Monday, December 5, 2011

This year....

...I have learned that:

~God always answers prayers, and sometimes He even answers immediately in an obvious way!

~God still calms storms. 

~my children's character is more important than their academic and extra-curricular accomplishments.

~it is difficult to restrain the mama-bear in me when someone is purposely mean to my children.

~sometimes, the very thing I was dreading was precisely the thing I needed.

~God uses some very unlikely people to show me some amazing truths about Him and me.

~there are many things I really miss from Texas, such as:  Braum's, Grandy's sweet-tea and fried okra, good Tex-Mex, the sound of all the summer bugs, the beautiful sunsets, the ability to see thousands of stars and the Milky Way, and good-ole-fashioned manners.

~vacations are wonderful, but there is no place like home.

~purposely venturing outside of my comfort-zone can be very uncomfortable indeed, yet greatly rewarding in the end.

~spending extended periods of time away from home, around other people, really makes me appreciate my own family's rhythm and routines.

~getting away from civilization--leaving all schedules, electronics, responsibilities, to-do lists and most of humanity--is one of my favorite ways to refresh my soul and reconnect with my Creator. 

~I really, really, really LOVE Colorado! 

~I am capable of more than I thought I was.

~even when I am not capable, God gives me what I need to accomplish what He wants.

~my sweet Jacob is becoming a young man.

~there are many people who don't agree with our parenting and schooling choices. 

~no matter how crazy and ridiculous other people think we are for our world-view and lifestyle, we are wholly committed to it.

~I devote my entire life to my husband and children and I wouldn't have it any other way.

~some friends come and go, some friends are life-long, "but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24b)

~the meaning of the word "family" has little to do with DNA.

~I have some a.m.a.z.i.n.g. women in my life who have made me a better person and continue to do so.

~right when I get into a groove, when I feel like I've got the hang of this thing called "life", that is when I need to brace myself!  My world is about to be turned upside-down.

~fears can be emotionally and physically paralyzing.

~having the two sides of my brain separated by 1500 miles is painful. 

~"sometimes, even music cannot substitute for tears." (Paul Simon)

~I can only stuff my overwhelming emotions down for so long before they come exploding out and send me into the ugly cry for days on end.

~I cannot make anyone feel the same way I do about life or any aspects thereof.

~I have a habit of giving all control to God, then quickly and stealthily taking it all back, thinking (of course) that I know what He wants and I know how to make it happen.

~that never ends well for me!

~my heart hurts in a whole new way when one of my boys experiences some of the heartbreaking realities of this life.

~some people are just rude, entitled, narcissistic jerks.

~God still calls us to pray for and reach out to those people.

~I fail daily.

~God's grace abounds.

~when it comes to my husband and children, God has blessed me more than I ever could have imagined.

~I am so thankful that I am where I am, rather than where I could have been.

~God opens and closes doors.

~being angry and giving God the silent treatment only makes my life more miserable.

~trusting God is not synonymous with understanding His ways.

~"in repentance and rest is [my] salvation, in quietness and trust is [my] strength"         (Isaiah 30:15)

Now to be fair, I realize that most of these are not new lessons.  They are old lessons that God has brought to the forefront this year. 

It has been a roller-coaster of a year:  lots of ups, with plenty of downs sprinkled in....often at the same time.

New experiences and old friends.  Beloved chapters ending and new, unknown adventures beginning.

It has been a painful year with lots of personal growth; it has been a fun year with lots of laughter.

As it draws to a close, I look back and marvel at the way God is weaving the threads of my life, knowing that the bright colors are more beautiful because of the dark threads woven amongst them.  I trust that He is creating a beautiful work of art, even though all I can see are the loose ends right now. 

So here's to another year full of memories, lessons and growth. 

May you be content where you are,
and may your joys be worth the difficulties.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Christmas Traditions

The Christmas season is upon us.  I love this time of year.  I love the coziness of a warm fireplace on a cold night.  I love Christmas movies.  I love opening our box of decorations and seeing all the wonderful reminders of years past.

But, most of all I love our traditions we have established.

Christmas is a holiday that has been completely commercialized.  As soon as Halloween is over, we are inundated with adds for the newest and coolest toys for all ages that are "must-haves".  Trying to teach our kids the true purpose of this day becomes a challenge when we are surrounded with the gimme-gimme-gimmes of the world.  That is why we must be intentional in how we handle this season.  

You can do that by setting up traditions that teach the story of Jesus' birth and the joy of giving.  Spend time each day doing something that directs your children's attention toward our Savior and toward others, rather than toward themselves.

I did not grow up celebrating Christmas.  So when I became a mom and began celebrating it, I had no frame of reference.  I asked friends to share with me their memories and traditions.  Over the years, I have taken bits and pieces of other people's ideas and put together a collection of activities and traditions that my family looks forward to all year.

As most of you are aware, I love books.  So it's no real surprise that many of our traditions are book-based.  Here are a few:  

1.  Picture Storybooks -- Over the past few years, we have collected many great Christmas picture storybooks.  I wrap each book individually in Christmas wrapping paper and place them in a basket by our fireplace.  Each evening, the boys choose a book to unwrap.  We then cuddle up on the sofa and read our story.  I have a few light-hearted ones, but most are really-good-make-you-cry kind of stories.  I try to find a new book each year to add to the collection.

Right now, this is our list (in no particular order):

Jacob's Gift -- Max Lucado
The Crippled Lamb -- Max Lucado
Christmas Tapestry -- Patricia Polacco
Annika's Secret Wish -- Beverly Lewis
An Orange for Frankie -- Patricia Polacco
A Tree for Christmas -- Dandi Daley Mackall
The Christmas Star -- Marcus Pfister
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey -- Susan Wojciechowski
The Legend of the Christmas Stocking -- Rick Osborne
The Legend of the Candy Cane -- Lori Walburg
The Tale of the Three Trees -- Angela Elwell Hunt
The Snowbelly Family of Chillyville Inn -- Cheryl Hawkinson
Lift the Flap Nativity -- Allia Zobel-Nolan
How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- Dr. Seuss
The Night Before Christmas
Frosty the Snowman
The True Gift -- Patricia MacLachlan (This is a chapter book. It has 10 short chapters that can be broken up over the course of a few nights, if you so choose.)
The Christmas Book-Stories, Poems and Carols for the 12 Days of Christmas (This also can be broken up over a few nights.)

The kids love taking turns choosing a book and unwrapping it.  And they are pretty much used to Mommy getting choked up while reading!  I don't know that I could choose a favorite....I love so many of them!

2.  Advent Devotional -- This one might just be the boys' favorite.  There is a series of books by Arnold Ytreeide:  Jotham's Journey, Bartholomew's Passage, and Tabitha's Travels.  Each book tells a story of a kid's life around the time of Jesus' birth.  You read one chapter each night...and each chapter ends with a sort of cliff-hanger.  This year we are on Tabitha's Travels.  We have a set of Advent candles that we light while reading each night.  I cannot emphasize how awesome these books are!  These three books, in my opinion, are absolute must-haves. You can read more about them here.  You can find them many places, including Amazon.  Check them out.  You won't be sorry!

3.  "What God Wants for Christmas" -- 
This is a Nativity scene that you put together.  It is a set made by FamilyLife.  We space it out over the week before Christmas.  There are seven boxes to open with a corresponding poem for each.  Each box has a figure for the Nativity scene in it.  You can order it on the FamilyLife website here.  This is geared more towards the younger ones (preschool to early elementary), but my 5th grader still enjoys it.  There is also an animated movie that can go along with it entitled "The Very First Noel", which you can learn more about here.  If you are interested in coloring pages and activities to go along with it, here is a PDF booklet you can print out.

4.  The Jesse Tree --  This is a new tradition we are starting this year.  If you are not familiar with it,  take some time to look into it.  It is such a great way to teach your kids about Jesus and his lineage.  There are many different books out there that relate the story.  Ours is called "The Jesse Tree" written by Geraldine McCaughrean.  In the introduction of her book, she writes:

"A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, and from his roots a bud will blossom," said the prophet Isaiah in the Bible, foretelling the birth of Jesus.  It is this verse which gave rise to the tradition of Jesse trees in churches.
Jesse trees were the Bible-storybooks of unlettered people.  A priest could point to the figures or symbols and tell the stories of those Old Testament kings, prophets, heroines, warriors.  And the tree itself served to show how the New Testament grew out of the Old Testament; how, for Christians, the birth of Jesus was not just a beginning, but a completion.  He was the flowering of a tree planted long before, by God's own design.  By tracing his earthly ancestry back to King David and beyond, it was easy, too, to see Jesus as a real historical figure.

There are many ideas of how to make your own Jesse tree.  Most of what I have found online are paper or cloth ornaments.  Someone even made a quilt of a Jesse tree.  There are many options and you can personalize it as much as you want.  Basically, you make a family tree for Jesus.  We are currently working on making one of wood and brass, with whittled-wood pieces to hang on it that correspond to each story.  

Photo on inside cover of the book.

Now for non-book related traditions.

1.  Ornaments -- We each get a new one every year that reflects what we like that year.  I write the kid's name and year in permanent marker on each one.  When we decorate our tree, I let them hang their own ornaments.  They love looking at all their ornaments and remembering the things they have loved in the past.  We have VeggieTales, trains, Winnie-the-Pooh, airplanes, their favorite colors, and many others.  When they are adults with homes and families of their own, they will get to take all of their ornaments from their childhood to put on their own trees.

2.  Birthday Celebration -- We have a birthday cake for Jesus, typically on Christmas Eve after church.  The boys get to decorate it, we light candles and sing Happy Birthday.

3.  Gift Giving -- Each boy picks out a gift for one of his brothers, either by drawing names or by assignment.  We give them a dollar limit of how much they can spend and let them choose a thoughtful gift.  We really want to emphasize that Christmas is about giving.

4.  12 Days of Christmas Secret Santa -- I heard about this one a couple years ago and LOVE the idea.  We have not yet implemented this one, but I really hope to this year.  Pick a family (a family member, friend, or neighbor).  Then every day for twelve days you leave a present with a note on their front porch.  Knock on the door, or ring the bell, and RUN!  Don't let them see you!  On the final day, you hand them the gift face to face.  You can correspond each gift to the verses of the song, such as they have done on this website, and also here.  Or you can make your own lyrics, such as this one.  Be creative and whimsical.  If you look up "12 days of Christmas secret Santa", you will find many ideas on how to do this.  I know some people do it on the twelve days leading up to Christmas, others on the tradition twelve days immediately following Christmas.  This is another opportunity to show your kids the joy of giving.

5.  Operation Christmas Child -- This one is actually done in November.  This is a chance to teach your kids about how many children in the world live.  Samaritan's Purse ministry collects shoe-boxes filled with toys, clothes, toiletry items for children.  They then distribute the boxes to children around the world.  You choose the gender and age-group of the child and purchase items accordingly.  To learn more about this, or even build a box online (which can still be done), visit their website here.

These are our traditions.  I would love to hear from you about any you have that are meaningful to your family.

And I am always looking for more great storybooks to add to our collection. So, if you know of some that I don't have listed above, PLEASE SHARE!!!

I wish you all a wonderfully meaningful Christmas season, as we take time to remember the birth that changed everything!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Greener, schmeener!

Have these thoughts ever crossed your mind?

~I wish I had her hair.  It is so beautiful.
~Wow! I wish I could eat like she does and have THAT figure!  No fair!
~Her house is bigger, nicer, and cleaner than mine!
~Her car is newer, nicer, and cleaner than mine!
~Her kids are kinder, smarter, quieter, and cleaner than mine!
~She is SO organized.  I wish I were that way.
~She is so calm and sweet.  I'm sure SHE never yells at her kids.

And what about the heavier questions?

~Why does she have the perfect husband and I am still alone?!
~Why do I sit here begging God to give me children and that woman seems to pop them out every other week?!
~Why do I see people all around me spending lavishly, while I am struggling just to make ends meet?!
~Everything comes easy to all these people--money, relationships, parenting, career, life in general--but I struggle with EVERYTHING!!!  Why can't it be easy for me?!

You probably have never thought any of those, right?
You probably never compare yourself to others either. 
And you certainly never worry about what other people think of you. 

Surely I am the only one.  Well, maybe me and a few others (namely, most every female on the planet!).

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we doubt ourselves and pick apart our lives? 

In my experience, it is not my dear friends and family with whom I compare myself.  I don't worry about their opinion of me.  I know they love me and accept me as I am.  It is all the other people that make me uneasy.  The complete stranger and the mere acquaintances.  These people who have absolutely no bearing on my life are the ones who make me the most self-conscious.  Think about that for a minute.  In no way would I turn to any of those people to ask their opinions or advice.  I would never go to them when I was having a bad day or a great day for that matter.  So why do they have the power to make me feel so insignificant and unworthy.

Let's take high-school reunions as an example.  Many of us want to go to our reunions to catch up with old friends.  But when we go, we are not content just showing up in our average clothes with our spouse and kids behaving a wildly as they usually do.  No.  We go out and buy new clothes, if we can.  We spend much more time than usual fixing our hair and make-up.  We prep our families on how to behave.  We want to impress all those people with amazing stories of all we have accomplished since high school, with how awesome our husband and children are, with our amazing careers, etc.  It reminds me of "Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion".  The movie is clearly over the top, but so true in many respects.  And still, it's not my closest friends from high school that I would be trying to impress.  They would still love me and laugh with me if I showed up in my pajamas!  It is the ones who always made me self-concious back then, that somehow still have that effect on me years later.

But tell me something, do any of them have any right to speak into my life?  No.  Does their opinion of me change the quality of my life?  No.  And yet, just being around them can make me feel 2 inches tall again. 

I remember when my oldest son went to kindergarten.  I was nervous and excited for him and me.  I was eager to meet some other moms from my neighborhood and make some new friends.  Boy, was I in for an education.  Silly me.  I thought we had left the high-school mentality back in high-school.  How naive I was!  The cliques and snooty attitudes from some of the moms was shocking!  Once again, I found myself not measuring up to someone else's standards of "cool", and consequently felt my self-conciousness return. 

And how about this:  When you are a single mom, it is overwhelmingly difficult not to compare yourself to everyone around you all day everyday.  You are trying to do what's best for your child/ren, working hard to provide the best for them: driving your old, rickety car...wearing your clothes that are certainly not "this season"...buying your child clothes and shoes from Goodwill and Walmart because that's all you can afford...not being able to buy outrageous gifts for all the outrageous birthday parties you are invited to...trying to expain to your 4 year old that she doesn't NEED expensive sparkly shoes so that the other girls will play with her...seeing 'happy' couples everywhere you go.  Let me tell you from experience, it is near impossible not to spend everyday with a great big ache in your heart and doubts about your self-worth in your head.

But let me also tell you that joy and contentment have absolutely, positively NOTHING to do with what you do or do not have!  It is looking at others realistically and appreciating what you do have.

I am convinced that being confident in who you are and where you are in life is not a goal to be reached.  It is a life-long journey that requires daily tuning of your perspective.  At a conference a few years back, I heard a speaker suggest that as a homeschooling mom you should make a list of the reasons why you do it.  That way when the difficult days show up, you can refer back to the list to get the proper perspective.  Maybe that's what we need to do in this area of life as well.  As we approach Thanksgiving, I see many people posting things they are thankful for each day on Facebook.  That's a great perspective changer!  Why not take it a step further.  Try this: write down the top 5 - 10 things you love about your life, laminate or frame it, and put it in a prominent place in your home.  Here is my general list:

How I am Blessed

I have a wonderful husband who loves and takes care of me and my kids.
I have three sweet, funny, energetic boys.
I have a supportive and loving extended family.
I have an amazing group of sister-friends to "do life" with.
I have all a lot more than I ever thought I would and way more than I need.
I have the liberty to do what I think is best for my family.
I have forgiveness and grace given to me freely each and every day.

Take a few minutes to make your list.  (Maybe even make a wallet-sized copy to keep in your purse!)  Make it as generalized or specific as you like.  And next time you begin to feel small, for whatever reason, look at your list.

I heard it said recently that we often compare our normal to other people's best.  I wish I could remember the exact quote, it was much more eloquent.  But the point is, our comparisons are unfair.  Everyone's public persona is shinier and better than their real life.  Who we are when no one is watching is considerably different than what we put on display for all to see.  My close friends have seen my bad days and I have seen theirs.  That is why I love and respect them, and vice versa.  And that is why it is so easy to feel inadequate when we compare ourselves to those we don't know...because we DON'T know them.  We don't know their faults and struggles.  We don't know their failures and doubts. 

The woman with the beautifully clean house spent hours cleaning before you came over for dinner.  The 'perfect' kids are disobedient and unruly at times, just like yours.  The happily married couple have bad fights some times.  The family that can buy whatever they want spent years just getting by to pay off all their debts.  All the people that make you feel 2 inches tall, often feel that way themselves.  And guess what.  There are people out there that look at you and think you are the perfect woman with the perfect life.

So stop comparing your worst (or even average) to someone else's best.  And whatever you do, don't lose sight of all the great things you have to be thankful for.

Remember, the grass isn't actually greener on the other side of the fence.  And if you want to see how beautiful your grass is, you need to STOP LOOKING AT YOUR DIRT PILE!

Sunday, September 4, 2011


I came across this little article, written by World Vision President Richard Stearns.  It really struck a nerve with me, so I thought I would share it with you all.  Tell me what you think...


"For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink ..."
--Matthew 25:35-36

Jesus' words are a powerful and inspiring reminder as I sit in my office browsing on news websites the stories and images of the staggering tragedy unfolding in the Horn of Africa.

Nearly 10 million people are "critically short of food," according to the United Nations, due to what UN officials say is the region's worst drought since I was born 60 years ago. Those 10 million people live in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti and war-ravaged Somalia.

For some, the stories and images will be reminders of the Ethiopian famine. Twenty-five years ago, the images of bloated, dying children, images unlike any others seen before by millions of Americans, prompted a massive outpouring of donations and offers to help. That outpouring culminated in the "Live Aid," concerts in Philadelphia and London, the latter of which brought a group I had never heard of before to the world's attention -- U2.

For others, the name "Somalia" brings back the events of 1991-1994 when hundreds of thousands of Somalis were starving, prompting a U.S.-led peacekeeping force to intervene. That effort led to a military operation against Somali warlords and, regrettably, the deaths of 42 American soldiers.

I am reminded of two things.

First, the faces, the voices and the stories of people I've met in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Kenya was the first nation I visited after joining World Vision in 1998, and where I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: Poverty is not an image, or a statistic; poverty has a face, a name and a story.

Second, I am reminded of the powerful and provocative quote from Josef Stalin: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."

I fear that for many Americans -- Christians and people of other faiths or no faith -- will devote little time or attention, let alone resources, to the people suffering in the Horn of Africa. Rather they are preoccupied with "First World problems":

~~  How fluctuations in the stock market are affecting my 401(k) investments;
~~  Where to go on my next vacation;
~~  Whether to buy "name brand" or "store brand" items in the supermarket;
~~  Which diet and workout regimen will enable me to lose 10 pounds in a month; or
~~  The struggle over my next computer -- a notebook, a laptop, or the new iPad2?

Or worse, they are obsessed with finding out where Casey Anthony might be living, now that she's been released from jail after being acquitted of charges that she murdered her daughter, Caylee. Thousands of Americans followed Ms. Anthony's trial closely, and expressed outrage when she was found not guilty. They wanted justice for Caylee's death. Where's their outrage or sense of justice for the millions of children at-risk of dying in the Horn of Africa? Their lack of attention proves the late Soviet premier's admonition.

Many "First World" Americans have never met a person with "Third World problems":

~~  Whose income is $2 a day and who has never heard of a 401 (K);
~~  Whose only travel plans are traipsing by foot from Somalia into Kenya to a refugee camp;
~~  Whose primary source of drinking water is infested with animal feces, and has never been inside a supermarket;
~~  Who lost 10 pounds in the last week because of too little or even no food, and who has no use for a health club membership; or
~~  Who has no access to electricity, and does not need -- and maybe has not ever seen -- a computer.

I have the privilege of knowing people facing both First World and Third World problems. It is a privilege because, I believe, Jesus would consider it a privilege. He met with, ate meals alongside and learned from those His society considered its lowest and its outcasts -- prostitutes, tax-collectors, the poor and victims of injustice.

He would have been honored to meet and serve people like Hawo, a woman believed to be about 75-years-old who lives in Kalabeyr, a remote town in northern Somalia. Thanks to my World Vision colleagues working in the region, I know more about Hawo, than I ever will know -- or even want to know -- about Casey Anthony.

After the drought killed the more than 500 goats and sheep Hawo and her eight children lived on, they were forced to abandon their pastoral way of life and move to Kalabeyr. The nine of them live in a makeshift tukul, a small room within the compound of one of the town residents.

It is Hawo whom Mark Bowden, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, might have been thinking of when he said recently: "Resources are woefully inadequate. We have an appeal that is at the moment only 40 per cent met. ... (W)e find ourselves as the humanitarian community in a position that we want and are able to do more, but just don't have the resources with which to do it."

Jesus' words about hunger and thirst, as quoted in Matthew, led me a few years ago to create an NIT version (New Irreverent Translation), one that Americans obsessed with "First World problems" might relate to:

"For I was hungry, while you had all you needed.  I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water."

We did not create the desperate conditions of drought and famine threatening the lives of 10 million people in the Horn of Africa. But, as Christians, it is our responsibility to do something about it. It is our moral duty to help our neighbors in need -- here in the U.S. and elsewhere, and God commands us to help those we have the means to help. We cannot look at their situation -- on television, in newspapers or magazines, or on the Internet -- shrug our shoulders, and say, "Not my problem."   

Written by Richard Stearns.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Why I Homeschool

It's that time of year again...BACK TO SCHOOL!!!

Everywhere I turn I see the reminders:  adds on tv and in the newspaper for back-to-school deals, posts on Facebook about first-day-of-kindergarten-tears and quiet houses and extra free time for Mommy, and of course the big yellow school buses everywhere.

Another year has begun. 

It dawned on me recently that this would be the year of a quiet house for me.  My youngest is in first grade now, and therefore all three boys would be gone from my home 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.  I would have so much free time, my house might actually get cleaned and STAY that way!!!  This is the year that at one point or another, most of us have dreamed about and looked forward to (and possibly even counted down the days until it came!).  I remember when I did...when the boys were infants and my days were so consuming and exhausting...

I looked forward to them leaving for a large portion of the time so that I could have "me time".  I day-dreamed about the time when I would take them to school and come home to a peaceful house where I got to choose what I wanted to do and when, where I could clean the mess and it would actually stay cleaned for longer than 10 minutes, where I could go to Costco without boys "exploring" in between boxes and running into other people, where I could spend hours at a time without raising my voice and my blood-pressure,  where I could read and write in peace, where I could explore interests that have been on the back-burner for years, where I could actually finish a cup of coffee before it got cold, where I could go back to work somewhere and feel useful again... I could go on and on and on....

All that changed a few years ago when various circumstances led us to pull our oldest son out of the public school.  That dream of future peace evaporated overnight.

Now here I sit, three and a half years later.  My house is "well loved" and rooms are never clean for more than a few minutes at a time, and never all at the same time.  My days are filled to the brim with doing things for others.  I juggle laundry and dishes while cooking three meals a day for five people; educating my 1st, 2nd and 5th graders; trips to the library at least once a week; grocery shopping with kids in-tow (which typically takes at least three times longer than I could get it done alone); managing the family finances; taking the boys to enrichment classes two or more times a week...just to name a few.  Add into that the typical parenting responsibilities such as frequent argument mediations, boo-boo bandaging, disciplining bad choices, rewarding good ones, etc.  I am always answering questions.  Everything I eat and drink is room temperature.  A shower is not necessarily a daily activity.  And anytime I steal a few minutes of "me time", I am inevitably interrupted.

Not quite what I was envisioning a few years back!

So why do I do it?

I am glad you asked!  There are many reasons why we chose to pull our son out of the public school back then.  And as the years have come and gone, the reasons to continue homeschooling are piling up.

I often hear the same questions (and I know the true sentiment behind them, as well):

Where do you get your curriculum and is it state accredited?  (Are you actually teaching them what they need to learn?  They are going to get a poor quality education.)

Do you have to have a degree to homeschool?  (What makes you qualified to teach?  There is no way you can provide as good of an education as a traditional school will.)

Do they participate in any activities outside your home?  (What about socialization? Are you keeping them in a bubble?  They are not going to be able to function in society.)

Then there are the loaded statements and blank stares I get from some.  Statements are as full as:

Well, you are an amazing woman for homeschooling...I could never do that!  (You are crazy!)

You are such an organized and patient person to do that.  (You must be a saint!)

And sometimes as simple as:

Oh.  (You are one of those...)

You quickly get used to the answering these same questions again and again.  So, I will do so yet again for all of you.

On the curriculum:

We do get to choose what curriculum to use.  There are currently hundreds of options...good options.  Some are geared towards different learning styles.  Some are heavy on classical teaching (Latin and logic).  Many are filled with hands-on activities.  Workbook-based.  Real-life-learning-based.  Memorization-based.  There are so many options, it can seem daunting in the beginning!  Some are quite expensive, some are free, and many are middle-of-the-road.  You can even use the public school curriculum at home, for no cost what-so-ever.  We have chosen a curriculum based on our kids' learning styles, on my teaching style, and on our beliefs.   

On qualifications:

There are no educational requirements for homeschool teachers in our state.  College degrees are not mandatory.  Research has shown that the level of education of the parent has little effect on the quality of education the student receives.  As a matter of fact, the income of the family and the amount spent on curriculum has little to no effect as well.  Homeschool students regularly score higher on standardized tests than their public school peers regardless of gender, income, and their parents' education level.  If you like graphs and charts, you can check out the numbers here from a study done in 1999, or here for an update study from 2009.  Both demonstrate the same fact:  homeschool students are well above their public school peers in academics.

Statistics aside, I may not have spent a good-many years and thousands of dollars getting certified to teach, but I know my own children better than anyone else on this planet.  I know what they are capable of; I know when they are truly struggling and when they are just slacking.  I have the freedom to go as fast or as slow as each child needs to go.  I can cater their individual education to their individual needs.  Difficulties, learning disabilities, hyperactivity and other such struggles are not as much of an issue in our school because we can adapt and change and find new ways that work better each day if necessary. 
I have at least one child who would quickly be labeled ADHD in a typical school setting.   I am quite certain that they would not thrive there.  When there are that many children in one classroom, with a prescribed amount of information that must be covered on a specified timeline, it is impossible to cater to the child who can't sit still.  At home, my boys are getting the individualized attention they need each day. 

On socialization:

We participate in numerous activities outside of our home.  My kids know how to play with other children and can carry on conversations with adults.  There are so many co-ops and enrichment classes and sports programs for homeschool children.  There are play groups for little ones, interning opportunities for older students, and community service projects for all. 
There are seemingly endless educational field trips and projects and arts programs to take advantage of.  Not to mention the daily free time they get to play with the other children in our neighborhood and at the park and/or pool. 

My kids are most certainly not lacking in the socialization department!

We are not keeping our children in a bubble, either.  As Christians, we believe the Bible is God's Word to us.  As such, we try to live our lives according to it's morals and principles.  As we have read about from numerous sources and seen for ourselves, what is being taught in the public schools goes against much of what we believe.  We choose not to put our children in that atmosphere.  I have heard the argument in favor of public school from many other Christians, saying that as Christians we are to be the salt and light to the world.  I fully agree with that statement, but not it's application to this issue.  When Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 5, He was speaking to full-grown adults, not small children.  The Bible also tells us in Ephesians 6:12 that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  As such, I do not think it wise to send a five, six or even ten year old to the front-lines of battle! 
The only battle they should fight at 5!
They are not even remotely prepared to stand against all that will come their way.  This is just one of the many reasons that I choose to spend my time and energy educating them so that they may be equipped to go out into the world and make a difference.  I get to introduce the harsh realities of life to them in a safe environment.  Our curriculum has a strong emphasis on learning about other cultures and peoples and reaching out to help those in need; we are trying to instill in our children the fact that life is not all about them and their own comfort.  We are teaching them how to reason and think through all information they are given.  We are teaching them to ask questions and seek answers. 

So, no, we are not keeping them in a bubble, away from all outside contact and influences.  We are training them up according to what we believe...preparing them for the future that lies in front of them.

On being a super-woman:

Let's just get this one out of the way:  I am NOT a super-woman, a saint, or even an unusually patient person.  I am not incredibly organized.  I'm not a morning person.  I am not always pleasant and am most certainly never perfect.  I have so many flaws and quirks, it's shocking! 

I am a typical woman, plain and simple. 

My kids frustrate me on a regular basis.  (I frustrate myself often, for that matter!)  But at the same time, my kids can fill my heart to overflowing.

I get tired and crabby sometimes.  But, I also get to play and have fun with my kids.  I get to see the light-bulb moments when they finally understand a concept they've been struggling with.  I get to explore with them.  I am the one who is shaping their character.  I am the first one to celebrate achievements with them.  I am the one who sees the best and the worst of them (often in the same day).

There are some moments when I wonder if I am doing it all the right way.  Am I making the right decisions for my children? 

Then I see them loving each other and loving learning...

I see the wonderful personalities and hearts that they are developing...

I see them being creative and learning how to entertain themselves...

I see them taking the initiative to help someone in need...

Is it exhausting?  Sometimes.  Is it overwhelming?  Occasionally.  Is it worth it?  ABSOLUTELY!

Because this entire homeschooling journey is not just about providing the best education for my children.  It is not just about providing them with a physically, emotionally and spiritually safe place to learn.  It is not just about building their minds.  It is not just about shaping their character.  It is not just about real-life experiences I can give them.    It is not just about teaching them how to help and serve others.  It is not just about learning how to navigate relationships.  It is not just about learning time-management skills.  It is not just about learning patience.  It is not just about my kids. 

It is all that and more.  I have said before that homeschooling is the sandpaper that God is using to smooth out my rough edges.  Some days, that process is more noticeable than others.  But, I wouldn't have it any other way.  Homeschooling has changed us all for the better, and continues to do so day by day.

We homeschool because we can see that it is absolutely the best choice for our family, with all the trials and triumphs included.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cleaning Out the Clutter

Summer-time is always a nice distraction from the norm.  Soaking up the sun.  Playing in the water.  Visiting with friends and family.  Communing with nature.  I love every part of it.

As the weather turns cooler and we begin to settle back into our school-time routine, I have been focusing on simplifying our lives.  When the dust settled from all of our activities this summer, I looked around my house and found so much "stuff":  that bread-machine that at one time was used regularly, but now is collecting dust...that entertainment center that is just too big...that impractical desk...those dishes that were never used, but would be so great given the right occasion....that stack of chairs...those last remnants of baby clothes and gear...curriculum from five years ago...little odds and ends everywhere.  They all needed to GO! 

Now that our "I've-been-watching-too-many-episodes-of-Hoarders-yard-sale" is over, I am trying to reorganize our spaces so that they can actually be useful.  I am concentrating on using what we have to its fullest potential.

All of this has me reflecting on how much we need to be doing the same process with our hearts and minds.  What "clutter" are you holding on to?  What about those memories of times past that left a negative impact on you?  That defensive wall that was put up years ago to protect you against a situation that is now long gone?  Do you have a list of disappointments you keep revisiting?  How about all the "what if"s and "if only"s?  Let's not forget those stacks of selfishness and entitlement tucked away in the corner and the junk-drawer full of anger and resentment.  Oh, and that pile of pride over there with a blanket thrown over it, you're not fooling anyone.  It all needs to GO!

We don't have to do it alone.  Truth be told, it is impossible to do it alone.  Only God can clear out all of the years and decades-worth of junk in our hearts and minds.  Ask Him.  Nothing is too big--and nothing is too small--for our Father. 

"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests."  Ephesians 6:18

And as we work on clearing out the clutter, let us work on becoming useful.  We have so much potential in each one of us.  God can use the smallest offering and turn it into the biggest miraculous blessing.  (Can you say mustard seed?)  But we must offer ourselves to Him and to His service first.  God has gifted each of us with a unique set of qualities.  Are you using yours to their fullest potential?

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."  Romans 12:6-8

January 1st has never been tremendously significant to me.  This time of year is my "New Year".  As we head into a new school year, it feels so good to have "new", functional spaces in my home.  I want the same in my heart and mind. 

Time to refocus my mind, revamp my days, and renew my vision.  Will you join with me?

Empty out the clutter.

Use what you have been given to its fullest potential.

Let God take your small offering and turn it into a beautiful blessing.

"Behold, I make all things new."  Revelation 21:5

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rocky Road

Passive-aggressive -- adj.  being, marked by, or displaying behavior characterized by expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive way (as through procrastination, stubbornness, and unwillingness to communicate).*
Ambivalence -- n.  the simultaneous existence of two opposed and conflicting attitudes, emotions, etc.* 
Perseverance -- n.  steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.*


There has been so much on my mind lately.  This past month has been full of events that have created quite a stir in my heart and mind. 


Uplifting, isn't it?!

People all around are me hurting.  There have been unbelievably tragic car accidents, tornados, and illnesses.  Families having to suddenly say goodbye to their loved ones.  Other families desperately trying to add little ones into their fold. 

I see struggles and sorrows.  Pain and uncertainty.  Lives shattered.  Lives on hold.

It is so hard to watch.  I am reading some more books by my favorite authors, Bodie & Brock Thoene.  I just finished Against the Wind last night.  Another amazing story set in England in 1940.  Fantastic book.  But there were parts of it that were so difficult for me to read.  The devastation.  The unfathomable loss.  Reading about children suffering and physically affected me as I read it.


Oh, how I want to reach out and save every single one from suffering and dying...all the children that have ever lived!  Oh, if only I could. 

But I can't.

Evil is real and it seeks to devour our children.  I could write about that alone for hours.  And perhaps I will at some point.  For now, I can feel the weight of it's effects.  The hurt.  The sorrow.  The confusion.  I see it in those around me who are mourning and those who are waiting.  I want to make it all better.

But I can't.

And so I have drifted into the world of passive-aggression.  I love God.  I trust God.  I know He knows what's going on.  I know He's got it all under control.  And yet, I have been pulling away from Him.  Blaming Him, almost.  I want to spend time with Him, reading and praying.  I want to feel the joy of praising Him.  And at the same time, I don't want to. 

I so don't want to be here, in ambivalent-land; I don't like it here.  It's like a nightmare-ish amusement park.  I can almost hear the carnival music in the back-ground.

I know it is not up to me to carry the weight of the world.  That is God's job.  But it is not ok for us to keep our blinders on to the suffering around us either.  So where is the balance? 

I am torn between being overwhelmed with it all and trying to ignore it all: ambivalence. 

I want to be bold in following after the Lord and yet, due to my ambivalence, I avoid Him: passive-aggression.

Not surprisingly, the more I avoid Him, the more ambivalent I get.

What an awful little merry-go-round I am on.

All in all, I know that the process of following God and growing closer to Him is a complicated one at best.  It is a road full of struggles and uncertainties, situations that require faith.  As the song by NewWorldSon says:

There’s a road, it’s a rocky road
Lined with sticks and stones
It’s a road where the thistle grows
And the freeway never goes
But even though this road is long
Everybody’s welcome on this rocky road

We’re all doing the best we can
We hurt from head to toe
And we fall short of Heaven’s plan
We stumble as we go
But even though we’ve all done wrong
Everybody’s welcome on this rocky road

I am stumbling alot lately.  But I know God will pick me up, dust me off, and set me back on solid ground each and every time.  It is the knowledge that Jesus is with me, even in the midst of my merry-go-round, that gives me strength and the ability to persevere. 

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." ~ Isaiah 43:2

This is a rocky road.  At times it is down-right painful.  But I don't want off of it...I know where it leads.  And when I get there, He will be there to heal my heart-aches and wipe my tears.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." ~ Revelation 21:4

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." ~ Psalm 147:3

In the meantime, I pray for His help in navigating this road and I keep walking: perseverance.