Encourage Yourself in the Lord

Ups and downs in life are inevitable. Some days, I feel at the top of my game spiritually. I’m up early praying and reading my Bible. I see God answer those prayers. I feel close to Him. Other days, I get up later than I want to, go through the day feeling spiritually drained, or end up regretting missing out on what I see (in retrospect) as “God opportunities.” Practically speaking, maybe I go to bed tired and wake up tired and feel irritable all day. Maybe I successfully hold my tongue when the volume from our nine children increases beyond my tolerance level, or when I hear their cross words and they refuse my kind correction. Or, maybe I don’t hold my tongue, and then all of us feel bad for a while until I sit them all down and apologize. Some days I am productive and feel good. Other days, I just hope no one comes to the door (unfortunately, that rarely happens around here!).

None of us want to be “people-pleasers,” doing what we do to get accolades and pats on the back. But,  the Bible does tell us to “encourage one another and build each other up,” and to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We all need a boost from people around us sometimes, and I think God knows that we need other people to come alongside of us to help us be our best. But in the day-to-day grind and the ordinariness of everyday, there are few people who do that for us with any consistency. Frankly, much of what we do is unseen by others. We live largely independent lives and often just don’t cross paths with people. And maybe you’ve been in the same position as me on occasion: when you do get some words of encouragement  (“Your children are so well-behaved!,” for example), all you can do is think to yourself, “Yeah, they should sit at our supper table for a few nights, then they’d hear how often I have to correct things like feet on the table, eating with fingers, not washing hands with soap, over-indulging in food,” etc., etc. Even what is meant as encouragement, when turned over in a negative mind, can have the opposite effect and we end up meditating on all we wish we could change.

Spiritually speaking, there are going to be times when you lack a mentor who can challenge you and encourage you to stay strong in your walk with the Lord. One of my dearest sisters in the Lord never let a conversation end until she asked me, “What are you reading during your devotional time?” or, “How is your prayer life?” I really loved that about her and, as a result, I’ve always tried to have interactions that SPEAK life rather than just TALK ABOUT life. I try to be consistent with prayer and reading, but let’s face it, we all go through times where we get busy and don’t have regular time for that (even worse if it’s purposely so, because we don’t really want to hear from God…ouch!) If you don’t have someone who knows where you’re at and can provide some accountability, it’s often hard to get back on track. Whether practical or spiritual encouragement, let’s face it: Encouragement is so necessary, but often so absent.

Over the years, I’ve learned something important about both my walk with the Lord and my parenting journey: neither are going to have the outcome I desire unless I encourage myself in the Lord. I can’t depend on other people, my own emotions are often deceitful, and circumstances are out of my control. The only sure thing I have, the only thing I can depend on, is God and His Word. So when I need encouragement, that’s where I have to go. And if I don’t, it’s as Hebrews says–it’s all too easy to become “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (see Hebrews 3:13).

bible_transparent_208I remember being a young Mom of three and sitting in my prayer closet during the wee hours of the morning. I don’t know exactly what I was crying to God about, but that’s what I was doing. And then I opened my Bible to 1 Samuel 30 and read of the distress of David: the Amalekites had destroyed his city and taken his wives and daughters captive, along with the families of all his men. The people talked of stoning him. And what did he do? He “strengthened himself,” or “encouraged himself in the Lord.” (verse 6). What does this mean? This passage doesn’t specify, but if you read the Psalms, you can see it. Even when things wee at their worst (perhaps especially so, in fact), David meditated on who God is: the goodness of God; His love; His faithfulness. He remembered how God had worked on his life: rescuing him from his enemies, keeping his promises, working all David’s circumstances for his good and for the fulfillment of God’s purposes. David also, even in his angst, put his hope in God and in His Word. He trusted God and believed He would see God’s goodness. He knew God would be faithful to His Word, so he focused on that rather than on his circumstances. This is what I have tried to train myself to do over the years (though I still have times when I’m not as good at it as I need to be).

And this is how we must encourage ourselves in the Lord when we don’t have others to share our burdens, when we stumble and don’t have someone to steady us, or when we get discouraged and need to re-focus. God is there. He sees and knows. He is our Helper in times of trouble. Hid Word does not return void. One of the best things I’ve done is to memorize God’s Word over the years. Reading is good, but memorizing is even better. I actually haven’t devoted much time to Scripture memory in recent years, but I was very faithful to it during my early years as a Christian and it has served me well. When I am discouraged or struggling and need to hear from the Lord, He speaks to me–usually through the Words that have been memorized over the years. And I am encouraged in the Lord. I put my hope in His promises.

Do you have a Scripture that you faithfully pray over your family, or a “life verse” that you remind yourself of regularly? Are you “encouraging yourself in the Lord” through regular times of reading and prayer? Are you reminding yourself often of what God has done in your life, trusting that He’s still at work in ways you don’t see?

 

Five Loaves and Two Fish, Mama-Style

I was blogging a lot when we first moved to Kenya; it was quite a therapeutic way to process the transition and also to let folks know what was going on with our family. Slowly, I stopped, as life on the mission field got quite busy and I tried to get back into a new groove with homeschooling, which had been reduced to rather bare-bones with the move. I’m still not where I want to be in terms of homeschooling, but our oldest completed his GED last year at age 16, so I’m somewhat optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction.

IMG_0518Blogging when our children were young was easy; there were so many sweet moments I wanted to document. And when there were challenges, they were the small problems of small children (which don’t feel so small when you’re a weary Mom to many Littles, so I don’t say that lightly!) Now that they’re bigger children with bigger problems and there is privacy to protect, it’s hard to know what to say and what not to say in this space. But, I suppose I can talk about me, so if you’d give me the grace to do so, I’d like to share some thoughts as we have just welcomed blessing number 9 to our family, baby Joanna (born in September 2015).

Being a new Mom again at age 42, after 4-1/2 years of thinking that I was done with babies, has been an interesting experience. I always knew that children were a blessing, but Baby Joanna really feels like one! They say you can’t spoil a baby, but she is held more and loved more than any baby before her. There are few times I feel compelled to just let her cry, but those times that I do, one of her big sisters comes to her rescue! Not only do I have many hands to help with the baby, but also many hands to help with housework and meal preparation. It is a totally different experience than coming home with our first, second, third, fourth, and even fifth children! If you are a Mom of young children now, I promise you, it is so worth the investment in your children as you teach, train, encourage, and equip them with practical life skills and an attitude of service. It is tiring while you’re doing it (believe me, I know!)…that precept upon precept, capturing those “teachable moments” of correction (which usually happen at the most inconvenient times, or happen so often that you feel you get precious little else done!). BUT, perseverance has its perfect work and it is a blessing to see the fruit of years and labor in the Lord.

No, our children are not perfect; I would never claim that. But, neither am I. Yet I cling to the promise of a word that was spoken to me many years ago now. It was during a “revival”-type church service where a guest preacher brought a fiery sermon and ended with a very meaningful time of prayer. I had gone without my husband, who was away on business, and with my 5 young children, aged about 9 on down to 1. I don’t know what compelled me to go, since the service started just about when I would have been putting the kids down to bed. And all Mamas know that you just don’t mess with bed time. I went anyway…seeking more of the Lord and needing some encouragement, if I remember correctly. I fully expected at least two of the children to melt down, but 9:00 came and went and the evening went on in prayer. I figured I’d gotten as much as I would get (though I can’t even tell you now what the sermon was about), so I slipped out of the back row and started making toward the rear exit with all the children. I remember silently congratulating myself on the fact that we were doing so without disrupting the focused prayer that was in progress. Then, the speaker at the front of the sanctuary happened to lift his head as I looked up from one of my Littles at the back door. Our eyes met. He spoke rather loudly: “I have a word for you today!” and suddenly all heads lifted and all eyes were on me. I felt like I could have melted into the floor–and wanted to! But he came to the back where I was and spoke many encouraging words about children and family to me. He even spoke specific words over each of my older children. I wish I could remember them now. Bu then he came to me. He spoke about my weariness as if he knew. And these are the words I remember…words that have echoed over the years and continued to encourage me when things have been hard: “You’re not Super Woman! You’re not a super wife. You’re not a super mother. But what you can’t do, God can.”

I knew it to be true. I still know it to be true. And it’s not just true for me–it’s true for all of us! No matter where you are in this journey of mothering–physically weary Mom of Littles, or emotionally weary Mom of older children, certain of the outcome of your efforts (which sometimes God mercifully allows us to be), or uncertain…know that God can. Like the little boy who brought five loaves and two fish to Jesus, and ended up feeding a multitude, bring your offering every day to Jesus and know that He will do with it what you can’t. Bring your tear-wiping, your hugs, your pats on the back, the Bible-reading, the encouraging (even if you’re discouraged yourself), the kindness when you feel irritable…the list goes on and on. We do when we feel like we can’t do any more. We invest in what seems like a lost cause. We give out of our emptiness. And God knows. He takes those feeble efforts and does what only He can. I’m still living that, but I know it to be true. It’s true for me, and it’s true for you. Press on, Mama.

Self-Evaluation in Christian Parenting

If you’ve been doing this parenting gig for any length of time, you know without our telling you that there’s no such thing as perfect children. Not only that, we’re never going to be perfect parents. So how do you know if what you’re doing is working? Is there any basis for evaluation until you’ve successfully raised your children…or discovered, too late, that they’ve got major character flaws, aren’t walking with the Lord, or can’t hold down a job once they’ve reached the magic “age of emancipation”?

We’ve always believed in “iterative parenting;” that is, ongoing self-evaluation in the target areas that we’ve self-defined as “successful Christian parenting.” These goals will obviously differ from family to family. For some, academic achievement is important so that their children will be able to successfully compete in the global marketplace. For others, it’s having children that will work well with their hands and be able to provide for themselves and their future families in this way. Some have specific spiritual goals and milestones they’d like their children to achieve (i.e., baptism) while others take a “wait and see” or “let them decide for themselves later” approach. Regardless of our long-term goals and how we feel we’re tracking in meeting them, there are always ongoing character issues that we see the need to work on, both in ourselves and our children (because, as we all know, the apples don’t fall far from the tree!).

Some character deficiencies  in our oldest son (now 16) were recently brought to our attention. And guess what? Because we practice iterative parenting and are constantly self-evaluating and making changes in ourselves and in our parenting, not one thing on that list was a surprise to us. In fact, we agreed with just about all of it. So what did we do? We shared the observations with our son and asked him to self-evaluate and make any changes he felt necessary, knowing that these character deficiencies were obvious to others and also to God. Does this mean we are failing, or have failed, in our parenting? Far from it. In fact, we were encouraged. Why? Because our son has made a commitment to following Christ. In sincere repentance, he has been baptized within the last year, and we’ve seen the fruit of true repentance in his life. Yes, he’s struggled with some things, and people can observe those weaknesses. But what others don’t see is our ongoing communication with our son regarding these issues; his desire to honor God in these areas; his active repentance, asking for forgiveness, and steady growth in grace to overcome in his areas of failure. So rather than admitting defeat in our parenting, we see much victory and are thankful for how God has guided us along the sometimes-difficult paths of Christian parenting.

And alongside our son, we’re growing too, because we know that (unfortunately) many of our children’s struggles, failings, and weaknesses come from things that we, as parents need to change in ourselves. How willing are we to humble ourselves and admit to this? How able are we to “forget what is behind” and “strain toward what is ahead,” pressing on toward perfection in Christ Jesus? (See Philippians 3:12-16)

Here are some honest questions that might help you in your ongoing sef-evaluation as a Christian parent. These are just a starting point; God and others may reveal others which are specific to your needs or circumstances.

  • Do our daily routines and activities reflect the priorities we profess?
  • Am I willing to do the hard things, and ask my children to do hard things, to overcome character deficiencies?
  • Am I consistently training my children in God’s Word and “practicing what I preach”?
  • When I fail to be the example I would like to be in my parenting, am I able to humble myself to my child or others, confess sins, and seek God for lasting change?
  • How open am I to receiving correction or suggestions from others?
If you like a more concrete approach to evaluation, take at look at our free “Family Planner for Character Growth and Development,” available for download here.

Remember that children’s growth in all areas is a process that requires patience, prayers, and ongoing effort on our part as parents. Though there are many things, both practical and spiritual, that we need to invest in and focus on, never forget the most important thing: bringing honor and glory to God and raising our children to do the same. I like how the apostle Paul viewed his work with the church in Galatia, with whom he was “perplexed” at the time of his letter writing: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…” (see Galatians 4:19-20). Let us similarly encourage ourselves as parents; whether we are blessed or perplexed with how things appear with our children, we must continue on in the process of laboring for the formation of Christ in them. Blessings to you as you press on in your parenting, for God’s glory!

Family Happenings

Yes, we’re still here…just haven’t made time to blog. And I find that once I’ve been away from this space for a while, it’s hard to know how to get back into it. So I’ll just jump in with a few things by way of update.

We’ve been busy on the mission front, as usual, and hope to begin  updating the Kingdom Driven Ministries blog more regularly. If you hop on over there, you’ll see that we recently hosted a regional women’s meeting that was a real blessing, and we separated our overly-large home fellowship into three smaller congregations. (Exciting!)

We’ve leased a property a few kilometers from our current home, which is eventually going to house some livestock (cows, chickens, rabbits) as well as  additional crops (bananas, maize, and I don’t know what else). Milk and eggs are often hard to come by and a little more meat in our diet is not a bad thing. The property will also be used in various ways to benefit the brothers in our local fellowships.  We were  able to enjoy a little more family time than usual at year’s end, which was very nice, so Marc and the boys built some nest boxes and a rabbit hutch for use at the new place.

My intermittent frustrations with homeschooling here in Kenya are no big secret, though things have gotten somewhat better this academic year. I still haven’t seemed to consistently find time for Circle Time, especially for my Littles…and there are definitely things I want to work on in terms of both spiritual instruction and practical training.

2015-01-21 11.37.35For a number of reasons, during this week I asked my oldest daughter, Rebekah (who will be 12 on Friday), if she wanted to take the week off of school and be my “Mother’s Helper.” On Monday she helped me move around the furniture in our sitting room/dining area in order to better accommodate another missionary family (the Nafzigers) who will be moving in with us as of next week. Yesterday, I asked Rebekah to do a short Circle Time with the Little ones, and she did such a good job that we talked about making it a more permanent daily arrangement. We have the rest of the week to see how she (and they) like it. Meanwhile, having a consistent second hand to assist with home management and homeschooling has been a real blessing to me…maybe that’s why I have finally found time to sit down and blog. 🙂

 

 

 

Random Thoughts on Children and Chores

Last week I received an email from a friend who expressed some concerns about her 12 year-old son’s laziness and lack of desire to help with work around the house, and asked for my advice. In her comments, she said, “I get concerned because he doesn’t want to go that extra mile. He doesn’t even want to go the first mile!” I sent her an unexpectedly long response with my thoughts on the topic of children and chores. Figured it would make a good blog post, since the blog muse rarely hits any more and, when it does, time to write is often elusive. So here goes…

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I was chuckling reading your question, as I have often found myself saying to various children at different times, “Never mind going the extra mile–you’re not even going the first one!” I think it’s just human nature to be lazy and unfortunately, it’s our job as parents to conform those tendencies into something useful. Some of my children are good workers and look for ways to help/things to do, others will do anything upon request but rarely voluntarily, and then there are those who grumble through the most basic chores, as if it were the end of the world. (Of course, sometimes all the kids show these various character traits at various times.) We try to teach frequently about the value of work/the importance of diligence (either family devotional times or my time with the kids during the day/homeschooling, etc.) and at a time when they’re not being defensive/rebellious and feeling like I’m correcting them because they’re NOT doing what they should. As for correction when needed, it depends on the situation/reason.

If they’re not working due to a bad attitude, I do try to be encouraging rather than just corrective (“I know you want to do your project rather than what I’m asking, and I’m sorry. But we all need to do our part and serve one another. Try to do it cheerfully as unto the Lord, and you’ll find that you can back to what you were doing pretty quickly.”) Then I tend to leave them alone and let them have a bad attitude if they want to. It surprises me the number of times my encouragement leads to (eventual) repentance over the bad attitude towards work.

If it’s an ongoing problem with laziness, I tend to be a little more firm. (“It’s my job to prepare you for adulthood and if you don’t learn to work you will not be able to provide for yourself, never mind for a family if you should have one. That would be shameful, as our witness to others often comes from our example in working hard with our hands–1 Thessalonians 4:10. So you’ll have to learn to do the job and do it well. I expect you to do your work in good time and do it thoroughly, or you can expect some spankings.” Sometimes the admonition is enough (though the work might then get done with a less-than-stellar attitude) but other times they do need that spanking. If not a spanking, definitely consequences (such as other chores to complete so that they can “practice” working hard!).

Of course, sometimes even my best workers “don’t feel like it,” and I understand that because occasionally I feel the same way. In that case, I usually pitch in and lend a hand, as “many hands make light work.”  I usually find that the example helps and they often get right back to working cheerfully and I even find them “going the extra mile.”

In all cases, I try to model hard work for my kids and almost always refuse to ask them to do anything in terms of work if I am not also working alongside of them (if not on the same task, at least *something.*) Then if they are complaining or not wanting to do a job, I can gently remind them that we ALL have a responsibility to pitch in and they are not being asked to do something that others are not also doing. Sometimes the team mentality helps to encourage. Exceptions are if someone is sick or unable to work (even me!), in which case everyone is encouraged to pitch in and serve to help out for those who are unable.

Though it is hard and I sometimes am too distracted/busy, I do try to check all the children’s work as they finish. Anything that is not done well gets a verbal correction or  “reminder” for what to do differently or better next time. If the job quality is really unacceptable (standards vary according to age an ability) and I think it’s because of laziness/desire to get back to playing or personal projects, I have them re-do the job and sometimes even follow-up with an additional task “because they obviously need practice with how to work hard and do an acceptable job.” This usually keeps things running smoothly.

 

It helps to have times devoted to work when everyone knows that they will have responsibilities, but as you said there are inevitable times when other things need to get done. Don’t be too discouraged about what you perceive as a character deficiency. Just keep on teaching in a positive manner and correcting when needed.

Some questions to ask yourself/things to consider…these are ways that I self-evaluate, which may or may not be applicable in your situation:

–are you investing in your relationships with your kids so that they feel valued and loved  by you, and not just that they are appreciated by you for the work that they do?

–Are you modeling cheerful labor and encouraging a positive attitude in various ways, rather than making household jobs seem burdensome?

–Are you encouraging good work and helping the children see the benefit and blessing of what they do, instead of only correcting problems when they arise?

–Are you being realistic in your standards in regard to quality of work and ability in doing various jobs?

–Boys really are different than girls. I find that I am asking my boys to participate less and less in kitchen work (especially dishes) BUT they are the ones who do the shopping, which is a big responsibility…My oldest son is the plumbing and electrical “go-to” and he often does repairs to bikes and other things around the house, so I think that’s a “fair trade” in releasing him from more of the mundane household tasks. My next-oldest boy is not as mechanically inclined as his brother, but he does enjoy cooking so I’m trying to teach him more in the kitchen (still need to devote more time to that) and he willingly takes care of the animals and works in the garden. So, does your son have work that he prefers, which you can delegate to him “in exchange” for other people doing tasks that he doesn’t like so much? Not that this is always possible, and I think all children need to have proficiency most things. Not to mention, often in life we must do things we don’t “prefer,” and that’s a good lesson for children to learn–even my oldest does dishes from time to time!–BUT, in the short-term sometimes it does help attitudes about work if one can take a break from chores that are particularly burdensome.

–Generally speaking, do you have regular and expected times for chores to be done? We almost always do “wake-up jobs,” something small after breakfast and family devotions (breakfast dishes, quick clean-up to make the house presentable, etc.), and then afternoon jobs (supper prep, clean-up from the day’s activities, bringing in the laundry, etc.) If the children know to expect this, they are less inclined to feel frustrated about projects/play time interrupted, etc. Of course if you always felt that what you were doing was being interrupted, you wouldn’t like it either. If you are asking for an “unexpected” job to be done, a “five minute warning” if they’re in the middle of something is usually appreciated and makes the work less offensive. And although I do expect children to obey a request “just because” and not always need to know “why,” they certainly respond much better to those big or unexpected jobs if you can provide some reasoning and encouragement. (“I know weeding the garden is a big job, but those weeds are going to be flowering if we don’t take care of them and that will give us even MORE to keep up with! We’ll all work together and try to make it easier for everyone.”)

–Do the children have a good balance between school, chores, and personal free time? Of course we are preparing our children for a lifetime of work, but they are children, after all. At age 12, your son should be investing perhaps 3-4 hours in “school” (I find that my older children can complete all their assignments in that amount or less *IF* they are being diligent…which sometimes they are NOT). Then, a roughly equivalent amount of time in actual work, if you have enough for him to do (indoors, outdoors, or in serving others in some way). Of course you have family times where you do various things, and meal times, but that should still give him a good couple of hours of personal/free time during the day. Of course, it’s important to intersperse work with appropriate short breaks, etc. For example, even though our mornings are devoted to “school” (roughly 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM), I tell the kids that they should do their math or language arts first, then they can have a 10-15 minute break. After that, they get the the other primary assignment done and move on to whatever is scheduled for “electives.”  If we’re working on a long job (like harvesting maize/beans or weeding the garden or our Saturday whole-house cleaning), we usually work for 30-45 minutes then take a 10 minute break. Sometimes a cup of juice or a small snack goes a long way. 🙂

I admit, I used to be a bit more of a “drill sergeant” in regards to the children’s work…I think I have become much more gracious in how I ask the children to do things, more realistic in my expectations, and a lot more encouraging of sincere effort, as well as more instructive in taking advantage of “teachable moments.” I have definitely seen that my approach and attitude affects a lot in terms of how the children respond. It is true that they choose their own attitude…but if they “choose” a bad one, I can either exacerbate it or reduce it by how I respond. This has become more than obvious throughout my oldest son’s early teenage years.Re: boys-turning-into-young men…which your son is… they definitely don’t like to be tied to Mama’s apron strings (*wink*). So, is your son spending good time with his Dad? Does Dad give him jobs to do so that he can feel like he is contributing in a “manly” way to the household? In addition to the things you are asking him to do, is he learning practical skills that will help him feel productive/grown up? (I’m not meaning for this to sound sexist, which it might…but boys and girls are definitely different and I think it is important to acknowledge that in our parenting.)  I struggle with this a little more with my second son than I did with the first, as my oldest has always wanted to do the things his Dad does and has just has a mind/aptitude for various skills, which his brother has little interest in and aptitude for. However, I’m not too worried about it. I’m keeping focused on the primary thing (“seek first the Kingdom of God!”) and I figure the future will unfold itself. He generally has a cheerful attitude about work, and although he doesn’t have a penchant for manual labor (particularly things like weeding the garden), I do find that he is particularly meticulous in his work, which I try to encourage and compliment. If the two boys are “sharing” garden weeding, the oldest gets twice as much done in half the time (to his brother’s frustration), BUT the younger one does a much more thorough job, whereas his brother just “gets the job done.”

Whatever the issues are, remember that you can only do your part in training, encouraging, and disciplining, and there is much that you have to leave to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. There is seed time and harvest, and we are given our children for 18-ish years for a good reason…they need that long and that much ongoing work on our part.  And as you know by now, each one his his/her strengths and weaknesses, so we need to encourage the strengths and work on the weaknesses, without expecting that everyone will be of the same ability/personality, etc. For example, one of my daughters, at only age 9, is a VERY capable household helper. She knows what generally needs to be done and jumps in to help. She can prepare complete meals on her own and willingly does so. In fact, if she is “bored,” she typically looks for work to do. Since her personality is somewhat like mine and I definitely appreciate her help, it is easy for me to encourage her, but I find that it somewhat embitters her older sister (age 11) when she gets too much complimenting (from me or others). My oldest daughter just doesn’t have that mind or that work ethic in regard to many of the household tasks (though she generally does whatever she is “asked” to do and does it fairly well) BUT she is an excellent seamstress-in-training, a great artist and storyteller, and generally very creative–all gifts which I know the Lord will use in His special way.

 

I hope you have been encouraged, or perhaps challenged, by these random thoughts on children and chores. Feel free to add your own thoughts (or questions) in comments!

Some of us are Normal

I know that many people don’t “get” homeschooling. We’re not a majority, so it seems we constantly have to prove ourselves. I’ve been guilty of singing the praises of homeschooling, while minimizing the difficulties, occasional blunders, and frequent uncertainties. But I still cringe when I read news articles and blogs talking about how homeschoolers out-perform their public school counterparts on tests of all kinds. And what about those who play musical instruments practically from the womb, or shine like stars in the universe as they go out boldly into the community and earn friends of all ages for themselves?

Certainly, many homeschoolers excel in this nurturing environment and are able to develop in their personal giftings to an extent that they could not in a public school environment. Many are also well-socialized, despite the stereotypes that try to portray otherwise. I’m happy for them, but what if some of us homeschoolers are just…normal? (Like many public-schooled children are…normal.) After years of homeschooling, and speaking on the homeschool circuit for several years, I can honestly say that many homeschoolers probably feel that they have to justify their methods and “results” to fellow homeschoolers more than they do to outside critics.

Our oldest son gets a lot of attention here in Africa. He’s just shy of 15, but he can repair phones, do electrical and plumbing work, fix motorbikes, and more. He’s always been more comfortable around adults than other children. Probably part and parcel of being the oldest child who got the most focused attention. That, and his particular personality and intelligence. I wouldn’t say that he can do what he does *just* because we homeschool. Truth is, we homeschool seven other children as well, and the others don’t show these same aptitudes and abilities. Does that mean our homeschooling is not successful? NO. It just means that God made each of our children differently and has individual plans for their lives.

None of our children play a musical instrument (except one, who is self-taught and  picks up the guitar only occasionally). Some can barely hold a note in song. While a couple of them are interested in art and pretty good at drawing, we haven’t really done much to hone those skills. Our oldest girls can cook and sew, but only to a certain level of functionality. You won’t find them whipping up four-course meals or sewing Victorian-era dresses; instead, they’re making spaghetti with an awesome homemade sauce and attacking our never-ending mending pile. We’re living in a foreign country and trying to learn a second language, but it’s been a slow and not very pleasant process over all. One of the kids loves animals and would spend all day catching critters and learning about them, but confesses that he doesn’t see much career opportunity in doing so.

And when it comes to that socialization? Some of the kids are pretty good at it, and others are still “works in progress.” However, I don’t think that’s based on the fact that we homeschool, but rather is largely a function of personality. Would they do better in public school? I think it would be detrimental to their progress in social development, rather than helpful. Instead, homeschooling allows me to see areas where my children need to grow, and enables me to work those lessons into daily life. It’s a slow-and-steady process, but we persevere.

As an aside, I also cringe when I read or hear teachings about how the teenage years are (or should be) a “myth” for the Christian homeschooler. We’re going to have two teenagers in our family all too soon, and I can tell you that growth spurts (and the accompanying tiredness), hormones, and emotions at this age are all too real. Many Christian parents have done their very best through this stage and have “lost” their children to the world. I don’t think we need any more guilt (albeit well-meaning) as we navigate this already-difficult phase of life.

In the final analysis, our homeschooling family is pretty average. However, we’re not after academic success or worldly accolades. Ultimately, we want to raise children who love God with all their hearts and who love their neighbors as themselves.  But even in their spiritual growth, our children are probably pretty “normal” for their various ages and stages. Some are not regenerated, and we’re just trying to teach them habits of obedience and good behavior. Others are seeking to please God but occasionally struggle with the flesh and have questions about what we’ve taught them and try to live out. I don’t know how our journey is going to end, but I trust God. And I’m okay with being pretty normal.

The Hidden Enemy: High Expectations

It’s innocent enough: “What’s for lunch?”

“Rice.”

Oh.”

After this same exchange with four children in a space of about five minutes (possibly including a couple of eye-rolls and a sigh or two–not from me), I start thinking to myself. They used to really like rice. I could make six cups of rice and they’d ask for more. Today I’m making three and there’ll probably be left-overs. Their appetites just prefer all the things they enjoy. Why can’t they be grateful with what God gives us? Are they ever going to learn contentment? They don’t think about our neighbors here…for most of them, rice is an indulgence. And they don’t even put margarine and salt on it!

Suddenly when the fifth child asks, “What’s for lunch?” my answer comes in an irritated tone. When the sixth child asks, I respond, “Rice! Let’s just be thankful, okay?,” which is usually enough to send the confused child back to wherever he/she came from.

It’s amazing how I can over-think a situation.  Often, my assessments are correct, but I’ll admit that I have a tendency to over-react. After going through scenarios like this more times than I can count, I’ve realized something: I have high expectations. So often I expect my children to behave like little adults. To respond like I would in a given situation. To remember and do everything we have taught, trained, and encouraged them to do. To apply Biblical wisdom to their life situations, even if their immature minds still don’t necessarily have the experience to do so. And when they fail? I’ve been known to nag. Criticize. Correct unfairly. Over-do the discussion (lecture?)

Sigh.

Aware of my own deficiencies and the potential consequences in my relationships with my children, I’ve been working on it for some time now. Slowly and steadily making improvements and not taking things so seriously. Expecting my children to be foolish (the Bible says they will be). Not making too big a deal of it when a new visitor comes and three of the girls scurry around the corner, giggling, to avoid greeting him (despite how we have tried to train and encourage them to exhibit good manners…without prompting). I’m learning to shut my mouth during conversations and let my children share their thoughts and experiences without putting  in my two cents before they’ve even finished.

The other day I had an email conversation with a dear sister in Christ that confirmed that I need to continue this battle against my high expectations, because they are indeed a hidden enemy. And the stakes are high. I want to share her experience with you–truly, an older woman who is reaching out to teach younger women how to love their children (see Titus 2:4).

She is at the stage where she is watching her children, now fledgling adults, make some decisions she wishes they did not make. There is distance in their relationships, so her influence is limited. She is praying fervently and trusting God to work all things for good. And though she doesn’t say it, she’s hurting.

This dear woman has a vibrant walk with the Lord. She’s tried to live a sincere and authentic walk with the Lord before her children. And here, near the end, she wonders, What could I have done differently?

And here’s what she was kind enough to share with me, very honestly and transparently: she could have lowered her expectations.

My thoughts wander after reading her email. It’s evident that she’s realized (and her near-grown children have even told her) that it’s been difficult to be people different than she is, and different than she expects them to be. Somehow, they’ve felt like they could never measure up. Maybe, due to their discouragement, it was easier to stop trying. I imagine myself in her place. I wonder if the children grew tired of being over-corrected, of having their attempts at individuality overly stifled, of being expected to “perform” to a level that perhaps they’ve not been capable of. So over time, they’ve grown quiet. Distant. Independent.

She prays.

And today I pray that for me and my children, that these efforts I’ve made to change myself and alter my expectations (and responses) will have been made in enough time to make a difference in their lives, and in their walks with the Lord. I pray that the experience of my friend, and other Moms like her, will reach other young Moms in enough time that they will surrender their high and false expectations and live in the reality of the everyday. No matter how things look, we must love, we must serve, we must persevere. Most important, we must trust God to do what we cannot in the hearts of our children, and to take the meager offering of our mothering and make a masterpiece of it.

 

 

 

The Ugly Consequences of Sin

Our twelve year-old has always loved animals. Every time I upload photos from the camera, I laugh at how many pictures like this unexpectedly show up:

014

It means that Jonah has snuck the camera away to photograph one of his latest “finds.” I’ve been surprised by chameleons, snakes, box turtles, butterflies, snails, and more at various times over the past few years.

When we moved to Africa, one of hardest things for Jonah was giving up his beloved hamster. He’s wanted a pet and the family cats don’t count because they belong to everyone. He wanted something cute and cuddly all his own, and though chameleons abound here and they’re fun to play with, they’re not exactly what he was looking for.

Then, just the other day, our neighbor’s boy showed up with something unexpected: a wild rabbit he’d caught. Somehow he knew that the wazungu house was the right place to try for a sale. I summoned Jonah to the door.

He wanted 250 shillings (about $3). We’d paid only 100 shillings each for our domestic rabbits and I whispered to Jonah that he really should negotiate aggressively on the price. But he was already in love, and I think our neighbor knew it. Jonah tried to offer 200, and he was refused. Back to his room he went to get the money.

Since it was evening, we made sleeping arrangements for the new bunny, quickly named “Sungura” (which means rabbit in Swahili, since Jonah didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl). By morning, it hadn’t eaten any of the greens that Jo had collected for him, so Jonah fed him baby formula from a syringe every couple of hours and the rabbit never left his side–even while he was doing his school work. Jonah was tickled that the rabbit continually licked his face and neck, and when Jonah would move away from the rabbit on the couch, it would quickly move over and snuggle to his side. Finally, the perfect pet! Just what he’d always wanted.

That evening, Jonah typed out an email to family in America and of course, told them about Sungura. We had just finished supper, so I told the kids they could go outside to play. I glanced over the email, clicked “send,” and looked at my inbox. Suddenly I heard loud voices outside and so I got up to see what was the matter. Before I got to the door, Jonah was inside. He had composed himself while in the yard, but as soon as he made it to the privacy of the living room, he erupted in sobs.

Through his tears, the story came out: he’d brought Sungura out to play in the great outdoors. Of course, all his siblings were excited to see the rabbit run around. One (who shall remain nameless), started chasing the tiny rabbit. Jonah yelled, “Stop! Don’t do that!,” knowing that his sibling might inadvertently step on the creature. His sibling didn’t listen, despite several warnings. Suddenly, a foot met the unfortunate rabbit’s neck. Blood immediately spurted from its nose. I ran outside to see what could be done, but it was, of course, too late and too serious.

The sibling was disciplined, and we all cried. It was an “accident”…but it wasn’t. This particular child has struggled to respect the word of older brothers and sisters lately. When corrected by them, this child has been obstinate about NOT listening and NOT following their direction. The rebellion has been obvious to everyone. It has been corrected by parents and siblings alike, and we’ve also tried to teach through the Word of God the importance of listening to wise counsel, obeying older siblings in the absence of Mom and Dad, and so on. To no avail.

If it had been an unfortunate accident, there would have been no punishment. But it wasn’t. It was sin. And this time, there were consequences. Unfortunately, it was not to the child only but to a beloved brother.

It was  a quiet and sad evening in the Carrier home. But we had some good conversation as a result. The brother forgave and his sibling repented. I know it is for God’s glory and our good.

But the boy still misses his bunny. He’s still a little sad. And things are still a little quiet as we all process the sadness of this circumstance and meditate upon the ugly consequences of sin.

 

“Idleness Teaches Much Evil”

I’ve often heard the expression, “Idle hands are the devil’s work,” and wondered where it came from. I hear it quoted like it’s Scripture (similar to phrases like, “the Lord helps those who help themselves“), but I never knew the origin. So I was intrigued when we started reading the Wisdom of Sirach (from the Septuagint) and we stumbled upon this: “Put him to work that he may  not be idle, for idleness teaches much evil” (Wisdom of Sirach 33:28-29). I’ve often seen this to be true, and the Scripture I usually remind our children of when they start having “too much fun” is Proverbs 29:15 (ESV): “a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” That’s usually followed by a request for help with some chore or another.

Case in point: our almost 14 year-old son. He’s had some difficult moments…okay, maybe days…in the transition to Africa. He has a sharp mind and has always needed a project to work on. When he’s left idle, he complains of boredom and here, where good “project materials” are in short supply, that boredom has often turned into a general bad attitude. I understand it and have made many suggestions for profitable things he can do, but mostly I’ve just prayed that God would bring a solution.

He’s taken his own dirtbike completely apart and done quite a few repairs. Other times, it’s been another motor bike in need of repair–along with a driver that lacked the money to pay for parts or service. Most recently, it’s this:

Marc decided that the time has come to get our family a vehicle. We didn’t think we would; we’ve made do quite well with public transport and Marc’s motorbike. However, since his accident he’s needed to hire a car more than once, and when he takes a large team (4-6 people, who lead the Luke 10-style eveangelism teams) out for KDM missions, transport gets expensive. So it seemed that the time had come to get a car–now one of two in our little village!

However, it’s in need of some TLC and, as we’ve discovered, mechanics here leave much to be desired. Marc grew up working on cars with his Dad and has taught Isaiah quite a bit but they’ve never been able to get their hands dirty together very much–until now. They spent Monday and Tuesday at work over the car, and yesterday when Marc left for a training meeting, Isaiah spent the day solo doing some more repairs. He was in his element, and pretty much only took a 20-minute break for lunch. Oh, well, he wasn’t exactly solo–he had a frequent little helper:

Grabbing tools

"Helping"

As parents we are often limited and can’t always give our children what they need. But God can. My son has a heart for God, but he also has an analytical mind and a need to do something productive. Though our opportunities here have been limited, we’ve grown in grace as we’ve weathered all the bumps in the road and the Lord has been faithful. I’m thankful.

A Two-Acre Wide World

Before our move, I remember reflecting often on what our littles might miss in coming to Africa (see, for example, this post). Enoch came here at the tender age of nine months and will soon be two. Now that he is of an age to observe and understand more and communicate a bit, we are realizing how small his world really is here.

We aren’t far from the main road (which is still a dirt road, not pavement, so “main road” is a relative term). However, in front of our house is only a small dirt path, just about one person wide. Given that we are near the main road and not too far from a spring that many here frequent, we do see a lot of foot traffic. Enoch is happy to greet our many visitors, and lately he’s been going across the street to Silas’s shop in the morning to get milk with one of the big girls. He always gets a sweet of some kind from Mama Sharon, so he enjoys the trip. He also goes down our dirt path with some frequency to the house next door to visit “Auntie Jane” and Babu (Grandfather) and Nya Nya (Grandmother). He’s made it as far as Auntie Judy’s (several houses down) when one day Micah and the littles and I chased a tractor down to a nearby field to watch it work. That makes Enoch’s world about two acres wide, and that’s probably a generous figure.

Enoch and big sister Hannah

I don’t think about it too much, but after our recent trip to Eldoret (the big city) I realized how little experience Enoch really has with the world. He’s only been in a vehicle three times, and for the first two he was pretty oblivious. He was, however, amazed with all he could see flying by the windows on the way to Eldoret and tried his best to communicate his excitement. There were tons of “good boys.” (His word for dog, because I’m always telling our Simba he’s a “good boy!” Enoch generalizes “good boy” to include goats, cows, pigs, and other large animals as well. We saw plenty of those road-side on the trip.).

The restaurant was another new experience for him. Though normally happy to greet people, he was suddenly shy in this new environment and ducked his head each time the waitress came by. He also hid from the people in the booth across from us, who thought he was adorable and would have loved for him to wave at them. He did, however, enjoy looking out the window and pointing excitedly at all the “Mrrrmmmm” (his vroom-vroom sound for motorbike or car). He had never seen so many at once!

The funniest of all was putting him in a shopping cart at Nakumatt, the super store. Rather than being excited about this totally new mode of travel (and in spite of my exaggerated efforts to let him know this was a fun new type of “vroom!”), he leaned forward in the seat with a look of sheer terror in his eyes, just begging me to get him out of there. He even cried, but we insisted he should be enjoying the ride. Eventually he calmed down, but I don’t think he ever really felt comfortable with the whole shopping cart thing. This was just one more stark contrast between Enoch’s experience and that of our older children.

The fact that it’s a small world for Enoch doesn’t really bother me at this point–it’s just notable in comparison to what our other children (and we ourselves) have experienced in America. For now, Enoch is very comfortable on the two acres that are his to explore. Eventually, his world will widen–but there’s plenty of time for that.

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