Sunday, September 7, 2014

What's Important?

As a little girl, I used to keep a diary from time to time.  Frequently, I would skip several days, even months of writing and every time I would finally write again, I would apologize to my diary.  Perhaps, I was really apologizing to myself for not being more consistent.  I'm still like this in many ways.  I am one to begin a project and either forget about it and never finish or I simply come back to it much later.  This is one area where I wish I could improve.  As a mom with many children, it is so easy to leave many unfinished projects.  Prioritizing which ones are the most important is also a challenge.

One of my newer projects that I've begun is writing a book.  A little presumptuous?  Maybe, but I am excited about it.  I have already learned so much as I've read, researched and spent time putting my thoughts to paper, or rather in a document on the computer.  I have always enjoyed writing.  I've always been able to express myself much better in writing than in talking.  Don't get me wrong.  I love to talk to people, but many times the words are just not there for what I really want to say.  At other times, I've had the opportunity of finding out what my shoe leather tastes like.  In writing, I am much more careful in what I choose to say.  I have more time to think before I write.  Perhaps, I should practice being careful in what I say when speaking to people, especially my own family.

So, where was I going?  See what I mean.  I am a very distracted person.  "Squirrel!"  This is why finishing things I start is a challenge.  This is why deciding what the most important priorities are and sticking to them can be so difficult.  Right now, I am looking at a huge pile of ironing that I've been neglecting.  Of course, I did do some laundry this morning, so that counts.  There are countless things that need to be done around my home, not to mention getting back into the routine of home schooling, but what are the most important things?  When we try to break it down to the most important things, we need to remember what God desires.  We can do many good things, but maybe we aren't focusing on the best things.

As a Christian, the most important priority is drawing closer to the Lord.  Spending time in His Word, talking to Him, listening to Him, and worshipping Him are the ways in which we can grow in our walk with Him.  I wish I had hours to simply focus on Him, but even though I can't do all of these things as much as I would like, I can draw closer to Him throughout the day.  During whatever menial tasks I am engaged in at the moment, I can pray, I can worship, I can recall Scripture. I find that my mind can be such a battlefield.  Fear, worry and complaining so easily invade my thoughts each day.  These things do not honor God.  Following the Lord is the hardest thing in life because we are constantly battling self.  Even in prayer, I battle these things.  My prayers can sometimes sound like a huge gripe session or many times, I am so distracted that I'm only thinking of what I need to do after I'm done talking with the Lord.  I need His help in prayer.  Only He knows what I truly need and only He can quiet my soul when everything else seems to be competing for my attention.
As a wife, my husband needs to be my next priority.  All too often, I only see the urgent needs of the children or my house that I forget him.  He needs an encouraging word, a loving touch, tasks done without complaining and even interrupting my own schedule to let him know that he is important to me.  It is much easier to roll my eyes or get irritated when I see he has needs, but when I die to myself and to my own agenda, my husband is blessed and God is glorified.  Now, there are times that other needs arise, pressing needs.  You know, like a fire on the stove or kids hanging off of the walls.  That's when Hubby has to take a backseat temporarily, but most of the time he is to come after God.  That's just how it's supposed to work. 

As a Mommy, my children are next in line.  Now obviously, they have some very visible needs.  Feeding them, keeping little ones clean, enforcing bedtimes and even keeping the house clean are needs that our children have.  Then there are the not so visible needs like comforting them, reassuring them, listening to their hopes and dreams and most importantly their need to know their Creator.  This need is in all of us, but as parents, we have the awesome privilege and responsibility to direct our children to their loving Creator.  They are watching us as we pray, as we worship and as we handle different situations that arise.  I tremble at the thought that I have such a direct influence on eight little lives in our home.  I thank the Lord everyday that even though I fail, that He can use me to point them to Him. 

As I think about our next priorities, I realize that this is where great discernment is needed.  Our neighbors, whether they be next door to us, those we worship with, those in our communities or even people throughout our country or around the world should be after our families.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ need to be encouraged.  Our next door neighbor may need a meal.  Those that need Christ need to hear the Gospel and need to see it being lived out in our lives.  The hungry need fed.  The persecuted Church needs our prayers.  There are so many ways that we as Christians can reach out and bring glory to God.  I said that great discernment is needed for a couple of reasons.  Sometimes in our zealous tendencies to "make a difference" in this world, we forget our first priorities.  Yes, I need to love my neighbor and be a living testimony for the Lord, but if my own relationship with the Lord, with my husband or my children fail, then these great intentions for God amount to nothing.  As home school moms, we can tend to be so busy outside the home, running our little darlings to educational experiences or even giving of our time to help those in the community that our homes actually suffer.  Our husband's and our children's needs can be put on the back burner.  Our houses will be ones of disorder which leads to frustration for its occupants.  Yes, I mean that we really should clean our homes from time to time!  On the flip side, when we hold to our schedules so religiously that there is no breathing room for anyone else, then we are wrong.  Our children need to see that there are others in this world besides themselves and Mom's precious schedule.  Sometimes, a gift of bread to a neighbor or welcoming an unexpected visitor into our home is more important than when we accomplish our math or English lessons.  We must be sensitive to the Lord's leading in all of these things.

Have you noticed where self has been placed?  Yes, last.  This is not an admonition to false humility.  Nor is it a chance for me to say, "See how humble I am?"  Of course, we must take care of ourselves, physically, mentally and all of the other "lys" that follow, but our Lord is always first, our husbands second, our children third and others fourth.  We cannot come before them.  I have not gotten a hold of this yet.  As I have said, the battle with self is fierce, but we must recognize where our place is.  Remember, in James 4:6, it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble".  And, in Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves".  We are reminded from Scripture again and again that God is to get all of the glory for everything and that we are to die daily to ourselves and our own ambitions.  We hear from the world and even other Christians how we need to take care of ourselves.  I get it all of the time when folks find out about our large family, which doesn't really seem that large to me.  "Oh, Honey.  You need to take some time for yourself!"  There's also been a focus on physical health that has crept into Christianity.  We hear it all of the time from the world.  Trying to stay young and living long lives have been idolized, but I'm seeing it more and more in the Church.  This will step on some toes, but an almost god-like quality has been given to things like essential oils, exercise, eating whole foods and so many other areas.  I am not saying these things are bad, but we need to be so cautious that we remember our quest is not to live healthier physical lives, but to be renewed in our minds by the power of the Holy Spirit.  So much time is given to getting back to a healthier lifestyle, but not much time is given to the Lord.  News flash!  We are dying.  Our bodies are just a shell for our eternal souls and I desire so much to devote my attention towards the eternal and not the temporal.  It all goes back once again to priorities.  What's important to you?  If good health is your god, than you are sinning.  If keeping everything perfectly organized is your god, stop it.  If your children or your husband come before God, you are wrong.  We need to get on our knees and repent of our idols.  We need to repent when our priorities are out of whack and when we have forgotten what is really important.  

So, I have finished writing this blog post.  Wow.  I finished something!  Seriously, writing today has been a good reminder to me of what my priorities should be.  May God help me to live it.  I long for Him to be my highest priority.  I want to love my husband, my children and my neighbors with the love of Christ.  May God be praised above all things.  Soli Deo Gloria!

"Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is.  That which is good and acceptable and perfect".  Romans 12:1-2

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Mother's Day Lesson

Every year, I try not to have too many expectations for Mother's Day.  I don't want to be disappointed or make it all about me. For one thing, on this day, I like to think of my own mother and all she means to me.  And, this day, although it is set apart to honor mothers reminds me of how thankful I need to be for my Heavenly Father who made it possible to have these precious ones that surround me.  He is the only reason I am a mother at all.  He is also the only reason that I can get through each day. 

I am thankful for each child He has given me and I most earnestly believe that each one is a blessing, but there are days that are very hard for me.  Days when I want to give up.  Days when I don't even like these kids.  *gasp*  No, I am not a perfect mother that has it all together.  So often, I run into people that find out how many kids we have and they say, "Wow, you must be so patient!"  "Oh yeah, that's me.  Patient Momma!"   Sometimes, I can't wait for an excuse to leave for a while.  I do think it is important to take breaks from the daily routine.  Moms need time alone with the Lord, time with a friend, time to be refreshed even with the smallest things.  I've been known to reward myself by lighting a candle or retreating to my room for a square of dark chocolate.  Of course, I only allow myself those things if I've done some task first.  "If I just empty the dishwasher or fold one load of laundry, then I can have a break."  These rewards and short breaks are healthy, but I find that when I'm particularly stressed out, I find multiple ways of escaping.  In fact, it probably takes more effort for me to escape then it would be to sit down with one or more of the children and play with them.  I find I put off correcting a behavior, because I want to escape so badly.  I don't often physically leave the house, but my mind checks out for a time.  It is very easy for me to get caught up listening to my classical music.  Utter chaos could be happening all around me, but I would rather ignore the chaos and be lost in the music.  And yet, I am also a person who gets easily distracted, therefore, I become angry because a child would dare to ask me a dozen questions while I'm listening to a symphony or a piano sonata!  How many times have I crushed a child's spirit because Mommy was too stressed to take the time to say, "I love you.  You are important to me?" 

When Mother's Day rolls around, it is so easy for me to expect the day to be nearly perfect and carefree.  After all, I deserve it!  Deep down, I know this is not realistic and oh, it's also a bit narcissistic.  The day I have worked out in my mind goes something like this:  I awake from a restful night of sleep and hear the children and my husband busy in the kitchen, making me breakfast.  No fighting, just happy joyful sounds of the family working together.  The dishes are done.  The living room straightened.  With the arrival of my breakfast on a tray, there are eight sweet children giving me a hug or a kiss and a big, "Happy Mother's Day!"  There is a beautiful store bought card and lots of handmade ones.  A big bouquet of flowers awaits me at the dining room table.  The sun is shining.  I'm feeling wonderful.  I mean, it could happen, right? 

To be fair, my husband and children do try to make Mother's Day special for me.  Some years are better than others.  This year, Mother's Day arrived after a long week of Mommy being at symphony chorus rehearsals and concerts every night.  Daddy was gone for part of the week on a business trip.  I was battling allergies and the emotions of performing and of it being the last concert weekend of the year. 

We began the tradition of going out to brunch for Mother's Day on the Saturday before, so we wouldn't have to battle the crowds of hungry, desperate mothers who didn't want to cook on Sunday!  But, this year, we just didn't have the time to do that with my concerts.  Instead, I went and had my hair done and spent time vocalizing and brushing up on the French I would be singing.  I was pleasantly surprised by a dozen roses that showed up at the door, too, from my dear family.

When Sunday rolled around, I was exhausted and hungry!  I forgot about making reservations for brunch, so we called my favorite restaurant to find out that it would be a long wait.  It was too late to make a reservation, so we would simply have to wait or we could hit a Chipotle or a McDonald's, but that didn't sound as good to me.  So, we put our name in and I waited in the restaurant with my laptop and did some writing.  My husband brought a movie for the kids to watch in the car.  We ended up not waiting as long as we originally thought and were seated.  The restaurant was much louder than I remembered which annoyed me.  Some of the kids were more difficult than usual, but all in all, it was a nice time.  Good food and I didn't have to cook.  By the time we left, however, I had one of my sinus headaches and was miserable.  My husband took me to pick up some hanging plants for the porch and then, we drove in the country for awhile and discovered some new roads close to home.  I really did enjoy the time with the family, but I wasn't feeling well.  Close to the kids' bedtime, my headache finally was easing and I thought it would be fun to go see a late night movie with my husband.  This is something we never do.  We placed our oldest daughter in charge and said goodnight to the kids and drove back to town.  We were the only ones in the theater. 

Then, there was today.  I woke up late and more exhausted than ever.  My older kids had overslept.  The sink and the counters were filled with dirty dishes.  The laundry in the washing machine had to be rewashed. It had sat there a few days because I had forgotten about it.  I wasn't feeling well again.  The younger children were acting out more than ever.  I just wanted to...ESCAPE!  I guess I did do just that when I threw myself into my work and listened to two Beethoven symphonies! I was glad to sit with the kids for our Bible time before lunch and made sure the older ones were practicing for their music lessons.  I planned my meals for the week and wrote down a grocery list for my husband.  I very much appreciated that he was willing to do the shopping this time.  But, you know what?  I still complained.  I can still hear myself mumbling under my breath about not getting more help.  Good grief.  I think I would have been in good company with those whining Israelites after God delivered them from Egypt.  And, all the while I could hear the Lord saying, "take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ."  Oh, and this one, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."  Yeah, I have much to take to the Lord.  I need to repent of my attitudes and my lack of thankfulness. 

If there's one thing I have learned this year, it's that Mother's Day is not about me.  It's about Him.  Everything is about Him.  I can't take another breath without Him.  I can't walk another step without Him.  I can do nothing without Him.

  "Dear God, please teach me to be thankful.  Teach me to be content.  Content with where You have placed me, where You have led me, and content with what You have given me.  And, above all, please teach me how to love You.  I don't know how.  I want to love my family, so that I can show my love for You.  You've given me this desire to follow You, but I need Your help every moment of the day.  Thank You for loving me.  Without Your love, I would be nothing."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pressing On

Only a day or so passed after I wrote my last blog post.  I had written about our family's loss of focus during the Christmas season and our need to repent of our complaining and then, we all succumbed to a nasty flu virus!  It took a while, but we all recovered and then realized our December was fading quickly.  We did not get to bake as much as we wanted to.  We had fallen behind on wrapping and sending out cards, and had to cancel some of our plans for the month.  However, we were still thankful that we were not sick during our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations. It was a wonderful time of celebrating our Savior and being together as a family. 

We are now into the New year and in the middle of some of the coldest weather that Ohio has seen in quite some time.  Below zero temperatures and blowing drifting snow has been the new normal.  The children played in the snow a couple of times in November, but now?  There is no playtime outside.  Only chores and those have to be done as quickly as possible with the older children bundling up from head to toe. 

Winter is when we celebrate many of the children's birthdays.  It doesn't matter whose birthday is coming up because all of the kids look forward to these special days.  They help to cure some of the after Christmas and winter time blues. 

When it comes to our studies, some days I feel like we accomplish much, but then there are other days when I'm tempted to despair.  We have days where we seem to have interruption after interruption.  Phone calls, a very cranky toddler, a big spill or an overtired Mommy can disrupt our best laid plans.  I do try to be realistic on certain days.  Tuesdays are our music days.  It's when most of the music lessons occur and on those evenings, I go to choir practice.  We keep those days simpler with our focus being on Bible, music and reading.  This past Tuesday, we also allowed more time for our animals.  We had another cold front moving through that evening, so that was the best day for the farrier to trim the horses' hooves and a good day for our friend to deliver extra hay.  Studies were not as important as getting our animals ready for another several days of extreme cold.  So, even when more things than usual get added to our already busy days, we just have to thank the Lord for more opportunities to serve Him.  And, we just keep pressing on.

We've had times where a child or two cannot seem to grasp a concept and therefore will fall behind where I'd like them to be.  We're actually going through that right now.  It can be discouraging to both parent and child, but we know it won't last forever.  They will eventually get it.  At those times, I pray that God will give me a balance between taking a break, but also getting down to the nitty gritty and grilling those concepts.  I've found that breaks can be quite effective.  I also like to encourage the kids to study topics they love, not just what I think is important for them to know.  And, then, after a break from whatever subject is giving us a problem, we take a deep breath and try again.  We don't study math, science or grammar for us.  We don't study to keep up with those around us.  We don't study so we'll land the perfect job one day. We study because God made it all.  He's a God of order, constancy, and beauty.  Everything we study shows us just a little more of His glory.  It's because of this that we press on. 

Life is hard.  We all can be discouraged by an interruption to our schedule, sickness, confusion or even the loss of someone close to us, but we press on.  We must press on.  Not in our strength, but His.  This is obedience to our Heavenly Father.  We show our love for Him when we look to Him for our every need and then, continue to press on.  We have a high calling.  It is Jesus.

"Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 3:13-14