Financial Setbacks

money burning up

Do you ever feel as though your money seems to burn up in your hands or at least flies out of your hands faster than you can earn it? Financial setbacks can be so discouraging and even heart-wrenching, can’t they?

My family has seen our share of setbacks in recent years. My husband, a public school teacher, has endured several forms of pay cuts over the last few years as a result of the economic recession, totaling close to 10 percent of his gross income–a significant drop for a family of six. Last year, in addition to a 40 percent hike in our health insurance premiums, we had a lot of out-of-pocket medical expenses for the kids: pneumonia, hernia surgery, allergy testing, stitches, ENT visits, and so on.

To add insult to injury last year, our upright freezer died (or, rather, was killed during a defrosting attempt). Our main level heating/air system went kaput, so we forked out over $4,000 to replace it. Our washing machine bit the dust a few weeks ago, which we haven’t yet replaced. Our well pump had to be replaced last week, to the tune of almost $2,000. Our dishwasher seems to be on its last leg. Our upstairs AC system needs work. Our cars are 13 and 14 years old, so who knows….

That’s enough to make a person cry a bucket of tears. At least an emotional, hormonal, occasionally irrational girl-person like me. I get overwhelmed sometimes when I look at how much is going out versus what’s coming in.

At times, it seems like we’re under attack, financially. We just can’t seem to get away from the huge bills, much less have enough surplus to build up our savings to pay for future repairs. Have you ever experienced setback after setback in this area of your life?

I know that many of these are “first world” problems. People in much of the world can’t even fathom having an air conditioner or a washing machine or a dishwasher. We’re thankful for such conveniences, but they are expensive to maintain or replace.

So, how can we cope, and what does God say about how to handle these situations?

First, I’ve had to dust off my “trust” feature lately. I know in my head that God is my Provider. He has proven Himself oodles of times in my life, but this week, especially, I’ve struggled with trusting Him in the area of finances. I see more going out than coming in, and I don’t understand what He’s doing. I’m frustrated. I’m afraid. At times, I’m angry.

I was praying out loud in the car one day this week about the plumbing bill that we incurred, and I told the Lord, “If you want to use your money this way, so be it.” You see, it is His money. Everything is His (1 Chronicles 29:11-12). We’re only stewards, or managers, of His property. If He gives us a house or cars or children, we are to care for them, and sometimes that means large bills.

Second, a budget is an absolute necessity. Without a budget, it’s impossible to know how much is available for various areas and where/when to cut back. Some people like to use an online budget like Mvelopes or a software budgeting tool, but I still use a pencil and paper budget. I allocate money to each category every pay day, then when we spend, I deduct it from the appropriate area. Because we’ve been budgeting all of our married lives, we were able to dip into money that we saved years ago for all of the major expenses of the last couple of years and not incur debt. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to save for the last couple of years, and the reserve is getting dangerously low, but we have hope that things will turn around as the economy improves.

Third, we have to work hard at whatever the Lord gives us to do. I’ve been busy marketing our book to bookstores. Trevor has been brainstorming about extra jobs he could do over the summer to bring in income. We’re both working hard to get our house ready to put on the market, so we can move closer to Trevor’s work and save significant money in transportation costs. Of course, I still coupon for our food and household items; and since we’re home more over the summer, I’m cooking a lot and we’re eating out less to save money. We believe that it’s important for us to be proactive about expanding our income opportunities….not so much that our lives become unbalanced, but always being open to new avenues of God’s provision.

Finally, I have to understand that God has a purpose for this lean time in my life. If we look back at the life of Job, we see that he lost absolutely everything that was important to him. Everything. He didn’t know why God was allowing all of the bad things to happen to him, but in the midst of all of the turmoil, Job was faithful. He didn’t sin, and he trusted God to work it out. In the end, God blessed Job with twice as much as he had initially (Job 42:10).

Here’s the bottom line: God is in control. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He owns it all, and He has promised to provide for us (Philippians 4:19).

The key is trusting Him, while doing our part to be responsible and hard working and frugal. God will provide for our needs, because He said He would and if He says something, we can take it to the bank (pun intended).

So, if you’re struggling with financial issues, let’s pray for each other in our trying times. As Galatians 6:2 reminds us, let us “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

 

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What Good Are Dads, Anyway?

What Good Are Dads Anyway

In honor of Father’s Day, many of my Facebook friends have been changing their profile pictures this weekend to photos of their dads. I love to see all of the precious pictures of dads—some who are still with us and some who have gone on to heaven. There’s nothing quite like a father.

If you pay much attention to popular television shows, you have probably noticed that dads (and men, in general) are more often than not portrayed as bumbling idiots. They are shown as dumb, lazy, out of touch, and even unfaithful. I despise the message that this sends to a generation of young people who, maybe more than any other generation, desperately needs to see hard-working providers. They need to see men who stick around, in spite of the difficulties, because that’s what dads and husbands do. They need to see men who are strong and brave and who protect their loved ones from harm. They need to see godly fathers.

I’ve often heard that people subconsciously equate God with their earthly fathers. If one grew up with a harsh, overbearing father, he or she might fear God and feel as though He isn’t ever satisfied or accessible. One who grew up without a father in the home might have an emotional disconnect when it comes to having a relationship with the Heavenly Father. One who had a good relationship with his earthly father will be inclined to have a healthy and accurate view of God, the Father. Fathers have unspeakable potential to lead their children closer to the Lord or, sadly, in the opposite direction.

Maybe every “Daddy’s girl” thinks this way, but I’m convinced that I have the best dad anyone could ever hope for. He’s always “been there” for me; my biggest cheerleader. He led me to the Lord when I was young. He is my counselor, my advisor, my helper when I need him. He’s my rock, and I’m thankful beyond words for him.

photo (1)

And then there’s my husband, the father of my children. He is a faithful provider, the spiritual leader of our family, planner of fun activities, our homeschool math instructor, inventor of crazy songs, and my soul mate. He is teaching our boys to be men who will work hard to provide, to defend their families bravely, and to lead in godliness.

IMG_7827

Scripture gives us an idea of what makes a good dad:

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Proverbs 3:11-12

“He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” Proverbs 14:26

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

“Which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Do you see how important dads are? They weren’t just an afterthought or a means to help populate the earth. They are vitally important to the health of our children, families, and therefore communities and nation and world. Thank you, godly dads, for doing your part, for being Jesus with skin on to your families. Thank you, Dad and Trevor, for the impact you are leaving on my children. Thank you, Lord, for your awesome design for families.

Happy Father’s Day, dads! We celebrate you today and always. 🙂

 

 

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I’m Never Really Safe Here

dangerI was soaking up some rays yesterday afternoon in my front yard, trying to combat the perpetual Snow-Whiteness of my skin. As I lay there enjoying the breeze and the beautiful spring flowers, suddenly the peace was interrupted by the eruption of very loud, relatively close, semi-automatic gunfire. After a few shots I realized that it was just a neighbor doing some target practice. I was in no danger, but my heart skipped a beat nonetheless.

Trevor and I are pro-2nd Amendment people all the way, but I understand that some people who possess deadly weapons will use them with evil intentions. I also understand that countless dangers exist in this fallen world. I have known people who were taken from this world in car crashes, from diseases, in terrible, freak accidents, or at the hands of violent criminals.

I watched some of the documentaries of the 70th anniversary of D-Day this weekend. Remembering the utter evil of Hitler’s reign and the millions of lives that were lost during that time drives this point home even more. The older I get, the more I understand how fragile life is and how easily it can be snuffed out. I realize that I’m never truly safe here.

It’s a really good thing, then, that this is not my home. Not ultimately, anyway. I’m just passing through on my way to heaven. And Jesus is getting my eternal home ready for me even now.

Instead of somber thoughts, I like to focus on God as my Protector. I can choose to trust Him in every situation, every day, knowing that He is all-powerful and more than able to keep me from danger and sickness and harm. Certainly God uses even what we deem bad situations to work good in our lives, but sometimes the devil just wants to hurt us. I believe God thwarts untold attempts by the enemy to inflict injury or heartache on His children.

Consider these verses:

2 Thessalonians 3:3: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

2 Samuel 22:3-4: “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge, my savior—from violent men you save me. I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”

Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 54:17: “‘No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the LORD.”

Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Psalm 91:1-2: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'”

2 Timothy 4:18: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Get the idea?

Our Heavenly Father created us, chose us, loves us. He protects us day after day from harm that we can’t even imagine. But because we all must leave this world at one time or another, eventually our earthly bodies will cease to work and we will cross over into eternity. Oh, what a glorious day that will be, when no longer can anyone or anything hurt us or harm us. There will be no more evil, persecution, danger, or peril. Everything will be made right, just as God intended earth to be, originally. Everything will be perfect.

Do you look forward to that day as much as I do? Do you long for Jesus to return to earth to take His church to heaven with Him? The darker the days become here, the more I want to be with my Father in heaven. But until that time, there’s much work to do here to share the Good News with the world.

Come, Lord Jesus. (Rev. 22:20)

 

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Catching My Breath

my rocking chair front porch

My peaceful place….

The last month has been a whirlwind. I’m sorry I haven’t posted much lately, but I’ve just been trying to keep my head above water until summer break arrived. Here are a few of the activities that some or all of my family were involved in during the last month:

Karate tournament

Piano recital

Birthday parties

Baby shower

Class play

Worship dance performance

Poetry recital

Water/field day

Standardized testing

Graduation at the school where Trevor teaches

All of this was in addition to normal things like work, homeschooling, karate practices, piano practices, church duties, cooking, housekeeping, couponing, and so on. Also, I’ve taken on quite a few new duties at the homeschool academy, so I’ve been busy ordering curriculum for K-8th grades (mostly used, from various sites and various sellers—very time consuming), while handling payroll, banking/bookkeeping, insurance, maintaining the school website and Facebook page, getting records ready for accreditation, and various other school responsibilities.

Add to that the fact that we’re trying to get our house ready to put on the market, so I painted a bathroom and laundry room and I’ve been working on a massive clean-out and give-away campaign to de-clutter our house before we list it.

Whew! What a month!

I’m always glad to see June get here after a tough and busy school year. Because I married a school teacher, summers are especially meaningful to us, since our family is able to take a long break together. We work on house projects that need to be done, take trips together, go swimming and bowling a lot, spend time with extended family, do some canning and freezing of garden fruits and veggies, and generally rejuvenate to get ready for the next school year. I love summer break, and it seems like this year I needed it more than usual.

Isn’t is sweet when the Lord gives us time to rest and re-charge our batteries? Here are a few verses that spoke to my heart regarding rest:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2-3)

“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” (Psalm 55:6)

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31b)

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)

“The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'” (Exodus 33:14)

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:9-11)

So, in the midst of preparing my house to sell and getting things situated for the coming school year at our homeschool academy, I look forward to taking some much-needed breaks, too. I plan to sit in the rocking chair on my front porch sipping coffee, read some great books that I don’t have time to read during the school year (I already finished the Hunger Games trilogy…..FABULOUS!), catch some rays at the pool with my kids, spend leisurely time with extended family and friends, and generally recover from the stress of the busy school year.

Life is full for our family (sometimes more full than we would like) during this stage of our lives, but I realize how very fleeting these moments are. I intend to savor them while they’re here. I hope you’ll join me in slowing down some this summer and re-filling your tank with rest, energy, enthusiasm, enrichment, and joy.

Happy Summer! 🙂

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Even a Child is Known By His Actions

crying child

 

Do you know a child who is consistently unruly, disrespectful, disorderly, rude, or arrogant? One who, if invited to your home, might help himself or herself to your things without asking and act as though he or she deserves to be served? One who makes messes and expects others to clean up after him? One who seems to be the “tail that wags the dog” in his or her family and obviously has few boundaries?

I think we all know or have known such children. I vividly remember some out of control children that I babysat shortly after I graduated from high school. They were the type of kids that would give a person nightmares. One ran away and hid from me; I finally found him next door. Another pooped in his bed and smeared it all over the place, and he was plenty old enough to know better. You get my point. Needless to say, I declined ever to babysit for that family again after the first horrible experience.

Certainly all children have their “moments” when they are out of control or have meltdowns. Heaven knows that mine do at times, but some children seem to be characterized by poor attitudes and unruly behavior.

This makes me think of an Andy Griffith episode. A new family has moved to town, and Opie has befriended the son. The boy is obviously spoiled rotten and isn’t used to being denied anything that he wants. He rides his bike on the town sidewalks and then scoffs and continues doing it when Barney (the deputy sheriff) tells him that it isn’t allowed. He teaches Opie that the way to get what you want is to lie on the floor and scream and cry until your parents give in.

Finally, Andy and Barney confiscate the boy’s bicycle. The boy brings his father to the sheriff’s office to retrieve the bike. At first, the father is insistent on having the bike back, and his son lays on the manipulation thick. Then Andy helps the father to see through the boy’s trickery and encourages him to take his son out behind the building to the “woodshed,” implying that what the boy needs is a good, old fashioned spanking.

Proverbs 20:11 tells us that “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” That is a very heavy verse for me, and it brings with it a huge responsibility for all parents. Society often gives the message that “kids will be kids,” or that we can expect bad behavior from children because they are young. I think there is some truth to that. Certainly children will display “childish” behavior because they haven’t yet gained the maturity and wisdom to make good decisions.

But the job of training our children in godliness begins when they are born. Every day contains multiple learning opportunities for guiding our children in righteousness, and even young children can begin to display qualities associated with godliness: love for others, patience, generosity, respect, kindness, self control, and so forth.

Trevor and I went through some training classes on child rearing before we even had kids, because we wanted to be as prepared as we could be to “train up our children in the way that they should go.” Of course we could never be completely prepared for parenthood until we actually had kids. We’ve been parenting now for over 12 years, and we have realized that some of what we learned wasn’t the best for our children, and we have changed course. However, much of it has helped us to parent intentionally and more effectively than we would have if we had been flying by the seat of our pants.

A point that was stressed in the training was that one of our main goals as parents should be that our children are a joy to others. We want them to be polite and respectful around others so that people don’t cringe when they see them coming (you catch my drift, don’t you?). We want them to be calm and respectful in stores so that they don’t annoy other customers (we’ve certainly had big failures on that front before!).

This all boils down to whether we are training their hearts the way that God wants us to. We realize that parenting our children is the most important responsibility that we will ever have, and we have only one chance to get it right. There are no “do-overs” with our kids. And we have only a short time to complete their training, because they will be grown and out of our doors before we know it. I am shocked beyond words when I think about my oldest being 12 already. In just a few short years, he will be a man and on his own, with the other three soon to follow (at least that’s the goal, right?).

My encouragement today is that, as parents, we be very intentional about parenting our children while they are still in our care. Let us take every opportunity to teach them the moral reasons why they should choose the behaviors that we require. Let us confess our mistakes to them and ask for their forgiveness, so they will learn to do the same. Let us model respect for our elders and show them how much wisdom we can gain from older people, to turn the tide of disrespect that so many young people display toward the aged. Let us require them to participate in family responsibilities so they will learn to be productive and self-sufficient adults. Most of all, let us instill in them a sense of God’s great love for them and model ways that we can share His love with others.

As we walk this road of parenting together, may we encourage each other in our successes, keep each other accountable, and pick each other up when we fail. We can learn a lot from each other, and there is much joy to be experienced in the journey! 🙂

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Seriously?

moms night out trailer

The directors of “Moms’ Night Out” report that the movie is being described by liberal critics as “‘anti-feminist,’ ‘borderline dangerous,’ ‘offensive,’ and ‘insulting’ – and reviewer Brian Orndorf condemns the movie as ‘ugly sexism in what’s trying to be a harmless feature ….'”

Check out the report here.  

Well, I’ve seen the movie, and I can honestly say that it wasn’t any of the above. It is a film that celebrates family the way that God created and intended it to be. It affirms the importance of mothers in the lives of not only their children but ultimately the world. It underscores the worth of friends and the treasure that they can be to our lives. It validates the feelings of so many of us moms, that what we do day to day is unbelievably hard but worth it many times over. It was, in short, amazing.

I guess it shouldn’t by now, but it always shocks me that people get so uptight about traditional (i.e., biblical) families with traditional (i.e., biblical) values that they resort to such attacks. What, really, are they so threatened about? Why not “live and let live” as we Christians are instructed to do so often when faced with blatant immorality?

I can’t say that I’m surprised at the attacks, because if something is honoring to God, we can expect that the world will hate it. Remember that Jesus told us, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

So, we can reason, therefore, that if the world is unhappy about what we’re doing, we must be doing something right! So, thank you, Erwin brothers, for making a professional, hilarious, deeply touching, God-honoring movie that we can get excited about.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it is well worth the $8 or $10, and it will send a clear message to Hollywood that there’s a demand for good, clean, family friendly entertainment. We’ve done a good job with that message so far, because Moms’ Night Out opened Mother’s Day weekend at #7, with gross receipts at over $4.3 million. Way to go, moms!

Remember….

hand that rocks the cradle

🙂

 

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Disappointed

Disappointed

Have you ever been disappointed about something? I mean really disappointed? Like bawl your eyes out disappointed?

I think we all have faced many disappointments in our lives. How we deal with disappointment says a lot about us, doesn’t it?

I faced a fairly large disappointment today. My husband teaches high school math, and the school where he teaches is a good 30 minutes from our house. He took the job there several years ago because we were trying to sell our house and build on land that we own that is in that area, but our house never sold. We finally took it off the market after several 6-month stints with various realtors and one “for sale by owner” endeavor.

Well, the last couple of years we’ve been thinking how nice it would be for Trevor to teach at the high school that is a couple of miles from our house, since it didn’t look like we would be moving, after all. Our budget is very tight right now, and the money we would save in gas would amount to probably $1,500 or more each year, not to mention wear and tear on the car and the time savings.

Trevor officially put in for a transfer early in the spring, and we found out today that he didn’t get the transfer. 😦

My heart sank when I read Trevor’s e-mail this morning. I wanted to cry. I was  disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. Trevor really likes where he teaches now. The transfer would’ve been purely from a desire to save time and money. And those savings would’ve been really helpful, to our family schedule and to our family budget.

Or would they?

As humans, we sometimes want a thing (like a job transfer or to sell a home or to have a child or to marry a certain person or to win an election) really, really, really badly. So badly that we can almost taste it. Have you experienced that? And if we don’t get it, it hurts. It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing.

But have you ever been glad later that you didn’t get that thing that you really, really, really wanted? I have.

Many times.

As Christians, we need to trust that God knows what’s best for our lives. If He says “no” to something that we desire an awful lot, we must believe that He has something even better in store. Or perhaps He is protecting us from something that would’ve hurt us. Bottom line: He knows all things and if we allow Him to direct our lives, He will do a much better job of it than we will.

On the contrary, if we fight against God’s leading and force the circumstances to work out the way that we want, we just might regret it. I’ve done it. We probably all have at one time or another. If we jump ahead of God and try to make things happen in our lives, we usually find that we wish we had waited on Him.

So, after my little pity party about Trevor not getting the transfer, I had a really exciting thought…..maybe we’ll try again to sell our house and build near his current school (which is also near my parents and sister—an even bigger plus). It’s a totally different housing market than when we tried several years ago, so who knows? Maybe it will sell in “such a time as this.”

So, I spent a couple of hours today perusing through house plans and trusting that God’s got this situation under control. And that makes me happy. 🙂

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

 

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You’re Enough

stressed momHave you heard about the new movie that came out this weekend called “Moms’ Night Out”? I watched the trailer for it a few weeks ago and knew that I had to see it.

So, I got together with several of my mom friends from our homeschool academy, and we had a wild and crazy Moms’ Night Out of our own last night.

Well, it wasn’t really wild and crazy at all, but it was so very fun and meaningful. We saw the “Moms’ Night Out” movie and went to dinner together at a Thai restaurant afterward. I’ve never had Thai food before, so it was neat to try it for the first time.

This was officially my first-ever Moms’ Night Out. Is that unbelievable, or what? I’ve been a mom for over 12 years, and I’ve never had a Moms’ Night Out!

When the kids were little, I was constantly pregnant or breastfeeding, and it was pretty overwhelming just to feed, clothe, and keep everyone alive. On the one hand, it didn’t occur to me to go out without the kids and actually have fun. On the other hand, I didn’t know many moms with whom I could go out.

I’m glad to be in a place in my life where I have relationships with other homeschooling moms, and my kids are old enough that I could leave them with daddy for a few hours and not feel guilty about it. My husband deserves a medal, because he took care of not just our four kids last night but my niece also. And when I got home, everyone was alive. Well, one kid was broken out in hives, and my laptop screen had met its demise, but at least the house was still standing and everyone was breathing. I’d say that was a successful evening with five rambunctious kids! (Seriously, he does very well caring for all of the kids, unlike the dads on the movie.)

So, the premise of the movie is that a desperately stressed homeschooling mom (Isn’t that redundant?) of three, Allyson (Sarah Drew), gets together with a couple of friends for a much-needed moms’ night out. Allyson had been really struggling with feelings of inadequacy in her role as mom and wife. Even though she was living the life that she always dreamed of, she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t “happy.”

The trouble the ladies (and their husbands) get into during the night is utterly hilarious, but in the midst of the chaos comes a beautifully encouraging interchange between Allyson and a biker dude, Bones (Trace Adkins). Bones brings her to tears as he artfully helps her to recognize that she is enough….for her kids, for her husband, for God.

Allyson ends the movie by writing a blog post, “I’m a mess. I’m a beautiful mess, but I’m His masterpiece. And that’s enough.”

Do you ever feel like a mess, moms? Do you ever feel like what you have to give is not enough? Do you ever feel like you’re swirling around in a whirlpool, in danger of being sucked into the abyss? I certainly do. Sometimes my life is simply overwhelming. Sometimes I lose it with my kids, with my husband. Sometimes I just want to quit because things are so hard.

You all know. It’s hard to homeschool four kids. It’s hard to maintain a household—to cook for picky eaters day after day, to clean up after mess-makers, to stretch our budget to make ends meet, to train up my kids in the way they should go when sometimes I don’t even know which way to go. It’s hard being a good wife and keeping peace in my home. It’s hard serving the Lord like I know I should. Life is just hard a lot of the time.

My husband likes to tell me that I’m “living my dream.” And I know that’s true. It’s what I’ve always wanted: to be a wife and homeschooling mom. So like Allyson in the movie, why am I not happy more of the time? Why does life seem like such a struggle?

Allyson’s pastor’s wife reminds her that, “Life is about finding the meaning and the joy and the purpose in all the chaos.” God gave your kids to you. Not to anyone else. He knows that there will be chaos in a household with kids. But He also knows that you are the very best mom for those children, and He will give you everything that you need to raise them. I think at those times when we feel desperate, His grace can fill us to overflowing, and then we are enough.

Happy Mother’s Day, my mom friends! Keep calm and mother on! 🙂

 

 

 

 

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We don’t have a bullying problem; we have a sin problem.

BullyingThe headline on the “HealthWatch” insert in my local newspaper on Sunday read, “Studies show being bullied impacts adults years later.” I had one of those “DUH” moments when I read that. Do you ever have those? You see something that seems more than obvious being stated as a surprising new revelation. Something that should be common sense, but we have to pay for a scientific study to verify it.

Okay, maybe my sarcasm is coming out a little too much. But really, of course we know that children who are bullied carry the effects of that mistreatment into their adult years. That’s why we have the over-the-top ad campaigns against bullying, right?

The article discusses a study from the U.K. which examined data on several thousand people who were born during the same week in 1958. Now in their 50s, the subjects who were bullied as kids have a significantly higher incidence of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide. In addition, Childhood bullying victimization was associated with a lack of social relationships, economic hardship, and poor perceived quality of life at age 50.”

Now, this was, of course, a secular study, not taking into account the spiritual condition of the test subjects at any given time. I would be interested to see how those who are Christians have fared versus those who have no relationship with the Lord. I would imagine that the ones with Christ in their lives are doing better emotionally and psychologically than others.

At any rate, I have some thoughts about the bullying craze that has swept our nation, and apparently the world.

When I was growing up, I never heard the first song or saw the first commercial telling me not to be a bully. Did you? And do you know what? Still I knew that I shouldn’t bully people.

Now we are absolutely bombarded by the anti-bullying campaign in the media, yet by all accounts bullying seems to have increased many-fold. I have to wonder why there is such a focus on bullying these days and why the anti-bullying efforts seem to be failing.

When I was going through school, I was picked on occasionally. It hurt a lot at the time, and it still stings now when I think about it. But I’ve grown and matured and have allowed the Lord to bring about good where the devil intended to harm me. I forgave the perpetrators, and now I understand that “hurting people hurt people.” The people who made fun of me or “bullied” me probably did so out of their own feelings of inadequacy or fear or jealousy or something of the sort.

I grew up in public schools in the Bible Belt. While the Bible had already long since been outlawed in public schools by the time I came along, there was still a sort of underlying respect for Christianity in most of my schools. I remember many of my teachers being strong, outspoken Christians.

I think one reason for what seems to be an epidemic in bullying is that God and His Word have been completely kicked out of many public schools. Teachers have been fired for speaking about their faith in their jobs. God is no longer welcome in many schools, and where He isn’t present, the devil will reign.

It is no longer acceptable to teach kids to “love your neighbor” and tell them the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate it. “Love one another” is in the Bible, so of course it isn’t allowed to be taught.

On another note, I think bullying is a symptom of a larger problem: the breakdown of the family. This is just a guess, but I would be willing to bet that if a study were done of those who are bullies, many are from broken homes or were born out of wedlock and have been raised without a father. That is certainly the case among the majority of people who end up in prisons.

Kids need their mother and their father. When those relationships are torn apart or were never intact in the first place, a myriad of consequences occur, and I can imagine that many kids act out their pain in the form of hurting other people.

You might think this is a stretch, but I believe another issue is related to bullying: the culture of abortion that has infested our country. It is well documented that the incidence of child abuse has skyrocketed since abortion was legalized in 1973. When a nation begins to view its most vulnerable members as disposable, all life is thereby devalued and a general atmosphere of disrespect for others results. We live in a “me” world, where personal responsibility is lacking and “consequences” for our actions can seemingly be erased.

Mother Teresa said, “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.” 

And what is bullying, if not a destroyer of love and peace? People using violence to get what they want or mistreating others to ease their own pain.

Along those lines, as our nation continues its tailspin into deeper and deeper immorality, and sin is not only tolerated but celebrated, it’s little wonder to me that many kids today have no moral compass to guide them. Kids, left to their own, will make poor choices. They need adults in their lives to teach them how to be loving, responsible, kind, generous, patient, peaceful, and self-controlled (sound a little like Galatians 5:22-23 to you?).

So, yeah, we have a bullying symptom, but what we really have is a sin problem. The sooner we turn back to the Lord and His Word, the sooner our young people will see the inherent value in their classmates and act accordingly.

 

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Let The Mother Go Out to Play!

You might’ve seen this picture on my Facebook page this week:

mothers play

In case you’re not familiar with Charlotte Mason, she was a British educator in the 1800s who was a bit of a revolutionary in her ideas and methods. Here’s a great description of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education.

What struck me this week, though, is what Charlotte had to say about mothers. She wasn’t a mother. She never married or had children, yet she recognized some important things about home life, particularly relating to mothers.

There is more to the quote in the picture above. It goes like this:

“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would have the courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents. The mother would then be able to hold herself in “wise passiveness’ and would not fret her children by continual interference even of hand or eye – she would let them be.” 

Wow. That’s an interesting concept….when life becomes too tense, just take a day or half a day out in the fields or with a favorite book or in a picture gallery or in bed without the children. Can any of you moms even fathom such a reality? I certainly can’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my children more than life itself, but life does become too tense sometimes and a break like Charlotte described would be amazing beyond measure. I think the perception sometimes to those who have never walked this road of a homeschooling mom is that every day is a vacation, so there’s no need to get away. Consequently, in the early years, especially, I felt guilty for even desiring a break because “everything should be okay since I get to stay at home all the time.” Can any of you relate? Do any of you ever get that message from people in your life?

The reality is that it’s very hard to raise children, to care for them 24/7, to homeschool them. And without breaks, I become tired and frustrated and short tempered. Our home life is less than it should be when I’m worn out.

So, what can we do about it, those of us who might not have the resources available to take breaks like Charlotte described? How can we refresh and rejuvenate so that our home is happy and well balanced?

We have to get creative. Here are a few things I have done to have breaks and stay sane:

1. I took up couponing shortly after our fourth baby was born. This might sound utterly insane to you, but it actually allowed me to kill two birds with one stone: 1) I started saving our family lots of money, and 2) I had an excuse to go out to shop by myself more often since I was saving our family lots of money. So, to me, going to the grocery store alone is a nice, refreshing break.

2. Now that my older children are involved in a homeschool academy a few hours each week, I have only my 5-year-old during that time. So, that, in itself, is a bit of a break. However, I had the idea of an arrangement with a friend who also has only her 5-year-old while her older kids are at the homeschool academy. We decided that on Wednesdays she would keep my child during school hours, and on Thursdays I would keep her child. So, my friend and I each have about 4 hours alone every week, which has been a wonderful arrangement. (We also swap date nights with that same family occasionally, which is a huge blessing.)

3. Exercise. I like to take walks around our neighborhood to stay healthy, but it also gives me 30 minutes or so by myself to think or pray or talk on the phone or listen to worship music. I don’t feel guilty getting away for a few minutes if I’m doing something that benefits my health.

Okay, so those are my thoughts. I’m not strolling through an art gallery or a field or lying in bed to relax, as Charlotte Mason suggested, but then the world is a different place now, too. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by life, I hope you’ll get creative and find ways to re-charge your batteries. You’ll be glad you did, and your family will be, too!

 

 

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Do You Know How to Knock?

ice

Have you seen the movie Frozen?

Of course you have. Everyone in the country has seen Frozen, I’m sure. Well, we finally rented it from Redbox a couple of weeks ago, because we’re cheap—I mean frugal—that way. And we watched it four times. Yes, four times. My five-year-old (Noah) now has several of the scenes memorized and recites them at random times, eliciting laughs and smiles all around.

Our favorite character is Olaf. Isn’t he the cutest little snowman you’ve ever seen?!

The scene that Noah has been imitating lately goes like this:

Olaf, Anna, and Kristoff travel to the ice castle where sister Elsa is hiding out. They climb the grand ice staircase and go to the door. Anna raises her hand to knock, and she stands there, hesitating…..

Olaf, standing behind her, cheers her on,

“Knock.”

“Just knock.”

Whispering to Kristoff, Olaf continues, “Why isn’t she knocking? Do you think she knows how to knock?”

Here’s a homemade clip of the scene that I found on YouTube, if you want to check it out. I think it’s hilarious, but then I think that everything Olaf says and does is hilarious.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you really should spend $1.20 to rent it from Redbox. Pay particular attention to Olaf. Remember that “a cheerful heart is good medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22) 🙂

Anyway, back to my point.

Why does Anna hesitate to knock on the door of her sister’s ice castle? I imagine there was fear of rejection, uncertainty of what she might find behind the door, and perhaps feelings of abandonment.

I wonder if God might say the same things as Olaf sometimes as we’re struggling through life, hesitating to call on Him.

“Knock.”

“Just knock.”

“Why aren’t you knocking?”

“Do you know how to knock?”

You see, I’m convinced that God is always right there at the door, waiting for us to come to Him. He has what we need for every situation of our lives, but often He waits for us to ask Him. It takes a step of faith, and maybe humility, to admit that we can’t make it on our own. We need Him.

The older I get and the more complicated my life becomes, the more I realize how desperately I need the Lord. I am completely and utterly hopeless without Him in my life. My heart is rotten to the core without Him, and my life would be in shambles were it not for his unmerited favor toward me.

I often wonder how people without the Lord can make it though this life. It must be so miserable without His love and guidance. But as a gentleman, God won’t force His way into our lives. He is patiently pursuing us with his extravagant love, wooing us, calling us, serenading us, beckoning us to have a relationship with Him.

Remember that “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.” (Romans 2:4)

He loves you with an everlasting love, and His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:23)

Do you know how to knock?

 

 

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Beth Moore says, “Keep Your Breasts to Yourself!”

Keep Your Breasts to Yourself!

I just had to share this audio clip from Beth Moore’s Esther study, related to my recent post, Modesty is Beautiful.

Take a listen. It’s powerful truth!

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Steady Plodding Brings Prosperity

Steady Plodding

Proverbs 21:5 in The Living Bible says, “Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty.” The NIV puts it like this, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”

In my first job out of college,  I did social work for a home health agency. I made very little money, and I had no “benefits” at all (health insurance, paid time off, a retirement plan, or the like). However, at 21 years old, I determined that I needed to start putting something aside for my retirement years. So, I began to put $5 each week into an envelope for my retirement that was probably some 40 or more years into the future.

Now, I ended up spending my little retirement nest egg a few years later to pay for my wedding, which I think was a pretty good use of those funds, but the practice of saving that money each week helped me to develop financial discipline that would be useful in future years.

So, what does steady plodding look like for you and me?

Many of us who are in the midst of raising children might have very little “extra” income available for saving or investing. However, these are the years when we need to be setting aside some funds to prepare for when we might become less productive as we age. If we take a hard look at our budgets, we can often find ways to free up a little money to put away for the future, and then the marvelous principle of compounding interest can work in our favor.

I like what Proverbs 6:6-8 tells us about saving:

“Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise! 
It has no commander, 
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.”
 

If even the ant saves its surplus for a rainy day, we should do it, too. We aren’t promised that our future years will bring the same level of income as we have now. God expects us to be faithful stewards and prepare for our later years in the present, all the while trusting in Him as our Provider.

Perhaps we can cut our grocery budget by $50 a month by couponing or go to a smaller cable TV package or eat out less, and start socking that extra money away into an emergency savings account or a Roth IRA. Of course, paying off any debts that you might have will net a guaranteed return and free up money in your budget for saving and investing.

Many financial experts suggest having an emergency savings reserve of three to six months’ income, in case of a medical crisis or a job loss or a major house repair. Once the emergency savings is fully funded, it’s time to divert those funds to investing for the future. It might be helpful to set up automatic draft so that the money comes out of your check before you even see it.

Multitudes of companies offer IRAs and various type of investments, and it’s simple to start an account. If you would like help navigating the waters, some reputable investment companies that I’ve found are:

Ron Blue & Co.

Kingdom Advisors

Sound Mind Investing

The key is to start. Just start somewhere, and as you begin to make progress, you will become encouraged and excited and motivated to continue. Larry Burkett used to say that we shouldn’t spend everything that we make while we’re working and then expect God to provide for us in retirement. He might just tell us that He provided what we would need and we spent it already!

Prayerfully set goals for your saving and investing. Write out short-term and long-term goals, and check your progress periodically to see if you are on track. Of course, there are factors that we won’t be able to control, such as the economy and the stock market, so adjustments will need to be made along the way. But having a written plan will help to solidify where you’re going and the steps you need to take to get there.

There are several calculators at this link that will help you to see what it will take to reach your savings and investing goals.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

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Should Christians Be Involved in Politics?

Constitution When I was a teenager, I developed a strong interest in politics and a desire to make a difference in the social (moral) issues of the day, particularly abortion. I wore pro-life t-shirts, spoke against abortion in my church youth group (much to the chagrin of my pro-abortion youth leader), and shortly after high school began volunteering at a local crisis pregnancy center. I voted in my first presidential election the fall of my freshman year in college. I had proudly volunteered on George H. W. Bush’s local campaign team, and I cried when he was defeated.

I probably get my passion for politics from my dad. He has always taken great interest in political issues, though he is much less vocal about it than I.

I was ecstatic when my dad’s younger brother announced his bid for U.S. Congress in 2012, to fill a new seat created by Georgia’s redistricting. I jumped right in to help my uncle with his campaign, and I loved every minute of it. Although his campaign was greatly out-funded by his two already well-known opponents and my uncle was ultimately defeated, he garnered an amazing percentage of the primary vote, I believe because of his unwavering message of returning the nation to the original intent of the Constitution. So many of our politicians today have little regard for the Constitution, and our country is suffering greatly as a result.

As I look around, I often see a lack of involvement and what appears to be a lack of interest in political issues among believers. I get the sense that people think I’m wacko because I am involved and I do take a stand.

I have always struggled with feeling out of place because of the passion that I have for being involved in politics and trying to make a difference in that arena. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and politics is traditionally a man’s world. My first thought is always that I’m in the wrong when I’m the one who seems to be sticking out like a sore thumb. I wonder if, as a Christian woman, I should just keep quiet and not “rock the boat.” However, I think that Christians keeping quiet has, in large part, led to many of the ills that we’re facing today: abortion on demand, the redefinition of marriage, socialized medicine, communistic core education, crippling debt, the welfare state, and the like. I think a line has been drawn in the sand of the United States of America. We must choose whether we will go God’s way or the world’s, and maybe we need more passionate, emotional women to get on board.

What it comes back to time after time for me is that this nation was founded firmly on God’s principles and His Word. Most of the founding fathers were committed Christians, and they prayed as they drafted the very documents that established our government. They weren’t afraid to speak up when they felt that something was unjust. They were passionate about seeing this nation survive and thrive. And they sought God’s blessings on our land. If the founders combined their faith with their politics, I feel justified in doing the same. (Check out Wallbuilders for a wealth of information on our founders.)

Of course, I pray for this nation, for our leaders, and for the voters at election time. But I think my responsibility goes beyond that. I feel compelled to stay involved with decisions that my elected officials are making, because, well, if they are elected to represent me, then they need to know how I feel about the issues at hand.

I often call or e-mail my governor, my state senator, my state representative, and sometimes my U.S. Senators to voice my wishes or concerns. I see my U.S. Congressman at the grocery store occasionally and at political meetings in the area, and I and feel comfortable talking to him about things on my mind.

I try to be as involved as I can (around my kids’ activities) with our local TEA Party group, making a difference at the grassroots level. I’m helping out this weekend with a Tax Day Rally, and I’m excited that many of our candidates for U.S. Senate will be there to speak to the group.

I think many people believe that their responsibility ends after they cast their ballot, but it doesn’t. Our nation is in trouble and is heading in the wrong direction in many, many ways.  In my opinion, there’s never been a more important time to get involved and try to help turn things around, for the sake of our children and grandchildren. We’ve all heard the saying that there’s strength in numbers. This is true especially when it comes to how our country is being handled. Have you noticed that often “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” when decisions are made? The loudest groups tend to get the most attention, and often decisions are made in their favor because it seems that they are the only ones who care.

As we step out of our comfort zones and join with like minded patriots who want to see this country pointed back to our founding principles, it strengthens our resolve; it encourages more patriots to step out; it shows those who are intent on transforming the nation that they will not be victorious.

There’s a battle raging for this nation. I believe that Satan wants to see it brought down because of the way it was founded. He wants to enslave us and defeat us. We have freedom unlike any other nation the world has ever seen, but our freedoms are being stripped away day after day (or given away willingly by those who want the government to take care of them). The time has come for us to stand up and do something before it’s too late.

We watched The Hunger Games and Catching Fire movies with our kids this week during spring break, so I think that’s why this topic is on my heart so much right now. The premise of those movies isn’t that far fetched, I’m afraid. For the sake of my kids and yours, I will stand. I hope you will join me.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

 

 

 

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Thank you, Kirsten Dunst.

kirsten-dunst (1)

I was pleasantly surprised this week to hear that Spider-Man co-star, Kirsten Dunst, spoke out in support of traditional (AKA: biblical) gender roles.

A recent interview with Harper’s Bazaar said, “Dunst is surprisingly outspoken on the subject of gender: ‘I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued,’ she says. ‘We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created. And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work…'”

Wow. A wildly popular Hollywood female touted the benefits of men being men and women being women. How refreshing in today’s mixed-up world of “transgenderism,” same-sex marriage, feminism, and so on.

As expected, Ms. Dunst faced a tongue-lashing from the left for stepping “out of line.” Of the comments that I read, one called her “dumb;” another said that she “should never be allowed to talk near young girls.”

Ariane Sommer said, “People nowadays have to make a living and simply can’t afford the luxury of spending the entire day at home.”

Hmmm. I’m not sure that “luxury” is a word I would use to describe the sacrifices many families make to allow the wife to be home to raise the children, but maybe that’s a topic for another day. 

I think it’s incredibly sad that so many women feel that they have to be something they’re not, simply because society tells them that they’re “empowered.” It also saddens me that many children miss out on so much because their mothers believe that it’s beneath them actually to be a mother.

When it comes down to it, even some of the Hollywood elite recognize that God’s ways really are best (though they still may not recognize God’s part in it). He created male and female to complement and complete each other. Biology confirms it. And when we look honestly and objectively, without the liberal bias, we see that the traditional, biblical family is where children and couples (and therefore communities, states, and the nation) thrive.

Thank you, Kirsten Dunst, for speaking truth in spite of the pressure to do otherwise.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

 

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Endorsement of Our Book from Ken Connor, Family Research Council President 2000-2003!

kenconnorheadshotwebsiteWe were honored to receive the following foreword for our book from Ken Connor, President of the Family Research Council from 2000 to 2003, founder of Center for a Just Society/John Jay Institute, and author of Sinful Silence.

“As I have pondered the topic of finances as related to the Christian community, I can only imagine the magnitude of good that could be accomplished around the world if only God’s people were free to live and give as they would like. What could the average Christian accomplish if he or she didn’t have credit card debt or a mortgage payment or a car loan or student loans? Would we support the work of missionaries who are helping children in third-world countries? Would we travel abroad ourselves, sharing the Good News of Christ with those who haven’t heard? Could we afford to educate our children in schools that would teach them from a godly worldview so they will withstand the pressures of the ever-darkening culture in which we live? Would we give of our time and resources regularly to help “the least of these” in our communities?

During my time at the helm of the Family Research Council, I came face to face with the pressures and struggles of Christians. They want to get in the trenches of the cultural war that is raging in this nation; they want to be on the front lines of the battle for the hearts and souls of our children; they want to take a stand in ways that will make a difference. However, so many of us are overwhelmed by financial pressures that we feel trapped and unable to step out and get involved.

With practical suggestions and lighthearted wisdom, Michelle and Trevor Thomas will steer you through the uncomfortable waters of debt and budgeting and stewardship. They will encourage you to live differently than the world so that you will become free to follow the path that God has shown you.

As our nation plunges further into debt and despair, may we become a beacon of hope and an example of financial faithfulness to those in our sphere of influence. As Mother Theresa once said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” As we walk out of financial bondage into financial freedom, we will be released to do our part to change the world, one small act of love at a time.

In Christ,

Ken Connor, J.D.”

Thank you, Mr. Connor, for your very kind and thoughtful words!

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How to Prevent “Conscious Uncoupling”

wedding ringsWhen I read last week that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband are going through “conscious uncoupling,” I had to chuckle a little. I mean, it’s terribly sad that another family is dissolving, but to use a crazy term like “conscious uncoupling” to describe their divorce was just a wee bit odd, in my humble opinion.

I have to say that I wasn’t the least bit shocked at their announcement, however. It seems that every other day a Hollywood couple splits up. What is it with these disposable marriages? Why do they almost never last?

I have a few thoughts about how to go the distance in marriage. Hopefully this will encourage some couples who might be struggling and wondering if it’s worth it to work through the problems.

Trevor and I have only been married for 16 years, so we certainly aren’t experts compared to couples who have made it 50 or 60 or 70 years (my grandparents have been married 63 years and my parents and in-laws each around 45 years). However, our marriage has lasted longer than many do, with researchers reporting that of the marriages that end in divorce, around 60 percent end before their 10th year.

Anyone who’s ever been married knows that marriage isn’t full of sunshine and roses all of the time, especially when you add the stress of children to the mix. All marriages have “issues,” problems, arguments, and disagreements. Why? Because when two imperfect people come together, feelings will be hurt sometimes; selfishness will rear its ugly head occasionally; fatigue, financial strains, illness, and the like make it difficult to see eye to eye.

So, what makes for a long-lasting, successful marriage?

One thing I’ve found is that I had to ditch my lofty expectations and understand that my fairytale marriage wasn’t realistic and just wasn’t going to happen. Our relationship is good in many ways, but I think women, especially, have romantic ideas and high hopes about marriage that often go unrealized. I concluded that I could either be at peace and be thankful for the man God gave me, or I could wallow in self-pity because things aren’t exactly how I want them. It’s a conscious decision, a choice that I make, to focus on the good instead of the negatives. I still slip into a discontented attitude at times, but I’m learning.

Don’t let the “D” word enter your vocabulary. I learned this from my parents as I was growing up. They always said that the word “divorce” wasn’t even in their vocabulary; it just wasn’t an option. When you have the attitude that your marriage WILL go the distance, you force yourselves to work through issues and you grow together rather than apart.

Don’t take life too seriously. Take time to laugh together and be silly. I like to act stupid sometimes (to make my children laugh), and Trevor has this look that he gives me…..a straight face that tells me, “You’re really acting dumb.” He’s even taught the kids to give me “the look.” Of course, it makes me laugh even harder. And sometimes if I’m acting especially goofy, Trevor tries so hard not to smile that his nostrils flare. Then I really cackle like a hyena. I guess you have to be there…..or not. 🙂

Pray for each other regularly. If your spouse has character flaws or traits that you would like to see change, try praying about it instead of complaining or nagging him or her. God is the only One who can make real changes in a person (Proverbs 21:1), so trust Him to work it out. In the meantime, look in the mirror and ask the Lord to work in your life as well. We all have things that need to improve, so be the person that you want your spouse to be for you.

And my final thought: choose to love your spouse, when you feel like it and when you don’t. The warm and fuzzies that you had before the wedding are temporary. True love is a long-lasting commitment to your spouse through good and bad, thick and thin, no matter what.

Of course, we have the best example ever of how to love each other when we read about God’s love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a,

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

 

 

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Lord, I Need You

little girl prayingThe last couple of weeks have been a tad bit challenging for me, for various reasons. On one particularly difficult day, I found myself stressed and overwhelmed because of a task that I was trying to complete but the pieces weren’t coming together correctly. I decided to turn on my music and listen to this song:

Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher.

I strongly encourage you to take three minutes and 27 seconds to listen to it, especially if you’re facing difficult circumstances in your life.

Here are the words:

“Lord, I come.
I confess.
Bowing here, I find my rest.
Without You, I fall apart.
You’re the One that guides my heart.
 
Lord, I need You.
Oh, I need You.
Every hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness.
Oh, God, how I need You.
 
Where sin runs deep,
Your grace is more.
Where grace is found,
Is where You are.
Where You are,
Lord, I am free.
Holiness is Christ in me!
 
Lord, I need You.
Oh, I need You.
Every hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness.
Oh, God, how I need you.
 
So teach my song to rise to You.
When temptation comes my way.
When I cannot stand, I’ll fall on You.
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay.
 
Lord, I need You.
Oh, I need You.
Every hour, I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness.
Oh, God, how I need You.
 
My one defense, my righteousness.
Oh, God, how I need You.
 
My one defense, my righteousness.
Oh, God, how I need You.”
 

Know that God loves you more than you can imagine. He’s there for you, and He cares about everything in your life.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever…..In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:1, 5-6)

Amen.

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The Sad State of our Nation

The Sad State of Our NationAs I was in the shower last night (where I think best), I had a sense of heaviness about the state of our nation. I’ve been praying specifically about the Supreme Court hearing of Hobby Lobby’s case regarding the Obamacare contraception mandate, and I was so discouraged this week to hear about World Vision’s decision to cave on the same-sex marriage issue. I predicted that World Vision would reverse course because of the outrage of their supporters, but that they made such a decision in the first place tells much about the lack of convictions in their leadership.

There’s so much moral decline in this country today that I truly wonder how God can continue to tolerate us. If we went the way of Sodom and Gomorrah, it would certainly be justified.

I enjoy keeping up with political issues and getting involved where I can, but if I focus too much on the state of affairs, it becomes such a burden that I have to step away for a while to recharge. This happened when Obama was first elected in 2008. I had prayed my heart out, while doing what I could to help him be defeated; when he was elected I felt so down and dejected that I couldn’t even look at political news for weeks. I felt like our nation was doomed, and many of my fears are now coming to pass.

My dad reminds me often that the answer to the woes of the nation lies not in politics but in leading people to a saving relationship with Christ. Politics can’t change hearts, but God can. While I agree with my dad that heart change is needed, I also believe that passing (and enforcing) good and moral laws can certainly help to lead our nation back in God’s direction. Our founders certainly understood this. The very foundation of our government is rooted in and derived from God’s Word. Wallbuilders is a great resource for examining the moral underpinnings of this nation.

For instance, if abortion were finally (and again) illegal (which I pray is coming soon), millions of babies would be born that otherwise would be slaughtered in the womb. If our government fostered an atmosphere of respect for all life, many millions of people would take notice and follow suit. Sure, some women would still find ways to end the lives of their children, but I believe the vast majority would deal with their unplanned pregnancies without bloodshed.

On the marriage front, if we had the gumption to pass a Federal Constitutional Amendment affirming marriage as between one man and one woman, our government would in essence give its blessing and support to family the way God intended. As things stand now, federal judges are striking down state marriage amendments right and left, in spite of the overwhelming support with which they were passed. Our young people are being deceived into thinking that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are acceptable as alternative lifestyles and should be afforded the same rights and protections as biblical marriage. What has happened in just a few short decades to turn the tide from outlawing sodomy to celebrating it?

I believe that this verse holds the key to turning our nation around:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Did you notice that God’s people have to take action if we want God’s healing for our nation? First, we have to humble ourselves. We need to recognize that without God we are fully and completely hopeless. God is the only One who can change hearts, minds, worldviews, and ultimately lives.

We need to pray and seek God’s face. I think things look so hopeless sometimes that we forget how much power there is in prayer. I believe that God hears our prayers and breaks into this dark world in tangible ways when His people spend time praying and seeking Him.

The next action is big. We must turn from our wicked ways. This means that we don’t go along with the wickedness of the world for “unity’s sake.” We stand up for God’s truths no matter the consequences. We don’t compromise.

Here’s the cool thing about this If/Then situation. God says that IF we do all of the above, He WILL hear us. He WILL forgive us. He WILL heal our land.

I don’t know about you, but that gives me hope when things feel hopeless. God is still in control. God is still on the throne. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

 

 

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How the Debt Snowball Method Works

debt ball and chain

If you’ve ever been in much debt, you can understand the pressure that it places on you. It’s a heavy burden to owe people money, and it can cause all sorts of feelings—from anxiety to fear to sadness to anger to hopelessness. This is why God warns us in His Word about excessive debt (Proverbs 22:7). Did you know that there are hundreds, if not thousands of verses in the Bible dealing with money and possessions? And a full 2/3 of Jesus’ parables use monetary references to make His points.

When Trevor and I were on our honeymoon, we took stock of our finances and realized that we were in trouble. Yes, I know that wasn’t the most romantic topic of conversation, but we had plenty of time to talk, and the busyness of wedding planning was over. Reality set in as we started adding up our obligations.

I was making less than $20,000 a year at my full-time job, and Trevor was making about twice that as a public school teacher, so we weren’t exactly raking in the dough. The tally of our six debts came to around $25,000, and we had absolutely no assets to draw from. I was overwhelmed at the heaviness of that realization, and I wanted to dig out of debt as quickly as possible.

We cut our honeymoon short and came home to our small apartment to start working on a budget and a plan for getting out of debt. We set up our budget based only on Trevor’s salary, and we used all of my income (after the tithe to our church) to pay toward debts. We wrote out a list of our debts, with their payment amounts, interest rates, total balance, and so forth.

Using the “snowball method,” we started paying extra on our smallest debt—Trevor’s student loan. We paid it off quickly and used what we were paying on that to pay extra on the next smallest debt, my engagement ring. Gulp. Yes, Trevor had financed my engagement ring with a high interest finance company. Oops! When we paid off the engagement ring, we rolled all of our extra money into paying off his credit card.

The next debt to go was Trevor’s car loan. Then we paid off a piece of land that he had financed. Last of all was my car loan. So, within 13 months of our wedding, we had “snowballed” all of our debts away. Whew! It was a wonderful feeling, and we were thankful for the Lord’s guidance and provision.

If you are struggling with debts, let me give you some ideas that might help as you chip away at them.

1. Establish a good, workable budget if you don’t have one already. You can find free budgeting resources here and here, and here.

2. Use this debt list to make a list of all of your debts. If all of the interest rates are similar, focus on paying off the one with the smallest balance first. (If one of your debts has a much higher interest rate than the others, I suggest paying off that one first, because you will save more money in the long run.)

3. Pay the required minimum payments on all of your debts. In the meantime, free up any extra money that you can in your budget and start paying extra toward the debt with the smallest balance. You might even consider taking on an extra part-time job temporarily in order to sock away at your debts. Just be sure not to become accustomed to that extra income so that you can give up the additional job when your debts are eliminated.

4. When the smallest debt is gone, have a little (inexpensive) party, and then use everything you were paying on debt #1 to pay toward the next smallest debt (plus the minimum payment for debt #2).

5. When debt #2 is gone, have another celebration and then work on debt #3. Continue in this fashion until all of your debts are paid off, all the way up to your mortgage.

Use these calculators to compute how quickly you can retire your mortgage by paying extra principal payment amounts. I think you will be amazed at how fast you can be completely debt free and how much money you will save by snowballing your debts. It might be necessary to cut back on your spending in the short term, but you won’t regret the temporary belt-tightening once you are free of the burden of debt. I promise!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

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Kroger Mega Sale and Two New Saving Opportunities

I stopped by Kroger tonight to catch some of the new Mega Sale deals. Kroger’s Mega Sales typically run for two weeks, and this one started Wednesday, March 19, so you still have plenty of time to shop.

Here’s what I got tonight, and after coupons and rebates, I spent $22.81, for a total savings of $86.41. You can find the coupon matchups here.

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I also want to let you know about two new coupon apps: Checkout 51 and Shopmium. These work much the same way as Ibotta and SavingStar that I told you about here, in that you purchase the products up front and then receive your rebates later.

To sign up for Shopmium, click here and use my referral code MEUFEUQP to get a free Lindt chocolate bar!

Click here to sign up for Checkout 51. Be sure to read the terms of each program and instructions for how to redeem offers before you get started.

Enjoy! 🙂

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My Top Couponing Mistakes

clipping coupons imageI tried couponing around 10 years ago, but I gave it up because I just couldn’t get the hang of it, and it seemed to be taking too much time relative to the amount of money I was saving. When I picked it back up five years later, everything seemed to click. It still took some time to figure out the process, and I made a lot of mistakes as I was learning the ropes. Couponing takes time, experience, and patience to master, but it’s well worth the effort. I want to share some mistakes that I have made in my couponing journey so that you might learn from me and avoid these blunders.

1. I started too big. In my book, I told about my first couponing experience at CVS. I started way too big and didn’t take the time to understand the process. I ended up spending too much money out of pocket and made it a difficult evening for the cashier, gracious though she was. With a fairly complicated rewards system such as CVS, it really is wise to start small and take time to understand how everything works.

My suggestion is to start with one drug store and one grocery store. Get to know their rewards programs well and how to coupon in those stores before expanding to other stores. Each store has a different coupon policy, so I encourage you to make a copy of each policy and familiarize yourself with it. You might even find it helpful to keep the policy in your purse in case you need to refer to it or show a cashier what it says.

2. I bought things just because my coupons were about to expire. It takes some time to figure out which coupons are available regularly and which ones are rare. When I started out, I thought that I had to use all of my coupons that were about to expire, only to find out that those coupons are available almost all of the time. I bought more products than we needed and spent more on them than I should have.

3. I bought things we didn’t use. Just because something is a good deal isn’t a reason to buy it if your family won’t use it. Now, some things are worth buying if they’re free after coupons and can be donated to a ministry, but remember that you’re still paying tax even on free items, which can add up if you do it often enough.

I will mention that since I started couponing, I have bought many, many products that I had never bought before and probably never would’ve bought because I couldn’t afford to try them. Those same products were now affordable when the right deals and coupons came along. Some things we have liked and have bought again; others we found not to our liking. But one of the fun things about couponing is that it’s easy to afford to try new products to see if they suit your family.

4. I inadvertently annoyed some cashiers, even though I have always tried to be very polite. This is along the lines of #1, when I started too big and didn’t know what I was doing. If you make things too complicated for the cashiers, they might dread to see you coming. It’s important to develop good relationships with the cashiers and managers at the stores you plan to frequent in your couponing. If you start too big and rub the cashiers the wrong way right off the bat, it can be uncomfortable for you for a long time.

Granted, some cashiers don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to couponing, so you’ll need to figure out which ones to avoid. I always survey the cashiers when I go into a store so I can go through the line of a coupon-friendly one. I avoid some cashiers like the plague because I’ve had bad experiences in their line in the past.

5. I spent too much money. Instead of taking several months to build my stockpile, I bought too much too soon and spent more money than I should have. If I had taken time to learn the ropes slowly, I would’ve saved our family much more money in the long run.

6. I spent too much time. When I first started couponing, I was so excited about all of the deals that I even had trouble sleeping. I tend to jump into new things with both feet, and this was no different. It takes a lot of time to learn the ropes anyway, and I was so excited about it that I devoted too much time and energy early on.

7. I tried to get all of the deals out there. I remember my husband telling me more than once when I wanted to go out to catch a deal that I just couldn’t get everything that came along. If you want to know the truth, I was spending way too much money in gas by running all over “saving money” couponing. Now I try to combine trips if I can, and I let a lot of deals go because it wouldn’t be worth the gas to make a special trip out.

8. I followed too many deal sites. It’s important to find one or two good couponing sites and stick with those. You might miss out on a deal occasionally, but that’s better than getting overwhelmed by all of the information that’s out there.

I hope these pointers will help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made early in my couponing journey. Couponing can be a really fun hobby and can save your family thousands of dollars, and starting slowly can help you to enjoy it while learning the ropes.

What couponing mistakes have you made? Leave a comment below to share your experiences with us!

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Storing a Couponing Stockpile

In the months after I started couponing, I began to build up a stockpile of products. One of the goals of couponing is to build up some inventory of toiletries, household goods, and non-perishable food items. The idea is to purchase items when they are at their lowest price, and purchase enough to last until they get to their rock-bottom price again (sales run in cycles, and almost everything goes on sale every few weeks) so that it will never be necessary to buy them at full price.

Someone requested recently that I write a post about how I organize and store my stockpile, so I’m happy to oblige. At this point, five years into my couponing journey, I have amassed a nice stockpile of goods and find it fairly easy to keep it stocked by purchasing things when they go on sale, while staying within my $250/month budget for groceries and household items. Thankfully, I have a furnished basement apartment that is unoccupied right now, so that’s where I store my couponing products.

In my basement kitchen cabinets, I store food and kitchen items like coffee, tea, canned veggies, soups, pickles, mac & cheese, pasta and sauce, snacks, sugar, medicines and vitamins, paper plates, napkins, chocolate chips, cereals, pancake/waffle mixes, ziploc bags, cleaning supplies, diswashing detergent, and so on. We aren’t using the basement oven or dishwasher, so I even store things in those.

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Basement kitchen

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Stand-alone cabinet in the basement kitchen

We have a refrigerator/freezer in the basement kitchen, in addition to two stand alone freezers in which we store frozen foods such as meats, butter, fruits/veggies, frozen pizzas, cookie dough, cheese, breakfast items, and so on. We recently purchased 1/4 of a grass-fed steer, so we bought a small chest freezer to hold that and other meats.

An upright freezer in the basement kitchen

An upright freezer in the basement kitchen

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Our meat freezer in the basement kitchen

The freezer/refrigerator in the basement kitchen

The freezer/refrigerator in the basement kitchen

The basement bathroom and linen closets contain soaps, shampoos/conditioners, razors, body wash, contact solution, light bulbs, facial tissues, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, feminine products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, face products, and those kinds of things. We stocked up on 60- and 75-watt incandescent light bulbs at the end of December because they would no longer be sold beginning in 2014.

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A stand-alone linen cabinet in the basement bathroom

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Basement linen closet

We have two short filing cabinets in the basement bathroom that hold school and office supplies that we’ve stocked up on.

Filing cabinets for school and office supplies in the basement bathroom

Filing cabinets for school and office supplies in the basement bathroom

The small laundry room in the basement contains laundry detergent, toilet paper/paper towels, fabric softener, flushable wipes, and stain treatment.

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Basement laundry room

There’s a small curio cabinet in the basement living room that contains hand soaps, candles, and air fresheners.

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Curio cabinet in the basement living room

So you may be thinking, “What if I don’t have a basement available for storage? Where could I store my stockpile?”

I’m glad you asked that! Here are some ideas that I hope will be helpful to you as you consider couponing and storage issues.

1. Containers are your friend. Long, shallow plastic containers (marketed for wrapping paper) are perfect for filling with toiletries or canned goods and sliding under beds. Tall containers with drawers (made for scrapbooking materials and such) are perfect for storing your stock of toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss, face cleansers, school supplies, feminine products, lotions, soaps, and such.

Here are a few examples from Walmart’s website:

Sterilite 3-Drawer Desktop Unit, Set of 4Sterilite 3-Drawer Medium Cart, Set of 2Sterilite Ultra Underbed Storage Box (Set of 6)Neu Home Underbed Storage Box, Gray, Set of 4

2. If you have a little extra room in your garage, consider building cheap shelves with 2×8 or 2×10 boards. It’s amazing how much could be stored on just a few shelves. This site that I found walks you through the steps of building your own garage shelves.

3. Make use of all cabinets and vanity space. Many of us have things in our kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities that we don’t use and that are just taking up space. Consider organizing those cabinets and throw away or give away anything that you haven’t used in a year or two. It’s amazing how much space can be made with a little organizing effort.

4. Use bookshelves. If you have a bookshelf that is not filled up with books, consider using it for your stockpile. Or perhaps invest in an economical bookshelf just for your couponing needs. Bookshelves aren’t very deep, so it’s easy to find a spot against a wall for them, and they can hold a lot of products.

5. Consider all closets as fair game. If you have an unoccupied nook or cranny in a closet, consider purchasing a container or rack to put there to hold part of your stockpile.

If you store things in different areas of your home, I encourage you to keep a running inventory of your stock and a list of where everything is stored. Also, when you buy new products, be sure to put those in the back so you’re always using the oldest items first. If you see that you have overbought and your family won’t be able to use some things before they expire, consider gathering a box of those items to donate to a food bank or homeless shelter or battered women’s shelter or thrift store ministry in your town. They are always thankful to receive useful donations.

It takes some time, effort, and creativity to coupon and to organize a stockpile, but the savings you will realize are well worth it. As I said in the Couponing chapter of my book, I learned much of what I know from SouthernSavers.com and MoneySavingMom.com. Feel free to visit their sites for detailed tutorials on couponing and for coupon matchups at the stores in your area.

I’d love to hear your tips on organizing your stockpile. Comment below and share your thoughts!

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Modesty is Beautiful

Modesty is Beautiful imageThe weather is warming up, and along with the rising temps comes the usual shedding of clothes. I always dread this time of year. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love the beauty of spring and the newness of life, but I cringe when I see the lack of clothing on females, young and not so young.

When Trevor and I got married 16 years ago, he was a high school teacher in his 20s, surrounded by beautiful young things who often wore less than sufficient clothing, as teenagers are prone to do. I was often jealous and insecure and didn’t know how to deal with my feelings, and unfortunately, it became a vicious cycle of mistrust and fear and arguments and tears.

Eventually something clicked in my spirit, and I knew that I couldn’t go on the way I was. My fears and insecurities were out of control. I was miserable, and I was making life difficult for my young husband.

I got some help from friends at work who had been married many years longer than I and who had struggled with some of the same issues, and God slowly began to heal my heart and deliver me from many of my insecurities. God was merciful to me in that Trevor got a good teaching job at a military school for boys a couple of years after we married, which helped to put my mind at ease. Before long, we began to have children, and my confidence grew and the Lord continued to bring healing to my heart.

I’m thankful that after years of choosing to trust the Lord with my husband and praying Scripture over Trevor, I rarely struggle with fear or insecurities in that area of my life any more. However, when too much flesh is on display in public, it makes things difficult for both of us.

Let me explain.

I’m sure this is common knowledge, but men are visually stimulated, much more so than are women. And even if females don’t know this intellectually, they know that it gets the attention of males when they fail to cover their bodies adequately.

Now, there are various standards of modesty, even within the Christian community. Some believers think that women should wear only long dresses, while others are okay with Daisy Dukes and spaghetti straps and bikinis.

I believe that as part of the declining moral fiber of our nation, modesty is sadly going by the wayside. Maybe understanding the importance of modest dress will help to strengthen our resolve to honor the Lord with our bodies and to teach our daughters to do the same.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines modesty as “the quality of behaving and especially dressing in ways that do not attract sexual attention.” I like that definition. It doesn’t mean dressing like a frump or in out-of-date, unattractive clothing. It simply means covering our bodies sufficiently so as not to attract sexual attention. Modest dressers can be stylish and classy; they attract the right kinds of attention and show respect to themselves and to others.

God gave clothing to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after sin entered the picture. Do you know why? Because sin taints things. Their eyes were opened, and innocence was lost. We are to cover our bodies adequately because of sin.

When men (and teenage boys) see short shorts combined with long, tanned legs, they have a really hard time thinking godly thoughts. Add to that cleavage or skin-tight clothes that leave little to the imagination (“Leggings aren’t pants!”), and we’re talking about leading men—even godly men—down a slippery slope directly into sin. (“Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the guilt on my conscience of leading men into sin. Our Heavenly Father highly values pure thoughts (“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8), and I have a strong suspicion that it displeases Him when His sons struggle with impure thoughts or worse because of females’ immodest dress.

I saw the following picture some months back, and I love what it has to say to women of today:

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My daughter just turned eight, and last summer I went around and around with her because she suddenly wanted to wear short shorts and two-piece bathing suits. I’ve always been a stickler about dressing her modestly, but she had noticed that the older girls she saw at church and at family functions—girls she admired and looked up to—were wearing things that I don’t allow, and she wanted to be like them. I put my foot down because even though Caroline is little, I don’t want her to become accustomed to dressing immodestly. She doesn’t understand the sexual temptations of men yet, but I have told her that when we show too much of our bodies, it makes boys think about things that they shouldn’t.

She gets it. Sometimes she even turns around the magazines in the grocery store that have scantily clad females on the covers. Who knows but how that small act might save a man from going down a very dangerous path one day.

As Christians, we are to be in the world but not of it (1 John 2:15-17), so we certainly shouldn’t take our fashion cues from Hollywood or most magazines. I’m not a fashion guru by any stretch of the imagination, but there are many sources for modest clothing and fashion ideas out there. A quick Swagbucks search for “modest clothing”or “modest swimwear” turns up pages of sites that fit the bill.

So as we walk through this life together as sisters in the Lord, let’s commit to dress like ladies. Let’s show respect for ourselves by covering our bodies, which will help our brothers in Christ to maintain godly thoughts when they are around us. And let’s dress our little girls in clothing that teaches them the same. We are daughters of The King of Kings, so we should dress like the princesses that we are. I truly believe that a pure heart that manifests in modest dress pleases the Father.

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” Proverbs 11:22

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Why “Kingdom Crossing”?

Kingdom Crossing imageIf you’ve been following this blog, you might wonder why we chose the name “Kingdom Crossing.” Well, I’m glad you asked!

I want to take a moment to share with you our thoughts on “Kingdom Crossing” and what the name means to Trevor and me.

First and most importantly, we believe that Kingdom Crossing was the name God ordained for this blog. We did an awful lot of searching before we settled on Kingdom Crossing, and God’s leading was clear.

As humans, we are living for a brief time in this earthly kingdom, which is full of heartache and strife and pain. Yes, God is good and He provides for our needs, but our lives here can be very difficult at times. Because sin entered the world all those years ago through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we live in a fallen, sinful, broken kingdom. In the flesh, we struggle; we fight; we cry; we get sick; we disappoint others; eventually, we die.

Ultimately, however, this world is not our home; we are destined for God’s heavenly kingdom, a perfect home that Jesus is preparing for us even now. This is the hope on which we base our faith—that Jesus came to live and die for us, as our perfect sacrifice, to bridge the gap between us and God so that we can be with Him for eternity.

In a sense, we begin “crossing over” from this earthly kingdom to a heavenly kingdom when we say “yes” to Jesus, and we draw closer to our final destination each moment. In fact, we can begin to experience our eternity even now. As we live day to day, we are called to advance God’s kingdom by bringing that future reality here to earth, by pushing back darkness through prayer, ministry, and loving others into a relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Trevor and I believe that a big part of our calling is to minister specifically in the area of finances; we have a passion for God’s principles of handling money, and we love to share with others what we have experienced and learned. We know that many people are struggling in this area of their lives, and it’s such a heavy burden that affects every other aspect of life.

The church that we attend is a part of the Association of Vineyard Churches. The founder of the Vineyard movement, John Wimber, had this to say about money and possessions:

“Many Christians and Christian leaders have been neutralized by the love of money and materialism. The homage paid to affluence becomes a burden that saps our energy as well as our love for God and other people. Through repentance and the cleansing of forgiveness, we can rid ourselves of this burden and begin to let God transform our value system. Like Jesus and Paul, we can learn to be content with what we have, living modestly in order that we may give liberally to the work of the kingdom and to meet the needs of others.”

Trevor and I want to be like the Apostle Paul, who “proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ–with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:31)

So, there you go. Kingdom Crossing. I hope you’ll join with us in leading others to Jesus, in pushing back darkness and sharing God’s love and truths day by day. We’re “crossing” over from this tainted and broken earthly kingdom into God’s perfect kingdom, where there will be no more tears or pain or sadness.

Thank you, Jesus!

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I’m Tired. I Don’t Want to Teach My Kids’ Sunday School Class.

tired daddy imageWhen I was a single young adult, I volunteered in the nursery rotation at my church. I wanted to serve in some capacity at church, and there were always openings in the childcare areas. I enjoyed playing with the cute three-year-olds once a month when it was my turn, but I couldn’t have realized at the time how much that small act of service might’ve meant to tired parents.

In most churches that I have been around, the parents of young children fill many, if not most of the childcare roles: nursery, Sunday school, youth programs, special activities, and the like. And it does make sense for them to do so, because, well, those are their children.

I’m going to sound super selfish and insensitive here, and maybe I’m alone in this, but one of the last things that I want to do on Sunday mornings, after I’ve been with my young children 24/7 every day of every week, is to teach them (and other people’s children) in their Sunday school classes.

I know that’s a really awful thing to say, and maybe I truly am the only one who feels that way, but I have a notion that I’m not.

When my kids were young enough for the nursery, I dutifully took my turns there, (usually) without complaining, but what I really longed for on those Sunday mornings when I was exhausted and dry and lonely was to sit and absorb. To be filled back up. To fellowship with GROWNUPS.

Can anyone relate?

Here’s what I’m getting at, and this is going to be a bold statement: Parents with young children shouldn’t be asked to serve in the children’s area.

If parents have a real desire to help with their children’s classes, that’s a different story. Maybe some sincerely enjoy it. Maybe work-outside-the-home moms treasure that time with their kids, or maybe dads who are away from home a lot get energized by leading their kids’ classes on the weekends, but if I had to guess, I would say that the majorityespecially stay-at-home momsjust want a break from kids for a few minutes.

There are other areas of ministry in a church that don’t involve children….bookstore, parking, bookkeeping, sound board, greeting, worship team, women’s ministry, prayer team, hospitality, and on and on. For me, anyway, things like this sound more stimulating than draining to my spirit during this season of my life.

If I could speak to you singles, you young couples without children, you empty-nesters, you grandparents, and so on for a moment, I would tell you that the most amazing ministry in the world would be for you to fill all of the childcare roles in the church so that young, exhausted parents could have a respite.

I know that you empty-nesters have “served your time” and maybe you’re tired, too. You might even think that you’re not needed anymore, but I can assure you that you are.

Not only that, but you have unique and wonderful things to share with our children. They hear from us all of the time, but God might want to use you to pour into their little lives. Please don’t deny them the opportunity to receive what you have to offer (please). 🙂

Since my youngest child is now five years old, I’m far enough removed from babies to enjoy serving in the nursery again. I miss having little ones, so it would be a pleasant thing for me to cuddle babies and toddlers again sometimes and allow their parents to have a break.

At the small church where my family goes, my precious mom teaches my kids’ Sunday school class each week (I taught for a while, but after homeschooling all week, I was less than motivated to teach Sunday school, too.). She pours into their lives and loves on them and teaches them about God and His Word. I’m eternally grateful for her ministry to my children, but even more so for how she ministers to me by teaching them. It’s cool how that works.

“The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.” (Proverbs 11:25 The Message)

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A Day in the Life….

I recently ran across an e-mail that I wrote one morning back in 2006. I had sent it to my husband, my parents, my sister, and a friend. I had three children under four years old at the time, and it had been a particularly difficult morning. Instead of “losing it” (as I did more times than I want to admit), I took a moment to type out my frustrating experiences so that I could look back on them later and (hopefully) laugh and thank the Lord that I survived days like that.

Take a look….

Subject: A Day in the Life…..

Date: March 14, 2006 at 9:21:34 AM EST

A Day (well, actually an hour) in the Life of a Mother with Small Children

Let me set the stage a little bit. I have a five-week-old baby girl, a rambunctious barely two-year-old son, and a boisterous almost four-year-old son. So after a wonderfully restful night of breastfeeding the baby and taking my oldest child to the potty a couple of times, I arose from my bed and took my two-year-old downstairs to join my husband and oldest child before time for my husband to leave for work.

What did I find when I entered our playroom downstairs? My oldest son was sitting peacefully in his little rocking chair while my sweet husband was mopping potty water off of the bathroom floor. He had already dirtied several towels for me to wash, and would soon wet more of them as he flushed the potty again, only to watch the water overflow onto the floor once more. So, I happily [not] loaded the towels into the washing machine to clean the poopy mess and went upstairs to get my precious baby so she could see Daddy off to work. [If you’ve read my book, you know that stopped-up potties are a frequent occurrence around here.]

After feeding the little one, I went into the kitchen to prepare breakfast for my two boys and me. We were having a peaceful breakfast, while the baby lay in my lap and adored my face. As I watched her there, she suddenly projectile vomited all over her body and mine [also a frequent occurrence]. So, I headed upstairs to bathe her and change our clothes. I left my two boys in their high chairs and told them that I would “be right back.”

 When I arrived back downstairs, I heard my boys running around the house and found the youngest’s high chair tray on the floor (along with the crumbs from his cereal bar).

For some reason, the boys had decided that they wanted to play with one pear and one roma tomato each this morning. So, as I walked toward the playroom from the kitchen, the two-year-old managed to squash his tomato and squirt the juicy insides halfway across the kitchen floor. As I happily [I was totally being sarcastic.] cleaned the red mess and the cereal bar crumbs off of the kitchen floor, I decided that I must write down the events of this great hour of my life so that I would not forget what it is to be a mom. One day (I think) I will miss these times and wonder how my little ones grew up so fast.

Thank you, Lord, even for days like this, and thank you for cleaning up our messes, too!

I hope you all are having a wonderful day!

Love,

Michelle

Our family shortly after the e-mail above was written.

Our family shortly after the e-mail above was written.

I could add lots of amazingly frustrating situations to the list above.

Imagine your two- and four-year-old sons filling up the toilet with Hotwheels cars. Yep. Mine did.

Imagine those same boys stopping up the bathroom sink and forgetting that they left the water running, flooding the garage underneath. Yep. Mine did.

Imagine taking a huge basket full of folded clothes upstairs, placing it on your bed, and coming back later to find those clothes thrown all over the room. Yep. That happened here.

Of course, we want our kids to use good judgment and to learn from their childish mistakes, but do you know what? I miss those days when they were little and carefree and innocent. I miss them badly. I wish often that my kids were tiny again. I wish that I could go back and live those days over, taking time to enjoy them and savor them and hide them in my heart. I wish I could snuggle my babies and smell their skin and nurse them again.

The days with very young children are so stinking hard. I know that. The nights don’t provide much rest, and the days certainly add to the exhaustion. When my kids were very young, I did a lot of contract work from home to bring in extra income, so I seemed always to be rushing to get my work done. I didn’t relish those days that turned so quickly into years.

My advice to young mothers is to slow down; enjoy your babies while they are babies; soak up the time with them like a sponge. There will always be laundry to be folded, dishes to be washed, and money to be made, but there won’t always be babies to love on and read to and rock.

In what seems like the blink of an eye, my oldest “baby” is turning 12 next month. In a few short years, I will have FOUR TEENAGERS.

ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

I’m sorry for screaming at you, but I wonder if anyone has ever had four teenagers at the same time and lived to tell about it….I guess I will find out.

Life truly is a vapor. I want to make the most of each day and enjoy my kids while they are still kids. Help me, Lord, to focus on what’s truly important each day, starting with You and my family.

Do you need encouragement today to slow down and enjoy the children the Lord has entrusted to you? I certainly need that reminder often. As we “seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness,” He will provide what we need. I believe that part of seeking His Kingdom is recognizing the treasure that we have in our children and making it a priority to pour into their impressionable little lives while they are still impressionable. Jesus told His disciples to let the little children come to Him, because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” If children are that important to Jesus, we certainly should take our jobs as parents very seriously.

I will leave you with a few verses that I pray will encourage your heart today:

“He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

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Debt-Free Living in a Debt-Filled World is 50% off at Smashwords This Week!

This week is “Read an E-Book Week” at Smashwords.com, which means that thousands of e-books are deeply discounted, including our book, Debt-Free Living in a Debt-Filled World! You can get our book for only $2.50 by clicking here and entering code REW50 at checkout between March 2 and March 8.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Smashwords, they offer tons of download formats for e-books, including mobi (Kindle), epub, pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, txt, and you can even read online (in case you don’t have an e-reader).

After you purchase the book through Smashwords, you can download it in any or all of the formats offered! It’s very simple!

Enjoy! And please spread the word. 🙂

book cover

 

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What Motherhood Has Done to Me

20140228-201652.jpgWhen I was in the shower tonight, I had some thoughts about the ways that I’ve changed since becoming a mother. I seem to get a lot of inspiration while in the shower. Is anyone with me on that? Not with me, literally, but do you feel inspired while bathing? Maybe it’s because it’s the ONLY quiet, alone time in my day, or maybe the steam clears my head. Regardless, I probably need to install a marker board in there to jot down my thoughts so I won’t lose them as soon as I step out.

Well, tonight I was pondering some of the many ways that I’ve changed since producing my offspring. Some changes are obvious and not so fun, like extra pounds, dark circles under the eyes, and so on….you moms know what I mean. Other changes aren’t so obvious, at least to outsiders.

One difference is that I’m much more comfortable with who I am. Some of that might just be a result of getting older (and hopefully wiser), but I think going through the ups and downs of motherhood and knowing everything that I’ve survived has helped me to shed some insecurities of my past. Instead of worrying so much about what people think of me and being afraid to step out into the unknown, I’m much quicker to try out new ideas and launch into untested waters.

Along those lines, I have a confidence that wasn’t there before I had children. In my pre-children days, I was a very quiet, insecure person. I was not good at meeting new people or getting outside my comfort zone. Now I sing silly songs and make crazy faces and dance like a fool because it makes my children happy. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought years ago that I could do some of the things that I’ve done in recent years. Of course, as the Lord leads us, He equips us also, but I believe that my role as mom has served to chip away at my flesh so that the Lord could use me as He chooses.

Another thing that motherhood has done is brought a boat load of humility to me. When we find our children misbehaving in public in horrifying ways, in spite of our best parenting efforts, it brings a deep sense of humility….we see how little control we really have in this life.

Let me just give you a couple of recent examples. A few weeks back, I decided to brave Target with my four lovely offspring, all by myself. Impressive, right? Two of the kids had some gift cards to spend, and we had a couple of hours between activities. My five-year-old was missing his nap that day, which is something I don’t recommend, but we had no choice. Before we went inside, I gave the kids the usual speech about how to behave in the store….not to beg for things, etc., etc. I told the two children who didn’t have money to spend that they could each pick out a treat from the dollar section.

Well, my super cute youngest child who was missing his nap asked if he could get two items. Not wanting to cause a scene, I agreed. We proceeded to the toy aisles for the others to shop, and he spotted something expensive that he wanted even more. I refused, and he had a melt down. A real melt down. It was much too terrible to describe.

Well, I couldn’t exactly buy him a treat after such a spectacle, could I? So, we made our way back (very loudly, I might add) to the dollar section to put his treats away, and the scene got worse and worse. I had to pry the toys from his hands as he was lying on the floor screaming and crying. It was absolutely awful.

I can only imagine what the other shoppers thought of me. Probably what I USED to think of moms whose kids had melt downs in the middle of the store. Not anymore. Now I feel pity for them. Real pity and understanding and mercy and compassion. Really.

It’s humbling to have attention drawn to us when our children misbehave, isn’t it? It can bring feelings of shame and failure and regret and anger and sadness and discouragement and on and on.

Well, here’s another example, just to solidify the picture in your minds. The same youngest child as above, well, he’s a live wire, in case you were wondering. I’ve noticed that that’s a common theme with youngest children, but I digress.

Last week, I was dropping off my oldest child at the homeschool academy one morning. My youngest always likes to go in and play with the middle schoolers. They have a fun game of tag that they play before class starts, and my baby boy seems to add to the fun. That day, apparently he really added to the fun. I found out later that afternoon that he had “mooned”  the big kids. Not just once. Not just twice. Probably not just three times. Several times.

Yep. Judge me now.

Can you say “shamed”?

Can you say “mortified”?

I quickly called all the other parents in the class and apologized profusely and told them that he was being disciplined and it would never happen again. I think most moms with boys just laugh off things like this, and thankfully that’s what the other parents did, but some moms tend to freak out about such indiscretions. Once again, I was ashamed and humiliated. How could my child do something like that, and in public?!

Shortly after I got married, a relative stranger had a “word” from the Lord for me, which has proven to be spot on through the years. He said that I was like a pebble, and the Lord would use the circumstances of my life like sandpaper, to smooth my rough edges and shape me into what He wanted me to be. Whew! The process hurts. It’s unpleasant. As much as we long for the heart-wrenching times of our lives to be over, the Lord uses those times to make us stronger in our faith and more dependent on Him. We come to understand that in our selves we are nothing and He is everything.

Yes, humility has come to me in very large doses since I’ve had children. I could tell you many more stories of humiliating happenings, and maybe I will sometime. Maybe one day I’ll even be able to laugh about them. But when I’m in the midst of them, I have to throw myself at my Heavenly Father’s feet and beg for His mercy and His wisdom. It’s hard to raise these sinful little creatures that He has given me, but when I check on them at night and they’re all sleeping peacefully, I look at their precious faces and know that it’s all worth it, every bit of it. If they are the tools that my Father chose to mold me into the image of Christ, I’ll take it. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16 NIV)

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Why I Homeschool

stack of booksIf you could be a fly on the wall of my house sometimes when we’re doing school, you might wonder why in the world I would choose such a path. It can be quite chaotic and stressful at times. We do have some peaceful and smooth days, but they can be few and far between sometimes with my four rambunctious, hard-headed little creatures. This isn’t the easiest route we could’ve taken, by any means, but I believe that it’s the course that God laid out for our family.

As I mentioned before, God planted a desire in my heart to homeschool my children many years before I even had kids. It took some convincing to get Trevor to agree to it, but now he’s sold on the idea as he has seen the many benefits that are evident in our family.

People choose to homeschool their children for various reasons: some bring their children home because the kids are being bullied at school; some fear for the physical safety of their children; some wish to impart values into their children that wouldn’t be taught at school; some enjoy their children so much that they want to be with them, even during school time. There are many varied reasons why people walk this path, and some families walk it for a short time while others stay for the long haul. I’ve thought a lot about homeschooling through the years, and I want to share with you a few of the reasons why we chose to educate our children ourselves.

1. First, and most importantly, I want my children to learn about the world and gain knowledge of the universe from an explicitly Christian worldview. I believe that the world can be understood properly only through such a lens, because God created everythingeven usand He is the source of all true wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 9:10). Unfortunately, even the best public schools will not teach openly from this perspective. More likely is that in at least some areas, children will be instructed in ways that are contrary to what we believe God tells us in His Word. There’s a battle raging for the hearts and minds of our children, and I feel that if I give my children a solid foundation based on God’s Word and in agreement with His principles, they will be much less likely to be led astray when they are grown and on their own.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)

2. Along the lines of #1, I want to be in control of what my children learn, how they learn it, and when they learn it. Our children are precious gifts, entrusted to us for only a short time on this earth, and I want to be diligent to guard their hearts and minds until they are ready to stand on their own.  Here’s an example of something we’re trying to avoid, where “health” class in many schools is little more than an avenue to generate more clients for abortion clinics. I am not quick to trust people anyway, especially with my children, and I’m even less apt to trust the government to have a captive audience of my kids for 40 or so hours every week.

3. Because babies are born with sinful natures, they need godly grown-ups to teach them how to be disciples of Christ. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are less likely to demonstrate their sinful natures at outside activities (thankfully) than when they are in the comfort of our home, around our family. This means that even though my kids are around committed Christian adults at most of their activities, those adults don’t usually witness my kids’ character “issues” and probably wouldn’t feel comfortable dealing with those issues even if they did see them. Because I’m with my children almost all of the time, I’m able to recognize and help deal with their sin issues and character flaws much more diligently and effectively than if I was with them only in the evenings.

4. I want to be there for my children at all of their activities. This is very important to me. I want my children to remember that I was there for their performances, practices, competitions, recitals, matches, and so on. I tell them that I’m their biggest cheerleader, and I pray that if they know that I’m “there for them” now, they will feel comfortable coming to me with anything and everything on their hearts and minds as they grow into teens and young adults. Of course while they are young, our children need us to be their parents, to guide them and discipline them and mentor them, but as they grow older, my heart’s desire is that they will consider me one of their most trusted and valuable friends.

5. Trevor and I feel like we are uniquely qualified and equipped to educate our own children. My husband has been a high school math teacher for 20+ years. His bachelor’s degree is in physics, and he has two graduate degrees in math education. My associate’s degree is in early childhood education, though I changed my major to sociology for my bachelor’s degree. I’ve done a lot of editing through the years, and we’ve both done a fair amount of writing.

However, even if we didn’t have the experience and education that we do, there are multitudes of resources available that make homeschooling “doable” for almost any familyfrom online public education programs to boxed curriculum that guides one through teaching all of the subjects to homeschool co-ops to computer-based courses and on and on. In fact, there’s so much available that it can be intimidating to sort through it all and choose something that works.

A couple of years ago, we enrolled our three older kids in a local Christian homeschool “academy,” which meets three half days each week, and I teach the kids at home the other two days. We made this decision because our day-to-day school routine had become very difficult, and we were all struggling with the arrangement. I had a kindergartener, a 2nd grader, a 4th grader, and a two-year-old, and I was keeping Trevor’s two-year-old niece to bring in some extra income.  In addition, I was working a fair amount online from home in the afternoons while the little ones napped. I was stressed and overwhelmed, so when we found out about the homeschool academy, it sounded like exactly what we needed.

We have to scrimp and save to afford to send the kids, but they love their other teachers and the friends they have made, and it helps me to be a better teacher on the days when the kids are at home because I’m not doing it alone anymore. My point is, as homeschoolers we can be flexible and use whatever resources that are at our disposal to provide the best education possible to our children.

6. Along the lines of #5, I want the flexibility and the freedom to tailor my educational approach to fit each of my kids’ learning styles. Children are individuals, and they learn in different ways. As homeschoolers, we can change and adapt our educational activities and methods based on what works best for each child. I can let my kids jump on the couch while they’re reciting spelling words if it helps to solidify what they’re learning. I can introduce the concept of fractions by cooking a special treat with my children. We can take nature walks in the beautiful spring weather while discussing various plants and birds and clouds.

7. Last but not least, I want to spend as much time with my kids as possible while they are growing up. Don’t get me wrong….they drive me up the wall sometimes and I count  any time alone as precious, but I am so thankful that I’m able to be home with my babies, to raise them and nurture them and love them as only I can each day. I want them to grow up secure and happy and well adjusted and productive and responsible, but more than anything, I want them to grow up loving Jesus. May He pour out his love for them through me each and every day.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

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