How to Expand Our Borders in 2018: Open Our Arms Up Wide

My husband and I have known for many years that God was calling us to enlarge our tent and expand our borders. 

Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. (Isaiah 54:2-3)

Expand our Borders in 2018

The Rearview Mirror

We married at ages 22 and 26, and almost as soon as I became a wife, I became a Christian, and then a mother. We had our (fabulous!) children in years 2, 4, and 6 of our marriage. We started child sponsorship with Compassion right away, one per child. My mother-heart wanted to keep growing, and at that point, we fully expected to have more kiddos. 

But then we didn’t.

By this time we had moved a few times for our ministry roles, and settled in to one of the most challenging and rewarding seasons of our life and ministry in northern Maine. This was right after our littlest had her first birthday.

Family cuteness
(Look at all that cuteness! How could we not want more??)

But the next 6 years rocked and forever changed us. 

Boundary Lines

The boundary lines of our lives were growing wider and our tent was being stretched further, but somehow I couldn’t see it. God wasn’t working how I expected Him to. 

We began to explore what it meant for our family to expand our borders. If it didn’t mean more biological children, then it must mean adoption, right? A quick look into international adoption showed us that our immigration status at the time disqualified us. After all, we had recently entered a different country for my husband’s work. A quick perusal of domestic adoption looked like it held potential, but that door soon shut too.

I was confused and discouraged. Why did I have a desire to expand our family borders if in reality we wouldn’t be able to bring others into it?

Pure and Undefiled Religion

At about the same time, God was pressing in on us what worship looks like:

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

With this passage, God was igniting our hearts for orphans and widows even though no adoption doors were opening. We studied it, prayed it, and even wrote a song, “Undefiled Worship”, for our congregation. Then all of a sudden, two of the teens in our youth group were effectively abandoned by their family. Surely this was what God was preparing us for! We invited them into our home.

And they turned us down.

God’s Ways are Higher than Ours

We just couldn’t understand why we felt such a burden to enlarge our tents if God didn’t intend to increase our family borders. I confess I was ready to give up on God’s plans for us in this regard. And instead, we just threw ourselves into our ministries, and started filling our empty bedrooms with interns and missionaries. If God didn’t want to expand our borders, then we would.

But His ways are higher than ours. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Is 55:9)

Little did I realize, this was part of His plan all along.

We began what became a years-long arrangement to provide housing for students interning for ministry. And over time, several stayed with us for one year, two years, our home then becoming their home-base when back from the field.  

And what started as a favor to a University we supported became a deeply rewarding facet of our family’s life.With Laura - enlarge our borders 

We couldn’t have predicted how our hearts would enlarge to love these young adults.With Mike - enlarge our borders

 

 

We could not have expected our children to embrace an older “sister” and “brother” in this way. Our borders had expanded indeed.

 

 

Nothing is Up to “Chance”

Then a “chance” meeting with a couple from our church kindled the flame for enlarged borders even more. Even though we barely knew them, they came to our house to share with us her story of adoption. She had placed a child up for open adoption while in her late teens, and had been able to have an active role in his life as he had grown. We couldn’t have known that our “chance” meeting to hear about adoption was another part of our own border expansion. Because it was going to look so different than we could have predicted.

We began to grow closer to this couple, and to do ministry together. We celebrated the birth of their second son with them not long afterward.

And then tragedy struck in the form of a wintery accident, and we had a widow with two tiny boys to love.

Expand Our Borders

Nothing really prepares you for caring for widows and orphans. We just knew we were called to it. God had been whispering to us about it for months…years. And since caring for a young widow in her primary season of bewilderment and grief opens up so many opportunities for withdrawal, misunderstanding, and exhaustion, it is tempting to retreat. But God beckoned us into it, and she welcomed “family”.

We didn’t really know what we were doing, other than loving her and her boys. So we simply made our home their home whenever needed, and tried to listen more than we spoke. We made meals together, changed diapers, cried, and continually offered ourselves to the Lord to be used in their lives. Birthdays, holidays, and regular days were all shared. Our children became like siblings.

Tyler's 1st birthday - enlarge our borders

Rhyno Andretta kiddos - - enlarge our borders

The boys - enlarge our borders

Days became weeks, and weeks became months, and months became years. And “Mondays” continued to be a constant for our families to be together.

She emerged from her grief a woman of strength and grace, and her boys triumphed as vivacious and strong bundles of energy and character. And their family ministered to ours over these years every bit as much as we did theirs. Our lives are exponentially richer for this season. 

With Scott - enlarge our borders

We could not have predicted how God would expand our borders when He began calling. And we would not change this season for the world.

And Now…

It is ten years since that tragic phone call, and both of our families have moved away from each other. Our hearts remain intertwined, our family borders blurred. 

And God is calling us to enlarge our tent even more.

I no longer have a preconceived idea of what that might look like. For us it wasn’t  having another child or being able to adopt one. Enlarging our tent has looked like:

  • One-on-one discipleship
  • Supporting Compassion children
  • Hosting people without family over the Christmas holidays
  • Bringing large groups of students in our home for meals and games
  • Loving our kiddos’ friends and bringing them on vacation with us
  • Sharing our faith
  • Hosting a life group
  • Friends-giving
  • Offering our vehicle for others to use
  • Grieving with those who grieve
  • Celebrating with those who celebrate
  • And reaching out to others for help and prayer when we’ve needed it most.

It has looked so different than I could ever have imagined.

For 2018

At this point, I simply open my hands to receive whatever might come our way. In these early hours of 2018, my prayer is that God would help me to continue to open my arms up wide. I pray He would expand our borders in whatever way brings Him most glory.

Our family's chief purpose is to let Jesus' joy loose. Click To Tweet

We will set extra places at our table, make extra beds, or walk with people through seasons of grief. We will have hard conversations, depend on the Lord to fill us with love, and hold people to accountability. 

And we believe that as we expand our borders in this way, we will spread out to the right and left, and our joy will be let loose in the desolate corners of the world.

Amen – may this be so.

Elizabeth Joy

 

 

 

Back to School: How to Teach our Kids Life Skills

This post contains affiliate links for Skill Trek. I am excited to tell you about it! See my full disclosure about affiliate links by clicking here.

Fall is almost officially here, and we feel it because it’s back to school time. This elicits both a sigh of relief and a bit of nail-biting for most parents. Will our kiddos move ahead this year in their readiness for all the world holds? Are they learning the life skills they need to navigate it well?

Life Skills

Whether parents choose private, public, homeschool, or unschooling, I’m fairly confident most of us want our children to succeed. I think we all want our kids to be happy while they are learning too. We have mainly educated our kids through the public school systems (in Canada and in the U.S), though we forayed into Christian Schooling for a couple of years for one child, and virtual schooling for the two others. Each model has its benefits and drawbacks, but we’ve managed, and our children have thrived all the way through.

Back to School: How to Teach Our Children Life Skills

Sending my firstborn off to University recently, while seeing #firstdayofschool posts everywhere, has made me a bit nostalgic. It has forced me to consider the paths that led to this point. Have we prepared him well?

As I’ve thought this through, I’ve realized that much of what he needs to succeed he didn’t actually learn in school. Yes, he gleaned a lot there, and we’ve had some awesome teachers along the way. But he learned many of his most important life skills outside of the classroom, away from textbooks and technology.

This is #joyletloose.

When life becomes a vibrant classroom, life skills abound. Click To Tweet

Some of the skills that top my list as most important are:

  • Looking people in the eye
  • Listening well
  • Having a strong handshake
  • Extending hospitality
  • Respecting our elders

 

Then of course add in such things as cooking a variety of foods, laundry care, home repairs, money management, conversation and table etiquette and the list goes on… There are so many things we can add to the curriculum of life. And parents (and grandparents!) of littles, it is never too early to begin!

 

Skill Trek

Life skills are learned through repetition, in an environment that feels natural and enjoyable. They are internalized best when someone who loves them brings them alongside. And learning goals can be set according to the values that parents see as important in the adult world.

It just so happens that I stumbled on this great resource just last week. Skill Trek is a program designed for parents who want to make life skill learning a key (and fun!) part of home life. We didn’t have such a resource as our kids were navigating their younger years, but I wish we did! 

Whether your family is just entering the school world or starting into their teens, they can become Trailblazers, Rockhoppers, or Cragsmen. And Skill Trek promises 500+ skills are available to you in innovative and fun ways, with a reward system that encourages good habits to form through practice. Their goal is to banish boredom in your home, and to help everyone thrive!

Here are just a few of the testimonials I’ve read:

Skill Trek has exceeded everything I hoped it would be.  My children are eager to earn nuggets and master new skills, and the lessons have been fantastic jumping points for further discussion and learning.  I highly recommend this program to all parents of children!” ~ Dawn of Cedar’s Story

 

“My kids keep asking “Can we do Skill Trek?” They love their [trail]guide and earning nuggets! I love that they’re learning a wide range of life skills. It’s a busy mom win, for sure!” ~ Tauna of Proverbial Homemaker

 

So whether you’d want to include this in your homeschooling curriculum, or slip it into your after school routine, I encourage you to check out Skill Trek to see what you think! And I’d also encourage you to intentionally set some goals for your children. What are those key attributes you see in vibrant adults that they can learn now? What are the things you want to be sure they live naturally by the time they set out the door for university?

Goal-setting

Joy Let Loose adults are very often those whose childhoods were impacted by patient, loving mentors. How can you come alongside your children (or grandchildren, or other children you love) to help them grow to let joy loose?

I made a printable goal-setting sheet for you to get started. Download the PDF here. 

Life Skill Goals Sheet

How about you? What are some life skills you are instilling in your children that are invaluable to you and your family?

Elizabeth Joy

12 Family Traditions for Holidays or Regular Days

No matter what shape or form they take, or how they came to be, families are special. I believe they are a primary place where God intends for us to experience His  joy in our lives. In a culture where there are so many breakdowns to the family unit, having Family Traditions is one helpful way to foster unity, create special memories and build legacy.

Sometimes traditions begin on purpose, and sometimes they grow almost by happenstance. Some are tied to holidays, and some to the regular days, to create interest or to instil values. The traditions we have created in our family have been a source of joy for us as our crew has grown and changed. 

12 Family Traditions for Holidays or Regular Days

I’ve collected together 12 Family Traditions for Holidays or Regular Days that I hope you find inspiring for your family. You can use these ideas just as they are, or perhaps your family will put its own spin on some of them. Share in the comments below if you try out any of these ideas!

Birthday Pancakes

Birthday PancakesMy husband and I both had the flu on the day our first son celebrated his first birthday. Though we needed to postpone his birthday gathering by a day or two, we still wanted to acknowledge the milestone on the actual day, though we didn’t have the energy to do very much.

A few things were certain: the baby didn’t know it was his birthday, he wasn’t sick, and he still needed to eat! In true super-dad form, my husband Scott took one for the team and went to make breakfast. He wanted to make something special, and relatively new for our little guy, and decided upon pancakes. Long before ‘pancake art’ was even a thing, Scott made one pancake in the simple shape of a “1”, which he then served the baby, snapping a picture to keep for posterity. That was about the extent of the celebrations for that day.

When the next birthday rolled around, Scott remembered the previous year and poured a “2” with his pancake batter. Voilà, the first of our Family Traditions was born! As crazy as it seems, just this week, our oldest son will receive his 18th birthday pancake from his dad! In addition, we have served 28 others, between our second son and our daughter. It has become an enjoyable thing for each of them to look forward to on their big day. And, by virtue of our pictures heading out on the internet, we have seen the Birthday Pancake tradition spread from family to family over the years.

*If you have adopted the tradition of making birthday pancakes somewhere along the way, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

 

Tea Parties

Sometimes Family Traditions might be carried out in smaller groups (like Mother/Daughter, or Father/Son traditions). One tradition my daughter and  I  maintained with good regularity for many years was having Tea Parties.

 

When Grace was very small, I got the book Just Mom and Me Having Tea: A Fun Bible Study for Mothers and Daughters. It suited her perfectly, and gave us activities, craft ideas and launchpads for spiritual conversations while we had our tea parties. Our menu varied (rarely including tea!), and moved location almost every time (sometimes the dining room, other times a picnic on her bedroom floor). These times together were special, helping us to bond tightly. As she grew, our topics of conversation changed, and our activities modified to fit her stage of life, but our enjoyment of intentional time together never wanes.

 

Mother Daughter Tea Parties Continue reading “12 Family Traditions for Holidays or Regular Days”