Monday, April 29, 2013

Forgiveness Without an Apology

Each day I hear myself saying, "Say you're sorry. Good. Now you say, 'I forgive you.'" Actually, I have been saying this for years. Well, the other day I heard one of my children crying and their sibling, unprovoked, saying "I'm so, so, sorry. I really didn't mean for that to happen." Well, the victim came into the room, arms crossed and still crying. Clearly, forgiveness was not happening in his heart. All the other children were outside playing which afforded me a wonderful opportunity to speak into my child's life.

I started out explaining to him how important forgiveness is... how it can affect not just the day but days to come... how unforgiveness can bring more hurt and more sadness. I shared with him the scripture from Mark 11:25. "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." And the scripture from Luke 6:35. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." After talking for about fifteen minutes, my son's arms were still crossed and I could clearly see that I was getting nowhere. Then it hit me! He thinks I don't understand injustice! He thinks I'm just quoting the Bible without any real life experience on the subject of forgiveness! I sat him down next to me on the couch, rolled up my sleeves and welcomed him into my childhood.

I reminded him that I was the youngest of seven children growing up in a not-so-great environment.  The first memory that came to me was when I was around five years old and my older sister was seven. I was laying on the floor in front of the television with my baby doll. I remember finding just the right baby blanket and wrapping her up, then finding a pillow and a blanket for myself. I remember being alone with my doll, content and watching TV. The next moment my sister sneaked in, reached out and quickly grabbed my baby doll from me. She began mocking me for having a doll and holding the doll by her hair she began flinging it over her head around and around. I was in complete horror. That doll was like a real baby person to me and seeing her abused dropped me to my knees weeping. There was nothing I could do. I couldn't touch my sister because I knew she would drop the doll and take out her anger on me. It was a tormenting moment. There was no adult that would defend me or punish her. There was no reasoning with her. I had to wait it out. I had to wait for the teasing to stop. I had to wait for her to become bored and leave.

My son was shocked to say the least. I told him that when I asked Jesus Christ into my heart to be my Lord and Savior, I believed God wanted me to forgive my sister for all the years of hurt and injustice. To forgive without ever getting an apology. I explained to him that our calling to live like Jesus is a high calling. A calling that answers, "YES" I will forgive. To live as Jesus did. To forgive others as Jesus forgave those that hurt Him. I reminded my son that when Jesus was on the cross, while nails were in His hands and feet, with a crown of thorns on His head, and a lashed back, He cried out to heaven, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Jesus, in His agony, while staring at the very ones who falsely accused him, those who hammered the nails and whipped him, cried out to God the Father to forgive them. That is our calling. To forgive as Jesus forgave without an apology.

When all the children came in I sat them down and shared with them another story from my childhood. I told them (and I know this is very strange) how when I was young I didn't own my own pair of socks. We had a 'communuity' sock pile. Yes, it was crazy especially because there were five girls of different ages sharing socks. My mother did the laundry, sent it up the stairs and the first one to the basket of clean clothes and socks got to pick out the socks for herself. I remember wearing socks too big for me, with holes in them, and all the white socks were gray in color. That was life until I got my first paycheck. Honestly, the very first thing I bought was a package of  white Bobby Socks. I remember taking them out of the plastic, putting them in my top drawer and staring at them. It was like I owned my own little treasure. No more stress, and no more fighting with my sisters over a pair of socks. I was free from that mess.

Well, the next day I came home from work, got ready for bed, went to my drawer to get a pair of socks and yes, the drawer was empty! Every pair of socks was gone! I knew just who had done it. I went to my sister and found she had the audacity to be wearing a pair. I calmly said, in a controlled angry voice, "Give me back my socks." Her response, "No. What are you going to do about it?" In my head I knew I could do nothing. I was now a teenager and was not going to wrestle her to the ground over a pair of socks. (And yes, the baby kid games were still going on). I went in my room and I cried out to God. I laid there crying not just over the socks, but for the constant abuse. Then I was reminded of something Jesus said, "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles." (Matthew. 5:39-41)  I didn't read the Bible for myself at that time, but had heard this scripture in school. It is amazing to me how scripture could bring such freedom. I got up and I was fine. The socks were just socks. I forgave her. I then went to my sister and told her she could keep the socks and with my next paycheck I would buy another package for myself. 

Forgiveness without an apology...can it be done for real? All of my life I was told that it couldn't be done. My family was and are true advocates of confrontation to the highest degree. Growing up in my home they believed in having three-hour-long talks, hashing things out - an airing of grievances if you will. What it really was, was a time of cutting the other person down and reminding them or telling them every time they ever wronged you. In most cases the talk would end with no apology, just both people being too exhausted to go on or running out of hurtful material. So, with the possibility of still not getting an apology I learned to forgive without an apology and without the long talks. It was actually easier and it worked. I could forgive them and move on without having 'justice.'

I spoke to my children about how they will never have to deal with a sibling like I had. How not one of their own siblings are as mean and cruel as my sister was. I told them forgiveness is possible with Jesus if we ask Him to help us. I reminded them that they really love each other, but we are all sinners and sadly we will never stop sinning. It's not an excuse, but a reality. We will hurt each other, others will hurt us, but if we have in our hearts and minds that forgiveness is part of our calling we won't be dragged down with unforgiveness, bitterness, or a victim spirit.  I told them that if we know deep in our hearts how much Jesus loves us and how deeply we love each other, the mean words won't hurt so deeply.  And lastly, I asked them to see how hurtful teasing is. That we should do all we can to not tease, or hurt or use our words to wound another person.

So, this article goes out to all the mommy's who are trying to teach forgiveness to their children. Remember to share your stories and your own struggles with forgiveness. They need to know we are real and we genuinely understand what they are going through. They need to know that our walk with God is real too. They need to hear how we struggled, what Scriptures set us free and how we walked out our faith. My children do not know the full extent of the things I have gone through because they are still too young, but little stories that God can use in their lives now will be shared and hopefully help them in this journey of living for Jesus.

"Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive." (Colossians 3:13)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reading 100 Books!!!

Every year for years and YEARS I have given my children a 100 book 'book worm' sheet challenge. The book worm has a long body marked with 20 segments that total up at the top to one-hundred books read. The children color in each segment as they go along and it helps them keep a record of how many books they have read. The goal has always been to read 100 books. We would read 100 books in the Fall (September through December), Winter (January through April) and then Summer (May through August). When they were younger it was easy to find one-hundred picture books that they loved and could read. As they have gotten older the challenge was been more about the number of pages. Either way they have loved the challenge and the prizes =D (My older children are now reading so much that there is no longer a need to challenge them in this manner, but I have, for the last couple of years, been a part of Book It! with Pizza Hut. This program was a perfect switch over from the book worm sheet challenge idea. Each child is required to read at least 20 minutes a day. At the end of the month they hand in their sheet and receive a free personal pizza! It starts up in November and ends in March- the children are always excited to take part in it).

The following photos are of my Joy School class. 
They all participated in my 100 book challenge and succeeded! 
With their success I just had to throw a party for them! 

As an educator and homeschooling mom I believe that to challenge children with goals and rewards has always served children well. Reading can be very difficult for some children and even overwhelming. With this little book worm sheet they can show Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa, or friends how well they have been succeeding. Even children who are unable to read get a chart. Each time they have daddy, mommy or sibling read a book to them they color in a worm segment too!

 As they get closer to one-hundred they are encouraged to get to the end. And once the goal has been accomplished you can celebrate in any number of ways. I always make cupcakes and throw a small party. One year they each received a small gift card to Toys R Us after each one-hundred books, but in August after accomplishing 300 books for the year they each received a larger gift card. They were so proud of themselves and they knew we were too. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Blessing My Thirteen Year Old

When my son's 13th birthday was on the horizon my husband and I wanted to do something very special for him. We didn't believe he was ready for the 'Imparting the Blessing" type idea, but still wanted to create a birthday that marked this milestone in his life with something that would spur him on in his faith and walk with God. We came up with a few ideas. I truly hope this will encourage you to make your child's 13th birthday extra special too.

Every Friday as a family we have a worship and prayer time together. So, the Friday before his birthday we thought we would invite a long time friend and their family over to join us. (Their boys are also my sons best friends). We decided that it would be a birthday party and prayer time all in one.

The theme of the party (I love birthday themes!) was 'Movie Night.' Over the past year, my now thirteen year old, had gotten into making movies with his siblings and friends. So what better theme than a movie night with our friends and family? Decorating the house was so much fun.

We ate dinner together and then had a worship and prayer time. As we were praying a few of us felt like the Lord wanted to encourage our son. During the prayer time I believed the Lord was saying that the children should lay hands on my son and pray. Two of the children prayed. One prayed for him and the other had a vision from God for him. The vision was seeing my son as a warrior for Jesus Christ. He saw him wearing the full armor as a knight. The Word was, "Do not be afraid. God is always with you."

 "God has called you to be a soldier and a warrior for Him. Put on the full armor of God. He has called you to lead and not follow. He says that He will lead you and you will not be alone."

It was such an encouraging time for us as his parents and for my son. Afterwards we celebrated with birthday cake and ice cream and different kinds of popcorn while watching my sons homemade movies.
It was a very special time.

Sunday we celebrated with the family. We had a wonderful party rejoicing in his birth and celebrating with cake and presents!

And for our last celebration we decided to visit my husband's brother, his wife and young daughter for a weekend and celebrate his birthday with them. We thought about the things our son enjoys and what Scriptures we wanted to pass along to him. The following is the journey we took with our son in showing him the deep love of God and encouraging him to stand for Christ.

Our first stop was a bakery. A true Italian bakery. My son loves Italian pastries and breads.  So it was our first stop.

My husband talked to him on how Jesus is the 'bread of life.' He is the only One you should 'hunger' after. He talked to him about how Jesus is the One that will fill your needs and satisfy your soul.

He also talked with him about being a man doesn't mean that we can't be "sweet." 
We are called to be kind and loving and sweet.

My son chose a loaf of Italian bread for himself and a pound of Italian cookies to share.
It was a wonderful first stop.

Our next stop was the largest drum store in PA. Our son is a drummer so what better place to go?

Here his aunt and uncle talked to him about living a life of worship to God. 
In everything we do and say should reflect a life of love for Jesus and in that way we live in worship to God.

He got to pick out a set of drum sticks for the first time! 
(All of his previous drum sticks were hand-me-downs).

Another present he received here was his first private drum lesson! 
He was very encouraged and learned A-LOT!

Use your gifts and talents to honor God!

Our last stop was a Sports shop. Our son needed a pair of sneakers so they went and picked out a pair and then sat down and talked about 'running the race for Jesus."  My husband read to him out of Hebrews, "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us ...let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith."

And of course what would a birthday be without another birthday cake!!!!

And a special cake from our one and only Aunt April...

...where he wasn't allowed to use his hands to eat it!!!

He allowed everyone to take a bite!

Lastly, I used all the pictures I used in this blog and more to create a *book for him.
 I wanted him to have something to hold on to
 and remember how very much Jesus, his family and friends love him.
A book that stored all the Scriptures and words of encouragement over him.
Something for him to help him remember this very special birthday.

*I used Shutterfly to create this book.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

13th Birthday- 13 Presents!

My niece is turning thirteen years old this month and I think it's a pretty substantial birthday. I know we celebrate the sweet sixteen, the 18th and the 21st, but becoming a teenager is pinnacle too. So, with that, I wanted to give her a gift that would not only encourage her spiritually, but also one that she would remember.
 I came up with giving her 13 presents.
Not just any 13 presents, but 13 gifts that had a spiritual lesson
 or scripture verse attached to each.
Now, to think of thirteen things!!!

I first thought of my favorite scriptures and tried to think of some gift  that would go with each Scripture. The following is the list of the thirteen items and scriptures I used for her.The gifts are more about the scripture and the lesson than it is about the actual present.
 I wrote out each scripture onto a card and attached it to the wrapped gift.
I hope you might be encouraged to do it for some young person in your life. 
The presents all wrapped up.

1) The first of the 13 gifts is a planter. I wanted to put all the gifts into a basket of some sort, but then remembered the scripture of how God is the potter and we are the clay. I thought how perfect it would be if I could find a container made of clay...I couldn't. So, I found a planter. I put all the gifts inside of it.

The Scripture I used was:  Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand."

We are clay in the hands of God. He will mold us and form us into His image, if we allow Him. The molding make take years or may be tough going if we resist. But our God is gentle and patient. His work yields beauty in us.

2) The second gift is a devotional. I thought to get her a Bible, but knew she already had one. What gift is better than a devotional when trying help a young teenager to follow after God daily?   

The Scripture I used is found in Luke 11:28  (NIV)

28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

(This devotional is from the movie, The Bible, that appeared on the History Channel). 

The following gifts are not given in any particular order. 

3) With this gift I thought about when we are loving the Lord and are filled with His joy how much we smile. I know when I see people who truly have the love of Jesus in them they are shining His love and joy where ever they go. I thought...'Smiling'--teeth--toothpaste! 

"In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16  (NIV)

4) I wanted to encourage her to stay pure and clean for God. The gift was easy- body wash. 

The scripture I used comes from Hebrews 10:22-23 (NIV) "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."

(Yes, it is to be clean and pure in our hearts, not bodybefore God, but I thought each day that she uses the body wash it could remind her to stay pure before the Lord in her heart).

5) My niece is very talented. She can sing, play the violin, sew and do endless amounts of crafts. I thought this next gift could remind her that she is a part of the body of Christ and her gifts are from God. I wanted to encourage her to use her gifts for God and the body.

"For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." (Romans 12:4-5).

6) One thing that I wanted to remind her or encourage her about is having a teachable heart. So many times, throughout my life, I was either to insecure (prideful) to listen to a word of correction. Sometimes I was too afraid of change and wouldn't allow myself to be taught. Having a teachable heart is so important. God has placed certain people in our lives that He wants to use for our good. My heart is to encourage her to be teachable all throughout her life, so, I bought her a chalk board

"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." James 1:5 (NIV)

7) This next gift I actually thought of first. An eraser. My niece has just begun her life- she is going to make mistakes. The important thing to remember is that Christ died for us and has taken our sins away-we need only confess our sin and we are forgiven. I want her to know that in Christ there are no regrets. I want her to remember to not allow her past sin to hold her back from moving forward with God. 

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9  (NIV)

8) I just had to put candy in the mix- but how to bring it together with Scripture?  I thought about being 'sweet' for Jesus, but then I was reminded of the following Scripture:

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." (Proverbs 16:24 (NIV)


Teenagers can use their words to hurt others. I want to encourage my niece to use her words to build others up. To have 'sweet' words for all. 

9)  I know when I was a teenager and first came to Christ how this Scripture touched my heart.

Luke 12:27-32 (NIV)

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 

The present is a bouquet of flowers.

I had soooo many worries as a teenagers and I believe many teens do today as well. This scripture is to remind her that she is worth more than these flowers to God. She can rest in Him and know that He will take care of her.

10)  This gift goes along with number 7- the eraser. I love how God not only takes our sin away, but that He makes us whiter than snow. He cleanses us from our sin.  I had to do something with this Scripture:

"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)

I gift was 'white out.'

11)  Now that she is 13 years old I didn't want her to forget how wonderful it is to be a child. I wanted to remind her to never grow up spiritually. To love God with innocence. To receive His love without question. To play and laugh as a child trusting in the one who made her. 

"People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Luke 18:15-16 (NIV)

I bought her bubbles. 

12)  Teenage years can be a very dark time, so could other times in our lives. I wanted her to remember that Jesus is the light of the whole world. If we keep our eyes on Him things won't look dark- for where He is there is no darkness.  I bought her a candle.

The scripture I used was:

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  (John 8:12 (NIV)

13) And my last gift was a pair of sandals that she really wanted. I tied it in with the following scripture:

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7 (NIV)

What good is it if we know all these things and have the love and joy of God in our hearts and yet don't give it away? I want to encourage her to step out in faith and share the love of Jesus with the world. Her feet are beautiful because they bring good news. 

So, my precious niece, I love you so very much and pray that you will be blessed by all your little presents and the scriptures. I want to encourage to be a woman after God's heart. To love Him more than anything in this world. To follow Him with such perseverance that the enemy can never catch up to you! 
Be blessed sweet girl. You are in our prayers as you walk out your faith. We are always here for you.
Aunt Ellie.

If you like this article, you will LOVE the article I wrote for my daughter's 13th birthday:
13 Presents-13th Birthday for My Daughter

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I'm Growing Up

If I could call my friend right now I would want to just talk and talk and talk. So many good things are happening in my life that I am spilling over with this insatiable desire to talk. But I know that no friend wants me to talk without taking a breath for hours. So, I am going through my days without saying a word to anyone for fear if I start chatting I will not stop!

For years I have cried out to God to change me, mature me, make me new, and yet I'd feel as though nothing was happening. For example, I would get so discouraged when my feelings would get hurt by a silly joke someone made at my expense. I knew in my head they were just kidding around and golly, I make jokes all the time, but there I was hurt and feeling sorry for myself. I couldn't stand it. I wanted to grow up and stop getting so hurt. I'd also get so discouraged when I'd look around and see that I really had just a few friends. I would think, "When will I be accepted?' When will I be liked? But year after year nothing changed and my feelings would get hurt. The list of offenses, hurts, and discouragement could go on.

The good news is I am finally growing up!!! I know who I am, finally, and I am really happy with me. I know that must sound so cliche, but this is huge for me. I actually have no worries about being accepted or rejected and I can even laugh at jokes!

I am finally comfortable with how God has made me. I am not bucking and trying to change the things in me that He wants there. I used to pray, "Lord, help me to fit in. Help me to be like other Christians."  It's funny now to think that, that was a prayer I prayed. God didn't and doesn't want me to be like anyone else, but how He has made me. He doesn't want me following someone else's calling, but my own. He wants me to be faithful to the calling He has for my life.  He is calling me to be different and I am finally content with that.

How did I get here? Well, I finally let go. I actually released the death grip on my idea of what my life should look like, what kind of friends I should have, what kind of church was right for me, what my house was supposed to look like, what kind of a wife, mother, and friend I was supposed to be. In other words, I gave up. I gave up the fight with God. I have been wrestling like Jacob for years and didn't even know it. I kept pleading for Him to change His mind on how He wanted me to live, but God would not be budged. I gave up my vision for my life, my own pressures, my own expectations and have for the first time in a long time able to sit quiet before God. My prayers used to be filled with alot of begging and pleading, worry and anxiety. I would cry out to God for changes that He knew were not right for me. (I'm so glad that He didn't change His mind. For all the things I thought were going to be wonderful for me, I see now were not).

Honestly, It's been exhausting. I've been trying to "live right" before God with the definition of what right living is according to Ellen and not God. I've carried a burden or a weight on my back for years on how my life is supposed to be. And I have to tell you in my 'black and white' thinking I was so sure I was right. Letting it all go was not easy.
I wrestled with God.
                              God won.
                                             I lost.
But actually I won because He won.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-31.

I really never fully understood that scripture until now. I have to first let go of my burden in order to pick up His lighter burden. The letting go and the trusting God part of that scripture hinges on our doing something. Our part? Surrender, then God can bring peace. So many times we want the peace before we surrender the burden, but it just cannot happen that way.  For peace comes with the surrender.

Now for the talking part. Through all the different things I've gone through in my life I see how much I want to teach others. I love TEACHING! Teaching school, teaching homeschool, teaching the Word of God. But now I want to share about my marriage and how we have had to press in to get through. I want to talk about parenting and homeschooling. I want to share my stories of failures and victories. I want to talk about how God is continually growing me and stretching me. I want to talk and talk and talk!

I want to talk about how much I love children and how much children need to be loved. I want to talk about how much I love the people in my life and how precious each one is to me. I want to lay my hands on each friend and pray for them and hope that God will give me a word of encouragement for their lives.  I want to share the love of Jesus with everyone I bump into. My heart is just bursting with compassion.

But for now I gladly sit at my computer busily typing up the words I want to share.

Bottom line- Surrender to God and trust Him for He is trustworthy and believe that His heart of love is overflowing for you.