When I was a teenager, do you know what the best time was to find my bedroom in a state of order and cleanliness? Anytime I had a big assignment due. Or finals week. I was a master of procrastination.

Apparently I have not changed.

I took the week off school so that I could reorient my thoughts and get focused for the second half of the year, but I haven’t done anything except clean my house. I started tackling our spare room/junk room, I laid carpet in the kids’ secret hideout, vacuumed, flattened and recycled an unreasonable amount of cardboard boxes, washed the floor, and cooked up a storm.

I’ll add blogging to the list of procrastinating techniques. After this I think I’m out of ideas and might have to actually get down to work.

I need to schedule math until the end of the year.
I need to catch up on my Good Reads reviews for a few FIAR books.
I want to make a plan for going through the Story of the World volume 1.
I want to write my summative report and periodic log for the first half of the school year.

It doesn’t look so bad when I break it down like that. I guess I should get to work.

I’ll do it tomorrow!

I brought something to Jesus in prayer earlier this week. I explained to Him why I should get what I was asking for. “I did this and that right, could you please just pull a few God-strings for me and make it happen? M’kay, that’d be great, thanks.”

The audacity of my attitude slapped me in the face.

Who did I think I was? Just what did I think God owed me? “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

I faced two obvious options:

1. I could wait with an anxious heart for this prayer to be answered, fretting and pleading to get my own way. If the answer was favourable I’d be triumphant, and if it I wasn’t I’d be crushed. That’s kind of how it goes when you’re praying for your own will to be done.

2. I could truly put it into His hands and trust His judgement. Whatever answer comes, I would have peace knowing that it had passed through my Heavenly Father’s hands. I could ask for His will, not mine, to be done.

This was another grace-filled moment when the Spirit of God convicted me of my pride and selfishness. I have far more than I deserve. I was gently reminded me that He knows what I need. He will be glorified in my life and I just need to trust Him. Do I have enough faith to believe that whatever the answer to my request, He is good and loves me, and will work it all out for my good? “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7) 

I opened my grabby hands and gave it up.

Open hands, and a thankful heart. That’s the posture I want to have, willing to receive whatever Jesus chooses to give me, knowing that He loves me. The peace of option 2 sounds way more fun than anxiety.

Church planting is hard. There have been some valleys, and my plea for prayer in September came from one. I tend to be exceptional at counting my burdens and often forget the blessings that surround me. But church planting is also awesome, and I don’t want to neglect sharing the good things. I feel like I’m writing from a summit right now. The air is clear, and I can see things that were difficult to see under the shadow of discouragement a few months ago.

There’s a lot to be thankful for. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are six things that stand out to me as huge blessings when I consider the church body I am a part of:

1. Servant leaders

When I look at the men that God has called to lead and shepherd the local church of Grace Fellowship in Warman, I see men that love Jesus. They came into pastoral ministry with empty hands offered to God with willingness to be used. They willingly and joyfully serve in so many different ways because of their love for Jesus. They’re committed to faithfully teaching from the Bible, welcoming people into their lives, and rolling up their sleeves to get things done. They’re among the first to arrive on a Sunday and the last to leave. While obviously not perfect, their leadership echos the words of Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

2. Scripture shaped people

Believing “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), it is clear to me that the people of Grace value and treasure the Bible. Living under the authority of scripture radically changes people. In its pages God is revealed to us; He speaks to us, and tells us who He is and what He is like. The Bible is God’s story, not a guide to being a better person, list of rules, or moral codes. By the grace of God I am surrounded by people who want to be shaped by Him, who spend time in His word.

3. Committed core

There are some who partnered with us to plant this church from the very beginning. I don’t know if they knew what they were getting themselves into, but they have been shoulder to shoulder with us through difficult times. They have shared their lives, they have opened their homes, they have encouraged their leaders, they have risen to leadership themselves, they have poured themselves out in an effort to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). The church IS the people, and without these people who are committed, core partners in gospel ministry with us, Grace Fellowship would not be what it is. I’m so incredibly thankful for every one of them!

4. Gospel community

Gathering on Sunday mornings is one way we connect as a church, but our call from Christ is not to attend a weekly event. The aim is that our Gospel Communities are where we live as a family of missionary servants, who are growing ever deeper in our relationship with Jesus and welcoming others to know Him. We share life together, build deeper relationships than can be built in a few hours on the weekend, encourage one another in Christ (Hebrews 10:25), and do the hard work of learning to be obedient to the “one another” commands in Scripture. As much as an introvert like me might prefer to live in isolation, I can’t “one another” myself. I need the church and I am so thankful for our Gospel Community.

5. A diverse body

One day people from every nation, tribe, and language will stand before the throne of God and worship Jesus as we were meant to (Revelation 7:9-10). The God of heaven and earth is so creative and and has been gathering a people here to reflect His beautiful diversity. Single. Married. Young. Middle aged. Grandparents. Couples without children.  Foster parents. Adoptive parents. Biological parents. Dark skin. Fair skin. Extroverts. Introverts. Believers. Not-yet-believers. What in the world does this mixed up group of people have in common? We are following after Jesus! It is a beautiful thing when we gather together and our conversation joyfully focuses on Christ – what else do we have in common, and what else brings more joy? (Nothing.)

6. The sovereignty of God

Jesus promised that He would build His church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Everyone with a hand in planting this church is hard at work as God’s fellow workers, but it is God who gives growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). He was here before we were, He lead us to this city, and He is the one building His church. I can and do rest in His sovereignty. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). The Gospel of Jesus changes everything! He is causing those who love Him to love Him more, and He is still at work saving people! I can’t tell you how thankful I am to be a part of His unfolding story.

I finally put away all the Christmas stuff! Now, before my mind moves on to other things, I want to take a moment to reflect and write some notes-to-self for Christmas 2017. Too often I make mental notes that get lost in my mind palace, never to be seen or heard from again. So here are my top things to note for next year.

– Be glad. Rejoice and celebrate! Christ is born, we are rejoicing in the grace of God, and in His epic redemptive plan to save our broken humanity. Crank up the Christmas music, simmer apple cider, bake cookies and slather them in icing and sprinkles, learn a new song on the piano, welcome people into your home for a meal, and smile at strangers when you are shopping. You show what you believe through what you do, so let your actions be a celebration of the good news that God is with us!

– Be generous. As a worshipper of the abundantly generous God of the universe, give freely. He is a loving father who gives good gifts, and the Creator of material things. Don’t be afraid that being generous with stuff is somehow unspiritual. The God who put on human flesh proves that spirituality is not only immaterial. Give stuff with joy, give with gladness, give out of a heart that knows what it is to joyfully receive!

– Be realistic. You are a sinner, surrounded by sinners. Don’t expect the people around you to be transformed into angels in your presence simply because it’s Christmas. People will hurt you and emotions will run high. Relationships can be tricky and you’re not doing anyone any favours by expecting ease and comfort. Expect a little drama, and rely on the Holy Spirit to help you love people well.

– Understock your fridge. When you have a get-together every day for a week, do not fill your fridge up for the meals you think you’ll eat at home. You won’t cook for a week. Here’s what you should have: eggs, bread, milk, cereal, Kraft Dinner, and some fruit. Your veggies will go bad. Your salami will go bad. Your everything will go bad because holiday appetites are different everyday appetites.

– Be an adult. Sure, “adulting is hard”. Adulting, if you’re an adult, is also reality. So chin up and get on with it. If you feel overwhelmed it might be that you are trying to do too much and you need to lower your expectations. Or it might be that you don’t want to mature and grow up. Was life easier when you were a kid and people did everything for you? Sure. Now you’re the grown up, so go ahead and act like it. Making stuff happen takes effort: trust that the Holy Spirit will provide what is necessary for you as you seek to be a blessing to others.

– Be free. You are free to make gingerbread houses from scratch, and you are free to buy cookie dough in a plastic tube. You are free to paint custom wrapping paper with your kids, and you are free to let someone at the mall do your gift wrapping. You don’t have to do “all the things”. Your worth is not in the beauty of your Instagram photos. You’re not the worst mother ever because you didn’t print photo Christmas cards or buy everyone matching elf pajamas. During some seasons of life you’re capable of a lot, and other times you’re capable of little. You are free to say no, and you are free to not allow others’ stress be a contagion to you.

– Be in prayer. Pray for peace and joy in the face of cultural hectic overwhelm. Pray for the work of your hands as you do things with and for your family. Pray that this would be a season of rejoicing in the good news of God with us, and not a time to be shackled by accusation and guilt over whatever you’re not doing. Pray that you would delight in Jesus and that you would have opportunities to share with your kids how amazing He is, and that they would taste and see that the Lord is good.

He is the reason for the season. But more than this, He is the Lord of the season. He is the Lord of the season because He is the Lord of the earth.
– Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry

I realize it’s January and most people are busy crushing their New Year’s resolutions, but I’m still stuck on Christmas here. This Christmas was different and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Christmas usually gets me all wound up tight. While I want to be relaxed and carefree, delighting in simple joys and the wonder of the advent season, I am usually a ball of stress bouncing from one self-imposed obligation to the next.

I have to be a fun mom and fill our advent calendar with creative activities.
I have to bake a huge variety of Christmas goodies.
I have to have a magazine worthy tree.
I have to go to a million and one get-togethers.

On and on the list goes.

All the have-to’s get to be a real drain on the spirit. I’m not talking about the Christmas Spirit – that magical feeling that visibly sparkles in the crisp winter air as you and your perfect family sing holiday songs in perfect harmony. I’m talking about the spirit that was set free from the condemnation of guilt and shame by the Saviour of the world. That spirit of the free woman who, when believing the “I have to” refrain, lives as though she were captive to the law of her own making.

All those compounding “I have to” statements made me pretty Grinchy. Which actually wasn’t pretty.

I didn’t want to listen to Christmas music before December 1.
I didn’t want to put up decorations before December 1.
I basically didn’t want to think about Christmas until December.
I didn’t want to go to all the family gatherings.
And I wanted every trace of Christmas put away before January came.

This past Christmas was different. I was eagerly buying gifts for my husband and kids. I was delighting in finding them things I knew they’d love, and I was doing it in November. I had ideas about what gifts would bless people and I had time and warm weather to make it happen: shopping was enjoyable rather than a chore.

Things quickly snowballed out of control. One of my favourite artists released a Christmas album on American Thanksgiving: as if I was going to wait until December to listen! A respected author was hosting a webinar about having a peaceful and joyful Christmas, and it was at the end of November. Piano lessons were conflicting with our usual December 1 tree decorating festivities so we were either going to have to postpone, or do it in late November (which we did).

Without my consent my Christmas came early this year, and something amazing happened:

By God’s grace, all of my “I have to” obligations turned into “I get to” delights.

I get to lavish the people I love with generosity.
I get to bake delicious things.
I get to surprise my kids with fun things to do.
I get to listen to music that celebrates the miracle of God become flesh.
I get to feast my eyes on a sparse old plastic tree that was lovingly decorated by little hands.
I get to gather with family and eat meal after meal of blessing.

Rather than being weighed down by the stress from self-imposed obligations, I finally realized, these are things I get to do because I’m free. I’m free from condemnation; free from guilt and shame over not getting things perfect. I’m free to celebrate, rejoice, and relax. I’m free to look at the manger holding a holy infant King, and rest in the knowledge that he grew up to do all the God given have-to’s that I’m incapable to doing. I’m free to look at that Saviour and praise him for all I now get to do because He’s made me free.

 

January is here, and with it comes the alluring promise of fresh starts and big opportunities.

We reflect on our successes and failures from the past year and determinedly set goals for bigger and better things. Flip the calendar over and start fresh! Society promises us anew that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. We can achieve anything!

We want to reach our full potential, and we decide this year will be different from all that have come before it. With every goal or resolution we set, we’re making a conscious admission that we are not what we wish we were. We’ve got room for improvement. We are falling short of our expectations.

We can feel that we’re not what we ought to be, and we’re striving for something better; however, this is beyond our ability to fix. Our problems do not lie in our inability to be true to ourselves. The widely held belief that all we need are a few more rules to fix our problems is false. Our lives are not ours. We don’t have the power to fix this.

It is not news to God that we are not reaching our full potential. As the one who created us he fully knows our potential, for both good and evil. We’ve displayed our excellence at rejecting goodness and embracing depravity. We’ve exhaustively proven that we’re more than capable of loving ourselves.

Our belief that we’re in charge of our own lives, and our obsession with ourselves was a declaration of war against the one who created us. We entered into a battle we could never win through our own effort. We were crushed by the weight of our sin, and death would be our end.

But the God of the universe saw us – unable to follow basic moral rules, without hope of ever drawing near to God, completely unworthy of being in his presence.

Two weeks ago we were celebrating a baby in a manger: proof of the scandalous good news that Christians profess. In the tiny body of God incarnate, peace on earth was declared, and goodwill to all mankind (Luke 2:14). In his compassion and mercy, Jesus chose to enter into the mess we created and were powerless to fix. Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly glory and put on human flesh (Philippians 2:7). He entered the battle and fought: not against us but for us, his enemies (Romans 5:8-11). He came to rescue us from our inability to get things right. He entered into human history and lived the perfect life every one of us has failed to live (Hebrews 4:15).

It was our sin that made Christmas necessary.

It is sadly ironic that in the wake our celebrating Jesus’ arrival and subsequent obedience to God’s perfect law on our behalf, we ring in the new year by creating yet more laws for ourselves to follow.

I’m not advocating that we should flounder around in a purposeless existence without goals or resolutions. To be resolute is to be admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering. By all means, be resolute in your pursuit of Jesus! Do the things he calls you to with determination. Make plans, strategize, and work hard (Colossians 3:23-24, Ephesians 6:7). You are here to serve Christ, so do it with purpose and passion!

Making much of Jesus is the purpose of our existence, and we should be eager to give him glory! If you are a Christian, your goals should be bound up in Christ. He is our glorious Saviour, the perfect and spotless lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He is also Lord and King, and tells us in no uncertain terms that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), to find our lives we’re going to have to lose them (Matthew 10:39), and if we’re going to follow him we’re going to suffer like he did (John 15:20).  He humbled himself and came to serve unworthy people, and those who call him Lord and Saviour are called to be like him.

Being saved by Jesus means our lives are not our own. We were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We don’t get to set goals that centre on us. In telling us to pick up our cross and follow him, he’s essentially telling us to come and die (Luke 9:23). This is not what the world has in mind when we’re encouraged to “live our best life now”. 

If we profess faith in Jesus, our goals in life should be different from what the world is aiming for because our definition of success is different.

So what are you resolute to do this year? For whose glory and fame? What are you aiming for?

Homeschool record keeping has never been something I excel at. I begin each year hopeful that I’ll keep track of our schoolwork throughout the year. This would enable me to have an easier time with my summative report when we get to the end of the school year. Inevitably, all attempts at record keeping have failed me by October. By June I can be found in a puddle of tears as I despair that I will never, ever be able to write something about our educational gains for the year because there are none! We. did. nothing!

Obviously that’s not true. I tend to get a little carried away and sensationalize things when I’m worked up. Mountains out of molehills are a specialty of mine. We do accomplish a lot throughout the course of a year, but when you don’t write anything down it gets a little hard to remember anything at crunch time.

This year I’m trying something new. It’s October, and I’m still going strong, so this is already more successful than anything I’ve tried in the past! I opened a Goodreads account. That’s my big idea.

Goodreads

Here I can keep track of the books we read over the course of the year.  I usually love simple pen and paper notes: I should logically be able to keep a list in a binder and leave it at that. While I generally prefer low-tech solutions, my answer to poor record keeping has not been a pen and paper list. I’ve tried that, and I have failed at it.

Reading is a huge part of school this year. We’re using the Five In A Row literature based curriculum, and reading aloud plenty of chapter books during Morning Time. After we read a book, I rate it on Goodreads. That’s it. Then it shows up in my profile and at the end of the year I’ll have a list of what we read and how much we liked them (or didn’t). For our Five In A Row books, I’m also writing reviews that give an overview of what we learned and discussed in light of the story. This is helping me keep better school records, and provides me with a fun challenge of writing good reviews that sum up our experience with each story. Writing a public review makes me put more thought into it than if I scratch something down in my school binder.

**Ohhh, I love technology….always and forever**

If you want to see what we’re reading, you can check out my profile on Goodreads. Go easy on my reviews, I’m new at this! 🙂

It’s okay to quit.

books
Last year was a difficult school year. I hadn’t kept up with my three school-aged kids, and I couldn’t fathom how I would be able to get my act together to teach all four, with Deacon starting Kindergarten. I tapped out: I didn’t feel I was up to the task of homeschooling everyone.

So we enrolled Markus and Wyatt (grades 5 and 4) in an online school that would allow them some of the freedom and flexibility of home education, while taking the work of teaching off of me. It all sounded great, and I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders as I surveyed the year ahead. The school has a lot of positive reviews, and we thought it would be a good step in providing our kids with a bit more structure.

But it was honestly a terrible fit for our family.

There were too many limitations, too many activities to log hours for, the school software was painfully outdated, we encountered out of date curriculum, and I was spending so much time answering questions about assignments. They had teachers to ask, but it was easier to ask a parent who’s across the room than wait hours for a reply from a teacher.

I thought I could just grin and bear it. This was what I had signed up for, right? I should stick with it and see it through for the year. What kind of message would I be sending my kids if we quit so soon? But this wasn’t what I had signed up for. I had signed up for a progressive online school that would be flexible and interactive, teaching my kids at their own pace and engaging their strengths. One was doing okay, the other was wilting, and I was busy nailing down an education plan to submit to our homeschool liaison before the registration deadline so we could still get a little funding to help with books for the year.

I’m sure by the school’s standards we have given up prematurely, and that 2 weeks is not enough time to make a fair judgment about whether or not this is going to work. I know the system the school has created works for a lot of families, but our family is not one of them.

Four months ago I was weary and burdened by homeschooling. I felt inadequate, unequipped, unqualified, and over my head.  I was sure my kids needed something that I wasn’t able to give them, so I waved a white flag in surrender.

Today I feel more convinced than ever that the best education my kids can get is the one we give them at home. I can give my kids a rich learning environment, and and they can thrive here. What was a burden a few months ago is now a flight of freedom. I’ve been amazed already at what they are capable of when they’re given a little direction and a lot of room to discover. They’re excited about the upcoming school year, and I can’t wait to see all the good things in store.

What kind of message am I sending my kids by quitting? I hope they’re hearing loud and clear that if something isn’t working, you should find a solution that does.

 

It’s Hard

stained-glass
We moved here to plant a church.

In doing so, we left behind people in Saskatoon that we love. Of course, anyone who knows Saskatchewan geography knows that Warman is not a huge trek from Saskatoon. It’s not like we moved clear across the country. What’s the big deal about moving 20 minutes away?

The big deal is we moved our life. We didn’t just move houses. We didn’t just move from one Sunday service to another. We moved our time commitment and our heart commitment from one church body to another. We left our family in Saskatoon because Jesus called us to be part of a new church family. We moved here because Jesus is amazing and there are so many lost people who don’t know it. We moved here because He has told the people that call him Lord to go into all the world and make disciples. Warman is part of “all the world”. The lost aren’t characterized by poverty; wealth is a wasteland of its own.

When I reconnect with friends from our sending church, a quick and inevitable question I’m asked is, “So how’s it going in Warman?”

I want to say it’s great. I feel like that’s what people want to hear. A success story. A triumph. Truthfully there are triumphs, and I don’t want to diminish that at all. We have so much to be thankful for as Jesus is clearly at work.

Honestly though, when that question comes flying my way, all I can say is, “It’s hard.”

I’ve read enough about church planting to know this wouldn’t be easy. I thought it would be a little easier for me because I was prepared for it to be hard; however, nothing about this has been easy. This year has been riddled with discouragement. We have gained momentum, and then we have swung backward. We have experienced growth, and we have shrunk. We have seen integral people who committed to planting this church with us leave. Our marriage has been under attack, and so have many others within the church. There are times we leak the vision and forget why we’re here. When we lift our heads and survey the task before us, Clay has asked me a few times, “Do you still feel called to this with me?”

The answer is always yes. It’s not easy, but it’s the path Jesus has purposed for us.

So when you think of us, please pray. Pray that we would love Jesus more. Pray that we would trust the Holy Spirit to be at work in this city. Pray that our marriage would be strong. Pray that we would get to know more people in our community. Pray that we would be good neighbours. Pray that the people of our church would love Jesus enough to not keep Him to themselves. Pray that we as a church would live as family of servant missionaries. Pray that the lost would be found.

 

I paid for a homeschool planning bundle this summer, which allows me access to a collection of printable planning pages. My August evenings usually found me reading the user guide, printing charts and schedules, and scratching out ideas with my favourite pencil.

I wanted to follow the planning guide to the letter, and quickly realized this just wasn’t possible. As great as this planning system is, it’s set up to work for someone else – the woman who made it. I pitched some of the charts. I modified others. By mid August I had a pretty well crafted plan for the year, complete with a daily schedule.

“I am so going to kick school butt this year.”

Famous last summer words. Every year.

I’m thankful to have pushed through school last week, in spite of my raging sickness. I knew I’d need a small win – a “we made it through a whole week” win – because already in week 2, I’ve hit a wall.

It’s my inevitable I Must Be An Insane Person wall, otherwise known as the Homeschooling Is For Lunatics wall.

My well crafted schedule says I should be able to get the Kindergarten and Grade 2 stuff done with the littlest 2 in the morning, and get lunch on the table around noon. The big kids are enrolled in online school, and should be able to work independently throughout the morning and finish up in the afternoon if necessary. Today 4 kids were working on 4 separate things, and each of them was calling me for help at the same time, and it was past noon, and I had no idea what was for lunch.

One kid needed me to check their math, another needed me to look at their writing. One was having trouble with their online classroom, and another was freaking out about explorers and colonization. I tapped out for a moment to break the news to Clay that we would be eating hot dogs for lunch.

Is it June yet?

Breathe.
We’ll find a rhythm.  Sometimes I’ll bounce around like a ping-pong ball and serve tube steak for lunch. It’s okay. Not every day is filled with wins, but there are wins in every day. Today’s include my boys actually enjoying listening to The Penderwicks during morning time – even though it’s filled with female characters, and no one crying – not even me!

My usual tendency would be to rip up my schedule because it’s not working, and drift aimlessly for the next few months. Not this year. We’re going to keep moving in the planned direction. The schedule is a rough idea for how life works without all my variables – the people I’m actually here teaching! So when things don’t go according to plan, it’s okay.

I may not be kicking school butt, but school isn’t kicking my butt either. I’ve got this.