Letting Go of Holiday Expectations

Submit~ My One Word for 2017

Choosing a one word theme for the year, a word to focus on and learn from is not unique to me. Thousands of people have been choosing one word for years now and it is a compelling way to live, a response to New Years resolutions that never seem to stick.

Personally, I have been picking one word to focus on for several years. The impact of choosing one word has been significant in my life. “Intentional”, “deliberate”, and “brave” were fun words to focus on. “Dignity” was not. When “submit” began to surface as a focus for this past year, I was resistant at first. Submit is not a fun word. I’m not sure anyone wants to willingly submit. We like to be in control and we like to know that we’re right. We like to do what we want, when we want, how we want. Or at least I do!

But God had been gently prying my fingers off of my need to control for years and I was even beginning to see the incredible blessing found in living a life of submission. And so, I decided to embrace my one word for 2017 and explore what “submit” would mean in my life.

It hasn’t been easy. I have had to accept the loss of friendships that were important to me, the possibility of never seeing my Mama again, financial stress due to a major renovation project, feeling like a single mom as my husband needed every spare moment to finish the basement project, enduring technical difficulty upon technical difficulty over and over and over again. But with each hurdle, with each challenge, the Lord was lovingly whispering in my ear, “Submit, Becky. Let go. Trust me. My plan is perfect and my love for you is sure.”

We began homeschooling our four kids in the Fall of 2016. In some ways, I tricked myself into homeschooling, believing that it wouldn’t change my life all that much. I wanted to trust God with His plans for my life, but I wasn’t sure I wanted all of those plans to change! The truth is that homeschooling did change my life drastically, but by choosing to trust God, He also did the hard work of changing me. Choosing “submit” as my one word was a response to the change He was working in me.

Was I willing to accept the change in my schedule? Was I okay with letting go of coffee dates with friends? Would I be willing to embrace the focus of teaching my kids and letting go of my desire to write? 

As I answered yes to all of these questions, God in His goodness graciously blessed me immeasurably beyond what I could have imagined. The blessing of having my kids at home, of eating every meal together, of knowing what they were learning and being able to direct their interests, of building memories and relationships, of seeing intentional friendships that built my kids up rather than tearing them down and watching the stress and anxiety that my kids had experienced dissipate was worth EVERY sacrifice I was being asked to make. My time was not as flexible, yet having my kids home revealed a blessing I hadn’t expected- having my oldest home meant that I could go grocery shopping during nap time or if a friend wanted to meet for coffee in the afternoon, I could do that without a preschooler in tow. As I submitted my time to the Lord, I discovered that I had more time. Interesting, right? But this is God’s economy.

When I first started blogging nearly seven years ago, I wrote a blog post at least three times a week. Writing was an integral part of my life and the relationships that I have made through blogging are very dear to me. This has been the hardest area of my life that I have had to submit to my Father’s hands. I went from writing about twenty blog posts a month to an average of two posts a month. I miss writing, but the decrease in posts meant that I was able to focus on finishing the book God had laid on my heart to write. My submission in this area has resulted in accomplishing a goal that was important to me. And so, it has become clear to me that a willingness to submit equals an opportunity for unexpected blessing. Not always in the way we expect and not usually in our timing, but submission opens our eyes to what God is doing, taking our focus from our plans and our way of seeing things. When we begin to see what God’s plan is, we realize that it is way better than our plans could ever be.

When I consider all of the technical issues I have had to deal with this year, it is almost comical. Unable to use my laptop for a week, because Sadie chewed through the cord in her puppy days and it finally stopped working. The remote control for our car no longer working, so the convenience of being able to open the doors by remote is no longer a possibility. Losing power for three days. My Kindle on the fritz. But by far the biggest difficulty has been the SIM card on my phone failing at the worst times and not being able to communicate until it was replaced. This has happened eight times over the course of five months, but we have been unable to replace the phone due to the aforementioned financial strain.

I have been unable to use my phone at the worst possible moments. Like my phone failing during a dear friend’s labor and delivery (I missed 42 texts!). Or when the kids and I were on a road trip. Or the weekend before Ainsley’s ultrasound and doctor’s appointment, so that I was unable to talk to my Mom. While all of this has been difficult for me, the focus on submission has reminded me that God is control and I can trust Him. Even when I am unable to communicate in the way I would like, He is good. When I am reminded to submit, I gain a perspective that allows me to be calm and content through situations that would have previously caused internal strife and external emotional outbursts.

But even with all of these lessons learned, I am still a work in progress. I still have to fight against selfishness and frustration and anger. I’m not always as gracious as I desire to be. I think that’s the point of choosing “one word”. It helps us to see areas in which God wants to refine us and then invites Him to do the work that only he can do.

The verse that God has impressed on my heart this year is from James 4:7- “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The verse that precedes this one talks about how God gives more grace to the humble. And there it is. When we submit, when we are willing to be humble instead of clinging to our pride, we receive grace. Submit = Blessing.

As I look forward to 2018, a new word is settling on my heart, but I believe I will save that for another blog post. If you are interested in hearing a great podcast about how others choose their one word, listen to this episode from Chatologie hosted by Angie Elkins. Her co-host for this episode, Stacey Thacker, has been a dear friend and mentor of mine for several years now. I had the joy of spending a couple of days with her and my boss at the MOB Society and also dear friend, Brooke McGlothlin, back in October of this year. These women love Jesus with all of their hearts and continue to be an amazing encouragement to me in my own pursuit of Christ. Stacey’s one word for 2018, “steadfast”, is taken from my life verse- 1 Corinthians 15:58. If you listen to the episode, you’ll see why I love her!

Did you pick one word for 2017? How has God used it in your life? How are you preparing your heart for 2018? Have you picked a new word for next year?

I would love to hear your answers! May 2018 be filled with joy and growth for each one of us!

 

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Dear Family and Friends,

How does one sum up a year filled with incredible moments, deep sadness, amazing adventures, personal achievements, hard work and remarkable growth? As I was contemplating all that 2017 has held, I had the thought that if a movie were to be made of any year in my life, this one would be a contender.

To begin this exciting year, Dave and I had the opportunity to go on a cruise with two of our dear friends. We snorkeled in Honduras, kayaked in Belize, shopped in Costa Maya and celebrated Dave’s birthday with an ATV tour and more snorkeling in Cozumel. On board our ship, we enjoyed playing shuffleboard on a windy day, drinking our coffee and journaling on our balcony, bowling, enjoying the many different restaurants and simply spending time with our friends.

Spring brought unexpected challenges and sweet joys. In March, our town was impacted by a powerful wind storm and we lost power for three days. It was a difficult and cold few days for us, but we were determined to see it as an adventure. We piled mattresses into our fireplace room and had a sleepover that our children will never forget!

There were several times throughout the past year when I thought I would never see my dear Mama again. Her health has been precarious at best, so when my sister suggested that we surprise her by going to see her over Mother’s day weekend, I was thrilled. For years, I had been working on a book idea to tell a bit of my Dad’s story and how it has impacted mine. God laid it on my heart to finish the book, so I spent three weeks writing and editing and praying. When I arrived in Kansas, I was able to present my Mom with my book. Our time together was incredibly sweet and I praise God for his gift of extra time with my Mama!!

One highlight of our year was the opportunity for Dave and Ethan to fly in a glider. Ethan has a keen interest in flying, so for his 12th birthday, a friend of ours invited my guys to fly with him. It was an exciting and exhilarating day- a birthday to remember!

When we began homeschooling our kids in the Fall of 2016, we quickly discovered two things- homeschooling is a perfect fit for our family and since we will be doing this long term, we needed to devote a space to our new lifestyle. We were already outgrowing our fireplace family room, so we made the decision to finish our basement with the hopes of using it as our family room and then utilizing the fireplace room for our homeschool room. In June, demolition began. Dave has worked every spare moment since to transform our basement into a beautiful and cozy family room space.

This whole process has been stretching for all of us as we have had to adjust our entire lives to this seemingly endless project. But God’s goodness has been felt through all of it and we are so thankful for Dave’s hard work and persistence. There are still a few more things to finish up, but we are already in love with this new space!

Other exciting moments this year included Lindsay’s performance in Anne of Green Gables and voice recitals. She continues to excel in the arts and is continuing to write books (she just completed chapter 9 of her current book!) and we enjoy the opportunity to support her. Ethan earned his red belt in Tae Kwon Do and continues to take saxophone lessons. His creativity and love for learning are emerging and we love that we get a front row seat to his growth. Gibson is quick to learn and has become a voracious reader. He loves science and geography and is able to memorize facts and scripture easily. We are excited about what the future holds for him. Ainsley loves to dance, play with her siblings and go to preschool. It is a privilege to teach her and see her excitement for learning.

We made the decision to join a local cooperation of homeschool families called “Gloria Deo Co-op” at the beginning of this school year. The kids love everything about co-op. They each take three classes and I have the privilege of teaching preschool for four precious little girls (including Ainsley) while they are in class. It has been a joy to see their excitement each week!

In addition to finishing our basement this year, Dave preached through a few sermon series. He preached through Hebrews in the spring  and his fall series was on the five solas of the Reformation- scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone and to the glory of God alone. Personally, I am so grateful for his faithfulness in preaching and for the humble way he presents truth for God’s glory .We celebrated twenty years in ministry together this year and we are so thankful for God’s faithfulness to us all of these years! If you want to listen to any of Dave’s sermons, you can access them at the Orchard Community Church website.

I continue to do online work for The MOB Society– a ministry to Moms of Boys. My work is primarily in customer service, but I also have the opportunity to write prayers for our monthly and now quarterly prayer calendars. This opportunity has been a gift in my life and I can clearly see how God prepared this for me in order that I could still homeschool my kids. He is so good and faithful! I am still in the process of revising and editing the book that I wrote for my Mom in the Spring. I hope to have it self-published in 2018!

 

 

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas! May you know the hope that was born in a manger, the salvation that Jesus freely gives to all who believe and the love and joy that is ours in Christ. The baby in a manger changed everything and we pray that the significance of what we celebrate will be at the forefront of your celebrations this Christmas and every day in the New Year.

Merry Christmas with love,

Becky (for Dave, Lindsay, Ethan, Gibson and Ainsley)

Do You Live in a Grace-Filled or Shame Based Environment?

“Shame on you!”

The words ricocheted through her heart, the tears falling fast. She had heard these words spoken many times in her childhood, but was unprepared to hear them again as a grown woman. But maturity had taught her a few things and this time, she didn’t hear the words in the same way.

As she prayed about her response, she realized a few things. In this situation, she was not sinning. She had merely shared a struggle that was met with this harsh response. Her desire was to show love and kindness, but she had been hurt and misunderstood. When she expressed her need for more time to work through this struggle, it was met with these harsh words. Prayer reminded her of the love the Father had lavished on her. It reminded her of her purpose- to bring glory to God alone, not to strive to live up to man’s ever shifting standards.

“You’re such a jerk! Why can’t you be like the other girls?”

Reminiscing about these words spoken by a teacher three years ago, brings tears to her eyes. These were unfair and unkind words spoken to a child who was struggling by an adult charged with helping her students grow in maturity. But the words have seeped deep into her soul. Maybe she is a jerk. Maybe there is something wrong with her, because she does think differently and she can’t quite seem to fit into the boxes that others want her to fit into.

Several years ago, I began studying the concept of grace, because I had come to realize that while I understood grace on an intellectual level, there was a discrepancy between this knowledge and my experience. Grace was great of course, but was it really amazing? I wasn’t sure.

And so, I began to read and to contemplate and to pray and as I did so, I discovered that grace IS truly amazing, but it is only understood when one recognizes and believes the truth about their own sinful state and their desperate need for Christ. Without this understanding, grace is just a nice little blessing that we recognize on occasion rather than an overwhelming sense of gratitude for how deep and vast the love of God is and how He has poured that love out on us and IS pouring it out from a well that never runs dry.

All of the “shame on yous” could never truly teach me to see the depths of my own sin, but seeing the lengths that God was willing to go to in order to draw me into relationship with Himself has changed everything for me. I didn’t deserve it (this was the crucial piece of this puzzle that I had to wrestle with and truly accept!). There was no merit of my own, no goodness on my part that  could make me right with God. If there was, why would Jesus have come to this world, humbling himself and becoming obedient to death on a cross? Isn’t that utter foolishness if I could save myself?

I had dipped my toe into the pool of grace and now I wanted to dive in. Grace was beginning to wash over me and I wanted more.

Shame had been a motivation in my life for as long as I could remember. Figure out what people want and try to make them happy was an unspoken mantra. Don’t admit your inadequacies. Be who people want you to be and all will be well. But cracks were beginning to develop as I experienced more conflict with others when I pushed back on the inconsistencies I saw. The truth was that it was impossible to please everyone no matter how hard I tried.

A friend posed this question to me in one of our conversations- “Do we live in a grace-filled or shame based environment?” And perhaps a better question, which environment should we be living in?

This question has been resonating in my heart ever since. When I am tempted to say “what’s wrong with you?!!” to one of my children, I am learning to bite my tongue. Because while I am legitimately frustrated with their behavior in the moment, I desire lasting change in their hearts, not a momentary shaming that will result in a desired behavior change. Instead, I want to seek the grace-filled response. This takes time. It takes a willingness to listen to their hearts, to truly understand the motives behind their behavior. It involves leading them to the throne of grace where they are invited to come boldly in order to obtain mercy and find grace to help in times of need (Hebrews 4:16, KJV).

I have learned that shame condemns, but grace convicts.

Shame leaves us feeling miserable. Once again, we have failed others and we need to try harder the next time.

But grace leaves us feeling free. It shows us that we’re not supposed to trust in our own faulty strength, but instead, we get to run to the throne room and trust in Jesus to be our strength.

Shame emphasizes our inadequacies; grace magnifies Christ’s sufficiency.

Shame focuses on our own guilt; grace focuses on complete forgiveness.

Shame points fingers; grace points to Christ.

I have found that when we are focused on being grace-filled, shame based environments or attitudes stick out like a sore thumb. Shaming others is manipulative. It is an attempt to exert control over others. As a parent, it can be a response to embarrassment (and when you have outside-the-box kinds of kids, there is ample opportunity for this!). When you are surrounded by shaming behavior, it is defeating rather than life giving.

But when others are seeking grace as well, there is a beautiful communion of spirit. There is a like-mindedness that draws hearts towards truth. There is a freedom to fail, because there is no condemnation. Admittance of sin is celebrated, because it means that forgiveness can be sought and true heart change can occur. There is a desire for all things to be brought into the light, for a quickness to admit fault in order to seek peace and righteousness.

If you have never considered what kind of environment you live in, might I encourage you to do so?

Here are some passages that encourage grace-filled living:

1 John 1Romans 8:1-11, 2 Corinthians 12:9  and Hebrews 4:14-16 

 

Letting Go of Holiday Expectations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! At least, that’s what the songs tell us, but maybe for you, it’s not. Maybe it’s a time when you are reminded of all of your inadequacies as you scroll through stunning photos on Instagram. Maybe  your heart is breaking in two as the grief over losing a loved one threatens to overwhelm you. You thought that you had worked through it, but then you pass an older gentleman at the grocery store who smiles at you and the ache over missing your Daddy returns full force. Maybe money is tight this year and as friends talk about the big ticket items they scored on Black Friday, you are left feeling sad as you consider the Dollar Store items that will most likely be under your tree. Or maybe you long for a family of your own, but your finger remains bare, a reminder that you will once again be alone as you welcome a new year.

The holiday season can be an amazing time, but it can also be an awful time. What I have learned through the years is that my experience of this time is not based on the circumstances as much as it is determined by my expectations.

I started learning this lesson late in my high school years. My sisters were both in college at the time and I could sense that Christmas would never be the same as it had always been. I was having a hard time letting go. One of our family traditions was to go to a Christmas tree farm and pick out a tree, but this particular year, we were unable to find a time when we could do this. So my Dad decided that he would pick out the tree. I felt deeply sorrowful over this seeming loss of my childhood, but was trying to be mature about it. But then! My mom and I returned home from the event we were attending to find the ugliest tree I have ever seen leaning against the front porch. We were both upset as we stepped out of the car. How could my Dad do this to us?!! And then, my laughing Daddy walked around the side of the house carrying the real Christmas tree. Turns out, the other one was for my Mom’s wreath making.

It’s a funny story now, but it was a time when I was confronted with expectations and how tricky they can be. My feelings surprised me and I realized that I was holding tightly to an ideal instead of being willing to accept the changes in our family.

The next time I came head to head with unmet expectations was my Freshman year of college. My parents had moved to a new town the summer before I entered my Freshman year, so it didn’t feel like coming home. My bedroom was unfamiliar and my childhood friends were no longer close by. As I opened the gifts in my stocking, it began to sink in. Christmas would never be the same. I pulled out a potato peeler and other kitchen utensils and felt like my heart would sink. I wasn’t dating anyone and I hated cooking, so how did these gifts make sense? Then I opened a package containing a pink blouse and another that was a book for storing window clings. For a girl who was most comfortable in flannel shirts and sweatshirts and who had no intention of ever putting window clings on windows, these gifts were painful. As I opened each one, I felt a growing sense that my parents did not know me any longer or they were trying to fit me into a mold that I had no desire to fill.

And so at the age of 19 on Christmas morning, I found myself trying to hold back tears. I was deeply disappointed, not quite ready to close the book on childhood expectations.

That Christmas was pivotal for me. In order to embrace the holidays and focus on the things that were important, I would need to let go of my expectations and instead be grateful and content despite the circumstances.

Letting go of expectations has been a recurring theme in my life ever since. The past few months have been a particularly stretching time for me. My husband has been working since the beginning of June to finish our basement. At the end of this project, we plan to use the basement as our family room and convert our current family room to a homeschool room. The process has been tough on our family. We have not been able to travel or make many memories together, because the basement is full of seemingly endless projects. Our bikes have been unusable, because they all need air in the tires and have been covered in sawdust, because our garage is also my husband’s shop. Our storage room is filled to the brim with desks and shelves and a fooseball table and tables- all awaiting their future homes, but this makes it difficult to get to the boxes of books and seasonal decorations. Every time I need something in storage, I have to go through a challenging obstacle course. In addition to the difficulty of finding anything, every surface is covered in a fine dust from the drywall installation. I have to wash everything I find in storage AND wipe off my clothes that will inevitably be covered in dust as well.

Every day, I am met with a new challenge and what I have learned is that if I hold tightly to how I want things to be, I am disappointed constantly. But when I am willing to embrace each moment and be grateful for it instead of longing for what isn’t, I find that I am able to be joyful for the blessings. There will always be difficulty, but this perspective has changed everything for me.

As adults, we know that the pictures that others share on social media are not the complete story, but it can be easy to believe that everyone else has a perfect little life, while ours is far from it. Grief creeps up in at the strangest moments, but if we can be thankful for the ways our lives have been enriched by knowing our loved ones, we don’t have to be overwhelmed by the loss. We can be grateful for their love and live to share that same love with the ones entrusted to us. When we can’t afford all of the things, it’s a good reminder that stuff is not what brings happiness. Playing games together, putting together a puzzle, looking at Christmas lights, making paper chains, stringing popcorn, making homemade gifts- THESE are the kinds of memories that make a lasting impression on a child. The new Lego set will be forgotten in a few months, but making Christmas cookies with Grandma will be a treasured memory that costs nothing. If you long for a family of your own, let your focus be on the ones God has brought into your life and seek to love them well. The truth is that God loves you more than you can imagine and He knows what is best for you. Are you willing to trust His timing and His plan?

This holiday season, seek to let go of expectations and instead embrace the challenges and the joys, finding the blessings that await you!