Wrestling with the School Decision

By Olivia Brinker

When the pandemic hit and schools closed, I really struggled with E-Learning. My kids are 6, 4, and 2. It was chaos here. We were not prepared for schooling at home. Between my younger two not being used to quiet time and structure and my 6 year old needing help with schoolwork at every turn, I was struggling to keep it together. I had dreamed of homeschooling before having kids, but quickly realized I was not cut out for it. However, I was told by some who homeschooled for years that crisis schooling and homeschooling are VERY different. The kids weren’t able to visit friends or go on field trips so even the homeschooling moms struggled. I am certain that this coming school year will come with many challenges, especially for kids as young as mine. So, what do we do? With a 1st grader and two in pre-k, I have been battling with whether we should do public school or homeschool. Maybe you are struggling with this choice as well. Here is a peek inside my anxiety ridden brain…

Public/Private School

Pros

  • Seeing Friends Everyday

I’m not sure why this is such a big one for me. It’s not like they wouldn’t see their friends all school year.

  • Being Taught be a Trained Professional

I adore teachers and have been around many great ones while subbing for teachers’ aides before having kids. The grace and patience they display is incredible!

  • They Are Learning Everything They Will Need For Their Return to Public School

This is connected to the bullet above. Once again, teachers are superheroes!

  • Time to Myself

Only one of my kids will be in school all day and the other two will be doing pre-k at different times, so I will always have at least one kid with me. But seriously, going from three at home to one…heaven.

Cons

  • How Often Will They Be Sick

I know how school works. Kids are gross and even with masks and distancing, there is no way to completely keep illnesses from spreading.

  • Speaking of….Masks and Distancing

My 1st grader will be fine with this. We have had conversations and she wears her mask well when in the store. However, she is social and not being able to sit with her friends at lunch and play with them closely will be really hard for her. My two younger kids are a different story. How do you keep masks on a bunch of 3-5 year olds in a pre-k room where a lot of their learning is through playing TOGETHER?

  • And When Students DO Get Sick

We already have the common cold, flu, and stomach bug that pull them out of school for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. When someone tests positive for Covid, the whole school, or classroom in some cases, shuts down for at least 2 weeks. That’s a lot of uncertainty and would be really hard on my littles. They need routine and structure.

  • Money

Now, in many cases, public school is the cheapest option. However; I found that between registration, school pictures, school supplies, shoes, and lunch money we would save money keeping them home. I’ll talk more about that in the homeschool pros!

Homeschooling

Pros

  • Our Faith

Now, while our school is public, it is small and made up of a lot of fairly conservative families (which is why I’m so willing to put them in this public school). However, what I find so cool about the homeschooling curriculum I have my eye on is how EVERY subject has biblical foundations and intertwines the story of our Creator and salvation. EVERY SUBJECT!

  • Time Spent DOING School

Instead of spending 6 to 7 hours at school, we would be able to complete the necessary schoolwork by lunchtime AND in 4 days a week. I know they are doing much more than just sitting in a desk while at school, but this would give us so much time together and allow for many more adventures than full-time school will allow.

  • Money

Like I said before, I would be saving money if I kept them at home. This is because 1st grade curriculum can be found fairly cheap and even cheaper if you buy used. Also, my two pre-k kiddos don’t really need a curriculum so that would basically be free! (I will add that their program at school is funded by a grant and I would only be paying a $50 snack fee plus supplies for one of them.)

  • Less Restrictions

While I’m not exactly anti-mask, I do believe it will make things worse for kids as young as mine. At home, they wouldn’t have that distraction.

  • No Worrying About School Closing

We wouldn’t have to adjust to E-Learning if schools have to close again. We would carry on as before, no uncertainties. (I find myself saying that sarcastically…no uncertainties haha)

Cons

  • My Mental Health

I’ve been pretty open about my struggles with anxiety and depression. Lately, I have found it hard to complete everyday tasks and overcome my desire to lay in bed all day. So, this could break me.

  • My Ability and Patience

This is intertwined with the last bullet. Because of my lack of motivation, will I be able to fully commit to PATIENTLY teach them and follow a routine?

  • Lack of Time With Friends

As I said earlier, my oldest greatly relies on her friendships. Will they fade and grow apart while she is away from school? Will she have to start over making new friends? This shouldn’t be a big deal, but for some reason I struggle with this.

  • T.V. Temptation

While I’m not incredibly concerned about this, we love our shows. My 1st grader can drown out the world when in front of the T.V. I hope I would have the willpower to only allow T.V. after school is done.

I know I am not alone in this struggle. There are so many great things about both choices making this decision a particularly tough one. This time/season is especially hard. As a mom, I can’t make a decision like this without really thinking about each choice thoroughly. I know that there are many parents out there who don’t have a choice. Many still have to work and some just know for sure they can’t do it. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to choose. Ultimately, God has His hand on us and will guide us in what He wants for our family. I pray I will attentively listen to His voice.

Quarantine 2020: An Honest Look Inside Our Home

by Olivia Brinker

I am an introvert. I love being at home. I love my bed. I love Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. At first, this stay-at-home order was a dream come true. My kids hadn’t started online schooling yet which meant I didn’t have to get up early and of course I didn’t have to get them dressed or pack a lunch. It rained for a while, but between their shows and playing together, they really only needed me to feed them. I know, I’m awful, but it was working. I was binge watching shows like you wouldn’t believe (I won’t lie, I still do) and laying in bed for hours with no shame. I have three kids aged 5, 4, and 2 so obviously it was not the most relaxing, but as long as I gave them snacks when they asked, they were happy. That was week one.

We are now starting week 6 with likely four or more weeks to go and I’m not even sure I can describe to you how dark this time has been. I have been struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety for years and honestly, I’m more afraid of how that is affecting me more than I am of getting this virus. My house has become a place of chaos and turmoil. My kids are doing fine, but I am most definitely not. They have each other. My husband is still working and has also taken on some side jobs, so a lot of my time is spent without adult interaction. This is so detrimental to someone with mental health issues like mine. I miss my parents. I miss my church family. I miss going out for Sunday lunch. I miss being able to give my kids to their grandparents. I am not okay. I need fellowship and encouragement in order to control my anxiety. I wish I could say that I have leaned on the Lord more during this time. I wish I could say that my prayer life is better than ever before. I wish I could say that my faith is winning the war against the devil right now. I can’t and that just fuels my anxiety and depression. I have never felt more alone.

Now that online schooling is in full swing, I am required to get up and help my kindergartener and preschooler get their school lessons done. I would be in bed if I didn’t and trust me, as soon as they are done, I am back in bed. I can’t function. I have no motivation and when my kids ask for things, I am likely to snap at them. My house is usually a disaster because my kids have free reign and I am not up to clean up after them. I feel so guilty. I should be using this time to have fun with them. I should be emotionally available to them so that they understand why they can’t go to grandma’s house or why they can’t go with me to the store or see their friends. I don’t even take them outside every time it is nice out. I know I should and I honestly want to, but I physically and mentally can’t.

If it wasn’t for phone calls from my mom and sisters, I don’t know that I would make it through this (without breaking this stay-at-home order and escaping to my mom’s or sister-in-law’s). When I look back at this time, I hope I see growth. I hope that, when this is over, I appreciate all that God has blessed me with. I hope this valley leads to a mountain top. So, pray for me and everyone else with mental illness. We need it. We need help, because we can’t do it on our own.

Addendum from Traci, Olivia’s mom: I realize that Olivia is not the only person suffering with loneliness, anxiety, depression, or even suicidal thoughts during this time. We have to be intentional to stay in contact with those individuals. Make a phone call, text, video chat, or drop off a card or small encouraging gift to their front porch. If they don’t respond, keep bugging them. Don’t give up. Encourage them to go for a walk or sit outside. They need us more than ever and we have the privilege to be a part of their support system. In a unique season of isolation, we have the opportunity to be more involved in people’s lives than ever before.

Lessons from New York City

By Traci Jahnke

In July of 2019, one of my biggest dreams came true: a trip to New York City.

As a young girl, reading fiction was one of my favorite hobbies and a primary setting in many of my books was New York City. I dreamed of attending Julliard School of Music, enjoying free time in Central Park, eating at Sardi’s, riding the subway, and walking the city streets.

MANY years later married to Jeff, some of our favorite tv shows were set in New York City, such as Blue Bloods and Law and Order: SVU. While the NYC dream remained predominantly mine alone, Jeff agreed to the trip in 2019.

We rode Amtrak from my daughter’s house in northern Indiana to Penn Station in NYC. We toured the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, 9/11 Memorial, Rockefeller Center, and Grand Central Station. We took a nighttime double decker bus ride, walked the High Line, took a Food on Foot Tour of the East Village, went to ‘Live with Kelly and Ryan’, took a guided bicycle tour of Central Park, visited Coney Island, worshipped at Hillsong NYC Church, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, and ate at Grimaldi’s under the bridge.

Trust me: this trip was a DREAM COME TRUE. I LOVED IT! If you ask either of us what our favorite part of the trip was, it was not an event or a specific tour. The food was close to the top of the list, but it wasn’t #1.

Our favorite part of NYC was the PEOPLE.

You weren’t expecting that, were you? Many weren’t expecting that, including my dad. He thought I was crazy to want to go to the city. As a matter of fact, when I called to ask him if he saw on the news that there was a blackout while we were there and if he was worried about us, he replied, “No, that’s what you get for going there!”

Also, common opinions are that New Yorkers are rude and that the city is dangerous. Our experience couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I think it is because God has been changing our hearts towards people.

We quickly found out that if we needed directions or information, we should seek out anyone other than white-skinned people. Generally, they were European tourists and did not speak English. But the more ethnic persons were New York natives who spoke English and were very friendly and helpful. We enjoyed learning about all the different ethnicities that came to the United States, NYC specifically, for freedom and for hope. The city still today is a beautiful tapestry of peoples and heritages.

Preparing for the trip, I did a lot of reading and researching, so I would have a good understanding of the different boroughs of NYC and the different neighborhoods, for planning daily activities for efficient travel using the subway system. One piece of advice I read over and over was to not make eye contact on the subway trains, much less strike up conversations. If you know Jeff, that is impossible for him. He would tell his jokes to whoever was sitting next to him on the train. Some would just smile, but some would laugh and interact with him. Waiting for our train to Coney Island, a husband and wife approached us and started talking. The husband was taking one train to work and the wife was taking a different train home, which just happened to be the train we were going to take to Coney Island. I sat next to the wife on the train for the whole 45 minute ride. We so enjoyed getting to know each other! We were different races and of different religious backgrounds, but we were both mothers and grandmothers. Our commonalities made for an enjoyable visit. While we may have been the only people on our subway car conversing and laughing, I sensed other riders watching and listening. I hope we were a light in their day!

On our Food on Foot Tour, there were many countries represented by our small group. We walked the East Village together, ate together, and fellowshipped together. It was a joy to spend time with people from Finland, Argentina, India, Hong Kong, and The Netherlands.  Our Central Park bicycle tour guide was from Russia and he had fascinating life stories to share with us. We worshipped at Hillsong NYC Church with a beautiful diversity of people. It was a great experience to be the church together on that day.

I could give many more examples, such as the amazing front desk employees at our hotel, the Amtrak employees who were so nice to talk to, or the people we sat with waiting for Grimaldi’s to open.

But I will touch on one more aspect of our trip: danger. We never sensed any danger in NYC. In almost every block, there were police officers parked or hanging out on the sidewalks. They usually said hi or were talking to people walking by.  During our East Village Food on Foot Tour, we stopped at Tompkins Square Park for a break. This park has a large homeless population, matter of fact, the whole park seemed to be their home. Jeff and I have handed out food and water to the homeless in downtown St. Louis at night before, so this daytime experience didn’t worry us. A neat moment was when several of us women went to use the park restroom. As expected, it was not very clean and had an odor to it, but as we entered, we were offered toilet paper to use, from 2 homeless women’s private possessions. That may not mean much to you, but their smiles and kindness did not go unnoticed on me.

During the blackout, the Rockefeller Center security staff and employees kept everyone on the 70th floor calm and safe. Once out on the street during the blackout, we did not witness any riots, stealing, or any bad behavior. In fact, we saw the opposite! Common people stepped up to the task of helping direct traffic at each intersection without working stoplights. Actors came out to the sidewalks and performed part of their shows that had been interrupted. Restaurant owners told debit or credit card patrons that were in the midst of a meal, to come back the next day and pay for their meal. Since the subway was not in service, we walked 28 blocks back to our hotel. Not once did we see something or someone that made us nervous.

As I mentioned earlier, God has been transforming our hearts for people: any and all people. I used to form opinions about people based on their external attributes. Now, we LOVE meeting people. People deserve dignity, respect, and kindness no matter their religion, race, or economic status. People deserve our smiles and our conversations, to be seen.

Matthew 22:37-39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are commanded to love our neighbor – persons crossing our path in life.

1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Loving and caring for others is PROOF that we have a relationship with God. What does that say about the opposite? In Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus says that our love for God is expressed in how we treat others: the sick, needy, strangers, and imprisoned.

Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

This trip turned out to be WAY more than a little girl’s dream to experience her favorite city. It gave me just a small glimpse of how God wants us to SEE people. And hopefully, during this trip, God used Jeff and me to display and share God and His love with the people that we met.

The Big Picture: Finding Purpose in Motherhood

                                                                                                                                 By Olivia Brinker

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7

I am a young mom of three kids. Those three kids came quickly with only three years between the first and the last. I had always dreamt of being a mom and, even before I was committed to the Lord, I always knew Jesus would be a part of that picture. It came up on me so fast. What happened? When I get in bed for the night I am crowded by how much I failed myself and the Lord that day. My house is a disaster and I don’t even think I said the name of Jesus once in the presence of my kids. What was I doing all day? I feel like, most days, my main goal is just to make it through, just get it over with so I can sleep. Is this really all God has for me? Why does being a mom feel so unimportant?

I have searched countless articles, bible studies, and human advice for the perfect solution, a schedule perhaps. As a stay-at-home mom, I thought that my job was to make sure the dishes were done, laundry clean and put away, and dinner on the table by 5pm all while giving my kids love and attention and showing them the light of Christ. This list, though short, weighs about a thousand pounds when trying to put into action. The dirty dishes need to be put in the dishwasher, but the one year old wants to take them back out. The laundry needs folded, but the four year old wants to change into the dress I just hung up. I need to write this blog, but the three year old knows no better place to sit than on my lap. Nothing is getting done and my frustration is rising. When all I feel is anger, how am I supposed to show my kids how to love like Christ, serve like Christ, and live for Christ? It wasn’t until I listened to a podcast that I realized a change of heart and outlook is what I really needed.

God’s ultimate plan doesn’t involve an empty sink and a tidy house. My purpose is to raise kids who know and love Christ. Why am I putting such earthly tasks before showing my kids who God is? So, I’ve decided. I need to stop shoving my kids in front of the T.V. so that I can clean the house (or sit on my phone). If my kids are asking for my attention, put down that laundry basket and show them I am here for them just like God is for us.

This morning, my son reminded me how important my role is. He is one, so no words were spoken but his actions said it all. He whines a lot and, standing in front of me, he raises his hands begging to be held.  Doesn’t this look familiar? So many days my prayers are desperate with cries and my hands may not always be raised, but my heart is aching to be held by the Lord. He is always there with open arms. If nothing else, my role as a mother should look like that. My readiness to love and hold them could be the first time they experience the light of Christ. I urge you, fellow moms, be ready. Most of our daily tasks can wait, this time with our kids can’t.

 

From a “Tommy” girl to a “Cato” girl?

By Traci Jahnke

I have no idea if this will resonate with anyone, but doing laundry one day, I was compelled to write it down. In fact, it may not make sense to anyone and that’s okay. I was hanging up clothes in my closet and started to cry.

My mom and I have done our fair amount of shopping together over the years. She LOVED shopping at Macy’s and somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the Tommy Hilfiger line of clothing. Well, one of my Mom’s FAVORITE things to do was give gifts; but not just any old gift. Gifts that brought joy and love to the recipient. Mom LOVED giving. So, most Christmas’, I received a Tommy Hilfiger purse. My birthday gifts were always Tommy clothes from Macy’s.

But lest you think Mom and I are elite snobs, we very rarely paid full price for ANY OF IT. Half of the fun was scouring the clearance racks, checking the price scanners, and deliberating which Macy’s coupons would get the most bang for the buck. And don’t forget that Mom double and triple checked that receipt to be sure we were charged correctly.  🙂

Almost every time I drove Mom to chemotherapy treatments, we stopped at Macy’s on the way home, just to check for a deal. Nothing better to brighten our day, than to find a cute blouse or a pair of jeans for $12!

Here I am, living without Mom for a year and 10 months now. My closet is full of Tommy clothes, so as soon as I get up and walk into my closet, my memories of her are right there.

Since she has been gone, Jeff has gone to Macy’s with me to look for Tommy bargains and even the outlet mall near his parents’ house. We have bought a few items. My sister has shopped with me. My best friend has shopped with me. BUYING TOMMY CLOTHES IS JUST NOT THE SAME ANYMORE. It doesn’t bring the joy it used to.

So, the store I have been shopping at more recently is Cato. I still have the thrill of looking for clearance items, but these are new memories without Mom. So back to crying in the closet: my Cato clothes are hanging next to my Tommy Hilfiger clothes. Here is a crazy thought:  I wonder if Mom is disappointed in me. She had actually mentioned in her last few years: who would help continue the tradition of my Tommy wardrobe?

On some level, you probably think this is silly. It’s just clothes, right?

But on a deeper level, life is moving on without Mom, and I am struggling with who I am without her. Am I a Tommy girl or a Cato girl? Or a mixed breed of both? I look at my closet and there they are, side by side, representing life with Mom and life without Mom.

Who would have thought that EVEN CLOTHING, makes me grieve you, Mom?

 

“I believe that Jesus was real and He died for us.”

When “believing” isn’t enough.

By Olivia Brinker

As I grow in my faith and begin sharing it with others, I have started hearing this phrase way too often, “I believe that Jesus was real and He died for us.”  I know that there are many out there that don’t believe in Jesus, but I have come to learn that those are not the only lost people. A huge number of lost people believe in Jesus and are even sure that they are “good” and should be considered a Christian. In an attempt to bring more to Christ, I have to say, believing is not enough!

Before you decide that I am wrong, let’s look at the scripture that most turn to when deciding to be a Christian. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16 HCSB. I ended the quote at the end of verse 16 because, let’s be honest, a lot of us like to do that when looking to the Bible for assurance. What most don’t realize though, you MUST keep reading! In the next few verses, Jesus describes those unwilling to live in the light and that they will be judged. He then ends with this, “But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God” John 3:21 HCSB. Do you see the importance of reading on?

You see, Jesus doesn’t just want us to believe in Him. He wants our whole lives. I have been thinking on this for a while and trying to choose just a few words that describe the life of a Christian. Now, after the initial choice to follow Christ, these don’t necessarily take place in this order.

  • Humility– When we come to know Christ, we should understand just how small and sinful we are in comparison to His glory. This humility should also lead to the growth of our love for others.
  • Repentance– This is NOT the same as confession. Repentance is followed by action. We need to recognize our sin and commit to change. If you are the same person after believing in Christ as you were before, something is wrong. While all transformation doesn’t take place overnight, there will be a process of change in your life. God doesn’t allow you to stay the same.
  • Fellowship– I understand that finding a church can be hard. We are human after all, we find things we don’t like and decide we can learn from home. This is so dangerous. When we are not surrounded by fellow believers, we aren’t held accountable. I have seen firsthand how quickly one can drift from Christ when not in a church family.
  • Evangelism– This is that fancy word for “go talk to people about Jesus”! You see I put an emphasis on the word “talk”. Many people feel like they aren’t good at communicating and excuse this crucial action by using the “I can lead people to Christ through my actions” line. Obviously, our actions are important, but our voices are the only way we can actually teach people truth. As a person forgiven by Christ, we should WANT to tell others about Him!

There are a lot of other characteristics and actions that follow a decision to live for Christ but, for right now, I felt these were important to touch on.

I want you to understand, we are NOT perfect and will most definitely fail at one or all of these things daily. I know I do. But, just because we may fail, should not discourage us from accomplishing these things for the Lord. Don’t let imperfections hinder us from living the life God is calling us to live. After all, “God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong” 1 Corinthians 1:27 HCSB.

A heart of worship, mom and dad, a piano

by Traci Jahnke

I started taking piano lessons in the 3rd grade. We didn’t have a piano (just a small play organ), but I wanted so bad to play and learn. So, I skipped morning recess and lunch recess and practiced on the school piano. My mom set up that possibility for me, but no one forced me to stay in and practice. I don’t say that to give myself a pat on the back, but to point to the hand of God on my heart. Because at 8 and 9 years of age, that desire had to come from somewhere besides myself.

I will never forget one of the most memorable gifts (maybe THE most memorable) I received from my mom and dad. I got home from school and my dad was still at home, sitting at the kitchen table. Usually, he would have been gone to work by then, since he worked the second shift at his job. So, I was confused that he was still at home and there was just silence. No one spoke. I got a weird feeling that something was up. And THEN. I glanced behind my dad’s head into the front living room. A PIANO. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like crying. I didn’t know what to say. I am sure I didn’t say, “Thank you”. It seemed like such a BIG gift to a little girl. I am pretty sure my dad asked me to play a song on it before he left for work. When I look back, I hope my parents weren’t disappointed in my reaction. It is one of my most special memories and treasured gifts.

That piano started my love for music, which began a love for worship. My first piano teacher, Sister Francis, assigned me hymns and church music in my first year of lessons. And then next thing I knew, I was playing the organ during weekday masses for my Catholic school. I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to (or if she asked my parents). Then I started playing for summer weekday masses, and finally graduated to playing for Sunday masses while still in grade school. After that, came weddings and funerals. By the way, I still play for that same Catholic church. It has been 40 years now and I have no regrets.

My heart was changed through hymns and church music. I was worshiping God while I was playing. I was helping other people worship God while I was playing. I sensed an intimate presence with God during music. In high school, I was active in chorus, through singing and piano accompaniment. After high school, I was involved in the church choir. At the Baptist church I am a member of now, I play the keyboard for worship services.

Trust me, I am not a professional concert pianist. But God gave me some talent and gave me a desire. My mom and dad helped that desire and determination to flourish, with the lessons, support, and the piano. God used all of this to create a heart of worship in me. It is a part of me – singing in the car, singing in my head at work, or sitting at the piano alone at home, to play and sing.

Ultimately, the piano belonged to our family and my sister played the piano, as well. When I was married and got a house, mom and dad offered to give it me, which in many ways, was like a second gift. For God continued the gift: my girls grew up with the piano in the house. We would sit together and sings songs or I would play while they were going to sleep. My daughters all have a heart for worship as well, and have used those gifts in God’s church. That piano is still in my house today.

While this is definitely a “thank you” to my mom and dad for being a part of God’s work in my life in music, it is also a reminder to watch. See where God may be lighting a fire in your son or daughter or spouse or friend. Encourage that gift or interest, and see what God will do with it!

No Excuses

by Olivia Brinker

In almost every area of my life, I make excuses for not going the extra mile to do what is right and good. I’ve always been a chronically lazy/selfish person. I assume that comes from being the baby of the family, but there I go making excuses for my actions again. The past few months, I have felt the Lord really tugging at me to notice this cycle in my life, especially as a mother.

My relationship with the Lord has been nothing short of a roller coaster, and acting out my faith and being a light for Him has been put in the corner with dried up apples and dirty diapers. My kids have rapidly become a wall in between my heart and my ambition to live like Christ. I find myself limiting myself to only leading worship on Sunday morning and the rest of the week is strictly focused on raising my 3 small children and trying to take the responsibility of leading my family from my husband. There is no doubt, I have a ton of things stacked against me right now and maybe you feel the same way, but God never said His way was easy. Whether it be finding time to study His word or witnessing to the world around me, my family shouldn’t be getting in the way of that.

Matthew 10:37-39 says this:

“The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it.”

I hear from a lot of people that I’m doing okay; that this season of life is meant to be spent raising my kids and that God knows my heart and understands. These are true statements and my role as a mother is definitely a part of my ministry for the Lord, but if my day to day is causing me to say ‘no’ to a call from God, then my priorities are wrong.

In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, I am called to much more than the daily responsibilities of a wife and mother. The word of the Lord should consume every aspect of my life.

“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

I am to be teaching my children to live for Christ. If I’m putting them first, how much are they really learning? They should see me praising. They should see me giving. They should see me evangelizing. They should see me dying to myself in order to live for Christ! I long for my children to see the good that comes from living like that. Right now, they are along for the ride on my journey as a believer. I need to make sure I take the right route, and stop making excuses.

“Her sons rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her.”
Proverbs 31:28

2018 Rest for the Weary

by Traci Jahnke

2017 is in the past and a new year has started. It is good to reflect and look back over the past year; there are always things to be grateful for. After review, a new year may bring new personal commitments and goals. It feels like a fresh slate, to start over and to make changes to better yourself, your family, your home, and your career.

But for some, 2017 included job loss, marital conflict, financial stress, parenting challenges, a new baby, health issues, death of a loved one, and many hurts and anxieties hidden away deep inside. For those, maybe the greatest hope for 2018 is to catch a break.

When there are so many troubles weighing on your mind and spirit, that your thoughts never stop, you feel completely overwhelmed, fragile, anxious, crushed, worn; rest for a weary soul may sound like exactly what you need for the next year.

Rest for a weary soul is not the same as a trouble-free 2018; God does not guarantee that. In fact, John 16:33 informs, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

What is this rest for the weary? And how do you get it? Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The Greek word for ‘give you rest’ is anapauo and it means to give intermission from labor or to refresh.

If 2017 was difficult and long, if it brought trial after trial, so that you could barely catch a breath, an intermission sounds good. This Bible verse says that God WANTS TO GIVE US THIS INTERMISSION or refreshment.

Surrender your worries, your hurts, your health, your grief, your marriage troubles, your finances, ALL to Him. Turn them over, lay them down (every morning if necessary), because you are not strong enough to bear them, but He is. Ask God for rest, for He will provide it.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is an eternal God,
the Creator of the whole earth.
He does not get tired or weary;
there is no limit to his wisdom.
He gives strength to those who are tired;
to the ones who lack power, he gives renewed energy.
 Even youths get tired and weary;
even strong young men clumsily stumble.
 But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength;
they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings,
they run without growing weary,
they walk without getting tired. Isaiah 40:28-31 NET

God never gets tired; He gives strength to those who ask; to those who have depleted all their own. If we try to carry and handle our burdens on our own, we will be weary, tired, and without hope.  But if we trust God with our struggles, He will give us strength and energy to walk through it.

Our rest in God and surrender to Him also includes refreshment.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
     he refreshes my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3 NIV

And when you ask for His rest and for His strength, you receive the most amazing gift: HOPE. It’s right there on the other side of the rest; God’s hope brings life and infuses our mind, heart, and soul.

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God;  My hope comes from him.”  Psalm 62:5 NIV

No matter the trials, losses, conflicts, and betrayals of 2017, God’s hope can be yours. Why can we have hope?

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!” Lamentations 3:19-23

The reason we have hope is because God’s love is never ending! God’s love and compassion for His people is inexhaustible! God’s faithfulness is perfect. We can have hope because God who is faithful will not abandon us. We have His presence, comfort, and peace. He is in control of every part of life and He is good. And we can have hope because those who belong to God will live forever with Him.

“So God has given both his promise and his oath.
These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie.
Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.  This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”  Hebrews 6:18-19 NLT

For those with weary souls from 2017:

Rest in God, surrender every hurt and problem, find refreshment and strength from Him, and take hold of a certain HOPE in 2018 that is found in GOD ALONE!

A Mother’s Heart Gripped by Darkness

Olivia Brinker

In high school, I was that girl who cared about nothing more than finding a man, getting married, and having babies (a lot of babies). I thought I was built for it. I was sure that being a wife and mother would just come naturally to me, that my husband would love me well, and I would raise, literally, perfect kids.

Only one thing has come naturally and almost perfectly for me and that was my physical ability to ‘house’ and deliver three beautiful babies. The rest seems like my worst nightmare.

I want to talk about the reality that I, and so many others, hadn’t planned for when starting the journey of motherhood.

My third baby, my longed for baby boy, was placed in my arms after an incredible delivery. His sisters, a sensitive 3 year old and a spunky 18 month old, were on their way to meet the one who would complete our family. I was anxious. Still, after already having two toddlers, I expected perfection. This would very quickly spiral into one of the darkest periods of my life.

I wasn’t happy. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my sweet baby and his sisters, but it seemed like everything they did made me burn with anger. The girls would come to my bedside asking for breakfast and my head wouldn’t even be off the pillow before my harsh words would start spewing towards their sweet, undeserving faces. I hated myself, but I didn’t know how to stop it.

I knew and heard so many stories of women with postpartum depression, but to say I was struggling with it felt like another excuse for my behavior.

I hit rock bottom hard when my 3 year old started crying over everything and losing her independent spirit, my 18 month old was biting and scratching and angry, and my baby screamed all day long. I couldn’t breathe, my head ached, and my ability to see anything good in my surroundings had completely disappeared.

It took my husband calling me ugly to realize how right he was. I had to do something to save my family. None of them deserved this. Even though I knew he wouldn’t fully understand, I needed to talk to my husband, to completely tear down my wall of pride and let him see my almost blackened heart. If he didn’t know the extent of my feelings, how could he walk through it with me?

Once I had the support of my husband, I was able to see clearly that even he couldn’t make my dark world brighter. The Lord, who I had leaned on for all of my seemingly small trials, was waiting for me to once again give Him control. I started praying big, specific prayers. I needed peace in the morning, when I didn’t want to get out of bed and feed my kids. I needed patience when all three of them desired my attention and I honestly didn’t want to give it to any of them. But mostly, I needed grace when my need to take control quickly ruined each passing day.

Here is the great thing about our Father though: when I have no patience, He still does. As long as my desperate prayers are lifted up, He continues to work in my heart.

I can’t say I have it all together. There is still a lot of darkness in my days, but my ability to see the light is becoming easier. Every once in a while I can even love on my baby and give my girls attention all at the same time! Being a mom is so hard but it comes with so much joy. Journey with me in choosing to let go and let God heal. I firmly believe it will get better.