Being Confident of This

Grace for the work-in-progress woman

When the Grass Looks Greener

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‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf

does not wither’ [Psalm 1:1-3].

Last year we moved to a new town and a new (to us) home with more space and, Praise the Lord, a beautifully large backyard.  As a mama of four, with three of those being boys, I’m so grateful for the space for them to romp, to adventure, and to discover! One of the best features of our backyard (besides the lovely climbing trees) is the fact that it has a fence, a thing any mom of young children can appreciate.  Sure, it’s a rickety picket fence with flaking, brown paint that has seen better days, but it successfully (thus far…) contains our younger children.

I’m certain they could climb over the fence if they really wanted to, but they know it’s a boundary not to cross.  We’ve made it clear that the child who chooses to breach this barrier without permission will face serious consequences.  So, the physical barrier of our rickety fence serves as a constant reminder to stay inside where it is “safe.” Because they obey, I don’t have to worry about them chasing a ball into the street or wandering away when my attention is occupied elsewhere, and that gives me much peace.

Our aged brown fence keeps us all safe in other ways, too.  Strangers are unable to easily access the yard, especially since there is no gate at the front.  Stray dogs or animals cannot enter, either, if the back gates are closed.

But as much as I love our fence, it can only protect my children if they obey me by staying inside its confines.  The fence is no longer useful should they decide to venture outside of it!  And I’ve seen him, my youngest son, four years old, eyeing the gate from time to time.  He’s the sneaky one, too.  The child who is beside you one minute and vanished into thin air the next.  His disobedience is not overt, out-loud, hey-look-what-I’m-doing; rather, his disobedience is often silent, hidden, why-is-it-so-quiet-in-here? 🙂

Evidently our four-year-old is tempted by the “greener grass” on the other side of our fence.  He wonders what it would be like, that world outside of the safe boundary that his loving parents have set for him, not to keep him from something good or prevent him from having fun, but to protect him from harm from others or even from himself.

What would happen should he choose to leave the security and protection of our fenced backyard?  Perhaps nothing.  The first time he leaves, he might not experience any consequences at all.  In fact, we may not even catch him doing it.  Having experienced no negative consequences, he might decide to slip out unnoticed again….and again… and yet again… until one time, he happens to find himself suddenly facing grave danger, like Peter Rabbit who disobeyed his mother and found himself face to face with the dreaded gardener and his giant shovel.

And just as suddenly as the bunny faces that danger, he understands the reason behind the boundary, the one he crossed without permission, the one meant to protect him, not to ruin his fun.  But it’s too late. The damage is done and now he must deal with the consequences, whatever they might be.  He must run for his life and hope that he can be saved.

How often are we like that curious four-year-old, that disobedient bunny?  We fail to understand the reasoning behind the boundaries God sets up for us.  We fail to trust in the wisdom of our Father God, the One who created us, the One who knows all and therefore, knows what is best for us.

Isn’t that what happened in Eden?  God gave Adam and Eve a panoramic paradise to live in, a perfect relationship to enjoy, and a life of ease with all of their needs provided for.  And he gave them one rule. One.

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In the elementary age Sunday school class I teach, we’re learning about this rule.  But before we learned about the rule, the boundary, we learned about the Person who gave the rule.  We learned about how as the Creator of mankind, He had and still has the right to make decisions for mankind because we belong to Him.

We learned that as an All-knowing and perfectly loving Creator, He alone knows what is best for us.  We learned that His love was so great for His creation that He, the Creator of the Universe, the Most High, fashioned a beautiful world for us out of nothing, formed us in his own image, breathed life into us, and continued in relationship with us by walking and talking with us in the garden.

But then He gave us this rule, and like a curious child, we were faced with a choice.  Taste the forbidden fruit or avoid it like the plague?  Obey the God who planned out perfect paradise for us, or choose our own way?

I asked my Sunday school pupils why they thought God would even give Adam and Eve a rule about this particular fruit.  Why the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Why not some other tree?  At first, they had no answer.

I then asked them why their parents give them rules or boundaries, such as: Don’t touch the stove! They quickly grasped that loving parents set rules in place to protect their children for two reasons: 1)because they know what is and isn’t safe and 2)because they love their children enough to want to protect them.  And then they understood.  They understood that God wasn’t trying to ruin Adam and Eve’s fun; He wasn’t trying to keep them from something good. After all, He did spend six days creating that perfect world solely for their pleasure! These young pupils saw that God must have a reason for setting a boundary around that particular fruit.

 

O taste and see that the Lord is good;

How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

Psalm 34:8

You see, God knew what would happen if Adam and Even ate the fruit.  First of all, they would be demonstrating a desire to go their own way rather than depending on Him.  Second of all, once they experienced the knowledge of good and evil, they would no longer be innocent, no longer perfect.  The scripture records that before they disobeyed, Adam and Eve walked around naked and felt no shame.

Can you imagine?  Feeling no shame? Ever?  We’d be like toddlers running wildly naked after a bath, carefree and full of joy and exuberance.  Total freedom and wild abandonment.  We’d dance and sing and laugh.  That, my friends, is what God had planned for us.  That was His original desire for us: to live a free and abundant life of pleasure in a world of paradise!

But we chose our own way.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and the whole world changed, even plant life and childbirth and the physical world changed.  They left the fence to venture out on their own and the consequences were immediate and disastrous: separation from God relationally (immediate), separation from the Tree of Life (leading ultimately to physical death), and after death a permanent separation from our Creator (lake of fire).

Imagine the sorrow of a Father God sending his beloved children out of the garden, knowing that for the time being, they would suffer and struggle, knowing also that one day, His only Son would pay a terrible price for their single indiscretion. One rule; one choice.  Imagine the sorrow of leaving that beautiful paradise, that haven of perfect joy and peace. Imagine the weight of knowing evil for the first time; life would no longer be carefree.

Even today, we often choose to leave the protection of boundaries that He sets forth for us in His Word .He provides boundaries about what we do with our bodies, what we put into our minds, and how we relate to others.  And when we leave for the “greener grass,” instead of becoming free, we become ironically enslaved.

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Like the four-year-old investigator, we might not see the danger lurking at first.  We might not suffer any harm, or so we think.  But each time we leave those boundaries that our loving Father set about us to protect us, we take a bigger risk.  And one time, we’ll have gone too far. We’ll be face to face with danger, with the Serpent, with Satan.  With His lies, he ensnares.  He promises freedom, but delivers slavery.

My sisters in Christ, why oh why do we choose to leave the protection of the fence?  The grass on the other side isn’t really any greener; in fact, it’s a hollow deception, a mirage. What lies on the other side of that lovingly placed boundary is

t…h…i…c…k  mud,

s

i

n

k

i

n

g

sand,

 miry clay.

That movie that we really shouldn’t watch or the book we really shouldn’t read doesn’t free us.  That person who is so attractive, but off-limits, isn’t good for us. That friend who entices us to leave the fence isn’t really an uplifting friend. That substance we so desire provides relief that is only temporary at best, not forever paradise. That choice to willingly disobey only brings us danger and heartache and burdens, so many burdens. And each time we venture out, we risk more. We risk a reputation, a relationship, a marriage, a child, a ministry, sometimes even our very lives.

The truth is, the only green grass we’ll find in life, the only abundant paradise, is right within our Father’s fence.  His boundaries exist for us, not against us; for our benefit, not our detriment;  for our protection, not our suffocation; and only because…

He.

Loves.

Us.

Like a parent looking after a beloved child, He gently guides us away from evil in this world, if we allow Him.

So, the next time you think you see a prime piece of green pasture just over the boundary, remember Who built the fence and why He built it.  Remember that what He most desires for you is paradise.  If you choose to stay inside the protection of the fence, the only thing you’re missing out on is the Serpent’s deceit and the slavery that follows.  Choose freedom.  Choose abundance.  Choose life.

like a tree

What verses help you stay inside of the fence?  Please share with the rest of us in the comments!

Only because of Christ,
Jen 🙂

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Taught by Twins

taught by twins

Close to five years ago, God chose to bless our family in a totally unexpected way.  It was a blessing I never would have chosen for myself, one I was completely unprepared for and one that brought with it a great deal of anxiety.  It’s a blessing that often continues to challenge me today.

The blessing we received was the gift of two children at one time – twins!  From the moment we received that awe-inspiring news, I began to worry.  The truth is that I like to be in control; I like to plan things in advance.  I like life to be organized and tidy, not uncertain or chaotic.  Two babies at once was not part of my plan!  In my turmoil, I didn’t know whether to yell, “Praise the Lord!” or break down in tears.

Thus, I spent the early portion of my twin pregnancy struggling with fear, worry, and what if’s that I never even considered with my first two pregnancies.  What if we lost one or both of them?  What if they were born prematurely?  What if they had medical issues?  What if I had to have a C-section? What if I just couldn’t handle twins?  What if our middle child (then our youngest) couldn’t handle being displaced by two siblings at once?  What if I couldn’t figure out how to nurse two at a time?  What if we didn’t have enough money?  The doubts strung out in a long line.

twins medical

On top of the what ifs, I was riding the roller coaster of amplified pregnancy hormones as a result of carrying two babies at one time.  One moment I felt euphoric excitement and extreme gratitude for this unexpected blessing and the next – sheer terror.  Even my fear became complicated by the addition of guilt, guilt for sometimes thinking, “it would be easier if it was just one baby,” or “this wasn’t in our plan.” As soon as the errant thoughts entered my consciousness, I felt a shame like no other.  So many women would give anything to carry just one baby, and here I was complaining to myself that I was being blessed with two!

I knew I was sinning.  I knew I needed to trust God more.  I knew that He was in control!  I knew His grace was sufficient for me.  If He chose to give us twins, then He knew we could handle it with His strength. I prayed constantly over these truths, but I was having so much trouble believing them. I put up a good outer front – it was easy to share my excitement with others and leave out the more shameful feelings.

One day when I confessed my worry that I would be inadequate, a wise woman at my church kindly told me that God knew I could handle two at once, or He would not have entrusted these babies to me.  A light bulb burst into light, and I suddenly saw my unexpected twin pregnancy anew, as an honor, a privilege.  Instead of reveling in my blessing, I was wallowing in worry.  I was wasting this unique experience.

twins and me

Little by little, the Lord began providing for our physical needs, as if to provide physical evidence for my skeptical spirit.  He knew we needed a larger vehicle, so He provided a minivan for our family at very little cost to us.  He knew we’d need double the clothing, so He sent neighbors and friends with bags of gently used clothing and other baby necessities.

Our church family collected gifts for us also, including a mountain of diapers that tumbled over onto the floor of the bedroom closet. We received countless gift cards, often from unexpected sources!  I was completely overwhelmed by a God who takes seemingly impossible situations and works out the details without any help on our part, and I praised Him for meeting our needs and encouraging us on this new journey.

My pregnancy progressed as uneventfully as a twin pregnancy can and as I neared the end, I thought we might actually make it to full term.  The specialist I was seeing joked about how great my uterus was and how well my body was built for carrying babies.  I beamed, pleased my body was cooperating so nicely. All was well.

And then the swelling began: first my legs, then my hands, and finally my face.  I knew it was pre-eclampsia because I’d experienced it twice before but never this quickly.  I called the specialist to report my symptoms, already knowing the answer I would receive.  Come to the office immediately.

Not long after arriving at the office, I was ushered over to the hospital and told that a C-section was imminent.  C-section: that dreaded word that made me want to run in the opposite direction.  Furthermore, my pregnancy had only just reached 34 weeks, so I required steroid  injections to help mature the babies’ lungs before operating.

As excited as I was to meet our two bundles of joy, fear of the unknown crept back in, slowly and silently.  I feared the C-section recovery.  I feared the health issues facing my premature infants.  Fear slipped in little by little until suddenly, it was upon me and I could scarcely breathe.  I momentarily forgot that God was in control.  I forgot that He had demonstrated His provision over and over again for the past seven months in some very big ways.  I forgot that He promises to be faithful, and I had a pity party for myself right there in my hospital bed.  I cried.  I worried. I wallowed in fear, took a bath in its darkness. I wondered why.  Why, God?

Our twins arrived the next morning via C-section at right around five pounds each and were quickly whisked away to the NICU. It was the beginning of a very long week.  We existed in a sort of haze, but we survived.  I put off dealing with my fears and thought surely things would get better once we settled in at home. Surely I wouldn’t worry so much having them right next to me instead of in another section of the hospital.

twins in carseats

However, when we finally did make it home, I realized very quickly that it was just the beginning of a long haul.  Both babies came home on apnea monitors, which made just about everything more difficult: feeding, sleeping, travelling, and so forth.  Additionally, we had already spent an entire week apart from our two older boys, including missing our oldest’s birthday party, so they were understandably needy, as well.

The nights were even more difficult as we woke ourselves every three hours to feed babies that needed assistance, and then I still had to pump.  It was exhausting, and I continued to worry about them.  Did they drink enough? Would they gain weight?  Would I ever be able to nurse them?  What should I do when they both cry at once?  How can I get them on a schedule when one seems to need more sleep than the other?  So much uncertainty.

At first, I read a lot of literature on parenting twins, scheduling, and so forth.  I worked at getting them on the same schedule and tried not to feel guilty about the lack of time with our older children.  I decided to focus less on doing everything right and focus more on just surviving the day to day grind.  I spent time in the Word.  I prayed ever more fervently for strength and wisdom.  He told me to let go.  Quit worrying.  Trust Him that even if I somehow did something wrong, my children would still be okay.

It took a few months to come to grips with the fact that my prior parenting experience held little value in this new four-child-family world.  I had to adapt my lofty ideals to techniques that would actually work for our family.  I even resigned myself to the fact that I might not ever be able to nurse the way I wanted to (although we did eventually figure out how to tandem nurse).

I gave up on having things “just so” and became content with “good enough.” 

twins gracie arms out

I gave in to my infant son’s desire to be held…a lot..and my daughter’s desire not to be swaddled.  I learned they were different from one another.  I learned to find quiet moments with my older children and to understand that jealousy was just a part of life for siblings, whether they have one sibling or many.

twins thriving

One day as I sat on the floor with my incredible infants, it dawned on me that we were no longer just surviving; we were actually THRIVING!  All four of our children were happy and despite continuing medical issues, the twins were growing and learning.  I even felt more connected to my husband as our busy household required more teamwork than ever before.  In fact, despite little sleep and little “me time,” I was superbly content.

Watching my two infants smile at one another, holding them both in my arms at once, feeding them together – all of these things brought me a greater joy than I ever could have imagined.  If you have ever seen two babies giggle and smile at one another or sleep peacefully side by side, then you know the joy I’m referring to.  It is overwhelming in its beauty.

twins sleep2

I admit: life wasn’t always pretty.  We still had difficult days, but the smooth days eclipsed the rough ones. I thanked the God who gave me a blessing I didn’t deserve, the blessing I didn’t ask for, the blessing I would never have chosen for myself.

When God gave us twins, He taught me a few very valuable lessons that I try to carry with me still.  He taught me that Philippians 4:13 really IS true.  “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” isn’t just a nice saying, but He really can give me physical strength for the day!

I can do all things

He also taught me that I needed to relax as a parent.

So what if our school age son still doesn’t know how to tie his shoes because we had twins the year before he started kindergarten?  So what if I don’t feed my children a food-pyramid-perfect meal three times a day, every day?  So what if my oldest occasionally runs out of clean clothing?  So what if the tv is on more than I’d like?

There are so many more important things in life than the details of the day to day grind of being mother to a larger than average family.  Things like relationships. Love. Attentiveness. Contentment.

twins tall

The Lord showed me that if I want that abundant life my heart so desires, I need to do the opposite of what makes sense to me.  I need to quit trying harder, quit controlling more, and just relax.  Relax in His grace.  Relax in His presence.  I don’t have to control it all because He is in control.  If I remain close to Him, the details will work themselves out, often in a more stunning way than I ever thought possible.

Jeremiah 29:11 became very real to me.

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I’m profusely thankful that His plans for our hope and future included twins.  Like the Israelites in the desert, I would have settled for a return to Egypt rather than experience the glory of the Promised Land.  But He had a bigger blessings in mind for us.

Can you recall a time when God’s plans failed to match up with your plans? What were the results?

Jen 🙂

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A Blogger’s Prayer

This weekend marked the one month birthday of this blog, Being Confident of This.  It’s a blog I started, but I’ve decided not to call it my blog anymore because it really isn’t.  It’s God’s blog. The reason I say it’s His blog is because He’s done greater things for it in this short time than I could have ever imagined!

I’m happy to tell you that today “Being Confident of This” is being featured on two other blogs! Exciting! 🙂  My cousin, Angie, at http://www.angieknutson.com/ has been a huge help to me in my blogging journey this far.  She has a wealth of knowledge and has been kind enough to share it with me, in spite of her own busy schedule, on multiple occasions.  I really appreciate her support! Tomorrow she’ll be sharing a brand new post from me about how to handle dreary mornings, so stay tuned for that!!

So far, He’s used this blog to reach others, but even more, He’s used it to reach me.  How often do we set out in life to lead others, to teach them, only to realize we are being taught ourselves?  That’s how I feel about this whole blogging experience so far. 🙂

A Blogger's Prayer

So, here’s my prayer as I continue on in this journey:

I see what you did there, God.  I see how you used that post about Mary Moments in a Martha World to remind me that the best thing is spending time with you.  I see how the post about  being a Transformer convicted me to live out truth in love.  I see that the biggest flaw in our Sanity Saving Chore Charts is whether or not we as parents are consistent in our follow-up.

At the same time, Lord, I’m learning that I have to be careful with this blogging thing.  I heard my little boy the other day when he said I was spending too much time on the computer. I know I need to watch how much time I pour into this.  I have to find balance between my time with you and blogging and family and church.  It’s not easy, but I know You’ll help me.  I see now that it’s part of the process, part of that work in progress.

Father, I’m also learning that you just want me to be me and to trust You to give me the words to say.  When I try to create a fabulous post on my own – it flops. 🙂  When I trust You for the message, it soars.  I see how that works, God, and I’m trying to get out of the way so that You can use me.

I am the vine

I also see, Lord, the potential to find my worth in the numbers (now I know what my pastoring husband feels like!).  I don’t want numbers to be a measure of who I am.  I want who I am to be found in You alone.  Help me to be obedient to You in sharing the messages You give without worrying about how many people are visiting today, tomorrow, or the next day.  Help me to remember that the value is in the obedience to You.

Most of all, Lord, I want to remember that it was Your idea to create this blog, not mine!  Like anything else in my life, it ultimately belongs to You.  Help me to surrender that control!  Help me to remember that You can bring an audience all on Your own with no help from me.  I’m simply the vessel.  Make me a humble vessel.

Thank You, Father, for this amazing journey.

In Christ alone,

Jen 🙂

What is God teaching you lately?  If you feel free to share, leave a comment! 🙂

Also linking up at any of these lovely blogs.

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Be a Transformer

Have you ever put off saying (or posting) something because you feared the repercussions, how it might be received?  If so, then this post is for you.  Even as I wrote it, and re-wrote it, I felt that same fear because being bold in my witness does not come naturally to me, rather it usually results from conviction of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, I have put off posting this message for too long now, and God has  convicted me that I’m not trusting in the Him, the God “who goes before me.” I have spent hours crafting the message so that it will hopefully ring true without causing a permanent loss of hearing. 🙂

So I hope that when you read it, you will consider my heart (even though some of you might hardly know me).  My heart beats for God’s people and for His truth, it yearns for us all to strive toward Christ-likeness not for the sake of personal pride or satisfaction with self, but for the sake of His glory, that His name and His Truth should be known around the world!  My heart aches for the lost, those who are searching for His Truth without even knowing it.  You can blame my parents for this since I spent a great deal of my growing up years as a missionary kid. But that’s another story for another time.   Today I want to ask you some tough questions in relation to the following verse:

do not conform

Recent conversations on Facebook and other media outlets have opened my eyes to a developing trend in Christianity today.  Being a Bible-believing, truth-defending, Christ-follower is no longer popular even in many Christian circles!

Somewhere along the line, some of us Christ-followers have become so conformed to this world that we are afraid and/or unwilling to take a stand on issues that the Bible clearly addresses.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve found myself in this camp before, keeping quiet because it’s just easier.  Some believers even go so far as to throw their total support behind worldly ideology, political correctness, tolerance  – whatever you want to call it – and then condemn their fellow believers for being “judgmental,” “close-minded,” or “intolerant.”

While criticism from the world is to be expected, criticism from fellow believers often surprises us!  We are not accustomed to being labeled (or  dare I say “judged”?) by those who should be our support.  How warped is it that Satan has convinced some of us that simply standing on God’s Truth is being judgmental, and is therefore wrong?

Allow me to clarify: the Bible DOES speak strongly against judging others and becoming self-righteous. We are all familiar with the words of Luke 6:41-42.

speck or plank

Only God can see, and therefore judge, the motives of the heart.  Therefore, we should not pre-occupy ourselves with the sin of others; rather we should be too busy dealing with our own sin.  However, God also calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and to be bold in our witness as transformers.

Unfortunately, well-publicized, so-called “Christians” have recently taken a stand for their so-called “truth” in ways that ARE harsh and hateful, tarnishing our witness.  Furthermore, we have Christian brothers and sisters actively ridiculing others on forums such as Twitter and Facebook, adding to the world’s negative perception of us Christ-followers. While I fully support upholding God’s Truth, when we haughtily shove our beliefs in someone’s face with a sarcastic turn of phrase, a witty cartoon, or a picture that belittles others, we end up conforming to the world and looking just like it!  How can we then be salt or light to a world that is in dire need of God’s truth?

I believe Satan has seized hold of this shame over others’ behavior and used it to confuse believers (as well as the world!) and convince many of us that upholding God’s truth is wrong in and of itself, when the reality is that the fault lies in the method of delivery. We have only to study Christ’s example to see how he gently revealed truth to people, often with a single phrase or sentence, and always while caring for their needs, whether physical or spiritual.  He did not skirt sin issues, neither did he humiliate the lost.

We must follow Christ’s example in our efforts to live as transformers.  When the Bible speaks clearly on issues of right and wrong, we are called to uphold God’s Truth with – and this is the key – LOVE and RESPECT.

prepared to give an answer

The key lies in our delivery – a delivery which requires a balance between Truth and Grace, not the absence of either or both.  A total-grace perspective can lead to conformity, while a total-truth perspective can lead to self-righteous bullying .  Is it wrong to bully others into sharing our beliefs?  Yes!  Is it also wrong to be silent on issues that the Bible clearly addresses?  Yes!  Why then have we allowed the world, the Great Deceiver, and even fellow Christians to tell us that it is un-Christian-like to be a Christian? Ironic, isn’t it? 🙂

My purpose is this: consider carefully how your life and your actions or statements appear to others (especially in regards to social media).  Do they see a difference?  Are you being transformed by Christ, or are you choosing to conform to the world?  There is no middle ground!

power of risen savior

I know it is risky voicing the unpopular Biblical perspective on many current issues, but then Christ wasn’t all that popular with the worldly and falsely religious leaders of his day, either.  You may lose friends.  You may lose popularity.  You may even be judged by the very people who accuse you of “ being too judgmental!” Have the courage that Paul had when he wrote in Philippians 3:7-11:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Amen??

If at the moment you find that you’ve been conforming (and haven’t we ALL at some point or another??), remember that God’s grace is immediate and His power to provoke change in us is immeasurable.  On the other hand, if you are already actively trying to live out a transformed life, take heart. You are not alone!

I encourage you to look to God’s Word and the Word alone to form your opinions, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your thinking.

Questions to ask  before posting or sharing a “truth” statement via social media:

  1. Is your audience one you love and one who loves you in return?  In other words, will your message be received in the manner in which it was intended?
  2. Is your message one of God’s truth rather than man’s truth?  In other words, do you have contextual biblical support  for your message?
  3. Is God leading you to share this truth at this particular time in this particular fashion?  In other words, has the prompting come from Him or do you just love your soap box? 🙂
  4. Have you achieved a balance between truth and grace?  In other words, how is your method of delivery – gentle or smug?

overcome evil for good

Telling the truth in grace and love is such a delicate balance to achieve, but as Christ’s image-bearers, we must work toward that balance!  We have amazing technology and a unique opportunity to show the world what Christ-like love truly is, so let’s allow Christ’s love to shine through us without diminishing the light of His message.  Don’t conform.  Be a transformer.

Because of His love,

Jen 🙂

You might also enjoy this post:

http://www.godspotting.net/2013/06/god-is-not-republican.html

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Sanity Saving Chore Charts

Sanity Saving Chore Charts

Last summer we sold our home and moved to a new town so that we could live in the community that we are currently ministering to.   We were very blessed to be able to move into a larger home with plenty of open space downstairs.  I just knew it would be perfect for the kids and perfect for entertaining people from our church, as well as new neighbors and friends.  What I didn’t count on was the time it would take to adjust to cleaning and maintaining a larger home!

Perhaps it wasn’t only the larger house but also the fact that we’d spent the previous year living with the bare minimum as most of our possessions were packed away in an attempt to present a tidy, de-cluttered home-for-sale to possible buyers. When we unpacked all of our “stuff” at our new home, it was a lot more to keep track of and we had not yet established where each item belonged.  Perhaps part of the problem was that our children, particularly our then 3-year-old twins, had grown a lot, which meant bigger messes, more loads of laundry, and additional cooking for those growing appetites.  Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest decision to also take on a new pet so soon after moving (our beloved cat, Cheddar).

Whatever factors were involved, I quickly found myself overwhelmed by the cleaning projects that come with maintaining an older, farm-style home that had not been lived in for at least a year, if not longer.

Nevertheless, I struggled for months with being overwhelmed by the housework and feeling like I was always “behind.”  Because I felt frustrated and overwhelmed, every little mess the kids made irritated me – every spilled cup, every toy left out, every article of dirty clothing on the floor – and I often found myself grumping at them even as I was telling myself to have patience.  I felt like I was losing my mind!  It was as if I was stuck in Romans 7, knowing what I wanted to do, but feeling utterly incapable of doing it.  A storm raged within, threatening to unleash itself at any given moment.

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So, after many tears of frustration and quite a bit of prayer, my husband and I sat down to discuss the situation in hopes of finding a solution.  We decided it was high time to expect a little more of our four children.  You see, our children have always had chores, but we both admitted that we’d become a little lax in our supervision of them, which was understandable.  It had been a busy year and a half of selling our old home and of settling in, not only to our new home, but also to new ministries we were attempting at our church.

We decided that the best way to save my sanity was to create a new chore system!  I set about researching some age appropriate chores since we have such a wide age-span in our family, and we quickly realized that we failed to see how much our children had grown.  I don’t mean that we failed to notice the obvious that they were taller, older, but that we failed to notice they were now more mature and more capable of handling more difficult tasks.

For our younger two children, we chose this flip-up system with pictures of each daily chore they have.  When all chores are finished and flipped up, they can see their name.  Need a little help getting started? You can check out my pinterest board  (http://pinterest.com/stults6/parenting/)  for DIY tutorials that I used as a base for building my own.  (Also, my amazing sister has taken these flip charts a step further with some great ideas at her new blog Love Notes.  In addition to the flip charts, she utilizes a morning and evening checklist and a chore jar, where children get to choose an extra chore to complete and receive a nice prize.)

Preschool chores focus mainly on taking care of the body, and beginning to take responsibility for their own messes.  For our children, we chose to incorporate things that we would like to become daily habits such as: brushing teeth, making bed, getting dressed, clearing dishes from the table, picking up laundry, and picking up toys.

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They both remain very enthusiastic about flipping up the chores they have done each day, even after several months have passed!  In fact, our daughter often wants to do her bedtime chores (laundry) in the morning because she wants her name to be complete, and sometimes she even reminds us of a chore they haven’t yet done. On the other hand, our youngest son is a good follower and enjoys the praise of a job well done. 🙂

Our older boys have a much more complex chore chart that is laminated so it can be re-used.  We use dry-erase markers to check things off.  One of the things I like most about the chart for the older boys is that it is divided into categories that emphasize different areas of their personal responsibilities.

The categories for their charts include taking care of: my body, my room, our home, our vehicles, our pets, and my relationship with God. They have daily responsibilities as well as a few weekly responsibilities.  Some of the weekly responsibilities have options to allow for personal choice, and the tasks in that area of the chart are more difficult for our oldest son, who is 13.  Again, if you’re not sure where to start, take a look at my pintrest board.  The chart we came up with was a combination of several different ideas.

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(One important note: the “Taking care of my relationship with God” area is included mostly as a reminder to our older boys. Honestly, I wasn’t really sure whether to include it or not, but we decided to.  Since that relationship is personal in nature, we encourage them to make it a priority daily, but we don’t force them to. We don’t want time with God to be assigned a “task” status.)

In our home, chores are part of being a family and working together toward a common goal, which is to be good stewards of the material things God has blessed us with.  We believe that doing chores helps our children to learn personal responsibility as well as team-workFor that reason, we do not pay our children an allowance in relation to their chores.  Instead, we reserve allowance for teaching financial stewardship and how money works in general, but that is just our family preference.

However, our older boys were understandably less excited about the new charts, and our 7-year-old was so overwhelmed by the change that he was practically in tears.  (What he didn’t realize is that most of the things on his list were things he already does on a daily basis, like brushing his teeth and making his bed.) In an attempt to lighten the mood and help them adjust to additional responsibilities, we added a bonus for good attitudes and for helpfulness without prompting – an additional 50 cents on their allowance.

Now, for our new chore system to function well, we realized that we would need a consequence for those times when our older boys failed to complete their chores.  We wanted the consequence to be more of a learning opportunity (“the punishment fits the crime” approach).  Eventually we settled on this method:  if there is a pattern of a chore going undone, then the consequence would be to complete the undone chore, as well as an additional one.

I love this solution!  It simultaneously helps me and provides an unpleasant experience that they don’t wish to repeat. I’m happy to report that we rarely have to enforce consequences with the chores because the boys really, really dislike doing extra chores.

Although we’ve had a few bumps along the way, our house has been much tidier in general, considering we have four children living here.  I no longer feel overwhelmed on a daily basis.  Additionally, I’m less uptight about the messes the little ones make because I know they’ll be picking them up before bed.  My sanity has been restored!!  Perhaps most importantly, I know that developing these good habits now will benefit them greatly as they grow into adulthood.

Although initially the chore charts mean a little more work for us parents in supervising and making sure tasks are completed (or even teaching a new skill), the goal is to eventually make parenting a little easier in this area of keeping a tidy home. Our hope is that one day we won’t even have to ask them if they have completed their chores because checking the chart on their own will become so habitual that they will no longer need our reminders.

So, if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed by your housework, feeling taken for granted as the one who cleans up after everyone, or feeling like you just might lose your mind, consider the following questions.

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  1. Who does the chores?  Are you expecting enough help from your children, or do they think it is just Mom’s job to clean up after everyone all of the time?  Or do you often take on the majority of the work because it’s easier to just “do it yourself?”  I admit to being guilty as charged on both accounts previously.  However, especially if you have sons, try to consider how their future wives might feel about this unhealthy portrait of what a wife and mother is “supposed” to do.  At the same time, think of the message you are sending your young daughters.  Yes, we are called to be homemakers, managers of the household, but that does not mean we have to do everything on our own! 🙂
  2. Are the chores age-appropriate?  If, like me, you failed to realize how “big” your babies are getting, you might want to rethink your expectations of them. If you are unsure of what chores are appropriate for your children, a quick google search or pintrest search will return a wealth of information!
  3. Are the chores focused on teaching your children personal responsibility? One of our goals with the new charts was to emphasize the stewardship aspect of chores. We want our children to learn to take care of their things and the things we share commonly, such as our home and vehicles.
  4. Are the chores fairly distributed?  Yes, older children are capable of handling more responsibilities than younger children.  However, avoid burdening one child with the majority of responsibility.  For example, when in a hurry to tidy up previously, I would ask our oldest son to pick up the toys. He is generally helpful and I knew he would do a good job.  However, when my husband and I looked at teaching personal responsibility, I realized I was making a mistake.  It wasn’t really his mess to clean up; therefore, it was unfair of me to ask him to take care of something his younger brother and sister should really be responsible for.  With the new chore system, we really worked at making sure he wasn’t bearing a disproportionate load just because he is older and is more compliant.  Additionally, make sure you don’t put off the majority of the housework onto your children. Mom should have her own set of chores to do (Dad too)!  Lead by example. 🙂

For now I am very happy (and sane!) with our current chore system, but I’m sure after a time we’ll need to look at it again and make changes. I wouldn’t mind trying out a few different methods to give the children a variety, to keep it fresh and exciting.  However, the lessons we learned about what to expect from our children will remain helpful and our over-all goals will probably change very little. Thankfully, I now feel like I”m living less in Romans 7 and more in Romans 8 (the whole “we are more than conquerors” chapter!).  If you don’t currently have a chore system in place, why not give one a try? It just might save your sanity!

Jen 🙂

What methods do you use for teaching responsibility and team-work in the home?  Give us your best advice in the comments!

For more great ideas on how to maximize the flip charts for younger children, check out this blog:

http://sarahjofairchild.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/bogo-mommyhood-chore-charts/

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When Temptation Lingers Near

Today I want to share with something I wrote many months ago.  It was written during a time of discouragement and trials galore.  My husband and I were both under a lot of external stress, both personal and from ministry, and our marriage temporarily suffered.  I felt like one of the Israelites in the desert, bemoaning my situation and feeling helpless to enact change.

When I first wrote it, I was not intending to ever share it anywhere.  The words just sort of poured out in the middle of my frustration and attempt to make sense of the chaos around me.  I often find that writing helps me to communicate with God and understand the wisdom He’s trying to impart.  So, I share it with you today, hoping that it may encourage you if you’re facing a situation that seems impossible or a day, or even a moment, that seems unbearable.  I hope you find comfort in the fact that you are not alone and that He always provides a way out!

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It’s almost supper time, but the stove top sits empty and no pleasing aromas fragrance the air.  I’ve not even yet decided what to cook, let alone made any sort of preparations.  Instead, I’m sitting in my bedroom trying desperately to pray while my preschoolers whine for attention right outside of the bedroom door.  My husband, whom I’ve just argued with, sits just outside the door as well at the dining room table.  He’s grumbling over the budget and seems unaware of the noise around him.  There is no peace, no quiet.

But I NEED to pray because I am one moment away from falling into temptation.  One moment from allowing my impatience, anger, resentment, and frustration to spill over onto my family.  One moment away from blowing any chance at doing right.  At this moment I am certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Satan has set his sights on me; I’m being tested.

It isn’t the first of such evenings in my home.  In fact, our marriage relationship has been under strain for a few months now, and I’ve grown oh-so-weary of “fighting the good fight.”  However, this past week, God has shown me the truth of my situation; I haven’t been doing my part, either.  I have been selfish.  I have been lazy.  I have been avoiding the time with my Lord that I need.  Thus, I recently resolved to make some positive changes, knowing full well that temptation would linger near.

So as I sit here in my room praying while the chaos rages just outside of the door, I laugh.  Yes, I laugh!  It’s absurd, even comical, that every other person in my home (and there are five) would suddenly become distractions at the very moment I attempt to find peace.  I want to complain to the Lord that I’m trying so hard to do what is right, to seek Him in my moment of weakness, but He’s not making it very easy!

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In that moment of laughter, I realize the truth that as long as I’m trying to do right, to obey God, Satan is not going to leave me alone.  In fact, He’s even going to use good things like bible study and prayer against me by causing frustration and chaos at just the right moment.  Thankfully, now that God has shown me the truth of the matter, Satan cannot win.  I see his game plan for what it is, and prayer is a powerful tool!  Sorry, Satan, I’m getting up from my throne of self-pity and frustration, and I’m cooking supper tonight!

Lord, I thank you for always providing a way out for us, even when it seems impossible or unbearable!  I ask that you would encourage my sisters in Christ today to look for the way out when they face temptation. Help them to see the truth in whatever situations they face.  Remind them that You are with them always, every step of the way, even when it doesn’t feel like it.  Give them the strength they need to resist temptation and to flee the Devil and remind them of your unfailing love and grace for them because of your Son, Jesus Christ.  I ask all of these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Jen 🙂

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