April 20, 2014

A Little of This and a Little of That

Lots of randomness on the brain lately, so just dumping it all here at once:

--We are almost done with our regular school work.  Yahooo!  This is good because my brain was ready to be done with school about 3 weeks ago.  We're going to continue doing small things, at least in the mornings, throughout the summer.  Hopefully this will keep them from forgetting all they've learned this year.  It will also keep us moving and help pass these upcoming summer mornings.  I am so looking forward to lazy days, family walks, afternoons at the pool, and reading outside on blankets.

--Lent is over.  I survived drinking only water for Lent.  Some days, it was easy, some days, super hard.  But, everyday, it reminded me how blessed I am to be able to run to the faucet for a glass of clean water to drink, to be able to brush my teeth with clean water, to bathe in clean water, to be able to choose whether I want my water to be hot or cold.  So many in this world don't have any of those choices.  I feel blessed to be able to donate my small amount of money to help those with little to no access to clean water be able to get it.  I won't lie, it was a looooooong 40 days.  Life here in the McSmith house had lots of ups and downs in that time and I learned just how much I rely on food and soda to "make me feel better" when things aren't going my way.  It was no coincidence that God led me to this challenging Lent sacrifice when He was also going to be refining my faith and putting our family through some difficult times.  I didn't have soda to run to (which is what I always do when I'm tired, stressed, or frustrated....drink lots of soda!) God is so good!  He met me right where I needed Him, provided all the comfort I needed.  I can rest in Him.  I don't need soda or food for true rest and comfort.  I need Christ alone.

--I really enjoyed church this morning.  Celebrating Christ's resurrection is just exciting. It's even more exciting to celebrate with your children right next to you.  The Lord reminded me today that I need to come before Him like a child, full of excitement, and with genuine love and honesty.  It was so sweet today, as the first chords of My Redeemer Lives Ethan just began grinning really big and jumping.  I'll admit, it's a fun and exciting song.  His enthusiasm was so contagious.  It was all I could do not to just jump up and down with the joy of Christ's resurrection.  He's alive!  He's conquered sin, death, shame, illness.  He makes all things new.  How can we stand still?  We should be like the little child, joyfully running to you with their exciting news.  I was also reminded that this should be our attitude every week.  We celebrate His life, death, and resurrection every Sunday, even if that's not explicitly the sermon topic, and I should come excited and ready to shout forth my praise to Him each week, as if it were Easter Sunday every week. This is my challenge every week from now on.

--If you read my post from earlier this week, you know I had a dilemma about what to wear for Easter Sunday morning.  I tried to go middle of the road with a jean skirt, leggings,and a simple shirt and sweater.  Sadly, none of our Afterschool families came to church today, but we had lots of visitors.  And I am so proud that my church all were very loving and welcoming of all who came in the door. But, as I was pondering this week what I would wear, God really got to my heart with the thought that I should be wanting all visitors to feel welcome every week, not just on Easter Sunday.  Why was I so worried about this one Sunday, but not any other Sunday?  So, I've decided to stop fretting about what to wear each week.  Nothing I have is anything over the top, but I will probably stick to simple skirts, nicer jeans, and simple shirts.  (And hey, compared to the sweat pants I literally wear around the house everyday, this is dressing up!)  I remember being little and being expected to get all dressed up on Sunday mornings and thinking, "He sees me every other day of the week in my jeans and shorts, why does He need to see me in something nice on Sunday?"  Not sure if I still feel that way or not, but I certainly do feel that, at times, I have dressed nicer to put on a mask or to look or feel better than I really was.  It was a show.  Now, I am not saying that everyone who dresses nicely on Sundays is putting on a show, but for me, many times, that's really all it has been.  Not anymore.  I want my clothing to reflect my heart as much as possible. (Though I promise not to wear the sweatpants...though I have been tempted to do so on more than one occasion.) Yes, we are to present our best to God, but using clothes as a mask is not our best!  This may seem silly to some of you, but it's a big thing to my heart.  I am praying that God will use this area in my heart to continue to draw me to Him.

--I am saddened that none of our Afterschool families joined us for church this morning, but I am not dissuaded. God is up to something in the lives of those children and I know that can't help but overflow into the lives of the parents, grandparents, or whatever adults are in their lives.  God is teaching me that this is a slow, painful, messy, joy-filled, frustrating process.  I must rely on and trust in Him alone.  He has placed great leadership over us in this ministry and He's going to do some amazing things in these little lives, even if we never see what that is.

April 18, 2014

My (Shallow) Easter Dillemma

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is in no way meant to hurt feelings or bring judgment on anyone.  I am merely sharing what is happening in my heart right now.

Despite what my daily choice of wardrobe might say, I love clothes.  I love looking at them.  I love buying them.  If we were rich, most of our money would be spent on clothes: shirts, dresses, jeans, boots, shoes. Man, I love it!

I headed out this year to look for something for the kids to wear for Easter.  We've never gone crazy on Christmas or Easter clothes, but I always get them something fairly inexpensive. I mean, after all, I love clothes.  Especially kids clothes.  As I looked at the choices this year, my heart fell to my stomach as I realized that the amount I would spend on special outfits for this occasion would literally feed, clothe, educate (mentally and spiritually), and keep healthy a child in Uganda for a MONTH!  A MONTH!  I just couldn't do it.  I was sad, but I knew that my not buying those outfits was the right choice, for us.  Just a few weeks after that, God provided us with some pretty cute Easter outfits in the form of hand-me-downs. There was something for each kid to wear.  What a blessing!

Now, as Easter Sunday gets closer, my dilemma has changed to, "What will I wear?" You see, we've invited all of our Afterschool Adventure families to join us in church this weekend.  This is really the first time we've invited them to church for something other than Family Quest.  I really pray that they will come.  I really pray they will feel welcome when they get there.  But, they will be coming on the most "glamorous" day of the whole year.  Many of them have little money and dress very casually.  I have no idea if any of them have dress clothes, the kids or the parents.  When they walk in and everyone else is dressed to the nines, will that make them want to turn and walk out the door before the service even begins?  Will those at church look down on them because they aren't all dressed up like us?  So, my dilemma is, do I dress more casually so that those who may come (whether they are from this ministry or are just guests) will feel comfortable enough to be able to hear the Gospel message that will be presented and possibly risk looks and comments from those in church who will feel like I should be "better dressed"...or do I follow the Easter tradition of being really dressed up and just hope that our guests won't notice?  (I told you this is a shallow dilemma!)  I am still not sure what it is I need to do.  I feel silly for even making this a big deal.  But I know that it really is something, even though it is small, that could make a difference to others around me, guests and church members alike.

Lord, give me clear direction.  Show me how to be your hands and feet, in the way I dress and the way I greet and love on those You send through the doors of our church this weekend.  Move in a mighty way in churches across the nation this weekend, whether they meet in gyms, fancy sanctuaries, or under the overpass with their city's homeless population.  Make Your name known!

April 17, 2014

Celebrating the Cross and the Empty Tomb

I am so thankful for this evening that I spent with two sweet families teaching our children about Christ, His life on earth, and his death and resurrection.  If you didn't read the post I wrote about all we were doing this evening, you can check it out HERE.  Just wanted to share the pics of the fun and fellowship we had.  I know that the kids didn't grasp everything we talked about, but the seeds were planted and I feel confident God will bless our efforts. Hope you enjoy a glimpse of the fun we had this evening!!!

All of us learning about one of Jesus' miracles, the feeding of the 5,000.

We made a collage of all the things that God gives us.  We talked about how we can share those with others and all brought food we could donate to our church's food pantry.

Then we learned about Jesus washing the disciples feet.  He told us that he set the example that we are to follow, being a servant to all people.  This was the craft to help us remember that.  We also donated supplies to Sole Hope for their jigger removal clinics.

Then we learned what Christ did for us when he went to the cross and was raised from the dead.  We each made a painting to remind us what He's done for us.  This is the one that Sophie and Ethan did.

This was really fun!  I am hoping we are able to do this, or something like it, next year.  And I look forward to how God will mold and shape it as it gets deeper as the children get older!

April 13, 2014

Unexpected Answers to Prayer

A while back (I can't remember exactly when...I'm nowhere near as good with dates and time lines as I was in my younger days) our pastor preached a sermon encouraging us to be about Kingdom work.  Now, I'll admit, when I first heard the sermon I was a little offended, as I felt like he kept making it seem that the only valuable Kingdom work were things you were doing outside the home.  As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, right now, about 98% of what I feel God has asked me to do is inside my home.  So of course, I got a little perturbed by thought that my pastor was telling me that what I know is my calling is not Kingdom work. (Drama queen much!?!?!)  Of course, those of you who know my pastor know that he would never say that because he absolutely doesn't believe that, so after some discussion with others and chatting with the pastor, it was clear that his intent was that if we never get the Gospel out of the walls of our homes and churches, we are not fully living out what Christ has called us to do.  Yes, for most of us, our first mission field is the family that Christ has placed within our own home, but we can't just stay there.

I really had to think on this for awhile.  To be honest, it takes pretty much all of my time, energy, focus, creativity, and attention just to be pouring into my kids every day.  The thought of moving things beyond these walls was not only terrifying and overwhelming, it was tiring.  How in the world do I have time to pour into my family and others, too.  I was really struggling.

I am so thankful for the Godly and wise women He has placed in my life.  One of these women truly helped me to see that, part of discipling my children is bringing them with me as I minister and serve others.  I can't just let them hear about what I am doing, or watch from a distance, but they need to participate as well.  So, I began to pray about what I could do to serve those outside my home in His name, but could also include my children.  The Lord opened up several opportunities, that were very easy for me, when He led me to read Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess with a friend.  We were encouraged to start going without certain things in order help those who were truly in need.  It was a way to live out Isaiah 58, a chapter God has used to really wreck me in the last 2 years.  Then he lead me to Reading for Refugees through His Voice Global.  What a great way for Sophie to really get involved in learning about the needs of others and doing a small part in meeting that need!  We've also been able to send shoe pieces and needed supplies to Sole Hope through birthday parties, Family Quest, and again this year as part of our Easter celebration.

I was loving this!  We were able to serve others alongside our children, while also teaching them God's word.  It was great.  But deep down, I knew this was not all that God was wanting me to do.  This was just a small step to show me that is is possible to serve God in front of and with my children, but it wasn't deep enough.  There was no stepping out of my comfort zone, it was really costing me nothing, and in all honesty, we had no "skin" in the game.  Not that what we were doing wasn't important or what God wanted us to do, but I knew that He wanted us to do more, closer to home, and be more hands on.

I began, timidly, and well, almost unwillingly, to pray and ask God to show us how we could serve others right here in our own community.  Not long after I began to pray about this, a couple in our church started a ministry to the children in the apartment complex across the street from the church.  They were meeting each Wednesday after school to help the kids with homework, play games, teach the Bible, and take them over to dinner and Family Quest at church when they were done.  As soon as I read the email, I knew this was what God wanted the kids and I to do, mainly because I couldn't come up with any plausible excuse why we couldn't help.  We are always done with school by the time we would need to be there and it was the perfect way to include my children in serving others and learning how different life is for others, even here in our own little town.

When I said yes and we started helping with Afterschool Adventures, I had no idea how much I would fall in love with these kids!  We have around 20 kids each week that come and hang out with us.  Many of these kids had never read a Bible or heard a Bible story before they came to Afterschool.  Now, they can answer just about any question about several different Bible stories, quote several different scriptures, and know that there are several people in their lives now who care about them and want to see them succeed.  They know who Jesus is and why He came to earth.  They know that He loves them and wants to have a relationship with them.

The Lord has also opened my eyes to the blessings He has given me as I look at the lives many of these children live. I can't even imagine living through even a fraction of the hardship many of these kids endure each day.  This makes our time with them that much sweeter, to both them, and us.  God is so good.  I am so thankful that He answered my prayer this way.  Both of my kids look forward to this time each week and I love to see the families that have stepped up to take these kids to Family Quest.  (But we could always use more families to take kids, so if you are interested, let me know!!!!)

Lord, thank You for the sermon that started all this thinking.  Thank You for laying this burden on my heart. Thank You for all the answers You've given in this area.  Lord, continue to give wisdom and guidance as we work with these precious children. Show us how to serve them and love them as You do.  Bring us those who want to walk alongside these sweet kids as we teach them Your Truth through Family Quest.

Thought I'd leave you with some pics of these amazing (precious, frustrating, hurting, loving....etc...) kids:

April 02, 2014

Celebrating Christ This Easter

I am so excited about what we'll be doing during Easter week to celebrate this year.  We'll be gathering with two other families to have a progressive meal that will remind us of what Christ did while on earth, what He is doing in our lives now, and showing our children how we can be His hands and feet in our world today.  It's sort of our version of a Passover Meal, sort of Family Quest style!  Not sure if that's a great description or not, but either way, I am super excited to do this.  I thought this might be something others would be interested in doing, so I'm posting here what we are planning to do so you can possibly tweak it to make it work for your family.  I'll do my best to try and remember to post about it once we've done it so you know how it went!  Here's our plan (those things written in RED are links to craft ideas):

At each house, before we eat, we will look at something that Christ did in the Bible, how He does something similar for us today, and something we can do to help us remember/help others.

House 1: Bread/Salad
We will look at one of Jesus' miracles, the feeding of the 5,000.  We'll talk about what he did that day (we've studied that several times just in Family Quest, so the kids should almost be able to tell the entire story for us!) Then we'll see if they can come up with ways that Christ still takes care of us today. One big way is that he still provides food for us everyday.  We will give each family (it will be faster than each child doing their own) a paper plate and some magazines (hopefully we can find lots with food in them) and have the kids look for foods that God gives us to eat.  They will cut out those pictures and glue them to their plate.  Then we will talk about how God can also use us to help provide food for others. One way we can do that is through the food pantry. Everyone will need to bring some items with them that can be donated to the food pantry. Then we can eat our bread and salad.

House 2: The Main Meal
Here we will be talking about Jesus washing the disciples feet.  We can read the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet.  We will talk about how Jesus tells us he was being an example of what he wanted us to do, serve others.  Then we will do this THIS CRAFT (we can do one per family again, or one per child.  This won't take as long, I don't think.)  Then we will talk about ways that we can follow Christ's example of serving others.  Tonight, we will do this by gathering supplies to send to Sole Hope, who helps to take care of the feet of those who have no shoes in Uganda, Africa. Here is their list of needed supplies (each family will need to bring a few of these items with them) for Sole Hope  We will then eat the meal.

House 3: Dessert
It will be at this house that we will talk about the crucifixion and resurrection.  We can use THIS to tell them about the cross. We are thankful that He went to the cross for our sins and even more thankful that He rose from the dead.  This is important for us today because, without the cross, we can't have a relationship with Christ. Then we'll do a painting on canvas similar to THIS , but we're going to try and put an empty tomb on there, too. One per family should be good. They can pretty much paint it anyway they want...when you peel off the tape the design will be there regardless of the other painting.  Then we'll have dessert (whoever does dessert can make THESE ahead of time).

April 01, 2014

Is it really April already?!?!?!

Where in the world has 2014 gone?  Time is just flying by!!!  I'll go ahead and apologize now, this post is going to be crazy and random and probably hard to follow.  I feel like that's been my brain for the last two weeks, so this will let you know how I've been feeling!  ;)

--Both of my children have birthdays this weekend.  Sophie will be 8 and Ethan will be 5.  Talk about time flying!  What a blessing both of them have been in our lives.  I am so thankful I get to be their mom and get to see them learn and grow everyday.  Sophie is such a loving, sweet, funny girl quickly becoming a young lady.  Ethan is a silly, loving, creative boy who will be a young man far before I am ready for that.  I love that I have the privilege to teach them so many wonderful things.  I love watching E as he is learning to read.  I love how excited he gets when he sees a word he recognizes or when he sounds out a word correctly.  I love the light Sophie has in her eyes when her next great idea pops into her head.  I love the stories they each tell and the wonderful way the play together (even though they don't always agree on what or how to play.) I also love how excited each of them get when they hear a scripture verse they've memorized in a sermon or in a song.  I love watching them sleep, cuddling up and watching a movie, and reading books together.  What a gift it is to parent these to precious children, even on the hard days.

--Easter is coming!  I am looking forward to celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ with our kiddos in a new way this year (more on that after, and I can include pictures!)  I am also excited (please don't hate me when I say this) that there is no Good Friday service at church this year.  This will be the first year we'll be able to celebrate this amazing, sad, cruel, necessary event of the crucifixion, just us and the kids.  Pretty sure there will be some What's in the Bible involved, but we have yet to fully decide what to do.  What an amazing thing to be able to celebrate our hope because of Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf.  How grateful I am that He sent Christ to take the punishment for my sins.  Lord, help me to teach this truth to my children.  Help them to see their need for Your salvation and grace in their lives everyday.  Help them to see their need for a relationship with You.

--I am thankful for a loving and caring church body.  I am thankful for friends who lift us up in prayer, love our children, and walk beside us in this crazy life here on earth.  I am thankful for technology that allows me to see friends far away, to get a laugh when I need it, to help others laugh when they need it, and helps me to minister alongside some of the best women I know.  I am thankful for the gift of prayer that allows me to seek God more deeply, plead on behalf of friends and family, and hear the voice of my Creator.  I am thankful for His word and that it is so readily available for me and my children.

--I gave up drinking anything but water for Lent.  I still have a few weeks left, but it has gone well so far.  I am so thankful that God laid this on my heart to do.  So many people don't have the option of running to the sink for a quick glass of water, grabbing that nice clean water bottle out of the fridge, brushing their teeth with water that won't make them sick.  How blessed I am that I can do all of those things and never even have to think about it or wonder if that water will be there tomorrow.  Lord, give me a burden for those whose stomachs are empty and need the basic necessities each day.  Show me how to love other by caring for their needs, loving them with Your heart, and showing Your love to them each day, here and around the world.

--It's been a lot of fun, and very therapeutic, to clean out our closets, etc, to give things away for a yard sale benefiting church members heading out onto the mission field. Even the kids have really gotten into it this time.  Sophie has a two-page list of things she wants to try and make/or sell so that she has money to donate to them, too.  I love her heart.  Some of her ideas are a bit crazy, but I love the heart behind it.  I pray that I don't squash that spirit of giving she has.

I am sure there are hundreds more things that I could share, but they wouldn't be all that exciting and you'd probably get bored reading it!  Looking forward to sharing with you our Easter celebration idea.  It may end up being a disaster, but we've had fun thinking about it and planning it!  Praying that God uses this to draw all of us closer to Him and to help us see our true, deep need for Him in our lives.