The Top Ten Resources that Have Made and Saved Our Marriage

LauraAll Posts, Marriage, Stillbirth2 Comments

Ryan and I are coming up on our 15 year wedding anniversary: years packed with happy memories full of laughter, intimacy, service, growth, dreams, wackiness, and adventure.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that our journey has also included many dark valleys. We’ve struggled through infertility, the struggle against sin and heartache from the past, intense arguments, pre-term labor, our first baby’s premature birth, power-struggles, name-calling, a 40-day separation, the loss of our third daughter through stillbirth, the stresses of raising children, and unintentionally carrying 2 mortgages at once. To name a few.

Some of our trials were clearly “the two of us against the foe” while others appeared to be “the two of us against one another”. In retrospect, we can see that they were all trials that we faced together against the foe, but some battles are fought face-to-face in order to advance hand-in-hand. To this day, we wear our wedding bands and snuggle up in bed at night only because God is on our desperate, weak, and sinful side.

Today, we see marriage as the miraculous gift it is. We think God uses husbands and wives to change the world, to show people what He’s like. We love that He called us into our marriage and that He has been with us all along.

The blessings and the struggles alike have made us intensely passionate about marriage.

I share all of this to let you know that you are not alone.

If your marriage happens to be new or old, intimidating or boring, weak or broken, you are not beyond God’s ability to teach, heal, grow, and amaze.

Our Top Ten Most Helpful Marriage Resources:

Because God is so generously creating beauty in our marriage, we want to share His wisdom, help, and resources with you.

#1. People. 

What would we do without the countless friends and family who have helped, encouraged, inspired, confronted, and taught us over the years? We’d be gonners.

From Ryan’s 5 friends who have met every Thursday morning for over 5 years to the Young Wives Club book study that I was a part of 4 years ago. From our own parents to our mentors. From pastors to play-date-friends… a community of caring people has held us together. Our worst seasons of marriage have been when we’ve separated ourselves from community for one reason or another. We’ve seen it time and time again: the first thing to cause a marriage to fall apart is a lack of an encouraging community.

If you don’t have people – people-people – who will listen to you yet miraculously bring you back to God’s Word, who will do your yard-work and watch your children, who will ask you to do their yard-work and watch their children – get them.

I can’t give you a quick link to people like this, but you can ask God to provide them for you. Find a wonderful church – full of humans who honor the Bible and help one another. (Here’s a great website to help you find a church in your area: 9 Marks Church Search).

#2. This book: 

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexity of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – Tim Keller

We’ve read this insightful, thorough, not-like-any-other-marriage-book book 3 times: once on our own and twice with other couples. We’ve read so many marriage books, and this is at the top of our list.

It is biblical + thoughtful + relevant + practical + honest + humble = life-changing.

#3. A $ course: like Financial Peace University

Years ago, our church provided a 13-week FPU course that has benefited our marriage. It gave us a common ground regarding money, helping us to develop our budget, teaching us a language with which to discuss finances, and giving us the tools to take practical steps towards financial freedom and generosity. We highly recommend (wish we could require) this course to every engaged or married couple. Unlike “just reading the book,” investing your time and attention in a multi-week course like FPU is a game-changer that sets you up for the win.

#4. An online accountability program:

To protect your marriage from the ever-looming temptation of online pornography or countless, unhelpful distractions, consider installing an online accountability program that will send a report of your monthly Internet usage to a friend(s) of your choice.

We’ve used both Covenant Eyes and Accountable2U and have been so pleased by both programs. They are so much more than an online filter: the accountability aspect keeps us within the love and support of our most-trusted friends (see Resource #1).

So many people install a program like this after pornography or another online distraction has wreaked havoc on their lives. We want to see more people take the temptation seriously before that happens. We always recommend that every couple seriously consider installing one of these programs right away. It’s worth the investment.

(If you use this link to install Covenant Eyes, you’ll get the first month for free!)

#5. Regular slow-down, stop-everything resets.

Several times throughout our married life, we’ve discovered that our commitments, opportunities, and obligations were wreaking havoc on our family. We’ve had to back out of obligations, say “no” to opportunities, and hunker down at home. Sometimes, that can be quite humbling but we’ve never regretted it.

I recommend regular re-evaluations of how you are spending your time, energy, affection, attention, and money.

You can read more about our first reset here: How to Get Your Life Back from Distraction, Depression, and Distance

#6. A counseling/ mentoring relationship like Marriage Savers and Prepare-Enrich.

You may be surprised to discover that people in your church or community are trained in marriage counseling! Many churches in our area support these two ministries and provide training and support for marriages through them.

Marriage Savers trained us to use the PREPARE/ENRICH couple inventory and counseling materials to walk with premarital couples as well as married couples.

Over the years, we’ve had the blessing of walking with friends through pre-marital counseling. We’ve walked with other friends through marital restoration. We’ve even had the blessing of walking with friends whose marriages didn’t make it. We’ve loved and treasured each person, honoring their story and praying for them regardless of the outcome.

PREPARE/ENRICH will help you:

  • Identify strength and growth areas
  • Explore personality traits
  • Strengthen communication skills
  • Resolve conflicts and reduce stress
  • Compare family backgrounds
  • Comfortably discuss financial issues
  • Establish personal, couple, and family goals

Though these programs do not replace pastoral or professional counseling, they can make all the difference in the world for engaged, newly married, or struggling couples. You’ll learn a ton, have meaningful conversations, and develop friendships with other couples that will strengthen your marriage.

#7. This book: 

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life – by Cloud and Townsend

Boundaries should be mandatory reading for the human race. Every marriage would benefit from reading and understanding where one person starts and another stops, recognizing the ways we wield power in our relationships, and taking responsibility for one’s own decisions.

When Ryan and I were on the brink of divorce 11 years ago, I didn’t even know that I had a problem with boundaries. I didn’t know that I misunderstood love, generosity, and responsibility. When someone plopped this book in my lap, everything changed. Boundaries will help you to situate yourself wisely in relationships according to Scripture.

So yes, mandatory.

#8. Something to heal the brokenhearted like On the Threshold of Hope – Diane Langberg

Marriages thrive when a spouse’s sin or heartbreak is addressed and healed. Too often, significant heartaches go unaddressed until they devastate a marriage. We highly recommend asking God to heal your marriage sooner than later. You’ll never regret it.

Unaddressed struggles like previous relationships, affairs, abortion, drug-abuse, alcoholism, and sexual abuse can wreak havoc on a marriage. God is powerful and good; nothing is beyond His ability to redeem.

Regarding sexual abuse, which affects at least 25% of women and men, I highly recommend Diane Langberg’s writing. “On the Threshold of Hope offers hope and healing to men and women who have been traumatized by sexual abuse. Dr. Langberg’s insights and the quotations from many survivors assure readers that they are not alone and that Christ, the Redeemer, can heal their deep wounds. Through stories, Scripture, questions, and encouragement, Dr. Langberg walks with survivors on the road to healing through Christ’s love and power.”

#9. Shaunti Feldhahn’s fun, interesting, and practical 3-book series:

For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men

For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference

#10. Something to share.

Lost Cities, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Gilmore Girls, and The Music Team

Lost Cities is a fun, 2-person card game, The Chronicles of Narnia is a great read-aloud, The Gilmore Girls is a free-on-Netflix TV series, and The Music Team is the way Ryan and I serve together at church. These are just a few examples of things that Ryan and I have enjoyed together and that have – in small but sweet ways – made our marriage better.

So I encourage you to find simple things that you and your spouse enjoy doing together – a game, a book, a show, a ministry. We’ve discovered that when we are sharing something, our marriage is strong. Come to think of it, we’re over-due to have a little fun around here. I wonder what will be our next adventure? Got any good recommendations?

What’s on your Top Ten List of Marriage Resources? We’d love to know!

We Can Change Our Husbands, After all! (What Happens When a Wife Believes the Gospel)

LauraAll Posts, Marriage, Ministry7 Comments

An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.” Proverbs 12:4.

A friend asked me to tackle this question on my blog, “How can I be a “crown” to my husband?” She’s been thinking about Proverbs 12:4 and wants to figure this wife-thing out. (This is the essence of a faithful friend: even her questions spur me on to reflection, repentance, and genuine love.)

So here I sit with the hardest writing assignment of my life. Knowing my inconsistencies and selfishness, it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to be an “excellent wife”. I love Ryan with all my heart and I’ve grown to love marriage, but I do not consider myself to be a natural.

How about you? Has marriage been an easy fit or has it been more of a steep uphill climb learning experience?

Marriage has not been as natural as motherhood for me.  When Ryan and I said, “I do” 15 years ago, God had his work cut out for Him. And work He has. We are amazed by the softness, sweetness, and surety that God has created out of two selfish kids all dressed up at the altar. But, that’s a story for another time.

For now, one thing is certain: as I write this post, I’ll be listening, learning, and slowly recovering from the spiritual gut-punch.

About the crown…

This is the easy part. A king wears a crown to signify his identity as the king, right? It transforms him from a mere mortal to a reigning national figure.

No matter what the king does or where he goes, the crown remains a symbol of his royal identity.

He may behave very badly: the crown still speaks of his royalty. He may save the day: the crown glitters as consistently on that day as any day.

The crown points the king and everyone else to the truth of the king’s identity.

It points the king and everyone else to the dignity of the king’s calling.

It sets the king apart from everyone else: he is distinct, chosen.

It invites the king to greatness, symbolizing the vast potential reach of his life.

How is an excellent wife like a crown?

This is harder to answer for the lump in my throat, but according to the metaphor, an excellent wife is a consistent sign of her husband’s dignity and worth as God’s creation and God’s son.

She points her husband and everyone else to the truth of her husband’s identity.

She points her husband and everyone to the the dignity of his calling.

She sets her husband apart from everyone else: he is distinct, chosen.

She invites her husband to greatness, reminding him constantly that he has vast potential in the Kingdom of God.

An excellent wife’s thoughts, words, and actions are unswervingly grounded in the gospel, where her husband has the right to be a son of God. 

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1: 9-12

This is heavy and glorious, not to mention entirely supernatural.

I want to be a crown, but how? What does this look like for you and me, today?

Does the image of a crown on a king’s head help you to envision yourself as a faithful trustee, reminder, and evangelist of your husband’s value and calling? But like you, I want to know how to do this in real life.

Let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments?  I’ll start the ball rolling by offering 2 big ideas about what “being a crown” may look like on a day by day basis.

I’ve boiled everything down to 2 actionable steps that will shape our every-decision, every-thought, and every-word in limitless significant ways. I have a hunch that when we do these 2 things, we will be like crowns on our husband’s heads. I think God will use us to spark profound eternal change in our men.

  1. We will steady ourselves in the gospel.

    If it’s not obvious already, no wife can truly be like that crown on a king’s head. We’re simply too stuck in our own flesh to promote and honor another human to that extent. Jesus alone can give us the grace to be that loving… that generous and wise.

    So every day – morning, noon, and night – we will deliberately return to the truths that God has forgiven our sin and made us righteous through Christ. This will change everything about us, helping us to think clearly about our identity as well as our husband’s.

    This mindset will determine our words and actions, which will not only honor our husbands literally, but will also honor them by association. Our kindness, joyfulness, and peace will speak volumes about our men. People will look at God’s grace in our lives and say, “He’s with her? Wow. He must be a king.

    Can you create intentional markers in your day that cause you to turn your thoughts toward the great relief and glorious calling of the gospel?

  2. We will speak the truth in love – about our husbands and to our husbands.

    Like us, men are only human.  Like us, they carry burdens and weaknesses. When men look in the mirror, they see mere mortals who are afraid of failure and acquainted with limitation. An excellent wife reminds her husband that in Christ, he is so much more than meets the eye.

    (As I write this, I am imagining men all over the world looking in the mirror: their shoulders are slumped and their faces downcast. They are entirely average and they know it.Then, I imagine wives all over the world coming up from behind them, placing crowns upon their heads.

    The men’s eyes fix strong, they breathe in deeply and hold their shoulders back as they remember: they are entirely significant in Christ and they are called to live as courageously as kings.)

    How can you daily remind your husband of the gospel, which is God’s great love and calling for him?

To wrap things up, remember that these verses from 2 Corinthians 5 apply to our husbands as much as they apply to us:

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5: 16 – 21

A crown never stops declaring a king’s dignity and calling.

May we never stop declaring our husbands’ dignity and calling in the gospel.

May God give us the grace to live in this light.

  • What comes to your mind when you think about this verse?
  • Share this with your married friends so that the next time you get together, you can talk about what this means for everyday life. (Then be sure to share everything you learn with me!)

Make the Same Meals Every Week: 5 Surprising Benefits

LauraAll Posts, Food, Healthy Living, Motherhood8 Comments

Food used to be my biggest headache…

There was a time when I would spend several hours composing our menu each week, downloading new recipes, ripping recipes from shiny magazines, and paging through my pile of cookbooks for inspiration. My grocery list would be a mile long with new ingredients that I never bought before and may never use again. I’d spend 3 weary, bleary hours in the grocery store trying to find unfamiliar ingredients and make the best choice amongst unfamiliar brands.

Add to that the always-surprising-total at the checkout.

Then the process of cramming and piling the ingredients in the pantry, fridge, and freezer.

Then, of course, deciphering the recipe at 5 p.m. with a crying toddler clinging to my leg and three other children playing the piano at the same time.

The final straw was the unsolicited feedback at the table. An innocent “thumbs down” suddenly felt like a “$152 + 9 hours of work” weight on my shoulders.

Now, food is a source of joy and fellowship…

I made some big changes that have transformed the way I approach meal planning.

One of those Big Changes: Repeat the same meals every week.

Ever since I committed to making the same meals every week, my meal planning has been surprisingly and refreshingly better. I stick with a meal cycle for about 3 months at a time, and rework the menu from season to season.

I love it because it comes with 5 amazing benefits. If you need some stability and simplicity in the kitchen, these 5 benefits are for you.

(But first, let’s be honest about the losses: You’ll miss out on most of the tantalizing Pinterest and Food network recipes. You’ll miss out on some variety. You may feel like this plan is “less fun” and “more boring”. Maybe.)

5 benefits of making the same meals every week:

  1. You’ll know what to expect from your budget.

As you purchase the same ingredients from week to week, you’ll begin to spend the same amount of money from week to week, and month to month. This will help you to plan your budget with your eyes wide open, knowing what’s coming and not being surprised by some extravagant ingredient that snuck its way into your life via an alluring Pinterest recipe on Tuesday.

2. You’ll learn prices and identify sales.

Because your grocery list will be limited and established, you’ll become well-acquainted with the brands that you like and the price-range of each item. You’ll know when Sharp Shopper really is offering a great sale and when Weiss has the Oatmeal hiked up too high. This will help you to stock up wisely on food that you know you’ll be eating for the next three months at least.

3. You’ll naturally organize your pantry, fridge, and freezer.

Say “good bye” to that motley assortment of half-used bottles of rare oils, random jars of preservatives, and unfinished bags of freezer-burned vegetables. From now on, you’ll know your ingredients, find the perfect place for them on the shelf, and use the food in your freezer. There will be a place for everything, and everything will be in its place.

4. You’ll save time and energy at the grocery store.

As you work your way through the grocery store looking for the same items from week to week, you may shorten your shopping trip by hours. Know exactly what you’re looking for. Stop deliberating about prices and brands. Enjoy your extra 45 minutes by reading a book (or catching up at LauraBooz.com, of course).

5. You’ll become more comfortable with various cooking techniques.

Believe it or not, variety might not be the best teacher in the kitchen. Maybe, as with math facts, the best culinary teacher is repetition. For example, when my weekly menu was sporadic and ever-new, I had to reacquaint myself with every cooking technique every time I cooked. Now that I’ve been repeating the same meals for many weeks in a row, I don’t even have to pull out a recipe to make stir-fry, roast vegetables, or cook in the crockpot.

Try it!

So, what do you think?

Are you willing to give it a try for 3 months? If you make it a summer challenge, you’ll be so much stronger when life ramps up in the fall.

Before I sign off for the day, I want to make sure that you have a copy of The Reluctant Meal Planner’s Meal Plan. I wrote this for people who – like me – need some encouragement in the kitchen and want some joy in food. Enter your email address and I’ll send the 15-page printable – full of tips, tricks, and recipes – to your inbox.

Submit your name and email below to receive this gift!

 

I just read “You are Free: Be Who You Already Are” by Rebekah Lyons

LauraBooks2 Comments

It’s no small thing for a woman to put her heart and story on paper. It’s no small thing for her to trust strangers with the intimate and personal struggles. In her 2016 release, You are Free: Be Who You Already Are, Rebekah Lyons worked through a lifetime of heartache and humanity in order to share one important message with you and me: Jesus came to set us free and that changes everything.

When you read this book, you’ll journey with her through all kinds of personal stories – back in time, forward in time – from one state to another, in airplanes, kitchens, and counseling offices. All along, she returns to Scripture for her plumb-line, and to Jesus for her True North.

If you are struggling to live free in Christ – free from comparison, shame, or anxiety – this book should be at the top of your pile. Plan to pray your way through it, taking each chapter’s application questions seriously. Who knows? You are Free could be the vessel that God uses to set you free.

My favorite snippet arrived toward the end…

God offered me joy and freedom as I lived into my various roles:

As a wife, to champion and follow.

As a mother, to nurture and raise up.

As a daughter, to honor and obey.

As a friend, to listen and encourage.

As a neighbor, to welcome and nourish.

As I listened to God, my heart began a gradual shift from wanting to accomplish big things for God to wanting to simply receive small things from God.” p. 206-207

Here’s to reading books that change our lives!

 

What Should We Memorize Next? An Annual Cycle of Poems, Hymns, and Scripture.

LauraDiscipleship, English Literature, Homeschooling, Morning Time0 Comments

Our Morning Time is beautiful and dangerous…

Every day after breakfast, the children and I gather around the table for “Morning Time”. We light a candle and sing the Doxology.

Before you get any visions of sublime halos on our little homeschooling heads, let me give you a glimpse of how it really goes. This will pretty much sum it up: my son accidentally lit his hair on fire TWICE. Both times, he was leaning over his morning time binder when smoke began ascending from his head.

Although it looked like Pentacost, it didn’t smell like Pentacost.

An uproar of blowing, flapping, hooting, wailing, and laughing ensued.

Yes, we replaced the banquet candlesticks with a jar candle whose flame is less exposed. Ahem.

Also, you should know that when we sing the Doxology, all of the kids stand on their chairs with their arms upraised. I’d love to think that this is their outward display of passionate worship. It is not. They are competing to see who can be the tallest. I am forever mingling my worship of God with fear that one of them will topple over… into the candle, of course.

Nonetheless, Morning Time is a blessed time. I love the candle because it reminds us/ me of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our home. I love the Doxology because it reminds us/ me of God’s grandeur over the whole world. I even love that the children have created their own little traditions around Morning Time because it makes it something bonding, humorous-at-times, and special.

We…

  • pray together,
  • sing our hymn-of-the-month,
  • read a devotional (currently, The Jesus Storybook Bible), 
  • memorize our poem-of-the-month,
  • memorize our Scripture passage-of-the-month, and
  • play a brain-warm-up-game like Spot It or Memory.All in all, it takes about 25 minutes.

My hope is that we’ll cycle through the same series of truth, goodness, and beauty every year so that by the time our children leave our home, they have these pieces firmly established in their hearts and minds. May they become the soundtrack, the mother tongue, the fabric of our family life.

Now that it’s April, we are moving on to a new poem, hymn, and passage of Scripture. Last month, we memorized Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, sang “Holy Spirit Living Breath of God” and prayed/ read Psalm 23 and The Lord’s Prayer.  We’ll review them from time to time this year, but we’ll come back around to spend deep day-after-day time with those beauties next year, and the year after that.

“Thou, my best thought by day and by night…”

This month, we’ll be memorizing Gerard Hopkins’ “The Grandeur of God”, singing “Be Thou My Vision” and memorizing Romans 12 with its convicting and inspiring description of the Christian life.

Three free Printables for your Annual Memory Work…

Would you like to fill your soul with goodness, truth, and beauty? If you don’t know where to begin, consider coming right along on our annual path through 12 Hymns, 12 Poems, and 12 Passages of Scripture. These printables will take the guess-work out of  that looming question: “What should we memorize next?”

Enjoy this variety of pieces that build the human soul for life’s various trials and triumphs. These gems are also well-respected place in literary and/ or Church history.

All you have to do is download and print these beautiful PDF’s (designed by my friend, Ashley Munn).

Select one piece from each path.

Simply read or sing a portion or the whole of that piece every day for a month.

(Oh, and to make life even easier for you – and for “future me” – I already created direct links for each piece. Click here for that.)

Submit your name and email below and I'll send these pdf's to your inbox, pronto!

The Birthday Book: THE answer for that ever-growing stack of greeting cards

LauraAll Posts, Holidays, Motherhood

Do you have a stack of greeting cards that will sit in a precious little stack for the rest of time?

Do you wince when someone in your family spends $4.99 on a greeting card that, let’s face it, will just sit in that precious little stack for the rest of time?

Do you want to treasure your family’s sentiments and generosity, but don’t know how to make the most of that…precious little stack?

Do you see this lovely little black book?

It is the answer to all of your troubles.

Introducing “The Birthday Book“!

My birthday is next week, so I gifted myself a $13 blank book that will house my family’s loving thoughts and wishes on every birthday, Mother’s Day, and “Unofficial Words-of-Affirmation-For-Mom Day”.

Here’s the plan:

On my big day, the kids are going to decorate a page and write a message for me. They’ll use my beloved writing pens, colorful Sharpie pens, stickers, colored pencils, the whole shebang. They’ll record their best wishes, hopes, and dreams for the year to come. We’ll put the date up at the top of the page and they’ll sign their names on the bottom.

I’ll love and admire their work with plenty of ooo’s and ah’s.

Then, I’ll put the book on the shelf.

On Mother’s Day, I’ll take it back out again and place it on the countertop. They’ll scribble, write acrostic poems, jot great memories from the year, and draw colorful flowers. While they do, they’ll look back at what everyone created on my birthday. We’ll love and sigh together.

Then, I’ll put the book back on the shelf.

Over the years, I’ll take it out and put it back so many times that the binding will creak open and the pages will be full of love. We’ll have memorized each person’s messages and treasured the sentiments. We’ll watch as handwriting changes over time, look for the consistent little twirls and doodles that never go away, admire the improvement in composition, and remember the good times, the grateful times, and the blessings.

No more random pile of cards, no more accidentally-recycled masterpieces, no more forgotten loving words.

Instead, every sentiment will be treasured in one beautiful book… to be read and written and read again, over the years.

I snagged a book for my husband, too. We’ll start that on Father’s Day.

With Mother’s Day right around the bend (May 14th!), grab a book and some high quality pens for yourself or a mom you love and enjoy this simple, satisfying tradition. Would you let me know how you make it your own? I’d love to know.

[By the way, if you loved this post and are looking for practical tips to improve your daily life, you’ll love one of my most popular posts ever: Motivate Your Kids Without Bribery, Candy, or Charts. And, of course, you can always subscribe to LauraBooz.com so you don’t miss out on one single smidgeon of encouragement!]

The First 7 Years: What Really Matters in Early Childhood

LauraAll Posts, Babies, Motherhood, Preschool, Toddlers

“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” – Aristotle

Oh Aristotle, you always stop me in my tracks.  Seven years old, huh? That’s all the time I’ve got to shape my child??

The years before a child begins grade school are the most formative years of his life.

We moms know this. Of course we want to make the most of the early years, but our arms are full, our minds are distracted, and our energy is depleted.

Our culture is replete with suggestions, sign-ups, and standards for how we should raise our children and it’s hard not to feel obligated to all of the options for preschools, sports, music lessons, art lessons, play dates, and service projects… for the average two-year-old.

How many times have I been ready to sign my child up for the next wonderful thing and I suddenly wonder, “Wait… Does she really need this? Will it be good for her? Will the commitment be good for me and our family?”

How can we be sure that we are investing our time, energy, and resources in the very best way, for the very best outcome? 

Today, I’m tackling these unwieldy but important questions.

Here’s a framework on which you and I may create simple, beneficial, and meaningful years for our little ones.

5 Things That Matter in Early Childhood

First, a few words: Every child is created by God with infinite dignity and worth. He trusts you and I to nurture them. This is the good hard work we’re called to do as mothers. It might require all we’ve got to give.

Promise me you won’t feel obligated to tackle every single suggestion today. Sure, I pursue all 5 of these habits on a regular basis, but I’m usually focusing on one little piece at a time, depending on where I need to grow or what our family needs most.

Receive God’s help as you consider one step – just one – that you may take towards nurturing your child, yourself, and your home.

  1. Invest time and energy in your personal growth.

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears it down…” Proverbs 14:1

Your physical health, mental well-being, emotional stability, and depth of wisdom matter immensely to the home you are building and the child you are raising.

While your child is young, invest in your own growth as a mother. Don’t let obligations for play groups, story times, co-opts, arts and crafts, car pools, and toy organization distract or exhaust you from the important task of becoming a strong mother. The plan is that mama + baby grow up beautifully and naturally, side by side.

Suggestions for personal growth:

  • Develop your relationship with God.

Dig into Scripture whenever you can. Study it, meditate on it, memorize it, sing it, listen to it, and surround yourself with friends who love it.

Start here: I keep a small easily-held Bible on the nightstand next to the rocking chair where I nurse the baby. This encourages me to pick it up and read it several times a day. I also surround myself with friends, older women, and younger women who are devoted to God. Simply spending time with them strengthens my resolve to walk with Jesus. Finally, I listen to beautiful, encouraging music and uplifting podcasts and sermons.

“Thou, my best thought by day or by night…” – from “Be Thou My Vision”

Learn to pray alone. Learn to pray with friends.

Your life is not your own; learn what it means to walk daily with the Lord.

  • Read and study about Christian womanhood.

Start here: Learn how to be an active member of the Church. Learn how to love your husband and nurture your children. Find an older woman who can contribute wisdom and friendship. Find authors who encourage you according to Scripture: read their books, listen to their podcasts, subscribe to their blogs, and let their encouragement soak into your heart.

I need a daily dose of edification regarding my calling as a woman and a mother. Without the consistent encouragement of a community of like-minded Christian women, I think I’d give up.

  • Examine your daily rituals and look for one area in which to grow. 

Start here: Learn more about the areas of life that you’ll need to embrace as a mother.  Acquire practical skills – like gardening and budgeting – as well as relational skills like conflict-resolution, forgiveness, and faithfulness. As a young mother, I’ve had to learn a great deal about nutrition, cooking, meal planning, and finances.

Is there anything on this list that seems necessary-interesting to you? Jump in!

Finances
Time Management/ Schedule
Menu Planning
Grocery Shopping
Cooking/ Baking
Exercise
Vehicle Care
Household Maintenance
Cleaning
Organization
Holiday traditions
Decorating
Clothing Shopping
Laundry
Sewing
First Aid

Imagine if you can become strong and confident in several of these daily-life areas over the next five years. That will be worth your effort! Every ounce of skill and good habit that you establish today will smooth the road ahead. Motherhood only gets more complicated, with hungrier mouths to feed and larger clothes to wash.  You’ll be a much stronger mother for having these practical skills on hand, and you’ll be available to enjoy and counsel your growing children.

  • Ask God to heal you where you are hurting and to mature you where you are weak.

Perhaps God would bless you by addressing sin or weaknesses that would otherwise hold you back in life? Ask Him to do this. He loves you and will sanctify you through Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit counseling you day by day. God alone can perfectly equip you for the future by forgiving you, cleansing you, and leading you in righteousness.

When I became a mother, God got right to work addressing my pride, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness. It hurt at first, but once I experienced the freedom from certain weaknesses and sin, I was hooked. The sooner we can recognize and confess sin, the better!

Do any of these common struggles look familiar to you? Take it to God and to His Word…

jealousy
selfishness
pride
bitterness
refusal to forgive
unfaithfulness
insecurity
loneliness
neediness
lack of joy

  1. Build a happy home.

I asked my 11-year-old daughter, “When do you feel most loved?” Her answer didn’t surprise me. (Hint: It’s not when she has gone on a grand vacation, had a thrilling experience, or received birthday presents.) She said she feels loved when I am happy.

(This reminds me of that refrigerator magnet that says, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy!” How true.)

Our attitudes as mothers not only determine the atmosphere for our entire household but also communicate our love for our children. That’s a big responsibility.

Start here: My mom used to come into our rooms in the morning and zip open the blinds, while singing “Good morning, Merry Sunshine”. When I’d come home from school, she’d be humming along with beautiful music on the radio. These are precious memories to me because they made me feel safe and loved.

That’s why I think it’s important to greet my children lovingly in the morning. I hug them and smile at them. I tell them how happy I am to see them. I hold my baby in my arms and open the blinds. We look out at the world and talk about what a beautiful world God has made. I’ve long since learned that I don’t always feel pleasant in the morning, but I can choose to rejoice in the Lord and in the day He has made.

Throughout the day, when I notice that we’re dragging a bit, I play background music or sing. You should see the difference that comes across my children: though they were agitated and aimless, they become calm and industrious. There’s no question about it: children are at their best when they feel happy and loved.

Another way I build a happy home is by smiling. In fact, I consider my smile to be my #2 strategy in building my home, second only to prayer. I want my countenance to say Jesus gives us abundant life! Without realizing it, I often go for hours without smiling! When I finally remember to smile, I’m alarmed by how stiff and serious my face feels. I’m too often focused on seriously surviving instead of happily thriving. When I smile, I feel better about almost everything in the world. (By the way, have you ever noticed that women are most beautiful when they smile? Sign me up!)

I also look for ways we can laugh together, make memories together, and work side-by-side .

Building a happy home is a major priority in my day-to-day. It informs how and why I correct my children, how and why I encourage them. I’m constantly guiding all of us toward taking responsibility for our relationships and the atmosphere of our home.

What would increase the happiness in your home today? Jot it down.

  1. Introduce your child to God.

God has given mothers the honor of raising our children with truth, goodness and beauty, through His Word. Although we cannot force our child to embrace faith in Christ or live according to the Bible, we are their first exposure to His forgiveness, character, and Story. We are God’s missionaries, making disciples in our own homes. What a calling!

Start here: As early as possible, we can tell our children that God made them and the world. We can tell them that He never sleeps, but always protects and cares for us. We can tell them that God forgives us and will help us to obey, that God listens to our prayers, any time, any where.

Most of all, we can raise our children with Scripture all around – in songs, memory verses, and Bible reading.

When our children are 0 – 3 years old, we play a lot of Scripture-based music from Seeds Family Worship, Songs for Saplings, and Steve Green’s Hide ’em In Your Heart series.

When our children are 3 – 5 years old, we read The Jesus Storybook Bible to them. Then, we move on to The Mighty Acts of God.

Once they are in third grade, we encourage them to read from their own Bibles, to write meaningful notes in a journal, and to share what they are learning.

How would you like to introduce your children to God this week? Jot it down.

  1. Focus on building character in your child.

We want our children to have strong, godly character because it glorifies God and brings contentment and favor. A healthy dose of wisdom and carefully-trained character will set our children up for goodness regardless of their circumstances.

For example, as a homeschooling mom, I often consider the depth of character my children would need if they suddenly have to attend the local public school. What if they are behind academically? What if they are ahead? What if they are socially rejected? What if they are socially idolized? Regardless of how they fare academically or socially, I want my children to have the character that allows them to adjust to changes gracefully, to sit in their desks and work diligently, to respect their teachers, and to be kind to the other students. Their character is in the forefront of my mind as I make decisions for our homeschool experience. Worksheets, checklists, lessons, and tests take a backseat to the hearts and minds that are being developed day by day. Don’t get me wrong, worksheets and lessons are often the ground on which their character is developed, but my eye is always on the outcome of character beyond the correct answers or successful performance.

We will never regret focusing the first few years of our children’s lives teaching them to obey, tell the truth, care about other people, and take care of their belongings.

Start here: I often reference Sally and Clay Clarkson’s 24 Family Ways and Charlotte Mason’s Laying Down the Rails. Both of these resources provide ideas for building character in our children that will benefit them through life. In fact, these two books alone will keep us busy until graduation day and beyond.

  1.  Learn what children truly need and prioritize that.

After listening to seminars, learning from mentors, and reading volumes about child development, I’ve developed a personal List of 8 Things That Cause Children to Thrive. Here’s what made the cut:

  • knowledge of God through His Word
  • tangible love
  • healthy boundaries
  • gentle discipline
  • healthy sleep
  • healthy food
  • plenty of outdoor play, and
  • consistent exposure to beauty.

When I get distracted, depressed, or overwhelmed, I review this list and discover that I am inspired all over again. Whenever I need to make a decision about how we’ll spend our time, energy, and money on our child’s behalf, I weigh it against this list. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Start here: Prayerfully seek wisdom from Scripture above all.

Then, read For the Children’s Sake and The Simple Charlotte Mason to get you started. I’ve also learned from authors like Paul Tripp, Edith Schafer, Susan Schafer McCauley, and Maria Montessori.

While you’re studying, you’ll also become a student of the child God has given you. From an early age, you will notice that your child responds to certain types of instruction, correction, and engagement. Ask God to give you insight about the marvelous way He created your child, so that you can nurture him well.

Now it’s time to choose one thing…

Choose one of these things to pursue this month. You won’t be spinning your wheels, wasting your time, or adding unnecessary stress to your family. Work on establishing a strong foundation and building life-sustaining habits that are necessary for a thriving youngster, a strong momma, and a happy home.

What will you pursue this month? Share it in the comments!

(If you’re new here, we’d love for you to join this growing community at LauraBooz.com where we aim to treasure Christ, nurture children, and enjoy life. We’d love to hear from you… what are your questions? What are your insights?)

The Big Family Book Party: April 2017

LauraAll Posts, Books

We dug out the Easter baskets for April’s photo shoot. 🙂 Our whole family got together and decided to share what we have been reading this month. From the youngest to the oldest, we’ve each chosen one book that we think you – or someone you know – would love. Even Ryan gets in on the fun. (He’s a good sport.)

We hope that you enjoy our suggestions. What have you been reading lately? Let us know in the comments!

For the babies…

Usborne Trucks was our first “boy” book. It’s been well-loved all these years and our baby loves its bumpy, rubbery, shiney Touchy Feely experience… and the cute fuzzy animals that show up here and there. It’s his go-to this month.

For the sweet toddlers…

Who doesn’t love Frances? This toddler has a birthday coming up and she has been loving this book about Gloria’s birthday party. A Birthday for Frances is Russell Hoban at his best (again) with cups of jelly beans, rainbow place cards, birthday candles, and party poppers.  No matter how many times we read it aloud, we all wince when Francis is squeezing that Chompo bar…

For anyone with a heart…

A Sick Day for Amos McGee is at the top of our library stack this month. We love the way Amos’ careful friendships display the give-and-take of love. I was so thrilled when our son brought it to the read-aloud table for the third time. I said, “I love Amos McGee.” He sighed and said, “Me, too.” That’s what you want, folks. That’s what you want.

For the tween and/ or her mom…

Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy is on the A-List for so many tween girls because it is smart, realistic, suspenseful, and honest. Lia liked the believable culture and history that Hale creates. I liked that the main character is real with strengths and weaknesses.

For anyone who appreciates a satisfying ending…

Viv actually began The Mysterious Benedict Society a couple of times but wasn’t sure she could make it through. It was a bit intense for her and she felt intimidated by the imaginative powers. But, she recently braved through it and was delighted by the ending. How satisfying! Now, she’s looking forward to the second in the series.

For all of the Easter Bunnies out there…

I’ve been itching to tell you about Nancy Guthrie’s Praying through the Bible for Your Kids. It is so incredible and has been such a gift to me during these days of sparse solitary devotional time. Every day – every single day – Guthrie takes us straight to Scripture to meditate and pray for our children accordingly. These prayers are not topical and not typical, they are not watered-down or patronizing. Instead, they are based upon God’s promises through Christ and align my heart with the Word day by day. Can’t recommend it enough.

And this month Ryan recommends one his favorites, Nate Silver’s book on statistics, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t. He predicts the thinker in your life will like it.

Now, it’s your turn: This month, I recommend reading _________. Let us know in the comments! ?

When Your Child Doesn’t Love You

LauraBabies, Discipleship, Motherhood, Toddlers

Is there anything worse for a mother than to feel like her child doesn’t love her?

I think it’s one of the big silent aches of motherhood. We don’t talk about it often because it feels so personal, so humiliating.

But it’s not the end of the world. I promise.

In fact, it’s an invitation to hope, to look for redemption, to grow.

There was a time when one of our children didn’t love me.

Whenever I would tuck that little one into bed and kiss those soft baby cheeks, my child would stare at the ceiling, ignoring my affection. I’d say, “I love you, Sweetie,” and hear nothing in response.

This happened night after night.

During the day, I sensed a distance, a chill, a separation.

It hurt so deeply that I tried to ignore it for a while.

But ultimately, I had to face reality. I had to admit to myself, “Your child doesn’t love you right now.”

As I lay my head on my pillow that night, heartbroken, I asked God what I should do. He showed me that I was causing the problem.

When things began to turn around…

I had recently had a newborn baby: I was exhausted and stressed. When I’d finally get the baby to sleep, the toddler would throw a massive ear-splitting fit. In my exhaustion and stress, I’d grab that toddler by the arms and harshly whisper, “Stop it!” (That, of course, was 0% effective.) The Holy Spirit revealed to me that every time I mistreated my toddler during the day, I was driving a wedge between us.

I’m ashamed to admit that this is why my toddler didn’t love me and why my expressions of love seemed to fall on deaf ears. In a gush of tears, I repented of my sin and asked the Holy Spirit to strengthen me, soften me, and give me wisdom to win my child’s heart.

I got to work the next day by sitting face to face with my child and apologizing for my impatience and harshness. I explained why I kept losing my patience, but ultimately took responsibility for my actions. I said, “I have been wrong to treat you this way. Will you forgive me? I’m asking the Holy Spirit to help me grow in patience and gentleness. You watch and see! He’s going to help me grow.”

Miracles happen when God leads us to love…

I’ll never forget how my sweet child looked at me in the eyes, nodding with all the understanding in the world. Throughout the next days and weeks, the Holy Spirit helped me to work hard to connect with my toddler. I apologized immediately if I ever lost my temper. I intentionally reached out for my little one through the day and committed to extending tangible, vocal, and physical love regardless of my child’s response.

God impressed on my heart to never ask for a hug, to never demand an “I love you.” He led me to give, give, give. No strings attached – not even in the privacy of my own heart. That’s what the Holy Spirit was requiring of me, and enabling me to do.

I learned that when our children treat us poorly, we are invited to imitate Christ: to love without expecting anything in return. We can treasure His example for us – for us – in Scripture.

“Be ye kind, one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

Savor Reconciliation…

I’m glad to say that it wasn’t long before the chill dissipated and my bouncy loving toddler was returning kisses and hugs, making eye contact, and even initiating “I love you’s”. I’m glad to say that our love has been strong for years since and that we’ve never had a chilly season like that again.

What I learned from that experience is that as parents, it is always our privilege to love unconditionally.

As far as I can tell, children begin trying on “the prodigal son” role when they are 2 years old, easily finding reasons to reject us, to reject our love. Around that time, we too have a role to try on. When our children push back against us, our Heavenly Father invites us to emulate Him, to try on the love that He has always extended toward us: He invites us to be the prodigal’s father, ever loving, ever welcoming.

I propose that in real time – as real humans – it looks like this…

  1. Searching for our contribution to the relational rift; asking God to help us see what we can do to win our child back.
  2. Confessing our sin and asking our children to forgive us, as often as necessary.
  3. Retelling the story of God’s grace toward us – and toward them – through Jesus, our Savior.
  4. Pursuing them, spending time with them, smiling at them, laughing with them, showing them that they are a delight to our hearts and that they are safe in our home.
  5. Forgiving, forgiving, forgiving them – sometimes confronting – but always forgiving.
  6. And loving tangibly, loving verbally, loving without demands as God, through Christ, has loved us.

Ours is a call to lay down pride and put on humility, to exchange our hurt feelings for His forgiveness, to take our child’s anger to Jesus, instead of taking it to heart.

In so doing, we will be obeying our Heavenly Father, who sees our obedience as us reaching our arms back to Him in love. “I love you, Daddy.” He hears. How deeply sweet.

Then on top of that, per chance we will win the heart of our children and cry in relief that love has triumphed once again.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3: 12-17

(P.S. In this post, I’m speaking of young children here because I am not experienced with teenagers or young adults yet. However, I have a hunch that the process is similar. Moms of older children, we’d love for you to add your insight in the comments. Would you?)

As We Empty Ourselves for God, He Will Fill Us

LauraBible Study, Ministry, Motherhood

I can finally relate to a “good guy” in the Bible.

(Don’t you find that we usually end up relating to the “bad guy” . . . the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, the younger brother in the prodigal son, the self-protecting priest in the story of the Good Samaritan, and the haughty Pharisees?)

It comes as a relief to finally see myself in a person that Jesus said was doing the right thing. Surprisingly, when I put myself in her shoes, I don’t feel as awesome and righteous as I thought I might. In fact, there’s a part of me that feels humbled and sad.

First, a short story . . .

Lately, I feel like I am giving 100 percent—leaving it all on the court—just to mother my five children. Yet I miss serving the Lord outside of our home. I think it’s important to reach my arms out in kindness, for Christ’s sake as well as for my children’s sake. So I look for opportunities when I’m able.

An Opportunity to Serve

We recently had a chance to serve someone outside of our family.

Late one night, tragedy hit a dear friend of mine. I heard about it in the morning and packed the kiddos up as quickly as I could. We arrived at her apartment to sit with her. It was wonderful to be able to do that. The children were considerate and compassionate. My friend was the least-needy person on the face of the planet. I rubbed her back when she cried, we chatted, and we helped her run an errand. After noon, we headed home for the baby’s naptime.

By the time we got in the door, our strength was sapped. We were practically gasping for air.

The kids fell apart instantly. Crying, fussing, fogginess . . . we all muddled around for lunch, ate, and crashed. My highly compassionate/emotionally tuned child was so drained, he took a very uncharacteristic nap. I couldn’t get dinner on the table, and I didn’t have any emotional availability for my husband when he came home from work.

To tell you the truth, we didn’t really regain our footing for a couple of days. We gave everything we had. But it wasn’t even that much.

When We Give So Little

I felt crushed before the Lord. “Why don’t I have more strength? I want to serve You, but the simplest things wear me out! I wish I had more emotional rebound, more energy. I wish I could keep going after serving someone.”

That’s when I remembered the widow of Luke 21 or Mark 12. The one Jesus “looked up and saw” putting two small copper coins in the temple offering.

He said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:3–4).

She’s the “good guy” to whom I can relate: the poor widow who gave all she had.

I look at her and say, “Yes, I feel like her. I know I’m not nearly as generous as she, but I feel like I’m offering as much as I can. And I feel like it’s only two mites worth.”

Can you relate to her, too? Are you giving everything you’ve got and wondering why it seems so little?

Click over to TrueWoman.com for the 4 powerful lessons I learned from the Widow…

(Share this with a woman who is giving everything she’s got? She’ll be encouraged to know that she’s not the only one… and that Jesus sees her sacrifice and will fill her back up again.)