Motherhood & Family

Wisdom To Number Our Days

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(from Instagram)

My heart has been feeling achy these days. Having a newborn has made me realize how our years with her siblings have flown by. It also reminds me how little time they all have left here with us.

Like a dream. Like grass that grows and withers. This is how the psalmist describes our years on earth (Ps.90). So in light of our fleetingness, he asks God to teach us to number our days. This, he writes, is how we gain wisdom.

I have seen lately how my parenting is often downright foolish. I am irritable instead of grateful for the moments God grants me with my children. I respond to them with harshness instead of commending Christ. I waive opportunities to build our relationship in the name of busyness. And when I do these things, I am forgetting that my years, and our years together, are numbered.

Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom- Ps. 90:12.— I need this divine, day-numbering wisdom so badly.

I need this wisdom to look through my children’s behavior and aim to win their hearts. To discipline with their 13, 18, and 30 year-old future selves in mind.

I need this wisdom to build them up with words of grace and not just give orders. To remember the significance of the years between us is growing smaller by the day. One they will one be my peers and hopefully friends.

I need this wisdom to seize every opportunity to make much of Christ. To put down what I’m doing when possible and help my children see the goodness of God while I still can.

I need this wisdom to enjoy my time with them. To stop and thank God for the fleeting, sweet craziness of life with 3 young children and an infant.

Parents, truly, our days may be long, but our years are short. Let’s look to number them rightly — these exhausting, sweet, bitter, good, frustrating days— that God may grant us hearts of wisdom.

Motherhood & Family

Greater Is He

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(from Instagram)

I felt the fall last night, the pain of childbearing. In the beating my body has taken in birthing and caring for a newborn. In the toil of raising sinful children. In my own hard-heartedness.

***

I’m sick of dealing with sin.

I think that to myself after refereeing another bedtime squabble. Nothing new, but it’s the mundanity of the self-centeredness that gets to me, that pervasive inward curvature of sin. I think about what it would be like to raise children in a pre-Genesis 3 world. I’m tired and mad and tired.

I retreat from their room when the Spirit speaks: Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). A cheery voice calls from across the hall, “Mom, can we pray together?” It is a divine invitation.

I‘m still angry, but what am I going to do? Say, “No!“? So I reenter. First, anything you’re thankful for? Then, more accusatory than I‘m proud of, anything you need to say sorry for?

Their confessions catch me unguarded and convict me. They share specific moments from the day I hadn’t noticed. They give humble insights on their weaknesses. They apologize and forgive. My heart softens. We talk about friendship and family and seeing each other’s sin. I’m asked for verses that will help with a particular struggle with the flesh. We talk about Christ’s forgiveness and the Spirit’s help.

Then we pray.

I pray the gospel over us, over me. It is sheer grace I am able to do so. God himself turned the tide; he spoke, he invited, he softened.

All in spite of me, my sin, and the fall.

***

“Sometimes when I’m in a bad mood, it’s hard to do the right thing,” she says.

Me too, baby. But, praise be to God— greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world.

Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

Reflections On Knowing

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“To know Him is to love Him, and to know Him better is to love Him more.”
A. W. Tozer

One of the sweetest moments of the day is when Jeff comes home from work. Sometimes, the girls catch the sound of his car door closing or the narration of an audiobook as he approaches the house. Other times, it isn’t until he steps in that they realize he’s back and run to see him. Either way, Jeff is usually met by two breathless little girls yelling “Daaaaddy!!” and a toddler boy excitedly jumping around in the fray. You’d think they haven’t seen him for days the way they greet him.

Our kids know their dad.

They know the sounds of his going out and coming in, and his form through the beveled glass of the front door. (Only once did one of them mistake someone else for him in her hurry. The stranger, whose build approximated Jeff’s, was met with the door swinging wide open and immediately slamming in his face.) They know that when he gets home, he’s happy to see them, ready to hear about their day.

On the flip side, sometimes Jeff has a hard time getting out because a little person is hanging onto his legs, refusing to let him leave for work. Sometimes there are tears because there was no proper goodbye. Our kids love their dad and would be with him all the time if they had the choice.

Those who have walked with me know the burning heart-question which drove me to seek God with intensity in my late teens. Seeking God’s will for my life led me to the Greatest Commandment, which in turn led to the perplexing question of: What does it even mean to love and know God? Growing up, a common saying in church highlighted the difference between knowing about and knowing God. But I wasn’t so sure what that actually looked like in the flesh.

In college, the words of the Apostle Paul set a clear course to aim for, a request to God to make this true of me: that I may consider all else as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. God revealed himself as holy in the Scriptures. And the Spirit, in love, relentlessly shone a spotlight on my heart, revealing the ugly, pervasive grip sin had on me. Every time I tried to untangle one root of sin, I seemed to unearth more of my wretchedness. Finally, having been stripped of all illusions of my own righteousness, I saw— and felt— the beauty of the gospel with life-changing force. Oh the joy of not merely acknowledging, but knowing my sin and the grace of God through Christ!

The following years of zeal and service revealed significant gaps in my knowledge of God. Personal piety and ministry experience did not answer questions I had about reading and applying the Scriptures; my (mis)understanding of the Christian life led to guilt and burnout.

It wasn’t as if all I believed before was untrue, but I needed deeper and wider roots. While the foundation remained the same, God reworked some of the infrastructure of my theology through seminary. Rather than dryly academic, my studies in seminary were absolutely life-changing in the best way. I remember holding back tears and stepping out of class during breaks to praise God for his precious truth. And to this day, I am passionate about orthodoxy because I have experienced firsthand the way our thinking about God affects our lives before him.

Both experiential knowledge of and rigorous study about God have powerfully shaped my life and I now see the “knowing about God versus knowing God” dichotomy as a false one. People may tend toward cold intellectualism or vapid emotionalism, but knowledge about and of God is neither. Christians love God with all our hearts and our minds. God seeks worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth.

These days though, I have needed reminders to seek to know God relationally. In particular, I have been challenged by the psalms. Packed with rich theological truths about God and deep affection for him, verbs of religion and devotion abound— long, love, yearn. They are directed relationally— I remember you, seek you, faint for you, thirst for you, bless you, cling to you. Your steadfast love is better than life, the psalmist declares, so my lips will praise you (Psalm 63).

Scripture is packed with experiential, emotional, and relational language when it comes to us and God. Christians audaciously call God our King, Father, Creator, Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend, and Bridegroom— all descriptions of who he is in relationship to us— and ourselves his servants, children, creation, redeemed, sheep, friends, and bride. So I have been reminded to go to God with love and affection, to pray with words of the heart and long for deeper experiences of him.

At home, I have three living displays reminding me of the kind of knowledge at the heart of Christianity. Their knowledge of me, their mom, and of their dad is not abstract. Rather, it drives them to seek us for empathy and bandaids when hurt, to confession and requests for prayer when troubled. Their knowledge that we are wiser means they ask us many questions. Their prior experiences of our care means they climb onto our laps for snuggles just because.

Our kids are still growing in their knowledge of us and we of them, but there are countless ways they display what they already do know. The girls know where to go with fears about the night and joyful stories of new accomplishments. They come to us in tears, ecstatic, and everything in between. Our 18 month-old cannot articulate why he trusts us so much (as of now, he can’t articulate much at all), but he knows to cry for help when he’s slipped trying to reach the sharpener, even as his hand grips a dangerously sharp pencil and his legs dangle off the table. He knows to plead his case, “Mama!”, with pointed finger when his sister is walking away with the Mozart Magic Cube he was playing with first.

Our kids pursue us in relationship, excitedly chatting away, sitting close, freely offering kisses, hugs, and high-fives. They have come to know us through trusting us and they trust because they know us. They know about us, they know us, and will continue to know us more.

Their example is God’s grace to me. The little hand that grasps my finger to walk me to the snack cabinet reminds me to go to my Father because I know he is wise and able. Their desire to know where I am at all times, a reminder to seek him because I was made to be with him.

Every day, they give testimony of the loving delight of knowing in the scramble to the door, the jumping up and down, and the bursting laughter of welcoming daddy home.

God, make this true of me.

Motherhood & Family

Yes! I’d Recommend: Our Favorite Children’s Bibles

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“We’re buying Todo lo que un niño debería saber sobre Dios?” Jeff asked me the other day as he looked over my shoulder into my online shopping cart. We’d already owned Everything A Child Should Know About God  in English– the only language I can read in. I defended myself, “It’s only $6! I’m sure we can find someone to give it to!” He laughed a bit at me and we now have two copies of the book sitting on our shelf as I look for Spanish-speaking children to gift it to.

Some people are always in ready position when it comes making recommendations about restaurants or coffee or entertainment or fashion. My friends know I jump at the chance to recommend Christian books, blogs, and sermons. This is not because I’m extremely well-read (quite far from it), but because I have seen the impact of well-articulated, truth-filled content on my mind, life, and worship. I am always excited to connect others with voices God has used to shape and strengthen me. Plus, I have inherited the habit of buying bargain books in bulk from my mom.

As one way to pass on great content, I am starting this series– Yes, I recommend! where I’ll periodically answer one of my favorite questions: “Do you have any recommendations for books/blogs/etc. on…?” These lists will be short and by no means exhaustive– I’m not even claiming to include the best out there– but will contain content I’ve found helpful. I hope you will find some resources here that edify you too.

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For the first post in this “Yes! I’d Recommend” series, my favorite books to give away: Children’s Bibles!

Some of you may be Christian parents or children’s Sunday School teachers. As parents, we have been given the divine charge to bring up our sons and daughters in the wisdom and instruction of the Lord. Teachers have been entrusted with the difficult task of explaining big Biblical truths in simple ways for young minds. Central to fulfilling both callings is helping children know God’s word.

In Deuteronomy 11:19 (ESV), God says:

You shall teach [these words of mine] to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

And in Psalm 78:4 (ESV),

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

Talking with children about who God is through the Scriptures doesn’t have to be complicated. It isn’t meant to take place only in serious, special settings, but most often happens in the day-to-day grind of daily life. As we walk, talk, sit, lie, and rise, we are given opportunity to teach his words and tell of his deeds. And as you teach your children or students, you will likely be astonished at how much they understand as they receive God’s truth with precious faith.

In our home, we do Bible reading with the kids at night. Bedtime is what works best for us for now, and usually they read with Jeff, sometimes with me. Then, we pray together– I sometimes ask them to list what they want to praise God for (“God, you are…”), something they’re thankful for, and something they want to pray for. Sometimes Jeff or I pray aloud for them. Other times we all pray at the same time, or we pray and they repeat after us. Admittedly, we sometimes skip days or rush through, but I pray God is planting the seed of his Word in their lives which will bear fruit in years to come.

As adults, we often read the Bible piecemeal and forget that it is a gripping, grand narrative. We may fail to take time to read slowly or engage our imaginations. In doing so, we miss the impact of Biblical narratives which don’t just tell, but display to us the wonder of God’s power, the irrationality of our rebellion, the horrors of sin, and the beauty of our long-planned-for salvation. Reading to children of the “glorious deeds of the Lord” is good for our souls as well as theirs.

If you’re in the market for a children’s Bible, here are our family’s favorites in order of age/ reading level.

1. The Big Picture Story Bible (WTS | Amazon)

This was our go-to for many years because of the short text. Even at 2-3 years, the kids could sit through it, enjoying the big pictures. The book traces the theme of God’s Kingdom– his place, people, and rule– from Genesis through Revelation, showing how Jesus fulfills God’s promises as Savior and King. At two, before she could talk much, I would sometimes find our daughter flipping through a Bible saying “fwaioehgjkadlksj Sarah salihgdafoiquwr Abraham,” and I think it was from reading this storybook Bible. Our church also uses this book for teaching younger children, but it’s good for older kids too to get a grasp of some big Biblical themes.

2. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible (WTS | Amazon)

This is our newest addition, and we’re reading this during our homeschooling time. Each Bible story has one main highlighted point and one question to discuss. It’s great at presenting Scripture’s stories in ways that inform both children’s knowledge of who God is and how they are called to obey him– i.e. right thoughts of God and right living before him.

3. The Jesus Storybook Bible (WTS | Amazon)

The power to obey God does not come from knowing his laws, but knowing him. The Bible stories in this book, with their amazing illustrations, point to Jesus in every text. In seeking to make these connections to Christ, parents are helped to resist the temptation to turn Scripture into a book of morals. It is refreshing to see our children learn to understand the Scriptures with God, not human Bible characters, as the hero. The book highlights the love of God for sinners through the drama of Scripture, climaxing in the cross of Christ. Pastor Tim Keller has endorsed this book saying all Christians should read this, not just children! The Jesus Storybook Bible has been a staple in our home and church.

4. The Action Bible (WTS | Amazon)

My daughter will sit for hours listening to the audio version of The Action Bible while following along in the book, and her knowledge of the Old Testament is better than mine was as a college student because of it. This is probably be the most controversial item on this list because it’s a comic book. The characters look like they are from a superhero comic and the text reads like it, with obvious creative liberties taken. I make sure our kids know when something in the book isn’t in the Bible (for example, stories from the intertestamental period) and that God doesn’t really sound like a booming, slow-speaking comic book voice. But still, it has been wonderful for helping our girls be excited about the content of Scripture– even Old Testament history!

5. ESV Big Picture Bible (WTS | Amazon)

When our 6-year-old asked for a big kid’s Bible, we searched for a full-text ESV Bible (the version our church uses). This was our favorite in terms of format and pictures that weren’t too graphic or cheesy. It’s simple and the font is big enough for her to read easily. There are illustrations, but they don’t detract from the text and because they are cartoonish (vs. more realistic), I’m not as wary about how it will influence my daughter’s interpretation of Scripture. My favorite illustrations are the small ones above the headers depicting the theme of each book.

When training teachers in church, I’ve often stressed that just because we are teaching children doesn’t mean we can make up answers to their questions. The youngest members of our church are not too young to understand and need the truth of God. That’s why I value good resources for children so much– they explain God’s Word in simple, engaging ways while remaining truthful.

Though it is a weighty task, it is an awesome privilege to be among the first people to inform a child’s understanding of God. As we seek to instruct the little ones, so dearly loved by Jesus, may we do so with reverence and fear, gratitude and joy.

 

Did you decide to check out any of these books? Leave a comment and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Motherhood & Family

Why We’re Homeschooling This Year

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Someone told me recently they’d never heard anyone talk about bacon like I did. I’d said something to the effect of, “I’m ok with it,” but apparently bacon is polarizing subject, typically drawing strong supporters (“Bacon, every day, all day, on everything!”) or vehement opposition.

My daughter is about to enter first grade (how is that even happening already?) and figuring out her education has been a topic of conversation for Jeff and I for a while now. I’ve read through countless articles through the years and have found that homeschooling can kind of be like bacon. People naturally seem to have strong opinions about why they’ve chosen to educate their children in certain ways, (whether public school, private school, or homeschooling) and, naturally, those who take to writing about it have especially strong opinions.

I have strong opinions about many things, including education, but, like with bacon, have found myself on the fence when it’s come to how our daughter ought to be educated. Though we homeschooled last year and will do so this coming year, it’s not a decision that’s been an obvious or simple choice for us.

Though I’ve scoured the internet for a silver bullet for or against public/private/homeschooling, I’ve yet to come across one. What I’ve found most helpful hasn’t been bullet-pointed articles espousing the merits of public, private, or homeschooling, but seeing how other families have come to their decisions. It’s been helpful for me to see their reasoning and process, even if ultimately, our choices differed.

In that vein, I offer a few thoughts for others in our decision-making process as to why we are homeschooling come September.

First, the following are NOT reasons why we’ve decided to homeschool this year. We don’t think that schools necessarily ruin children’s drive to learn. We don’t think all public school teachers have a hidden anti-Christ agenda or that sending our daughter to our local elementary school would definitely be detrimental to her faith. Our desire is not to shelter her completely from the realities of this world and we don’t have any nostalgic feelings about schooling inside the home or about her mom being her teacher.

Secondly, as much as there are unfair critiques of public school systems, I’ve also found most reasons against homeschooling not to be compelling either. “Socialization” is not a concern for me because firstly, we have other opportunities for our children to interact with people and, secondly, because I don’t see socialization in public schools as an ideal or normative standard. And while I understand and have the desire to serve our communities and being on mission, I’m not convinced about that being the main impetus for making our decision about education.

There is no simple line of reasoning about schooling that universally applies to all families. So why have we decided to homeschool? The two main reasons for our family are 1. The freedom to shape our child’s education and 2. This is what works for our family for now. Both of these reasons are subsets of the orienting question, “What is helping our daughter thrive (academically, socially, spiritually, emotionally)?”

Homeschooling first became an option for us even before our daughter was born, when I realized I didn’t have to take the current public school system as the historical norm. Thinking, for example, about how public schools in America haven’t always been expressly secular or that historically, children have been educated in different ways made me start imagining what education could look for our children if we were building from scratch rather than within an already established norm.

Thus, for us, homeschooling appeals to us not primarily because of what we’d like to avoid in the public schools, but out of wanting to proactively build based on what education could be. Practically, freedom in subject matters means we are able include more music and art in our curriculum and focus on building a foundation not just for STEM but liberal arts. The flexibility to work at each child’s own pace means being able to choose an appropriate level of academic rigor. It meant we could spend time last year on world geography and other countries and cultures to intentionally instill in our girls a more global outlook.

More importantly, homeschooling also means we can teach about the world as it is, belonging to and made for God. I am grateful for the instruction I received in the public school system from grades K-12 and in my secular university, but I’ve also been reimagining what education could be like for our children in terms of the freedom to talk about the world as we know and understand it. This is more than just having a class on Christian beliefs and definitely does not mean unnaturally attaching Bible verses to school subjects. Rather, out of an understanding that all truth is God’s truth because our world is God’s world, we believe learning about and in the world is naturally woven into (and ultimately is founded on) the theological. (So, for example, my daughter asked what she warned us was “a very hard question” the other day. “In the beginning there were dinosaurs. But the Bible says in the beginning there were people. How can that be?”)

The public school system where we are is not just a pluralistic environment, but increasingly committed to secularism. (Not all public schools are like this, but elementary-aged children in our church have told me about being prohibited from bringing in their Bible for free-reading time or talking about God with other students.) And while we respect pluralism in the public sphere, we value the opportunity our children have, at least at a young age, to take in what they learn and think from an adult without needing to compartmentalize (keeping their questions about God and Scripture out of the classroom), or filter (wondering if what they learn is true.) We want our children to learn how to navigate being in the world with wisdom and humility, and don’t expect them to be in a Christian environment forever, but for now we value to opportunity to build their educational foundation in a place where there is more freedom in how and what they learn.

Even more than questions about reconciling certain facts here and there (like about dinosaurs and creation), we value the opportunity to incorporate into our daughter’s education the expressed purpose of her learning. I was humbled and grateful a few months ago when she responded to the question “How can you live for God?” with “Doing school!” (I know this isn’t grammatically correct, but that’s how we say “Going to school” here because, well, we’re at home.) As I probed for another, what I felt more fitting, answer, she explained, “No, like by worshipping him with my mind.” Education is not just about learning facts and skills, but knowing why we learn, having the right attitude of humility and faithfulness in our studies, and seeing ourselves as stewards of the minds we’ve been given by God.

Now you may say that all this could potentially happen in a Christian school, and you’d be correct. I actually started looking into classical Christian education after substitute teaching at a school where I was impressed both with the academic rigor and character development in students. But, though we’ve explored some possibilities, logistically this isn’t yet the best option for us. We do have a great community and program we’re a part of that will support our homeschooling. Hence, our second reason for homeschooling, “This is what works for our family for now.”

We are taking it one child at a time, one year at a time. And while this makes it a bit difficult for me since I’m often wondering, “What should we do next?” it’s taken a bit of the weight off to know we can always reevaluate. And the main question we ask then is, “Is she thriving?”

More personally, I’ve come to see that as is often the case when it comes to decision making, God is sanctifying me through the process of deciding whether or not to homeschool. Our fears, motives, and hopes are exposed when it comes to our children. And parents, we are being refined and challenged to be like Jesus here. As we look for answers regarding our children’s education, our hearts are being searched with questions too. Like, what do I really want most for my children? Are these hopes and ambitions godly?  Am I being prideful in my choices? Am I giving into comparison? And am I trusting God with their future? (It took me being awake in the middle of the night, worrying about my girl’s post-college job prospects to wake me up to the irrationality of my anxiety– I was trying to figure out Pre-K at the time!)

Lastly, thinking about our children’s education is also an opportunity for thankfulness. Thankfulness that Christian education is even an option when, as I heard from a friend in China the other day, there are local believers taking huge risks pulling their children out of the public schools so their children can receive a Christian education. And thankfulness for the gift of education we’ve been afforded. The stress of decision-making is actually a sign of blessing– that we have so many good options available to us when many around the world do not have anywhere near this kind of access to education.

That’s it from me for now and we’ll see what we’ll be doing in a year! Do you have any thoughts about education? Or bacon? (Just kidding.)  Leave questions or comments if you do. I would love to hear from you!