Giving Thanks Together

One of my favorite aspects of Thanksgiving is togetherness. The English who in 1620 journeyed through many difficulties to establish colonies and worship God freely were together. The Wampanoag Indians were a tribe who dwelled upon and worked the land together. Both the English and Indians feasted together, giving thanks for the harvest.

One of the things I am teaching my children is that we do not give thanks to God only when we feel good.  We give thanks to God always, for HE IS GOOD! Our memory verse for this week is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” There is always something to be thankful for, and when we make thanksgiving a practice in the natural rhythms of life we will not be as susceptible to grumbling or complaining. We can’t both whine and say thanks at the same time! So, with this season, we take time to feast, say thanks, and be together.

Before I started with baking and prep for tomorrow I had the kids gather round the kitchen table to write down some things they are thankful to God for. Judson scribbled a picture of mama and sisters. Analise drew a snowman and said she is thankful for Christmas. Kara wrote that she is thankful for her dog, Buster. All of us will write or draw some things we are thankful for as they come to mind over the next few days.

Next, we made Pilgrim Hat cookies. These were a lot of fun, and easy to make! I think the ratio of eating to creating the cookies for Judson was 5:1!

Most of all, we are thankful for Jesus! He gives us every reason to give thanks because He died for our sins, rose again, and is preparing a place for us. He is the greatest gift! Here is a fun and easy craft we made together- Thankful for Jesus Cross

We finished reading The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh.  I love the last paragraph of this beautiful book: “The Pilgrims did not forget the hard times. They knew there would be difficult times to come. Still, they felt they had many things to be thankful for. They had food and houses and warm fires. The Indians were their friends. Free to work, to make their homes, to worship God in their own way. Perhaps they sang the hymn they had brought to the New World with them: ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below…’ ”

We sang The Doxology, and then we made these cute Pilgrim hats!

From our perky Pilgrims to yours, Happy Thanksgiving! May God richly bless your time together around the table tomorrow.

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Steadfastness and Being Busy in the Best Way

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Is it possible to go against the current of dizzying demands laid on mothers today? Maybe the greatest threat to our homes is not worldliness outside, but busyness within.

In our schedules.

In our hearts.

Restlessly eager to show up everywhere on time, prepared, and ready to go to the next thing.

I had a conversation with a friend the other night about feeling behind in life, and how if we had a reset button we could get things in order and then let our marriages, kids, and ministries proceed as usual.  Of course, we would be living in a fantasy!  Because life has no reset button, and nothing will wait for the laundry to be done or every call, email, text to be made. Some things, many things, are left undone.

Truth is, none of us have it all together. If we were honest we would say we feel out of sorts on many days. Bad attitudes, anxieties, dirty dishes, hormones, fatigue, clutter, sickness, unmet goals, and marriage and parenting challenges can contribute to discouragement and feeling off balanced. We wish we could call a “timeout” to get our act together.

But then I was reminded this week of how God calls us to remain steadfast, and that the Christian mother’s life is an extended season of testing. The only timeouts we get are when we get before the feet of Jesus.  Only He can offer what our hearts are yearning for.   I love how James says that the testing of our faith “produces steadfastness” (James 1:3).  We don’t muster it up, it comes to us as we joyfully endure the trials and testing of life.

So I say, yes, it is possible to go against the frantic current of busy motherhood.  Not that it is wrong to be busy, because “I have seen the business that God has given [mothers] to be busy with,” and “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11). It is not in being busy, but how we are busy that matters. It is in being busy and at rest at the same time, content with incompleteness and not having it all together that we thrive as mothers. Because “when steadfastness has its full effect,” we will have it all together- “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).  God is shaping us to look more like His Son, and it is His grace to use marriage and motherhood to sanctify us in this way.

 

Beauty, Building, and Blessing


There are natural rhythms of life like eating, sleeping, working, resting. And then there are seasons of life like schooling, parenting, transitioning, retiring, all of which may have seasons within themselves. I am in a season of building. I’ve only recently come to recognize this. Much of my life until a decade ago had to do with getting through something in order to get to the next thing like high school to college or graduation to career. What do you do then when you no longer feel the need to get through in order to move on?  You build.


For many months now I have been on social media less, rather unintentionally. I am so bored with it because I am busy building. This is not a slam on social media, and I do still tweet and post throughout the week. It is all just so distracting, though. I am trying to find that balance between staying engaged and informed while also remaining committed to the work of building.

What am I building?

In short, a life. There are many moments that may or may not be Instaworthy, but my hands are full when I am building and the lighting may not be quite right. There are behaviors to discipline, habits to form, structure to maintain, and hearts to nurture. And all this takes a lot of time and effort. Mostly prayer.  Life is not a touch screen, high speed with minimal delay and immediate results. It takes time to build.


The behind-the-scenes work of pushing kids on swings and bedtime prayers with pillow talks, or the early mornings and late nights of reading, writing, and editing may provide some immediate satisfaction, but I am only building. God has not revealed anything to me yet, and I am no mystic, but He keeps reminding me to not “grow weary in doing good, for in due season [I] will reap, if [I] do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). When is that due season? Beats me. And for me, it really does not matter because I don’t think any of us are ever called to give up doing good anyway. I just know that I won’t do as good when I am consumed with other things that distract me from building.

My home. Family. Friends. The people in my community. When I know what I am building will impact and bless people in my life even if it will take years to see it if I see it at all, then I know I am building something of value. My time is not wasted then. And so much out there today are time wasters and money suckers. We just throw it all away. It is all dispensable right? We can always get more? Right? Wrong. Sunday’s sermon was on Ephesians 5:15-16 and how we are to make the best use of our time because the days are evil. Making the best use of our time. Some ways I am trying to do this is by building- In the Lord’s strength, being careful with the duties He has assigned me. Not rushing through, taking my time with His time. Like money, it is His time, not mine. He knows the days ordained for me, not I. There are a few practices I incorporate into the rhythms of my life that help me build the life God is leading.

What Helps me Build:

  1. Praying– Seeking God daily
  2. Reading– Scripture, novels, non-fiction, biographies, special interest (education, parenting, theology, music, writing, etc.)
  3. Journaling– Note taking, personal reflections, reading responses, quotes, etc.
  4. Dreaming– thinking about what could be, what needs improvement or needs to be changed- also goal setting.
  5. Focusing– doing what needs to be done like the laundry, meal planning, writing deadlines, paying bills, etc. and not getting distracted 
  6. Waiting– being okay with “not right now” and trusting God’s timing and provision. This goes back to praying and focusing- when you don’t know what to do, do what you know.

I have to trust that everything out there in the Interwebs is not all fast and flash, and that I am not missing out by pulling back the reins and building with care and ease the life God has called me to live. Behind the scenes. Unnoticed by many, but noticed by One who matters most. If you are a builder like me, don’t be discouraged in the slow process of it all. It takes time to build, and God makes everything beautiful in its time.

 

The One Necessary Thing


We live in an age of distraction.  Pop ups, tickers, instant messaging, live videos, and “dings” on our smart phones demand our attention, or at least we feel it to be so.  It is easy to lose focus when our heads are spinning in multiple directions.  I find myself getting sucked into the Internet vortex and the only way I know out is to put the phone down.  Easier said than done.  Why?  Well, I read the news on my phone, pay bills on my phone, scroll Instagram because well, it’s fun, and check my Twitter feed on what people are saying about politics, religion, social issues, culture, and such.  And then I get into my head thinking about what I think about X,Y, and Z.

You see, I haven’t written much in this space lately because I’ve been doing more thinking, reading, and praying rather than blogging.  This summer I have had the opportunity to write in other spaces, but I have left this blog to rest until I have something to share that would be of some benefit or encouragement to my readers.  I’ve blogged for eight years, and learned much- still learning!  My heart with writing and teaching is to inspire others to cultivate life in Christ in their spaces as parents, citizens, entrepreneurs, teachers, and leaders.  I see all of us as artists, making creative contributions on God’s canvas.  We hold the brush, He guides our hands.  But, it is hard to focus on the canvas with all the background noise of social media and the tyranny of the urgent.

Here is a mental exercise for you.

Ask yourself this question:  What am I most passionate about?  Maybe it is a business, education, family, ministry, a social cause, or something else.  What is your time and energy devoted to?

If you’re like me you may find yourself passionate about many things.  For me, it is my family, but it is also ministry and education.  And often these things are intertwined.  So much talk lately is about platforms as if we need to have one thing to say or be excited about.  For some this may be so, but not for all.

Multiple Platforms, But One Necessary Thing

Whatever your passions are, consider how to live on one necessary thing.  I call it the Matthew 6:33 principle: “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Jesus challenged Martha in her home with this principle when he told her that she was “anxious and troubled about many things” because she was distracted with much serving.  Mary, her sister, sat at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching, which Jesus called “the one necessary thing” and the “good portion.”

I don’t think Jesus was saying that serving is bad, or doing a lot of different things is bad.  It is that in the serving, working, busyness of life we are to choose the one necessary thing of God’s Kingdom and righteousness.  So, we ask ourselves, “How am I seeking God’s Kingdom and righteousness as a wife?  As a mom?  As a teacher?  As an entrepreneur?  As a friend?  As a minister?  As_________?”

It is not that Mary was doing nothing, she was doing everything that mattered.  Are we doing everything that matters whether we have one platform or three or four?  We need not feel guilty about what is demanded of us at work or at home- it is a balancing act, isn’t it?  If our hearts are set on Christ- earnestly seeking Him, meditating on His Word, praying His Word, working unto Him- then no matter where we find ourselves we can rest knowing that we are doing the One Necessary Thing that when all is said and done will be what will last and what matters most.

20/20 Spiritual Vision

2 Corinthians 4-18 imageI have been thinking about heaven lately.  I think about what my grandparents must be experiencing right now and I wonder if I would recognize them or if it would take me a minute.  Recently, I came across a paradox in Scripture where Paul tells the church at Corinth to “focus on what is unseen.” I have astigmatism, so to focus on what I can see is often a challenge let alone what is unseen.  Paul is onto something, though.  Focusing on what I see usually leaves me feeling a tad depressed.  Take for instance the news.  Okay, enough said.  How about something a little more heartwarming like children or puppies.  I have some of both.  My children and their father are the loves of my life, and I can’t imagine my life without them in it.  But when I focus on them, like really focus on them, I feel this incredible responsibility and even the hardship of marriage and motherhood.  I watch my kids grow up before my very eyes and have romantic chats with hubby about retirement and the AARP.  And our dog thinks he is a person.  I just don’t know how anyone who goes outside to do his business could believe that.

But then I read Paul and get a reality check.  This is all so temporary.  The difficulties at work, home, in relationships, and in speaking what we believe to those who have yet to believe with afflictions and perplexity will have an earthly end.  Our preoccupation with ourselves will be through.  I have also been thinking about how we will not be self-conscious in heaven.  Our whole selves- our true selves- will be completely overtaken by the glory of God, and we won’t be thinking “What does she think of me?” “How do I look?” “I wish I didn’t say that in that way.” “Do I fit here?” There will be no regrets or anxieties in heaven.  We will be present with Christ- PRESENT.  Able to simply be.  To rest.  To worship Him without distraction, joining in the resounding praises of the angels and the redeemed. Anything this side of heaven, any suffering, persecution, or affliction is light and momentary compared to the “incomparable eternal weight of glory.”  To consider that the greatest pain of one of God’s precious saints (I am thinking specifically of the martyrs) is minuscule in light of the reward of heaven begs our attention.  When we focus on that- the unseen- we will see our life clearer, and eternity far greater.

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Habits Worth Keeping

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Now that summer is in full swing, our schedules are a bit more relaxed with slower days and routines that feel less- well, routine like.  We are bookending the summer with visits to extended family and many pool days in between.  As I began thinking about how we will spend this summer I considered several things that I want to do away with and many things that I want to keep in our “off season.”  We spent most of last summer unpacking boxes and getting acquainted with our new town, so now that we are a little more settled in I feel like this is our first official summer in Gallatin.

Speaking of Gallatin, we are really enjoying life here- the people, our church, the access to scenic nature spots, and the convenience of Nashville are wins for us- thankful for God leading us to this incredible community!  I guess the only thing to say now is “Go Preds!”

So back to summer.  While there are things we are pulling away from like music lessons, gymnastics, formal academics, and a predictable routine, we are not completely abandoning our habits at the expense of needing a break.  Because character cultivation does not take summers off.  In planning what we will do for the next two months or so, I asked not “What will we do?”, but “Who will we be?” come August.  This may seem like “overachiever” talk, but really it’s not.  It has more to do with being intentional with the things that matter and less to do with trying to do it all.  In this way, we can truly let go of all the non-essentials- all those things that can wait- and continue with the essentials maybe with a popsicle in hand.  🙂

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Habits Worth Keeping

1. Chores– When we had spring break, one of my daughters complained about having to do her chores saying, “Mom, it’s spring break.  We don’t have to do any chores.”  Haha!  She is hilarious.  But really.  There are so many opinions on chores and age-appropriateness.  I don’t know if there is a best way, but this is my way: If they can do it themselves, then they will do it themselves.  I have one chore for each girl every day in addition to their daily chores like making beds, putting clothes away, brushing teeth, clearing the kitchen table, keeping rooms tidy, etc.  All this stuff must continue through the summer or I will be overwhelmed in mess and unruly kids, and they will forget what it means to be responsible come the fall.  And I will forget what it means to be sane! 😉

2.  Bible lessons and Scripture memory– We’ll continue memorizing Scripture weekly and reading through different Bible stories.  We are about to begin Foundations for Kids: A 260-day Bible Reading Plan for Kids, which Travis and I are excited about.  Right now we are reading through different story Bibles/devotionals with each kid before bed, which is working right now for that one-on-one heart-to-heart time, but we are about to bring them all together again for a more family devotion/discipleship time.

3.  Music Practice– We are taking a break from sports and music lessons this summer, but we are still practicing piano.  Analise is learning the ukulele and Kara the guitar as well, which adds a little extra spice to the Fleming household.  All we need is to get Judson on drums and we can start a band!

4.  Reading– Each of the kids (even 2-yr. old Judman) are participating in our local library’s summer reading challenge.  For every 15 minutes they spend either being read to or reading themselves, they get to color in their reading sheet and after so many hours they receive prizes.  I have one reader, one emerging reader, and one non-reader.  We make a library trip once a week, which is a habit we’ll continue through the summer for sure.

5.  Math/logic/reasoning– We play a lot of games, including board games and some card games.  It is all fun and no real “work,” but it feels good knowing that we are exercising our minds and learning how to be good sports when we win or lose.  The girls have a couple of math workbooks we will take out on occasion, but we won’t work through them every day as we do during the school year.

6.  Character buildingCharlotte Mason has a motto that the girls and I say often which is, “I am, I can, I ought, I will.”  In essence, it is:

I am . . . a child of God, a gift to my parents and my country. I’m a person of great value because God made me.

I can . . . do all things through Christ who strengthens me. God has made me able to do everything required of me.

I ought . . . to do my duty to obey God, to submit to my parents and everyone in authority over me, to be of service to others, and to keep myself healthy with proper food and rest so my body is ready to serve.

I will . . . resolve to keep a watch over my thoughts and choose what’s right even if it’s not what I want.

One of the points Miss Mason made was that a strong-willed child is really not strong at all, but truly is weak in will.  He has yet to master his emotions or control his impulses.  We talk a lot about self-control, the fruit of the Spirit, and how Christ enables us to love others because He has shown us what love is.  Character building is continuous, not just for children, but for all of us.  There are individual lessons and character issues that my kids are learning for themselves, and we’re working on/praying through together.  The Lord is teaching me so much through my kids and through being a mom.  For one thing, I am more deeply aware of my inherent need for daily grace- that abundant grace that our Father so freely gives, and of my dependence upon Him for wisdom, guidance, and strength.

I think we need to take a summer off, and we are already finding rest in these early weeks.  But, there are some habits worth keeping even while we rest.  We will have our lazy days, later nights, movie watching, goofing off times, but we will try not to go completely off the rail where we don’t know which end is up come August.  Habits help us.  They inform our decisions and form our character.  This is true in every season- even in, especially in summer.

 

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Keep Summer Simple

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This is the last week of school for us, and we are gearing up for summer!  I think I am just as excited as the girls are.  We’ll continue reading and doing what Kara likes to call “fun math,” but we are slowing the pace quite a bit.  We plan to hit the pool on Friday to celebrate the end of a great year.  And it was a great year considering that we have been adjusting to a new town, new friends, new skills- new everything!

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I’ve been thinking about what I want us to do this summer, and really more about what I don’t want to do this summer.  Two things I do not want to do are spend a lot of money or expend a lot of energy.  Yes, kids require a lot of energy (mine especially), but I am able to tolerate the moderate, acceptable amount required- nothing beyond that, though.  Because, moms need a summer too.  Can I get an “Amen?!” IMG_6931 (1)

Here is how I plan to keep summer simple for us:

  1. Don’t overschedule the week with a lot of excursions.
  2. Plan lazy days.
  3. Grill out and spend time with friends.
  4. Play games- cards, board games, throw a ball.
  5. Read aloud- cool off with a popsicle and a good book.

Speaking of popsicles.  One of my favorite things about summer is the food of summer.  The farmer’s markets are open, produce is fresh, and the smell of chicken, brats, steak, or hamburgers on a hot grill, well it just makes my mouth water thinking about it all.  One of my favorite sides to make and eat is guacamole.  Travis is a chips and salsa/guac man, so this is always a win with him.  Here is my simple, yet scrumptions guac recipe:

Simple Guacamole

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5-6 ripe avocados (more to feed a crowd)
2-3 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic
1-2 TBSP cilantro chopped
1 lime
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Mash avocados to desired consistency.  I prefer my guac more on the chunky side, so I chop ripe avocados and mash slightly.
  2. Toss avocados in a bowl with the chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro.  Squeeze a lime into the bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Eat and enjoy!

Anyone else in summer mode, or is it just me?  What does a simple summer look like for you?  I think it depends on the personality of a family and what pastimes or traditions they may hold, like reunions, celebrations, interests like camping, boating, fishing, mission trips, church camps, vacations, etc.  For some, a simple summer is one that is scheduled to keep the kids busy, or full with lots of travel to stay completely out of the normal, while for others a simple summer is less structured with a lot of down time. Whatever it looks like for you and your family, make summer to be what fits your family best, and make time to build relationships with family, neighbors, and friends.  And eat a popsicle or two. 🙂

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