Offering Christ's Grace to Our Children and Others--and a blessed Easter Weekend to you!

“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” 

Psalm 103:14

April was abloom with tiny buds beginning to burst, daffodils pushing through the cold ground and all the promise of spring was pulsing through our home. Many years ago, the Saturday before Easter found my girls and me working together, preparing our traditional Easter feast. A dozen people would join us, so we were busy little bees, bumping into each other, scurrying around the kitchen island, preparing sumptuous recipes that would feed a crowd. My own sweet girl, grasping for her own place in our kitchen as the youngest, had decided to make the special deviled eggs we had enjoyed as a family for many years. She had peeled 24 hard boiled eggs (quite a feat in itself!) and then got a bright idea of how to make it easier, even though I had already explained to her the best way to fill the eggs.

She had good inclinations, but her effort to stuff a flimsy, plastic sandwich bag with egg filling resulted in a mess everywhere–I have never seen so much egg yellow on the hands of any one individual! “How in the world had she managed to fumble such an easy task?” I thought, in bad-attitude irritation, neglecting how hard she had been trying. Of course, this situation occured at the end of an already-long afternoon of cooking and preparation, so my adrenalin was at an all-time low. She could surely sense how irritated I was.

This is Easter. Today, I celebrate the truth that though I am not perfect and never will be, Jesus saved me out of my dilemma and chose me and sacrificed for me that I could know His love and grace every single day. Even Easter dinners needed to be the place to celebrate this wonderful truth.

And so the Lord poked my heart, and I felt ashamed that I had just prayed a prayer of thanks this very morning of worship of Him, my humble, sympathetic savior, and now was experiencing my own selfish thoughts and impatience. Suddenly gave me eyes to see this precious young woman--my sweet little girl--in the throes of growing up. Insecurity and frustration flashed from her dark eyes as she watched me clean up her mess. I thought about what I wanted to leave in her heart’s memory. After taking a couple of minutes to ponder what I was going to say, I led her to the couch, and gave her a cup of tea.

“Most precious,” (one of my nicknames for her) “you have been so exceedingly helpful and thoughtful today. The table you set looks lovely; the groceries are all put away, and you have labored by my side for hours. I don’t know what I would do without your help. Many times I have baked bread and then burned it or grilled something outside that ends up tough as nails. Frustration tempts me to rage inside sometimes, because I hate to waste time and ruin the food I have cooked. So, I know how you must have felt when the bag kept breaking and the mess just poured out. I am so sorry if I offended you in any way. You are such a treasure to me and I know you were trying to do a good job. Thanks so much for all the ways you have helped me this week!”

A sheepish grin crossed her face. She climbed into my lap; long, gangly, teenage legs and all, and said, “I am so thankful that you always love me, mommy.” A kiss on the cheek … and she was gone.

Time and age has convinced me of my propensity to be selfish and immature. Even now, at 65, I think, “Next year I will be more mature.” Consequently, my gratitude has grown immensely, knowing that I don’t have to perform for the Lord, I will never be as good as I wish I could be, but He knows that. . He is mindful that I am but dust, and yet He still calls me His own special child. The amount of times He has had to bear with me, love me and give me grace has made me so much more apt to love and forgive and bear with my sweet yet still immature children and husband and friends.

I know they will make mistakes and be selfish and sinful-- just like me!-- but I know that I can only please God and have peace in my own heart when I choose to love them. And in practicing loving them, my own heart swells with more love, good thoughts, and generosity.

Sometimes, I will have a critical thought toward Clay or the kids or a friend. (Can you imagine?! -ha!) If I foster the thought, it nurtures self-righteousness and resentment and anger. When I choose to look at the relationship with eyes of love, to take the thought or attitude captive, I can get perspective. This is a person dear to me, and we have history together. They have a personality that comes with as many flaws as mine does. I am not primarily the focus of their lives, and they do not live to hurt my feelings!

I need to remember that love covers a multitude of sin.

I remember that this person is an immature toddler or exhausted baby or hormonal young woman or middle-aged hormonal woman or a somewhat immature, irrational, waiting-for-his-frontal-cortex-to-connect "teen" young man or a tired, worn-out husband who’s had too many days of work. Then I remember how much I need grace in all of my own fragile times. I also remind myself that I will please my precious, patient Lord Jesus if I obediently act in love.

Then I cover the person with grace, say words of patience and kindness, and am amazed that feelings of love usually follow and the relationship improves rather than being broken. Good feelings often accompany obedience.

This is not a formula that always works--I am not looking for always having the right results--but it is a way of life that, practiced over many years, has turned my heart more towards loving, resting, and accepting those valued relationships. In return, I find I am blessed in ample love that the Lord pours out into my heart. If I sow love, I will reap love. My love becomes a blessing to me in return.

We are all constantly confronted with a multitude of opportunities to choose to love or to choose to stir up strife. Loving on a consistent basis is a choice that becomes a habit and eventually changes our heart’s response. We all get frustrated sometimes with our children’s mistakes. The important thing is to correct our own bad reactions before we hurt their precious hearts!

Indeed, in the end, how we loved will be a measure of how we lived. May His truly amazing grace cover you all over this weekend as we remember that we are the blessed ones because we have known His grace and love.

I pray you have a wonderful Easter weekend!

Celebrating over 5 Million Downloads on At Home With Sally & Podcast

I can’t believe it! I was working on my podcast a couple of days ago and I saw it! My downloads from At Home. With Sally has hit over 5 million!      (And today, my podcast was number 10 in my category: Kids and Family on iTunes.) So thankful to the Lord for his leadership and blessing.

I can’t believe it! I was working on my podcast a couple of days ago and I saw it! My downloads from At Home. With Sally has hit over 5 million!

(And today, my podcast was number 10 in my category: Kids and Family on iTunes.) So thankful to the Lord for his leadership and blessing.

Today I am celebrating YOU! You are the ones who have made my podcast a place where so many women can come and find kindred spirits, encouragement, and hopefully biblical instruction that can encourage them in their own journey of faith and faithfulness. When a friend challenged me to consider podcasting, I thought, “I don’t know anything about technology and recording, but I am willing to try it out and learn!”

My heart, for over 25 years, has been to mentor, encourage, inspire, instruct and come along side women to help them find sustainability and flourishing in their walk of faith. And I just love spending this time with all of you and consider it such a privilege. Weekly, I receive messages from women all over the world who join all of us to listen. I think I will go for another 5 million! :)

To Celebrate, and to go along with my love of discipleship, I would love to give away an hour of mentoring to one of you. It will be like your own private podcast. We can be friends and talk and share our hearts with one another. (And I am happy to do it with a group of friends if that is the preference of the winner.)

To Win, simply share about my podcast with your friends on, to a group, or with your friends somehow. Then leave a comment on my podcast page to tell me where you shared. I would love to get the word out to more women so they can join us here and I look forward to an hour on FaceTime with one of you.

Today on my podcast, I will be sharing a bit about the foundations of life that I love to talk about here on my podcast and that I will be talking about in the months to come. These foundations will hold up your life through all seasons. And of course, I always want to help encourage those of you who have children, as well, in your role as a mama who is raising a godly generation right in her own home.

Foundations

All Aspects of Home and cultivating life there

Family

Faith

Children

Friendship and Community

Cultivating Joy in a Challenging world

Education for adults and children

Ministry and Mentoring

& So Much More

Why are foundations so important? Because they determine the well-being of our lives. I hope you will enjoy my podcast today. And let me know what other areas you would like for me to pursue in the months ahead. Thanks so much for listening. It means the world to me!

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27

Many years ago, I was a young, lonely missionary living in Vienna, Austria. German had rung in my ears for hours each day as I attended a language class every day. New to the language, I would often get my sentences wrong and so people would end up shouting at me or speaking at a very high pitch, somehow thinking I would understand better if they yelled. I was not deaf--just not good at the language.

Plotting a getaway, so that I could temporarily flee from the stress of my week, I planned a weekend retreat at a little mountain town in the Austrian Alps with my best friend. Mounting a train with books, chocolate, a back pack and jammies, we snuggled into the warm compartment as we swayed back and forth through the ominous, gigantic giants towering over us.

Finally, we were told to get out of the train. Before us was merely a small trail leading down to a crystal mountain lake. The conductor pushed us forward as though he knew what he was doing. We scrambled down the thin, weather-beaten stairs, and as soon as we got to the bottom, near the lake, as tiny motor boat came putting up to the dock. The driver of the boat waved us in and immediately began the short trip back to the other side. We found out later that this boat was a part of the mountain train system and carried passengers every day from the train to the little, charming mountain town.

After having dinner on a small porch that was on top of the water, (look in the picture for the pink hotel on the left--that is where we were.), we climbed into the puffy, squishy, eider-down (goose feather) comforters and fell fast asleep from the weariness of the week.

A couple of hours later, we were awakened with a big boom. Suddenly as we opened our eyes, we saw the lights out the window of the whole town go dark. As we sat up, we realized we were in the midst of a severe, pounding rain storm. We both crawled in the darkness to window and all we could see were dark silhouettes of the mountain with sheets of rain blowing sideways. As our eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, we looked down and saw that the porch where we had eaten was covered in the water of the lake with porch furniture floating all around.

Suddenly, a flash of lightening filled the black night sky, and we saw across the lake where we had dismounted. There, amidst the blowing torrents of rain and the waves of the sea splashing 10-20 feet high, we saw a small rock castle a still, dark shadow, standing fast against the storm.  Immoveable, firm amidst all the rest that was blowing and moving.

The next morning, as I was reading my Bible, the verses, "He who builds on the rock will not be shaken." And now I had a visual picture of the one who built his house on the rock.

Storms will come, and as a matter of fact, I feel like we are living in a very stormy time---immorality, wickedness, voices from every corner of the world tempting us to look to someone or something else for security, materialism, pornography,  the break-down of marriage, relative values, humanism. The flashes of lightening and the thunder of the world seem to accost at every point.

Yet, there is a promise that if one builds his house on the rock, the simple, profound, instructive truth of Jesus' words, he will be wise and will weather the storms.

I wish all of my children would get married, have lots of children and move in next door. They are my favorite people and best friends. How I would love for our lives to reflect the fairy tale of family I have always dreamed. (And, by the way, I am still praying for this.)

But the reality is, we are living in challenging times, and God has chosen this part of history in which we were to be alive, training our children for the world they will inherit.

So, the beginning point for our children is to build strong, firm, foundations--emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually--to build these soul foundations on the rock, so that they will be able to stand firm and strong.

However, since most women do not know the Bible well and aren't sure what foundations to build on, and when often Christians are so divided on the subject of Biblical mothering, it can be confusing to know how to build. Even in our churches the messages of truth are confusing, and sometimes divisive. The lines are drawn in different places.

Yet, when I look back on my life as a mom, and embraced the stewardship of pouring into my children, I found Biblical principles that guided me. Scripture is very clear in most cases, but many people are just not ready to obey scripture and so compromise with permission from other Christians to live above Biblical wisdom.

Yet, Jesus was very clear and instruction We must obey His truths and teach them. His teachings aree simple and clear.

But herein lies  the tension--there is a necessary sacrifice of the mom's life to build these ideals. They do not just happen from a ten to fifteen minute devotional a day. The principles must be a part of the moms life, part of her instruction to her children and then the air of the truth must be breathed in and out, morning, noon and night , so that the child's very soul will be shaped on the truths, the principles of wisdom, godly choices, and convictions, all which take years and years to build. Building a foundation takes time, hard work and energy and patience.

So, a foundation must be planned out and carefully built. The soundness of all great structures rest on the foundation. And so we must build the foundation of our children's souls on solid, firm, immoveable rock, truths that are timeless. We must be students of the words and the truths, we must ingest them deep in our own souls, as a teacher cannot pass on that which is not first hers.

The storms of our lives and our children's lives come mainly through the voices of the world, and cleverly deceptive and persuasive--the foolishness of the world and the destruction that the world brings but does not bely until it is too late.

So we begin with defining the foundations that must be built, the truths that must be understood. Foundations will be the first area to be laid in building strength so that our children will grow up to have a solid foundation that will support every storm and wind that comes their way, to cultivate them to be able to champion God's causes in the midst of the storms their lives will bring.

I ended the podcast today with a sonnet that Joel put to music for Sarah’s wedding about God accompanying us through the seas and the storms and pathways of life—relevant to our podcast today. Enjoy.

Here is the site where you can find the sonnet: https://bit.ly/2ICmaXc which is Marriage 2: The Sacred Ship

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Comment on my podcast page to be entered into the mentoring time giveaway!

Choosing to be Joyful: (Our Family Way #17) & Podcast!

Way # 17

We choose to be joyful even when we feel like complaining. 

Memory Verse:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near."

~Phillippians 4:4-5

Many years ago, when Joel was a little boy, he played legos for hours a day. He would design elaborate cars, towns, houses, roadways, playgrounds--whatever he could imagine. We all admired his skill. When he was about nine years old, he worked for months and months on a town that became an elaborate creation, around 5 feet wide. On top of this he had placed some of his best car designs. We all marveled at each stage of development of his wonderful creation.

One day we hosted a family for lunch. When Joel took the boy his age back to his room to play, the little boy rushed into the room and began hitting and destroying the whole of Joel's creation before we could pull him away. The devastation was complete, and broke the hearts of our whole family as we had been bragging on his enormous Lego city for months.

The little boy's mama said, "Oh well, boys will be boys!"

Joel was heart broken and seemed to have a cloud around him for several days. When Joel was very young I noticed he whined quite a bit, but time had taught me he had a very strong sense of justice.  I learned that if I sat down with him, eye to eye, and talked to him about how he was feeling, he would open his heart, reveal what was bothering him, and then he would not whine any more. What he needed was sympathy.

On this particular week, I went into his room and sat down on the carpet next to him. We looked at the demolished legos, and I held one in my hand. "Joel, I can't even imagine how bad this made you feel. I would be so hurt. What bothered you the most?"

"That boy had no right to be so destructive. I had never done anything to him. It took me almost a year to build all of these pieces. I just thought it was so unfair," Joel ended with a sigh.

"I so understand, and I want you to know how very, very sorry I am. It was unkind and unjust."

Then I prayed with him and blessed him. Later he said, "Mama, I think I can be strong now and build a whole new city. I just wanted someone to listen to me and to understand. Thanks, Mama." And off he went outdoors to play with the other kids.

Dealing with Disappointments

Life is a constant challenge, every day, all the time. Things quit working, someone makes a mess, a Christian friend offends us or rejects us, life just isn't fair.

Jesus said, as a warning to us, a glimpse into how the world would be, "In this world, you will have tribulation."

Tribulation can also be translated, "great stress." He forewarned us about what a fallen world would bring.

But what can make it worse is children and adults who whine and complain all the time and never learn to walk within the realities of a fallen world. When we have tribulation of any kind, Jesus admonishes us to "take courage."

Have courage, change your attitude from hurt to brave, from overwhelmed to "I can move through this with God's grace."

The habit of whining and complaining turns quickly into nagging and an attitude of self-absorption--which destroys hope, light, and beauty. God is so clear about how he felt about the complaining of the Israelites. It led them to disbelief.

They wandered in the desert for 40 years because of their complaining hearts and disbelief. This story is a great warning to our children as we are teaching the this way. When we choose not to practice trusting God, turning our hearts to faith and thankfulness that we are not alone, we are prone to wander in wilderness in our lives.

It is not wrong to be sad or depressed because of a tragedy, because God is the one who supplied our ability to have emotions. We need and long for people who will sympathize with us. We need to have comfort for pain, brokenness, injustices in life. God wants to comfort us and we heal more quickly if we have someone who will help bear our burdens. For my sweet boy, this was a tragedy.

But for Joel to become emotionally healthy and strong, I had to help him learn not to stay in the complaining/whining place but to learn to move to an attitude of gratitude. "God will comfort me. God will help me grow stronger. God is just. He understands. He is with me."

The past couple of  years, I have watched my oldest children seeking scripture over and over again to become peacemakers, to choose to be gentle, to choose to forgive, to actively trust God when unfair circumstances came along. I have been amazed as they have chosen to be faithful because scripture and training was the foundation of their hearts. And of course the result of their chosen pathway of obedience has been greater peace.

I wish I could give them and myself a "G"-rated life where everything was fair and all people were healthy and loving. But that is not reality in a broken world. Teaching them how to love, how to be joyful as a choice, often by modeling those qualities ourselves, will evidence the reality of God's spirit in our own lives and give our children tools that will help them to be strong when they encounter inevitable trials as adults.

Do you have your copy of Our 24 Family Ways? Find it here!

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Sing a Beautiful Song, Mama

In a classic Roman tale, Jason leads a ship of men in a quest for the golden fleece. As all good stories go, there are many adventures, battles and catastrophes along the way. At one point in his journey at sea, Jason is about to encounter the Sirens. Homer’s epic poem described the Sirens as women living on three small islands who have the ability to sing beautiful songs which entice sailors to head toward the Sirens’ Island, wherupon they crash their ships on the shore and meet death and destruction.

Jason fears being lured to the Island, so he suggests that someone tie the sailors to the bow of the ship and not allow them head toward the Island no matter what. He believes the ropes could prevent him from responding to the alluring call of the Sirens.

Someone suggests that instead, Jason should seek the help of Orpheus, a poet and singer. Orpheus had the ability to play more beautiful songs, more loudly than the Sirens, effectively drowning out the Sirens’ bewitching songs so the ship might pass by safely. 

While talking to dear friends recently, they reminded me of this story. It seems to me to be a paradigm of what we need to consider ourselves as doing for our children. When they are young, we not only build foundations of beauty and truth and love and goodness, but we also saturate them with the celebration of life and the joy of Christ in our homes, so they will always consider our home the most comforting, beautiful, peaceful place to be--the place of the most beautiful songs.

I have had many women say to me, "Why do you go to so much effort to maintain traditions, cook real food, and celebrate life with your children? It feels to me like something more I have to do, and my plate is already full!”

It is easy enough to keep your children "on your team" when they are young and smaller than you, without ideas of their own. However, it’s not such a simple task when our children reach the teen years.

In this culture, at this time in history, there are many voices crying out to our teens. Media of all sorts brings entertainment both good and bad right to their fingertips. Peer pressure affects all of us. There is a point when all children have to grow up and own their own ideals, and most moms of young children assume their teenagers will love them and continue to submit to them, just as they do when they are small.

But in this world, at this time, the Sirens sing an alluring song. It is ours to figure out how to sing a more beautiful one.

Scripture addresses this for teens in Proverbs, which Solomon wrote for his own son when he was a youth. Proverbs 9: 13-18 depicts this voice of foolishness and destruction. Her name is Folly, and she is calling out to those who are passing by, "who are making their paths straight." She wants to bring these, our children--whose lives we have sought to put on the "path of life" for our Lord Jesus—to destruction. She calls out to them, spouting lies, deception, and promises of love and fulfillment through the world's ways.

Solomon also tells us of the other voice that is crying out: that of Wisdom. In Proverbs 9, we see that she sets her tables, she cooks her food, and fills her own home with the atmosphere where love has prepared a meal.  

Wisdom then calls out to the sons of men and invites them to her home, where she has great food, beauty, music, etc. and says, "Come into my house and learn from me.” She is there to call these youth to excellence, beauty, and truth, to help them safely go through the passage of teenage years unscathed. She sings a beautiful song!

And so, as we reflect the image of God through our lives in our homes, it is a necessity of our spiritual warfare that we provide and cultivate havens of comfort, a shelter in the storms of life, filled with wisdom, love, pleasure, and deep satisfaction in an atmosphere of showing God's reality through it all. God is a creative artist. In His image, we create through the art of life, and so sing a beautiful song that will prayerfully be louder to our children's souls than that of culture.

Feasting & Living Out of Grace: Lifegiving Table #8 and Podcast

Mealtimes occur at startlingly regular intervals, don’t they? It often seems that I have only just finished cleaning up lunch dishes when I must begin thinking about what to make for dinner. Another meal, another dish, another counter to clean. And then, after sleepily tidying up the kitchen at the end of the night, I realize: It all starts again tomorrow! In my tired moments, it seems like such an injustice. How can my family expect food three times a day, every day? And I don’t even get weekends off!

But that one particular night, it was more than the usual monotonous routine that caused my stomach to clench. I was weary. Soul weary. Physically weary. Emotionally weary. Heart, mind, and body weary. Life was hurling fastballs at me, one after another, and I was almost to the point of dropping the bat and running away.

I had just returned from a speaking engagement, and all I wanted to do was sleep and then curl up with a book, and indulge in endless cups of tea, coffee, or other, more mature sips. But alas, I had three children still at home with busy schedules, hormonal mood swings, and heartbreaks, along with my own personal and professional responsibilities that were unmoved by my desire to hibernate.

I carried around an achy soul with me but had no time to tend to it or be gentle with myself. And my young-adult children, even my sweet friends who came regularly to my home for meals or tea, either didn’t notice or were so caught up in their own issues they couldn’t see my need.

Joy was in the full throes of tournament season for speech and debate. Joel was working diligently at a retail job, returning emotionally drained and physically exhausted every day. Sarah was at an in-between point in life, walking through disappointment and, for the moment, drifting, struggling with the full frustration that is young adulthood. Nathan was in Hollywood, but called and wanted to talk multiple times a week. Clay and I were neck deep in trying to catch up on work after a busy conference season. And I hosted a regular Bible study in my home with sixty to a hundred people attending each meeting.

Every moment of my day was filled to the brim—driving Joy to appointments, supporting Clay, reaching out to friends, working on writing projects in snatched moments in between, and sharing the frustrations of my struggling children. And did I mention helping our two elderly moms, both senile and in need of attention? It seemed that all of life had conspired to ensure my physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.

And everyone still wanted to eat again.

I heaved a meaningful sigh that no one was there to hear and sank into the faded cushions of my reading chair. A few minutes later, I spied Sarah’s gently treading feet descending the stairs, closely followed by Joy’s gangly legs bounding down two stairs at a time.

“What’s for dinner, Mama?” Joy asked, blissfully unaware of my deep weariness.

“Oh my goodness,” I sighed. “I’m not sure yet.”

In that moment a decision presented itself to me. I could give in to the overwhelming, gray exhaustion I felt. Or I could create an environment of rest and beauty for my beloved family and, in so doing, create a space of rest for my own soul.

It was a habit of mine to take the clouds in my head and seek to blow them away with simplicity, moving toward gratefulness. In that moment, that habit saved me.

“I’m pretty exhausted tonight,” I admitted to my girls. “But let’s rest and enjoy this evening. How about a snack meal on the porch? It’s beautiful out tonight. I’ll cut some cheese slices. Can you all put something together for our snack feast?”

“I’ll slice some fruit!” offered Sarah.
“I will do buttered toast and toasted nuts,” said Joy.
In characteristic fashion, Joel poked his head in late in the conversation. I wasted no time.
“We’re putting together a snack meal, Joel. What will your contribution be?”

“How about popcorn?”

This was a well-liked and very familiar idea. So we bustled briefly about the kitchen, toted our fare to the back porch, lit a candle, played soothing music from my portable speaker, and enjoyed our sumptuous snack dinner. As we munched on popcorn and each created our favorite combination of toast, cheese, nuts, and fruit, I breathed a sigh of relief. What could have been an evening of another tired meal, piles of dishes, and short tempers turned into an evening of rest and beauty. Our covered porch became a sanctuary for our tired hearts, and the mountain air and waving pines that bordered the porch provided the beauty we needed.

Such times have occurred throughout my life—for instance, the time when three of my children had chicken pox, followed by pneumonia and then encephalitis. Our house was a wreck of dishes, blankets all over the house, toys, and a pile of laundry as high as the sky. I don’t think I slept for six weeks straight.

At times like this, comfort food means so much—especially comfort food that requires no cooking and minimal cleanup.

For this reason I’ve come to believe in the profound importance of snack meals—meals that are easy, nourishing, and restful. They can absolutely save your sanity during those crazy times. But here’s another benefit: When you bring beauty and rest into the occasional chaos of your life, you are teaching your children how to prepare for the storms of life and live well through them.

The rubber meets the road when we work out the question of how to bring beauty and rest to life in the midst of storms. For me, this boils down to three ideas.

First, that bringing grace to the busy moments of your life is not about performance or perfection, but sustainability.

Second, that bringing peace and beauty amid the whirlwind necessitates preparation.

And finally, that a little bit of beauty goes a long way to make things better.

Find The Lifegiving Table here!

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Learning to Take Personal Responsibility (Our Family Ways #16) Podcast!

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Way # 16 We take personal responsibility to keep our home neat and clean at all times.

Memory Verse:

“The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor. “

Proverbs 12:24

Time changes from much travel left me so exhausted, I thought I would fall asleep standing up. An unusual season of many weeks of traveling had found me coming and going constantly. Walking out to our meeting place at the airport, Joel whisked my bags from me, placed them in the car and then drove me the hour home from the airport.

"We packed you some cherries, Mom, ‘cause we thought you might be hungry," Joel informed me.

Home sweet home called my name as we drove into the driveway. Candles had been lit, music was wafting softly, and the table was set with a warm bowl of soup and crusty herb bread. Fresh flowers and a “welcome home “ sign greeted me in the sweep of entering the front door.

"Welcome home, mama. I bet you are ready to sleep in your own bed for a long while," Sarah commented as she put the last bowl of soup on the table.

I waited many years to know if all of my training and providing had gone into their hearts and minds. May I be the first one to say how glad I am to be in this place? Finally, the fruit of my labor has come to fruition. My children have "caught" it!

They take initiative, when they are home, to make our own home inviting, a prepared sanctuary, a solace to my soul, a place that says welcome when I get home from necessary trips.  The values that I had in mind when I prepared my home this way, year after year, month after month, day after day, have become their own standard of what a home should "speak" to people when they come here. They do the same things in their own homes around the world. And they do it without being told, because of all of the years of me training them and making them help me daily, straightening up, lighting candles, putting on music, making a meal, setting the table, over and over again. Training takes lots and lots of practice and patience.

No one becomes excellent of character automatically from lectures, but rather from practicing skills, responsibilities, and chores together with contented spirits. This is the way we  build values they will learn to cherish. Wisdom and skill require time, instruction and practice.--modeling combined with gentle and patient instruction.

And so, one of the most important ways of training into our children is, "This is not just my house, it is your house. We take care of it by keeping it a place of life and beauty together. How do you want others to see your home? What do we do to make it a place of refreshment for all who come here?" And then, you, the mom, make the standards every day, and you show them how to do all the tasks, and you give them responsibility.

Our 24 Family Ways is a wonderful, simple-to-use guide to family devotions. Find it here—there’s a coloring book, too!

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Parenting by Heart

“Love is patient, love is kind … “

~I Corinthians 13

This week, after a very busy few weeks, I had the opportunity to visit Joel in Scotland where he is working on his PHD. Even though Joy was also in St. Andrews meeting with people, Joel and I planned 6 hours where we would be able to visit alone, away from everyone and everything else. No social media, no phones, no interruptions. He has become an advisor, counselor to me as an adult. I got to hear his heart on many issues in his life. And we giggled and talked and walked and drank a lot of hot drinks in charming pubs and cafes.

By the end of our time, we both felt “seen and heard” and there was peace in my heart and his for having taken this focused time. I didn’t even know how much I needed this connection but it was like water to my own soul and he said to his.

I was reminded once again that we humans and especially the little humans in our lives are always hungry for personal attention, heart-filling, relational times. I have noticed over the years that, in an effort to be good parents, many of us tend to extremes. If rod or adversarial oriented, we can tend to use it all the time, over-correcting and expecting too much of little ones in a desire to be sure our children are well-disciplined. This often produces rebellion in the long run—I have seen these results over and over again—, as it is focused on outward behavior and neglected heart issues, as well as the personality and needs of the child.

However, I have also noticed that those who think of themselves as grace-based parents can at times tend to let everything go and not train their children at all, because they think that grace-based means being lenient. These children, then, can be out of control and never learn self-governance. Of course, neither extreme serves children well.

Yet, we tend to extremes and have trouble living between the tension of two extremes in many areas of life—and there is a tension in raising children. They need both discipline and training and also high love and affection and grace. This relational process we develop with our children is somewhat mysterious. But I know from experience that if we focus on their hearts—what they value, what they are feeling, what they need, what their personality is, we can adjust our training and discipline to each child according to the way he will respond. Clay and I came to say that we were high love, high discipline (in the training of character sense).

Of course all of us know or must learn that formulas so not work. Every child is unique, every family a different set of values and culture and background. And when we acknowledge the children need to respond, we know that raising godly children is a “by-faith” venture.

A key factor for reaching children's hearts is to be sure they feel greatly loved and connected to their family. Jesus himself gives us the priority of love in scripture--He says it sums up all the law and all the commandments when we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

I know that children have a great desire to be loved and cherished. When they start out being loved, touched, sung to, nursed, and cherished, their heart-needs and physical needs become connected in the brain in the right way. However, when babies are left to cry for long periods, and not cherished and touched and cuddled and enjoyed, there is an essential chemical imbalance in their brain that causes them to be more apt to be irritated, fussy, and less responsive.

Even as my children grew older, in the midst of very high ideals and training, I sought to continue pouring into their lives and hearts by believing in them, liking who they were (even in times when I had to do it by faith!), making our home the best place to be, and teaching them they could trust us with their secrets and insecurities and failures, by responding to them in love and respecting them where they were. I knew if I wanted my children to learn to honor me, I had to honor them as people, so that they would understand this attitude of respect.

Parenting by heart means loving who your child is as he or she is right now, and not waiting to love them better when they have matured or grown into the person you want them to be. We must affirm their God-designed personality, antics, abilities and disabilities. It means delighting in our children and communicating that with words, gestures, a pleasant tone of voice, and time spent playing and delighting in and listening to and affirming them in front of others. 

There will be prodigals even when we do our best. It is why Jesus told the story of prodigals—to give us hope. But we train and love as an act of worship and as a stewardship to God, as gratefulness for His redemption and grace in our own lives. We do not parent for performance, but for serving Him—and then we must leave the results in His hands while pursuing our children and loving them as He demonstrated to us.

All this bubbled up in my heart as I, once again, invested time and focus into the heart of my own grown up child, and the result was a deep heartfelt satisfaction for both of us as we once again went back to our own worlds. Heart-felt love takes time and patience and commitment, but in the end, it is worth the cost.

May you have grace with your journey to your own children’s hearts today. I am praying for you.

Fun, Faith, and Feasting: Lifegiving Table #7 (and Podcast!)

“Hey, Dude Mama.”
The gravelly voice came from a curly haired almost-man ambling into my kitchen with four more of his kind following. These scraggly headed teens were Nathan’s friends, and “Dude Mama” was the name they’d given me. Far from being disrespectful, it was a term of endearment, a sign I had won their angsty teenage trust. It was a moniker I embraced with pride.

“Hi, there.” I smiled. “How are you? How about some pizza?”

The crowd of teenagers gathered hungrily around as I pulled two jumbo pizzas out of the oven, the cheese bubbling deliciously on top. It was a paper-plates night, with glass bottles of root beer. When entertaining teenagers, sometimes the goal of eating healthy must be suspended in favor of winning the food-centered hearts of sixteen-year-old boys. I spent my children’s younger years carefully feeding them carrots, salads, and whole grains. When the teenage years hit, I shamelessly bribed them with grease, cheese, and ice cream.

The crew piled slices of pizza and grapes (my one attempt at healthful food for the evening) on their plates and bungled out to the back porch. I sat with them for a bit, asking them questions about school, sports, dreams, and even venturing momentarily into their romantic lives. I then left them to their own teenage devices, only popping out later with chocolate chip cookies.

I was always a bit amazed when the friends of my teenage kids opened up to me. It felt like an honor to win the trust of these burgeoning adults. Through our occasional weekend visits and back-porch talks, I realized they wanted to be talked to and inquired about. This made me think of my teenage years and the inevitable angst I had felt in growing awkwardly into young adulthood. I knew how I had longed for grace, for someone to help me piece together my half-grown heart without criticism or judgment. And I wanted to relate to these kids in a way that spoke grace to them.

Teen years can stretch a parent’s heart. These kids are at the edge of adulthood—straining for more independent friendships, yet not fully developed in maturity or discretion. I wanted my children to have freedom, but also safety.

The answer to this conundrum to me was obvious—to make our home the best place to be. The most comfortable place to relax and ask questions (any subject fair game). The most fun hangout. And I got them there by tempting them with an unending stream of delicious food and irresistible treats.

Sometimes I think that grace is best experienced through greasy pizza and gentle curiosity.

To me, this strategy was not only a home philosophy, but a disciple- ship principle put in action—perhaps the most important one of all: Discipleship happens at every moment along the way—morning, night, and every time in between.

Find The Lifegiving Table, here!

Teaching Children to Serve Cooperatively (24 Family Ways #15) Podcast!

Way #15

We work with a cooperative spirit, freely giving and receiving help.

Memory verse:

"Two are better than one, because they have good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9

They will remember—it is all going inside their heart.

For my birthday a few years ago, we gathered with some close friends and our kids and Clay. According to our tradition, everyone tells the birthday person why they appreciate them or how they have been blessed and then the birthday person gets prayed for and blessed by all who are at the celebration. We have practiced this for many years and we have seen our children's souls practically burst with the goodness of life-giving words and prayers just for them.

All of my children communicated the most wonderful blessings to me. Nathan said, "Mom, as I look back on my life, I am beginning to realize just how much time you invested in our lives. From daily devotions, manners, learning to do chores, educating us, correcting us, providing lessons and leadership opportunities and counseling us on every possible subject. I just want to thank you for investing so much time and giving up yourself to make my life strong. Everywhere I go, I hear your voice wisely telling me what to do."

I was quite surprised. I had waited years and years to hear these words, but the thoughts seemed to ripen in their minds as they reached adulthood. As I pondered all the wonderful words of life given to me that night, I was reminded that investing in a child's life, mind, soul, heart, habits, and education, takes lots and lots of time and training. I know, now, with 4 grown children, that every day of love, taking them into nature and pointing out beauty, teaching them truth, reading a favorite story is going deep inside and forming their very hearts and souls. But that daily training--”NO, not this, but this; no not this, but this” a thousand thousand times!—This is what it takes to shape a strong soul.

Self-actualization is a term  that has come up in conversation a lot this week. All of my children have talked about how they grew into believing they could bring light to their dark world because of the way we trained them and talked to them, over and over again. We spoke forward into their lives--into the adults they would become.

"I believe God has a special work for you to do in the world. You are my right hand helper and you have learned to work so responsibly. "

"I love seeing your heart of compassion. Bringing all your friends from your drama club was a gift. You are such a good influence in their lives. Thanks for helping me clean up all the dishes from their time here. I know you will be a leader of women."

"Maybe you will write great works like Lewis and Tolkien did. You have such a grasp of truth and beauty and such a great way of expressing it. I know it took a lot of hard work to write your essay. Great job. "

"There is no limit to what God might do with a heart that is completely His. He would love to bless your ideas and dreams if your heart is His. Your diligence will pave the way. "

This week's Way, number 15, is all about giving your child a sense of being a servant leader as a part of their self-image. Part of perceiving oneself as a leader is understanding that God has created them to serve, and that it is the glory of a person to serve well. But another aspect is building a strong family sense of community.

Each morning, after breakfast, I would put on lively music and have all of the kids do necessary chores to restore our house to order before we began the day. We would all rock out together while one put the dishes in the dishwasher, another swept, another straightened the room where we would be reading, etc.

Before we had guests, each of us would have an area to manage: picking up, setting the table, writing a personal welcome sign on the ever-present chalkboard, or lighting candles. I would tell them how much I appreciated them making our home so beautiful.

At our ministry conferences, each had a task. Little ones would welcome moms with a basket of chocolate. Older kids would run the book tables. Each year, all of them had to give a short talk, greeting, song or prayer at the conferences. Truly, having our children serve together for many, many years is one of the key components of their current perception that God has called them to impact their worlds for God's kingdom.

As you learn the truth of this way, have a grid to encourage your children that family is always to help each other, and that they are so very precious to be willing to serve others. Giving your child a self-image of perceiving that God wants to use them in their world, will shape their work and service the rest of their lives. Giving them practice to serve each other will build strong relationships between siblings when they grow up.

Find Our 24 Family Ways here!

Are You Your Child's Adversary, or Advocate?

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"Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"

~Romans 2:4

“Mama,” one of my children wrote this week, “one of the reasons I kept listening to you, even when I was a teenager, was that I always felt you were “for” me, on my side, you understood my quirks, you accepted me. Isn’t that the standard of Christ’s love toward all of us?”

Many of you who have read our books know that Clay and I are very relationship-based in our approach to children. As we looked to Christ for His model in how He reached the hearts of his disciples, so we wanted to develop a close and deep with ours. Yet, I think because every parent wants to do everything right, they often become susceptible to whatever parenting book they get their hands on first, seeking to find a formula for disciplining children.

Many books and materials on the market and in the Christian realm in the past few years have focused so much on formulas, offering harshness as an acceptable use of authority and law. This is what many parents long for--"Just give me the rules and tell me how to do it right so at 18, I’ll have a perfect child!” We would prefer a cookie-cutter approach to children, a one size fits all. And yet, none of us is the same, or has the same personality and response, and as we grow as parents, we realize that faith, patience and growing are the foundations of good parents.

Often, these very materials that sell the most add human wisdom and opinion to formulas that sound very inviting, But even if a Christian-sounding title or spin is added to them, these christianese manifestos are much like the hundreds of rules the Pharisees added to the law which served to put people under fear: if they don't do everything right, it will be their fault if their children do not turn out well but go astray. They then diligently correct every little immaturity and misbehavior of their children, becoming authoritarian parents.  They are at-home policemen, watching for every possible "sin" and bad behavior, treating their children harshly when bad behavior is manifested. Instead of enjoying their children, they feel stressed and angry that their children insist on whining and doing things to irritate them all the time.

The formula approach is neither Biblical nor productive. I am so very glad Jesus does not treat me this way, or I would give up! Though I am now in my 60's, I still sin, act in an immature way, and feel selfish sometimes. But He gently leads me, continuing to teach me wisdom as I seek His Word. He gives me understanding through the Holy Spirit so that little by little, I become more like Him. Holy, even. Hebrews tells us, "He disciplines us that we may share in His Holiness." He does this through training in our circumstances, over a lifetime--and He is never, never harsh with us, even in our immaturity, if our heart is turned toward Him. 

How do you picture Jesus with the multitudes? As a policeman with a frown on his face? Or as the good shepherd, the one who saw them and felt compassion, the one who took the children into His arms to bless them. He was the servant leader, who washed feet and made meals. His harshness was often expressed to those who were the rule keepers, who, he said, “heap burdens on the people with their many laws.”

It is the honor of a godly woman to cultivate civility, justice, wisdom, grace, patience, and unconditional love in all of her relationships--including those with her children. 

Why is it that we diligently teach our children the golden rule, and then neglect to use it as a framework for parenthood as we’re raising our children?

I would not like to be treated harshly by a voice constantly raised and correcting me all the time. It would dishearten me. I would seek to get far away from that kind of critical spirit and corrective tone. I am a person who needs grace, encouragement, help, training to become righteousness—and I think most children are, too.

A gracious, helpful attitude will set the stage for gracious parenting as we seek to be advocates for our children and resist becoming their adversaries. This very attitude is what we find in Jesus, who said, “Greater love has no one than this, than he lay down his life for his friend.”

Jesus, who was patient with Peter, even though He knew Peter would fail. Jesus, who prepared a warm meal of sizzling, fresh fish and invited Peter into His circle of love, reinstating him as a shepherd of His church.

Jesus, who offered forgiveness and compassion throughout his ministry.

Jesus, who told the Pharisees a story of a prodigal son with a constantly loving father waiting for his return.

May God grant us a heart like His to love our “disciples” as He did.

In the end, Clay and I concluded that it was generous love, unconditional acceptance of the quirks and unique personalities of our children, patient training, instruction moment by moment with an eye to seek to reach and inspire their heart with the ways of Christ, little by little, one day at a time over a lifetime of mentoring them.

May all of us ponder Christ that we may seek to find the ways to bring His truth and His wholeness, His compassion, and may our lives be changed daily by His grace, and may we desire to love God every day, in front of them, because our children see how much we love Him and want to follow Him as we do.

Blessings and blessings of His grace follow all of us through the whole journey of parenting to please Him and being more aware than ever what it cost our Heavenly Father to reach our own hearts.

For more on advocate-focused, discipleship-based parenting, see …