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Recipe for Disaster

Ingredients:

  • One 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, 2/3 complete, left unattended for less than five minutes
  • Two cats in the immediate vicinity, washing each other’s ears with increasing intensity, which often leads to a spat
  • One smooth wooden puzzle table, left (did I mention?) unattended for—really!—less than five minutes

Directions:

Allow cats to continue their ear-washing with no human supervision whatsoever, directly on top of the unfinished puzzle. A spat will naturally ensue. Expect to hear an unfamiliar, extended crashing noise, followed by a frantic skittering sound. The cats will then disappear for several hours. Visit the scene of their crime to find a completely empty table and approximately 700 pieces of previously-completed puzzle on the floor in a jumbled heap.

Aftermath:

Your offspring will see the tears spring to your eyes and the shock and horror on your face. One of them (young adult daughter—so sweet and thoughtful) will rush to help, immediately offering to return all of the pieces to the puzzle box so you don’t have to even touch them in their current state. The other (teenage son—brimming with vast, impressive knowledge on all topics, like all teenage sons) will offer advice.

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Faith

Loved by God the [Not Absent, Not Abusive] Father

By the time I was ten, I had had three earthly fathers.

The first father was the absent one, my biological father. My parents divorced in a storm of anger and legal drama when I was just a few months old, and my mom and I lived with her parents for the next several years. Father Number One left the country he despised for a new life on a new continent, where he stayed.

The second father was the abusive one, my stepfather. My mother had impulsively married one of her more promising boyfriends, and while it seemed like a good idea at the time, his physical abuse started within weeks and escalated rapidly until one final beating which put her in the hospital just before Christmas. She and I fled in secret to another state a thousand miles away and Father Number Two never found us.

The third father … but I’ll save him for later. Please stick around for that.

When I became a Christian as an adult, I discovered that many people, even Christians, who’d had absent or abusive fathers early in life had trouble seeing God as a benevolent, loving Father. It was easier for them to see God as someone distant or frightening, someone they could never hope to please, someone who was constantly judging them and finding them guilty or inadequate, or someone who professed to love them but did it conditionally and with many strings attached.

They had learned from imperfect, human men that fathers (or those who stood in the place of fathers) were often not trustworthy, loving, or safe.

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Faith

The Hidden Gift of Spiritual Amnesia

Some time ago, a young friend mentioned that she heard something in a sermon—a spiritual truth of some kind—that she had always known, yet had forgotten up until that point of hearing it again. She was disappointed in herself for forgetting, knowing that Satan delights in our tendency to forget God’s promises, his faithfulness, and his Word.

She might have thought she was alone in her difficulty, or maybe that she was just too young to have conquered it yet, but the truth is, we’re all victims of spiritual amnesia. How many times have you heard a sermon, read a devotional, sat in on Bible study, or received counsel from a friend in Christ, and thought to yourself, “I already knew this, but I had to be reminded of it yet again!” You might have felt discouraged, surprised, or frustrated that you had forgotten. You might have thought, “Why am I always forgetting this about God?”

Like sheep, we’re easily distracted from the truth and we constantly go astray. It’s part of our sin nature and it’s no surprise to God. He’s witnessed the spiritual amnesia of his people since the beginning. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeatedly warns the Israelites to take care lest they forget the Lord their God. Later, the author of Psalm 119 repeatedly and pointedly declares that he will not forget God’s Word, his law, his works, his precepts, and more. In the New Testament, James says that “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23, 24). I don’t know about you, but I often feel as if I’m that person looking in the mirror—I hear the Word, I hear the truth, I nod my head and feel sincerity in my heart, but then I go away and forget what I’ve heard. Again.

But I know I’m not alone in this forgetfulness. Think about it: Why do devotional books sell so well, year after year? Why do people keep going to church for five, six, seven or more decades when they surely are hearing many of the same ideas in sermons time after time? Why, if we’ve learned Bible stories and concepts even from young childhood, do we keep revisiting these same stories and ideas in Bible studies as adults? Why do we have to keep relearning God’s promises, his faithfulness, and his Word—over and over and over?

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Faith

Wanted: Spiritual Mothers

Whose voice do you hear when a much older Christian woman speaks into your life?

When I was eight years old, I became a grown-up. Changing life circumstances and a mom who needed my help in many areas of her life caused me to say good-bye to most of the rest of my childhood and learn how to be an adult quickly.

One recent Sunday, almost 50 years later, I sat in church and listened to a prayer written and spoken by a woman a little older than my mother would have been if she were still alive. Her prayer was just a minute or two long, and by the end of it I was in tears. Now, I cry easily for many reasons, so the tears themselves didn’t surprise me. The surprise was that I was crying for something I longed for without knowing, like a memory that had never happened or a desire just out of reach.

I cried because I recognized something in an elderly woman’s voice—a voice of experience, of someone who knew suffering, who had lived a long time and knew grief and loss. A voice of a woman who loved God with her whole heart and whose relationship with him had sustained her through many decades of both joys and sorrows. A true prayer warrior who, at that moment, sounded to me as if she spoke from the very heart of God, with a desire that we all should know him as she did. By the end of her prayer, a prayer of comfort and reminders of God’s grace, I was in tears—tears of gratitude for the voice of a spiritual mother in our midst.

Whose voices did I hear that day?

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Faith

From Me-Focused to God-Focused Bible Study

In the 25 years that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve participated in a lot of Bible studies.

There was the Bible study that encouraged me to be more like David, someone after God’s own heart. The Bible study that took me from Genesis to Revelation in ten weeks. Homespun Bible studies written by gifted women in my church and shiny new Bible studies from major publishers. Bible studies that provided free childcare (thank you, Lord) and Bible studies that had me in tears of conviction on the drive home. Big Bible studies in a room full of women and small Bible studies in a church member’s living room.

Over all these years with all these different studies (and in my own personal study), I regularly looked to the Bible for life-changing words that would transform my relationships, improve my spiritual self-discipline, or solve other problems in my life. This kind of “what’s in it for me?” way to study the Bible is the default setting even among longtime Christians. Reading the Bible and seeking God’s personal, problem-solving message to you is very common—try googling “what Bible verse should I read when” and you’ll see what I mean.

I did learn from these Bible studies. I sometimes even found answers to my problems or inspiration to become a better person in some particular way. But for more than two decades, even though I enjoyed and learned from the Bible studies that I had done, none of them answered the question that I didn’t even know I had: how to study and Bible, and why.

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Parenting

Overthinking Imagine Dragons: A Parenting Story

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are in fact two ideal circumstances in which to talk to your teen:

1. At 11:00 at night, usually a school/work night when you are tired but your teen is wide awake, and

2. Sitting side by side in the car, preferably when you (and not your teen) are driving so you can stare straight ahead and not make eye contact.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve made use of both of these times as much as possible, and it’s paid off. I found out in just this way that my oldest son was intending to enlist in the Marines. In fact, it was both 11:00 at night (coming back from seeing a musical together—yes, my former Marine still loves musicals, my work here is done) and we were sitting side by side in the car.

And when you spend time in cars with your teens, sometimes you end up enjoying music together. Sure enough, I bonded with my two oldest over music as I drove them back and forth to the learning center where they were taking classes. Around 2012, we discovered Imagine Dragons, and it became the first band (“alternative” band at that—bonus!) that we all loved. And I mean loved. We listened to their first album, Night Visions, until we knew the lyrics by heart, and eventually we started talking about them.

And, in true mom fashion, I started overthinking them. Or at least one of them.

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Faith

God’s Great Story, and Where You Fit In

If you’re new to the faith, if you’ve forgotten or were never taught some of these concepts, or if you’re just curious as to how your own story fits in with God’s story, this article is for you.

Human beings crave stories. From very young childhood, we’re entertained by them, cautioned by them, learn from them, and willingly pay good money to be mesmerized by them (i.e., taken out of our own story and immersed in someone else’s) for a few hours—whether in a book, a movie, a play, even a video game or a painting.

I’ve been thinking a lot about story lately in terms of the best-selling book of all time—more than five billion copies sold, and still the best-selling book year after year—the Bible. (The fact that these statistics are still true will hopefully cheer believers living in a post-Christian or nearly post-Christian America.)

The greatest of all stories.

Long before video games, movies, and even books as we know them today, Jesus, knowing the  effect that stories have on us, used parables (short stories that illustrate a spiritual lesson) for teaching purposes throughout his three-year ministry. From their clueless reactions to many of the stories’ lessons and meanings, it might appear that his disciples were not always the sharpest knives in the drawer, being pretty obtuse when it came to understanding what Jesus was actually talking about. But to be fair, they were mostly unaware that they were in the living presence of the Savior of the world, God’s own Son, and who’s to say what our responses would have been in that situation? It’s human to be skeptical, even when witnessing miracles right in front of our eyes. We might view the parables as not terribly difficult to understand, but Christians today have the benefit of two thousand years of commentary and analysis, not to mention a firm knowledge of who Jesus is and what he came to do, so comprehension comes a little easier to the modern listener or reader.

But beyond the parables that Jesus told, the Bible is filled with story after story after story. The stories of creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, the tower of Babel, Abraham and Sarah … and that’s just the first 15 pages of my 1,260-page Bible. The story of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection story takes four entire books to tell, over and over. The history of Israel and the early Christians are told in story form (Exodus, Ruth, 1 Samuel, Esther, Acts). The poets and prophets are storytellers (Job, Daniel, Hosea, Jonah). End-times visions are told as story (Revelation). It’s no wonder we teach children about the Bible using books with titles like The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Big Picture Story Bible (my favorite), Baby’s First Bible Stories, and so many more.

What’s the purpose of God’s story?

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Other Topics

“If You’re Vaccinated, Why Do You Still Wear a Mask?”

Over the past seventeen months, my opinion on certain virus-related issues has changed from time to time based on new developments, new information, and new experiences I’ve had. For instance, I originally was vaccine-hesitant but later changed my mind on that and was gratefully vaccinated in April of this year. And very early on in the pandemic, I wondered about mask effectiveness but both scientific and anecdotal evidence led me to fully support the use of masks to greatly limit virus transmission.

Do I love wearing a mask? Well, no—who does? But I will absolutely wear one when asked to, when others would prefer me to, or when I feel more comfortable doing so. It honestly is not a big deal to me to do any of this.

Even now. Even though I’m vaccinated.

A few months ago, the highly contagious Delta variant began ramping up considerably, and we’ve also learned that vaccinated people can still transmit the virus. Now, in August, Delta is no longer just banging on the proverbial door but is in the house, affecting more of my friends and relatives than I could have imagined. That’s more people—real-life people, not statistical people—who are catching COVID, getting very sick, and staying sick for a long time.

All of that brings me to a question that I know some people have wondered about, and one that I’ve asked myself over the past few weeks. I think it’s a fair question:

“If you’re vaccinated, why do you still wear a mask?”

In my particular county, elected officials are arguing, flip-flopping, and even suing each other over whether or not masks should be required, and the recommendations of frontline medical professionals are largely ignored. So it’s a personal choice, for the time being, at least. I’ve thought a lot lately about why I’m wearing a mask again, and here are my reasons, along with a few ideas as to why others may be doing this, as well.

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Homeschooling

Welcome to the Annual Mid-August Homeschool Mom Freak-Out

Every year for many years now, my August experience has been the same.

I start the summer joyfully (as do whichever of my kids are being homeschooled at the time, even the poor older guinea pigs I subjected to minor “summer math and reading” in early years—sorry, kids). I’m full of hope, relaxed expectation, and plans for catching up on all the things I had no time for during the school year. I even have a list of what I intend to accomplish in all of the “free time” I’m going to have.

During June and July, I continue my work as a freelance writer and editor, but with more flexibility than during the rest of the year. I begin my work day at 8:00, 9:00, whenever I want … and end when I feel like ending. Afternoons are spent with appointments, catching up on paperwork, visiting friends, fun family activities, trying new recipes, or writing for this blog. Sometimes I throw caution to the wind and flip my days, doing the fun stuff first and working later. But every day is full, and in a good way.

And then August arrives. Even now, when I’m down to just one high schooler, I start feeling little twitches of anxiety during the last week of July. Then the calendar rolls over and I’m officially facing the Final Weeks of Summer Vacation.

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Homeschooling · Parenting

Homeschool to Public School … and (Sometimes) Back Again

Tips on making the transition when you’re considering public school

We’re an 85.9% homeschool family (I did the math). We started out intending to be a 100% homeschool family, and in my heart I’m a 100% homeschooling mom, but Child #3 and Child #4 required different approaches to their education, so we’re going to end up at 85.9% overall. Kids will throw you a curve ball like that sometimes.

During the time that I was considering other schooling options for my two out-of-the-homeschool-box boys, I searched in vain for real-life experiences, examples, walk-throughs—anything to guide me in uncharted territory or even just encourage me in taking these huge steps into the unknown. I couldn’t find much, so now that I’ve walked this path myself—twice, in two different ways—I decided to write about it in order to help others who find themselves in a similar situation.

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