Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanksgiving and Suffering

It's November - the month we all try to express our gratefulness for the many blessings in our life. Usually my blog and my personal facebook feed is filled with daily posts of thanksgiving. This year, the month just snuck up on me. I think it was the 4th day of the month when I saw the first gratitude post by someone else in my facebook feed. Oops! It wasn't on my radar at all this year.

It isn't that I'm not grateful. I am keenfully aware of all the blessings in my life. But I am also touched this year by those who are suffering. At this moment, I have two friends sitting in ICU hospital rooms with their children. Each dealing with a sudden, unexpected injury or sickness.  I also have two friends who were recently widowed on my mind. They are all grieving and their holidays will not look the same this year.

I am so thankful for my family, our home, our health. I know it is so tenuous. Like Job, who had everything, and lost it all in one terrible day. And I have to wonder, do I have their faith? How will I react if and when tragedy and pain strikes my life? Will I have God's peace, His strength, His grace to walk through the painfully dreadful days?

I hope so. I pray so. I am thankful, but I am not flippant. I know it could change in just one breath, with the ring of a phone or a fever that suddenly spikes. Then what? Will I still give thanks in the difficulty? I hope so.

In the meantime, I am thanking God for each blessing in my life, for my husband, my children, our home, our family and friends. I thank Him for His provision in our life, and our health. But I also thank Him for those friends who are hurting, and the beautiful witness that their lives are. They inspire me, and bless me.

April E.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review: NKJV Study Bible Full-Color Edition

When I was in college, I bought myself a study Bible. It has been an immense blessing and has added depth to my Bible study for the past 22 years.  Unfortunately, it looks like it has been used for 22 years.  The cover is falling apart, and some of the pages are browned and wrinkled from where I spilled coffee on it one day during Bible study.

With that in mind, I was very excited to review the NKJV Study Bible from Thomas Nelson. It is a big Bible!  That was my first impression when it arrived.  I got out my old study Bible, to be sure it wasn't all in my head. I discovered that it is thicker and slighly larger in the cover, but not really by much.

 When I opened the Bible, I was immediately impressed by the full-color charts and photos, and the introduction to each book of the Bible that explains who wrote it, when, where, as well as the context and themes of the book. Each introduction includes a summary of where Christ is referenced, prophesied, or foreshadowed in the book, so you can see Him throughout Scripture. I really like that feature.

Other NKJV Study Bible features include:

  • NEW full-color page design
  • NEW Bible-land photos and graphics
  • NEW in-text maps and charts
  • Full cross-references with textual notes
  • Word studies and indexes
  • Bible Times and Culture Notes
  • Book introductions, outlines, and timelines
  • Reader-friendly notes and articles ideal for extended study
  • Deluxe NKJV Concordance including proper names

I got out both my study Bibles to compare the notes. I was wondering if they'd have similar information, because I've loved referencing the notes in my NIV Study Bible.  Unfortunately, I found NEW information in the NKJV Study Bible. I groaned and told my husband this was going to mean I'd want to take both Bibles with me to Bible Studies now.  (I won't, but there may be times at home that I reference them both.)

I have been using the NIV Bible ever since I was in junior high and our church switched to reading from it instead of the KJV. I still have a mixture of NIV and KJV memorized verses, due to beginning life with the KJV and switching over. I really like how the NKJV bridges the gap between the traditional beauty of the KJV and the more-easily understood NIV. I still think that the NIV works better for young kids and new Christians, but the NKJV is great for those who have grown up in the church or are older adults who are somewhat familiar with the language of the KJV Bible.

The NKJV Study Bible is a high-quality, beautiful Bible that will be very helpful for those wanting more insight into God's Word. I love the cross-referencing, the word studies, charts, graphs, photos, book introductions, and cultural notes. This would make a perfect gift for a college student or a young Christian really wanting to dig into God's Word and grow. I definitely recommend it!

April E.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received a free copy of the NKJV Study Bible from Book Look Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review.  No other compensation was received, and this review contains my honest opinion.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Family Toolbox and Heart Parenting

   #familytoolbox #heartparenting

"Why didn't you do your chores?"  

                                                 "Are you listening to me?"

                                                                                         "Stop freaking out!  I'll get to it!"

If any of that sounds familiar, then you are not alone. All too often, those very things are heard in our home. We give directions, allow the children time to make the right choice and obey, come back to find they haven't chosen to obey, nag, question, lecture, and threaten to remove privileges. The kids respond with defensiveness, excuses, and blame-shifting. Soon we have two angry sides, instead of a family working together. 

Unfortunately, if we're truly being honest with ourselves, it isn't just the kids that need to change. We need to change the way we guide them, talk to them, and discipline them. We need to focus on reaching their hearts and not just on their outward compliance. But how do we change our own parenting? What specific actions do we need to take?

The Family Toolbox is a DVD/video-driven program that brings parents and teens together for constructive dialogue around significant issues of discipleship. (Note I didn't say discipline ... but discipleship, which goes so much further.) There are 8 video lessons with dramatized family scenes that can be used as conversation starters with our teens. But before sharing the family dramatizations with our teens, the parents should view them, as well as the 10-minute lesson for parents from Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN. These lessons give parents practical tools to use right away.

The accompanying workbook includes discussion questions for teens, as well as the parents. These lessons are not just targeted at the teens, but discuss ways that both parents and teens can improve. There are sixteen Life Success Principles that are practical and Biblically-based.

When my teens first saw the family dramas, they tried to turn them into a joke. They wanted to laugh about the teens fighting with parents, and the things that were said. We were able to get them past that by asking them to point out problems on both sides of the parent-child interactions. Allowing them to honestly and respectfully discuss ways that parents contribute to the problem, and humbly accepting their thoughts opens up a trust-channel that lets them hear your constructive criticism, as well. The goal is to improve the family team and open up discussions that change the heart, not just fix the child's behavior.

Family Toolbox

I will be honest. This can be hard for parents. We want to point out our child's disobedience and disrespect, but we don't easily  accept them pointing out our faults. If used appropriately, with mutual respect and a teamwork approach, this can change your family dynamics. We are still working through the materials, but I am learning a lot. We have taken parenting classes in the past and joked that we needed one for parenting teens. Well, here it is.

These lessons are not one-time fixes. Our kids may still continue to struggle or make poor choices. We will fall back into nagging or angry lectures, as parents. But these lessons give us a reference point for continued discussion and discipleship, and continued change. It is an ongoing process.

The family-use version costs $79.95 to download, or $99.95 (plus shipping) if you want to buy a physical copy. There are also packages available for churches or other groups, and more information can be found at the National Center for Biblical Parenting .

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Things You Won't Learn From Me

I'm sorry. I don't have all the answers. I mess up regularly. My kids are imperfect. I am imperfect. My house looks like it's full of imperfect people. Very full of very imperfect people.

Unfortunately, you will not find the answers to your problems here. 

I can't tell you how to keep up with your laundry or keep a spotless house while homeschooling. Lately, my husband often resorts to folding clothes because he's out of socks and underwear. My entry area usually has more shoes on the floor than in the shoe cubby. It's a daily battle and some days I just don't feel like fighting it. My husband hates stepping over shoes (or tripping over them) so I need to focus on it more.

I don't have the answers to stop your kids from fighting. It seems like every day I am breaking up arguments, and wrestling matches turned violent ... non-stop. But, I can promise you that even if your kids argue and fight, they can also be good friends. My kids alternate between being the best of friends, and fighting like cats and dogs. At least they like each other, most of the time.

I don't know how to get your kids up, dressed, and moving toward schoolwork in a calm, peaceful, organized way each day. Yeah.  No help here. It has only gotten worse as our family grew and the age span of kids grew. It was better when most of my students were girls. But now I've got school-age boys, and it's so much worse. The dawdling, the wrestling, the constant picking at siblings to irritate them. This is not how I imagined homeschooling would be. But, they are learning, and they enjoy spending time together.  It just takes way longer each day to get things done than it should, or could.

I can't tell you how to fit in your devotions, exercise, reading time, and date nights with hubby.  It seems like I should be able to do those things on a regular basis, and homeschool, and kind of keep house. But I don't. I know that devotions and exercise would help me personally, and that date nights with hubby would help our marriage. Knowing that and achieving them are two different things, though. I am just so tired when morning rolls around that I can't convince my body that it's best to get up early for devotions and exercise before the kids are up. And I haven't figured out how to take DH's mega-busy schedule, the family's mega-busy schedule, the mega-fighting kids, and the budget ... and get them all to line up for a date night. I guess I either need to trust the kids to manage with siblings babysitting them and no one bleeding, or I need to just bite the bullet and hire an actual babysitter ... preferably one who will keep the kids at her house or won't judge me for the state of my house.

I can't show you pinterest-worthy pictures and projects.  I don't have much time for projects. I barely have time to blog (without kids screaming and the house falling apart). And when I do manage something, I can't get a decent picture of it. For example, last week I hung a string up high across our living room, and put the kids' fall watercolor paintings on it with paper clips. I tried to take a picture, but I couldn't show their art-line without also showing the cluttered DVD shelf and over-packed school bookshelf. They just aren't very attractive. But, I want you to know that I really like their art-line and it makes me smile.  I'm glad I did it.

I can't tell you how to keep a sweet, calm smile and a quiet, gentle voice at all times. Even if I wanted to, it wouldn't work well in my home. I'd never be heard. I tried it once, because I heard that if you whispered the kids would quiet down and listen. They didn't. They just kept on playing, and arguing, and winding up more and more. If I didn't raise my voice at times, it would become total chaos ... several times a day. Or constantly. And yes, I lose my temper. Yes, I get sarcastic and rude sometimes. Yes, I have to apologize. Yes, I sometimes go to bed kicking myself and feeling like a failure.

Despite all that, I want you to know that you can still succeed.  You can still raise healthy adults, who know they are loved, and are fairly well-educated. Granted, I have only got one daughter in college, but she's doing very well, loves God, and she knows she is loved. We have a good relationship. I have another daughter who is a senior this year. She hasn't yet launched into the world, but she's making plans, and I do believe she'll do well.

I admit I'm a little more nervous about some of the younger kids. But I'm hoping this is as crazy as life will get. As they all get older, and some of them launch into the world, it should get a bit more organized ... right? The reality is that I see their worst behavior here at home. Elsewhere, I always hear that they are great kids. I just have to remember that on the worst days.

But, my hope is that LOVE covers it all -- that loving my imperfect kids, admitting I don't have it all figured out, and starting fresh each day will get us through.  I need God's GRACE for myself, and I need to give it to my children. Our house may not seem very PEACEFUL, but I continually seek after God's PEACE in my heart, and I try to instill it into my children's hearts. I want them to know our home is a safe place, a nest, full of LOVE, PEACE, GRACE, JOY, and COMFORT. It may not be the prettiest nest, it's rarely quiet, and there may be whole weeks when I hope no one shows up unexpectedly, but I pray GOD'S SPIRIT dwells here. I hope they see HIM in ME as I try to teach them to love each other, to work diligently, and to forgive. Lots of forgiving.

In other words, I can't tell you how to do everything just right, how to look just right, and how to get your kids to act just right.

I can tell you that every day is a new day, and that God can take your messed up efforts, and use them to His glory. 

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Galations 6: 9

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58

Just keep trying, and trusting in Him!

April E.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Family Toolbox Giveaway!

As a member of the Family  Toolbox  Blogger Team, I am looking forward to using The Family Toolbox with  Steve and our teens. It should arrive this week, and there will be a review coming next month. In the meantime, you can enter a giveaway to win your own set along with other materials from The National  Center for Biblical Parenting and a $50 Amazon gift card.  Keep reading to find out how!

The Family Toolbox is a DVD/video-driven program that brings parents and teens together for constructive dialogue around significant issues of discipleship. Conversation is sparked by engaging video clips. Sixteen Life Success Principles are communicated through eight lessons that give parents and teens biblically-based, practical topics for discussion. The format grabs teens and gets them interacting.

The Family Toolbox has 8 lessons. Each one has a 1-2 minute scene of a family living life and experiencing common challenges in their relationships. A discussion guide prompts dialogue between parents and teens and a 10-minute teaching session for parents featuring Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN gives practical tools to use right away.

Family Toolbox Giveaway
I am excited to be joining with the National Center for Biblical Parenting (NCBP) to bring you a wonderful giveaway to celebrate the release of the Family Toolbox.

The giveaway includes a $50 Amazon Gift Card + a bundle of biblical parenting resources from NCBP, including:

The Christian Parenting Handbook and Companion Guide

The Christian Parenting Handbook contains nuggets of parenting wisdom condensed into 50 short chapters, each one biblical, practical, and relevant for parents of children ages 2-18. Learn appropriate ways to correct, instruct, and set limits. Glean wisdom for dealing with emotions, conflict, and developing closeness in your family… and much more. These 50 strategies provide you with hands-on tools for parenting children of any age.

The Companion Guide is a workbook of 50 lessons along with 50 audio tips to take you through The Christian Parenting Handbook step by step.

Cultivating Responsibility: Parenting Wisdom for Ages 9-12 Years

The later elementary age years are among the greatest times to build responsibility in children. Heart transformation takes place when parents use other tools than behavior modification. Sometimes though, bad attitudes, disrespect, and a lack of cooperation can muddy the waters. You’ll want to learn from the experts how best to navigate these years. Your children are making significant developmental leaps in their cognitive, social, emotional and spiritual growth. Understanding how best to help children through these years is essential.

Family Heart Moments

The Family Heart Moments book is a treasure. Over 70 inspirational true stories from parents who are eager to connect with their children's hearts. The heart is a special place in the life of a child. You don't want to miss it. This book will give you practical ideas for touching your kids in the deepest place.

Family Time Activity for Teens

Teenagers are in an exciting time of life. They're learning a lot about themselves and the world, and they need lots of spiritual guidance. The activities and applications in this book are designed specifically for teens. The object lessons and games are captivating and the biblical lessons are timeless. Walking Billboards, Fear Factor, and Gender Differences, are just a few of the titles. Nineteen lessons are included, all unique and powerful. Make Family Time a regular part of your family's spiritual growth.

Learning About Sex: Love, Sex, and God

In a natural, conversational style, this book answers tough questions that help teens separate sex and love facts from myths. Straight facts on dating, marriage, sex, and sexually transmitted diseases are presented here.

Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining and Bad Attitudes, in You and Your Kids

It affects the way people think, the way they act, and the way they treat others around them. Honor motivates parents to treat children differently. It gives children more constructive ways to interact with their parents. It helps siblings develop tolerance and patience. Honor builds incredibly strong bonds that, in turn, benefit all members of the family. This book shows you in practical ways and shows how honor can transform your family.

To enter, use the Rafflecopter below. This giveaway is open internationally to those age 18 and older.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Also, please join us for The Family Toolbox Facebook Party on Thursday, October 16, 8-10PM ET where there will be even more great prizes, an opportunity to ask your parenting questions, and lots of fun and fellowship! The winner of this giveaway will be announced at the Facebook party!

RSVP for the Party here:

Family Toolbox Facebook Party

Friday, September 26, 2014

God Will Take Care of the Rest

Originally written for a baby shower, adapted for my blog.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I fully expected to be a great Mom. I'd been babysitting and working in church nursery since junior high, teaching Sunday School since High School, and when I was 17 my parents adopted a one month old baby who I loved taking care of. I was pretty sure I had the “baby thing” down. 

Then 3 am of our second night home rolled around, she couldn't latch on to nurse, we were both crying and suddenly I was a “failure”.  I realized that being a Mom is so much harder than babysitting and nursery work and even being a big sister to a baby. At least then I got to sleep all night, in my own bed, alone.

No matter how confident we are about our abilities to be Moms, eventually we find ourselves crying out to God in our bedroom, surrounded by wads of tissues and an empty bag of chocolate. We pour out our tears and probably some snot onto our husband's shoulders.  If he's wise … he'll tuck us into bed and tell us we are wonderful and it will all be okay. And it will be. Because no matter how much we feel like failures, we are not. If we're trusting in God and doing our best, it will be okay.

Five years later, I was struggling as a young homeschool Mom.  I felt like a failure that my five year old wasn't “getting” the whole reading thing, my 3 year old didn't want to potty train and could throw a tantrum to end all tantrums. I had a new baby and I just knew I was FAILING THEM ALL. 

It was at that point that a friend shared some very important truths with me. 
  • God gave these children to ME for a reason. He chose me for them, and them for me. It wasn't a random thing.
  • More importantly … God loves my children even more than I ever can. He cares about their future even more than I do. It's not all on my shoulders. He's there to lead me, to guide me, and to help draw my children to Him. 
  •  I have a responsibility to take care of them and to teach them about God. But it isn't my responsibility to be perfect or do everything just right. 
  • God can redeem my mistakes and work out His purpose for my children, despite my failures and weaknesses. 
I have clung to that truth over the years. It was so freeing to know I wasn't solely responsible for my kids' spiritual future, their health, or their success.

But, when I am tired and when I neglect my relationship with God, I find myself trying to take on that burden again. I look at my own weaknesses and mistakes. I look at my children's behavior, their sinful hearts, and I blame it all on Steve. And myself. I just know those wicked kids are bound for juvenile detention and headed straight to Hell. My house is going to be condemned and my kids all taken away from me. 

After 19 years of motherhood, Steve has this figured out now. He knows exactly what to do. He sends me to bed. Sometimes I stomp my way to bed, angry that he thinks I'm the one with the problem. Sometimes I run because I know I am exhausted … and I can cry in bed without having to explain myself.

But God is gracious and loving. The Bible says He is a tender mother, who gives grace and peace and wisdom when we seek it. After one of these meltdowns, I always wake up feeling more hopeful and joyful. The house magically looks cleaner (and not because elves cleaned it in the night) and my kids are suddenly transformed into good kids once again. 

I know that nothing has really changed. It is entirely my perspective that has changed. As Moms, we have to take care of ourselves physically and spiritually. We will give in to negativity and depression if we don't.

I don't know if you have seen the movie Moms' Night Out. I just saw it last week. It is the story of four different stressed out moms, but mainly one woman (Allyson) who is struggling with finally having her dream of motherhood but feeling like a failure. She isn't happy, can't seem to get her act together, and is just beyond overwhelmed. She's "stress-paralyzed", to quote her.

Two sections at the end of the movie stuck out to me. At one point Allyson receives a blessing from an unlikely source – a tough biker named Bones. She pours out her heart to him about how she is such a failure and she's just never enough. He tells her about an eagle cam he saw of a mother eagle caring for her young. Bones says:
“It's a beautiful thing to watch one of God's creations just doing what it was made to do. Just being an eagle, and that's enough. Y'all spend so much time beating yourselves up, it must be exhausting. Lemme tell you something, girl. I doubt the good Lord made a mistake giving your kiddos the mama He did. So just be … you. He'll take care of the rest.”

Later on, Allyson passes the blessing on to someone else. Her young sister-in-law, Bridget, who is a single mother says that Allyson must think she's the worst mother ever. Allyson tells her that she knows exactly how that feels and confesses that she doesn't have the Mom thing all figured out either. Then she tells Bridget, “This mom thing is crazy hard. But you're doing an amazing job.”

This Mom thing IS crazy hard. It's harder than I ever thought it would be. But we aren't expected to figure it all out on our own. We have God's grace and wisdom to guide us, husbands to encourage and walk beside us, and church family to help us.

Don't get discouraged by all the different view points out there re: feeding babies, diapering babies, getting babies to sleep, vaccinations, education, and whether Barney is good for kids or not. Just be yourself. Research. Pray for God's wisdom. Seek your husband's advice (and listen to it). Do your best. God will take care of the rest.

Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

Psalm 145 also says,
“ The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made ... The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down ... The Lord is righteous in all His ways and loving toward all He has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him.”  Psalm 145: 8 – 20.

Call on God. He will hold you up and show you everything you need to know to raise your children in your family. It won't be exactly like your sister's family, or your pastor's family, or even the way your parents did it. But that is just the way God wants it to be. 

He placed your children in your family for a reason. And He says “it is very good.” So just be you, and don't try to be perfect. Trust in Him and He will take care of the rest.

April E.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finding Joy in a Hectic Life

There are days when I drag myself out of bed, spend a few minutes reading my email before kids wake up ... and spend the rest of the day spinning in circles, trying to meet everyone's needs until I finally fall into bed late at night. Hectic  describes most days in our home. If a day goes by that feels a little relaxed and restful, it's probably because I left too many things undone on my to-do list. With voices calling out requests all day long, chores piling up, and arguments waiting to be settled, it is sometimes difficult to remain joyful.

So how do you find joy when the bills are due, everything is breaking, the kids won't obey, another kid has a cavity, the kids have their third stomach virus of the year, and you haven't had a moment to yourself in what seems like forever?

You stop, take a deep breath and look around.  Notice the good things.  Give thanks for the blessings in your life, no matter how small.

  • Take notice of the moments that your 3, 5, 8, and 10 year old kids are playing peacefully.  (Try not to focus on the duplo mess they're making, though.)
  • Look into your daughter's eyes, and admire her dimple.  
  • Take a look around after you tuck your kids in bed, notice them all reading quietly, embrace the silence.
  • Give your husband a hug. Just inhale the scent of his cologne as you lean on his strength.
  • Listen to your kids' jokes and allow yourself to enjoy their sense of humor.
  • Take time to enjoy your favorite tea or coffee while listening to your favorite music.
  • Give yourself permission to read a book, even if you can only get 15 minutes in each day.
  • Enjoy your teens' personalities and banter.
  • Take a nature walk with your kids if you can't get out alone for a walk. Enjoy the beauty of God's creation.
There is something good in every day.  God is a good God.  His world is a good creation, a gift to us. Each day is filled with small blessings.  Sometimes we just have to stop, take off the blinders, put down the to-do list and  breathe in the beauty of our everyday, hectic life.

April E.