Sunday, July 28, 2013

taking root

As a parent, do you ever feel that what you are trying to instill in your children is going in one ear and right out the other?  I do.  It can be discouraging and disheartening.  We want to raise kids with godly character, ones who are responsible, servant-hearted, grateful, Spirit-filled, and Spirit-led.  And sometimes, the evidence around us contradicts these desires and values.  In our household, we have been in need of some attitude and behavioral adjustments these past few weeks.  I've talked with a couple of other moms recently, and I have felt comforted to know that I wasn't the only one in this same boat.

I think some of this stems from the fact that it is summer.  This season offers less structure, more free and play time, activity-packed schedules, later bedtimes, and more time together under one roof to get on each others nerves.  In our family, we are also approaching a season of transition- moving in a month, and the kids return to public school this fall.  While these aren't necessarily negative transitions, they are changes that bring about a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and an element of the "unknown" in little ones.  And because kids don't always know how to attach words to their feelings, these feelings are often manifested through their "acting out."


We've had some issues with our oldest.  He is your typical firstborn: natural leader, the third (unwanted) parent of the house, the "know-it-all."  While he is sensitive, smart, witty, and full of life and energy...he is also our debater, likes to have the last word, struggles with impulsivity, and argues/questions our authority.  This can be an exhausting, relentless battle.  It has made me anxious for the challenges that may arise once he is in a traditional public school classroom again.  We've already begun praying over these things.


When my oldest was dedicated at church as a baby, there was divine reason they assigned him this life verse:


"Let love and faithfulness never leave you.  Bind them around your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man."
Proverbs 3:3-4

While this is a verse he has committed to memory and we have recited numerous times together before bedtime, it wasn't until recently that I began to specifically and intentionally pray this verse over him.  Isn't this what we want for all of our children?  A life of love and faithfulness? God's favor and a good name?  Sometimes I will sit on the edge of his bed and watch him sleep at night.  I'll place my hand on his warm skin, right over his little heart, and pray aloud this verse, asking God to fill him with His love, faithfulness, and favor.

With my children's return to public school I have been diligent in praying that God would guard their hearts, fill them with a deep passion and conviction to follow after Him (over the ways of the world), and that they would choose to walk in the path of righteousness.  My son has been making a lot of bad choices lately.  Albeit minor and little ones, they are still disappointing.  He's the oldest and we expect him to set an example for the little ones around him.  Yet, he seems to be the one we keep having to remind and reprimand.  

More than any other desire I have for my kids, it is that they will have a deep knowledge, understanding of, and intimate relationship with the Lord.  I pray that God will soften their hearts to Him and His Word.  That His Holy Spirit within them will guide and convict.  That they will grow in wisdom and stature.  I want my children to be obedient.  I want them to make good choices.  But I don't want them to go through the motions or do this out of obligation.  Unless there is a desire and a conviction in their hearts to follow God and choose to walk in His ways,  there's no root to their faith.  I've been praying God fills them with this holy passion, desire, and conviction...especially in my oldest, where the struggle seems most evident.

The other day my son was showering as I was in the bathroom getting myself ready.  A conversation ensued between the shower curtain.  We were talking about a good friend who is battling cancer and the importance of praying for her.  My son said, "I already did pray for her just now in the shower."  Out of curiosity, I asked him what exactly did he pray?  He replied, "I said, 'Satan, you can't beat us! We have God and His strength!'"  I pondered this for quite a while.  I was a bit taken back at his reply.  For days, I had been praying and asking God for insight into how we could better reach my son and encourage him to make better choices.

Later that day, I approached my son again on this subject.   I thought his prayer was interesting and insightful for a boy his age. God gave me some insight into this as well. If my son could wrap his mind around the fact that Satan was using cancer to defeat our friend, then perhaps he could wrap his mind around the fact that Satan also tries to bring him defeat by persuading him to make bad choices and misbehave. And if my son could wrap his mind around the fact that our friend has God and God gives her strength and can help her overcome her battle with cancer and win victory over it, then maybe he could wrap his mind around the fact that God can give him strength too to make good decisions and win victory over Satan when he chooses to make good decisions and behave well.

I told him that every time he misbehaves and makes a poor choice, he is letting Satan win and have a victory. He's a typical boy. He likes to win. He likes to battle. Boys have that natural warrior instinct within them. I explained to him that when we can't get along with our siblings or our family members, when we are disrespectful to people and property, we are letting Satan win over our hearts and our household. But that God placed His Holy Spirit in us to guide and strengthen us. That he had all he needed right within him, the power of God, to choose to do the right thing and to defeat Satan. I don't know if he had linked his misbehavior to Satan before. Obviously, he knew that God wants him to obey and behave himself...but I think bringing in the concept of Satan trying to defeat him made sense to him and might spur him on to make better choices...just for the sake of defeating Satan and not letting him win.

Moments after we tucked our son into bed last night, he trotted back down the stairs and asked us if we could pray with him.  He was having trouble falling asleep.  Normally, we willingly do this.  But last night, I am thankful that my husband took the time to talk this out with him.  He encouraged my son to be the one to pray and showed him again how he could do this on his own.  So he did.  He prayed right there in front of us on the couch.  Often his prayers typically list off all of the things he is grateful for, but my husband encouraged him to go to God with all of his needs and concerns too.  To talk to God like he was having a conversation with his daddy.  To bring Him his deepest desires and requests. Afterwards, it opened up a door of opportunity and great dialogue in regards to other spiritual matters.  Our son wanted to know how we can hear God's voice.  What it sounds like?  When does it happen?  How do you know it's God?  What do you do to hear God's voice?  In these unexpected late night moments of deep conversation, after days of feeling that we were falling short and weren't doing a good job as parents, God gave as a glimpse and a confirmation that He is behind the scenes working in our son's heart.  That our prayers are being heard and answered, and that perhaps some of the things we are trying to teach and instill, are indeed beginning to take root.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

words


enjoying this song lately...i know i've been on all sides of this "words" coin.  the underlying theme and message in these lyrics blots out all doubt and discouragement and is a great reminder to keep that fire in our hearts to share Him.  our goal in all things, simply, is Him.

Monday, July 15, 2013

a beautiful, sweet release


Our family is approaching a season of transition.  With that comes a move out of our current home within the next month and a half, as we commit to crunching down the debt accumulated over the past three years.  It's also brought about a new season which has caused us to re-evaluate and address the changing needs of our family.  

I had been in turmoil over whether or not I would continue to homeschool my flock or send them back to their old public school.  The greater part of me (and my kids) desired the latter of the two options.  But more than anything I was desiring to be in God's will and was filled with fear that I would make the wrong choice and be outside of it.  The thought of homeschooling while in this new season filled me to the brim with anxiety.  It also set the scene for a mild depression that was knocking on my door, waiting and taunting to come in and consume.  But, I knew if God was calling me to this "hard," then He would equip me for it. Secretly, I was hoping and praying He would not.  In this process, I often felt like I was tangling my own will in with His will, and I worried that confusion wouldn't allow me to extract one from the other.  

I just wanted to be obedient.  In my recent past experiences, obedience has called me to "hard." And dread was washing up over me at the thought of being called to a deeper kind of "hard" than I had yet experienced.  In anguish I spent many moments on my knees in tearful prayer begging God for direction and pleading to hear His voice above the noise of the world, others opinions, and my own consuming thoughts.  I asked friends to cover me in prayer and sought counsel from loved ones who could speak truth to me.  I really thought God may be calling me to this deeper "hard" and it nearly paralyzed me with fear and anxiety.  I was desperate to hear His voice.

Sometimes in life, God calls us to the "hard."  So was the past season for our family.  It really was "hard" on all four corners of our home life: physically (with Brayden's health/illness), financially (with Darcy's past career), emotionally (with all of the circumstantial challenges that lied within and before us), and spiritually (as we were stretched and stripped and lean in so many areas of our life and had to learn to depend on God in desperation like never before).

2012, by far, was the most exhausting, and in many ways, the most excruciatingly painful, and challenging year of my life.  It was a season of leanness and lacking.  Of pruning, stripping, humbling, stretching, and refining.  It was a "dig deep" year on all levels.  I can't say it was the "worst" year of my life...because I shared it with the most important and loved people I know, and because it took me on a faith journey that rocked my world and proved to be worth every pain, hardship, sacrifice, and tear poured out.  But, it was riddled with challenge and all colors of "hard." And it was a season I hope to never have to re-live.

I've more fully realized that the LORD is my strength and that I am nothing without Him.  He is light and life.  He always delivers, always leads, and He always come through.  When we seek Him, we most certainly will find Him.  When we earnestly come to Him in prayer, He answers and provides for us.  He is always faithful and never fails us.  He has proven His faithfulness to me time and time again, and thus, was no different this time around.

I've looked back on this homeschooling journey, and there have been many blessings and benefits we have reaped from it.  There's so many things about homeschooling that I "get" and agree with.  I loved spending time with my kids, I loved the influence I was able to have on them,  I loved the flexibility of our schedule, and I loved the support system around us (which was a lifeline to me)...but in all honesty, I never liked the teaching aspect of it all.  In fact, I always dreaded that part of our day and couldn't wait until it was over.  It was always a struggle that stretched and tapped me bone dry.  One in which I lacked joy and often felt like I was running a lifelong marathon on an uphill treadmill.  That, mixed with all of our other strenuous circumstances, took everything in me.  And everything out of me.  I often felt like a failure at it, that I was ill-equipped and inadequate.  I worried my kids were falling behind.  I had poor time-management skills and longed for more time to myself. (All things common to most homeschooling moms from time to time). But in addition to these things, I lacked the passion and joy for it.  This just loaded more guilt onto my existing heap, and made the challenge all that more difficult.

Our reason for homeschooling was primarily based on the physical needs of my son at the time.  Since then, we have a better knowledge and manage of his illness and the threat and scare for his physical well-being are no longer the focal point of our lives.  Now, it seems we are entering into a season in which the emotional/mental needs of our family are taking precedent.  As I was contemplating whether or not we should continue to homeschool, there were many factors we needed to consider.  There was no "cut and dry" answer.  Through much prayer, thought, writing, and pouring out,  God began sorting things within my heart.  In time, His will was revealed and His voice was made known.  But, it took a lot of untangling before this all happened.

In the thick of this process, I contacted a friend of mine who has been on both sides of the coin with homeschooling/public school.  I knew she would understand the pulls of my heart and the turmoil this decision was causing me.  My desire to do what's best for my family, yet still keep my sanity.  She also understood my struggle in finding joy and passion in it.  When I learned this, I realized I was not alone, and this brought much comfort and validation to me.  Over the phone, she mentioned something to me that really hit home and caused me to deeply consider my choices.  Although these weren't her words verbatim,  the truth in them hit me to the core.  She said, "Amanda, when I was in your position and needed to decide what was best for our family, I thought to myself, one day I will come to the end of my life.  I will have to stand before God and answer to Him.  He may ask me, 'Why did you spend all of your time and energy trying to duplicate someone else's life calling?  I gave you unique gifts, abilities, talents, and purpose and you wasted those things trying to fulfill someone else's.'"  This was an "a-ha" moment for me.

I know what it feels like to be called by God into something.  I felt that way when He led me into the Stephen Ministry.  I am passionate about it.  I've loved every minute of it.  It's felt "right" and like a "perfect fit."  It takes a lot of my time, but doesn't drain me, yet rather fills me with much joy and purpose.  All of which I've lacked while homeschooling.  In fact, during our homeschooling days, I often caught myself fantasizing about what I would rather be doing with my time.  Things that fill me with joy and purpose.  Things that refuel and recharge me.  Things that allow me to use my gifts and abilities for Him.  Things that breathe life into me.  Homeschooling seemed to do quite the opposite.

Many of my needs and desires were put on the backburner during this season.  There have been ministry and writing opportunities I have wanted to sink my teeth into but haven't had a chance to.  There have been friends I've wanted to connect with but haven't had the time.  I've missed exercising regularly.  It may seem petty, but it's something that affects my joy level, my energy level, and my stress level.  All of which, affects the kind of wife, mother, and friend I am able to be.  I often felt guilty for desiring these things.  And guilty for being "tapped out" dry with not much left in me to pour out into the people and things that mean the most to me.  I've missed spending one-on-one time with my littlest.  She's at such a tender age, and has often been lost in the shuffle of life as my energies have been focused on schooling her older brother and sister.   More super-sized guilt thrown onto the heap.

It took a couple of wise, treasured ladies to remind me that when there's not enough in life filling me up, it leaves me empty...and then everyone around me loses.  That it's important and ok to take care of me. And that just perhaps, I am holding onto a lot of false guilt.  This has been something difficult for me to let go of.  I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that God cares for my individual needs and desires and that I shouldn't feel guilty because I have them.  I told a friend that when you walk such a long season of "hard," in which your personal needs and desires often go unmet, it almost feels sinful to wish or consider life to be anything different than it is.  You feel selfish and guilty any time you do something for yourself.  So, you just keep doing the "hard," believing that this is just how life will be, and you try to make the best of it.  And this is honestly right where I thought God would keep me.  In that kind of "hard."

But over the course of this past week, God began speaking to my spirit and revealing truth and His tender heart toward me.  I do believe when He calls us to something, He places a passion in our hearts for it.  I homeschooled out of obedience and because we believed it was the best thing for our family as a whole during that season in life.  Obedience to me equated to the "hard."  Sometimes it will be.  But not always.  Weathering through this past season with joy and passion was my greatest challenge.  I look back on it all now and wonder how I was able to get through it.  Surely, it was the grace of God that carried me.

As things recently began to unknot and unfold, my realization that homeschooling is not my calling in life became clearly evident.  For so long I scolded myself for not feeling the joy and passion in it.  But, can I tell you something?  I truly believe that when God calls us to something, He WILL fill us with a joy and passion for it.   It's true that He may call us to the "hard."  And He most certainly will equip us to get through it.  But, if the joy and passion for it leaves, or in my case, never comes, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate what you are doing.  This is ok.  This life is full of seasons.  They come and go and change over time.  It is us who sometimes get "stuck" in them, even at times when God is leading us out.

The needs of our family are now changing with this approaching season.  My passion for homeschooling never surfaced, as much as I prayed and tried to will it to appear.  And my anxiety toward it only increased.  As mentioned before, the thought of continuing to homeschool consumed me with anxiety and dread, and a bit of hopelessness.  However, when I allowed my mind to consider public school, a peace and hope would wash over me.  I kept mistaking this as my own selfishness.  That my will for this couldn't possibly also be God's will.  And I felt guilty for these thoughts. It took a while for me to consider that the peace I was feeling when considering sending them back, may actually be an indicator from God.  And although I paid attention to it, I wasn't fully convinced.  When a friend mentioned the exact same thing to me, that this peace may indeed be an indicator from God, I grew more and more convinced that it was.  Still, I was so afraid of being disobedient and making a choice outside of His will, that I prayed and pleaded for direct confirmation from God alone.   I'm grateful for the friends who reserved or used discretion with their opinions in order to allow me to work through this on my own, yet still covered me in prayer, offered love, acceptance, and encouragement, and were able to speak truth to me in the midst.

As I worked through all of these thoughts and feelings, my husband and I began leaning toward sending the kids back to public school.  There are still challenges to Brayden's health and these things need to be considered.  But God is already lining up the details to make this transition take place with ease and at a comfort level we are yearning for.  We discussed this possibility with the kids and wanted to get their input, and they have been overly enthusiastic to say the least.  Brooke is beaming with joy over this.  It's written all over her face and her demeanor.  Not to mention she can't stop talking about it with excitement.  She has secretly been journaling and writing songs about her feelings in regards to this. And she's been googling backpacks on the computer, dreaming about the "perfect" one for her soon-to-be third grade self.  She also, unbeknownst to me, took my phone and called her old teacher informing her that she might be coming back.  She can hardly contain her excitement.  All things that seem to confirm that we are making the right decision for our family.

But even with all of these things in mind, the joy and excitement of the kids, the sense of peace within me, the confirmation around us, I still desperately needed to hear from the LORD before making a final decision.  And how like Him, in all His faithfulness, to deliver.  

It happened in the car as I was driving with my kids the other day.  The radio was on, I was half-listening to the music, but recognized the voice of the one singing through our speakers.  It was a JJ Heller song I hadn't heard before ("Loved").  I turned up the volume right around the time of the chorus, and her voice sang out slowly, "you are loved."  And in that moment I was overcome with emotion and tears came spilling down my face.  The melody and voice of God dancing, reaching through, and whispering directly to my spirit.  It's as if I could distinctly hear Him say to me, "Amanda, I am giving you permission and I am providing a way for you to enter into a new season of ease and relief.  Accept it with joy and gratitude, and not with guilt and condemnation.  I AM. And I am giving you permission.  I see and know your deepest needs and desires.  They have not been overlooked or forgotten.  You are loved."

And immediately, I felt a beautiful, sweet release.  An enormous burden lifted from my shoulders.  An overwhelming peace that covered.  A joy, excitement, hope, and startling burst of energy that enveloped, stirred, and grew.  There was a skip in my step.  I felt like a trapped bird that had just been uncaged and released.  I was suddenly looking forward to the future, no longer filled with dread.  And most importantly, I was given a very intimate revelation of God's tender heart toward me.  An understanding of His goodness that chases.  And catches. And I gladly and most humbly accepted.

This life is a journey filled with lessons.  I'm still learning.  I've realized that the God who sometimes calls us into a season of "hard" can just as easily and quickly call us out of it.  He had provided a job for my husband which was placing our family into a season of financial ease and relief.  I hadn't even imagined that He would do the immeasurably more, but He did.  He's ushering us into a season of ease and relief in other areas too...especially with the load I carry.  This makes me feel known and treasured.  While I know the journey ahead of us will have challenges of its own, I feel a renewed sense of hope, strength, and joy to persevere through.  I have an excitement and an energy that had been missing for so long.  I am looking forward to this new season.  It feels as if life is finding its balance again and is returning back to a place of normalcy.  The season of leanness and lacking is fading in the distance of our yesterday.  All glory to God, our ever-present help in time of need.

If you find yourself in the "hard," hold fast.  Your season of relief may be just around the corner.  I am currently reading "The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears.” by Mark Batterson.  I'm freshly into it and already have post-it notes galore on most of the pages.  I think I’ve prayed more over these past three years alone than I have prayed in all my living years combined.  So this book speaks to me greatly, as it is focused on prayer.

Batterson writes about the importance of being specific, bold, and perseverant with your prayers.  He mentions that, “Prayer helps you get outside the problem.  It helps you circle the miracle.  It helps you see all around the situation.”  I’ve found this to be true.  Even with my latest challenge in whether or not to continue to homeschool, it was prayer that helped me untangle the knots and see all around the situation.

Sometimes, however, we don’t get the results we desire right away.  I felt like for three years I was offering up the same unanswered prayers to God.  Before even reading or having any knowledge of this book, “The Circle Maker,” I see now that over the course of these past three years,  I have indeed been praying circles around our circumstances.  Or as Batterson terms, I was “praying through.”

In regards to the Jericho miracle in the Bible, Batterson poses the question, “What if the Israelites had stopped circling on the sixth day?”  And goes on to respond,  “The answer is obvious.  They would have forfeited the miracle right before it happened.  If they had stopped circling after 12 round trips, they would have done a lot of walking for nothing.  Like the generation before them, they would have defaulted on the promise.  And the same is true for us...We give up too easily.  We give up too soon.  We quit praying right before the miracle happens.

Perhaps you are feeling disappointed because your dreams and prayers have not been answered or have not yet come to fruition as hoped.  Batterson offers a unique and challenging perspective on handling life’s disappointments.  He mentions, “We should praise God for disappointment because it drives us to our knees.  Disappointment is like dream defibrillation.  If we respond to it the right way, disappointment can actually restore our prayer rhythm and resurrect our dreams.”  I’ll be the first to admit, this is not how I initially handled the disappointment of our hardship in this past season.  I did a whole lot of pit-dwelling.  But, eventually, I knew the choice came down to me, and I willed to lean into the LORD for my strength and pray myself out of it.    And as long as I stayed connected to that source of power and grace, I was provided enough to endure.  Prayer keeps you connected and keeps you from running on fumes.  His power and grace is limitless and always available to us.

There's another advantage to prayer...If it doesn’t change your circumstances, it most certainly can change YOU in them.  It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that my resolve kicked in for good and I started believing the promises God had put in my heart for our family were actually going to happen, regardless of how contradictory life around us looked.  I continued to pray circles around these things...(praying through and praising through) and I’m so thankful that we are finally beginning to see answers.  I will continue to pray circles and patiently wait upon Him for the fulfillment of these promises.  My Jericho miracle may be right around the corner.  I may just be one prayer away from it.  And you may be too.  

Do not lose hope.  You have no idea when God may call you out of a season of difficulty and place you into a new season with a bit more ease and relief.  You have no idea when your answer will come.  Pray circles around your dreams and struggles.  Pray and praise through them.  A beautiful, sweet release may be waiting on the doorstep of your tomorrow.  You, too, are known and loved.