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The Two Sides of Simple

Simplify

When I was in school, this word meant reducing a math problem to its lowest terms. Knowing how to simplify fractions helped me pass seventh grade and kept me on the honor roll for another year.

Many years later that word carries much more weight. In fact it can conjure up a variety of images depending on your personal circumstances. Perhaps you envision a stark white room with minimalist decor, a user-friendly monthly budget, or an organized system for your kids’ socks and shoes (where do they all come from?). A basic definition for simplify is:

to make less complex or complicated; make plainer or easier:

Simplicity and ease are marketed to us on a regular basis. Ever heard of the Staples “Easy” button? Channels like QVC share item after item designed for a more organized life even down to simpler bracelet clasps and robotic vacuums. Our culture runs after easy.

Does a time come for a follower of Jesus, though, when simplifying is not only nice for a more organized home and peaceful schedule, but necessary for the survival and health of a family? Is is vital to strive for simplicity because it’s essential to an abundant spiritual life? 

I have written before about the idol of busyness that so easily creeps into my life. I say “yes” to more responsibility not because I feel called, but because I feel conspicuous if I say “no.” I want to blend into the willing, hard-working Christian culture around me. The past year has revealed to me that all too often, I add more to my plate because I have convinced myself that I am the savior of my family, marriage, and ministry. Thinking that I am more invaluable than Christ himself inevitably spells trouble.

A few weeks ago, I was struggling with anxiety and emotional burnout from all the people and responsibilities that “needed” me. I shared with Adam that I just had to take something off of my plate, but I didn’t know what to address first! He lovingly pointed out that I do regularly take things off my to-do list to compensate for my exhaustion, however those things are often the hidden things of my life – the things that don’t affect my busy, booked-up image. For example, if given the choice between saying “no” to teaching a class at church or cutting back on our homeschool work, I would most likely choose the behind-the-scenes responsibility of school with the kids. It’s much easier for me to put my marriage, children, and ultimately my relationship with Christ on the backburner than to have an awkward conversation to turn down a public responsibility.

Ultimately, this issue stems from a misunderstanding of what God values in his followers.

Does God appreciate hard, faithful work? Yes.

Can a believer reflect the gospel through acts of love to the community around her? Yes!

Do we move higher up the spiritual ladder as the number of tasks on our lists increases? We know the answer is “no,” but Satan deceives us otherwise.

Jesus himself was very active during his years of ministry. He seemed to have a never ending line of those wanting healing, love, and attention. However, Jesus never experienced burnout or meltdown because he realized that the private, unseen areas of His life were essential to his public ministry. His habits of prayer with His Father, physical rest when he was weary, and fellowship with his disciples gave him a proper balance in service.

Those hidden habits are even more crucial for us as broken, sinful, selfish human beings.

There is another side to the simplicity coin, however. Scripture makes it clear that our hearts can make idols out of literally anything – even a simple life.

During His ministry, Jesus warned that life is filled with trouble and trial. Often our best laid plans are destroyed by an unexpected diagnosis or a needy visitor. Life’s circumstances are messy and hard. Because of this, it’s important that I don’t say “no” to potential ministry opportunities just because I want to keep my life simple and stress-free. As a follower of Jesus, I have been called to lay down my life for the gospel and to bring Him glory through the actions of each day. This could potentially mean that my homeschool schedule is interrupted because of a church need. It could also mean that a church need is unmet (by me) and I spend extra time with my children. Each responsibility should be filtered through the Holy Spirit’s calling for that day.

I pray that 2019 will bring more maturity in this area of busyness and over-commitment. I pray that I will not buy into Satan’s lies that I am the rescuer of my circumstances, and instead rest more and more heavily on the ability of my Rescuer to weave a life used for His glory.

Simply put, Jesus is the Savior, not me!

——-

Dear readers, 

In the spirit of simplifying, there will be a few transitions happening with my online spaces over the next few weeks. Many of you realize that I have been writing on a couple of different websites for over nine years now! I have been able to consolidate all of the posts from Dishes & Doctrine and A Steady Rain (minus a few hundred that were edited out) on one site: www.rachelpereira.me 

You will find a “Subscribe” button at the top left of the page above “Home.” In order to receive notifications of new posts, you will need to add your email there. 

As far as social media, I will primarily be using Instagram to share glimpses of our life and gospel centered resources for you and your children. I would love to connect there.

I have closed down my writing Facebook page to simplify my online responsibilities there as well.

I have not made a final decision on the Dishes & Doctrine audio blog. All of those episodes are still available on iTunes for you.

Thank you for your support and understanding over the years. I have been able to step away once again from the part time church work I was doing for about half of the year. This has given me a little mental space to brainstorm about some upcoming posts and projects.

Rest in Him today, friends!

Scavenger Hunts and How Can It Be?

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It sounded like a great idea at first. We could purchase the $1 scavenger hunt map, find the interesting memorabilia displayed in the two small museums, and become experts of the history of Winter Garden, Florida. It would be a chance for family bonding and count as an educational outing for our homeschool year.

It wasn’t that simple.

The twelve treasures were located in small boxes both inside and outside the historic buildings across the downtown. Each required reading a few paragraphs of historical information, answering a question based on the reading, and stamping the map with unique labels. I mapped the locations with the gps coordinates provided and dragged the family on a wild goose chase around the city. Although my inlaws had some knowledge of Winter Garden’s history, many of the locations were almost impossible to find or missing key elements like the stamp for our map. What should have been a fifteen to twenty minute search around a museum, turned into a couple hour process.

As I waited for the waitress at the local pizza shop to find the treasure box hiding behind the menus on the hostess stand, it hit me that I was holding the maps. I had been writing in the difficult answers. And there was not a child to be found. They had found a sidewalk bench and were waiting somewhat patiently for me to finish the work.

To complete the task, we headed back to the main museum to turn in our maps in exchange for a unique Winter Garden Historical Society patch. The museum guide congratulated my three children on a job well done as he took the maps with my work written all over them.

My work had earned their reward.

As I stood outside on that gorgeous December day, I was struck with the visual illustration I had unintentionally acted out with my family.

 

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,

2 Timothy 1:8-9

His work is my reward!

The task was insurmountable. Generations of humans had tried and failed. The work was complete and perfect. He “redeemed the curse of the law” and tasted the sting of death. He was victorious.

Instead of a scavenger hunt map, I turn in His record of righteousness and instead of a patch, I receive rescue from my sin and everlasting life.

As Charles Wesley so beautifully put it hundreds of years ago…

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

May my daily duties and tasks be done today with the realization that I am walking in victory through Jesus. May the amazement of His unconditional love for me be the motivation to love and serve others in my path today! How can it be?

When the Hard Road is the Best Road

The book is closed on another school year. Actually half of the pages are thrown away and the other half is saved carefully in a gigantic notebook to present to our homeschool evaluator. We have to prove that we did indeed complete third grade during the last nine months!

I don’t write about homeschooling often. There are hundreds of articles and entire websites devoted to the art of education and curriculum choices. I don’t have much insight to add to the conversation.

Like most other families, we wrestled with our schooling decision when our oldest was still a toddler. Because we live in a small community, our options are limited. We chose the public school initially as a way to get to know others outside of the church context. My son did well, learned to read quickly, and loved his teachers. During that time, my husband became the only pastor at our church. This brought with it a new complexity with our schedules. Between late-night meetings and hospital visits, he and my son were virtually two ships passing in the night. So we became a homeschooling family.

Homeschooling offers a flexibility to our family calendar that we cherish and it scratches the teaching itch that I have had since leaving the classroom ten years ago. Overall, we have found it to be a good fit for our situation.

So, here I am reflecting on two years of educating my children within the walls of our home (and on family vacations, of course) and I have to say, it is the hardest thing I have ever done. I had visions of my sons sitting with their hands folded, eagerly awaiting the next pearl of wisdom I would offer. I imagined memorizing entire chapters of Scripture to recite as a family. I hoped we would spend our afternoons cuddled on the couch reading the classics.

While there have been some special bonding moments, most of my days are filled with sibling squabbles, a toddler who finds her joy in tearing pages out of library books, and complaints about math worksheets. The laundry pile doesn’t take care of itself and the monotonous cycle of household chores seems to scream at me from every corner of every room! I researched other schooling options at various points throughout the year. Surely there must be an easier road!

It is the hardest, most repetitious, most beautiful, most rewarding thing I have ever done. Homeschooling has knocked me to my knees like nothing else ever has. I have come face to face with my weaknesses and sin on a daily basis. The waves of failure and anger have driven me to my Strong Tower over and over again.

Homeschooling (like motherhood in general) has been both refining and sanctifying in my life. It is more than countries and capitals or multiplication tables. It is an opportunity for the Spirit to reveal areas of self-dependence and pride that I have covered with the illusion of having it all together. Homeschooling makes it obvious that I don’t.

Maybe you have made a different educational choice for your children. Maybe you don’t have any kids yet. Maybe you’re facing waves much higher than third grade spelling lists. Could it be that the hardest thing in your life right now is actually the best thing? The thing that makes you wake up with dread or fills you with fear can leave you weak and vulnerable to depression or can move you closer to the Rock of your salvation.

Someday, I won’t be a homeschooling mom anymore. It could be in the middle of next year or when all of my children are in college. Until then, God has seen fit to conform me to the image of his Son through my own sons. He has proven Himself faithful in my unfaithfulness and offered His power in the most fatiguing of days. As I reflect and rejoice in another completed school year, I give Him all the glory for my survival!
My heart sings with David,

The Lord is my rock,
my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock where I seek refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold.
I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and I was saved from my enemies…………
God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord is pure.
He is a shield to all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is a rock? Only our God.
God—he clothes me with strength
and makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer
and sets me securely on the heights.
He trains my hands for war;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation;
your right hand upholds me,
and your humility exalts me.
You make a spacious place beneath me for my steps,
and my ankles do not give way.

Rainy Day Reflections

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It was one of those kind of mornings.

Actually, it’s been one of those kinds of months.

All five of us woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The noise level was deafening from the moment the boys’ feet hit the floor. My husband and I argued about something trivial related to the homemade donuts I had attempted for breakfast. Our littlest had so many meltdowns that I had no other option but to put her back to bed for a few hours. I didn’t get any coffee until at least 10 am.

The mood in our house imitated the cloudy day outside our windows.

Lately, our home has felt more like a prison than a haven.

It could be the winter weather that has trapped us inside for the last 5 months.

It could be the middle of the school year blues.

It could be the fact that we spend almost every waking hour with one another.

It could be the germs that won’t leave our health alone.

As I was lying on the hardwood floor next to my daughter’s bed trying to coax her to sleep, it hit me.

The emptiness I felt in our family was because we had once again forgotten the gospel. 

Chaos and stress cause us to default to our natural tendencies. Mine is perfectionism and law (for others, of course). My training lately has turned something similar to that of a military officer. Do this! Clean this! Stop that!
The harder I try, the more our weaknesses as a family are revealed. I demand certain behaviours without reminding them of the Person who can enable those actions.

A friend once told me that she felt she was failing at what our family must be doing perfectly and consistently. The truth is that it has been weeks since we’ve had a family worship time. My instruction to the kids to read the Bible gets almost as many eye rolls as when they’re asked to clear the table after dinner. I could name at least a dozen things off the top of my head that need desperate improvement in our home.

The sun peaked through the low-hanging clouds outside. The bright rays cut through the dimness of the house and pierced my heart with hope. I embraced a rare quiet moment to preach to myself.

My standing before a holy God does not depend on the standard of my living, but on the sacrifice of my Savior.

Gentleness can replace my short fuse because His kindness brings me to repentance.

Grace and forgiveness can be given freely (parent to child, child to parent, and sibling to sibling) because of the great debt that was paid at the cross.

Paul Tripp in his book Parenting offers this necessary reminder,

“No parent gives mercy better than the one who is convinced that he desperately needs it himself.”

I am definitely desperate, and I am choosing to cling to the new mercies He offers me each day. His power is made complete in my many weaknesses. Maybe their mommy’s obvious need for grace will allow my children to grow up trusting in an almighty, unfailing power outside of themselves. Maybe our family shortcomings and the forgiveness we offer through Christ will give them a framework of gospel hope on which to build their lives. I cling to the fact that because of Jesus, God is redeeming and reconciling all things (even temper tantrums and bouts of depression) – everything – to Himself for His ultimate glory.

There is eternal good even in the most cloudy of days. 

Luther, the bulldog

It was supposed to be a quiet evening away from the kids.

Every few months, some generous church servants volunteer to host a parents night out. For three and a half hours, we can remember what it was like to be kid-free. After devouring a few too many Red Lobster cheese biscuits we decided to walk around the mall. We have to make best use of our time in the “big city” when we get the chance.

We only made it as far as the 1st shop inside the entrance. His floppy white paws and pleading eyes caught our attention immediately. We were supposed to be focusing on us, but we couldn’t stop thinking about surprising our kids with a new best friend. They would be ecstatic.

Our hunch was right. They have fallen in love with him. So far, the fun seems to outweigh the responsibility of feeding and cleaning up after a new pet (at least for the three youngest family members).

The first several nights were traumatic for the little guy.

New smells. New places. New toys. New people. New cage.

He hated the cage.

His cries were enough to wake the neighborhood. If only he realized that we had his best interest in mind when we added the soft bed and stuffed frog to keep him warm. If only he realized that the bacon-flavored bone would be the perfect answer for his sore puppy teeth. If only he realized the bars that felt like prison were meant for his safety.

Each day with our new buddy seems to be slightly better than the last. Learning our family routines and expectations, gives him a comfort and confidence to settle into our home. He is realizing that his crate offers him a quiet, undisturbed place to escape from toddler hugs.

This new chapter for our family has brought with it a thousand changes and many lessons (practical and spiritual). New puppy brain-fog keeps me from elaborating, so a picture will have to be worth a thousand words for now.