Every Day Grace

We have behavioral regressions happening in our home. Issues we thought had been resolved are cropping up again and are dominating our days. They affect everyone; no man is an island and the misbehavior of one truly does impact everyone around them.

I’m not immune to the parenting posts and blogs and books and the impression they give that if I follow a few certain steps my children will immediately respond favorably. And if they’re not responding? Well, that must mean there’s an error in my parenting strategies somewhere. But when my mind slips on that mental slide, I have to quickly rein it in and face the facts: my children are human and humans are sinners and sinners need a Savior. At this point, the majority of them have no inclination to curb those carnal impulses. If they want something, they yank it away from someone else. If they’re angry, they scream or throw something. If someone hurts them, they hurt back. Self dominates in those adorable little bodies and we all know it. The parents’ responsibility is to create the boundaries of behavior and consistently enforce them.

And there are days when that goes well. I see progress in myself and them as I accept the training process and respond to their struggles with compassion and gentleness. And then there are days when I’m back to the beginning and it seems like all of the old habits have returned: in them and me. Their misconduct is met with frustration and impatience on my part and we face off with determined glares and rigid posture. After a flurry of warnings and consequences, no one feels peaceful inside.

It’s following times like that when I’m reminded of how much I’m included in the first paragraph of this blog post. The flesh versus spirit battle that I see so vividly in my offspring is a daily constant for me as well; I just tend to mostly gloss over it with creative excuses. The fact is that this daily battle with sin is opportunity for daily doses of grace- for them and me. This doesn’t mean that sinful behavior is excused or given room to flourish; it does mean that steps off the path are met with compassion and grudges aren’t held.

Romans 8 has a long list of things that won’t separate us from the love of God once we are His. I think I need to make a similar list for my children. Nothing can separate them from my love: neither temper tantrums nor broken treasures, neither thrown objects or screaming, neither neglected chores or routine late night wake-ups, neither sibling squabbles or endless complaining. This isn’t so much a reminder for them as it is for me. Just as God doesn’t hold my hourly failures against me because of His great love for me, I need to show continual grace towards my children because of my unconditional love for them.

Romans 8 also holds that beautiful reminder of all things working together for good- and every day there is some good to hold on to. Perhaps it’s belly laughing together or genuine interest in family worship or children playing amiably together, or a hilarious story being shared or a moment of quiet in the house. The good is there and is just as valid and real as the things that are less than favorable. Remembering the good when I engage with my children is another form of grace upon grace.

I cannot hold my children to a standard of perfection; neither can I hold myself to that standard either. But every day I need to encourage each of us to keep moving forward because God’s grace allows us to not call it quits.

Posted in Personal Ponderings | Leave a comment

Part of the Epic

I noticed something while reading in the book of Luke: John the Baptist had such an impacting ministry solely focused on the glory of God and Kingdom growth. And then…just like that…he was imprisoned and later beheaded. Why? It seems like such a waste of a ministry leader; think of all he could have done had he been given twenty or thirty more years to serve!

And then there were Moses’ mom and Hannah, the mother of Samuel. How heart wrenching to have those special baby boys only to turn them over to someone else- sure, it was God’s plan, but think of how they could have thrived in the care of their godly, attentive moms!

And don’t get me started on all the Old Testament prophets. They endured some grueling afflictions- for what? To speak a message to people who really didn’t care? And sometimes they only did one thing and that’s all you heard about them. What a waste of godly potential, don’t you think?

I’ve been thinking about this as I find my way around the new year. I have so many hopes and dreams and plans and goals; I really would like an extra shower or two of blessings and a little more driving down Easy Street if possible. But when I reflect on biblical history it’s apparent that God’s focus is not on human comfort; quite the opposite, in fact. Scripture profusely describes the necessity of trial for the sake of transformation.

Instinctively I get defensive by that reminder and start to protest in my heart: “but that’s hardly fair! Shouldn’t I get a chance to rest after all I’ve been through? Look at how hard I work! I’m trying to be a faithful steward.”

Human history isn’t about humans in general or me specifically. Time doesn’t obey the human directive or the human whim. Nature’s cycles don’t operate by man’s ingenuity. No, it all exists through the word of God for the glory of God; it is enough that we are allowed a part in this epic story. And when I don’t think that’s enough or when I feel overlooked by God in the hustle and bustle of life and start sputtering my “look at me!” complaints, there’s the quiet response with arms fully outstretched on either side: “Look at all I have done.”

Posted in Personal Ponderings | Leave a comment

And Then There Was You

Our precious second daughter,

Here you are on your sixth birthday. In some ways, six is still such a little girl. And you are such a little girl: you love bright, shiny things; you enjoy dressing up and getting new shoes; you take such wonderful care of your baby dolls and stuffed animal friends; you set up wonderful tea parties with your big sister.

But when I reflect on you as a baby and then a toddler, six seems like such a mature age. And you have matured in extraordinary ways! You have gone from the immobility of infancy to riding your bike, swimming like a dolphin, dancing, climbing and swinging. You have gone from the dramatics of a toddler to being a dependable helper. You no longer use your voice to scream your emotions; instead, you sing during your devotions, eagerly read to us from the Bible, and ask many questions. You have an irreplaceable spot in our family and have coined many terms and phrases that only work when you say them.

While I do wistfully recall your months of babyhood and regret how quickly they passed, I find this stage of your girlhood a sweet one. I soak in your spontaneity and treasure your tight embraces, especially when they’re paired with those timeless words: “I love you SO much, Mama.” I hope you never stop dancing or helping or singing or giggling or dressing up or offering your sweet words of encouragement.

I’m thankful you will be six for an entire year,


Posted in Personal Ponderings | Leave a comment

Wrapping Up the Old Year

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever…to Him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.”

It’s that time of year when we look ahead and reflect on what’s to come. A new year is the ideal opportunity for a fresh start, a do-over in certain areas, a blank slate, a calendar of unlimited potential, a goal-maker’s dream. But what do we do with the old year?

It hardly seems fair to toss it in the trash heap of worn out years or to kick it aside as 12-months of failed tries or to forget about it as we jump into something new. It’s part of the history that makes us who we are; we can’t change it and, while some aspects might be nice to forget, I’m sure there are things about it worth remembering. I have a suggestion.

Let’s wrap up our old year as a gift to the new. Psalm 136 is a recounting of God’s wondrous deeds for His people. Each attribute and action listed is followed up with the fact that His love endures forever. But I like to remember the “behind the scenes” of these magnificent deeds: desperate situations, messy moments, failed promises and broken people. In spite of all the havoc of humanity on history, God’s love endures forever.

As I prepare for the bright, shiny, promising year that’s only days away, I want to gift myself the hope that flows from one year to the next. When remembering 2022, my mind immediately jumps to all the mishaps and mistakes but I do want to push beyond them to see how God came through for me. Mercy, forgiveness, inexplicable joy, unexpectedly good outcomes abound- all testimonies of His love enduring forever. What a memorable Christmas gift!

When you are tucking your gifts under the tree, will you add your old year too?

Posted in Personal Ponderings | Leave a comment

The Value of Tradition

Simplifying the holidays is trending these days. My newsfeed is filled with moms talking about how they are de-stressing the season by nixing many familiar traditions. Some are finding alternatives to gifts; others are not mailing out cards; and a few aren’t even bringing out the tree and decorations. As I’m prone to do, I start comparing my thoughts and opinions and lifestyle with what I see on social media so I’ve been thinking more about our holiday traditions.

It sounds appealing to not be stressed- this time of year or ever. But is tossing out tradition truly the remedy for stress? I remember when, in my early adult years, my family decided to not do Christmas gifts anymore. I felt very sad about it because seeing the surprise and delight when my loved ones opened up their gifts from me was one of my favorites dimensions of Christmas. This year my mom sent a video of my childhood home all decorated and a flood of pleasant memories filled my mind as I recalled the stories associated with those familiar decorations and helping her decorate as a child. I think traditions anchor our lives in a changing world.

During Communion at church this morning, I reflected on all the traditions God has instituted for His people: the festivals and feasts and celebrations and daily reminders. The annual repetition of these events refreshes in our minds what is significant in this life. This is crucial in a time when anything traditional is considered a hindrance, a robber of self-fulfillment. On the contrary, however, traditions link us to our past and connect us with our faith, family and friends. Traditions add meaning to our existence as we carry on what was done by our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so forth.

This does not mean that every Christmas we have to do it all: mail 500 cards, make 20 cookie recipes, give presents to every person we have ever known, put up Pinterest-worthy decorations, and attend all the parties. But I think with careful evaluation and discussion we can find a way to curate traditions that will cultivate a heritage of tradition for the next generations to carry on. Here are some suggestions for how to do that:

  • Before cutting a tradition, talk to family members about it. Consider their love languages. Different traditions speak differently to each individual and you don’t want to nix something that holds deep meaning to someone else.
  • Write down priorities. Are nightly Advent readings a must-do? What about time with friends? Staying connected with long distance loved ones? After you have made your list, start jotting down ways you can touch on each priority without being overloaded. Maybe bake 4 recipes instead of 10? Or attend one social event instead of 5? Set a price cap on what you’ll spend on each child, for example.
  • Put a pause on regular routines. You can put on hold the things you do all the rest of the year in order to make room for your festive plans.
  • Linger over some things. We have decided to do 3 days of Christmas so we aren’t trying to cram all the special things into one day.
  • Start early. I set a goal to get our cards going in November and to have all the shopping done by the first week of December. This gives me a chance to work on mailing and wrapping at a less frantic pace.

Ultimately, each family needs to determine what works the best for them. A few things done very well can be more memorable than a packed schedule easily forgotten in years to come. But more than anything: make traditions and keep them. There is more value in repetition than we may ever realize.

Posted in Personal Ponderings | 2 Comments

In But Not Of

I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase. It’s one thing to apply it to myself; it’s another to apply it to a household. Two key events brought this more recently to my mind: Disney’s defiance against traditional values was one and the other was Halloween.

This year Disney has openly declared its support of the LGBTQ+ agenda and that not only do they support it, they will also be promoting it in their upcoming films. Suddenly I started to notice Disney’s influence everywhere I turned: music, toys, bumper stickers, food labels, clothing, people’s vacation plans. Disney is iconic and has woven itself into the fabric of our society. It is truly a household name; so many of our fond childhood memories involve something Disney; whether it be Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore or Mickey Mouse or all those classic friends such as Lady and the Tramp, Dumbo, or Copper and Todd. I’m sure you can add to that list of memories. And don’t we all want to pass them on to our children? But does including some Disney in our life mean that we are celebrating them?

When Halloween rolled around this fall, our children were more aware of it than ever before. They couldn’t help but be intrigued with something that even friends at church participate in. There’s a thrill that comes with candy and dressing up and being a little scared. But they also don’t like the horror and gore that lines store shelves and neighborhoods. This time I did a bit of research and discovered the original religious roots of this holiday. It turns out that All Hallow’s Eve (Oct. 31st) is a time to remember the eternity of our souls and the certainty of death so each child held a lit candle and we read in Revelation about the White Throne of Judgment:

November first is All Saint’s Day and we made soul cakes with holes in the middle. We remembered the martyrs and missionaries who dedicated their lives to telling others about the gospel. We discussed how every person is empty until we surrender our lives to Jesus and He fills us.

The third day of observation is All Souls Day. The children drew pictures about people who impact their lives and also drew about the people with whom they want to share Jesus:

I hope that we can build on this new fall tradition and I am also thinking that I can apply what I learned from my efforts to other aspects of this world. Perhaps I can take the evil of this society we live in and use it as opportunity for teaching our children about what we truly believe. Maybe there are ways to enjoy the nostalgia of Disney without supporting them financially or endorsing their messages; maybe there are ways for our family to be familiar with what is trending so that we can engage our neighbors in discussions that take us all a little deeper in thought. Maybe.

I’m starting to conclude that the key to being in and not of is being the salt and the light within the world. Just as salt brings flavor and light provides contrast, in a world that has nothing but emptiness to give our presence can offer comfort and hope because we are not of it. We are certain of what is not seen.

Posted in Personal Ponderings | 2 Comments

Lost Literacy

We were recently waiting outside of the doctor’s office; my husband was inside with the two having their wellness visits and I had the other five with me. There were many natural elements to explore and I encouraged the children to make nature pictures. One quickly ran with my idea to make a self-portrait out of sticks, hanging moss, acorns and stones. This inspired the others to collect ferns, flowers and stones and design creative sidewalk art with their findings. It was refreshing to observe.

Children should be encouraged to think outside of the box; perhaps we should say the screen? Children come into this world wired to learn, observe and explore. They absorb whatever is put before them; I wonder if that instinctive wonder is stunted by frequent screen time. Tablets, TVs, and phone time stimulate children’s senses instead of encouraging their senses to seek out the knowledge.

When children explore outside or build with blocks or dress up or create art or turn pages and study illustrations, their senses are actively engaging with the world around them and seeking out new knowledge. This is knowledge that soaks into their minds and memories and shapes their understanding of the world. Most importantly, the process of studying and learning and formulating thoughts makes them ready to think through new ideas and engage with them. To put it simply, learning makes thinkers and thinking is the heart of literacy. As popular children’s author Kate DiCamillo once wrote:

A good story changes how you look at the world. It encourages you to look past the obvious, the everyday. A good story grants you the permission to imagine. A good story gives you hope.

Another aspect of reading that can easily be overlooked is that it connects the reader with the past. It is actually possible for us to read what the great influencers of history once read and wrote themselves. What a priceless way to impact the future- using the lessons of yesterday to improve tomorrow.

Are we prepared to live in a world where people can’t look past the every day? Or can’t imagine? Or who lack hope? Are we willing to live in a world without readers?

I don’t think I am. And that is why I have started a subscription book club called The Growing Bookworms. Those who subscribe will receive monthly literacy support from me, a language arts teacher, as well as age-appropriate books and activity (or discussion) ideas that coincide with a theme of the month. If this interests you, reach out to me at: shelbysuniquefinds@gmail.com or leave your email info in the comments section of this blog and I’ll reach out to you.

Let’s grow a new generation of readers and thinkers.

Posted in Personal Ponderings | Leave a comment


Wasn’t it just yesterday that I met you for the very first time?

Wasn’t it just last night that I dressed you in my doll’s pajamas?

Wasn’t it just this morning that I peeked into your bassinet and felt such awe that you were mine?

Wasn’t it just this afternoon when we sat in the shade and you cooed a story to the fluffy clouds floating by?

Wasn’t it just yesterday when you decided to walk?

Wasn’t it just last night when you moved from your crib to your big girl bed?

Wasn’t it just this morning when you showed me you could read from your Bible?

Wasn’t it just this afternoon that you learned to ride your bike?

Seven years of yesterdays have charmed me with your graceful, loving presence in my life.

Tomorrow will present us with an elegant young woman who is skilled in caring for a home, loving on children, immersing herself in a good book and pursuing Jesus. I’m so thankful we have today to get there.

I love you, my little girl. Happy birthday!

Posted in Personal Ponderings | Leave a comment

A Lantern in her Hand:

A reflection on the novel written by Bess Streeter Aldrich

I met a kindred spirit last month. We have nothing in common: she lived in the 1800’s, was a pioneer living in a sod house, helped build a state, lived through 3 wars, and is a fictional character. But somehow my heart understood hers completely.

Throughout the passing weeks I’ve mused about how often Abbie Deal comes to mind. What did I learn from her? Why did she impact me so much? How can I emulate her? To answer those questions, I need to share an important detail about Abbie: she had dreams. Since she was a small child she wanted to be famous and beautiful and talented. She adored singing, valued refinement, and cared about her appearance. For love’s sake, she turned down one marriage proposal that could have given her all of her dreams almost instantly and accepted another marriage proposal that gave her a soddy house on a prairie and five children to birth and raise in it. Without complaint, she embraced her life and tucked away her dreams for a more opportune time.

But she never forgot her dreams and as they hid in her heart they became a part of all she did without her even realizing it. Each one shaped her perspective of the staggering trials she endured and influenced how she cultivated her home and children. She found poetry on the prairie, taught her children to value the arts and found a way to make even the soddy house pretty. And her dreams were fleshed out in her children. Each time she intentionally brought her dreams to mind and reflected on her longing to experience them, tears would come to my eyes for those moments revealed her humanity.

Abbie Deal taught me something. She taught me that our dreams make us who we are; not by relentlessly pursuing them but by simply not letting them go. Contemporary society tells us that we must live out our dreams no matter the cost to our family or our souls; we might not realize how high a price we paid for those dreams until it is too late. What contemporary society doesn’t teach us, is that our dreams can come alive in intangible ways. They can influence our approach to living: how we walk and talk, work and play, think and decide. Dreams become a part of our identity and influence how we interact with our world and how it interacts with us.

Ironically, this staunchly pioneer woman wasn’t real in the sense that I could find her gravestone in Nebraska. But she was real in every other sense of the word. I ached in her pain, joined in her joy, struggled in her exhaustion and felt her despair in the core of my being. When she was on the cusp of womanhood, Abbie Deal didn’t realize her dreams would never be realized as she imagined they would; as life unfolded, they inspired her to keep going. It wasn’t until the end that she saw the completed picture and reflected:

“You can’t describe love…and you can’t define it. Only it goes with you all your life. I think that love is more like a light that you carry. At first childish happiness keeps it lighted, and after that romance. Then motherhood lights it and then duty, and maybe after that sorrow. You wouldn’t think that sorrow could be a light…But it can. And then after that, service lights it. Yes…I think that is what love is to a woman: a lantern in her hand.”

It was her dreams that enabled her to love and that love was what made all the difference. It enabled her to sacrifice, to be loyal, to create, to persevere, and to be uniquely herself. All things I want to be and do in my world, nearly two centuries later. I want to be understanding of the young dreamers living with stars in their eyes and I want to be compassionate towards the elders among us, with that distant look in their eyes as they relive the past over and over again. I want to hold that lantern in my hand so that when I am on my deathbed I can smile and slip away, enfolded in the memories of a life well lived.

Posted in Personal Ponderings | Leave a comment

Baby Girl

All week long your siblings have been anticipating your birthday and this morning one of your brothers woke up saying, “Mom! Today Tehillah is one!” This is just one tiny reflection of the adoration that is felt for you by every member of this household.

The 10.5 months leading up to your birth were a roller coaster. There were many health concerns ranging from me getting hit in the stomach with a swing to having COVID just a month and half before you were born. And your birth itself was not easy and took some time for me to process before moving on. All of this drifts through my mind as I look at you today on your birthday. And then I remember even more.

Gazing at you for the very first time and instantly knowing you were a girl; discovering you were born en caul (what a miracle for me!); relishing how we could already communicate with you during those first hours and days after birth because you studied our faces so closely; taking those days, weeks and months slowly because I finally grasped how rapidly they pass; not feeling guilty for snuggling with you in bed during those late night and early morning hours – right up until…well…I haven’t stopped, actually.

And then there’s that timeless process of growing acquainted with a brand new soul: observing you as you observe the world. I have savored everything from your first time seeing bubbles to the development of your unique interactions with each older sibling to learning that you don’t like to sit in grass to finding out that you prefer food with spice over bland food. You explore your surroundings with your fingertips and the tip of your tongue; so much so that your hands’ resting position is pointer fingertip touching thumb fingertip. Your presence has proven to me that no baby is a rote experience- even the seventh one in seven years.

Every time you snuggle your head into Poppa’s shoulder in your special way or shine your brightest smile at me and lift your arms to be picked up or sing and babble while you play with your little basket of toys or I am still able to slip your tiny feet into size 3-6 months shoes, I give God the highest praise for keeping His plan for our family filled with His wise surprises. These past 365 days with you in our family have been lovely.

Posted in Personal Ponderings | 1 Comment