10 Tips for a Happy Toddler

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood, Preschool, Toddlers0 Comments

Hey there, Mama!

Are you wondering how to raise a happy kid?

Are looking for practical strategies to resolve conflict, build character, and create peace in your home?

Here are 10 random-but-helpful tips and tricks that make my day-to-day life with a little one happier. I use these on a regular basis because each one brings a bit more peace to my child, to me, and to our home.

Try them on for size, take what is helpful, and share with a friend!

  1. Don’t grab.

2. Blankies stay in bed.

When I was a new mom, I loved the way my daughter’s silky blankie would comfort her in bed, but I didn’t love how that blankie affected her during the day. She’d drape her blankie over their head, roll around on the ground with it, whap her little sister… Blankie seemed to lull my otherwise spunky kiddo into a slow, mushy, moody, whiner.

Also? Every evening at about 5-minutes-before-bedtime, blankie suddenly disappeared. Just when we were ready to dial down for the evening, we’d have to embark on an epic blankie hunt and find it in some obscure place like under the neighbor’s couch or in Grandmom’s cookie jar. (Not really, but close.)

That’s why 10 years ago, I made one of my most significant motherhood decisions ever: blankies stay in bed. We always know where they are (in bed!) and they don’t slow my kiddos down or cause pesky problems during the day.

3. Change your mind.

4. Don’t ask if you really don’t want to know.

When you want your child to play outside because you know it is good for your child, don’t ask, “Do you want to play outside?” Your child will say, “No”. Then you have a battle to fight. Simply say, “Let’s go outside!”

Don’t ask, “Do you want to clean up your toys?” Say, “I’ll help you clean up your toys!”

Don’t ask, “Are you ready for bed?” Say, “It’s time to say “good night!”

Don’t ask for your child’s opinion or preference if you cannot honor their answer. Of course, we should offer our children options and help them to make choices throughout the day, but we mamas need to discern the difference. Show your child that you can make wise decisions on her behalf and that you love things to go her way when possible and beneficial.

5. Give your child 2 options.

6. Make funny sounds when clipping fingernails.

Sometimes my child’s fingernails grow so quickly that I wonder if we should pursue a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.  But I just can’t bring myself to go for it, so fingernails must be clipped eventually. But it can be such a dramatic hassle, right? My sister gave me this tip: Tell your child that each fingernail is going to make a funny sound when it is clipped. Then, when you clip a nail, moo like a cow, beep like a truck, boing like a bouncy ball. Your kiddo may love it and you may get through it with less drama than ever before!

7. Ask, “Will you obey?”

My life was forever changed when I read an article by Ann Voskamp about the power of giving a child the choice to obey. Instead of demanding immediate obedience without grace, verbally offer your child the choice that he or she must make. This is how our Heavenly Father pursues us, offering us the dignity of a choice and appealing to our affection, always asking, “Will you obey?”. I have discovered that when asked in a loving way, children often – and gladly – respond, “yes, I will obey”.

8. Help your child to stop whining by asking “What’s the solution to your problem?”

9. “Yes, please or no, thank-you?”

A friend of mine was serving lunch to her kiddos, asking them if they’d like some apple slices. In one breath, she said, “Would you like apple slices, yes, please or no, thank you?” Her children politely said, “Yes, please!”

I was impressed by their manners, but I was more impressed by their mama’s wisdom in equipping them for success. She was giving them the words to say, equipping them with the correct response. This is marvelous for little children who are still learning the social norms of manners and are quite forgetful when it comes to adding “please” and “thank you”.

10. Pray Luke 2:52.

The Bible says that Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. It describes Samuel the same way (1 Samuel 2:26). I want my children to walk with God, to be like Jesus, and to love others well, so I ask God for these specific blessings often.

May each of our children grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and people. Then, they will be happy in the best sense of the word.

(BTW, I still have little ones at home and would LOVE to know your tips for a happier tot. Would you share them in the comments? Thanks!)

The Proactive Pursuit of Humility

LauraBible Study, Marriage

“…Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” Colossians 3:12

My husband thought that I was sitting down to write “the first chapter in a book about humility.”

“No way!” I said. “I’d have to be crazy to write a book about humility.”

I was joking-not-joking, because everyone knows that when you write a book about a godly virtue, God makes sure you know what you’re talking about first. He sifts and sanctifies you, wrestles and wrangles you, until your message is purified. Writing an entire book about humility is asking for trouble . . . if you know what I mean.

Even sitting down to write 1,000 words on the topic is problematic. I’m sure that while I’m writing this blog post, God will sift my pride. He’ll convict me and surprise me. I’ll wonder why I ever embarked on this project in the first place. But I must admit that I’m heartened to keep plowing ahead with this post anyway because I know that His purpose is to make me more like Jesus. Who could ask for more?

I’m hoping that as you read this, He’ll captivate, convict, and surprise you, too.

Let’s trust Him to teach us with absolute love and affection.

Longing to Be Humble

I’m not writing this post as a humility expert. I’m writing as a regular person who can be embarrassingly proud and self-focused. My interest in humility comes from poignant Scriptures like Proverbs 3:341 Peter 5:5, and James 4:6 that all say, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

I shudder to think about God Almighty opposing me, yet I must admit that my pride sets me up as God’s enemy. As the Creator and Ruler of the universe, God must resist me when I foolishly live according to my own will and worship myself.

Proverbs 16:18 warns that “pride goes before destruction.” When God resists the proud, He is saving them from danger; even His opposition is kind, alerting us of our grave sin.

I long to be included in the body of believers who are “humble,” the ones who receive unmerited grace from God—the grace that is able to help us to love Him and other people, overcome our struggles with sin, and to live for His glory. I want to be among the humble saints who bow before the Throne of Grace, hands open to God’s provision, protection, and smile.

Whenever humility is mentioned in Scripture, the Holy Spirit uses it to shake us out of our everyday selfishness and to remind us that there is a God in heaven, abounding in grace, who deserves our worship.

Be Intentional

A bird’s eye view of humility throughout Scripture reveals that we are to choose humility, put humility on like clothing, and intentionally humble ourselves. Consider this sampling of verses that command us to be humble:

  • “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
  • “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).
  • “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2 NIV).
  • “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).

Over and over again throughout Scripture, we are told to intentionally, proactively humble ourselves. Of course, we rely on God for the faith to humble ourselves, but these Scriptures seem to imply that we can take ourselves by the collar and pull ourselves to our knees or look at our prideful selves in the mirror and intentionally cover over our shameful haughtiness with humility.

continue reading at Revive Our Hearts!

The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling for You and Your Child

LauraHomeschooling, Motherhood, Preschool, Sonlight

Is homeschooling the best fit for you and your child?

Over 15 years ago, I pulled on a soft lavender sweater, spritzed perfume on my neck and headed out for a first date with a young man I had met at church. We sat across from one another at The Texas Roadhouse where the steaks are big and the tables so high that my chin barely cleared the top. We leaned forward to ask first date questions about career, education, and family. We had just covered all of the “nice to meet you” topics when I decided to share that I planned to homeschool my children some day.

He tilted his head and held his green-beaned fork in midair.

Homeschooling was clearly a new concept to the gentleman, but he nodded kindly and – good for him! – said nothing about socialization or denim jumpers.

He married me a year and half later. I homeschool our five kiddos. And he’s one happy man.

(Guess what’s at the top of my “Tips to Win a Mate on Your First Date”?)

Homeschooling is for me.

Is it for you?

When I was a kid, I begged my mother to homeschool me. But it wasn’t for her. And it wasn’t for me, as a kid. She could see that I needed certain things from traditional school. She was right.

Nonetheless, the dream grew in my heart and became my own calling: I longed to homeschool my own children. People talk about being called to be missionaries, artists, or actors. Well, I think I was called to homeschool my children. I can see now that God has provided for me every step along the way – including that supportive husband of mine.

Homeschooling is for me as a mother. And, thus far, it works well for our children, too.

I have homeschooled my children for 9 years and I truly love it. It comes with its costs, investments, and priorities. But it is quite satisfying work for me.

Although I certainly don’t believe that everyone should homeschool, I do love to encourage people who are interested in it. 

If you are considering homeschooling your child, I’d love to cheer you on and contribute my two cents to the complex decision before you.

The pros and cons for mothers are entirely different than the pros and cons for our children. You’ve gotta weigh both… because homeschooling involves the whole family.

(BTW: these pros and cons may also apply to traditional schools. All I’m saying is that they do exist in homeschooling.)

The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling for Moms

PRO: The joy of nurturing my children. 

Walking hand-in-hand with my children through worship, art, academics, leisure, character development, and relationships is a pleasure unlike anything else. When I’m mindful of it, there is nothing sweeter than providing the encouragement, direction, or cheer that each child needs to thrive.

PRO: My personal growth.

Over the years, I’ve had to mature and to sacrifice my own pursuits and pleasures in order to homeschool my children.  For example, it took several years to learn that my self-worth was not tied to a paycheck, a pat on the back, or public esteem. I still struggle with self-worth from time to time, but I appreciate that homeschooling has brought me closer to being content to follow the path that God is placing before me.

Homeschooling has taught me how to serve, laugh, play and, teach. It has forced me to stop comparing myself to others and to develop a sense of agency in the well-being of my family.

PRO: The limitless growth of my own education.

Though I have my B.S. in Biology, and my B.A. and M.A. in English Literature, I’ve gained my richest education through homeschooling my children. I am more well-read in every topic than I ever would be if I hadn’t homeschooled my children. I finally grasp the Constitution. I finally get the Periodic Table, phonics, and sentence diagramming. I’ve learned the fundamentals of sketching, pastels, and water color. I truly appreciate – and understand – Shakespeare, Dickens, and Bronte. The books I’ve read with the children have sparked my imagination, deepened my thought-life, and challenged my presuppositions.

I’ve also grown as an educator. I’ve learned about teaching children according to their learning styles. I’ve learned how to teach children to read. To write. To draw.

I’ve planned preschool story times, created kindergarten reading challenges, facilitated award-winning writing projects, and designed coursework for my children.

I’ve learned how to manage 5 children of various ages in a wholesome, productive, learning environment.

I’ve learned how to manage sleep, food, and my home.

And – of course – I’ve learned how to re-evaluate, give up, and start over when things just don’t go as planned.

CON: The limitless demands for my time and attention.

Being around 5 vivacious, chatty kiddos all day long can be exhausting for this introvert. If I’m not maintaining healthy boundaries for myself, I crash. Or scream. Or sit on the couch and stare into space.

Protecting my time to pray, exercise, read, and work on other projects takes effort while homeschooling.  I need to be vigilant about planning and protecting time each day when I can tend to myself and other work. That’s why I schedule an hour for myself each afternoon while the babies are napping and the big kids are reading.

My husband is in tune with the demands of homeschooling and does whatever he can to alleviate the demands, stress, and overstimulation. I don’t know what I’d do without his support.

CON: The limitless demands for my time and attention.

Oh wait, did I already say that?

It’s a real thing.

When you homeschool, you accept a full-time+ job. That means, you can’t necessarily do all of the ministries, projects, side jobs, or hobbies. Something’s gotta give.

Homeschooling literally demands that I be present, engaged, and compassionate most of the day… from crunching math facts to tossing the ball in the yard.

I’ve embraced this homeschooling lifestyle and I’m totally on board with the necessary sacrifices, but I still lose my focus from time to time and feel the ache of the sacrifices all over again.

So, if you’re interested in homeschooling, I suggest that you take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror and say, “No whining, Self. This is gonna be great.”

The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling for Children

PRO: The encouragement of their faith.

I love that we worship God freely in our home.

My children have time for personal devotions in the morning and that they work in the context of worshiping God. We talk about how our school work is a way to steward the gifts that God has given us.

We read Scripture together, sing hymns, and pray together several times throughout the day.

The curriculum that we use – Sonlight – thoughtfully points them back to Scripture, glorifies God in all aspects, and inspires them to live for God’s magnificent purposes.

PRO: The sweetness of family relationship.

Our children think, play, create, and work with one another all day.

They are one another’s best friends, creating countless happy memories with one another, and learning how to work through arguments. Because we’re home together all day, every day, we need to work through relational rifts; we’re consistently – constantly – working toward peace.

I love that my 12 year-old daughter can stop her work and help her 6 year-old brother sound out a word. I love that my 10 year-old daughter can cuddle her baby brother in between math and Language Arts. Then, she invests a half-hour each morning to play with her 3-year old sister, helping her dress her dollies and take them to the stuffed animal zoo.

My kids know one another’s daily ups and downs, books and music, artwork and interests.

And, I think, they have an extra-special empathy and care for one another.

PRO: The physical affection.

I hug, wrestle, tickle, squeeze, and physically connect with the kids all day long.

Our 3 year-old daughter thrives with physical affection. She likes me to cuddle her up in my arms, hold her like a baby, and tell her how special she is to me. She likes to be the bread in a “sandwich” with pillows piled high on her tummy and then – ever so carefully – squashed by yours truly, the other piece of bread. She is a happier kid when I hug, cuddle, and tickle her throughout the day.

Even our 6 year-old son needs lots of physical affection. I tussle his hair, tickle him, hug him, and wrestle him. He does flips in my arms, plays ball, and nuzzles in for a cuddle from time to time.

I’m sure to hug my 12- and 10- year old daughters throughout the day, too. I kiss them on the forehead or simply rub their back for a moment if I’m walking past their desk.

I truly believe that this physical affection grounds my kiddos, giving them a sense of peace and security.

PRO: The sleep.

Our little ones – 6 and younger – go to bed by 8 p.m.

Our older ones go to bed by 9 p.m.

They all sleep until 7:30 a.m.

’nuff said.

PRO: Focused, intentional, personal education.

Most of the time, each of our children is working precisely at the right level in every subject. Who could ask for more? I’m able to pace them for their own personal success, finding the books and learning style that suits them best. They have lots of time to pursue their own specific interests.

There is no such thing as busy work.

I sit down with each one of the children every day and we work on the subjects that need my care and attention.

However, I do need to point out that their education is also imperfect. Even though they receive a one-on-one education, they don’t get my undivided attention all day. They need to wait their turn and patiently trust me to grow with them when they need a different approach.

And because I am only 1 person and there are 5 of them, they don’t learn every subject that other school children may learn. I’m okay with these imperfections, as I believe they, too, educate children to be patient, creative, and humble.

PRO: Shared stories.

Over the years, we have read countless books together. Our imaginations, senses of humor, and relationships share characters, plots, themes, and scenery. We’ve cried, laughed, and cared about the same things over and over again.

The big kids still gather around when I read picture books to the little ones. And the little ones listen in when I read chapter books to the big kids. Right now, our 3 year old is thoroughly invested in the lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laddie, and Stella.

We have a common language, a common lore, and a common love.

PRO: The lunch table.

The funny guy at the lunch table is their very own brother. And the one throwing the food? Yep, that’s the other brother. The baby one.

We eat together, laugh together, watch YouTube clips, educational videos, and pass the ketchup.

I love that my kids sit at the same lunch table.

PRO: Character development.

Because we’re home all day, every day, I have the opportunity to address attitude problems, poor choices, and unkindness when they are teeny tiny issues. This means that when I do correct my kiddos, the corrections are (usually) not very dramatic. They’re just little adjustments here and there.

I’m so thankful that homeschooling provides this opportunity to us because I prioritize character development over academics. I’m convinced that if my children know how to work faithfully, love generously, and honor others, they’ll do well in their other pursuits. Homeschooling allows me to live out these priorities.

PRO: The low stress level.

There’s something to be said about the way homeschoolers can minimize the amount of stress on children. From schedules to social pressure, homeschoolers can help their child navigate an appropriate amount of academic and social expectations.

CON: Missing out on excellent teachers and staff.

This is a significant drawback for me. Our school district is full of caring, intelligent, gifted teachers who would bless and encourage my kiddos.

When I was in school, I loved my teachers. Each one impacted me in a unique way and added to my development. Homeschooling keeps us from that gift, and I do feel the loss of that.

To minimize the loss, we do participate in a weekly science class that is taught by a lovely world-class science teacher. Our children also take theatre, music, ballet, and Sunday School lessons from awesome teachers who inspire and love them well. I’m so thankful for each one of them.

CON: Fear of missing out.

Homeschoolers are able to do things that larger schools cannot. The other side of the coin is that larger schools can do things that homeschoolers cannot.

Our kiddos haven’t been able to enjoy as many P.E., foreign language, and technology experiences. We don’t have same extracurricular activities, field trips, pizza parties, and bus rides.

We simply miss out on some of the good stuff that happens in traditional school. Sure, we can recreate certain aspects, but other things are just larger school things. It’s okay, but it’s a loss nonetheless.

CON: The difficulty connecting with school district families.

It’s easy for homeschoolers to connect with other homeschooling families, but it’s quite difficult to connect with families who don’t homeschool. Our schedules are different and we just don’t run into each other as much as I wish we would.

We have lots of friends who don’t homeschool, I wish it’d be easier to hang out.

PRO: A love of learning.

I didn’t want to end on a “con”, so I saved this “pro” until last.

Homeschooled kids can pursue their interests without limitation.

They learn for the sake of learning.

They read for the sake of reading.

They play for the sake of playing.

They experiment, craft, converse, tinker, and problem solve because they’re interested and full of wonder.

“Truly parents are happy people – to have God’s children lent to them” – Charlotte Mason

I hope this helps you to make a great decision about your child’s education this year.

God gives each of us a unique call and asks us to nurture our children in unique ways.

Obviously, I’m one mom who loves homeschooling because it has worked very well for us despite the costs. I can’t guarantee that it will always be this way, but I do know that, for today, homeschooling is a beautiful choice for our family.

Do you know someone who would benefit from this information? Send it along today!

Preparing, Enriching, and Equipping a Middle Schooler to Thrive

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Sonlight

Worried about a bored tween? Perhaps it’s time for a new challenge!

(I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion.)

I could tell by looking at her: our 12-year old daughter was languishing.

Maybe it was the 2-week humdinger of a flu that seemed to shut her down.

Maybe it was her new braces that made smiling painful and slowed her down to sloth-like motions.

Whatever it was, I did a double-take.

She wasn’t interested in anything. She seemed discouraged. When I wrapped my arms around her, I could feel that she was tightly wound and closing in. It seemed like – in every way – she was taking up as little space as possible.

I thought of Peter Pan’s lost boys who were “fitted” to their own personal hollowed-out trees in order to enter to their underground home. “Once you fit, great care must be taken to go on fitting…” That’s all fine and good in Neverland, but the miracle of growing from childhood into adulthood includes the freedom to grow out of those little childhood trees.

A pre-teen needs a big space in which to grow…

What was happening?

On the cusp of her teenage years, she should be broadening! unfolding! developing!

Her lungs should be filling with the air of inspiration, creativity, and excitement!

Yet, it felt like my girl was shrinking, striving to squeeze inside the sapling she had known as a child.  

I prayed fervently to God and laid my concerns at His feet.

As we talked, I could see that over the past few months, He had been working in a new and suprising way: He had been opening doors and inviting her to take some giant steps forward into a new, fascinating season.

He had been beckoning her out of her childhood tree… There’s so much more, daughter! It’s time to grow!

But I had been like the sapling holding her in. Stay here where it’s safe, daughter! Let’s keep things as they’ve always been.

A pre-teen’s mother needs a big space in which to grow, too…

For 12 years, I’ve been a mother of babies – called to protect, hold, and nurture, to create a safe and loving home.

For 12 years, I’ve looked to God as my divine example of Protector and as the source of grace to nurture my babies. He has been the roof on our home, the batten to our door, and the love in our midst.

But now, He’s burst the door open for Vivienne and I need to venture out with her, to encourage her along, step by step.

Motherhood suddenly requires more from me: a bigger sense of adventure, a love for challenge, and a faith-filled following after God.

I need to do my own expanding: to open my hands in surrender, to lay a richer feast, to dream bigger dreams. This will be an adventure.

What we want for our daughter…

My husband and I agree: we’d do anything to help Vivienne to be strong, smart, and loving.

We want her to know that she is able – invited – encouraged to:

speak up,

do hard things,

and tackle big problems.

We want her to walk with Jesus, to create art and music, to read deeply, to dance, and to laugh, cry, and pray with her friends.

So, we’ve given her some well-earned privileges and responsibilities at home.

We’ve joined her in saying “yes” to an upcoming grand adventure.

We’ve even uncharacteristically changed her curriculum mid-year. Right here – in the middle of February – I’ve stacked the shelves with fresh new books.

Now that the books are on the shelves and the spines are being cracked open, I can see it so clearly: she’s ready for this!

Food for the mind and heart: she needs this nourishment.

Academically, it’s time to increase the challenge, not the stress.

Most kids shut down when they are too stressed out, but our girl was shutting down because she wasn’t being challenged enough: she needed a bigger world with bigger ideas.

Around our homeschool table, we’ve been working on our second time through Sonlight B – E, including World History, Early American History, and Modern History. We’ve all enjoyed the history and read-alouds together, enjoying the reinforcement of a 2nd time around.

Although Vivienne has continued to progress in her Language Arts, Math, and Science, we haven’t purchased another Sonlight curriculum since she was in 4th grade. Because the books are so marvelous and the discussions so rich, I was oblivious to the possibility that she could benefit from a more challenging course.

Right around the time when I could see that she needed more, Sonlight contacted me and asked if I would exchange some blogging for a new curriculum.

I jumped at the opportunity and ordered Sonlight 100 American Historywhich will complement the Early American History that I’m already teaching to the younger children.

Time for a new season…

The boxes of books arrived while I was tediously unwrapping the Christmas lights from around the porch spindles. The white twinkle lights had beautifully decorated our farmhouse since November. Now, it was early February, and they were looking stale and garish. I was past due in transitioning from one season to another.

The husky UPS guy carried both boxes up at the same time and emphatically sat them down at the bottom of the steps.

I dropped the string of lights to appreciate the poignance: I was past due in transitioning from one homeschooling season to another. It was time for a change.

There are so many benefits!

I didn’t realize that by this level in the Sonlight curriculum, the student receives a very thorough Student Guide that includes the week’s assignments as well as explanations, notes, and questions. We are both thrilled about this because Vivienne is self-motivated, likes to stay on top of her assignments, and have autonomy over her work. It’s a big help to me, too, as I homeschool our 4 other children.

As of today, we have a few weeks under our belts.

To say that Vivienne is thriving is an understatement.

This was precisely what she needed!

Just this week, she has been savoring Joy Hakim’s clever and informative The History of Us, the riveting account of the gospel in Peace Child, an exciting Physical Science curriculum that enriches her weekly science co-op, the Current Events assignments, a book about prayer that the two of us  read together on the couch in the afternoons, music, art, and public speaking…

Her days are full of beauty, truth, and goodness.

A sacrifice worth making…

In exchange for this great treasure, I agreed to write monthly posts to share with you the benefits of using Sonlight. This will be a joy because we have loved Sonlight for many years and it has shaped who we are today.

However, to be honest, this commitment will require significant energy, thought, and time.

I agreed to it – first and foremost – for our daughter’s sake. I will work my tail off to enrich and encourage her. (In fact, when she saw me working diligently at writing this post, she smiled her beautiful braces smile and said, “Thank you so much for doing this for me, Mom! It’s AMAZING!”)

My husband and I see this as a wonderful way for us to invest in our precious pre-teen.

I also agreed to it because I love you – my readers – and I know that this commitment will help me to be more intentional about sharing ideas about raising children, nurturing middle school students, and building our homes for the glory of God.

I’m so grateful that our daughter is back to her bubbly, vibrant self, while growing stronger, smarter, and more loving every day.

Here’s to a bigger world! And to the God who leads us there.


Interested in Sonlight Curriculum? Use the Code LB20280892 to receive $5 off your first order of $50 or more. Connect with Sonlight:

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Half the Distance and Twice as Far

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood

The kids and I accompanied my husband to a tech conference. We love this conference for three big reasons:

  1. Ryan connects with the people and ideas that help him to grow professionally
  2. The older kids attend classes about robotics, 3D printing, electronics, and technology.
  3. And, well, it’s at an indoor water park.

Work + fun + family = yes, please.

The awesome part…

This year, Ryan offered a session for the kids’ track. Using a slinky to demonstrate sound waves, a needle-in-a-cone to demonstrate the physical imprint of sound on a vinyl record, and a deconstructed version of “Everything is Awesome,” he explained how physical sound waves are transformed into digital bits of 1’s and 0’s.

At the end of the class, he handed out instruments and led the kids in a Stomp Jr. experience that would’ve impressed John Bonham.

He was funny and super-smart. It was a great class.

I took photos and chased our 18-month baby around the back of the room. My heart was full of pride – in the best sense of the word – to see Ryan in his element. I thought, this guy could go far.

One of the highlights of the class happened afterward when we were cleaning up the egg shakers and sandpaper blocks. A 4-year old boy settled himself in the middle of the overturned buckets and aluminum paint-trays like a real professional drummer.  He just knew what to do.  We were mesmerized. His mom said that neither she nor her husband were musical, so they certainly hadn’t given this boy his natural sense of rhythm. In fact, they had adopted him as a baby and they often wondered what awesome heritage pulsed in his blood. We watched those dowel rods whip up and down, we felt the rhythm in our chests, we watched his soft blond curls bouncing – and said, “This guy could go far.”

The week before the conference, the kids and I helped Ryan to make those instruments –  we snipped and stretched balloons over PVC pipe, sanded dowel rods, and covered wood blocks in sand paper. Before we packed everything in the cargo box, we played a trial run of the song. I like to think that I “laid down the beat” on that 5 gallon bucket. Audrey shook a plastic egg filled with rice, Malachi kept a cool rickety rhythm on the aluminum paint tray, the other kids played their parts. We agreed unanimously: Dad would rock this class. And he certainly did.

Because Ryan offered that class, our whole family was able to stay at the indoor waterpark all week long. So, we moved into our hotel suite with bathing suits, 5 gallon buckets, egg shakers, and plenty of microwave popcorn.

The difficult part…

During the daytime, Ryan attended the conference while I, um, held down the chlorinated fort. Despite the amazing opportunity to live at an indoor waterpark for a week, I actually struggled with feeling angry about the whole arrangement. After all, it’s not easy to plan meals and snacks for 5 kiddos in a hotel room.

It’s not easy to keep everything under control in a small space,

organize the clothes,

dry the bathing suits,

help with showers,

oversee 5 kiddos at an enormous waterpark,

break up arguments,

get big kids to classes,

guide little kids from snacks to happiness to meltdowns to naps and back around again.

Not to mention that I was also wrestling with my self-doubt, which is the worst kill-joy.

It’s all because we were at a tech conference full of brilliant professionals.  There’s just something about careening a baby stroller through streams of professionals that makes me doubt my current decision to stay home with my children and not pursue a career.

I wonder, What would it be like to earn a salary? How fun would it be to network? Wouldn’t I love to teach at a conference of this caliber? Am I missing my potential?

And, of course: Shouldn’t I be farther along by now?

When I applied to college, I was “Pre-Med”. A lover of the sciences, I became a Biology major and thought I’d pursue a career in medicine and become a doctor. During the summers, I had an ongoing internship at Merck, testing their newest drugs. To balance out my science courses, I took literature classes as well. I edited the school literary magazine and thought I’d pursue a career in academia and become a professor. I went to the Natatorium as often as I could, planning to join a Master’s Swim Team some day. I sang in an a cappella group and thought I’d join a community choir or audition for the local theater. I travelled to Iceland to study arctic biology and thought for sure I’d return and work on one of their lush and ancient farms.

With the sun on my face and the wind at my back, I was like that little drummer boy: I could go far.

That was ages ago, when I only had to worry about my own potential: my own hopes, dreams, education, interests, and skills.

Since then, I’ve enfolded other people into my life: a husband, 5 children, family, friends…

Every time I love and commit to another person, I have to modify my life plan and recalculate my destination.

Every day, love demands that I lay down my own dreams, skills, and interests to help with another’s.

Love requires that I take side trips away from my own plans to accompany my loved-ones, edging them closer to their own dreams.

(I’m thinking of our recent trip to Manhattan where we snapped a photo in front of The Lincoln Center waterfall just moments before our daughter auditioned for a summer intensive at the School of American Ballet. Or when I put off some computer work to set up a LEGO table for our little builder to create wonders. I’m thinking of the hours I’ve spent at the piano, accompanying our 9 year-old’s violin practice. Or the afternoons I’ve invested in reading aloud to the babies.)

Of course, I’m not the only one sacrificing my own pursuits for the sake of loving others. Every day, my husband does the same for me. My children, friends, and family do it for me.  My parents have always done it.

I bet you’ve done it, too. You’ve laid your own dream down in order to carry a dream for someone else. You’ve rearranged your goals and modified your life plan in order to help a loved-one get closer to their own.

There’s no way around it: when we love people, we simply cannot go as far as we had hoped. 

When I’m pushing that stroller full of kids, snacks, and diaper wipes through a convention center, glancing sidelong at professionals, I resign myself

Face it,” I tell myself, “You are not going to accomplish the great trek that you had mapped out. You are not going to actualize your potential. Not with all of these people to love. Not with all of these side trips. You’ll just have to be content to go half the distance.

But then again…

There I was at my husband’s Kidz Mash session and saw those children laughing and clapping in rhythm and I thought, “If I hadn’t helped him to get here – if I weren’t standing here in the back of the room with a squirmy baby and a bag of quickly-disappearing snacks – I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know about the history of recorded music, vinyl records, or digital sound. I wouldn’t know the mystery and love behind that curly-haired drummer boy. I wouldn’t see our children delight in helping their daddy. What’s more, I wouldn’t know that man up there – that one, clapping his hands and whooping the LEGO theme song – that one, whom I love.”

Marriage hasn’t limited my potential: it has doubled it. 

Ryan has always taken me twice as far as I ever would have gone on my own. In fact, the things I experience with him are literally akin to foreign countries. (I mean, the goats! The chickens! The road trips! The kefir! The scoby! The sunsets! He invites me to wonders I never would have noticed on my own.)  And, too, he has sacrificed his own dreams to make mine come true. I mean, the piano! The children! The books! The teaching! The writing!

Considering the limitless ways my husband has promoted and nurtured me over the years… he has multiplied my life many-times-over.

Motherhood hasn’t limited my potential: it has doubled it.

Though I have denied many exciting opportunities for my children’s sakes, they have enriched me in ways that I never could have imagined with interests, humor, and creativity. Because of them, I know arabesques, Seitz concertos, nerf gun wars, minor league baseball, silly jokes, Happy Salmon, avocado-skin bracelets, Marvel superheroes, The Incorrigibles, herbal remedies, and countless delightful friends.

Simply being a mother changes me profoundly: motherhood’s every lesson, insight, and growing pain makes me more into the person I want to be.

Yes, my eyes brim with tears when dreams must fade and self must sacrifice.

Yes, I struggle against self-doubt when I push that stroller through the convention center.

But the cost of loving people is both universal and incalculable… we’re all in this together. Career or not, diaper bag or computer bag, anyone who is committed to loving another person is only ever going half the distance.

None of us will reach our potential.

Let the tears fall because the truth of the matter is that when we love people, we go half the distance… but twice as far.


What if You Were the One to Forgive First?

LauraAll Posts, Bible Study, Ministry

Sometimes, the greatest thing holding people together is a common enemy.

Amongst friends, it usually works like this: someone hurts us and we gather our friends for support. What starts as love and support can quickly get overtaken by our mutual hatred for the person who hurt us.

Sharing hatred gives us a sense of power over our enemy and it makes us feel like we belong.  We justify our grudge, bolstering it with our stories of “You’ll never believe what he did this time…” We use sarcasm and criticism to keep our enemy down in the dirt.

I’m guilty of this. 

Are you?

I wish this ended in middle school, but it doesn’t. Here we are, full-grown adults, nurturing our bitterness together as we mock and scorn our mutual outsider. Of course we know better. We know what happens to spiteful people – thanks to Disney movies and The Avengers – spiteful people are shortsighted and end up destroying themselves. And yet, we keep fueling our friendships with this bond of, well, hatred.

It reminds me of the crowd that gathered around the adulterous woman in the book of John, in the Bible.  She got caught in the act, and the community leaders dragged her to the temple, to ask Jesus if they should stone her, according to the law.

There she was, exposed.

Surrounded, yet quite alone.

And there they were – that group of friends – hurt, angry together.

(Sometimes I wonder if this crowd included her crushed husband? I wonder if it included his friends and family who came to his defense? I wonder if it included her own family?)

They belonged together.

They were right and they had every right.

They wanted to kill that woman together.

And they would’ve.

But God intervened.

Early in the morning, Jesus was teaching in the temple. When the community leaders presented their case to Him, He paused and drew in the sand.

He looked at that group of angry friends and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

He didn’t say don’t.

He didn’t even say, “Love your enemies”.

So who would throw it?

Who would hurl that stone through the air and smash that woman in the head?

Who would knock her feet out from under her to make her an easy target for everyone else?

Who was the ring-leader? Who was the angriest?



Miraculously, no one did.

No one threw the first stone.

Instead, one person heard and wondered, “Who am I to accuse this woman – I – who, even as the sun rose this morning, have received mercy?” 

Instead of throwing the first stone, he was the first to walk away.

One brave, honest person – the older, most respected man, in fact – walked awaygiving courage to another man who walked away.

Then another, and another, and another person walked away. Each one who had gathered thick around hatred, followed one another toward forgiveness and mercy.

They had to receive forgiveness themselves. They had to trust Jesus with their desire for vengeance and trust Him to deal wisely with this woman. They had to trust Him to be both just and loving.

Consider the significant influence of that one person: the one who walked away first.

Could it be me?


“…when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” – John 8


“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22

Marriage: A Dose of Hope

LauraAll Posts, Marriage

Ten years ago, my husband and I shared a highly personal story with a congregation of Chinese-speaking people. It was about our marriage – how we broke it and how God repaired it miraculously, graciously.

Because there were few English-speakers in the audience, we spoke with an interpreter, volleying one sentence to her at a time.  I remember feeling surprisingly comfortable with the whole situation: all I had to do was to tell my story and someone else transformed it into a message that was clear and cohesive.  By helping us, the interpreter was saying, “I’ve got this. I’ll make sure that people understand exactly what you want to say.”

So we trusted her to communicate accurately, honestly, and effectively. (Come to think of it, we really had no choice but to share what we knew and leave the rest to her.) But I’m telling you, it alleviated so much pressure! For that reason, even though Ryan and I have shared the story of our marriage’s restoration in many different contexts, that day at The Chinese Church will always be amongst our favorites.

In fact, when it comes to fragile topics like marriage, I wish I could always speak with an interpreter. I wish I could share my story alongside someone who knew how to deliver it in just the right way, so that everyone could understand and be edified.

I used to share more openly – and more often – about how God redeemed our marriage.

But over the years, I’ve grown more reticent.

I think it’s because my love and appreciation for Ryan has grown as deep as a canyon and I worry that retelling the story will plant seeds of doubt or distrust in other people’s minds. I would utterly hate for that to happen.

Or maybe it’s because my respect for human frailty has grown as tender as spring’s first buds. I worry that retelling the story will accidentally smack of pride, overconfidence, or empty promises. I would never want that.

Or maybe, of course, it’s because my awe of God’s mighty work on our behalf has grown as vast as the clear, blue sky and I worry that retelling the story will accidentally focus on our hard work, when in fact, it was His all along. This would be the worst tragedy of all.

That’s why the story that used to feel so manageable to write and talk about, now swells grandly in my heart and I can hardly put it into words.

That God healed us from a whole mess of sins, weaknesses, and immaturities is one of the most life-changing stories I can tell, but I don’t tell it very often any more.  And yet, I can’t get away from it. All these years later, people reach out to us saying, “I heard about your story. Could it be true?? Could you help me? Could you help…us?”

We help as we are able.

It always makes me wonder, how many people out there may need a heartwarming dose of hope for their marriage?

How many people find themselves broken in two, as we did?

Who needs to hear that God cares about marriage and that His arm is not too short to save one that is tossed by the sea?

Tonight I feel burdened to share a few things that I have learned as God has rescued my own marriage. I am trusting the Holy Spirit to be my faithful interpreter, delivering this message directly to your heart in a way that you can hear it.

Above all, the story is never over.

With God, nothing is impossible and nothing is over.

Our Heavenly Father is able to restore all things – including you, your spouse, and your marriage. Never stop trusting the God who loves you, sees you, and walks with you.

We use words like “break up,” “separation,” and “divorce,” feeling their finality. But those words are no threat to the God who can make springs of water burst forth in the desert. You may not be able to imagine the type of restoration that He will create in your life, but believe me, you will look back and see it as an ocean of grace.

Ask, “What do you want me to do with my heart today, Lord?”

The circumstances of our marital crisis differ from yours, so the specific way God led us on our journey differs from how He will lead you. However, we share one important similarity: God wants to walk with us through our trials, sorrows, confusion, and doubt.

When our marriage fell apart, I wanted answers: books and advice. But instead, my counselor advised me to seek the Lord and to ask, “What do you want me to do with my heart today, Lord?”

It wasn’t easy.

Healing came slowly, gradually.

But now I see that the day-in-and-day-out of putting my hand in His was the most significant and unregrettable work I did on the road to recovery.

A man without pornography is a completely new man.

This profound truth applies to all of us, and to all of our sin.

When a man who used to give into pornography repents and walks – well,  flees – and yes, fights – alongside the Holy Spirit out of pornography, he is transformed in every way: his countenance, character, personality, everything changes. That man becomes stronger than he ever imagined, kinder, more handsome, more productive, less threatened. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”: on a man, that freedom looks like the Northern Lights, the winter’s first snow, and everything – everything – grand.

Do not lose hope that the man you love could be the man God intended him to be.

Sometimes – usually – loving a spouse through sin means supporting them while you take a direct bullet to your own heart. And they’ll do the same for you.

There is nothing like lay-your-life-down true love.

How marvelous that Christ has done this for us! How mysterious that He asks us to do the same.

Only through God’s power and wisdom may we say to the repentant spouse,  “I will walk with you through this struggle and do anything it takes to help you make godly choices.” All the while, despising the temptation that demeans and attacks us for,

“No weapon formed against us shall prosper and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.” Isaiah 54:17

The Lord uses the church community so extraordinarily, you must always, always seek its love and support.

When asked “What made the biggest difference in your marriage?” Ryan always answers, “People. Community. The Church.”

He’s right: when we weren’t attending a faithful church, we struggled profoundly. When God pulled our marriage back together, He also reunited us with the Church.

God used other Christians to surround us during our separation, to encourage, correct, and pray for us. They maintained great faith in God when we had very little. They gave us their time, homes, hearts, and wisdom.

We will always tell our children about the people who rallied around us during those dark and dangerous days. God used them to spare our family.

Ever since then, we have prioritized our local church and our relationships with Christian friends. We need the regular preaching of the Word, the grace of Communion, accountability, encouragement, fellowship, and prayer.

And so do you.

Cry out to God for a church family that you can love, that will love you in return.

(9 Marks is a helpful website that can direct you to a church that faithfully preaches the Bible.)

Well, the night has worn on and I’m out of words to write for now. I do hope that these few remarks are helpful to you in some way and that you are encouraged to trust the Lord with your heart, with your marriage.

May God bless you and keep you.

May He make His face to shine upon you and give you peace.

When I Can’t Stop. Being. Martha.

LauraAll Posts, Bible Study

Despite a week-long stomach bug, I am electrified by the seasonal jolt of tidying, purging, and systemizing. Even though I’m weak and can’t even think about food, I’ve been heaving boxes up and down from the basement, organizing closets/ drawers/ purses/ anything, and lugging the Christmas Tree out to the front porch where it will get a third life as a bird feeder. I am normally a tidy-up-er anyway, so put me in the week after Christmas, and wow: anything that was straggling, stagnating, or spiraling out of control is being pulled back into orbit.

Being in the midst of this season, I noticed that I often wake up with a mission to organize. Too often, I can’t begin my quiet time with the Lord without first washing some dishes, clearing my desk, or cleaning the sunroom. To be honest, some days I can’t really talk to God unless I’ve checked a few things off of my to-do list: there’s something about methodically bringing a little order to my universe that prepares my mind to think on Him and allows me to finally take a breath and say, “Hello…”.

I’ve never liked this about myself.

It feels like my priorities are out of whack.

I want my first thoughts to be of our dear Heavenly Father: I want my first words to be to Him. Yet, as my Bible waits on the desk and prayer waits in my heart, I clean up a pile of LEGOS.

Of course I think about Martha. (The biblical Martha who regretfully scurried about preparing dinner for Jesus while her sister Mary sat at His feet and listened to Him. Jesus said that Mary chose the better thing.)

I imagine the Lord addressing me in the same way that He addressed Martha, “Laura, Laura, you are concerned with many things. Choose the thing that won’t be taken from you, the one thing that will last forever. Come, sit here at my feet and read my Word.”

Humbly, I admit: I just can’t stop myself.

I just can’t stop being Martha.

It’s like I’m trapped by my desire to bring order to my little universe.

I feel like I have to tackle my to-do list (that will be undone by the time all 5 children have at it). I feel like I have to put my work first.

But there He sits, awaiting my attention: Jesus, true Order, the One who holds all things together.

(How could I have missed this all along?)

There He sits, loving to set thing aright, pull things together, and create peace in the midst of chaos. Jesus is passionate about order. He’s always hard at work, purging, organizing, cleaning, straightening out. Always. And when it comes to His beloved children, He just can’t stop Himself.


(Maybe that’s where I get it from?)

At the crack of dawn, He’s at it, beckoning me – and all the other Martha’s – to come into His presence so He can take a good look at us. He wants to gather us close, straighten us up, dust the worldliness from our eyes, and restore our bedraggled souls.

He wants to bring order to our universe.

So, He beckons us to sit with Him first thing in the morning.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, that bringing peace into my hazy, distracted, over-committed soul is far more important to you than organizing the toy room.

And yes, thank you for first-things-first, springing that trap.

You Really Just Had to Be There.

LauraMarriage, Motherhood

The summer after my sophomore year in college, I ate my lunch on an iceberg in Iceland.

I was studying Arctic Biology and had boarded an amphibious boat to tour the glaciers. We docked on a particularly hospitable glacier and I munched a sandwich while – hundreds of feet below us – the ancient ice melted and headed out to sea.

We sat quietly on the ice and listened to the water’s music trickling through the cracks and fissures. The sky held dense grey clouds, but the water surrounding the icebergs was a brilliant blue. I reached into my pocket for my yellow disposable Kodak camera and snapped a photograph of an iceberg that looked like the head of a dog.

Most of the students carried lightweight disposable cameras everywhere we went. After all, we were having the experience of a lifetime: we wanted to remember and to share our experiences with family and friends when we returned home.

In fact, there was only one student who didn’t have a camera and who didn’t take a single picture of her Arctic summer.

While the rest of us were leaning out of open bus windows with our cameras up to our eyes, snapping photos of Þingvellir on The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, she just let the wind whip through her hair as she looked at the landscape.

When we shoved our cameras into our backpacks and hiked to the top of a dormant volcano on the Summer Solstice, she traveled free. In colorful jackets and packs, we hiked that black ashy mountain and arrived atop a cliff, overlooking the ocean.

We snapped photos of the friendly puffin as they alighted on the cliffside. The waves hit the rocks below with relentless energy.

We posed like Vikings with our midnight snack: salty dried fish that pulled apart in strips.

We gambled too many Kodak exposures trying to catch the photo of the sun at its lowest point, clicking repeatedly until the sun had sunk as close as it could toward the horizon only to bounce in the opposite direction and journey back to the top of the sky, never to set that day.

The young woman without the camera just thought, laughed, looked, ate.

She was unusual. Strange, even? (I admit, I thought it.)

When we returned to the States and picked up our developed photos from the local camera shop, we shared our stacks of glossy pictures with friends and family, trying to communicate the significance of our experience.

I discovered that one aching sentence accompanied each of my photos.

It went something like this: “This is a geyser that was spewing steam and sulfur. You could feel the ground shake and feel the heat on your cheeks. Of course, the photo doesn’t really do it justice. You really just had to be there.”

Or like this: “This is a hot spring that we swam in. We reached down to the bottom and grabbed handfuls of the smooth mud to smear on our faces. They say it’s full of healthy minerals. That’s me, pretending I was at the spa. You really just had to be there.”

That was the refrain, over and over again: You really just had to be there. 

You had to be there.

That aching refrain came to my mind last Friday night. (Now almost 20 years since that Icelandic adventure, most of which resides more in my memory than in my dusty photo album.) It was Family Fun Night. We ate pizza and agreed to clean the dinner dishes quickly so we could all play with Josiah – our 1 year old – before he went to bed.

After the pizza pan was scrubbed and the table wiped down, we gathered in the living room and joined hands – all of us – Daddy, Mommy, all five children. We walked in a slow circle, stepping foot over foot and singing “Ring Around the Rosy”.  We were all watching Josiah and he looked up at us with pure delight. His eyes shone and his mouth was open in a wide smile. His little feet tried desperately to keep up with ours. We “all fell down”, tickling that giggling baby and propping him back on his feet.

He didn’t have to say “again, again!” because we did.

Then we played “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” starting slowly so he could have a chance. As we sped up to the frantic fury that only “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” can elicit, that baby just hunched over and gleefully patted his knees – just 8 inches off the ground – as if to say, “I’ve totally got this!”

Later in the evening, after Josiah went to bed, we popped corn on the stove, shaking it in a paper bag of sweet-and-salty caramel coating. We drank tea and played a competitive game of Splendor, but my favorite, most favorite, most favorite moment of the entire evening was the game we played right before whisking that baby up to bed.

Ryan and I knelt in the middle of the living room, facing one another. We met hand to hand and locked fingers. I felt the warmth and strength of the hands I have been holding for 16 years now. One child after another scooted under our “bridge” as we sang “London Bridges Falling Down,” capturing the thrilled child who happened to be under our arms when we sang “my fair lady!”

(Oh, this is so special – one of my dearest childhood memories is of my own mother and father holding hands as we kids danced underneath their “London Bridge” in the living room of my childhood home. There’s no photograph of that moment, it’s just a memory, and one of deep contentment.)

As I knelt there, holding my husband’s hands, singing a ridiculous song as our 5 rambunctious children squealed with delight and scurried around in circles, I thought, This is the most romantic thing.

This holding hands.

This playing together.

This being here as a family.

The children’s faces were beaming, my husband looked so young, and my heart was so full of love that I thought I should grab my camera.

I have to capture this moment! It’s so beautiful. 

But then I thought upon the countless moments that are too dear for photographs: prayers offered, babies born, summer air savored, laughter shared, songs sung.

I thought about the moment right before we grab our cameras: you know, that moment that catches our attention in the first place, that single, holy moment that causes us to think, “I want to capture this, treasure this, remember this forever.”

As it turns out, most of my photographs are moments that are similar to that golden moment, but are not that moment.

I’m learning that when a moment catches my attention, I must settle in and look through my own eyes instead of bouncing up to grab a view finder.

I’m learning to let that moment sink down into the horizon of my soul.

To burry itself in a heart of worship.

To go down deep within me, a seed of wisdom.

So that beloved night, as the moon shone high in the heavens, I decided to stay on my knees.  My fingers were laced within my husband’s. Our arms were reaching over our children, every so often capturing one or another, and hugging them with all our might.

I really just had to be there.

Getting Your Hands on the Good Life: with Instructions for a Hilarious Party Game and the Most Important Daily Discipline of Your Life.

LauraDiscipleship, Marriage, Ministry, Motherhood

Have you ever played the Cooking Mitt Game at a party? The gist is that each person takes a turn unwrapping a gift that is hidden under layers and layers of wrapping paper. To make things interesting, when it is your turn, you don cooking mitts.

Each contestant clumsily gropes at the wrapping paper through the thick mitts – sometimes illegally using teeth – just to get one layer closer to the hidden treasure.

The simple task of opening a present is transformed into an epic adventure. You need grit and determination just to get a good handle on that wrapping paper, let alone give it a rip. Every time I play it, I get quite hilarious. My adrenaline gets pumping and I jump up and down like a little girl until I take my turn to thump around the box with my big, padded hands.

Lately, I feel like I always have cooking mitts on my hands.

Every day feels like a clumsy struggle: as if the good life is hidden in an overly-wrapped box and I’m trying to unwrap it, but can’t begin to get a good grasp on it.

(It should go without saying that when it comes to real life, figurative cooking mitts are not nearly as invigorating as the padded ones in the party game. Instead of feeling exuberant, I feel cloudy and distracted.)

I want to live a meaningful life for Christ, but I feel hampered by my sin. I embrace the day, but quickly feel encumbered by cultural demands, interrupted sleep, laziness, selfishness, the tyranny of the urgent, the daily grind, and an uncertainty about what I really should do with my time, energy, and gifts.

I find that all of this thumping around is a waste of time. We are only given one life. God doesn’t want us to clumsily grope through to the end.

How can we know that we are stewarding our lives well before the Lord?

How can we feel satisfied that we are obeying and honoring God from day to day?

Recently, I felt so disheartened by the distractions that blurred my life. I cried out to God for help, “Please help me out of this blundering! Must I wear these cooking mitts??”

That’s when I read “Tyranny of the Urgent,” in which Charles E. Hummel writes, “Not hard work, but doubt and misgiving produce anxiety as we review a month or a year and become oppressed by the pile of unfinished tasks. We sense uneasily our failure to do what was really important. The winds of other people’s demands, and our own inner compulsions, have driven us onto a reef of frustration.

Hummel wonders how Jesus made the astonishing claim, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17: 4).

“We wonder how Jesus could have talked about a completed work. His three-year ministry seemed all too short.” Hummel writes that Jesus’ “life showed a wonderful balance, a sense of timing.”

Nothing inhibited Jesus from doing the things that mattered in light of eternity.

Nothing distracted Him. He didn’t clumsily bounce around from idea to idea, He wasn’t pushed-and-pulled from one urgent need to another, and He wasn’t laden-down by sin.

How did Jesus live free of the encumbrances that I know all-too-well?

The answer is found in Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Hummel writes, “Jesus had no divinely drawn blueprint or schedule; he discerned the Father’s will day by day in a life of prayer. Because of this he was able to resist the urgent demands of others and do what was really important for his mission.”

These insights to Jesus’ focused and obedient life give me hope that I, too, may daily seek God’s guidance and empowerment to do (only) the work that God wants me to do.

When it comes to pursuing the Kingdom of God, cooking mitts are optional. In fact, they are highly discouraged. In Hebrews 12, we are compelled to,

“…throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

One thing is certain: Jesus did not wear cooking mitts.

So, off with the cooking mitts, my friend!

Life is not a blundering, silly game. We don’t have to grope around for the hidden meaning in each day.

Life is an intentional walk with the God of the universe; with the One who orchestrates all things, who doesn’t do a single, clumsy, misguided thing, the One who wants us to live with precision, focus, and intentionality.

That’s why we imitate Jesus, completely depending upon God.

We pray every day, asking our Heavenly Father to guide us through our day.

We ask Him for power to be and do the things He wants for us.

In the asking, we are putting ourselves in a posture of faith. God graciously grants our request.

When I begin my day by seeking God’s guidance and power, I can look back over the day and see that God did, indeed, guide me. He orchestrated work for me to do. He provided opportunities for me to obey Him, glorify Him, and love Him.

My life is freely His own.

This is just what I’ve always wanted: in my open hands is the gift of a God-guided life – one day at a time.