Prayer for a New School Year

In a couple short weeks, we will be returning home from an incredible summer back in the Pacific Northwest. The sand will be removed from all our shoes, our summer tans will be fading but still visible, freshly pressed uniforms will be donned and pencils sharpened for a new school year. How exciting to start anew!

Whatever educational model your children receive (and there are a bazillion models, so pray, pick one, and carry on!), you have the opportunity to give them, this year, a covering of prayer that God is ready and willing to bless as you lay before your Good Shepherd your children’s school year. There are unique things to pray for in any educational context, whether it be a public school, a Christian private school, a homeschool, a co-op, a fine arts school, a traditional school, a charter school, and the list goes on. Christians are in every one of these types of educational settings and parents need to cover their children in prayer.

Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street. Lamentations 2:19 ESV

Growing up, when our mom or dad dropped us off at school, they would pray for us and our day. And on the occasion that they forgot to pray, we would remind them. It became so second nature to us that we needed that knowledge that our parents had prayed over us for the day. My mother-in-law has been a part of a mom’s prayer group for over 30 years. Even to this day, though all her children are grown and grandchildren abound, she still prays once a week with these women and continue to pray for their adult children. What a gift and legacy it is to give the gift of prayer, a daily bringing our children to the Lord and requesting His work in their lives on their behalf.

A year ago, I was asked to send out weekly prayer emails for our children’s school. It is a joy to know that many of the parents are reading through the list of students and teachers for that week, and praying for each of them by name. Prayer groups like this have lasted for generations. Let’s be “torchbearers” of light for this generation.

“Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle—yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer.”
― Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

If you are interested in starting a Christian prayer group for your educational context, school, or network of moms, Moms In Prayer International has great resources, tips, and assistance in getting a group started in your area!

“Mothers around the world come together to passionately pray before God for the lives of their children in more than 140 countries. Imagine the impact of God answering prayers for a generation of children throughout the world.”
Moms In Prayer International

The Slackline and the Myth of Balance

The waves lapped calmly toward the shore as the young man hovered above the water, putting one foot in front of the other on the slackline. Captivated by curiosity, onlookers paused in their stroll along the boardwalk that hugged the shoreline of the bay. As we watched from a distance, hoping for his successful crossing, yet humorously knowing a short fall and a refreshing splash could be the outcome, we watched as he artfully traversed the line, swaying in the air, and at long last, the pull of gravity, a slight wind, and a misplaced step brought him into the salty ocean water.

Balance is something we strive for in our fast-paced society. Self-help books line the shelves of shops and offer us hope for finding the perfect way to schedule and orient our daily activities so we can accomplish more, utilize our time more efficiently, and help us to produce maximum output at minimal stress, the perfect balance of work, play and rest. But balance never seems to come, as if it were some illusory and unattainable goal.

One of my husband’s seminary professors recently challenged his students that perhaps balance is a myth. It is widely held that balance is something we can achieve and is necessary for our health and well-being. But could it be that if we are always seeking this and never finding it, that perhaps it is a false idea. It is so ingrained in our society, that to think of not pursuing balance seems ludicrous. Perhaps we are not meant to pursue balance, but instead to pursue faithfulness.

When the young man was attempting to cross the slackline, he was seeking balance, yet never finding it. He was teetering to the left and to the right the entire way. Trying to resist a sudden gust of wind, or pulling away from the gravity that sought to bring him down, he shook and swayed and kept moving forward because to stop would cause a certain fall. And fall, he did, never achieving balance if but for half a second. Though he inevitably fell off the line, he seemed to enjoy the water in the cool of the summer evening, cheers went up and he got right back on the line to try again. His commitment to practicing and moving forward was what got him across and accomplishing his goal.

As I plan out the various aspects of my role as a Christian, wife, mother, church worker, homemaker, birth doula, writer, and whatever other roles I take on, I am realizing that balance might just be a myth. As we try to order and prioritize our responsibilities, we need to seek faithfulness instead of balance.

When I have a sick child at home, I may not be able to serve in Sunday School that day, but care for my child at home. When a client calls me to a birth, I may need to stop cooking a meal, call a friend to watch my kids while I run to assist a woman in labor. If my child is successfully taking a nap, and all is well in my home, I may be able to carve out 30 minutes to write an article for a non-profit ministry that I serve. But if my child wakes up early and my plans are interrupted, I need to close my computer, put down my book, stop writing my grocery list, or leave a bathroom half cleaned, and pull that little one onto my lap for a story, and refocus my attention on this dear one.

Often I feel the gravity pulling me in more than one direction. In that moment, I need to set my eyes on Christ, take a deep breath and ask the Lord how to put one foot in front of the other, allowing myself the freedom to sway and shake, but faithfully moving forward, putting the most important things first, and letting everything else fall into place in their time. At times, I may take a misstep, and fall unabashedly into the water below. But hopefully, I will surface with a laugh, a shake of the head and keep moving forward with one foot steadily in front of the other, seeking not balance, but faithfulness.

For further reflection, I offer this article:
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-balance-a-four-letter-word

Planting Seeds of Wisdom {Featured in Deeply Rooted Magazine}

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Stepping off the weary airplane that had been my cocoon for the twelve-hour flight from Glasgow to Vancouver, I scrambled through the immigration line with overstuffed luggage and declaration card in hand. My eyes scanned the bustling airport for the customs booth where I could declare the precious item I was bringing back. I told the officers that I had one package of sunflower seeds from Scotland, but it would take a while for me to find them in my luggage. I knew my parents would be waiting for me just through the double doors. It was hard to leave my home away from home that I had grown to love, but I was eager to see them and settle back into the familiar. At long last, the officers said I could keep my small package of seeds. I was thrilled. I heaved my backpack onto my shoulders. And after five months of serving a church on the Ayrshire coast where the sea waves meet the heather that grows wild across rolling green hills, I was finally home. And I had brought seeds for planting.

I still remember one of the first songs I wrote as a young child… it had something to do with rainbows and a suitcase, I think. Stories about Ricky Raccoon and his woodland friends are still tucked away in a box somewhere. With a love for words, story, poetry and song, I have always loved to write.

This past winter, one of my friends who also loves words and language and is by far, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers I have personally ever read and who inspires me with every piece she composes, asked me if I’d like to contribute a piece to the magazine for which she is editor. Now if that’s not a run-on sentence, I don’t know what is. So I’d like to introduce those who are so gracious to read my essays (blog posts), to my dear friend, Thea at Little Book, Big Story. She is also my personal editor!

It was a joy to receive her invitation and I may have done a happy dance, as we writers like to call it! I set to work this past winter to write a piece on planting seeds of wisdom in our children’s hearts. My husband helped me to carve time into our winter break here at seminary. With my favorite chocolate and wine in hand, candles lit, and a soundtrack of ocean waves to get me into the mindset of preparing this little article, I set to work.

When we talk about planting “seeds” of wisdom in children, we are dealing with beginnings, a genesis of sorts. Seeds simply have the potential and the capacity for growth. They are not the end result. These seeds need to be given an environment in which to thrive so that they can grow into maturity.

I am not a perfect parent, and I am not at all the wisest amongst women. I am faced by my brokenness and need for Jesus every day. It is why I pray for new mercy every morning, that I may live a life that is faithful and honoring to Christ, that gives Him glory and brings Him delight.

But God does not wait for His children to arrive at a super-spiritual, incredibly wise point in our lives before He starts to use us. He simply desires for us to be willing to be used and He takes us as we are in our weakness, and then uses us the way He desires. He touches the lives He wants to touch with our willingness to serve Him, and then gives us sheer joy in being used by Him, every day, in big ways and small ways.

Undergirding all our efforts to be faithful to God’s command to train up our children in his holy ways, we must de- pend upon the Holy Spirit and be diligent in prayer. It is on our knees in prayer where the most work is done. Years ago, when our children were babies and toddlers, a friend told me of how there were many nights when she would stay awake in prayer, interceding for the souls of her children. That has stayed with me all these years and through many sleepless nights, I have asked the Lord to work mightily in the hearts of my children. Just like the man in Luke 11:5–8 who persistently knocks on his friend’s door in the middle of the night, asking for bread, God wants us to be persistent in prayer.

It was a joy to write this piece and to share a bit of what I’ve learned in these early years of parenting, things I’ve learned from God’s Word, from my parents, from friends, and  authors of long ago.

To read the rest of the article, you can pick up a copy of Deeply Rooted Magazine in two ways, either a hard copy of the magazine which reads like a coffee table book with beautifully designed layouts on thick matte paper, a collection of readings and inspiration to point you and others to Christ, or you can purchase the digital copy.

Deeply Rooted Magazine exists to glorify God in womanhood. Thank you, Thea Rosenburg and Dianne Jago for this opportunity!

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)

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Holy Week with the Jesus Storybook Bible

Spring has emerged these last few weeks and what a flurry of activity has begun outside our patio doors. The cardinals, red-breasted robins, and chickadees are joining us again at our Woodland Hollow. Blossoms unfold and are whisked away by spring winds and rain. Chipmunks and squirrels once again climb the pole of my bird-feeder to steal away the seeds I’ve placed for the birds. And so, the battle between Mommy and the squirrels begins again as seed gets scattered, gluttonous squirrels get chased away, and Crisco gets smeared on the pole to hold them back for another day.

Along with Spring, Holy Week has arrived; a holiday that calls for remembrance, solemnity, preparation, celebration and feasting! This is our favorite time of year and we love to celebrate in meaningful ways. We enjoy celebrating Lent, to focus our attention for a period of time on praying for something specific, perhaps fasting from something to bring my attention to more focused prayer, with readings and even kids’ activities. This is our ideal, although reality often looks a lot different. This did not happen this year. I had full intentions to go through a reading plan with the kids, but I didn’t even get to the point of printing it off my computer.

Sometimes life is like that. And perhaps for some of us, life is often like that!

If you are like me this year, with lack of energy, preparation, and time (for the Lord has placed many things on our plates this year), then may I be completely honest and share that we are starting our Lent reading plan today, on Day 37. That’s right! We missed the first 36 days and we are opening our Jesus Storybook Bible today to prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday using Sally Lloyd-Jones’ free lent reading plan.

Sally Lloyd-Jones is the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. This year marks the 10th anniversary of this beloved story Bible that takes the truth of Scripture and presents Bible stories in a way that connects with children, and even adults! Our daughter was just a wee baby when I first heard of this book. When a friend shared that she, herself, was deeply impacted every time she read one of these stories to her children, I decided to check it out! Its been a part of our family now since our daughter’s first birthday. By the wear and tear of it, you can see how well loved it has been. In fact, this Easter, I decided to purchase a new copy for our family to enjoy!

As well, for Lent and Easter, Sally lovingly put together this reading plan to help parents walk their children through this most meaningful season in the Church calendar using The Jesus Storybook Bible and the corresponding Scripture passages.

So if you are like me, and life is a little messy right now, literally and figuratively, why not just jump right in on Day 37 and share with your kids how Jesus jumped right into the messiness of a broken and sin-filled world to rescue them, and to show them that…

 “Nothing can ever – no, not ever! – separate us from the Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love of God he showed us in Jesus!”
~Sally Lloyd-Jones

Perhaps next year, the blossoms will stay a while longer on the bushes before the wind sweeps them away. Perhaps next Spring, the squirrels will be a bit more generous and leave more seed for the birds. And, perhaps, next year, we will start our Lent reading plan from the very beginning, on Day 1!

Happy Easter! Our Rescuer has come and is alive forevermore!
~Jen

Book Review: Messy Beautiful Friendship

Almost eight years ago, my husband, myself, and our baby girl were planning an international move… 45 mins from home! As we prepared for my permanent resident interview, including a short, and very sweet, trip to Montreal, Quebec to become a legal immigrant, I began praying for the friendships I would make in our new hometown. Though I was excited and eager for yet another adventure that God was calling us to, I was sad to be separated from dear, life-giving friendships that had been established and nurtured through regular three-hour-long coffee dates every other week. It was so hard to leave these friendships that began during my single years, supported me in early marriage, walking through the grief of miscarriage, and rejoicing with me in the joys of life with a long-awaited newborn. Even though I was moving a mere 45 mins away, I couldn’t bear not to have these ladies by my side, or just down the road! But that separation of a border and another country made it seem that much further away! Thankfully, those friends came and visited once or twice a month and I was able to go and visit as often as I could as well. We found a favorite coffee place in my new hometown, a new favorite walking path along the bay and, thankfully, we were able to keep up our friendships in this new season of life, stateside!

As time went on though, and as we got more settled in our town and in a new church, I knew I had to start making deep friendships there too. So I started to pray for an “American Lisa” and an “American Karen”. That God would bless me with deep friendships in our new town that were as deep and life-giving as those I had in Canada. And, through time, playdates, and mutual initiation, those friendships did come and continue to this day as well. We know that when we do get together and see each other again, we will be able to step into that closeness and like-minded friendship and conversation again. I know that these women are my sisters in Christ, they rejoice when I rejoice and mourn when I mourn. And I do the same for them. We are each other’s cheerleaders and prayer warriors and will be throughout the span of our lifetime. I’m thankful for these friendships. They are lifelines that point me to Christ and I need them.

I’ve written before about how I’ve needed to hold my friendships with open hands as God has called me to a nomadic life of serving Him in various locations. Perhaps this is why I’ve put much thought and prayer into my friendships over the years, as I know that I need community wherever God calls me, and now us, as a family. We have at least one more move before we settle down for hopefully what will be the place where we settle and put down roots for the foreseeable future, perhaps ten, twenty years or so. I’m starting to pray again for those friendships, the women who will be in my circle, serving with me, praying with me, and loving our community together for Christ.

Perhaps it is quite timely then, that God led me to read Christine Hoover’s new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships. As I flip through the book, it is looking rather yellow! I have marked it up quite thoroughly with my yellow highlighter. Reading so many thoughts and ideas that have echoed my own through the years was like finding a kindred friend who knew exactly what I was thinking!

Something awakens in us when we find someone who can relate to a shared value, struggle, or lesson learned. That is what I found when reading Messy Beautiful Friendship. The book is laid out in short, concise chapters, much like a devotional book, focusing on specific themes. Each of the five sections leads the reader through a pilgrimage of facing the very real challenges of friendship while leading the reader on to a gospel-centered perspective on friendship that reflects how we are to live in community as Christians.

Far from a worldly, static perspective on friendship, Christine offers water for the parched soul that is longing for friendship that goes beyond mere surface talk, common interests, and vacationing together.

“… the goal of friendship is to secure ourselves to the sure, steadfast anchor of Christ and, while holding to that anchor, give and receive the gift of friendship as we have opportunity. The goal is to enjoy God together with others and, as we move through life, to sharpen and allow ourselves to be sharpened by friends. We imitate Jesus with one another, willing to face the stark realities and consequences of sin, all the while persevering in our efforts to offer love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, comfort, and care to one another. In doing so, we display to one another and the world how God loves and, through this, bring him glory. This is our destination, the point on the map we move toward: bringing God glory.” pg.39

Interspersed along the way are quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together. I love it when authors find an old, Christian classic like this and weave the wisdom of those from another time and place into a message that is meant for our generation today. It not only reinforces what God was doing in a community from a culture and political climate of years gone by, but also shows that what God was doing then, is what He is continuing to do today, bringing the redemptive power of His Son to a hurting, broken world, a world that He will one day make new. We need the messages that are written for today as well as those words, sometimes ancient words, that connect us to times past.

Throughout the book, Christine unravels many of the reasons our friendships get so messy. It is that unspoken wish-dream of friendship that hinders so many of our relationships and prevents us from embracing the people who are right in front of us. Our idealistic expectations for community get shattered every time we put that wish-dream on its pedestal. She delves further into why its so important to enter into that messiness to find the beauty of friendship on the other side of our “ashes of insecurity”.

“In our envy of other women and who they are and what they have, we have chosen not to celebrate them or allow them to get close. In our childishness, we’ve been inconsiderate in thinking that friendship is for us and about us and should be what we want. We’ve been inwardly critical, and outwardly too, though we might not have dared to address the person directly. We’ve been judgmental and partial and argumentative and a million other things that sting and divide. These are ashes of our own making.” pg. 59

A wake up call like a back draft from an inferno rushes through my heart as I read those words and remember the times I’ve silently held back my offer of rejoicing with another in her joys, as well as the pain I have felt in my own heart when others have not rejoiced with me in my blessings. We all struggle in this way. Our insecurity breathes its venom from silent smiles when we choose the ways of the world, instead of following the Lord in his outpouring of a life of sacrificial love, obedience, and service. Our eyes need to be ever on our Lord, drawing strength from the Holy Spirit to actively listen, celebrate, and rejoice with others. Slowly, our insecurities fade away like the deadness of winter being engulfed in the new life of spring foliage. Our friendships become fruitful and life-giving to others and we find the safety of a community that lives and breathes the gospel of grace.

“But we are people of life! We can use our words to bring dead things to life, mirroring the resurrection of Christ and our own.” pg. 133

As I mentioned, my book is filled with yellow highlighting. I could write many reflections, perhaps on each chapter, as I have read this book. I will leave you with one more quote from Christine as she challenges us to enter into the hard conversations and the messiness, while seeking God’s glory and our joy in the beauty of friendship.

“We are to observe our friends. What are her gifts? What stories has God written in her life that could become an impactful ministry to others? What lies and patterns of behavior are hindering her relationship with God? What does it seem God is trying to do in her life? As we observe, we use our words to confirm her gifts, exhort her to ministry, encourage her growth, and excite her as to what God is doing in her life. Our honey-words have the power to stir up love and good works in the lives of our friends.” pg. 132

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As part of Christine’s launch team for this book, I invite you to visit her book launch page, order the book before its release date next week for a sweet deal, and get those preorder goodies before they’re gone!

You can purchase her book on Amazon!