Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.
One of my favorite lines from a favorite movie — You’ve Got Mail.
I love the pulse of back to school season. Here at home, I’ve been reshuffling books, moving last year’s books to lower shelves and replacing them with this year’s stuff. Backpacks have been reorganized. I’ve replenished our stockpile of spiral notebooks and lined paper. And I’ve begun laying out this year’s school schedule.
We are, amazingly, going into our 16th year of homeschooling. When God called us to homeschool, I really struggled with the decision. My oldest two were in a sweet, small Christian school and although I was used to being at home with my kids, taking on their education was a huge responsibility.
I remember telling Dan that I’d do it, but he’d have to let me get out of the house a lot because I’d be a crazy woman by 5:00 p.m. every day! But as I prayed through the summer, God clearly called us to home educate. The verse He continued to set before me was Deuteronomy 6:4-7:
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.
And so we plunged into the great unknown. I had no idea what my homeschool philosophy was and I certainly had no long-term vision, thinking we’d take it one year at a time (O ye of little faith). And I had little clue what the routine of our days would look like.
The one thing that I did right that year was to start our day with Bible time. God must have steered my young heart to set aside the first part of our day as a sort of first fruits. And so I gathered up five little children, putting the baby on my lap, and we opened the Bible to Genesis 1. I didn’t have any curriculum. It was pretty simple. We read and discussed and applied the fresh Word that God had for us that day.
Slowly we worked our way through Genesis and then through the next book and the next.
On many days, I woke up preoccupied with the day’s long to-do list. Math and other book work loomed. And as the years of homeschooling went on and I developed a schooling philosophy and long-term goals, the lure of pressing academics pulled even more.
But – thankfully, naively — I protected that Bible time. And something happened as we gathered each morning. It became my favorite part of the day.
After getting up and dressed, eating breakfast and doing chores, we pushed pause on the day’s rush to open the Word together. Those mornings turned into months and then into years.
Those shared experiences with my kids remain the highest point of our days. Big kids who went off to work independently most of the day snuggled with the littlest on the couch during our Bible time.
We memorized verses, we worked through a catechism, we read and discovered and discussed and applied. We prayed for missionaries, looking up their countries on our globes. We prayed for family and friends and people groups across the world.
With a houseful of young children where no two days looked alike, I realized that if nothing else got done that day except our Bible time, it was a good day.
There have been days when we got the phone call and dropped everything to tend to an immediate need. There have been days when academics stopped altogether to work on character and times that science doesn’t happen because mom forgot to buy insulted copper wire and a 6-volt battery.
But if we’ve gathered the family together to open the Bible together, it’s a good day.
And actually, when we give God the first part of our day, I believe He blesses the rest.
Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
My heart was so heavy last night as my news feed filled with story after story of horror against the most vulnerable. Terrorists surrounding an Iraq village, demanding that families convert or die. Thousands trapped on a barren mountain without food or water, followed by pictures of parents placing limp, already dead children in a dusty pile.
I could hardly fathom the picture of a hardened terrorist sporting a huge grin and an arm slung around his new little 7-year-old bride, whose tear-strewn face showed unmitigated fear as she wrung chubby fingers. Even locally, there was news of the heartless stabbing of a 6-year-old boy at the hands of his grandmother.
I had planned to write a story about children’s books. I thought about sharing some of my favorite home school tips. But, to be honest, as I watched news coverage unfold, my heart sank and I was left wondering what one suburban mom can even do about the terror and genocide and missile attacks going on right now. And so I closed my laptop and hoped I would feel good enough in the morning to write about children’s books.
I didn’t feel better this morning. But a story I had read recently in The Insanity of God kept coming back to me. In the book, Nik Ripken recounts the story of Dmitri, a Russian factory worker, imprisoned for opening his home as a house church.*
For 17 years, Dmitri was physically and psychologically tortured, while authorities did “unspeakable things” to his wife and sons at home. Finally, after years of torture, the guards convinced him that his wife had been murdered and his sons taken by the state. Unable to withstand any more, Dmitri said, “You win! I will sign any confession that you want me to sign. I must get out of here to find where my children are.”
But Dmitri’s family had not been killed. In their home, the Holy Spirit was making them aware of Dmitri’s great despair. They knelt and prayed out loud together – and 1000 kilometers away, alone in his dark cell, Dmitri was able to hear them praying.
The next morning, when the guards presented a confession to Dmitri in exchange for his freedom, he refused to sign. Demanding to know why, Dmitri told them he knew his wife and sons were alive because God had allowed him to hear their voices as they prayed!
The effective, fervent prayers of the righteous availeth much. James 5:16
We have got to take God at His word. What can one suburban mom do about atrocities going on right now in the world? Fervently pray. Prayer is not a last resort. Prayer is our primary power.
We may never know how God uses our prayers. But our job is not the availing of prayer. Our job is the fervency of prayer. Those caught in the terror don’t need me wringing my hands in despair; they desperately need believers around the world who will take God at His word and lift up fervent prayers on their behalf.
*The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected, Nik Ripken with Gregg Lewis, p. 151-57. (Just linking for your benefit; no affiliation.)
My hat is off to you. I wish we could sit down together and chat and remind each other that it’s going to be okay. That we’ll be okay and that God is bringing us through.
Some days when I’m bone weary, I think about you — laboring well after everyone’s in bed. Making hundreds of decisions, big and small. Anesthetizing the evenings with a mindless screen.
That heaviness in your shoulders you’ve grown used to? Maybe no one else sees but I know about it. You’ve gotten used to knots in your neck and thoughts that can’t be switched off, swirling between the must-do’s of today and the what if’s of tomorrow.
It’s not as easy as you make it look. But you don’t really share it because who in the world could you share all of it with? And then, too, better to shield the ones you love from the gritty hard.
Consider this my warmest Atta Girl, from one who knows your feats, your feelings of failure, the pain that threatens to paralyze.
Consider this a huge, virtual hug. Not the sideways kind of hug but the lean-on-me sort that lingers long and lets you know that someone else gets it.
All those years I was married, I’d known single moms and I’d heard the stats about single moms. But I really had no idea. Overwhelmed isn’t a season for single moms; it’s the rhythm of her days. Overwhelmed emotionally, overwhelmed with finances, overwhelmed with decisions and leaky air conditioners and countless tasks that need attention.
Overwhelmed trying to re-create that magical family life you had and so desperately want again for your children.
I know most days you’ve had to grow more spine than you ever thought possible. Folks think you are one strong woman.
But that’s the shell that you’ve had to be. In the protected corners of your heart, you feel so fragile. And how you’d love to trade in that strength and give it to someone you could trust.
I know single parenting has brought you to your knees. It was hard enough when there were two and but now you’re a student all over again begging God for wisdom to parent these kids — and teens and grown children — alone.
And the labels stink. Widowed. Divorced. Who knew so many forms needed to define you? Different labels and yet both sharing a death. Both broken. Both limping. Both figuring out who you are on the other side of marriage.
Single mama, you are seen and you are loved.
God has so much for you. He is not a god of surviving or getting-by. He is God of life abundant.
God promises strength to the weary and generous wisdom to those who ask. He promises to heal the broken, to turn weeping to dancing and mourning to joy.
God promises that wait, you will see goodness in the land of the living.
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What a perfect weekend of worship and work! I loved every bit of She Speaks 2014 and I’m so grateful I took the plunge to attend. I met amazing women across the country who are writing books, starting ministries and living out their walk with Christ authentically and transparently. It’s the first time I’ve been away by myself since Dan died. I cannot tell you how much God encouraged me from conversations with my plane seatmates to meeting so many like-minded women to learning more about the writing, blogging, publishing world.
So. My top three She Speaks moments. First, I absolutely loved hearing Christine Caine’s testimony and admonishment to us Friday evening. She’s a fiery Australian with an amazing story of redemption and incredible ministry (which includes rescuing slaves all over the world) who delivered a hard challenge. If you have a chance to hear Christine speak, do NOT miss!
My next favorite time was Saturday morning as I skipped the early morning session for my own time in the Word. She Speaks builds in great worship and group devotions, but by the second morning, I needed my own time with the Lord away from the busyness of 800 other ladies.
Finally, my biggest takeaway came from Jerry Jenkins’ testimony about Billy Graham. Yes, that Jerry Jenkins. Did you know that Jenkins has written more than 180 books including the Left Behind series which sold more 63,000,000 copies? But he said his greatest honor was being chosen to write Billy Graham’s biography, Just As I Am. Jenkins said that after decades of preaching and ministry, people wonder about the secret to Billy Graham’s spiritual power. Why has God used him so profoundly? Jenkins’ story revealed part of the answer.
One day, Jenkins asked Billy Graham how he maintained his own spiritual disciplines. Dr. Graham answered simply that he prayed without ceasing and studied scripture. “You pray without ceasing?” Jenkins asked. He said Dr. Graham nodded yes and said he was praying right then, during their conversation, that he would have the right words and that the biography would glorify God.
When Jenkins asked him to explain how he studied the Bible, Dr. Graham said that every morning, whether he was at home or a guest in someone’s house or across the world, he opened his Bible and laid it where he would see it throughout the day. Whenever he had 5 minutes or an hour or two, he would read a verse or a chapter. Dr. Graham said this study was not for sermon preparation or book writing, but for his own nourishment. Jenkins choked up as he recalled glancing up and seeing Dr. Graham’s Bible lying open on the corner of his desk.
Those words have stayed with me and I cannot shake them. I can only imagine the intimacy Billy Graham has shared with his Lord year after year as he has prayed unceasingly — through conversation and errands and writing and meetings — and continually fed on Scripture throughout the day. Not something checked off as done in the morning. But a constant, ongoing, living and breathing relationship with his Savior.
She Speaks gave me vision. Not just professionally, but for my own walk with Christ. I’m so challenged by Billy Graham’s example to take God literally and to spend every day with Him in prayer and Bible reading. I do not want to look back when I’m in my 80’s and regret that I didn’t follow God in faith and trust and risk.