Thursday, May 5, 2016
Our homeschool evaluator is coming on Friday. This naturally makes me reflective as I help Sam look back over our year and choose things he'd most like to show to her as part of the evaluation.
As he picks through his history notebook and slides drawings of Roman soldiers and diagrams of Egyptian pyramids into page protectors, I think about all the things we've done this year and type out a list of what he's studied: history, spelling, languages (Latin and Spanish), movie making, bread baking, astronomy, art, piano, music from the Baroque period, grammar, multiplication. It's all important and it sounds impressive to me when I list it out.
But there's the bigger life stuff: how not to overwater your seeds when you are an excited new gardener. How to use pi to determine how much gravel you need for your backyard fire pit. How to share a room with a toddler who loves you so much and messes up all your stuff. How to separate laundry so your white shirts won't turn grey. How to not buy that Playmobil guy you want with your allowance so that you can save up for the Playmobil dragon set you really want. How to persist through part of a book that's kind of boring so you can get to the good part that's coming. How to know when you've invested enough time in a book that's not for you and should just move on to a new one. How to respond to that retired NASA engineer who called you and your cousin out for running in the space center when we went on a field trip. How to channel your frustration when the parachute experiment doesn't work right the first eight times you try it (and you just want to cry and give up).
Learning is so much bigger than school.
Here, at the end of our third year of homeschooling, what I see is that homeschooling for us isn't really as much about "school" as I thought it would be. It's more about making space for the curiosity and love of learning that already exist here. It's fanning sparks into flame. It's giving the gift of time to let passions grow slowly and to explore them deeply. It's reading a lot of books, going outside to play and pretend to be characters from those books, and then coming back inside to read some more.
I didn't start out to homeschool, and I said it would be a year-to-year decision. I still feel like we have made the right choice for our family, but my reasons are slightly different now than when we started. When we began, I was mostly concerned about what Sam wouldn't get to address his unique needs in our public school.
Now, this year, the main thing I see is time.
Our time is our own, and still, I feel there's never enough of it. Every day feels full from start to finish with projects, ideas, crafts, tasks, talks, meals, games, and books. When I think about what it would cost in time to have Sam leave for hours every day to go to school, I think he can't afford it...and neither can I.
As parents and educators, we talk a lot about how the early years are the formative ones, the "window" in which we have the greatest opportunity to give our little ones a great start in life.
Hanging out every day with my now seven-and-a-half year old, I'm so grateful that the window is still open- that I still have the chance to spend my days with him, that my influence is still strong, that he can stretch his growing brain and his growing muscles here with us and that we can share in the process.
When the evaluator comes, she'll see his carefully-compiled portfolio of work, of course, but she'll also see him...a person who has grown and changed exponentially this year since she last talked with him. And despite the frustrations and the sometimes chaotic, always noisy environment here, seeing that progress strengthens my resolve to continue to do this work that's before me. He's blossoming. He's curious and passionate and interested and interesting. Yes, we'll still be homeschooling next year. What exactly that will look like depends on lots of different things...but the further down this path we go, the less "homeschool" looks like "school at home" for us...and the happier I am about that.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
I sometimes think that consistency will elude me forever.
Is it impossible for me to blog properly and post at regular intervals? Probably not. Maybe I lack focus or am too undisciplined. Maybe I just have too many interests to plug away at one constantly. Maybe my time is too limited to justify pouring all my energy into one thing when there are so many things I could be doing.
Maybe I've just been struggling a little under the sadness of losing two of the most important people in my life so close together.
Whatever the reason, I haven't had the energy to write and publish here in a while. I'm grateful for those of you who checked on me to see if I was okay. I'm also grateful for those of you who will come back and read my words again now that they are starting to flow. Thank you.
The hardest thing about being a writer is that when one does not write, neither does one fully live. Although I sometimes don't feel like writing, the side effects are unpleasant. Without the lens of words helping me to make sense of my days and thoughts and feelings, things get jumbled up and are hard to untangle. I haven't found the words yet to write about my grandmother's death and the pain of having to miss her funeral. I expect those words might come. In the meantime, though, I need to be writing again...and I'd like to be sharing here with you.
To get things started, I'm joining in the #100daysproject. This project is an effort to do creative work for 100 days in a row. While I won't be publishing here for 100 days in a row, I am going to post a photo on Instagram and share some thoughts there with the hashtag #100daysofholylens. Photography as a spiritual discipline works for me as a way to remind myself that ordinary life is beautiful. Even when things feel pretty terrible, God is with us, and His fingerprints are everywhere. We only need to look for them in the tiny, beautiful, holy moments of our days.
If you want to join me, even if you can't post every day, you're welcome to share my hashtag so we can find each other.
Friday, February 26, 2016
I'm confused at first, not quite sure where or when I am, limbs heavy and mind foggy in the gray pre-dawn. It's one of those mornings when the night has bled over, spilling its burdens into the next day. Some nights, no matter how long they are, seem insufficient to contain the things that happen...the rush of feelings, the raised voices, the teething baby, the wakeful child's nightmare, toys thrown at a wall in fury, the limp, helpless aftermath of rage.
Gripping my mug and waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, I remember. This day is new. I may have just arrived, but Jesus is already here. God is still God, over the night that has passed and over the day to come. I haven't made any mistakes yet, and although I surely will before the sun gets too much higher in the sky, God's mercies are new every morning.
The morning always comes.
No matter how long the night, there is eventually morning again.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
I sip my coffee and it tastes like mercy.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Well, it's begun...the annual tradition of putting beans in the jar for sacrifices we make for each other.
The first few days of it always frustrate me to death. I model it for the children. See, when we do something sacrificial out of love for someone, we can put in a bean. They get excited and start running to tell me about all of their little sacrifices- Mama! I picked up a crumb off the floor and it wasn't my crumb! Mama! I put my toys away! Mama! I flushed someone else's pee down the potty! Beans fly from the bowl to the jar. The bowl gets tipped over. Kids start fighting about whether something they have done "deserves" a bean or not. Honestly, I kind of dread it...the grabby hands, the beans everywhere, the constant interruptions to tell me why they need to put in another bean.
This morning, my day started too fast and left me running to catch up. I found myself at the table with my Bible while my children were dumping too much cereal into their bowls and spilling it all over the floor.
I decided to read the passage aloud instead of keeping it to myself.
Let us love.
not in word or speech
but in truth and action.
We talked. What does it look like to love in action? What does it mean if we ignore a chance to help someone? What does it mean that Jesus laid down his life for us? And how should we respond?
A growing realization crept over me as we talked...that this annual flood of bean-related frustration is an opportunity for me to practice the very thing I'm preaching. Even the smallest sacrifice is an act of love. Who cares how many beans they put in? What if we actually run out of beans? Is there a scarcity of beans in the world? Is there a scarcity of love to be shown in action?
Nope. There isn't. And it isn't my job to limit the love they show to each other, even in the most seemingly insignificant ways. To limit the beans is to place restrictions on their expressions of God's love to each other...and that's not my role. That's not the mother I want to be. I want to be the mother who shows them that the length and breadth and height and depth of God's love is more than we can grasp...that it surrounds us and wraps us up like the very biggest, fuzzy blanket they can imagine.
I have trouble believing this myself, but I want them to believe it.
There's a wideness in God's mercy
Like the wideness of the sea, the song says.
I can't really fathom God's love, but I can picture the sea, stretching as far as I can see in every direction, seemingly limitless.
God's mercy cannot be counted on beans, even if we had all the beans in the universe and a jar as big as the state of Texas.
And so, let them do their sacrifices. Let them practice love at every opportunity, and let them pile up the beans as high as they will go. This year, I'm sitting back and watching them learn to love each other in action and truth. I'm not limiting the beans.
And this year, the bean jar is as much for me as it is for them.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
I've always been curious about the Midwest. Maybe it was all those Little House books I read as a kid. I'm a lifelong east coast girl with a brief stint as an Alaskan, and the mysterious expanse in the middle (the prairie?) has always intrigued me.
Early in our marriage, George interviewed for a pastoral position at a church in Iowa. We flew out to visit in February. As the plane descended over the frozen earth, I looked down at the grid of brown squares, stretching for miles in all directions, and could only think one thing-
It's so flat.
Perhaps the hearts of the people in the Midwest develop such deep and compassionate contours in contrast to the landscape. I have found my friends from the middle of the country to be some of the kindest, most loyal, most loving people I know. They are truly what is meant by "salt of the earth." When I need solid, practical advice drawn from a deep well of caring, these are the people I know I can ask.
That's why I am so excited to be coming out to the Midwest this summer for the first-ever Finding Your Fiat conference.
When Bonnie Engstrom first floated this idea, I knew it would fill a need for many of us. The internet has made it easier to find community with kindred spirits, but we still crave those real-life, face-to-face encounters with women who get us, with whom we can drink warm, cozy beverages (or cool fizzy ones) and swap hugs and laughs and maybe a few tears.
We need to affirm each other in the ways God is calling us- each of us- into a beautiful, unique story that He has dreamed for us.
This summer, we'll have that chance.
And I can't wait to put on my honorary Midwesterner shoes (wait, what are those? probably cute flats, right? is that ridiculously stereotypical?) and join you.
Are you coming? Will I get to meet you in person? There are still tickets available here for both Friday night's event and the Saturday conference sessions. Let's hang out- you, me, and these amazing people!
Monday, February 8, 2016
Fellow parents of little ones, I’m going to give you the best parenting advice we have never received.
Picture the moment: I am standing in one of only two open Target checkout lines, watching the second hand on my watch drag slowly around, wishing to be anywhere other than here where my kids are yelling at each other and trying to touch all the mints and Chap-stick and refusing to stay seated in the cart. I feel like every pair of eyes in the store is on us as I try to quietly correct them and they yell, “NO! She’s kicking me! I want to get out and walk! How much longer! My coat fell on the floor!”
Has that ever happened to you?
Or how about that time when my daughter whined down the entire length of the cereal aisle for something I'd never buy? Or when I had to carry someone kicking and screaming from a restaurant while my extended family and that couple from our church watched me go?
All of these things have happened to me...and in my mind, what stands out about all of these moments is the terrible, sinking fear that I’m being judged by every adult within earshot. Why can't she control her kids? My cheeks burn and I feel like I might cry. And inevitably, some well-meaning person says something like this:
Oh, treasure these moments, sweetie, for they are the best days of your life!
It's a familiar refrain. Some parents who have gone boldly before seem to forget that these terrible moments can feel like anything but the best moments of our lives...and they seem to be suggesting that we can change these moments just by appreciating them.
Nothing could be more frustrating than hearing those words when everything is already falling apart.
Well, what if they're wrong?
What if these aren't the best moments ever?
What if the best moments haven’t happened yet?
Consider what they’re saying to us as we stand in front of them with our arms full of toddler and groceries and our faces full of embarrassment. These are the best moments of your life. You should be treasuring every one of them. If my child, aged 2, is embodying the best moments of our shared time together during this awful scene in the grocery store checkout, that’s pretty sad.
How would things look different if we stopped feeling guilty for not appreciating every minute of this supposedly-best-but-occasionally-awful time of our lives and started looking forward? What if we said to each other instead, “This is a hard moment, but it will pass, and the best is still ahead of you. The best is yet to come.”
Our kids are only going to get older. Their brains are going to continue to grow. They will continue to develop their abilities to practice self-control. They will continue to hone their skills at empathy and manners and public decorum. We are shaping them and helping them to grow into better and better versions of themselves (and becoming better versions of ourselves, too). They are little bundles of walking, talking potential…and our relationships with them can blossom more and more with every passing year.
The best is not now.
The best is what we have in front of us…and how good it can be is at least partly up to us and how we handle these moments while we are in them.
So, the next time there’s a challenging meltdown in aisle 6, instead of feeling guilty about how we aren’t appreciating these wonderful moments, let's try a different approach. Take a deep breath. Relax our shoulders. Smile at our challenging child, who isn’t having her best moment, and say to ourselves (and to her!), “The best is yet to come.”
Friday, February 5, 2016
I collect them, carefully preserving each one the way I did with my Lisa Frank stickers in elementary school: Sam, blowing out his birthday candles on an R2-D2 cake, Felix, swinging in our backyard with a gleeful grin, Lucy and Nora, giggly and soapy with bubble-covered hair in our bathtub; the way the sun slants through the kitchen window in the late afternoons when the day first starts becoming the evening.
They’re tiny moments when things look brighter, somehow…minutes when I realize how good things really are…places where the veil is thin and I notice that God is constantly leaving His fingerprints all over my life. In these moments, the lens of a camera is the most clarifying thing I know.
When things are hard, like they are right now, I scroll through these images in my mind or look at them on my phone, and I can almost see the thread of grace that runs through them. My life is blessed- not because it’s easy, but because no matter how hard it is, I am never alone.
I can’t preserve these moments forever or freeze time when everyone is smiling…but looking at those photos helps me focus on the grace. Focusing on grace leads to gratitude. And practicing gratitude, even in hard times, is how we keep going.
This Lent, I’m offering the HolyLens Lent-stagram project again- daily photo prompts as a spiritual practice of seeing the holy in the midst of the everyday. Each week, I will post prompts on my blog drawn from the scripture readings for the day. Take a photo and share it with the hashtag #HolyLens, and we can all support each other in looking for those holy moments in our lives (and focusing on ways God is present in them) as we prepare for Easter. You can find out more about the project here or follow our page on Facebook. I hope you will join us!
For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate's blog, Heading Home.