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A Letter to my Children on Friendship

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{The World of Winnie-the-Pooh}

But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I still have a special place in my heart for my childhood friends of long ago. Hours spent playing in my best friends’ treehouse, playing Barbie dolls, going to the corner store to buy 5 cent candies, having a myriad of sleepovers, and playing at the playground with school friends.

There are many things my parents taught me about friendship that I want to pass on to my children. Though they are still very young, I want to teach these things to them early so that, by God’s merciful grace, these character traits will become a part of who they are. The advice of my parents is the advice I want to give to my children as they begin a new school year today.

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The Lord is Your Shepherd and Best Friend

Dear children,
The Lord Jesus is the one who will lead and guide you. You will not lack anything. Place your trust and faith in Him and ask Him for what you need. He will supply everything you need. You will never be alone and He will walk those hallways with you. He goes before you to prepare the path for you. He is already providing for you before you even ask Him for help.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23:1

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:8

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2

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Be a Friend.

Dear children,
As you go to school and see all your old friends, enjoy those friendships and thank Jesus for them! As well, remember that there are new kids at the school who may be nervous about their first day there and really need someone to reach out to them and be their friend too. There may be kids who are feeling left out or forgotten about. So take Nana’s advice to me when I was a child and go find those who need a friend and be their friend too. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your hands reaching out to serve others.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. Proverbs 27:9

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor. Proverbs 21:21

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:3-4

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Its always our turn to love others.

Dear children,
There may be days at school when friends might say insensitive or unkind things. There may be days when you do the same. There may be days when you feel alone. Just like Papa Loewen told me as I was growing up, its always our turn to forgive. Its always our turn to love and serve others. So trust in Jesus that when you love and serve others, you are really doing this for Jesus. And if you say something unkind, talk to your friend and apologize. Saying, “I’m sorry” are two of the best words to nurture your friendships.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” Matthew 25:35

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;” Luke 6:37

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23-24

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“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.
-A.A. Milne

Friendship is like a garden. You must be willing to go out into that garden and care for it, removing the weeds, trimming the plants, planting new seeds, and working hard to make it beautiful. One of my favorite portraits of friendship is that of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories. I wish for my children to have honest and kind friendships like the animals of those stories. But even more so, I want my children to look to Jesus as the greatest example of friendship and selfless love. It is in Jesus that we find our greatest joy, affirmation, approval, acceptance and eternal friendship.

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:15

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Presentating an Inventor and a Poet

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artwork painted by my son

Yesterday was a day that was captured in pictures and videos on my phone and memories in my heart. I had the privilege of attending my son’s Kindergarten Chapel to watch him presentate (a word my children made up and which has solidified in their vocabulary instead of present) a short speech on his favorite verse, John 8:12, and how he would like to serve God in the future as an inventor! All the kids were dressed in costumes to represent their future jobs. My son won the cuteness factor with his suit jacket, bow tie and Daddy’s old black-rimmed glasses. I cherished those moments when his eyes searched for mine and we smiled. I cheered him on from the front row, clapping for my son, rejoicing in his hard work and learning. After the class sang several songs, my heart was about ready to burst with joy. I filled my camera with a sufficient amount of memorable video clips and pictures to send to the grandparents a thousand miles away.

I also had the privilege of attending my daughter’s poetry reading event later that afternoon, an event put on by her class. These students worked so hard to memorize long passages of poetry and then present it to parents in a small and encouraging environment. I was so proud of all the children for their hard work, their presentation skills, their humor, perseverance in reading, memorization, and writing their own compositions. Each child learning and achieving at their own pace. I was incredibly proud of my daughter and the hard work she put into this event. This was bravery unleashed.

It was not only a year of transition to live in a new state across the country, a new church, a new neighborhood. But it was also a year of transition with their education as we changed course from homeschooling to a private school during this season of life. My kids’ courage constantly astounds me, their perseverance inspires me, and their accomplishments are the sweet fruit of never giving up. They have passed the finish line and are wearing the badges of courage and hard work that they have earned. This Mama’s heart is bursting with joy!

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I was also introduced to a series of poetry books featuring duets, where one child reads one sentence and another child reads another sentence, back and forth, in turn, in a dramatic and entertaining conversation. It is called You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You written by Mary Ann Hoberman. This would be a very fun afternoon quiet reading series to read with one’s children this summer!

After the poetry reading event, I was so impressed and inspired by these young poets that I decided I need to write more poetry! In celebration of the end of our adventurous and exciting school year, I present three original Haikus based on the goings-on at our home, Woodland Hollow, these late spring days.

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Morning Thunder
Thunder and lightning
Morning storm and rain pour down
Drenching our garden

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Selfish Squirrel
Birdfeeder and seeds
Little squirrel on the pole
Save some for the birds

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Birdwatching
Goldfinch, cardinal
Bluejay, robin, hummingbird,
Four children watching

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Hidden in My Heart Part 3 ~ Hiding God’s Word in a Mother’s Heart

IMG_5281This is Part 3 in a series titled Hidden in My Heart, a three-part series on treasuring God’s Word in our hearts as mothers and teaching our children to do the same. My prayer is that God uses these words to encourage moms and point them to Jesus, our Good Shepherd! You can read Part 1 – The Doorposts & The Gates here and Part 2-Hiding God’s Word in our Children’s Hearts here.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

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Motherhood has been a long awaited gift in my life. Little hands to hold, little hearts to shepherd, little lives to cherish, guide, and serve. It is the most beautiful season of my life and I cherish each child the Lord has entrusted to me. Just like a flower, so fragile and delicate, is constantly dependent on the sun and water to cause it to grow, so too are we as mothers dependent on the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to cause us to grow and be sustained spiritually in the beautiful and challenging work of motherhood.

As mothers, we are busy caring for all the many needs of our families in so many ways. Oftentimes, we give of ourselves until we are utterly spent and need a little self-care. It is a legend that the mother pelican bird, in times of famine, will pluck her own flesh to feed her offspring. Motherhood is the self-sacrificial work of giving your life for others. Over the years of raising young children, I have had to find creative ways to stay in God’s Word and receive my spiritual nourishment.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

(Deuteronomy 6:4-6 ESV)

Here, Moses calls the Israelites to “hear”, to open their ears to God’s commands and love Him with their entire being and way of life. These words shall be such a focus, a priority and sacred call to obey the LORD their God. God desires that intimacy with His people, and He knows we need that. Of course, the good news for those who repent and believe is that since we could not obey God’s Law perfectly, Christ has fulfilled the Law on our behalf which causes us to rest in Him.

My final encouragement in this series is to continue to love the Lord your God and spend time dwelling on His Word. Its in God’s Word where we find: His promises, His law, His testimonies, encouragement and comfort, strength and hope, rebuke and correction, faith instead of fear, and of course, grace, forgiveness, and joy.

How do we do this in our homes?

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When I was just starting out in motherhood, I asked a lot of questions to other women who were a little or a lot ahead of me in parenting. I searched the internet for blogs that “fit” my style, convictions, and method of parenting that I aspired to. I enjoyed that season of learning about the little years. Now, I’m in a season of learning about the “older child” years. If you are in the “early childhood” years, I hope this is a place where you can find some ideas that work for you, a springboard to jump off of.

Bible: ESV online audio

This is an excellent way to hear Scripture when you are a busy mama. When my firstborn was a baby, I found that it took a long time to nurse and that those 45 mins could be effectively used for spiritual nourishment, whether reading or listening to a podcast and working through different sermon series. When I found the ESV online audio, I was ecstatic! Just click on a book and press play as you go about your day. Whether you are preparing food, folding laundry, gardening, or going for a walk with the baby, this is a great time to soak in God’s Word. There have been times when I’ve just turned on the Psalms and let the Word of God fill our home in the early mornings while the kids are up and about, playing and I am working in the kitchen. There are also many Bible reading plans available!

Devotionals: Morning & Evening Daily Readings by C.H. Spurgeon

I first heard of this book from a friend when we had just one wee baby. I loved the idea of a short reading for morning and evening for each day of the year. Each reading offers deep theological reflections from Spurgeon. I have feasted on the love and character of God more deeply from this devotional book than any other devotional I have read.

Prayer Books: The Valley of Vision

This is a collection of Puritan prayers. I first heard of this book from our church in Bellingham, Washington. Our pastor read a prayer from it every Sunday. The raw and theologically rich prayers of adoration, confession and petition have impacted me greatly. As a busy mother, my prayers are often like little desperate calls for help or short popcorn prayers of praise and gratitude. Not a lot of eloquence or depth in my prayers. Praying more eloquently will not make Him hear our prayers more. But what I love about a prayer book, is that it opens my eyes to pray things that I wouldn’t think of. Whenever I pick up this prayer book, I’m so glad that I did and it benefits me as I praise, confess and petition.

Read aloud: During particularly busy seasons, I often have just read Scripture or even my devotional aloud to my children. Usually, in a house of four children, at least one of them is awake. So why not just pull them up beside you with a blanket and read the Bible or Spurgeon or the Puritans together? Lots of good conversation starters right there!

Music: There are many Scripture music cd’s available. When I put on these albums for my children to listen to, they benefit me as well. Scripture songs bubble up within me and the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word in song to minister to my heart.

Other ideas include listening to sermon podcasts from your church, joining a Bible study group, or forming Scripture accountability groups and simply reading Scripture posted around your own home. I have used all of these ideas in my creative quest to dwell deeply in God’s Word during the busy season as a mom to little ones. The Lord has used these ideas to daily help me to dwell deep and rest in His Word.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 NIV

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Have you been blessed by this series? If so, would you be willing to share this post with others? My heart is to write as part of my Kingdom work. I have so much on my heart that I would love for God to use in whatever way He chooses. Thank you for sharing the love!

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Listening Well

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We have been living at seminary now for over 7 months. When we arrived, we found ourselves often involved in and listening to conversations that centered around four letters. Are you an I or an E? Are you an F or a J? At first I was confused, as my brain sorted through the possibilities of what these letters could mean. Staring blankly, with baby in one arm, not sure what to say, and without any clue as to what they were talking about, I would answer honestly, “I actually don’t know what F and J mean.” We found these four letter combinations to be everywhere around campus and in class. After realizing this was a Meyers-Briggs personality tool and remembering that I had taken this test almost 20 years ago in college, we learned to appreciate these letters, because these letters actually had meaning and we would learn to appreciate even what these letters meant for us personally.

While living here in community, and from auditing one class (of which I only attended about half of the classes because our life was so busy last semester), and from learning through osmosis from what my husband is learning in his Mdiv classes, the Lord has been teaching me to listen well.

I always thought I was a good listener. When I am meeting with a friend, I put my cell phone away or on silent. If I’m talking with someone and my phone rings, I don’t answer it, but return the call when I have a moment. If I’m at church talking to someone and someone else taps my shoulder to say hi, I say a quick hello in a whisper, give a smile and a wave and then return to the person I was listening to. I want to give full attention.

I’ve realized, though, that there is so much more involved in listening well.

Listening doesn’t just involve eye contact and letting people finish their sentences. Listening isn’t just about hearing another’s words. If you want to listen well, it can take quite a lot of energy, which can be difficult for a generally introverted personality like mine.

As a Christian, it is important to listen well because we are ambassadors of Christ and we want to represent Him well to each other and to the world for the sake of His  Kingdom and for the sake of His redeeming work in our lives and relationships.

It is an honor to listen to someone’s story. Your neighbor, your relative, your spouse is made in the image of God. They have a story, a long and complicated, intricate story that began before they were even born. It is a privilege to be given the honor of hearing and engaging in one’s story.

Sometimes we need to just listen… physically hearing and internalizing what someone is saying, evaluating and analyzing, considering the vast array of possibilities and interpretations that could be present. It involves waiting patiently for wisdom and speaking timely words in response.

I like the NIV version of Ephesians 4:29 that says,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
(Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

We want to build others up in the Truth, in Christ, according to their needs. The most important of those needs is having the Gospel impact their lives.

According to Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers’, there are 16 different personality types. Already, we have a lot to wade through in learning to listen to someone! A free personality test here was one of the many tools used in our Spiritual and Ministry Formation Class. I didn’t realize back then how useful this would be in understanding myself better and understanding how I interact with others. Ultimately, this would aid in how well I am able to listen to others and interact with more wisdom and knowledge, simply because I would now be listening to them with skill.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19 ESV)

One of the main culprits for causing disunity and disgruntled relationships is due to the inability to recognize the inner workings of the vast array of different personalities. Each person may see an event or an opinion in a different light due to the way they interpret a situation, what worldview or culture they are coming from, whether they are an introvert or extrovert, what they value, and how they have learned to manage their emotions, responses, and ways of interacting with others.

It takes a lot of effort and grace to listen well to another. But learning this lifelong skill will help diffuse many a needless conflict, bring restoration to relationships and most importantly, open doors for the gospel to be shared, received and savored.

Listen, and listen well.

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The Close of the Day

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It all happened quite circumstantially. Our almost-2 year old started crawling out of his bed at night and with delirious laughter decided this was the way he wanted to spend all of his evenings… getting Mommy and Daddy to put him back into his bed 20-30 times a night! Finally, one of the exhausted pair had a brilliant idea. It was time to stand guard.

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So the evening routine would begin. Tuck all of the children into bed, pull up a chair in front of their rooms, and keep watch lest the littlest one should sneak out unawares. After many nights of listening to music while he fell asleep, folding laundry, or working on my computer at my post, I realized that I could accomplish much in this span of 20 minutes while he fell asleep.

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A new year dawned, and I began reading to my children another book in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, Prince Caspian. I am currently reading three novels to my children and have another four that just arrived in the mail this past week. I never have quite enough time to get in all the reading I would love to do each day. Solution: the books need to take turns. It was during this new years week and during the transition of a new school schedule that I began a new tradition… reading them to sleep.

I am amazed at how many chapters we can breeze through in that small amount of time. The house is quiet, I have their attention. Every so often, I stop to see if they have fallen asleep and usually I hear, “Read more!” Occasionally, I do not get a response. And that’s when I know that all have peacefully drifted off into dreamland, hopefully with kings and queens, fauns, centaurs, brave little mice, and definitely a lion named Aslan. And if none of these creatures fill their dreams, then at least they have all happily gone to sleep with a story in their hearts, at a reasonable hour and I have fulfilled another shift of standing guard against the wiles of a deliriously exhausted 2 year old, whom I love with all my heart!

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Tell Me Another Story, Mama

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I would crawl up on her bed, my little 10 year old self. She would be folding clean towels. I would watch her and memorize her every movement. I loved these moments in the middle of the day or the evening hours before bedtime. No one else around, I could have my mom all to myself and just talk. We would talk about anything and everything. Literally everything. She was my sounding board for all the many thoughts that perused my mind and it would all come out at these moments. It was then in those moments that she would say, “I completely understand. When I was young…” and she would launch off into a story from her life. She is an amazing story-teller. Sometimes the stories were quite amusing and hilarious. I would ask her questions, have her repeat that certain part again, and ask the why’s and how’s and when’s so that I could fully immerse myself in her stories.

Other times, there was a grand lesson for me to hear. Whether it was a spiritual lesson or a relationship lesson, she always had the answer! I would come away feeling encouraged, built up in my faith, and trusting that God was working even if I couldn’t see the answer to my particular problem. I would say, “Tell me another story, Mommy, from when you were young!”

About this time, a desire for adventure was percolating in my heart.  I would daydream constantly, even so much that it affected my wardrobe. I enjoyed wearing bracelets and necklaces as a little girl, but as I was getting older, I didn’t have a strong interest in jewelry. Everyone tried to get me to like it, but I felt it might get in the way if I was on a missionary adventure in a jungle somewhere. Instead of daydreaming about fancy hair-styles, I have often daydreamed about what kind of hair style would most suit the mission field and took the least amount of care, so that I could focus instead on the hard and laborious work of living in a third world country or scaling mountainsides on my future adventures. Instead of dreaming about fancy purses and shoes, I daydreamed about what kind of satchel or shoulder bag would suit me the best as I wandered through unknown lands. I also wore moccasins in high school which absolutely horrified my sisters! And of course, I ran my fastest time ever, the day I wore my moccasins to gym class!

I still have them.

(Disclaimer: I do appreciate jewelry and fancy things! I love to dress up too. And I love that my daughter loves to dress up. Over the years, I have learned to enjoy my own version of fancy! In fact, if my daughter wants to get her ears pierced one day, I may just go and get mine pierced with her as a Mommy Date!)

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My daydreams took on an element of adventure. Perhaps it was fueled as well by my adventurous father who would take me hiking into the mountains. When your Dad takes you for a hike past the “No Trespassing” sign, you know you’re in for an adventure. We would walk as far as our legs would take us, enjoying the incredible views overlooking Vancouver, British Columbia, high up in the mountains. He would point out streams, waterfalls, flowers and plant life. He would also make sure not to point out signs of bear or cougar nearby. He didn’t tell me about all the moments he did notice signs of wildlife, as he didn’t want to frighten me, but he told me years later!

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A few years ago, I started to tell our kids stories of adventure from my life. Stories about places I went and people I met, sharing the gospel with many different people in many different lands. And now, it is a regular thing to hear one of my children say, “Mama, tell us another story!” So we snuggle together, I set the scene, and they dive into their imaginations to recreate for themselves another story as I remember it.

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The Liturgy of a New Year

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{This photo was taken a year ago at Cowiche Canyon, Washington}

I want to write love letters with a paper and pen. I want to make house calls. I want to waste time on things that matter. On things that leave a mark in this world and the next. I want to carve out time to stop and boil the water. To bring out the china and the silver. To ask good questions of myself and my neighbors. And to listen patiently for the subtle answers. I want to live a life of love and liturgy.
Sandra McCracken, Tea & Liturgy

The word liturgy conjures up many other words such as form, order, worship, tradition, custom. I once read a beautiful piece on the liturgy of tea written by one of my favorite singer/songwriters. The quote above is from that article.

God has ordained structure and rhythm into the fabric of creation. There is a pulse. There is a poem. This year, I want to open my ears to hear more of that poem, written in the Scriptures, written on my heart, written in the daily tasks and regular rhythms of life where the ordinary is not ordinary but becomes the extraordinary when I open my ears and my eyes to the presence of Christ in every moment of every day that He has ordained. Whether they are good moments, or hard moments, whether they are moments of joy and laughter, or moments where I need to humble myself and submit to the good will of a loving Shepherd… from the mundane moments of putting dirty laundry into the washer machine to the beautiful memories made celebrating a birthday with all the pageantry of cakes, food, gifts, and games.

A year is structured by seasons, holidays, traditions, birthdays, times of rest and times of work. As the liturgy, form, traditions of your year play out, let there be worship of Jesus in the midst of it all. Let there be the continual rhythm of repentance and grace, quietness and trust, celebration and joy. And may we abide in the person of Jesus. This is where our true rest is. Practicing His presence, knowing He is with us, and finding our joy complete in Him as we live out the liturgy of our lives, year after year.

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This is a vignette I wrote on January 4th, 2012 for my previous blog, The Artisan Home. I am re-posting it today to celebrate this new year, 2016.