Sunday, June 30, 2013

Letters to my daughters: on marriage

My dearest daughters,

I want to write you about marriage, but I honestly don't know where to start. I don't know what the world will be like when you are grown, but right now traditional marriage is a rather unpopular and emotionally-charged topic. There are so many things I want to write to you on this subject, but each time I try, I find that I would have to write so much more than one letter to explain it all.

Here is what I hope and pray for each of you:
-That you will come to have an understanding of God's love and care for you, so that you will understand WHY He says what He says in the Bible regarding marriage. He's not trying to kill your fun, He created you and knows how you work. You can trust His advice on this subject.

-That you will pursue God with your whole heart, and meet your husband as he travels that same path. This is how your dad and I met, and I really know of few marriages that are as easy and fun as ours is. We honestly just enjoy being together. Now, we still have our share of struggles and things to work through, but we have chosen to be each other's best friend. (And really, it's not a hard choice to make - I kinda like that guy!) If you are both pursuing God when you meet and you're moving the same direction, then if you continue to pursue God throughout your life you're likely to KEEP going the same direction, together!

-Marry your best friend. Take enough time to become best friends before getting married. Life gets hard sometimes. Having babies is life-changing. Sometimes money seems impossible. You really never know what life will bring your way. But the thing that carries you through when things aren't really very fun is friendship, not passion. Passion goes out the window when you are up at 2am with a baby that won't. stop. crying. But if you're best friends you can still, even with that crying baby, somehow (sometimes) give each other a look and laugh together. And if you are one day married and realize you aren't best friends, work on it. Spend time together. Be interested in what he's interested in (Nebraska football is...not even ON my priority list, but I will listen to stories he wants to tell me about it for a little while). Look for his good traits (often the things you fell in love with before start driving you nuts once you're married, but you can learn to appreciate them all over again.) ONLY SPEAK OF HIM POSITIVELY, except in rare circumstances and only with a person you trust who can help you learn how to love him better. Budget money for date nights, even if you go sit at a fast food place because you have no money to spend. Be his friend.

-Work out the important stuff before you get married. How many kids do you each want? Where will you go to church? What kind of a relationship do you each want with your families? Will you stay home with kids or work? How will you discipline your kids? Who will handle the money (preferably both of you, together)? Can you deal with any situations you're marrying into that may not change (health issues, in-laws, etc.)? Where will you live? How do you see God and what do you want to teach your children about Him? Obviously your answers to some of these questions may change as you grow, but they are so important to answer. Before we were married, we dated for about 2 years, 4 months of that we were 10 hours apart. We did premarital counseling with a couple from our church where we talked through a lot of this. We had enough time and encouragement to tackle these big conversations and there weren't many surprises after we were married. Your dad and I usually have similar thoughts on all of these subjects, and because we are friends, if our minds change or we feel God changing our hearts it's possible to talk it through and come to an agreement.

-Put your marriage even before your kids. Society right now is, oddly, simultaneously hyperactive about the welfare of children, AND disrespectful of them, I think. When you create a family culture where the kids are the center of the world, they grow up believing they are. Someone who thinks the world revolves around them is...not a pleasant person to be around. Don't be mean to your kids. Make sure their true needs are met. But you can enforce things like time to talk after your husband comes home from work, while the kids play. Leave them with a trusted babysitter for a date night once a week. Expect them to help care for your home so it's a pleasant place to live. Don't let them run the show. The stability of your marriage is everything to your family. If your marriage is stable and loving, your kids will probably come out alright. If you neglect your marriage, you might lose it AND the kids.

-Just be nice to each other. I think this goes an amazingly long way. Pay attention to the tone of your voice. Choose your words wisely. In Proverbs it says, "A wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands a foolish one tears hers down." You have the power to choose which you will do. Choose to build, even when it's hard. As a side-note here, some people find sarcasm to be funny. Nick and I have very little tolerance for it, and almost never are sarcastic. We protect each other's hearts by saying what we mean, in love. Sarcasm can really hurt, but in a way that is not usually acceptable to bring up because the person who hurt you will say they were only kidding. Usually there is an element of truth to it. Don't be sarcastic. Just say what you mean.

This is a long letter and I could easily write more, but I will stop here for now. Maybe I'll write another part later. I love you, and want you to have all of God's best in your life. Some of this is wisdom I learned from other women whose marriages I admire. Always stay open to input from people who have thriving marriages! I'm praying for your husbands even now, when you are still young.

I love you.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Letters to my daughters: foundations

My dear daughters,
The most important thing, the place from which you can build all of the rest of your life, is your relationship with God. 

It's easy to say this, but harder to DO it. I see a lot of stuff out there that almost excuses busy moms from taking the time to read their Bible and pray. Certainly you shouldn't be weighed down with guilt about it, but neglecting your time with God is like shooting yourself in the foot! 

I have done several different things during my quiet time over the years. I was given a one year Bible when I graduated from high school, and I have read it all the way through about three or four times I think, since then. I don't always read a full day of the plan each day. It took me three years to get through the Bible one of the times. I also have an app on my phone and doing reading plans on that is very convenient, but it has started to be rather unsatisfying for me. Lately I've been reading and marking up the Bible my parents gave me the year I graduated from bible school. Maybe someday you will read what I've underlined and written in it and get a glimpse into my relationship with God. I would love to think so. 

With the health issues I've struggled with over the years, it has been important for me to get enough sleep. Especially with having had four kids in 7 1/2 years, that has been difficult. Now that Josie is sleeping well, it's becoming easier to wake up before you girls do to have time with God. When I couldn't get up early though, I would read while I made breakfast, before I fell asleep while you napped (I LOVE nap time!), and/or before I went to bed at night. 

Often I read more than once a day, maybe part of a day from my one year Bible in the morning and a Psalm at night. When I read the Psalms, I love to ask God to tell me what chapter to read and then turn to the number I hear in my heart. It always makes me smile how He leads me to just what I need to hear. I'm getting better and better at hearing His voice that way. 

If I wake during the night or have trouble falling asleep, I use that time to pour my heart out to God, talking to Him about whatever is bothering me or that I need answers for. I just finished reading The Circle Maker, and I probably need to read it again. That book has I think forever changed my prayer life. I also pray over you girls every night before I say goodnight. I pray for protection and good sleep and for you to know God more, every night. I have a handful of scriptures that I pray and claim for you every night. I wonder if you will remember what I pray when you are grown? It is usually pretty much the same, but that's because I want to continue to see those things in your life. I pray that prayer from memory over you, but it is no less heartfelt now than it was the first time I prayed it years ago. 

One of my favorite things to do is to worship. Ever since I was a little girl, I would play the piano and sing at the top of my lungs. When I was little I imagined my audience. It amazes and humbles me that now I get to sing with real people. God is so good. He puts in us these things that bring us deep joy, and then tells us that's what He made us to do. Amazing. When I get a worship song stuck in my mind and heart, it often does not go away until I sing it to God. I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of what God has to teach me about worship. I can't wait to learn more. The fact that we can bring God pleasure and joy by singing to Him and doing things for His glory brings so much meaning to life for me. Everything about life makes sense when it's an act of worship. 

I also listen to sermons and read books written by people I respect. Some of my favorites are Bill Johnson, Kris Vallotton, Lisa Bevere, Joyce Meyer, Andrew Wommack, and others. I have always read the books and listened to any sermons I missed at the church we attend also. I think it is so important to stay tuned in to what God is doing in your local church. can be a tricky thing. Perfect churches don't exist, as far as I can tell. There will always be opportunities for you to get your feelings hurt, have an argument with someone, or be deeply disappointed by something that happens there. But the thing is, I think that's part of why we're supposed to go to one. Your character is not usually tested until you're in relationship with people. And being in relationship with other people who believe like you do, can build you up in ways you can't get alone. Find a church where you can belong, and then decide to belong there. Go where God is doing stuff. It might be messy. Don't be afraid of messy. Just love people and be part of something bigger than you. 

Above all else, I pray that you will come to know God personally, intimately. You are safe with Him and you can tell Him every thought, every desire, and every hurt you have. Read His word. Learn to hear His voice. Do what He says. In this world you will have trouble, but Jesus has overcome the world. 

I love you!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Letters to my daughters: on grace

Dear Precious Daughters,
I can't start writing to you until I explain where we have been. 

I have always loved God, as long as I can remember. I have always been hungry for truth. Even as a child, when I would hear truth, it felt like taking a long drink of water when I'm thirsty. I am also a very driven person. I love to accomplish things, to think about and solve problems, at my worst I am compelled to impress people. So I set about to impress God. 

Heh. That doesn't go so well. As soon as I'd start to feel like I had it all together, something out of my control would happen and I was suddenly a mess. I would go from pride to despair and back to pride every few days. In the midst of that pattern, Nick and I, hungry to know more of God, started listening to Andrew Wommack's teachings online. There were several reasons we were drawn to him. His style is mellow and calm, not showy. He says things in plain language, black and white. He has an obvious love for God. And he gives away all his talks for free. We had absolutely no money to spend, but since we could listen for free, we did. Daughters, no person has every answer about God. Andrew is just a man. But, he understands that God loves us and that when Jesus died on the cross, God's anger toward us was over. God sees us as righteous, just like Jesus. That truth, which seemed way too good to be true, changed our lives when Hannah and Audrey were babies. 

Suddenly, I didn't have to perform for God anymore. The guilt and shame that I had carried my whole life was gone for the first time, most of the time. But we were still painfully insecure. I still felt like I was messing up parenting, like I was a failure as a homemaker. 

It's been recent that I think I've finally come across an understanding of God that brings me peace and courage and confidence. I am already forgiven and the mistakes I make are covered by the blood of Jesus. But Jesus gave everything He had, He laid down His life for me. His forgiveness is the beginning, not the end of the story. I wasn't forgiven so I can sit on my couch playing on my iPhone for the rest of my life. I was invited into a grand adventure that is only made possible BECAUSE I'm forgiven. My obedience to God's word and the leading He gives me by His Holy Spirit, that obedience brings about His promises and His blessings in my life. I don't have to earn His favor, but I do have to follow His leading in order to have His best in my life. 

When I started living my life that way, doing the right thing even when I didn't feel like it, disciplining myself to clean the house, follow a regular routine, get up early to read my Bible, exercise, etc, all of a sudden my sense that I was a failure LEFT! But it wasn't me impressing God anymore, it was me living by His Spirit. And so far, living this way is sustainable. I don't crash and burn every few days as long as I stay full of who He is and what He's doing. It gives me hope for every area of life. Our home is probably happier than it's ever been. It took me eight years to go through that process, and I fully intend to continue growing and becoming more the woman God wants me to be. I don't want to miss out on anything He has for me. I want all of Him. 

Daughters, God is the perfect Father, and He thinks you are lovely in every way. He adores you. You can trust Him. His forgiveness makes it possible for you to live an incredible life, full of fulfilled dreams and deep joy. Things will be hard, because that creates character in us, so we become a deep well instead of staying shallow. But you can do it. Lean on Him with everything you have. Choose to have an obedient heart. Do what he tells you to do, no matter the cost. You'll never regret it because what He gives in return for your sacrifice makes your sacrifice seem insignificant in comparison.

I love you!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Letters to my daughters: Part one

Lately it seems everywhere I turn, I am getting messages about leaving a legacy. Does God speak to you that way too? Like, suddenly everybody talks about the same thing and you see the same thing in your quiet time and people ask you about it and it's like okay, okay, I get it, what would You like me to know??? :)

Yeah, it's like that.

I take very seriously, this job of training my four daughters. And yet, with everything it takes to care for four children, I get frustrated sometimes. The things I would like for them to know, things I would like to train them in, get passed over. I often rush through dinner preparation while Audrey looks on, because I have something else I have to do afterward, instead of letting her help like she always begs to do. To her credit, she watches anyway, and we have great chats while I frantically throw dinner together. But I wish I could do more. I am determined to read the Bible to the girls, and it's difficult to find a good time. So I read while they eat breakfast many days, in between reminding Tessa to sit down in her chair, asking Hannah to stop playing with toys, and handing Josie another piece of sausage.

I am often amazed at the level of sheer determination it takes to live with purpose. I can know all the things I SHOULD do, and do NONE of them, unless I am fiercely stubborn about what's important. And when I have not been as determined, I have lived with an overwhelming sense that I'm messing it all up. When I know what I ought to do, and don't do it because I'm lazy or have a disobedient heart, that's not okay. And I've been there. I fight against that daily. I know I will never meet every need my children have; God and other people must take their places in my children's lives and hearts as well. But I must do what I know is right. There are no excuses for laziness or rebelliousness.

It is with these thoughts in mind, that I want to start writing for my daughters, their daughters, and their daughters after them. I fully intend to live to 120 years old, since that's how long the Bible says we can live. But sometimes things happen. And I want my girls - all of them - for generations - to have the input of the women who go before them so they can benefit from it. Imagine if you could read the journal of your great-grandmother as she talked about how she pursued God, how she ran her household, and how she loved her husband. That's what I want to leave for my family.

I'm going to publish it here, partially because it's always helpful to have an audience - tends to keep me writing. And maybe, just maybe, it could be helpful to you as well. I'm not an older woman with 80 years of life behind me, but I do have four children, and our house is happily, chaotically peaceful most of the time. There are ways to DO that. And I'd like to share them. And I'd also like to hear your ideas about how YOU do that in your house. I'd like to write about things now, again in middle age, and again late in life, because I think all of those perspectives are helpful and useful and would be interesting to my daughters as they raise their own families.

Thanks for reading. :)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

They're people...

We took the kids to the zoo last night. They were having Membership Appreciation Night and we needed to think about something other than the fire.

But everywhere we went, it seemed, there were mothers screaming at their children, that or otherwise belittling them in front of strangers. Now I realize emotions are running high everywhere, but with my own heart raw from watching people lose everything except their family, I wanted to grab each of of them by the shoulders, look them in the eye, and plead with them to remember what's important. I'm fairly sure some of them don't even talk to their dogs the way they were talking to those beautiful children.

Houses and stuff can be replaced. Memories stay even when places burn down. But children are people, and people are irreplaceable, of infinite worth. If you know the love of God, then you have at least an intellectual understanding of the worth of a human.

Maybe that's all you ever knew as a child - being screamed at. Maybe, like me at times, you've gotten into a bad habit. Fix it. Make a conscious choice. Apologize when (not if, but when, because it takes time to change a habit) you mess up. Change the tone of your home. There's no condemnation for those who are in Christ, so don't spend time regretting, but change it moving forward.

You must do things that refill your "tank" as a mother. Have friends. Read your Bible. Take regular date nights. Institute "quiet time" every afternoon, even if it's just for 30 minutes so you can breathe and hear yourself think. Do what it takes so you can talk civilly to your family. They are the only thing you have that will last forever.