An Empty Prayer Couch

This was my prayer couch Saturday morning —> e m p t y.

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I got up early, like I love to on Saturday mornings but has been so difficult since Jake left.

And then, almost-sleeping baby who had just nursed decided that he would only be held. No swing, no chair. No falling back asleep. Must be awake, and in mama’s arms, walking the floors. He knows I’m at his mercy early in the morning, because I’ll do anything to keep his big brother asleep before 6 am. So, exasperated, I set down my things and left my holy prayer couch, to walk the designated floor paths (I know exactly where to walk to keep the floors from creaking – this ain’t my first rodeo).

And I found myself so frustrated. I have such limited time right now. I just want babies to be sleeping at 4 am… is that too much to ask? Why can’t you just go back to sleep?

But in my frustration – about not getting to sit and worship – I’m reminded that I AM worshiping. As I’m mothering my babies, I am worshiping my Savior. Loving them and caring for them and nurturing them – and yes, walking the floors with them and cleaning their noses and patting them to sleep – all of it is a way to worship.

I asked God to change my heart and change my perspective. It gave me time to intercede for my family. To pray against strongholds. To thank God for what he’s doing in my life.

What a legacy and heritage to pass down through my babies. One day when I walk the floor with Bash’s babies, because their poor exhausted mother needs some time or sleep, I can lean down and kiss their little faces and tell them how I prayed for their daddy when he was a baby. And how I prayed for them 25 or 30 years ago.

I’m so thankful that God is so patient with me as he uses motherhood to sanctify me. I’m so thankful that he doesn’t have a checklist of things to do – like get up early and read your Bible. Because sometimes, the best laid plans just fall apart. And sometimes, you have a wide-awake baby who reminds you that raising Christ-followers isn’t always neat and orderly. But that sometimes, you let your mothering be worship. And you thank God for some extra time to hold your babies.

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Missionary Mama

Almost 2 years ago, I became a missionary. It was not a job title I had asked for, and I honestly didn’t even know it was a job title I had until a few months into the gig. When my first baby arrived, almost 4 weeks into 2016, I had just started reading through my Bible. I started in Genesis on January 1. I had never read the Bible all the way through before. And I had no idea that through that experience, God would communicate to me that I was a missionary, or that He would teach me how to be a missionary.

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I grew up in a Christian home, so I always knew that moms and dads are supposed to take their kids to church and teach them Bible verses and send them to AWANA camp and vacation Bible school. But outside of that, I didn’t really see parenting as being much more involved in their children’s spiritual lives than that.

Now, it wasn’t because my parents took a hands-off approach when I was growing up. I know more Scripture because my parents quoted it than I do because I memorized it on my own. But some things you just don’t understand until you’re a parent yourself (and yes, I’m sure I have many more of these realizations to come!). And that was one of them.

That year, as I read through the Bible, I desired God more and more, and I desired the things of God more and more – including the desire to be more Christ-like and help the members of my family draw closer to God themselves. And God began to show me that my primary responsibility as a mom is to be a missionary to my children. They are my un-reached people group. And my home is my mission field.

I’ve learned a few things in these two years. And I know that God will continue to refine and sanctify and teach me in my work as a missionary. Here are some of my biggest take-aways.

  1. “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” Dr. John Trainer (often attributed to CS Lewis)

  2. Every moment, every conversation, every interaction is an opportunity to weave Gospel Truth into my home and my kids’ lives.

  3. Loving and respecting and honoring my partner in ministry (my husband) is one of the most effective ways I can share the Gospel with my kids.

  4. It is never too early to start teaching Bible verses.

  5. It is never too early to apologize to my kids if owe them one.

  6. Stopping to pray, in the middle of a difficult moment, will show them that I mean what I say about the importance and power of prayer.

  7. Stopping to pray, in the middle of a difficult moment, is sometimes the only way to survive that parenting moment, and that is okay.

  8. When I ask God for grace and peace and patience to help me get through the difficult moments, He is gracious enough to provide it. And sometimes I ask for it two or three times in an hour.

  9. I know that despite my best and most holy efforts that my kids will grow up and make their own decisions about their salvation and their faith. But the stronger the foundation that I lay for them now, the better they will be able to find their own way when they are ready.

  10. There is no detail about their lives today or in the future that I should not give up to God. He loves them more than I could ever imagine loving them.

Archer’s favorite Bible story is the story of Moses. Although I think he mainly likes it because of the way Pharaoh looks in one of his story books (he always wants to read “bad king” – and that’s what this book calls him!). So I read that story a lot. And I think of Moses’ mother and how she must have felt. Can you fathom knowing that there was someone who wanted your little baby boy dead? Who could come into your home and take him? How brave she was to keep Baby Moses hidden. And how much faith she had to put him in that basket and put him in the water! Her obedience and faithfulness saved an entire people, as God used Moses as His instrument.

And we all like to quote Hannah when she says “for this child I prayed…” (1 Samuel 1:27) She was also obedient and faithful to promise her son to the Lord. But you know that could not have been easy. My biggest prayer as a mom for my boys is that I would raise them to be used by God, and that I would never deceive myself into thinking they are mine. God entrusted these little humans to me so I could raise them up as men of God. And to do that best, I need to be a woman of God. Who prays and gives and serves and loves. Who talks about doing those things, yes, but more importantly, who does them with and in front of her children.

God, forgive me for the times I make motherhood about myself. Forgive me for the moments where I let my flesh win, and I don’t exemplify the Fruit of the Spirit that I try to teach. Help me to make every moment about You. I pray that my boys would never doubt who is King in our house. I pray they would know, no matter where they go or what they do, that their mother loves Jesus more than anything. I pray they know that I love Jesus more than I love their father and more than I love them. I pray they would see miracles in our home. I pray they see a difference in how their mother loves and acts and how the world acts. Align my priorities, Father, to match Yours. Help me to seek You first, and to have my treasure in heaven. Remind me always that there is a war going on for the hearts and minds and souls of my babies, and do not let me grow weary in the hard and holy work of raising men. Bless my mission field, prepare the hearts of my un-reached people group, and make me a soul-winner who honors and reflects you.

Debt-Reduction Is Fun!

I’ve had a lot of people ask me recently about our journey toward being debt-free. Here’s a little bit of background, with some of the steps we’ve taken in the past year.

Jake and I started attending Abundant Life Church in Lee’s Summit in January of 2017. Shortly thereafter, Pastor Phil preached a series called “Imagine” (http://abundantlifels.com/sermons/imagine/). Part of the Imagine campaign dealt with Financial Freedom. I remember driving home from church that Sunday, and Jake and I had some intense fellowship about our finances. We got home, added up the debts we had, and we were faced with a decision. We were happily on the road to achieving the American Dream. We had two pretty, new cars, a mortgage, all kinds of nice stuff, plans for buying a lot of other nice stuff, and on-and-on-and-on. But deep down, we knew that our lifestyle was not honoring God and that we were not being good stewards of what God has blessed us with. Not that nice things were wrong – but we couldn’t afford the lifestyle we were living (Live your wage! as Dave Ramsey would say).

So we looked at that (obscene) debt number and decided to make a change. It was very exciting for us, and even though we are deep in the journey, almost a year later, we haven’t lost motivation or momentum. This journey has drastically changed how we spend, save, and invest. It has changed our entire lives, actually.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

*Note: I don’t count our mortgage in this! One day, we do plan to own our home. But the debt we are eliminating does not include the mortgage.

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Here are some of the lifestyle changes we’ve made.

  • We listed all our debts, smallest to largest. And started paying them off, one-by-one, by using everything extra in the budget.
  • We re-budgeted. As in, made a budget. Yeah, we had a budget before. Kind of. But this was a written out (in Excel) budget with numbers that we agreed to and could see in front of us.
  • Our budget had ZERO wiggle room. We did not budget for anything fun! No “allowance” or “fun money”. We had an “etc.” line item, and that was for Archer’s diapers and clothes. That’s it. And we cut all the unnecessary spending out (like Sirius XM in the cars, my gym membership that I literally never used, etc.). This can be controversial. I can definitely see a benefit to budgeting for some “fun”, so that you don’t get burnt out. Jake and I just too hardcore for that 😉
  • We left $1000 in our savings account, and put everything above that toward debt. This is kind of controversial as well. Jake and I really debated if we should keep more than $1000 for our emergency fund. This is really a personal decision!
  • We went through the house and found allllllllllllll the cash we could. We still had all the cash we’d gotten at our wedding that we were “saving for a raining day”. We also had some cash we’d pulled for a project around the house. And we found bunches and bunches of cash in pockets, purses, wallets, etc. That went to debt right away too.
  • ALDI!!!! Last February, we stopped shopping at Price Chopper for groceries and started shopping at ALDI. If you are an ALDI shopper, you know how amazing the ALDI life is. Seriously. It’s a lifestyle. I want to have a secret handshake with other ALDI shoppers. While we do have to run to Wal-Mart sometimes for things we can’t find at ALDI, it is totally worth it. We immediately dropped our grocery budget from around $120 a week to $60 or $70 a week. This was a huge and quick win for us.
  • Work bonuses and tax refunds did not go toward anything fun. Every dime went to debt!
  • Jake sold his truck, getting us out of a very large payment, and we bought another sedan that we financed for a much smaller payment. This also saved us in gas money and car insurance.
  • Tithing! This is not a change for us, actually. Jake and I have tithed (given 10% of our gross income to God through His church) since before we got married. I (we) firmly believe in God’s promise of blessing when we are financially faithful! To God be all the glory for how He has blessed us during this journey. Even when looking at that line item, and seeing how much could be going toward debt if we stopped tithing… we would never do it. Paying God first and foremost has been the biggest blessing for us, and we will be tithers for the rest of our lives.

Malachi 3 says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” Says the Lord of hosts; (v. 8-11).

I can’t recommend Dave Ramsey and his Baby Steps enough. Our plan doesn’t follow this exactly, but it’s a great resource, and I think his principles are spot on. https://www.daveramsey.com/get-started/debt

I would say that this hasn’t been the most fun journey in the world – but honestly, it has been kind of fun. Putting together a goal and a plan as a husband and wife team, then dedicating everything to it has been challenging, yet rewarding. Jake and I have each made individual sacrifices, and we’ve sacrificed together.

Right now, we are on track to be debt-free in 2018, hopefully sometime in the summer! I would love to hear if you are also on a journey to Financial Freedom. And if you’re already debt-free, I would love to hear about your successes!

A Prayer for Basic Training

God thank You for Your provision through the night. Thank You for how You loved on us and protected us and cherished us. Be with us today as we start another day away from our Jake.

Be with Baby Grisham as he grows and changes. Protect him from harm and illness. Help me love him in a way that only a mother can, and help me to shower him with Jesus-love even at this young age.

Help Archer today as he transitions to life with Daddy gone, even if only for a temporary time. Help him to understand that Daddy loves him, and that he’s coming home. Help me to parent and teach him to the best of my ability, despite the circumstances. Help me to see and take every opportunity to point his young, hungry heart to You.

Sustain Jake as he begins his training. Encourage him and strengthen him like only a Heavenly Father can. Teach him new things during this time. Lead him to point others to You. Protect him and guide him and keep his young-man heart close to You. Draw near to him when he forgets to draw near to You. Prepare for him good works so that he can glorify You. Captivate him with Your grace and mercy. Bring him home soon.

Help me to see joy in every day. Teach me to need and desire only You, no matter my circumstances. Guide and direct my wandering heart. Give me a double portion of grace and love and peace, so I can extend that to my boys and those around me. Use me in my weakest moment to magnify Your strength. Help me to make much of You and to not make this about me.

Thank You for Your many blessings and this beautiful life You’ve given me. “Rejoice in the Lord always. again I will say rejoice!” ~Philippians 4:4

10 Sleeps Down

10 sleeps down! I know it’s only a fraction of the time (62 sleeps to go), but it’s a big milestone to me. This was lifted from one of my letters to Jake last week.
📸 cred: @creophoto #nofilter
“After a long and stressful week of solo parenting, I’m just desperate for things to go my way. I just want everyone to not need me for an hour so I can make myself a priority. And that is not what motherhood is all about. It’s not what being a wife is about. It’s not what being a Christ-follower is about. I am called to sacrifice and serve in every area of my life. And I don’t want to do it. So here’s (I’m raising my cup of coffee) to focusing on a new challenge. A new area that God is going to refine in the next 9 weeks. It is my desperate prayer that you come home to a wife who is more patient and peaceful and joyful than you could ever imagine her to be. A wife who revels and rejoices in serving others. A wife who takes the exhaustion in stride – who can ask for help when she needs it, but doesn’t whine and complain just because something is difficult. This afternoon and evening will be a challenge. Archer is going to throw fits (and toys). Grisham is going to be fussy and cry right when I finally sit down. The house is going to look lived-in. And my perfectly timed schedule is going to go out the window the second I get home.
But I’m choosing, right now, and for the rest of the day, to rejoice in that. To thank God for two happy and active and opinionated and healthy little boys. To be grateful for the adorable little home I have that keeps me safe and warm and is mine to build. To desperately love and miss the man who sacrifices for us and serves us and leads us well.
What a gorgeous life I live.”

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Wartime Living

“No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:4 NKJV

“Wartime Living”

This verse first struck me back in 2016, which was the first year I read the Bible cover-to-cover (and a year where I really drew near to God in a special way for the first time). I read it again recently, and I couldn’t shake it for the rest of the day. This verse is going to be my anthem for 2018. And to me, it’s all about “wartime living”. Paul is telling Timothy not to get caught up in earthly things or earthly struggles. Not to waste time on things that have nothing to do with his “mission”.

As Christians, we are engaged in a war. The Bible tells us that we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but rather we fight a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12). Our weapons are mighty for pulling down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). We have an enemy prowling around, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). God has provided us tools and armor to fight these spiritual battles (Ephesians 6:12-17). And to most effectively fight that battle, we have to cast aside everything that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1), and push on toward the prize of the high calling of God (Philippians 3:14).

I’ve struggled with this idea before. Are we just supposed to stop our whole lives and walk around telling random people that Jesus loves them? Of course not. Although it’s an option (). To me, this means that everything I do, in word or deed, should all be for God’s glory (Colossians 3:17). And not just that I say “to God be the glory”, but that every decision I make, every word I say, every interaction I have with someone should point them to God and honor him.

This is honestly the basis for my 2018 initiatives. Simplifying life so I’m not so focused on things and doing and stress. No debt. No worthless pieces of “stuff” in my home. I don’t have time for stress. I’m fighting a war. I want to be financially free so I can give my money to kingdom-building ministries. I want to have a simple home that doesn’t need hours of cleaning just to invite someone over who needs to be loved on. I don’t want to be so focused on activities and rushing around for events that I can’t stop to notice someone and pray with them and hug them.

I am also reading this verse through the lens of a mother and a wife. I can spend my time trying to stage my little life and make it look perfect on social media. Or I can focus on ministering to the little hearts of my boys in a world that is hooked on pornography and cranking out passive “men”. I can entangle myself with “if only” in my marriage, and wondering if grass was greener elsewhere. Or I can dedicate my time and energy to helping my husband draw near to God and modeling for the world the relationship between Jesus Christ and his Bride, the church – extending that grace when the world says to be selfish.

To be quite honest, this verse hits me right in the feels. Which is why I am memorizing it and meditating on it and asking God to make it my way of life, starting this year. As I write this, I continue to be convicted. “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life”. Wow, that hits home!

Father, as I start a new week, fresh with opportunities to choose between you or my own selfishness, help me to discern, moment-by-moment, how I can be kingdom-minded in every decision, word, thought, and deed. Help me to make the sometimes difficult choice to fight this war effectively, using all the tools you’ve provided. Help me to be in this world, but not of this world. And help me to love the people in this world, but not this world itself. Help me to wake each morning, rise and shine, and prepare for battle.

17 Things I’ve Learned in the Last 72 Hours (A Very Wordy Title)

1. I can do this. I can do anything. If I can survive 10 weeks without Jake, I can do anything.

2. Even though I’m an introvert, I still need people. Who knew?? I LOVE alone time. And now, here I am, faced with a lot more alone time than usual, and I’m begging my social media contacts to visit me. Pigs flew yesterday.

3. I am not a touchy-feely person. Until now. If you come into my space, and I know you even a little bit, I will cry all over you. I really hope this goes away. But for the foreseeable future, I will probably hug you and cry on you if I see you. You’ve been warned.

4. I’m scared of the dark. Sorry, electric bill, I have to have the lamps on at night.

5. It IS possible for me to lose my appetite. I did not know this was a thing. I thought it was a figure of speech. If you know me, you know I eat everything in sight, partly because for the last 33 months, I’ve been either pregnant, nursing, or both. I eat constantly. But I couldn’t eat Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. Fortunately, my appetite has returned a bit.

6. I would not make it through this life without Jesus Christ, the book of Psalms, and the body of Christ (the church).

7. It’s okay to cry.

8. It’s okay to not be okay.

9. It’s okay to ask for help.

10. It’s okay to not feel guilty or weird or pathetic for asking for help.

11. It’s okay to separate yourself from people who disagree with 7 through 10.

12. If you are vain, God will take care of that for you. I did not realize that vanity would be something that God would tackle during this time, but he is surely pruning those branches right now. I had no idea I could not care how my hair/makeup/outfit/etc. looks. But here I am, not caring! Y’all should see my hair. Actually, no, you shouldn’t.

13. Music is phenomenal therapy. Christmas music in particular.

14. I am capable of letting a mess sit there for awhile, to give me extra time with my babies.

15. Making a playlist of songs that remind you of your husband is a great idea. Listening to the playlist right after he leaves is a bad idea.

16. I am unbelievably blessed to be surrounded by such a great support system.

17. I am unbelievably blessed to have a husband who is worth missing this much.

New Year’s Initiatives

New Years Initiatives (grammar nerds: apostrophe here? Do the initiatives belong to the year? Or is “year” used as an adjective? Is this just an idiom? Help!)

I’ve decided to have initiatives for the new year instead of resolutions. The way I see it, a resolution is a firm, hard decision to start doing something, or stop doing something, etc. But an initiative is something you are going to work on or try to improve. And this year, initiatives just make more sense for me than resolutions.

1. Writing and Blogging

If you’re reading this, it means you haven’t unfollowed me on Facebook despite the many and lengthy posts I’ve been putting out recently. Thank you for that, by the way. I really enjoy writing. I’ve always enjoyed writing. So I’ve decided to start writing. I’m working on a blog, and hopefully early in the new year I can publish my musings there, and take up less social media real estate (You’re welcome).

While a big part of the enjoyment in writing for me comes from getting my thoughts on (e-)paper and playing with words that I so adore, a bigger part is that it serves as an altar of sorts. In Genesis 35, Jacob builds an altar “because there God appeared to him…” (v.7). In Exodus 12, God tells Moses he will pass over the obedient Israelites (blood above the door – the Passover). “So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations” (v.14). I could go on (how fun would it be to find an example from every book of the Bible?!), but you get the idea. These men commemorated significant events in their life where God intervened or saved or appeared or taught. September was a very challenging month for our family, beginning with a night in the hospital for our toddler, and ending (reaching into October) with two child-care situations that fell apart without notice (while I was pregnant and exhausted). It was stressful and scary, yet God provided. Jake and I decided to build an altar of sorts in our family so that every September we could celebrate what God has done for us. These writings will be, for me and my family, a way to look back and remember all the ways we’ve learned and grown and struggled and fought, and all the ways God has come through for us (spoiler alert: he ALWAYS does).

(Sorry, that was a long one)

2. Continued Debt Reduction, with Debt Freedom by the end of the year!

It’s been almost 11 months since we started our journey toward being debt free. Since last February, we’ve paid off four credit cards and a car, sold a truck to get out from under that payment, financed a car with a much smaller payment, and made a plan for obliterating all student debt (Hello, National Guard). We have one credit card left, that we’ve been chipping away at, then the used car we bought last summer. We are on track to be debt free, not including our mortgage, by this coming summer! I can’t believe it. Once we hit it, I’ll tell you the crazy debt amount we had when we started. Woof! To God be the glory for guiding us through this huge undertaking. And once we’re debt free, I’m going to buy a new pack of socks, because seriously EVERY pair of socks I own has holes!!! (we aren’t that poor, but it’s the principle of the thing.) And I’m going to buy Jake new undershirts. He’s had the same 7 shirts since we got married in 2014. Enough said.

3. Minimalism

This is a fairly familiar concept for me. If you’ve visited my parents’ home, you know they don’t have crazy decorations or lots of stuff. It’s very peaceful. I’m adopting this principle. I actually started last summer, and I’ve made vast improvements to our house. It’s a “look-and-feel” thing, but it’s also a prioritization thing. I’ll write later about my Bible verse for 2018, which goes right along with this. But I love the idea of having what we need and getting rid of excess. A simple and focused life (Debt reduction falls into that too). I don’t have a “goal” with this, per se. But I plan to keep working on it. Simple-elegant-focused. That’s my mantra. Mainly in terms of my home and my physical space. But it can be applied to other areas. Pictures and designs and posts on this one later as well.

4. Home-making

Okay, this one goes hand-in-hand with Minimalism. I’ve never considered myself a creative person. I’ve been told all my life by all kinds of people that I’m not artistic or creative, so I just went with that and believed it and never tried to be creative because I already “knew” that I wasn’t good at it. Well, I’ve decided that I want to be creative, and I want to be good at it. Like with writing, I enjoy creating. I enjoying organization. I enjoy flow. We all like looking at pretty pictures, right? (Pinterest, duh.) Along with minimizing the things and stuff in my home, I want to stage it and make it a home, truly. I’m always asking Jake, “how do you FEEL when you come into the house? What is the energy like?” He has no idea what I’m talking about. But I do want it to be beautiful and inviting. A focused atmosphere that blesses everyone who comes in (see previous post on hospitality). I don’t have a “goal” here either. This is just something I want to spend time doing, and I want to get my creative juices flowing. If you want to see how this one is going, come on over and bring ice cream.

The new year is such an exciting time, and even without a laundry list of things to do, the fresh start is always something I look forward to. Tell me about your resolutions and goals!