Eight Ways to Have a Happier Household in Times of Stress

Life can be so stressful. While there are many wonderful times, there are also times that are not so wonderful–like when we take on more projects than we should, our calendars are too full, or we are assailed by several minor–albeit extremely frustrating–trials. If we aren’t careful, we can quickly find ourselves overwhelmed, which often turns us into…hmmm…shall we say not our best selves?

Unfortunately, these times generally affect our whole family. I remember hearing many years ago that I, the mother of my home, was responsible for the tone of my household. This seemed rather unfair at the time. But fair or unfair, it was true. We moms do set the tone for our home. If we are angry, frazzled, and stressed all the time, our kids will be, too. If we are short-tempered and irritable, often our entire household will follow suit.

So how exactly do we keep our households happy even when things are crazy busy? I feel a little hypocritical even writing about this because I am not the best under stress (just ask my family!) but I have learned a few things that do help a lot when I actually put them into practice. Here are eight things that have helped me to have a happier household when I am overwhelmed.

1.  Do not skip Bible reading and prayer time. This is often the first thing to go during stressful times even though it should be the last thing to go. Spending time with God helps us to keep a proper, eternal perspective and gives us strength for the day. Keeping this priority is critical during these times.

2. Be grateful. It is easy in stressful times to forget the good things. Taking a little time each day to express our gratitude to God and to our loved ones is like a balm to our soul, building our relationships and reminding us that there is more to life than this stressful moment in time.

3. Listen to hymns or doctrinally-sound praise and worship music. Listening to good music makes such a difference to me when I am going through a tough time. Music is so powerful. What we choose to listen to during these times can lift us up and help us cope or it can frazzle us even more.

4. Don’t let anyone manipulate your emotions. My dad told me recently that his dad used to say this to him. While I have been working at this concept for a long time now, I had never heard it put quite like this. Isn’t that so profound? What this means is that we shouldn’t let our emotions be driven by those around us. If our spouse is angry or our children are grumpy, this should not change our emotions. We shouldn’t let anyone have power over our emotions–even bad drivers on the highway and cranky clerks at the store! This is extremely difficult (at least for me) but when we can control our emotions instead of letting them wildly take over when things don’t go our way, it makes all the difference in the world.

5. Keep your home free of clutter. I know few people who aren’t affected negatively by a house that is constantly untidy. Clearing counter tops, tables, and dressers, washing the dishes, keeping up with the laundry, and sweeping the floor truly doesn’t take that much time and goes a long way in helping a family feel more peaceful–especially in times of high stress. I would like to add here that as a young homeschooling mom of four this was especially difficult to do! Every time I turned around a new toy or game was on the floor. But after several years of frustrating my husband over the clutter, the kids and I got in the habit of cleaning up every day before daddy came home. It took awhile to instill this new practice, but with some effort, it was possible and did really help!

6. Remember how fast time goes. If you have young children, you may feel like this time will never, ever end. Your days are filled with endless requests, duties, and demands. But trust me–all too soon, you will be watching your last one pack up their things and move away. You are just in a season. Before you know it, the next season will arrive, with its own challenges and frustrations. Remembering this during stressful times would always help me.

7. Examine your calendar. I can remember several times through the years with my family that I had to step back and evaluate our schedules. I would start paring it down until it became doable again. It is okay for your kids to be home doing nothing. In fact, it’s better than okay! It’s necessary for their maturity and emotional health. Don’t cram your schedule so full that there is no downtime and if you have done that, start eliminating things. As I learned from experience, your child will be just fine without the gymnastics, dance, or piano lessons. They will suffer no ill consequences if they aren’t on the soccer or basketball teams. Review your schedule with your spouse, determine your priorities for your family, and then, together, choose one or two of these things that fit best with your priorities and let the rest go.

8. Be careful of your high expectations. This was always a hard one for me. I not only wanted life to be perfect– I expected it! I can still find myself there if I am not careful. We have expectations for our spouses, our kids, our jobs, our homes. When they aren’t met we can become grumbly and grouchy. But when we can accept that life will not be perfect on this earth and lower our expectations, we can find contentment. True peace and joy are not dependent on circumstances. Instead they come when we accept our circumstances– knowing we are in God’s sovereign care–and we persevere through them.

There you go–eight things that have helped me! It seems funny even writing this as we are now preparing for an empty nest here in a few weeks. But I have learned so much in my parenting years. And, while I didn’t always put them into practice, when I did, they really helped! I hope that these eight things may have inspired you to make your home a happier place today.

Changed Lives: Adrienne

Changed Lives

This testimony is quite a bit more personal than any I have shared before. That is because today I bring you my daughter’s story. A few years ago, we started to see a remarkable change in the life of this child. A few months ago, I asked her if she would be willing to share what God has done in her life. She said she would and this is what I present today. But, first, I want to share a bit of my own testimony as background.

As you may already know, we have four children. Two were fairly easy to raise, as they were saved at a young age and quickly grew to be full of conviction regarding spiritual matters. While we certainly had our difficult moments with them, we were mostly encouraged as we watched these two grow in their faith during their childhoods and teen years. The other two, also supposedly “saved” as little children, actually probably weren’t. Of course, only God knows the heart but if they had stood before a judge the evidence would have been against them, for they had rebellious hearts, a passion for worldly things, an apathy toward their sin, and ungodly lifestyles (I John 2:15; I Samuel 15:23; John 15:14; Galatians 5:16-24).

Acknowledging this was most definitely one of the hardest things my husband and I have ever had to do. Because in doing so, we had to also acknowledge our own failure in communicating our faith to them and we also had to face the devastating fact that should a tragedy suddenly take their lives, we were fairly certain about where they would spend eternity.

We felt disheartened and powerless as we watched these two kids during this time. And then we did the only two things we knew to do. First, we tried to let go of the battles that were not biblical, while holding firm and staying faithful to biblical boundaries, using the Word of God as our authority. This meant lots of communication and discussion and, yes, some punishments, as well, all taking place beneath the umbrella of our unwavering and unconditional love for them. And, second, we prayed A LOT. Many others prayed with us. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Friends. And one lady–a dear lady from our church–prayed so faithfully for us all. It was so encouraging! I specifically prayed for three things—1) That these children would come to love God with all of their hearts, souls, strength, and minds (Mark 12:30) and 2) That God would protect and keep them from making any wrong choices that would yield burdensome, lifelong consequences and 3) That He would spare their lives at least until such a time that they would come to know Him.

These were dark days for our family. We felt so helpless as we watched our precious children make wrong choices. I would like to add here that, thankfully, neither child did anything super bad. So, in that sense, maybe we had it good. But we recognized that the root of rebellion that is within any child who rebels is EVIL—no matter how it exhibits itself.

We traveled those days one step at a time, supported by our ever-present faithful God and by the prayers of those who lovingly and faithfully prayed for us. We found hope in the little things and God–in the way He often does–would give us just the tiniest bit of encouragement just at the moment we would need it. And, looking back now, we can see God’s kind hand of protection upon both of them throughout this time and we are both humbled and amazed.

This difficult time lasted for several years and then it started gradually to improve when first one and then both of these kids came to know the Lord personally. We are so humbled and incredibly grateful that, all due to God’s amazing grace and His generous mercy, He saw fit to bring both of these children to Himself in their late teens.

But even as I write these words, I do feel compelled to remind you that my family and I are wicked sinners just like everybody else (Romans 3:10). Life didn’t suddenly become perfect when these kids turned a corner. And this isn’t about perfection (or anything close to it!) but rather it is about how God continues to work in and through this imperfect family, daily shaping us into His image through the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I also wanted to make a note here that salvation is not simply a prayer or a moment. Some of us can look back on a moment when we surrendered all to Jesus and some of us can’t, instead experiencing a growing love for– and submission and obedience to –God’s Word, giving evidence of a changed heart. I say this because we have been taught to look for a “moment”. But sometimes, as you can see from this testimony, that moment is not genuine. We parents dare not hang on to assurance of salvation simply because a child (or anyone) said a prayer. Scripture makes it very clear: True belief yields a changed life (Matthew 7:16).

And so, now that I have shared a bit of my own testimony in seeing God work, I want to share the testimony of my daughter. I stand amazed—in complete awe– at how the Lord has answered my prayers regarding her life. Adrienne has become passionate for God and His Word. And she and I have rebuilt our relationship and it is stronger and closer than I ever dreamed possible! It is unbelievable that this is the same child that I had sadly resigned myself to the probable fact that we would never be close. This goes to show that we should never underestimate God!

I hope that Adrienne’s story will encourage any parent (or grandparent) of a rebel. The sentences she writes here hold so much emotion that cannot really be expressed with mere words. She writes in one simple sentence some of the struggles she faced, but what the reader cannot see or comprehend are the depths of sorrow and the utter hopelessness that undergird her words. Life is not easy. We all have our burdens to bear. But may we never forget that God, through His grace, His mercy, and His Word can change a life. And we know this because we have seen it in our own family!

 

ADRIENNE’S TESTIMONY

I grew up in a Christian home and would have told people for most of my life that I got saved when I was 6. Looking back on it now, I recognize that I didn’t really get it. Salvation is understanding that I am a hopeless sinner and that God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross to save me from my sins (John 3:16). At age 6, did I truly understand what that meant? Did I realize that I needed to change my lifestyle and try to do all things to glorify God? I can’t say that I did.

Now at 6 years old I had heard all about Jesus and how He died on the cross to save me from my sins so, of course, I had somewhat of a grasp of what it meant to be a Christian. But reflecting on it now, I can see that my life at that age revolved around staying out of trouble and doing the right things to please my parents and I wasn’t necessarily interested in pleasing God. And, while there are definitely some circumstances where kids grasp salvation at a young age and continue to show fruit in their lives as they continue to grow in the Lord, I can see now that I was not one of them.

Around age 13 I started to really struggle with wanting what the world had to offer me. When I compared it with what I wrongly thought the Lord had to offer (rules and boredom), the world looked much more appealing. I became disrespectful to my parents and elders around me, I struggled with an eating disorder–always trying to be pretty enough, and I desired secular music and movies.

I would say at this point I knew what was right and wrong because of what I had been taught but I was simply not willing to give 100% to the Lord. And, so, overall I would say I was in a pretty rough spot in life. Thankfully by the grace of God, the love of my parents, and lots of prayers for me by my parents, grandparents, and others who loved me, I never got myself into too much trouble!

During this time my parents never gave up on trying to direct me in a Godly path and pull me from the worldly path I was on. 1 John 2:15-16 says “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” My parents were consistent with discipline and did all they could to protect me and I am beyond thankful for that. I had good times and bad times all throughout high school. I would say I really battled a lot with truly wanting to please God but I just wasn’t ready to give up worldly things.

I went off to college and there I became involved in the wrong group of friends. Nothing super-terrible but I still found myself longing for what the world had to offer and, therefore, was failing to give 100% to God. This kept me half-hearted in my faith and also made me very ineffective for Christ and the Gospel. I did feel conviction, so I do believe I was saved at this time. I just didn’t really care about growing in the Lord for the most part. I seemed to be at a standstill.

One specific night in college I was with all my friends and I remember sitting there thinking, “Nothing about this conversation is honoring to the Lord. I know there is a God, I know God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to save me from my sins, and I know for a fact that I am not living a life that is pleasing to the Lord.” From that moment forward I would say I really started to change who I was and started to really strive to please the Lord.

Since that time, I have grown a lot closer to the Lord for two reasons: First, I have moved 3 times since I’ve been married, all of them being far away from my family which has been hard–to say the least. During those hard times, though, I have truly had to rely on God and He has always shown Himself even in the smallest circumstances. This time of my life has also provided me with the opportunity and time to study the Word more than ever before. This has been life-changing for my spiritual growth.

Second, I have finally fought my temptation– with the Lord’s help—of listening to worldly music and I also have changed the kind of TV and movies I watch. Let me encourage you to do the same, as this has changed my life completely. I feel closer to the Lord and, the less I partake in the worldy things and focus on The Word, the less is my desire for them and I find I can’t even stand the evil that is in most secular music, shows, and movies.

I am grateful for the way God has changed my heart in this area of life. Don’t get me wrong– there are many things I still struggle with but worldly entertainment seems to be a sin among many Christians that gets ignored. I promise you: Practicing discernment in this area of your life will make a difference in your walk with God—just like it has in mine.

Looking back I am so grateful for all the prayer and Godly examples I have had throughout my life and continue to have. One thing I cannot IMG_1965revexpress enough is how grateful I am for my mom and dad and the fact that they never took the easy way out and just gave in to what I wanted. They never gave in to me and I wouldn’t be where I am without either of them. Also–a little side note–my mom was a parent growing up but not always a friend. I say this because I am sure my mom wanted to just be a friend and give in to what I wanted, especially on those days where I wouldn’t even talk to her because I was so upset with her. But she never caved into that desire and continued to push me to do what was right. As I write this I can truly say my mom is my best friend. So all the moms out there going through a tough time with their daughters, I want to encourage you to not give up or give in– because your daughter will one day be so grateful that you didn’t!

I would also like to encourage parents to not just assume that, when your daughter or son says the salvation prayer at a young age, this necessarily means that they personally know the Lord. Continue to look for fruit and growth in their walk with the Lord, as that will show if they are truly livGoodFamily2016-34ing for the Lord. Personally, I can see now that I wasn’t truly saved until my late teens, as God started to work on my heart.

Looking back through my 22 years of life, I can see how God protected me and continued to lead me toward Him. I am truly blessed to be a part of God’s family.

 

 

 

For My Dad

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day. It is the annual day to celebrate our Fathers–the men who have provided for us, who have shaped us, and who have loved us. Some of us have terrible fathers and this day is particularly hard. Some of us have unremarkable fathers and this day is just another day. But some of us have wonderful fathers and we love to celebrate this day.

I am so incredibly blessed to be in that third group. I’d like to share a few reasons why my dad is so wonderful and how he has not only shaped me but how he is also creating an amazing legacy for those who follow after him.

From my earliest memories, I recall Dad’s love for the truth. As little children, I can remember my brother lying about riding his bike in the street and dad’s reaction to this lie. From that moment forward, I never told a lie. Oh, I am not saying I have never fudged the truth a bit, but I have never told an outright lie. That was a defining moment in my life and it stuck. Forever. But Dad’s love for the truth goes far beyond his kids not lying to him. His desire and love for the truth is first and foremost rooted in the scripture. He wants to know God’s truth and to live by it. He doesn’t only speak this, he lives it. Oh, he’d be the first to admit he’s not perfect, but what an inspiration it is to his family that he continues in that love–even now–and keeps trying to grow in the Lord. He has a passionate desire to know the truth about what’s going on in the world, as well. This has greatly impacted the ministries of both my brother and I, as well, forever changing our perspectives on life. This love for truth has been instilled in us, his children, and we have tried to pass it on to our own kids, as well. Contrary to popular opinion these days, truth is absolute. There aren’t many conflicting avenues of relative truth–there is one absolute truth and that is found in God’s Word.

I also want to publicly thank my dad for being such an encouragement to me. He has–and continues to be–one of my greatest supporters. When he notices something good, he lets us know. He is quick to say “I love you” and “I am proud of you”–not only to me, but to my husband and children, as well. These words are like a balm to the soul, especially in times of uncertainty or doubt or when we are barraged by discouraging remarks from others around us. His kind and encouraging words have been like a fresh spring of water in a desert on many occasions. And, interestingly enough, this habit of his makes us much more willing to sit up and listen to him if and when he needs to challenge us on something–which is rare. But I do remember the rare occasion when we were young parents where he would say something. And we were willing to listen because we knew if he was bringing it up, it was probably important. I am really trying to emulate this with my own kids. I don’t have it down, but I keep trying! I want to build up my family with my words and not tear them down! This builds healthy family relationships and creates a tight bond of love that just can’t exist in an atmosphere of consistent, negative criticism.

My dad, like many out there, worked hard to provide for his family. This was through some very discouraging times and one of the few times I remember my dad crying was during an especially difficult job change. And, yet, I never saw him give up or land in a pit of despair. I have watched him go through difficult job changes, discouraging church changes, and, I guess most of all, an extremely painful family situation and yet, instead of landing in depression or giving up, I have watched him continually turn to the Lord and to learn and grow from these challenges. He has taught me to keep walking forward, taking one day at a time, through all of life’s ups and the downs.

Another thing I love about my dad is his ability to have fun and to be serious, too. My childhood was made up of hours playing soccer and football with my dad (and mom, too!) in the backyard or board games on our family room floor. It was made up of laughter and fun and games. But then there were also many times of serious conversations–about the Lord, about His return, about what it means to be a Christian, and about the world and where it was headed. As I started my own family, this same wonderful balance of having fun and being serious continued. Many of our family’s favorite memories center around the wonderful times we have had camping. Many of them were made around evening campfires, where my dad would sometimes laugh with abandon and, at other times, hold serious, spiritual conversations. He provided–and continues to provide–a wonderful balance between being serious and having fun. How many people do you know who love to do both? Oh, what wonderful memories! We hope to continue this legacy of being able to have fun and yet to not let our desire for fun to consume us so much that we have no serious conversations about scripture and growing in the Lord.

And, finally, I want to mention a very important lesson I have learned from my father. He has taught me not to hold grudges. He has been a living example to me of actively forgiving and living out Romans 12:18–the principle of trying to live at peace with all men, as much as it is up to us. I have watched him give his best efforts in healing relationships. I have watched him not give up. And I have watched him do all of this without holding a grudge. I, too, have faced some really difficult “relationship” moments, where resolution was not forthcoming. His example has taught me to forgive even if forgiveness is not asked for. He has taught me to be open to resolution. And to love and enjoy life, despite the unresolved issues.

Dad, I know you will read this, because you are one of my biggest supporters. Thank you for everything. This list isn’t exhaustive. I know I could come up with many more ways that you have impacted me and my family for all of eternity. You have told us that your one goal was to have your kids and grandkids walk with the Lord and make an impact for the cause of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. I see your son’s (Pastor Dean) ministry and I know God has answered that prayer. I also see Him answering that prayer in the growing spiritual maturity of your grandchildren, which has been a wonderful and inspiring thing to watch. I hope that He is also answering that prayer through my ministry here at Growing4Life.

Dad, you set your priorities for your family early on and then, with a humble and teachable heart, gave 150% to make it happen. Thank you for that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring enough about my brother and me to give of yourself. I love you!

I hope that this post will encourage others to set their priorities well for their own families. I hope it encourages my readers to use their words to build up instead of to tear down. I hope it gives people cause to think before holding a grudge and I hope it reminds us all that both laughter and serious conversation should be part of all families. But, most of all, I hope that it reminds people to hold the highest esteem for God’s Word and the absolute truth we find there. No matter what our earthly father was like, we have the opportunity to make these changes now–for our own kids and grandkids–so that we, too, can leave a godly legacy.

 

 

One of Our Highest Callings

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On Saturday, we attended the high school graduation of our last child. It may well be one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. How can you be so filled with joy for your child and so filled with sadness for yourself? But I know it certainly is possible to be filled with such contrasting emotions at the exact same time because it is what I experienced on Saturday.

As I went through old photos to prepare for her graduation party, I was assailed by feelings of nostalgia and joy. Wonderful memories came rushing back as I stared at photos of happy babies, busy children, and posed family portraits. And while we had our share of frustrating, angry, and hopeless moments, this was not what came to mind when I poured over our precious family photos.

When our children were born, my husband and I determined that we had one priority. Temporal things–sports, academics, accolades, and awards–do not last. But their souls–we knew their souls must be our focus. We made any decisions regarding our family with this one thing in mind. Our only goal being that our children would know God and would make Him known. We prayed that they would love Him and His Word and that they would be bold and courageous as they walked with Him. Even though they are now adults, we continue to pray this same prayer for our children, experiencing great joy as we watch the Lord grow them and use them for His glory.

The funny thing is this: We did so many things wrong. We were weak when we should have been strong. We said yes when we should have said no. We caved to our own selfish desires more times than we can count. We can see it so clearly now. Hindsight is always 20-20. And, yet, God has been so faithful to our family. Far beyond anything we deserve.

And so it is with much sadness, great joy, and a keen awareness of God’s great mercies and kindnesses to our family, that I bid this stage of my life a fond adieu. I just cannot believe how quickly the time has passed and yet here I am with the last birdie in the nest about ready to fly away. As I stare at my soon-to-be empty nest, I realize that it is time to move on to the next stage of my life. I am not sure what that looks like yet, but I know God will make it clear to me, as I continue to rely on Him for direction. I do know it includes continuing a godly legacy with my grandchildren and that will, most certainly, be one of my highest priorities.

So what is the point of this post? It is to encourage you–whether you are a parent, grandparent, favorite aunt or uncle, or teacher–to make the souls of those in your care your priority. When each of these precious children reach the end of their lives, it will be only this that matters. All else will fade away as they come face to face with the One who made them. We cannot get so wrapped up in worldly pursuits that we lose sight of what really matters.

A few months ago, I just “happened” across a song that says what I am trying to say so perfectly. As I couldn’t find a video for it, I made one of my own with some old photos of our family. I have debated at great length about sharing this video, knowing that these photos won’t mean much to those of you who don’t know our family. But decided to go ahead and post it, in the hopes that these pictures may remind you of all of the good memories you have had with your own families.

As you listen to this song, I hope that you, too, will be filled with a passion for the souls of the precious children in your lives–for this may well be one of our highest callings. May we be faithful stewards of these treasured souls. The song is called Steward of Their Soul and is by a group called Seven Arrows. I hope you enjoy it–

 

 

 

For My Mom

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A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a dear lady who quite unexpectedly escaped the tragedies, sorrows, and fears of this world and headed to glory to be with Jesus. Although I didn’t know her well, I had been blessed by her warm smile and happy laughter many times. And one can easily see the beautiful legacy she has left in the lives of her husband and children and their families. Such a sad and painful time for all who loved her and yet how comforting to know she has left this world to go to a far better place.

At that funeral a letter was read that was written by her daughter. It was not only a tribute, but it was filled with many sentences that started like this: “Did I ever tell you…”

It got me to thinking about my own mom. Have I told her what she has meant to me? What she continues to mean? There is nothing like a sudden death to remind us that the person we love and appreciate may not be there tomorrow. We need to say these words now. There is no guarantee that there will be a tomorrow.

So it is with this in mind that I write this post. To my regular readers, I hope you will forgive me for dedicating this post to the woman who has helped me become the person I am today. Mother’s Day seems like the perfect time to write such a post, doesn’t it?

MOM, have I ever told you…

♥ That you are still the first person I call when I am excited, scared, happy, or sad?

♥ That your godly wisdom has spared me so many heartaches and so much unnecessary drama?

♥ That you are one of my very best friends?

♥ That your unfailing love and support has been a bulwark of strength for me in any battle or struggle I have faced throughout my life?

♥ That you have inspired me by your warm, kind, and unbiased treatment of others?

♥ That your never-ending godly example of rolling with all of the punches and flexing with all the changes life throws at you has encouraged me to follow in your footsteps? (although I’m certainly not very good at it yet…)

♥ That your loving support of your grandchildren in all of the stages of their lives–support that continues unceasingly even now as they start their own lives as adults–has been so incredibly important in shaping who they have become today?

♥ That your infectious laughter and warm smile bring such light to any room?

♥ That your willingness to laugh at yourself has made our family so much more fun?

♥ That your refusal to hold grudges has been an inspiration to your family, instilling in us a desire to follow your example?

♥ That your “lamby heart”, head rubs, abundant grace, and permission to give our lima beans to the dogs after Dad had left the table were just what we kids needed sometimes?

♥ That your refusal to simply “take my side”– encouraging me to instead consider my husband’s point-of-view in those early newlywed years– changed the course of our marriage?

I could say more. So much more. And I recognize that I have made you sound almost perfect. But, of course, we both know you weren’t. In fact, you’d be the first to say you aren’t perfect. However, your faithfulness to God and His Word has changed the course of the future for your family. Your desire to live a godly life has not gone unnoticed. And your care for your children and grandchildren is a tremendous blessing to all of us. I am forever grateful.

Love you, Mom.

♥    ♥    ♥    ♥    ♥

If you are reading this, I hope that this post will encourage you to tell your mother the things you have just never gotten around to saying. And if she is no longer on this earth, then I hope that you will tell your children and grandchildren about your mother, keeping her memory alive by sharing about her. I wish everyone a wonderful Mother’s Day! ♥

 

The Real Description of Love

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What is love? The word “love” is tossed about freely, without much regard to its true meaning. But as I was reading I Corinthians 13 this morning, making a careful list of all that describes love in this passage, it gave me pause. Somehow evaluating each of these words individually was way more convicting than simply reading through the familiar verses.

I wasn’t actually planning on posting today, but as I wrote and pondered, I realized that perhaps some of you, too, would be challenged and convicted by these verses in a way you haven’t been before.

Love is a big word, isn’t it? And it has multiple definitions. But Paul gives us such a beautiful description of love in this chapter. Here is a breakdown of what love looks like in a Christian’s life. Read and be challenged–

  1. Love is patient.
  2. Love is kind.
  3. Love does not envy.
  4. Love does not boast.
  5. Love is not arrogant.
  6. Love is not rude.
  7. Love does not insist on its own way.
  8. Love is not irritable.
  9. Love is not resentful.
  10. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.
  11. Love rejoices in the truth.
  12. Love bears all things.
  13. Love believes all things.
  14. Love hopes all things.
  15. Love endures all things.
  16. LOVE NEVER ENDS.

And then let’s not forget this–

We can do all kinds of fabulous things for the Lord. We can speak marvelous, challenging words that encourage people to grow spiritually. We can play beautiful music that leads people in worship. We can even die for Christ. But if all of these things are done without love, they are nothing. They mean nothing. We gain nothing.

Think about that–ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Imagine with me for just a moment what would happen if all people who claim the name of Christ would put this list into practice. It would literally transform marriages! Heal families! Revolutionize churches! This is a powerful, powerful list.

Unfortunately, this will never happen. But we do have the ability, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to live these out in our own life. May we continue to strive to do this as we grow for life and seek to be like our Savior!

 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (I Corinthians 13:1-8)

Have a great day! And thanks for letting me stop by your in-box on this Wednesday morning! :)

 

What Makes a Healthy Family?

10 Principles from God's Word

Healthy Family

Have you ever wondered why some families are so close and some seem so distant? Why some seem so full of love and some are so full of anger? And why some seem so happy and some seem so sad?

All families are imperfect. In fact, all families are dysfunctional in one way or another. The degrees differ, but they all are!

So what makes for a healthy family? One that, even through life’s hard struggles, remains generally close, loving, and happy?

We can find the answer to this question from the Word of God, where we see principles we can practice for healthy relationships and close families. I want to look at two passages and pull a few principles from them that we can practice in order to have healthy families–

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

1. They are loving and kind. It is no secret that the Bible teaches us to be loving and kind. Many of us manage this outside of our homes but when we get home we throw off our good behavior and become who we really are inside–selfish and rude individuals who want our own way. But having a healthy family requires lots of love and kindness. And it starts with you and with me. We can’t expect our kids to be kind if we can’t manage it ourselves.

2 They are joyful. This word can haunt those of us who really struggle with being melancholy or with a flaring temper. But families overshadowed by sadness and anger make for kids who just want to leave and never come back. We cannot let the trials and struggles of life steal all of our joy. We will all have bad days–even bad months– but healthy families still find joy. And while laughter isn’t required, it is certainly good medicine for any family (Proverbs 17:22). Families that laugh together are happier. You have heard it said that families that “play together, stay together.” How important it is that we intentionally spend time together with our families, enjoying one another and practicing joy. We must ask ourselves: Do we bring joy to our family?

3. They are faithful. “Faithful” means loyal; reliable; steady in allegiance and affection; trusted; true to one’s word. As we read these adjectives, we can see how this would be invaluable to the health of a family. When we can’t trust each other, walls go up quickly. Let’s consider if we are true to our word? If we can be trusted to do what we said we are going to do? Whether it is making a promise to our spouse and then not doing it or threatening to discipline our kids and yet never following through, we must understand that this principle has a lot more facets than we would first think.

4. They are self-controlled. Ohhhhh, this is a tough one, isn’t it? This means that we practice self-control not only on the obvious things (such as our tempers) but also on the not-so-obvious–like our finances, our eating habits, and how we spend our time. Healthy families are balanced in how much they spend. They aren’t encumbered by debts they can’t pay and their houses aren’t full of things they can’t afford. Healthy families don’t drink soda and eat fried foods at every meal (or they will be unhealthy in more ways than one!).  And healthy families don’t spend all of their time in front of the TV or allow their kids to play video games or be on their phones without boundaries. Healthy families are self-controlled. Do we understand how important it is to set up boundaries for ourselves and for our kids that lead us to practice self-control?

5. They are patient and not easily angered. Oh, dear. Another really tough one. At least for me. But there it is in I Corinthians 13 (and many other places in scripture, as well!) Healthy families do not have members that are easily angered but instead practice patience with each other. Have you noticed how those members of the family that don’t practice this bring such strife to the family? This one can really add dissension to the family quickly–particularly if the other members of the family don’t practice principle #9!

6. They are gentle. What does gentle mean exactly? The dictionary tells us this–moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe. Does this describe you? This is easier for some of us than for others, isn’t it? Sometimes I will say something and my family will tell me I sounded harsh–and I didn’t even realize it! I just told my daughter the other day that I just can’t seem to gain victory over the tone of my voice. It can be rather discouraging for me–but I keep working at it! I don’t want to sound harsh or severe. When we do this, we tempt our family members to be defensive and angry. Think about the last time you were unhappy about something and then ask yourself: Did you express your concerns gently?

7. They rejoice with one another instead of envying each other. Oh, another really big one. How much grief and strife come from brothers and sisters envying one another? We only need to look at Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37) to see what comes of envy in a family. And this story has played itself out over and over and over again throughout the centuries. (Note to parents: Favoritism has no place in a healthy family! We parents have to take this so seriously, lest we destroy our families). When we are jealous instead of happy for family members that get a break or who succeed, this leads quickly to an unhealthy, unhappy family. Do you envy a sibling when they get something you wanted or are you able to rejoice with them? And another important question: Do you show favoritism with your own kids? (How would they answer that question?)

8. They value the truth. Families that are close communicate truth. There are few secrets between mom and dad (if any!). Communication is clear and truthful–not sarcastic and “beaten around the bush”. Healthy families talk about the important things and the big questions in life. Christian families use these discussions to grow their kids’ knowledge of the Word of God and the ultimate truth that is found there. Do you love truth? Do you share truth with your family?

9. They practice repentance and forgiveness. This one is talked about a lot and cannot be overestimated. Families that don’t keep forgiving, soon have walls so high, no one can break through. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and bitterness is a destructive root that weaves its tentacles through almost all parts of life, but particularly through a family’s well-being. Of course, forgiveness is much easier to give when the party who has offended practices true repentance over their sin. Oh, how important it is that we give genuine apologies that do not have any “buts” after them. You know what I mean–the ones that go something like this–“I shouldn’t have done that but you…” Those aren’t apologies, they are excuses. Do you give genuine apologies? Do you practice forgiveness “seventy times seven” in your own family?

10. They keep loving unconditionally–lots of grace and no grudges. All of these can be wrapped up with this final principle. Healthy families offer lots of grace to each other. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They keep on loving each other despite all of the imperfections and failures and sins. They don’t hold grudges when one member doesn’t live up to the expectations of another. Healthy families overlook small offenses. Do you give lots of grace? Or is your love conditional on your family members meeting your expectations?

And there you have it! Ten principles for a healthier and happier family. Of course, we live in a fallen world, so none of us can practice these perfectly. As I wrote, I was challenged on several of these that need much improvement in my own life.

I know that this list looks impossible to some of you. Some of you have a spouse or grown kids who aren’t practicing many –if any– of these. They may be selfish or angry or distant and they have no interest in changing or in working at building a healthier family. What to do?

I just want to encourage you to build a healthier family as best you can by incorporating these things into your own life. The tone of your family will change as you put these into practice. It won’t be easy and it won’t–most likely–be miraculous. But a few years from now you will look back and see how your obedience to the Word of God and the principles found there has changed your family. Just start with one principle today. Look at this list and determine which one of these you most need to work on.

While this list of ten principles is certainly not exhaustive, I do hope that I have encouraged you today to build a healthier and happier family! This is a never-ending endeavor and we can never be satisfied with status quo when it comes to our families, for we are investing for eternity!

 

{Please note: I am taking a break from Learn to Discern this week; more posts are coming.}

The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

Life as a “Fixer”

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I felt crushed. I was only trying to help. But I had just made things worse. Have you ever done that?

Most of us find ourselves one of two personalities–there are those of us who like to fix problems. And there are those of us who like to ignore them. There are those of us not afraid of confrontation if it will make things better and there are those of us who would rather have our arm broken than deal with any kind of confrontation.

I have always been a fixer. I don’t like confrontation, but I am willing to endure it if it makes things better. This has gotten me into trouble on multiple occasions. I think a little conversation and airing out will help, just to find out that it has actually made it worse. Some people don’t want to fix things. It takes a very wise person to discern when to speak.

Thankfully, by this point in my life, I have learned a lot and am much more cautious about when and when not to say something. I am certainly not perfect, but I felt pretty good about this…

Until I became a parent to adult kids.

My method became: I would notice something, so I would mention it. Just for the record this is a bad idea. I am learning, ever so slowly (as my kids will attest) to keep my mouth shut unless I am asked for advice.

I like to give advice. And, more importantly, I like to keep my precious kids from learning hard lessons. My intentions are good. They really are. But this is not what my adult kids want nor is it what they need.

As I have been reading through the Gospels this year, I have realized that I am quite a bit like Peter. Always talking. Always trying to fix things.

When the Lord was going to wash Peter’s feet, remember how Peter exclaimed “You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8) or how about the time that Peter rebuked Jesus for saying He was going to be killed? (Matthew 16:22). And, of course, we all know the time that Peter declared that he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26:35), only to deny Him three times later on in the same chapter.

I love that Peter is in the Bible as one of the Lord’s disciples. It shows me that the Lord can use those who speak too quickly. Those who are always trying to fix things. Those who are impulsive.

Going back to my kids, I have recognized that they need me to be a support and encouragement. They need me to speak kind words as they embark on their own lives. Unless I see something that is a biblical issue or has the potential of really hurting them, I need to keep my mouth shut. Of course, the opposite of this is to never speak at all to adult kids about anything. This isn’t good, either. Serious issues that could and should have been addressed lovingly by parents are often avoided and this ends up causing so much heartache, too. It is so much about balance.

This is a new and wild world I find myself in. It started when they were teens. Knowing when to speak. Knowing when not to. Always praying. Always praying.

Somehow my parents had this balance. I am trying very hard to follow their example. They were so encouraging. When we went to them for advice, they were not judgemental or critical. And, yet, there were a handful of times that they approached us about something of a concern. Because of the relationship we had with them, we soberly considered what they were saying. We were thankful they had shared with us. Through it all, they were praying for us and for the kids. We always knew this. It was like a safety net of support that we knew was there.

I hope to be the same for my kids. I hope that you are (or will be) the same for your adult kids. Our children need our love and support. They need us to pray for them (and for their kids when they come along). They need us to pray for things of eternal value–for them to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength; that they will hunger for the Word; and that they will love righteousness and hate evil. We need to be willing to speak, but only with great discernment and very rarely. Instead, we should use our words to build them up.

I hope I can do this as well as my parents did. I really do. I am blessed to have had such a good example. I know that many of you do not. I am not there yet, but at least I know where I want to be and that is always the first step, is it not?

While I know some of you are parenting adult kids, many of you are not. You probably wonder what to even take from this post (if you are even still reading). I hope that what you will take is that it takes great wisdom to know when and when not to speak. And it takes courage to speak when we should. How we respond will affect us as parents, as children, as siblings, as co-workers, and as church leaders. Whether we are a fixer or an ignorer, let’s endeavor to grow in this area.

 

Diving Into Change

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Today is my youngest daughter’s first day of her senior year in high school. That means that next year at this time, the school start date will mean nothing to me. I won’t receive any papers that need a parent’s signature or be putting school soccer games on my calendar. I won’t be receiving e-mails from the school office and my car will rarely travel to the town where the Christian school is located.

And that’s just how it is.

Many of us are experiencing lasts around this time of the year. The last time we take a child to college. The last child to enter kindergarten. The last time our kids will begin their year at the elementary school or the middle school.

But many of you are experiencing exciting firsts, too. It may that this year you are trying homeschooling or have decided to send your children to Christian school. Perhaps you decided to send your kids to public school. Yep, this time of year has a lot of exciting firsts and lasts. And, in some ways, we can prepare for them.

Life is full of firsts and lasts. It is full of changes and some of us handle change better than others. I am probably not one of the best at molding to change in my life. Which is strange, considering I have had quite a bit. As we all do, I guess. When I think I am getting better at this thing called “change”, a new change comes along to challenge my assessment of how I handle change.

Inevitably when I write a post like this one, some of you who have been through this time want to assure me that I will be okay. That I will love my new “empty nest” life. So allow me to assure you that I do know this. At least my head knows this. And I am not worried that I won’t find my new normal. I know I will. But getting there has been a tough journey for me. I still find myself on many occasions just having the thought that I want my old life back. Oh, there are some things in the here and now that I love. Changes that have been good changes and I would never go back to the old way. But as for how my day-to-day life has changed; the quiet house; not taking care of the needs of a large family…well, that is taking some getting used to. (However, I definitely don’t miss the extra laundry and cleaning. Just wanted to clear that up!)

As I have been processing all of this in the last few years, I have learned some lessons. I thought I may share some of this with you here today–

I remember to find perspective

When I think about those in the Middle East who have been forced to leave their homes or those in Venezuela who don’t even have the basic necessities for life, I am ashamed. I am easily brought out of my self-centered sadness when I remember how good I have it. Sometimes my thoughts will go to those Jewish families, ripped from their homes, separated, and placed on cattle cars in Nazi Germany. I have had none of that happen in my life. There are child sex slaves, thousands of them, operating even as we speak. Mothers across the world who are struggling to feed their babies and have no time or resources to play games or to homeschool their children. When I think about all of this, I am ashamed. How can I be sad in the face of all of the wonderful opportunities and experiences I have had? Of all I have now? This thought pattern starts me on the path to–

Choosing gratitude

We can’t find proper perspective without being filled with gratitude. A thankful heart changes everything. And when we recognize our many blessings we naturally develop a thankful heart. Now, you may be thinking at this time that you don’t have the warm and happy memories. You may be dwelling on your memories of abuse and neglect or pondering your unhappy marriage. You may be staring at a change that has cast you into absolute shock. And it is in this place that you are wondering: How do I find perspective and choose gratitude here?? I am not where you are, so I want to be careful what I say. But I think it has something to do with remembering who we were as sinners and the vast grace and love that God has shown us. We can be saved from our sins and reconciled to God only because of His amazing grace and unending mercy. This is something for which to be thankful, no matter what is going on in our lives. Paul puts it like this in I Timothy 1:12-17–

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[d] Amen.

If we are saved, we have a reason to be thankful. Which leads us to the next, very obvious step. As Christians, we know the One to whom we direct our most heartfelt thanks and–

We remember the One who never changes.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about this very thing, so I won’t elaborate much on this here, for fear of repeating myself. But, suffice it to say, we know that God never changes. And we know that the one Who never changes guides and directs all things, working all for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28) Through all of this we also know that we are loved with a deep and abiding love. There is nothing that can separate us from His love, no matter what our earthly experiences are–

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

And so this One who never changes deserves the praises spilling forth from our grateful hearts. And a heart that is praising and thanking God is a joyful heart. Sadness has dissipated by the time I get to this step. This helps me to have right heart and mind to–

Set proper priorities

When I am sad and self-focused, I lose sight of what is important. I am filled with self-pity. I believe the lies that pour into my ears about my uselessness and irrelevance. And this is what makes me unusable for God’s Kingdom. Did you catch that? We are rendered useless for the Kingdom only if we choose to stay self-absorbed. It has nothing to do with our age. It has nothing to do with our physical limitations or our intellectual capabilities.

The only thing that can render a servant of God useless is their attitude.

Humility, contentment, submission: This is what will lead to a fruitful life, no matter what change comes our way. These attitudes or godly attributes are what will keep us setting proper priorities. They are the attitudes that will determine if we will be used by God throughout our entire lives or if we will become a useless lump of self-pity and self-absorption and a burden on those we love.

This is serious stuff. Where we turn when changes comes is a big deal. I heard a quote in a movie the other day. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend the movie as I turned it off after a few minutes (I don’t know why I keep holding out hope that I will find a good movie without filth made in the last five years, as it is just so rare anymore!) but, anyway, this quote is worth repeating–

Change is like a wave. We can resist it and die. Or we can dive into it and survive.

Yes, yes, yes! We need to dive into change. We need to submit to it and to roll with it. Resistance will kill all of the potential good for God’s Kingdom. It will rot any spiritual fruit. It will stymie our growth and render us useless. And so we must dive! Our future and our work for God’s Kingdom depends upon it!

And one final thought–I have found that it generally is not choosing one or the other for most of us. As we stand in the unrelenting sea of change, we have our days of resistance and we have our days of diving. But the key is to keep working towards the right choice until our sea settles quietly into a new normal. At least for a little while.

I know that this post will not be relevant for all of you, but it is my prayer that– for those of you who, like me, are struggling through a life change right now–this post will give you some hope and some direction.