The Ache of Advent

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We spent Thanksgiving week with family up in the mountains. Amidst the frequent meltdowns, fights, and disarray in our rental condo, we experienced brief ‘stabs of joy’, as C.S. Lewis called it— moments that helped us transcend the moment. Joy matters not only because it makes the toil and the cost of life worthwhile, but because it can lead to hope; it can remind us that there is more than what we see and feel.

That same week, tragedy struck our city as three lives were lost in a deplorable shooting at Planned Parenthood. Our hearts, still heavy from the terrorist attacks in Paris weeks earlier, were sinking with grief. Superficial joy has nothing to say to such pain.

The trouble with the generalized ‘holiday season’ isn’t that it is a part of some calculated ‘war on Christmas’; it’s that it leaves us with no lexicon for longing. It gives us snow and songs, elves and sales, cookies and cards…but no vocabulary for grief, for sorrow, for the deep ache in our hearts.

This is why we have come to appreciate Advent. Advent isn’t a spiritual, alternative name for ‘Christmas’; it is its own season, a season of preparation for Christmas. Advent is when the anticipated joy of Christ’s first arrival puts us touch with our anticipated joy at His return. Advent is a joy that helps us hope.

Advent is when we give voice to the ache and pain and longing in our hearts. Advent is also when we confess our own participation in the brokenness of the world. Advent, then, is not only about longing for Christ to come again and put everything back together; it’s about repenting and receiving grace so that we get to be put back together now.

But there’s one more piece. Advent is not only about longing for Christ to put the world back together, not only about repenting and letting Christ put us back together; it is also a chance to participate in bringing wholeness to others.

As we enter the Advent season, could we as the people of God, be a part of the answer to the longing in people’s hearts? Maybe its through buying slave-free products or serving in the local Rescue Mission. Or maybe its through taking a moment to ‘see’ your neighbor who’s going through a difficult time. It may seem difficult to carve out time to give to the things you desire in this season. We’ve had to cut out some of our regularly scheduled things to carve out space to focus on this season.

Yesterday, all around the world we lit the first purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. There are brief glimpses of Joy that remind us of this hope. Until then…we wait.

Grace and peace,

Glenn and Holly

RESOURCE LINKS

Advent prayers, devotionals, and music (Glenn)

On celebrating Advent with children (Holly)

Favorite Advent and Christmas reading lists for the whole family (Holly)

 

Slowing Down to Be With Jesus

IMG_0818Well here it is….Part 2 on The Emotionally Healthy Leader. [You can read Part 1 HERE.] If thinking deeply about my shadow side wasn’t enlightening enough, I went on to ponder the ideas surrounding the concept Pete called, ‘Slowing Down for Loving Union.’

“In an exhaustive biblical study, theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote about how often Scripture describes people who do things for God without having life with God. Characters such as Balaam, the Old Testament prophet, Judas Iscariot, and Saul were all engaged in what most certainly would have been considered effective work for God by their communities, but without having an authentic connection to Him. The only mark of genuine spiritual maturity and ministry effectiveness, Edwards concluded, is the outworking of agape – a self-giving love for God and others. That is the one quality of our lives and leadership the devil can never counterfeit. And the sources of that agape love can be found only in a life of loving union with God.”

For the majority of my life in and around ministry, I have pondered this. But the trouble comes in when ministry itself is what fills all your time. We can spend all our time serving Him, but where do we carve out time to just be with Him? Unintentionally, its easy not to foster a deep and life-giving relationship with Him.

Here’s a peek at Pete’s assessment  – How Healthy is Your Experience of Loving Union with God? (You can rate yourself, Always true of me down to Never true of me)

  • My highest priority as a leader is to take time each day to remain in loving union with Jesus.
  • I offer God full access to my interior life as I make decisions, interact with team members, and initiate new plans.
  • I wait to say yes or no to new opportunities until I have sufficient time to prayerfully and carefully discern God’s will.
  • When I become aware that I am anxious or feeling emotionally triggered in leadership, I slow down to be with God.
  • I regularly set aside time for experiences of solitude and silence that enable me to be still and undistracted in God’s presence.

In considering the life of Jesus, it gives me perspective to realize He spent 90% of his life in obscurity. The stories we know of Him took place in a three year time period. Even during these three years, He continually went away from the crowds and noise to seek His Father.

“Jesus models contentment under pressure, calm in the face of betrayal, and power to forgive at his crucifixion – all of which is the fruit of a long history of oneness with his Father. I am convinced that a significant reason so many Christian leaders lack the qualities Jesus modeled is because we skim in our relationship with God. Whenever we find ourselves wanting the ministry impact of Jesus while simultaneously resisting spending time with Jesus, we are positioning ourselves for a beating and some variation on being run ‘out the house naked and bleeding’.” 

Oh, how I’ve been guilty of this. How many times have I prepared and given out of a dry and weary place? How many times have I led out of my own strength rather than relied on my relationship with the Lord?

When I think of all a day could potentially hold, its easy for me to be a doer rather than a child of God who sits in stillness to listen to His voice. I believe God is big enough to speak to us in many ways if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear. If we choose to seek Him, can He not whisper to us in creation, in the glory of the the clouds, in the whoo of an owl out my window? Can he not bring me peace in mind, body, and spirit through the practice of Sabbath? Can He not whisper His truth in a great book, a Bach cantata or a timeless piece of art? As we expand our view of God’s communion with us, maybe the idea of never ceasing prayer will take on new meaning.

If you’re a ministry leader – a pastor, a small group leader, a missions director, or any kind of leader for that matter – please read this book.  It will challenge and encourage you to develop a deep, communion with Christ, examining its profound implications for surviving stress, planning and decision making, building teams, creating healthy culture, influencing others, and much more.

Here’s a link to buy it now – http://www.amazon.com/Emotionally-Healthy-Leader-Transforming-Transform/dp/0310494575/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1446784964&sr=8-1&keywords=the+emotionally+healthy+leader

The ‘Emotionally Healthy Leader’….Reflections on Our Shadow

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Autumn. It might just be my favorite time of the year. The changing leaves, cool brisk morning air, pumpkins, fall wreaths, apples, and sweet cinnamon hand soap are some of the small things that make my heart sing. As I embark into another fall season, much about it feels familiar. An yet no season is the same. I’m in a new season of evaluating myself as as leader. I know this won’t be the last time.

Glenn and I have been reading and talking through a book called, The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero. I have been incredibly challenged in my inner and outer life through Pete’s life experiences and Godly wisdom.

One of the chapters addresses Facing Your Shadow. What is a ‘shadow’? Scazzero calls a shadow “the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure, motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behavior. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who you are.” Our shadow side may be sin, or simply weaknesses. For some it might be greed, bitterness, anger, sloth or perfectionism. For others it could present itself in a need to be needed or be liked by people, overworking, or a desire to control. Scazerro references Robert Louis Stevenson’s, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I can relate. As I go about my day, cleaning, teaching, organizing (maybe), writing, reading, more cleaning up, driving, chatting…I typically think of myself as a well-adjusted human. But oh, some nights, I am a mess. My insecurities about relationships, educational decisions, family situations– you name it— all come out in a not-so-pretty external-processing. I’m learning the more aware I am of my emotions, and the better I get at communicating them, the healthier I’ll be.

Being an ‘Enneagram 9’, I am a mediator or peacemaker. Because of this, I try to harmonize the various parts of my life. I appreciate seeing all sides of an idea so sometimes taking a firm position on something is difficult. In the past month, I’ve agonized over certain decisions and get frustrated with being what Glenn affectionately calls a ‘process’ decision-maker (as in, I’ve got to test things and see how it feels, before deciding on them). I’m continuing to realize and embrace the way God made me, and yet continue to lean into Him as I lead out of weakness.

[By the way, if you want to dig deeper into looking at your shadow side, you might enjoy the Enneagram typology. Its an ancient framework using nine types helping you identify your true essence and what motivates your behavior. I may blog about this some time…]

Back to the book…

Assessment
Throughout the book, there are opportunities for self-assessment. [There are more resources related to emotionally healthy leadership and spirituality HERE.] Here’s a portion of Scazzero’s assessment, ‘How Healthy is Your Approach to Your Shadow?’ (Scazzero has a rating scale, but you can use these statements for contemplation here.)

  • I take time regularly to experience and process my anger, fear, and sadness with God and others.
  • I have a healthy awareness of my shadow – my wounds, self-protectiveness, and weaknesses – and how I am tempted to sin against other people in my unguarded moments.
  • I am honest with myself and a few significant others about the struggles, doubts, and hurts deep beneath the surface of my life.
  • I am able to identify the roots of my leadership weaknesses and failures (mixed motives, fear of what others think, anxiety, anger, etc) In my family of origin or in my personal history.

You know it’s your shadow when……

  • You act out inappropriately under pressure
  • You don’t want someone to succeed because they’ve hurt you
  • You get busier rather than more reflective when your are anxious
  • You do and say things out of fear of what other people think.

“The degree to which you can recognize and engage your own shadow is the degree to which you can free others to face theirs.”

Reflection:
Sometimes I wish this process would end, but I remind myself the Holy Spirit is living in me encouraging, comforting, and teaching me every step of the way. My heart’s desire is to disciple others, but how can I do that in His way if I’m not continuing to allow Him to work in my own heart?

If we are to grow into the likeness of God, we must grow in awareness of how He wants to change us.

More reflections on the book to come…

On Making the Bed and Making the Most of Habits

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I’ve spent the greater part of the past year delving into literature that, quite honestly, is a bit over my head. From poring over a Russian novel to reading bits of Dante, I switched gears entirely and picked up a book on habits, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Glenn read it first and I followed suit as I do in many of his reading endeavors.

Duhigg distills scores of research about how habits are formed, how habits are changed, and which habits matter most. The part I found most fascinating was a concept called ‘Keystone Habits’, the kind of habits that when changed affected many areas of life. Keystone habits aren’t the same for everyone but once you figure out what they are for you, a chain reaction could occur.

“Typically people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work.  They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use credit cards less frequently and they say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.” 

I’m definitely not a naturally disciplined person, but I have to admit when certain areas of my life like exercise are consistent, I make better choices about what I eat, I feel more at peace, and I am probably just a nicer person to be around. Ask my husband!

We can’t deny that we are creatures of habit and easily find ourselves doing the same things over and over. I have found that it’s easy for negative or thoughtless habits to occur in my life if I’m not intentional about how to fill a particular space. In Colorado, it takes a proactive gardener whose willingness to tend plants regularly will possibly reap the reward of their tenacious tending. Without the attention to the plants, it doesn’t take long for weeds, deer, hail or the like to destroy them. I know, I had a vision of being a green thumb more than once and it is far from being fulfilled. (I think I’ve given up on this one!)

I would like to believe that some habits would form without considerable effort upon my part. But I haven’t found that to be true. For most of my life I’ve struggled to get up early unless a schedule demanded that I rise to the situation. In high school it was early morning show choir practice, and in recent years, a baby’s cry. I had hopes that these calls to get me out of bed would become habits. However, as soon as the season was over, I easily fell back into sleeping later than I hoped! Often, I would wake only when necessary, which put me starting the day reactively.

Although I do work well at night (it’s past 10 o’clock as I write), there is something about rising in the still quiet of the morning before the entire house is awake and full of life. Even if I’m barely awake, the habit of rising early sets me in a posture of seeking the Lord, listening to Him rather than responding usually to someone needing something from me. I wish I could say getting up before my family everyday has become a daily habit as a result of reading this inspiring book but it has not….at least yet. I working on it. I’ve been setting my alarm to rise early every day and when I do, I see the fruit of the discipline. The opportunity to meditate on Him and sit in silence to listen to His still small voice is at least a possibility. Even in those moments when I’m tired and feel like its pointless to be up that early, I’m believing that choosing to be disciplined about the habit is building something in my spirit.

I wonder if developing habits— actions that no longer require conscious thought or choice— actually gives us space to see God’s goodness, truth, and beauty. The more I have life-giving habits in place, the more space I have to see to what He is doing. If some practical habits are in place like morning routines, I actually have to think less, makes fewer decisions about things that seem less significant. If my children and I are following our routine— which I hope will become habit— then there is room to stop and step outside to see his creation rather than me spending that energy to remind them once again of what they should be doing. If I don’t have the habit of giving attention to the things God has placed right in front of me, how can I learn and grow?

One other Keystone Habit Duhigg mentions is making your bed. Even if the rest of our upstairs is in disarray something about made beds brings peace. Sometimes its the little things.

8 Ways to Make the Most of Summer

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Keystone, Summer of 2014

Beautiful beams of sunlight came beating down. My entire being felt overjoyed at feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. At last! How could we not spend most of the day outside? I stole away for 30 minutes alone in the sun to read and take it all in. Then we all went to the pool!

Yet as glorious as these summer days are, we may sometimes wonder how we going to make it through weeks on end with our kids around all the time and few fixed activities.  As a mom with four kids, I wonder how I can structure our days not just to fill the time but also to align (at least loosely!) with our family’s goals. We want to rest; but we also continue to live intentionally and with purpose.

Here are a few ideas…..

  1. Take a true break. Despite my natural desire to constantly create a learning environment for my kids, I need to let them truly rest. Sometimes the mental break from piano scales, math facts, or phonograms can actually help them return to those things with more energy than if we had kept going. I’m also often surprised at how much they learn in various environments even when there was no intention of getting them to learn something specific. If you’re visiting a new state park or venturing into a museum, let your kids and yourself just take it in. Learning can happen best when it happens naturally and ‘immersively’.
  2. Create a summer schedule. This may seem contrary to the first idea, but there may be portions of the summer where you want to completely rest and other portions where you need more structure. I’ve been feeling like we need a ‘new normal’ as much of what we were doing during the regular school year has ended. If we’re home for a decent portion of the day for the next few weeks, my kids know to look at our chalkboard for the daily schedule. It’s meant to be a guide so that they know what to expect– and so I’m not going completely crazy from the lack of any structure! A few ideas for creating blocks of time are: devotions, chores, read-aloud, Bible, stations for art activities, rest time/reading, and of course free time.
  3. Do something that doesn’t fit into the school year. My older girls really enjoy theater but we couldn’t quite fit it into our school year routine so they’re going to a week long theater camp. Oh, and swimming lessons of course. They all need to know how to swim!
  4. Read. If you don’t know what to do, it’s always a good choice to read! I created summer book lists for my girls according to their reading levels and interests. They can choose what to read from the lists…And there are rewards the more they read. (Who says you can’t incentivize them for a good cause!) It’s definitely working. For someone like me who loves reading, it is a true joy to see them devouring all kinds of books as we embark on this summer break.For me, my goal is to be reading fiction along with something deep and difficult that challenges both mind and heart. For the moment, I’m finishing Confessions by St. Augustine, starting The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and about to start #4 of the Harry Potter Series. If you’re in a season where you feel like challenging books are hard to pick up, but you want to stretch yourself, take a book like Confessions and just read a short section from it each day.  It may take longer than you want to get through, but the depth of content will nourish your soul.
  5. Get some serious sunshine. Vitamin D is good for all of us! Plus, if getting sun is our goal, we’ll also likely be going on adventures like hiking, camping, biking, soccer playing, swimming, and all things outdoors. (Or, maybe seashell hunting and surfing if you live in Florida!)
  6. Try something new. I would really like to learn how to sew, even just a bit. And for my girls to learn too. We’ll see if we can find a willing friend or teacher!
  7. Spend time in community. As a person who attempts to structure our lives in a very intentional way, I continue to feel like there is never enough time to spend with our friends. Somehow the windows in the school year seem small amidst the regular schedule. We are trying to be intentional about spending more time with friends in our community this summer.
  8. Take time to plan. I’ve been feeling the tension between rest and planning for the next school year. I’m committing to resting at the moment but am also taking bits of time here and there to be prayerful about the future. Along with praying, I’m also asking for input from my husband, friends, and mentors. I’m asking the Lord to gently nudge me in the direction of things and relationships to pursue and to help me sense other things to take a break from.

What about you? What are some of your favorite ideas for making the most of Summer?

A Marvelous and Melancholy May: Reflections on Delight, Sadness and Longing

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.”
Ecclesiastes 7:2-3

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I’ve been thinking about writing for many weeks, but just haven’t been able to muster up the emotional energy to put any thoughts or experiences into words until now. I want to be someone who will speak in the strong moments in life and in the ones that don’t go as we hope. So here are some thoughts surrounding the latter.

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Outside Shakespeare’s childhood home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The last month began with a gloriously delightful trip to England. Words wouldn’t adequately express how wonderful and soul-filling the trip was for me personally.  Eight days away from my children, with my husband, with friends, with great books, in London, in Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon– a luxury made possible because of Glenn’s wonderful parents and their willingness to be with our kids. These are places that I have desired to visit for many, many years. Plus, there was the plane ride where I read an entire book set in England! Brideshead Revisited brought me into the world of a man who had great desires, searching for something more than what he had known. Little did I know, I was about to enter a world that would captivate my imagination and passions.

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The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian library in Oxford, home to some of the world’s greatest treasures of the mind.

Our days were filled with tours and walking around historical sites, wandering libraries centuries old, drinking too many flat whites, perusing used books stores with all my favorite books, and engaging in intellectual and invigorating conversation. My worlds were merging – I looked upon fragments of an ancient Sappho poem that my girls memorized this year. And the original handwritten, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. And an unexpected visit to Shakespeare’s home brought so much joy, having listened to a 16 hour audiobook last year about his life. I was ecstatic to see the places I spent so many hours reading about.

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Grahame’s original handwritten manuscript of the ‘Wind in the Willows’, which were a series of letters to his son whilst away on a long holiday.

I felt on top of the world, even if for a brief time.  If you know me, I’m usually the stable, steady type, emotionally. Rarely do I feel the heights or depths of extreme emotions. But I fell in love with so many facets of England, and I fell hard when I returned. Of course, part of this was likely due to the fact that I came home alone (Glenn stayed on for some meetings) to my four children whom I missed dearly but who still needed to be fed, bathed, listened to and the list goes on. I must have briefly forgotten all the physical and emotional energy it takes to run our home and educate our children on a daily basis! The whining and fighting that occurs daily and that I normally I tune out, was like loud gong and a clashing cymbal.

Upon my return home, I asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I usually ask myself this question if I leave home without my kids.  But normally its only for a couple days. This was 8 glorious days. Still, my answer was, ‘Yes’, of course, but I really felt like I paid a high price for my departure.

This particular time, I felt very emotionally down and sad. It was as if, being in some of the environments in England showed me how much I desired some of those elements to be a part of my daily life. Even though I read deeply, have great conversation with friends and mentors, it just isn’t the same. There is no way to re-create many of the experiences I had there.

And that’s just it, isn’t it?  We were made for another world. There are longings in our hearts that won’t ever be fully met on this Earth. Being made in the image of God, we have a sense that everything isn’t what it was created to be– ideas about how a perfect homeschool day could go, or the perfect walk in the woods, or a perfect relationship. Somehow our ideals often don’t seem to be the reality we live in.

May was also the time for endings. As I wrapped up the school year with my kids, there were numerous bittersweet moments– the ending of activities, programs, recitals, book groups, and even the saying goodbye to friends. All this amidst weeks on end of rain and hail, storms and gray, and sunless skies. I couldn’t shake a deep sadness in my heart that I knew was about longing.  A longing for things to be different.

Many days, I would begin to cry and call out to the Lord. He was drawing me to Himself, not to pull me out of the pain, but to call me to reach out to him in the midst of the difficulties. It was a call to grieve even the small things that didn’t turn out as I thought they might, a call to seek only Him in the midst of wanting to find my joy in the things He created.

I’ve been reading Saint Augustine’s Confessions and he talks about grief in this way: “Grief eats away its heart for the loss of things which it took pleasure in desiring, because it wants to be like you, from whom nothing can be taken away.” Later in the book, he writes these soaring lines about true Joy: “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose . . ! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. . . . O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.

Sometimes we ask for God to show up in our circumstances and to fulfill a desire of our heart. Sometimes the circumstances change. Sometimes His Holy Spirit comes alongside us to walk with us in the midst of what we are going through. And this is the source of our truest Joy.

My Favorite Books…For Children

IMG_2558As I peered my head into the hallway, voices in British accents filled the space. It seemed magic was in the air of only I had eyes to see.  “Harry, Harry where are you? Are you going to potions class today?” Then another voice entered the conversation. “I’m Prince Caspian and I’ve come to save you from Darth Vadar!” As if the story weren’t interesting enough, Jane entered the room in a Spiderman costume!

Oh, how I love hearing how story shapes my children’s imagination and makes its way into our everyday lives! As they act out these characters in the stories we read, I can see little by little how they are being formed and shaped by the virtues these characters hold to. My desire is that as they keep reading and acting out a story, they will ask, ‘What hero can I be? What has God put me on this Earth to do? Who is in need that I can help?’

What if, as a result of feeding our children on great stories, they one day ask God to show them His path for their life?

Giving your children the gift of story is invaluable. You have an amazing opportunity to fill their minds with images and language that will form their souls. I want to give my children an eye to see literary beauty and it begins now. Whetting their appetite for the great works later means giving them books that will awaken a hunger to know and see truth their whole life. Fill your children’s life with great books and read, read, read.

If you don’t know what to read, here are just a few ideas.  Okay…..maybe lots of ideas. We have too many favorites!

A dear friend, Sarah Clarkson, wrote a book that gave me a larger vision for how story shapes souls. Please read her book, Caught Up in a Story – Fostering a Storyformed Life of Great Books and Imagination with Your Children.

Picture Books
The Little Engine that Could – Watty Piper
The Bear That Heard Crying – Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
Ask Mr. Bear – Marjorie Flack
Gingerbread Baby – Jan Brett
Goldilocks and the the Three Bears – Jan Brett
Billy and Blaze Series – C.W. Anderson
The Big Green Pocketbook – Candice Ransom
Dance Me A Story (Twelve Tales from the Classic Ballets) – Jane Rosenberg
The Bee Tree – Patricia Polacco
The Butterfly – Patrica Polacco
The Clown of God – Tomie de Paola
Miss Rumphius – Barbara Cooney
Roxaboxen – Barbara Cooney
My Mama Had a Dancing Heart – Libba Moore Grey
Meet the Orchestra – Ann Hayes
Make Way for Ducklings – Robert McCloskey
Blueberries for Sal – Robert McCloskey
The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
Oh the Places You’ll Go – Dr Seuss
A Little Golden Book Collection – Eloise Wilkin Stories
The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter
All About Alfie – Shirley Hughes
All the Places to Love – Patricia MacLachlan
Fritz and the Beautiful Horses – Jan Brett
Magic School Bus Series –
Owl Moon – Jane Yolen
Johnny Appleseed – Steven Kellogg
Through Grandpa’s Eyes – Patricia MacLachlan
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin – Lloyd Moss
The Boy Who Held Back the Sea – Thomas Locker

Classic Literature – Chapter Books
The Chronicles of Narnia Series – C.S Lewis (Family Favorite)
Little House Series – Laura Ingalls Wilder
Winnie the Pooh Series – A.A. Milne
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Aesop’s Fables
The Railway Children – E. Nesbit
The Five Children and It – E. Nesbit
The Wind and the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle
Little Women – Louis May Alcott
James Herriott’s Treasury for Children
Just David – Eleanor H. Porter
Pollyanna – Elenor H. Porter
Black Beauty – Anna Sewell
At the Back of the North Wind – George MacDonald
Heidi – Joanna Spyri
The Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery

Chapter Books – Beginner Readers
Sarah, Plain and Tall – Patricia MacLachlan
Encyclopedia Brown – Donald J. Sobol
Boxcar Children Series – Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Littles – John Peterson
Stepping Stones (Classic Chapter Books) (Heidi) – Published by Random House

Fiction (Chapter Books)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
In Grandma’s Attic  – Arleta Richardson
The Secret Seven and Famous Five Series – Enid Blyton (Glenn’s favorite series from childhood)
The Brer Rabbit Collection – Enid Blyton
Mr. Poppers Penguins – Richard & Florence Atwater
Paddington – Michael Bond
Misty of Chincoteague – Marguerite Henry
All of A Kind Family – Sydney Taylor
Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers
Treasures of the Snow – Patricia McLachlan
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm – Kate Douglas Wiggin
Bear Called Padddington – Michael Bond
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
Justin Morgan Had A Horse – Marguerite Henry
My Side of the Mountain – Jean Craighead George
SnowTreasure – Marie McSwigan
Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling

Audio Books
Focus on the Family Radio Theater  – Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Secret Garden
Greathall Production (Storyteller Jim Weiss) – myths, fairytales, bedtime stories, historical biographies

Christian Hero Tales
Hero Tales – Dave & Neta Jackson
Trailblazer Series – Dave & Neta Jackson
Christian Heroes: Then and Now Series – Janet & Geoff Benge

Children’s Biographies
Who Was Series (Who Was Abraham Lincoln) – Published by Grosset and Dunlap

History
…If You Lived Series (If You Lived At the Time of the Civil War) Published by Scholastic
Story of the World (4 volumes) – Susan Wise Bauer

Children’s Bible & Devotional
Jesus Storybook Bible – Sally Lloyd Jones
The Child’s Story Bible – Catherine Vos
Psalms for Young Children – Marie-Helene Delval
Joseph – Brian Wildsmith
Exodus – Brian Wildsmith

Nature
National Audubon Society First Field Guides
Paddle to the Sea – Holling C. Holling

First Readers
Little Bear – Maurice Sendak
Frog and Toad  – Arnold Lobel
Amelia Bedelia – Peggy Parish

Poetry
A Child’s Garden of Verses – Robert Louis Stevenson
Poetry for Young People – Robert Frost

Art
Come Look With Me Series – Gladys Blizzard
Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists Series – Mike Venezia
VanGogh and The Sunflowers – Laurence Anholt
Leonardo and the Flying Boy – Laurence Anholt
Katie Meets the Impressionists – James Mayhew

The Ordinary Liturgy of Life

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“Let us remember that the life in which we ought to be interested is “daily” life. We can each of us only call the present time our own.  Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so He prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow.
~Gregory of Nyssa

I so desperately want my life to be meaningful. Mothering often happens in the hidden places, and so sometimes I can feel unseen. I know that God knows me intimately and knows the number of hairs on my head. And yet, it’s so easy to lose sight of the truth that He is with me, really with me.

It’s just that His voice is sometimes drowned out by, well, the sounds of my younger two children fighting in the background, yet again, over a toy. I want to ignore it, to stare out my window, or to sit down and lose myself in an engaging book. Why can’t they just be kind, be sweet? Their gradually escalating argument only fueled my desire to throw my own fit. And then my head continues to turn to the sink full of dishes, and just beyond, to the baskets of laundry overflowing.

We can’t escape the daily life— the changing of diapers, the feeding of ourselves and our families, the dishes and the laundry. No matter what our stage of life, the menial and mundane will always be with us.

How will I respond to these tasks set before me? My children turn to observe me. There are moments where I sit down and cry and others where I choose to shift my perspective.

Just as I engage (or try to!) in the liturgy of morning or evening prayer, can I also choose to see the menial and mundane parts of life as moments He wants to engage us?

The menial and mundane tasks of life are opportunities to turn our hearts and mind toward the Lord. 

Folding piece after piece of my children’s laundry, an ancient breath prayer comes to mind.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is sometimes shortened as, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” or simply, “Jesus, mercy.” Known as the “Jesus Prayer”, Christians would repeat this prayer or other simple prayers to the rhythm of their breath.

When engaging in the mundane is difficult, these prayers can ground me in the midst of the daily struggle, the chaos.  These simple prayers can invite the Holy Spirit in when my temptation is to let my mind wander to how much I dislike a mundane task or how I’m struggling to find the meaning in serving my family. Joy can be replaced by feelings of apathy or despair. By repeatedly praying breath prayers, these phrases can become rooted in my heart. I’m in the midst of learning to make this a more natural practice.

Here are some other breath prayer ideas:

Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

Holy Wisdom, Guide me.

Jesus, let me feel your love.

O Lord, Show me your way.

Abba Father, I Am Yours. 

In the book, The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris, she says, “When humans try to do everything at once and for all and be through with it, we court acedia, self-destruction, and death. Such power is reserved for God, who alone can turn what is “already done” into something that is ongoing and ever present. It is a quotidian mystery.”

What if there is a kind of spirituality vitality that would help us see menial tasks as holy work? I’m daily asking the Lord to help me to see His work through His eyes.

Join me, as I seek to dwell with God in the the midst of the mundane.

My Favorite Books…on Parenting

Packiam-23I’ve been thinking recently about how grateful I am for a wonderful mother and for other women who have discipled and poured into me over the years. I was recently at an event where I ran into one of these women who is now in her seventies. She took me under her wing over ten years ago when I was newly in ministry and then a new mother. I’ll never forget the core lesson she taught me: Discipleship is all about training and educating. 

Isn’t parenting at its core about discipleship? It’s really about relationship just as the Biblical narrative is about God’s relationship with us. More than correcting the behavior, discipleship is about helping our kids to walk on God’s path for life. Many books tell you what you should do because we yearn for a model or paradigm to follow. We wish someone could tell us what to do so everything will turn out well for our children. It’s much easier to follow a rule book than to trust God.

In poring over parenting books for many years, these are some of the ones that I’ve found most helpful with the goal of creating a loving, nurturing, grace-filled home. We’re far from having mastered the messages in these books– as anyone who knows us or our children can attest!– but many of these themes are ones we return to over and over again. Oh…and of course, the list is not exhaustive…and there are probably some I’m forgetting…but this should be a good start:

How to Really Love Your Child – D. Ross Campbell

Grace-Based Parenting – Tim Kimmel

The Mission of Motherhood – Sally Clarkson

Heartfelt Discipline – Clay Clarkson

Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in Your Kids – Scott Turansky

Motivate Your Child:  A Christian Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told – Scott Turansky

The Five Love Languages of Children – Gary D. Chapman

How Nurture Shapes Your Child’s Future

IMG_2257Of course you love your children. Isn’t that why you take them to fun places, let them choose activities or sports, give them the best education you know of and buy them lovely clothes? All of us love our kids but sometime our best intentions fail to translate to our children’s’ minds and hearts. I’m continually asking myself as a mom, Do my kids perceive the love I am trying to communicate?

Recently— in the late hours of the night— I have been reading over some research by Dr Stella Chess & Dr Alexander Thomas on the effects of nurture in the life of the child. In this study, they conclude that a child’s choices and adult outcome is largely determined by a combination of the home environment and personal traits of that specific child. It’s true: some children are more difficult to parent than others. Chess and Thomas describe nine temperaments observable in a newborn nursery that tend to stay with them as they grow, though these characteristics can change in the home environment. But the best news from the study is that the atmosphere a nurturing mother provides often contributes to a well-adapted child. Even in situations where mothers had difficult babies or toddlers, nurture was a huge factor in determining how the child ultimately adapted in society.

I’ll be honest: our children have been easier to nurture in some seasons, and more difficult in others. A couple of our kids were very difficult babies and it took digging into the depths of my heart and lots of prayer to give them all the nurturing they needed. And one of my more difficult babies is now a toddler. Her long bouts of crying as a baby have turned into lots of wonderful verbal and physical energy. (I would add that she also barely sleeps these days which equals one tired mama. I thought these days were over, but I guess I was wrong!) One of our children was an easy babies but now her quietness is challenging to interpret. I’m now asking the Lord for daily patience as I ask question after question to my sweet, quiet daughter who I long to know deeply.

If we hope to maintain continual relationship with our kids throughout their life, a bond of true unconditional love must be present.  Without it, whatever activities, programs, discipline, ideas, relationships we present will likely not be received with openness.

Every child is different so finding a way to the heart of each child is a non-formulaic unique process. My oldest craves quality time. She cannot wait for the next opportunity to sit alone with me and just talk about all that is going on in her heart or to read a book together and discuss it. A listening ear and an empathetic spirit are what she needs most from me. And my five year old son will share his heart over activities he loves, like building legos, or during a pre-bedtime back scratching routine. Even if there is little conversation between us, connecting with him through the things he loves fills up his little heart. Discipline seems less necessary when I give him the individual time he needs. All of our kids crave individual time and as you might imagine can be challenging to achieve with four.

Each family has their own unique puzzle with unique personalities. Ask the Lord to show you how to connect with each of your children. I believe He will be faithful to meet you in your struggle, in your questions, and in the ever-changing seasons of a child’s heart. Ask Him to help you sense how to love your children well as you continue to build the relational foundation that will last your entire life.

After all, we will never stop being parents. Love well.