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