How Homeschooling Made My Kids More Social

 

 

Without a doubt, the number one comment people offer to me when I say we homeschool our kids is this – Aren’t you worried about their socialization?

The second most common is something like this – You must be a saint. I could never do that. (The response to that is for another post. But let me assure you, I’m no saint. And if I can do this, anyone on the planet can do it.)

I want to share how I have seen this question/concern of homeschool socialization play out in our home over the last year. I’m in no way bragging on my kids or saying that our family has it all figured out and follow our example. I’m simply sharing a few stories with you that directly answer this question that 99% of non-homeschoolers ask me.

For those of you new to my blog, our family is entering our second year of homeschooling. Prior to that our kids attended a small, private classical christian school, which we adored, loved to pieces, and never thought we’d leave. But God called us to homeschool, so we obeyed.

Recently, we vacationed in Yellowstone. I walked outside the RV to join the family for an evening of cornhole. Steve and Jacob played a heated game, but Andrew and Zachary were at the campsite behind us visiting with an elderly couple. I feel the need to pause here and let that sink in. My 12 and 8 year olds were hanging out talking to an elderly couple who had no kids for them to play with. They were just hanging with them.

The elderly couple cleaned up and began to make their way in for the night. As they climbed the steps, the gentleman paused to tell us how much it meant that our boys came over to talk and visit with them.

The previous night at the campsite, a similar situation occurred. A friendly gentleman at the site next to us came out to look at a fox we spotted in the woods. The boys struck up a conversation. The next thing we knew, Zachary was hanging at his site, checking out his RV, and letting this man show off his new-to-retirement toy. Later that gentlemen said to us, “You sure have nice boys.”

The thing is – the boys did these things on their own. We didn’t ask them to or tell them they should. They just did. You may read this and think, “What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that this isn’t normal for my boys. Except it has become normal since we started homeschooling.

They have learned what they can’t learn in school. How to socialize and interact with adults. And this is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives.

Now that we are home together all the time, the boys are with me wherever I go. Last fall they joined me at a speaking engagement. They ran the book table. They processed credit cards, packaged up books, smiled, chatted, and sat through 40 minutes of me speaking.

They are with me when I meet with people. They are with me when we serve the community. They are with me when I have difficult conversations.

Last year before we moved, I was the Women’s Ministry Leader at our church. That position puts you in a role of having difficult conversations. Since my boys were with me, I no longer did my work away from them. They watched me at work.

A particular situation arose among the women which required my involvement. We were in the car when it became necessary for me to have a difficult phone conversation. The boys sat quietly and listened to my end of the conversation. After the phone call, one of my sons offered, “Mom, I loved listening to how you handled that situation. You were so calm. I would’ve been so mad and not able to talk like that.”

We had a rich discussion on the importance of communicating well. We discussed how people shut down in defense when they feel attacked and how to realize that most people are not looking at the situation from the perspective you are. So to communicate effectively, you have to put yourself in their place and think how they are thinking. When we do this, we realize often it’s not an attack on us, simply 2 people coming from different angles.

The boys were with me at meetings kids don’t normally attend. They heard ladies discuss how to handle dicey situations. They came away commenting about how they would or wouldn’t handle things which led to more real life conversations.

When we relocated, they were with me for every single aspect. Inspectors, appraisers, realtors, stagers, photographers. You name it. They were around adults in the real world. Learning to not only make eye contact and shake hands, but how to converse with them and learning from these people while watching our interactions in a day-to-day way.

Last fall, fear began in one of my boys. I signed them up for a speech/debate homeschool class and a Bible study for homeschoolers. Both had large groups of kids. Both were for a season. Then we moved, and it started all over again. Of course each sports season brought another new group of kids, but this wasn’t new to the boys.

My son said to me, “When I went to school, I was around the same kids every single day. They knew me. I was comfortable with them. Now I’m constantly in new situations and groups where people don’t know me.”

When they were with their friends, they knew how to socialize with kids their age who they already knew. Now they were forced to constantly join new groups of kids.

I don’t know how long we will homeschool. I don’t know if it’s for a season or for the duration. We are taking each year and child on a case by case basis. For the time we’ve had to this point, I can honestly say all three of my boys have grown tremendously in their social skills. For this I’m grateful and look forward to watching them grow even more confident in who God created them to be.

 

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Don’t Withhold Your Love

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my conscience instructs me. Psalm 16:7

The water ran steadily from the faucet, cascading over piles of dishes. I stood there waiting. Waiting for the hot water to kick in, forgetting our hot water heater died on us. Mesmerized by the steadiness of the water, I stayed. Still. Quiet. These are typically the moments I hear His voice.

The moments the world around me is quieted, pushed aside.

Don’t withhold your love from him.

I snapped out of my daze. Where did that thought come from? I dared not move. Waiting for more. The explanation.

In the next moment a forgotten dream from the previous night played in my head. It was a snapshot, the briefest of scenes. Can you even call this a dream? It happened in my sleep. Forgotten until the moment at the sink.

In the dream the setting was Andrew misbehaving and me “advising” my husband not to withhold his love from Andrew when he disciplined his behavior. That was it. Just the instruction.

Prior to the standing at the kitchen sink waiting for water to warm that would never warm, the morning had been a reversal for Andrew and me in regards to our homeschool reading lessons. One of the reasons we started homeschooling was the realization that a school setting for a child who struggles to read created for him anxiety causing a shut down to learning. Last year we made miraculous progress and this year has surpassed my hopes. Until that morning.

He was back to his old ways. Fighting against me to do his lessons. A total shut down to learning.

I closed the lesson and sent him to his room where he could remain until he got himself together, cooled down, whatever needed to happen.

Each time he would come out of his room, my responses to him were short and distant. I was tired, frustrated, and wanted him to see that I wasn’t simply happy and smiles when he acted this way and school days took this path.

In college I loved learning how to build spreadsheets. Especially creating cells with “if, then” formulas. If this plus this equals this then this. To me it was life captured in blocks that made sense. Natural consequences at play in math.

At times I build spreadsheets in life. I begin to create if then statements in my surroundings. Because they make sense to me.

As the day marched forward, I began to see a change happening in him. A change in his attitude. An acceptance of the situation turned to a desire to get back in my good graces. A change in tone. A change in everything. But each time I ushered him back to his room making sure he knew that the lesson we didn’t complete would eventually get done. He’d nod fully accepting. And there was a sadness.

The kitchen sink. When God brought that thought into my mind and the remembrance of that dream, I got it. Andrew would interpret my response to him as a withholding of love. He’s always struggled to interpret well. He often sees things not at all how they were intended. And this is the dangerous ground I walked.

If I withdraw from him, He would interpret it as a withdrawal of my love. He has always gauged facial expressions to determine where he stands with someone. He studies more intently than he ought. And I’d forgotten that he looks too closely at facial and bodily expressions in an effort to determine how someone feels about him.

God is so good. So incredibly amazing. I find myself speechless. There are no words. That God would instruct me while I sleep in preparation for what I would face and how I would react. And His gentleness. His kindness.

Romans 2:4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

I thank God for His tolerance. His patience and kindness. At times His goodness is too much for me to handle. He doesn’t treat me as I deserve. He doesn’t treat me how I treat others. He is purely good. Good always.

What I deserved is God to grab me by my shoulders and shake me. To rail at me, “I don’t treat you this way. When you act up do I pull back from you?”

But He doesn’t. Instead, He speaks to me according to my natural bents. He lets me trace a trail, connecting dots along that path. He knows me. He knows if I learn this way, I’ll never forget it.

Then God did this. Sent my little boy to me asking this, “Mom, can I have a hug? I need a big hug.” I reached down and squeezed him hard, not letting go first. He squeezed back, allowed me to kiss his cheek. And I said, “I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Redemption is around every corner with the Lord.

Grow them into men who love you with their whole heart. Give them a heart like David’s, one after God’s own heart. Give them a spirit like Caleb that follows you wholeheartedly. Make them strike fear in the eyes of the enemy. Instruct their hearts with truth, even as they sleep.

These are a few lines I pray with or over my boys every single night. But the one I hold dearly is instruct their hearts with truth, even as they sleep.

I want my kids to seek hard after truth. To be protected from lies and deceptions. To be saved from chasing a false reality.

But as I’ve prayed these for my boys, God’s been answering them for me too. He speaks always. He knows I’m a ‘squeeze the most out of every moment’ kind of gal. The kind that wants even the sleeping hours to produce or reveal in some way. So He does. And on this day He did.

And all I can say is. Wow. Wow, God. The God who listens and speaks. The God who loves and cares. We praise you. We thank you. Make our hearts crave you above all things. Draw us into you, make us ultra-sensitive to the Holy Spirit. We love you.

Don’t Blink, Then I Blinked

#dontblink – a common hashtag when celebrating graduations, birthdays, a new school year, or a life change.

#theniblinked -it’s like a sudden realization that time actually does move at a pace that is frighteningly slow in real time yet megafast in the replay.

One day we are wiping smashed peas off chubby cheeks, then we seem to blink as we watch that same child wiping milk from our new grandbaby’s mouth.

One day we push a shopping cart holding our tantrum throwing toddler through the store as all eyes on us seem to be the cause of the sweat forming under our arms. Then we blink, and  one day we are by ourselves in a store. We look around in a panic for our child for a split second until the realization hits that we no longer have a toddler in tow.

One day we are longing for the nights we can curl up in our bed and read a book uninterrupted or watch a show without pausing every 3.5 minutes because someone wants a cup of water, someone is scared, someone remembered they can’t find their prized possession and are in full panic mode until we come to the rescue. Then we blink, and they are teenagers who become chatter boxes at the point of the night that are eyes are begging to close, our bodies desperate for rest. And we sit on beds and listen to dramas unfold, listen to aches no one else knows of. Then we blink again, and that room is empty except on weekends or holidays.

When in the dark depths of sleep-deprived infant days or knee-deep in the endless days of potty-training (or lack thereof), the moments of parenting can feel like we are living in slow-mo. Well-intentioned, seasoned parents offer smiles of encouragement and tell us to enjoy each drop because it will be over before we know it.

I’ll confess times of a cynical inner-self living inside me wanting to holler back, “Easy for you to say, I bet you didn’t have to….” Fill in the blank with whatever my thorn was for that day. Then I had the glowing moments of cherishing these words in my heart, desperately wanting to hold onto the time at hand. It is a tug of war between these two selves, one wanting to move forward, one terrified to leave the present because I want to never let go of the gift of now.

Scientists say we blink on average about 15-20 times a minute, which is about 28,800 times a day. In 18 years that is about 190,000,000 blinks.

While on the lookback it may feel a lifetime went by in a blink, we actually receive the gift of nearly 2 million blinks in 18 years with our kiddos, Lord willing. What sweet mercy to our souls.

“Mom, if we ever decide to stop homeschooling, the thing I would be most sad about is knowing how sad it would make you. I know you would miss us so much.”

I looked up to catch his tender gaze. “I would miss you. But I live season to season.”

Intrigued, he leaned in slightly. I went back to the task at hand while continuing, “You know God gives us life broken into seasons. I have chosen to embrace each season as God brings it and hold it with open hands. If I cling too tightly, I won’t be ready to release it when God says it’s time. So I try to keep my hands open, ready to release one season and receive the next.”

His eyebrows raised as he nodded. The answer seemed to relieve him of his worry.

“That is why it’s so important not to take any season for granted. Make the most of each moment. Cherish the relationships while you have them because you don’t know when the tide will change.”

It’s not a living in fear of the change of life. It’s living with the excited expectation of what is next on the horizon.

I remember when Jacob was an infant, an older mom saying to me, “This too shall pass.” I knew it was true. I saw moms who received a nightly 8 hours of sleep. It would happen again. All moments pass eventually. All seasons pass.

I’ve observed many in my life enter and exit various seasons and stages of their lives. I’ve gone through many of my own in 40 years. It seems there are the ones who joyfully accept the new while letting go of the old. And there are some who tend to become bitter and cynical even as they transition into new seasons.

It’s easier to release a season and receive another when we’ve made the most of the one we are leaving. But what happens when we squandered the time? What happens when we’ve made a wreck out of the relationships we should have cherished? Or what if we tried our hardest but surrounding situations or people cut in bringing sadness, destruction, or failures?

We can let regrets eat away at our soul. We can make excuses or blame others around us. This will surely create a bitter soul.

Or we can release the past to God. Confess our failures. Forgive others. Let go of resentments. Ask for a fresh vision. We can choose to not let our past define us and live with the truth that His mercies are new every day.

We can’t get time back, but we can choose to walk into the future with joy and hope. When we are in Christ, we are never a moment without hope. Feelings can lead us away from the truth. His Word is the unmoving point to fix our eyes on when we desperately want to enter the next season with a new vision.

My kids have taught me they remember more about the present than the past. In my own head, I may tend to stay in the past. They tend to live in today.

I replay times of failure to myself. They remember the times I was their hero. I’m my own worst enemy at times. They tend to be my champion cheerleaders.

When my boys were little, I played with them a lot. I’d run and chase outside. We’d sit on the floor and play cars. We’d read books for hours at a time. I invested heavily. Despite all the time I invested, Andrew said to me recently, “Why don’t you ever play with me?”

I immediately became defensive. All the years of floor playing, sweating in the yard, and reading until my eyes begged for sleep, and he thinks I don’t play with him enough? Then I realized that it’s today that matters to him. While I initially looked at the negative, I realized this is actually a blessing.

Yes, what I did in the early years is important. Vitally important. It built a foundation of memories and trust. However, it’s what I choose to do today that matters the most for today. He isn’t living in the past. He is living in today. And this is a healthy thing for him to do. And it’s a healthy thing for me to remember. Because I’ve regretted many moments in my past. But it’s what I choose to do with those moments today that matters going forward.

With my boys each day is a new day to grow in our relationship. Each season offers new and unique gifts. The letting go of one day is the preparation to receive the next day.

If yesterday was a disaster because of my incorrect perceptions or my negative attitude, Lord willing, I get a restart the next day. I am not a victim to the replay. I have the choice to create a new route. Often it begins in my own mindset. How I choose to view this life or this season holds quite a bit of power.

We are entering our second year of homeschool. We’ve mostly completed our summer. Summer #14 of 18 with my oldest. It’s time to release this season with a thankful heart and prepare my hands and heart to receive the new school year. He’s soon to be 14, which is hard for me to believe.

Didn’t I simply blink?

Yes. Yes, I did. About 143,000,000 so far actually.

For each blink, I thank Him. A blink is a gift.

Lord, You are the giver of all that is good. Today, we thank you for the gift of a blink of time. We thank you for the collection of blinks that create a life. We thank you for the blinks blurred by tears. We thank you for blinks happening unaware. We praise You that you are Creator of life. Your mercies are new with each blink. That hope is alive because of Christ. Today, may we receive each blink as the gift it is. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

 

How To Use God’s Word In Daily Raw Moments of Parenting

I sat at the farmhouse table with 2 of 3 boys. Bibles out, breakfast being consumed, ready to start the homeschool day. Boy 3 arrives on the scene with an apology for being late to the table. He opens the pantry, pours a bowl of cereal, opens the fridge, and….finds the milk empty.

He wheels around looking for the person who dared take the last of the milk. A brother offered a smile with a raise of the red dixie cup that housed the last drops of milk. The fuming brother stepped with pounding feet toward his spot at the table. I held my breath afraid to inhale the smoke exiting his ears. And then it happened.

The brother who drank the milk made eye contact with the brooding brother, he took a deliberately slow sip while winking from behind the tilted cup. Brooding brother bursts out in his anger. The fighting words start. I attempt to calm the boys down, and I make the mistake of walking away for a brief moment, long enough for brooding brother to push provoking brother to the point of spilling a cup of water.

I send angry brother to his room to calm down. And then I take a deep breath.

I’ve been listening to a book that is daily challenging me in how I parent. It’s revealing to me the sin in my heart that parents from a wrong perspective most days. It’s encouraging me to look at every single parenting moment as a gift from God. Every frustration. Every heartache. Every outburst. Every moment we have our kids is an opportunity to be used by God to live out the gospel, to be used by God to point them to their desperate need for the cross, and to fall madly and deeply in love with the One who is worthy of our everything.

The book I’m reading, or listening to, on Audible, is Parenting – 14 Gospel Principles that can radically change your family by Paul David Tripp.

My first reaction is NOT to point to the cross. I want that to be my first reaction. But it depends on my fatigue level, how many issues I’ve had to parent through when the next one strikes, how hungry I am. You get the picture. If you catch me fresh in the morning, I’m high on His new mercies and I can point away to the cross. But grab me at the end of the day, and you might think someone has replaced me.

On this particular morning, I’d enjoyed a long quiet time alone with the Lord. While showering I listened to the end of this book I’ve been savoring. I was fresh into my day, yet my first reaction to this situation was in my head, “Seriously??? Monday was great but Tuesday is now Monday??” Then I sent a vent text to my husband for good measure. (Good man he is just lets me vent away…then I think he prays for me)

I opened up my file box I keep in the kitchen drawer. It’s full of sacred. It holds God’s Word as I’ve stumbled upon it in my quiet times or at various points when God has spoken to me. I’ve jotted key verses on these index cards for years. If they fall into a particular category, like anger, I write the topic at the top of the card.

These cards aren’t beautifully created. I would never post them on Pinterest as they would be overlooked. They aren’t color coded, organized smartly, written with beautiful calligraphy, or doodled on for extra charm. But they hold God’s Word etched in paper.

When I began to read God’s Word every single day, not only did I find myself falling more in love with God, but I found myself shocked at how practical and alive God’s Word is. Each time I sat to read the Word, I’d find myself grabbing an index card out and writing down a verse that I knew I would need eventually.

I didn’t know God’s Word well enough in my early years of parenting to recall a verse and point my kids to Jesus with His Word. So when I discovered a passage of scripture, I’d write it down, labeling if possible and tucking into a file box that I kept near at hand in the kitchen.

When boys complained, I’d grab at my index cards and quickly pull out the verse about complaining. When boys argued, I’d reach for the cards and find scripture on loving others. When anger reigned, I’d find the verses on anger. When we found ourselves choosing not to watch movies that friends might be allowed to watch, we’d pull out the cards that talked about keeping pure hearts.

While there are books out there that give a topical index to finding scripture to use in parenting, I found that discovering it on my own held the most power. I was relying on God to show me Himself through my own study time. Taking the extra minute or two to write the Word on the card was an active step in hiding His Word in my own heart that I might not sin against Him. My kids actually seeing me reading, studying, writing, and relying on His Word has impacted them and their own reliance on God’s Word.

Back to the story. I grabbed my file cards and started thumbing through them before I sat with my incredibly angry child. Then I sat on his bed and we prayed. We thanked God that He is gracious, kind, compassionate, and forgiving. We thanked Him for His Word that lights our path. We asked Him to guide us in righteousness for His name’s sake.

I read the first card to him.

“Proverbs 19:20 says ‘Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.’ I hope you will listen to my instruction now. I’m going to read to you some scripture as it relates to what just took place.

Proverbs 19:11 ‘A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.’

Proverbs 17:19 ‘He who loves a quarrel loves sin; he who builds a high gate invites destruction.’

Proverbs 16:32 ‘Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s temper, than capturing a city.’

Proverbs 29:11 ‘A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.’

You know why I send you away to your room before I talk to you? This is why…

Psalm 4:4 ‘In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your heart and be silent.’

I want you to sit with your heart and let the Holy Spirit speak to you before I speak to you.

James 3:18 ‘Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness’

Proverbs 14:29 ‘A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly.’

Ecc 7:9 ‘ Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.’

Ecc 7:8 ‘The end of a matter is better than its beginning and patience is better than pride.’

James 1:19-20 ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.’

Psalm 37:8-9 ‘Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated it can only bring harm. For evildoers will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.’ ‘

After I read the scriptures jotted on index cards that have been used repeatedly over the years, I looked into his eyes. They’d softened. His shoulders had relaxed.

I continued, “I understand your feelings and thoughts from that incident, but I want to point out something you might not be aware of. Were you upset because your brother used the last of the milk?”

He nodded his head.

“That was selfish of him to think of himself right? He didn’t consider anyone else when he poured the last drops. I’ve done the same thing before. Thought of myself only.”

He kept listening.

“But who were you thinking of when you realized there was no milk?”

Quietly, he answered, “Myself.”

“Right. You thought of yourself first. You wanted cereal. You had no milk. So you see,  both of you had selfishness in your hearts. The anger we experience is typically birthed from another sin hiding in our hearts. Something drives that anger out, and we need to identify the sin in our heart producing the anger. That anger then caused you to sin. That’s why I love the verse that says ‘in your anger, do not sin.’ We have a choice when we feel anger to NOT sin in the anger. It’s hard, but that is why I send you away. I’m trying to help protect you from sinning further in your anger. Then you can get into the quiet moments with God.”

I finished by praying with him showing how to ask God for forgiveness and asked him to go to his brother and ask forgiveness. I sat with the brother and shared words with him to show how selfishness hides in our hearts and we don’t even recognize it most days. I told him initially he wasn’t trying to hurt his brother, but he didn’t think of anyone other than himself when he took the last of the milk. And one step further, when seeing the brother fuming, continued to stoke the fire, provoking him to anger.

This process can be exhausting. It takes time, patience, and diligence. There was a season where we simply didn’t have time for an exercise like this. We were running from here to there. There was no time to sit and talk. However, we are in a season now where we have much greater margin in our days.

Do I handle every argument this way? No. Do I wish I did? Yes.

Many days I take the easy road. I simply slap a band aid on the injury and rush us onto the next item on the agenda. But I know deep down that this isn’t what my kids need most. Yes, I temporarily regain peace in the home, but their hearts were shaped, and they didn’t see Jesus at work.

Often in my parenting, I let my own selfishness rule my heart. I want peace. I want quiet. I want time. I want. I want. I want. Therefore, I don’t take the time needed to truly point my kids to Christ.

We have a small window of time to instruct our kids, to train them up, to shepherd them. We have limited time to influence them more than the world will. It’s our privilege to take every moment as a gift and use it to the glory of God.

Lord, I confess I parent selfishly many days. Forgive me for not taking every moment to point my kids to you. Grant me wisdom. Give me strength to parent well. Show me how to do this task You’ve called me to. Thank you for the gift of parenting.

 

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The “Best of” Christmas Posts – Tips to simplify, celebrate, serve, cherish, and give

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I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of my most popular or favorite posts from the past Christmas seasons. Enjoy these over several days. I’ll be sharing new posts soon. Currently we are wrapping up our first semester of homeschooling. I have much to share with you on what the Lord has been working in my heart.

I pray your Christmas season is off to a beautiful start!!

18 Ways Your Family Can Serve Others At Christmas

The Christmas season seems to blow in like a blizzard and bury us with piles of to-do’s. The key for me is to plan ahead just a little. To determine before life gets too hectic what our family will do.

Give the Gift They Don’t Know To Ask For

“I have come to realize that my boys only retain a small portion of what I speak to them. My words are granted only a few seconds to slip in before the door of opportunity slams. Written words aren’t blocked by doors, they slide under the crack of the door. There they remain and can be taken in slowly over time and multiple times.

A letter from a parent to a child is a tool that plants words deep into the soil of the soul. Those words remain with them for life. When the words are most needed, they are waiting to be unearthed. Resurrected to life in the heart of the child.”

My Favorite Christmas TraditionA Father’s Blessing ( For single mothers and widows, a mother’s blessing is equally as powerful and life-giving)

It’s a gift slipped into the Christmas tree. A letter. Words. To be opened with care and treasured for life. A gift that won’t be quickly forgotten. A gift that might not hold the wow factor, but a gift that will give more than we ever actually realize.

When You Are Weighed Down By Getting it Right at Christmas

Christmas can be simpler than we make it. There is freedom in walking in simple ways. In our home some things we do every year, and some things change each year. A tradition is a gift when it is enjoyed, but when it ties you down, it’s no longer a gift. This post shares a few books and activities we enjoyed one Christmas.

How To Not Miss Christmas

“We’ve all had that kind of Christmas. The one that seems to rush by only for you to look back and feel you missed it all. The one that you feel you are on the Christmas treadmill, checking off the list, racing from obligation to obligation, panting for air.

Then you wonder, did you miss Christmas? Did you show your kids what Christmas really means?

Here’s the secret to not missing Christmas. The absolute certain way that you will not miss it.”

Fighting the Christmas Pressure to Impress

“When we fall to the pressure of our culture in our gift giving, it becomes about us.  The attention is taken from the gift recipient and placed back on us. We might earn favor or impress, but we lost our humility. Christmas is the greatest picture of humility the world has ever seen.

If we want to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, it starts with modeling humility.”

When Your Christmas Season Doesn’t Go As Planned

Sometimes when our Christmas looks nothing like we planned, we experience Him like we never imagined. Isn’t that the real gift of Christmas?

15 Non-Toy Gifts To Give At Christmas – a most popular post!! The title says it all.

When It’s Time To Break Tradition -Why The Wish List Needs To Go Away

“He came to do. He doesn’t need our to-do’s.

Instead of filling our to-do’s with finding the perfect gifts for our kids, planning magical surprises to delight, scouring social media for the latest, newest, creative expression of Christmas magic, turn it over to him. Let go of the pressure to create magic. The magic is here. Waiting to be found. Hunt for it rather than burden yourself with creating it.”

25 Advent Calendar Days of Memories and Experiences

I’ve found a secret to fighting this type of Christmas stress.

Simplify.

With our advent calendar, we have simplified our Christmas, while making our season more meaningful and intentional. It only takes a little extra planning the first year, then each year that follows, you will thank yourself for making your holiday less stressful and more memorable.

Gifts for the True Gift of Christmas

Room in the Inn of Our Hearts

Dear Boys, When You Compare What You Get For Christmas With What Someone Else Gets

“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.”CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

 

When My Tradition is at the Expense of Another’s Family

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My sister told me a story that I can’t get out of my head. She was paying for her groceries at Wal-Mart. She began asking the woman scanning her groceries about her Thanksgiving plans, her work schedule, and the frenzy of shopping around the corner that would take place at Wal-Mart.

The woman began to share about her personal family situation- divorce, split families, a 44-year-old single mom. Because of the volume of business at Wal-Mart, she would be required to work over the Thanksgiving holidays. She would be working Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Her 14 year-old will sit at home by himself while she works Thanksgiving Day from 10-7. She has no other place for him to go. She requested off, she’s worked there 21 years. The answer was no. Mandatory for all.

I’m not upset at Wal-Mart, or any store for that matter. They didn’t create this. We did. Our materialism. Our focus on gifts. Our clinging to traditions. That is what has created a scenario for the stores that places them in a position to capitalize on the opportunity.

In my mind, I’ve created a picture of this woman and her son. I see her 14-year-old like I picture my Jacob and my heart breaks. God won’t let me shake this image I’ve painted. For this particular woman, maybe I’m off. Maybe I’ve romanticized her story in my heart. Maybe not. Regardless of this one story, I think God won’t let me shake it because our world is full of stories like this we fail to see.

I tend to live in my own little bubble at times. Thankful for my little world, focusing on the blessings that abound in my home. But there is a larger world outside my little bubble that breaks my heart when I allow myself to go there. It’s easier to live blind to the hurting world around us. I’m certain that is not the way of Jesus.

Right now I’m sitting in a cozy guest room at my mom’s house in Georgia. I’ve enjoyed days of lounging, laughing, and feasting, surrounded by the love of family. It’s easy for me to focus right here. To thank God for these blessings. But He keeps bringing back the picture of this woman and her son. He loves them as He loves me.

Thanksgiving Day on social media we will see feeds filled with beautiful family photos. The captions will say “Thankful” “Blessed” “Family”. I will love scrolling and seeing these beautiful pictures filling my feed. But there are others all around us who don’t have the picture perfect looking family. Many will feel thankful still. Many will not. Many will feel blessed minus the Rockwell portrait, many will not.

I was reading in Matthew this morning as I reflected on how thankful I am today. Thankful for my family near and far. I read this and then God brought to mind the lady I’ve never met from Wal-Mart.

Matthew 12:46-50

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers[a] stood outside, asking to speak to him.[b] 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

I don’t know if this woman is a believer or not. I don’t know anything about her. But I know that she has captured my heart.

Until 4 years ago, one of my favorite days of the entire year was Black Friday. Every year as long as I can remember I shopped on Black Friday. Either with my mom, sister, or friends. I rarely missed one. Thanksgiving night we’d scour the sale ads, make our strategic mapping of the course, then spend an entire day shopping.

Three years ago Seeking Christmas was published. I thought I was writing Seeking Christmas to help families discover the true magic of Christmas by giving tools to create traditions that focused on what Christmas really means. Today I look back and see that Seeking Christmas changed me. It was a pivotal turning point. The changing process wasn’t overnight. It’s been over years.

Part of why I wrote Seeking Christmas was to counter the commercialism and materialism of our culture. It creeps into our families in an effort to entangle us. While I’m a huge proponent of traditions, I also am a fan of breaking traditions and creating new ones. Sometimes we cling to something because we believe we can’t break tradition. It’s what we’ve done forever, so we must continue on. When we stay in that place, we miss out on creating more meaningful moments. The clinging to tradition can be stifling. It can choke out what might have been.

The year Seeking Christmas was published I attempted the traditional Black Friday shopping, but my spirit was unsettled. Each store I went into I saw all that is wrong with Christmas. The carts filled to overflowing with gifts, the maxed out credit cards, the pushing and shoving to make sure you get the item you came for with no thoughts to the others wanting the same item, the honked horns at stolen parking spaces. For the first year in my shopping life, I left Black Friday without buying a single thing. And I felt sad. I was sad at what had always been that I’d not clearly seen. I was sad that I spent my morning out supporting the very thing I hoped to change within families.

The year after Seeking Christmas was published, I broke my Black Friday tradition for the first time ever. The reason is that it didn’t coincide with the heart of my message. How could I write about celebrating what Christmas is truly about and then spend a day shopping and feeding the very thing that is wrong with Christmas? That year we created a new tradition instead of going out shopping, we would stay in creating. We crafted and made handmade gifts. Each year since has been a little different.

I thought I would grieve the giving up of Black Friday. I thought I would feel I was missing out. The opposite happened. It freed me. Over the past several years, we’ve focused less and less on material gifts. Yes, we give our kids plenty of gifts, but we give more experiences than toys. We give them gifts of opportunities, memories, and trips. These usually aren’t bought in the store.

Five years ago you never would’ve convinced me I would ever give up Black Friday shopping. Like many things, when we feel the prick of God in our spirit and we act on it, He blesses us.

I’m not saying Black Friday shopping is wrong. But there are times God will poke us and He is calling us to something that will cause us to walk against the current we are living in. That is what He did in my life and continues to do.

God continues to poke me at things that others freely enjoy and He gives me the option of listening to Him or following what others seem free to do. I’ve found that my soul rests still when I listen to the poke of God. When I resist the poke and go along with everyone else, the gratification is temporary. And the poke comes back.

This Thanksgiving would you consider the lady in Wal-Mart who is required to work because the demand for store hours is such that she will work 3 straight mandatory days? If there is any way you can not shop on Thursday or Friday, would you kindly consider it? Our dollars send the loudest message of all to stores. When we spend, we tell them we like what they are doing. When we don’t spend, we tell them we want to see change.

Family is the heart of civilization. Family is the beautiful gift our Creator gave us. What is most important is family. And according to Jesus, our “family” isn’t only by blood or marriage relations, it’s by those who follow the will of the Father.

To honor family, we must honor all families. To cherish our own at the sake of another seems selfish. To spend our money on a day or days that others are forced to work when they should be home loving on their own family seems unfair.

If God has poked your spirit over Black Friday shopping, may this be the year you follow the poke? It’s only two days of prolonging the purchase. Waiting until Saturday. Delaying our desires for the sake of another. It seems small and insignificant. Like our few dollars make any difference. But they do. I believe God multiplies our offering of restraint to bless the families at work on these days from our spending.

Here’s a radical idea. Maybe a new tradition is going out on Black Friday, but not spending a dime. And all we do is go to the people, the ones working, and bless them in some way. Pray with them or over them. Hand them a gift, take them a plate of food, give them a gift card. If you love being out on Black Friday, but you have felt a poke, maybe it’s time to create a new tradition.

 

 

God Never Asked Me To Be His Assistant Holy Spirit

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The words in my head are itching to make their way out through the pounding of my fingers on the keyboard. I find myself constantly saying, “I have no time to write anymore.” Actually, I have no time for anything it seems. I have no time to take a run or a long walk. No time to write. No time to answer emails. No time to think. The more I feel this way, the more the anxiety builds up. I begin to notice something going on around me when I get this way. I rest less in Him, I try harder in me.

I sat down to write a post this morning, and the Lord brought to mind one I’d already written on this topic. I thought it fitting to share it with you today.

You can ready the original post here – I am not the Holy Spirit.

Of course, I know I’m not the Holy Spirit to my family. But you wouldn’t know it by how I act far too often. The less effective I am to change their hearts, the harder I try. The harder I try, the greater the frustration and anxiety. Because I’m powerless to change a heart. Not only that, it’s not my job. I’m taking the role from God.

Last week, I read an article on Desiring God. One sentence reached into my heart and squeezed with all its strength. Paul David Tripp wrote, “God has tasked parents with many things, but nowhere in his word has he tasked you with the responsibility to create heart change.”

It was the light bulb moment where God likely says, “You know this. You’ve walked this. You wrote this very thing. But you’ve forgotten and I want you to know this because it’s for your freedom and your good.”

I’ll stop here because I’ve said all that needs to be said in my previous post I am not the Holy Spirit.

This is resting in God. Tucking under His wing. To let Him be God. To trust in His every way. To soak in Him in order to be wrung out on the ones He’s woven you with.

For your weekend, I pray you will allow His love to rush over you. To refresh and revive your heart. To fill you with so much of Him that it pours out on the ones who fill the seconds and minutes of your days. To remember that He never asked you to be the Holy Spirit. To grasp the freedom in that.

Happy Friday!