Saturday, August 20, 2016

What Substitute Teaching Has Taught Me

After being a stay-at-home mom for several years, my youngest son was going to Kindergarten.  This was 4 years ago.  I began hearing about the need for substitute teachers and had some friends encouraging me to give it a try.  While it was a scary step of faith, it has brought a great reward.  Here's what I have learned...

1) I've learned to rely on God.  My initial response when told about this opportunity was "No way, it's not for me".  I'm an introvert.  I'm not a natural with kids.  I like to plan and be prepared.  Subbing was far out of my comfort zone!  I took a small step and got my toes wet by volunteering in my boys' elementary classrooms.  After becoming familiar with the routines and getting further encouragement from the teachers, I decided that I was going to jump in and pray that I could swim!  I found that as my experience grew, so did my confidence.  However, I've had to learn to be flexible and take things one moment at a time.  Each day is different.  Even now, 4 years later, I walk into new situations all the time.  But instead of getting worried or anxious, I just say "Ok God, here we go!" and trust that He will make up for my areas of weakness.  I may be going out of my comfort zone, but it's become somewhat fun and adventurous not knowing what to expect and rising to meet the challenges.

2) I've increased my capacity to love.  We live in a small town and I choose to sub only within our school district (in all grade levels).  I stay plenty busy and enjoy the relationships I form with the students over time.  I don't just see them one year like a regular teacher...I get to follow them all the way to graduation!  Of course some students are easier to love than others, but I've learned to care about them all and want them to succeed.  These are now "my kids".  I struggle with remembering all of their names, but I do try :)

3) Teaching helps to keep my mind sharp.  I was always one of the top students in school.  I prided myself on being intelligent.  However, when you don't use it, you lose it.  I get nervous that maybe I'm no longer "Smarter Than a 5th Grader".  Being in so many classrooms helps to refresh my memory and practice skills that are in danger of being lost.  (Thank God for answer keys!)  I use my "downtime" opportunities in the classroom to read, work on math on Khan Academy, or study yearbooks (see, I really do try to remember names).  While I'm thankful that I no longer have to study for tests, I do enjoy the challenge of remembering information and explaining it in age-appropriate ways.

4) I have a deepened respect for teachers.  Like most girls, I liked to play school as a child.  I would imagine standing in front of a classroom where the students were all sitting quietly in their seats waiting to learn.  Then I would grade the simple worksheets and put stickers at the top.  That's what teaching was in my mind.  But that is not the reality of the classroom!  My visions did not include controlling behavior issues, managing IEPs, preparing students for state tests, writing SLOs, and grading for hours on end.  I've been asked many times if I want to become a teacher, and the answer is definitely "NO!"  I prefer to be a support and blessing to them by being in their classrooms in their absence, and hopefully providing them with peace of mind that their students are in good hands.

As this new school year is upon us, I look forward to getting back in the classroom and seeing "my kids" again.  I know that joys and challenges await, but I'm trusting in God to equip me for the job.

** Many districts need substitute teachers, so I encourage you to check into it if you are in a position to do so!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hidden In My Heart Scripture Memory Bible

Most Christians know that it would be beneficial to memorize Scripture, but when it comes to DOING it....well, that's something else entirely.  The title of this new Bible comes from Psalm 119:11 in which David writes "I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you."  For those of us who have a desire to memorize Scripture but could use a little help and direction, this Bible may be a good resource!

So what features make this Bible unique?

1)  Within the Bible text, 100 Core Memory Verses are chosen and highlighted in a text box.  These verses are written in 3 popular translations (NLT, NIV, and KJV) so that you can choose which version to memorize.  There is also a paragraph of explanation, a prayer using that verse, a devotion that can be found at the back of the book, and a song which can be downloaded or listened to for free online.  A checklist is provided at the back of the book to keep track of your progress.

2) For those who want a challenge: There is a set of "Challenge" verses also highlighted within the text and written in the 3 translations.  There is also an index suggesting good Bible passages to memorize and stories to learn.

3) At the front and rear of the book you can find tips and suggestion for how to memorize Scripture and thematic/topical verse finders.  These include the core verses and many more.  So if I was lacking confidence and wanted to memorize some verses on this subject, I look up "confidence" and BOOM...there's 12 verses I can choose from.

So what about the songs?  This feature was the one I was most anxious to check out.  The index at the back of the book categorizes the songs by age range and musical styles.  These songs are supposed to appeal to people of all ages.  So I listened...  The verdict? Good songs....for young kids only.  I'm all for worship songs that use Scripture, but the voice used in recording these songs and the styles all point to young children.  The kids that I know (age 10 and up) would roll their eyes at this music.  I have no doubt that it would aide in memorization, but the process would not be pleasant, for them or for me.

Overall: Even if the music is not for you, the other features in this Bible make it a good resource.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Today's Moment of Truth by Lee Strobel

While we have not been the most consistent in doing family devotions, we have found one time of day that works well for our family...right after dinner while waiting for the slow eaters to finish up. (If the kids want dessert they need to pay attention!) We have used sports-focused devotionals in the past to appeal to our boys interests.  This devotional caught my eye as one we could use in the coming years when our boys may start to question the Christian faith and want to know WHY we believe what we do.  I want them to understand that our faith isn't blind and that it's okay to question and look for answers.  So, here's my take on this book...

This devotional contains 180 short readings (2 small pages each) that give a bible verse and a story/facts related to common questions that skeptics raise.  There are topics such as creation, the resurrection, the divinity of Jesus, evil and suffering, the validity of the Bible, and other religions.  Each devotion has a title that can be found in the Table of Contents that gives a clue to its topic.  However, reading are not grouped by topic and there is no topical index.  This can make it difficult to find information related to a specific question.  For someone wanting in-depth information that fully answers questions, I would recommend Lee Strobel's other books.  This one is better for discussion starters and small bits of thought-provoking material. (Perfect for short family devotions!)

The author states in the introduction that these devotions were compiled "in a way that will not only reinforce the faith of Christians, but also make the evidence for the Christian faith accessible to spiritually curious readers, including students, who are interested in better assessing the case for biblical faith."  By just taking 5 minutes per day, you can use this tool to increase your knowledge and build your faith.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

He Sees Your Sighs

It's summertime and you plan a fun day for your family.  You envision all the laughter and bonding that will take place.  You'll get some great pictures to post on Facebook and at the end of the day will be overflowing with sweet memories.  But things don't turn out the way you had planned.  Instead the day is filled with whining, arguing, and eventually yelling.  *Sigh*

Your kids are at a friends house and the house is quiet.  Your husband will be home soon, so you try to do your hair and put on something nice.  You anticipate him coming home, pulling you into an embrace, and having some time to re-connect.  But then the text comes in saying he has to work late. *Sigh*

What causes you to sigh?  What unmet longings and expectations do you have?

I've been reading this book called Hope Unfolding by Becky Thompson.  She put into words something that I've felt ever since becoming a momma that I couldn't quite put my finger on.  She writes "True loneliness doesn't only come from being by yourself.  There is another type of loneliness that comes from not being known.  A loneliness that takes place when others see you, but they don't see you."  Have you ever felt that loneliness?  You get known and appreciated for your roles and responsibilities, but does anyone ever see you?  I feel that way. *Sigh*

A few years ago, I came across this verse written by David in Psalm 38:9

All my longing - to be seen, known, desired, accepted, needed - He knows them all.  Each time I sigh because of unmet expectations, He sees that too.  I find comfort in that.

I have a love/hate relationship with technology...especially smartphones.  It's great having the world at your fingertips, but it's not so great when it gets in the way of relationships.  I remember one night last year when my insecurity was at a high and I was craving some affirmation from my husband.  I just wanted to be seen and loved.  He gets into bed...with his iPhone. (Men - do not bring your phone to bed with you...ever!)  As you can imagine, that's where his attention went.  I didn't even have the strength to ask for what I needed, so I did what any good Christian woman would do...I had a pity party for myself.  Ever been there?  I went downstairs and was whining to God about my unmet needs and his lack of attention, and then the weirdest thing happened.  I got this picture in my mind of God with an amused look on his face, almost as if he were going to start laughing at me!  It was as if He were thinking "Really?  Look who you're talking to!  If anyone understands what it's like to wait patiently and long for my loved ones to give me their undivided attention and desire - it's me!"  He understood.  He saw me.  I knew right then that I was guilty of giving my attention to many things before Him.  I also get distracted by all the world has to offer and lose sight of important relationships.  This realization allowed me to give grace to my husband and to focus my heart on the only one who can truly fulfill my needs.  

Friends, whatever you may be sighing about right now, it's not hidden from His eyes - He sees you.  Seek some time alone with Him to share your heart and rest in His arms.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Acoustic Worship for My Soul

Our church has recently started a series called Church Camp.  One of my favorite things about this series is that the worship is all acoustic...for 8 whole weeks!  My husband loves rockin' it out with a full band, but something about acoustic music touches my soul at a deeper level.  Maybe it's because it feels less like a performance and more heartfelt.  Give me some acoustic guitars, sweet vocals, and possibly a djembe (which is an African hand-drum that my husband has made sure our family knows how to spell correctly) and I'm a happy camper.

Here is a clip someone recorded.  Yes, this is taken inside on our stage.  Isn't it awesome?

There are a few songs, including the one above, that I have been listening to a lot lately from Elevation Church.  If you go to iTunes, the only option is to purchase the full band version.  However, they recorded these songs acoustically and put them on YouTube.  I will link the videos in this post so that you can enjoy them too :)  When I get discouraged, the best medicine is to put in my earbuds, turn the music up loud enough to drown out all my other thoughts, and focus on these words.

I pray these songs bless you as much as they have me.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hope Unfolding by Becky Thompson

I read a lot of books, and I must say this is one of my new favorites on motherhood.  It's not a "how-to" book that leaves you feeling like there are an endless list of things you need to work on.  Instead, it reads like a series of lengthy blog posts that in essence say "Me Too!".....You feel like a failure as a mom sometimes? Me too.  You are not alone, and there is hope.

Becky writes with an authentic voice that is easy to relate to.  She shares many stories from her own experiences and brings in some biblical insights too.   We all need to be reminded that God has a plan.  He is with us, and sees us, and loves us in our mess.  He can strengthen and help us when we allow Him to.  Besides finding encouragement for my own journey, I also kept thinking of friends who would benefit from this book.  In fact, I know exactly who will be receiving this copy in a few days :)

Chapter 6 was one of my favorites.  It focused on authenticity.  Becky writes "The messy areas of your life do not tell a story of your failures.  Those areas tell the story of your humanity, and they are a continual reminder of your need for a Savior."  As moms we tend to compare ourselves with others and we want others to see us as having everything put together.  We stress when company comes over or when our kids misbehave in public.  Why can't we just drop the act and give ourselves and other mommas some grace?  She goes on to say that "the minute we decide we're going to stop being defined by what we don't get done and instead take pride in what we ARE able to achieve, grace lets truth win and unnecessary shame gives way to hope."  Hope...that maybe we are good moms after all.

There are so many issues that we all struggle with, yet we feel alone in our struggles because we don't talk about them.  This book could start some great discussions, and would be a great gift for a mom you know who just needs to be reminded that she's doing a good job.

You can also visit the author's blog at for some encouragement today!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Confessions of a Pastor's Wife

Every now and then I have women ask me if I still blog.  It's at those moments when I wish I could say "Yep, sure do", but am left admitting that while my book reviews are still regular, my personal reflections have been few.  In fact, I just looked and it has been an entire year since my last non-book related post!  I feel like this is something God has called me to do, so why the absence?  Two reasons come to mind.  The first is one you might expect:

Yes, these boys keep me busy.  Trying to juggle sports schedules, homework, music lessons, and their social lives make my head spin.  Add to that substitute teaching during the school year and my times of peace and quiet are dwindling.  BUT I can't just use this as an excuse.  God does provide me with pockets of time that I could use to write if I chose to.

Now for the confession:  This past year as a Pastor's Wife has been a struggle.  Much of that has not been something that I felt I could or would want to put in print.  In my mind a Pastor's Wife should be positive and encouraging, and quite honestly my pessimism has been getting the better of me.  I strive to be authentic, so when I don't have something positive to say, sometimes it's best to just keep my lips (or in this case, my fingers) silent.  This past month I have again felt a stirring to write because God has been starting to reveal to me some wisdom that has been forged in the fire.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...let me first define the struggle.

When most people first start attending church, it's exciting (or at least it should be - why else would you want to return?)  There are new people to meet, ministries to explore, things to learn.  You anticipate each weekend wondering what will happen next.  Will the band play that song you love?  In what creative way will the pastor teach the lesson?  What new opportunities will there be to connect with others, to serve, or to grow spiritually?

Then you get in a little deeper.  Maybe you start to volunteer in a few ministries.  You commit your time, talent, and treasure to the cause.  At this level, you get a better understanding of how the church ministries function and learn that those leaders you put up on a pedestal are really just human, just like you.  You make the choice to "get in the game" and feel good about the role you are playing in the church body.  Sometimes you can commit too much and get burnt out, but you always have the option to step back a little if needed.

And then can come the next level of church staff.  There is no doubt that my husband has been gifted for and called to his position.  He LOVES what he does and never complains.  I, on the other hand, am taking longer to adapt.  Being a pastor is a 24-hour a day job.  It may be flexible as far as when he is physically "in the office", but with technology like computers and cell phones, he is always on call.  There is always work to be done.  So how do I protect the time we need as a family, without selfishly taking him away from his ministry?  It's a delicate balance.  I struggle with resentment towards the job, which is then followed by guilt for feeling that way.  When I hear about a new initiative at church, my first thought typically goes to how much time it's going to require of my husband....time that will be taken away from our family.  And then I think of the needs of others, and again feel selfish and guilty.   I love the people - they are like family.  I want my husband and I to be a blessing to them.  I want others to see Christ in us.  How can we ever find balance?  What do I do with all these conflicting feelings?  The church is now a workplace, and it's becoming harder for me to see beyond the programming and the tasks ahead and allow myself to just be and experience.  The struggle is real.

Now that you've seen a glimpse of this tension, let me share with you that God has been teaching me some things through this.  He's been asking me some tough questions about why I go to church. Do I go because of what I get out of it, or for what I can give?  Do I go because of a feeling that I get, or because of a commitment I've made?  Do we serve because it is convenient, or because Jesus asked us to?

I think that many times when people lose their feelings of excitement and anticipation about church, we assume the answer must be to switch churches.  Surely there is another church that will "feed" us better, or offer better programs, or contain less hypocrites, or would have more staff to share the workload.  We let our feelings dictate our decisions.  But would it really be different anywhere else in the long run?

My big revelation came when God showed me this parallel between church commitment and marriages.  When you first get married, it's new and exciting.  Then the deeper you get, your eyes are opened to new realities.  Feelings may come and go.  The problem we are seeing is that many couples are now letting their feelings determine their level of commitment instead of the other way around!  Their problems are not solved by switching spouses.  If you want the blessing of a long-lasting  marriage, feelings cannot be given the reigns.  The same is true of churches.  I believe there is a real blessing in store for those who remain a part of a church body through ups and downs - one that can only be realized after years of commitment.

I may not feel as I used to, and that's ok because feelings change.  What doesn't change is God's truth and His purpose for our lives. I may feel inadequate and unprepared for this role, but in time I believe there will be a great blessing after having stayed the course.  Even now, I feel a great connection and pride being able to say we've been at our church since opening day.  The memories we've made and the people we've met have been priceless.  I enjoy watching my husband thrive as he is doing what makes his spirit come alive.  I am thankful that he gets to bless so many people with his gifts. ( I just wish I could clone him!)  As our family struggles to find balance, I ask for your grace and prayers.  I may not be the woman overflowing with optimism, but I am willing to be real.  I know I can come to Jesus, and hopefully to you, just as I am.

Are you in a place in your marriage or your church where your feelings aren't in line with where you want them to be?  Unless there is abuse or non-biblical teaching, I encourage you to also stick it out.  Continue to love and serve right where you are, believing that God has a blessing in store for those who are faithful.