Into the In Between

Remember that Old Testament story about Abram? The time when God told him to go “in between,” into the land of the unknown with no destination in sight, no idea where the road might lead?

Gen. 12:1 “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you…”

I believe my husband and I are facing one of those unknown in betweens.   It’s happened before; in fact, it happened as little as 2 years ago when the Lord began to speak to us individually.  His voice wasn’t clear at first, just a feeling that some big change was coming and we’d better be ready!

And a few months later my husband quit his job and took a position in full-time ministry.  And a year later, we finally sold our house and moved. And it’s been difficult,

And it’s been difficult, yet beautiful.

into the in between, Abram ventured into the unknown, when God calls you into the unknown

The in between can be scary – the kind of are you really going to ask me to leave all of my friends and family scary.  Do I need to sell my house scary.  How will my children react scary.  I don’t know if I’m strong enough for this scary. What exactly are you asking scary.

I’ve always been impressed by Abraham’s ability to go forth into the in-between with no ifs, ands, or buts.  

No conditions on his obedience.

No bargaining.

No pleading for more time.

Going into the in between without bartering for some sort of control is difficult.  But I know if our Savior is leading us there, then the in between will be a good place, perhaps difficult, but good.  The in between will be good for me, good for my husband, good for my family, good for my faith.

I know it.

I cling to it.

I wish the knowing lessened the feeling. :)  It’s true.  The fear is still there, that unknown in between that stretches beyond our human vision.  But like Abraham, we’ll venture forth into it, trusting and believing that although we have no idea where the road ends, He does.

It’s true – the fear is still there, that unknown in between that stretches beyond our human vision.  But like Abraham, we’ll venture forth into it, trusting and believing that although we have no idea where the road ends, He does.

What was Abraham’s reward?  A son.

No even more, a nation of sons.  The beginning of the Promise that would bring hope to all mankind, an abundant blessing he could not even have imagined when he first stepped into the in between.

We’ll listen for His voice.

We’ll go in between.

Jen :)

linking up at www.lisajobaker.com for Five Minute Friday.

A Savior Who Never Grows Weary

I’m privileged to attend a women’s bible study on Tuesday mornings most weeks.  We’re currently studying the book of Hebrews in depth, and this week the focus was on the latter part of chapter seven.

In this chapter, the author spends a great deal of space demonstrating why Jesus is the ultimate High Priest, even greater than Melchizedek, who was a pillar of the Hebrew faith.

Because Jesus is eternal, He is superior.

Because He is perfect, blameless, He is superior.

Because He continues to intercede on our behalf at the Father’s right hand, He is superior.

Hebrews 7

“23 The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.”

When asked to reflect on these verses, the end of verse 25 jumped out at me.  “He always lives to make intercession for them.” That is His purpose at the right hand of the Father, to intercede on my behalf, continuously, for all of eternity.

We usually think of Jesus's work in the past - his death on the cross. But Hebrews claims that He is a Savior who never grows weary, one who continues to intercede on our behalf!  Find out more about what this means for us today.

Did you catch that?  Our risen Savior didn’t just choose us at the cross.

Our Savior chooses us now; defends us now; redeems us now; intercedes for us now, moment by moment, forever and ever, hallelujah!

I often grow weary of my children (let’s be honest, now :)). I often grow weary of my husband, of others, and sometimes I even grow weary of my Lord. My love fails.

But His love never fails.  

          He is a Savior who never grows weary!

We usually think of Jesus's work in the past. But Hebrews claims that He is a Savior who never grows weary, one who continues to intercede on our behalf!  Find out more about what this means for us today.

It wasn’t just a one-time act, that choice to suffer on the cross, that forgiveness of even the most unpardonable sins. He continues to act on my behalf, acts for my forgiveness, over and over again. Today, and the next day, and for all of eternity.

As humans, we cannot even come close to that kind of love!  In fact, even our most sacred vows end with ” til death do us part.” One day we will come to an end, and with that end, our imperfect love will also cease.

We says things like, “I’ll love you forever” but that promise is impossible for us to keep.  And even if we manage to love one another for a lifetime, our love  is full of faults, imperfections, wounds, conditions.

But His love is not our love.

He alone can keep the promise of a perfect, forever love.  Our High Priest claims us time and time again.

Father, you see that one right there?  I chose her. I died for her.  Her sin is covered by my blood.  She belongs to us now. I call her beloved.  I love her as she is.

Oh, the overwhelming grace!  It’s almost painful in its power.  It floods us and we drown in it, dying to self and rising anew.  Rising to bone-deep gratefulness.  Rising to undeserved confidence in our eternal position. Rising to true love.

If you’re feeling low-down and unworthy today, unloved or under-appreciated, overwhelmed by sin or temptation or trials, or maybe just a little weary of life in general, remember who your Savior is.

He is real.

His love is real.

And it never ceases.

He sits at the right hand of the Father and proclaims, “Covered by my blood, covered by my blood.”

Rise anew, beloved,

rise anew.

Jen :)

Sharing with: A Little R&R, Grace and Truth

5 Ways to Stretch a Budget: Part 2 (the practical bit)

Yesterday I shared with you the first half of 5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget.  If you haven’t read the first half, I encourage you to do so as it contains the foundation of our frugal living.  In these tough economic times, it’s hard to find ways to make a small budget work, especially if you have a large family and are living on a single income. These tips should help.

And now, for part 2:

3. Pray for Your Needs and 4. Buy Gently Used

(these two overlap quite a bit)

Appliances – Finding good deals on appliances is admittedly harder than saving money on other items, but it can be done!  Our first action is to pray about it.  Remember, the Lord promises to provide for our needs.  Our favorite money-saving techniques when buying gently used appliances are to look at garage sales, ask friends and family to be on the lookout for us, check craigslist, buy scratch and dent, and so forth.

Vehicles – We have never had a car payment, ever. When we realize that it’s time for a new (to us) vehicle, we start praying! Sensing a theme yet? :) We know we cannot afford a car payment while attempting to pay down student loans, so we ask God to send us a vehicle that will meet our needs as well as our budget.  Praise the Lord, He has always provided the vehicles we needed, sometimes even at no cost to us, including the necessary switch to a minivan before the birth of our twins!  Then, we are often able to pass on the blessing by giving our old vehicle to someone else in need.

For necessary car repairs, we also pray.  My husband does whatever he can himself, but if it’s a major repair, we usually have to ask for help.  We’ve been blessed with some mechanics in the family, but when they are busy we have also turned to church family or friends.  If you know someone mechanically minded, you could even trade services – offer to babysit, make a meal, or some other skill you or your husband have!

Furniture – In our home, you will not find new furniture. It’s a luxury we cannot afford, although I’ll admit I’ve been tempted at times!  The majority of our furniture has come from garage sales, hand-me-downs, Goodwill, Craigslist, and so forth. We often pray for furniture needs as well, especially when we moved last year and our twins needed to graduate to full-sized beds and dressers of their own.

God provided a set of bunkbeds, a loft bed, a few dressers, a desk, and more – most of which came from one garage sale.  We had looked at loft beds online for our daughter’s room since it was going to be quite small, but they were very pricey. We prayed about it and just didn’t feel peaceful about spending that much money on a want.  That very weekend, God provided via the garage sale where we found a white loft bed with matching shelves and dresser – all for $50!  They wanted to get rid of it so badly, they even threw in an extra desk. Praise the Lord! If we had not been willing to wait, we would have unnecessarily spent well over $400.

Baby Items – We have pretty much outgrown the baby years here, but when we found out we were pregnant with twins over four years ago, I learned a lot about trusting God to provide for needs in this area.  He provided a second crib, clothing, a second exersaucer (which wasn’t even a need, really), and so forth from generous friends and even neighbors. We even found car seats we really liked on clearance in one of those moments when you know God is just blessing you for the fun of it! :)

I also shopped a lot of garage sales, but my favorite place to shop was the nearest second-hand baby store, called Once Upon a Child.  Not only are the gently used items half the price of a new item, but also outgrown baby clothing and items can be traded in for cash or store credit.  If you don’t have one in your area, check for another baby thrift store. E-bay was another source of gently used items that I utilized.  Last but not least, I often swapped items with ladies at church. For more ideas on how to save in the baby area, read 9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes.

Vacations – We do splurge a little in this area (at least what we call splurging). God has always provided a way for us to vacation when needed.

5 Ways to Stretch a Budget, big family on single income, make a tight budget work, how to save money, pastor's salary, vacation

Now that my husband ministers full-time, vacations are becoming much more of an actual need than a want, and as the saver in the family, I’m learning to see them that way. :)  However, the funding isn’t always available, even for a “cheap” vacation like camping. In this case, we have vacationed at relatives’ homes, we have swapped houses, and we have even found some ministries for pastor’s families who help provide lodging.  If you are a family in full-time ministry in desperate need of rejuvenation, please visit this site: http://www.lawrencewilson.com/free-retreats-vacations-pastors/ .

Utilities – You can only stretch this budget so far since heat and electricity are necessities (in this country anyway).  However, setting the thermostat at 66 or 67 in the winter months and 75 or 76  in the summer months saves quite a bit of money.  If you can’t go that far, even a couple of degrees can make a difference.

Consider rewarding your children for turning off unnecessary lights or appliances in the home to motivate them to keep utility costs to a minimum.  Additionally, we utilize the budget-billing program to keep our monthly costs even, which is easier to budget for. Consider investing in energy efficient appliances, but only if you have the finances to.  Again, if your budget is lacking, pray about it.

5. Do It Yourself Whenever Possible

Haircuts, Home  improvements, Home decorating, Lanscaping, Gardening, Sewing, Homemade cleaning products – whatever you can do on your own rather than paying someone else to do is like money in the bank!  A $25 pair of clippers lasts a long time – just sayin’. (See this tutorial to learn how to cut boy hair at home and my pinterest board for lots of other DIY tutorials.) Learn how to re-purpose everyday items such as baby wipes.  And with the invention of Pinterest and the DIY blogs readily available, we really have little excuse to avoid learning some new skills, right? :)

If you have already tried to d-i-y and it just isn’t working, why not trade services to save money on the things you need help with?  A few years ago, I promised my husband I would never again ask him to lay laminate wood flooring after we sold our previous home.  He was miserable doing it and encountered much difficulty, even with the help of my brother-in-law!  But we can barter with friends next time we need new flooring.

Praying for Needs, How to stretch an already tight budget, single income, large family, how to save money

So that’s how we live frugally to achieve our financial goals.  After 14 years of marriage, my husband has learned to appreciate my frugal nature, and I have learned to allow him to balance it out.  Sometimes it’s nice to have the freedom to buy something new, or something that is a want rather than a need.  I’m thankful for God’s wisdom in the mate He chose for me!

I’m sure I missed something, but I hope these ideas have helped you find areas in which you can stretch your budget, tooEven if you currently have a budget with a little room to spare, why not consider cutting back in just one area so that you can support global missions or feed a hungry child?  When looking around our home, I can see there are things that we could live without even today, so I’m challenging myself here, too.  Remember that as with any changes in life, learning to live more frugally is a work in progress.  Even small steps can lead to success!

Have a great budget-stretching tip?  Share with us in the comments!

Jen :)

If you enjoyed this post, you might suggest these practical suggestions for making things last:

http://harvestlanecottage.blogspot.com/2013/06/forty-ways-to-use-it-up-wear-it-out.html

or this post with additional ideas for savings in order to live on one income:

http://yourmodernfamily.com/how-to-become-a-stay-at-home-mom-on-one-income/

or these postw detailing how to save on kids’ clothes:

9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes (part 1)

9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes (part 2)

 

Also linking up at:

5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget: How a Family of 6 Lives on a Single Income

  Today on Mama Monday, I want to touch on the matter of saving money!  I know in these tough times, many families are looking for ways to stretch the budget.  I also know that my husband and I learned several difficult lessons about finances early on in our marriage. So, as a family of six living on a single income, I’d love to share with you how we make our tight budget work! :)

Growing up an MK (missionary kid) taught me many life lessons.  I’ve seen what it is to truly be in need.  I know in many areas of the world, children often go hungry and families sleep on the bare dirt floors of a thatched jungle hut.  I’ve witnessed firsthand the difference between needs (for survival) and wants (for pleasure).  I’ve also seen our Father God provide for our family in some amazing ways – money for shoes sent from another state, postmarked before we even prayed for it!

So, when my husband and I first joined our lives together, it’s not surprising that some of our first arguments were over money – how to spend it.  :)  I was very reluctant to spend our finances on anything I did not deem a need and my husband was more laid-back in his approach to finances.

However, a few short months later, we found ourselves expecting our first child and my husband without a job.  During that time of zero income, I forgot those missionary kid lessons.  I forgot that when we have needs, we turn to our Heavenly Father for help.

Matthew 6

 25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

………………………

As a result of trusting in our own abilities rather than in the Lord, we quickly found ourselves in debilitating debt.  It took 5 long years to dig out of the money pit we created.  Since then, we have grown tremendously in our financial stewardship, mostly out of pure necessity.

I praise the Lord for the work He has done in overhauling our money mindset!  Today, being a stay-at-home mom of four, I contribute very little to our family finances, so making the most of what we have is not optional – it’s mandatory!

5 Ways to Stretch a Budget, tight budget, single income, large family, ways to make a small budget work

I often field questions from others on how we make a single income work for our larger than average family (although I know many much larger than ours).  So, I asked my husband to help me make a list of the areas in which we save money so that we can achieve our financial goals, the primary goal being that I am free to stay home with our children, and a secondary goal being to eventually live debt-free (that’s the work-in-progress part).  :)

I hope you find these budget-stretching tips helpful!

***Disclaimer – this is not a post about whether or not women should stay home or go to work. That is a decision for each family to make with God’s guidance, and I recognize that some families just don’t have that option. Additionally, it is not a post to brag about our money-saving budget – it truly is by God’s grace alone that we are no longer living paycheck to paycheck and we still have much growing left to do.  This is a post on ways to stretch the budget if you are looking for help – how we make a single income (a pastor’s salary) work for our family of six. :)

Top 5 Ways to stretch your budget.  Budgeting for a family of six on one income, tight budget, making a small budget work for a large family, single income, pastor's salary

Top 5 Ways to stretch your budget. Budgeting for a family of six on one income.

1.       Follow God’s Plan for Finances

Start with a Budget!  It seems obvious, but many people don’t have a detailed budget, or they have one that they don’t follow. (Of course, we always stick to ours….Ha!)  If you don’t have one, make one.  If you don’t know how, ask someone for help. If you aren’t sure where to start, visit Crown Financial Ministries  for some helpful tools.

Pay off Debt – OR better yet, try not to take on any debt in the first place; instead trust God to provide for your needs.  Oh, how I wish I had understood how interest works earlier on in life!  If you are already overwhelmed by debt, check into Credit Counselors’ Corporation or a similar non-profit group as soon as possible.  The longer you wait, the worse it will get.  Trust me – we’ve walked that path before! :)

Offerings –  For us, giving a regular offering is non-negotiable.  However, it was not always so!  When first married, we were both still in college, so our income was very, very small, at times non-existent.  So, we didn’t give consistently and usually what we did give was the leftovers at the end of the week.  In time, however, we both became convicted that giving needed to be a priority.

We started very small: only five dollars a week.  But we gave faithfully, and little by little God helped us to increase it.  And while we wondered where our food was going to come from, He continued to provide! I want to encourage you that even if you have so very little at the moment, you can still be obedient to the Lord in this area.  Even if the amount seems too small to matter, remember that it’s not about the money, it’s about the heart.  I’ve heard that “you can never out-give God.”  Test Him!

Luke 21:1-3 “And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them…”

Savings – For our family, savings is also as non-negotiable as we can possibly make it.  Of course, sometimes things come up –something major breaks on the minivan, someone becomes ill, etc.  For us, savings is definitely still a work in progress, but the goal is to have savings built up for each one of those occurrences so that we don’t have to take money from our budget to meet those additional expenses.

2.       Distinguish Needs vs. Wants

Cable TV/Internet – We  realized early in our marriage that for us, the expense was a want, not a need, and we simply didn’t have room for it in our budget.  So, for many years we used an antenna when we wanted visual entertainment, or a VCR.  Today, we splurge on Netflix – $7.99 plus tax per month. :)  Additionally, Internet service is not really a need (unless you work from home), but we choose to splurge on it now that we have room in our budget.  If you are struggling to meet your monthly budget, these are two expenses that can probably go.

Cell Phones – I recently read that average cell phone bills for single users are upwards of $71, and for a family of four, as much as $200!  That’s a lot of money to pay out every month for a “want”!  What has worked to keep our costs low is using Tracfone, Net10, and other prepaid companies. (Update: currently we use a company called Consumer Cellular – 3 lines on a shared plan for $67.00/ month!)

We receive all of the advantages of cell phone usage (even data plans) without being tied to a contract, and since our company pays to use larger companies’ towers (like Verizon and AT&T), we rarely lose signal! If a cell phone is a true need for you because of work, etc., consider changing to a less expensive company or plan. If you can’t change your cell phone to a lower-cost plan at this time, consider getting rid of your home phone altogether and save in that area, or consider downsizing to one shared cell phone.

Clothing – This area is probably the one in which we stretch our budget the most.  Growing up an MK, I wore whatever clothes were available, plain and simple.  Brand name loyalty was not an option for our family back  then, and it’s not an option for my family now!  Don’t get me wrong – I love nice clothing, but buying new wardrobes for our children every year is not feasible for our budget.

Clothing three children, one teen, and two adults can be a challenge, but we’ve found a variety of ways to save (check out 9 Ways to Save on Kids Clothes). Clothing for adults is more challenging, but garage sales and thrift stores can still be useful. When we have a clothing need, I often take it to the Lord in prayer before I start shopping around. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been blessed with bags of clothing from friends, church family, neighbors, and even a well-timed garage sale!

 Philippians 4:6-7

 Be anxious for nothing, but in everythingby prayer and supplication with thanksgiving

let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Food – Again, we don’t have the luxury of caring about brands.  Although, I readily admit that I am  toilet paper snob . The cheap brands just don’t cut it. :)    To save money on food and toiletries, I buy store brands and shop at stores like Aldi’s, as well as local  farmers markets (when in season).  In the last few years, I have also learned a great deal about couponing!  I know, I know – not everyone loves using coupons, but it works for us. (Yes, I have a small stock-pile. No, I’m not one of those extreme couponers with a basement full of paper towel). :)

Another way to keep grocery bills low is to create a menu and shop for only the items you need for that menu.  This really works for our family. I also cook from scratch (or nearly from scratch) almost every night of the week, rather than buying pre-made meals or eating out, although we do splurge by eating out on occasion (dollar menu, anyone?).

need or want, How to stretch a budget, how to tell needs from wants, making a small budget work for a large family, tight budget, single income, pastor's salary

Bottom line: always keep in mind the question of whether the item you want to purchase is truly a need or if it’s just a want.  Once you have honestly assessed the situation, then you can decide whether or not to fund the purchase even if it is a want.  I also cannot emphasize enough how prayer impacts the way in which we use our limited finances.  Often, when we have a need, if I cannot find the item at a price we can afford, I wait…

And He provides.

Please join me  for the second half of 5 Ways to Stretch a Budget with more practical ways to save!

Jen :)

Have a tip to share?  Comment with your best money-saving advice!

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Five Minute Friday: Rhythm

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Rhythm

I often say that our youngest son, four years old, marches to the beat of a different drum.  He’s the baby of the family.  Born a mere minute after his twin sister, he remains somewhat of a mystery to me. He’s faced many trials in his young life already: a premature birth, an apnea monitor, an adverse reaction to immunizations resulting in a seizure disorder, a misshapen head requiring a corrective helmet, enlarged tonsils that interrupted sleep, removal of said tonsils that resulted in a brief hospitalization, and so on.

Despite said trials, he is my happy child, my cuddler, the one who pats my face gently, the one who seeks me out regularly just for a quick snuggle and then it’s back to playing.  He requires near constant physical touch.

And rhythm, oh does he have rhythm. I often wonder if he will be a conductor someday because the first body part to catch the beat is usually a hand.  He loves music, and he loves it loud.  His whole body is one with the cadence.

Out of all four children, he’s the one I have the least clue about.  Who will he grow up to be, this young boy? What drives him? When I think of him, I think of words like smile and touch and laughter.  He’s the son who gets crazy silly when he’s sleepy.  He’s the one who laughs at weird noises.  I once entertained him all the way through a grocery store trip by repeating a single phrase in a weird voice. “Do it again, mommy. Again!” And peals of laughter rang out all through the store.

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To say I love him just isn’t sufficient. He’s oh-so-different, unique, precious to me. He doesn’t even have to do anything special to make me love him.  I just love him for who he is, even without completely understanding him, this boy who marches to the beat of a different drum. My love for him is overwhelming and fierce.  I would die for this boy.

And that’s how God feels about all of His children.

Jen :)

Five Minute Friday is a challenge, a free-writing exercise that takes place every friday over at www.lisajobaker.com.  Join us! :)

The Truth About Greener Grass

When we moved to our small community a few years ago, one of the things I appreciated most about our new home was the big, beautiful backyard. One of the best features of our backyard is the surrounding fence.

I’m certain they could climb over the fence if they really wanted to, but we’ve made it clear that the child who chooses to breach this barrier without permission will face serious consequences.

So, the physical barrier of our rickety fence serves as a constant reminder to stay inside where it is “safe.”

But as much as I love our fence, it can only protect my children if they obey me by staying inside its confines.  The fence is no longer useful should they decide to venture outside of it!

And I’ve seen him, my youngest son, four years old, eyeing the gate from time to time…looking for the greener grass.

Many times we fail to understand the protective nature of God's boundaries. Instead we see them as hindrances, obstacles to fun.  So, we seek the "greener grass" in life. But there is one surprising truth about that greener grass...

What would happen if he chose to leave the security and protection of our fenced backyard for the greener grass?  Perhaps nothing, at first.

In fact, we may not even catch him doing it.

Escaping negative consequences, he would likely decide to slip out unnoticed again….and again… and yet again… until one time, he happens to find himself suddenly facing grave danger.

And like disobedient Peter Rabbit suddenly face-to-face with the Gardener, he quickly understands the reason behind the boundary, the one he crossed without permission, the one meant to protect him, not to ruin his fun. 

But it’s too late.

The damage is done and now he must deal with the consequences, whatever they might be.

Does the story sound familiar? It reminds me of Eden.  God gifted Adam and Eve with a panoramic paradise, a perfect relationship to enjoy, and a life of ease with all of their needs provided for.

And he gave them one rule. One.

Many times we fail to understand the protective nature of God's boundaries. Instead we see them as hindrances, obstacles to fun.  So, we seek the "greener grass" in life. But there is one surprising truth about that greener grass...

 The scripture records that before they disobeyed, Adam and Eve walked around naked and felt no shame.

Can you imagine?  Feeling no shame? Ever?  We’d be like toddlers running naked after a bath, full of joy and exuberance, not a care in the world

Total freedom and wild abandonment.

That, my friends, was God’s original desire for us: to live a free and abundant life of pleasure in a world of paradise!

But we chose our own way.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the whole world changed.

They abandoned the the protection of the “fence” to venture out on their own and the consequences were immediate and disastrous: separation from God.

Imagine the sorrow of a Father God sending his beloved children away from garden, knowing that for the time being, they would suffer and struggle, knowing also that one day, His only Son would pay a terrible price for their single indiscretion.

One rule; one choice.

Imagine the despair of being forced from that beautiful paradise, and the weight of knowing evil for the first time.

How often are we like these original sinners, that curious four-year-old?  We fail to understand the reasoning behind the boundaries God sets for us. Instead, we seek the illusion of greener grass.

Many times we fail to understand the protective nature of God's boundaries. Instead we see them as hindrances, obstacles to fun.  So, we seek the "greener grass" in life. But there is one surprising truth about that greener grass...

Like the four-year-old investigator, we might not see the danger lurking at first. We might not suffer any harm, or so we think.

But each time we leave those boundaries that our loving Father set to protect us, we take a bigger risk.  And one time, we’ll have gone too far.

We’ll find ourselves face to face with danger, with the serpent, with Satan.

With His lies, he ensnares.  

He promises freedom, but delivers slavery.

My friends, why oh why do we choose to leave the protection of the fence? 

There isn’t any greener grass; in fact, it’s a hollow deception, a mirage. What lies on the other side of that lovingly placed boundary is…

t…h…i…c…k  mud,

s

i

n

k

i

n

g

sand,

                       miry clay.

That movie that we really shouldn’t watch, that book we shouldn’t read, that person we shouldn’t be with, that substance we so desire, all provide satisfaction that is only temporary at best, not forever paradise.

The choice to willingly disobey only brings us danger and heartache and burdens, so many burdens.

And each time we venture out, we risk more.

We risk a reputation, a relationship, a marriage, a child, a ministry, sometimes even our very lives.

The truth is, the only green grass we’ll find in life, the only abundant paradise, is right within our Father’s fence.

His boundaries exist for us, not against us; for our benefit, not our detriment;  for our protection, not our suffocation; and only because…

He.

Loves.

Us.

Like a parent looking after a beloved child, He gently guides us away from evil in this world, if we allow Him.

 

Many times we fail to understand the protective nature of God's boundaries. Instead we see them as hindrances, obstacles to fun.  So, we seek the "greener grass" in life. But there is one surprising truth about that greener grass...

So, the next time you think you see a prime piece of greener grass just over the boundary, remember Who built the fence and why He built it.  Remember that what He most desires for you is life abundant.

If you choose to stay inside the protection of the fence, the only thing you’ll missing out on is the Serpent’s deceit and the slavery that follows.

Choose freedom.  Choose abundance.  Choose life.

Only because of Christ,
Jen :)

15 Ways to Use Baby Wipes

As an avid couponer, I am often able to purchase baby wipes for free or very cheap.  In our household, we make every effort to live a frugal lifestyle because we live on one income (my husband’s) and he is a full-time minister.

Because baby wipes are much cheaper than paper towel and other harsher cleaning products, I’ve learned to use them for many purposes that have little to do with babies.

Although my two youngest children are now toilet trained, I continue to buy baby wipes for everyday use!

Even if you prefer a more all-natural lifestyle, you can still use these ideas with homemade baby wipes. They are easy to make and still gentle enough for little hands!

Want to learn how to make homemade baby wipes?  It’s really simple.  Check out this pinterest board for tutorials.

If you think baby wipes are just for babies, you're wrong! We use wipes for all sorts of cleaning in our home because they are cheap, safe, and convenient.

  1. Keep some on hand for guests in your home who might have babies or toddlers.  Nothing is worse than running out of wipes when you are away from home!
  2. Remove make-up before bedtime.  Baby wipes are convenient and gentle on the skin, but do a great job of removing mascara and the like!
  3. Clean messy hands of all ages, even adults. Something about seeing a grown man reach for a baby wipe makes me smile. :)
  4. Wipe off the kitchen table after meal or snack time. Since I’m usually already using a wipe to clean off messy preschooler hands, I use the other side of the wipe to quickly go over the area of the table they were sitting at.
  5. Use them on the kitchen counter for quick clean ups!
  6. Help small hands do chores such as wiping off the bathroom sink.  I don’t want my young children to use cleaning fluids that could harm them.  Wipes are gentle enough for them to handle and they are thick enough to withstand some scrubbing.
  7. Help small hands learn to dust. Again, no need to spray harsh chemicals!
  8. Keep a package of wipes in the car for messy hands, faces, etc. while you’re on the go.
  9. Clean electronic surfaces.  They are not too wet, so they won’t leave water behind.
  10. Remove spilled food or drink from clothing before it leaves a stain!  I love taking care of stains right away in order to avoid more work later.
  11. Remove paint or washable marker from unwanted surfaces. Unfortunately, most permanent marker is another story….
  12. Clean off dirty patio furniture. Want to have an impromptu outdoor meal?  Send your oldest child outside with a wipe or two to make sure your patio table is clean!
  13. Spot clean living room furniture.  Again, if you can get to a mess right away, it’s less likely to create a stain that will be difficult to remove later on!
  14. Remove stickiness from children’s hair when a bath isn’t an option.
  15. Clean off pet paws when coming in from a muddy yard.

Although these are the main uses we have for baby wipes, I’m sure there are many more!

Have an idea?

Please share with us in the comments!

Jen :)

He Who Has Ears, Let Him Hear

Listen.

As I said the word aloud, my husband immediately responded with “He who has ears, let him hear.”

It’s a phrase repeated often in the New Testament by Jesus himself as He preached and taught.  As soon as he said it, I knew I would have to look it up in my new keyword bible to gain a better perspective.

Of course, looking up Greek roots is probably totally breaking the five minute friday rules and spirit, but I felt compelled, because when I heard the word listen, I immediately thought – I haven’t been listening.

I’ve been ignoring.

He who has ears, let him hear. What does it mean to really hear the Lord?  The truth is it involves much more than the act of hearing!

Then I thought of my children: how they frustrate me when I’m trying to get their attention and they act as if they haven’t heard.

I thought of how patient God is when I act like I haven’t heard.

So, I wanted to know more about this phrase: He who has ears, let him hear.

A quick search revealed that this phrase appears six times in the gospels and usually in the context of a teaching moment, whether with a large crowd or with his small band of followers, the disciples.

According to my NASB Hebrew-Greek keyword study bible, the Greek word akouo is  a verb used here meaning, “to hear” in various senses: one of those senses being hearing as an act of being informed and another being hearing as an act of learning.

In its primary sense, it means to hear as in to “perceive with the ears,” but other connotations include to listen, as in “to give ear to,” to pay attention to.  Even more, the word akouo also implicates “to give heed, to obey.”
He who has ears, let him hear. What does it mean to really hear the Lord?  The truth is it involves much more than the act of hearing!

Just as I expect my children to listen when they hear my voice, so God expects us to listen when we hear His voice.  Just as I expect my children to give ear to my words, so He expects me to give ear to His.

Furthermore, just as I expect my words to propel my children to action, so He expects His words to result in active obedience.

To hear is to listen; to listen, to learn; to learn, to obey.

Akouo.

He who has ears, let him hear!

Jen :)

It’s time for another Five Minute Friday! :)  I’ve really loved participating in this challenge as it stretches me as a writer.  Writing for five minutes with little to no planning and no editing frees me to just write, just let the words come forth on their own.  No over-thinking, no second-guessing.  I’m enjoying that freedom quite a bit!

Linking up at:

http://lisajobaker.com/five-minute-friday/

Taught by Twins

taught by twins

Close to five years ago, God chose to bless our family in a totally unexpected way.  It was a blessing I never would have chosen for myself, one I was completely unprepared for and one that brought with it a great deal of anxiety.  It’s a blessing that often continues to challenge me today.

The blessing we received was the gift of two children at one time – twins!  From the moment we received that awe-inspiring news, I began to worry.  The truth is that I like to be in control; I like to plan things in advance.  I like life to be organized and tidy, not uncertain or chaotic.  Two babies at once was not part of my plan!  In my turmoil, I didn’t know whether to yell, “Praise the Lord!” or break down in tears.

Thus, I spent the early portion of my twin pregnancy struggling with fear, worry, and what if’s that I never even considered with my first two pregnancies.  What if we lost one or both of them?  What if they were born prematurely?  What if they had medical issues?  What if I had to have a C-section? What if I just couldn’t handle twins?  What if our middle child (then our youngest) couldn’t handle being displaced by two siblings at once?  What if I couldn’t figure out how to nurse two at a time?  What if we didn’t have enough money?  The doubts strung out in a long line.

twins medical

On top of the what ifs, I was riding the roller coaster of amplified pregnancy hormones as a result of carrying two babies at one time.  One moment I felt euphoric excitement and extreme gratitude for this unexpected blessing and the next – sheer terror.  Even my fear became complicated by the addition of guilt, guilt for sometimes thinking, “it would be easier if it was just one baby,” or “this wasn’t in our plan.” As soon as the errant thoughts entered my consciousness, I felt a shame like no other.  So many women would give anything to carry just one baby, and here I was complaining to myself that I was being blessed with two!

I knew I was sinning.  I knew I needed to trust God more.  I knew that He was in control!  I knew His grace was sufficient for me.  If He chose to give us twins, then He knew we could handle it with His strength. I prayed constantly over these truths, but I was having so much trouble believing them. I put up a good outer front – it was easy to share my excitement with others and leave out the more shameful feelings.

One day when I confessed my worry that I would be inadequate, a wise woman at my church kindly told me that God knew I could handle two at once, or He would not have entrusted these babies to me.  A light bulb burst into light, and I suddenly saw my unexpected twin pregnancy anew, as an honor, a privilege.  Instead of reveling in my blessing, I was wallowing in worry.  I was wasting this unique experience.

twins and me

Little by little, the Lord began providing for our physical needs, as if to provide physical evidence for my skeptical spirit.  He knew we needed a larger vehicle, so He provided a minivan for our family at very little cost to us.  He knew we’d need double the clothing, so He sent neighbors and friends with bags of gently used clothing and other baby necessities.

Our church family collected gifts for us also, including a mountain of diapers that tumbled over onto the floor of the bedroom closet. We received countless gift cards, often from unexpected sources!  I was completely overwhelmed by a God who takes seemingly impossible situations and works out the details without any help on our part, and I praised Him for meeting our needs and encouraging us on this new journey.

My pregnancy progressed as uneventfully as a twin pregnancy can and as I neared the end, I thought we might actually make it to full term.  The specialist I was seeing joked about how great my uterus was and how well my body was built for carrying babies.  I beamed, pleased my body was cooperating so nicely. All was well.

And then the swelling began: first my legs, then my hands, and finally my face.  I knew it was pre-eclampsia because I’d experienced it twice before but never this quickly.  I called the specialist to report my symptoms, already knowing the answer I would receive.  Come to the office immediately.

Not long after arriving at the office, I was ushered over to the hospital and told that a C-section was imminent.  C-section: that dreaded word that made me want to run in the opposite direction.  Furthermore, my pregnancy had only just reached 34 weeks, so I required steroid  injections to help mature the babies’ lungs before operating.

As excited as I was to meet our two bundles of joy, fear of the unknown crept back in, slowly and silently.  I feared the C-section recovery.  I feared the health issues facing my premature infants.  Fear slipped in little by little until suddenly, it was upon me and I could scarcely breathe.  I momentarily forgot that God was in control.  I forgot that He had demonstrated His provision over and over again for the past seven months in some very big ways.  I forgot that He promises to be faithful, and I had a pity party for myself right there in my hospital bed.  I cried.  I worried. I wallowed in fear, took a bath in its darkness. I wondered why.  Why, God?

Our twins arrived the next morning via C-section at right around five pounds each and were quickly whisked away to the NICU. It was the beginning of a very long week.  We existed in a sort of haze, but we survived.  I put off dealing with my fears and thought surely things would get better once we settled in at home. Surely I wouldn’t worry so much having them right next to me instead of in another section of the hospital.

twins in carseats

However, when we finally did make it home, I realized very quickly that it was just the beginning of a long haul.  Both babies came home on apnea monitors, which made just about everything more difficult: feeding, sleeping, travelling, and so forth.  Additionally, we had already spent an entire week apart from our two older boys, including missing our oldest’s birthday party, so they were understandably needy, as well.

The nights were even more difficult as we woke ourselves every three hours to feed babies that needed assistance, and then I still had to pump.  It was exhausting, and I continued to worry about them.  Did they drink enough? Would they gain weight?  Would I ever be able to nurse them?  What should I do when they both cry at once?  How can I get them on a schedule when one seems to need more sleep than the other?  So much uncertainty.

At first, I read a lot of literature on parenting twins, scheduling, and so forth.  I worked at getting them on the same schedule and tried not to feel guilty about the lack of time with our older children.  I decided to focus less on doing everything right and focus more on just surviving the day to day grind.  I spent time in the Word.  I prayed ever more fervently for strength and wisdom.  He told me to let go.  Quit worrying.  Trust Him that even if I somehow did something wrong, my children would still be okay.

It took a few months to come to grips with the fact that my prior parenting experience held little value in this new four-child-family world.  I had to adapt my lofty ideals to techniques that would actually work for our family.  I even resigned myself to the fact that I might not ever be able to nurse the way I wanted to (although we did eventually figure out how to tandem nurse).

I gave up on having things “just so” and became content with “good enough.” 

twins gracie arms out

I gave in to my infant son’s desire to be held…a lot..and my daughter’s desire not to be swaddled.  I learned they were different from one another.  I learned to find quiet moments with my older children and to understand that jealousy was just a part of life for siblings, whether they have one sibling or many.

twins thriving

One day as I sat on the floor with my incredible infants, it dawned on me that we were no longer just surviving; we were actually THRIVING!  All four of our children were happy and despite continuing medical issues, the twins were growing and learning.  I even felt more connected to my husband as our busy household required more teamwork than ever before.  In fact, despite little sleep and little “me time,” I was superbly content.

Watching my two infants smile at one another, holding them both in my arms at once, feeding them together – all of these things brought me a greater joy than I ever could have imagined.  If you have ever seen two babies giggle and smile at one another or sleep peacefully side by side, then you know the joy I’m referring to.  It is overwhelming in its beauty.

twins sleep2

I admit: life wasn’t always pretty.  We still had difficult days, but the smooth days eclipsed the rough ones. I thanked the God who gave me a blessing I didn’t deserve, the blessing I didn’t ask for, the blessing I would never have chosen for myself.

When God gave us twins, He taught me a few very valuable lessons that I try to carry with me still.  He taught me that Philippians 4:13 really IS true.  “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” isn’t just a nice saying, but He really can give me physical strength for the day!

I can do all things

He also taught me that I needed to relax as a parent.

So what if our school age son still doesn’t know how to tie his shoes because we had twins the year before he started kindergarten?  So what if I don’t feed my children a food-pyramid-perfect meal three times a day, every day?  So what if my oldest occasionally runs out of clean clothing?  So what if the tv is on more than I’d like?

There are so many more important things in life than the details of the day to day grind of being mother to a larger than average family.  Things like relationships. Love. Attentiveness. Contentment.

twins tall

The Lord showed me that if I want that abundant life my heart so desires, I need to do the opposite of what makes sense to me.  I need to quit trying harder, quit controlling more, and just relax.  Relax in His grace.  Relax in His presence.  I don’t have to control it all because He is in control.  If I remain close to Him, the details will work themselves out, often in a more stunning way than I ever thought possible.

Jeremiah 29:11 became very real to me.

Image

I’m profusely thankful that His plans for our hope and future included twins.  Like the Israelites in the desert, I would have settled for a return to Egypt rather than experience the glory of the Promised Land.  But He had a bigger blessings in mind for us.

Can you recall a time when God’s plans failed to match up with your plans? What were the results?

Jen :)

How to Make Food Fun!

Image

 

 

Yesterday I shared with you 6 Principles for Picky Eaters, including our pediatrician approved Toddler Technique for mealtime.  Learning how to deal with toddler stubbornness over food relieved a lot of stress for us!   So today, I want to add some detail to one of those principles: Make food fun.

Let the kids help!

If having children underfoot in the kitchen absolutely drives you batty (and honestly, some days this is me), then let them set the table if they are old enough, or let them help plan the menu for the week.  Research shows that the more involved children are in any process, the more likely they are to take ownership of it.  The more ownership they take, the more cooperative they become.  Even if all your children can do is bring you a spoon to stir with or put out napkins, etc., encourage them to get involved in the process.

  • As a mama who easily falls into “maintain control” mode, I can see how kids in the kitchen might seem like a recipe for stress.  However, if I prepare myself mentally ahead of time for the extra mess and potential disasters, I’m much more likely to enjoy the time spent cooking with my children.  That said, some days I just prefer to cook alone. :)

Be an artist!

This is an area that I’m still growing in, but we all know that even adults enjoy food that is more visually appealing (it’s all about the presentation).  If you want more ideas on how to get creative with food, check out my parenting board on pinterest.  While I’m not confident in my abilities to reproduce the more intricate results, the more simple pins are probably doable. They are at least inspiring me to get a little more creative.

  • A good place to start is to arrange food into different shapes (make a smiley face) or to make sure the plate contains what nutritionists refer to as “a rainbow of color” with various shades of fruits and veggies.  Additionally, you could add food coloring to bread dough, mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, or soup for fun.
  • Take advantage of holidays and create holiday-inspired plates of food.  I even have a really creative friend who, once a month or so, creates a themed meal complete with décor!
  • Research validates that the more colorful the plate is, the more interested children will be in eating  and even in trying new foods.  Did you know that people presented with a bowl of multi-colored m&ms will eat more in one sitting than those who are presented with bowl of m&ms that are all the same color?
  • We can use this mind trick to our advantage with fruits and veggies! :) If you offer multiple colors, you’re likely to see the kids eating more in one sitting.  Think about it: would you rather eat a cup of raw carrots only, or a cup of mixed raw veggies such as carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, bell peppers, and so on?  I would definitely eat more if more than one veggie was available at a time.

 

how to make food fun pinterest

Tell a story about the food or play “let’s pretend” with it.

We once told our twins that raw broccoli trees were really dinosaur food, and it worked – for a few meals at least.  (Be sure to be honest about made-up stories, though, or you’ll be busted for lying when your children get older and wiser). We also tell all of our children how important healthy food is for their bodies – vitamin C helps keep you healthy, protein gives you energy, fiber helps you poop, and so forth.  I guarantee if you have young boys and you mention poop, they’ll eat that fiber in a heartbeat!! ;)

  • Once, our middle child practically inhaled a bag of carrots within the span of a few days because he wanted to improve his vision (I think he read about it at school).
  • When stories or facts don’t work, get silly.  For example, I encouraged a boy I was babysitting to eat a sandwich he didn’t really like by telling him to eat it like Cookie Monster would.  Maybe even tell your children to make noises while eating– it will make them laugh! Remember Ralphie’s little brother from A Christmas Story eating like a pig?? :)  I’m not sure I personally would go to that extreme, but it’s the right idea.

 

Make the table a fun, family-oriented place.

Our four kiddos love suppertime because we are all together at the table (most nights).  It’s a time when everyone gets to share a story or a joke and each child has his or her own moment in the spotlight.  We talk a lot. We laugh a lot.  And while they’re busy laughing, they’re eating!  Unless of course, things get a little too crazy.  But most of the time, having fun at the table keeps them interested in staying longer and at the same time, strengthens our family bond. Win, win!

Picky Eaters can easily drain the joy from mealtimes, if we allow them to.  My husband and I decided years ago that we wanted to be able to enjoy family mealtime with our children.  In order to accomplish that goal, we had to first do some training and disciplining in so we could  have peace at the table.

It took quite a bit of time and a lot of consistent effort, but I’m happy to report that mealtime battles are very rare in our house anymore, even with our preschoolers! :)  (I cannot however claim that they are non-existent.  Everyone has an off day now and then and children especially like to randomly challenge previously established boundaries.)  Now we look forward to those evening meals together and can focus more on that funny thing our middle child just said rather than on what is or isn’t being eaten.

children are a gift

I hope you are able to employ some of these tips in order to make mealtime less stressful at your house!  The older my children get, the more I realize that these early years pass all too quickly.  Thus, it’s important to do the necessary training in order to be able to enjoy these years to the fullest (although, I realize there are some moments that are just NOT enjoyable whatsoever). :)

While I still have your attention, let me also humbly admit that I am not a perfect mom.  I’m not even perfect in the parenting boundaries that I myself have agreed to, along with my husband.  Sometimes I break the “rules.”  Sometimes I’m so weary of battling that I choose to surrender for the night. We can always try again tomorrow, right? :)

If you struggle with feeling like you just aren’t doing things right, please take some time to read The Superwoman Myth or Peaceful Parenting, No Thanks to Pinterest.  Moms are so hard on themselves, and I definitely don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on a mama who is already at her limit!

These are simply techniques that I found helpful for our family, but each family is different and each child is different.  What works for us may or may not work for you!  If mealtime is still a battle at your house, don’t give up;  find a solution that works for you. :)

Do you have a great tip for how to make food fun?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Happy Eating,

Jen :)