Monthly Archives: September 2011

Stepping Back in Order to Step Forward

I'm missing my little people right now.  I am in America with Bethany, our youngest, while the rest of the family is still in Indonesia.  I am here for two weeks.  It was an impromptu trip -- in fact, a week ago I didn't even know I was coming! It all happened so fast, and I am so very thankful.

You see, my mind and heart have been racing.  Thoughts, ideas, dreams, and stirrings have left me a bit overwhelmed.  They are all good things, but fear and uncertainty and a little more fear have been weighing me down.  And so we decided that I would return to the States for a few weeks. Stepping back from normal life.  Stepping back so that I can step forward.

My calling and longing for motherhood burn deep within me.  I struggle to put words to what God has kindled in my soul. I want to be wholeheartedly devoted to my calling as a mother and to encourage others to do the same. And I am now at a point when my prayer is simply, "God, you have called. Here I am. What is it, exactly, that you want me to do?"  In the fun and craziness that is "living overseas as a homeschooling mama to 5 kids aged 8 and under" there is not much time (or energy) for deep thought, concentrated prayer, and listening intently for that still, small voice. And so here I am, missing my little ones in the hopes that the time away will begin new steps of more intentional motherhood, more focused devotion, more clarity of thought and vision.

Sometimes, you just have to step back if you want to step forward.

Food Friday #5 — Macaroni & Cheese

Food for the Soul

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9 & 10

It's no coincidence that my Bible reading plan  has me in 2 Corinthians right now. God knew that I would need these words so desperately right now. The details aren't important, but suffice it to say, the last few weeks have been tough. God has -- in His grace and love -- given me a glimpse of my pride and has shown me what would happen if He stepped away even for a moment.  He has shown me that no matter how hard I work, no matter how much I sacrifice, and no matter how much I strive to learn and grow, it is still only by His grace that I stand.  It is HIS power working in me.  Does He want me to work hard?  Yes.  Does He want me to sacrifice my selfish desires and instead serve others?  Yes. Does He want me to learn and grow?  Yes.  Does He want me to believe that I did all these things in my own power?  Absolutely not. It is only by His grace that I can be the mother that I long to be.  It is only by His grace that I can homeschool five children while living in a 3rd world country.  It is only by His grace that I can open my mouth (or use my typing fingers) to share truth and hope with others.

It's a striving and His strength.  The two go hand in hand. I somehow lost sight of that and God let me see what I can do on my own.  And in my weakest moment, as I cracked open the life-giving words early in the morning as the call the prayer poured through my windows, He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness."  It was, "Janet, I have big plans for you.  I see your heart, your desire, and your commitment.  But before we do this, you need a reminder that it is only in Me that you stand.  Only in Me will others be blessed.  This is not -- and will never be -- about you. You are weak...but don't worry...I am strong."

Food for the Body

Forgive me as I link you to a post I did a few years back.  My heart is still in healing mode and I am preparing for some time away.  But don't worry, I promise it is yummy.  My mom's macaroni and cheese is one my most favorite comfort foods. It's simple, it's delicious, and it is kid-friendly.  You couldn't really ask for more.

My Mother's Macaroni & Cheese.  Enjoy!

Another Word for Frustrated

This past summer was one of the most spiritually enriching times in my life.  After an emotional spring with a new baby, moving, some major life changes, financial worries, having good friends leave, and a myriad of other things, I started the summer completely on empty.  I was tired, drained, and wondering how I could ever fill myself again.

During one of my hardest and most emotional days early in the summer, I just cried out to God in desperation that He would fill me.  And He did.  As soon as I recommitted myself to regular time rooting myself in His Word, my heart started to heal.  And not only was it healing, but also it was racing.  New thoughts, ideas, and dreams filled my heart and soul at a pace much faster than I could process them.  This blog is the result of one of those dreams.  Other ones are still in process.  I was so thankful that the filling that I was longing for -- the filling I foolishly tried to get through things of the world -- came quickly and with healing balm.

And so, the rest of the summer was rich.  So rich. God opened His Word to me in new and amazing ways and I was left in awe of His goodness.  Not the goodness of His gifts, but the goodness of Himself.

Because God is good, and He desires that I grow, he spent some time gently calling me out on my sin.  There were some areas in my life, deeply buried by outward appearances and "everybody feels this way" attitudes.  He spoke firmly and gently (my own goal when I deal with my children) and exposed some areas that needed work.  There are two phrases that I say often and God spoke to me on both of them.  Today I will share about one of them.

"I'm so frustrated!"

Those words (or similar ones) pop into my head many times an hour and out of my mouth a number of times a day. It's no wonder -- five children, homeschooling, living overseas, and life in a "fish bowl" community.  Although I love my life and wouldn't choose another path, the frustration comes.  That constant state of agitation was wearing on me and it definitely wasn't doing anything to help my kids.  And then it dawned on me..."frustrated" is just a nice excusable word for selfishness.


Ouch. It can't be. Really?

Reluctantly, I thought through this new idea.  "When I say that I am frustrated, am I really just admitting that I am selfish?"

And my answer was, "Yes. Overwhelmingly, Yes."

Selfishness is wanting to get my own way.  And when I am frustrated, it is because I am not getting my own way.

When I am frustrated while sitting in traffic, I am not getting my way of being able to keep moving.

When I am frustrated when my husband is late coming home, I am not getting my way in having him home to help me.

When I am frustrated that the kids are being loud, I am not getting my own way of having some quiet time.

When I am frustrated that the internet isn't working, I am not getting my way on being able to do accomplish the things I need to do.

When I am frustrated at the pile of dishes in the sink, I am not getting my way of being able to rest instead of work.

When I am frustrated that reading isn't clicking with one of my kids, I am not getting my way in thinking that teaching/home schooling should be easy.

Oh, how I could go on!  All of it: SELFISHNESS.  It is anger because my will is being blocked.  It creates an emotional and physical response in me. It makes thoughts, feelings, words, and actions pour out of me.  And almost always, I wish I could take them back.

It was in God's grace that He showed this truth to me.  Because the ONLY way to start actually dealing with the frustration is to be willing to be clear about what it really is.  Because honestly, my external world will always be "frustrating." There will always be traffic.  There will always be disagreements with my husband.  There will always be kids who spill drinks, make messes, and need me at inopportune times. I can't do anything about those things and therefore my desire to manage frustrations would have mostly been futile if I only focused on those things.

However, when I am willing to admit what the real problem is -- selfishness -- then I can see a way to actually improve. I am in control of my own selfishness in way that I can never be in control of other people and outside circumstances. Selfishness is just another sin and God can aid me in fighting that sin in the same way He has aided me in fighting many others. Finally, there is hope.

"...and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."

Romans 5:5

Teaching Attentiveness

Now that I have shared why we are teaching character and how we are teaching character, I thought it might be beneficial to see the teaching a little more up close.  In posting these, my hope is that it will encourage you and also give you some ideas that you can incorporate into your family time.

During our first week, we focused on the quality of ATTENTIVENESS.

Definition, "I will"  statements, and verse we memorized during the week:

I used the definition straight from the Character First curriculum.  For the "I will" statements, I tweaked them a little. Each day we practiced our definition, our verse, and we focused on one of the "I will statements." I focused a lot on making sure the kids understood what the definition and statements meant, as well as gaining an understanding of how we could incorporate them into our lives.  For example, on the whiteboard photo pictured above, I drew a picture to help them understand what it means to give our "undivided concentration."  We did a lot of practicing these "I will" statements -- both in showing how to do them and how not to do them.  The kids especially loved acting out the latter.


Luke 10:38-41 (Mary and Martha).  We read the passage, talked about who was being attentive and who was being distracted, and then we acted out the scene.  The kids loved getting to play all the parts (which means we acted out the scene 5 times so everyone got to play every part!)

Mark 6:30-35 (Jesus feeds the 5000).  We talked about being eager listeners and how even when the people were hungry, they still sought after Jesus and listened carefully.  We also discussed how Jesus and the disciples were attentive to the needs of the people and realized that they needed to be fed.

Psalm 25:12-14

Matthew 2:1-12 (Story of the Magi).  We discussed how the magi had to follow the star for a long time to get to their destination. They had to be attentive to make sure they got to where they were going!


Silly Commands:  We played a game that was like Simon Says, but with a twist.  I would give silly commands and if my hand was on my lap, they had to do it, and if my hand wasn't on my lap, they didn't have to do it.  The point was for them to practice being attentive to details.

Talking to others: We practiced saying hi to people/introducing ourselves. We practiced looking people in the eye, responding to their questions, and making sure we listened to what they had to say.  The fun thing was, the day after we practiced this we had an opportunity to practice it.  We were at the school where Jason works and Caleb and I ran into the principal.  The principal said hi to Caleb and Caleb stopped, looked him in the eye, said hi, answered his questions, and then gave him a fist bump (the principal's greeting of choice!) As we left I told Caleb how good he did with being attentive and he said, "Well, it was had told me what to do.  If you don't tell me what to do, I won't know.  But since you told me, it was easy!"

Learning about deer:  We learned about the white-tailed deer and how attentive they are.  We learned about how deer LOOK, LISTEN, BLEND, and RESPOND.  We practiced these characteristics. We also read books about deer and did a coloring page.

Listening Ears: We made a pair of "listening ears" to remind us to listen well.  The kids had a lot of fun wearing them every day.

Magnifying Glasses: Using cardboard and Saran Wrap, we made magnifying glasses.  When you add a drop of water to the Saran Wrap, things are magnified. These were to help us remember to look carefully.

Treasure Hunt: By answering riddles that were placed around the house, the kids found a secret treasure.  This was to help them remember to read closely, think through things carefully, and then look intently.

Following the Magi: To go along with our story of the Magi, we played a "follow the star" game, similar to follow the Leader.

 At the end of the week, all the kids had the opportunity to recite their attentiveness definition, "I will" statements, and Bible verse.  They all did great (even Katie, who is three, was able to do most of it) and they each earned a "medal" for attentiveness.  The hope is that they will continue to earn more medals throughout the year. Getting out the glitter and making their own medals was probably their favorite part of the whole week!

Next stop: OBEDIENCE!

Helmets for Hearts

A few years ago, the following email was forwarded by thousands. When it hit my inbox, I read it -- chuckling to myself -- at how true it all I was. (I copied and pasted the original email, so please excuse the spelling, grammar, and formatting issues.)

 TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930s 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s !! First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn’t get tested  for diabetes. Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright-colored lead-based paints. We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking. As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat. We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this. We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank koolade made with sugar, but we weren’t overweight because WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING ! We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day and we were O.K. We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem. We did not have Playstations, Nintendo’s, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD’s, no surround-sound or CD’s, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms……. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them! We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever. We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes. We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them! Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!! The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law! These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL! If YOU are one of them . . . CONGRATULATIONS! You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives for our own good And while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave (and lucky) their parents were. Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn’t it?!

Nostalgically I thought back to my own childhood and the hours I spent going to friends' houses, playing capture the flag in the road, climbing trees, and stubbing toes. I biked without a helmet, swam without sunscreen, and ate food without ever having heard the word organic.

Our generation has definitely put a stop to all of that. From baby gates to fireproof clothes, from bike helmets to getting rid of Yellow #5, from high SPFs to homegrown organic vegetables, we are protecting our children's bodies. Fears of cancer, car accidents, and hormones in food keep us on our toes, always making sure we are being good parents by ensuring that nothing harmful enters or touches our children.

And it's probably a good thing (within reason). Parents rightfully see their responsibility to ensure that their children are physically taken care of. We should be willing to spend, do, and fight for more ways to protect the health and safety of children. Now that we know some of the causes of cancer, we can strive to avoid them. Now that we know what childhood obesity looks like, we can fight against it. We can work hard to protect our children's still-growing bodies.

But can I ask you a question? For all the protecting we are doing of their bodies, what are we doing to protect their hearts?

I am really struggling to understand why our generation – one that prides itself on protecting children's physical health and safety -- is doing so little to protect their emotional, mental, and spiritual safety. Where are the helmets for hearts?

No playing outside where it "isn't safe" but  the dangers of long hours of dribble on TV is overlooked.

Protecting skin with sun hats, swim shirts, and SPF 100 but showing off skin with 30% of kids clothing in stores being considered "sexy" is okay.

Helmets and knee pads for skating and bike riding but parents aren't willing to put down their smart phones long enough to do these activities with their kids.

Pounding from dodgeball is out but being pounded with sexual laden advertising isn't a concern.

Practice for escaping fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes but kids have no clue how to escape negative peer influence.

No MSG, added sugar, or preservatives but no one is looking to see what is in their library books.

No talking to strangers (or your neighbors, for that matter) on the street but talking to strangers in a chat room goes unnoticed.

Do you see a problem?

We are spending time, money, and energy on protecting bodies but almost no energy on protecting hearts. We are happy to let them watch junk on TV (and most “kid” programs are pure junk) if it means they won't be bothering us or tell us they are bored. We are happy to let them play with almost anyone as long as the playtime gives us a few hours of peace. We let them play on their portable gaming devices for hours on end but don't care how they treat their siblings. We sign them up for every activity known to man so that we don't have to think about how to actually enjoy just being with them. We tell them how to protect their bodies but we do nothing about teaching them to protect their hearts.

The problem isn't with protecting bodies. That is a good thing. The problem is that we don't spend a fraction of the time on emotional and spiritual protection as we do on the physical. Did you know that according to one study, kids spend an average of 1,680 minutes a week watching TV and only 3.5 minutes a week engaged in meaningful conversation with their parents. Is this is what parenting has become?

Tell me which more important: The body or the soul?

 “...for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8 "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28

Protecting the bodies of our children is not wrong. It is right. Protecting their hearts and souls is even more right. Let's do both.

 “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” 3 John 2

And if you can't, choose their hearts.

Food Friday #4 — Rainbow Pancakes

Food for the Soul

"Let us love our children by letting them see where our own hands and hearts are being filled." from HERE

Take an honest look around. Where do you go to find refreshment, nourishment for your soul, and peace for your heart? What fills your time? What people, conversations, and activities do you crave when you are tired, lonely, and confused? When your children see you in need of "filling up," where do they see you head?

What we are telling our children -- in deeds that speak so much louder than words -- is that these are the places that they, too, should look for enjoyment and refreshment. Let us be diligent in showing (not merely telling) them where true nourishment is found.

Food for the Body

Back in April, I surprised the kids one night with rainbow pancakes.  They LOVED them and ever since that time, when I announce that I am making pancakes, they always ask in a half-pleading voice, "Rainbow?"

And then after seeing some cute little pancakes on a stick on Pinterest, I knew there was a fun food night in the making. Rainbow pancakes + pancakes on a stick = RAINBOW PANCAKES ON A STICK.  Bonus points for a dollop of whipped cream with some optional mini-chocolate chips and fresh-cut strawberries.

After the sweet little mini-pancakes were consumed in about 3.5 seconds, we enjoyed some regular sized rainbow fun. And then the silliness began.


To make rainbow pancakes, I just make up my favorite pancake recipe and then split into six bowls.  I add a few drops of food coloring at a time until I get the color I am looking for. Easy, fun, and scores big points with cute little kids.

This Is How We Do It: Teaching Character

Hopefully you have had the chance to read about why we are teaching character. I now want to share a little with you about how we are teaching it.  It is important, though, to keep in mind that these are the materials that are working for our family situation.   We chose our materials based on the ages of our children (8 and under) and the time we have available (quite a bit since we homeschool and at least for this year, we are using it as the main part of our Bible time).  These materials might not work for you, or at least not in this combination, but a number of people have asked what we are using and I am happy to share.

Early in the summer when I decided that I wanted to intentionally teach character qualities (planned, as opposed to random teachable moments), I went searching.  I knew this was a curriculum that I wasn't able to create myself.  After searching for a while I decided on three different parts to our character curriculum.

  1. Character First! Elementary Curriculum
  2. Character Sketches: A three-volume book set
  3. Kids of Integrity (an online resource from Focus on the Family, Canada).

Character First! (Elementary)

These materials were simply a result of a Google search.  This company, Character First, creates materials for organizations, government, and schools.  The materials are all secular in nature (and therefore have no integration of Scripture), but they are rock solid on their character definitions and the materials are incredibly well done. In a word: FANTASTIC.

Each of the booklets is just four pages long and focuses on one of 36 character qualities (you purchase the booklets in a series of nine).  The front page (shown above) lists the title, definition, "I Will" statements, and a "Picture This" section to help illustrate the quality in action.  The inside left page gives easy and fun activities to do with your kids (for example, when we learned about attentiveness, we made magnifying glasses to help remind us to look carefully). The inside right page gives a story from history.  The back page is a science lesson about an animal that displays that quality.  There is also a coloring section.

The company also sells materials for Intermediate (grades 5-8) and Advanced (grades 9-12).  I have no experience with these, but if the elementary guides are any indication, I bet they are great.

Character Sketches: From the Pages of Scripture, Illustrated by the World of Nature

These HUGE books were originally published in 1976 by the Institute of Basic Life Principles.  Since that time, they have been very popular.  They are quite pricey ($39 for each of the three volumes.)  For this reason, I only ordered volume one.  I wanted to make sure that I really loved them before buying the others.  After seeing the book, I definitely plan on purchasing the remaining two volumes.  Although these aren't our primary resource, I just love the feel of the massive book and having the kids piled around me looking at all the beautiful animals. Each volume contains information on seven or eight different character qualities.  Each section defines the quality, gives stories from Scripture, and then has wonderful stories from nature that illustrate the topic.  The pictures in the book are phenomenal and the science information is quite extensive. There are stories about all sorts of amazing animals, how they live, and how they demonstrate the quality we are learning about.  I love when we can integrate subjects in our homeschool rather than compartmentalizing. My seven-year-old son hit the mark when he said to me last week, "Wait.  Are we doing Bible or what?  This kind of feels like science. Or social studies.  Or art."  A beautiful braid of life and discipleship and learning.

Kids of Integrity

Since the Character First materials are aimed at the secular market, I knew I needed to beef up our curriculum with something else.  These qualities, while great for anyone to have, are commanded in Scripture and I want our family to see how God's word lines up with what we are learning.  I stumbled upon an AMAZING and FREE resource from Focus on the Family Canada: Kids of Integrity.

These lessons are so incredibly well-done and FULL of Scripture, activities, and more.  You can download them in sections (as in the image above) or you can download the entire 20+ page pdf file -- FOR FREE. You'll have to download one to see how amazing they are.  My favorite part, I think, is the "Parents' Prayer" portion.  It is such a good reminder that 1) We can teach all we want, but it is GOD who is working in the hearts of our children and 2) That if we want our children to learn about character, we have to be displaying it in our own lives.  They also give ideas for creative discipline, object lessons, and more.  They seem to be continually adding to the collection as well.

So how does all of this play out in our home?

We are only a few weeks in, so things could change, but right now, this is what it looks like:

Day 1:
  • Introduce character quality, practice definition and "I will statements."
  • Act out one of our "I will" statements, acting out doing it right and doing it wrong.  The kids think this is hilarious and I love that they are really practicing so that when they get in a real situation, they know what to do.
  • Read applicable Scripture and start to memorize our Bible verse for the week.
Day 2:
  • Practice definition, "I will" statements, and memory verse.
  • Act out another "I will" statement.
  • Read about the animal we are studying while doing the coloring page (I photocopy and enlarge the coloring image from the booklet). We also look in our animal encyclopedia and in library books for additional information.
  • Read another applicable Scripture passage.
  Day 3:
  • Practice definition, "I will" statements, and memory verse.
  • Act out another "I will" statement.
  • Do one activity from either the Character First booklet or one of the ones from Kids of Integrity.
  • Read another applicable Scripture passage.
Day 4:
  • Practice definition, "I will" statements, and memory verse.
  • Act out another "I will" statement.
  • Read the history story and any other related library books.
  • Read another applicable Scripture passage.
Day 5:
  • Recite definition, "I will" statements, and memory verse. When completed, we make a medal for them showing them that they have learned the character quality.
  • Activity from one of our materials.
  • Read another applicable Scripture passage.
  • Take pictures with our medals and activities from the week.

So there you have we are teaching character qualities.  We're still fairly new at it (as in teaching these character qualities with actual curriculum), but we are loving it.  The kids have gotten so into it and I find many times throughout the day when we can bring up our lessons.  This helps the kids identify "real life" situations where these qualities come in handy.  I really love that we now have "operational definitions" for these words and the "I will" statements help the kids know what is expected.  For instance, our kids now know that when I say that they need to obey, they know that it means that they are expected to obey quickly, cheerfully, and completely; they know to strive to go "above and beyond;" and they know to NOT obey a wrong command or a command from someone who is not responsible for them.  So many lessons there!

The best part, though, is that it once again forces me to examine my own life and to be honest about whether my kids are seeing these qualities lived out in me.  If they aren't, I could use all the materials in the world and my kids would not learn these qualities in their heart.  Kids follow a parent's actions, not their words.  End of story.