Susannah Baker

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Video: Listening to the Voice of the Heart

Learning to find comfort and peace when our normal comforts are gone requires listening to the heart and allowing God to meet our needs. But God’s Word tells us it is possible to have abundance even in seasons of leanness when we trust in Him.

To order your copy of Chip Dodd’s book The Voice of the Heart, click here.

For more encouragement throughout the week, follow me on Instagram @baker.susannah

When It’s Hard to Have Closer Family Relationships

On April 20, 2020, Posted by , in Coronavirus, Encouragement, With 9 Comments

School is cancelled. Let me say that again – school is officially cancelled. And while that may bring shouts of joy and cheer to our children, it could also bring sobs of deep anguish from parents. While stay-at-home restrictions are gradually being lifted, we still have a long road of close quarters ahead of us.

My pastor, Gregg Matte, preached a great sermon yesterday. His text was Philippians 4:1-5, and while he drew many great points from the passage, one point in particular keeps rolling around in my heart and head: during this time of corona quarantine, the number one goal isn’t knocking it out of the park on your kid’s algebra homework, and it isn’t making sure they have all A’s by the end of the semester in just a few short weeks. The number one goal by the end of this stay-at-home time, however long it lasts, is to have closer relationships – first with God, and then with one another.

Four weeks ago, closer family relationships sounded really nice. It sounded comfortable and cozy and fun. Like we would all just sit around and play board games, take bike rides, and eat dinner around the table together every night. But now, closer family relationships sound downright exhausting. Can I be frank for just one moment? I don’t want to be closer to people in my family right now. I want to have a stay-at-home week by myself. With no people in it. And that’s because, at this point, we have all been in close quarters for so long, all the cozy, comfortable, niceness has worn off. We are now relating to each other out of the frayed edges of weariness and boredom with no end in sight.

Close relationship with my family members is going to require more than a board game or a nice meal around the table together. It’s going to require repentance and forgiveness.

And that’s because, in the words of my pastor, “A different set of social circumstances can both reveal and heal problems.” (To listen to his full sermon, click here.)

Many things have been healed over the past few weeks. Slowing down and staying home together has taken the edge of hurry out of my voice and enabled me to speak kindly and tenderly to my children instead of impatiently and angrily. It’s allowed me to enjoy my children instead of just managing my children and getting them out the door for the next activity.

But this time has also revealed things in me, my marriage, my children, and my extended family relationships. It’s revealed the true dynamic of our relationships, not just the pretend dynamic it’s easy to put on when you only have a few hours to be around someone. A few weeks? Now that’s a different story.

So what now? If you, like me, find yourself more argumentative and irritable than you were a few weeks ago, hit the pause button on relationships that seem to be pressing on a particular nerve. Take the advice of 17th century British pastor and poet George Herbert and “Take some time to be alone; see what thy soul doth wear.”

Maybe taking some time alone means getting up earlier than anyone else in your house. Maybe it means taking a walk by yourself where you can out think and pray. Or maybe it means escaping to a quiet corner of the driveway or backyard while everyone else is inside watching a movie (this is what movies for children are for – to help moms regain their sanity).

But whatever you do, be quiet and still enough to allow God do some searching of you instead of you doing all the searching and talking to God.

Only God has both the power and the goodness to see into the human heart and not only show us what is there but help us walk out of the habits and patterns that hinder relational intimacy with the people we love most and then lead us in a way that is everlasting and true (Psalm 139:23-24)/LINK.

What this requires from us is enough humility to sit still and listen. It requires us be willing to admit we don’t have all the answers and it requires us being willing to admit whenever there is an argument, rub, or misunderstanding, it takes two to tango. The problem usually never lies completely with the other person – we have to own our part as well.

This past week, it took me a full week to be willing to admit my part. It took a lot of wrestling, soul searching, and prayer.

But finally, once I was able to admit I had far more pride than I had dared to believe, I was able to repent, not just to the Lord but to the person I had wronged.

This stay-at-home time God has given us is to build closer relationships. But we are naive to think that closeness will come without conflict and without repentance. At some point, somebody’s going to have to give. Somebody’s going to have to say, “I’m sorry.” Somebody is going to have to take ownership for their part in a disagreement or a relational dynamic that seems entirely the other person’s fault. And then, and only then, will healing come.

Your conflict could be with your spouse or with your teenager or with your toddler. It could be with your roommate or your co-worker or your boss or your parents or your extended family.

But the fact of the matter is: this closeness is a gift and these people aren’t going away. Not for a while at least. So take the time to deal with the rut in your heart and the rut in the relationship, own your part, seek forgiveness, and move on. Or the rub can continue into the days and weeks ahead and instead of emerging from this time closer to the people you love, you will walk away with deeper ruts and higher walls. What it will cost you is your pride. But take it from a fellow traveller – pride isn’t worth holding onto. It makes for a terrible quarantine companion.

But humility lays the ground for real relationships and healed relationships instead of drawn battle lines and rifts in relationships.

So lay down your defenses, get alone with God, and get real about your pride. Pick up repentance and draw close to God and others in humility. Real, restored relationship is waiting.

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.

Philippians 4:1-5

For more encouragement throughout the week, follow me on instagram @baker.susannah

An Interview with Jason Baker: Steady Hope in Unsteady Times

On April 17, 2020, Posted by , in Coronavirus, Encouragement, Video Weekly Words, With 12 Comments

At the end of the week with mounting pressure and growing weariness, I interviewed my husband, Jason, a business owner here in Houston. We talk openly and honestly about the challenges and necessity of depending on God and His Word and what this looks like from a practical standpoint each and every day.

For more encouragement throughout the week, follow me on Instagram @baker.susannah

Learning How to Pray the Real Me to the Real God

On April 13, 2020, Posted by , in Coronavirus, Prayer, With 4 Comments

We all wear so many masks. In order to survive and safeguard our hearts, we pretend to be people we are not in order to gain acceptance as the people we think we ought to be.

Prayer is the one place on earth my masks can completely come off. Prayer is the one place on earth I can go, shut the door, leave behind all the masks, roles, and responsibilities and show my real self to a very real and waiting God.

But this un-masking of myself has been a long and painful process. It has taken a long time to learn that I can trust the God who is really there and really listening. My un-masking has come gradually; it has been a slow stripping of my outer layers of self-protection, layers that include performance, fear, anger, unforgiveness, envy, self-pity, and of course, pride.

This is why my favorite quote about prayer comes from C.S. Lewis: “The prayer that precedes all prayers is may the real me meet the real you.”

Otherwise, what’s the point? What’s the point of praying to God as a dressed up version of ourselves? Doesn’t He know the depths of the hurt and wickedness and sadness and hopes and dreams and loneliness of our hearts anyway?

So if prayer isn’t about being honest, then what’s it about? It’s more like hypocrisy than true spirituality. And this world doesn’t need anymore hypocrites. What it needs, perhaps now more than ever, is very real sinners praying in very real humility, need, and grace, before a very real God.

But as strange as it sounds, praying honestly and transparently before God is really hard work. More times than not, I find myself dressing up my words and phrases before God, trying to make myself sound good, right, holy, acceptable, or at least phrase my prayers in something that sounds like “Christianese.” Many times, I have to stop, scratch out the pretense I have been praying, pause, expose my heart, and pray the emotions, feelings, and words that make up real praying. And that’s when the real relationship and heart change with God really begins. He can’t do anything with a heart that’s dressed up, playing pretend. But He can do incredible things with a heart that comes raw, naked, vulnerable, real, hurting, sad, angry, transparent, but ready and waiting to let Him in.

So how do we get there? How do we get to the place where we are consistently praying real words and not just pretend ones?

Like I said, it’s not something I’ve mastered or that’s easy to do. But here are a few things I do to help my real words come out instead of the pretend ones:

  1. Set a timer and spend the first five minutes of your prayer time putting pen to paper and letting all the words come out. Don’t start your prayer time saying the things you think God wants to hear. Say the things you want Him to hear; say the things you really need to say. I’ve found the best way to do this is I set a timer for five minutes, I pick up my pen and my journal, and I just start writing. I tell Him exactly where I am in those moments. Sometimes I don’t even pick up my pen from the paper. I just write a long stream of thoughts and words and let it all flow out: “LordIamtiredthismorningandwanttogobacktobedIdon’tknowifIcandothisdayornotandIamgoingtoneedYourhelpPleasehelpmeGod.” Or, “I’mreallytickedoffatmychildrenandIdontwantanyonetotouchmetodaypleasehelpmewanttobearoundthemOGod.” If I’m angry, I tell Him I’m angry. If I’m sad, I tell Him I’m sad. If I’m thankful and content and excited to face the day, I tell Him I’m thankful. But I start those first five minutes by telling Him exactly where I am, not where I think I ought to be. If I don’t do this, I find the rest of my prayer time I am distracted, angry, worried, unable to focus on the task at hand. But if I can show up to God and tell Him where I really am, then I am able to fully present to the real Him and His very real Word for the rest of our time together.
  2. Write a Lament. A lament is simply this: a complaint. And this might sound strange, but many times the best way to put your trust in God is to complain to God. Sixty-seven of the psalms are laments, more than any other type of psalm. God knows that while we are on this earth, we will have trouble. We will experience great heartache. And our complaints and suffering are not off-limits to God; in fact, they are welcomed. Far better to complain and pour out your heart to God than to anyone else about your spouse, child, neighbor, friend, or co-worker, for He is the only one who can actually do anything about it. He alone holds access to all human hearts and has the power not only change them but to change you. So pour out your words to Him, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and then once you do, leave them there. I find that when I lament and complain to God, by the end, I have left the whole matter in His good, capable Hands. I am not only reminded of my troubles but of the power and capabilities of the One I am complaining to. But if I do not take the time or effort to put my lament into words, I end up processing it to other people or letting it affect my mood the rest of the day. So when you go to God, lament. Complain. And then leave it in God’s capable hands. And if you need an example of a lament to follow, Psalm 42, 43, or 143 are all great places to start.
  3. Confess your sin. Real prayer to a real God is hindered by our very real sin. If you lack the desire to pray or be in God’s presence, perhaps it is because there is sin in your life you need to confess. If you have sin that you know is wrong, but you don’t want to confess it as wrong – unforgiveness, envy, self-pity, discontentment – then start by saying, “Lord, I know it’s wrong to not forgive my friend, but to be honest, I hate him in my heart. He’s really hard to love. Forgive me for not wanting to forgive, and help my unbelief.” Many times with sin that I know is wrong but I have no desire to let go of, I start with the prayer, “Lord, I want to believe, I want to confess; help my unbelief” (see Mark 9:24). And the amazing thing is, He always does. He gets my heart to the place He knows it needs to be. But it starts with me being honest about where I really am, not where I think I should be, and being willing to ask for help.
  4. Pray your real desires, not the pretend ones. So many times, I have found I hold back from praying my real desires to God because they seem foolish or vain. Or, if I am really honest, instead of praying my desires, I bury my desires. Better to have a desire that is dead, buried underground, than to have it on the surface with God, vulnerable, naked, exposed, at risk to His “No” or “Not right now.” One of the most painful parts of prayer for me has been unearthing the desires of my heart I have kept buried for years and bringing them up and out into the light, holding them before God, asking Him to do something about them. But what I have discovered is that while God rarely answers my requests in the way I was hoping or wanting Him to, He answers in a way that gives me more of Himself – more trust, more faith, more hope, more awe, more wonder, more dependency on my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
  5. If you don’t know where to start or what to pray, use the Psalms as your template. God knew we would need a template to follow, a song book sung through the ages by His people, including His very own Son, to give us words when we needed them the most. He knew we would need permission to know it is ok to cry, to complain, to grieve, to question, to wonder, to doubt, and to sit in the dark. When life happens and we don’t know what to say or how to pray, turn to the psalms. Let their words shape your own, and use them to not only be encouraged by the stories of the people of God, but learn to insert your own stories into their phrases as well.

Perhaps more than any other time in our lives, we need to be people of prayer. God is not looking for perfect prayers, but He is looking for real people who are willing to be honest about where they really are, what they really need, and the God they are expecting to really show up and move. Let’s commit to learning how to pray to this very real and good God together.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:5-8

To listen to more on the importance of prayer and why we pray, you can listen here on YouTube.

For more encouragement throughout the week, follow me on Instagram @baker.susannah

Reason to Praise

On April 10, 2020, Posted by , in Coronavirus, Easter, Video Weekly Words, With 2 Comments

To prepare our hearts for Easter this weekend, let’s look at Psalm 47 together to find reason to praise no matter what season we are in.

For more encouragement throughout the week, follow me on Instagram @baker.susannah

The Coronavirus and the Prince of Peace

On April 6, 2020, Posted by , in Coronavirus, Easter, With 4 Comments

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

For more encouragement throughout the week, follow me on Instagram @baker.susannah

Standing Strong

On April 2, 2020, Posted by , in Coronavirus, Video Weekly Words, With 3 Comments

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.

Five More Tips for Homeschool Moms

On March 30, 2020, Posted by , in Coronavirus, Home School, With 3 Comments

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."

Deuteronomy 33:27

As you hold your home this week, may you feel God's arms underneath, holding you
in His love.

Receiving Peace

On March 27, 2020, Posted by , in Coronavirus, Video Weekly Words, With 6 Comments

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.

Top Ten Homeschool Tips

On March 23, 2020, Posted by , in Coronavirus, Home School, With 18 Comments

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.