Spiritual Journeys

Tools for Godly Living/Alyce-Kay are considering offering some courses in Christian topics and we would like to know what subjects would most interest people.  Here are some of the details (and see Q&A/update after the survey at the end):

  • You would not go anywhere for these.
  • The classes would meet as a teleconference call every two weeks.  If you can’t make the call, it would be recorded for you to listen to later (you’d just miss out on participating in the discussion).
  • There would be daily or weekly Bible study assignments and application projects which you would print from online (you would choose your level of difficulty by how much time you want to put into it).
  • There would be a dedicated Facebook page for further discussion, questions, and sharing.
  • Each class would be 90 days long.
  • They would be appropriate for high school through adults, as well as some junior highers.
  • These could also be used by groups; for example, church groups, Sunday School classes, home Bible study groups, families, and homeschoolers.  (If you’re a group, we can talk about how this can best be used by your specific group.  If you homeschool, we can help you determine which  school subjects these could apply to.)
  • If you’ve ever taken any of Alyce-Kay’s SoD (School of Discipleship) classes, these would be something like those.

Note that Tools for Godly Living courses are always biblically based, strong on helping you discover for yourself what God’s Word says.  They are meant for study, not for just sitting back and listening.  My personal commitment is always to bring you to a closer relationship with God and a stronger commitment to Him.

My background is a BA from Westmont College in Religious Studies (emphasis in theology and Greek).  I’ve taught Bible classes for all ages most of my life and have written my own curriculum for almost all of them, as well as curriculum for individual home Bible study and homeschoolers.  My doctrine & apologetics course for children was approved by pastors from 17 denominations, and I generally try to stick to what is appropriate for all denominations in most of my teaching.  (In other words, I try to stay focused on essentials.)

I want these courses to be accessible to anyone,  so there would not be a set charge.  You are completely welcome to take them free of charge.  If the Lord puts it on your heart to pay any amount for them, it would definitely help and would make it more possible for me to continue offering these courses in the future.

If you think you might be interested (no obligation), I’d like to know what kinds of topics interest people the most.  Please note that there are actually 2 surveys below.  You may vote for as many of the following as you find interesting.   You may also add other choices.  If you don’t find enough room in the survey,  feel free to add your suggestions in the comments area (scroll all the way to the bottom of the page).

Please  share this with your friends, church, Bible study group, homeschool group, on Facebook, etc.  Thanks so much for your help!

You are not required to fill out the contact info in order to vote, but please do fill it out, if you’d like us to let you know when we offer these classes.

Since posting this, I’ve received a few really good questions, so I thought I would share them here.

Q:  Would people outside the USA be able to join these classes?

A:  Yes!  The only thing is that it would be an international call to be on the teleseminars (including listening to the recording of the calls).  I’m sure there must be a way, since we would be recording them, to put them on mP3 or some other format that could be listened to online or downloaded, so that you wouldn’t have to make an international call.  If someone overseas is interested, then I will check around and find out how to do this.  I’ve been on teleconferences (seminars held on a conference call) with people from all over, and it is incredibly effective.  You can just sit in your own home and participate — or get together with a group of friends so you can participate together.  I really love this format!

Q:  Will you (Alyce-Kay) be teaching the classes?

A:  Yes! You know I LOVE to teach.  🙂

Q:  Will there be a charge for the classes?

A:  It will be up to each person whether or not they pay or how much. I want people to be able to do it, even if they can’t afford it, so I don’t want to charge a set amount. As a single mom barely getting by, I know how that is. Also, there are some people who wouldn’t pay, but would benefit from it, so I don’t want to hinder them either. If God puts it on anyone’s heart to pay, it would help me, obviously, to pay bills, etc, and I will be putting a lot of work into it.  It would also make it easier for me to offer more classes, as those who pay would help free me up from having to put overtime in at work to pay the bills.  Bottom line, I don’t want anyone to not do it because they can’t pay or don’t want to pay. It will be between each person and God. If you benefit from the classes and don’t pay anything, that’s perfectly okay!


Update:  The first class offered will be on Building Your Faith.  It will be taught at 3 levels (you will choose, depending on how much work you want to do/have time to do).    I’m working on writing the course and the workbook materials at this time, and will announce it here and on facebook when I’m ready to take registrations.  If you want to be notified by email, please let me know at Alyce-Kay@LifeCoachAlyceKay.com  I’ve had a number of requests for an actual bound workbook, so the workbook materials will be available for purchase as a bound workbook, or to download and print yourself for free.


Celebrating Purim as a Christian Family

By Alyce-Kay Hanush

Purim is Saturday evening, March 15, through Sunday evening, March 16 this year.  So what is Purim, you ask?  Purim is the celebration begun at the end of the story of Esther in the Bible — the time that God preserved His people through a brave, young Jewish queen.  There are some wonderful lines in the book of Esther, such as “for such a time as this” and “if I perish, I perish.”

In Jewish families, this is a fun celebration.   You get to dress up as the various characters in the story.  You get to put on plays.  (And you get drunk, but I’m not advocating that.)  To learn more about the story of Esther, the traditional celebration of Purim, and  enjoy some fun Purim songs, you can go to the playlist I’ve put together for my grandkids.

How can we as Christian families (and I’m thinking mainly of families with elementary and younger children) make good use of this celebration?  Well, most obvious is the fact that we can use it to get to know an important story in the Bible.  But i think we can go much deeper than that.  Here are some of my ideas to get you started.  I would love it if you’d add your own ideas in the comment box — and feel free to include links to coloring pages or other goodies you find online.

TIP:  You can use this list for pretty much any story in the Bible.

1. OF COURSE, read the book of Esther as a family. You should definitely read it from the Bible, and you can probably find some books at the library, online, etc.  If you own a set of flannel graphs, I think this is a great way to learn Bible stories.  You can do the story each day, then have the kids move the pieces while you tell the story again, then have the kids tell the story and move the pieces.  We modern day families tend to look askance at flannel graph, but I’ve never found a child who doesn’t love it.  (I have a set of Betty Lukens flannel graphs — everything you need for the entire Bible, along with a book that has all the stories and tells you which pieces to use.  And the flannels are lovely and vivid.  You do have to cut out the pieces, though — I hired someone to do it for me.)  http://www.amazon.com/Large-Deluxe-Bible-English-Flannelboard/dp/B000TMKE6E/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1393199685&sr=8-3&keywords=betty+lukens

2. One of the things that I love about internet is that you can print your own coloring pages.  There are lots of sources for these.  You can keep these loose, or take them to your local FedEx shop or other print shop to have them bound into a coloring book for your kids.   My daughter, Sam, who has 4 young children, especially likes this site for Jewish story coloring pages:  http://www.chabad.org/kids/article_cdo/aid/361573/jewish/Coloring-Crafts.htm

3. Look for the character qualities in the story of Esther — both good and bad. (Examples of good qualities:  Faith, courage.  Examples of bad qualities:  Envy, lying.)  You could take one each day and talk about them. Here is a process you could use to talk to children about these qualities, starting with the good ones.  (Parents:  You don’t have to do all of these!)

a.  Explain the quality to them.

b.  Show how it’s illustrated in the book of Esther.

c.  Give some examples from your own life or someone the kids know to illustrate the quality.

d.  Look for other stories in the bible that demonstrate the quality.

e.  Ask your librarian to help you find story books that demonstrate the quality.

f.  Ask your kids what they think the benefits were to the story’s characters of having these qualities.

g.  What would the benefits be to them (your children), if they developed these (good) qualities in their own lives? How could they do that? Be sure to reinforce that we need God’s help with these things. We can pray and ask Him to help us have the kind of faith Esther had, for instance.

h.  As you see your kids exhibiting these qualities — even just a little — be sure to praise them for it. Ask them what motivated them to do that? How did it make them feel? How would they feel if they could keep doing that? What do they think God thinks about them doing that?  Questions like these will help to reinforce those qualities and the desire to grow.

i.  Look at some of the bad qualities.  Talk about those, too.  Help them to recognize those qualities in Bible characters and in other stories.

j.  Talk through what would motivate someone to have those negative qualities.  What should your children’s response be to someone with those qualities?

k.  Ask what the signs would be that they might recognize in themselves so they can guard against developing the bad qualities.

l.  Come up with your own stories about each of the qualities.  I used to have my children dictate their stories to me — try to type them exactly as they say them.  Don’t worry about story telling skills (unless you’ve been specifically working on that).  Make sure that you include the author after each story.  You can type them up and then print them out and take them to your local print shop to bind into a family book of Purim stories. (It generally costs a buck or two to bind pages into a book form.)  You might include a smattering of their coloring pages, too.  You might want to print out a copy for your family to enjoy now, a copy for each of your children which you’ll hide away and give to them when they start having kids, a copy for grandparents.  Each book would be uniquely adorned with different coloring pages the kids have done.  Talk about precious memories!

4. After you’ve told your kids the story of Esther a few times, they’ll probably be ready to act it out. Here’s where your costumes come in.  (See instructions below for super easy Bible character costumes.)  You can let them choose parts or take turns doing various parts. Try to come up with someone they can put on a play for … this will motivate them to practice a few times … reinforcing the story and its values in their lives.

5. Learn about Persia, where the story of Esther takes place. What country is this now? Find it on a map.  Look for pictures online.  What’s the weather like?  Talk about what it would be like to live there. Can you find any information about King Xerxes? What kinds of foods do they eat there? Maybe you could include those in your Purim celebration.

6. Have 3 nights of banquets (maybe with Persian food? but any nice food is fine). Is there some big news that you can promise to share, but keep putting off, to build the anticipation in your children, like Esther did with the King?

7. The movie, One Night with the King, is absolutely excellent.  You’ll find it in my playlist, but I’ve included the trailer below.  This is the perfect time of year to watch it!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1f1Pi1DHP4

8. I would love it if you’d share your Purim ideas and resources below, in the comment box, or on my facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/ToolsForGodlyLiving?ref=hl   If you share on facebook, I’d love to see pictures of your activities and celebration!  🙂

Super easy Bible character costume:  Use my fancy-pancy drawing below as a guide.

  1. Measure your child from shoulders to the floor.
  2. Get double that amount of fabric.  (For example, if they’re 36 inches from shoulders to floor, you’ll need 2 yards.)
  3. It’s a good idea to wash the fabric before sewing, just in case it will shrink.
  4. Fold the fabric in half, crosswise.  In other words, both cut ends of the fabric will be at the bottom, the fold at the top, and the factory finished edges on the sides.
  5. On each side, measure about 14 inches from the top fold, then cut inward about 10 inches.  Do this on each side.
  6. Cut straight down from there to the bottom.  This will create kind of a sleeve.  Pin these together and sew about 1/2 inch from the edge.
  7. At the top, cut out a neck hole.  Be careful not to make this too big.  It’s always best to start small, try it on, and make the hole bigger if need be.
  8. If you’re not much for sewing, this is all you need to do.  Turn it right side out and voila!  You have your Bible character costume.  If you like to sew, you can do the following steps (9-13) to make your costumes a little nicer and last longer.
  9. Finish the neckline with bias tape, or hem it, or use a fancy edging.
  10. Hem the sleeve holes.  Add fancy edging, if you want.
  11. Hem the bottom.  You can add fancy edging here, too.
  12. Clip the underarm curves so they’ll lay flatter.
  13. Seam finish the inner seams.
  14. Accessorize with rope belts, head gear, etc., as appropriate.


Newly released!  Next Year In New Jerusalem, a Passover haggadah for Christians.  Complete instructions for a Christian celebration of Passover. Scripted ceremony includes fulfillment of Passover prophecies through Christ, footwashing, and the Lord’s Supper in the Passover context. Over 150 Bible references provide an easy guide for optional in-depth study. Pronunciation and glossary included. The full ceremony takes about 3 hours, including dinner. It’s designed to be enjoyed by all ages. I hope that this will enrich your appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and that you’ll find yourself worshiping Him as you long to celebrate Passover next year with Him … in the New Jerusalem.



To Pay or Not to Pay: That is the Question

Should you pay your children to do chores?  This is an ongoing debate among parents.

Some people pay their children for everything they do around the house.  This can be a good way for teaching children a work ethic — if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.  (II Thessalonians 3:10)

Other families don’t want their children to expect to be paid for everything.  They want their children to grow up with a serving attitude.  We know, of course, that serving is a very biblical attitude.

Both of these approaches make sense.  Pray and ask God what would be best for your family.

For my family, I actually adopted a mixed approach, which went something like this.
•There were certain chores that each person was required to do and they were not paid for.  (This corresponds to things in the grown up world that you do without getting paid.  We don’t expect someone to pay us for cooking dinner for our family, working in the nursery at church, driving our kids to their piano lessons, etc.)  These included most of the things that needed to be done daily, such as keeping their room picked up, mealtime chores, etc.
•There were also chores that they would get paid for each week.  These were required chores and it basically provided them with an allowance.  (This corresponds to a job that you go to every day and get paid for.)  I generally included in this category the chores that didn’t have to be done every day, such as mopping and cleaning the bathroom and dusting, and as they got older, things like mowing the lawn or helping change the oil in the car.  There were times when I paid for these, and other times when I had a certain amount set aside to give them at the end of the week, but I deducted from that if they didn’t do a chore or if they didn’t do a good job of it.
•There were chores which were optional, which they could get paid for.  (This corresponds with opportunities we have in life to make extra  money, such as odd jobs or overtime at work.)  These were often seasonal or periodic jobs, such as washing windows, detailing the car, or extra things I wanted done, such as making a cake for a potluck.
•Service projects.  For most of their growing up years, my kids were involved in service projects of some sort.  Often, they didn’t realize it — it was just part of the fabric of our family.  Other times, I made it a school requirement to have a certain number of hours of “community service.”  Or I would require them to choose someone to serve each week, each month, or each semester.  It could be someone in our family (babysitting for their older sister), or someone outside our home, or a group effort, such as Teen Missions or something their youth group was doing.  It didn’t have to be an “official” charity.

Another thing you can do is say that you will pay them chore chart rewards or tool tickets for the first 1-3 months that they’re learning a chore; after that, it becomes just part of being a member in your family.  The book featured below has lots of ideas about creating rewards using “tool tickets” for work done.

You could also allow them to continue earning rewards for a chore they’ve mastered if they teach it to another child — a sibling or cousin, or maybe a friend’s children.  (This last option will make you very popular with your friends!)  Teaching others is always a great way to cement what you’ve learned.  It will also make your child more confident in their skills and will give them a great sense of accomplishment.  Teaching others will provide them with leadership skills as well.

Most of the above article is excerpted from The 21st Century Kid’s Book of Chores.  For more information about the book, see previous posts.  For ordering information, click on the link below.



How Tools For Godly Living Was Born (and why I think it’s important to teach children to do chores)

I started this blog (in May?) with a post about how Tools For Godly Living has grown up.  Recently, I’ve been asked, “But how was it born?”

One of the things that was very important to me in raising my kids was that they know how to do some basic chores.  There were a few reasons for this.

First of all, I believe that childhood is the time to train for adulthood. It seems like a no-brainer, but honestly, what I’ve seen is that many parents these days have so much pressure and are basically just trying to make it through life in one piece and don’t feel they have time or energy to really train their children.  (Me, too!)  We can get so caught up in soccer and work and church activities that we don’t have time or energy to teach them necessary skills for keeping a home.  Believe me, I understand.  I’ve spent the last 9 years as a single mother.  I have very little “free” time and when I have it, I’m exhausted.

Secondly, I wanted my children to learn responsibility.  I wanted my children to grow up with a sense of responsibility, not entitlement … and I wanted them to experience and get hooked on the wonderful sense of accomplishment.  I also wanted them to learn to practice what Jesus taught about serving others.

Third, it was a practical move for me.  I homeschool my kids and didn’t have money for curriculum, so I had to write my own.  That didn’t give me much time for taking care of the house, so I decided not to just teach my kids how to help with the house, but to let them do it.  This actually happened more quickly than I had planned.

When I was expecting our fourth child, I ended up spending 2 months in bed.  My 3 older girls, who were 6, 7, and 8 years old, knew all their basic chores, but I had always told them when to do what and had supervised, as well as doing a good deal of the housework myself.  I homeschooled them from bed during those 2 months of my pregnancy.  When I was finally able to get out of bed and go to the living room (which opened onto our dining room and kitchen), I braced myself for the horrible mess I would have to start tackling.  Instead, I was amazed:  My three little girls had kept the house spotless and running smoothly on their own initiative and without even telling me.  They were truly incredible.  And from that point on, they took over the housework with pride, freeing me up to not only write their curriculum, but share it with others, teach others how to homeschool, run an umbrella school, and teach another student in our home.

When they were ready to go on summer missions trips, they earned much of their money by doing housework for others.  When all three of them went away for the summer on Teen Missions trips, they were actually worried about how I would be able to run the house without them.  🙂

Today, all three girls have homes of their own, and I’m proud of how they have each found their own way to keep their homes and teach their children.  They got practice in teaching children to do chores, too.  They were 8, 9, and 10, when their little sister was born, and a couple years later, they were rewarded with a baby brother.  The three older girls helped teach the younger ones to do their chores … actually, I should say that they did most of the teaching and I may have helped!  And now, some of my grandchildren are using the same chores program their moms did.  🙂

At the time I started writing this book series, I only had girls, but I think these skills are important for boys, too, and my son has learned to do all of these things.  (He’s going to be quite a prize for some lucky girl!)  Many families bought the book to be used with their sons as well as their daughters.

My daughters were 3, 4, and 5 when I began having them doing a lot of chores.  Before that, they had helped in little ways — I remember my eldest daughter folding diapers and washcloths with me when she was 15 months old.

Now, before you start thinking of me as a boot camp drill sergeant, let me tell you that I believe life should be fun while you’re being responsible … and if not fun, at least very interesting.  I wanted to teach my children that keeping house could be joyful.  I didn’t want them to see it as drudgery, and I wanted them to know that serving others is very rewarding.

Along that line, I wanted my children to grow up knowing the satisfaction of delayed gratification — another element I think is sorely missing in our society; as a result, we have an epidemic of out of control debt, both on a familial and national level, and a society in which self-control is almost non-existent.

I set about to make our chore time into a club of sorts, where they could earn “tool tickets” to “buy” tools for their fun and growth (hence, the name “Tools for Godly Living” was born).

I’ll let you in on a secret:  Many of the things they were able to buy with their Tool Tickets were things I wanted to give them anyway.  Earning those things made it more fun … and you know how you place more value on things that you’ve worked for.  I bought things on sale, got a lot of Scholastic books for very little, thought of things they would enjoy doing, privileges like staying up an hour late, and made those into things they could buy with their Tool Tickets.  At the same time, I was teaching them some economic skills.

As my friends heard about what I was doing, they asked if I could show them how.  I ended up printing many copies of my children’s program out from my home printer.  Then, my best friend, Kathleen, called me and told me she and her husband were starting a publishing company and they wanted to publish my program as a series of books.  It took me aback, but it didn’t take long to realize that it made perfect sense.  We sold out our first small printing at a homeschool retreat, then started sharing the books (which had by then grown to a few titles) at homeschool conventions and through mail order.  (This was pretty much pre-internet, if you can imagine.)

Since Tools for Godly Living went out of print 10 years ago, I’ve had many requests for these books, especially for a new generation.  If you grew up with Tools, you’ll find that the new edition of Household Management (now called the 21st Century Kids Book of Chores) has similarities to the old one, but it’s also changed, as families and the way we keep house have changed in the past 20 years.  There are still Bible lessons and memory verses, and just as I did with the first edition, I’m asking the parents to teach their children how to do each chore.  There’s an extensive chapter (29 pages) for parents, explaining the book’s system, 10 pages about how to teach the chores (including some suggested resources and a step-by-step method for training your children to be able to independently do their chores), ideas for reward systems using various philosophies, an explanation of the memory verses and Bible lessons, along with some ways that often work with children for memorizing Scripture, things that are important to remember when teaching young children to study God’s Word, how to build good habits (including thoughts on the debate about whether or not to pay for chores), and ideas for effectively continuing with chores once children have completed the book.  The rest of the book is a program for teaching children to do chores in various rooms of the house, take care of their pets, and help with yard work.  It concludes with a chapter about getting ready for church (including their hearts) and the final chapter walks them through the steps of planning a party.  There is lots of review of previously learned skills throughout the book.  The 165-page book is spiral bound, which makes it much easier for kids to write in, and 6×9 inches, which I’ve found is just the perfect size for a parent to hold with one hand while checking chores.

Most of the above is an excerpt from the Intro to the 21st Century Kids Book of Chores.  The picture below is of some of the original Tools For Godly Living books.  Ordering info for the new Chores book is below.  Chore areas include bedroom, general housekeeping (dusting, vacuuming, picking up, taking initiative, etc.), kitchen, laundry, caring for a pet, bathroom, light yard work, getting ready for church, and planning a party.





A Bigger, Better Tent

Isaiah 54 was a passage God put on my heart when I was going through an extremely difficult time as a single woman.  A single mom, to be exact.  I was having a hard time, financially.  My house was also having all kinds of problems.  I felt insecure as far as being able to provide for my kids and parent them at the same time.  I was being attacked legally by someone who should have been helping with the task at hand.  I felt that I was not up to the challenge of single parenting.  (Is anyone?  Should we be?)  It was the best alternative I knew for my children, but I felt like I was sinking fast.

In the midst of this, one night, when I was feeling worthless, helpless, hopeless, and afraid, God opened this chapter of Scripture to me in a way that changed my fears dramatically.  It didn’t make it less difficult, but it made it less terrifying.  And what’s more, it made it actually hopeful.  So much so that I wrote each verse and promise from God on a 3×5 card, and as I worked each night, I flipped through those cards, meditating on them during every small break.

I want to share this with you because I want to bring hope to other unmarried women, barren women, and single moms (maybe single dads, too, but not being one of those, I’m not sure if this will strike a chord in them).  I think that this applies to every one of you as much as it applies to me.  If you’re reading this and none of those descriptions fit you, maybe you can pass this on to someone who needs to hear it and will be blessed by it.

Isaiah 54:

Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.

I am not physically barren.  I have 5 children, so it would seem that this verse does not apply to me.  But what God spoke to the inner recesses of my heart through this verse was that, even though I was not married and could, therefore, no longer bear children, I was still extremely fertile.  My relationship with God can produce much more fruit than my relationship with a man.  This applies to productivity in my earthly family.  It also applies to spiritual fruitfulness.  I was certainly desolate; there was no doubt about that.  His promise here was that if I pressed into Him and turned to Him the energy I would be putting into a spousal relationship, He would make me fruitful.   This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I will always be single, or that you will always be childless.  But right now, in this season, this is what we need to build, so that it can be maintained if and when that aspect of our life changes.

“Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
“For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.

In my worries about my physical house — a toilet that wasn’t working, light switches that needed changing, rain gutters that were falling off, and a resultant crack in my basement from water getting under the house — and in the midst of my concerns about the emotional and spiritual home I needed to provide for my children — God was telling me to enlarge my territory.  Not to tighten my belt, so to speak, not to focus on just the little I had, but rather to expand and to look out beyond where we resided.  The promise that my descendants would resettle the desolate cities was especially meaningful to me.  It’s a promise that my children and their children, both physical and spiritual, will bring life to places that are lacking in life.  I love seeing how this is already happening.  It doesn’t really have to do with me; definitely isn’t my doing.  But it’s the fulfillment of God’s promise to me.

However, this isn’t just a promise that will happen on its own.  I have an active role.  He doesn’t say that He will enlarge my tent; He tells me to “enlarge the place of my tent” (press out into other regions, go places that I might be afraid to go … again, literally and figuratively … the things about which I say, “I don’t want to go there”).

Interestingly, soon after this, God moved us 1000 miles from our home.  It has not been easy at all, but I feel Him expanding us, networking us, helping us to understand another culture within our own, preparing us for bigger changes perhaps.

Another way that He’s been doing this in me is through something He challenged me with 2 years ago:  Whatever I realize I’m afraid of, He’s challenged me to walk into it.  It’s like Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the waves.  I need to step into my fears and keep my eyes on Him.  Sometimes, I can see directly how overcoming  a particular fear can serve Him … like stepping out in public again, writing this blog.  But other things, like trying to conquer my fear of heights … um, I’m not sure that will be used directly in ministry, but it’s the discipline of not giving in to my fears, of getting myself to the place where I won’t hesitate to follow Him, so that I can obey His call without stalling in fear.  Taking this challenge — to walk into my fears, to do what I’m afraid of, as long as it’s not immoral, illegal, or foolish — has helped me to grow a lot in the last couple years, and it’s definitely strengthened my trust in Him.  (By the way, I am horribly afraid of heights.  I’m afraid to stand on a chair to change a light bulb, though I’ve been working on that.  My ultimate goal is to go ziplining.)

He says to “stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not.”  That exhortation to spare not means that I’m not to be cheap or selfish or moderate in stretching.  I’m not to hold back because I’m afraid He won’t provide.  I’m to grow where He tells me/us to grow and not hold back, but trust Him for His resources, financial, emotional, spiritual, etc.

“Lengthen your cords.”  In order to make your tent bigger, you have to have longer cords.  These are what define the outer boundaries of your tent, your territory.  God doesn’t just expand our boundaries for us; we have to provide the longer cord for Him to do that.  Stretching out from the tent pole, these cords are what hold the tent up.  I have to become stronger in His Word and in my relationship with Him.  I need to become completely responsible financially, sacrificing when necessary in order to remain solvent and steady.  I need to build my emotional stability, and I need to take care of my physical body.  All these things have to be strong enough to be stretched farther and farther.

“And strengthen your pegs.”  The cords, when stretched out, have  to have something strong to hold them in place.  God can draw those cords way out and give me vaster and vaster territory in every area of my life, but those cords will just pop back and the tent will collapse if the tent pegs aren’t strong enough to withstand the tension.  Those pegs have to be driven hard into the Rock.  My Rock.  My Redeemer.  And what’s more, those pegs have to be leaning outward … out toward more territory, out toward others, not inward toward myself.  Again, if those pegs lean inwardly, no matter how strong they are, no matter how deeply they are driven into the Rock, the cords will slip off and the tent will collapse.  And just as tent pegs occasionally have to be checked and hammered back into the ground, so I need to be watching for any signs that I’m getting pulled away from the center of the Rock, and allow Him to drive me farther into Himself.

“You will spread abroad,” He says, “to the right and the left.”  An amazing thing about this is that He’s not just expanding our fruitful, productive territory in one direction.  He’s spreading us out in every direction!  And little by little, I see this happening.  I have a little influence in California.  I have friends to encourage in Tennessee.  He has given me a place to minister in Minnesota.  And my influence is reaching in very small ways into India and Africa.  Who knows where else?  Not in big ways, no.  Nor does it have to be big.  But the fact is that He expands our influence in many different directions when we’re open to that.  And little things can make a big impact.  A fearful Sunday School teacher witnessed to Dwight L. Moody and won him to the Lord.  Besides being a successful evangelist, Moody’s ministry (and thus, that Sunday School teacher’s ministry) can be traced all the way to Billy Graham’s conversion.  My little influence, where God has expanded my tent, can reach someone else who may do great things for God!  I didn’t set out to expand my influence.  God did this, really through no effort of my own.  I lengthened my cords and strengthened my pegs … or if truth really be told, I allowed Him to do it, and followed His leading (and often not perfectly, but the best I could).  If we give Him that, He does the rest.

Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

Wow, did I, and wow, do I continue to need to hear this.  For me, being divorced was probably the most shameful thing I have ever experienced.  My belief had been that divorce was practically the unforgivable sin.  I had grown up hearing, “Divorce is not an option.”  I was part of a subculture where it didn’t matter if every part of the marriage vows had been broken, the only part that mattered was “Til death do us part.”  The person who severed that officially broke the marriage.  I spent years after my divorce, trying to convince God not to love me.  (I know, right?)  Because I had had something of a public ministry, I received hate mail from people because of my divorce.  I was humiliated, disgraced, reproached, and full of shame.  And the worst thing for me was that I believed God could not use me any more, and being used by God was my very favorite thing in life.  Without that, where was the meaning?  I believed that I had to live with this because of a mistake I made when I was young, one that will, of course, continue to have consequences throughout my life.  But it really did feel like the unforgivable sin to me.  Other people’s mistakes could be forgiven and they could move on.  I would live my life being punished for making a bad choice.

God said here in Isaiah 54 that He was taking all that shame away and that I could forget about it.  Furthermore, He said I could even forget the shame of my youth.  I do still live with consequences … and those consequences will be with me for the rest of my life.  But the shame doesn’t need to be, nor does the reproach.  My status as a divorced, single woman does not need to be reproachful.  God can still use me!  God uses best the one who can’t do it themselves.  I can hold my head high with the confidence that I’m working for the King of Kings.

There’s so much more in this chapter to share with you, but I’ve had a long day and I’m tired, so I’ll share more another time.  In the meantime, I think there’s enough here to think about:

1.  How have you felt devastated?  How do you compare yourself with those who are married, or if you’re unable to conceive, how do you compare yourself with those who have children?  How do you feel that you’re lacking because of that?  It’s important to face those things in order to understand what God is offering you.

2.  What seeds has God planted in your heart?  If you press into Him and build your romance with Him, allowing your spiritual womb to be fertile, those seeds will grow, just as a baby grows in the womb.

3.  Where and how is God enlarging your territory?  Do you see the possibility of your influence expanding to other places, beyond that of your home?  This may not be geographic expansion.  Maybe He’s expanding you into new venues or taking you different places for your work.  Maybe He’s giving you more opportunities right where you are.  Those are things that expand your territory, your sphere of influence.  Remember that if you’ve given your life to Him, every time you walk into a place, you’re bringing the Holy Spirit with you.

4.  What areas of your life need more strengthening and stability?  These are the cords that you need to make stronger so that your tent can be stretched.  Do you need to be more disciplined, spiritually?  More responsible financially?  Do you need to work on integrity?  Are you struggling morally?  Ask the Lord how to become stronger in these areas so that your tent cords can be stretched out.

5.  Are your tent pegs strong?  Do you have a strong relationship with the King of Kings who wants to expand your tent?  He’s the Rock, the foundation that you need to drive your tent pegs into, and you need to drive them in hard.  They need to be inspected regularly to be certain you aren’t pulling out of the Rock and weakening your tent.  What specifically do you need to do, to press into Him?  Are you spending time in His Word?  Are you praying … and not only talking, but listening?  Are you surrounding yourself with biblical, wise influence through teaching and friendships?  Are you spending time in Worship of the Lord of the Universe?

6.  Are your tent pegs positioned so they’re leaning out toward others?  Remember that if you point them toward yourself, leaning inward selfishly, your tent will collapse.  Direct your attention outward toward others.  What specifically can you do to align yourself better in this way?  How can you use your gifts to serve others?  How can you be “Jesus with skin on”?

7.  Are you feeling shame because of your position as a single person or a barren woman?  Do you feel like you’re being punished, or like others look down on you?  Does your lonely bed feel like a badge of a lesser status?  First of all, if there is sin that you need to confess, do so, and accept His forgiveness.  And then, this is often what’s hardest … forgive yourself.  God has forgiven you, so let it go.  Yes, there may be consequences that you have to live with.  But you don’t need to walk in shame anymore.  God has called you by name.  He wants to use you.  He wants to expand your tent!  That’s something to rejoice about!  As verse 1 says, shout for joy!  Break forth into joyful shouting!  God has amazing plans for you!

Isaiah 54:1-4

“Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
 “For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.

“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

I have a Dream Catcher.

A year ago, in April, I had a dream ripped away from me by an unexpected source.  It devastated me … not just losing the dream, but the way that it happened, the feelings of betrayal that came with it, and the vaporization of security and self-worth that were already so fragile.  As a result, I had to go away … and where do you go when you’re crushed (besides God)?  To Mom and Dad in California!

So I embarked on a 2500 mile trip in 3 days, driving.  I started out on April 15.  I remember because it’s my daughter’s birthday and also because my Dad is a CPA.  That particular April 15, there was a pretty bad tornado … and I needed to drive in Tornado Alley.  It was a blessing, though, as the winds felt so familiar.  It felt like my dreams had been snatched away in a whirlwind as well, and the sense of fear and danger from the tornado helped me work through the fears and the lack of security I now felt.
Driving south on 32, when I’d stop for gas or a restroom, I could barely get my door open. The wind was so strong, but cleansing, as it blew the tears off my face.  I felt like, fighting the wind as I drove and as I’d step out of my car helped work off some of the pain I was feeling.  I’d step into the station and there was a crowd gathered around the TV, checking to see if the next leg of their trip was predicted to be safe, something I also needed to consider:  Am I safe?  Are the people I trust with my heart really worthy of my confidence?
By that evening, I was in Kansas: Home of Dorothy and Toto’s tornado.  As I left Wichita and headed west, tornado sirens were screaming alongside me and the sky was low and green.  I wondered what I should do, driving out in the country while the sirens yelled at me to get to safety.  Where do you go when you have endless fields on both sides?  What do you do when your dreams are crushed and your heart has been shattered?  Do you ignore the sirens of betrayal?  Do you take cover or keep pushing on?  I drove on.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a choice.
Finally, I got far enough west that I was out of harm’s way.  Just a normal wind that night, as I slept in my car in a WalMart parking lot.  I know some of my friends didn’t feel good about me sleeping in my car and I had never done it before.  But I found I felt very comfortable in a cocoon of blankets, and safe with the security truck going by every 15 minutes.  I started to snuggle into God’s love, too, and in that safety, started being able to look at what I had done over the years that laid the foundation for this snatching of dreams.  The ways I had failed, which were many.
The following day, I had sunny skies as I headed through Oklahoma and Texas into New Mexico.  After the storm, the sun shines more amazingly than ever, doesn’t it?
I love the colors of the desert.  I don’t enjoy heat, but in April, even the desert isn’t too hot, and the still air was a relief after the constant banging of the winds in Iowa and Kansas and Oklahoma.  I relished the time alone with God and listened to sermon CDs to make it into sort of a retreat.
I needed to make at least 900 miles that day, but I had time to dilly-dally somewhat … and I remembered how much I had loved turquoise as a kid.  Driving through the dessert, my dream of having a turquoise ring rose again from the ashes of other deserted and crushed dreams.  Getting a turquoise ring made me feel like I could still hold onto a small, if silly dream.  I saw a tourist trap and decided to check it out.

As I paid the $13 for my new ring (on sale, but yeah, it was cheap to begin with, tiny pieces of turquoise, but that’s all I needed), I spotted a small, aqua “dream catcher.”  Feathers and beads are a weakness for my Boho heart.  I liked the colors and the delicateness of the piece, and that, combined with my ring, didn’t quite come up to what I had told myself I could spend on a bit of turquoise, so I bought it.

I hung it in my car from the passenger visor (a green teddy bear with his own Facebook page was my only traveling companion) … and God began to talk to me about dreams.

He told me that He catches my dreams when they fall.  He hides them safely in His heart.  Not only that, but He puts the really good dreams in my heart Himself, and He puts them there because He wants them to come true.  Those that seem to be shattered, but are retrieved and kept safe by His hand are the ones that are the most valuable.  As God and I conversed about this, I realized again how important it was to turn even (especially!) this part of my life over to Him.  My dreams need to be His dreams.  My hopes and desires need to be the ones that He’s dreamed for me since before He wove me in my mother’s womb.  He knows the beginning and the end of my story, of His story, of the world’s story, of the story of every person I come in contact with in any way.  He knows how those all weave together and He loves me exceedingly, so I can trust Him to have the best dreams for me.  The dreams He puts in my heart are infinitely better than anything I can dream up.

I kept the dream catcher hanging on the passenger visor for months.  Occasionally, after someone else had borrowed my car, I’d find it stuffed away somewhere.  They had found it distracting or it had just annoyed them (which could be a valid concern for safe driving).  The analogy, however, wasn’t lost on me.  My dreams from God, while annoying or distracting to others, or when others simply don’t think they’re worthwhile, or when they think they’re wrong … the ones that are really from God can be put back together.  He holds them in His heart, while we make room for them again in ours.  If they are truly His dreams, nothing and no one can take them away from us.  When they seem to be crushed, they are put together stronger, like a muscle that gets little tears from a good workout becomes stronger than before.

That dream catcher is now hanging in my home.  I change its location occasionally so that I don’t just get used to seeing it.  Right now, it’s hanging from a transom where I can swat at the feathers each time I pass under it.  When I do that, the prayer in my heart is something like this:  “Thanks so much, Lord, for being my Dream Catcher.  Oh, Jesus, I want the only dreams in my heart to be Your dreams, the ones You’ve put there.  Fashion Your dreams to fit in my heart.  Could You please just remove anything in my collection of dreams that wasn’t from Your heart?  Help me to recognize Your dreams in others, too, so I can encourage them.  Thank You for holding my heart with such love and care.  Thank You for sharing Your dreams with me.”

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.  Psalm 37:3-5