Why I Believe In Homegrown Kids {Part 2 in the Homegrown Kids Series}.

I actually don’t really know where to start with this post. Sometimes a belief goes so deep it is very difficult to articulate into words. I think this is especially so when there are a myriad of reasons, which is the case for us. Also, this journey for us seems to have layers and levels – the reasons we’re heading down this path and our belief in it just keep transforming, and cementing, and growing.

If you haven’t read how raising homegrown kids kicked off for us, read Part 1 here. Otherwise, I just want to enter this post with these words: 

This is our journey. Though I believe deeply that it is ideal, I know that it is not always possible. The reality of families the world over is very different. And God is the God of all families, and will lead us all differently. I write our conviction to encourage, challenge, and inspire – not to judge or condemn. I really pray and hope I can bring you along with love, humility, and friendship.

So, why do we believe in homegrown kids? Get comfortable, and possibly grab a sustaining meal 😉

My early life story is one of a settled childhood, both in the city and the countryside, and of chaotic and uncertain teenage years, when I lived in a suitcase and had no place to call home for long. So, when I started married life and we eventually had children, I came at both roles with a determined passion to bring security and devotion, and to do all that I could to give my family a place to call home.

Despite painful years, I am thankful to God for the story He has written for me as I believe our children would be having a different upbringing than the one they are having. I certainly wouldn’t be as counter-cultural or have the perspective to look beyond the here and now like I do.

I’m also thankful to have had both parents in different aspects of the education system {in NZ} for the last 30-40 years so that, through them, I am able to see how – in the end – government’s can never make up their mind as to how children, in a school environment, learn best. Through the experience and working history of my parents, I can see how educational philosophies are like fashion – they come and go within the ministry of education like flare pants and big hair.

So, with this background and our own experience of early education, questions were raised about how our kids were going to be educated pretty quickly into our parenting journey. Neither of us had ever considered homeschooling; pre-kids, we have always been adamantly pro-public schooling. Post-kids, we sing a different tune 🙂

As we began wrestling and reading and talking, a train of thought settled in our minds and hearts that became the fundamental driving force behind our decision to keep our kids home. Essentially we believe that today’s fractured family – parents working here and there, kids at school and a thousand different activities – is not how it is meant to be. Especially as Christians, we believe that sending children away to be under the strong influence of people not of their family is not how God intended children to be raised.

An initial objection to this thought would be to say, “Well, the Bible never addressed education as we know it. How can you make such an assumption?” I used to think this way too, that is, that education of the family is not spoken of in God’s Word. But now, along the track, I actually think it does – when you’re looking for it and have a heart open for what it says.

I could quite easily go into a maze of tangents in regards to what the Bible says about education, but I will stick to the one basic point that is quite clear when one reads into what God says about the upbringing of children:

It is the parents that are to raise their children.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

In his tome of a book, Man and Woman in Christ, Stephen B. Clark says,

“The term ‘discipline’ (paideia) in this passage is particularly significant. The word could also be translated ‘training’, ‘instruction’, ‘punishment’, or even ‘formation’. The Hebrew equivalent (musar) appears often in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament… ‘Training’ in the scriptural sense is an educational activity which changes the way a person lives. It does not mean only knowledge or mental understanding. It means training to act in a certain way.

…Training in the scriptural sense is an educational activity which changes the way a person lives.

This means that true education is when the entire person of the child – his body, mind, heart, and soul – are to be disciplined, trained, taught, instructed, and changed to the man he is to be.

In the ancient world that Jesus grew up in, sending children to an environment that was run by Caesar-endorsed teachers for most of their formative years did just not happen. In those days, children were in the primary care of their mother until five- or seven-years-old. At this point, boys would spend the rest of their childhood with their father learning the trade and how to be a man. Daughters continued on at home with their mother until marriage, learning how to run a home and how to be a woman.

“The boy was not really raised until his father had equipped him to function as man.” Stephen B. Clark

A five-year-old – or even an eleven-year-old – is not fully trained. They are not men or women. But they are learning how to be every single day of their lives. By implication, if they are spending the majority of their time at school, it is obvious who they will be learning this from: from their teachers, the government-endorsed curriculum, and their peers. 

It’s not that I think public schooling is wrong or that homeschooling is the only option for Christian parents. I have been public schooled and Christian schooled, and I am alive 🙂 But, I firmly believe that Christian parents need to be sure that the place they are sending their children to be educated at is a place that will further, rather than hinder, their work they are doing at home in their children to equip them into manhood/womanhood as a godly person. 

“Whoever walks with the wise will become wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20

What is the Bible’s definition of a fool? Someone who says there is no God {Psalm 14:1}. And if there is any other time in history since Scripture was written that these commands be more pertinent, wouldn’t it be now? 

Because of all the above, this is the main reason why we will be homeschooling our children. If you have been thinking of as well, or have been wondering what true education is as a Christian parent, I hope this encourages you on your journey. It’s posts like these that started me on ours, like this one from Abiding Woman, or this one from The Unplugged Family.

**Tune in soon for how to children without going crazy.**

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Pressing Deeper Into Motherhood {How Having No Internet Revealed Closed Places of My Heart}.

In my eight weeks without the internet, I really did some big changes. I had no idea that our time away from home while it was repaired would cause such a work in my heart. I certainly didn’t go to the temporary house thinking, “Yes! No internet! I’m going to love it!” I went with an itchy feeling, like I was going to miss out on a whole lot of stuff {though what stuff, I don’t know}. But now, on the other side, I am so thankful for the challenge it was.

There are so many things that God showed me as the weeks went on about my relationship with the internet, particularly blogging and Instagram. I’m certainly not a prolific blogger or photo-taker, but that doesn’t mean things were right on the inside of me. The time being internet-free showed me some pride issues and assumptions about my opinions and how the world really needed to hear what I had to say {because I’m, like, so right on everything}. It was – and is – still humbling.

But the biggest change in me through that time was my perception on motherhood and my work ethic around the home. I don’t think that I would be exaggerating when I say that God has made some life-changing surgery on my heart.

As the days and weeks went on with no distraction or pull of the internet, I found myself being fully present in my days. Seemingly little changes – like sitting with the kids at breakfast instead of on the couch checking emails – became big habit changes, and heart changes. With none of our kid-friendly things around the house that they would normally play with on their own, I was forced to do lots of things with the kids.

That sounds rather horrible, doesn’t it? Being forced to play with my children. But that’s the point God was making with me, I think. He showed me how easily it was for me to be pulled into the internet/blogging world and see my children as a distraction. He showed me how hungry my heart got for me and my needs the more I spent doing those things.

By playing loads of puzzles over and over again, and reading lots of books, and painting, and doing big walks together and – quite simply – spending all our time together God showed me how much more I could be pressing into motherhood than I had been.

It’s not that I haven’t been an {imperfect} intentional mother. I am fiercely devoted to motherhood and giving my children the best of me. And I’m not saying that God’s telling me I can’t have down time or creative outlets or anything like that. It’s more like God showed me that there is a deeper level of motherhood that He’s asking me to grow into.

Earlier this year I re-read Sally Clarkson’s The Mission of Motherhood. Reading that again as well as Susan Schaeffer Macauley’s For the Children’s Sake brought me to a place where I had to ask myself, “Am I willing to give even more? Am I able to offer up what God is asking of me?”

Two of my favourite books on motherhood.

In Clarkson’s book, in a section about discipling and teaching our children, she gave the example of Jesus. He is our ultimate example in all things, especially motherhood. And how did He spend His time with His disciples? He was with them all the time. How did they learn from Him? By living and being with Him all the time.

Jesus did not allow any distraction to take Him away from all that God had asked Him to do. Despite the temptation, Jesus actively chose whole-hearted life of ministry with His disciples so they might serve the people He had come to save. Is this not the same for me and the little people God has asked me to raise up in the way they should go? I can see how, since becoming a mother, little by little, the Lord has slowly being prying open my closed fists and bringing down the walls of my heart that I’ve used to prevent myself from giving up all of me.

God also showed me how much more capable I am of caring for our home than I have allowed myself to be before. Not only am I capable but, in a study of Proverbs 31, I saw how in the original language God has called wives to be strong and warrior-like in their task of managing their homes.

Not only did I not have the internet but I didn’t have a dishwasher. I was reminded again of how simply we have been called to live. All the gadgets that are supposed to free our time up have actually made our lives more complicated {by raising the standard of cleanliness and by allowing that time to be always filled up with activities and stuff}. I was amazed at how much more efficient I was without those two “hindrances” in my life. I set up better routines and found that I gained so much satisfaction at the end of the day when I had worked hard with a full and honest heart. I didn’t have the guilt pressing down on me about how I had spent my time that day.

These challenges may not be challenges to you. You may already be fully pressed in towards your children and working hard around the home. But if you aren’t, I want to come alongside you and encourage you – as God has so gently and firmly encouraged me – to evaluate how you are spending your days as a wife, mother, and homemaker.

  • Is the internet {or, something else, fill in the gap} causing you to see your family as a distraction?
  • Are you easily annoyed or resentful when your children require a hug, or a correction, or a time of play when you’re involved in that particular activity?
  • Is there a place in your heart that you have closed off to the Lord? Are you, in keeping it closed, saying to the Lord, “Yes, Lord, I give you my life – but please let me keep this part all to myself?” Oh yes, I have.

If you are then, just like me, go to your Father in Heaven. Seek His wisdom and His care. Repent if need be and start working on pruning those things out of your life.

As you can see, I have the internet now {and a dishwasher again!}, so they are still part of my life now that we are back in our own home. I have been weak and allowed myself to get sucked back in. But, oh, I so want something different for my life – and God has knocked on that closed door so strongly that I cannot shut myself to Him. So I pick myself up when I’ve failed, cry out to the Lord for strength, and keep going.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance, and sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Can you see that? It is not just sin that weighs us down and prevents us from living this life for Christ – there are also encumbrances. If you love the Lord deeply, you will look at your own heart and life and know what sins and encumbrances are weighing you down from loving your God and your family well.

As George MacDonald said in his novel A Quiet Neighbourhood,

“I was planning to preach about the cloud of witnesses and explain this did not mean persons looking at our behaviour – as if any addition could be made to the awfulness of the fact that they eye of God was upon us – but witnesses to the truth, people who did what God wanted them to do, come of it what might, whether a crown or a rack, scoffs or applause.”

What truth is God calling you to press in deeper to? What does it require of you? And are you willing to obey, no matter the cost or “come of it what might”? Seek Him and He will show you the way. Not only that, I can guarantee from my own life, He will go with you and give you His strength.

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An Update & Why I Won’t Be a Blogger Anymore

So, it’s been quiet around here. If this were a house, I would be in deep-dusting mode.

In mid-January we finally got to move out of our house so it could be fixed for the second time. {Our city went through a gazillion earthquakes about five years ago.} It was repaired just before our son was born, but it wasn’t done properly {eg.the builders didn’t fix the foundations, so the house has continued to slowly sink these past four years, incurring more damage}. So it was very overdue. Many dreams for our little house have been put on hold.

But God is good. So good. He provided a home for us for the past nine weeks. A giant, beautiful home right by the beach all through the summer. And, for free. Amazing.

And the house has been fixed really well. We’re home. We missed it so much. It still needs new bricks put on it and the lawn to be redone. But other than that, we’re at the place we’ve been waiting for.

***

It’s been quiet here on the blog because, at the house we were staying at, there was no internet. I mean, none. For nine weeks. We had to check emails, do internet banking etc. at our family’s house. Have you ever gone nine weeks without access to the net? Let me tell you, it was glorious. I loved it.

Of course, it was hard at times. I had no access to news, so WW3 could have started and I wouldn’t have had a clue. I didn’t hear about the London terrorist attack until a day later. And, it was a pain when we couldn’t quickly google an answer for something.

But, aside from that, I didn’t miss it at all.

I had nine weeks of fully present, uncluttered living with my family. And it was really, really edifying.

***

So what did we DO without the internet?

I read about eight books. I journalled. We walked A LOT. We read lots of books together. We made Lego houses. I got into the daily habit of reading my Bible and praying. We cut back on TV for the kids. We were limited to what we could watch because we didn’t have Netflix {oh my}. We had the Concert Radio playing on in the background. I didn’t get any gossip or entertainment noise in my head. I wasn’t bombarded by Professional Blogging.

I almost felt like I was living back thirty years when I was born. In simpler, more mundane times.

Oh, and aside from the interent, I didn’t have a dishwasher! So, despite having only had it less than a year, I was transported back to doing dishes twice a day. And it was really nice.

We were forced back to simple. Back to connected. Back to present. Back to quiet living.

***

And I didn’t miss blogging.

I began to think, I am nobody. Who am I? I am a young wife and mother, not an older woman who has been there, and gained God’s wisdom for life. Who am I to put my opinions out there that could be detrimental to a sister-in-Christ? I felt challenged about things I have written here in the past – not that they were wrong per se…But that it may not have been loving to put them out there. Or even the right thing. I know I have been affected by reading blogs and getting confused.

At the same time, I missed sharing. My favourite blogs are not “helpful” ones or ones that push opinions out there, even if I like the advice or share a similar opinion. The writers I love share their heart. And they share it humbly, in a way that isn’t overt, but rather, this is our life and how we live and I want to share that with you…

That’s the kind of writer, if I am to write at all, I want to be. Writing is my jam. I love it. I missed it. But not blogging. I don’t want to be a blogger.

So, as I wait and pray and seek to continue a simpler life now that the pull of the internet is around again, if I keep writing here, it won’t be as a blogger. It won’t be because I’m trying to persuade you to live like me {even if I think you should, lol!}. Rather, this place will be a writing space where I can journal, share, and communicate our life with those who are interested. My thoughts and opinions will be there, but you can take it or leave it. Your life is God’s, not mine.

Much love in Christ,

Sarah

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Homegrown Kids or, Why We Keep Our Kids Home {A Series}

We’ll soon be coming up to a year since we began wrestling with bringing our son home from preschool. Though we didn’t pull him out of preschool until May, the first quarter of 2016 was a time when I did a lot of wrestling in my soul over our son, our daughter coming up behind him, and our vision for the growth and direction of our family.

Our son was two when we enrolled him two mornings a week {for three hour sessions} at a local preschool. It was a lovely centre with caring teachers and a great outdoor area. It took some time for Josiah to settle in. He would cry when I left, and I would talk to myself as I walked away with another person holding him as he cried {often screamed} for me, “It’s okay. He’ll get used to me not being there. This is good for him. He’s getting more independent.” I hardened my heart against his feelings because I genuinely thought it was the right thing to do. Everyone does it. It’s normal.

But, despite him getting used to being without me over time, something in me would not rest easy. He had fun and did learn to “socialise” better with kids. BUT. We noticed him changing. He became less and less like the little boy of before. He was naughtier, meaner to his baby sister. He was more dissatisfied with home life, with his toys and playthings. He has always been an energetic boy, but I would find him even more worked up when he came home at lunchtime.

When term holidays would come round, especially the long summer January holidays of 2016, our little boy would return. Life would become easier. Our day-to-day wasn’t such a battle anymore. He was more obedient and kinder and a joy. But as soon as preschool started again, his behaviour would regress. I found that it would take two or three days to de-preschool.

The uneasy feeling I had about letting my little boy spend time apart from me, despite it being what everyone did, continued to grow. Both my husband and I could see so clearly what an effect preschool had on him. We asked the Lord for wisdom and help, and He did. We made the choice to pull him out.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I had to have a lot of courage in the Lord to approach the teachers, sign the forms, explain to other mothers why we were bringing him home. I grappled with doubt and feeling faint of heart. It’s hard when people don’t understand. No-one ever disparaged our decision, everyone was very supportive and helpful. But I know they didn’t understand, and if they disagreed, they were really kind to not share their thoughts with me. I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it, despite my beliefs. I’ve always struggled with trying to please everyone. But, as I’m learning, you can’t!

I do remember, after officially unenrolling him, on the second to last session til he finished, walking with Rosie in the buggy to pick him up and getting a call saying that Josiah seemed to be unwell. I hurried my steps, thankful I was only five minutes away. When I got there, he was lying asleep on a little kids couch that he was too big for, pale, shivering. He looked so fragile and small. I gathered him up and took him home. He said to me, “I cried and wanted mummy. I want to go home.” My heart broke.

What seemed so normal at the beginning, now seemed really unnatural.

Within a week, our life with our three-year-old was transformed. His beautiful nature returned and he was our happy boy again. I remember the first week of having him home again, I felt incredible amount of relief. I knew he belonged at home with me.

Since then, despite how hard it can be and how much I have to give of myself, that belief has only grown and grown. As we have sought God for wisdom, guidance, and help, He has so graciously provided everything we have needed – including times of rest from burnout.

My passion for raising children at home – or what I call Homegrown Kids – has grown and deepened, and I really want to share these thoughts with you.

This isn’t to condemn, at all. I know how varied our world is and the pressures there are on modern families. But, I really do believe this is best for most children, so I share this in the hopes that it will encourage other mothers. I especially hope it will encourage mothers who may be thinking of doing something similar, but are scared to make that first step, or just want to hear of someone else’s experience. I know I scoured blogs, particularly homeschooling blogs, looking for encouragement and inspiration and guidance.  This is for you, dear mother, and the heart you have for your children and for their future.

I plan to write three more posts in this series. When they are finished, this will be the landing page where you can find the rest of them. They will be:

1. Homegrown Kids: Keeping Our Kids at Home Series {You are here}

2. Why I Believe in Homegrown Kids.

3. How to Be a Full-Time Mother of Young Children {Without Going Mental}.

4. Resources for Raising Homegrown Kids.

I’m really excited to write this series, and humbled, as well. None of this is my husband or I. We had to make the practical, earthly decisions for our family, but it’s been completely God above it all. I’m really grateful that this is the story He is writing for us. Please share and comment below with any thoughts.

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For the Overwhelmed, Exhausted Wife & Mother

I wrote this on Instagram the other day:

I am so tired. This full-time motherhood, investing in future generations, character building, loving, feeding, nurturing thing is just exhausting. I never knew my dream job would take so much of me. It is relentless. I desperately need encouragement every single day.”

It’s not just that I’m physically tired – and I am that, definitely. There’s the lack of sleep, post-Christmas deflation, a week single-parenting while my husband was away, the cares and sorrows of others on my heart… All on top of the endless, relentless job that is full-time, intentional motherhood.

It is shattering in every sense of the word.

When I first became a mother and was absolutely dumbstruck by the responsibility and work it required of me, my beautiful mother-in-law told me, “I remember – after my second child sixteen-months after the first, my husband away in the navy, hanging out another line of clean nappies –  thinking that I would likely have another twenty years of this – and I wept.”

When I tentatively lift my eyes to the unseen future, exhausted to the bone, and know there are many years to come of what has already taken place – broken sleep, sickness, tantrums, endless character training, no time to breathe, a house to be tidied and cleaned continuously, loudness, messes, broken furniture and toys, scrapes, arguing back, impatience rising, inadequacy – it is enough to make a grown woman weep. And many women have.

This motherhood thing is not for the faint-hearted.

And, actually, it isn’t just motherhood.

It’s cultivating a loving and devoted marriage, making sure my husband gets my firsts {under God}.

It’s maintaining a house, accepting that it’ll never be perfect, and making it a home.

It’s making sure I have adequate rest, disciplining myself to have time in the Word and with the Lord, getting out to exercise, nurturing what makes me me {that is, hobbies}.

It’s being a present and supportive friend. It’s remembering I have parents and a brother to pray for and be there for. It’s being an active, serving, participating member of the local Body.

So let me re-phrase the one-liner from above:

This Christian life thing is not for the faint-hearted.

And to cure the pressure, burdens, and exhaustion that comes from throwing everything into the genuine things that the Lord gives us {because, let’s be honest, not everything we commit ourselves to is from God but, rather, us over-doing ourselves}, we tend to come up with band-aid-type solutions.

Simplifying our lives {ie. minimilism}.

Planning each day to a minute {ie. planner perfectionism}.

Creating more breathing space {ie. putting kids in preschool}.

Seeking balance {ie. saying ‘no’ to more things}.

Cutting back the noise {ie. coming off Facebook}.

None of these things are wrong. I have done them all {and retracted on some}. Each and every one of them has a certain appeal and value and usefulness. Simplifying our homes does make life easier. Having kids in preschool does give you more time to relax. Coming off Facebook certainly cuts out a lot of rubbish and noise that wastes time.

But even doing all these things, are we less exhausted? As each day of our life for Christ begins, is doing any of these things creating the peace within we so desperately need?

I desperately need peace. I need an anchored joy tethering me in the midst of noise, errands, squabbles, endless dust and lawns to be mowed. But I seek solutions and I don’t find peace. Only self-guilt. Or regret. Or a sense that, no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to do enough to be at peace with all the chaos.

As I was processing this post in the midst of processing my worn-out feelings {“I just want five minutes to myself, please, with no whining, thank you!”}, a thought entered my mind that brought genuine relief to my weary soul.

Rest.

It was like His Spirit whispering, “You’re not resting in Me.” 

And it’s true. I’m a complete Martha. I’m doing all the doings and not resting, where Mary is, at Jesus’ feet. Do you remember what Jesus said about Mary to her sister?

“Few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42

Jesus wasn’t rebuking Martha for working hard at her responsibilities. And when I say that we need to be resting in the midst of motherhood or marriage or homemaking orhomeschooling etc. I’m not advocating taking up being lazy. Jesus wasn’t asking Martha to give up her work to be lazy. He was asking her to rest in Him in the midst of it all. Jesus was asking Martha to let Him be her anchor. He was asking her to give up her soul-striving so that she might find soul-rest in Him. 

It is possible to be a crazy busy wife and mother and be peaceful.

I can have emotional kids at my feet, dishes undone, a husband shattered, a dog needing walking, weeds to be pulled, walls to be wiped – and be at rest. These things don’t need to stress me out. My kids don’t need to emotionally drain me if I’m resting at Christ’s feet. But if I’m striving to be perfect and complete it all like a champion, every single thing is going to overwhelm me and I will be a miserable woman.

And I have been, really.

I’m needing to learn a big lesson. And it’s a lesson I’m always learning: grace. I am completely awash with grace through the Cross, but I need to accept it. I need to see that embracing that grace upon grace is not a weakness, but a glory. 

I know that I’m going to start striving again. It’s a compulsion. Most of the time I don’t even know that I’m doing it. But, when I feel the pressure rising and I am finding motherhood a drag, it’s a clear indicator that I have let go of free grace again and taken up trying to earn it.

But Jesus has said that our striving is not needed. Only one thing is needed: resting at His feet.

Have you been at rest in the midst of it all? Or have you been striving, pushing away grace like it’s a sign of weakness?

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One Blessing From Suffering.

I remember when I first became a Christian and learned in the Bible that I was going to suffer in this life. I wasn’t a stranger to suffering. In fact, I was still in deep pain when I came to the Lord. But for some reason, I thought that when I became a Christian, everything would be all roses and butterflies.

So when in every book of the New Testament, and throughout the Old Testament, I read that in this life, there are going to be some pretty hairy and hard moments – well, it felt like a pretty big downer.

And it made me a little bit fearful. What kind of suffering would I go through? Would it be too much for me? Would I survive? What would the Lord allow me to go through?

 

Well, within a few years, I went through a period of great suffering. It was an anguish-of-the-soul type of suffering. It was the type where, not even those whom love you best, can understand the grief and pain you are experiencing. I was fully alone in my groaning. Like David, I could say,

My tears have been my food day and night.” Psalm 42:3

It was terrible. And it was all that I had feared suffering would be like: a harrowing valley of darkness you don’t know why you’re in and how long you’ll be in it for. It was, to quote St.John of the Cross, a dark night of the soul.

But.

I can say with an unwavering surety that that period of suffering was the greatest blessing of my life. It changed me forever, and I am so grateful that God brought it into my life for His purposes.

What was the greatest blessing in that suffering?

It was just me and God.

Don’t get me wrong, my suffering involved other people. In fact, my suffering was caused by other people I loved. This, in many ways, made it all the more worse. But, it also made it all the more sweet.

Now only, could I turn to God.

Now only, could He be the one I called out to.

Now only, could He be the one to shelter under.

Now only, could He be the one whom my heart trusted fully.

Only He understood my particular situation, my particular pain, my particular grief, my particular sorrow. As I cried day and night, He alone caught my tears and bound up my brokenness.

Sometimes the primary reason suffering comes into our lives is so God is our only answer.

Many times we can turn to people, or things, or even ourselves for help. But very occasionally, the situation is so unique, a person is truly alone in their suffering. No-one can understand the broken heart and tears and questions but God.

Charles Spurgeon once said,

When a man is burdened with troubles so pressing and so peculiar, that he cannot tell them to any but his God, he may be thankful for them; for he will learn more of his Lord then than at any other time.”

I know from my own experience that this truth is very real. The pain is very bitter, but the quiet joy of being so dependent on the Lord is very, very sweet.

Mercifully, that suffering for me passed. And God has used it mightily in my life and the lives of others. He has truly turned my mourning into dancing {Psalm 30:11}.

Not only this, but I have a quiet place in my soul that has communed only with God, and it is a place I treasure. I know that that special communion with Him can only have come in the throws of a tempest —

So if that is you today, hold fast to the Lord and commune with Him alone. He truly understands your grief and your suffering. Because, at the end of the day, we stand before Him alone. He really is our Only.

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How I Broke My Brain.

Yes, you read right, I broke my brain.

I had a pretty wonderful and settled childhood. We moved to the country, lived by the sea, played in the hills all day. I remember thinking as a young teen how lucky I was, and I couldn’t imagine a future where our family wasn’t together.

And then, at fifteen, my parents broke up in pretty unusual, and very painful, circumstances. My life took a dramatic turn, and I had to learn how to cope with all that had happened, all that was going on inside me, trying to sort out my emotionally dysfunctional family, and dealing with being a teenager.

I didn’t know it at the time but, in doing all of the above {that is, coping with what life had thrown me}, I broke my brain.

How I Broke My Brain.

Yeah, apparently you can do that. Break your own brain. Who knew?

I only found out yesterday, actually. Remember how I wrote how I had gone off my anti-depressants? Well, I’m back on them again. As much as I want to feel like a failure about that, I’m not going to. Because, actually, this anxiety disorder isn’t something I can “fix”. My brain is a bit broken and, no matter how much I try my best and work hard to be my best, at the end of the day, I’m a bit sick and need medicine.

Anyway, how did I break my brain?

In part, it’s genetics. And that is something you definitely can’t do much about. The other bits are personality and family. {It’s the whole born vs. raised thing, which really, isn’t either, it’s both.}

When my family world fell a part, I had to deal with a lot of revelations, burdens of other people’s hurt and sin. I had to cope with living in different places, I always had a suitcase. I had to cope with my own trauma and emotional pain. I made bad choices as a young woman – as a way of taking control of my own life – but it made it all so much worse.

I kept everything inside. Some things I pushed down, deep down – and kept doing that even when those thoughts/feelings/memories kept rising up. I was faced with repulsion and a side of human nature I had not known before. I tried to think about it and process it all.

Somewhere, in those few years, something happened. All the pressure, all the pain, all the intensity of emotion must have broken some neurons or brain “switches”, because the chemical make-up of my brain changed. I did not know it at the time but, instead of talking to a counselor or someone I could trust, all that internalising damaged me.

I was very unstable. There was not a rational thought in my mind. If there was one amongst the crowd of thoughts that were constantly going through my mind like factory-line, it was drowned out by the louder voices of fear, condemnation, lies, pain.

I was emotional all the time. I would cry or feel like something terrible was going to happen even if nothing indicated that it was. I expected bad things to happen to me, like it was my due. And despite being saved at nineteen and God helping me get my life on track, I was a mess.

By God’s grace, He sent me my husband who came from a family with strong, solid theological roots. For the first time, the Bible made sense to me. Truth started pouring into my broken self and God started freeing me from certain ways of thinking and feeling. In the almost nine years we have been married, I am a far cry from what I used to be. Having a loving husband has healed me. Growing in my faith and knowledge of the Bible has healed me. In many ways, becoming a mother has been the making of me.

But my brain is still broken. And, in all likelihood, will always be.

I am not depressed. Anxiety gets lumped into depression, but can be quite different from it. As my doctor told me yesterday,

“Some people get depressed so bad they get into this hole that is hard to get out of. You, on the other hand, are a little bit bad all the time. And you need help.”

When I came off my medication, I was great. I had felt normal for three years, and felt it was time. But I’d forgotten that this broken brain of mine is not something I can make better by shear force of will. I would love to make myself better. The perfectionist side of me feels like a failure for not being able to “pull my socks up”, as my mother-in-law would say.

But the truth is, this anxiety is part of me. One day, when life is less hectic and busy and sleepless {yep, we still have those times}, I may be able to do it through cognitive therapy. But right now, that is so much effort. And just another thing I have to work on in my list of all the things to do. So I’m back on my pills, and I am accepting that in God’s grace.

And to my readers who have broken brains, too: We’re okay. We’re not nutters, even if there are periods of time when it feels like a crazy person is living in our brains. That’s just wiring gone a bit haywire. It feels real, the fear is overwhelming – but it is not Truth. The Truth is you are loved, cared for, held in the hands of an Almighty Father who, in His wisdom and mercy, enabled medicines to be made that can help us. So don’t be afraid to seek that help. You’re not a failure. It is wisdom. It’s wisdom to get help so that you can wake up one morning and think, “Oh yeah. This is what it feels like to be me. Life is good.”

For more on my journey with mental illness, read this series.

 

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If the Husband is the Head, What is the Wife?

Headship. Submission. That’s what I’m wanting to talk about today. But not to you, to me.

Huh?

What I mean is that, if I were talking to myself, I would know that I have read, understood, accepted, and am trying to live out the Biblical design for men and women in marriage: of the husband being the leader of the family, and of the wife being his helper and submitting to his leadership. This way I can get straight into what has been on my heart and mind, and I don’t have to do all the preamble of theology etc.

So, you’re me, got it? 🙂

Right. Let’s do this!

Headship and Submission

If I’m being honest, in this year of 2016 I have found it really hard to submit to my dear husband. There is so much behind that struggle which I won’t go into, and it’s been a long time coming, but I really feel like this year God has been asking me this question:

“You tell me that you agree in My design for marriage, but do you really believe it is good and My best for you?” 

Over and over this year, as I have been faced with opportunities to submit and come under my husband’s leadership and have struggled – sometimes with an ugly, selfish fierceness – God has been gently, but persistently, knocking on the door of my heart. I feel like He’s been asking me again and again,

Where is your joy?

Don’t you trust Me?

Don’t you know, from my Word and your history, that I am trustworthy and I always do what is best and good?”

When I see it put that way, my heart cries, “Yes! I know You are good! I know that all Your ways are THE BEST. I don’t doubt it! I want and need Your Truth in my life!” So I look at myself and I know that it isn’t God’s Word and His laws that are doing me harm or making submission hard —

It’s me.

I am the problem. Always. As Dave Harvey says in When Sinners Say I Do {best marriage book ever, by the way},

There are no marriage issues. There are only sin issues.

Sin. The obvious, but always elusive, culprit. We are apparently good friends. Especially when it comes to me trying to truly love God, and truly love my husband, a friend who gets this spirit-and-flesh-battle we’re always in.

A big thing my flesh and spirit have been fighting over this year is the feeling of What About Me? {I know, it’s always about me.} If it’s true – which it really is, Sarah, so deal with it – that God lovingly crafted men to be the leaders of their family units, what position did He lovingly craft women to have?

We are helpers. We accept and respect our husband’s leadership {ie. submit}. Yes, Truth.

But what does that all really mean?

As the head of the family, all responsibility is laid on the shoulders of our husbands. On Judgement Day, the state of our family will be laid at his feet before the Lord in all His glory {Ephesians 5:25-27}. Will he have led well? Imperfectly, yes, but still, will he have led well?

And when I face the Lord, thankfully, that weighty responsibility will not be at my feet. But my responses will be. How joyful was I as his helper? How caring was I in showing my respect of him? How honouring was I in sharing my opinions and, subsequently, how gracious was I in submission when our opinions differed?

This is big stuff that I have been grappling with. And, as I have mulled over it more and more, and faced with it practically again and again, I realise it all comes down to this:

How is my heart?… Because I am the heart.

If my husband is the head of our family, then I am the heart. We all come under his care, we are all cared for by me.

This is what Sally Clarkson says in The Mission of Motherhood:

I realized again that the ultimate key to providing a nurturing environment in my home is me…In the end, though, what my children and husband need most from me is not a perfect home or perfect training or a perfectly spiritual role model or a wife without faults – but a mother and wife who is committed to doing what it takes to love them and make a home for them.

They need to know that they are cherished by someone who is a champion for their cause, a cheerleader for their lives – someone they can always count on in the light and dark times of life.

Accepting the responsibility of being the overseer of my domain with all of the heart and energy and faith I can muster is what nurtures my family best and provides my children with the sense of security and stability they need. My attitude is ultimately what makes our house a peaceful haven.

What Sally is saying is that if mama ain’t happy, then no-one is happy in the family. We are the emotional thermometer of our homes. Our attitude sets the tone. That’s a big responsibility. It may not be the burden our husbands bear, but it is a hard one. Basically it means that we have to work hard to keep our joy, keep our peace, keep our hearts aright before the Lord all the time.

This doesn’t mean we can’t have bad days. Of course we can! But, for the most part, if we want our family to be happy, healthy, joyful, and content then it is our work in our own hearts that matters, and we need to be disciplined and persistent in cultivating a relationship with the Lord. We can only be the heart of our homes by the grace of God.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather have this job than my husband’s. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with wanting to be in control and having things my own way. I’m a daughter of Eve, after all. But, when I consider it, I would rather be the beating heart of our lives than the working head. This suits me perfectly because I am a woman. I am a nurturer.

I am so grateful the Lord has worked this all out in His original design, and I am grateful for all the struggles I have had this year to help grow me and make me more into the woman – and the wife and mother – the Lord would have me be.

What do you think about being the heart of your home? How do you keep your heart joyful, at peace, and content so that your family thrives? What evidences of God’s grace can you see in your struggles and will to follow Him?

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My Favourite Reads of 2016.

My Favourite Reads of 2016.

I love reading and think I have read about 50 books this year. I feel like that is a good accomplishment, but nothing compared to others. I read a blogger the other day who said that she has read more than 300 books this year {and that doesn’t include all the read-aloud’s she does with her kids}.

300 books. I mean, wow. That is an amazing accomplishment. A few of mine have been close to, or over, 1000 pages – does that count?? 🙂

Anyhoo, I’ll get straight into it so you can have a quick nosey and add any of my recommendations for your reading list for 2017. {And all links are affiliate links.}

Coming Home, by Rosamund Pilcher

Coming Home

I literally finished this book two nights ago. I have read it before and loved it then. Several years later, I’ve read it again and I’ve love it even more. Friends, this is a beautiful, beautiful book. It is a coming-of-age novel, centred around Judith and her connections with the Carey-Lewis family of Nancherrow. It spans ten years of Judith’s life, from when she is 14 and living in a Cornwall boarding school; through the years of WWII to the beginning of her new, settled life back in Cornwall. It’s about a girl learning about loss, and love, and understanding the need for roots and a place to call home. The Carey-Lewis family are rich characters that add fascination and warmth, as well as adding the twists and turns this novel takes. It’s lengthy {the said 1000 pages!} but so worth it. It has been my favourite novel for years and it would take something incredibly special to replace it at the top.

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskill

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I read Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskill at university and, after forcing myself into it, ended up really enjoying Gaskill’s passion for the Industrial era of the mid-1800’s. When I read North and South, I was not disappointed. This is a passionate and endearing story with, I believe, parallels to Pride and Prejudice. There is prejudice and judgement between Margaret Hale, a vicar’s daughter from the “enlightened” south, and John Thornton, a cotton mill manufacturer of the north. The feisty and clashing conversations were a great read, as well as the growing love John has for Margaret. The novel faces the grim truths of the cotton mill industry of the era, from both the hard position of the manufacturer, as well as the hard-working and poor employees. I love how Gaskill was a really intelligent woman and wrote with passion, insight, yet tenderness. The BBC’s version of this is exceptional.

Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior, by Kimberly Wagner

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This is the book that defined my Christian reading this year. It was a book that God gave me because I really needed it then, and I still do. Kimberly’s testimony is about how God took her broken marriage, mostly due to her destructively hardness and manipulation {her so-called “womanly strength”}, and made it into something beautiful that reflected God’s design. The Lord humbled Kimberly deeply and changed her hardened heart into one that was soft. He helped her see her husband for the man that he is and how her behaviour had been so emasculating for him. Now, they both have a challenging and very encouraging ministry around the world. This book came at the right time for me and God has used it to challenge parts of me that ain’t so pretty. I have loved it so much I have lent it to many other wives and have done a bible study on it at church. Kimberly and her husband, LeRoy, have also done a follow up: Men Who Love Fierce Women: The Power of Servant Leadership in Your Marriage.

Can Any Mother Help Me? by Jenna Bailey

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This book was such a find in my local library: the title caught my eye and, just loving history and motherhood and true stories, I couldn’t help myself. This is a biography of sorts on a secret motherhood society that spanned almost the entire twentieth-century in Britain. In 1935, a young woman wrote to a woman’s magazine in desperate need of company and help. The replies to her letter were so enormous that a circular letter magazine was created, called “The Cooperative Correspondence Club”. Many, many wives and mothers joined over the years, sharing their lives and loves and losses. It is a fascinating and endearing read. Jenna Bailey’s research on these women gave such insight to how all women, in all ages, struggle and love and fight for their marriages and their families. It shows how women need other women to be encouraged and helped and understood. And, despite being set during all the war years and further, I feel like these women were the bloggers of their days – the community they built in their writing and letters is inspiring.

By Design: God’s Distinctive Calling for Women by Susan Hunt

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What I really appreciated about this book is that, rather than being another “this is what the biblical design for men and women looks like”, Susan Hunt assumes that the reader already understands and accepts biblical womanhood and, instead, shows women what this means for the real, broken, hurting, and searching women of our Church. This book both convicted and challenged me. It opened my eyes to true stories of women utterly in need of healing and help sitting in the pew next to me. It forced me to ask myself, am I a woman other broken women can come to for help, comfort, and direction? I shared this book at our women’s bible study and we were all challenged by it. Less than a month later, God brought to me a woman in desperate need of friendship, prayer, encouragement and practical help. Biblical womanhood in the church looks like women helping women as women, and supporting and encouraging, and even mediating with, the male leadership in your personal church. I highly recommend Susan Hunt, and she has other books on female mentoring and biblical womanhood.

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 Well, I think I’ll leave it at that. I’ve obviously read many more books but these are the ones that really stood out to me. They all left their mark on me, prompted me to examine myself, encouraged me to look outwards, drew me to love better and more affectionately, deepened my understanding of history {and of women in history}, and basically, helped me love reading more and more. {Can that even be possible when you’ve loved reading for, well, ever? :)}

Tell me, have you read any of these books? Do any of them catch your eye? What was your favourite read of 2016?

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To the Mother Dreading Advent {Rest in the Cross this Christmas}.

Are you dreading Advent and Christmas this year?

Are you a mother with young children? Are you depressed? Having marriage issues? Are you deep in grief? Are you overwhelmed? Are you just struggling to find joy?

Advent can be a really hard time.

This is the season when Pinterest is really in it’s element. Almost every single link on my page has suggestions {sometimes requirements?} on how I can make this Christmas the craftiest, the tastiest, the most joyful, the thriftiest, the grandest, the least stressful, the most Christ-like…

And I wanted to encourage you {because I’m encouraging me} that you don’t have to be Super Christmas Mum. You don’t have to do the calendars and reading plans. You don’t have to craft every day with unwilling children. You don’t have to bake all the Christmas things. You don’t have sew your own stockings. You don’t have to craft together a wreath for the front door made out of past Christmas cards.

If you want to do these things, then do them merrily and with cheer! But if you don’t want to or can’t, be free not to.

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Just like so many areas in life, social media and the internet has just made life harder for us. With the beautiful photos and happy moments captured then shared, our natural inclinations to be discontent, jealous, and to compare with judgement {on others and ourselves} are aroused more easily and more frequently.

This is one of the reasons I went off Facebook almost two years ago. I knew what it was doing in me. I would get envious. I would get proud and want to show off {under the guise of “sharing”}. And I was becoming the mother I didn’t want to be: glued to a screen and missing out on real life with my family.

{Because who is anyone kidding – the internet is not real life. It is a medium, sure, of sharing life and learning and connecting. But it is not real, in front of my eyes, moving, breathing, soul-living life. And I want that more than I want fresh feeds or the latest gossip.}

The internet can be a friend or a foe. And during the festive season, I find the internet can be more of a foe.

So, sweet friend who feels like a failure for not creating an Advent calendar from scratch that comes with scriptures and hand-drawn decorations to add to the tree…

So, sweet friend who feels like making a big feast worthy of going viral would swamp her under to a place she thinks she couldn’t surface from…

So, sweet friend who is dealing with pain and confusion and a sense that life will never be the same, yet knows her kids want and perhaps need this Christmas to be more special than ever, but she just doesn’t has it in her…

So, sweet friend who feels pressured by family to be a big part of the celebrations but who hasn’t had a full night’s sleep for a long time…

Just rest. Please.

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All these expectations and pressures were not present on the day Jesus was born. He wasn’t born into this world to add burdens to you. He took your burdens on his own shoulders and died with them on a tree. 

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. :: Galations 5:1 ::

He wants you to celebrate His birthday, but He doesn’t want you to idolise the experience of it. Just as He came into the world simply and humbly, so you can celebrate and worship Him with the same manner of heart.

::If you want a very encouraging devotional that will meet you right where you are this Advent, please head to Sarah Geringer’s site where you can purchase her new devotional, Christmas Peace for Busy Moms, and follow along with all her posts in the lead up to Christmas. ::

If you’re taking Advent easy this year but still plan to do a few easy things to make it special for the family, please share below.

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