Collateral Damage

Often times we don’t realize how our actions affect others. We are upset or frustrated about something, and so we react…much of the time without thought of how our actions might impact those around us. And up until recently, I never even thought of how our actions can affect those who aren’t even directly involved in the situation. They are on the periphery. Most are just minding their own business. They are your average, everyday people who have no stake in the game. The fight doesn’t involve them. They have nothing to gain or lose. Perhaps they were just at that wrong place at the wrong time. And yet, their lives are affected by the actions of those around them.

You see it all the time. Children who are caught in the middle of a nasty custody battle, civilians who end up losing everything they own in a war, and other instances where the actions of others affect those who are just innocent bystanders.

While I haven’t been in a war and my parents are still happily married, I too have been affected by the actions of others as an innocent bystander. You don’t choose this for yourself. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t provoke it. And yet, here you are, caught in the nasty crossfire. And while the two opposing sides receive support from their allies and recover from the battle, you’re barely breathing. Left for dead. Because let’s face it, this battle was never about you in the first place. You were dispensable. You’re just collateral damage.

It’s an awful feeling, to be reduced to nothing more than a commodity. You start to find out who your true friends are and those who were just using you because they had something to gain. You experience abandonment by those who supposedly “had your back”. You endure the stares of people who watch as you desperately try to pick up the broken pieces of your life. You have so many questions, and so very little answers. There’s doubt, fear and the hurt is unbearable.

Yet, you make a promise. A promise to never hurt someone the way you have been hurt. To think about your actions and how they affect others, even those who are innocent bystanders, because they matter, too.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

God Is With You in Your Waiting

On our way back home from running some errands yesterday, we got a flat tire. The car indicator said my tire pressure was at 23 and for a brief moment, I wondered if I could make the half-hour drive back home. That is until the number rapidly dropped to 19, then 15 and by the time it had gone down to 12, I decided it was probably best to pull over.

As I got out of the car to check on the tire, I could hear the hissing sound as the air was escaping from my tire. Within a matter of a few minutes, my tire pressure was at zero. There was no way I was going to make it home.

We were stranded in the middle of nowhere. Stuck. No where to go. Nothing to do, but wait until AAA came out to change my tire.

Sometimes, that’s what life can feel like. You were on your way. Things were going well and then you find yourself sidelined with nothing to do but wait. You feel deflated, maybe even defeated. You’re stuck.

In the Old Testament, Joseph found himself in a similar situation. Much of his life was about waiting on God; being sidelined in life by unfair circumstances; even being overlooked and passed over while waiting in a prison cell. Yet, even in his waiting, we read, “But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him” (Gen 39:20-21).

In the book, “Waiting on God“, Wayne Stiles says,

[God] does promise his presence–a need far greater than we can comprehend. Although we lack understanding, we do know that he understands, and that’s enough–because he is with us. Whatever God removes from us, he has not removed himself. He never will.

And so while we waited on the side of the road, the Lord was with us. He extended his kindness to us as we found ourselves parked in the shade while it was a blistering 108 degrees outside in the Texas heat. Even though we were out in the middle of nowhere, I just so happened to pull over next to an RV park sign that listed the address so I could tell AAA exactly where we had been stranded.

So whether it be on the side of the road or in a jail cell, remember that in your waiting God is with you!

Our Top Pick for a Girls’ Bible Devotional: My Creative Bible for Girls

I’ve been on a search for a good devotional for my 9-yo. We’ve talked about the importance of having a daily quiet time and hiding God’s Word in our hearts. I also wanted something that would be age appropriate and spark her interest in spending time reading the Bible. Many friends gave their suggestions on which devotionals would be good for girls her age and some even recommended she just start reading in the Psalms and Proverbs.

After searching through all sorts of devotionals, Bible studies and Bibles, I found one that seems to have hit the spot for my artistically inclined 9-year-old. My Creative Bible for Girls, is a Bible that includes illustrations and Bible verses to color, a section for journaling and doodling, 365 short devotionals, character profiles of notable women in the Bible, and suggested memory verses and prayers. It’s a beautiful Bible and she has enjoyed reading through it in the mornings.

What’s funny is that at first she started reading in Genesis, but recently has switched to the Psalms. We are also starting to work on memorizing Psalm 1 together (Side note: there is also a song from Seeds Family Worship on Psalm 1 that goes along perfectly with memorizing this verse). Guess the experts were right after all!!!

The best part has been the conversations that we’ve been able to have as she reads through certain sections and has a question or an insightful comment to make. It’s been such a joy to watch her grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.

Jedi Training Camp VBS: Day 1

Why does it often seem like the times when we want to do things right are when everything begins to go wrong. After spending the past couple days planning and preparing for Jedi Training Camp VBS, it started off horribly. My non-compliant kid decided he didn’t want to participate, which then turned into an intervention with lots of crying and hugs. He ended up enjoying the training camp, but it’s always been a struggle with him. Then my Jesus poster that was taped to the fence in the backyard kept falling down during the Bible lesson, so the kids were distracted the whole time pointing out that “Jesus fell down again”…which meant switching things around so that we could do that activity instead of the one originally planned before Jesus fell down. Then another kid tripped and fell causing her “sin” bucket to crack and all of her sins (aka water) fell out and got her soaking wet, which prompted another kid to dump all his “sins” on his other sister so we had to stop so everyone could change clothes. I felt defeated.

Ever had a day like that? A day where everything just seemed to go wrong and you felt like a failure.

I was going to share about all the cool things we did. How we made the coolest droids and used empty ribbon containers for wheels (9-year-olds idea) and made Wookiee cookies and blue milk for our Star Wars themed snack. But none of that seems to matter now.

As parents, does all the preparation and work that we put into training up our kids matter if we are more concerned with how perfectly things go rather than asking ourselves if we are being a true reflection of Christ to our kids? Is what I’m trying to instill in my kids pushing them towards God or pulling them away from Him? Surely, I can’t be telling my kids about God’s love as I’m simultaneously yelling at them to knock off doing whatever annoying new thing they’ve discovered.

Parenting is truly refining work. It sure does bring to the surface all of the impurities in my life. So often I’m focused on training my kids that I fail to recognize that God is doing a work within me as well. I’m also reminded that raising our kids right is a spiritual battle. Just like in Star Wars where there are forces between light and darkness, good and evil, there is a war raging for the souls of our kids. In my flesh, I get angry, frustrated and grow weary. Yet the Bible says that our “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

While it’s easy for me to feel defeated or like a failure, I have to remind myself that perhaps this is exactly what Satan wants. His lies tell me to quit, that the situation is hopeless, that none of this matters. But it does. Weary co-laborer, don’t give up. Raising kids is exhausting work, but I believe the struggle will be worth it. Nothing of value is ever easy. So when nothing seems to be going right, hang in there. Keep doing the work that God has called you to. Ask the Lord to provide you with His strength. I’m certain that in the end it will produce something far greater than we could have ever hoped or imagined.

Oh, and here are some pictures of our first Day of Jedi Training Camp VBS. Thanks to Juice Box Press for the inspiration and free curriculum download.

Graceful Garland

A few weeks ago, Ellie asked some questions about how she could know God more and it led to a conversation about reading the Bible and hiding God’s Word in our hearts. I’ll admit that I haven’t done the best job at helping my children grow in their faith. I’ve become even more aware of the fact that it’s my responsibility as a parent to pass along my faith to my children during this pandemic when church has been closed, VBS has been cancelled and our normal faith-based activities have come to a screeching halt.

Pastor Chuck Swindoll recently preached a sermon on the book of Lamentations and his concluding statement has caused me to reflect on how I’m raising my family and making the most of these days when we’ve been quarantined with each other with no end in sight.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that it’s too late, that we are finished, or that this country is done. We are not. There are too many great families; raising them right; you’re thinking straight. You know better than what you are being told in the media. You realize God’s plan is an overshadowing, all-consuming plan spelled out in the Scriptures and nothing will ever nullify it. And the one place you have to make that clear and known and to drive it home is in your family. If you’re not seeing it there, you’re missing it because that’s where the children will learn it and it’s from there that they’ll take it with them.

These are dark, difficult days right now, but this isn’t the end, this isn’t even the beginning of the end. But it is as Churchill said on one occasion, “may be the end of the beginning.” And as we start over in a whole new way, make sure your family’s on target. Stir up the relationship within them. Spend time with one another. Build into the lives of each other. Pray with each other. Sing with each other. Stand alongside each other. Be there for them when they graduate. Encourage them along the way.

During this unique moment in time, I’m trying to be more intentional about guiding my children in their walk with the Lord. I can think of no higher calling than passing along my faith to my children and taking the time to teach them the values that I hold most dear.

Proverbs 1:8-9 explains it this way, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” It’s my prayer that as a mother the things I try to instill in my children will be a graceful garland around their heads. That they wouldn’t “forsake” or forget my teaching, but it would guide and lead them as they grow into adulthood.

I’ve created a new section on my blog entitled “Gracefully Garland”. I hope that it will be a source of inspiration, encouragement and hope for others who want to serve their families well by passing along their faith and wisdom to their children. By no means have I got this all figured out, but I’d like to invite you on my journey as I discover things to help me as a parent who’s just trying to navigate the complexities of raising her children in God-honoring way.

Tips on Transitioning to a Virtual Conference

When the coronavirus hit, we were already well into planning our annual conference for this summer. Early on we made the decision to switch our in-person conference to a livestream virtual conference. Here are some tips to help you transitions to a virtual conference.

  • Be flexible: At first no one was too excited about moving to a digital conference. We all enjoy getting together for our annual conference and reconnecting with friends we haven’t seen in a while, but I think we are going to see a lot of conferences switch to an online format, or at least incorporate an online aspect to their in-person conferences. The reach we had with an online conference was far greater than having an in-person conference. We were able to over double our attendance, offer more sessions for our attendees to choose from and include more main stage (general session) speakers from around the world. We also had several schools and individuals comment on how they were now able to attend our conference due to the affordable price (no longer having to pay for hotel, airfare and travel expenses). Not only did we have several new groups join our conference, but we were also able to have attendees from nearly 20 different countries attend!
  • Keep it simple: Our motto for the conference was “no friction”. We wanted the experience from registration to the last session to be as hassle-free as possible. Once an attendee purchased their ticket, all they needed to do was use their registered email to sign in for the conference. No passwords or codes were necessary to access the conference. We also recorded all of our sessions so that if they missed one or weren’t able to attend, they would have 90-days of free access to all conference recordings. We also provided an opportunity the day before the conference to attend a pre-conference where they could test their connection and make sure everything was working prior to the conference start. We also had a customer support number for them to call if they had any difficulties. We used a program called Grasshopper which can forward calls to multiple people who can respond by either text, type or phone.
  • Keep it short: We used the TED talk style model for our main stage speakers and kept each speaker’s presentation time to 12-18 minutes. Normally at our in-person conference we give a full hour to speakers, but by shortening the amount of time, it kept things moving and we were able to provide a variety of speakers and presentation styles. Most of our main stage speakers were done as an interview with our conference host. This kept people more engaged and allowed us to control how long the talk went. We also included short 30-60 second testimony clips from parents, students and teachers and promotional videos from our sponsors.
  • Keep it engaging: To encourage participation during our main stage sessions, we had people text in their questions for speakers or a special code to win giveaway items from our sponsors. For our breakout sessions, we were able to offer over 130 different sessions that attendees could attend. We created “channels” that were designated to a specific topic of interest. For example, we had a Math & Science channel, an Athletics channel, a Fine Arts channel, a Head of School & Boards channel, etc. This helped attendees know which session might be of interest to them. Of course they could attend any channel, but this helped them to choose ones based on their area of interest. We also offered several different formats for breakout sessions that were hosted on Zoom: presentation (30 minute presentation and 15 minute Q&A), panel (2-3 experts with a moderator), rapid fire roundtable (3-5 people providing best practice solutions) and patio (information Q&A).

These are the things that we found to be the most beneficial for us as we transitioned to a virtual conference. It definitely took a lot of work, but the end result of the conference was well worth it.

If you have any questions about transitioning to a virtual conference, please feel free to contact me. Or, if you have any tips you’ve found that have worked for your virtual conference, please share in the comments below.

Self-Care While in Self-Quarantine

For most of us, the past few weeks have quite possibly been some of the most stressful times in our lives. We’ve been abruptly forced into isolation and cut off from our communities. There are those of us who are struggling with taking on the new role of teaching our kids through distance learning, while others are on the front lines saving people’s lives while risking their own. We live in a world full of many unknowns and sometimes that can cause a lot of fear and anxiety.

When I first started seeing my counselor, one of the things she recommended was that I learn how to take care of myself. I have found this simple truth, to be so very helpful while we’ve been on lockdown the past few weeks. Before I could take care of others, I needed to learn how to take care of me. I needed to find things that would replenish my soul. Things that I found enjoyable and took delight in.

She used the analogy of putting on an oxygen mask in an airplane. Before you can help anyone else with their oxygen mask, you must put your own oxygen mask on first. If you don’t, everyone suffers, and no one survives.

The only way I am able to help everyone around me, is if I first take care of myself.

Initially it felt really uncomfortable. It seemed selfish to be focusing so much on myself. However, in order for me to be the best wife, mother, friend, and most recently, crisis school teacher that I need to be, I have to take care of me. Only then am I able to care for those around me to the very best of my ability.

Taking care of oneself, or self-care, looks different for everyone. What I might find refreshing and rejuvenating, someone else may not. But here are a few practical tips for self-care that you may find helpful as you learn to take care of yourself so that you can better care for those around you while in self-quarantine.

Do something you enjoy

I know we have to be a bit more creative now, but try to do things you enjoy while still practicing social distancing. Read, paint, cook, bake or watch a favorite TV show or movie. I have even discovered that while I don’t have a green thumb for gardening, I do enjoy pulling weeds. I get rid of all of my frustrations as I rip those suckers out of the dirt and toss them in the trash bag. Great way to relieve stress!

Be healthy

Eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, and exercise. Go for a walk or bike ride outside. Get some fresh air and open your windows to get as much sunlight into your home as you can. Some experts even say you should try to get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure a day between 10am -2pm for your daily does of vitamin D.

Relax

After one particularly stressful morning with the kids, I put myself on time out and did some yoga so my head wouldn’t explode. After some downward dog poses and deep breathing, distance learning could resume. I’ve also soaked in a hot bath with instrumental worship music playing. Coincidently, this also relates to my kids and I did this when we finished our first week of distance learning.

Reach out

Another helpful tip my counselor gave was to have a support group. Even us introverts need people we can reach out to. I have tried to be more intentional at calling or texting friends. If you haven’t already been Zoomed out during distance learning, you can set up a Zoom call with a bunch of friends just to stay connected with other people. Even though we are self-isolating, doesn’t mean we have to isolate our hearts from other people.

These tips have helped me retain some of my sanity during self-quarantining. Every week brings on a new set of challenges, but this morning I was also reminded of this verse:

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

Right now sort of feels like we are globally in the wilderness. We aren’t sure when this will be over, but perhaps we should view this as a time when the Lord is going to bring about something new in our lives. Even though we may be in the desert, God is always there making a way for us.

Keep well and stay safe friends!

Teaching From Rest When You’re Stressed

A couple of days ago we received an email from my kids’ school with instructions for distance learning. Things just got real.

I actually had to walk away from the email because I was feeling overwhelmed with the reality that this is now going to be our new normal… at least for the time being. My anxiety levels were rising with the thought that in addition to just keeping tiny humans alive while we bunker down at home, I was now responsible for educating them. Educating them with the shortest crash course in teaching known to man.

But it’s not just me. There are moms and dads all over the world who have been thrown into this same predicament of distance learning. We are all in this together. Some of us are not only trying to educate our kids, but we are also working from home. We have our own learning curve now trying to navigate Zoom calls, Doodle polls, Calendly appointments, and Dropbox share folders. Even though I’ve been working remotely from home for the past five years, it’s still an adjustment trying to get things done while everyone is up in each other’s business ALL. THE. TIME.

And I think of others (like those on the front lines) who still have to go into work every day, who face the reality that this pandemic has forever changed humanity and must then come home and put their teacher hats on. I’m sure after an emotionally and physically exhausting day, the last thing they feel like doing is teaching word problems or conjugating verbs.

These are strange times we are living in. None of this seems real and yet here we are.

While reminding myself not to panic and just breathe, I remembered that I purchased a book not too long ago by Sarah Mackenzie called Teaching from Rest. I actually never finished it because, at the time, I didn’t think it applied to me. But now; now as we are just a day away from embarking on this new adventure of distance learning, I am finally ready to listen.

The introduction begins with this:

We worry that our students will be “behind”, that they won’t score well on the SAT, get into a good college, or read enough of the Great Books. Our souls are restless, anxiously wondering if something else out there might be just a little bit better—if maybe there is another way or another curriculum that might prove to be superior to what we are doing now. We choose anxiety as our guide instead of humbly submitting to God and letting Him guide us.

While I’m not yet worried about the SAT or college (my kids are only in kindergarten and 3rd grade), I’m worried that I’m not enough. Even though my undergraduate degree is in elementary education, I haven’t taught in years. I tried this homeschooling gig before and decided I wasn’t cut out for it (hence my kids going to school). Now it’s either sink or swim and I already feel like I’m drowning. So it was reassuring to read that even seasoned homeschoolers feel this way.

The book is a short read and is filled with lots of good insight about not being overwhelmed, but learning how to teach from rest. It has a lot of practical information about simplifying your schedule, not overloading your curriculum, and embracing who you are and the mother that God has created you to be.

So how does one teach from rest? Mackenzie goes on to say, “Surrender your idea of what the ideal homeschool day is supposed to look like and take on, with both hands, the day that it is. Rest begins with acceptance, with surrender. Can we accept what He is sending today?”

She continues:

We can’t really rest in God’s care until we trust that He will indeed care for us. And that means I can’t teach from rest unless I trust Him with my kids’ education too. I am not meant to take on this task of teaching and raising my children in my own strength, and neither are you; we are however meant to recognize every facet of our day as coming from the hand of God. It all passes through His fingers first, and He uses it to make sure that we lean hard on Him.

So as I open back up that email and begin organizing my kids’ distance learning assignments for next week, I’m going to surrender this entire twilight zone experience over to God and trust that He’s got this. I’ll be pressing hard into Him knowing that through God all things are possible…even educating my kids at home!!!

Certainty in Uncertain Times

Even though we live in very uncertain times, we can always trust in a certain God.

Isn’t that so much easier said than done?!

Yet, when fear and anxiety begin to overwhelm me, I’m always reminded to find the truth of any situation I may face in God’s Word. Even though the Bible was written so many years ago, its words are timeless and can still bring me the peace and comfort I desperately need.

I’m currently doing Lysa TerKeurst’s Bible study, Trustworthy. Whether you struggle with trusting God through the personal trials you face or a worldwide pandemic, this book will help you see that God is and always has been completely trustworthy.

I’m currently reading about King Ahab and how instead of turning to the Lord during a devasting drought, the king and his people turned to the false god Baal. Baal was supposedly the Canaanite storm god and was believed to bring rain. However, for three years, there was no rain. Instead of taking the opportunity to turn back to God, they relied upon themselves.

During times of devastation or when things are outside of our control, we also have a choice to make. We can either live in despair or we can return to God. TerKeurst says,

The reality is most of us are walking through something hard that seems a bit too long. Or too unfair. Or too much for us to keep trusting God. I get it. I’ve been there. In those scenarios, I have to remind myself of previous experiences of God’s faithfulness. Then I can borrow from those times of certainty for today’s uncertainty.

The prophet Elijah also lived during this time and his response to the drought was the opposite of Ahab’s. Instead of turning away from God, Elijah continued to follow God and as a result of his obedience, the Lord provided for his needs.

Although we are living through a time of much uncertainty, we can make the choice to put our trust and hope in a certain God. We can look back and see God’s faithfulness in our lives and know that even now, He will provide.

Purposeful At-Home Activities for Kids (aka chores)

With recent school closures, I’ve seen a lot of moms (and dads) posting ideas on what they can do with their kids over these next few weeks as we bunker down and practice social distancing. I love all the free educational resources that are being made available as well as online museum tours, art lessons and schedules to help us temporary “homeschoolers”.

One of the things that I’ve done with my kids during extended breaks (and should probably implement on a more consistent basis) is a chore chart. We’ve been doing this for the past two years and it helps give more purpose and structure to our long days at home.

The chores include things like making their beds, cleaning up toys, doing dishes and laundry. I try to keep their ages in mind, and so for the little one (5 years old), helping with the dishes is helping put away the silverware while the older one (8 years old) loads the dishwasher. You can find a lot of charts that show age-appropriate chores for kids. Click here to find one with a lot of different ideas sorted by age groups.

In addition to the regular chores, I also included reading, doing homework and a “parent’s choice” option. Reading looks different for each of my kids because right now they are all at different stages in their reading development. My 5-year-old either looks at books on her own or I read to her, my 6-year-old reads to me while I help guide him with sounding out words, and my 8-year old reads independently. Since we don’t really have “homework” over the break, I have my kids either work on workbooks, activity books, or other worksheets that you can print off online to help with spelling, writing or math. The “parent’s choice” option is where mom or dad gets to choose something extra they need to complete. It might include helping prepare a meal, working on a special project for school, making cards for seniors in a nursing home, helping a sibling with one of their chores, or quiet time (this especially comes in handy when everyone needs time to just chill out and not be in each other’s faces 24/7).

Our kids must finish all of their chores before they are allowed any screen time and if they complete all their chores for the whole week, they receive an extra bonus. It can be a special treat, toy, or additional money. It’s basically just anything that would be an incentive for your child to get them to want to complete their whole chart.

I’ve thought about laminating the sheets so we can reuse them, but since my kids are still relatively young they enjoy choosing their own stickers to put in each spot once a chore is complete. I got a booklet of over 1000 stickers for pretty cheap on Amazon, so for now, I just print out a new sheet once the week is complete.

In addition to the chore chart, this year we also added a piggy bank that is separated into three different slots: saving, spending and giving. It was suggested by our children’s ministry leader at church to help encourage tithing. I got it from Target’s Dollar Spot and it’s also a great way to teach your kids about budgeting and how to divide up their money into different categories. I tried to make it into a math lesson about percentages, but that didn’t go over too well. The important thing was to show them how to budget their money into saving, spending and giving.

If you’d like to use this chore chart for your family, you can download it for free here.

For those of you who are on lockdown, just remember to be flexible. Give yourself (and your kids) a little grace if you get off track. This is a trying time for everyone. Hug your kids. Reassure them that everything will be okay. Remind yourself that everything is in God’s hands. Oh…and wash your hands!!!