I’m going to be honest – this week, I’m tired in a way I haven’t been. We are going on week three of stay-at-home orders, and while everything in our world has changed, absolutely nothing in my world changes on a day-to-day basis.
I get up, spend prayerful time in God’s Word, make breakfast, do dishes, start household chores, make sure all the people do all the things required for homeschool, make lunch, do dishes, finish up homeschool, squeeze in some writing, touch base with family members or friends via a call, text, wave, or conversation on the street six feet apart, make dinner, do dishes (have I mentioned that I wash a lot of dishes?), and then go to bed only to wake up and do it all over again.
It’s like Groundhog Day but with the world falling apart on your doorstep.
But this week, in the midst of all that is the same, one thing is radically different: Easter is coming. We remember the cross on Friday and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Sunday. And while everything in our lives is the same and shut down, one thing remains consistently open – the empty tomb. Our hearts have access to its promise and its power every single moment of every single day.
This is a hope and truth I am looking forward to drawing courage and strength from every single day this week.
I know we’d all like to be delivered from our locked houses this week. We would all love to go outside and watch our kids hunt Easter eggs with cousins and neighbors. We would all love to run up to the grocery store, glove-free, and buy candy elbow-to-elbow with the person standing in line next to us. We would all love to attend a big family brunch or dinner and see the faces and hug the necks of the people we know and love so well. We would all love to put on our Easter clothes and drive to church on Sunday morning and enter a packed building with the people of God and celebrate His power and goodness together.
But while we cannot do any of those things this Easter, while we cannot exit the locked doors of our houses, we can ask Jesus to help us exit from the locked doors of our hearts.
In Luke 5:17-26, an account is given of Jesus healing a man who is a paralytic. His friends lower him through the roof in order to gain access to Jesus, and as the man lays in front of Him, Jesus says, “’Man, your sins are forgiven you’” (Luke 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, are infuriated by such a statement. They “began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Luke 5:21)
Exactly. Great question. Actually, that’s the question: who can forgive sins except God? To say to a man with locked legs on a mat, “Get up,” is one thing. But to say to a man with a locked heart, full of sin, sorrow, pain, and death, “Get up,” is quite another. The first requires a man under the influence of God; prophets from the past like Elijah had performed miracles of healing before. But the second requires a man who is God. Only God can wipe the slate of a person’s past free and hand them the key to exit the prison of sin, hell, and death.
But that’s exactly what Jesus did.
“When Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – He said to the man who was paralyzed – ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God” (Luke 5:22-25).
Jesus’ message was this: God can use anyone He chooses to heal lame legs. But God Himself is the only one who can heal lame hearts.
God Himself is the only one who can go behind the locked doors of our sin, shame, guilt, mistakes from our past, and fears for our present and future, and say to our hearts, “Get up, and walk. You are a slave to sin no more.”
That’s the message I am dwelling on this week. And that’s the message that is giving me hope. In a way, I am so thankful for all of the locked doors in our land. The locked doors are forcing each and every one of us to get quiet, be still, and take a good, long look at the locked doors of our own hearts.
Because we all have them. We have all been infected by this virus of sin, even if we have not been infected by corona. Any human doctor God so chooses can give us a cure to the corona virus. But only one person can give us the cure to the virus of sin. And that’s the virus we all need healing from.
If you feel locked down by the sin in your past or by the fear in present and future, then hear this today: there is no locked door in your past, present, or future, that Jesus cannot unlock. When Jesus rose from the dead, His disciples were huddled together in a locked room, full of fear. They were so afraid the authorities were going to do to them what they had done to Jesus – torture, crucifixion, and death.
But Jesus appears among them and goes right through the locked door in their hiding place. His first message to His disciples post-resurrection is this: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Not peace from their circumstances – the threat of persecution and death from the authorities was still very real. But peace in their circumstances – peace with God, peace from their sin, and peace in their relationships with one another.
Would it have been easy for Jesus to circumvent the cross and conquer the Roman rulers of His day, placing Himself on Jerusalem’s throne as king over the whole world, instituting world-wide “peace”? Absolutely. But people still would have been ravaged by the disease of sin.
It was far more difficult to do what Jesus did. In order to give His people peace from their sin in and through every circumstance, He offered Himself as their sacrificial lamb on the cross. And because of that, we have peace that can never be taken away.
It ‘s a peace that goes behind every locked door and provides the key to unlock every heart. Jesus’ peace rules over every virus, every fear, every circumstance, even death itself. Because of the peace He gives, death no longer has the final say over us. The peace of Christ does. And when we take our final breath, He will take us home to be with Him.
That, my friends, is peace.
As strange as it sounds, this corona virus is a gift. It’s a gift that locks the doors to our homes so that we can get real about the doors of our hearts.
If you have never given your life to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, today is the day. Jesus has come to deliver you from the consequences of your sin and death to give you peace with God, eternal life, and relationship with Him.
If you have already surrendered your life to Christ, then take the time to let Jesus in to every locked door in your heart. What is keeping you from experiencing real, intimate joy and peace? Are you numbing out to responding to His voice and receiving His peace by watching the news, looking at screens, monitoring your bank account, reaching for food or alcohol, searching for toilet paper and paper towels, and being consumed by the worries and cares of this world (see Luke 21:34-36)?
This week, do the hard but necessary work of letting Jesus in. Take your eyes off of your circumstances and turn them onto the Prince of Peace. Receive His Holy Spirit that walks through every wall, forgives every sin, calms every fear, and heals every heart for those who are willing to humble themselves and seek His Face (John 20:22; Psalm 24:3-6).
So while each and every day is the same, with Jesus in our midst, each day has the hope of being different. Each day offers the hope of the One who did the hard work of achieving peace with God so that we could have eternal relationship with Him.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you….Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:18-20, 27
In the midst of uncertain times, it is easy to become paralyzed with fear or fix our hope on uncertain things. But none of the events taking place in our world are taking God by surprise. He foretold them centuries ago and tells us how to walk through them with our gaze firmly fixed on Him. Take a moment to look with me at Luke 21 to see how.
Congratulations! You made it through your first homeschool week and while you didn’t do it perfectly, you did it. The great news is the first week is always the hardest, and it only gets easier from here.
To help your second week go a little more smoothly, I thought of five more tips I’ve learned the past six years of homeschooling my kiddos. (To see last week’s post and my Top Ten Homeschooling Tips, click here.)
#1 – Preparation is Everything.
As I’m sure you learned from last week, preparing for the week while trying to teach at the same time is like trying to learn how to swim by being thrown in the deep end without wearing any floaties. It feels like drowning more than swimming and at some point, you will end up at the bottom of the pool. The key to a successful week of school at home is the preparation you do before your week starts.
Every weekend, I sit down for an 1 1/2-2 hours to read through lesson plans and on-line teacher notes, print out handouts I will need for the week, and make a list of supplies or materials my kids will need to get their work done. Each child has her own clipboard or notebook where I put all of her lesson plans and handouts she needs for the week. For their sake and my sake, everything is located in one place and saves us searching high and low for that one elusive piece of paper.
While I do all of the reading and printing for my two youngest girls (Kindergarten and 3rd grade), my two oldest girls (5th grade and 7th grade) are responsible to prepare for their week on their own. They read their teachers’ notes and print out all of their own lesson plans and handouts, but I read all of the notes as well and touch base with the girls to make sure we are on the same page about what work needs to be accomplished, projects finished, books read, etc, for the week. As much of a drag as it can be (after all, who wants to think about homeschool on a weekend?!), the time we set aside to prepare for our week helps all of us feel more prepared for the responsibilities ahead.
2. Establish a Morning Routine that Does Not Depend on You.
Trying to get everyone up, dressed, moving, fed, and ready to think deep, intellectual thoughts every morning can feel a little bit like trying to turn around the Titanic – it takes a lot of physical and emotional energy. A few years into homeschooling my girls, I realized I needed to establish a morning routine that did not depend on me to get my people moving. Everyone had to be responsible for herself if I was going to have enough stamina to make it through the day.
This means on homeschool mornings, I do not wake up anyone. My girls are responsible for setting their own alarm clock at night and getting up at a designated time. My little one sleeps in the same room as my big girls, so she wakes up at the same time as her sisters. They know that when their alarm goes off, they are responsible for getting dressed, making their beds, and having their own devotional time with the Lord. If there is still time before breakfast, they can begin their school day routine, which involves reading independently for thirty minutes and practicing the piano. They do not have to wait for me to give them instructions to know what they need to start working on.
This might sound too rigid or strict, but having time to myself in the mornings has absolutely saved my sanity. In a household with four kids, once everyone is awake and moving, any time I have to myself is pretty much null and void. If I want to have time to spend reading my Bible, writing, studying, or doing anything in the realm of being quiet and still, it has to be before I begin my day with the girls. And to their credit, my girls are respectful of this.
- Practically speaking, this meant I bought every child an alarm clock she could easily use. (To see one your child could easily use, click here.) Even for your older children who have cell phones they could use as their alarm, I would encourage them to keep their phones in the kitchen or a common area at night and set an old-fashioned alarm to wake them in the morning. This ensures a good night’s sleep without distracting texts or calls from friends and without the temptation of looking at a screen.
- This also means the first few years we homeschooled, I typed out our morning routine and taped it up in the kitchen where everyone could see it and have easy access to their responsibilities in the morning.
- For my younger children, I highlight on their weekly lesson plans the things they can work on without mom being right there to help them. Again, this ensures the start of their day does not depend on me. This also ensures that if something comes up in the morning I have to take of, they are not waiting around on me to begin their day.
3. Make One Meal a Day a YOYO Meal.
If you don’t want to feel like a cafeteria lady or short order cook in a diner, tell your kids one meal a day is a YOYO meal: You’re On Your Own (I will be eternally thankful to Susan Ertan for introducing me to this term).
In our house, my girls are responsible for making their own lunches (everyone except for Mia Grace; the older girls take turns preparing her meal). When I first implemented this, my two oldest girls were probably in 2nd and 4th grade, and I thought they would think I was introducing them to cruel and unusual punishment. But to my utter shock, they started jumping up and down in excitement: “You mean we get to fix our lunches by ourselves?!” Wow. I should have started that sooner. Fixing their own lunch gave them a sense of independence and helped them feel very grown up about their day. Certain rules applied: like you can only have one bag of chips and something green or carrot-like must be included on your plate. But one YOYO meal a day preserved sanity for me in the kitchen and a feeling of independence for them.
4. Turn Negative Complaining into Joy
Maybe it’s just my house, but with five women under one roof, negative complaints and comments abound. And I can be just as bad as my girls. Not only am I making negative remarks on my own, but I nagging everyone else about their negativity and only making matters worse. In January, I grew so tired of my own complaining, I made a jar and put it in the kitchen where everyone could see:
Philippians 2:14-15 is taped on the outside of the container: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”
Everyone has their own color pompom, and any time anyone makes a negative remark, she has to put a pompom in the jar. At the end of every month, whoever has the fewest number of pompoms gets cold hard cash. Say whatever you want to say about bribery, but the atmosphere in our home has changed dramatically. More than anything, the thought of putting a pompom in the jar catches us in our speech and helps to hold us accountable with our words.
A word of warning, though, to the wise: one of the rules of the jar has to be that you are responsible for your own negative comments. Siblings cannot put a pompom in the jar on behalf of another sibling. If they do, they have to put one in for themselves as well. This, too, is a YOYO-NC kind of jar: You’re On Your Own for Negative Comments.
5. Keep Your Sense of Humor
Don’t be afraid to insert humor into your day.
Write your spelling words with a tiger mask on:
Have a pajama party and serve popcorn for lunch (or keep it a YOYO meal and have your kids serve themselves popcorn for lunch).
When your Kindergartner has a story in her reader like this one, go ahead and laugh and wonder out loud, “What the heck are we teaching are kids?!”
Practice phonograms in shaving cream on an outside table or while doing jumping jacks on the trampoline or in the yard.
But whatever you do, keep laughter an essential ingredient in your homeschool day.
Remember, just like last week, the goal is connection, not perfection. At the end of the day, if your kid sticks her finger in a light socket, has popcorn for lunch, and wears her pajamas and a tiger mask all day while laughing a lot and learning a few things along the way, you can rest assured the day has been a good one. In twenty years, they might not remember how to carry the one, but they will remember a momma who pressed in and held her home with love when the rest of the world seemed to be falling apart.
"The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms."
As you hold your home this week, may you feel God's arms underneath, holding you in His love.
During these turbulent times, it is easy to find ourselves paralyzed with fear. But God promises peace with His presence behind every locked door. Take a moment to look with me at John 20:19-22 to see how.
Six years ago, my family and I decided to immerse ourselves in a homeschool model. My girls go to school on campus two days a week and are homeschooled the remaining three week days. But notice I said I “decided.” Homeschool was a choice my husband and I intentionally made together. But thanks to Corona (or “Rona” as we call it in our house), homeschool is now not a choice but a mandatory part of many families’ everyday routine. Can I just take a moment to rub my hands gleefully together and say, “Welcome to the jungle!!!” In the brave and immortal words of my next-door-neighbor who has two school-aged children, “If you need me before April 10th, just look for me at the bottom of my pool.” If this is how you are feeling, these tips are for you. I’ve learned a few things over the past six years that might help in your everyday routine over the next few weeks.
Two things you need to know up front before you start your Distance Learning Plan: yes, having your children home for school will be as hard as you think it will be. Go ahead and set aside funds for counseling for everyone in your household, for yourself first and foremost.
But having your children home for school will also be better and sweeter than you have imagined it to be. Not only will you learn things about yourself as a teacher and a mom, but you will learn things about your kids – good things, beautiful things, things that make them unique and individual – you would never know unless you had the opportunity to be home together and learn how to do this thing called “school.”
So here we go: ten tips to get your DLP off to a good start:
#1 – Make a plan and stick to it.
Decide what time you want to start school every day and finish school every day. I do NOT do well with dragging our homeschool routine into the late hours of the day and afternoon. Having clearly defined boundaries for everyone in your household will be extremely helpful and will keep your house a home first and a school room second. You can even say something like, “I will be available to you between the hours of 9am-3pm. If you choose not to get your work done during that time, then you are on your own.”
#2 – Create intentional homeschool space.
I learned early on I do not do well with books, papers, and supplies strewn all over my house, so gather the supplies you will most often need and store them in a basket – scissors, tape, glue, pencils, dry erase markers, etc. Then sit down at a designated table and do school together. If you have older kids who work independently, have them pick a space where they feel most comfortable working but that is also in earshot of you and the rest of the family. This creates family community (and the ability for you to make sure they are actually working and not on their phones all day) but also gives kids a sense of independence. Once school is over, pick up your supplies and books for the day and put them out of sight from where you do life as a family. Keeping the perspective that school work is part of your day but not all of your day is extremely helpful for you and your kids.
#3 – Start with school day together with a short, simple Bible reading and prayer.
I know this sounds crazy, but everything in you will resist doing this as a family together. Every morning you will think, “I don’t need to do this today,” or “We don’t have time to do this today.” But I have learned how you start together sets the trajectory for how you finish together. Don’t worry if you don’t feel equipped to lead your family in this way. You will learn how to do this as you do it. Pick a Psalm, Proverb, or chapter of Scripture to read together, and let your kids take turns reading out loud. They love to do this, and it helps them engage with God’s Word on a personal level. Then pick a few things from the chapter to discuss or talk about that have relevance for their lives or their day, or read from a short devotional book or online resource you trust. Then pray for your children’s day. Let them hear you pray out loud over them. They soak up your prayers like a sponge, whether they admit it or not. Starting your day this way does not guarantee a sin-free, frustration-free, argument-free household. Far from it. But it does remind them and you of who is in control and of whose words will remain when all other words fail, yours included.
#4 – Set up block scheduling with each child.
When homeschooling multiple children, it’s easy to feel more like a circus ring manager than an actual teacher. Create a schedule where each child gets your undivided attention to work on the subjects where she needs your help. Your other kids have to know that if they have a question for you during the time you are working with another child, they will have to wait. You will have to remind them of this about ten times a day, but they CAN actually wait for your attention without shriveling up and perishing on your living room floor. If their questions for you become a free for all, no one will get anything done and you won’t be able to remember simple facts like your name or what you ate for breakfast by the end of the day.
#5 – The subjects that make you want to cuss or punch a hole in your wall, hand off to someone else.
As my oldest daughter reminded me the other day, “Mom, please don’t try to help me with physics. We will end up in a cat fight and pull each other’s hair out.” Ahem, right. I hated math and physics in junior high and high school, and guess what? I still hate them now. Maybe now more than ever when I have to try to explain it to someone else. I have learned the hard way there are certain subjects I just cannot do with certain children. Sometimes it’s the subject; sometimes it’s the child. But if trying to explain algebra, physics, or composition causes you to see red and roar in anger like the Incredible Hulk, walk away. Your child can get help from someone else who has the patience of Job or actually likes the subject. This is what tutors, grandparents, aunts and uncles, math-savvy friends, and FaceTime is for.
#6 – Motivate through reward.
My natural bent is to motivate through discipline, not reward. We can analyze that later, but suffice it to say, telling your child, “If you can’t remember your phonograms, you are going to have a consequence” just doesn’t work very well. My oldest daughter snapped to it at the mere mention of a consequence, but my youngest daughter gagged. So there you have it. When gagging over phonograms ensued, I had to rethink my methods.
So I’ve learned to motivate through reward. This is where the large bag of M&M’s comes in handy, especially with younger children. For every phonogram, or math fact, or spelling word (or whatever it is they are working on) they can remember, they get to put a tally mark on a white board or sheet of paper. At the end of the subject, they get to count their tally marks and get the corresponding number of M&M’s, or pieces of popcorn, or whatever it is you have decided is a worthwhile motivator. It’s amazing how much my daughter learned and retained when candy was involved.
#7 – Use a timer.
Slow poke children can drive you to the point of insanity. Here’s what I learned: set a timer for certain subjects. If math is supposed to take them thirty or forty-five minutes, help them get started, set the timer for an appropriate amount of time, then walk away. It’s amazing how having a time limit can help motivate children to get through a subject. And if the subject is still taking them crazy amounts of time, this helps you know your child might be legitimately struggling with a certain concept or subject. This enables you to then get them the help they need or have a conversation with a teacher to see what adjustments can be made.
#8 – Determine consequences ahead of time.
This sounds negative, but it is actually super positive. With four children at home all day, I can quickly feel like my role as mom or teacher becomes referee or disciplinarian. At 9am, my responses to a bad mood or a snarky remark to a sibling can be pretty rational. But by 3pm, if someone looks at me the wrong way, I can hear myself yelling, “That’s it! You’re grounded for a month and have no screen privileges for the rest of your living days!” I’ve lost credibility in their eyes and in mine. So this year before school started, I tried something new. I thought through typical hot spots in our day and reasonable consequences that should follow them. I even typed them out and put them in a place in our kitchen that was easily accessible. So when it’s 3pm, and someone makes a rude comment to a sibling for the 100th time that day, instead of exploding like a nuclear reactor, I simply look at my sheet and give a calm response. (This is in theory, mind you. There are still times I have a nuclear reaction.) Consequences can be anything from a loss of screen time, to a lap around the block (it’s amazing what big body movements do to calm and refocus), to extra chore time. But the point is this: they are thoughtful, not reactive and helpful, not punitive. They are helpful in getting everyone’s hearts, attitudes, and spirits back to where they need to be, my own included.
#9 – Practice social distancing with your children.
Homeschooling your children takes a tremendous outpouring of mental, emotional, and creative energy, so after being together all day on a homeschool day, I have to take time for personal space. Sometimes this means I will go up to my room for forty minutes to read or take a nap. Sometimes this means I will go on a run or walk by myself. I don’t even take our dog; I need an hour of solitude where nothing is pulling on me. But my children have learned that during this time to let mom have her space so that she can come be a human being again for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
#10 – Your goal is relationship, not the grade.
The goal for these next few weeks is not for your children to make or maintain a certain grade. Your goal is deepened relationship with them. You are their mom first, then their teacher, and your children’s grade is a reflection of their work, not yours. I have to remind myself continually, “I have already done 7th grade, or 5th grade, or 3rd grade, or Kindergarten; this is my child’s work, my child’s life, my child’s responses and decisions, not mine.” The best learning happens as I learn how to release my own grip and watch my children learn how to use their own.
Just know this, Mommas – “You got this.” Not because you are so smart and so capable and so prepared to be a teacher but because God made you specifically to be your child’s mom. And through this time of uncertainty, at the end of the day, that’s what your kiddos need – their mom. They need your love, your prayers, your peace, your snuggles, your time – and that is precisely what you know how to give and what to do. Anyone can teach them physics or phonograms, but they only have one mom, and that’s you. So step into that role with confidence, and the rest will come.
It’s been a month since I last blogged, and for that, I apologize! I wasn’t planning on taking a break from blogging, but once June hit the calendar, I quickly realized it was either take a break from blogging, or blogging with everyone home for summer would break me!
To catch you up on our summer so far, Caroline turned 8 on June 3rd –
Lillian turned 12 on June 15th –
Lizzie turned 10 on June 18th –
And to start us all off, Jason turned a very young 47 on May 16th –
Added to the June mix were two nieces’ and one nephew’s birthdays, my brother-in-law’s birthday the same day as Lizzie’s, and the celebration of my in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary.
I have to echo the sentiments of my father-in-law who said at the end of June, “I CANNOT eat one more piece of cake!” Amen, Papa, amen.
So here we are the first week of July, birthdays behind us, finally settling into the slower, blessed rhythms of summer.
And with my three oldest girls being at camp this week, I’ve had plenty of time to think about the rhythm of where we’ve been the past few weeks and where we are headed.
And one place we’ve been is in a rock tumbler. Not a real tumbler, but a proverbial tumbler of sorts. And I’ve learned that I don’t do well in tumblers. Because in tumblers, you do one thing – you roll around and around in the same small space with no way out of hitting other rocks. And that’s what the past few weeks have felt like to me. Fun? Yes. Celebratory? Yes. Mayhem? Yes. But margin? No. Order, rhythm, and routine? Not a chance. Bumping shoulders with other people who demands things of you and need things from you from a 7am to an 11pm basis? Yes. Coming face-to-face with your own short-comings and short-fuse and quick temper on a regular basis? Yes.
Remember my blog post about how to make the most out of your summer by inserting margin? LINK HERE Well, that hasn’t happened here. Not in June anyway. I’m now needing to take my own advice. Because as someone who likes order, routine, margin, and rhythm, after tumbling around in the chaos of June, I always emerge with bumps and bruises from the other rocks in my small space.
I wonder if you can relate. I wonder if you ever have seasons in your life that feel tight, narrow, cramped and confined, with not a lot of space to breathe. I wonder if in that small space you have people with sharp edges who hit your sharp edges, and because of the small space, you end up hitting and bumping into each other over and over and over again.
It’s not a fun feeling, is it?
But check out what a rock tumbler produces:
Through the process of remodeling our home, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a carpenter named Chris. Chris is close to my age, but life looks like it has given him quite a few tumbles. His sharp edges have worn into rutted wrinkles, and no matter how down and out he’s been, he’s always got candy, a cookie, or something fun to share with those around him. Several months ago, he gave Mia Grace her first twinkie, and they have been fast friends ever since.
Several weeks ago, the last time we were around Chris, he emerged from his car holding rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. Apparently, he collects them. Finds them in driveways, scoops them out of dirt, brushes off their grime, and then tosses them in his tumbler. And for weeks on end, his regular old driveway rocks tumble around and around and around. And when they emerge from the tumbles, they have been transformed from regular old driveway rocks no one would give a second look…to treasure.
Edges that were once sharp and rough are now supple and smooth.
All that was hidden to the eye because of a dirty outer shell is now visible because of the knocks in the small space of the tumbler.
That puts a different twist on tumblers, doesn’t it? Because as painful and undesirable as they might be, tumblers have a way of putting us into contact with people and circumstances that knock the edges off of our hearts, the sharpness off of our personalties, and the grime off of our souls that has accumulated for years. Tumblers have a way of forcing us into tight spaces we cannot leave or escape from, spaces that feel dark, narrow, painful, and chaotic, so that true treasure can emerge.
So here’s what I’ve learned: for tumblers to be effective, we need other rocks to be in there with us. The idea of a quiet life, unhindered by children who demand things of you or personalties or people with sharp edges is appealing. We just want to be left alone to enjoy life in a quiet space.
But why? For what purpose? If we were left alone, what would be the end result? To remain an ordinary driveway rock, covered by layers of self and dirt? No thank you. I’ll take the tumbler.
I’ll take the tumbler of June and all the people and personalities that go with it. I’ll take the knocks off the edges of my anger and frustration when I am left without margin. I’ll take the exposure that comes when I am at my limit, stretched to the max in a small space, for the colors that emerge. I’ll take the tumbler.
So today, think about the people and places that consistently rub you the wrong way. Think about the small spaces from which it feels like you cannot escape. And then press in to the Lord in prayer, and thank Him. Thank Him for the gift of the hard things that have the power to rub off your edges and transform your heart into true, lasting treasure.
I’m going to be taking some time off in July to rest, pray, and be still with my Heavenly Father. If you need time to rest as well, consider using my prayer guide, Secure, along with its companion journal to help you in the format of prayer and the book A Praying Life by Paul Miller to help you in the posture of prayer. Secure is up for pre-sale on Amazon and will be ready to ship out on July 20th. If would like a copy now and live in the Houston area, they are available at CornerBooks at Houston’s First Baptist Church. I will be back, rested, recharged, and ready to write again in August. I will look forward to re-connecting at the end of the summer.
I’ve always wanted to be secure. Secure in my friendships. Secure in my my abilities. Secure in my place in a room full of strangers or in the living room of my very own home. But security is tough to come by. Learning to be secure, or confident, in who I am and whose I am has been one long, uphill climb.
And while I definitely have not arrived or achieved perfection in this area of security, I have found the one thing that gives my feet secure footing on a day in and day out basis. And that thing is prayer.
Prayer – daily, secure connection to a faithful God – is what has given me confidence in my place with God and my place with others over the past five years. And while prayer certainly hasn’t kept me from falling, it has given me the ability to know how to stand back up, brush myself off, and start moving again much faster than ever before.
This week, thanks to my wise, beautiful friend, Courtney Garret, who has discipled countless women and written a Bible study of her own, I had the privilege of sharing what God has been teaching me about prayer with a ministry called Sacred Story. The founder of the ministry, Laura Wilcox, encourages “women to live their stories in light of God’s grand story, to pass on their stories to others, and to know Jesus as their ‘first love’ in every chapter.” To find out more about Sacred Story and the good work they are doing, click here. And to read what God has been doing these past five years in my heart concerning prayer, click on the link below.
If you are in the Houston area and would like to further explore secure connection through prayer, I will be teaching a three week series on prayer at Houston’s First Baptist church during the month of June. The study is the first three Tuesdays in June – June 5th, 12th, and 19th – and will be in the Reception Room from 6:30-8pm.
My new books, Secure: The Prayer Guide: Connecting to God Through Persistent Prayer, and Secure: The Thirty-One Day Prayer Journal will be available to purchase as resources to guide you through the study.
If you are not in the Houston area or cannot attend the study, the books will be available for pre-sale on Amazon by June 15th, just in time for you to make your own secure connection with the Lord through prayer this summer. Links to audio and video resources to go along with the prayer guide and journal will also be available here at susannahbaker.com.
Lots of exciting things are happening around here this summer, so stay tuned to future blog posts to receive updates. But the most exciting thing of all is the invitation from God Himself to connect securely to Him along every path, in every season, with every step in life, through the gift of prayer.
Let’s take time this summer to open that invitation together.
By the end of the school year, I feel like a roast. As in, put a fork in me…I am DONE. Done with school work, homework, lesson plans, or get-in-the-car-and-go-anywhere-plans.
Since my girls finished school last week, I kicked off summer with a celebratory nap. I asked the girls if they would give me thirty minutes of quiet, thinking I would need to close my eyes for twenty minutes or so and then be good to go again. An hour and forty minutes later, I opened my eyes…and told my girls they had given me the best gift for which a mom could ask!
But while I started off summer on a good, restful note, the temptation for me is where there is margin to nap, or rest, or read, or simply do nothing, I start packing in more. Signing my kids up for one more camp. Inserting more activity into slow, lazy afternoons. Making more lists of what needs to be done instead of enjoying the fullness of what’s in front of me.
At our end of school assembly last week, our head of school, Neil Anderson, gave us permission to do less rather than more over the summer. Less activity. Less screens. Less hustle and less bustle. Because margin doesn’t just happen on its own. You have to plan for it, make room for it, and be willing to embrace it…even if it feels like missing out.
In my case, I needed someone to give me permission to make room for margin. I needed someone to stand up and tell me, “Woman, rest. Resist the temptation to fill up the margins and give God room to speak and your family the capacity to listen.”
So this summer, I am giving you the same gift that someone gave me – permission to rest and permission to insert margin instead of more activity. Yes, do some camps, kick some soccer balls, make a few popsicle stick projects at VBS. But at some point, give yourself permission to purposefully and thoughtfully slow down and listen to the One who is waiting to speak into the spaces we give Him.
Here are some ideas for creating margin in your summer:
Insert some margin into your time with the Lord.
I have found summer to be a great time to linger longer over my prayers. To really learn to pray and process through things with the Lord with a pen in one hand and a Bible in the other in a way I cannot often do during the school year when everyone has to be out the door by 7:30am. Resist the temptation to sign your kids up for too many camps where you have to be out the door every morning at an early hour. Give yourself margin to linger long with the Lord.
Here are some devotional ideas:
- I just finished an excellent study on 2 Corinthians by Kelly Minter called All Things New. I enjoyed every moment of digging into the pages of the study and the chapters in 2 Corinthians. I found great principles to help guide me navigate the realities of living real life alongside of real people.
- If you battle fear or anxiety, a friend of mine, Margaret Austin, who has guest written on this blog before, recommended a study called When I Am Afraid, by Ed Welch. Summer is a great time to allow the Lord to work on some those hard to reach places in our souls that often are pushed to the side during seasons of busyness.
- And here is my personal favorite: the second edition of Waiting on the Lord. You can pre-order your copy on Amazon now, and it is due to be released on June 11th, just in time for summer. Waiting on the Lord is not for the faint of heart. This is a study that helps peel back the layers of disappointments, hurts, and make-shift bandages in our lives and enables us to see there is a God standing in the shadows, waiting to heal and fulfill the deepest desires of the human heart. If you are in a place of needing to hear, see, and taste God in places you never thought you would see Him, then this study is for you. And summer gives you the margin you need to do it. What’s great about this second edition is that the teaching sessions are on video format and can be accessed at susannahbaker.com by June 11th as well. They are perfect to watch or share with a group if you would like to walk through the study with others.
Insert some margin into time with your family.
- Have one night a week where you all cook dinner together. Include even the youngest members of your family by letting them “help” by decorating the paper napkins with stickers or artwork or put a chair by the sink and let them pour water from one bowl to another while the rest of you prepare the meal. During the school year, dinner time is usually such a time of hustle that I look forward to making a meal together we can all enjoy without me saying, “Hurry up!” one time.
- This idea came from Neil Anderson as well, but after dinner, clear your plates off of the table (or, if you are like our family, throw your paper plates in the trash can), and make time to create together. Paint, color, draw, play the guitar or piano, write a poem, or a write a story. But use your time together to let each person’s creative juices flow in the way God has gifted him or her.
- Be creative with your family devotions. Sometimes it feels like our devotions are about as dry as a mouthful of dirt. As parents, we are tired of talking, and I know our kids are tired of listening. So a few nights ago, instead of talking about a passage in scripture, we drew a passage of scripture. I read Psalm 37 about trusting in the Lord, spent a little time dialoguing about what that meant, and then let everyone get out paper and markers and go to down. Everyone created something that helped them process the Psalm. The results were so great, they have been hanging up on our book shelves ever since.
- Remember to enjoy simple, outside things with your family. I know we hear it a thousand times, but it’s true – kids don’t care what we do. They just want to be with mom and dad. So get outside. Take a walk together. Go swimming, and moms (myself included), get your hair wet. Sit down and just watch them play instead of responding to texts on your phone. Ride bikes together. But whatever you do, be fully present in the moment, in the margin, enjoying your children, and allowing them to enjoy you.
- Pick a book to read aloud together this summer. I saw this new edition of Hinds Feet in High Places, and it looks amazing. This might be our new read aloud book this summer.
- Go to the library…often. Visit used book stores and make it an adventure. There’s an amazing ice cream store right down from the Half-Price Books we like to go to, so they know if they pick a book, they also get to pick their favorite flavor ice cream.
So there. Permission given to rest. To make room and margin for less, not more. And the irony is, by the end of the summer, I have a feeling that in the “less,” we will have found more than we could ever imagine.
Holidays are full of expectations, Mother’s Day included.
Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that it helps to pay attention to my expectations before the actual day arrives and try to line them up with reality as much as possible. That way I’m not disappointed and the day goes smoothly, even if things don’t go exactly the way I was expecting them to.
Like it or not, embedded within our hearts are certain expectations that we, as mothers, will feel honored. Appreciated. Given time off to take a nap, get dressed for church or lunch at a leisurely pace, avoid any and all food prep at any cost, and given a gift that is handmade or homemade from our kids and appropriately thoughtful and economical from our husbands. Something not too extravagant but not too cheap either. I’m just saying. Like it or not, these expectations are what’s in our heads, even if we know how slim the possibilities are that any of the above will actually occur.
I’ve learned over the past twelve years on Mother’s Day that life with kids is still life with kids, no matter what day on the calendar it is or what kind of expectations the day holds.
The reality of getting four girls (five, including myself) dressed, fed, ready for church and out the door by 9am on Sunday morning is simply summed up in one phrase: damage control. Someone will stand in the bathroom crying about her hair, someone will stand in front of her closet upset about her dress, and someone will scramble in the car missing a shoe. This is what happens on Sunday mornings.
Food prep in the kitchen will most definitely occur because let’s face it: feeding four kids who need to eat three times a day (can’t they ever just skip a meal every now and again?) is easier to do within the confines of your own home than out in a restaurant.
And the chance of getting to take a nap is 50/50. If my daughter wins her softball game and is still in the playoffs come Sunday, she will have an hour and a half of practice. There goes my nap. (Is it terrible to say I wouldn’t be too sad if they lost, and we were done for the season sooner rather than later? She is only seven…)
And let’s talk about another expectation for a moment: in Houston, where I live, embedded within church culture is the expectation that all mothers and daughters should look especially pretty on Mother’s Day. Your dresses need to color coordinate. In fact, let’s back up. Everyone should have on a dress, your hair should look especially non-greasy, your makeup should be done, and a pretty, relaxed, happy smile should be on your face when you walk in the church doors. Oh, and you should be holding the hand of at least one of your children.
Listen, some of my girls are in full-blown adolescence. There will be no hand holding walking into church. Someone will be mad at someone else, someone will hate their dress, and someone’s hair will not be doing what it should be doing. There will be tears. There will be pouts. There will be all kinds of “I’m not walking with you, mom; I’m walking behind you” business going on this coming Sunday morning.
And somehow, the cute, spring dress I bought several months ago in anticipation of the expectations of this day will just not look as cute on my body as it did on the hangar. I know this from experience. My husband is a wonderful man. In fact, he does a fabulous job of filling my cup by letting me know how pretty I look in his eyes on a regular basis.
But last year on Mother’s Day, he made the mistake of telling me that my dress looked like a bathing suit coverup as we were heading into lunch with his family. A bathing suit coverup. On Mother’s Day.
I think it’s taken a year’s worth of “You look really pretty, babe” compliments to get him over that one.
And let’s finish talking about expectations by talking about gifts.
Men, I mean this. I really mean this. Whatever card or gift or homemade creation you hand your wife on Mother’s Day simply needs to reflect that you thought about it. In advance. Meaning, for more than a panicked few minutes before the gift-handing-over moment. As moms, we care more about the thought behind the gift than the actual gift itself.
My favorite gift-giving expectation from Mother’s Day happened five years ago.
Several months before Mother’s Day, I started dropping hints, laying the groundwork, prepping the soil of my husband’s heart, if you will, that I wanted…an iPad. I know, I know. It was a big ask. And I was fairly certain the heart of my husband was not going to be moved in the general direction of an iPad when what he had in mind was probably a gift certificate for a new pair of workout pants.
But it was worth a try.
I even enlisted my sister-in-law, Cara, who is the master of persuasion, to help me in my cause. And even she failed. Something she was not too happy about.
Mother’s Day morning came, and went, and no iPad. Flowers, yes. A card, yes. A smaller, more appropriate token of his affection, yes. But not an iPad.
But then came Mother’s Day evening.
His family had come over for dinner, and at the end of the evening, we were in our driveway walking everyone to their cars when Jason noticed our cat pawing at something in the street. He walked over to check it out, bent down, and came up holding…a snake. A twelve inch long twisting, wriggling, curling around his arm snake.
And out of nowhere, Cara, Jason’s sister, said, “I dare you to eat that snake.”
Now I think it would be entirely appropriate to pause here for a moment and ask, “What kind of a person sees another person holding a snake and immediately thinks, ‘I should ask that person to eat that snake’?” Probably a person who grew up as the only girl in a household with three brothers. But even then, her question gives me pause about a whole lot of things concerning my sister-in-law.
And as quick as lightening, Jason came back with, “I’ll eat it. But only if you buy me an iPad.”
“Done,” Cara said.
And in that moment, time froze. The ten of us standing in the driveway stood there with our mouths hanging open as Jason opened his mouth and then shoved that whole writhing snake inside.
Children started crying. My girls were screaming because they thought their daddy was going to die from eating that snake. Cara’s children were crying because they thought they were going to have to give Uncle Jason their iPad. My mother-in-law who thought she had seen it all in raising four children stood there with her mouth hanging open, cleaned out banana pudding dish in her hand, watching her son in horrible fascination. Even neighbors turned on their lights, opened their shutters, and came outside to see the cause of the hubbub we were all making.
And through it all, Jason chewed that snake. And chewed. And chewed. And chewed. He stood there for five minutes chewing that twelve inch long, wriggling thing with his sister beside him the whole time saying, “Open your mouth. Let me see. Nope. It’s still not all down. I said all of it.”
And every last bit of that snake disappeared into his mouth down into his stomach. I didn’t kiss the man for a week. But guess what I got for Mother’s Day?…an iPad. Thank you, Cara. Thank you, Jason. And thank you, Mr. Snake.
So, like I said, Mother’s Day is full of expectations. Some of them don’t always turn out the way you think they will. Sometimes you get the gift you want; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you look cute in the dress you bought; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes your kids behave and hold your hand walking into church; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes your husband eats a snake; sometimes he doesn’t.
But no matter what happens this Mother’s Day, I want to remember is this: expectations are fine to have, but real joy, real life happens in the mess. It happens in the car-crying moments and in the snake-eating moments. It happens in the gift-giving moments or the not so great-gift giving moments. It happens if I get a nap in or struggle on through the afternoon.
Because Mothers’ Day isn’t so much about being celebrated as a mother as celebrating those around me who make life sweet, children or no children. iPad or no iPad. Nap or no nap. Lots of food prep or no food prep. Finally, twelve years in the making, I am learning to delight in the people He’s given me to fill my cup, my plate, and my life, no matter how the events of the day unfold.
And by all means, if you see a woman this Mother’s Day who looks like she has a bathing suit cover-up on, and her children are all standing about ten feet behind with tear streaks on their faces, give that woman a hug and say, “Good job, momma. You look great in that spring dress of yours. I hope you get a nap this afternoon, and a free iPad by dinner. And if your husband ever needs to know how to eat a snake, I know someone you need to call.”
For those of you who live in Houston, I have an exciting opportunity. For three weeks in June, I will be teaching a Bible study at Houston’s First Baptist church on prayer. We will be using my prayer guide and journal called Secure, due to be published and released right before the study in late May. There is no need for you to register beforehand; just come the first night of the study ready to enter into a time of learning how to securely attach to a good Father who loves to connect with His children through the daily habit of prayer.
The study will be the first three Tuesday evenings of June, June 5, 12, and 19, from 6:30-8pm in the Reception Room at First Baptist. The address is 7401 Katy Freeway / Houston, TX / 77024.
I hope to have the privilege of seeing some of your faces and meeting you there!
May is upon us. It’s here, breathing down the necks of all moms whose kids are in the final throes of the end of school. Paperwork piles up on our desks. End-of-year teacher gifts haunt us in our waking hours and the treats we forgot to take up to school for the hundredth very special end-of-school-year-party haunt us in our dreams. And in the midst of all the mayhem, playoff games, recitals, and final exams, we are expected to still have routine things like dinner on the table every night and groceries in the fridge. True confession: tonight, I am making tacos for the third time in seven days. My family just might refuse to eat them, but I don’t care. At least there is some sort of resemblance to food on the table. Any and all margin for creativity in my brain exited the building when the month of May entered.
May is tough. It’s fun, sort of, but it feels more like jumping blindfolded off of a cliff rather than finishing the end of a long school year race.
And there’s just no way to do this part of the year perfectly. I am learning this. I am learning this when my daughter’s research paper was typed and ready to be turned in to her teacher (the paper I spent all weekend helping her type), and she forgot to turn it in. And we got points taken off. Wait, did I just say “we”? I mean she. Sort of.
I am learning this when my daughter gave her big history presentation, and I left the written portion of her project on her clipboard at home. And I got a text from her teacher. A very kind text, but still.
I am learning this when there isn’t turkey for lunch boxes in the deli drawer and there is literally nothing to pack in their lunch boxes. Not even an old, expired can of spaghetti-o’s. I am learning this when I show up to a field trip in sweats and everyone else is in big people clothes with makeup on. I am learning this when I am late on writing deadlines, my inbox is overflowing with emails, and I feel like I can’t manage to stay on top of even simple tasks.
And when life becomes full to the point of overflowing, my tendency is to become taught, my nerves stretched thin, and all of a sudden I snap, pop, or break at the slightest provocation. Or, really, what I’m learning, is I snap at the slightest hint of failure. Failure at staying on top of my kids’ school schedules, failure at staying tuned in to my husband’s needs, failure at fitting in to a certain group of moms that have achieved “perfection,” whatever that means.
But last week, a really wise person told me something that is helping me handle the imperfections of May with a little more stability. She said: “What matters is not the fact that you are broken or have failed. We are all broken, and we have all failed. What matters is the thought that immediately follows your failure. You need to learn to follow your brokenness with this statement: ‘Yes, I’m broken and far more of a failure than I ever dared to realize…BUT…praise God, my value and worth, my significance and beauty, is not tied to my failings but to the perfect, whole, completing love of Christ.'”
Or…”Yes, I blew it today and forgot many things…BUT…I rest in the hands of One who never will forget me.”
Or…”Yes, my glory is fading and life is imperfect…BUT…God’s glory is secure and heals my past, gives grace to my present, and ties my future to His perfect home.”
I’m learning, in my brokenness, to give less importance to my failures and more value to the thought that immediately follows my failures. Are my thoughts full of shame and condemnation, and a subtle, or not so subtle, beating up of self and others around me? Or are my thoughts full of the grace and redemption that is promised to unravel all of my failures and renew every single one?
Paying attention to my thoughts and aligning them with the truth of God’s Word rather than the hopelessness that whispers in my heart is helping May be a little bit more manageable. Not perfect. Not flawless. But manageable. And I’m learning to think in all of my failings, there is One who is perfect who holds me together and follows up my brokenness with His perfect, redeeming love.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5