for my upcoming 7th grader. I found that another section was better suited for my older daughter. I looked over the material and read the parents' sections and decided that I would use it in our daily times together, a little at a time. Because my daughter had a full course load already and has been busy studying for SAT examinations, I didn't want to give her another assignment, so we would spend about an hour a week going through any new information with her.

The book is very easy to read for a typical high school student, but for my middle schooler, I thought it best to read it and discuss it with him. Matthew and I first went through the four-year degree plan on page 18, something that I wish I had done with Janna. It is always so much easier for us to make decisions like this when we are not in the midst of them and the pressure is on!

We discussed the typical requirements for high school graduation, and I explained to him what AP courses were, and how taking classes like these can be of benefit for him. We also talked about what that would require for him as a student. Being Matthew, he was up for the challenge and decided that he definitely didn't want to do just the minimum program, but he honestly admitted that he wasn't sure if he wanted to go for the distinguished program either. We ended up setting our sights on the recommended accelerated program---something that we know we can always adjust in the future if necessary.

Another section Matthew and I discussed was the 7th-8th grade student timeline, starting on page 45. I was reminded once again that these years may be a good time for Matthew to start looking into scholarships. It also gave us an opportunity to talk about how we could positively use these upcoming high school years.

Lastly, Matthew and I then jumped into Part II: Foundation for Personal Success, discussing both personal development and cultivating interests. This was a little difficult for him, as he was not used to thinking about these issues. And yet, even though it was hard, I think it provided me the opportunity to introduce him to the concepts of learning to take personal responsibility for his own choices, decisions, failures, and interests. Even if he doesn't fully understand what this means now, I found that the material presented in the book a good springboard for sharing and training that I may otherwise have skipped or forgotten.

For my older daughter, though she was fully capable of reading this on her own, I selected those sections and chapters from the book that were most pertinent to her as an 11th grader on the verge of her senior year. We went through the 11th and 12th grade student timelines, making sure that we were on track (we were, for the most part). It also helped us to make sure that she knew what was expected of her and when, especially if she was planning on applying to colleges this fall.

As Janna was already well into her high school years and doing very well with the basic skills for academic success, I jumped ahead to Part IV: Foundation for Future Success. Chapter 13 on Future Development was a very helpful chapter, as it helped us to not only see the options available, but helped us to discuss how we can make goals and plans to help her reach her dreams. The idea that there is more than one way to reach a goal proved to be a very helpful discussion for us. I also appreciated the reminder that the amount of schooling and the value of your paycheck does not make a person respectable. This was a lesson I wish I had learned when I was in high school! Reading that reminded me that what was most important for me as a parent is to keep higher education in perspective---God's perspective.

What We Liked:

  • The book is very comprehensive and covers a wide range of topics that are important to discuss or bring up with your high school student. Material covered goes from middle school to the first year of college.
  • The content is very readable and the chapters meaty without being overwhelming.
  • The "Think About It" activities at the end of the chapters provide good discussion material with your student.
  • The parents' guide at the end of each chapter, along with "homework," provided very practical and insightful tips.
  • The timelines for each year, 7th grade through 12th grade, provide very concrete guidelines so that we can help our students stay on track.
  • Acknowledges homeschooling and not just traditional schooling.

What We Didn't Like:

If there was anything that bothered me, it may be the switching between son/daughter, which seemed a bit awkward at times. As most writers admit, it is hard to be fair to both male and female readers. Aside from this very small point, I personally enjoyed this resource and found it to be very helpful for our family.  However, if you (or your students) don't like to read, the size of the tome may seem a bit overwhelming, and may be an obstacle for you to get the most out of the book.

I'd like to put in a thought if this describes you. This is definitely one of those books that cover very important material, yet may be easy to pass over because of other more "crucial" subjects. If reading is not a high priority or you or your student simply don't have enough time in the day, I would encourage you to at least read the book yourself (ah...the sacrifices a parent must make!) and make a mental  note of the topics you should at least bring up with your children. Even if your child is in a traditional school and have college guidance counselors, we cannot pass this responsibility off to them. As parents, preparing our children for higher education is just as much our responsibility. This book can help you to steer you in the right questions, even if it is simply knowing what questions to ask.

Overall Summary:

My plan after the review is to continue going through parts 2 and 3 of the book with Matthew throughout his middle school years, and then going through part 4 and the corresponding yearly timelines with him once he starts high school.

I am very thankful for the opportunity to be introduced to College Prep Genius! The material isn't explicitly Christian, but I found it to be full of wisdom and help. I wouldn't say I agreed with everything 100%, but they were not necessarily things that were offensive or strange to me. As always, as a parent, put your thinking cap on and ask the Lord how He might use any resource you have to guide your children.  This is definitely a great one to consider!

Special for blog readers: To receive $5 off the book, use the code TOSCrew at checkout!

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Let's Read!: Books on Books

 

I don't know about your neck of the woods, but we've already had a few 90 degree days here. Besides the warmer temps, the beginning of May also signals the beginning of the end of the school year for many. We like to take our summers easy, which is not the same as saying we don't do anything! We just like to try to do different things and enjoy the time with others. 

With the more laid-back schedules, however, I still like to keep my kids (and my) brain going. One of the easiest ways to do this is by reading. And so for the next month, I thought I'd share with you some of the books I've been enjoying. And what better way to kick off a series like this than with a couple good books on, you guessed it, books!

All over the country, libraries are gearing up for their summer reading programs. For kids who have a hard time reading without some incentive, they may be a great means for giving them a jump-start. With the overwhelming array of books in the library, how does a mom help her child navigate through all these volumes?

Children's literature nowadays isn't always as tame as it was when we were kids, and we as parents do need to be careful with what is out there. Children's minds are too good a thing to waste on poor literature, but unfortunately, there is a lot of twaddle out there mixed in with the good. Not only that, those who desire to push alternative agendas know that the best way to do it is by influencing kids at a younger and younger age. These "PC" picture books may look innocent enough, but their message may not be appropriate nor desireable for your children.

For me, I have found it extremely helpful to stick with the time-honored classics of children's literature. Over the past couple of months, I have read two excellent books on the subject, one written back in the 1980s, and one published more recently. Both of them not only share lists of excellent books, but also help parents to build a taste for good literature themselves.

Honey for a child's heart

Gladys M. Hunt; Zondervan 2002

The first one I'd like to suggest is Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt. I've had this book on my shelf for a few years now and have finally been able to read it through. Not only does Mrs. Hunt provide suggestions for books for children from preschool on up through high school, she also provides a Christian framework from which to think. Throughout the book, she emphasizes the discipleship aspect of reading good books to our children, writing, "We not only have a heritage; we are giving our children one. We decide what kind it will be."

That thought struck me. Right now, I am helping my children form their heritage. Will it be only filled with busyness and activity, bluster and noise? Or am I filling their young minds and memories with great thoughts, challenging insights, and food for the soul? Reading Mrs. Hunt's reminder made me commit once again to enjoying books with my children. Fortunately for us, with Jonathan growing up, we will have a chance to enjoy many of these classics of children's literature again. I am going through and using the book to make a reading list for our family to enjoy, not only in the summer, but in the school year to come.

The second book I'd like to suggest is Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson. I reviewed Sarah's Journey of Faithfulness for the review crew last year and love her beautifully written and descriptive prose. Each chapter is devoted to a different genre of children's books, including books on poetry, music and art, several areas I manage to gloss over. With each chapter, Sarah shares how these different types of books have shaped her understanding as an adult. Can I tell you that I was drooling over the books she suggested as I was reading?  With both of these books, there is some overlap, because---let's face it---some books are simply classic and stand the test of time. But Sarah Clarkson's book does include some of the more excellent modern literature that is out there today.

One of the things that I have been reminded of is how powerful a good story can be. Good books can become good friends, and in the pages of a book, our children can be introduced to situations and circumstances they might never otherwise encounter (and hopefully never will!). I remember well how, when Janna and I were reading A Little Princess by Frances Burnett, I couldn't put the book down! I just had to find out to what happened to poor little Sara Crewe. Janna didn't have to lose her fortune to feel Sara's pain. She didn't have to endure the taunts and jeers of classmates where she was once the princess. Reading her thoughts in the midst of her suffering helped not only Janna but myself to remember that a princess is not a princess on the outside, but one on the inside.

So moms, let's take an active role this summer in making our children's lives rich. Instead of just spending all our time chauffeuring them to every activity under the sun, let's escape the heat by enjoying a good book together. I hope that these two helpful volumes will assist you in choosing a vacation destination worth remembering!