the hard days are your moment

If we shared a table in my local coffee shop this morning, it probably wouldn’t take long for it to come up that I am just worn out from my family having hard days. (Maybe that’s all of us?)

This week as I prayed, expressing my frustrations with more.hard.things…the Lord encouraged me with the thought that it is during the hard things our family members face that our faithfulness, love and dedication as wives and mothers is proven. 

Anyone can show up and dress up for date night. But for “the heart of her husband trusts in her” (Proverbs 31:11) to come about – well that requires some walking through dark times, together. When the hard days come and patience and hope and labor in prayer are required, it’s *here* that worth “far above jewels” (31:10) is developed and proven. The time when your spouse is discouraged and facing hard things is your moment and mine, to show up in the power of the Holy Spirit, to eat with them and pray with them and remind them of the truths of Scripture and who they are in Christ. 

The toddler is puking again. A child is in a bad pattern with sinful attitudes and actions, requiring faithful, loving instruction and discipline and loads of time and attention. Anybody can be there for them on the sunshine/playground/celebration days! But when their bodies and souls and minds need deeper care, only Mama will do. 

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(Photo by Aswin on Unsplash)

Sometimes the bills stack up and all the odds seem stacked against us. They need you to laugh at the future, Mama (31:25). 

Proverbs 24:10 says, “if you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” I *know* this is true of me! The adversity overwhelms me so quickly. But I don’t operate on my own strength alone! I am weak and selfish and easily tired of the struggles. The Holy Spirit is my helper in the calling God has given me to care for my family, and in times of struggle He.shows.up. Through Christ in us, we overcome, and grow in strength for facing such days. 

If your day ahead is rough, maybe you are caring for big needs in your family, know that today is your day to be their clutch player. It may be a quiet, hidden moment, but it’s YOUR moment to show up. When does a child need a Mama more than when they are sick? Or behaving in unlovable ways? When does a husband need his wife and friend more than when he needs to know someone is praying him through a challenging meeting? Does he know that someone will listen to every thought he has at end of day? 

Facing the hard days, viewing them less as an imposition and more as an opportunity is changing my attitude and energy for them. Here is my assignment from the Lord, here is where I am most valuable to my family, and the Spirit of God is here to help!

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

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Ending Trimester #2: a pregnancy update

These recent days mark the last of the second trimester and the turn of a corner into the third (and we hope, into spring!). 

My husband and I joke that I really wasn’t made for this pregnancy life – I am just terrible at it! I didn’t expect an easy go since none of our prior pregnancies have been without trials, but the intensity and awfulness of the first and early second trimesters were still shocking and overwhelming.

Thankfully in mid-January a lot of the worst of the constant nausea and vomiting eased and a steadier stomach made life so much sweeter. From there it seems we have spent more days in 2019 battling sickness than feeling well! But such is life with a busy household full of littles in the winter. We took advantage of my increased stability though and really caught up on school work and even worked through the many snow days (with sledding and hot cocoa breaks!). 

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Our ultrasound in late January revealed that we have a healthy, long-legged baby BOY on the way, and it was the most joyful, wonderful news. In spite of an anterior placenta, I frequently feel movement which is so comforting. A few days after the ultrasound Nels and I agreed after much discussion and banter and prayer that we loved the name Titus Theodor for our precious gift. Our youngest little girl was at first unhappy about the baby not being a sister for her, but very shortly began a daily habit of gently stroking my tummy saying, “Hi Baby Titus!” It is so delightful to see her already stepping into the sweet and maturing role of big sister.

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Then February hit and the beginning of some new trials, from pregnancy aches and pains to many cold/flu bugs circulating in our family. I had also experienced some back pain that I mostly blamed on the inactivity and the bed/couch-bound nature of my early months of pregnancy. I worked through it, starting some gentle core-building exercise and making an effort at walking more, wearing supportive shoes, visiting a chiropractor who specializes in working with pregnant women, etc. But in spite of managing and sometimes temporarily resolving my pain, my hips specifically continued to be very painful causing a limp and even clicking sometimes when I walked (or they have simply made it nearly impossible to walk).

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Basically I’ve discovered that the hormone that loosens up all the ligaments in my body to allow room for growth and eventually for birth has been sort of in over-drive (more common with subsequent pregnancies), meaning that my body just doesn’t want to stay in alignment and my hips and tailbone can get really screwed up, I experience some intense pelvic pressure and back pain to the point that I have often resorted to trying to sleep sitting up. Thankfully that isn’t every day, and I have a new belt to wear (really makes one feel about 85 years old instead of 29! ha!) that is supposed to help keep things aligned better for longer. But it is a new challenge to manage daily and one that makes me long for delivery day even more!

The challenges have inspired my husband and I to consider this winter one of learning to be “patient in affliction.” Though these various illnesses and pains have caused many teary days in our home, I am so grateful for the Lord’s gracious gift of this child. He has brought encouragement to our hearts after the loss of our fifth baby last March. Every kick I feel is a reminder to me that in spite of the hardships our sweet one is growing strong and his life is being sustained by the Lord, as is mine. 

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Little Theo is due around June 11. Now I have a bit over 3 months to wash and organize our baby clothes, find a new carseat and baby carrier, stock up on newborn necessities, arrange some kind of bedroom/closet storage space and replace some of our baby items that we wore out with our first four babes. It is the sweetest, most exciting and hopeful to-do list I could imagine! 

 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

I’ve been reviewing my previous birth stories to try to gear up a bit for our upcoming one! Here is Aspen’s story if you’re curious and love birth stories as I do. 🙂

2018: a year in review (plus a glance ahead!)

2018

Rehoming a beloved pet.

A surprise: fifth pregnancy!

Spring visits from dearest, soul-filling friends.

Losing our October-baby.

Hospital stay, surgery for our two year old.

Our son Ezra’s joy-overflowing baptism.

Dream-come-true Alaska trip for Nels.

A ministry-full summer.

Rediscovering kayaking.

Leading a dream-come-true, lifegiving mission trip to Guatemala.

Beginning our fifth year of homeschooling.

Family adventures and misadventures in the mountains.

A gift: a sixth pregnancy, a sixth soul- pure gift from God! Our June-baby.

Months of crushing, humbling sickness.

Victory and jubilee – debt repayment milestones.

I don’t even know how to process this list of some of the major events from our year. So much life and joy plus some of the hardest days imaginable. It’s a year that cannot be categorized – it’s been dark, it’s been bright, and all along we’ve been held by everlasting arms.

This was a year of celebration in a billion ways. I have seen God at work! I have seen my children moved to faith, we have achieved goals that felt impossible a few years ago, my faith has been grown and stretched, my husband and my children love me and are dearly loved by me, and I feel that I am truly living life, over all, as I am meant to. With God’s help I have gained victory in several areas where I have in the past been prone to be overpowered by anxiety and fear. I have a small circle of very dear friends who pray for me, and allow me into their lives to know them and pray for them. What more could I ask for?

In the past year I have failed myself and others. I have wrestled with discouragement and given into despair. But the Lord never turned his back, and each morning I’ve found his mercies are new. I learned something of what it is to lead and organize a mission trip. My daughter took her first mission trip at 8 years old (and, at the same time, so did my dad in his 50’s!). I gained a new burden for prayer and support of an orphanage ministry. I (happily) quit on Facebook. We found our stride and confidence with homeschooling. I read 60 books. We had emergency repairs on almost every appliance and system in our house. I said ‘yes’ to God, when fear would compel me to delay or feign ignorance of His call. We suffered under spiritual warfare and physical illness and have come through. Forgiveness has been practiced. Faith has been exercised. I’ve tried some new things. I’ve rediscovered some old things that I love, like travel and worship leading.

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Photo by Noemí Jiménez on Unsplash

2019

Looking at a year ahead, I’m tempted to cringe and just ask God to take things away, to protect from pain, to insulate and shelter and…I know that isn’t the heart he has for me, for what I ask for and long for and work towards in the new year. I do seek some continued healing from trauma, but I am led over and over to Hope. I am declaring over my year, and preaching to my mind and soul, that this year is one of great hope: a hope in God that is an anchor for my soul. There is nothing I need more than this anchor.

My hope isn’t just that my nausea and fatigue and vomiting will finally clear out for happier, healthier days…my hope is that the Lord is near! My hope is not just wishful thinking but knowing to the core of my being that I am beloved of God, and my failures and victories cannot raise or reduce me in his affections. My great hope is that regardless of the circumstances of my days I will grow in relationship with him, that I will savor and experience his goodness in whatever he allows to come my way in the new year. It is the desire of my heart. It will not be accomplished by my great discipline (heh), but by his enduring faithfulness, and by his lovingkindness drawing me near.

Savoring God is my biggest goal of 2019.

He is ever-present, and the only soul-satisfying One, so I trust that this is one ‘resolution’ that cannot disappoint.

Beyond that goal, it seems the future is murky and veiled and I cannot be certain of what the year will hold. But practically, here are a few things that I am looking forward to…

  • my sons reading confidently
  • memorizing multiplication facts with my daughter
  • celebrating my 30th birthday
  • celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary
  • welcoming a new baby in June
  • reading more fiction
  • trying (again) to master sourdough
  • becoming acquainted with my new cello and generally making space for every creative and beautiful thing we can make room for
  • continuing to discover and make time for the people and experiences that bring us to life for the glory of God

Something about parenthood makes the years (not the days, y’all heard) seem so very fleeting. I guess they have been all along, they’re just that much more precious and un-recoverable to us now. It makes me want to mark the days and ‘tune up’ my heart and life to ensure that I am headed where the Lord leads me as much as possible.

I pray that 2019 will be for you full of delight, richness of experience and vividness of truth. May you approach it with great hope, whatever your goals and circumstances. He is worthy.

on my first decade

Nels and I will have been married for TEN YEARS next spring.

I know that is not really a ton considering how many fabulous couples that we love who have celebrated so many years together, but at the same time it feels like a substantial number for us and a milestone! As it will coincide with my 30th birthday in the spring also, I have found myself in serious reflection/contemplation mode.

When I think back to where we were ten years ago, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with thankfulness for all that God has brought us through – good and bad. And I am thankful for all that he has taught me in my first decade as a wife and mother and homemaker.

I had very limited homemaking skills when we first moved into our teeny seminary apartment after our wedding. But God in his graciousness has taught me so much since then! I want to distill a few of my homemaking thoughts here, with other young wives in mind, hoping to encourage those who may be just setting out on this path that I have traveled on, mostly joyfully, for these ten years. I claim no expert status, but I have found some helpful things along the way…

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1) Read Proverbs 31 for inspiration, not a guilt trip. You don’t have to “measure up” – you should feel inspired by her full and beautiful life, and remember that she was probably a much older woman when all of that glorious affirming text was written about her! Instead, be inspired by her meaningful, generous, world-changing impact! How are you like her? How could you become like her, in your own unique, Holy-Spirit-led way? One. step. at. a. time!

2) Know your personal priorities. There are days when you just can’t get everything done. In our earliest married years I was finishing college, raising babies and toddlers, keeping house and learning to cook while my husband worked multiple jobs and we served together in ministry. I knew that I couldn’t get everything on my overly-optimistic to-do list done, but I knew that my husband would overlook the carpet that I hadn’t vacuumed yet if there was dinner on the table and if our kids had been lovingly cared for. More could be overlooked if there was dessert. 😉 I love having a clean house, but it’s not always possible on a super-hectic day. Making my bed and having a tidy living room are my priorities on these days – it gives me so much peace!

3) Your worth has zero correlation with the number of loads of laundry you get done. Seriously. Zero. You’re okay.

4) Continue your education. Homemaking is a unique ‘career’ or ‘field’ and you don’t have a boss who is interested in your development, but you should be. Keep growing! Become the very best at your job that you can be. I’ll link to a few favorite resources at the bottom of this post.

5) Kill the comparison. As believers we ought to run our race to win! But it’s important to note that NO ONE else is in your heat. It’s all you. Glancing sideways will only puff up your pride or discourage your heart – neither of which will improve your homemaking or your life! Comparison is a trap, and only those without understanding enter into it…no one has the same kids, background, experience, paycheck, support or lack of, giving, etc that you do. Let your friends and family inspire you, but they are never to be your measure.

6) Play to your strengths. On a similar note, no one else will run a home just like you do. And that is awesome. None of us have to fit a certain mold. There is no perfect ideal or 50’s housewife standard. You are you, with unique skills and gifting and ideas! Let your strengths shine in your homemaking…and if you don’t know them, keep trying things and be patient with yourself as you build your skills. I have friends who have beautiful, fruitful, life-giving gardens for their own enjoyment and the feeding of their families plus their kids’ education! I know other people who have gorgeous, eclectic, thrifted wardrobes for themselves and their kids. Some people excel in baking or decor, photography, education, etc. Whatever it is, lean into that and rejoice that your life and your home gets to be unique to the glory of God! Your creative touch brings life to your home.

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7) Meal planning schedules, etc. There are about a billion different ways to schedule your life, your cleaning, your meal plans. Keep trying different ways until you find what clicks for you. Here’s whats working for me right now:

Each day of the week has a theme, and I have a couple of options. For example, Tuesday is a chicken day. Rotisserie chicken, chicken enchiladas, and a couple of other “chicken” recipes are my options. Fridays are for grilling or homemade pizza. Mondays are pasta or main dish salad. I sit down on Sunday night and quickly pick one of my options for each day and then plug in the necessary ingredients to my shopping list. It’s fast and easy, simplified but not overly boring because I’m not too repetitive with the options. I learned this method from The Lazy Genius, and she is awesome with practical homemaking and life ideas.

8) Keep your stuff simplified. This is a big trend right now, but for really good reason. Especially when it comes to adding kids into your home life, keep the toys to a minimum. I find my peace quotient directly tied to how much ‘stuff’ chaos we have in our life at a given time. A rule of thumb for us is that if they can’t keep their things tidy or they cant pick up in a reasonable amount of time, they have too much. It sounds mean, but if you keep your kids toys minimal, you’ll actually be giving them a huge gift of peace, contentment, and more time to play outside instead of constantly cleaning up.

9) One goal per season. There are so many areas in life that we could grow in, but try to just zero in on one. For example, right now I’m working on my morning routine. Waking up earlier (aka going to bed on time), taking a walk, having my quiet time and being dressed before starting school. In some seasons I want to master a couple of recipes, spend more one-on-one time with the kids or get a couple of rooms organized. Just pick one major goal per season and keep plugging away.

10) Take a Sabbath. When your work is at home it’s really easy to feel like the work is just never-ending. But discipline yourself to have one day that is “off” for you, as much as can be. Maybe you still run a load of dishes (we’re not aiming for legalism, man!), but you also are free to let them wait for tomorrow, or to use paper. Make easy meals, have zero cleaning goals, and instead enjoy your family and extra time in God’s Word and go do something fun. You may not get a day off of being Mama when you have kids, but do what you can to embrace God’s gift for you of the Sabbath, and watch how it transforms your life and tranquility of spirit. Your soul needs filling up and your mind needs a break! This is a top priority! Don’t even look at your laundry piles today! You will return to your work with a renewed energy, joy and focus. Consider this your Mary day, when you linger at the feet of Jesus instead of being consumed by all the work that will always be there to do!

11) The Afternoon Peace. I have a daily mini-Sabbath that is life-giving for me. I love to have a morning quiet time, but it is short and often interrupted by little ones starting their day and needing Mama’s help. In our current season though we have about an hour and a half of afternoon naps/reading and it is my time for “mother culture”…when I had a baby keeping me up all night I would nap, but now that we are doing better, this is my time to be a growing human being. To read hard books, listen to sermons and podcasts, spend more time in the word or writing/journaling, or try new skills like hand-lettering. Sometimes it’s a quick work out. Whatever you do and whatever time of day it happens, do something to keep being human. Read the newspaper so you have something to talk to your husband or friends about. Light your favorite candle and make a cup of tea if you want to feel real fancy and nurtured. You nurture the soul of your husband (and your children if you have them), and you must soak up time with the Lord and grow as a person in order to have something to give.

12) You create the atmosphere. I hope your home is beautiful and comfortable and full of peace and grace. It goes so far beyond the physical elements, but it does include them. Pray for guidance as you set up and run your home, but ultimately know that your soul and its’ well-being and connection to the Holy Spirit is what fills your home up with the kind of atmosphere that tells your family and guests: Come on in. You are welcome here. You are safe, you are wanted, you can relax. 

In this area, we can all be growing for the duration of our lives!

“The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career. ” – C.S. Lewis

 

Much love to you, friends! Happy Homemaking.

❤ Jordan

Recommended resources:

  1.  The Hidden Art of Homemaking – Edith Schaeffer. So creative and inspiring. A lovely must-read from a wise woman of God! 
  2. For the Children’s Sake – Susan Schaeffer Macauley. A great starting place for considering what children need from their homes and education. 
  3. Large Family Logistics – Kim Brenneman. The title is somewhat unfortunate, because I think this is a tremendously helpful book for homemakers with families of any size! It has helped me so much and brought inspiration too…I wish I had read it very early on in my homemaking journey. 
  4. At Home with Sally & Friends Podcast – Sally Clarkson. I appreciate this podcast and Sally’s heart for home and family. She has a motherly voice, high ideals, and so much grace to offer. Check out her books too!

A related blog post for further homemaking inspiration: A Vision for Home

 

 

On Starting a New Homeschool Year

If I include my firstborn’s preschool and kindergarten years (and I do!), we are starting our FIFTH(!) year of home education this week! I am amazed and thankful about it.

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It’s been a happy preparation for me this year, even more so than past years, even with it being a more challenging curriculum and the growing need for balancing my time between my 1st and 3rd graders and two preschoolers. Graciously, the Lord has led me to a philosophy of education (heavily influenced by Charlotte Mason and some traditional Christian classicism) that I am passionate about and find to be very biblical and inspiring, and he has led me to resources and provided for those resources that will assist in our educational goals for each of the grade levels.

I rely heavily on Ambleside Online‘s amazingly rich, robust, Charlotte Mason-model curriculum and it is the core of our studies. However, this is one of the first years that I have felt the confidence and freedom to allow that curriculum guide to serve me, rather than feeling myself a slave to it. Now, in years past I have loved using AO and maybe never truly felt subservient to it, but this year I happily cut and pasted what I will use and have had minimal anxiety about deviating from the book list when I think something will suit my learners and our home school better.

Ironically, I am probably following the heart of AO even more this year, having finally added in a timeline, more fully understanding narration and being committed to pre-reading our texts, but as I cut a few books and added a few others, I relished the freedom that I engaged – which has always been there, but seldom used – and it was a joyful thing to make it work for us.

For example, my son is doing Year 1 largely as written, but he will follow along in certain books with my daughter in Year 3. That will be more challenging but also better schedule-wise, so I dropped a book that we didn’t particularly enjoy when I taught 1st grade a few years ago.

Sarah MacKenzie says curriculum is not something we buy, it’s something we teach. I think that is a huge paradigm-shifting thought.

My obligation is to nourish the minds of my students, not to press through certain books or check certain boxes. Lord-willing I am introducing them to all that is good and true and beautiful, and helping to order their affections.

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This year I have also had the least amount of spinning my wheels, second-guessing my curriculum. After starting out in this way and having read and studied various methods and philosophies, I love the certainty that I have found our niche.

While I have felt more secure in our path, I have also felt as dependent as ever on the Lord (and probably more!).

As much as I am no longer looking over my shoulder to see what everyone else is doing or if there is something better to try out – I sense ever increasingly how we labor in vain unless the Lord builds. I rely completely on the Holy Spirit for the vision and the execution of all of our plans. I have joy and courage in my dependence because I know how faithful He is and how He shows up for us!

So with that said, here’s a little bit about how I’m structuring our school this year! (I get a lot of questions about how to use Ambleside – Brandy Vencel has a simple explanation here!)…

Morning Time – I love Morning Time/Circle Time…we typically start the day all together, covering some of our most important, most fun and most-easy-to-skip subjects. I have planned for about an hour but I think we will spend more like 45 minutes on this (with little ones joining in while coloring, etc!). Bible-reading, Memory work, Hymns, Read-Aloud book, Church History, Spanish, Artist or Composer Study, Shakespeare, Poetry are some of the things we will cover (but not all of them every day!).

Daily Work – Every day my older two will have Copywork, Math Lessons, Math Drill and Piano Practice for their daily work. They can do some of this independently, at which point I will have a bit of designated time with my preschoolers.

Preschool Loop – The little ones join us for Morning Time and participate at age-appropriate levels, but each day I have a minimum of 20 minutes set aside to do some special school time with them.

For the first term we will loop through Counting, Alphabet/Letter Sounds, Reading, Workbooks and Art/Shapes/Colors. I may switch up their subjects for Terms 2 and 3.

Ambleside Readings & Narration – There are a couple of blocks throughout our days that are set aside for the assigned AO readings in Literature, History, Natural History, Science, Geography, etc.

Kaya will do some of her Y3 readings on her own this year so I will be pre-reading all of those texts each week so we can have more interesting discussions afterwards. I will be continuing Phonics lessons with Hudson and sharing the reading load with him for his Y1 studies.

The key for us with these readings is that the kids will be required to interact with the material and re-tell it in someway. Often this is a simple oral narration, sometimes its a drawing and oral narration, sometimes they will be mapping (Marco Polo’s journey for Y3!), and sometimes they will write about it or dictate to me and I will record their narration.

I’m currently reading (& loving) “Know and Tell” by Karen Glass to grow in this key area of a CM education!

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Extras – There are several other subjects that are important but that won’t fit into our day, and so I’ve placed them on an afternoon loop. Drawing and Watercolors, Handicraft, Spanish, Geography, etc. Nature Study has it’s own block on the schedule (and on a nice day I don’t mind ditching our other plans for nature walk!), and so does Poetry Tea Time and our Keeping Hour (designated time for recording whatever important things they want to record on our timeline, extra things they want to draw in their nature journals, more time for drawing their narrations, etc.).

 

Here are some more of the details for our school year:

Math – Horizons for 1st grade, Teaching Textbooks for 3rd

Picture Study – I love the portfolios from SCM. We will study 3 different artists this year. These don’t line up with the assigned artists from AO, but I appreciate the ease of using the SCM resources.

Reading – 100 Easy Lessons! Simple and straightforward. It has worked well for us.

Composer Study – deviating here from AO, using Music Study with the Masters from SCM. Ambleside has a lot of free resources and links online for Composer study, but since I don’t have internet at home it is easier for me to use CD’s and other resources.

Watercolors – I borrowed the book Everday Watercolor from the library and used it a bit over the summer and enjoyed it so I decided I wanted to buy it and try with the kids.

Drawing – I have used several different things for drawing but this year settled on the sweet and simple Dover “how to draw…” books. These are just simple line drawings, but it’s perfect for our current stage and interest. Many of these can be found at the local library, but they are only $3.99 on Amazon. We’re starting with “How to Draw Flowers” and I know the kids will enjoy “How to Draw Insects” next.

Maps – There are free printable maps online through the Ambleside forum.

Apologia Astronomy looks incredible (although rather pricey!). I love the idea of learning the skies, one of the original classical seven liberal arts. I decided not to throw it in just yet because of the expense and because I hate feeling like we have to rush through our school day when we are trying to do too much…if the schedule feels spacious and generous enough I may add this in later in the school year! Otherwise we will look forward to it next year. 🙂

My husband generously blessed us with a Kindle Fire this year for audiobooks and math fact practice for my older kiddos during quiet time and we are all excited about it!

It sounds a lot more complicated than it is…mostly I am just enjoying being a learner alongside my children, fostering a conversational atmosphere in our homeschool where we are always talking about what things mean, who God is, what is required of us, etc. It is challenging and it is a marathon, but it is so full of light and joy and I am learning and growing and finding myself more alive for engaging with the great books and ideas and new skills that we are encountering.

This passage from Pilgrim’s Progress has inspired my courage for this marathon:

“This hill, though high, I covet to ascend; the difficulty will not me offend. For I perceive the way to life lies here. Come, pluck up, heart; let’s neither faint nor fear. Better, though difficult, the right way to go, than wrong, though easy, where end is woe.” 

I have great courage in this calling, because He who has called me is Faithful! He takes my small, imperfect offerings and He brings about a greater harvest than I could’ve dared to hope for. Glory to Him now and forever, Amen!

Reflections on a Trip to Guatemala

And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;

And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

This is an incomplete, but already lengthy account of some of what we saw and did over a special week this summer in Guatemala…I am surely missing important bits, but if I keep working on this I will never get it shared, and so here it is…an imperfect account of a trip too big for words –

A bit over a year ago I felt a pressing urgency in my spirit, a need to pursue some missions work, and I felt led to take my oldest daughter (8 years old) with me to allow her to begin experiencing global ministry and the global church that God is growing. My husband encouraged me and began praying, and I mentioned this growing dream to my mom as well. We were talking about some potential options and my mom mentioned visiting Shane, our friend from Missouri who had opened an orphanage in Guatemala about 7 years earlier.

Shane had been a part of a ministry that profoundly impacted me as a teen and enlivened my faith. I reached out to him and began to gather some information about visiting Casa de mi Padre (My Father’s House) in the mountains of Guatemala. This dream and vision from the Lord began to grow, and alongside that my fears also began to grow. I was beginning to believe that we should take a team to serve with us, to get some of our friends and family involved, and the Lord began placing some names on my heart to invite. I felt as if my life would be simpler and easier if I would just put this idea to rest, but I also knew that it would be a kind of spiritual death if I tried to ignore this growing dream.

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Just as the anxiety would build in my heart over the details, the expense, the maternal fears of traveling with my child, a Holy Spirit peace rose up to meet and overwhelm those thoughts. A few dear friends said “YES” to going with us, when I thought it would be such a long shot that would be able or want to go. My dad said “Yes” – his first mission trip! We gathered a team of 13 members, prayed for financial support, updated passports and started meeting and praying together, watching the Lord provide for every need, and gather a huge network of His people to encourage us, pray for us and send us!

It was more work than I anticipated – keeping dates and accounts and working with a diverse team of 13. More than that, I felt spiritually attacked profoundly for the entire year we worked on this project. Many sleepless nights were spent wrestling in prayer, and wishing I could undo everything. What have I done? Is it even worth it? There is a high price of obedience but everything has been returned to me, a hundredfold. Truly the Lord never takes anything from us except to fill up our hearts with more of Him.

Miraculously, somehow, it all came together. Two days before our trip, Shane contacted me with a list of some much-needed supplies. He knew it would be a long shot to be able to find them, afford them, and then fit them into our luggage for the trip to Guatemala. But the Lord had foreseen this need, and two families from our church had given last minute donations just a day before and I had had no idea what to do with it. Two phone calls later and I had two amazing team members shopping at Lowe’s and another willing to carry and pay for an extra bag! The airline waived the fees for our checked baggage at the last minute, so we brought that bag at no extra expense. God is so good! I believe He laughs at our ‘long shots’ and delights in surprising us, like the very best of Fathers! He makes no secret that he loves and cares for the orphans and I believe He made our path smooth several times specifially for their sake. He is the helper of the orphan, a father of the fatherless who makes a home for the lonely.

Everyone said, “You will fall in love with the kids,” and of course I knew that I would…but I had absolutely no idea how deep and full and instant that love would be, how I would feel like my heart would burst, nor had I any idea how profoundly the Lord would impact our team.

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traveling with my daughter and my dad!

We woke just before 2am on Wednesday, July 18, to meet at the church for our bus ride to the airport. Check in and security went smoothly and we had no problems getting on our 6am flight to Atlanta. In Atlanta we found our connection rather easily but then had to sit on a hot, stuffy plane for over an hour as they attempted to make repairs to a tire and then a panel. Eventually they had us unload from that plane, wait for another hour at the gate, and then re-load onto a new plane, making us about 3 hours late in our arrival to Guatemala City. I felt awful being late (though it was out of our control!) and I had already thrown up due to motion sickness and was extremely tired from not sleeping for several nights before leaving. I was praying over and over, “God, help!”

You would never have guessed that our driver had endured a lengthy delay, because he greeted us so warmly and kindly in Guatemala City. We thought we would be meeting him for lunch, but instead we were all starving for dinner. After a quick Burger King meal in the capital city, we set out through rush hour traffic for our mountainous route up to Santa Cruz del Quiche.

I had been told we would have a 4 ½ hour bus ride from there, but in our paperwork I read that it was only 90 miles! What a relief! Wellllll….that “90 miles” must’ve been “as the crow flies…” because we were on that bus for a solid 5 hours, with a short stop at a beautiful Guatemalan restaurant about half-way up. The bus ride was beautiful and refreshing once we got out of the city traffic – the windows were open with cool mountain breezes blowing in, and my Dramamine was working it’s magic! All of us were taking in the sights – insane drivers all around, glorious natural scenery, signs of poverty, loads of cultural color and exciting things to take in, in every direction. We asked our driver a million questions as he navigated through hold-your-breath hairpin turns and wild mountain roads with steep drop offs. It was thrilling, and a little bit terrifying.

Our team of 13 – 6 women, 6 men and my 8 year old daughter – had met together several times, but seldom with the full 13. We had 7 different decades represented, ages 8-74. I wasn’t sure how everyone would get along, and we certainly didn’t always! But that bus ride was full of rioutous laughter and sweetness, and I felt the family bond we had in Christ already. There was a special joy granted to us as we worked as a family and team that week.

Rony, our driver, took us straight to the orphanage, though we were pulling in well after bed-time! The children greeted us as soon as we stepped off the bus by singing “it’s my father’s house” by Audio Adrenaline. They gave each of us a hug before they were sent to bed, and we were warmed to the heart, and ready to work hard serving these children!

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view from the roof of our guesthouse in Quiche

We arrived to our guesthouse in the dark (we were actually in two separate guesthouses the first night, but moved to be all together after that), and so didn’t really get to take it in totally until the following morning. It was a concrete construction, like most structures in that part of the world – three bedrooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms, with a central courtyard. The roof was flat on top and had stairs up to it, and many of us enjoyed sneaking up there for our quiet times or just to enjoy the sunrise. The guesthouse was a mere couple of feet from a busy road with traffic at all hours that kept some of us awake at all hours too…but in the girls room with a loud fan and complete darkness we slept pretty decently! The razor-wire that wrapped the top of the walls was to keep us and our possessions safe, and while it was initially a bit of a concerning sight, it is so common in Guatemala (where theft is a major concern) that it became normal to me quickly.

We hit the ground running the next day, cooking three meals a day (two at the orphanage, for 18 children, our team of 13, plus various staff members and missionaries!) in a nice but still third-world kitchen without a dishwasher or hot water on tap, with slower cook times due to altitude. One day for lunch the ladies made 100 chicken quesadillas! It was quite a feat.

The men began their new routine for the week, heading out to the work site of the future Casa de mi Padre home, where they joined a team working hard to pour concrete in the new garage there. The work days were long and hard, and I think it was only love for the Lord and for the orphans that kept us all grinding! After 20 hours of travel and then working full and hard days, we were all pretty exhausted after the first 2 full days in-country. Somehow the Lord gave us grace to keep working, and to be loving and kind to one another even in our tiredness (and many of the men in quite a bit of pain).

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current home
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garage/worksite at the new property

Having lunch and dinner at the home and spending part of the evening at CDMP was gradually giving us opportunities to play with the children and get to know the staff better. The kids were in school, but arrived home around 1:30pm for lunch and the homework hour. We enjoyed their trampoline, playing basketball, soccer, exploring their orchard (pomegranates, avocados, bananas, oh my!), etc. We would work for the day, enjoy dinner and wash dishes (for.ev.er.) and then enjoy some evening time with the kids. One day a couple of us painted one of the boys’ bedrooms (Lord have mercy).

When we would go home to our guesthouse, we had debriefing and evening devotions together that were very centering. Each morning the early risers would start the coffee and we had about 7 pots before Rony came to pick us up for the days’ work.

One night we got to attend “youth group” with the kids at their church. We enjoyed a meal together and played some wild (and maybe dangerous – ha!) games together, including a crazy pillow fight and then my dad shared from the Scriptures through Rony, our translator. It was a joyful night! We all laughed so much and continued to get to know and enjoy bonding with the kids.

Some of us had the opportunity to go with Maria, the house mama, to go shopping in the market a couple of times. There is not a Costco in this part of Guatemala, and most of the fresh produce is bought in the street market and it is quite a job to shop for such a large household without being able to use a shopping cart and a car certainly wouldn’t fit in the tight spaces! Everything is carried through the market and the kids who came along to help surprised us with their strength and willingness to carry heavy loads. It was a colorful, somewhat chaotic feast for the senses – and a vivid contrast to our weekly American grocery store trip! While I don’t envy the hard work it is for Maria every couple of days, there is something heartwarming about the swarms of people all out to buy their food, and the community built through purchasing from the farmers.

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I knew I wanted to bring my daughter, but I wasn’t sure how she would react to being in a different country, let alone a third-world one. But Kaya loved the whole experience – her first flight delighted her, the new sights and sounds and people were all welcomed with joy, and I was so proud of her just jumping in and making friends and playing with the kids, as if all cultural and language barriers were myths propagated by crusty old people. 😉 I was proud of her for being willing to jump in and work as well, and I was so grateful for the wonderful team of people who all cared so sweetly for her by including her in their work in the kitchen, or buying her special treats here and there and helping me keep an eye on her. I wondered if I would feel nervous traveling with her but instead I almost always was just amazed at how easily and happily she adapted to the missionary life.

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One afternoon a few of us skipped cleaning up and resting before dinner and went to see some Mayan ruins about twenty minutes outside of town. It was a beautiful park location with stunning trees and views, and mind-blowing history with some structures from hundreds of years ago still standing. There was something still grievous about it as we saw some people offering burnt offerings to win favor from a god.

Sunday proved to be the favorite day for most of our team. On Sunday morning we met up with Shane and his kids at CDMP to pray and prepare for our morning evangelism outing. Shane motivated us that our lives have been changed by the gospel and so we are sharing Jesus out of love and because of how good he has been to us. We were all a little nervous but also excited to see what the Lord would do.

We drove to the town square, at the center of the downtown market area, near the large focal point of the old Spanish Catholic church. Sunday is the biggest marketing day and the area was abuzz with peddlers, shoe-shiners, shoppers, and all kinds of people everywhere. We split up into small teams of about 5 people, 2-3 Guatemalan kids with 1-3 Americans. The role for us was to pray and walk with the kids while they initiated gospel conversations and shared the story of Jesus and his death, burial and resurrection (using an Evangicube to illustrate) and told how while our sin separates us from God, God had made a way for us to be brought near to Him.

That morning I was overwhelmed by seeing the Holy Spirit overflow from a child who had, just years before, been abused, abandoned, neglected. Now not only was he loved, cared for, in school…he was passionately proclaiming the gospel to the lost in the streets of their city. It was a privilege and joy beyond words to walk with that little team and witness the conviction and boldness that he spoke with. The Lord brought several to faith through our little team that morning, and many of the other teams had prayed with the convicted and repentant that God drew as well. Though we didn’t understand the language, the Holy Spirit bonded us to one another because of our mutual love for Jesus.

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kaya with her friend lucrecia

So many people on our team were convicted deeply by the beautiful witness that the children were that day – convicted to follow Jesus more faithfully, to proclaim him more boldly, and for me, to disciple my chldren with a new idea of just what children are capable of, when they have truly seen the beauty of the gospel and the power of Jesus to change lives.

After our park outing, we toured the Catholic church in the main square of Santa Cruz del Quiche, and Shane explained to us some of the history and culture of the local area, and Guatemala in general. We toured the street markets, had a lovely lunch at a nearby restaurant, had a quick rest and refresh and then joined them for their Sunday evening worship at church.

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That evening was so joyful. Worshipping with believers in another culture is such a thrilling foretaste of our future reality in heaven, where every tribe and tongue and nation will be united in worship of the one true God. We witnessed a baby dedication, heard from their pastor’s heart, enjoyed singing and praising God – though we didn’t know the words! – and my dad pd again with Rony translating. One of the boys from the home shared some of his reflections from his Bible reading. I felt so immediately loved and at home in their midst. The same God that we worship and depend on is actively at work in His church in Guatemala.

The next day, Monday, we were back to a somewhat normal routine of the men working at the land and the ladies preparing meals at the Casa, except we first got to stop in and visit the children’s school. The staff at CDMP were planning to make us a traditional Guatemalan meal that evening, so we had the afternoon off and went to visit the land. Several of us enjoyed the open air, riding in the back of Shane’s truck, and the views were breathtaking – mountains, farms, clouds rolling in in the distance.

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The new property is just outside of town and so far they have built a wall and gate and a large garage. The men on our team were working on pouring concrete in the garage and we enjoyed seeing where they had spent so much time during the week. Shane walked us over the places and showed us what he envisioned, what the government required, explaining all that it would require. After working so hard that week to only make a small dent, the road ahead seemed rather daunting, but also with all that God had provided and done, I felt full of faith – Who can stop the Lord Almighty? We had a special time of prayer there, asking God to continue to care and nurture the children, to provide for all of their needs, to build the home, to sustain and encourage Shane and the staff. The weight of the task is heavy to us, but it is a small thing to the Lord.

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Shane

Monday evening was wonderful and hard. It was our last night with the children, and I hate goodbyes so much that part of me just wanted to disappear. But we had such a special night together.

The kids and staff and CDMP had gone all out providing a beautiful, candlelight dinner for our team. We had delicious Guatemalan tea, fresh corn tortillas, black beans, a squash-like vegetable that we don’t have here, cheesy potatoes, and the best Chicken cordon bleu, followed of course with great coffee. We enjoyed sweet fellowship around that table.

After dinner Shane and the kids put on an elaborate program for us with several songs and dramas thanking us for coming, talking about what the Lord had done for them, etc. Shane shared in more detail many of the stories of the children who have come to the home. So often the conditions of their life before Casa de mi Padre were just deplorable – extreme poverty, neglect, abuse, abandonment. Knowing and treasuring the kids as we did, it was heartbreaking to learn in more detail about their painful past, and yet it brought into that much more clarity how amazing a work the Lord has done. Broken children arriving with fears and behavioral issues of all sorts, often very behind in school, then welcomed into a loving family, a secure home where they have love in abudance and discipline too – they are some of the sweetest, smartest, most wonderful children in the world. The trauma and nightmares of their former lives can melt away as the truth of God’s word and the love of God’s people builds strength and beauty instead.

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Saying goodbye was tender and would be completely agonizing if not for the gratitude I felt to the Lord for bringing us together, and the hope that we would be long time friends in this life and the life to come.

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The following days were a little anticlimactic – we were all exhausted from the trip, but also with hearts warmed by all that we had seen. On Tuesday, we were supposed to spend most of the day in the beautiful city of Antigua, but bus trouble delayed us several hours and we just got in with bit of time to spare for a quick market souvenir trip and dinner. Our hotel was a welcome comfort complete with (sometimes) hot showers. It was built in the 1600s and had many of the original Spanish features still in place and was decorated with incredible historical details here and there. I could’ve explored that beautiful hotel and city for a week! And yet I was so tired and ready to be back with my family.

We had a debriefing that evening with Shane in one of the larger rooms, and he asked us a few questions about when we had seen God at work and if any of us had heard God speak to us in a special, specific way during the trip. We also prayed with Shane as he was preparing to pick up four new children the following day!

The following morning it was back on the bus with Rony, back to the airport, back through customs and into the U.S., back to Atlanta and then Wichita, back to the bus with Sylvan and Suzanne picking us up, back to Hutchinson and the church and finally, back home.

There is still so much to learn and process, and I know many of our team members are working out what this experience means to them for their spiritual lives and for their connection with Casa de mi Padre and missions in general. I don’t know all the ways that this trip has impacted my daughter, but I know it has altered her worldview for good.

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I am still working out all that God has taught me, and “What is next?” for me…but I treasure my time working with Shane, our team, and the children in Guatemala. I have learned about myself as a leader – good things and bad, and more than anything I have seen again – the Lord is faithful. I have every reason for faith and courage as I follow him.

Who can stop the Lord Almighty?

Counterfeit Consumerism and the Natural World

 

Consumerism has found bountifully fertile soil in American culture, and most repulsively, in me, in my home, in my children. It is a vice, to be challenged like any other with repentance and efforts toward a contrasting virtue by God’s grace. But I wonder, could it be that we have a certain void in our hearts, lives and minds that leaves us prone to crave buying, buying, more? How to foster instead a whole contentment, a deep and satisfying gratitude?

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Photo by Leon Biss on Unsplash

In the past few years I have found a new and growing interest in the natural world around me. Maybe it helps that we are first-time homeowners, and have been settled in one place for a couple of years, so I have watched one little piece of land through the four seasons, three times over. I know it helps that my husband has had some successes in gardening that have caused me to wonder what beautiful or delicious things I might try my hand at growing. Our homeschooling too has turned my thoughts toward learning the stars, the planets, the native species of plants and animals, the local ecosystems, that I might pass on some knowledge to my children. What started as a straightforward search for knowledge and information has transformed from something on a practical, mind/data level into a love and gratitude on the level of the heart and soul.

This morning I stepped outside, to be refreshed by the coolness of the morning before the sun rose too high and the heat of the day pressed in. I was happy to see that the iris, imported from my grandmother’s garden, had blossomed in another color – burgundy and gold, then deep indigo blue and purple, like those from my April-wedding bouquet. Just above the iris, a bright flash of yellow caught my eye. Goldfinches! A sweet and brilliant pair of them. Three years in this home, and I had seldom seen these birds. I recently put out a bit of thistle seed, hoping to attract them back again, but I had read that it could take weeks for them to find this new food source, so I was prepared for a patient wait. But sometimes nature surprises and delights you.

Later in the morning, coffee mugs in hand, I walked with my husband down to his unruly but productive garden. We admired leafing greens, just-sprouted tomatoes, we noted how well the blackberry canes are looking this year. He showed me where he suspected a nest of baby birds. My oldest ran to greet us with a tiny bouquet of yellow wildflowers – I didn’t know what to call them, and their gracious petals seem most deserving of the dignity of a name. We decided we would try to identify them later in our wildflower guides.

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Photo by Irene Dávila on Unsplash

Walking back the house, I noticed a couple of robins and blue jays, and another bird I didn’t know. I heard my daughter exclaim over a rabbit she spotted, darting across the driveway. And I wondered at the satisfaction of a few moments spent outdoors, barefoot on a cool morning.

For several years we have, by necessity and choice, lived on a bit of a shoestring budget, attempting to aggressively repay our debts so that we might eventually live in freedom from the stresses of those bills. Raising a family on one income while paying off debt is no simple task, and it has been a challenge that has grated against some of my desires. But this morning I noticed that a subtle shift has been taking place in the mean time…

Perhaps my desires are changing. I do love the excitement of knowing that another Amazon package of fun new things is on the way, and the happiness of some money to spend or give – but here, gift already given, from the Father of all good gifts, is the world at our feet, full of fruits and flowers and new plants to know. Sometimes I miss being able to go out and shop, coming home with an arm full of new colors and textures for the home – but this morning, just outside my door, the thrill of brilliant yellow wings! For lunch, a salad that my children harvested. In months past, there was the icy crunch and branches wrapped in crystal. Beneath my feet today, the sandy soil, cool with the dew. The coarse and the smooth feelings of the raspberry plants as I transplant them.

We were not made for accumulating, but I do think there is some core element of our consumeristic “need” for new things, for delight, that is implanted in us – and I wonder if it can be satisfied, and was intended to be satisfied, with the new things to notice, new gifts opening, every day in the spring. When I am not diligently preparing healthful meals and snacks, I find myself very quickly in a pattern of eating empty and even harmful foods. But nutritious meals, while requiring a bit of thoughtfulness and preparation, are immensely more satisfying and nourishing with none of the harmful side effects like brain fog and lack of energy. I suspect that immersion in the natural world, connection to nature in all of its vast, varying, beautiful forms, may be the more nourishing satisfaction with which we can combat our culture of over-spending and want.

I recognize in myself a need for beauty, for comforting, for release of stress, for connection, for mental occupation with something besides the problems of my life. It seems perhaps dirty fingernails, afternoons on a sandy shore, tired muscles from garden labor, and prayerful walks at dusk are better cures for what ails me, than the advertised joys of material gain.

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Photo by adrian on Unsplash

If I knew all of the best places to find tadpoles and wildflowers, if my children know the places to find earthworms and role-polys and sweet-smelling wild honeysuckle, maybe the novelty and need for new technology, new clothes, new dishes, new toys, would begin to lose it’s luster for us. Then our healthier, life-giving appetites, for God and the good gifts from His hand, would have room to grow.

Instead of buying more (or wanting to buy) for the sake of happiness… what if we…

  • Took a morning to be still, watching and listening for birds (and butterflies!)
  • Made a ritual of searching the skies for constellations on summer nights
  • Plant even a small patch of herbs or veggies or flowers
  • Made the sunrise and sunset a marked moment of each day – a ten minute date with the Lord, just to savor His beautiful, artistic gift, too easily missed
  • Learn just a few of the birds’ songs, and listened for them on walks, or morning coffee time
  • Routinely visit parks or nature centers, just to notice what is blooming or changing, with eyes peeled for animal tracks, turtles, squirrels, etc.
  • Draw or paint a “weed” or wildflower, just for the sake of noticing all it’s details and the intricacies of its’ design
  • Awaited the migrations and seasonal changes more eagerly than we awaited upcoming sales 😉
  • Choose just one tree or perennial plant for our children to tend and watch grow

We live far removed from Eden, but all the devil’s designs and our own sins and failures cannot drown out the beauty of the created world – and to think of it Redeemed! There are glimpses of glory and so many gifts that we are given every day, that can satisfy the very marrow.

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Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Contentment is not just a shutting-off of want and greed. Rather, it is satisfaction in God and thankfulness for what God has given. I think this may best be fostered through prayer and meditation on Scripture, and secondarily through an awakening to the riches of the natural world that lie at our fingertips, waiting to be known and received. So often the moments of profound emotional and spiritual healing happen in the breeze of pine trees, or near the gentle trickle of a stream, not in the comparatively empty possessions.

The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.”

Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”

  • Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

When the despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the nights at the least sound fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

  • Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things