Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Because you’re mine: Understanding God’s love for us

God’s love for us is constant, just like our love for our children.

I wrote this 5-1/2 years ago when my son was 2 and my daughter was 5. They are older now, but these truths remain. My parenting looks a bit different nowadays and their needs have shifted a bit, but my love and dedication to them, of course, remains.

“Mommy, come!”

“Mommy, come here!”

This is the little voice I hear calling to me most mornings and after nap times. Sometimes my son switches it to call for daddy. And sometimes he gets desperate and just sobs without even calling our names. For a couple of months, I’d hear this sobbing and crying for me in the middle of the night again after him having slept through the night for almost a year.

When I hear this voice and hear his plea, I go to him. Because he is mine.

We snuggle together to calm his fears. My hair falls over the top of his head and the two intermingle in exactly the same shade of brown. Because he is mine.  

We have had our fair share of battles — stubborn ones — throughout his learning to sleep or just to listen when we tell him not to do something. Because he is mine (he comes by his stubbornness fair and square).  

At the end of any given day, though, the things I have done for my son and for my daughter are because I love them. They are mine. I see bits of myself in them. My daughter has my sensitive heart and the shape of my fingers. She has my smile. My son has my brown hair and eyes. He has my love for music and snuggles.

I would do anything for them, because they are mine. I don’t ignore their pleas for help when they are sick or scared, because they are mine.

How God feels about us

God must feel that way with us. Because we are His, He doesn’t ignore us when we cry out to Him. He is there even when we don’t realize it. Just like I am never far from my son when he is afraid that I have left for good. I haven’t left. And neither does God leave us, even when we can’t see Him. God’s love for us is constant.

He comes running to us in our time of need because we are His. I think of this especially in the night. Things can be scarier in the night, especially for children. My daughter is old enough to get out of bed and come running to me when she needs me. My son is still in his crib and his only course of action is to holler for me.

Either way, I’m there, which is just how God is with us. Whether we can come running and meet Him or whether we need Him to find us in the darkest nights. God is there. He is waiting. He is loving us. Because we are His.

I’ve had many figurative dark nights in my lifetime. I have had times where I had no idea how I was going to make it through. There have been innumerable moments of frustration and pain. I have cried out to God about the unfairness of it all. I have pleaded with Him to take away difficult circumstances or painful ailments.  

Some prayers have been answered with a yes and a resolution. Others have been answered with a gentle no. No matter what I have faced, though, God has always shown up when I needed Him and cried out to Him. Because I am His.  

And no greater love can be found. I work to wrap my head around God’s love and how it can be even greater than my love for my children. It’s beyond comprehension, but the glimpses I get make me feel humbled and thankful.

What does God see in me?

I wonder what God sees when He looks at me. Does He see pieces of Himself as I see pieces of myself in my children? I know we are made in His image, but I also know it goes much deeper than appearance. I’m not sure God has a hair color or eye color. Maybe He does. I really don’t know.

But what I want my Father to see most is His character attributes being displayed through my life because I am His. And that is where it gets tricky. I have to battle my own self, my own desires and my own fallibility so that He may shine through. Above all, I want God to see Himself in me. I want to get out of the way so that He can work in my life. Because I am His and He is mine.

I don’t know where you are today, my friend. Maybe you’re in the deepest darkest night and scared to pieces, unsure of how you will make it through or how you can face another day.  

Perhaps you’re on a mountaintop experiencing the joy of life and of God. Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. Maybe you’re wondering how God shines through in your life.  

No matter where you are, no matter what you’re facing, wondering or thinking, just call out to God. He will come running to meet you, because you are His.

Moms on a Mission: Dr. Karen Dowling

Profiles of moms who are making a difference

I love having the chance to introduce you to real moms who are following their God-given passions, making a difference in the world and being real about their journeys.

This month’s mom is someone I’ve known for years from church. She’s the kind of woman who has a beautiful smile and a personality that makes everyone feel welcome and included. You can see the love of God shine through her.

Dr. Karen Dowling has spent years working in diversity at the university level and is currently the executive director for multicultural learning and engagement at a major Christian university.

But, that’s not all. She’s also a wife of 22 years and a mom to two boys — one in college and one a senior in high school.

Families with Grace: What’s your God-given mission or passion?

Karen Dowling: My God-given mission is to help others (and myself) build relationships, engage with and respect cultures. I’m a teacher at heart, so continuous teaching and learning plays right into that. My role is perfect for me because I’m still working in an academic setting, and I’m able to teach by providing development.

I work with faculty, students, staff and our curriculum to make sure that it’s inclusive. I work with all the issues relating to diversity and inclusion at our university. Working with adults who are taking online classes means that I’m working nationally and globally.

It all goes together with who I am. I have a multicultural background personally, and I love to build relationships with and interact with people.

My role is founded on Biblical principals. I’m blessed that I get to have Christ in my work.

FWG: How do you work to live out that mission right now?

KD: When all the ongoing racial tension increased, I knew I had to learn more. I am a lifelong learner. I never want to be finished learning. So, I started joining in on book studies and webinars. I took some mini classes to educate myself so that I’m not coming from an all-knowledgeable perspective.

Then at work, I created a series at work called “Growing Together: Conversations About Racism and Bias.” My goal was to help our university continue to live out our caring purpose and communicate with one another. Learning each other’s stories and building relationships is important. I have a desire to help people have a sense of belonging. Not everybody has a sense of belonging.

FWG: What are some of your biggest challenges in living our your mission?

KD: I can get stifled when I want to do things well, so I just don’t start them. If I don’t feel like I can dedicate enough time to a project — both at work and at home — then I end up not starting it. I have so many things I want to do. But when I get overwhelmed and unsure whether I can put in the amount of time and detail I want, I get stifled.

I’m a visionary person who wants to be creative. Sometimes details are stumbling blocks for me.

FWG: What have been some of your biggest blessings in living out your mission?

KD: Recently, I’ve discovered more about myself. I lost my dad when I was 21. He was from India and had dark skin. My mom is Caucasian. I have more traits from my dad while my mom and brother are blonde and blue-eyed.

Thanks in part to some of my recent work experiences, my brother and I recently had a beautiful conversation about how our experiences have differed. The differences in our skin color, our gender and our ages (he’s six years younger) have shaped our shared experiences differently.

I want to engage in those conversations. It’s been a blessing and very enlightening for me. With racial tensions and living out a mission of being set apart and living for Christ, it’s important to think about these things.

I have had some great conversations with my sons while teaching them about my dad and how he was oppressed. They haven’t experienced those things firsthand. I think about how their awareness might be different if they had known this grandpa with an accent and dark skin.

I’m blending work topics at home and vice versa — and all of it with a Christian perspective.

FWG: How do you balance motherhood responsibilities with your work/mission?

KD: I have a great partner. My husband is really great in that we help each other around the house. We help each other with life decisions. We’re great partners when it comes to our boys and their activities as well as the discipline and decisions we need to make for them.

We’ve been super blessed with how our sons have turned out so far. They make great decisions and do what they’re asked to do. I don’t always feel like I’m doing it well, but I try.

I have enjoyed this time of quarantine in having both of my sons home. We didn’t get sick of and frustrated with each other. It has been a joy to be together. Somehow we’ve been able to be in sync together.

FWG: What’s the best advice you have for other moms who are following their passions?

KD: I like to keep my family together as a cohesive group. We make some decisions together as a unified effort. The four of us try to play and have positive fun time as well. We don’t always get to eat dinner at the table and pray and such, but we try.

I also make having date nights and fun with my husband a priority. And we maintain that our relationship with our sons is first and foremost as their parents.

I have a new project I’ve started working on recently and have really made that a family decision. My sons and husband have given me input. We have moments where we’re a team. We’re one unit and not divided as the parents and the kids.

Read more from the series

Moms ona Mission: Erin Mayes

Moms on a Mission: Mari Hernandez-Tuten

Moms on a Mission: Kathleen Brooker

Moms on a Mission: Sarah R. Moore

Moms on a Mission: Stacey Pardoe

Moms on a Mission: Kristin Billerbeck

Moms on a Mission: Crystal (aka InnieMom)

Moms on a Mission: Pastor Stefanie Hendrickson

Moms on a Mission: Amy Cutler

How to set up for virtual schooling success

10 Practical tips for easier virtual schooling

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

Last spring, the majority of us parents were thrown into virtual schooling our kids with little time to prepare. I was caught off guard, especially since virtual school started four days after my husband had major surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He was down to one arm and needed lots of help.

I kicked into survival mode and we made it through virtual schooling relatively unscathed. If you’d have asked me then whether virtual school would still be an option for the 2020-21 school year, I’d have said no way!

Yet, that’s exactly where we find ourselves this year. Some school districts are starting the school year virtually. Many others are offering the option for virtual and in-person learning. And all teachers and parents are wondering just how long in-person instruction will be able to continue.

For a variety of reasons, my family decided to utilize the virtual learning option offered by our school from day one of this school year. My kiddos are in second and fifth grades this year. Knowing ahead of time that we are going to be virtual learning and not being in survival mode has given me a chance to actual prepare our family and home for this option.

Because we are using our school’s virtual learning option, I’m not in charge of curriculum. Instead I’m in charge of organizing the logistics of it all for our family. We’ve found a few things that work. I’m guessing as the year progresses we’ll find more for me to share as well.

1. Create baskets or bins for each of your kids.

I learned this last school year as I was trying to figure out how I’d ever keep all the papers and supplies organized for each kid without them taking over the kitchen table or counters — or both! I needed some sort of bin for each of them.

In the spring, I had two decent sized shoe boxes that I covered in wrapping paper to make them look a bit cuter and each child had one. They were large enough to fit papers, books, folders, binders, supplies and iPads.

The bins worked so well that I knew for longer term virtual schooling, we needed something sturdier. I found some plastic storage bins that work incredibly well for this. They have handles, so we can easily move them where we are working and then clear the space again when we’re finished.

These bins from Amazon are perfect. They’re a good size to fit lots of things but small enough to be manageable and keep things easy to find.

For organization within the bins, we use two-pocket folders and school boxes.

2. Keep the right supplies on hand.

I’ve found that a big part of keeping us organized is not over-filling our bins with things they don’t use regularly. My kids continue to have their special classes during virtual learning including art, music and gym. Those supplies I typically keep separate.

Their school boxes include a few pencils, scissors, crayons and glue. Both kids still have assignments they do on paper and not digitally, so they need actual supplies like these.

Hands down, though, my best virtual school supply purchase has been new styluses. Once the kids did virtual learning last spring, I realized that the blunt-tip styluses I had weren’t working so well. For this school year, I found styluses with a fine point and blunt end. These work so incredibly well for writing on the iPads for assignments and have been my kids’ favorite supply. (And I love that they come with extra tips to replace them as they get worn out.)

3. Get headphones with microphones.

My kids have headphones each school year for their iPads. But with virtual learning, having headphones with microphones has been fabulous. If they are having any sort of interactive class or meeting they are awesome so the kids can still not be as disruptive to their siblings.

My husband found these Besom headphones for the kids that are comfortable, work well and come in colors they like.

4. Set up your own work area.

I’ve worked from home as a freelance journalist since 2002. My husband joined me in working from home a few years ago, so working from home wasn’t new to us. While I lightened my workload during my kids’ early years, I increased it once my youngest headed to kindergarten.

Over their breaks, I could usually plan to work for just a couple of hours a day and then be free. My kids can easily entertain themselves for a couple of hours.

But, virtual schooling is a whole different thing because they need help. My daughter, who is in 5th grade this year, can be mostly independent in her work. My son, who is in 2nd grade this year, needs more help with reading directions and such. Figuring out how and where to work to best help with school was a challenge last spring.

I can’t continue working in the home office during school, because my husband is in there and has conference calls. (My work is much more flexible than his is.) So I’ve found being with my son is easier.

I bought a plastic paper tray bin and use it to move between my office and the rest of the house now. I love it! The small bin fits my planner, papers for my current project and even my laptop and its cord. This setup lets me be more mobile and get more of my work done during times nobody needs assistance.

I have also learned to be creative in my work times. This blog post, for example, has gotten well underway on a Sunday afternoon, which isn’t a time I typically work. But life is atypical right now. I’m thankful to have the flexibility to be creative with my work times.

5. Plan your kids’ work areas to minimize distractions.

When we first started virtually school last spring, my kids and I all sat together at the kitchen table. By week two, my daughter migrated upstairs to the desk in her room so she could concentrate better.

For us, having the kids separate helps, especially this fall because they both have multiple Zoom meetings a day. The headphones help with the noise control, but since my daughter can work mostly independently, separating helps.

Whatever that means for you, the fewer distractions the better. During the hour each morning of live instruction that my son has, I put our puppy in his pen so he won’t be a distraction. The television and music stay turned off. My husband and I work so that if either of us has a call, the other one is on school duty so that we can do calls in the office.

You might consider creative lap desks, clipboards or folding desks to provide a good workspace for your kiddos.

I have tried sitting on the couch with my son for work and found it is too distracting for most assignments. I have also tried allowing toys on the table away from him and those also tend to get distracting. Toys have to be put in another room during school.

6. Use the weekend to your advantage.

Enjoy family fun and downtime on the weekend, but also use it to organize for the school week ahead. Throughout the week, clutter and papers can pile up where they shouldn’t. Because we all work better in clean spaces, we do straighten up when we have time. The weekend is ideal for that.

I also try to do some of my own planning on Sundays. In just a few minutes, I can organize my planner for the week with tasks I have going on. I also try to keep an updated list of meal options we have ingredients for. I’ve found that works better for my family than making a menu day-by-day.

7. Maintain a schedule.

I’m a huge fan of schedules and routines. My family works well when we all know what to expect. For some virtual schooling, your kids may have an exact start time each day. Others are more flexible. Between last spring and this school year, we’ve had both.

But both times schedules have been our friends. While the goal isn’t to recreate their exact school day, having a schedule will help. We have a set start time each day. This year, we also have a set-in-stone lunchtime due to my daughter’s call schedule.

Don’t forget to allot some downtime for the kids. I heard my son’s teacher lead them through some stretches on Zoom that she called a “brain break.” All kids need breaks. Playing outside, with pets or with toys can be a great way to let kids have a break.

I love using a timer to help make the shift from playtime to school time easier. This helps especially with my 7-year-old. I set my phone time for 20 minutes, and we play with his toys. I tell him what I’ve done and when the timer goes off, it’s easier for him to shift back to school — and the timer gets to be the bad guy who says play time is over!

Whatever you pick for downtime, having that time away from their work area is going to help most in making the shift between play and school.

8. Remember to dole out grace.

Virtual school is a different environment for teachers, students and us parents. The early days especially are going to need lots of grace all around. There is a learning curve. And there are technology issues to resolve.

My son started the school year, for example, with his last and first names switched in the online learning program the school uses. His teacher knows his name and knows the mistake is there. She’s working to correct it when she can. We’ll be patient, just like she was patient when we had an issue with a Zoom call that ended up with us disconnecting and calling back.

Don’t forget about yourself. You need grace, because this is a big change whether you usually work from home, at the office or run a household without kids during the school day. Prioritize what has to be done, do your best and don’t beat yourself up on the days you fall short. Remember that if laundry piles up all week, the sink is overflowing with dishes, you are working in the evening or you missed an email about your child’s assignment that it isn’t the end of the world. And it won’t be like this forever.

9. Keep your tasks organized.

I mentioned above that I set a timer for play time with my son. But I set alarms for so much more! So much! My daughter has a half hour for lunch and that’s also her bathroom break and such. I have a daily alarm set for 10 minutes before that break so I stop and make lunch. It helps to have her lunch ready to go.

I set alarms for Zoom calls my son has since I’m his schedule manager. Timers help me remember to switch out the laundry. I use reminders for everything from taking my medicine to calling a family member to wish them happy birthday.

With virtual schooling, I need to check my email and related apps throughout the day to make sure we don’t miss something. I have push notifications turned on where I can.

I’m also a HUGE fan of lists. My son’s teacher last spring would send out a weekly schedule of assignments. I printed it, added his assignments for music, art and gym and marked things off as we went. His teacher this year sends us an assignment list to check off each day.

If I have tasks that need to be done for the day, I will often make a list that includes school, work and personal tasks.

10. Involve your kids around the house.

If your kids are old enough to be in school, they are old enough to help with some chores. And if you are virtual schooling, chances are good you could use some help. Plus the bottom line is that we are trying to raise humans to be productive and competent adults. They need to know how to do household chores.

Just because school isn’t meeting in person doesn’t mean that some of their school chores have to slide. For example, it may be easier for your family to still pack lunches the night before so you don’t have to have the time to do so in the middle of the day. Think about what would realistically help virtual schooling go easier and involve your kids.

Find more virtual school success tips here:

8 Ways to improve communication in your marriage

How to communicate better with your spouse

Communication is on the list of every list of marriage advice and characteristics of a good marriage. And it’s rightly so. Communication is vastly important.

In the 21 years my husband and I have been married, we’ve learned a few things about communicating effectively. We’re not perfect and still make mistakes, but we know much more about communicating now than we did on the day we said “I do.”

Married couples have so many things they need to discuss: their relationship, finances, parenting, household chores, schedules and so much more.

We’ve learned that along with being honest with each other, there are right and wrong ways to communicate well whether we’re having serious or mundane discussions.

1. Watch your tone of voice.

My husband knows me better than anyone else. So when I say the right words but with the wrong tone of voice, he is far from fooled. Being passive aggressive or sarcastic aren’t great for communicating well.

I’ve found this to be true even when I want to take care of him. Like if I ask whether I can make him something for lunch when I’m making food for the rest of us, I can easily say it frazzled or sincere. How I say it makes all the difference.

2. Be aware of your body language.

This goes right along with number one, but body language communicates a lot. I’ve often said I’m pretty good at taming my tongue, but sometimes I struggle to tame my face. That’s especially true with my husband because he knows me so well. He can tell by my face and actions whether I’m feeling grumpy or irritated.

Our spouses can also use our body language to tell whether we’re really listening to them or if we’re distracted.

3. Make sure it’s a good time to talk.

Early in our marriage, I learned that I can avoid strife by simply asking my husband if it’s a good time to talk. He does the same for me. Then we can finish a task if we need to or put down electronics or whatever we need to do to devote our attention to the other person.

This has continued to serve us well in working from home. We share an office. Throughout the day, we usually need to talk to each other about something and will ask first if it’s a good time or for the other person to let us know when they have a free minute. It sets us up for good communication from the start — even about small stuff like what the kids’ schedule is that day.

4. Remember nobody is a mind reader.

Another lesson I learned about communication early on in our marriage was that I couldn’t expect my husband to know something I didn’t tell him. Instead of just assuming he knows something is important to me, I tell him.

I also have learned that he doesn’t always know what is bothering me or what I’m stressing out about unless I tell him. He can almost always tell something is up, but he can’t be there for me sometimes unless I allow him by sharing with him what’s going on in my head.

5. Pay attention to your phrasing.

Communication ramps up into an argument pretty quickly when we pull out phrases that accuse. We all go on the defensive when we feel attacked. Instead of saying something like, “Why don’t you ever make dinner? I have to do everything around here!” Try, “I’m overwhelmed and need help. Can you make dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays?”

You’ll end up with what you were wanting but you won’t have to have an argument in order to get there. Your spouse will understand what’s going on with you and how he can help. You’ve opened the door of communication so that you can truly share with each other.

6. Don’t use words to hurt.

I know the things that bother my husband the most, just as he knows the same about me. The best thing we can do is stop ourselves from using that in the middle of a disagreement. You don’t want to break trust that is hard to get back.

The other rule that we made from the beginning of our marriage is that if either of us ever brings up divorce, we’d better mean it. I mean that in we don’t want to throw around threats that we don’t mean. We can get upset and disagree, but we don’t want to do lasting damage to our marriage and relationship.

7. Listen to understand, not just for your turn to talk.

While it’s important to be aware of what we are saying with our words and body language, communication can’t happen unless we listen. And that sounds much easier than it is!

When my husband is talking with me about something important, I do my best to actively listen and make sure I’m paying attention, not just waiting for my turn to talk or formulating my response inside my head.

8. Know when it’s time to table a discussion for the moment.

Sometimes it’s just not a good time to have or continue a conversation. Maybe you’re too upset and know if the conversation continues you’re going to say something you’ll regret. Or maybe you’re too distracted to really listen. Maybe you’re just too tired to continue talking. Tell each other and agree to come back to the topic — then do so!

Often our best time to chat about things is just before bed because the kids aren’t up and interrupting us. But, I’m not a night person. Some nights I’m literally just too tired to have a good conversation about a serious topic. When I’m tired, I get irritated and emotional much easier. (Who doesn’t?!) I opt to tell my husband that I want to have the discussion but I just can’t at the moment. And then we find a better time to talk later.