Saturday, June 8, 2019

Third Year In Homeschooling: Reflections

I think I'll start out with a public service announcement that this post is more for myself than anyone else. As the Lord does his good work in me and my family within the seemingly repetitive rhythms of our days, I want to remember and praise him in that. So that's the sole purpose of this post.

This year, as every year, has brimmed with stark contrasts of failure and joy, change and steadiness. We moved and settled, made new friends and tried to keep touch with old, rented and bought, explored new places and delighted in familiar ones, learned new things and touched on old ones. It's been a rich and full time.

As I glance back on our school year in particular, I see one vein running thickly through the whole of it, the blood pumping strongly through it being that of faithfulness. Not just the faithfulness of a creation (all the things we've learned and seen) in its song to the Creator, but also the faithfulness of that Creator-God and our learning faithfulness as a response to his. On second thought, this will probably be the primary hindsight in every year. Still, it's a good and comforting thing to see.


In family bible readings we read the life of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, celebrated Advent and Lent together, and finally wrapped up the year with Psalms. We talked about waiting in hope, the place of fear in our lives, who God is, who we are, and the wonder of all of it. Do you even know what a joy it is to see kids ask genuine questions? Genuinely grow in the Lord? My heart sings just thinking back on all of it. As always, the struggle to not play the Holy Spirit in their lives has raged on, but praises abound that my struggles don't stand in the way of his work in them.

In literature, we worked through Pilgrims Progress, Hawthorne's retelling of myths in his Wonder Book, Robin Hood's adventures, and both a comedy and tragedy of Shakespeare's. There were other books between, but we devoured those compared to the pace of these regulars. A lot of connections were made between history and these stories, and new literary friendships were forged. In particular, we had a lot of fun comparing Pilgrims Progress and the Wonder stories to scripture. It was here that I saw the most milk-to-meat moments happen for the both of us.

In history, we stood on English soil while watching the world unfold and grow around us. It was fun, but I think we all struggled in truly delighting in this. As intimately intertwined with British history as we are and as wonderful as all the books were, I think this is where we'll be making the most changes next year.

In math we saw huge strides. Huge. Per tradition, we ditched the workbook halfway through the year and focused on really understanding addition and subtraction. We made arithmetic tables of beans, laughed over ridiculous word problems, and finished with graph paper pages of long addition and subtraction. I'm not sure if A saw it as she took a firm hold of the concepts, but I certainly saw order and patterns of a good God written all through them.

In nature history and geography, we made tracks across our country and all 'round our new home. We read about regional Native American tribes, mapping, animals of forests, and experienced a full cycle of seasons for the first time. There was a lot of, "did you see that?" "Look at this!" and "What are those?" moments. Nature notebooks became secondary and mostly neglected as we took it all in with our eyes, ears, hands, and feet, ending the year with as many questions as we had answers.

I think we had the most fun in the area of language arts. A made un-predicted bounds in her reading abilities, to the point that I mostly just handed her a couple books at a time to work through in daily slots of "quiet time." Narrations (retelling of things we read and observed) also became easier this year, possibly because of practice or maybe because we're both learning to relax in them. This learned ease (it really was learned) is probably what led to better writing too. Rather than writing-based workbooks this year, we focused on copying poems a little at a time and writing snatches of narrations in a notebook wholly devoted to just that. Most of that notebook, by the way, is full of my own messy notes of all she retold alongside the odd drawing she added, but it's all her words and a treasure trove for that reason.

There were a few extras thrown into the mix, like the odd Squilt lesson and even our independently devoting one full term to Handel, but not much else. We tried a couple of local homeschool groups, did a season of basketball, and deepened our activities at our church. Everything in this respect was pretty seasonal, in which we were able to find natural rhythms of work and rest.


This may sound funny but as I close up and shelve all of this year's books, the overwhelming gratefulness I'm feeling is toward the fact that I'm not God. Being a rather single-minded person can lend to a lot of limiting rather than recognizing my own limits. So I had a lot of hard lessons this year in remembering that our God and his true word are singularly firm and unchanging while just about everything else withers and fades. All the responsibilities I hold in life - teaching, motherhood, marriage, homemaking, etc. - constantly give tiny tastes of the massiveness of God's authority. As much as my sinful nature keeps trying to snatch that authority, I'm increasingly aware that I really don't want it and my shoulders certainly aren't made to carry it. Knowing this (over and over again) is slowly building an imperfect yet joyful submission in me. There's so much more freedom in a life of this kind of surrender than in the power-grabbing sort.

As much as Christ himself says that living in him still requires a yoke on our neck and a burden on our back (Matt 11:28-30), they truly are so much easier and lighter than the ones of our own making. That said, I think it's safe to say that we're closing out the year with contentment and wonder in the great goodness of our God, while also looking forward to what next year holds.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

A Battle Plan For Tired Mamas

"Mama..." Shaken from sleep, I sit up and foggily wonder if I'm still dreaming. "MAMA!" Nope. Mostly awake, I wrap arms around myself to combat the inhospitable night air and shuffle to the room of my wee daughters, again. Despite there being only one toddler in our trio of girls, this is still our norm. From colic to extreme night terrors, hourly feedings to older hearts needing a good chat, there's always been one thing or another keeping a full night's sleep out of reach.

I do realize that sleep deprivation and overall tiredness is kind of a minor struggle in the grand scale of things. It's also big enough to discourage and send us on endless scavenger hunts for help and hope. I've been on plenty of these myself, but rarely come away with more than what Gloria Furman describes as "glow stick encouragement." [1] There's a moment of light or sanity, but it fades as quickly as the effects as my last cup of coffee.

Weaknesses are a bit like old but unhealed wounds, flaring up in fiery indignation with every threat to their fragility. A friend recently brought up the need for a plan to fight the inflammation when it hits. This is so good not just for its soundness in scripture, but also for its practicality. A battle plan does well to remind us that we're in a fight for our own souls, and while lack of sleep and overall low energy might not be the schemes of darkness, it sure can give foothold to it. I'm sure we're all familiar with Ephesians 6, but a quick refresher never hurts:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly place. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm." (Eph. 6:10-13)

So what might a battle plan for late nights, early mornings, or dragging afternoons look like?

1) Nodding to our weakness and reveling in God's strength

Paul long ago described us as clay pots with treasure inside. If that's the case, then I can't help but picture some of the gaping cracks we must have as well - weariness, anxiety, sickness, or otherwise. These weaknesses that only make us partially whole give greater glory to the treasure within, which is the power of God to make completely whole. [2] This doesn't make living with the cracks easier. Being filled up and re-formed is actually pretty hard and ugly, what with all that teaching heart and body to do the next thing faithfully and bending of the knee when we screw it up. But grace, that sweet gift of God's greatness in our smallness, will be enough. [3]

Paul encouraged the Corinthians of his day to not lose heart, but these words are meant for us too. "For though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."
(2 Cor 4:16-17)

So this is where the plan begins - nodding to our weakness and reveling in God's strength. God's own word will be the weapon we use to fight our battles with, and faith in his person and promises will prove our shield (Eph. 6:16). We need to be echoing with the Israelites of old that the battle is not ours, but Gods (2 Chron. 20:15). Then rejoicing in the victory of Jesus who, in the words of a sweet old hymn, sought, bought, and plunged us beneath the cleansing flow of his redeeming blood.

2) Praying the character of God

This year I've been spending a lot of time in the Psalms. Something I've noticed this time around has been how often the psalmist cries out to God with the character of God.

"Answer me when I call, oh God of my Righteousness." (Psalm 4:1)

"For you are not a God who delights in wickedness, evil may not dwell with you.... But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house." (Psalm 5:4,7)

"And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, oh Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you." (Psalm 9:10)

Right after being reminded of what we're given to both to fight and defend, Paul says, "Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for the saints." (Eph 6:18). It seems that prayer is the action we ought to be taking after picking up our weapons of warfare. Practicing the kind of prayers that helps us keep the word of God in hand and our eyes fixed on him, will be the deepest comfort and source of strength to pull us through.

3) Physically accepting that we're not alone in this

This is practical, but being willing to reach for help or accept it when offered is advice I've been given over and over by mentors further along in life. It is hard though, isn't it? It takes us right back to that first point of acknowledging our weakness. When we try to be all the things all the time, that's our pride auto piloting us. And as a well known proverb warns, pride is what comes right before destruction. [4]

What I'm getting at is that we weren't made to do this alone. God himself is a holy fellowship of three persons, we were made to live with him, and in God's eyes it wasn't good that we be alone in that. Shall I say it again? We weren't made to do this alone. Maybe this is just me, but accepting truth like this can sometimes look very physical. Something like saying yes to help with loading groceries in my car or the offer of kind neighbors offer to watch the kids. Let me tell you, pregnancy, post partum, disease, and even just a run of the flu are all ripe for this.

Friends, we're not promised an easy go of life. Instead we're told that its a grueling race, a wrestling match, a battle of cosmic forces. So yes, it's true that what we're facing may not pass and what we're wanting might not come in this life. But, as Julian of Norwich found when she begged God for an answer to all the troubles and trials in the world, we too will find that in Christ "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." [5]

[1] Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full, Gloria Furman
[2] 2 Cornthians 4:7
[3] God's grace allows for power, his power, to be perfected 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
[4] Proverbs 16:18
[5] Revelations of Diving Love, Julian of Norwich

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Sparking Joy - Jesus or Your Old Immersion Blender?

Marie Kondo has become a household name these days, and not without good reason. Her mission to tidy up the world (I may be exaggerating a little here) is something I can really appreciate. Besides the fact that clutter is just brain numbing, a simplicity that calls for being mindful of what you use and don't use in a culture fenced in by stuff makes a lot of sense. In fact, this kind of simplicity is so needed that Kondo has become something of a proverb without even meaning to. Messy desk? Kondo it. Organizing your closet? Do it Kondo style. Overwhelmed by the amount of magazines accumulating on your coffee table? Only keep the ones that spark joy.

But therein lies the rub.

Mindful simplicity can be a good thing, even Jesus lived so sparsely that he had no bed to call his own [1]. But do we think his decisions on what to own and not own hinged on whether they sparked joy? I'd be so bold as to say not. The reason being that this preoccupation with piles or absent piles of stuff is an ancient human struggle with a name. It's called materialism.

Materialism nearly obliterated a nation who lamented not having a God they could see - a God whom they could touch and smell, hear and speak to directly. So, for the sake of blessed comfort for their senses, they tossed some gold together in a shape they could do all the things with. Fast forward to our current day and we find ourselves in a cultural conundrum of being distracted with minimizing everything so we can be um, less distracted.

Now joy, I've heard explained, is the ability to look at any circumstance square in the eye, know we're not alone, and so say "it's good to be meeting here with you today" [2]. I suppose we could look at our semi-needful immersion blenders and feel that way, but can we look at them or anything else in our cluttered homes and say the following?
"You will make known to me that path of life; In your presence [not my simplified life] is fullness of joy; In your right hand there are pleasures forever." (Psalm 16:11)
 "The prospect of the righteous [not the immersion blender owner or un-owner] is joy, but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing." (Prov 10:28)
"These things I have spoken to you so that my joy [not the joy of your perfectly folded underthings] may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." (John 15:11) 
"For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking [or even simplifying our lives to the bare minimum], but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Rom 14:17) 
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials [not closets full of your favorite clothes], knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." (James 1:2-3)

Now what I'm not saying is that there's no pleasure in the material. There is. In fact, the beautiful way of God in the material is that its momentary spark of joy reminds us of the real and forever joy. Something like tasting bits of a holiday feast before the actual feasting, or the smell and feel of spring in the air just before it fully blooms.

What I am saying is that we, as Christians, need to remind ourselves that we are of an upside down kingdom where the real-to-us is just the taste of the-really-real of what's to come. So essentially, give the credit of joy to where it's due. As C.S. Lewis aptly explained, " All joy reminds. it is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be.'"
"And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Pet 1:8-9)
So what's the real magic in tidying up? The real magic is when that joyful spark in it leads us to the fullness of joy.

[1] Luke 9:58
[2] "Bringing Up Joyful Children series" Dr Bill St. Cyr, Ambleside Flourish Podcast

Sunday, December 30, 2018

When Your Hands Are Heavy (The Question of Gospel Community in Practice

I wrote this awhile ago and left it sitting in a document somewhere, a bit forgotten after being submitted to different publications and rejected a couple times over. I think I now know why that is, though. Sitting in on this morning's Sunday message on gospel community, I remembered these words and (with one or two additions) am posting them now as both a response to that message and an encouragement to my own community here. To my people - family and church family - this is what I'm learning in loving Jesus together with you.

The first beautiful weekend in October found us, sixty some women young and old, in a meeting room atop a local mountain. Sounds a bit Old Testament, doesn’t it? I made a mental note of that myself as I drove the winding road there. I won’t lie to you, I’d been to these kinds of things before and was fully skeptical of just how much depth in Christ a gathering could offer while being heavy on hormones and rounded with sugar. As far as I was concerned this was just going to be a fun sleepover. Happily, I was wrong, very wrong, and that gathering turned out to be a mountain of the Lord type of experience posing as a “fun sleepover.”

Those two bluebird days framed by fiery autumn colors were spent alongside all those those ladies in pleading and praising

“...Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think,
according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and
in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph.3:20-21)

There, in what I affectionately will remember as our “mountain of the Lord,” we heard and believed together in the unchanging and consistent faithfulness of God, and we reminded one another of our high calling in womanhood being found in nothing and no one less than Christ. Sure there were stories shared and shoulders soaked in tears, a few awkward moments and a lot of laughter, definitely too much caffeine, but I think all of us left with the same vision: Look to Jesus and run to Him. Run as if your life depends on it because, well, it does.

Months later, I'm still thinking about and basking in what God gave us in that time together.

The thing, you see, is that truly holy community can pose quite the challenge to us because we flip it on its head. In general, we do life together and rather like it that way, but doing life together leads to habits of looking side to side rather than ahead, of running circles around each other rather than straight and true. Well, that or keeping silent and charging forward with side blinders on. While it’s no sham that “seek ye first the kingdom” is our high and holy aim, the comradeship of “bearing one another’s burdens” is what we long for yet don’t always do well.

Where we struggle to see through the tangle of our lives threaded together, the Lord Himself offers the clarity of His own intention for us: “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Did you catch that vision of community in there? Walking in the light of God together is where the tangle of our lives together can finally be seen for the tapestry of His grace, His holiness, and His glory that it is. Now to apply this to our fun sleepovers and everyday burden bearing together.

An episode of “the wilderness files” might be a helpful visual here.

In Exodus 17 Amalek, an enemy, seeks the Israelites out for a fight. Moses says to Joshua, “Hey, choose some men to fight with you tomorrow and I’ll stand up here on this hill with the staff of God.” So Joshua heads off to fight while Moses, Aaron, and Hur hike up this nearby hill.

“So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek . . . .” (Ex.17:11-13)

While it is true that most of us are not leaders of multitudes, we are a people whose hands grow heavy in the obedient surrender of our daily Amaleks. A people whose eyes blur in the weariness of straining onward and upward. A people tempted to tread outside the God-given limits of our humanity. Sweet friends, as we do life together in this state, let’s remember Aaron and Hur who lifted the heavy hands that also needed to be raised in obedience to the Lord. Let's let their example be a reminder to us to support one another's heavy hands toward the One who in a different battle on a different hill, stretched His own broken, nail-pierced hands for us with the victory cry that echos into today - “it is finished.”

The literal gospel truth that makes all the difference here is that rather than being left to bear our burdens together, period, we get to bear our burdens together to Christ.

"Therefore brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus... let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." (Heb.10:23-25)

Walking in the light... drawing near to the holy place... friends, it would seem that a gospel community that runs well together is one where the members are in community with God.

What this looks like in our own lives is simple enough to figure out - I think we're pretty privy to the fact that the Lord's raining manna in our lives and we need to gather it daily. In community though? This is where things get interesting, creative even. What does gospel living (running well) look like in practice here? Well, Maybe it could look like choosing to listen and lift heavy hands to Him whose brokenness gives us hope when the next SOS on account of another late night with baby, disagreement with spouse, or heavy circumstances at work crops up. Maybe it will look like choosing words and actions that overflow with suggestion of the One who will someday make all things new when we recognize the temptation to fix the brokenness we see within, without, and (dare I say) in each other? At the very least, I think it will most certainly look like choosing a joy that courageously says, “It’s good to be meeting with my Lord right here, right now, regardless," when we come face to face with our limitations and sometimes meager circumstances (ahem, you know I’m referring to a good old Instagram, facebook, or pinterest scroll here).

However we choose to respond here, let’s not forget (me especially) that God is able to accomplish far more abundantly beyond all we could ever ask or think. As a sweet hymn of old rightly prompts us, let's “hear the Savior say, 'thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in Me thine all in all.'”

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Preaching the Gospel to the Backseat (And My Heart)

Trying to drive with one hand on the wheel and one hand cradling a mug of coffee, I glanced in the rear-view mirror. There was a lot of yelling happening in the back seat and I could just distinguish a flying fist, a handful of hair, and something about a book. Ah, the Christmas books we had just lugged out, probably a fight over one of those. Still, I sighed. Today had been one of those days that inevitably comes but I am never prepared for. Last day of our first term's exam, my hope had been for it to be laid back and exciting, but with one car in the shop and Will needing to be picked up and taken here and there it had been a bit chaotic instead. The kids were in chronically low spirits (thus the early pulling of the Christmas books) and I had somehow managed to completely run out of diapers and forget to pick them up on all our outings that day.

So now here we were, trying to peaceably mesh a diaper run with coffee hour and failing.

I nestled my coffee into the cup holder and desperately gripped the steering wheel with two hands as I took a deep breath, steeling myself to shout for quiet if need be. Well the need certainly came, but the grace of God shouted louder into that moment then I ever could.

"Hey, don't you dare go saying that you hate your sister, that's the kind of thing Jesus had to die for."

Now, I'll be honest, the gospel is something that we talk about outside of conflict, but it rarely comes up in moments like this because I'm usually too irritated to go down that road, so it sort of took me aback. "Where did that come from..." And being that you can't tell a four year old something like this without an automatic response, "why?" came flying at me faster than I could gather my wits together.

"Well... because... well... you know... because..."

Clearly I have this parenting thing down pat. I did respond though, after a long pause at a red light and a hasty swig of coffee.

"Well, because. . . because. . . because God is so very good and clean. These naughty things we do made us too dirty to be near Him. The good news though, is that that's why Jesus came - to make us clean enough to be near Him again. But when we do these naughty things it's like hurting Him all over again. You know though, I guess it also reminds us that God is still so much greater and cleaner than us and how much we need Him."

Silence. But I was silent too, partially because I had no idea what was coming next and partially because I was stunned at this whole gospel exchange. The memory of God's love and what Jesus had done for us was a calming oil upon our turbulent waters. Sure, it lasted about ten minutes, but I think it was as much for me as for them, and my side of it stayed pretty fresh.

Most days make me feel like I'm a Moses caught between some Israelites and God, which probably sounds really lofty of me but I don't mean it that way at all. Complaining, bickering, dealing some justice, showing some mercy, giving some instructions, and generally handling clean up duty. I'm in a place of leadership that I don't feel I belong to, not because I don't love my people but more because I feel inadequate to the task. "How about Aaron, Lord?" I'm tempted to plead. Too easily I forget to open my eyes to the bushes around me that burn with the presence of God, take off my shoes, and just worship.

God is so good, sweet friends. I know that's said a lot, but He really is. How else would redemption be possible in even the quibbles and fist throwing of the every day if He were not? The gospel that He came to save and to make new offers hope in the most exasperating moments of the day. Why? Because regardless of how the world may be falling apart around us, we who are wrapped in the cloak of His steadfast love are not consumed, his mercies are that immense (Lam 3:22). So I can bless the Lord in even the brokenness of this failed coffee hour slash diaper run because it's not me - thank God - who takes up the brokenness and makes it whole, it's Him. Because of that hope that we call the gospel, I can turn to the backseat (and myself) and say, "Hey, we've messed this up, but guess what? Jesus is the wisdom, the righteousness, sanctification, and redemption that we aren't. Big words with much bigger thanks due."

I'll be honest with you, as I close out these thoughts it's a different day and a different tough moment just happened moments before I began typing. This time, I didn't remember anything remotely close to gospel hope until maybe 30 seconds ago. Am I disappointed I didn't seize the moment back there? Yeah. But sitting here and reviewing all this everyday gospel hope has me so much more grateful for the reminder to seize the hand of the Lord instead.

Because my God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29), I can exchange these flammable emotions and moments for His unshakable kingdom. Because of Him, completely and totally because of His mercy, I need not be consumed with anything but Him.

Is this what is meant by "every moment holy?" Well then, excuse me while I take off my slippers and worship.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Wee Little Man, a Wee Little Mama, and a Savior Who Sees 'Em Both

"Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he...
he climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see..."

Lately I find myself singing these lines for my wee ones at least ten times a day, sometimes in a row and sometimes spread out over all the important moments of the day (meals, snacks, bathroom breaks, quiet time...). Whether it was genius or stupidity to break this old Sunday school song out over breakfast last week remains to be seen, but I'm guessing it's middling somewhere between the two. It is cute to see their little eyes glued to my lips while their own lips overemphasize the shape of the words, slightly off beat with their interpretive miming, of course.

Being the favored one that he is at the moment, it was no surprise to have Zacchaeus' song requested as the last hurrah before bedtime blessings tonight; what did come as a surprise however, was how potently the simple words struck me. Truth be told, today was one of those crap days were nothing went right, then I berated myself for nothing going right, and then our whole home atmosphere fell to such minuscule pieces that nothing could piece it back together by bedtime. It was (not at all) lovely. But as I sang the simply phrased story of Zacchaeus, I suddenly recognized myself right there with him.

". . . And as the Savior passed on by, He looked up in the tree...
and he said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down, for I'm coming to your house today..."

For a mama who's weakly propped in her proverbial tree straining hard to see Jesus over the host of bad attitudes (her own lumped in there) and un-cleaned dishes of who knows how many meals, this is the hallelujah moment.


Long after the bedtime blessing was sung, cold feet propped against my side, fingers tangled in my hair, and eyes fidgeting on the edge of actual sleep, I leaned more heavily into the headboard and popped open my phone to a half-read article - "My Biggest Mistake as a Mother." Perfect, just the thing for wrapping up the day - guilt and self-introspection.


"Trust the Lord and do good."

The words of Psalm 37:3 might as well have been in flashing neon letters. Now here was something that wee little me cringed at the backwardness my memory had served me in this command, and so, apparently, did the author:

"When I put doing good before trusting God, guilt dogged my mothering. If a toddler threw a tantrum, I thought, my discipline is not consistent enough. If my teenage was spiritually lethargic, I believed, my discipleship is not compelling enough. If my child feel behind, made a mistake, or sinned in any way, I berated myself, you're not helping them enough. . . .
When I put doing good before trusting God, fear stalked my mothering. I worried that my efforts would result in failure. I worried that my limitations would hold them back. I worried that my sins would scar them for life. I worried that my hopes and desires for my children would end in bitter disappointment."

Forgive my copious quoting but this, this right here was exactly why I was feeling all choked up about a silly kid song, why I was up my tree looking for Jesus. Defeat. Failure. Emotional and mental death by imperfection. Just typing that out makes me laugh, but it's a real thing and it's deadly.

The anecdote? The invitation straight from the lips of Jesus?


Just like the author of that beautiful article went on to say, the good in all this is that He is good and ever doing good; we can trust Him because He is trustworthy. I know this but most definitely forget to translate it out of the philosophical realm into the here and now.

I can trust the long seasons of no one sleeping through the night and our groggily making it through the days to Him, because He is trustworthy.

I can trust the picky wee ones who turn their nose up to all the healthful options to Him, because He is trustworthy.

I can trust the relationship between the little women in this home to Him (despite the biting, flailing, screaming, and locking of doors), because He is trustworthy.

I can trust all the heart convicting and faith building business in our home to Him, because He is trustworthy.

This was what I suppose could be a current day version of that hallelujah moment I mentioned earlier. No climbing tree too tall, no circumstances too small for Jesus who calls to those look for Him (even weary mamas), "... Come down, for I'm coming to your house today."

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Second Grade's Feast (Term One)

Well, it's been awhile since I've sat and allowed my fingers to fly over this old keyboard. The silence has been full though, very full.

In these few short months we finished up first grade with Lanna, sold a home and moved ourselves several states over, experienced two breathtaking seasonal changes here, settled ourselves into a new church home, widened our circle to include new friends and drew closer the dear people already there, filled the space around our table (and then some) many times over. . .

Silence hasn't exactly equaled stillness but I'm content here in the quiet, for I'm finding that things unnecessary are being hushed and things good strengthened in it. Living this quiet yet full life has somehow been the method of God's taking all the harsh dryness of these last couple of years and setting it ablaze with His goodness, despite the fact that I may be the lone pair of eyes seeing and singular voice wondering aloud over the splendor. He's a gracious one, this God of mine. Oh goodness, and this new home! I've fondly started calling it our Juniper Tree house after the memory of a dear place of rest in the middle of southeast Asia. Juniper, in case you're puzzling over that, is mentioned in some versions of the Bible as the tree that Elijah was resting beneath when he was ministered to by the Angel of the Lord. If only I could bring you all here to have a breath of the peace God has seemingly breathed into this little spot.

Anyway, what I really sat down to type out is our plans for second grade.

How odd it feels to say that. First grade was so anticipated that it wasn't really a surprise when it's time came, but second grade? It has more of the "whoa, we're really doing this" factor to it. Nonetheless exciting though.

I originally planned on just throwing up a few quick Instagram stories to share the books that we're using this year, but I wavered over that decision last moment and took a poll - blog post or stories? Blog post almost overwhelmingly won out, but for those who voted IG stories - Keep an eye out! I'll most likely highlight the books too. For reference, we're still using AmblesideOnline as our foundation - their book lists are solid and I'm a fan of the way they plotted out the history studies. As you'll see below, we just like to supplement and expand where we can, which I think is actually common for those who use AO.

As far as the format of the year, I adopted Charlotte Mason's practice of breaking it up into 3 terms of 12 weeks. Our state requires a certain number of days of attendance per school year (not uncommon), and 36 weeks fits that requirement perfectly. I did add an extra week at the very end of the year just in case we needed it, but even with that extra week the school still only runs from the last week of August to the end of May.

I can't tell you how much easier it is to plan this way, you guys! The wiggle room for adjustments that inevitably come up isn't a big deal anymore because it's already there, and the holiday breaks fall at great spots per term. You can see how I spaced the terms in the photo above - Term 1 in red, Term 2 in blue, Term 3 in green. So to clarify, I planned the general topics for the entire year, but only specifically so far for Term 1  - this post covers only that term (red, in case I lost ya already).

The AO plan for year 2 covers 1000 A.D. to the Middle Ages using Our Island Story, This Country of Ours, and A Child's History of the World as "spines" (the foundation, essentially. These are our meaty bones, we can add on from here though we don't necessarily have to because they're second to none as it is). The beauty of the AO plan is that the reading is already all plotted out, weaving these three together into one narrative of that period of time we're studying rather than three separate narratives that we have piece together. Generally, even though we have this thorough story happening with multiple books, we're still only reading 2-3 chapters per week. Not bad. That's only two days of history studies, really (the chapters are not long). I'm wanting three days so there isn't so much time between readings, so I snatched Robin Hood from the literary pile and added it here instead. At one chapter or so per week of that title, I now have three days of history, voila. And all I really had to do was buy the books, I'm already off to a good start.

The only other thing I'll mention here is a timeline because I know we're definitely going to do one for the sake of a visual of how the centuries neatly roll out and where people we're reading about belong in them (more on that right here). I'm still weighing the options but I do know that we're going to use a condensed version of the one we all probably picture in our minds (the room-wrapping kind). I might print a column version and put it in Alanna's binder (like so), or do something more along the Riverbend press version and hang it on the wall (as seen here), or bank on the familiarity of the "hundreds chart" version (isn't it interesting?). I'll get back to you in Term 2 with what we decided on that.

Again, I'm leaning heavily on AO here, but similar to last year, we're choosing classics that I really want to read together. The Children's Story Bible and Poetry book are on a daily rotation, but otherwise, to make it simple, I have one book for each major school day of the week (Monday - Thursday). Essentially, Pilgrims Progress for Monday, Parables from Nature for Tuesday, Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Wednesday, and A Wonder-book for Girls and Boys for Thursday. They're stacked in this order so that any given day I just have to grab the first within reach then stick it on the bottom, repeat. I arranged our books like this last year in a moment of inspiration brought on by the Morning Basket loop schedule that everyone seems to like a bunch, and it was so nice! I wasn't constantly referring back to my list and asking, "which are we supposed to read today?..." and we were still feasting on a mass variety every week.

A note about Shakespeare - I recently found out that a local theatre group here puts on Shakespeare in
the Park events. I fully intend on taking advantage of these and corresponding the plays we read with those that we manage to attend. This will be our first year with Shakespeare and actually seeing the plays seems like an amazing beginning. I'm still working on how we'll handle character confusion, which I hear is the most common trouble (maybe family trees?)

Free reads/ Language Arts, reading:
You knew I wasn't going to neglect these, right? I have a whole basket pulled from both AO and my shelf in general, but I had Alanna help me choose just two as a start for this term. Without much of pause, she handed me Brighty of Grand Canyon and Heidi. These end up being the books we enjoy as a family, reaching for when we're cozy on the couch together or going through the bedtime thing. 

Now Alanna did progress to short chapter books last year, and her reading abilities are kind of amazing (small print, close lines already, kid? Sheesh), but I'm still looking to keep it simple for her this year by focusing on building enjoyment in reading alongside her literacy. We went through a lot of readers last year, but found this cute Sophie Mouse series toward the end. It's simple, sweet, has plenty of titles to keep a new reader busy, and I wouldn't consider it twaddle any more than I would consider Little Bear or Frog and Toad so. If we run out of steam there, I have the Fairchild Family and Cobblestreet Cousins as backups. 

We started with Singapore last year and I wasn't impressed, plus I had it from my family and friends who've used it into the upper grades that it gets ridiculously difficult and hard to understand down the road. No thanks. So we switched barely before we began and I'm glad we did because it had me researching the topic of math all year. Math Lessons for a Living Education came in at just the right time and ended up being our "math spine." It was pretty good and made for a pleasant starting line in math, which is a good thing in my book. The story that runs through it can be helpful for visualizing tough concepts and it is a fun way of handling math for students who just don't enjoy it, but we do like math here so toward the middle of the year I ended up leaning more heavily on the concepts from Simply Charlotte Mason's Math instruction. I wish their Elementary Arithmetic had come out sooner, it's a really amazing curriculum that is so thorough yet gentle, but that's okay because I'm banking on the next in the series which should be released later this year and will last for the next couple of grades. To bide our time, we're using Book 2 of Math Lessons for a Living Education and working out the problems on oversized graph paper rather than the worksheets. 

We're also continuing with our adopted practice of a little daily "mental math" (word problems worked out orally) in each lesson. We used Ray's Primary Arithmetic last year for this, and are adding Strayer-Upton this year. Basically, this just looks like 2-5 word problems read aloud and worked out mentally. It's a game changer, trust me. For Fridays (which tend to be our more relaxed days), I'm using games from the Kate Snow series (subtraction and possibly multiplication this year, but she has others). They make for a nice break in the routine and pleasantly wrap-up the week. The women, who is coincidentally a homeschool mother and math teacher, knows her stuff.

We left off handwriting practice in a place of block letters and puzzling out where periods and capitols go, so rather than practicing the form of lettering this year, the focus lies more in neatness and proficiency. Essentially, just writing practice. Armed with erasable pens, notebooks, and the CM concept of "copy work" this is exactly what we're doing. 

AO has a seasonal poetry anthology for early years, so one day I just scrolled through and chose 2 or 3 poems per school month, plopped them into a document, and printed out the whole kit and caboodle to stick in my binder. When we start, Lanna will have one poem at a time and can copy out 2-4 lines in her special copywork notebook. At the end of the week, I take a look at it for neatness and basic punctuation, pointing out lines that can be redone (rare after the first correction, no one wants to redo) or pointing out some new aspect of punctuation she had to use. We did this for a short time after finishing a handwriting book last year and it worked well, especially the whole idea of copying real sentences rather than lone words or letters (necessary for a good foundation, but after that? Tedious stuff).

Nature Studies:
This is a subject I really want to bank on this year, what with our new environment and so much wildlife around us. I followed ideas gathered from A Delectable Education Podcast and Sabbath Mood Homeschool resources and am looking mostly to lay a foundation of curiosity, wonder, observation skills, and humility in these early years. A tall order but attainable with a whole lot of patience, diligence, and grace, I think. Since our homeschooling neighbors are up for joining in the fun here (hallelujah hands), we're going to use Exploring Nature With Children together once a week. I wanted to use this little handbook last year but am so glad I waited. If I'm not mistaken, the idea underlying it is to explore the change of seasons through observation, dive deeper with literature, and pay note to the little details that strike wonder. 

Besides the once a week thing, we're adding nature lore readings to our stacks, and to keep things interesting the theme there will change every term. This term we're leveling our eyes toward the birds, and as you can see, we have some Audubon things and field guide things, as well as the Burgess Bird Book on Librivox audio

Need I even mention Nature Journals? Yes, I probably should. We are keeping nature journals this year (yes, I am too), but swapping out the structured "this is nature journal time" for "please make at least two entries a week of things you observed on your own and we'll share together" format. I'll probably try to add in some things to encourage this, like a trip to our local Audubon center and the odd nature hike here and there. Regardless, we'll see how it goes, I have an inkling that this is something we're going to adjust and grow in a lot this year.

This is something we added to our first year plans at the last moment and were pleasantly surprised over how easy and enjoyable it's was. Literally as simple as pulling out a US map, pointing out the states we already know, then adding a new one. Painless. I'm focusing on the US first, by the way, because taking the walls of the world our students live in and pushing them out slowly and steadily makes sense to me. I can't remember where I read that specifically. . . probably one of the CM volumes.

We also did the AO suggestion of mapping out Paddle to the Sea by Holling and had a lot of fun with that, but we did start our mapping too late so it was a little troublesome. I won't be making that mistake with Tree in the Trail and The Book of Cowboys this year. All the books you see between the two I mentioned are titles I had already snatched from book sales here and there and have particular portions marked off to give richness to what we'll be covering in Tree in the Trail and The Cowboy book. 

I know composer studies are traditional in CM homeschooling, but the people who create music are only one side of the coin and I have this lurking suspicion that it's impossible to appreciate what they've done without having some understanding of it. Something like. . . when you take a wee one to see a painting, "look how beautiful, little one!" "Oh, it's fantastic!" they say. And it is, because maybe they appreciate the beauty and maybe know a little of the master who made it, but really they have no idea what it is, no context to measure it against or vocabulary to appreciate it, so their marvel is trapped there.

That's essentially where we're picking up this year.

About the only thing we did musically last year was listen to the Nutcracker and Can You Hear It. Literally, listened to them for months upon months. My comfort there is that little ears were gaining the patience and intricacy of truly hearing, but still, I know more direction than that is needed. Enter Alice in Orchestralia and the Intro to Classics audio series. The former I snatched from a favorite bookseller and it's essentially Alice in wonderland... but exploring instruments and their sounds. Brilliant, right? I'm super excited about that one (which we'll tackle at the rate of roughly a chapter a week). Listen to the Birds is just what its title describes, listening to birds... from various musical pieces and composers. Talk about a delightful way to train the ear! Birds is just the beginning of the series, there's also amazing water and legends and talesWe'll work our way through those slowly, always narrating of course (ie: "Tell me the instruments you hear. Draw what you hear.")

Has anyone read A Touch of the Infinite by Hoyt, yet? No? I raved about it all over Instagram and can't help but have a little of that spill into this post - if you get one book to help increase richness in your school year, make it this one. Aside from a little listening, the odd Opal Wheeler book, and maybe instrumental lessons, music is such an un-mined subject.

All the logic of what I mentioned about music can probably be applied here too, but I know a precious little and have less a passion for it. Still, that doesn't mean I get to neglect it, so I called in the help of the "Every Child Should Know" series. 

You guys, I didn't realize how great this series is until I was paging through and choosing art pieces to feature this term. We're talking 48 masterpieces with a small, "living" chapter about the artist, a few interesting things to note about the featured painting, and 4 - 8 more to look up from said artist. It's art appreciation that can pretty nearly last all 12 school years condensed into one little book. Anyway, since I have this gorgeous oversize art book (another book sale find), I decided to choose 6 separate masterpieces whose artist's blurb was also in Pictures Every Child Should Know. Next year I'll do the more focused study of one artist per term, but since I already had the oversize book of plates and I'm mostly looking to develop "our eyes to see," so to speak, this seemed to fit the bill for now.

Picture study is something we did on and off last year and really enjoyed, I just wasn't consistent so it tapered off around Christmas break. Essentially, each picture had two weeks of study. Out the picture would come on "art day" to be propped on the table, then we would look at it as closely as we could for a few moments, take it away and try to describe it (mental picture), then look at it again. The picture was then propped up in a place of honor on the piano (where we could see it every day) and we would read a little about the artist. The following week we would pull out the picture to be propped on the table yet again and we would try to replicate it with whatever Lanna had an interest in using to do so - pencils, watercolor, crayons, paints, etc. Let me remind you too, this is all just one day out of the week. Pretty simple stuff, but nonetheless good.

Drawing is something that ties in with almost every other subject whether it be by drawing narrations for history or what we're hearing in music studies, noting our observations in a nature journal or replicating for our picture studies, etc. Given this overlap, drawing isn't something that I haven't specifically planned serious studying for, it's just something we do. Still, I try to have some "helps" to encourage it.

I really can't remember what I had last year, but this year I picked up Drawing Made Easy, Drawing Cute Birds, and Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling (not pictured). These go in a basket on the table with paper and art supplies - an open invitation, you could say.

Foreign Language:
I think I might be crazy, friends. I've tossed and turned this one over in my mind agonizing first whether to even study languages yet, which language to study, then why said languages would be good to study right now. . .  but I always come back to this crazy idea I've had all along though, so I think I'm just going to accept it as inspiration from the Lord Himself and go with it. 

Rather than choosing a readily available language out there like German or French or Spanish, I think we're going to shoot for Sgaw Karen.

Told you it was a little bit crazy. And if you're wondering why there is no photo to accompany this plan that would be because I'm still working out how we'll go about doing it - some mixture of Youtube, Drum publications, and finding a Karen family willing to teach us, most likely (we "happen" to have a whole community of them near us now). I'm going to be spending a lot of time studying Celeste's experience with Italian before developing a real plan though.

Other Details:
Aren't these nifty? Someone on the AO forum took the time to turn all the reading schedules there into bookmarks then was kind enough to share them. So grateful to whomever it was who did that, we're definitely using them.

The other little items up there are checklists. Well, tickets, more specifically. I'm trying to encourage diligence and cut back on the amount of nagging that getting things done around here requires, thus free time tickets. Finish off the things and turn in your ticket for free time, simple as that. But wait, that's not all - finish the items on your weekly ticket (mostly new things we're adding this year that I anticipate feet dragging over) and turn it in for your weekend treat. 

Now I would much rather just motivate with "do it because it's your responsibility and thus right for you to do," but that's not going to fly. So, the responsibility before pleasure route it is. 

(The general idea for this as well as the templates for both types of tickets are from Brandy over at Afterthoughts blog)

Last but not least, this is the planner that I'm using this year. I can handle change and flexibility pretty well (or maybe that's just in my mind, who knows), but I still have to have an organized plan to begin with. Using a regular school planner last year worked alright, but I so appreciate that Diana took the time to create a planner that's simple, beautiful, affordable, and organized by term. I personally didn't need all the pages, so I just printed off what I needed (sometimes multiple copies) and shuffled it all into a binder in the same order that my brain has the year sorted it out. 

I'm sure I'm forgetting things here and there, but that's the gist of second grade's feast for us. As I mentioned before, I'll try to put up some IG stories highlighting just the books for this term and why I chose a few particular editions (I drool over that kind of thing). Do share your own plans as well, and feel free to bounce ideas with me, I very much enjoy chatting this type of thing.