He Nurtures, We Nurture

Nurture:

1: to educate, to further the development of: foster

2: to supply with nourishment: food

3: the sum of environmental factors influencing behavior and expressed traits

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This year I was excited to find an heirloom seed catalogue, next to the junk magazines in the grocery store check out. I snapped it up, ordered a bunch of cool seeds and seeded them according to the farmer’s almanac (nerd alert). They sprouted up and reached for the sun. All of them! We watched and watered them, my daughter excitedly asking “when can we eat them!?”

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But this spring was slow and cold. When I felt the spindly things couldn’t wait one more day, I planted them outside. It was a warm-ISH afternoon, but the rest of the week was 45-55 and rainy. No good… I knew they were doomed. Aside from two hardy peas, every. single. plant. died. Two days and poof, all that work, withered, wasted. So much for my nurturing skills. Hopefully I fare better with kids. ;)

We nurture lots of things, from relationships to ambition, creativity, skills, careers, plants and children, but first God nurtures us. Weeks after my entire garden died, I bought some plants to drown my sorrows and start fresh. As I transplanted them I broke up the roots a bit, before placing each into it’s new home in the ground. Isn’t nurturing sometimes that way? A little discomfort to encourage growth, and maybe bring you to your knees, but bring you closer to Jesus. A little stretching, a little manure when we need it… and we are better for it. God knows best, the master gardener himself! Growing ALL THINGS exactly as He wills since, well, the beginning of time.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind.”

Job 12:7-10

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Are we nurturing our relationship with Him? Digging in those roots and soaking up the Living Water? Too often we forget to open our Bibles when we feel stunted, stuck or withered. To nurture: to educate, further the development of, foster. To nourish, supply with food (Food for our souls.) The sum of environmental factors influencing behavior and expressed traits. Surrounding ourselves with an environment rich with the Word: on the radio, in devotions, podcasts, in worship, in Christian friends, on a post-it in your bathroom, on an HHH coffee cup :) can change my stubborn heart and actions. I have Ephesians 4:2 framed in my kitchen for a reason! This mama (this wife) can never have too many environmental reminders for patience and humility. He nurtures, we nurture.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

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Think of the things we nurture— careers, children, friendships — doesn’t nurturing seems like a long term thing? Not a quick task: “Nurture kids, check. Nurture marriage, check check.” If you’re nurturing something, it’s probably important. Something you really care about, you commit to. You’re in it for the long haul. Let’s give our work in progress nurturing to God, and let His word be the first place we come for encouragement, sustenance, and growth. How can we ‘be Christ’ to the people in our lives if we haven’t filled up our own cup with Jesus? God has invested His own Son in us, He promises to nurture us for the long haul. For eternity. What a harvest that will be!

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. John 15:16

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Lessons in Kindness from Kids

“Use kind words, gentle hands and find someone who needs a friend today,” I said to my son as I dropped him off at the gym daycare.

“I will mommy, I will be kind today. I will share.” He replied as he bounced away gleefully.

It is so important to me that my kids are kind; in fact, sometimes I think I place a little too much emphasis on it. In a world that so desperately needs more kindness, I want to make sure I’m raising boys who love God and love others unconditionally.

For as much as I give verbal reminders, true kindness is shown by modeling the behavior; seeing kindness in action. So when my son reminded ME that I should be choosing kinder words when I was asking him to do something (“You need to be kind, mommy!”), it made me stop in my tracks.

How often am I *really* modeling kindness for my sons?

“Don’t do that.”

“Hurry up!”

“Get your shoes on, NOW!”

Phrases that are often heard throughout our day blare like sirens in my brain when I lay down at night and wonder if my boys’ hearts are filled as they fall asleep. I mean, don’t get me wrong, kids are resilient, they know unconditional love like adults can only dream up, so I know they feel loved and safe, but are their hearts filled? Am I nurturing them and showing them kindness?

Recently my husband and I went out on our first date (just the two of us) in over 8 months. Ironically, we have an 8 month old baby at home so I’ll let you do the math (sigh) and, to be honest, it felt like a chore to get that date planned. It seems the longer you don’t give a relationship proper nurturing, the harder it is to get back to that baseline foundation. Once we were out we had a blast, but it’s the getting out that is hard right now.

At one point during our date I found myself apologizing to my husband for not expressing gratitude enough. The truth is he works really, really hard so that I can stay home with our boys. We both work hard to make our home what it is, but stress can take it’s toll on each of us.

Matthew 19:5 says, “a man will leave his father and mother and be untied to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

When is the last time we felt we were a united front or on the same exact page? When is the last time we were truly “one”?, I wondered.

Like most couples with young kids, we are sleep deprived and over-scheduled. Many evenings and weekends are jam packed with obligations, home-improvement projects and then the usual errands of grocery shopping, cleaning, bathing our children and keeping them alive. I admitted honestly to him, “you know, I wonder what our marriage would be like if I spent as much time working on being a better wife as I do trying to be a better parent.”

Just like my kids feel they can be sassy and defiant to me, I often feel I can be sarcastic and harsh with my husband. That’s never easy to admit, but the more and more I think about the example I want to set for my children, I recognize that I need to start with me.

This admission may seem like I’m airing out a vulnerable weakness, and if that’s how you see it, you’d be correct. The truth is there are many days I wonder if God picked the right woman for the job: this raising kids in a sinful world is no joke!

In her book, You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons says this “God demonstrates his power through our frailty. In fact, this is the only thing we can boast in: His power is made perfect and on full display in our never-enough-ness. When we are weak, we are actually made strong in Christ Jesus.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

God nurtures us in the most perfect way, HE sets the example of kindness and love and when I’m falling short, full admission of my weakness and asking for forgiveness (from God, my husband, my kids or anyone else I’ve wronged) sets me back on the path He created for me.

Lyons also writes, “God delights in us. He doesn’t want us to live in bondage. When we invite him into our places of weakness, he comes and says, “Let’s nail this thing. Let’s not dance around it, perform around it, or seek validation to make it feel better. Let’s just go after it.”

So, while modeling kind words, gentleness and love is extremely important in raising empathetic and God-fearing boys, so is admission of sin and forgiveness. Recognizing that I’m not a perfect wife and mother doesn’t make me want to give up it, but rather helps me recognize that I need God more than ever and makes me want to try better next time.

She goes on to write, “This is why it is critical to keep declaring the truth: God has promised that when we are dependent on him, he walks with us. Then we can ask whatever we will, and he will lavish us with his power, his goodness, his grace, his kindness, and his mercy. He doesn’t want to keep us where we are. When we are brave enough to ask him to meet us in our weakness, he comes.”

It’s not always easy to admit weakness (sometimes the list feels so long that I don’t know where to even begin) but I’ve regularly been asking God to show me areas of my life that I need to work on; areas that could use a little nurturing. My son pointing out that I wasn’t using kind words could have made me angry, but it didn’t. I believe God was using that sweet boy to kindly point out that mommy needs to remember that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6:45).

So now, instead of just repeating my mantra when I drop my son off to play with other children, we speak it every morning, together, as a reminder for us both: “Today we will try our hardest to use kind words, gentle hands and to be a good friend. With God’s help we can do it!”

God’s calling to nurture and love my husband and these boys doesn’t mean that every day will be easy, but he has fully equipped me with Christ’s example and His promise that we are in this together.

Endless Summer is Ours Now

Recently we had a good laugh over the posting of a song called “Maycember.” In the video, parents sing and demonstrate how May is indeed as busy and frazzling a month as December. The craziness is caused by the cramming of everything in before the end of the customary school year. If you are a parent, you know the feeling very well.

Now it’s June. The beginning of summer has arrived and with it, the realization of hopes harbored for months by children all over the world.

Do you remember the feeling?

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Thoughts of Summer

The thought of summer jars the remnants of the kid in me, too, because I still relish that exquisite anticipation!

Freedom. Fun. Fireflies. Swimming. Picnics. And, oh, the possibilities…

Endless summer. We long for it. We long to be restored by the warmth and serendipity of the sun, the lazy days, the forgetting of responsibilities.

Nothing compares with the child-like anticipation. The excitement is exhilarating. The little girl in me wants to twirl and dance in expectation.

Ironically, connecting the youthful eagerness becomes easier as my life gets longer, because the actual time for endless joys is getting closer.

My hope comes from a place deep within. Schooled by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit has replaced my hard heart of rebellion with the heart of a redeemed lamb who trusts the Good News of salvation. That is what happens when we come to faith.

Thoughts of Life

What enthralls my mind and heart is the fact that all who believe in Jesus are already partaking of this promise of summer-like living now.

In THIS life.

In John 5:24 Jesus says, “Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”

It does not say “will” have. This is not a future state. This is NOW.

Psalm 23 relates the “now-ness” of this startling fact. Here we have a personal reminder of the benefits of faith right now.

The LORD is my shepherd.

I lack nothing.

He causes me to lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside quiet waters.

He restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

(Emphasis mine) Psalm 23:1-3 EHV

If these reassurances of Jesus are true, then why does it often appear life is a lot more like “Maycember” than carefree summer?

Does the chaos we experience reflect being in God’s will or our own?

Is it possible we lack something because of our own doing?

God’s Thought for His Children

This psalm reminds every believer that in God’s economy he wants us to follow His lead. Life in him is more about “being” in His presence than “doing” for him. It speaks of letting go and letting God. It assures God’s children of a current freedom, of the refreshment of soul Jesus provides, and of the benefits of water and food He provides in Word and sacraments.

Those who embrace this mercy are receiving the kingdom of God as a little child, fully living in the light of the Son, and flawlessly trusting in God’s provision. Their lovely secret is this: focused on Christ, this joy fills them with hope, a sure foundation in this world, and the promise fulfilled of a glorious forever in heaven.

In this life, because of sin, chaos continues during certain seasons - child-rearing being one of them. However, life becomes so much easier and joyful as we proclaim and strive to live this truth:

Jesus is MY Shepherd. I lack nothing.

Until we fully arrive in the Savior’s presence, life may seem to be like “Maycember” most of the time. Truly, it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s respite to be found in reading the Word, praying the scriptures, and eagerly awaiting God’s answers of rest and renewal to all who follow Him.

In the words of an old commercial for the breakfast cereal LIFE, “Try it. You’ll like it.”

Happy summer to all our readers!

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Underneath It All

The last few weeks have felt like a blur. Every morning getting the kids ready and each night getting dinner on the table, cleaning the dishes (and the floor because my daughter is at that adorable age where she has discovered how hilarious it is to feed the dog), and then finally getting kids to bed has felt so taxing. Oh, did I mention that we are currently remodeling the kitchen and thus without a real kitchen right now? Anyone who has ever lived through the chaos of a large renovation knows the struggle. There are dishes in the bedroom, the fridge is in the dining room, the dishwasher somehow took up temporary residence in the hallway by the back door and our table even made its way into the living room for a few days. The entire house has been turned upside down. And before any of that happened, just talking through the logistics took time.

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We had to figure out which plates, utensils and appliances to pack away and which to keep out, find a way to cook without an oven or stove (thank you, Instant Pot, you truly work wonders), and in general, just figure out how to live life with two young children in the interim. It was overwhelming to say the least. But then the kids and I came home after the big day ... demo day. The room, void of cabinets, organizers, the pantry and even the drywall, suddenly didn’t look so complicated. I was struck by how simple and frankly, underwhelming the frame of our 1950s ranch really was. For all of the big changes that are to come for our kitchen with a new layout, cabinets, countertops and flooring, the structure of our new kitchen will rely on simple wood beams held together by screws and nails. As it turns out, that fresh, modern kitchen that I’ve been pining after for years isn’t really going to be all that glamorous underneath it all. Strange as it may seem, our renovation got me thinking about the time Jesus spent on earth. During his ministry, I imagine that many people didn’t understand the following that Jesus had. Jesus, the son of a carpenter, came from humble origins. He and his disciples were by no means wealthy. In fact, they traveled with next to nothing.

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20

On the surface, definitely not anything glamorous. Perhaps, they thought that Jesus was working his way toward power and glory. But many of Jesus’ own disciples were disappointed to learn that Jesus would not establish himself as the earthly king of his people. Again, people probably wondered why anyone would choose to be his disciple. Let’s face it, the people of Jesus’ day weren’t really that different from us. They would have been happy to follow Jesus if he could help them now, solve their problems now. But Jesus never planned on giving us a quick fix for the here and now.

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Eternal life in heaven is the greatest gift that we’ll never truly comprehend. As wonderful a gift as it is, it isn’t tangible. The things that we chase after in this life like money, social status, beauty, they seem just within reach. They could be now! They could solve all of our problems! If only we work a little harder, devote more of our time. But building the framework for this world alone will only leave our lives in shambles. Sure we might be able to build an bright, shiny facade, but what’s underneath it all?

I can imagine how utterly disappointed we would have been if on demo day we found a frame that was falling apart, structurally unsound and completely unworkable. As underwhelming and unimpressive as those 1950s wood beams appear, they’re solid. We’ll be able to build a new kitchen knowing that underneath those rich espresso cabinets, there’s something of substance holding still holding our house together! Jesus could have come to this earth in all of his power and glory, striking fear into the hearts of those who would follow him, but he didn’t. Our salvation is built on the solid wood beams of the cross that our Savior suffered and died on. Can you imagine the strength it took for Jesus to set aside his godly power to be mocked and tortured by the very people he came to save? It’s incomprehensible, but he did it for us. And even though we get distracted trying to obtain the right finishings that we think our lives need, the framework has already been laid for eternity.

I can tell you that throughout the renovation process, our son has had mixed feelings about the whole idea of getting a new kitchen. At four years old, he is very resistant to the idea of change. But as my husband explains each step, I can see his resistance soften and his curiosity grow. The more he learns about all of the work that goes into building the new kitchen, the more excited he becomes about the end result. As much as we tried to talk up the new kitchen that he didn’t want, it took ripping it all down and starting from scratch to get him to open up to the idea of change for the better.

So we know that Jesus already paid the price for our salvation, why remodel our lives? It can be easy to become complacent in our faith. You’re okay as long as you go to church every Sunday... well maybe just when you don’t have other things going on. I’ve fallen into that rut myself. When we find ourselves in a spiritual lull, it’s time to go back to the framework. Back before Jesus ascended into heaven, back before he revealed himself to his disciples in all his glory after rising from the grave ... back to the cross. Back to those solid wood beams. Is the life you’re living a reflection of the gratitude and awe you felt on Good Friday? I know your life is busy with work or school or kids or aging parents that need your care ... it gets so busy! But what’s underneath it all? Easter is over, but Jesus’ victory over death is something we can celebrate every single day. Every day, as busy or mundane is it may be, is still a day that we’re living as sanctified children of God.

One day (hopefully soon), the kitchen remodel will be complete. I’ll be able to make my family’s dinners on an actual stove, my nights won’t be spent doing dishes in my bathroom, I won’t bang my elbow on the fridge as I try to squeeze through the hallway. And eventually my appreciation for that brand new, beautiful kitchen will fade. When that happens, I want to be able to look back, back to this time now and feel gratitude all over again.

Our salvation (a far, FAR greater gift than a kitchen) is something that should never lose its luster. But when it does, and for us sinful creatures it will, we can look back to the cross.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

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How Do I Serve

“The opportunities to be involved and an active part of your church family are endless! There’s something here for everyone.”

That was great. It really was.

Except, there I was, born and raised in a small everybody-pitch-in-to-get-it-done church of about 75 people, feeling my heart rate slowly rising as the pastor listed off the seemingly infinite list of service opportunities within this church of over 2,000. I became overwhelmed along the way with the nagging thought, “How do I pick where to serve? Can’t I just do it all?”

We all have unrealistic hopes like that, don’t we? Those moments of intense, my-faith’s-on-fire, passion where we want to serve our Lord BIG.

Or, sometimes, those moments are painfully apprehensive. How can I possibly be a Sunday morning greeter, new-mom food deliverer, Vacation Bible School teacher, carpet vacuuming cleaner, and flower watering gardener without only doing a halfway decent job or burning out?

Yes, pastor was right - the opportunities to serve our Lord are limitless. But, how do we pick the opportunities within our own limits?

This led me to ponder how to avoid overcommitting and underperforming when serving my Savior. I came up with a total of five questions, which I think will help both you and me as we deliberate how to best use our talents. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Is it manageable?

Oh boy, do I stink at answering this question honestly. However, it’s important that we do. While God has gifted us with many talents to serve Him, He has also gifted us with time, and, frankly, we can be tight on it. We need to take a moment when an opportunity arises to really ask ourselves if we have enough time to be involved, and not only to be involved, but to be committed and to do it well.

God didn’t design us to work nonstop. When life gets busy, it’s okay to acknowledge that we need moments of leisure and rest. Despite what Instagram may show you, we can’t do it all. And, I promise you, that is okay.

2. Does it make use of my talents effectively?

Here’s a quick refresher on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus tells a story of a master’s three servants who were entrusted with different amounts of gold (a type of currency called talents). Two of the servants put their money to use and doubled their gold while their master was away. However, the third servant was scared to disappoint his master, so he buried the talents in the ground, earning his master nothing.

Which servants pleased the master? The ones who used what they had to make more, of course! Similarly, and ironically given the name of the currency in this story, we can use our talents to please God or we can discount our gifts and abilities as worthless.

This parable doesn’t simply teach us to use our talents; we can grow and strengthen them, as well, just as the first two servants did. Part of being human means that we are privileged to constantly learn, grow, and improve. So, if you’ve always been interested in helping with a summer sports camp but have never picked up a bat or kicked a soccer ball, maybe start as an assistant or provide snacks. In time, your skills and knowledge will grow, making you better prepared to serve in other ways.

3. Is it something I am passionate about?

This plays a bit into my last point. If you don't yet have the skills or knowledge to help with a task, that doesn’t mean you aren’t interested in it and capable of learning how to do it. Passion produces productivity. It’s as simple as that. If the idea of being involved with an activity gives you butterflies of joy in your gut, go for it!

Disclaimer, there’s a flip side - sometimes the things we are crazy passionate about can become work. Let’s not fall into the trap of wanting to quit when things get hard or when we lose our motivation. Just because our desire dwindles doesn’t mean it won’t be reignited. Emotions, like motivation, can be fickle.

Case in point, I love writing. It’s one of the easiest ways to declutter my brain and clarify my perspective. Plus, through this site of Christian women, I’m able to share my faith in my own words and prayerfully help others as they walk with Christ. Like, come on, that’s so cool! But, Amanda and Becky can serve as my witnesses, I ask for an extension on my deadlines pretty much every single time I have a post due. Passion does not equal no work. However, just like Marie Kondo taught us through her cleaning mantra, it’s good to stick with the things that “spark joy.” There will always be work when we serve, but the bits of work are ultimately a joy when we are passionate about the big picture before us.

4. Does it benefit God’s kingdom?

This one’s hard, because God’s kingdom thrives in so many ways. My small church roots make me think about this a lot, simply because my home congregation has tried numerous acts of service... and ditched many of them when they’ve failed. We have to consider what is going to truly advance the Gospel message as we work. We want our efforts to be effective in creating fellowship while uplifting Biblical truths. Let me illustrate this.

Growing up, my home congregation always had Christmas for Kids about two weeks before Christmas. Children ages five to twelve would come to church on a Saturday to hear about Jesus’ birth, put together a Christmas craft, sing carols, and decorate cookies to take home. As a kid, it was awesome! Sadly, as years went by, less and less children attended. Eventually, no children from the local neighborhood came. We were left with a handful of already churched kids approaching the age where they no longer appreciated such activities. The Biblical truths were there, but our fellowship and outreach were practically nonexistent. So, we cancelled Christmas for Kids and switched our focus to better benefit our community and congregation.

God gave us brains and logic for a reason. There are many factors to consider as we choose acts of service - community, culture, practicality, affordability, etc. Of the utmost importance, “Does this serve God and his people?”. If you can answer that with a clear-conscience, “Yes!”, dive in. However, God’s always the one in control. Even the best laid plans and well-thought-out approaches may fail. Look for the doors He opens. He’ll lead, so pay attention to where He is guiding you.

5. How am I already serving?

Here’s the truth at the end of it all: living for Christ means that we serve Him in all that we do. When I scanned and bagged groceries at work, I glorified Him. When you packed your daughter’s lunch, you praised Him. When your husband mowed the lawn, he acted as a steward of God’s creation. When we invite our friends to service, we acknowledge our Savior and share His grace.

Yes, the opportunities to serve are endless. Don’t discount your daily acts of service as meaningless. They exalt Him, too.

I pray this list of questions helps you if you also struggle with choosing in which ways to serve our Father. Maybe you have your own questions you already ask yourself when approached with deciding how to serve, in which case, I’d love to hear them to add to my own.

It’s a big blessing to have limitless options to serve, honor, and proclaim a limitless God.

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” 1 Corinthians 12:5-6

How will you serve today?