June 29, 2011

Let This Be a Lesson to ... Me

As I read through the Bible this year, I'm reading through Proverbs once a month.  While this has been incredibly beneficial overall, I still always chuckle when I come to this verse 27:14.

If a man loudly blesses his neighbour early in the morning,it will be taken as a curse.

Please laugh with me.  The image it evokes in my mind is hilarious - the angry neighbor opens his window Scrooge-style (stocking cap and all) to scowl at the loud "blesser."

It is funny, right?

That said, let it be a lesson to you.  This is God's word we're talking about.  Perhaps it means morning people like me need to tone it down in the morning around the night people.  My apologies if I've ever done this to you ... I used to be "that girl" at camp who'd wake up singing and cheery.

Oh dear, this verse isn't funny anymore....

(She hangs her head in shame and posts this anyway, still amused with her mental image of the scenario.)

June 28, 2011

Motherhood, Take 3: Called to Faithfulness, not Perfection

We're expecting another baby in February!

As a result, things have slowed down around Life in the Valley.  I am tired.  Sometimes I don't even feel like getting "the basics" done around here (despite the fact that I hate all the messes piling up.)  The summer has also been really full so far, with odd schedules each day keeping me from any kind of routine.  But alas, most of life is like that, isn't it?

Nevertheless, I am very excited that we will have another member joining our family.  Already his or her little arms, legs, and nose bud are forming.  Amazing!  What will "it" look like?  What will those first months be like?  How will three change our family dynamic?  And, more practically, where will this little one sleep?!

Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself.  We have many months to work out those details ... I'm only 7 weeks along.  Phew!

What I'm finding I need right now, is a lot of grace.  From God and my kids.  My patience is very thin a lot of the time (with the tiredness) and I'm too frequently quick to harshness rather than gentleness.  What God is driving home is that He still loves me.  I don't get it, but He does.  And He forgives.  And my children forgive.  And I can rely on the Spirit, in each moment, to give me what I need to chose gentleness over harshness, service over selfishness.

The good Lord meets us when we cry out to Him, when we open our souls to Him and let Him in to touch and to heal.  In preparation for next school year, I'm reading through my ancient copy of The Whole Hearted Child Home Education Handbook.  (There's a new edition out just this month; I need to get it soon.  You might like it too!)  This morning, being up way too early, just 'cause I woke up, I had extra time to read one of the chapters I planned to read this week.  Here is an excerpt that really lifted my spirits this morning:

The key to your success as a mother is very simple - faithfulness ... learning to see with God's eyes and seize with God's hands the hundreds of small opportunities you have every day to influence your children - to shape their attitudes, build their faith, discipline their disobedience, inspire their genius, nurture their emotions, train their habits. 
Being that faithful mother, though, is a daily, hourly challenge.  God is asking you to become a servant, willing to sacrifice time, body, energy, emotions, and expectations.  That kind of faithfulness comes only from trusting God.  Yet as you learn to trust the Lord with the big and the small sacrifices you must make each day, you will discover a new peace in your heart.  Out of the fullness of that peace, your heart will overflow to your family. ... 
Life will always be unpredictable - your schedule will fall apart, homeschooling will occasionally grind to a halt, and the house will at times seem to explode from within.  Yet if you are trusting in the Lord and depending on his grace, you can still accomplish your purposes as a mother.  If your heart is in conflict with the Lord, no amount of organization, planning, or scheduling will make you more effective as a mother.  If, though, you are nurturing you heart for God, strengthening your faith in him, letting the Spirit control your attitude, and being as faithful as you know how to be, you can be assured you are fulfilling God's purposes for you.  Your children will follow your heartbeat.


God does not call us to get everything right as moms, to meet specific educational goals (even with Bible lessons!), to be a savior when He's already provided one.  No.  He calls us to be faithful to Him, to seek Him, to store up our treasures in heaven.

Truth be told, we won't "do faithfulness" right all the time either.  But what's being spoken of is a life that is overall marked by moving toward God in trust and surrender.  In fact, even in repentance - admitting to the Lord we've sinned and need His forgiveness - we are being faithful!  Did you know that?  I bolded that line above, because I tend toward trying to plan and schedule life into submission to me, rather than submitting myself and surrendering my crazy schedule to the Lord.  You too?

It really is a blessing that we need to depend on our Father.  In our weakness, we see His strength.  Perhaps you to are tired with the beginning of a pregnancy or the presence of a newborn in your home, or a young child whose disobedience has you at the end of your rope, or a teen who is emotionally stretching you to your limit.  Let us give God thanks that He has us in a place where we MUST depend on Him to work, that He may receive the glory for the good that is worked out in the situation and the fruit of the Spirit that is cultivated in our hearts.

Have a good day, friends!

Grace and peace be yours, through Christ our Lord.

June 21, 2011

Psalm 143:8-11

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD,
for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

I read this a couple of days ago and was drawn back to it again this morning, as I was thinking about my dependency on God throughout my days.  I've been convicted of my tendency to stick to platitudes in prayer rather than opening up to God and allowing Him deep into my worries, fears, doubts, sin, and failures.  If I stick to  the surface, I stay in  control; I like to be in control.  If I open up, I risk being exposed.

But with exposure, comes freedom!

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love ...

When we put our trust in God, we start in a secure place.  Then from there He  shows us the way to go, directing us from paths of destruction that we've chosen before.  He will rescue us from our enemies, namely THE enemy who hates us because we are allied with the Father.  He teaches us to do His will, not under compulsion, but in response to His unfailing love.

The Psalmist has put his trust in God, lifted his soul up to God, and hidden himself in God, because God is his God - a Person who loves him, shows him the way to go, rescues him from his enemies, and teaches him to do His will.

May His good Spirit lead you on level ground as you
place your trust in,
lift your soul to,
and hide yourself in
your God of unfailing love.

June 20, 2011

Father's Day

My mom knows how to put on a party.  We spent the whole afternoon on the patio & in the yard, eating, drinking, and being merry to celebrate all of the fathers in the group and my dad's (who I call Papa) birthday.

Henry put on a little rock concert for the cousins and Rob and Sven conversed.
Sven is always fun to talk with!

 Birthday cake time!
Brian had trouble understanding that Grandpa was the one who got to blow out the candles.

 This man really loves his grandkids, and they love him!

 Photo session time; gotta preserve the memories.
The kids were all feeling pretty surly by this time in the afternoon,
but I think Colin got some better ones than I did with the "real" camera.
The one on the right below is classic!

 The Germans!

 What's a family gathering without baby Iris?
Isn't she growing nicely?

And finally, the two most important dads in my life: one raised me and the other is my partner in raising our munchkins.  Good men, good engineers, good to have a day to celebrate them.  (Same goes for my father-in-law, but I didn't get a pic with him!  Faux pas on our part.)

June 19, 2011

A Weekend With Old Friends!

I feel the need to post something this morning.  The kids are occupied with play dough and we've had so much going on!  This week and weekend were full, full, full - to be rounded out this afternoon with a huge party with my parent, in-laws, siblings' families, and old family friends from Germany who are in town visiting.  Phew, my introverted side is ready for a solo vacation!

Anyway, I'll share some photo highlights and, after today, I'll try to get up some pictures from the Father's Day/Dad's Birthday celebration.

Friday morning we met up with a childhood friend of mine, Gretchen, her kids, her sister and her kids, and their mom.  It was fun to catch up in person, rather than Facebook!  After the zoo, I took E to her final art class - a birthday gift from the grandparents.  She went for three hours every afternoon, all week.  She loved it, but also said she's glad it's over because it took up a lot of her time.  I thought that was kinda funny.


Yesterday, our German friends treated us all to a day at Kennywood, the local amusement park.  I don't think I'd been there for more than five years.  We had a great time; I really enjoyed hanging out with Brian and my nephew, Henry, who's only slightly younger than Brian.  You can see them together in several of the photos below.  Henry is a very thoughtful little two (almost three!) year old, and just loves being with Brian.

Here's the story on the German folks, who I'll try to get a picture of at the party today.  Uschi and my mom met when we lived in Germany for a year when I was 12, my brother 10, and my sister 8 - um, that means we moved to Germany twenty years ago this summer.  That sounds like a really long time, but I digress ...  My dad was on sabbatical for a year working at the University in Dortmund.  My folks sent us to German schools and we got involved with a small baseball and softball league.  Uschi's son, Sven, was on my brother's team and Uschi, who was studying English, got up the nerve one day to ask my mom a grammar question and well, the rest is history.  They are like sisters, though they don't get to see each other that often.  Her husband, Rainer, is a wonderful fellow who can cook some pretty awesome German food.  Sven married not long ago, and his wife Kirsten is so sweet.  So we are visiting a lot this weekend with Uschi, Rainer, Sven, and Kirsten.  I'm amazed at how much German I can understand, though I can't speak it very well anymore.

On our way to the car, Elizabeth spotted this.  It made. her. day!
She has been wanting to see a real rainbow for ages.

June 15, 2011

Lay Your Letters Out Before the Lord

I'm so thankful that just as I was starting to disengage with II Kings, I got to King Hezekiah's story.

Hezekiah overlapped with Isaiah.  (I don't totally get how the Old Testament fits together, but I am learning and taking you with me!)  So, after all the taunting from that jerk, Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, Hezekiah, King of Judah, turns to God - in sackcloth, of course - and sends some men to inquire of Isaiah.

Isaiah's got good news for King Hezekiah and bad for King Sennacherib.

But Sennacherib doesn't know that yet and sends messengers again with an intimidating letter for King Hezekiah.  Here's what the Scriptures say that Hezekiah did:

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it.  Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.  And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord.  II Kings 19:14-15a

What jumped out at me, is Hezekiah's physical act of taking the blasphemous, boastful letter and spreading it out before the Lord.  Like he was saying, "Okay, Lord, here's our problem.  What are you going to do about it?" (In a trusting, not confrontational, way.)

What do you do when you receive bad news or feel convicted, insecure, scared, intimidated?  Do you spread said concern before the Lord?

I often don't.

I worry.

I wring my hands.

I fear.

I get angry

I try to figure out how to fix it.

I feel guilty.

THEN, I might finally get around to meeting with God about it.

What a waste of time mucking around in disobedience and faithlessness (which, incidentally, are the same thing.)

Perhaps you do not have this problem, of leaning on yourself rather than on God the Father, Son, and Spirit.  But if you are like me, would you join me today in spreading your "letters" out before the Lord?

Let's see how God meets us in our distress and delivers us from the evil one!

June 14, 2011

Don't Answer the Enemies

I love new beginnings.  Wrapping up the school year and entering summer, setting some goals and making plans to be more prepared for the fall, tickles my fancy.  But even as God guides us in our planning and dreaming, how quickly the plan can become the idol, fears of failure to meet deadlines (even personal ones) and make progress screaming loudly through the contentment and peace God has brought as we've sought him to direct our paths.

It's a battle isn't it?  This walk of faith.

As I awoke this morning, I knew I needed to meet with the Lord.  Not just show up for my quiet time, say some  "proper" words of thanksgiving and un-heartfelt confessions and praise, and then read my "assigned" passages.  I needed to commune with my God.  Often I find it difficult to wake myself up enough to even know what's going on in my heart in the morning.  He prepared me last night by making me a little too uncomfortable with my own self focus, instilling a craving for some forgiveness and restoration, and woke me a little earlier than usual so I could meet with Him.

And how God wove His word together this morning!  I'm at the point in the Old Testament where Assyria comes to take over Israel (II Kings 17) and sends them into exile, all according to God's plan.  His people have not been worshiping Him rightly for a LONG time.  The nasty King of Assyria takes care of Israel and moves on to challenge the King of Judah, Hezekiah, who actually trusts God, has torn down the high places and Asherah poles - false, idolatrous places of worship.  Hezekiah is leading Judah toward God.  It's really a point of hope after reading about so many kings who "did evil in the eyes of the Lord."

The King of Assyria sends a messenger to challenge Judah with these words, II Kings 18:28-36:
Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew: "Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria!  This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand.   Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, 'The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.' 
"Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig-tree and drink water from his own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death! 
"Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, 'The LORD will deliver us.'  Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?  Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand?  Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?"
But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, "Do not answer him."

Is this not exactly how the evil one tempts us to despair, to doubt, to fear, to unbelief?  How reminiscent of Satan's temptation to Eve in the garden?  How often my own heart asks, 'Can God really get me out of this mess?'

After a little pondering of these lies my heart too often believes, my readings took me to Psalm 139: God knows when we sit and when we rise, our going and coming; He hems us in before and behind; He knit us together and knows the number of days ordained for us.  Oh, our God knows what's going on with His people!  The taunts of too-proud kings of pagan lands or Satan from his den of folly are real, yes, but how silly they seem when we stop and remember our Lord.

The one who knows us, knit us, keeps us.

I don't know the fears, doubts, and trials that are threatening to undo you today.  But as Hezekiah directed his people, do not answer them.  Rather, lift your eyes and your heart up to the Lord.  Pray as David:

Search me and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me;
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23-24

God will meet you.  He will hem you in.

June 10, 2011

Thanks for Your Prayers

I've got a lot of reading, thinking, and nuts-and-bolts planning to do this summer, but somehow it all seems more manageable now.  Thanks for praying!

I feel encouraged by how God is growing our family together and working in each of our lives individually as we walk this homeschooling path.  Reading the first two chapters of Educating the Whole Hearted Child by Clay Clarkson today reminded me of how wonderful the calling is, to disciple and educate our kids ... in that order.  What a privilege to touch their hearts for eternity!

For the record, I don't do it well a lot of the time.  I yell in frustration; I get lazy as a teacher; I'd rather hang on the computer than engage with my kids; I often want to let the tv take care of them.  But it uplifts the heart to be reminded that it's worth it to reevaluate, make changes, stick with good things, engage, and persevere.

After having time today, I feel freed from many fears that I was letting dominate my heart as the school year came to a close.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for praying!

Off to plant some flowers I bought this morning and then,

(All caps means I'm excited about it.)

Have a good weekend, readers.
May you have at least one conversation this weekend that fills you up!

Time for Reflection

Maybe you remember this picture from earlier in the year.  My friend Kit shared these thoughts from an in-service at her school on what makes a good reflection.

Today I have the totally-not-taken-for-granted privilege of a free day.  The kids are with my mother-in-law (thanks Gladys!) and I can do whatever I want.  The challenge has been deciding what to choose from the long to-do list!  This morning I tackled Mt. Ironing and went for a run.  Now (after as shower, because seriously, I need one) I will take care of a few errands and then get into the meat of the day: reflection.

This afternoon I'm going to take Kit's reflection list, and think and pray about this last school year. I've been craving time to evaluate the year (in a pro and cons list kind of way) and look ahead to what we'll keep and what I'd like to change about how I'm doing things with the kids.

As I worked my way through Mt. Ironing this morning, it occurred to me that I wanted to and needed to have God in on the process of looking back so I remember to extend myself grace for failures, to give Him praise for triumphs, and to seek His guidance for the future.  I get completely overwhelmed trying to figure out what materials to use or not use because there are just so. darn. many.  The Spirit reminded me that God will guide our decisions for our family and I need not fear.  Phew!

I say all of this to ask you to say a little pray for me this afternoon.  Would you?  Please pray that God would give me focus and clarity of thought ... I can get distracted.

I'd also love to know how I can pray for you today.  Leave a comment or shoot me an email, if you'd prefer something more private:  heatherashe at gmail dot com.

Have a lovely day, friends!

June 7, 2011

Who I Am: a Birthday Reflection

No accident,
I am a product of
places lived,
choices made,
experiences had,
but mostly,
people known.

Parents, siblings, friends,
spouse, children, neighbors,
pastors, teachers, employers,
shaping - 
as clay in the potter's hand
gently molding
roughly kneading - 
into me.

Steps guided by the Creator,
my path crossing yours
mingling a while
in history.
I give thanks
to Him
for using you
to mold me 
into who I am.

More Birthdays!

Today Brian is 3.  And I am ... also celebrating the anniversary of my birth.

The little man was so excited about getting the 'Cars' cereal.  He didn't skip a beat in asking for it when I inquired about his preferred birthday breakfast.  For weeks he's seen the display at the grocery store and wanted to try it; it was my pleasure to oblige for his special day.  The irony of it all is that it's basically lightly sweetened, red & white, multi-grain cheerios.

This year he's really got the gift opening thing down.
He made quick work of it!

 (Yep, that's underwear on the left, but it is really cool underwear -
his first big boy, non-training pairs.)

The long-awaited - since E's bday on may 21 - BLACK Wii remote! 


June 6, 2011

Embrace the Calling

Our pastor spent a couple of weeks preaching on Ephesians 6:1-4, addressing parents and children and what God calls them to as members of His family.  My favorite thing that he said is that all of the directives for living given in the second half of Ephesians should be rooted in the gospel laid out in chapters one through three.  So, in Matt's words, "Parenting is a gospel activity.  All of life is a gospel activity."
My life has changed over the last two years since I encountered Sally Clarkson's moms ministry.  Her challenge to look at Jesus as He discipled his men and consider how we can disciple our children in the same way, has made an immense difference in my attitude and approach to being a mom.  Sally offered no formula or plan for "getting it right," rather she pointed me to God, to consider His ways, to ponder His commands to me as a mother, to think about not only teaching them obedience, but also serving them as Christ served His disciples, responding to the beautiful call He's placed on my life as I am raising our children.

Kristen, a friend up in Canada, wrote a post once called Parenting for Happiness?  She hits the nail on the head with the truth that being a parent will NOT always make you happy.  We share many delights in our family as a result of having children around, but if the point of having children is happiness, we will be sorely disappointed and maybe even hold it against our kids.

As I thought about that this morning in the shower (a great place for thinking, no?), I realized that what has happened in me, and can happen in you as a mom, is a heart change.  If I seek to find my fulfillment in my children or even my "parenting skills," I will be quite miserable - children frustrate us, disobey, make demands on our time, etc.  On the other hand, if I seed to find my fulfillment in the Lord and whatever He's calling me to at the minute, I will be filled with joy.  The task may not be glamorous, the children may not obey, the to-do list may be too long, the body may be tired and weary, but the heart can still be filled with joy and peace only God can provide. THAT makes a big difference in our lives and the life of our families.

Are you not grateful that God is long-suffering and merciful?  I look back to how harsh I was with Elizabeth as a tiny girl.  I praise God that it did not crush her spirit.  I praise God that He's rooting out the nasty little by little as the Spirit prompts me to repent, believe, and obey.  It's day-to-day, moment-by-moment death to self, friends.  Perhaps we should spend our days humming I Need Thee Every Hour.  God has rescued us, let's share the good news with our kids in the ways that we love and serve them today, through discipline, instruction, and living life together.  Embrace the calling and may God fill you up!

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Hebrews 13:20-21