Monday, September 15, 2014

Faithfulness

My heart pounds expectantly in my chest.

I feel the rhythmic beats sure and strong, quicker than the norm.


May day has been simple. No big frills. No time for frills. But, yes, simple, consistent, faithful is what I seek. And today, I'm seeing it.


I sit with thirty minutes of margin and am having a little party as I have a chance to type these words. Margin is being created, and I'm walking in it. 


It. Is. Lovely.


Sometimes I forget that raising four kids is enough. Sometimes I fail to remember that my mantle looks different than others around me. I see things that are "good" and add them to my "to do" list and figure I'll manage it somehow (everyone else is managing, right??). 


Well, I have a sneaking suspicion that we probably don't really know how "well" things are being managed for others. And truly, all that really matters is if we are doing well with what we have been given. So, are we?


I had to humbly accept that I was not doing well a couple weeks ago. We all walk through different seasons, and it turned out that the season I am in is much more demanding than I expected. And while I love to just try to push on and muster the strength to keep going on business as usual, not ruffling any feathers, or disappointing anyone, sometimes that is just not possible. Sometimes, I just need to humble myself and let go of trying to do it all.


So last week as I stood in a filthy bathroom full of evidence of it's 3 little users, I called my mom. If there was a giftedness in cleaning, she has it. "Mom. I just have to laugh looking at the sad, sad state of my house. Want to come clean it?"


And she did. Because she's cool. Four rooms in five hours. Yes, it was that bad.


And I talked through my commitments with my husband, who is far better at creating margin than I. And I (eh-hem, painfully...) took his advice and pulled some things off my responsibility list. I listened to some dear friends tell me I need to take help when it's offered and received it, knowing they were right, and knowing I would have to say "yes" in the future. Here's to future humbling :)


It feels painful and uncomfortable to be changed. Embracing weakness and asking for help are not things I enjoy. But I do enjoy the end result. I do enjoy the ability to be faithful to what is before me. I am so encouraged to see first-fruits of walking in obedience to the things I know are being asked of me. My life belongs to God, and I want to be more and more like Him on this earth. Change will have to come. Though it's uncomfortable, embracing change is good and right.


I'm celebrating today the hard choices that have been made in the last couple weeks and the goodness I'm seeing as a result. Expectancy is in my heart. Simply being faithful seems quite exhilarating. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hurrying, Scurrying, & Missing It

"Mom, did you give me these?" Clara asked me very seriously as she pointed to her eyebrows last night while tucking her into bed.

I chuckled. "Your eyebrows? No, I didn't give you those."

"Oh," she said with a giggle. "Jesus did." Her hair lay in wild wisps around her face and her one dimple on the right deepened.




"I like the way God made you, Clara."

She replied, "I like the way God made everybody....but the mean boys. I like all the girls, and the brothers, and the boy babies, but not the mean boys."

Lately she's been asking for "girl time" daily. She expects her brothers to clear the room and a glorious girly time to be had with barbies, babies, and princess hair.

She has no idea how pure she is.

Looking through a child's eyes takes our focus back to things that are true and simple.

Faith comes easy. God is our maker. He made all things. And He did a good job....except for those mean boys...well, there's an area to learn still more.

Identifying with other girls is right and good for our feminine hearts. We want to be known by other women and we refuel in spending time together.

Hurrying through life can be so commonplace. When the "to do" list is long, task mode is easy. Every night the bedtime routine begins and soon we have teeth brushed, story read, song sung, prayers prayed, and I'm on to the next thing. But there are people there, beckoning, reminding us that relationships are what life is really about.

There is this little girl that is becoming a lady before my eyes, understanding the world around her to a greater degree, nudging me to slow down, and reminding me of what is true.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When Beauty Becomes Commonplace...

Today I sat in the midst of Lincoln logs and read a story about a red rocking chair to (semi) attentive ears. I talked with my two oldest boys about their need for new beds because their limbs are just about to bust through the bottom of their toddler beds. Today I explained adoption to my 3-year-old daughter and listened to her very wholeheartedly exclaim, "Well, we need to get a baby girl at the store!" (Maybe my explanation needs some work...:)). 

And in two days my baby turns 1.


My heart feels full, yet heavy, all at once.


I love these years. I never thought I'd love these years as a Mommy of so many little ones, but I do. I seriously can't think of anything else I'd rather do today than be their Mom, and be here with them. I want to soak in these moments. 


Today is a gift. Even in the midst of a sea of oatmeal on the floor, clingy teething babies, mornings starting too early, long bouts of whining, discipline and teaching moments abounding, today is a gift. 


I don't always see it this way, but this milestone of Samuel's first birthday is making me feel a bit nostalgic. It's wild how beauty can be taken for granted when we grow accustomed to it. I become comfortable with this mom thing, and these four little miracles, because doing life with them is so commonplace. I wake up, I see them, I care for them, I feed them (again and again), and I put them to bed. Repeat, repeat, repeat. But there are a million little moments that are awesome in the midst of that realistic portrayal of a Mom's life. I don't want to miss these moments. I want to see the beauty.


I want to soak up all the crinkly noses as they giggle, the smooth feel of their skin, the tender, honest words as they articulate their hearts, the look of pride in their eyes when they see you try your best. I can be so tempted to move on to the next thing, and miss the beauty before me.








I'm challenged, yet again, to keep counting my "gifts". I need to stop, and record, and acknowledge the sweet moments, the graces, I've been given. Active thanksgiving fights to keep the true beauty of life afresh. I see I have to fight harder than I thought. To develop a heart that is continually offering thanks, I must go beyond journaling my "gifts" for a year. I want to live a life of thanksgiving, not just a committed year. My eyes dart to and fro and my heart settles in less-than-lovely places. I want to persevere to see the goodness, to live thankful.


I'll be pulling out my thankful journal again today to actively seek the beauty in my days. For today, my heart feels like it may explode seeing all my gifts and the only thing fitting is to give thanks to God for His goodness. 


Yet I know days will come when goodness will be hard to see through the muddle of my dark thoughts. On those days, too, the only thing fitting will be to seek the beauty and give thanks. 


1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Homeschool?

A facade often times appears, I'm afraid, when it is discovered that we're a homeschooling family.

"Oh, you must be so much more patient than I am!"


"Did you study education?"


"Your kids must listen to you so well!"


Well, actually...nope, not by a long-shot, patience may be the least of my virtues; and no, I've never taken a single education course; and sometimes my kids listen very well, and frankly, sometimes everyone is just screaming around the table, trying to be heard.

These are not the reasons we homeschool. It's not a choice made because I am so patient, well-prepared, or have the best behaved kids around.


I'm blowing my cover. It's pretty messy, really.


It's all about learning to flex and bend and to persevere when the going gets tough.


It's throwing out some curriculum because it is absolutely not making things click for your child and going on a mad search to find one that will.


It's about lessons being interrupted by real life issues, in a real home, when the toddler needs help on the potty, the baby needs nursed, and the dog threw up, again.


It's about trying to gather yourself when the attention spans of two brothers just wanting to play Superheroes is seemingly nil.


It's about feeling anything but competent after trudging through a rough week of work and having to discipline yourself to sit down and remember how far they've come. Yes, something must be going right...


But, at the heart of it, homeschooling is about so much more.


It's about time in these fleeting years to do life together. I see the milestones accomplished and I am a part of them.


It's about deepening our relationships with one another. I see brothers working towards goals together and experience the gratitude shared when our laboring together results in new victories. 



It's about learning to function well together as a family. When "life" happens and needs other than our lessons must be addressed, we are learning the importance of looking out for the interest of others. We need each other to function well, in our family, in the body of Christ, and in the world. 




It's about enjoying learning, together. To be honest, I was a good student, but not a happy learner. Learning would have never been described as "fun" to me. And now, with my kids, I'm experiencing that learning can be fun. Phonics can go beyond worksheets and flashcards and be explored through silly hands-on games that reward memorized facts with a ninja move, or by cuddling up on the couch all afternoon diving into real books together. It's pretty amazing.

It's about embracing the freedom to invest our time and attention how we desire, and in the things we value. Some days we learn the value of stretching a dollar as we find good deals together at the store; other days we have an impromptu "field day" because spring decided to show up after a long winter; and other days our lesson is actively loving someone for their birthday as handwriting, cutting & pasting, phonics, and cooking are all encompassed in the midst. 


And it's about having the time to freely address and cultivate the work God has begun in each of their hearts as days go along. Days like this happen, and there is the opportunity to dig deeper and see God move.


I wrestled to make this decision to take on the mantle of Homeschooling. Doubts piled high regarding my ability to do so, and besides, I knew very little about taking on such an endeavor. I wasn't homeschooled. I only knew one homeschooling family in my town growing up, and frankly, I thought it was just weird. The whole idea felt way beyond me for some time. 


But I just couldn't shake it, a tug in my heart, that this would be our route. So I read books, met with other families who have gone before us, checked out blogs and pinterest ideas, met many other normal, non-socially-awkward homeschooled kids, and have landed here, a Homeschooling Momma, for better or worse. Not because I'm such an awesome, gifted teacher, not because I'm a saint of mommy, and not because my kids are super obedient have I arrived here. I'm homeschooling because a conviction developed that this was best for our family, for all of us. 


My great love for my kids and the deep desire I have to see them do well will propel me to provide the best I can for them. My great God, who dishes out grace in abundant measure, will help me do well. I'm gonna miss it some days, over some material. That's OK. Is our Education System always perfect? Nope, nothing is perfect. 


And my end goal is not to have the best educated, academically superior kids around. In the end, I want to have given myself to these four lives, investing in them, doing life with them, discipling them as we go. I want to see God accomplish the work He has begun in them first and foremost. Yes, education matters. Yes, I will give myself to providing them rich material and encourage them to be great learners. But I see it as an awesome freedom to be able to have the time we have together and to be their teacher.


It's not the only way, but it is a legitimate way. It is our way.


So don't be fooled. Even if you don't feel like you're the poster child for a Homeschooling Momma, you very well could be. If you would have been able to tell me my current station in life ten years ago, I would have laughed at you. Homeschooling my kids? Riiiight... 


But, it's me. And I'm really happy it's me. So forget the denim jumper that you think you may have to wear, do not fear socially awkward children, and do not doubt that God has equipped you to parent and teach your child. It could be your way, too.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Just Keep Going

I don't like to wait. A product of my culture, I suppose...waiting is lame when you can get so many things right now. But perseverance is needed in so many arenas of life. Exercise. Eating Right. Waiting on God to speak a direction, open a door. Prayer. Homeschooling. Parenting, on so many levels. Disciplining our children.

Oh, I can grow weary.

But I want to shout it from the rooftops today...IT'S WORTH IT!! Just. Keep. Going.

Today was one of those days in the Clemmons' home I'll always remember.

The boys and I were diving into our Awana work while the youngest two napped. We were repeating their verses and began a craft project to actively think through how God is powerful. We built a paper chain and the boys took turns spouting off ways they knew of God's might and power, through the Bible or their own lives. Judah was rattling off stories from the Bible as I wrote....protecting Daniel in the Lion's Den, saving God's people from Pharaoh, creating the world.....and then Levi chimed in so sure, "God rescued me from my sin." 

This kinda stopped me in my tracks. 

Just a few nights before we had begun to talk about the idea of confession. We were reading in our Big Picture Story Bible of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples and Peter preaching the message of Jesus to the crowd. (Plug for this Bible, if you haven't checked it out, please do! It's my favorite children's Bible by far!). The story furthered to say that many people "confessed and believed in Jesus that day." We paused and talked more about confessing to Jesus and how it was like saying the wrong things we do, and asking for forgiveness. (This exchange is very familiar to all of our kids because it's what we go through every time they are disciplined...."What did you do that was wrong? What could you have done instead? Now go apologize.") We finished our section of reading for the night and went into a time of prayer, like always. We prayed around the room, thanking God for our day, and suddenly, without any prompting, Levi began confessing his sins from the day. He named two specific times he didn't do what God would want him to do. He said he was sorry and asked God to help him obey Him.

Woah. This was the first time I had heard confession uttered from one of my children's mouths. A big deal.

This has always been the component of the gospel I've been waiting to see unlocked in their hearts. They understand the story of Jesus dying on the cross. They can tell you He rose again. They know they should choose to follow Him. They've been saying they want to follow Him for quite a long time. And that's all great. They have the knowledge of Christ's death. They get they have a choice. But I have always waited, and have prayed so often, for them to see their great need for Jesus. They need to get they are sinners. They need to know how bleak the picture looks when we are stuck in our sin. Then, the magnificent work of Jesus' sacrifice for them is truly received.

In comes the perseverance...disciplining a child is not for the faint of heart! It is inconvenient. It's almost never a "timely" occurrence. Other things are beckoning and it's so tempting to just overlook the matter by ignoring it (maybe because you're 8 months pregnant and have 2 others under 3 and just cannot face the reality...oh, ignoring seemed so right to me then...), or just throw our hands up in the air because we don't know how to respond. Yet, children who are disciplined must come face-to-face with their sin. They see they do wrong because they are receiving a consequence and learning the truth behind why what they have done is wrong. If I'm giving myself to disciplining as I should, my kids get a chance at least daily to be reminded that obeying God's word means obeying Mom & Dad and loving others. Any other kids you know out there that could use those reminders all.the.time.? Yes, we are all born into sin. Some days it may seem like nothing else can get done but teaching them again, and again.

But....IT'S SO WORTH IT!

So, after Levi uttered the fact that "God rescued me from my sin," he went even further. He began to confess a sin he had kept from me from months past. He told me he didn't want to do it again. He then asked me, "Mom, can God hear me when I tell you about what I did?" I explained to him, yes, He could, and that it was great that we confess our sins to one another, but that it was good to talk to God about it, too. I asked him if he wanted me to pray with him, and he answered, "I will pray."



So right there, in our kitchen, he began to utter some of the sweetest words I believe I've heard to date. He began to downright respond to the gospel. He said he was sorry for his sin. He asked God, "to take all of my bad sin I've ever done away from me, and help my heart to be in the right place...and I will come to You when Mommy & Daddy can't help me, because you are the smartest and the strongest..." and then, looking at our dog at our feet, he ended with, "and let Belle have lots of cute puppies." The best. 

I cried. I told him I was proud, that God was proud of him. I told him following Jesus would make him a good man. I told him he'd fall again, and still feel tempted to sin, but the Holy Spirit would help him. 

He hugged me. And gave me a kiss. And a hugga-mugga. That boy.

I teared up again as we replayed the conversation with Waylon later. And I felt my heart swell. I told Waylon how glad I am that we never gave up disciplining him. He knew his need for Jesus. And the Holy Spirit gave him understanding deep in his heart to respond to what Jesus did for him. 

The gospel is so powerful. God is so good, so faithful. All in His timing.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Handing out Courage

"Realize that when you encourage you are giving out courage for people to continue on the journey of life." - Debbie Alsdorf, The Faith Dare

Giving out courage? Sounds like a real superpower...


I've been journeying through this book, The Faith Dare, with a great friend and have had to sit on one of my day's dares, "To use your tongue to bless and build up others..", for a few days. I just can't move forward. It's striking something deep in my heart and needs more attention.


How many of you rub shoulders with people day in and day out that could use an extra dose of courage for what lies ahead? Maybe the better question is, who doesn't need a bit more courage to continue their journey of life?


Our words are powerful, people.


For me, I have four little ones and one great man in my life daily that could use some extra courage. Am I seizing the opportunity I have to impart to them?


I've really been challenged by this question in regards to one of my children, in particular. We can, at times, have the perfect clash of weaknesses (as we are all-too-similar) that leave us a bit exasperated with one another. It's my issue ultimately, since he is five, and I'm the one that is supposed to be the adult around here. If someone is going to bring him to maturity and show him the way to go, it should be me.


Well, I sometimes do ok with this, but honestly, have been doing very poorly at encouraging this little guy as of late. And he needs it. He, after all, is tackling all kinds of new uncharted territories....reading books, working math problems, and trying to learn self-control with his anger. These are all big things. 


Sometimes an absence of words is best. 


Because truly, at times, it would be best if my words and I, with my raised eyebrows and disapproving scowl, would just leave the room and hide. If I stay, even more pain can ensue as I do the opposite of handing out courage, but instead, bring defeat with sharp, careless words. Oh, it makes me cringe to replay some of the encounters I've had with my son. I'm not trying to be out to get him. But when I replay our interactions, I can see he is only gathering that I am very disappointed with him, over something that is honestly just an immaturity or a natural weakness. Fail. Unless....


Unless, I really start taking thought about what my words can do.


Unless, I humble myself and ask for forgiveness when I wish I could take back my words (or my scowl...). 


Unless, I seek out the good and actually take the time to speak it to others.


To practically help myself in this arena, I started a sticker chart for my son for reading books. This chart is a visual reminder in my home to celebrate the things accomplished. It is a forced stop to dose out courage. It sounds so simple, but it's really helping set a tone in the home. 



As well, I've been learning from my husband and my four-year-old, as they have been truly blessed with this superpower, effortlessly encouraging others as they go. Really, God has made them to be encouragers and I'm aiming to stop and see how awesome it is when they just do what they do, living their lives handing out courage as the color, eat, or say good-bye. Do you know people like this, too? It's so refreshing to be in their presence, isn't it?


Life is tough. Let's do this. Let's start being intentional to bite our tongues when needed, and instead hand out some courage as we go.


I'd love to hear your thoughts, too! How to you guard your tongue or intentionally use it to bless others? Please share :)

Monday, February 3, 2014

When Shame Rears It's Head

"Shame, shame, shame."

Sometimes I feel like I can almost hear God saying that to me, hovering over me larger than life, shaking a big finger.

"Shame on you. Exactly how long has it been since you've read your Bible?" in a disapproving tone.

"Shame, shame. You think praying with your kids before meals and bedtimes is going to cut it?"

Is that Him? Is that how He sounds? Is that His heart?

Or maybe the picture should be painted more like this....

My husband is very busy in this season. He is working a 2nd shift job, a part-time job on the weekends, and is in the application process for two Fire Department jobs. (And by the way, do you know what Fire Department job application processes can look like? Yeah, I didn't either. Turns out some can take longer to work through than carrying and birthing a child. No joke. Just ask us.) Bottom line: Daddy doesn't have a lot of free time.

So, busy Daddy misses his kiddos. He soaks them up every chance he gets. And, in his sweet fashion, always gives the "good-byes" that really count. None of this "Bye, see ya later kids!" as he scurries out of the door. Nope. He calls them all to him, and one by one looks them in the eyes, speaks right to their hearts, and holds them like he means it, like they are treasured.

"Do you know I think you're great?" he'll say to our energetic, brown-eyed 5 year old.

"Levi, I'm so glad you're my son."

"I love you to the moon and back. You are so beautiful, Clara Grace."

That's a heart of a father that loves his kids.


You know what, I think God is much more tender and full of grace than I get. My distorted view paints Him to be so distant and harsh sometimes. But I think I get glimpses of Him more accurately as I see the Daddy in our house saying his good-byes to our four little ones.

He calls to us. He just wants us to come. He wants to whisper sweet truths in our ears. He wants us to know whose we are.

We are His. We are loved. We are beautiful in His sight.

It's not, "Shame on you, you no-good, no-Bible reading Momma!"; it's more like, "Daughter, I have something for you, please just come be refreshed by Me as you can."

He gets it. He knows we're up to our elbows in dirty laundry, snotty noses, and Legos. He is not disappointed that we give ourselves to these little lives. He doesn't expect us all to spend hours a day in deep Bible study, or in prayer like we may have once had the freedom to do.

He loves us. He wants to be with us. He just wants us to come. He doesn't need a one hour slot to speak deep, attitude-altering, spirit-checking truth into your heart. He can do it in 5 minutes, or less. 

And He's not waiting to shame you. He is completing the work He started in you. 

We can trust Him to make it happen.

It's all pretty amazing.





Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Embracing Margins

How do you spend your margins? Those brief amounts of time you have to yourself in day....what do you do with them?

Well I'm noticing that this seemingly simple choice is having a profound impact on my days.

To be a bit vulnerable, I've been having a hard month or so. Life has felt pressing, days too short, sleep too little, and flesh too present. The big red flag goes up when yelling begins to happen on a regular basis. Ugly. These scenes of me yelling in my exasperation is what led me to be desperate for change.

How did I get here? Lots of logical reasons came...one, we just came out of the holiday season. Which, as glorious as the celebration of Christmas can be, this equals stress for a lot of us, right? Trying to get everything back to "normal" and finding a home for all the new items (5 gift-giving Christmases adds up with 4 kids!) was enough to keep me busy for a month while still trying to keep everyone fed and safe. Also, colds have hit...everyone, but me, thank goodness. Yet, colds mean less sleep for a coughing, congested baby (and their momma) and little boys on steroids and breathing treatments for their breathing issues. And, I was behind by a long shot in our homeschooling. OK...that's enough. Not to be a complainer, but that's the real life I was facing. And you know what, it really wasn't any of this at the heart of it all.

More than all the circumstances of my days, I was spiritually starving.

Seriously. And my flesh rose up again and again. I had stopped recording my gifts. I had not had the refreshing truths of God's Word check my mind and heart. My prayers were more like going through the motions, checking of my "to-do" for the day.

At first this reality felt so defeating! But, I didn't have time to read! I couldn't wake up early with my erratic sleep schedule and I fell asleep over any attempt to read or listen to the audio Bible at night. Life felt too fast and furious with four little ones to be able to carve out this time!



But wait....was the morning or night the only time I had to steal away to be with Jesus?

Nope.

I have other margins in my days that were getting filled with things that were fine, but not necessary, and especially not helpful, for the state of my heart. I needed Jesus, whenever I could get a moment. Waylon so wisely gave me the analogy that was like a light bulb going off..."When you're hungry, you sneak in a bite of food, whenever you can, right?"

YES!

So I've been saying "no" to another load of laundry and flipping to the book of John for a chapter. I've been leaving the lunch mess to sit and journal a list of gifts that I've seen given to me that day. I've been getting off the computer (and some days, not even getting on it!) to get to bed at a reasonable time so I can more likely face the quiet early morning hours to pray and read. 

Even just 10 minutes is so, so, so worth the fight.

Because even more so than making sure my growling stomach gets fed, is the importance of feeding my spirit.

This has been ringing in my head:  "...'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)

So wherever your need may be, here's to embracing those sweet 5-10 precious minutes each time they come.