A Few of My Favorite Things {August 2015}

by Elizabeth

Good stuff from this past month. It’s heavy on music, because that was one of the biggest ways I encountered God this month.

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BOOKS

From Good to Grace by Christine Hoover. I finished this book this month. I continued to underline almost every word of every chapter, it was that good. Just brimming with truth about grace, receiving God’s love, the proper place of work in our lives, and how listening to the Holy Spirit eliminates comparison and competition. Do NOT miss this book. I repeat, do NOT miss this book!

 

BLOG POSTS

Convicted but not Condemned by Renee Swope.  I was in a big place of self-condemnation when I heard a sermon differentiating between Holy Spirit conviction and enemy-inspired condemnation. Conviction brings hope, while condemnation brings hopelessness. That was a freeing, new idea to me, and I almost wrote a blog post about it. Then I read this one and figured I didn’t have to. Christine Hoover’s book also touched on these ideas.

The Other Side of Achievement by Chris Lautsbaugh. On his site, Chris writes mainly about grace, so it makes sense that he would write a post about another idea that was discussed in Christine’s book. (It would seem I found grace everywhere this month.)

Sometimes Ministry Sucks: Theology for Wounded Hearts by Anisha Hopkinson. As anyone who’s been in ministry (or church) longer than 5 minutes knows, it sometimes hurts. What to do about the pain? Always, always, always, the answer is to go back to Jesus.

Rested, Restored, Forgiven by Rachel Pieh Jones. Absolutely love this piece. Though I first read it awhile back, something reminded me of it this month (can’t remember what), so I went back and re-read it. I’ve experienced it myself, and I love the way Rachel tells her story. Do not miss this one!

Harmonizing Sadness and Joy by Craig Thompson. One of the things I get to do as editor at A Life Overseas is to read posts before they publish. When I went in to this particular draft to read it ahead of time, I cried through the whole thing. It so perfectly describes the way I mourned the loss of my Grandma this past month.

(See my comment on Craig’s post for a longer explanation of intermingling joy and sadness, and see my comment on this post for another gift from the Father during this time of sorrow.)

I’ll transition into the music section here, because grieving from afar is tough, and aside from Christine’s book, words didn’t do very much for me this month, not even the Bible. Rather, it was music that spoke most deeply to my soul and helped me connect with God again.

 

SONGS

With Everything by Joel Houston. We sang this song at church the first Sunday after my Grandma died. Not very many songs get my hands lifted high, but this one did. My hands reached to the heavens as high as they could when we got to the chorus.

So let hope rise, and darkness tremble in Your holy light,
And every eye will see Jesus, our God, great and mighty to be praised.

With everything, with everything, we will shout for your glory.
With everything, with everything, we will shout forth your praise.

Our hearts they cry, be glorified, be lifted high, above all names.
For You our King, with everything, we will shout forth your praise.

Great is Thy Faithfulness by Thomas Obediah Chisholm. We also sang this classic hymn that Sunday morning. (It’s much better when sung congregationally, but I couldn’t find a modern rendition of this hymn that captured what it felt like to sing it that Sunday morning, so this Chris Rice solo is the best I can offer you.) That morning especially, I needed to join all creation in praising God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of the pain.

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Holy Spirit by Bryan and Katie Torwalt. This song hit me hard. I heard it when we went to another international church to hear one of our teammates preach. While I resonated with the idea of longing for God’s glory and His presence, I also stopped and asked myself the question, what do I long for? What am I hungry for?? The answer: Transformation. I’m hungry for transformation in my own life, in the lives of those around me, and in my host nation. So hungry it hurts sometimes. This Kari Jobe cover of the song best captures the feel of that Sunday morning. (“Feel” is kind of important to me apparently.)

Holy Spirit You are welcome here,
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.
Your glory God is what our hearts long for,
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord.

Salvation Belongs to our God by Adrian Howard and Pat Turner. As I sat hungering for transformation, this song came to mind, and I substituted “transformation” for “salvation.” Sometimes when I blog honestly about my struggles (and I’m about to get really honest here again), the floodgates open, and other people to tell me their stories, both publicly and privately. I listen to their stories, I absorb their pain, I feel their sorrow. Then, weighed down with grief, I worry over how best to respond. I start to take on the responsibility of fixing their pain with my words. But that’s too much pressure. The idea that transformation belongs to our God lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders. I can love people through my words, but I don’t have to transform anything or anyone. That’s God’s job.

From the Inside Out by Joel Houston.  We sang this Hillsong classic after the Holy Spirit song. I just love it. It speaks of one of my deepest core beliefs: that God’s light will shine when all else fades. And above all else, I want to lose myself in worship of Almighty God. (But sometimes I forget to.)

Your will above all else my purpose remains
The art of losing myself in bringing You praise
Everlasting your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending Your glory goes beyond all fame

Here I am to Worship by Tim Hughes. Another classic, but one that never gets old. Just love to declare that He’s my God. We sang it a couple weeks ago at church. (This is Hillsong’s version by the way.)

Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God

Alleluia by Chris Quilala et al. I first heard this Jesus Culture song two years ago at an International House of Prayer conference and fell.in.love. I thought I’d been transported to the heaven. Earlier this month I was feeling really spiritually numb, and when I turned on my worship song mix, this was the song that played first. I remembered all over again that worship is the point of this life, and I started longing for heaven all over again. Also, I didn’t feel numb any longer. I don’t think you can listen to this song without worshiping or longing for heaven.

All the angels cry out, Holy is the Lord God
All the earth replies, Holy are You

Forever by Brian Johnson and Kari Jobe et al. Jonathan had raved about this song to me, but until I sang it in church a couple weeks ago, it just didn’t have the same power. (Congregational singing is also a thing with me, apparently.) I wept through this song. Wept. Jesus is beautiful. What He did was beautiful. You better believe my hands were lifted high on the Forevers and the Hallelujahs.

Now death where is your sting?
Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated

Forever, He is glorified, forever, He is lifted high
Forever, He is risen, He is alive, He is alive

We sing Hallelujah, we sing Hallelujah
We sing Hallelujah, the Lamb has overcome

 

KIDS STUFF

My God is Powerful from Group Publishing’s Everest VBS. If your kids have never attended a VBS from Group, they are missing out! Group writes new theme songs each year whose lyrics somehow always bring me to tears. They also record a few modern worship songs and an old hymn or two, and they set everything to choreography (for the kids). I love the depth of the messages my kids hear over and over again in these songs — lessons I myself need to re-learn.

His Power moves the earth and sky, takes me to the highest heights

My God is powerful.

His power can forgive and heal, crushes darkness, drives out fear

My God is powerful.

Other favorites from this year’s VBS:

I Sing the Mighty Power of God by Isaac Watts (love this hymn!).

I sing the mighty pow’r of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.

One Thing Remains by Brian Johnson and Bethel. Never get tired of this one either.

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me
On and on and on and on it goes, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid, one thing remains

International Children’s Bible Field Guide. Based off the translation my parents bought me as a child, this book goes chronologically through the Bible. We got it from our Sonlight curriculum, and we read it for our evening devotionals. It stimulates tons of questions and really in-depth conversations and is a really theologically balanced book, giving room for variations in non-essentials. (Which super-impressed me, honestly.)

A Prayer For My Third Culture Kids

Earlier this week I shared my expat parenting philosophy on Velvet Ashes. Today I’m linking up with The Grove on Velvet Ashes with a prayer for my TCKs. ~Elizabeth

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I remember reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond together and feeling such a kinship with the main character Kit. She’d lived a life of privilege with her wealthy English grandfather on the island of Barbados, but when he died, she discovered his large debts. In order to pay them all, she then sold all his belongings.

After that she didn’t know what else to do, so she booked a passage to New England, where some of her Puritan relatives lived. Her cousins’ conservative lifestyle and religious customs were completely alien to her. When the ship docked on the shores of Connecticut, Kit realized “There was something strange about this country of America, something that they all seemed to share and understand and she did not” — a TCK moment if ever I saw one.

Kit suffers intense culture shock. She’s already grieving the loss of her grandfather, and she now doesn’t fit into Puritan culture. In some ways she’s even rejected by the community. She doesn’t understand their religion or their worldview, and friends are hard to find. Her uncle is particularly cold towards her, and she’s never performed such difficult, backbreaking labor before. New England winters are brutally cold and long. She misses leisurely tropical island life in Barbados: the heat, the sunshine, swimming in the ocean, her grandfather’s extensive secular library.

But she grows to love her extended family. She even grows to love the beautiful fields nearby. Towards the end of the book, Kit attends a wedding. She thinks about how she doesn’t fit in in New England, even though she loves the people and the place: “An almost intolerable loneliness wrapped Kit away from the joyous crowd. She was filled with a restlessness she could not understand. What was it that plagued her with this longing to turn back?”

wbbShe had previously decided to return to Barbados and search for work there, but as she continues reflecting on both her old life and her new life, she realizes she can’t go back to the way life was with her wealthy grandfather. Her two cousins have both fallen in love, and she realizes that she has as well — only the man she loved wasn’t a Puritan permanently rooted to the Connecticut soil. He was a sailor, a migratory man, a man of good character, a free spirit like herself. And he loved her back. “Home” for her would be anywhere he was. Marrying him would mean continually traveling between Barbados and Connecticut, always on the move, but always with him. Literally, and not just figuratively, she was going to live in the In Between.

Our Sonlight curriculum chose this novel for its relation to the Salem Witch Trials in early American history, but for me it turned out to be a metaphor for the life of the TCK. Crossing cultures, never completely identifying with one culture, never fully belonging, always grieving a loss of some sort, but needing, so desperately needing, someone to love, care for, and understand her. So with that story in mind, I offer this prayer:

 

My child, I’m well aware that in this life, not everyone gets married.

But should you happen to marry, first and foremost I pray you will marry a fellow lover of Jesus.

And then — oh then I pray you will marry someone who feels at home in the In Between spaces, who knows how to live in the margins of life, who’s comfortable crossing over and blending in, even if never quite fully.

I pray you will marry someone with a wide view of the world, who doesn’t think you’re crazy for your wide view, either.

I pray you will marry someone who looks to God for full identity and belonging, someone who will understand your need to do so as well.

I pray you will marry someone who understands the pain of separation and of goodbyes, someone who shares your yearning for heaven.

I pray you will marry someone who understands that love is the best kind of medicine for a hurting heart and who knows how to give it.

That person doesn’t have to be a TCK, though they might be. Your Papa isn’t a TCK, but he understands loss and living in the fringe. He understands love and nuance.

So I pray for you to experience what I have experienced myself: that your heart will be fully understood and accepted, fully loved and wanted, fully celebrated and cared for.

I pray you will have many years of adventure together, tasting of a perfect heaven here on a very imperfect earth, each year growing ever closer to our God and to each other.

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Home School Burnout Part 2: “Mom Fail”

by Elizabeth

hsb part 2a

Our January discussion helped a lot, but then I just charged ahead into spring and overcommitted myself to the blogging world. It feels awkward to admit that, but it’s true. I severely underestimated my time and energy commitments — though in my defense, I didn’t realize I was overcommitting myself at the time.

I had wanted to write about the Parsonage Heresies for about a year, and in January I finally decided to do it on A Life Overseas. I didn’t realize that series was going to be such an emotional, intellectual, and time drain. Committing myself to a specific subject and needing to write an in-depth post about it every month really wore me out. Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad I wrote this series! It was just draining.

I also committed to write two Velvet Ashes posts for the spring. These weren’t ordinary posts though. They were related to the heavy themes in the book Expectations and Burnout and were also an emotional and time drain. Again, I’m so glad I wrote these! Especially Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know — that story simply burned in my heart to be told.

By the time I got to early May, however, I was exhausted. I had spent myself in writing. In order to meet all the deadlines, I had directed attention away from my children. Somewhere in the process of writing and reaching out to the women who connected with my stories, I had inadvertently turned my heart away from my children, and now I didn’t particularly feel like turning back. Noise was still a stressor during school days, and I had a hard time fitting everyone’s lessons around my grueling blogging schedule, so I felt really behind again. I know six articles in four months doesn’t seem like it warrants the description “grueling,” but these posts took a lot from me.

I was poured out and empty. I took time off from blogging at other sites and condensed a couple weeks of school into one week in order to finish the school year a bit earlier. I thought I was going to lose my mind, and I needed a break. I was so tired. I told my husband I wanted to go away for a year; he told me that was an unreasonable solution. I knew he was right. I also knew I needed some way to refresh and refuel, and I didn’t know how long would be enough.

So when the first Monday of summer break came around, I took a break from parenting — almost literally. I let myself be a “bad” mom: I locked myself in my bedroom and let my children watch movies. All.day.long. I didn’t talk to them, I didn’t read to them, I didn’t play with them. It was a total “mom fail.”

I knew I only had four weeks of summer break because of our upcoming stateside service, and I wanted squeeze every last second out of it. I watched movies. I played Freecell. I read books. I wasted time on Facebook. I didn’t blog. I wasn’t productive. I was in a very fragile state and needed to be alone.

By the end of that first week I discovered, to my surprise, that perhaps I didn’t need an entire year away. Perhaps these few weeks would be enough of a break. Already I felt like coming out of my bedroom and interacting with my family again. Not all the time, mind you, just some of the time. I still hung out in my bedroom a lot.

During the third week God did something in my heart. It began with a prayer session at church where I started asking the question, “Why don’t I want to give my children my time?” That week as I started seeking answers to that question, another home school mom asked how she could pray for me. I didn’t share all the details, but I confided that I needed help balancing teaching and writing. (This was true, but rather general.)

It felt good to know someone was praying about this issue for me, because up to that point I hadn’t done much of that. Her prayers must have been working because the very next day I tuned in to a Sonlight webinar, and it reminded me why I love teaching my children and why I decided to do it in the first place. Those three events were pivotal in renewing my desire to home school.

So as summer drew to a close, I started recovering my heart for homeschooling. I started recovering my heart for my children. I started reorienting my heart toward my children, turning toward them instead of away. And by the time school started four weeks ago, I was ready to teach again. I was ready to spend time together again. I was ready to love again.

I still had to figure out the practicalities of fitting four students’ lessons into each day. (Eek! My long-time fears actually started materializing this school year!) I still had to figure out how to get all my writing and editing jobs done on time. But God had addressed my heart problem. He had given me the rest and recuperation I needed. He had supernaturally given me the ability to look at my summer “mom fails” not as a failure but as a necessity. In short, He had allowed my non-productive summer to be really productive.

Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

Part 3: The Mean Mommy

Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary

Home School Burnout Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

by Elizabeth

hsb part 1c

I wanted to quit homeschooling this year. I had two separate crises in fact. I got to a place where I didn’t know what was wrong; I only knew something wasn’t working. I felt overwhelmed all the time. I couldn’t figure out how to fit the responsibilities of motherhood, homeschooling, and writing into my life. I kept thinking that one of those three things had to go. It obviously couldn’t be motherhood (duh!), so which of the other two was it going to be?

I got to the end of most school days and didn’t want any more kid-interaction. I just wanted to quit and go hide somewhere. I wasn’t playing games with my kids anymore, I wasn’t reading aloud to them, I wasn’t enjoying them. I felt guilty about my lack of interaction. I complained to my husband that homeschooling was stealing my motherhood. This wasn’t what all the home school speakers and writers promised would happen if I chose to home school. Everything was supposed to be peaches and cream! Rainbows and butterflies! Pony rides in May sunshine!

A friend (and fellow home school mom) said I sounded like I was in burnout. My husband kept asking me if I wanted to put the kids in school. I kept hesitating. We were finally able to sit down to talk about homeschooling in January. I’m the kind of person who feels overwhelmed and doesn’t even know where to begin problem-solving. I need someone to talk it out with me and guide me through it.

So we talked. We talked about what homeschooling gives our family. Things like:

  1. We can take our vacations and home assignments whenever, and sick days are easy to make up.
  2. We have long leisurely family breakfasts where we sit and talk together.
  3. We don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to have said family breakfast.
  4. As long as the environment is quiet and peaceful, I do actually enjoy teaching, especially subjects like math and science.

We also talked about what made homeschooling so stressful for me. I had to think for a while to come up with answers that didn’t include the word “everything”:

  1. I was extremely far behind on read-alouds, and it was majorly stressing me out. Our Sonlight curriculum chooses historical fiction novels that correspond to our history lessons, and Mom is supposed to read them aloud during the school day. I was really uptight about these read-alouds. I feared my children would not receive a thorough education if they did not hear me read all this historical fiction to them. But I couldn’t find consistent time to read the books. The daily readings were rather long. That meant I would get really behind if I missed even one day, and by that time I had missed a lot of days. I felt perpetually behind and would not allow myself to read something for fun if I hadn’t finished the “assigned” book. This meant we never read anything for fun. The Sonlight read alouds are supposed to be fun, but to me they still felt like school, and I wasn’t having any fun. On top of that, I missed reading to my kids. When they were younger and had less schoolwork to do, I was able to read to them for hours each day. All the Sonlight books, plus extras from the library. With the loss of read-alouds, I felt like my bonding time with my kids had been snatched away.
  2. I worried over what I would do if I ever had trouble teaching a particular subject to a particular child.
  3. There was also the fact that four children in one house can get rather loud rather quickly. Chaos due to age gaps is what home school moms have to deal with if they happen to have more than one child. How to keep your young ones quietly entertained while older ones work? That is the age-old question for home school moms, and its answer had been eluding me.
  4. Additionally, I had been freaking out for years about how to teach four different levels at the same time. Even when I was only teaching 2 levels, I worried about adding the 3rd and 4th. I dragged this fear around with me each year. I carried it through each day I didn’t quite finish everything I intended to finish. I was so afraid of what the future would hold. (Worry is a common theme with me, have you noticed?)

At this point my husband noted something important: Sending the kids to school wouldn’t cure all my parenting woes. School wasn’t some magic elixir. I might not have the burden of teaching them, true, but I’d have to get up early each morning to get them ready to leave. I’d have to pack lunches each day and check homework and organize transportation to and from school. We wouldn’t have our peaceful, unrushed mornings, and I knew I would miss that family time. Sending my kids to school, just like schooling them at home, was going to have both pros and cons.

So we talked about targeted solutions for specific problems. Most of these solutions came in the form of permission. Permission not to read the assigned historical fiction. Permission to read what I want to read to them. Permission to get tutors or outside help if I ever felt the need.

Permission. Was it really that simple?? All I know is that releasing some of those expectations lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Astonishing how such a simple statement (“I don’t have to read the Sonlight read-alouds”) could so unburden me. Oh I knew in theory that you can’t do every Sonlight assignment. The company says that. Experienced Sonlight moms say that. But I had never internalized it. I had never applied it to my own classroom. Now I had the chance.

Next on the to-do list was searching for a good time to actually read together. As I mentioned, even though I wanted to read, I was having difficulty finding the space in our days. When I stopped pressuring myself to read Sonlight’s books, when the read-aloud timeline was lifted, I found I could squeeze reading into our day.

I started reading aloud during lunchtime. Now, I eat quickly and read while everyone else eats. When we finish eating, I clean up, and we move to the living room where we keep reading. With this approach I’m able to read about 45 minutes each day, and we all love reading together again.

I didn’t find a solution for my fears about teaching four levels at once. I just sort of put the worry off until tomorrow. But hey, that’s Biblical, right? “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Relinquishing the expectation to read every single Sonlight read aloud was enough for now. I could deal with the other stuff later.

Part 2: “Mom Fail”

Part 3: The Mean Mommy

Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary

Going Back to (Home) School

by Elizabeth

As a good church of Christ girl, I faithfully attended Sunday morning Bible class, Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening worship, and Wednesday evening Bible class. Over the years, we studied Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Israel as a unified kingdom, and Israel as a divided kingdom. Rather skipping over the prophets, we forged ahead to the New Testament, gave the Gospels a passing glance, undertook several iterations of Acts, and then gave particularly serious attention to the Roman and Corinthian letters.

I therefore thought I knew about the Bible.

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