Saturday, February 16, 2019

Traveling South but Not Out of God's Care

Last week we braved a trip south. The children have been begging to visit their cousins in North Carolina. I've never driven that far, and Ed has not been doing as well the past weeks. His fatigue and lack of focus are increasing and make every-day life challenging. Ed had always planned our trips, and I went along for the ride. But this is just one more thing that I had to tackle. With the help of the children, the trip went far better than I expected.

On the way to Ed's sister's house, we stopped at the Manasses Battlefield in Virginia. We had just listened to the excellent book, Bull Run by Paul Fleischman. This book tells the story of the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manasses) from the viewpoint of many different characters such as a slave, captain, doctor, fife player, and more. The audio was well-done; each character was read by a different reader which made it more memorable. The book does not glorify war and made our short visit to the battlefield much more profitable.

We spent the rest of the weekend just hanging out at Jean's house. We always have so much fun there. We did craft projects, 

shelled pecans,

cleared brush,

braved a huge rope swing, and spent hours playing games and talking.

Some of you long-time readers have asked how Jean and her family are doing since her husband's death seven years ago. They are all doing very well. Jean and her girls have a bakery business and have fixed up an adorable bus to travel to farmer's markets. Her sons are busy with jobs and school.

Seeing God's care for Jean's family has given me hope for my own family. I watch them and see that the worse can happen and families can go on and learn to live and laugh again.

When my brother Brad found out we were going to North Carolina for the weekend, he asked if we'd consider visiting them before heading home. Brad and his family are planning to spend seven weeks working with Christian Disaster Service (CDS). They are helping rebuild homes that were damaged by Hurricane Florence in September. 

So on Monday morning, while it snowed at home in Pennsylvania, we traveled several hours further south. A large blueberry farm offered their migrant housing to the volunteers. Set in a grove of tall pines on the edge of the blueberry fields, it was pretty setting. The housing was rustic, but we just imagined we were camping.

CDS encourages families to serve together. I loved seeing sons work with their fathers. Of course it was terribly hard to see Ed so tired and listless. In large groups and unfamiliar surroundings, Ed's brain fog is even worse than usual. A year ago he would have loved strapping on a tool belt and jumping into the work. 

But my boys were able to work with their uncle for two days helping to carry trash, tear out old insulation, and put on a new roof. 

The ladies and girls cleaned to prepare for more volunteers arriving next week. 

Busy men and many children also made endless laundry.

My favorite part of our stay was working in the kitchen trailer. We ladies discussed homeschooling, recipes, and church life while making mounds of food and washing dishes.

The children made new friends, 

and played games with cousins. 

Without many toys, the children used creativity. Some of the girls made a pinata.

The boys rolled each other in an old barrel. 

The last evening we were there, the home owners of one of the houses the group was rebuilding shared their story with us. They spoke of God's protection on their lives as they fled the hurricane and thanked God for His blessings even after losing all their earthly belongings. I hope we were able to encourage them as much as they blessed us.

As a mom, I don't expect much relaxation on a vacation, but this trip was perhaps the most relaxed I've been in months, maybe years. My children were happy and busy all day long. I had no responsibilities for meals though I pitched in when I could. We had some rough spots, like the night one of my girls got sick, and I constantly worried about Ed, hoping he wouldn't get confused and wander away or fall.  

Maybe it was because my expectations were so low. Maybe it is a sign that my normal life is stressful. Maybe it was the prayers of friends and family. Whatever the reason, I arrived home feeling refreshed.

We don't deserve God's blessing, we don't always get the blessings we ask for, but we always have blessings to thank God for.

For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. Psalms 100:5

Monday, February 4, 2019

Off the Shelf -Shiloh Series

I'm sure my fellow book-lovers know the joy of finding a whole new-to-you book series.

I picked up the first book in the Shiloh series at a used book store simply because it had the Newberry  Medal sticker on the front. It sat on my shelf for a couple years until I needed another family read-aloud and pulled it off the shelf.

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Last fall we had read a number of books set in different parts of the world (the topic of another post), and when I read the first page of Shiloh I stopped and asked my children, "What do you know about this book setting already." They guessed correctly that Shiloh was narrated by a boy who lived in the country. We soon learn that Marty loves his West Virginia home even if no has ever heard for Friendly, West Virginia.

Shiloh is the first of a four-book series. Named for the dog that Marty finds on his Sunday afternoon walk, Shiloh tells the story of Marty's fight to save this dog from his owner, Judd Travers, who beats and starves his dogs. Marty will do about anything to save Shiloh from Judd.

In the second book, Shiloh Season, Marty now owns Shiloh, but he can't quit worrying that Judd will find a way to take Shiloh. With Judd drinking heavily and hunting season coming, Marty fears that Shiloh isn't safe.

In Saving Shiloh, Marty's parents think that Judd deserves a second chance, but Judd seems to attract trouble and the neighbors are quick to blame Judd for everything from burglary to murder. Is it possible for Judd to become a hero?

The series ends with Shiloh Christmas. We listened to this book on audio, which enhanced our pleasure in the book. I was a little worried about this book since the preacher is depicted in a bad light, but the conclusion wrapped up in a satisfying manner.

All these books are good for family conversation, but, this one, with its discussion on religion which may differ from your view, I think is important to discuss with your children.

I haven't read a series to my children that I've enjoyed quite as much as the Shiloh series. I highly recommend them if you want books that make even adults consider how they relate to others. Though these books are not necessarily "Christian," and I don't always agree with the characters' choices, I found them a valuable discussion starter. Plus they were warm-hearted stories that my children begged for "just one more chapter."

Have you found any great "new-to-you" books recently?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Grace and Glory

A few photos from recent weeks.

Fun with art lessons from Articulations.

Celebrating Ed's 42nd Birthday

Enjoying our first puppy - a yellow lab.

For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Psalm 84:11
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Monday, January 28, 2019

Come, Come, Ye Saints

Sometimes a song puts into words the thoughts that are on my mind. Last week when we sang Come, Come, Ye Saints at church, I thought it fit perfectly what I've been thinking on the topic of rest.

All is well today because of Jesus.
All will be well tomorrow because of Jesus.

Come, Come Ye Saints
by William Clayton - adapted by Joseph F. Green
Hymns of the Church #811

Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you the journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
We have a living Lord to guide,
And we can trust Him to provide;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell:
All is well! All is well!

The world of care is with us every day;
Let it not this obscure:
Here we can serve the Master on the way,
And in Him be secure.
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take;
Our God will never us forsake;
And so our song no fear can quell;
All is well! All is well!

We'll find the rest which God for us prepared,
When at last He will call;
Where none will come to hurt or make afraid,
He will reign over all.
We will make the air with music ring,
Shout praise to God our Lord and King;
O how we'll make the chorus swell:
All is well! All is well!

If you want to hear the words sung, you can watch this video. (You might need to click over to the blog if reading by email.) This video is meaningful to me because it is sung by Jess' youth group. To see her friends singing the words "all is well," chokes me up. But it is true.

Monday, January 21, 2019

I Will Give You Rest

A few months ago a friend, whose husband also has brain cancer, told me that when she read Scripture the words just rolled off.

I can relate. All of us have times when God's Word doesn't seem to go deeper than words on a page. It seems that times of great need would make Scripture more alive and profitable. But sometimes, like a plant whose soil is so parched that it can't absorb water, a stressed mind doesn't allow words to penetrate.

The only cure that I know is to keep splashing in God's Word with the hope that my heart will absorb some truth. Like several ladies mentioned in our series on Bible reading, I have found it vital to read with a pen in hand with the commitment that I won't stop reading until I write something down - a phrase, a verse, a thought. The process of my hand writing the words help them to go deeper than the visual nerves.

Recently several friends have asked if I choose a Word of the Year. I never have, probably due to my dislike for joining the latest band-wagon. But I do see value in choosing one word, a theme or concept, to focus on for a year.

On the first Sunday of the New Year, I was flipping through my Bible to find the passage the minister was reading and stalled at Hebrews 4. The word "Rest" jumped off the page, and I found my word for the year.

When I think of this coming year I admit that I'm terrified. I don't know what the year will hold, but it is likely to include pain. And there is absolutely nothing I can do to change that fact.

I know by looking at the past that God will carry us through every challenge. I know that I need to trust Him, but humanely it just feels hard.

Ed's MRI last week looked great. We are so grateful that the inflammation is nearly gone, and the tumor is stable. Compared to his MRIs last summer, they are beautiful.

But the treatment that stalled his tumor brought side affects. It might seem silly but now that we are not actively treating Ed's cancer, some of the smaller things like fatigue, lack of concentration, and his inability to work feel overwhelming. We are working with a rehab doctor in hopes of increasing his strength and focus. I struggle to know what I should accept, and what I should push to change. I find myself stressing over little things, possibly since I can't change the big things.

It isn't all gloomy at our house. I've been given a new editing opportunity that I'm excited about. Our boys are loving their new puppy. Homeschooling has been a challenge this year with disrupted schedules, but we are enjoying a new art program and some great read-alouds. Some days (maybe every day) I need to choose whether I'm going to focus on all the things that went wrong or list my many blessings.

When I read Hebrews 4 I can't begin to uncover all its riches. Verse 9 promises rest for the people of God. We are told to listen to God's voice and not harden our hearts (vs. 7). Rest is something to be sought through faith (vs.11) and the power of the Word of God (vs. 12). But best of all is our Lord Jesus Christ, our high priest, who became a man and knows our weakness (vs.14-15) so we can come to the throne of God and find mercy and grace (and rest) in our time of need (vs. 16).

Rest. We can find it because, through faith in Christ, He gives rest.

That is a promise to carry into the unknowns of a new year.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Choosing His Words - Part 12

I've been so blessed by what each women has shared about Bible Reading these last weeks. I'm going to end this series with some words of wisdom from a mother of eleven. I never met Laurie, and only know her through her daughter, Sheila but her words encouraged me.

She softly closes her Bible and kneels by her bed to pray.For nearly fifty years she has done this every day.”

Am I the only mother that has ever felt frustrated with the words of this song? Did this dear old mother never have morning sickness, fussy babies, or other disruptions to her schedule? Was she never so tired that she could barely think, let alone read the Bible and pray consecutively. Or maybe she only had model children, all five years apart in age? How did she possibly manage to get away to her bedroom and privately read her Bible and pray every. single. day?

A mother’s personal devotions is something very close to my heart, and probably close to the heart of every Christian mother. While my youngest child at home is now twenty years old, I well remember the frustration and guilt I felt when my children were young. The many cares and responsibilities of motherhood—cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing, pregnancy and nausea, fussy babies, demanding toddlers, school schedules, marriage obligations, winter colds and flues, summer canning, and much more can leave a young mother exhausted. There seems to never be enough time for the countless tasks. So then, when do we spend time with God?

There are seasons of life when it is very difficult to find sufficient time and space for a daily, prolonged, private time with God. And while a scheduled time is certainly ideal, often it is just not possible. But there are many little random slots of time when we can find nourishment from The Word. Busy young mothers should try hard to not let one day go by without utilizing some of them:
  • Memorize scripture. Write a verse, or several, on a paper and tape it to the mirror, the refrigerator or above the kitchen sink. Read it often to rivet it in your mind. 
When I was a girl, my mom printed verses on 8 1/2” x 11” papers and put them on the wall like mottos. I always thought it was to help her children memorize verses, but when I have done the same for my family, I realize it blesses me too. Maybe use a colored paper and add a border or stickers to make it attractive.
  • Read your Bible or a devotional book while feeding the baby. Sometimes this is a good time to read to toddlers but children can and should be taught to entertain themselves also. 
  • When the baby keeps you up at night, spend some time reciting Bible verses and passages. 
The middle of the night, when all is quiet, is also a good time to pray. I like to try to be in an attitude of prayer continually, breathing words to God whenever something comes to mind. But when my children were small and I found it hard to find time for longer periods of prayer, I often prayed in the night while caring for my baby. 
  • Sing hymns to your baby while you rock him to sleep. Meditate on the words.
  • Slip a small Testament in your purse and read it while waiting at doctor appointments.
Don’t forget to ask your husband for help. When I was expecting my tenth baby, added to the normal (for me) twenty-four/seven nausea, I also suffered with depression. At that stage of my life, with my oldest a fourteen-year-old daughter, I was able to find more private time to read the Bible. However, because of the depression, I found it very hard. So at night, after we were in bed, my husband read aloud from the Psalms. I would lie quietly, resting, and soak it in. I probably went a couple of months without personally reading the Bible but I remember that as a very special time. I felt spiritually nourished.

If you are truly unable to find the time and energy, tell God about it. One mother of twins said she was so exhausted by the time she finally got her babies to sleep that she simply said “Dear God, You know my heart,” before she fell asleep. She knew that God understood this season of her life. In those brief words she was telling Him that her prayers in the past and her prayers in the future was her prayer tonight, when she was too tired to pray.

In less busy seasons or as our children get older and we are able to find more time, there are many exciting ways to study God’s Word:
  • I enjoy writing my own devotionals. I write out a verse or passage and then add my inspiration from it. Maybe I read from a Bible commentary and copy thoughts that stand out to me. Sometimes I write a poem or a small rhyme about the verses. This study is a blessing to me at the time I write it and when I read it later.
  • I like to underline and shade Bible passages and write thoughts in the margins. This is an extra blessing to me later, when going through difficulties. At times when I feel battle-weary, I open my Bible and just read places that are marked. 
The downside of marking in my Bible is that it can be a distraction. So I occasionally like to read from another Bible, that I don’t mark at all, to help me find new treasures. 
  • Once I read one section of Psalm 119 each day. I spent time thinking about the verses and chose and underlined a favorite verse every day. Psalm 119 is a beautiful passage and means much more to me since that special time of studying it. 
  • Sometimes I will choose a chapter and read it every day for a month. I think the first time I did this was with Romans 12. I remember being amazed at all the new things that kept popping up. It was really exciting. Currently, I am reading Hebrews 4. Some days I read something else but I am reading it often. There is so much I need to learn from Hebrews 4 about true rest.  And I am learning that there are many facets to the word “rest” in this chapter.
  • Word studies are also interesting. Some good words to study are Mercy, Grace, Redemption, Sanctification. And Rest.
  • In times of deep grief or stress it can be a blessing to simply copy a special verse or two in a journal, filling the page with the words. Or maybe just one special word—Rejoice, Hope, Blessed, or Grace, and adding a one-line prayer. Drawing small flowers and designs around the verse or word while we reflect on it can be relaxing and rejuvenating. After God called my youngest child to Heaven, and again when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I found this type of journaling very precious. Sometimes our hearts and minds are just too overwhelmed to absorb much more.
  • And don’t forget to read the Bible like any other book. We enjoy reading other books for an hour or two (or more) so why not God’s Word? While the Bible is certainly different than other books and should never be taken lightly, I believe it can be profitable to sometimes simply read it to enjoy the interesting stories. The Old Testament, especially, has stories full of mystery, romance, murder, treason, war, infidelity and deception—stories with captivating plots and twists and unexpected endings. While some of these  are probably not the type of stories that we normally like to read, they are fascinating,  true stories and the omniscient hand of our mighty God is always there. What more could we want in a story? 
Young mothers, please do not wallow in guilt or discouragement because there isn’t more time to actually read your Bible. Your service to your husband and to your children brings glory to God in itself. Your work is very important to Him. However, do try hard to find time to hold your Bible in your hands and read from it, if only once or twice a week. It is important. We need the fresh insights and inspiration that only comes from personally reading God’s Word. Looking back, I regret not trying harder to find more time for Bible reading when my children were small. And I’m ashamed to admit that I still fail sometimes. 

The battle is huge and real. The hand that rocks the cradle must hold the hand of God. -Laurie L.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Choosing His Words - Part 11

For the first week or two of the new year I asked some friends to share on the topic of Bible reading. Often we women feel guilty and frustrated about our Bible reading habits and I hope this can bring inspiration. 

I have found my devotional life changes with my seasons of life. After the birth of my first child, a set time for an orderly devotions disappeared. As babies were added to toddlers, Bible reading usually happened while nursing, and prayer was short sentences and breathes uttered between changing diapers and picking up blocks. Some days any Bible reading was Gospel signs or church signs while driving to town. 

My goal was to keep afternoon nap-time for a quiet devotional time, but some days a nap myself was needed more and Bible reading didn't happen - creating guilt. But then our bishop spoke words I've never forgotten. He mentioned that mothers with busy families need to not feel guilty for days when maybe a brief prayer is all that happens. The Lord knows our hearts and he sees the intense days of busy moms, and understands. The Lord is not judging a worn-out mom on the time she spent or didn't spend reading the Bible. Through the years, I've learned to not focus on when and how, but to focus on finding worship moments through-out the day. An extra beautiful sunrise, joy from a child's smile, the first robin's song in spring, a parking spot right at the front of the store when heavy with child -- all these things feel like a touch from God and are a worshiping moment. Prayers are uttered when a friend's name comes to mind, or I think of a prayer request from prayer meeting, or as soon as a prayer text comes to my phone.     One year I decided to do the One Year Bible plan, but it turned into a Three Year Bible plan! But that was okay. I found joy in accomplishing it and felt rewarded to be able to say I had read through the Bible. I would recommend it although it is a lot of reading and I found myself reading to just get the reading done and not focusing on what the words were really saying. I can have just as meaningful devotions pondering on only one verse. 

I have tried to get up early in the morning since I often hear that devotions should be first thing to start your day. But I am not a morning person. (There, I admitted it.) I found myself falling back to sleep while trying to read and pray. After again fighting guilt, I decided that just like my husband doesn't care what time of day I talk with him, so my Heavenly Husband will enjoy conversation any time of day!

Now that my babies are grown up, afternoon nap-time devotions still work best because the interruptions and questions of my four-year-old still doesn't work for morning devotions. My biggest challenge I now face is to keep Bible reading first and not let other to-do list take over those quiet moments. - Regina R.


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