Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sabbath, Book Stacks, And What Hospitality REALLY Might Be


I had anticipated a fuller, messier day today but am pleasantly surprised to find myself seated here at the kitchen table with nothing particularly pressing for the moment. I admit though, these moments of allowing a posture of chin in still palms, staring at the scratches and crayon marks beneath my elbows, and thinking is the sort of posture that has grown more precious to me these days. I crave them with something deeper than my introverted quirks or that basic (and somewhat annoying) human need for rest. Oddly, though the physical stillness is nice that's the lesser of the appeal to me, it's the stillness of heart I crave.

Dare I say. . . Sabbath of heart?

In these pauses, I'm given time to digest the feast of ideas I try to keep on the table (books, conversation, etc) and retain the nutrition of all that's good and true and beautiful in them. It's here in the stillness that I can wrestle with the consistent chaos around me and see Truth reflected there, taking time to sincerely worship the God of Truth from whom these things come and can lead right back to (though we rarely follow them that far).

Put another way: This stillness is my chance to practice for the real feast, the forever feast.

Maybe this is why I've felt more thoughtful lately, eager for new stacks of literature and person to person relationships - I know that my ignorance only sees a tiny section of the table, but scripture and the rich conversations of community (sometimes also called fellowship, I think) both literary and real, new and ancient offer a much greater perspective. But goodness, even the small quantities I've had the chance to nibble on have been enough to nourish so much already. And unexpected things! We've had a heavy tide of visiting friends and family these last few months, so hospitality has been sort of a way of life lately - one I thought I knew something of but a more practice and this discovery of stillness have taught me that I'm woefully mistaken about.

Hospitality carries a certain weight of responsibility, you know? To feed, make comfortable, and delight whoever I'm entertaining. This isn't bad of course, no matter what way I look at it there's a little of that aesthetic that ought to be there, and it's a joy to plan all that out. But is that all? Am I doomed along with Martha to just aimlessly fill my tea pot while taping Pinterest ideals over something deeper, more important? This is where the stillness thing has stepped in.

I may be wrong, but I think hospitality might be about sharing sabbath of heart.

It's a hard thing to do. Harder, I think, than having a logistical plan. I still struggle with understanding what this looks like and how it might work in real time. But what would change if I, we, viewed hospitality this way? Toward our friends, our family, our children, our husband. . . what if we shared sabbath of heart, however that works, and feasted not just on physical food but on soul food? What if we practiced for the real feast, the forever feast, not just on our own but together?

I wonder if it might look something like it did in those first formative days of the church:

"Day by day, continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart." (Acts 2:46)

Beautiful, right? However this is done, it can't be done without Jesus - I can at least say that with complete assurance. Good golly, what reason is there without Him? But I'm getting long-winded now, so I close this out with a prayer that each of our tables (yes, mine too) might hold a little of this stillness, this sabbath, this celebration as we all delight in Him who is rest and who gathers us together at His table... or rather, someday will.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Book Stacks - Christmas Edition


In solidarity with many of you, my friends, I've spent the better part of this week knee deep in wrapping paper and gifts. As chaotic as it sometimes is, it is a satisfying thing to see all these cheerful bundles lined up and waiting for their moment to offer the love and thoughts poured into them. Regardless of whether they get tossed aside for the next one, at least those more important things are there in the offering, that's enough for me.

Per usual, the greater part of the lineup is book shaped. I can't help myself there, I just can't imagine giving a better gift than a book - it's like a two for one with a story to fuel your delight and ideas to feed your soul. But I digress, I'm mentioning this because I thought it might be fun to share what's there. Or at least, what's there for the girls (no, my dear sisters, you'll not be getting a peek at yours here. Move along.).

For Wrennie bird (1):


Fancy Nancy Fashionista Coloring Book - The nonsense, fun thing
Out and About: A First Book of Poems - We love Shirley Hughes! Her illustrations are so quaint and warm, and the stories true to life (one about a lost stuffie is a particular favorite around here). I put a peek into this particular book below so you can see what I mean.
Heroes For Young Readers: Lottie Moon - Familiarizing the girls with people who have walked the path of faith before us is massively important to me. We've been enjoying the Little Lights series, but I've been looking for some missionary biographies that fall somewhere between those and the Trailblazer series. I have high hopes that these books are just that. I know it's a bit old for Wren, but it is poetry. . .
Eloise Wilkin Stories
Nutshell Library (not pictured) - This is my "taking a chance" set for Wren that I got partially because Celeste recommended them and partially because of their size (we love little books).

As promised, here's a peek into the Shirley Hughes book:



For Selah (3):


Fancy Nancy Drawing and Doodling Book
Fancy Nancy: Tea Parties - As you can see, Fancy Nancy is our Twaddle of choice.
Heroes For Young Readers: Jim Elliot
Tasha Tudor's Doll Christmas - If you don't know of Tasha Tudor, you're missing out on so much goodness. Her illustrations and stories are so gorgeous that I spent years, years, looking for a single book we had once borrowed from the library when I was a tiny thing (Becky's Birthday). We love all her books, but A Is For Annabelle and 1 Is One have been in the rotation often lately.
Mud Pies and Other Recipes - As everyone here is big on the bits-and-bobs type of recipes, I think this little vintage beauty will be a hit. You'll find a peek into this one just below because I'm not sure how to summarize it.




For Lanna (6):


See and Sew: A Sewing Book For Children - Because we're dipping our hands into handicrafts a la Charlotte Mason and starting somewhere that she's interested. I had a hard time finding some solid previews for the content in this one, so I put a couple below. This will be paired with a beginners sewing kit, though I probably would have gone for this or this if I had seen them sooner.
Marguerite Makes a Book - Partially because making little books is a common activity around here and partially because this corresponds to what we'll be studying in history next year. Two for one.
The Chronicles of Narnia Official Coloring Book
Heroes For Young Readers: C.S. Lewis
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (not pictured) - This was on my to-get list for a long time but not high up there because I had some ideals for the illustrations - a style that brought out the whimsical innocence of Wonderland rather than highlighting its neon weirdness. I think I've finally found this in Helen Oxenbury's illustrations (I hope).

A peek into the sewing book:




And because I'm appreciating this selection so much, here's my holiday reading:


I'll be honest, I mostly bought this book because it has a short by one of my all time favorite authors, Elizabeth Goudge. I figured, anyone who has the good sense to choose a Goudge story can probably be trusted with the rest of the selection. I'm happy to find this true. Now how to summarize the thing . . . holy? I walk away from each reading filled with wonder at a God who laid aside His greatness to wrap Himself in the smallness of us just to make everything right again, to lovingly draw His creation nearer to the reality of what it is meant to be. In these literary shorts is both the reminder that He is still with us (though in more of a whisper) and a longing for that day when He'll come again (with a shout). It is an orthodox based book so it probably wouldn't appeal to everyone, but I love it and recklessly recommend the thing regardless of anyone's theological particulars.

The selection (bookmark is from Carrot Top Shop, by the way):



Posting this with a prayer that in all the Christmas festivities (yes, even the gift getting and giving) that the greatest Gift given and the hope that still comes of it [Him] will shine through it all.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Advent, Inborn Necessities, And Bilbo's Poetical Rendering Of Liturgy


It's Thanksgiving week, dear friends, and I find myself much distracted from the festivities and instead more baffled at how close we are to the end of year mark. How does it manage to hold the same shock value every time it rolls around? It's a mystery to me and particularly frustrating at the moment because I'd rather the attention be spent on what's happening here within time, rather than at the closing space of it. Maybe this is the reason Advent is so attractive every year - not as a countdown to the holidays but as a forceful self reminder of the holiness here in them, in every day, for that matter.

You know, liturgy.

A word sometimes associated with church spires and stale customs, I know, because it was that to me too until recently. It's embarrassing to admit, but in all my trying to put a name to the repetitive nature of life these past several years, said name happened to be the very thing I've played whac-a-mole with since I could first lisp John 3:16 as a hammer over anyone or anything. This is weird and contradictory though, since liturgy is simply worship, albeit repetitive worship. It's inborn, it's the path well walked, it's what we do every single day in every single thing. I'm searching for a fast poetical rendering off the top of my head,  and, oddly, it's Tolkien that comes to mind, more specifically Bilbo's wandering song.

The road goes ever on and on Out from the door where it began.Now far ahead the road has gone.Let others follow it who can!Let them a journey new begin,But I at last with weary feetWill turn toward the lighted inn,My evening rest and sleep to meet.

We're born right into the same block building, playground playing, dish washing, laundry doing, meal cooking, to and from work trudging, church going, family raising, attempting of success in life in our own times and ways, pondering of what it's all for, and frazzling ourselves at the fast passing of it all that our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents were born into before us.

But this isn't expressively human. The turning of seasons marks the same repetitive nature, as does the coming and going of the tide, the migrations of birds and whales and butterflies, and on and on and on. It seems that a pattern of worship was molded into all creation, right down to our own DNA, so that the Psalmist couldn't help but sing, "the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day to day utters speech and night to night shows knowledge." It makes me wonder at a whole new depth in the declaration of the psalmist who further cried, "I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Marvelous are your works; that my soul knows right well."

My soul knows right well.

It knows that faith isn't the forging of new paths of worship in old territories as I've told myself for years and years. No, it knows that faith is the very substance of things hoped and looked for long before I was walking this well worn way. It knows because it is fearfully and wonderfully made to know, that it is marvelously made so that it might know (that was a mouthful). And because of this, it knows that old traditions of worship like advent are necessary because they're signposts that remind me to pause and remember just who and what I am, and Who writes my story.

As limited and broken as my understanding of this whole big picture of liturgy is, this, this is something wondrous and worth giving thanks for.

Happy Thanksgiving, sweet friends, and may the beginning of your advents or your sweet Decembers (as some of my friends in other countries call it) be blessed as we pause in the presence of the Lord together.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Trouble With History: Rules? Heroes? Balance? What?


My mom and I tend to be phone tag kind of people. Not just the couple passes and misses kind either, I'm talking the kind that can go on for weeks. This is extremely problematic to a Gammy who just wants to hear from (and about) her grandbabies. Our remedy? A scheduled phone date every Monday. It could just be the season of our relationship, but I really wish we had thought of it sooner because somewhere in our swapping of monologues (we're bad like that, right mom?), the respect I ought to have given her a long time ago has grown and budded in it's proper place. This past month in particular, as I move forward in a journey that she's steps away from finishing (hers being over twenty years long!), we've had some really rich conversations. This week, she offered me a particularly hefty signpost that led to a nugget I'd been anxious to find.

I mentioned before that we wrapped up our Columbus studies, and somehow Mom and I got caught up in chatting about his character, repercussions of bad decisions, legends I didn't know about, and the trouble in teaching history.

"Trouble?" She asks.
"Yeah, as in balance," I say.
"Balance?" She prods.
"In taking all sides and weighing them to give the most whole picture of what was happening," I respond, "It's so hard to offer that though, you have to sift through so much to get to that point. I'm tired of seeing history presented as a set of opinions rather than as a narrative."
"Ah. Well you can't tell a story without having a opinionated perspective, not to mention believe it yourself."

The conversation drew out much longer than this, as those who know us well may have guessed, but I've been pondering the gist of our conversation. Tackling history in a politically charged time that finds something in everything to frown on is more chore than delight. There's so much talk about balance out there, but in offering "balance" (which I suppose means "two sides to every story" in this context), I see the same effect as we had with those phonics flashcards we had to ditch last week - confusion rather than interest or delight. So how do I approach history well? What narratives can we trust ourselves to?

In the midst of these somersaulting thoughts, we started our Jesus Storybook Bible over again. It's a gem, let me tell you. Besides stoking the fires of curiosity and passion in the girls, it reminds me of how every little thing reflects and points to the gospel in some way or another, and really is woven into a grand tapestry of His faithfulness. The introductory chapter? That one gets me every single time.
"Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn't do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it . . . . But [it] isn't mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what He has done. 
Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes. . . . The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you'll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times, they are downright mean.
No, the Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. . . . There are a lot of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them." 
"Why does this strike me as the answer to something?" My slow witted self wondered this time around. I didn't make the connection until the next morning.

Some people see history as a playback of general morality followed well or not so much, still others as a collection of heroes to look up to or villains to look down on. Sure, history holds a little of both these things, but essentially, it's neither. History is all the little stories telling one big story of God's faithfulness over and over and over again. And that right there is the narrative perspective we can trust ourselves to without batting an eye.

If ever there was a face-in-palm moment, that was one of my biggest.

I'm right back at the starting point of it all, and where I should have backtracked to in the first place - learning through all these things to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Needless to say, we're moving into this next piece of history much more at ease, eyes open to God's pen strokes rather than whatever the heck I was trying to see before.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The First Month: Pom Poms, Pattern Blocks, and Liturgy



This stack right here, if you threw in half a dozen nursery rhyme books, would give the most accurate peek into life right now. The bulk of every day goes to the actual nourishing of the hearts and minds (and tummies) of three hungry little girls, but the inbetweens and afters? It's equally split right here, learning how to do that while also trying to keep myself fed.

It's a little crazy but I like it. Somewhere between the math lessons and the two o clock snacks, I'm finding new and constant little jolts happening, reminding me to seek wisdom -  to stop and pray about this small thing I don't understand or that bigger thing I can't see my way through. Maybe I'd grown too comfortable with the old ones that happened between two am feedings and stuffed animal tea parties? I guess I can see a little foggy eyed sense in that. The great thing about being in the unknowns again though, is that for every all their tiring perplexity, they're also fruitful.

I'd forgotten that.

These long fallowed fields of my mind are suddenly sprouting with interest and curiosity and I'm growing a little right beside my girls. Things I've tried and tried to understand for years are becoming a little more clear now. How can I better put it. . . that after all these years of trying to peek into the heart of God through the windows of understanding opened to others, mine is finally opening in this most unexpected place. Maybe it's due to a teensy bit more life being lived or maybe it's a completely spiritual thing, but either way it's a new kind of wonder for me.


And now we're into September. Crazy, right? I'm glad for it though, because it signals the beginning of Autumn. Granted, it was incredibly warm and I didn't start it out on the right foot (totally had to jump ship halfway through our tiny load of Friday studies due to my bad attitude), but God redeems even these bad beginnings somehow. That's what I kept pounding into my heart, at least (despite the apple-sage latte, I'm still barely able to grab hold of that promise).


Equally hard to grasp are some of the studies we're already wrapping up, like the early explorers and the first quarter of a math book. "Did we really just do that?" I keep asking myself, because having a kid old enough to be doing these things still strikes me as surreal. It's been fun though, so fun. And, if I may echo my last post, so humbling.

The ugly truth is that I'm more ignorant than I care to admit and aesthetically minded than I consciously want to be, so if education is truly an ordering of the affections? Then Charlotte Mason, Elsie Ludicello, and my own dear MIL have been the oil to our gears this first month. Their insightful wisdom have helped me begin to grasp what this ordering of the affections looks like with lukewarm coffee in hand and toddlers running laps through the obstacle course that our home has temporarily taken on the look of.


We've played with subjects and schedules like putty, squeezing and molding to have that natural feel in our hands, shaping it to get to "good enough for now," and trying to remember not to bake it into a permanence that has the likelihood of eventually breaking. Learning is weird like that.

I will say that I did end up persisting in those breaks between subjects, and after a little trial and error, it ended up being the right thing. A needs the time to digest, the little people need it for routine reminders that they're a part of all this too, and I need it as a reminder to not rush (and so I can routinely make fresh pots of tea). Regardless, it was painful to figure out. At the point of totally writing off the idea, I came across the tip of putting each new subject at the top of each needed hour and letting the child(ren) finish in their own time (could be five minutes, could be the forty five) and then use the rest of the hour as they like. "Hey," I thought, "A can read hours so this could take some of the struggle of time management off my shoulders. This might work!" All I can say is that heavenly choirs broke into song the day that we implemented it (still singing, by the way).

Actually, the real joy in this has been seeing the things we study together go from getting buried under one another to coming alive with a little reflective space. "Mom," A said to me just the other morning after art studies, "S and I are visiting Monet's garden today. It's pretend but I want her to see it too. Someday though, we're going to the real one together. We'll send you a postcard."

This kind of thing wouldn't have happened before.


Did I mention before that my kids are super hands on learners? I am too but I somehow ended up not being an arts and crafts kind of person. The girls though? If some kind of hands on project isn't involved then it takes twenty times longer to grasp and is that much harder to enjoy. Go figure. Needless to say, that's been one of the other big struggles.

Of all the things, it was a podcast episode on biblical literacy that helped me stop fighting it so hard. Jen Wilkin was talking about how important it is to have context before digging in and I had that moment of, "oh! . . . oh." Because what I had been reading the night before in Karen Glass's book and vaguely picked up in a recent Aftercast episode suddenly fell into place beside this idea.

This part of education is context - building the foundation of ideas in whole. The opinions, the shortcuts, the digging deeper all comes later when we already know and have worked with the bigger processes that we're shortcutting or the mountainous terrain of an idea that is being dug into. So in short, seeing, hearing, touching, and tasting these whole ideas and concepts are these early years of education. Living literature is one side of the coin for sure, but dipping our hands into the concepts is the other just as necessary side to imprinting it on our hearts.

So we're finding middle ground.


I had to wait (a little anxiously) for it to happen, but subjects have started to trickle into one another now. This last week, a lesson on patterns led to patterns in nature, that led to A pointing out the pattern of the sun rising and setting, which moved right along into directions (east, west, etc.), which eventually ended in a conversation about how the early explorers navigated their adventures.

It doesn't always happen this way, I know the seasoned moms are going to be quick to say, but I'm thinking it's worth the slow merging and patience for places where it does because that's most like life? Liturgy, rather. Taking all the moments and people and things that trickle one into another to form a pattern that we can either ignore or take up as an opportunity to worship in and through. But how will we know unless we recognize it?

That right there seems the truer education.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The First Week: Sleepy Weekend Afterthoughts



Oh friends, I write from a sleepy sort of haze, full coffee mug at hand, as we close this first glorious week of school together. No, "glorious" was no typo, because it really was. It brimmed with curiosity, delight, contemplation, and slow feasting for minds that have starved for more filling dishes. It also held more late night planning, adjusting (of both attitudes and studies), and humility than I guessed it might, so yes, we're all now pretty tired at this end of things, but I think I can safely say for all of us that it's the contented kind.

I have so much on my heart to sort out before I can put the week behind and fall into much needed rest, so please bear with me as I use this space to ponder.

Language Arts / Phonics
When I pulled out the Turbo Reader in prep for that first day, A visibly cringed. Hm, not a good sign. I was already looking more critically at the thing because I was realizing the need for a program with more broad coverage (another topic for another day), so I turned a more serious eye on the other options out there, discussing my way through them with Will. Thus entered The Good And The Beautiful. On one hand, it seemed perfect, almost too good to be true. On the other, I was wary that too many subjects in one curriculum was too overwhelming. But in the end, that beautiful reader of theirs, the fact the program covers topics I would either have to buy elsewhere to cover or create something myself (super basic grammatical rules, spelling, etc,), and the price sold me and I ordered the thing.

Best decision.

It has the straightforward simplicity I need, and the element of fun that A needs - she loved it so much that she kept asking for more! Not to mention I can better see this program fitting a wider range of learning styles for "recycled" use. And once I wrapped my head around the dynamics of it? My former concerns evaporated because it was so easy to break up and distribute it to our needs. But I'm starting to sound like a radio ad now. To be clear, I'm actually not for hopping from one curriculum to another at the first hint of trouble, but this is the starting line for us and it's a time of joyful challenge and foundation laying, not punching through what needs to be done - there's time aplenty for that.

Schedule
I'll be honest, I went into this week with no more than a vague idea of how studies would be distributed - these subjects for everyday, and those for just a few, maybe this in the morning and that in the afternoon?. . . To some extent, I'm glad it happened this way because I felt more free to probe for the most natural rhythm (read: lifelong) than I might have with a set schedule, and I have a lot to learn about all that anyhow.

It started on day one minute 15 when I tried the whole inserting breaks between subjects thing - that didn't fly. Easy adjustment though, just surprising. Then I found that nature and art in one day? That's a no go, so they had to be shuffled around, which worked out anyway because it turns out that we all thrive on having at least one different thing every day. Oh and that one different thing? It usually best fits into the afternoon, while on the other hand, I'm finding Charlotte Mason's advice to keep most lessons to the morning hours were given for a reason.

You get the idea.

It is tickling me how much behind the scenes work it takes to seep learning into life so that it both feels and happens more naturally and habitually over time (read: again, lifelong. See the theme here?). I mean what did I expect? Even I don't really know the answer to that, but I am now assured that it turns out to be much like the festivity of Christmas experienced in childhood versus that of motherhood.


History
If you read the planning post, you already know I went with Beautiful Feet to guide us in this subject. Well, that didn't work out too well for us. Yeah I know, already. You see? Humility.

Honestly, I don't think A had any idea of change because she was busy gobbling up the stories and churning her thoughts out with (slightly prompted) discussion and some narration. The problem was on the other side of the table with me who was hemming and hawing over cutting this activity, pasting in a lesson here from over there, replacing that book, shoving small readings closer together to satisfy the demand for them, etc. I love Beautiful Feet and all the beautiful literature they're bringing back in print, but the guides just weren't a good fit for us personally.

All credit to what happened beyond this point can and will be attributed to my wise MIL (and Mom's seconding it). She listened to my woes, took one look, and said "just stick with the literature on your shelf, go simple." Ah, duh. Digesting her advice did my resisting heart a lot of good - what are assigned readings and a few good prompts to the actual content? Again, duh. Also, hallelujah hands. So that's exactly what we're doing,

Ambleside
Oh Ambleside curators, how I love thee.

Go figure that it was again my dear MIL who pointed me their way. I mean I had browsed the Ambleside curriculum before, but I was totally overwhelmed at the time, so other than for articles and book suggestions I hadn't looked since. Maybe they reformatted though because when I looked again at MIL's prompting, it was so comprehensive that I was able to spot right away that "hey, this is pretty nearly what I'm doing." So after inserting some different choices under general subject categories, tweaking just a touch here and a pat there, I adjusted us to most of their general Year 1 outline.

Let me tell you, it helped so much with record keeping. I now know how to term the things I was struggling to, and categorize some of the obscure CM things that I wasn't sure how to. Besides that, I just feel more at ease because, as Brandi discussed on her blog this last week, I trust operating within this method to take care of all the little details as we press toward that end-all goal of loving the Lord God with all ours hearts, souls and minds.

Small Children
Leave it to the toddlers to give you consistency.

I say that mostly for the humor factor, but honestly, I almost appreciate that I could, at the very least, confidently anticipate what would happen there. Five thousand interruptions, the pressing need for cuddles now, quite a bit of background shouting, more snacks than usual, etc. Here, at least, my experience as the eldest of a larger family and A's understanding of her sisters could shine. Sort of. Actually, the truth is that we survived but I'd like to do better than that - to see all of the above as opportunities to shape character, shift habits, and bring our everyday tasks and interactions to a place of worship, however imperfect it may be.

Now how that happens? I suppose creativity, patience, and prayer will show.


And this is only week one. See what I mean? So much to learn. But that's good, right? Because it shows we're growing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mama's Feast (aka Pep Rally Mode)




Another warm Summer day and I think I may be the odd one out for having brownies setting to gooey perfection in my oven. After a long, lovely morning with friends, the girls are now settled here watching Little Bear (anyone remember that show?) while I finish a cup of coffee, and somehow, brownies just seemed the right thing to do. I only second guessed myself after sticking the pan in the oven - the moment when I remembered the no AC situation in our house. The chocolaty aroma was quick to wipe away that thought though.

This pretty well embodies what our Summer has been - one moment rushing hither thither like busy field mice, then sprawled across one another like sun bathing seals the next. As fun as it's been, I can already see our little spools of peace and enjoyment winding tighter and tighter with each passing day, which to me is a glaring indicator that we'll be needing all those un-Summerly routines again. It's sort of a wrench in my plans for starting school on that first Monday of September, but a good one when I think of all the hoopla that will happen to fall within the school year. So I'm taking the hint to erase my plans and go with the flow, so to speak, because I'm suddenly remembering that God sees a whole lot further ahead than I do and I'd be the one at loss to not align myself with what He has going.

So I'm moving into pep rally mode.

You know what I mean - unshelving all the books that fill my cup and soaking up podcasts of much wiser and more experienced people than myself. Need I even mention the stocking of coffee and praying like crazy every time I'm tempted to think of what could go wrong, and also, for that matter, what will hopefully go right (all is grace).

Are you doing this too, friends? Should we pool resources?

For myself, I like variety - sometimes paddling through light inspiration, sometimes diving into deeper waters. The stack in that first handful you see up there is some of the more thoughtful things I've been paging through lately, it includes (not all are pictured):

Educating the Wholehearted Child (Clay and Sally Clarkson)
This is a sort of middle ground book for considering the "big picture" of homeschooling in a practical sense. A really great starting line and reference sort of book.
Honey For A Child's Heart (Gladys Hunt)
I think I bought this book when A was maybe. . . a few months old? And amazingly, I've used it consistently since then. More book list than informational, this book is a classic and no one should be without it.
Read For The Heart (Sarah Clarkson)
Another great book of book recommendations (can never be with too many of these).
Ten Ways To Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (Anthony Esolen)
In a similar style as C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, this is a satirical look at how to quite literally destroy the imagination. Hilarious and soberingly thoughtful, this is one of those books that is a must.
Caught Up In A Story: Fostering A Storyformed Life of Great Books (Sarah Clarkson)
Well, if the last book is a must, this one is an absolute must. A short and thoughtful look into how stories form us and why this is important.
The Educated Imagination (Northrop Frye)
If I remember correctly, this book was originally a series of live BBC recordings. In the vein of stories and imagination, this is a poke at the disciplined side of it - what education and imagination have to do with one another and how they are also vital for one another. Very interesting.
Beauty In the Word: Rethinking The Foundations of Education (Stratford Caldecott)
This is a weighty book and took me quite awhile to read despite how small it was. It's hard to condense everything in this book, but basically it shows where education has come from - those pre-medieval foundations of education - and why they're important to remember and hold on to.
Teaching From Rest (Sarah Mackenzie)
This one, ah goodness, I guess the best way to explain it would be as a real look at "teaching from rest." But really, the application spreads like a generous dollop of butter across bread, so this could very well just be said to be about how to live from rest. If not this book, the subject itself is necessary.
Leisure the Basis of Culture (Josef Pieper)
I can't say much about this one yet because it's my current read, but it has come highly recommended. Very highly recommended.

That second handful that you see above is the stack of my lighter "so how might all this look in practice" sort of reads. It includes (not all are pictured):

The Charlotte Mason Companion (Karen Andreola)
A thick book at practical ways to approach gentle learning. The illustrations alone are beautiful and inspiring - I remember paging through my mom's copy as a kid, and now A and S do the same.
Pocketful of Pinecones (Andreola)
A fictional rendition of what a gentle education might look like in an every day context. I'm a very visual person, so this verbal visualization really inspires me.
Lessons From Blackberry Inn (Andreola)
Part two to Pocketful of Pinecones. Same concept, every bit as good.
Talking to Fireflies, Shrinking the Moon (Edward Duensing)
This is just a fun little book that I actually picked up for Summer, but I'm reading to stow all the little tricks in my back pocket to pull out during nature studies.
How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare (Ken Ludwig)
This is a handy guide to approaching Shakespeare with kids. Super easy to apply, great resources in the back, and overall lovely. Sarah M. actually did an interview with the author that is worth listening to (Read Aloud Revival Podcast, episode 6 - listen here)
The Lifegiving Home (Sally Clarkson)
This isn't a book geared toward education, but if Charlotte Mason is correct in saying that atmosphere plays a part in education, then this would be thoughtful inspiration toward that. This is a month by month, season by season collection of ideas for creating an atmosphere within our homes that gives life, essentially asking "how does this look in action?"


I mentioned the podcasts too - they're a boon to me during dinner prep, that hour when the house never fails to crumble to chaos. None of the education related podcasts seem to run during the summer, but there are plenty of old episodes to listen and re-listen to, so I've slowly been soaking up:

Schole Sisters
I love every episode, but some that I've come back to would be episodes 002 "What's love got to do with it?" (listen here), 004 "We dare you to read the classics" (listen here), 005 "Balancing work and wonder" (listen here), 014 "Reading pagan literature with highly resistant children" (listen here), 019 "The intersection of effortlessness and hard work" (listen here), 0020 "Mothers, don't let your methods grow up to be systems" (listen here), and 021 "Amusing ourselves to leisure" (listen here).
Circe Institute's Mason Jar (with Cindy Rollins)
I particularly appreciate the Q&A episodes (a bit confusing to link). And while you're finding these episodes, do check out the Close Reads (a sort of book club) and Perpetual Feast (delightfully wandering discussions on Homer) episodes on there as well!
Read Aloud Revival 
I personally prefer the first couple seasons of this podcast, but I do come back to catch up on content from time to time. Episodes 01 "Reading aloud to older kids, a conversation with Andrew Pudewa" (listen here), 04 and 05 with Jim Weiss about the art of reading aloud (listen here and here), 17 "On living a storyformed life" with Sarah Clarkson of one of the books I mentioned above (listen here), 20 "Reading aloud as discipleship" (this one is so good! - listen here), 22 "Read good books. The end." (listen here), 31 "reading aloud for history" (listen here), 44 "Magic and fear in children's books" (listen here), 51 "the golden age of children's books" (listen here), 60 "Your Job is to plant the seed: a conversation with Sally Lloyd Jones" (another seriously wonderful one - listen here), and 62 "Inspiring a love of nature through books" (listen here)
Storyformed
Every single episode is wonderful, just be aware that this one has ALL the book recommendations and might end up costing you some dollars (not a totally bad thing). Find their show notes right here.
Wild + Free 
Lovely front porch type conversations about all different things homeschooling. Their conferences, groups, and monthly bundles are all equally wonderful and worth checking out.


Is this oversharing? Forgive me, it's all so good that I can't help myself. Now, I just hope you find something in all this that will encourage and challenge your heart and mind as it has mine.

Rah rah rah rah. Jesus with us, coffee pots full, let's do this, friends!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

First Grade's Feast


It's a gloomy morning as I sit to type, but I'm cozy in a spot close enough to the little ones to hear their bird-like chatter yet far enough to not be taken notice of. They've taken complete possession of the living room for their "nature center," and are currently up to their elbows in recreating crafts that highlight their visits to the real thing. Though a little bleary eyed from an early morning with Wrennie bird (she's fond of those lately), I'm grateful for the free moment to pretend that you, my sweet friends, are here with me and my teapot glancing through all these piles of books and school plans (again).

I'm so excited for September. Learning is one of those things that gets me giddy, so to slowly dip our toes into more focused learning and disciplined rhythms as a family, it's just. . . good. Really good. Honestly, I've had to reign myself in a bit - "We don't need to learn everything this year, Carissa," was the mental prodding that happened more times than I'm willing to admit, "be realistic, this/that doesn't even fit our family." This kind of prodding, thoughtfulness, consultation of the mamas, and study circled on and on until I finally had to file away my binder of notes with the reminder that it's the ordering of hearts, souls, and minds that I'm after, not stuffing ourselves just for the sake of being full. Gosh, I can't even tell you how helpful it was having that main goal that I mentioned before. It simplified the groveling through curriculum and subjects that could have happened, and was an instrumental tool in carving some achievable goals for the year (for example: Become familiar with addition and subtraction, become familiar with letters and their sounds, work at diligence, etc.), all while steering everything onward toward what's most important. So, so helpful.

Anyhow, before I share my choices, please let me preface by saying that while it's true that I have the veteran wisdom of my mama and mama-in-law to build off of, bear in mind that our plans and choices are shaped specifically around our own family. And beside that, a plan is simply that - a plan. And we mamas are painfully well acquainted with the fact that these things look lovely and organized on paper but are much messier in practice, right? So please read this as a kitchen table chat over tea and don't be burdened.

The loose schedule I have in mind is pretty simple: "Every day things" and "couple times a week things." I did that purely to keep studies from becoming totally monotonous. 

So, these are our every day things:

Bible 
When I was young, my Mom set a rhythm of family worship in our home. Every day she would call us to pile onto the couch, and with much tickling, shoving, and sass as the backdrop, she would read from a Bible Story Book or Scriptures and pray with us. It was one of those daily rhythms that definitely took effort on her part, but rooted so deeply that it is now part of her grandchildren's days. The only change for us is the addition of hymns (at the rate of about one new one every other month or so, sometimes more like one new stanza instead), and a psalm or proverb over morning meals (short and sweet enough for them to listen and comment on). At night we just swing back and forth between the Jesus Storybook Bible and Catherine Vos Story Bible (the latter being the one my mom used and I can't recommend it enough for becoming acquainted with the grand narrative layout of scripture). I've come to see this worshiping together as not just the foundation but also the keystone of learning - and life - so if we do nothing else but read and pray together in a day? It's still a good one. (Thanks, Mom).

Literature
Such a shocker, right? It's no secret that we're all about the literary lifestyle around here, so reading great books is unsurprisingly high on our priority list. Unfortunately, I'm currently facing the fact that we'll never be able to read every great book together, but then again, I'm also coming to question whether we really need to. If there's one thing that Northrop Frye (The Educated Imagination) pried my eyelids apart to see, it would be that literature covers certain central themes so just a selection that covers these themes is a solid literary education. If I'm not mistaken, Oxford concurs. Now when it comes to the actual selection of these few, there are SO many opinions, so we're dipping our toes in with the D'aulaire Book of Norse Folktales, Aesop's Fables, and some Shakespeare (we're not reading ALL of these every day, by the way).

Handwriting - 
Okay, I know that not everyone is on board with formal handwriting programs, especially within the Charlotte Mason community which is big on simple copywork (and I love it too, by the way). We do the formal stuff because I was taught that there's something to be said for learning the correct way to write -  along the same line of reasoning as learning to type vs. figuring out how to type. I grew up with the Italic handwriting series - not my favorite. We dabbled in the indirect approach of pre-Explode The Code - didn't jive with us. But I think we've finally hit on something that hits the spot for us in Handwriting Without Tears. I still prefer some simplicity here, so instead of purchasing one of their kits we've made use of the workbooks, the chalkboards, and the big sheet draw and write paper (primarily for writing letters, but I'm thinking for narration too).

Phonics - 
I talked a little bit about this in the kindergarten post, but what I mentioned there isn't quite what we're needing any more. We'll still be making use of Turbo Reader for all the weird combinations and rules, plus their word lists that go with them - these I take selections from and then spell out manually with wooden letters that are easier for Lanna to both read and focus on (word on top of word in a list is distracting). Once we get through some of those, it'll be weekly trips to the library for Lanna to make her own choices from their early reader section.

Math - 
This has been a more difficult area for me to plan for because it's the one that Lanna has consistently mentioned she most looks forward to. The first question was of which program to use, so armed with samples from the three more widely recognized and higher reaching programs, we messed around. Teaching Textbooks won out for us, but the thing about them is that their program begins at 2nd/3rd grade level. My MIL solved the question of what to do until then with her find of Mad Dog Math. You guys, it's simple, brilliant, and pairs well with anything else you want to use it with (I'm pairing it with Life Of Fred books).
The second question to tackle came up only recently: How do we approach math in a way that points us toward that main goal we set? Because let's be honest, telling the kids that it's all going to be practical for use someday just doesn't fly when we don't half believe it ourselves (thank yooou Ravi Jain for pointing this out). May I be honest? I have no answers yet because I'm still hammering my way out of the "it is what it is" mindset. Understanding the medieval mingling of lines between Music and Math to discover the music in the universe is helping a lot - that's a thought that fills me with wonder (remember how Narnia and Middle Earth were created with music?. . .). I can't avoid the fact that I need to begin somewhere though, so pattern blocks and puzzles for the girls and the Vihart channel for myself it is; we'll take it one step at a time from there.

History -
I've often joked that history these days should be renamed World opinion, American opinion, etc. It's a joke, but it does lean on concern. History from certain perspectives is a given, I understand that there's no way around perspective and that's not the bone I have to pick anyway, it's the perspective-with-a-dash-of-history that I think we can all make do without. I'll just stop myself right there and say that it's probably no surprise that we favor a literary approach here also, and that for all my criticism of modern historical perspective there are still plenty of trustworthy resources out there. With it's slew of beautiful old books and God-centered perspective, Beautiful Feet's Early American History (the primary one) fit the bill for us this year. And because Lanna and I are "so how does all this pair together?" type of people (and she's a tad too young for Genevieve Foster), I'm further using Peter Marshall's The Light and The Glory For Young Readers as a reference point (plus, it just looks like solid content). Aaaand because I have two willing-to-share mamas with amazing literary taste, I supplemented in a bunch of extra titles alongside BF's layout. If we breeze through all of them, great. If we inch through only the core items, also great. The idea isn't to overwhelm but rather. . . how did Charlotte Mason put it? To spread an abundant and delicate feast that small guests might assimilate what they may, or something like that.


And then there are the couple--times-a-week things:

Art and Music - 
I'm of the camp that totes humanities like my life depended on them. To some extent, I suppose it does. Humanities is like the pantry for human experience, where we preserve our culture in the jam jars of art and music and all the rest. Preserved properly, we can open them expectant of an experience that grounds us in our humanity and allows a taste of the sweet presence of God in and among us, all the while developing our palates for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Without humanities, I expect we'd be more machine than human. That said, I don't think we can ever be too young for them, so we're diving into Monet, Degas, Renoir, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven this year. It sounds like a lot, right? In reality, this works out to more than a month toward each. 
I chose the Anholt Artist series to help connecting with the Art side because we already love them, and I'm taking Charlotte Mason's advice in displaying and observing six great works per artist (she believed you could gain a taste for their style that way). I remember my mom doing this for us and it being so interesting, so I'm still scratching at old memories to offer the same rich experience I had.
For music, I'm taking the same approach but with the Opal Wheeler books and "greatest compositions."

Nature Studies -
I can still remember nature studies in school - taking what mom called "nature walks," our sketchbooks tucked under arm and mom calling reminders for us to observe one thing, just one thing we hadn't noticed before. That was years ago and yet, I can still recall some of the pages of those notebooks, and my sibs and I still have a fondness for being outdoors. Now, I do have to admit weakness here - nature is fascinating but not my strength in studies (or creativity, for that matter). There is something to be said for appreciation and wonder though, before turning to the more impersonal world of science proper, so with the help of Burgess, Holling, and some colorful field guides, that's exactly what I hope to nourish.

I already know that Selah (who will be three) will want to be in on the fun too, so aside from joining whatever interests her from Lanna's things, she has her own small binder of this and that filed away with Lanna's. It's nothing crazy, things like a simple workbook (Handwriting Without Tears again), some alphabet activities, and numbers. Nothing crazy, just enough to delight and challenge her.

So that's the spread of our "feast." Now I turn the question to you, sweet friends - what is your spread for the year? Any good resources or titles to share?


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Depths Of Kindergarten, Alphabet Cards, And Number Blocks


It's mid-afternoon on a Summer day, yet the spread of notes, book lists, and curriculum options on the table in front of me hints more of Autumn. Our experimental year of kindergarten is behind us now, and I'm hopeful that our first official school year is nothing but good in the way that this last year has been. It's popular in the homeschooling community to skip preschool and/or kindergarten, hold out until age seven, then call first grade the scholastic starting line. I'm all for that. Dropping children into full time studies that they won't remember and (frankly) can't handle holds not a drop of good sense to me. But there are just so many ways to go about this whole learning thing and so many potential land mines to obliterate everything good in it that dipping our toes in slowly seemed a good thing.

And you know? I'm so glad we did. It helped us create rhythm, crush some bad habits with new ones, hash out ways to balance learning styles and teaching methods, and completely evaporate Lanna's idea that school equaled some kind of horror show. But I think what I most appreciate from the experience is the chance it gave me to roll up sleeves and get my hands dirty in understanding why having a goal in education (as a generality) is vital, so vital.

Questioning the point of things comes a little more quickly to me these days (either a tool born out of a never-ending to do list or a side effect of being married to an attorney), so it didn't take long for the why's to surface among the alphabet cards and numbered blocks. Why do we do this? It wasn't a questioning of what I think we all see as a necessary privilege, more of a questioning what it's necessary for. Singing the alphabet song a hundred times over and counting to ten fifty times a day, I could grasp that these are tools, but for what? What is the most basic goal of all of this? It's a necessary question, I realized, because there are some very different answers, and trying to direct learning without having direction is asking for frustration that nobody wants.

What do I most want in life for our girls? I asked myself this question fifty million times over as we read, played, and learned. And always, only one thing stood out sharp and clear until I accepted it as the answer: for them to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and love their neighbors as themselves. It sums up everything, flows into every category, molds their path in the most vital ways. And if the proverbs speak truth in saying that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge, I'm beginning to see that it might be because every subject we study beckons us in the words of the Narnian cry to go "further up and further in." That maybe all this learning can be our act of straining eyes beyond these shadows we live in to glimpse what all of these things are really, truly reflecting of the forever-lands. Literature, nature, mathematics, practical hard work, all of it.

Who knew kindergarten could be so deep, right?

On the more practical side, I picked up a few personal do's and do not's too, like:

 - Not bothering much with formal curriculum at this point. I had some Singapore math books passed on to me from my mom so we dabbled in the first book. Alanna loves working with numbers so the concepts were interesting to her, but working them out on paper was not. I don't regret anything with that experience - I dropped it as soon as I realized it truly was a no go for us - but I do wish I had stuck to things like touch and feel counting cards or counting beads until it was time for the more abstract stuff.

 - Being more organized when it comes to learning the alphabet. We started with a "Get Ready For the Code" book because the letter work was simple and it looked fun, but dropped it halfway through and used it for playing school instead. It's a great program and I'm sure they have a reason for the organization, but for us it was more natural to tackle the alphabet in A-Z order. In the future, I'll stick to more tactile things for this early stage like these letter units or The Peaceful Preschool type of format, with the Turbo Reader for the weird rules and word lists.

Now on to whatever first grade holds for us, I suppose.




Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Reminder Of God's Lovingkindness And The Necessity Of Huggin' Your Dad

Sometimes I forget how the gospel is reflected in our real life relationships with each other. 

Imperfect reflections as they are, it never fails leave me in a state of awe when I catch sight of them. What goodness of God is this is to not just offer us His gift of lovingkindness, of belonging, but also to weave it right into the day-to-day tapestry of our lives so that we're tangled up in the reality of it whether we realize it or not? It's as wondrous as it is sobering.

It's this sort of awe that struck me when my Dad was deteriorating rather badly a couple of years ago. Remembering the commonplace and rather messy pieces of our story, I suddenly caught sight of that thread of grace that was woven through it all. With the opportunity to offer some serious thanksgiving seeming like it was closing fast, I wrote this little piece - I wanted him to know and I didn't want to forget. Today I'm reposting it here and thankin' the good Lord that Dad still around to read it. 

Friends, read and remember how great the love of God is, then go hug your Dad.


The incessant buzzing of my cellphone cuts through melodious strains of Gershwin and supper prep, finally catching my attention. Setting my knife aside momentarily, I prop the phone awkwardly between shoulder and ear.
"Hello?"
"Hello, Santa Maria Police Department. Is Carissa at home? We have a warrant out for her arrest."
"Um, you must be mistaking me for my Dad because, I mean, his humor is absolutely criminal."
His belly-busting laugh nearly bursts my speaker as I grinningly switch ears and resume chopping vegetables.
"How are ya, Dad?"
"Oh I'm not too bad, sweetheart, how are you?"...

The joke always changes from call to call - the police department, the telephone company, the bank. They're all kind of dumb but also endearingly his in such a way that sends a glad surge of warming humor into the iciest of hearts. And lives, mine in particular. Come to think of it, I suppose that's what he's been doing for me in general from our beginning.

________

He found us at a low point, my Dad. I was just a tiny bundle then, fairly new and wholly fatherless. My mom was on her feet but still reeling from both my arrival and finding herself faced with the lonely duo of just us - my biological Dad being stuck in a terribly nasty rut of life at the time. I don't know the specifics of how exactly things started out; something about old flames, mutual friends, and diaper runs, I think. What I do know is that he bounded into our lives with his expansive enthusiasm, more than filling the space of love and stability vacant to us.

Over the months that followed, he won the cautiously approving eye of family while baby-proofing my great grands home and hopping into my playpen when I was left to my own devices. And whether witnessing my firsts or sneaking forbidden sweets, he found a way to cradle my heart like his own. "I'm still not wholly sure who he was more in love with when he married me," my mom will still laughingly recall, but that statement is always backed by a warm grin in his direction that I pretend to ignore. He sweetened life in surprising and quiet ways while mom and I tried to pick up and jam together the broken pieces of our life. And when the time was right and our horizon streaked crimson with lonely surrender, he offered us a new life altogether.

My first word was Daddy and it was with eyes fixed expectantly on him.

________


The pan sizzles with the contents of my chopping board as I gently slide it all in.

"So how are the babies?"
"Oh, mischievous and curious as usual. Plucking my latest blooms in the yard for doll soup and then reciting scripture at me in the very next moment. So, good, I suppose."
"Ahh sounds like you're getting dished your own medicine."

We both chuckle over this - I in recalling the events of the day and he in memories. I admit I've always marvelled a bit, from the first night of sleep deprivation to the aforementioned doll soup, that Dad willingly took it all on. At times, parenthood seems such a dauntingly uncharted territory for the ones who expectantly step into it, yet he Louis and Clark'ed it for someone who wasn't even biologically his.

________


I definitely had a troublemaking streak growing up. I tended to be the one who tickled siblings during family devotions, forcing loud guffaws and feigning ignorance. Often enough I could be found proposing terribly exciting experiments like spraying unassuming solicitors through cracks in a fence with a garden hose. I'm pretty sure I once talked one of my brothers into stuffing rocks into his ears, and then humbly denied any collaboration when he started pushing them up his nose as well. But for all my trouble making and attention seeking tactics perfected over the years, I don't remember much irritation or discouragement from my Dad.

I do remember watching from behind window curtains while he had a serious chat with a six year old neighbor boy who had attempted to kiss me one too many times. I remember him piling us in the back of his latest VW project and hauling off at top speed to lavish us with multicolored Mexican pastries. I remember the annual father's day camping trips and the extra bag of marshmallows he would break out to snowball us and every other child in near proximity with. I remember his honest opinions over the the colored bands on my braces and the last time he tried to buy me shoes - the green vans with pink frogs that horrified me so. I remember the way his shoulders collapsed a bit but his head stayed high when I waved a last goodbye from the boarding gate to a plane bound for southeast Asia. I remember him sitting off to the side of my little speaking gigs, head cocked slightly and expressionless thoughts playing at the corners of his lips as I nervously spouted words from my notes. I remember the proud grin that wrinkled into his eyes when I showed him a small stack of college acceptance letters and attempted long speeches on the benefits of sponsoring my education. . . .

In particular, though, I remember this pivotal moment a few weeks before my tenth birthday. Sitting in traffic, our van brimming with uncertainty as Mom weakly waved a hand at our questions about what Multiple Sclerosis was. Dad, grimly clutching the steering wheel and trying to hide the tears that unbiddingly trickled down sun hardened cheeks.

It was the first time I remember ever seeing him cry.

________


I slap a lid over our simmering supper, barely remembering to lower the heat before kissing a few owies and attending to a potty run or two. Dad chats patiently on the other side of the line, interjecting humorous sarcasm and monologuing about this and that as the evening business unfolds. I'm silently appreciative of his understanding as I finally turn to the table with a handful of napkins and a carefully balanced stack of dishes.

"So how are you feeling these days?"
"Oh you know, tired. My powerchair is at the shop again."
"What'd you do this time, run it over the railroad ties or across a field?"
"Fell in a ditch. The Fire department got me out."
"They always do. Pretty sure you're their only consistent source of excitement."
"I do what I can. Hey, if I can ever interest you in buying my MS, I'll sell it to you at a good price."
"I'm afraid I'll have to pass this time."
"Mmm, yeah, I figured."

There's a momentary pause before he launches into an account of an encounter with a friend the previous day. I listen quietly as my fingers deftly fold and pat napkins into neat rectangles. I've never pitied Dad for his disease. On the contrary, over time it made him stronger and wiser in my eyes. But I won't deny that having family dynamics drastically change and watching him struggle through the inevitable deterioration of his body once haunted us with heavy chords of brokenness beyond repair.

________


Those first few years after the diagnosis were hard, really hard. I'm not sure anyone, ourselves included, quite comprehended the war that raged in our home over that time, but it was fierce as it was painful. And as pain is apt to do, it swept change over us so quickly that we hardly knew ourselves after just a few years of its strange work. I watched the progression from the sidelines as time marched on - canes, walkers, wheelchairs, memories. The man who gave me so much was deteriorating before my eyes and much of our roots seemed to be fading right along with him. A long healed scar in my heart began throbbing, subtly at first but steadily as time passed. Throbs so overtaking they filled my ears and pounded down through my vision, screeching the cruelly slow emptying of that Dad sized space yet again. Throbs so demanding that it took all the sickeningly sweet selfishness and deceit I could muster to ignore the surrender required of me.

But God.

Just writing those two words sends tingles of hope down my spine again. The very same victorious hope that allowed Dad to win to some degree. He didn't beat MS, of course, but MS certainly didn't beat him. For while I went off in a busy nose dive of blinding self centered bitterness, stabbing his and mom's hearts over and over when they needed it the least, they stayed clinging to the solid rock that is Christ and found wholeness in the midst of brokenness. All the grace my parents had claimed to believe prior to the disease suddenly glimmered through more tangibly against our black backdrop, pushing me to a place of being unable to deny its existence anymore than I could the nose in my face. And dad? That precious, endearing man still found ways to cradle my heart like his own through it all until I finally reached up from my lowest point and clung for dear life next to him.

_______


"Well Dad, I'm off. Supper is on the table and I'll hear some howling if I don't call everyone in soon."
"Me too. It was good talking to you, sweetheart."
"You too Dad, call anytime."

I pause, losing a precious few seconds to thought.

"Dad?"
"Yeah?"
"Thanks."
"Always."

I set the phone gently on the table and stare off into clumps of jasmine vines in the yard, my heart thumping quiet thanksgivings into the stillness of the moment. There's a sweet assurance in being someone's - someone's wife, someone's mother, someone's friend, someone's daughter. But to be left in a lonely heap feeling something like trash and still have someone come along and see you, draw you into their heart, and call you their own? It's unthinkable in all the most wonderful ways.

And it's my story. The one I'm given to whisper into drowsy little ears during bedtime snuggles, that I can pour into willing hearts over the ever present pot of tea on my table, that I'm plucking from my heart and sending off in a breath of hope - you are someone's. The eternal Father's heart beats out rhythms of love for you. He'll draw you through the wind storm of life and cradle your heart. He'll call you His own.