Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Gift of Rest

It might sound surprising in our world of achievement and busyness, but part of God's design for us is to need rest. God set the example for us when he rested on the seventh day after creation. He decreed a day of Sabbath for his people after every 6 days of work. He even designed our bodies to need sleep every day and rest to survive. Jesus paused his ministry when he went off to solitary places to pray, and took time for sleep even in the bottom of a boat during a terrifying storm. Our salvation is even called a Sabbath rest, resting from our striving for perfection and accepting the sacrifice of Jesus for us. Rest is clearly important to God.

After almost 18 years of continuous full-time ministry, Tom and I have been given the gift of an 8 week sabbatical by the board of New Life Ranch. We are thankful and blessed to start off our time by spending a week of rest at a marriage retreat in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. The leaders here emphasized the first night, that this week is not a conference or a seminar, but a retreat. The word retreat literally means, "to withdraw and pull back." The goal for us here is to withdraw from the busyness, the noise, and the responsibilities of our world back home and meet intimately with God. I find it significant that as Tom has spent so many years serving guests at New Life Ranch, encouraging and facilitating their time to unplug and draw close to the Lord, that we are now being encouraged to do the same here. What a gift!

There are three other couples here as guests. Two of the couples serve in churches, and one serves at a camp in Kentucky! Our retreat leaders, Rob and Shini Abraham are a beautiful couple from India who have been missionaries with YWAM for nearly 25 years, serving in India, Germany, the US and hosting marriage retreats around the world. Fun fact: they both speak, read, and write fluently in 7 languages! They currently work with refugees in Colorado Springs from many different countries and really have a heart for helping them with the transition here.

The schedule here is relaxed. The meals are amazing. We took some personality tests before our arrival, and discussing those has been intriguing and helpful. We seem to be having no trouble allowing ourselves to rest, pray, read, walk, and just spend time together and with the Lord. We are just so thankful for the time to rest here as we start off our travels, for great grandparents caring well for our children at home, for a friend's frequent flyer miles to get us the Colorado, and for this amazing beautiful place to connect with Jesus. Thank you for your prayers as we begin this sabbatical journey.

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
Psalm 46:10

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Powerful Legacy of a Rescued Heart

The kids and I took a trip this weekend to Baldwin City, Kansas for the Maple Leaf Festival. Our family gathers there every October at my grandparent's hundred year old home. I have fond memories of playing "Christmas" on the third floor with my cousins, sliding down the wooden staircase on a slick crib mattress, and jumping into piles of yellow and red leaves in the yard.

I remember Grandpa beautifully playing the grand piano downstairs to wake us all up early enough for church. I recall sitting still and quiet at the "remembrance" service, taking my first sip of the red communion wine, and afterwards hearing Grandpa joyfully singing "What a Savior!"  

Grandpa shared his testimony every year at our Saturday night evening bonfire. He told of a sad childhood as a result of being abandoned by his father, and of lingering depression. But while in the Navy and fearing a watery grave in World War II, He came to know Christ at a Bible class. He said, "I then went to the South Pacific with absolutely no fear and at the time so full of joy that I could hardly contain myself. God had rescued my soul." I truly believe his love for God never wavered after that powerful transformation.

My Grandpa passed away on October 31, 2009. He was one of the godliest men I have ever known. He was a medical doctor, and the founder of a local Brethren church. He shared the gospel with all of his patients and preached on Sundays. He woke each morning to study the Scriptures in Greek and Hebrew, fix a cup of coffee for Granny so they could pray together for their six children, 16 grandkids, and a growing number of great grandchildren.
Grandpa's Study

He loved the Word of God. When we asked him to read one verse at our wedding ceremony, he took the opportunity to read a whole chapter, and preach the gospel for ten minutes, while I stood waiting to be given away by my dad.

I miss my Grandpa Jones. I am thankful my children remember him and Granny a little, and that they are participating in the tradition of Maple Leaf. More importantly, I am thankful for the legacy and example my grandparents left. I drove home this weekend more in love with Jesus. That's the legacy he left me. That's the legacy I hope to pass to my children. Because just as Jesus rescued my Grandpa Jones, he also rescued me.

Grandpa Jones loved our babies!
Granny and Grandpa's House
You can read Grandpa's story of conversion while in the Navy in his own words here.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Reaching your Child's Heart with a Letter Journal

My son, Ezra, asked me about a small leather bound notebook he found on our bookshelf. Opening it up, I said, "this is the book I started writing for you when you were little. It's all about you." His eyes widened with curiosity. I began reading it to him and together we laughed at the silly stories and sweet memories in it's pages. He left my room that morning feeling a few inches taller and just a little more loved than when he walked in.

I started keeping a little notebook with letters to each of my babies when they were born. I wanted to remember the small things about their quirks and personalities that I feared I might forget someday. I wanted to speak life and encouragement into them before they were even old enough to read it. I wanted it to be a powerful tool to help them know themselves and understand my heart for them. I started with the goal of writing a few times a month, but sometimes months went by with no entries. The busy life of a mom with young children, didn't always lend itself to writing, but I tried to at least write in it each year on their birthday. I'm so thankful that I have these journals today to share with my children and continue writing in.

I don't know where I got the idea for a letter journal or if it came to me on my own, but the simplicity is that all you need is a sturdy small notebook and a few minutes once and a while to write. It doesn't have to be flowery or polished, or even super thought out. Just speaking your heart and telling stories is meaningful enough. Keeping the journals close by in a night stand or on your desk will help remind you to write in them. It's never too late to start a letter journal; I was reminded recently how even my teenage girls need their mom's encouraging and loving words.

Here's an excerpt from my journal to Ezra:

Dear Ezra,

My how time flies! You are 4 years old, but in so many ways you still want to be my little baby. You love to be held, carried, and cuddled. In fact, you may be the reason my back is sore-from carrying you around! Yet you are full of energy! I see you running around playing wildly enjoying your trucks, cars, and your new tricycle. I see your determination and leadership abilities blossoming. You love to sleep with your monkey and blanket and preferably in bed with mommy and daddy! You crave individual attention and sometimes that is hard to get in a family of 7 right? I hope that we give you all that you need. You are so funny with your baby brother Caleb. When he was a year old you said, "Could we take him back and get a different baby?" You like to do "school" and you write the letter "E" on everything. You love dad's jeep, but you sometimes ask if dad can get a blue truck instead. You are so much fun Ezra, and I can't wait to see how God is going to shape you and mold you and use you for his glory and kingdom here. We pray that you will love the Lord wholeheartedly and serve him your whole life. 

love, Mom
Carrying my little boy when he really was too big to be carried.
His younger brother's (who didn't get carried as much as a result) head by his foot.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Four Tips for Visiting a Nursing Home with your Child

When I was in college, my sorority had a nursing home visitation. Many of the girls enjoyed this time tremendously, and I remember one of them loved older people and was studying geriatrics, intending to be a nursing home activities director. I certainly didn't understand the appeal, and the sights and smells of the nursing home convinced me it was something I'd rather not be a part of. Fast forward 25 years, and here I am working part-time in our local nursing home as a nursing assistant, and popping in to visit the residents with my children on days off. I want my children to start now to feel comfortable and enjoy these older people. And I want them to be aware of the great opportunity we have as a society to care for the elderly who are lonely, sick, or suffering. I'd love to see more children visiting our residents, and so here are 4 tips for visiting a nursing home with your child.

1. Start early. While an ideal age for children to visit nursing homes and interact with conversations with residents might be between 4th-8th grade, babies and toddlers can also bring a special joy to the elderly. Very young children may be a bit timid or scared the first visit, and that is okay. Hold your child gently, be relaxed and cheerful with residents and your child will gradually become more comfortable. It's never too late, but the earlier you begin taking your child to visit the nursing home, the more comfortable they will feel about it as they grow up.

2. Be brief, but go often: I have often walked through the nursing home with my children greeting and visiting with 3-4 residents in as little as 10-15 minutes. If there is a nursing home on your route home from school, work, church, or sports practice, pop in and say hi to the residents! They love it! Imagine being stuck in the same boring building day after day after day. A brief interaction with a new smiling face can break the monotony. Good times to visit are an hour or so before meal times when residents are up and waiting to be wheeled into the dining room.

3. Bring small gifts to pass out: It's not necessary every time, but it can take the awkwardness out of walking up to complete strangers if a child has a little homemade heart or card or flower to give. Remember that you are entering someone's home when you enter their room (always knock and ask permission to enter). Your little gift will be a reminder of your visit after you leave. I don't really recommend bringing cookies or food, as some residents may be on special soft diets, unless you clear it with the nurse ahead of time.

4. Thank the staff: Thank the nurses and aids as you see them for the job that they are doing with the residents. For some residents who are lonely and receive no visitors, the staff become like family. They play a significant role in the lives of their residents and some encouragement from you can uplift them as well. Be brief as staff are usually quite busy.

Visiting a nursing home can be a fun experience for you and your children. It may have been the fact that the residents marveled at how incredibly handsome he was, but after our first visit, my middle son said, "That was awesome! We should totally do that more often!"

Have you visited a nursing home with your children? How was the experience and what ideas might you add to this list?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A New Mom's Resolution

Nobody warned me what becoming a mother for the first time would be like. Nobody prepared me for the complete shattering and remaking of my heart that would take place. Nobody revealed ahead of time how completely over the moon exhausted with emotion I would be. Like those scenes in movies that come out of nowhere when somebody is walking across the street and suddently gets run over by a bus, motherhood hit me hard. I didn't know the capacity of my heart until that moment when my little girl was placed in my arms. If someone had tried to describe it to me, they never would have succeeded. This marvelous teeny tiny gift of a person captured me with her every yawn and hiccup. 
A few weeks into motherhood, still overwhelmed yet so happy in love, a surprising and almost devastating thought occurred to me. My hopes and dreams were wrapped up in raising this precious gift to love Jesus. But what if some day she didn't? What if she grew up, chose a different path, rejected the God I desperately loved and who gave her to me? What if she rejected me as well? I'd heard it said, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." But I knew from my seminary days that the statement was a principle, not a promise. And that while I might do everything in my power to show her the way to Christ, she may still choose to reject my faith or never make it her own. 

That's when I made a clear decision. I would love this child UNCONDITIONALLY throughout her entire life. Through the highs and lows, through temper tantrums, sleepless nights, middle school attitudes, and teenage drama, through disappointments and hardships. Loving unconditionally wouldn't mean that I would not discipline her. I knew there would be plenty of opportunities for training along the way. Unconditional love meant that I would always love her for her, and not for how she treated or felt about me or the God I fervently hoped to introduce her to one day. Today, my little baby girl is almost 17. She's loving Jesus and she's pretty okay with me too most of the time. Have I always been the perfect mom, no. Has she always been the perfect daughter? While I'd love to say yes, growing up requires some shaping along the way. But this solid base of commitment to unconditional love has been key to our relationship, and so necessary to passing on the heart of Jesus to all of my children. My baby girl is in the process of becoming an independent adult. We're not perfect, but we're off to a good start. I'll always love you Anna!