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Noelle Kirchner
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Noelle Kirchner is a Presbyterian pastor, wife, and mother of two young boys who enjoys writing when her wrangling skills aren't needed!  In addition to contributing here, she has been a featured guest author at (In)courage and maintains her blog, Vocational Mothering. She believes approaching motherhood as a vocation means that you recognize the gravity of your ministry as a mom.  Her passion is using her training to encourage Christian women like you!  You can also find Noelle on Twitter and Facebook.  

The Key Difference between Surviving and Thriving

Monday, November 24, 2014 #thankfulness #christian living

   

As mothers, it can be hard to escape the barrage of constant requests and find time to clear our minds.   It can be hard to give proper attention to our own needs, like eating or getting sleep ourselves.  When you compound that with the necessity of meeting life's challenges that inevitably arise along the way, it's easy to worry and get overwhelmed.

That's why something strategic happens when we gather for mealtime at my house.  After wrangling my littler one into his seat, having lengthy discussions with my older one about why we aren’t having candy before the meal, and reminding both of my boys to put their food down until we’ve blessed it, we are ready!  We say a prayer, and then we go around the table and say three things that each of us is thankful for.  Every day.  

I’m trying to foster a grateful heart in my family.  Thanksgiving is the best antidote to worry and anxiety (Philippians 4:6).  It's therefore an important life skill.  I recently read that anxiety is on the rise in our country, with the depression rate growing by about 20% per year.  Couple that with society's increasing pressure on our children to excel, and there is a dangerous crucible.  Teaching our children the value of thankfulness is a way of grounding them.  They are more inclined to see the larger picture of God's grace and orient themselves accordingly.

A spirit of thanksgiving doesn't just equip our children to be stronger on life's journey, but it frees us up as moms to better enjoy our own.  I have heard many experienced parents say that the days go by slowly but the years go by quickly when raising children.  Even though the days can be slow - and frustrating and draining at times - they are also filled with beauty.  I want to nurture a heart that doesn't miss out on the good that God has brought into my life.

I am convinced that a spirit of thanksgiving is the key difference between being a mom who is surviving versus a mom who is thriving.  It’s a difference in perspective.  When we are able to praise God without ceasing, no situation can get us down.  We can use our strength to meet life's challenges rather than wasting effort in anxiety or worry.  And we can better enjoy the present moment all the while.  A Christian who knows the power of thanksgiving is an unstoppable force.  And a mom who knows it - well, she's the kind of mom I want to be.

*****

HAPPY THANKSGIVING from Vocational Mothering!  If you liked this, I encourage you to check out last year's Thanksgiving post.  Also, are you new to this blog?  Don't miss a post by subscribing by email on the homepage and receive a FREE PRINTABLE of the five scriptural promises to live by today!

Special Interview: Moms Helping Moms Foundation

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 #serving #motherhood

Motherhood is a time of abundance.  We experience the joy and privilege of new life, marvel at its innocence, and celebrate its triumphant milestones.  Meanwhile, God grows our heart in ways that were previously unimaginable.  

But motherhood can also be a time of lack.  We are stretched emotionally, physically, and even spiritually as we wrestle with the expected and unexpected difficulties of this sacred task.  All of us wrestle, but some do so more than others.  It has been my joy and privilege to make the acquaintance of a mom who is well aware of that fact.  

Bridget Cutler started The Moms Helping Moms Foundation because she wanted to do something to help fellow moms in need.  She noticed the poverty rate in her home state was significant and climbing.  Her work organizing supplies for moms in New Jersey has garnered her national attention -- She was named a CNN Hero this year. But I met her because our children attend the same Christian preschool.  

Watch this short CNN Hero video segment to meet Bridget:

Click here.

Bridget, in your own words, how would you describe the work of your organization?

"I started this organization in 2011 after my first daughter was born.  I wanted to help local families who were facing financial hardship get access to basic supplies for young children. Over the years we have grown, and we were granted 501c3 status last year.  Our organization collects donations of new and gently used baby items from families who no longer use them.  Through partnerships with local service organizations, we distribute the supplies to local families in need.  It's a very simple idea, but it's very impactful!  We have been told countless times that our help has lifted a burden and allowed recipients to focus on being better parents."

I am grateful for Bridget's vision and work.  The beauty of it doesn't stop with the donations themselves, however.  It also has to do with the face to face assistance that moms receive when they "shop" for free at the foundation's store.  We all know that motherhood supplies can be overwhelming and baffling at times - what a gift to have experienced moms personalize that aid!  

Would you like to help the Moms Helping Moms Foundation?  Click here to learn how you can donate your time or items if you live in or around Union, NJ.  Union is in the New York metro area, and it's the location of their new store. Otherwise, they accept donations through their website and certainly welcome your prayers!  

The foundation models that there is power in community.  I love the solidarity of moms coming together for a common purpose, and I pray each of us is able to do so in our respective communities. God will do the nudging; we just need to respond.  When we embrace our role as the body of Christ, we can make a big difference by offering even simple gifts.  Sometimes it just takes:

  • one text to check in
  • one phone call to show concern
  • one carpool shift to lift a burden
  • one donation to make a difference

...And one act of kindness to start a movement that can change the world.

*****

If you want to be a part of a community of moms who are looking to infuse God into motherhood, and receive spiritual support for its sacred task, consider becoming an email subscriber to this blog!  Those who do will receive a free printable - it's a beautiful rendition of the 5 scriptural promises to live by!

7 Expert Tips on Parents Talking Sex

Monday, November 10, 2014 #sex #parenting

Let’s be honest.  We live in a world in which sex is used to sell – you name it. 

The issue of sex concerns me as a parent, and I know I’m not alone.  The world is so intensely sexualized.  And instead of sex being portrayed as the beautiful, biblical gift that it is, it's used as a marketing tool and means of exploitation.  Further, children are encouraged to experiment with it earlier and earlier.  

I recently heard youth culture and sexuality expert Jason Soucinek give a lecture to empower wary parents.  Although this topic is a bit down the road for me with young children, I am always up for information gathering on important issues. And I'm excited to share this information with you - whether you are in the information gathering phase too, or if you have teenagers and need some workable advice now.

Sadly, the internet is currently children's number one information source on sex.  As parents, we know that we need to appropriately restrict their access to inappropriate material.  One source said that the average age of introduction to pornography is now only four years old due to the nature of public advertisements and computer pop ups.  But censoring is only part of the solution.  We have to be willing to talk about sex too.  

Why talking is important

The number one thing that Jason advocated is that parents be willing to talk to their children about sex.  Statistic after statistic proves that parents are simply the most influential in shaping their children's views.  This is true even if you think it isn't.  Even if you think your children aren't listening, even if it appears they are blowing you off - they're still influenced.  The key is to be willing to meet them where they are, really listen to their perspective, and be willing to "go there" in communicating our own.

What do I mean by being willing to "go there?"  Jason talked about how a parent's elliptical treatment of sex is often passed down.  If our parents didn't really address the issue with us, then we're likely to do the same with our children.  He was adamant that sex education is not the primary responsibility of schools or the church; these institutions should build upon a framework that parents have already established.  A direct line of communication between children and parents is essential.  

It is this direct line of communication that can save our children from unnecessary pain and provide them with valuable instruction.  It also encourages children to go to us first with questions.  Because the issue is so relevant and pertinent to our children’s formation, we should guard our role and create a safe and protective space for our children as their primary resource.

Framing the issue

Jason provided a helpful metaphor to breach the issue of sex with our children.  Sex is like an iceberg, he said.  Did you know that only 10% of an iceberg is above the water?  Yes, 90% of an iceberg is actually hidden underwater, and that’s what sunk the Titanic.

Like an iceberg, when people approach the issue of sex, they often think of the visible 10%, which is the physical act.  But sex is much more beneath the surface.  It also has social, communal, emotional, and spiritual components.  To neglect that would be to put ourselves at risk.

In an age when puberty is happening earlier and marriage is happening later, children must wrestle with the issue of sexual restraint more than any preceding generation.  Educating our children about the gravity of the act with its various components helps to balance out the pervasively superficial cultural view.  It’s also an entry point for a biblical discussion about sex - one in which sex is certainly celebrated, but framed as well.

7 Talking Tips

Jason had seven important tips for parents who are ready to talk with their children:

1.  Remember that talking about sex is more of a process than a confrontation.  This can remove tension on both sides and invite meaningful dialogue.

2.  Statistically speaking, we need to communicate important messages over 7 times.  Just having one good talk about sex isn't enough to ingrain the message.

3.  In order for the message to really hit home, a teenager needs to hear the same message from 5 different adults.  This is when cultivating relationships with other families who have similar values can be helpful.  

4.  We can't parent out of our own pain or our own shame.  Sexuality can be a constructive or destructive force.  If we have experienced pain, we need to be able to separate our experience from that of our child's - but that doesn't mean neglecting to appropriately share our wisdom.

5.  Don't shelter yourself.  Parents need to educate themselves.  Have your children play their music for you, listen to conversations when driving carpool, and read school newspapers – do “field research” so that you can give poignant advice.

6.  No age is too young to start answering questions.  Gear your responses to your child's age, and if they are on the younger side, invite them to tell you when they have heard enough to satisfy their curiosity without feeling uncomfortable.

7.  Be sure to use the proper names for body parts in your discussions too; this simplifies the communication line and allows any adult to understand your child should there ever be a concern.  (This is an important step in combating child abuse.)

On an issue this prominent in our culture, it’s a sad fact that the church has often been a lacking voice in the conversation.  As influential as the church might be, however, Jason’s research shows that parents are more successful in transmitting values.  So instead of pointing fingers, we as parents need to accept our own responsibility on the front lines.  It’s an important first step.

*****

Are you interested in learning more about navigating hot parenting topics from the Christian perspective?  I invite you to become an email subscriber to my blog and receive a free printable today!  In the past, I have covered topics like worldly success and eating disorders.

FREE PRINTABLE!

Saturday, October 25, 2014 #giveaway

Dear Friends,

I am excited to present my blog's first FREE GIVEAWAY!  I have been working with Emily Burger, of Emily Burger Designs, on a truly special printable.  Emily is a fellow Christian mom and talented artist!

This printable holds five scriptural affirmations for children.  It is one that you can hang on the wall in your child's bedroom, by your dining table, or even inside your medicine cabinet to remind you of God's special promises.  Memorize them, teach them to your children, and keep them close to your heart.

ALL you need to do is become a new subscriber via email to my blog to receive it. You can submit your email address in the blank on the upper right hand corner of my blog screen.  Once you do, you will receive a confirmation link to your email.  Click on that, and you're subscribed!  Please look in your spam if you do not see that confirmation link in your inbox promptly!  After your subscription is successful, I will email you the printable.  It will come to you as a PDF attachment for easy printing.  Now, you will get each Vocational Mothering post sent to your inbox too - this is valuable because with Facebook's filters, sometimes you can miss something!

Thank you all for your support!  I am delighted to be on this ministry adventure with you.

Noelle

Vocational MotheringHonoring motherhood as a sacred task

What I Learned from a Staircase

Monday, October 20, 2014 #blessing #callings

I learned an unforgettable lesson from a staircase.  Surprisingly, the teacher was my dawdling toddler.

He was learning to go down the stairs by himself.  He had mastered going up a long time ago.  At first, going down was a little scary for him, so he was cautious.  Then it became a game.  He was not sure if he wanted to go up or down every time he was on them.  But he was very sure he did not want my help.

I was sure I did not want him to fall.  Our stairs were not yet carpeted, so a spill down the wooden staircase was especially dangerous.  I would stay a few steps down, encouraging and spotting him.  I would remind him to climb down on his belly, since he had more control.  I tried to anticipate any slipping.

I was happy that he was learning this new skill - my back needed a break!  But I was not thrilled about how much time he spent practicing.  And inevitably, he would start to play his game when the phone was ringing downstairs and my older son was calling for me.  

As I resigned myself to being patient on the stairs one day, I thought about how God sometimes waits for us.  Sometimes we are well aware of something God is calling us to do, whether it is to learn a new skill, follow through on a particular commitment, or begin an endeavor.  God encourages us by reminding us at poignant moments of his call, but it is easy in the everyday rush to put it off - or even play games ourselves.

It’s true - the staircase is a metaphor for God's call.  It might be challenging, it might take some practice, but making the journey takes us someplace different and someplace better.  My son didn't know on that particular day, I was taking him to his favorite gym class once he climbed down.  And following through can bring its own blessing for us too. 

God reminds us in Jeremiah 29:11, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"  When we choose bravery and obedience to his call, we can best experience God’s goodness.  It might be scary to obey.  We might have to fight some old procrastination tactics.  But I love that we’re still children, children of a big God who has his own surprises in store – for us.

So climb, fellow moms, climb.  See where your journeys take you.  And one final thing:  Remove any abandoned socks on the stairs.  Little boys like to leave them.  

Did this post encourage you?  Then you might also like Music Class Changed My Faith

My Live Sermon on "Family Matters"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 #family #time #christian living

I am excited to share my recent sermon on three ways we can honor God in our family today.  Gain godly direction, clarity, and the permission to slow down and capture quality time!

It was a joy to preach on Sunday about a topic so close to my heart - and this blog!  Learn more about why I created this blog and the invitation that each of us has to make a difference.

Click here to watch it.

What I'm Praying as School Starts

Friday, September 26, 2014 #schools #prayer #children

For the first time, I now have a child who is in full day school. Honestly, I wasn't sure if I was ready to do cheers or pull out the Kleenexes - sniff, sniff. It's the start of a new chapter, and one in which I will have less control over his day...But that's okay, because when Mommy stops, prayer begins.  This prayer is for all of you fellow mamas who are entrusting your children into the arms of others this fall.  I wrote it for my son, but you can easily adapt it for your daughters too.

Dear God,

You are such a merciful Parent.  Thank you for the way you gently guide us through our day.  You are a font of infallible instruction and unending love.

Bless my baby as he is apart from me.  Form a hedge of protection around him.  If he is ever unsure or afraid, draw ever closer to him.  Whisper your promises to his heart.

Help him to walk confidently in this new chapter of self-definition with you by his side. Guide him, gentle Shepherd, into your fold and place your call upon his heart.  Assist him in its exciting discovery.

You are amazing and will always provide more than I can ever give, for you are a constant and perfect presence.  As our family transitions in this new school year, continue to shape me and us so that we can best support him and together shine your light exactly where you've placed us.

We praise you for your faithfulness.  We look forward to celebrating life's ensuing milestones with you.  Continue to strengthen our family as we seek to be faithful and bask in your love.

In Christ's name I pray,

AMEN.

If you appreciated this post, you might also enjoy The Power of a Praying Mom and The Power of a Child's Praise.

Music Class Changed My Faith

Thursday, September 11, 2014 #faith #boldness #callings

Experienced parents will tell you, if they are wise, that you learn as much as your children when you parent. My older son taught me something when he was three that has changed the way I practice my faith.

My story begins in a parent-child music class. As a three-year-old, he had taken a new and definitive interest in the cymbals. Baby versions of the cymbals make a muffled sound, but these were real ones with a diameter about the size of a kickball – complete with wooden handles for a firm, loud crash! He would wait patiently until the end of music class for free music play. The vat of instruments would come out, and he could sift through it to find his prize.

It was the start of a new semester and I was with a new group of moms. I noticed other children getting quiet instruments and lightly strumming or plucking them on their mothers’ laps. Meanwhile, my son was proudly marching around with his cymbals crashing. The sound was rather annoying and I felt like everyone was watching. I made a couple of comments to the moms around me, “They are his favorite. You can see why I don’t have them at home!” I tried to fight the fact that I was embarrassed.

That night at dinner, I asked him if he had enjoyed music class. He said, “Mommy, the cymbals are loud,” and he hung his head down. Although his social awareness wasn’t fully developed, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had come to that realization because of my actions that day. I decided right then that I did not want my embarrassment to cost him something he looked forward to.

After all, the cymbals were included in the vat to be played...

Please click here to find out the two important faith lessons I learned from this experience. Are YOU living your faith to fullest?  Many thanks to Kaitlyn Bouchillon and the (in)courage team for inviting me to guest post again!

Reader Update

Monday, September 08, 2014

Dear Moms,

Something new is happening on my blog's Facebook page, and I don't want you to miss it! Starting tonight, Mondays will mean something special there.

Mondays = Mindful Mondays

Start the week intentionally by reading a brief food for thought designed especially with moms in mind.

We all need wisdom as we parent and attempt to lead faithful lives for Christ.  This simple step has one purpose:  That we slow the rush, drink in insight, and live less frazzled and more focused faith-filled lives.

Be sure to "LIKE" my page if you haven't already, and look for that inspiration on Monday evenings!

Your friend and fellow mom in Christ,

Noelle

P.S.  Stay tuned on Thursday for my guest post at (in)courage!  

6 Reasons Aladdin on Broadway is Unmissable

Thursday, September 04, 2014 #family #fun

We tried two times and failed.  The third time, we actually got tickets!  My husband and I took our two young boys to see a matinee show of Disney's Aladdin.  It's a hot ticket, and now we understand why.  To say we enjoyed ourselves is an understatement.  (My littlest keeps taking about how much he liked "that blue guy," a.k.a. the Genie.)  So I decided to write about the 6 reasons I'd recommend seeing the show:

1.  The show is kid-friendly.  Despite the fact that it is on the longer side at two and a half hours (and I went with a three-year-old, so I know), it is engaging - even mesmerizing at times - and clean family fun.

2.  You will see the REAL Jafar (Jonathan Freeman).  You've already heard his voice if you've seen the movie, and now you get to see him in person playing the role.  Remember when he responds dryly about the princess' choice in suitors?  His line of being "ecstatic" is even better on stage.

3.  The Genie on Broadway (James Monroe Iglehart) will go down in history as one of the greats.  Sure it's tough to imagine besting Robin Williams, but it's a pleasure to see some of Williams' famous lines performed while allowing someone else to lend their own genius and unique spin to the role.  Trust me, that's done.  There was even a spoof on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, but that's all I'm gonna say...

4.  There's a magic carpet ride on stage.  Let me say that again:  There's a magic carpet ride on stage! The carpet floats, swerves, climbs, and falls to intervals of melody while two characters fall in love.  It's just plain incredible to see this special effect.  I'm not sure how it's done, but you HAVE TO see it.

5.   Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) delivers his role to perfection.  He's everything you'd expect from a leading man.  You root for him.  He makes you laugh.  He might even make you cry - like when he sings his heart-felt appeals about turning his life around and pleasing his mother in heaven.  His voice is not only memorable, but it's laced with charismatic transparency.

6.  The show is a visual feast for the eyes.  My favorite extravaganza is Aladdin's parade to the castle after the Genie makes him a prince.  There are costumes with long yellow feathers that are especially breathtaking.  But rest assured there are enough sequins, sparkles, colors and lighting effects to satisfy anyone's need to be wowed.  And Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed) is the most beautiful leading lady I've seen on stage.

I've been blessed to live in the New York metro area for over ten years and have seen well over a dozen Broadway shows.  This one is near the top!  It's nice to find kid-friendly entertainment that packs such appeal.

*****

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment if you've seen it too!  And just in case you're wondering, please note that this review is unsolicited and is not tied with any monetary endorsement.  But you can tell the powers that be that I'd always accept free tickets for a blog giveaway LOL! 

I thought I'd start the school year with something fun!  Be sure to check my blog next week for a link to my guest post on (in)courage.

4 Life-Saving Lessons when Adversity Strikes

Thursday, August 21, 2014 #Bible #faith, encouragement, healing, fears

The story of Daniel in the lion's den is not just a childhood tale for Sunday school classrooms.  It's a story that applies to adults like you and me.  If we look past its intrigue and simple exhortation to trust in God, we begin to ask the right questions.  Namely, who are our lions and what do our own dens look like?  And more importantly, how does our God save?

There are times in our lives when we are simply brought to our knees.  The circumstances are too dangerous for us to live through alone - too emotionally taxing, too physically draining, too spiritually challenging.  Sometimes these circumstances are the result of unfair actions on the part of others, as was the case with Daniel, but they are always the result of living in a broken and fallen world.

We have no choice but to stand naked before God in scary vulnerability.  We want to believe that faith can move mountains, but the physical facts are undeniable and bleak.  After all, Daniel was in a den with hungry lions all night.  The only exit was protected by a huge boulder and the king's decree that it remain in place.  Hopelessness was certain.

In situations of hopelessness, we can discover the true nature of God.  The greatest gift God provided Daniel was a protective presence that never left him.  Daniel spoke of an angel who shut the lion's mouths.  There is a promise embedded in his story for us.  For what God has done once, he will do again.  God continues to shut lions' mouths today - your lions' mouths - so they will not consume you.

Deliverance looks different from person to person.  Sometimes the immediate circumstances change as a result of prayer, and sometimes they do not.  But here are four lessons I've learned:

1.  God gives us a perspective that allows us to rise above our circumstances.  Our time in the lion's den is not an isolated incident, but one incident on a journey with God.  When we look at adversity within the context of a faith relationship, we can experience the freedom of a new perspective and better recognize the footprint of our Creator's love.

2.    God will always bring deliverance when we remain faithful.  As I examine my journeys through adversity, I recognize "lifelines" that I often did not recognize as such at the time.  I marvel at God's gracious provision in retrospect.  So if you are currently in the lion's den, keep moving forward.  God is working.

3.  Sometimes deliverance is best evidenced by a change in our hearts.  The lions may prowl, our circumstances may or may not change on the outside, but make no mistake that there will be changes on the inside.  If we remain dependent on him, God will honor our humility by grafting more of himself into us.  And that new part is stronger.  Much stronger.

4.  Deliverance comes with reward.  An earthly king rewards Daniel after his survival in the lion's den. There is an earthly king in Daniel's story so that we do not forget a far more powerful king.  The King of Kings is with us and watching.  Who knows what blessings our faithfulness will unlock?

We can't forget these lessons.  Write them down.  Pass them on.  Remember God's unfailing presence, and trust.  Psalm 91:11 says, "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."  Angels still protect.  Romans 8:31 reminds us, "...If God is for us, who can be against us?"  God still fights on behalf of the faithful.  When you are shut up in the lion's den, feeling the cold and darkness of fear, remember:

"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark."  ~Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore

Sing, dear friends, sing.

****

If you want to read more encouragement, I love this article on the value of our suffering entitled A Field Guide for Suffering Well, which was posted on Her.meneutics.  Also, check out my other posts entitled Truth in Suffering and Warning: Peaks Ahead.

Imprinting Holy Moments onto Busy Schedules

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 #restore #motherhood #scheduling

I'm walking around the house and I see another one. There it is, resting on the sofa armrest. I can't imagine how it lays there so close to the edge without falling off. It's like one of those quick scooter turns when the angle is sharp and the wheel is skimming the outside edge, yet my toddler makes the turn, happy and oblivious.  Here, on this sofa armrest, he's left a treasure that despite all odds, is safe and sound.

I don't know where he found it.  I've discovered the smaller the treasure, the more unlikely the place he'll find it.  But he knows a treasure when he sees one, and there it lies. It's a Lego micro that looks like a dozen other pieces to me, but to him it's special.

Rachel Balducci has written about the unique collection of oddities little boys are keen on collecting. They turn up in funny places. I find them stealthfully hidden under or resting upon sofa cushions, or proudly displayed like trophies on bedroom tables.  Rachel finds them in play clothes' pockets that she combs through before doing the wash.

What strikes me about these objects of affection is how my sons find their inspiration in such unusual places. Again, to me it looks like just another other Lego micro, for instance, but to them it's distinguishable and special. I quickly find out just how special it is when I try to return it to the toy bin, or when a brother wants to "share" it by taking it away!

I am willing to bet you haven't coveted a Lego micro lately. Regardless, as adults, we have our own treasured objects too. Sometimes these objects have apparent value to others. But sometimes these objects are very ordinary and hold a special value only to us.

I want to collect more of the latter. Particularly, I'm looking for everyday objects that remind me of God's grace.  I'm learning I need to intentionally open myself to grace to avoid feeling empty and burdened.  And one of the ways I can open myself is to search for grace-filled reminders in physical form.

The monotony of daily rhythms can distract us from the holy punctuations in our lives.  When we experience holy punctuations, we need to take hold of them. Maybe we read a powerful scripture verse one morning - why not write it down and tape it to our mirror? It's a simple piece of paper, but it reminds us of a genuine moment of inspiration with God.

Maybe you know a place that's special - God spoke to you there and answered a prayer. Take a reminder of that place and carry it with you. A rock from the ground. A card from the business. Use it to remember God's awesome grace at work in your life for the day you'll need to remember. I'm wearing a necklace from such a place right now.

In the flurry of motherhood, it's easy to try to do everything in our own strength. This only contributes to our weariness.  In our busyness preparing for tomorrow, we can miss the grace-filled moments God designed for us today.  Don't let that be us, Lord. We're hungry for you, no matter how much our schedules distract us.  Help us to humbly remember your grace and become unabashed collectors - for you.

If you liked this post, check out this one about the importance of slowing down called A Peaceful Pause.  

Important Additions to Your Summer Reading List

Saturday, July 12, 2014 #christian parenting #Summer #Book Review

Summer is not only a time to unwind, but it's a time to read to and invest in our children.  I have some book titles to share with you.  I have read them all and can wholeheartedly recommend them!  In fact, I read several of them to over 150 children this week at my church's Vacation Bible School.  Make sure you check out the book One below - it was a favorite!

If you aren't familiar with Max Lucado's children's books yet, these are a great place to start:

The Crippled Lamb - In this tenderhearted classic, we meet a little lamb with a limp who is able to play a special part in the life of Jesus because of it.  This book gives children a platform for understanding the value of every person, including children who physically or mentally struggle.

Because I Love You - Through the tale of a kind carpenter and a wayward boy, we learn about the reality of sin in the world and our Savior's rescue.  It's a great resource to use to explain why we need Jesus and just how much he loves us.

The Oak Inside the Acorn - This is a story about how each of us is created unique and entrusted with a special purpose by our Creator.  It focuses on an acorn's journey to becoming an oak tree, and how that growth mimics the journey each of us takes while coming of age.  This book is for older children; it encourages them to pursue their life purpose.

Here's another Christian book by a different author.  It's a classic that has been in print for over 60 years:

If Jesus Came to My House by Joan G. Thomas - A boy imagines Jesus as a little boy who comes to play at his house.  Your child can watch how he treats Jesus.  The boy knows that this playdate cannot really happen, but that he can serve Jesus by treating others the same way.  It encourages children to serve others in ways that they know and understand!

This next book is not religious, but it demonstrates Christian principles:

One by Kathryn Otoshi - Read how one character inspires others to stand up to bullying. Characters move from colors to numbers, demonstrating that everyone "counts."  It is an abstract but poignant tale that teaches children the power of one voice.

As you talk about One with your children, remember that Jesus was just one man who walked on earth, and yet he forever changed history and eternity by doing so as God!  Our children can shine his light to others in his name and make a different too - no matter how big or small they are!  

Do you want more resource suggestions?  Read my recommendations for a children's Bible and children's devotional.

{Photo from iStock, Edited}

How to Steer Clear of Danger

Sunday, June 29, 2014 #Bible #change #trust, obey

Truth be told, they hadn't seen their friends in a while.  

As their friends came bounding down the hill toward our new backyard swing set, my children's excitement was palpable.  It was then a race to see who would get up the climbing wall first.  Or just how high a swing could go.  Or who could master some new feat that their mothers quickly said "No!" to for fear of life and limb.  They're boys, after all. 

They happily made circles around the swing set moving from one activity to another.  It was a joy to see their amusement.  But there was danger too.  Maybe it was the energy of the moment.  Maybe it was the fact that there was so much going on.  Or maybe it was because it was at the end of a long summer day.  Regardless, they weren't listening.

"Watch out for the swing!"  

My friend and I repetitively reminded the boys to steer clear of the swing path when someone was swinging to little avail.  One by one they would cross the path en route to a new activity.  They remained unscathed due to our efforts to halt the swing or swiftly usher them out of the way.  Parents of little children know that this is a common occurrence. The swings are often the most coveted spot on the playground, but we have to be vigilant watching their path.  

There's a lesson here for us too.

As adults, how often do we hear, sometimes repetitively, that something isn't good or safe for us, yet we persist anyway?  Enter the bad habit, unhealthy relationship pattern, or unwise choices.  When we were younger, maybe an adult took us by the hand and explained what wasn't safe.  When we were older, maybe we listened to our Father's instruction in scripture.  But for whatever reason, we have had trouble acting accordingly.

Make no mistake:  God is your Heavenly Parent watching you on the playground of life.  God wants you to enjoy all of the fun life has to offer - safely.  God whispers instruction in scripture to protect you.  God puts people in your life to take you by the hand and direct you. And God is always there to pick you up if you fall down and show you his love.

Just as I longed for my children to heed my wisdom, God wants the same for each of us. God wants to unlock the power of his instruction in our lives to pave the way for a better tomorrow.  The trick is that we have to listen, and we have to trust him.  God is giving us the opportunity to not have to learn the hard way through that trust.  Maybe you've had some near misses on life's swing.  God is calling you today to steer clear for good - and be blessed.

"For the Lord gives wisdom; From his mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly" (Proverbs 2:6-7, NKJV).

If you liked this post, I also recommend Firm Legs to Stand On.

{Photo by Chris Yarzab at Flickr, Edited}

What to Know Before Making Waves

Saturday, June 28, 2014 #Summer #safety

"One, two, three, JUMP!"  And he did it.  Right into the deep end from a platform over two feet above the water.  He had no fear, just pride.  And it was the first time his little five-year-old body had done it.  He had talked about being ready for a couple of weeks, but he had waited until I was at the swimming lesson along with his Daddy before doing it.

I was swelling with pride too.

As I watched my son learn to tread water with his instructor, and as I watched his head bob up and down as he worked so hard to cross the pool with concentration and joy, I remembered he hadn't always been that comfortable.  In fact, there had been much hesitation, some tears, and even some screams early on our path to this point.

Now he says swimming is one of his favorite activities.

Our son does not have to become a really good swimmer unless he wants to be one.  My husband and I believe swimming is an important life skill:  We simply don't want him to be afraid of the water, and we want him to be proficient.  We want him to be prepared for the times he wants to use this skill - or needs to use it.

We all know the dangers of drowning as parents.  We know it can happen in surprisingly little water.  Many of us also know that drowning often doesn't look like we'd expect.  I had thought I needed to be on the lookout for flailing arms splashing in the water and a scream for "Help!"  But I've learned that drowning is often a quiet, more peaceful looking experience, and one that we need to be ever vigilant watching for.

A friend of mine forwarded a must-read from a fellow mommy blogger recently.  This mommy blogger shares her story about another danger we need to be watchful for: secondary drowning.  If you're like me and it hasn't even been on your radar, take a minute to read this.  Click here to read her story entitled "Secondary Drowning + My Recent Experience & Real Life Almost Nightmare."  Thank you, Delighted Momma, for sharing your heart with us.

We worship a God who calms the flood waters (Psalm 89:9), and sometimes he uses our hands and wisdom to do it.  I wish everyone a happy and safe pool season!  Maybe I will even work on my cannonball too...

Do you have a pool safety tip or resource that you'd like to share?  Please comment below!

If you appreciated this information, check out my other posts on safety:  Stranger Danger Tips Every Mom Should Know and Safety Tips Every Mom Should Know.

{Photo by AnneCN at Flickr, Edited}

The Only Antidote to Worry

Saturday, June 14, 2014 #worry #peace #trust

Have you been feeling overwhelmed with worry?  With the end of another school year, schedules can get hectic and it's easy to feel overloaded.  Whether you're concerned about getting everything done, or you're wrestling with something greater, we need to be reminded of the sanctuary we have in Christ.

Scripture reminds us, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (I Peter 5:6-7).  What do your anxieties consist of?  Maybe you are pregnant and facing complications.  Maybe you or a family member has recently lost a job or is going through a job transition.  Maybe your child has had a health scare, and you've come face to face with the limitations of your control.  Whatever it may be, God knows the burden you've been carrying.

Jesus did not preach platitudes in a vacuum.  He knew firsthand the brokenness and struggle in our world, and he extended an invitation of comfort and peace in the midst of it.  It is not that we will never have a reason to worry.  No.  We will have reason to worry, but that's when we need to cling to the sovereign hand of God.

We worship a God who can order every aspect of our life for good - even the mistakes, even the mishaps, even the sin.  That means that even in the worse case scenario of whatever burden you've been carrying, God already has you covered.  Further, Christ's resurrection promises us that hope is always possible - no matter what the circumstances - with God.

As Christians, there is always a silver lining.  Christ told his disciples, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  In other words, we shouldn't analyze our problems, but petition our God.  Christ is the gateway to perfect peace.  When we approach him in humility, we will experience the only true antidote to worry: trust in God.

I am quite fond of the daily devotional by Sarah Young entitled Jesus Calling:  Enjoying Peace in His Presence.  Recently, I read a devotion on worry that I wanted to share with you, for she echoes this truth.  She writes as if Jesus is speaking to you:

I am all around you, like a cocoon of Light.  My Presence with you is a promise, independent of your awareness of Me.  Many things can block this awareness, but the major culprit is worry.  My children tend to accept worry as an inescapable fact of life.  However, worry is a form of unbelief; it is an anathema to Me.

Who is in charge of your life?  If it is you, then you have good reason to worry.  But since I am in charge, worry is both unnecessary and counterproductive.  When you start to feel anxious about something, relinquish the situation to Me.  Back off a bit, redirecting your focus to Me.  I will either take care of the problem Myself or show you how to handle it.  In this world you will have problems, but you need not lose sight of Me.

Young's use of cocoon imagery is powerful.  There is no doubt that a cocoon is delicate and indicates a time of trial through life-altering change.  But it is also a place of comfort and safety for new life to begin.  As we bring our worry to God, may he hold you in the cocoon of his peace, so that you might see the situation through together and later marvel at his grace.  Trust him - it's worth it.

If you appreciated this post, you might also like From Worry to Confidence and What to Do in a Storm.

{Photo by Francesco at Flickr, Edited}

Sometimes We All Need to Blow Up

Sunday, June 01, 2014 #spiritual growth #fresh perspective

Have you ever noticed that it's often easier to assimilate information when there's an image attached to it?

In March I went on my church's women's retreat, and the speaker utilized several powerful images.  Danna Demetre was our gifted retreat leader.  I've been particularly eager to share two of her metaphors with you.  The first one describes our responsibilities in life as a series of balls.  The second one equates our spiritual life with a glass of chocolate milk.  Both certainly piqued my interest.

Life is like a series of balls

When we describe life as a series of balls, prioritizing becomes easier.  Imagine your daily responsibilities are akin to bouncing rubber balls.  You do laundry - you bounce a ball.  You cook meals - you bounce a ball.  You pay bills, work, and clean your house - all of this is bouncing balls.  Each of us could bounce balls all day everyday.

In addition to rubber balls, we also have glass balls.  Unlike rubber balls, these are not designed for bouncing.  They are fragile and require careful attention.  Glass balls signify our relationships.  They are far from ordinary, and we must safeguard them.  A friend of mine added that you can store these balls on the shelf for a little while.  But every once in a while you need to dust them off and tend to them.  And you can always reach for them when needed.

The third type of ball in life is a balloon.  This ball requires attention as well, but instead of bouncing or protecting it, we must blow air into it.  Our spiritual life is like an uninflated balloon.  Effort is required to advance it along its intended trajectory.  When we neglect it, it shows.  When we blow it up, we expand and reach our fullest potential.  We can blow air into our balloons by reading scripture, praying, and experiencing Christian community and worship, for instance.

Not only do these images depict different responsibilities in life, but they demonstrate how to tend to them.  It's especially important not to bounce rubber balls at the expense of our other balls.  We must pull back and reprioritize when that's the case.

Our spiritual life is like chocolate milk

Just as we must inflate our spiritual balloons, we must stir our glasses of milk.  Imagine you're a glass of milk and God is the Hershey's Syrup.  Have you ever thought about what happens when you add syrup to a glass of milk?  It simply sinks to the bottom. You must stir the syrup into the milk in order to make chocolate milk.  The same principle applies to our spiritual life.  God provides us with rich blessings through faith, but in order to be fully transformed by those blessings, we must stir our faith up.  Again, reading scripture, praying, and experiencing Christian community and worship are ways to do that.

So if you have been feeling overrun by bouncing rubber balls, don't be afraid to pull back.  If you have been feeling rather empty, try inflating your spiritual balloon.  If you have dedicated your life to Christ but haven't felt any differently lately, try stirring things up.  Sometimes we just need an image to lock on to that can make all the difference.

To read other posts about my recent women's retreat, check out The Redemptive Nature of Girl Power and Why It's Important to Run for the Hills.

{Photo by Luke Jones at Flickr, Edited}

The Redemptive Nature of Girl Power

Saturday, May 17, 2014 #women, discipleship #community, fears, healing, encouragement

This year I decided to go on our church’s women’s retreat after some not so subtle prompting from the Holy Spirit.  I had never been on a women’s retreat before.  In fact, I had only been away from my family for two nights one other time since the birth of our first child five years ago.  I was convicted when I signed up with a couple of girlfriends that it was the right decision.  But as the date approached, I started to doubt. 

All of us can keep busy schedules.  Those of you with little children may sometimes feel engulfed by yours.  It was one of those times for me.  I had just hosted family for several days for Easter the weekend before.  The visit was great, but in its wake our house was a mess and our kids were exhausted.  I felt the need to relax, but instead I was supposed to pack and travel the next weekend too.  I wondered, “Will my weekend away really be worth all of this hassle?” 

Despite my doubts about going, I kept my commitment and followed through.  I knew God would bless the weekend – but he did so in a way that surprised me.  These are some of the retreat blessings I anticipated:  The opportunity to hear a fabulous speaker, make new friends, divorce my cellphone for a weekend, and take a long nap.  (I was particularly excited about the latter.  Seriously, moms, when is the last time you took a long, uninterrupted nap completely guilt-free?)  Well, God did deliver on all of those things, but they weren't the best part.  The best part was experiencing the unique power of collective feminine witness, which manifested itself in three ways.

First, I experienced connection.  When I mention connection, I am not talking about making new friends.  I am talking about the power of female community.  I live in a house with four males – my husband, two sons, and a male cat.  As wonderfully sensitive and loving as they are, they are not females.  I was amazed by the vulnerability and desire to share stories on the retreat.  It was prevalent and effortless.  It was women communicating in the way God designed us to need. 

When I think about my weekly schedule with little children, maybe I sneak in a quick conversation with a friend during a playdate.  Maybe I meet a friend for coffee and have a quick heart-to-heart before dashing to pick my children up from preschool.  Maybe I arrange to have a dinner out with a friend once in a while.  I might feel fueled by each of these outlets, but they are not the same as a collection of women coming together to communicate for an entire weekend.  I saw lives not just touched, but transformed.

Second, I experienced communal wisdom.  If you think about it, each of us has a limited sphere of connection.  Despite the fact that I am a pastor and rather outgoing, my immediate circle of friends is small and fairly homogeneous.  The friends whom I regularly see live near me, are of similar age, and engage in some of the same activities.  I know their stories, and they know mine.  Imagine the power, however, of hearing new stories from women of varying ages and backgrounds.  Imagine the communal truth that can emerge.

Just like wars have been fought for similar reasons throughout history, I’m learning marriages end for similar reasons.  Friendships collapse for similar reasons.  Children go down the wrong path for similar reasons.  Sharing communal wisdom is essential for the protection and growth of what we value most.  We all know live, personal testimonies are far more effective than anything we can read in a book, but we need to take advantage of the opportunity to hear them.  If you are a young woman, perhaps you have been hesitant to go on a retreat because yours is largely attended by older women; consider the fact that their stories might be just what God wants you to hear. 

Finally, I experienced continued growth in perspective.  In one weekend, there were stories of divorce, imprisonment, assault and battery, and mental illness, among others, and that’s from a healthy, suburban church.  Creation is still groaning.  If you think you must suffer alone and in silence, if you believe no one can possibly understand your pain, if you think there is no place to express your anger toward God in Christian community, you are listening to the Deceiver.  Sometimes the greatest gift God can give us are hands to hold from women who understand, and together we can resurrect from the ashes through faith.

So in answer to my question, “Will my weekend away really be worth all of this hassle?”, my answer undoubtedly is YES.  God blessed my time on the retreat abundantly.  And in fact, I have come to see the hassle beforehand differently too.  The responsibilities that seemed onerous to arrange before I left are for a family that I now appreciate even more.  For amidst a recognition of life’s trials, we can better celebrate every good gift.

If you liked this post, you might also like Why It's Important to Run for the Hills.

Why It's Important to Run for the Hills

Saturday, May 03, 2014 #motherhood #restoration

Last weekend I ran, well really drove, to the hills.  I attended my church's women's retreat in the Pocono Mountains.

Moms, when is the last time you packed your bags and left your family for a couple of nights?  

Maybe you practice the discipline of it, and take an occasional weekend away to recharge or connect with girlfriends.  But if you're like me, you've done it next to never since you've had children.

In order to get away, I had to push through some doubts.  First, would a weekend away really be worth all of the hassle?  I was cleaning, packing, stocking the house, and arranging the necessary logistics.  I was exhausted - and hadn't even left yet.

Second, would my husband be okay watching our young children all weekend and then going back to work on Monday?  Would he be able to shoulder the extra work in addition to the various additional responsibilities that had cropped up?  We all have a family rhythm, and my time away was a break from ours.

After going on the retreat, I can confidently answer that everything worked out okay - actually, better than okay.  My husband had a blast with our children.  And I returned refreshed, renewed and transformed.

If you have been feeling reluctant - over even guilty - about needing some time away, I wonder if you've wrestled with any of these thoughts:

My husband just doesn't understand nor appreciate what I do all day!  Have you given him the chance to do it by himself?

My children won't stop whining - even an occasional thank you would be nice!  Have you given your children the opportunity to miss you?   

I am so exhausted.  One day bleeds into another - it's like I am reliving Groundhog's Day!  When is the last time you allowed yourself a break? 

Sometimes we just need encouragement to get away - encouragement that says it will be worth the extra work to arrange it.  Sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to do it.  You don't have to be supermom.  You can step away.  In fact, you can actually be more "super" after you do.

We can't allow maternal pride to rob us of a break.  Yes, other people will do things differently than we do in our absence.  But I've learned over the years that just because they do it differently doesn't mean we always do it better.  God created each of us with strengths and weakness; the strongest model for family life is one that accepts an influx of guidance and support.

Christ established a model for us to emulate by heading for the hills.  Mark 6:45-46 states, "Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.  After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray."  Yes, Christ was praying to the Father, but he was also intentionally removing himself from those he was beholden to in order to refuel.  

If you've been sensing the need for a little time away, have you ever considered that it is Jesus himself who is bidding you to go?

{Photo by Dhruvaraj S at Flickr, Edited}

The Gospel According to Little Boys

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 #children #Easter

In honor of Easter, my two-year-old was decked out in paraphernalia when I picked him up from preschool.  He wore a special cross hat that he had proudly colored.  (His teachers had made it skillfully out of a paper plate - Seriously, how do preschool teachers repurpose all they do into such niffy concoctions?)  In addition, he was carrying an Easter basket full of candy, holiday poems, and that grass you never can stop picking up all over the house.  Finally, he had a new plastic cross necklace around his neck.  That was his favorite.

And when we went to the playground, I found out why.

There was my little two-year-old, running around the playground interacting with children twice his age.  He loves playing with his brother's friends.  That was not unusual.  But what happened next was:  He picked up his cross necklace, pointed it at one of the boys, and made a shooting sound.  Yes, he was using his cross as a gun.

I was m-o-r-t-i-f-i-e-d.

I went over to him for an explanation.  He said, "Mommy, do you know my cross has power?"

"Oh really, what kind of power?" I asked.

"Fire power!" he exclaimed as he happily ran off.  He left a trail of laughs from boys behind him as they joined in the fun.

If you're a mother of boys, you might be letting out a knowing sigh right now.  I've come to expect my boys' rough and tumble nature to come out in surprising moments.  And sometimes, I've learned to just roll with it.

But in this instance, we certainly talked about how the cross is not a weapon, and we don't play by pointing guns at people.  I realize this whole lesson falls apart the next time I put a water gun in his hands, however.  Sigh.

What's interesting about the incident, though, is that my son's statement was correct.  The cross really does have "fire" power.  Scripture describes the Holy Spirit as fire, and the Spirit witnesses to each of us about the power of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

I sometimes wonder if we tame Easter too much.  It's become a holiday of egg hunts, a fluffy bunny who likes to pose for pictures, and ruffled dresses.  Maybe we say a sentimental prayer about the importance of family before we feast.  Maybe it's the one Sunday a year we go to church...Maybe we are missing something.

Jesus' crucifixion was gory and messy, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday was far from a casual event - it was a cataclysmic one.  It changed everything.  The evil forces of this world were defeated, and we are grafted into that victory through faith.  There is definite warfare imagery going on.  Therefore, in the spirit of my son's playtime: 

  • To discouragement - Take that!  We now have a renewing, insurmountable hope.  
  • To desperation - Stick it!  We are now never without additional reinforcements through our Savior.  
  • To panic and disappointment - Hi-Yah!  There is now a blessed, eternal future promised to us.  
  • To numbness and brokenheartedness - Pow! Pow!  There is now an unconditional love that claims us from the grave.  

I love how my son naturally related the cross' power to terms young boys could understand. That's exactly what Jesus did in the parables:  He took big truths and distilled them down into little nuggets through the use of images that were second nature to his audience.  The parables retain their power by still being applicable outside of their original audience, however, just like my son's example is to us.

So if you're looking for Easter to mean a little more this year, check out a two-year-old boy on the playground.  Maybe he'll be grinning ear to ear and darting to and fro while his cross necklace dances across his chest.  He's pretty adorable, and he's taught me something too.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to read A Theological Lesson From...M&M's!, my Easter post from last year.

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