When You’re Feeling Desperate

I’m not sure what happened today.  We survived our version of March Madness, which ended last night with the girls’ choir concert and art show.  And apparently my brain knew that was as far as I had to make it, because today I crashed.  We all crashed sort of.  It didn’t help that we woke up to cool and grey and rainy.  (Dear Lord, please, please, please, can we have a handful of consecutive days of sunshine and seventy and no wind?  Please?  Many mamas I know would rejoice and sing praises, which I know we should be doing anyway, but still.)  It was a day that would have been good for everyone just staying in bed.  And it was the first day, all year I think (which would definitely be a new record), when I honestly wished I could go enroll all the kids in school.  I fantasized about full days at home, in the quiet, cleaning, writing, reading.  I know that’s not at all what it looks like when your kids are in school, but let me enjoy my little fantasy for now, please.  Really, I just want to deep deep deep clean my house.  And that can’t happen during school.  And it’s starting to make me batty.  We only have a few weeks left, so I really should be thankful, happy, and content.  But for some reason, today, I just couldn’t do it.  I wanted to hide in my room.  But you can’t hide in your room when kids need to be driven all over town all day long.  And it could be the mouse droppings I keep finding all over my basement that are driving the urge to deep clean and the twitchy feeling inside because I just.don’t.have.time to do it.  That could definitely be contributing to this sense of overwhelm and that my house is gross.

And last fall I read this book and it’s been sitting here waiting for me to share my take-aways and today seems like the day I need a good reminder of all the goodness inside that points to the goodness of God.  So here we go….

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Desperate by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson – My Take Away

My kids don’t need to see a supermama.  They need to see a mama who needs a Super God.  That maybe being the mama I wanted to be wasn’t so much about being more but believing more; believing and trusting more in the God of Hagar and Ruth and Hannah, the God who sees me, who nourishes me, who hears me and answers.

That godly parenting isn’t ultimately a function of rules but having a relationship with an ultimate God. That godly parenting is fueled by God’s grace, not my efforts.

That maybe it all comes down to this:  if I make God first and am most satisfied in His love, I’m released to love my children fully and most satisfactorily.

 

Above all, I need to remember that ‘good’ motherliness has nothing to do with how God sees me.  Nothing.  I am pleasing to Him on my good days and my bad days.  His love for me never wavers…and never will.  Because I am His.

 

Remember, a woman who is alone in motherhood becomes a target of discouragement for Satan.

 

It is vitally important for women to learn how to think biblically for themselves instead of being enslaved to other people’s thoughts and opinions.  To truly follow God with everything in our lives, we must learn to develop discernment.

A happy mom who is secure in herself and at ease in her life is a rare gift that children love and appreciate.

Determine for yourself what you hope to be the outcome of your family.  What legacies do you want to leave for your children?

So….all of you precious moms who will read this, be yourself; be the best and most excellent and most righteous self you can be, but live in the freedom of God’s call and design on your life.

 

 

All soldiers are trained to expect and anticipate war, so they are not surprised when the battle starts.  Moms need to understand that this is the reality of life with children in a fallen world.  Getting angry and upset for children being selfish and demanding creates stress and havoc in the mind, emotions and body of a woman.  Prepare yourself for the battle and accept the limitations of your husband, children, and home – and of yourself.  And then determine that you will, in time, subdue your home, overcome in the fight for the hearts of your children, and find God’s joy and blessing through your obedience.

 

The ability to last in motherhood requires giving up expectations for our own lives, deciding that sacrificing our desires and wants for the sake of our family is our gift of worship to our heavenly Father.

 

Voices of culture and expectations of others will always lead you to a feeling of inadequacy or a need to perform.  Either they give you permission to compromise ideals or cause you great stress by not being able to accomplish unreasonable and impractical ideals.  God has never required more of you than you can possibly accomplish.  So if you feel overwhelmed, it can often be because you are living by someone else’s expectations.

There are countless other snippets of wisdom I could pull, but I will close with these quotes from Chapter 13 in the book, words I needed to see again tonight….

Enjoy yourself.  Cook food that you love.  Play music that inspires you.  Buy flowers and candles because they please your heart.  Celebrate life in your home in the ways that bring you pleasure.  Cultivating the art of life in your home not only brings you happiness, but it makes your home a lively, fun, fulfilling place.  Most of all, enjoy life and celebrate it every day.  God created pleasure just for us, so live in  that blessing.

I can get so bogged down in all I have to do that planning beauty and adventure is just another thing that takes work and will exhaust me.  And that might be true, but it’s better than drowning in the mundane.  It’s better to put some energy into getting into life than letting life just happen.

Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better I’d have come running with a bucket. (Nancy Spiegelberg)

Don’t neglect to see the beauty of the life around you while being overwhelmed by the duties of life.

[God] is wild, way beyond our control, and more interesting than we can imagine with our limited minds; but far too often we live in the mundane and don’t see the miracle of the moment because the eyes of our hearts have become blind to His reality.

If every morning you look at your child as a gift from God, a blessing that He has bestowed today, and thank Him for that blessing, you will approach your children with love, patience and grace

I often see women who have become so used to a substandard life that they cannot see that they have become empty, shallow, and impatient with the real live human beings right in their midst, who are longing for love but are also so ready to give back generously.

Learning to be patient and really listen to them when I was exhausted was a commitment I had made long before finding myself in such situations.  I had resolved beforehand to focus on saying words of life and encouragement when I really wanted time alone; to use a gentle and respectful tone when I was tempted to express anger.  It was out of the belief that these commitments mattered  to God that I made them.

It was as though God gave me these children, so that I could grow up and become all the He had designed me to be.

And I really could quote pages and pages and pages more.  This book was a balm last fall and has been again tonight as I flipped back through it.  If you are a weary mama who desperately needs hope to breathe, I highly recommend this one.

For His Glory ~

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A Week and A Book: In Review {2013, Week 1}

Trying to get the writing year off to a good start and school starts next week, so not sure how long this momentum will last, but here we are, so let’s go….

This week was a funny one with what kind of felt like two or three Mondays and here we are at Friday already.  We semi-celebrated the New Year with a game night at a friends house and friend sleep overs for the girls and enjoying the beautiful snow that fell on NYE.  I attempted to get groceries and run my errands ALONE on New Year’s Day but Sam’s had the nerve to be closed.  Seriously!  😉  Wednesday was art lessons and errand running in the slushy slop with the youngest two.  I’ve been doing a lot of computer work the past couple of weeks, trying to get photos cleaned out and organized and photobooks made and prepping school stuff for second semester and we’ve had wacky sleep schedules with the holidays and friends in town.  All that to say, I ended up with a twitchy eye and dull headache that afternoon, which did not make me much fun to shop with.  Thursday was our last real day of Christmas break and today the girls started back at Friday classes and I whispered Thank you, Jesus as I drove away.  🙂  Matt and I are both trying to get back in shape after some serious slacking over the holidays.  I “enjoyed” a run/walk with a friend today in the toasty 34* sunshine.

So a couple months ago, a friend and I read Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas.  I have to say it is hands-down one of the best and most unique marriage books I have ever read. As my friend said when we were discussing it, it’s not “do these five things and have a better marriage”.  It’s, as the subtitle says, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy.”  And the book proceeds to take many of our modern notions about marriage and romance and turn them on their head.  Following are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • “God did not create marriage just to give us a pleasant means of repopulating the world and providing a steady social institution for the benefit of humanity.  He planted marriage among humans as yet another signpost pointing us to his own eternal, spiritual existence.” (p. 30)
  • “Marriage requires a radical commitment to love our spouses as they are, while longing for them to become what they are not yet.  Every marriage moves either toward enhancing one another’s glory or toward degrading each other.” (p. 39, Allender & Longman)
  • “We must never be naive enough to think of marriage as a safe harbor from the Fall….The deepest struggles of life will occur in the most primary relationship affected by the Fall:  marriage.” (P. 53, Allender & Longman)
  • “We have valued the wrong activities when we look only at a person’s outward accomplishments.  Our relationship – especially our marriages – are an integral part of our ministry.” (p. 78)
  • “We must not enter marriage predominantly to be fulfilled, emotionally satisfied, or romantically charged, but rather to become more like Jesus Christ.” (p. 96)
    • how’s THAT for going against the grain?!
  • “A good marriage is not something you find, it’s something you work for.” (p. 133)
  • The opposite of Biblical love isn’t hate, it’s apathy.” (p. 155)
  • “If we enter marriage thoughtfully, purposefully, and with godly intentions, our wedlock will shape us in a way that few other life experiences can.  It will usher us into God’s own presence.” (p. 245)

And there’s more….there’s so much more.  I’m hoping to go back through the book again soon because I know I could take so much more away from it.  Highly readable and highly recommended!

That’s it for me today.  Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

For His Glory ~

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Age of Opportunity – My Take Away

This summer I read Age of Opportunity:  A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp.  Tripp is the brother of Tedd Tripp, author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart, hands down the very best book I read for raising children during the little years, so I was hoping that this would be something similar for the teen years, and I was not disappointed.  The author does an incredible job of reminding parents that this time is an opportunity, not a burden, that these challenges are gifts, not punishments.  Below are just some of the things I took away from this incredible read…

In a section titled, “Struggles for Parents”, he writes:

These years are hard for us because they expose the wrong thoughts and desires of our own hearts….We don’t radically change in a moment of trial.  No, trials expose what we have always been….So, too, the teen years expose our self-righteousness, our impatience, our unforgiving spirit, our lack of servant love, the weakness of our faith, and our craving for comfort and ease.

He also writes:

It is time for us to reject the wholesale cynicism of our culture regarding adolescence.  Rather than years of undirected and unproductive struggle, these are years of unprecedented opportunity.

These are not years merely to be survived!  They are to be approached with a sense of hope and a sense of mission.  Almost every day brings a new opportunity to enter the life of your teen with help, hope,and truth.  We should not resign ourselves to an increasingly distant relationship.  This is the time to connect with our children as never before.  These are years of great opportunity.

And this:

All must be seen as something more than hassles that get in the way of an otherwise enjoyable life.  These are the moments God made parents for.

And that is all just Chapter 1.

In chapter 2, the author gets down to the business of dealing with idols – our idols as parents.  The ones we didn’t even realize we had and that are greatly interfering with our ability to parent for God’s glory.

Our idols have caused us to see opportunity as trial and caused us to strike back at our teenagers with bitter words of judgement, accusation, and condemnation, behaving toward them with intolerance and anger.  While God is calling us to love, accept, forgive, and serve, we are often barely able to be nice.

Life is war.  There is a war out there; it is being fought ont he turf of your heart.  It is being fought for the control of your soul

Parents who demand comfort, ease, regularity, peace, space, quiet, and harmony will be ill-equipped for this war.  They will begin to see their teenager as the enemy.  They will begin to fight with him rather than for him, and even worse, they will tend to forget the true nature of the battle and the identity of the real enemy.  They will act out of frustrated desire, doing and saying regrettable things, and they will fail to be effective and productive in those strategic moments of ministry in which God has placed them.

We begin to look at our children as our trophies rather than God’s creatures.  We secretly want to display them on the mantels of our lives as visible testimonies to a job well done.

It is so easy to lose sight of the fact that these are God’s children.  They do not belong to us.  They are given not to bring us glory, but Him….Our identity is rooted in Him and His call to us, not in our children and their performance.

Uh, wow.  This chapter cut deeply.

Moving on…

Our Christianity often becomes fuzzier the closer it gets to real life, every day experience.

All of life blows into a chaotic mass of meaningless choices unless it is rooted in the one fact that makes every other fact make sense – GOD.

We must be faithful to turn their eyes from what they desire to what God requires.

Teenagers desperately need to see the larger story.

The family is called to be the context in which what it means to love your neighbor as yourself is self-consciously taught at every turn.

When selfishness, individualism, and demandingness create conflict, strife, and tension in our homes, we must thank God for the opportunity to deal with something that He has said is second in importance only to our relationship to Him.  If we are truly thankful, we will not opt for quick, surface solutions, but we will work to uncover the issues of the heart that are the real reason for the conflict.

The family is the context where the teenager’s true heart toward relationships is consistently exposed….Situtaions must not be viewed as the groaning hassles of family life.  These are the moments when God is calling us to something greater than our own comfort and ease.  These are the times when God calls us to love our children with a second-great-command love, so that we are willing to take the time to do the second-great-command parenting that they so desperately need.  At such moments, we need to be ruled not by the rule of personal desire, but by God’s rule of love.

This is all from the first four chapters of the book.  Part two goes on to Godly goals and then part three gives practical strategies for parenting teens and both sections are heavily underlined in my copy.  I was both challenged and encouraged by this book, even though we technically do not have any teens yet.  As a parent who does greatly desire peace and space and general ease of life, I was convicted that my attitudes are wrong and that this time is an incredible opportunity to engage my children as young adults and to help steer them down the narrow path of life while the wide path calls with distractions and temptations.  As we enter a new school year this has served as an inspiration to me to persevere through the hard days and to continue counting each day as a gift.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Large Family Logistics – My Take Away

So it’s summer, my normal season for serious reading.  I feel like this year painting has taken the place of reading, but I’ve been able to do a fair amount, just the same.  Today I want to share about a book that I started at the beginning of the year and just finished in May or early June.  It was very inspirational and full of good, even if not personally applicable, ideas.  The book is Large Family Logistics: The Art and Science of Managing the Large Family by Kim Brenneman.  I will preface by saying that when judged by the size of my husband’s family or my father’s family, I in no way feel like we have a “large” family.  I do know, however, that by societal standards, we do, and that there are some real logistics that go in to making our home and lives run smoothly and I’m always looking for ways to make it run more efficiently.

I first saw this book at a friend’s house and was intrigued by it.  The cover is lovely and the layout makes it very readable.

The author begins by discussing the Wise Woman of Proverbs and the blessing she is to her husband and household.  “It is difficult to underestimate the value of the encouragement we bring when we speak kind words to our family.  Be Christ to your family and others.  Praise them for the good things they do.  Bless them with uplifting words.  Show His love through the kindness of your tongue.” (p. 34)  Also, “When we look at our work, we need to see it for what it is:  serving the Lord, our husbands, our children, and all those who visit our home.  Caring for others is an awesome responsibility.  There is beauty in the necessary mechanics, and we need not look at them as something to just endure so that we  can move on to the next thing.  By all means, make your work efficient, but while you do what you have to do, learn to embrace it as work done unto the Lord that will impact generations for eternity!” (p. 36)

She then moves on to Goals, Systems, and Self-Discipline where she says, “If we want our home to be characterized by order and tranquility, we must lead by example.” (p. 53)

In the chapter on attitude, she addresses the phrase “I can’t” – not only when it comes from discouraged children, but when it comes from discouraged moms.  She says, “I can’t is something we don’t say.  I can’t gets replaced by praying without ceasing.” (p. 58)

She talks about making a plan and submitting that plan to God.  “Plans are a guide, not a master.  A plan serves you.  You do not serve the plan.  A plan gives you confidence. You know how to plan ahead and you know how to recover from an event.”  (p. 66)  This is a good reminder for this task-driven home maker – the plan is a tool, not a task-master.  “An interrupted day is God’s plan for the life of a mother (see Proverbs 16:1-9).  We cannot know what He wills for us and for our children ahead of time.  But when interruptions come, we can say with confidence, ‘This is God’s will.  He must have something to teach me, or the children, or maybe He is blessing me and the children with this.’ Or ‘Somehow, God is being glorified in this event.  I need to live obediently and not grump about it or fight it.’ Being upset about interrupted plans is, in essence, fighting with God.” (p.66)

She talks about teaching children to work and redeeming the time we have alone, instructing a child in a new chore, and life with little children.  In this practical section of the book, she gives tips on how to most efficiently clean a room, a house, and how to involve the children in the process.  She divides her week up into days, and while I think this is a wonderful idea, it does not apply well to us personally.  But it is a good spring board for having our own routine of “days”, even if they have to be shuffled around from week to week.  A “baking day”, a “grocery day”, a “computer day”, etc.

One thing she advocates is a “Laundry Day”.  Again, this one doesn’t work for us personally in this season of life.  But within the chapter on laundry she talks about “Four Loads by Four”, wherein you want to complete four loads of laundry by 4 p.m.  I really liked that little phrase and changed it to “Three Loads by Three”, since I rarely do four loads in one day.  It does help me stay on track!

She goes on to discuss morning and evening routines, as well as mealtime management, afternoon chore time, and the blessed Quiet Hour.  I love the quiet hour.  We’ve done this since the beginning of time and cannot imagine life without it.

As a mama who does not always possess a gentle tongue, the author’s words on page 307 were encouraging, “Every single time you talk to them (your children), force yourself to smile.  ‘Fake it ’til you make it.’  When you speak while you’re smiling, your tone of voice changes, and you will find that the words that come out of your mouth are more gracious.”

Large Family Logistics has been a great blessing to me, not only for the practical tips offered in managing my home, but for the encouragement provided by a seasoned mother in the areas of being a wife, mother, home maker, and home educator.

Raising Maidens of Virtue – My Take Away

One of my many summer reading books was Raising Maidens of Virtue by Stacy McDonald. I said from the beginning I had some cautions as I have mixed feelings about Vision Forum ministries and their strong patriarchal leanings. But this book was loaned to me and I was intrigued by it, so I read through it this summer.

As a mother of daughters, I can’t help but like the title. Who doesn’t want to raise virtuous maidens in this day and age? And if someone can give me a step-by-step guide? Sign me up! As I read through it the first time, much of what it said did not surprise me – very conservative with a strong emphasis on daughters entrusting their hearts to their fathers and being available and prepared to serve throughout life. Good stuff, really. However, one chapter at the end got my feathers more than a little ruffled. It would, appropriately enough, be the chapter in which women who wear bikini swim suits are compared to “colorful flamingos” flaunting their feathers.

Pardon me while I climb on my soap box:

I wear a bikini. We allow our daughters to wear bikinis if they wish. We don’t do “tween-sexy” or string-type bikinis for the girls, because that’s the line we’ve drawn. If one goes to a pool today, one is hard-pressed to find a woman not wearing a bikini. It is no longer a matter of flaunting one’s body per se. It can just be a matter of what a woman is most comfortable in or, shocking as this may sound, a woman dressing to please her husband.

Stepping back down now.

So, needless to say, I was a little annoyed by this chapter. I finished the book and still agreed with points of it. I decided I was going to read through the book with the girls this fall as it has many principles that I would like them to take to heart, planning to either skim over or at least discuss the sections I didn’t agree with. However, as I began to read it aloud to them, I felt incredibly uncomfortable with the emphasis I was noticing throughout the book on outward appearance. I want our girls to make wise choices with how they clothe their bodies and how they present themselves to the world. I do want them to be able to look at an outfit and discern whether or not it is appropriate. I do not want them to look at the person wearing said outfit and pass judgement on her spiritual walk with the Lord. There is so much more to a woman than what she wears. I want to raise daughters that are wise and who give their hearts to their earthly father and their Heavenly one because they know that is where their hearts belong not because they have been filled with fear that they are not physically safe if they do not. I want to raise daughters who know how to dress in such a way that they both look and feel beautiful without being a distraction to others – male or female. I want to raise daughters who love the Lord in such a way that, regardless of what they wear, Christ is the one others see.

I am weary of the notion that in order for a woman to be godly she cannot be outwardly beautiful and that she must hide as much skin as is seasonally safe for fear of causing her brother to stumble. I want to encourage my Christian brothers in their walk as much as anybody, but the men of our faith must bear some responsibility as well for their thoughts and actions. As my husband (from a very conservative background) said one morning as I fretted over whether or not to wear a particular article of clothing to a church function for this very reason, “Honey, it is possible to lust after a woman in a baggy white blouse and a full-length navy skirt. Those jeans are fine.” His point was that, while we as women do not want to purposely draw attention to ourselves in a lustful manner, there comes a point where the woman can only do so much and the man has to take control of his thought life.

I have diverged a bit from my original topic, but this is obviously something I have some feelings about. 🙂

All in all, the book was okay. Like I said, there are some principals in it I really would like my girls to take hold of. But if it requires them to become judgmental and self-conscious in the process, I’ll pass.

Book Reviews: On Parenting and Home Education

So a few weeks ago I had some time to do some power reading and burned through a couple of re-reads.  Here’s what I walked away from them with:

First, Parenting with Love and Logic.

I read this book several years ago and liked some aspects of it, but honestly felt like it gave too many choices.  I don’t really feel like my 3 year old (or 5 year old for that matter) needs to have a say in every aspect of her life.  Sometimes, it really is just because Mom said so.  But, we’ve reached a new stage with our older girls and they clearly need to be handled differently than I have been handling them.  I need to back off from authoritarianism (definitely not my goal parenting style, but if I’m honest, it’s probably my default) and start working more toward a coaching-style of parenting.  We’ve always been pretty “hands-off”, in that we let our kids own their problems.  But I have been failing at following up with them on why things are working out a certain way for them or why a certain behavior is unacceptable.  I already knew I needed to be doing those things, but sometimes reading something again helps to make it top-of-mind.  I still don’t agree with everything in Love and Logic, but I came away with some new ideas and a renewed vision that their problems are not necessarily my problems and I need to resist the urge to handle them simply because it would be faster but what I do need to do is talk more to them about the “why’s” of life and make sure to use those teachable moments without beating the proverbial dead horse.

Second, When You Rise Up.

Another re-read from a few years back, I grabbed this one off the shelf to remind myself why I am doing what I am doing.  Academically, this has been a pretty good school year but psychologically it has been brutal.  Every day feels like an emotional war zone and I have never so seriously questioned whether or not home education was the best choice for our children or for me.

Sproul articulates well our general philosophy on home education.  Yes, the academics are important.  Yes, I want my children to be bright and to excel.  Yes, I want them to be well-rounded and be exposed to a variety of opportunities and challenges.  But more than anything,  I want them to be Christ-like.  I want to influence their character and mold their hearts.  And not to say that those who go to school can’t be impacted that way, but for us this is the best method.

I agree with Sproul in theory that the Bible is the only textbook needed to adequately educate a child.  However, that may fail in application for most of us.  I know of a few families who could pull that off and their children would still learn science and math and modern history.  I am not one of them.  I need textbooks and structure or my kids will be rich in Bible knowledge (a good thing!) but academic dunces in every other way (a bad thing).  But if I am honest, I would rather have a child who fails every standardized test and yet loves the Lord with her whole heart, mind, and strength than to have my child accepted into the best schools on full-ride scholarships and not love Jesus.

The hard part about this book (and this school year) is that relationship and character are our goals and it has felt like we are failing miserably.  But I have to remember that this is not like learning short vowels sounds or simple addition, character takes years – sometimes a lifetime – to develop.  And while I can be encouraged by their academic growth and know that all is not entirely in vain, the other keeps me on my knees and in the Word, trusting God to take this broken vessel and use it to make these children into something beautiful.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Counterfeit Gods – My Take Away

So, summer is drawing to a close and it’s time for me to start going back over some of our summer lists to see what was accomplished.  One of the things I did was read Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller.  This the second book of Keller’s that our Sunday school class has read and discussed.  He’s a good author, pretty easy to read.  Not necessarily a favorite author, but he makes good points and has wise insight into the Word.

Keller begins in his introduction explaining what an idol is and how idolatry has permeated our society, even though most of us don’t realize it.  He begins on page xi with the question, “What is the cause of this ‘strange melancholy’ that permeates our society?” Then he quotes Alexis de Tocqueville by saying, “It comes from taking some ‘incomplete joy of this world’ and building your entire life on it.  That is the definition of idolatry.”

On page xiv he says, “The human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things.  Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”

“An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If i have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.'” (p, xviii)

“Idols give us a sense of being in control, and we can locate them by looking at our nightmares.  What do we fear the most? … We can locate idols by looking at our most unyielding emotions.  What makes us uncontrollably angry, anxious, or despondent?  What racks us with a guilt we can’t shake? … What many people call ‘psychological problems’ are simply issues of idolatry.  Perfectionism, workaholism, chronic indecisiveness, the need to control the lives of others – all of these stem from making good things into idols that then drive us into the ground as we try to appease them.  Idols dominate our lives.”  (pp xxii-xxiii)

Keller goes on to discuss the empty promises of money, sex, and power, followed by a chapter on the hidden idols of our lives.

I found the Epilogue to be the section that perhaps spoke to me the most.  Keller says things like, “‘Your religion is what you do with your solitude.’   In other words, the true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention….One or two daydreams are not an indication of idolatry.  Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?” (p. 168)

Counterfeit Gods was a good book that challenged me to think about some things in my life that I had simply come to accept. It caused me to re-evaluate some things that had, without me realizing it, risen to idol status and helped me turn my focus back to the only One who can truly satisfy.

Building Confidence

Three years ago, I bought my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D60. We had a massive yard sale and I earned enough to pay cash. It’s been a love/hate relationship ever since. When I got a good picture I got an awesome picture. But when I didn’t get a good picture I got a horrible picture. And I never knew what I was going to get.

When I first got the camera a friend told me to read the manual, cover to cover. I tried, but not being versed in photo-jargon, it might as well have been written in Greek, so I quit. Another friend taught be about aperture and light and that made a huge difference in my end results. I learned about white balance to eliminate the weird yellow hue I kept getting and I learned about using filters in Photoshop. I was able to more consistently get a good shot, especially outside. And the ones that didn’t turn out great I could usually edit to make them look better. Inside, however, I still felt lost.

This summer I decided I was fed up with getting so-so pictures and checked out three books from our local library and added them to my Summer Reading List. Then, my brother-in-law approached me about needing to buy a DSLR for a class he’s taking this fall and would I be interested in selling mine and upgrading? Because I still felt clueless about so many things, I only wanted to take a small step up in cameras to one that had an internal motor that would work with my 50 mm lens, as the D60 did not have that capability. So, I stepped up to the D80 and added its manual to my reading list.

After reading the manual (all the way through this time!) and those three books, I feel so much more confident about my picture taking. I’m excited to start shooting again and to purposely try some low-light, indoor photography. I finally figured out how to shoot in manual mode and am learning when shutter speed should take priority over aperture and vise-versa.

The first book I read was Digital SLR Cameras and Photography for Dummies by David Busch. I’m not a fan of the For Dummies books, but when you’re feeling like one they do seem to help a lot! 😉 I’ll be honest….it was boring and very textbook-like (with some humor thrown in), but it was helpful and I took away some good information.

The second book was Understanding Composition by Steve Mulligan. This book was a big improvement over the first one as far as readability. It was interesting and helpful, but I most enjoyed looking at the pictures the author had of Kansas. He has some great shots of the Konza Prairie and other places I’ve never seen in my home state.

The last book was Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. This was, by far, my favorite and understandably so since getting the correct exposure has been my problem all along. I’m really excited to try some of the exercises he put in the book and this is the book that honestly gave me the courage to try shooting in manual mode.

**Update: I typed this a couple of weeks ago and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. In that time, I’ve had the privilege of shooting some candids for a friend’s high school reunion, which gave me an excellent opportunity to work on those low-light indoor elements. As I work through the pictures I can see that I still have a lot to learn, but I can also see the benefits of the time I took to learn more about my camera and how to make it do what I want it to do.

They're even excited for me! 😉

What about you?  What’s something you would like to take time to learn more about today, this week?  Go for it!  You’ll be glad you did!

~ Sara

Expectations and Grace

Last fall, the ladies in our small group agreed to create a “book club” of sorts.  We meet once a month at my house and fellowship together and discuss our current book.  We are all very busy, so we’ve only been able to work on two books since September.  But it’s getting us all to read regularly and read critically, thinking about what’s on the pages so we can (hopefully) discuss them intelligently.  😉

The first book we waded through was C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain.  There were times in those three months where I think we were all pretty convinced that this book was the problem.  But, it really was a good book, just much thicker reading that any of us had attempted in a long time.  One of my favorite chapters was the one on hell.  (Is that weird?  It seems weird.)  He offers a fascinating perspective on the subject.  Anyway, I recommend the book.  Just be prepared to read each chapter a couple of times to really “get it”.

Our current book is Do Hard Things by Brett & Alex Harris.  All of us in this book club are mothers with children either in their early teens or rapidly approaching them.  All of us want our children to be counter-cultural, not settling for the norm but striving for excellence.  We selected this book, most of us thinking this would be our pre-read and then we would read it with our children in the near future.  Great book! I definitely will be reading it with my girls soon.

But it has created a bit of conflict and struggle for me personally.  I was the child they talk about a lot in the book, the one who excelled – especially academically – and received a lot of praise from adults for being a “good kid”, but I never really had to work at it and only a couple of adults in my life ever really pushed me harder than I was used to being pushed.  As I look back, I struggle with regret that I wasted a lot of time and potential that God had placed in me.

I want more than this for our kids.  I see incredible potential in them and I want them to know that our expectations are high.  Not that we expect them each to be the very best at everything they do, but that we expect them to push themselves to do better, to never settle for the easy road, to always try harder.  This is particularly difficult since I like to settle for the easy road most days.  So this book has been a great challenge for me personally, to expect more of myself and of them.

So in my reading of this book, I found myself pushing harder with the girls, expecting more, requiring more, mostly in school but also around the home.  I wanted them to realize that we were not just going to slide through life.  But in my efforts to raise expectations, I realized this weekend that I had completely thrown grace out the window.

I’ve been working my way through Ann’s book on my own.  I finished it the other night.  And it was this weekend, reading her words, her words always full of grace, that I was reminded that I was missing it.  If I don’t show grace, all my high expectations are only clanging noise.  The girls were fighting against me; obeying, but not out of love.  We were all exhausted, exasperated, by this burden I had placed upon us.

This week, in spite of losing our rhythm, I feel like I have found my center again.  Gentleness has returned to my parenting, grace has taken up residence again in our home.  And while things are not perfect, we are all so much happier.

But my struggle remains….how do I hold my children, myself, to high standards while showing grace?  How do I communicate to them that we will not take the easy road, that we will do hard things, while still holding their hearts gently?  As I write, I suppose the best way is by my own example, through open, honest conversation, by inviting them into community with me to see how I live as a woman following hard after her Savior.

But what about you?  Have you found ways to demonstrate high expectations while showing grace?  I’d love to hear how you balance the two in your home.

Praying your day is filled with God’s grace and goodness!

~ Sara

Summer Reading Follow Up

So, here’s my book list from the beginning of the summer.  It was ambitious, but I think I did pretty well, all things considered!

The list is taken directly from my former blog.  Each entry is followed up by how I did in getting around to it.

  • Arguing with Idiots by Glenn Beck – check; entertaining and very interesting; say what you will about Glenn, I admit I find him intriguing sometimes.
  • Parenting is Your Highest Calling: And 8 Other Myth by Leslie Leyland Fields – check; excellent book; you can find my thoughts on it here.
    • an Ann Voskamp “suggestion”
  • Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris – didn’t get to this one; hopefully this fall/winter.
    • I read somewhere about someone reading this aloud to their kids.  I’m going to read through it this summer and then do that with the girls if it seems like something they would respond to.
  • I Will Carry You by Angie Smith – check; a beautiful story that will definitely make you cry but also rejoice over God’s provision.
    • another Ann Voskamp recommendation
  • Safely Home by Randy Alcorn – not yet.
    • my mom’s been trying to get me to read this for years; she finally had a copy I could borrow that wasn’t loaned out
  • Simple Devotion by Judi Brower – also, not yet.
    • recommended by one of our Sunday school teachers
  • Pray and Watch by Neal and Judi Brower – tried to start this one and had trouble getting into it; loaned it to a friend and just got it back.  I hope to read it at some point.
    • The Confessions of Saint Augustine – LOL
      • okay, this one’s been by the bed for a while; not sure I’ll make it through it this summer! 
    • A Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex by Kevin Leman – nope
    • Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel – no; started to pick it up and felt like I really needed something else, so laid it back down.  Still, always an excellent book.
      • this one is a re-read; read it for the first time a few years back.  Great book.
    • Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp – no
      • I’ve read this one several times; always good to go back through
    • The Gift of Good Manners by Peggy Post & Cindy Post Senning – no

    The Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer was also on my list, with the first book to read being Madame Bovary.  I bought the book and never touched it.  I think this is an idea that will have to be worked at very slowly.

    There were also some books I wanted to read through with Grace…

    So, out of nineteen books that I had by my bedside at the beginning of summer, I made it through eight, plus a couple of books that weren’t on my list but that jumped quickly to the top of the pile.  Considering all of my other responsibilities, I think I did okay!

    What about you?  What did you read this summer?