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(Here’s our preschooler, acting out Peter Rabbit…)

It’s Preschool-Sign-up Season in our town and young parents are trying to figure out the best educational option for their children. Recently, several young mothers have asked me to tell them the basics about homeschooling.  When we sit down to chat and I reflect on my experiences as a homeschooling mother, I realize that the most important things for the preschool years are not distinct to homeschooling, but are applicable to every mother. (However, I can testify from personal experience that these 3 concepts are hugely beneficial to homeschooling, specifically.)

So, in my opinion, here are 3 of the most important things for a mother to do – especially when she’s considering homeschooling:

  1. Most importantly, instead of getting distracted by workbooks, projects, and curriculum for your child, invest as much time and energy in your personal growth as a woman, wife, and mother. 

Develop your relationship with God. Dig into Scripture whenever you can: study it, meditate on it, memorize it, sing it, listen to it, and surround yourself with friends who love it. Learn to pray alone and with friends. Your life is not your own; learn what it means to walk daily with the Lord.

This is also the season to read and study about Christian womanhood and to learn how to love your husband and nurture your children. I always suggest that young women read as much as they can from Sally Clarkson. Listen to her podcasts, subscribe to her blog, and let her encouragement soak into your heart. Regarding a child’s development and education, I also suggest reading material by Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori. Both women offer extremely valuable insights about the nature of childhood and our significant calling as mothers. 

Examine your daily rituals and figure out where you need to grow: Do you need to learn more about nutrition and cooking? Do you need to learn more about finances and design a budget? Do you need to develop faithful and beneficial friendships? Do you need to learn how to manage your time? Do you need to find an exercise habit that works well for your schedule and benefits your body? This is the time to open your eyes, make a plan, and learn. (If homeschooling is in your future, believe me, every ounce of skill and good habit that you’ve established will smooth the road ahead. Even if you do not formally “homeschool”,  you’ll be infinitely stronger for having these practical skills on hand.)

Ask God to heal you where you are hurting and to mature you where you are weak. Perhaps God would bless you by addressing sin now that would otherwise have caused you to waste many years in regret. Ask Him! He loves you and will sanctify you perfectly. God alone can perfectly equip you for the days ahead.

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2. Secondly, invest in your relationship with your children by building a joyful home, introducing them to their Maker, and developing their character. These things are far more important than academics.  The way I look at it, if you have faithfully built a happy home and have developed good character in your children, your entire family – including you – will thrive in every area of life. 

We want our children to have strong, godly character for many reasons. First, because it glorifies God. Secondly, because it will bring our children true happiness and favor. Third, because it makes our home joyful and peaceful. Fourth, because it sets our children up for goodness regardless of circumstances. For example, I often consider the depth of character my children would need if they suddenly have to attend the local public school. What if they are behind academically? What if they are ahead? What if they are socially rejected? What if they are socially idolized? Regardless of how they fare academically or socially, I want my children to have the character that allows them to adjust to changes gracefully, to sit in their desks and work diligently, to respect their teachers, and to be kind to the other students.

These types of things are in the forefront of my mind as I make decisions for our homeschool experience. Worksheets, checklists, lessons, and tests take a backseat to the character that is being developed day by day. Don’t get me wrong, worksheets and lessons are often the ground on which their character is developed, but my eye is always on the outcome of character beyond the correct answers or successful performance.

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3. Finally, regardless of what current academic trends and publishing companies promote, learn what children truly need and focus on that. I believe that children need these few things to thrive: love, discipline, healthy sleep, healthy food, plenty of outdoor play, and consistent exposure to beauty – including nature, literature, music, and art. If you make this golden list your preschool curriculum, you and your children will do well.

If you take these 3 suggestions to heart, you will have established a strong foundation and built life-giving habits that are necessary for a happy homeschool.

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(A Peter Rabbit lunch… complete with parsley for anyone feeling “rather sick”.)

These are the things I talk about when friends ask about homeschooling and young parents are making their first decisions about education. I recommend that they consider how they’ll be able to pursue these ideals this semester… this year. It’s always great if they can find the places where they agree with their husbands and proceed from there. Then, we all face next year’s decisions when that time comes, knowing that we and our families will be stronger and happier for the year we invested so wisely.

If you are in the process of making decisions about your child’s education, I hope for your best! Most of all, do not be anxious about anything, but pray about everything. Then, the peace of God will guard your heart and your mind (and your children!) in Christ Jesus.

Posted in All Posts, Homeschooling, Motherhood | 1 Comment

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We were at Great Wolf Lodge – the indoor waterpark – when I saw my look-alike. A woman on vacation; a woman stressed out.  I could relate. Her son had (more than) everything he needed – cute surfer suit, rash guard, goggles, swimmer’s ear head wrap, and flotation device. She had thought of it all! He was ready for a good time! Except, his mom was miserable.

The woman was snapping at her husband, hovering irritably over her son, and snubbing her own mother who was along to help. I could feel the tension in the chlorinated air.  Sometimes vacations – sometimes life in  general – can be plain old miserable and tense.

The family begrudgingly grabbed water tubes and trudged up the steps to the giant slide. On the way up, the woman was clearly irritated with the way her husband’s tube kept bumping into her face and she couldn’t stand that her mother was trying to assist her in getting up the steps. “Yep, been there, done that. She hates herself right now,” I thought.

Two minutes later, one by one, the family began popping out through the bottom of the slide into the pool. I couldn’t believe my eyes: each and every person was beaming! Hooting! Smiling!

The woman who went up the steps miserable and stressed, came down light and happy.

(Oh, and get this: they gave each other high fives! HIGH FIVES!)

They were a happy family again.

I couldn’t help but wonder what happened inside that slide. My best guess is that the adrenaline shook off their funk. The waterslide was fun and surprising; it got their blood pumping; it was just what they needed.

I learned a big secret from this family: When I’m in a funk, I should look for a waterslide! I should have fun, do something refreshing, see something inspiring, and get my blood pumping. As a wife and mother, I should look for waterslides for my whole family, keeping my eye open for ways to spunk things up when they’re looking low.

Here are a handful of very simple “waterslides” that have changed everything recently:

  • One tense evening, Ryan and I were having one of those “same old same old” arguments that every marriage has from time to time. He says his lines, I say mine. This time, I decided to trash the script. Mid-sentence, I jumped into his arms and said, “You’re right!” (Hehe… surprise!)  Tension: gone. Happy marriage restored. (The best thing about this one time decision is that we’ve never returned to this particular script ever again.)
  • It was a dreary week when I was feeling tired and overworked. (You know the kind of week when one day blurs into the next?) Ryan sent me to a coffee shop for the evening knowing that the jazzy music, the delicious latte, and Jan Karon’s latest book were precisely what I needed.  Dreariness: gone. Inspired woman restored.
  • The other day, the kids were dragging along, stir-crazy because of cold weather. We turned on the music and played whole-house everyone-plays hide-and-seek. Slump: unslumped. Content home restored.

Of course, adrenaline, surprise, and fun don’t fix every problem – not at all – but sometimes they’re just the boost we need to remember that we’re human… and that goes a long way.

Start climbing the steps to that waterslide today…

 

Posted in All Posts, Marriage, Motherhood | Leave a comment

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One summer, we gathered some friends around the campfire to make s’mores. I was in the lawn chair of honor as the Mom with the Marshmallow Bag.  All the kids hovered around me like I was a YouTube clip on a cell phone. (Kids these days…) Each of those sun-kissed kids passionately wanted marshmallows… and each one of them wanted to be first.

Except for Dylan.

In the midst of a dozen little hands reaching in for marshmallows, 5 year old Dylan said, “I can go last” and took his place in the back of the group. 

This was huge.

This was significant.

This was universe-altering.

In my memory, even the lightening bugs paused to absorb what he had just said: “I can go last.” 

(The thing that struck me the most was how he said it: he said it as if it were an ability or a skill he had learned. He said it like a gymnast who had been trained to do a backflip. After hours of practice and instruction, a gymnast could say, “I can do a backflip.” Or, like a trained medic who answers the desperate plea, “Does anyone know CPR?!” with “I can do CPR.” With all the confidence in the world, he said, “I can go last.”) 

Those four words changed my life.

For the past 3 years, my kids and I have talked about that moment a lot. They were there – getting their marshmallows before Dylan – and they think he was amazing, too: wow, to offer to go last when the fire is crackling and the summer stars are singing and the chocolate is waiting… it is nothing less than heroic.

Now, everyone in our family wants to be like Dylan and say, “I can go last” in those moments when it’d be awesome to go first. 

So, we talked about it one day and wrote down some examples of when it’s hard to go last: when we’re nervous, when we’re hungry, when we’re really excited about something, and when we want something.

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We talked about what makes going last great: it allows someone else to go first and get the kick we wanted for ourselves. More than that, it’s one small way we can live like Jesus did: didn’t He often putting Himself last when He deserved be first?

No wonder Dylan said, “I can go last” like it was a golden opportunity.

Then, one of the kids pointed out that it’s equally as hard to go first sometimes. So, we added it to the chalkboard and listed some real-life examples: it’s hard to go first in being friendly, answering questions in class, and being the first one to do something scary.

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This is the real stuff of laying our lives down for one another: the day-by-day, tangible examples when it all becomes real.

These strengths – of going first and going last – are superpowers. We can’t lay our lives down well or consistently without help from God Himself who goes first when it’s inconceivable and goes last when it seems impossible. And He will certainly help us.

“We love because He first loved us…” 1 John 4:19

“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

Posted in Homeschooling, Motherhood | Comments Off on 2 Superpowers for Every Kid: “I can go first.” “I can go last.”

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After breakfast, all the kids grab their shoes and coats for “Audrey’s walk”. She’s our littlest girl and we give her the first hour of the day. We make sure she gets fresh air, a little stretch-of-the-legs, a few nursery rhymes and a few songs about Jesus.

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Each step with Audrey is a baby step. I walk slowly by her side, holding her hand, remembering that these little, slow steps are valuable because she is valuable. I love these morning strolls.

Sometimes, the older kids grab bikes and scooters. They zip down the sidewalk and return again. Sometimes, they fall off their bikes (one little boy, in particular) and wait until Audrey and I – step by step – catch up to them and get them back on their feet.

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We pass by our neighbor’s prolific rose bush. Even in these late months, the roses continue to bloom and thrive. We stop and admire it every day.  I gather the children around and show them how the rose bush is different today: things have changed.

Look kids… today’s bloom was yesterday’s bud!

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They ooh and aah.

We can see the dramatic change – the opening, the growing, the beauty – and they marvel with me. We’re happy for that little-bud-all-grown-up.

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And look, kids… yesterday’s bloom has changed, too. It is shrinking, losing its vibrant color.

(“And yet,” my oldest daughter points out, “it is beautiful. And it still smells so good!”)

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While I have their attention, I say, “People are like these blooms. We’re all at different stages in life. And we’re all changing from day to day.

Some of us are just starting out, just beginning.  

Some of us are in our prime, the most beautiful we will ever be.

And, some of us are coming to the end of our lives here on earth.

The most important thing to remember is that no one knows which one they are.

My dear little children, how then should we live?”

With great love for our Maker and for one another!

We should bloom and enjoy it!

We should glorify God in every season! With every minute He gives us!

We should take time with people whose steps are slow.

We should go slowly and see the world anew.

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And, (as Audrey hitches a ride on Vivienne’s scooter), we should invite others to zip along with us, figuring out a way to help them feel the wind in their hair and the joy of the ride.

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So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

– selections from Psalm 90

Posted in All Posts, Character Training, Early Elementary Education, Learning at Home, Motherhood, Physical Activity, Preschool, Things to Say | Comments Off on What I Teach My Children About Time

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(Our little boy watering sunflowers at a nearby arboretum.)

It’s one thing to repent of idolatry.

It’s another thing to repent of worshiping God as if He were an idol.

Lately, this has caught my attention.

When God delivered the Israelites from Egypt and led them to the Promise Land, He told them that they must not worship Him the way other people worship their gods.

“Be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” – from Deut. 12

Biblical history shows that the Israelites struggled with this, including Jephthah – the Judge who offered his daughter as a burnt sacrifice as a means of worshiping God. Though Jepthah was serving God and praying to God, he was thinking like a Canannite.

His mistake had devastating consequences.

It’s easy to see the error of Jephthah’s ways, but I’m discovering that I do the same thing.

I find that my worship of God is often inspired and informed by the way the world worships its gods. Perhaps we all do this from time to time. Perhaps we think,  “If the world is sacrificing holiness, covenantal relationships, and familial responsibility to serve Achievement, Fame, and Money, I’ll offer the same thing to God. He’ll love it.” That sounds a bit extreme, but after some soul-searching, we may discover that it is how we think more often than not.

It’s possible that when we think we’re worshiping God, we’re really just giving Him something that he hates.

I have been worshiping God this way for far too long and I am humbled by the realization.

For me, it sometimes looks like this: instead of offering my love for writing and teaching to God in the context of His character and His laws, I strive to offer them to Him the way the world offers them to its gods. I sacrifice my prayer time, my Bible study, my marriage, and my children to offer God something “Bigger! Better!”

All the while, the Holy Spirit convicts and warns me, “Imagine what could die if you offered that unnecessary sacrifice!” 

Jephthah’s tragic worship is a mirror to my soul.

I need to constantly renew my mind, to remember what God truly wants from His worshipers.

This one aspect – worshiping God in the way He wants – affects every single thing in our lives. For me, it determines how I interact with my husband, how I mother my children, how I invest in our local church, how I spend time with my friends, what I read, what I write, how I work, what I play, and how I live.

These 2 questions bring me back to worshiping God as God. Their answers are our soul’s food and drink day after day; our understanding of them will never reach a limit.

  1. What is God’s character?
  2. What are God’s laws?

So, we open up our Bibles with prayerful hearts… and worship God as God.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2

Posted in All Posts, Bible Teaching, Marriage, Motherhood | 5 Comments

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(Three of God’s great gifts to me…)

‘You know when God seems to place a word or idea everywhere you look?

That’s how it’s been with me and repentance. I’m still thinking about it, especially while we’re still studying the book of Judges.

It’s not easy to repent of idolatry because it’s not easy to spot idols.

I want to share the 2 questions that help me to identify the idols that lure me away from Jesus:

  1. What will make everything better?

    In my private thought-life, from moment to moment, what do I really think will satisfy my cravings, heal my wounds, and save the day? This is my hope; it’s what I think will rescue me. If it is not Jesus, it is an idol and it will not rescue me the way I think it will. I find that I often rely on Comfort, Achievement, or Affirmation to make everything better.What is it for you?
  2. What makes you feel oppressed and crushed?Interestingly, every time the Israelites worshiped another nation’s gods, that nation enslaved and crushed them – often for years. Instead of quickly identifying their idolatry as the cause of their infliction, they often immersed themselves further into idol worship. Perhaps they were hoping that the idols would make everything better (sound familiar?). Could their idols reach out and save them? No. Instead, the opposite occurred: the hand of their oppressor WAS the hand of their idol. 

    I considered this pattern and did some soul searching: What consumes me? What stresses me out? What crushes my passion for Christ and joy for living? My answers often lead me to an idol. For example, sometimes I feel stressed-out, over-worked, over-stimulated, and over-committed to goals, ideals, and tasks. Under all of that oppression is my longing for Achievement. I want Achievement so badly that I’ll surrender many things to its appetite. Yet, I always feel overwhelmed by its demands and I can never quite grasp Achievement sufficiently.The worst part is that when I’m fixated on Achievement, the gifts God has given me seem like obstacles and distractions instead of, well, gifts.

    It took me days to meditate on these questions and prayerfully repent. I used Psalm 51 as a guide, reminding me that God loves a broken and contrite heart. I hope I’ll continue to live in repentance, constantly turning away from the world and turning toward Jesus.

    You’ll love the model of the Apostle Paul’s repentance: he said that his serious addiction to self-righteousness, false piety, appearance, and achievement were garbage compared to worshiping and knowing Jesus. (You can read about it in Philippians 3:4-11). He’s right: when we repent of idols, we not only cast aside the worldly destractions, but we also gain the joy of treasuring Christ. We realized that there is no comparison.

    When Jesus is on the rightful throne of my heart, all is well.

    I’m sharing this with you in hopes that you may enjoy a time of repentance, too. Will you let me know about it? 

     

Posted in All Posts, Bible Teaching, Judges, Motherhood | 1 Comment

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I heard the concept “18 Summers” and near-about panicked.

If you haven’t heard “18 Summers” yet, the idea is for mothers to savor each June – August because we’ll have a measly 18 summers with each child at home. I quickly did the math and realized that I’m half-out of summers with our oldest. That sent me into a tizzy. Only 9 more summers for bubbles and picnics and water balloons? Only 9 more summers of family vacations and star-gazing and piles of flip-flops in the entryway? Then 8, 7, 6, 5, and… and soon, she’ll be texting every few days with updates about her missions trip or summer job or husband. It’s almost too much to consider.

But it’s true. Time is precious!

I understand why the “Bucket List” movement is still charging ahead full-steam. Who wouldn’t want to make the most of these fleeting summer days? Already, the Internet is full of “Summer 2015 Bucket Lists”. We are fervently creating the very best lists of the very best things for the very best summer. And we should!

We desperately want to make the most of our time. To make it meaningful.

James – Jesus’ brother – said it best when he called life a vapor. A mist. A breath.

James would have been all about “18 Summers” and he would have had the world’s best Bucket List going because he understood life’s brevity. Just looking at his 33-year-old brother on the cross, he might have thought, “Wait… he was here… and now he’s gone?”

But then, when Jesus rose from death and opened James’ eyes to see and believe the God of Eternity, James gained some valuable perspective.

He wrote,

 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Here’s the thing: though we are a mist, we are a mist in God’s hands.

The thing we feared would be so fleeting, so sand-between-our-fingers… finds its meaning and significance in one place alone: in God’s hands.

(In comparison to God, the power of a good Bucket List fades a bit, wouldn’t you say?)

So, when you and I feel the threat of the vapor, may we be happy, entrusting our souls – and the souls of our children – into the hands of the Eternal God.

As James says, “If the Lord wills, we will live!” And live abundantly.

 

Posted in All Posts, BEST OF, Marriage, Motherhood | Comments Off on Does life’s brevity haunt you, too?

I tend to expect a lot from my children. My husband and I look back at video footage of Vivienne’s childhood and we laugh in disbelief at our expectations. “She was only 2!” we exclaim to each other, “What were we thinking?!” It hasn’t always been negative, but just a little… surprising. We genuinely want to strike that balance of preserving childhood while building adulthood. Here’s a funny little thing: Sometimes, when I’m unsure about a decision, I think about what it would sound like in the form of a newspaper headline.

For example, let’s say it seems perfectly reasonable to me to allow the girls to play outside by themselves because I trust them and feel like they are big and brave. Besides, I have some indoor projects that I need to do and it’d be a lot easier to let the girls play by themselves. But then I envision, “MOTHER LETS 6- and 3-YEAR OLD PLAY OUTSIDE BY THEMSELVES“. I remember that they are still so young and I tote a project to the picnic table or don my garden boots and keep an eye on my babies.

Or, let’s say I think it’s perfectly reasonable to teach my 2-year old to read despite her tears.  “MOTHER REQUIRES 2-YEAR OLD TO READ AND DO MULTIPLE WORKSHEETS EACH DAY” just sounds oppressive. Poor little baby. I tell that mother to cool it.

Even when I think the girls are perfectly able to watch the baby for several minutes while I cook dinner, I need to hedge them in carefully so that their pure childishness isn’t mistaken for carelessness. Think about it: “MOTHER BAKES BROWNIES WHILE 3-YEAR OLD DAUGHTER BABYSITS FAST, STRONG, and HUNGRY BABY BROTHER” is down-right negligent.

It works just as well when I err on the side of babying the children: “MOTHER DOES ALL OF THE WORK ALL OF THE TIME DESPITE HAVING COMPETENT 6-YEAR OLD DAUGHTER TO HELP” is equally eye-opening.

So, that’s how I think sometimes! A peak into my crazy brain. Here’s hoping it is helping me to make better, more reasonable decisions. :)

 

Posted in Motherhood | 3 Comments

Two Free eBooks to Check Out

This past month, I’ve had the honor of writing articles for two different eBooks – both, as it turns out, purpose to bring you hope.

Hope Renewed: Real Stories of God’s Promises Fulfilled is a beautiful compilation of stories from the Sisters in Bloom writers. Click here for your free copy and let God’s promises fill you with hope.

Hope After Porn: 4 women share their stories of heartbreak . . . and how their marriages were saved is available through Covenant Eyes and offers hope for the marriage that has been affected by pornography. Click here for your free copy and, by all means, send it along to a friend who needs a dose of hope for her marriage.

 

Posted in Marriage, Motherhood | Comments Off on Two Free eBooks to Check Out

A Valentine for Dads and Moms

 

A tradition you might want to snatch up:

One of my favorite memories with my Dad occurred every February. We’d come home from school with our white paper bags full of Valentine’s cards and we’d snuggle up to Dad on the couch as he would read our Valentine cards aloud.  Dad would take each one out of the bag, unfold it, read it aloud, fold it back up, and return it to the bag. This was like a liturgy to me; it connected me to the other students in my class as I listened to their kind words over and over again (even if they did just sign their names at the bottom of a Strawberry Shortcake card), and it connected me to my Dad as he learned the names of my classmates (and could probably recite them to this day), and took an interest in my childhood community. In my memory, we read through them every night, many nights in a row. I’d keep my little white bag close by and jump at the chance to savor Valentine’s love over and over again.

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