Creation's Witness of God

THE WITNESS OF CREATION

Walking arm and arm along the canal pathway in Oxford the other night as I traveled to visit Sarah, we were casually chattering away when the sky burst forth with the more wondrous sunset, reflecting on the water in colors of fire, with the loveliest of birds singing as if in worship. It was a moment not to be ignored, an unavoidable flourish of the magnificence of God's presence with us. It was as though He was speaking, "I am here. I am with you. I am living. I care to bring you joy."

I have learned that one of my most important areas of stewardship for me to stay alive spiritually,  is to cultivate a personal, inspirational, and intimate knowledge of God. In Romans 1:20, Paul told us that, "Since the creation of the world His [God's] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made."

This means that through creation we can discover his invisible attributes: what God is like, his eternal power, the strength of his might from eternity past until eternity future, the very nature of his personality. His signature is on everything he has made! And he made all of these pleasures as a love gift to us that we might perceive him more clearly.

In other words, if I want to know what God is like—if I want to see a visible reflection of his nature—then one of the best and most complete teachers is nature, the platform of his original work

Through nature, we observe that ours is a God of variety. Think about the plethora of his creation. Countless colors, shapes, personalities, and sounds. Insects, fish, birds, puppies, hippos, and penguins. Textures soft, hard, rough, jagged. Temperatures icy cold and steaming hot. Designs of stripes, polka dots, circles, squares, rectangles. Dimensions immense and tiny, fragile and powerful. We can listen to sounds and learn that God is musical: birds chirping, bees buzzing, leaves chattering in the wind, cows mooing. He even had angels singing at his birth. We observe that he is orderly by looking at the design of a cell or noting the predictability of a sunrise and sunset or recognizing the constancy of the seasons. We observe his power through storms, waterfalls, and beasts.

My heart longs for a God who enters my world, my dreams, joys, pains, insecurities--but also one who is a kindred spirit with my joy in feasting with friends, hugging my sweet oldest child after being away for so long, the joy of seeing spring come after long cold winters, the depth of loving deeply or singing loudly or running in the cold morning air--a God who is alive in all of my worldly places as well as my spiritual thoughts.

God has inscribed a book about himself, and we can read it by paying attention to the things that are in our lives every day: our yards, the storms, the night sky, the sea. His imprint is everywhere.

The key to enjoying God in every moment of these daily pleasures is to open the eyes of my mind to see and to appreciate what he has given. A thankful heart galvanizes the connection between my God and me.

Recently, one of my sons returned home after spending a time in New York City. The typical preparations we make for a loved one's returning include drawing "I love you" signs and posting them all over the house and the front door, baking a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies, cleaning the house, lighting candles, putting on favorite music, and serving a feast of the returnee's choosing. Though my son had experienced these meals and celebrations so many times before, he cherished them all the more after having been away for a year. At the end of the evening, he said, "Mom, you can't imagine how thankful I am to be home and how blessed I am to have your great cooking again. Thanks so much for going to the trouble. I appreciated every moment of our time together tonight."

My pleasure in having worked so hard to welcome him increased immeasurably because of the appreciation he expressed. I felt closer to him, and because his love for me was more on a reciprocal level, we have experienced more mutual sharing and closeness as one adult to another instead of just the immature love he gave as a youngster. Now that he has grown up and doesn't take home for granted, he gives a worthier praise.

Similarly, when we really see that God is a wonderful Provider and has gone to great lengths to make our earthly home pleasurable, we will appreciate him more and our hearts will be lifted to thank him. It is when we come to see what he has given that we begin to be mature. It is when we understand that God's gifts are with consideration of our truest needs—for love, beauty, purpose, belonging—instead of for our selfish gratification, material possessions, ownership. When we are humble and appreciative of who he really is, then we move down the road to a more foundational intimacy with him. But without a heart of thanksgiving, in which we recognize his chosen gifts, our joy will not be full.

What Makes a Great Story & a New Storyformed Podcast

As I am taking a break, traveling with my sweet girls, I am struck with their sense of purpose, their grasp of the meaning of their lives and how to invest them as young adults, and their love for God.

Of course, each of our children must respond to God from their own heart, but I think that my children were drawn to Him through the understanding of the opportunity we each have to play our part in the story of God. Unless we attach our children to the sense of God's call in their lives, their lives will not be drawn to the eternal, the kingdom principles God wants us to live for, the citizenship that we have in heaven with Him. We cannot focus our children's eyes on this world and its values, but we must look beyond to God's purposes.

Join Holly as she leads our discussion and podcast today and be encouraged in your own journey on the story-formed life.

As mothers, we all desire for our children to see themselves as unique humans who have a story to live and tell in God’s great narrative. As we read them great stories with a clear good vs evil theme, we’re helping them to see how they might choose good in their world.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil 4:8

How do we help our children to be drawn into a beautiful story rather than being lured away into a private world of screens, which are so prevalent in our society? It’s easy to give them a lecture and explain the benefits of reading over watching a screen or playing a video game, but as we might imagine it comes back to modeling. 

If we desire our children to love reading, we must love it first, and allow them to see us reading consistently. No amount of telling them the wonders and riches that come from great books will matter to them if they don’t see us loving the process of learning and growing. What we are excited about, talking about, and living out will be what they will also be excited about! As we prepare a feast of great literature before them in our homes, they will grow to love books. How could they not?

As Jesus asked his disciples to follow Him, so we are asking the same of our children every day. We want them to follow us we pray, as we learn to love one another, and as we discover the traces of the Great Story in books. 

In developing a daily habit of reading aloud to your kids, even if it's just ten minutes a day, you’re leading them to know reading as a normal part of life. Even if your children are small, asking them one or a few questions about the picture book you just read, is causing their mind to expand and grow. Their minds are like spongy fertile soil in which you have the opportunity to plant, water, and cultivate every day. 

So, how do we know what a great story is? We want to give them the very best stories written just as we want to feed them the most nutritious food. 

Here is some criteria in determining a great story:

  • it includes an intriguing and well-written narrative with complex characters who come alive;
  • it stimulates the imaginations, minds, and hearts of both children and adults;
  • it is often a timeless classic, fairy tale, or chapter book;
  • it includes characters worth emulating or ones that lead a child to explore the tensions and complexities lying in the human heart;   
  • it presents good as good and evil as evil;
  • it hints in some way at the Great Story of God's redemption in Christ.

Beautifully-written stories can shape the imaginations of our children. A good story is a gift to our children— a gift that enables them to see the mystery and magic of our world now, and a preparation for what is to come.

You know your children better than anyone, and you are the one God is holding responsible to shepherd their hearts. Young children don’t have a filter to decipher what is good for their eyes to see and their ears to hear.

I wish I could say I never had any more regrets about what I've allowed my children to listen to or watch. A terrible mom-moment for me came when we allowed our eight year old daughter to listen to an audio version of this book. Sadly for me and terrifying for her, she woke up that night and ran through the halls in her sleep with her eyes bulging from her head and screaming in terror. I was quite distraught, to say the least, by this sight and felt horrible for allowing her to listen. Hindsight is 20 /20! 

But making some regrettable decisions has caused me to be more prayerful. Sometimes what a booklist might say is age appropriate for a child, may not be true for your particular child. Don't ignore what you sense the Lord is leading you to or away from for your children. Pray that the Lord will give you as their mother, a sense of what you should put before them to be part of the process of shaping and molding them in this season. 

Read on!

Books and links from today’s show - Storyformed Episode #2 - What MAKES a Great Story

 

Reading at Risk Article

Follow Storyformed on Instagram

 

Find Your Smile!

 

"In quietness and rest shall be your strength." Isaiah 30:15

Have you ever had a child who, late in the evening, started going ballistic over seemingly nothing at all? Then a fit of loud wailing began, and then suddenly, in almost a moment, said child almost passed out in deep sleep?! Then you realized, "Oh, she (or he) was just exhausted and needed to go to sleep." You promised yourself that next time you would be more aware of the signs and vigilant to put the child to bed earlier.

Well, slowly, I am learning to read my own signs. Each of us has our own puzzle. Mine is very different from most because of our ministry, travel and writing, added to the other piles of responsibility of taking care of my family. Very few friends I know live my kind of life,  or my puzzle, so I cannot compare or live under the same standards as them.

I am not feeling so strong lately. My spirit is more likely to complain. My body is a little bit more than tired. My perspective is cloudy. From many years of living through various seasons, I am learning to monitor myself when signals suggest I have been overloaded for too long. Just like the baby in the above example, God has allowed our bodies to speak to us.

Instead of worrying about my spiritual life, or living in self-condemnation, or pondering deep things, I am more likely to look at my physical needs, and then I realize--I need to take some sabbatical days soon!

Recently, somewhere, deep in the night hours,  cuddled up under my covers, much to my sweet relief, I awakened and it seemed there was a smile in my soul---almost like I was a little girl again, free of the burden of responsibilities, light as a cloud, smiling in the soft warmth of my covers with a sense of excitement, "all is well and good things are awaiting" sort of feeling.  A pleasant feeling emerged from my heart: "I am resting, living in peace, restoring, and it is good."

So often, we give and give and give and then wonder why we become grumpy or short in patience. But God has put rhythms into our lives to remind us just how much we need our bodies to go completely away from the stress of normal days in order to better cope with the demands of life.

The day has a cycle about it--so many hours of light and darkness. In the light we can see to read, to work, to be active--but darkness was (and is!) meant to be a signal of closing off the day and its duties.

Sabbath was also instigated by God to remind us to stop, to put aside work, to cease from frenzy, to rest and cultivate peace.

In our 24/7 world, with false lights to keep us up and working all hours of the day, 24 hours of internet, 24 hours of TV, cars with lights that can travel all hours, etc., we lose the concept of rest and refreshing.

No wonder there are so many stress diseases--heart, obesity, thyroid problems, nervous disorders, depression, mental disorders, and emotional disorders. We are busy all the time, guilty for all we do not get done and wearing ourselves out. I realized many years ago that I was becoming very ill from so much push, push and work, work, work. I also realized that no one else was going to take responsibility for my health and well-being but me.

One of the reasons moms yell at their children is that they never get a break. Grumpiness and anger comes from pushing, pushing, pushing.

An hour of rest and getting away was a regular rhythm in our home. Every afternoon, I put a pot of tea on to boil and poured out cups of tea, or little sippy cups of juice or whatever seemed good, and everyone learned by training to go to their "places" for a personal time. I could not have done without my hour of peace each day. I trained my children to it early, and it gave me the ability to have a one woman tea time.

I also committed to Sabbath rest on Sundays--closed all of my "work" on Saturday and did not pick it up until Monday. It was all still there when I got back to it, but the world did not fall apart when I did not work on Sunday--but, I was much more able to keep up the demands of my life when I took off and made Sunday a day of worship, rest, pleasure, fun, and naps for me.

Work and travel chases me every day, demanding my life's blood. I have to rule over this force that would overcome me.

Stop. Put it all aside. Rest.

My mind needs it, my body needs it, my spirit needs it. As a woman who is attempting to grow in maturity in the Lord, I have had to be intentional about being sure that I include rest, refueling, restoration and inspiration into my own personal life-not just once in a while, but regularly so that I can keep going and going and going.

When I stop, my soul smiles a little more.  This week, join me in finding your own smile!

 

Will You Share Your Heart? {Podcast Survey}

Kristen and Sally in New York City dreaming up ideas for the Podcast in 2015.

Kristen and Sally in New York City dreaming up ideas for the Podcast in 2015.

Five national Mom Heart conferences, a book launch and finishing the writing of another book put me in a mind to take some days just to play with my bf's and daughters, Sarah and Joy. And so I am taking leisure with them this week and enjoying every minute of it.

But the Storyformed podcasts on Monday are to give you a view of what we are starting and to give me a vacation and to give Kristen time to work on our messages coming in April.

But, before I left, Kristen and I planned and schemed about some wonderful ideas we have ahead for our friends who listen to at home with Sally and Friends. Do not fear--we are not replacing our podcast, we are just adding another with Holly and some of our dear friends. But Kristen and I did think it would be great to hear from some of you so we can be sure to make our podcast a place you will continue to keep coming to spend time with us. Kristen had some thoughts she wanted to share. We both look forward to hearing from you!

******************************************************

Sometimes, God orchestrates dreams and connections that are beyond our own imagination.

He takes our loaves and our fishes, the humblest of our offerings and He is able to turn them into a feast. He allows our work to be a delight and sometimes, He even allows us the honor of others finding delight in what we do as well. That's what the At Home With Sally and Friends podcast has felt like from the beginning for me. Over a year and  half ago, Sally and I began podcasting on a bit of a lark.

We have always cared deeply about communicating a vision of motherhood that was steeped in Scripture and attended to the whole heart of a developing child, as well as mothers themselves. We began to dream and to wonder if moms might resonate with our voices in addition to the written word, if they might feel like they had a friend who was nearby, ready to encourage and equip them, and if perhaps, they might feel a little less lonesome if we could have a conversation together.

And so we began.

We pulled out our lap tops and mics in the quietest spaces we could find in our busy homes and we hit record on an app we purchased and prayed would really work! We had a learning curve with technology, have had numerous times that barking dogs and nursing babies made their presence known on the show, and we wondered if anyone would listen in! Our times recording together became sacred to us and we both found that we were having so much fun! Somehow, even though neither of us are particularly skilled when it comes to this technology, our loaves and fishes went out into the world and returned as a feast. God began to move and carry these messages and fill our inboxes with your comments and we were in awe! We had no idea how many of you would join us for our chats when we started!

Today, literally hundreds of thousands of women are a part of this podcast community, listening in each week, encouraging one another (and us!), and truly, I believe, becoming world-changers as they cultivate beauty in their homes and their world. With all the growth we have seen this year, our own vision for the podcast is expanding. We want to serve you well, help to equip you in the areas you feel weak. We want to talk about things that are  burning in your heart, share teaching that you are hungry for, and make it easy for you to share these podcasts with others.

As we plan and pray about how this ministry will continue to flourish, we'd love to hear from you. Would you take a few minutes and share your heart with us? The following survey is completely anonymous (although there is a place to enter your name and email if you'd like!) and your feedback will be invaluable to us. We are so humbled to be able to share our lives with you through this ministry and to connect with you in any way we can. We really can't express just how much it means to us to have you here with us.

With such thankfulness for your help and friendship,

Kristen Kill & (Sally)

The Podcast Survey

How did you hear about the podcast?
Do you subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or Stitcher?
Are you a part of a Mom Heart Group?
Have you ever attended a Mom Heart Conference?
What is your age?
Please select only your FIRST choice:
Please select only your SECOND choice:
How much to do you agree/disagree with the following statements:
How much to do you agree/disagree with the following statements:
"I want to build a legacy for my whole life."
"I care about designing a story with my life."
"I want to learn about how to Own my Life."
"I want to learn how to create a life-giving home."
"I want to cultivate a vision for the mission of motherhood."
Please select only your first choice:
Please select only your second choice:
Would you like to share your name with us? (This is optional, and if you choose to do so, we promise to never share your information with anyone.)
Would you like to share your name with us? (This is optional, and if you choose to do so, we promise to never share your information with anyone.)

Plan a Special Time For Your Children!

 

I am having so much fun visiting my sweet Joy in Scotland this week. We have talked about so many memories, fun times and this memory came to  mind. Even tonight, we are sitting on our bed at our bed and breakfast, eating chocolate, nibling English biscuits and watching the end of a fun movie on her computer. Still love being bf's together, making new memories being friends. Invest in your future friendship with your own sweet ones today and tell me what you are doing.

"Weary to the bone" describes how I felt. Six weeks of battling asthma with Joy in the middle of the night had left me exhausted. Sarah, too, had been diagnosed with a possibly serious disease and faced more doctor's appointments. Clay had had to work out of town four days each week for two months. Our home was showing signs of stress, and piles of miscellaneous stuff accumulated all over the house.

"Quickly take the unfolded laundry and extra stuff to my bedroom," I pleaded with the kids. "My women's Bible study starts in a half-hour, and I need to make the living room presentable. I'll deal with the bedroom later." Everyone hurried around to tame this tornado of messes—or at least to transfer it. Then they all disappeared into my bedroom to watch a movie. "I can't think about this or deal with it now or I'll get depressed," I told myself as I closed the door to my now-cluttered bedroom.

Three hours later I said good-bye to the last woman. Sighing, I walked down the hallway to my bedroom to cope with the mess. I opened the door with dread, then gasped at what I saw. The room was sparkling clean, my sheets were turned down, and a vanilla candle flickered on my bedside table. Even my closet was immaculate. I sank down on the couch in my bedroom. Until that moment I hadn't realized just how discouraged I had been or how much I needed to feel loved and cared for.

A beautiful note sat atop my pillow.

 Sweet Mama,

You have served us so generously in so many ways. I wanted to serve you and help you with your room. I love you so much. Sweet dreams!

Sarah

Often our children, like me, don't even know that they need us to serve them, and often they don't seem to notice what we do for them. Yet if we faithfully plant seeds of love and care in their hearts, in due time we will indeed reap a harvest in kind.

During times when our family life seems too busy or too stressful, I sometimes plan an "joy adventure" experience for my family to show them my love and appreciation. Many years ago, for instance, I climbed out of bed early one morning. The stars were still in the sky when I slipped out the door and drove to the grocery store to buy some fresh cream-cheese croissants and chocolate-covered doughnuts. Since I have made my own bread out of freshly ground grains at home for years and we are a natural food family most of the time, I knew donuts would be an "out of this world" treat.

I sneaked back into the house before anyone had stirred (except Clay, who had already gone to work). I placed the pastries on a pretty china platter, poured cold milk into a pitcher, made a pot of tea,  lit some candles and a fire in the fireplace, and turned on a melodic CD. I quickly placed a card of encouragement on the coffee table for each person. Then I gently awakened the kids and invited them to a little ordinary morning celebration. One child who had been particularly trying for several weeks, smiled with sprinkles all over his face and said, "I think the Clarksons are the best family in the world." Seems shaking up our day even helped him to have a better attitude for a few days--attention and love invested often solve a lot of tensions in life.

We all had a fun time of talking, eating, and praying together before the day began. "Let's do this again!" was everyone's request!

Try planning your own adventure, unexpected fun time with your kids. Choose a favorite or special treat. (Make sure that all conversation is positive. This should be a time of encouragement, not a time of lecture!)

Lighting a Fire Through Sparking Imagination: Storyformed & A New Podcast

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”

- Victor Hugo

Sitting at a creaky, beloved table in my Austrian apartment, I looked around at the people who had come for lunch: a diplomat and his wife from South Africa; a player in the Vienna Philharmonic and his opera-singer wife; a refugee professor from Iraq; and a businessman and his wife who worked in Russia.

The conversation flew from one subject to another, laughter accompanied a wide range of stories shared, somber quiet breathed strong as our refugee friend shared his story of escaping without a passport under barbed wire, running hard from his would be captors.

Hunger to know more, to understand countries, art, literature, geography, history, political philosophies bubbled up in my heart. I experienced a new longing to become educated, I wanted to learn more, I wanted to understand more. Realizing in that moment that I was hungry for a deep education took me by surprise. I had my college degree and could speak a portion of several languages and was becoming exposed to some of the greatest ideas ever spoken or written, but I realized that I had not had a broad, deep education in my life. I had the feeling that my knowledge was shallow and I wanted to drink more deeply from history, literature, all the things that were interesting that I had never been taught.

Idealism overtook me when I had children and I collected hundreds, thousands of books. They grew piled high in book baskets in every room, filled shelves in all of our bedroom. We read every day, listened to stories in the car, and shared the drama of stories that captured our imagination.

Now that all four of my children have become writers, love learning, seek to inspire and teach others, I can breathe easier and know that I gave them what I hoped--a love for God, a passion for messages and a desire to invest this truth and love into their own worlds. And I believe that this mysterious process came about by cultivating in my children a storyformed heart--a heart that was inspired by heroic acts, by understanding true life historical stories, by being exposed to the best writers who ever lived and by grasping the truth and vitality of scripture.

This next few weeks, I am speaking at a leadership development conference in London as well as a Mum Heart conference for women from all over the UK and Europe. And then I will spoil myself by spending glorious days with my true kindred spirits, Sarah and Joy, my beloved best friends and daughters.

So, Sarah, a friend Holly Packiam, and I decided that we want to sprinkle my blog and podcasts with ideas from our own lives about the best books, about filling souls with inspiration through story and by giving you exposure to some of our own favorite stories and books. We hope you will share yours with us. 

I hope our podcast will inspire you--it was so much fun it made me want to have kids all over again.

 
 

Holly Packiam

We are incredibly excited to bring you a brand new podcast called Storyformed! Storyformed, founded by Sarah Clarkson, is here to celebrate the soul-forming power of imagination, good books, and beauty in the life of a child. We believe in the power of great stories to change lives -  so here’s to many more podcasts to come!

As you might imagine in our current culture, reading is on the decline. But many of us long to give our children the gift of a storyformed life. I talk to so many moms who say, “I was never read to as a child,” or “I have no idea what to read to my child.” “How could I possibly give them a gift of a storyformed life when I haven’t received it myself?” 

When children are born into a family, they accept their surroundings, their life as normal. Let me fill you in on a secret - your children don’t realize what you don’t know. Phew…..I’m so grateful for this! My kids, who are now between four and twelve, don't known that I’m reading many of the greatest books ever written for the first time. Any insight or wisdom I’m gaining, I’m gaining right along with them. I have to admit, I am a bit grieved that I missed out so many incredible books, even life-giving picture books when I was a child. But, all is not lost. I can receive the gift of these beautiful stories right along with them. 

Children accept the world they’re given. Children don’t know what you don’t know. I never knew my mom didn’t feel adequate. The reading life isn’t fine art or gourmet food. We are all people of words. We are all people of language. We are formed by words whether we read or not.” Sarah Clarkson

If you have the desire to give your child a feast of books, start with a children’s Bible. A couple favorites of mine are The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. As you read Bible stories to your children, continue to add other books to your library, little by little, and before you know it - you may realize you have books in all corners of your home. 

When I didn’t know what to read to our children besides the Bible, I trusted some brilliant sources, one called, Honey for the Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. Sarah Clarkson also wrote a great guide highlighting what was read to her as a child called Read for the Heart. These two books still sit on my bedside table - both marked up as I make library lists from them so I know what to check out next. I also have a little system to help me remember what child has read which book so I can go back through and make sure each child has had the opportunity to read each suggestion.

“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” C.S. Lewis

A storyformed life is a true to gift to a child. What role do great books play in shaping a child's perception of self, life, and even God? 

In Sarah Clarkson’s book - Caught Up in a Story, she gives us a vision for how great books can be a parent's best ally in shaping a child to love what is beautiful, pursue what is good, and grasp what is true. Sarah draws upon her own storyformed childhood and her reading of great literature while exploring and celebrating the soul-forming power of story to help children imagine, and live, a great story of their own.

I see how stories can be such a formational part of this vision of helping my kids to live out their own unique story within the grand narrative. But when we’re home with kids day in and day out, sometimes its hard to make the time to sit down and read with our kids. 

Take heart dear mommas, as we continue to gain a vision for reading -  whatever that may look like for you - inspiration to keep you moving forward will likely follow if we merely present ourselves to the Lord. It’s not in our own strength, but in the working of the Holy Spirit through us, we can commit and follow through with His plans for us. Whether you’re reading great Bible stories or timeless fiction, whether you’ve been reading your whole life or just getting started, be encouraged that the Lord will lead you.

“Every person is called to be storyformed, to live out a great narrative for the Lord”. Sarah Clarkson 

If you would like to keep up with Sarah and hear more from her, please follow her on www.sarahclarkson.com 

Please leave us a comment and let us know if you’d like to hear more Storyformed episodes like this one!


BOOKS FROM TODAY'S SHOW- Storyformed Episode #1


FOLLOW STORYFORMED ON INSTAGRAM

Creating Set-Aside Times To Focus On Hearts

After three children, three miscarriages and selling all of my maternity stuff at almost 42, God gave me an angel gift. Her name, providentially, is Joy. She is an out of the box, lovely, best friend, hysterical, spiritual, extrovert; a great actress, singer-songwriter and confident from the get-go.

One Sunday morning a few years ago might be one of my best memories for a long time. Joy and I, in our jammies and crazy bed hair, sat close on Sarah's bed, (we missed her so sometimes we'd just sit in her room) sipping mochas I had made, with candles lit and she and I just talked and giggled and shared our thoughts and ideas for almost an hour. She got my computer and played several songs for me that meant something to her, that she had listened to at midnight the night before.  I have learned to love Joy's songs and listen to them on my own computer and download them, because they are very dear to her. My almost 60+ year old self has learned to love the songs my teens and 20's are listening to--it has given me a window to their hearts.

This was the context in which we became the best of friends--investing time to enjoy each other's company from the very first.

I do not expect my children to conform to me and my age of values--I let them be who they are at every season of life and I have adjusted my own age expectations to enjoy and really delight in who they are at every stage. It has brought me much pleasure. But I had to give up a little of my selfish self to enter their world. And so did God, and became Jesus.

As with all of my children, though, Joy has a particular type of mothering she best responds to--not the same as the others. I had to study and observe her to find out what was in her heart--her personality, what spoke love to her, and how to fill her heart's cup so I could reach her heart with a love for Jesus.

Discipleship is always an issue of relationship.

It is not about curriculum, church attendance, rules, or indoctrination, but always about reaching the heart.

I remember when Nathan was a little boy, and often challenging the boundaries, I had to study him. He was a little of a mystery as my other two had been more compliant and I thought that had been because I was such a great mother. Then God gave me Nathan, and I realized I needed a different way of mothering in order to reach him.

One night, when Clay had taken the older two to church and left Nathan home with me because he had a cold, I sat wearily in an overstuffed chair and said, "Hey, you want to climb into the chair with me?"

I remember he snuggled in and then began to talk. He talked for 45 minutes without stopping, as long as I said, "Really?" or "Oh!" or how funny!" After he had talked for almost an hour, he said, "I love you, mom!" And then he jumped out of the chair and went to play. He was 5 years old.

I was pondering this event--him sitting still for this long and talking and talking and talking, and suddenly it dawned on me--"He is an extrovert! He needs people and activity, and wants to talk and be heard."

So, I learned the way to Nathan's heart was spending time alone with him, listening to him--his dreams, his thoughts, his ideas, his feelings. As long as I made alone time with him, he would listen to me and try to obey.

Same with Joy. If she felt lost in the crowd, she would get louder, perform, and find ways to call attention to herself. And then if I went to her room or sat on the porch and sipped lemonade or made a special tea time in my room just for us, she would talk and talk and talk. Then her heart would be open.

Joel would just withdraw and be grumpy or get irritated.  He was not a "mis-behaver"! But if I made personal time with him away from the group, he would bubble over with talking to me--he was an introvert, just like Sarah. Neither of them would compete openly with the others for heart time, but I had to assume they needed it and then carve a planned time in the midst of my busy schedule and make it happen. This opened the window of their heart to develop a great, strong, deep friendship.

Each child responded differently and I had to figure out what they liked and what communicated personal love to them, and then I saw their little and big hearts opened. And as it happens, I found that Clay did not want to compete with the kids and I had to learn to get time with just us, so I could hear him and know what was going on. If I did not create the time for us, it would never happen.

Now, I had four children, homeschooled, traveled with Clay and spoke and had a ministry and wrote books. So, it was not easy to carve out this time. I did not have this personal time every week. But when I observed Jesus's influence on his disciples and saw how he spent time personally with them, away from the crowds, and affirmed them uniquely for their personality--(John, the disciple Jesus loved; Peter, the rock; Nathanael, a man in whom there is no guile.) I began to realize that each of us wants to be defined by God's unique personality that He created, and to be validated for who we really are in a personal way.

But when I would plan my week, because my sweet ones were a priority, and I believed that this was the way to win their hearts for the Lord,  I would plan in "little dates". I looked for it in the busy moments and tucked them in here and there. When they were little we were always a gang together, but I would look for ways to snuggle them in my room all by themselves. Yes, my children shared rooms and that kept them from being lonely, but still, they needed mama and some personal sympathy time.

I kept cookie dough balls or fruit, nuts and cheese chunks available all the time and when my radar told me that someone was not doing well or was angry or having problems, I would have a private, 15 minute "tea time" with them, just to talk and take their emotional temperature.

I found when they were teenagers, because I had invested "me" time with them, I was always the go-to person for them when they had secrets, fears, or problems. And Clay and I would have times in our bedroom, behind closed doors when we would counsel and talk. As teens, I would take my boys out, by themselves, for breakfast every week or two, just to keep the channels of conversations going. For Sarah, it was a Saturday morning walk and coffee at a French cafe for almost eight years, and for Joy, it was breakfast alone in her room or mine at least once a week, away from all the older teens.

Just remember, your children are like you--they long for love and listening--not always advising, and a heart that delights in them. But it doesn't just happen, it must be planned.

How can you plan a fun, set-aside time with your own children this week?

 

Stories to Inspire Your Hero in Training

I love stories.

Since I have been young, stories have been the most influential things in my life that helped inspire, teach, and empower me to want to be a hero in my own life.

Even as a kid who was bouncing off the walls unable to focus on school with severe ADHD, as soon as my mom would begin reading a story out loud to my mind would suddenly be fixated, engaged, and open.

Having stories be such a powerful influence in my life I eventually pursued a life telling them.

So I wanted to share with you a few of the books/stories that inspired me most as a boy and young man. The stories that inspired me to be a hero in my own life.

Enjoy!


God's Smuggler
By Brother Andrew, John Sherrill, Elizabeth Sherrill

 

1. God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew: This biography details the journey to redemption and eventual adventures of Brother Andrew, a missionary who affected the entire world with good news, smuggling the Bible into nations around the world. The book is thrilling and inspiring, and gave me a vision for how exciting a life after God can be.


Tales of the Kingdom
By David R. Mains, Karen Burton Mains

2. Kingdom Tales Trilogy by David R. Mains and Karen Burton Mains: These engaging collection of stories are imaginative and poignant modern fairy tales, that serve as as parables and allegories that convey deeper and beautiful truths while engaging the readers in enthralling and magical short stories that take place in the same beautiful world.


Redwall
By Brian Jacques

3. The Redwall Series by Brian Jaques: These stories take place in a world where heroic animals fight for good against evil in the fashion of classic tales full of swords, armor, castles and adventure. I would listen to epic orchestral music every afternoon in my teens creating the world in my mind and all apart of the influence that made me want to become a hero!

 

 


Roxaboxen
By Alice McLerran

4. Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran  (Author), Barbara Cooney  (Illustrator): This is a picture book that seemed to fully encapsulate my youthful zeal for life. It mirrored my boyhood imagination telling a story through beautiful illustrations of a group of children creating entire worlds with each other with nothing more than their imagination. Which encouraged me to use and build my God-given imagination more fully and freely.


The Child's Story Bible
By Catherine F. Vos

5. The Children’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos: I can still remember laying on the floor every day as a young boy as my mom would read me this book and suddenly having the stories of the bible come to life in my mind in a real and visceral way. This book is a novelized story of the bible, detailing the kings, queens, adventures, and lessons found in the Word of God. To this day much of my knowledge of the stories and figures from the bible is routed in the stories I heard as a young boy ingesting the greatest stories ever told.

 

 

 

These are a few of the stories that most shaped me as a young man, and ended up having a lasting impact on my life. Because of these stories, I found the desire to be a hero, to do the right thing, the beauty of imaginations, and a love for God.

Check them out!

 

If you are interested more in my story, recently my mom and I wrote a memoir-esque book detailing my coming of age story and what it was like growing up the Different kid and how God uses our differences in the beautiful story He has for us to tell.

Check it out here!

My Need to Belong, His Need to Belong & a new podcast

“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.

    With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself."

Jeremiah 31:3

Walking uphill on the last stretch of my daily walk, a sudden thought popped into my heart.

"I bet God is disappointed with me."

I was a bit taken aback from my thought and began to examine my heart. Realizing that in the busyness of life, I felt I had neglected to spend time with Him, and I had been grumpy with my loved ones, I felt a cloud over my heart as though I had disappointed Him and that somehow He would not want to be with me.

How absurd! God immediately prompted my heart with His assurance:

I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3

Nothing can separate you from my love. Romans 8: 31

Even as a Father has compassion on his children, so I have compassion on you. Psalm 103

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

All of us, if we are honest, fail regularly. We fail to live up to what we think are His ideals for us. We see our selfish, impatient hearts. 

And yet, at times, we fail to remember and understand why Jesus had to die for us. We could not ever achieve perfection, righteousness on our own--no not ever. Yet, because He came to give himself generously, to love us, to accept us as we are, to sing over us, every day, we can know that we are His beloved child.

Waking early this morning, I was washed over with a personal sense of His love for me. I can face my days because He is with me, for me, loving me, guiding me, helping me to grow.

Even as I learn what parenting is all about by studying His word and pondering His sacrificial, servanthood life, I come to understand those who live in my home, those who call me "friend." All those God has placed in my life also feel inadequate and have a need to be loved and accepted as I do. I have a deep need to belong to my Father who will always care for me. And so do my children, especially my Different Ones. 

Nathan talked all the time. If a thought was in his brain, the words came out of his mouth. My daughter once said, "Mama, Nathan says what we were all thinking and didn't say and gets in trouble for being honest."

His mouth, like mine, got him in trouble on a regular basis. But as I received the grace and love of God more every year in my life, I realized that that was what he needed, too. A place to belong, no matter what His behavior. A place where we could see that he talked because he thought a lot and felt he had something to say. Even as I needed to feel I belonged to God and had his love no matter what, so my sweet son deeply needed to know that I saw him for all that he was, warts and all, but even more--that I saw a precious person inside his heart that wanted to be liked for who he was, as he was.

If we want to reach the hearts of our children, we must model our parenting after the heart of God--to draw our children with an everlasting love--that we will always love them, no matter what. That nothing can separate them from our love.

That we work towards becoming compassionate--sympathizing with them

That we are gracious--and treat our children with the honor due a child made in God's image

That we are patient, slow to anger

And that we are abounding in lovingkindness. 

As I look back on my life, it is in seeking Him, learning from Him, how to parent, that I have grown in character. God gave me a place to practice my righteousness and love and it has cultivated in me a heart that deeply appreciates Him more, because my real life lessons at home, have given me great thankfulness that He has been such a gracious, forgiving, loving Father to me.

A Quiet, Pondered Answer

Last night, as I was coming in from the parking lot at the hotel where I am staying, I ran into a continual stream of sweet women who are arriving for our Mom Heart Conference in North Carolina this weekend. It struck me how each one has issues, burdens, stories and decisions to make. How profoundly important it is for me to seek God today, to ask Him what He wants me to say, to ponder how I might point them to Him.

As I look down the corridors of my life, I remember how many times my children have come to me in secret, "Mama, I want to love God but I am having so many doubts." "Mama, I am in a relationship with a person who is lying about life to others. Do I confront this or stay silent? How do I handle this?"" What do you think about this relationship I am in?" This choice of school? This job?  I need to make this important decision--but don't know what to think. 

Scripture tells us that, "The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things." 

When my children, husband or friends come to me, they need to know I have been soaking myself in the wisdom of God, so that they can draw the wisdom of God from me when they need to have guidance. 

Interesting that it is the heart of the righteous which ponders before answering. When I have had a quiet time and spent time filling my heart up with the love and forgiveness and encouragement of God, then my heart is ready to be like His to those in my arena.

If we understand that we are to reach our world with the messages of God, then we will see our loved ones through the filter of the eyes of our mind as those whose hearts need to be filled with the love and goodness and truth of God.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," applies to husbands, friends, children, in-laws, neighbors--everyone in our circle of life. 

 What does this mean? For someone to  reach my heart, I need those who love me and accept me for who I am, to listen to me in spite of my doubts, imperfections, failures. I will trust the one who seems to have integrity in relationship to me. Then I am much more likely to befriend them and get close to them. However, if someone is critical of me, or false in life or  I always feel judged, I will avoid that person. 

If this is the way I am reached, through the love and acceptance of others, then I know that my others will respond similarly. If I see their hearts need to be unconditionally accepted, as they are, even in all of their immaturity and perfection, then I will invest in a legacy of good, kind, restoring, encouraging words that build souls and memories of love into their very being. 

Conversely,  words of complaint and condemnation drive our children, spouse, and friends far from us. Words of kindness, care, encouragement can bring them close to us. We must choose and build the kind of legacy we want to have. 

 I am asking the Lord for myself, that which He talks about in Isaiah 50:4 ...

"The Lord has given me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens me morning by morning, He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple."

Do we sustain the weary with our words? Do I seek to be patient with a sleepy toddler, an awkward and frustrated teen, a weary and over-loaded husband, a depressed and discouraged friend? Are my words a fountain of hope and righteousness, or death, discouragement, and a piling of darkness?

In Matthew 12: 36-37, Jesus says "every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account of in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned."

Scary thought! I tend to talk a lot and I do have a critical spirit, so I have a lot to repent of! 

And so I have asked for forgiveness. I have asked God to teach me to be one who practices giving  words of grace and life. 

I have been finding that the more I seek to sow words of life, to take initiative to really tell people how much I love and appreciate them, to give words of life, that my own heart has grown in love and in peace and acceptance of them and of myself. It is as all the other areas in which I learn to obey God, that in my obedience, I eventually become blessed. How patient a Father He is! How wise are His ways in my life. 

Dear Lord, I love you! My wonderful, patient, loving, grace-giving, servant Lord. You enrich my life with your love and training. You sustain me in my weariness with your words. You bless me by your gentleness and faithfulness. Know that I love you today with all of my heart. Bless those who read these words today with a well springing up from their own hearts, with words of life and beauty and love. Let those who need words of love, receive them from you. Then, fill their homes with love, life, beauty and give them grace today to live in your grace. Amen.

Grace and peace today.