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

 

 

 

Advent Joy for Sharing this Season

As we round the bend of November and Thanksgiving, I love that we immediately head towards December, with its Advent Joy for sharing this season. Our family looks forward to Christmas, but we have to be careful to slow down and lean in to the Advent season first, even as Christmas trappings swirl all around us. Our cultural Christmas screams that the holiday is already here in music, parties, and lights, but the Christian story of waiting is still unfolding in the quiet places.

Even in Christian circles, prioritizing Advent has become counter-cultural. As a worship leader, I can run headlong into aaallllll the stuff that is Christmas in church ministry, OR I can continually remind myself that my congregation needs the Advent wait too, just like my family does.

So, what is Advent?

Advent is actually the beginning of the Christian calendar year. It is the “reset” button for those who pattern their lives around the Story of Christ. And it is a time to reflect on what the anticipation for the Messiah was like 2000 years ago, and how much they needed God to send the Light of Life into a world of darkness. It also helps us to consider how our dark world still needs the breaking-in of Jesus, and to look forward to His return. Check out Seedbed for some helpful Advent history.

So, how does a family, or a church family, lean into Advent Joy in the middle of a Christmas-crazed culture?

Today I’m sharing 6 ways we can engage in the season of Advent this year.

6 Ways to Advent Adventure This December: Advent Joy

6 Ways to Advent-Adventure this December
  1.  Share Joyful Blessings:

I actually started this one early. Beginning at Thanksgiving, I wanted to begin to look ahead to what Advent Joy there would be. Our church Life Group was hosting a “Friendsgiving” on the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving. (If you’ve never done a Friendsgiving, it is wellI worth your time and effort!)

Our Life Group (15 adult members in all) invited family, friends and neighbors to a huge pot luck Thanksgiving dinner at our home. These could be people who already know Jesus, or people who don’t. All are welcome. Each LG member brought a portion of the meal, and were able to seat all 42 people who came! At one point, several of us shared why we are grateful, including how Christ had transformed us. 

My mother-in-law had given me  101 Blessings of Joy Cards – A Box of Blessings back in August, as an encouragement on my  joy-journey.This seemed like a perfect time to bring them out. Each card holds 2 blessings, quotes, or Scripture verses (one on each side), to encourage others in their  joy.

So, I decided to use these joy blessings in my table settings, drawing attention to them as we prayed for our meal. We encouraged people to read them and even use them as conversation starters. I know for me, this helped me begin to focus on the upcoming Advent Joy season. And these will also serve nicely at table settings all throughout the month of December.

Joy Blessings: Advent Joy Advent Joy, Blessing, Table setting

2. Daily Advent Joy Readings

I love to shift my focus in the month of December. I try to be purposeful about what I read that helps me to engage with Advent Joy. This year, I picked up John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, an inexpensive little paperback that I sense is loaded with power. Piper’s reason for writing it was that He was praying for an experience of Christ’s fullness. Wow, do I ever want that too!!

That is my prayer for you this Christmas–that you would experience the fullness of Christ; that you would know in your heart the outpouring of grace upon grace; that the glory of the only Son from the Father would shine into your heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ; that you would be amazed that Christ can be so real to you. – J. Piper

Though I haven’t yet started the readings–I’ll begin on December 3rd, the first Sunday of Advent–I anticipate that the Lord will use these in my life.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Advent Joy

3. Advent Wreath

As our family grows, we find it increasingly important (and difficult!) to make space for family meals around the table. Throughout the month of December, we will use our mealtime together to light Advent candles in our wreath. The Dawning of Indestructible Joy may serve us well for readings in the evenings, to focus us all together. But there are other valuable resources as well. 

Last year, we used Kaylene yoder’s Names of Jesus Advent Pack on as many evenings as we could be together, and found them very helpful. I wrote about it here. We would accompany the readings with the lighting of candles, adding one more each week of Advent.

I also recently purchased Seedbed’s Reset: Advent Devotions for the Whole Family, which may become the backbone of our family time this year.

Advent Wreath with Candles: Advent Joy

4. Advent Adventures

This morning, I posted the first of 4 blog posts I am doing for Waterline Church, where I am the Director of Relational Arts. We are calling these our Advent Adventures.

We were looking for a way to help our church family engage with the Advent Joy of the season. So I am creating this series with the twofold purpose. They will teach more about Advent. And they will give people (of all ages) tangible “adventures” to take. We pray that we will all slow down and experience the joy and hope of the season. Especially if we do these simple activities with our families and friends. I’d invite you to head over here to see if they might be activities you could incorporate into your December family activities.

5. #GiveJoy Challenge

A friend and  Joy Let Loose reader recently shared a great resource with me that I’d like to pass along to you today. It is called the #GiveJoy Challenge 2017 from Amy Pike. I love it because it is designed for families. I think it will help parents and children alike to look beyond themselves this Christmas, and to look for ways to let joy loose this Christmas. That is something I can definitely get behind!!

Amy’s #GiveJoy challenge 2017 offers families 28 challenges, complete with instructions for each day. Obviously, you can pick and choose to go at your family’s pace. But there is something for every day of Advent if you are up for it. And you’ll find opportunities to share joy with friends & family, community members, and service professionals. Why not join Amy and spread a little  joy this Advent?

#GiveJoy 2017 Challenge: Advent Joy

6. Life Skills

Practically speaking, the Advent Joy season is a preparation time for Christmas. And we all know we generally have a lot to do to get ready! One group I’ve chosen to come alongside here at  Joy Let Loose is Skill Trek. 

I love their taglines!  There is “Lifeproofing the next generation like nothing else”. And “Making ’em ready for anything”. Skill Trek has been designed for parents, to assist in learning important life skills that generally aren’t taught in schools. They have fun adventures for kids of all ages in everything from hygiene and cooking, to financial literacy and emergency preparedness. And they offer varying levels of digital curriculum for families of different budgets.

One thing I recently learned about from Skill Trek is The 12 Skills of Christmas, a seasonal curriculum they offer. Since Christmas prep is so busy, why not pull everyone into the festivities? We can help them learn to prepare holiday menus (including turkey!). Or organize a neighborhood cookie exchange, or create their own Advent calendar? It’s on sale right now, so it’s a great time to pick up this fun curriculum to help you organize and teach your kiddos this season.

12 Skills of Christmas from Skill Trek: Advent Joy

I hope that this post inspires you to actively engage in the Advent season with your family. There are many ways, even beyond the regular holiday festivities. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below if you do try any of these ideas, or if you have some great family Advent traditions we should know about here at  Joy Let Loose!

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