You Really Just Had to Be There.

LauraMarriage, Motherhood

The summer after my sophomore year in college, I ate my lunch on an iceberg in Iceland.

I was studying Arctic Biology and had boarded an amphibious boat to tour the glaciers. We docked on a particularly hospitable glacier and I munched a sandwich while – hundreds of feet below us – the ancient ice melted and headed out to sea.

We sat quietly on the ice and listened to the water’s music trickling through the cracks and fissures. The sky held dense grey clouds, but the water surrounding the icebergs was a brilliant blue. I reached into my pocket for my yellow disposable Kodak camera and snapped a photograph of an iceberg that looked like the head of a dog.

Most of the students carried lightweight disposable cameras everywhere we went. After all, we were having the experience of a lifetime: we wanted to remember and to share our experiences with family and friends when we returned home.

In fact, there was only one student who didn’t have a camera and who didn’t take a single picture of her Arctic summer.

While the rest of us were leaning out of open bus windows with our cameras up to our eyes, snapping photos of Þingvellir on The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, she just let the wind whip through her hair as she looked at the landscape.

When we shoved our cameras into our backpacks and hiked to the top of a dormant volcano on the Summer Solstice, she traveled free. In colorful jackets and packs, we hiked that black ashy mountain and arrived atop a cliff, overlooking the ocean.

We snapped photos of the friendly puffin as they alighted on the cliffside. The waves hit the rocks below with relentless energy.

We posed like Vikings with our midnight snack: salty dried fish that pulled apart in strips.

We gambled too many Kodak exposures trying to catch the photo of the sun at its lowest point, clicking repeatedly until the sun had sunk as close as it could toward the horizon only to bounce in the opposite direction and journey back to the top of the sky, never to set that day.

The young woman without the camera just thought, laughed, looked, ate.

She was unusual. Strange, even? (I admit, I thought it.)

When we returned to the States and picked up our developed photos from the local camera shop, we shared our stacks of glossy pictures with friends and family, trying to communicate the significance of our experience.

I discovered that one aching sentence accompanied each of my photos.

It went something like this: “This is a geyser that was spewing steam and sulfur. You could feel the ground shake and feel the heat on your cheeks. Of course, the photo doesn’t really do it justice. You really just had to be there.”

Or like this: “This is a hot spring that we swam in. We reached down to the bottom and grabbed handfuls of the smooth mud to smear on our faces. They say it’s full of healthy minerals. That’s me, pretending I was at the spa. You really just had to be there.”

That was the refrain, over and over again: You really just had to be there. 

You had to be there.

That aching refrain came to my mind last Friday night. (Now almost 20 years since that Icelandic adventure, most of which resides more in my memory than in my dusty photo album.) It was Family Fun Night. We ate pizza and agreed to clean the dinner dishes quickly so we could all play with Josiah – our 1 year old – before he went to bed.

After the pizza pan was scrubbed and the table wiped down, we gathered in the living room and joined hands – all of us – Daddy, Mommy, all five children. We walked in a slow circle, stepping foot over foot and singing “Ring Around the Rosy”.  We were all watching Josiah and he looked up at us with pure delight. His eyes shone and his mouth was open in a wide smile. His little feet tried desperately to keep up with ours. We “all fell down”, tickling that giggling baby and propping him back on his feet.

He didn’t have to say “again, again!” because we did.

Then we played “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” starting slowly so he could have a chance. As we sped up to the frantic fury that only “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” can elicit, that baby just hunched over and gleefully patted his knees – just 8 inches off the ground – as if to say, “I’ve totally got this!”

Later in the evening, after Josiah went to bed, we popped corn on the stove, shaking it in a paper bag of sweet-and-salty caramel coating. We drank tea and played a competitive game of Splendor, but my favorite, most favorite, most favorite moment of the entire evening was the game we played right before whisking that baby up to bed.

Ryan and I knelt in the middle of the living room, facing one another. We met hand to hand and locked fingers. I felt the warmth and strength of the hands I have been holding for 16 years now. One child after another scooted under our “bridge” as we sang “London Bridges Falling Down,” capturing the thrilled child who happened to be under our arms when we sang “my fair lady!”

(Oh, this is so special – one of my dearest childhood memories is of my own mother and father holding hands as we kids danced underneath their “London Bridge” in the living room of my childhood home. There’s no photograph of that moment, it’s just a memory, and one of deep contentment.)

As I knelt there, holding my husband’s hands, singing a ridiculous song as our 5 rambunctious children squealed with delight and scurried around in circles, I thought, This is the most romantic thing.

This holding hands.

This playing together.

This being here as a family.

The children’s faces were beaming, my husband looked so young, and my heart was so full of love that I thought I should grab my camera.

I have to capture this moment! It’s so beautiful. 

But then I thought upon the countless moments that are too dear for photographs: prayers offered, babies born, summer air savored, laughter shared, songs sung.

I thought about the moment right before we grab our cameras: you know, that moment that catches our attention in the first place, that single, holy moment that causes us to think, “I want to capture this, treasure this, remember this forever.”

As it turns out, most of my photographs are moments that are similar to that golden moment, but are not that moment.

I’m learning that when a moment catches my attention, I must settle in and look through my own eyes instead of bouncing up to grab a view finder.

I’m learning to let that moment sink down into the horizon of my soul.

To burry itself in a heart of worship.

To go down deep within me, a seed of wisdom.

So that beloved night, as the moon shone high in the heavens, I decided to stay on my knees.  My fingers were laced within my husband’s. Our arms were reaching over our children, every so often capturing one or another, and hugging them with all our might.

I really just had to be there.

Getting Your Hands on the Good Life: with Instructions for a Hilarious Party Game and the Most Important Daily Discipline of Your Life.

LauraDiscipleship, Marriage, Ministry, Motherhood

Have you ever played the Cooking Mitt Game at a party? The gist is that each person takes a turn unwrapping a gift that is hidden under layers and layers of wrapping paper. To make things interesting, when it is your turn, you don cooking mitts.

Each contestant clumsily gropes at the wrapping paper through the thick mitts – sometimes illegally using teeth – just to get one layer closer to the hidden treasure.

The simple task of opening a present is transformed into an epic adventure. You need grit and determination just to get a good handle on that wrapping paper, let alone give it a rip. Every time I play it, I get quite hilarious. My adrenaline gets pumping and I jump up and down like a little girl until I take my turn to thump around the box with my big, padded hands.

Lately, I feel like I always have cooking mitts on my hands.

Every day feels like a clumsy struggle: as if the good life is hidden in an overly-wrapped box and I’m trying to unwrap it, but can’t begin to get a good grasp on it.

(It should go without saying that when it comes to real life, figurative cooking mitts are not nearly as invigorating as the padded ones in the party game. Instead of feeling exuberant, I feel cloudy and distracted.)

I want to live a meaningful life for Christ, but I feel hampered by my sin. I embrace the day, but quickly feel encumbered by cultural demands, interrupted sleep, laziness, selfishness, the tyranny of the urgent, the daily grind, and an uncertainty about what I really should do with my time, energy, and gifts.

I find that all of this thumping around is a waste of time. We are only given one life. God doesn’t want us to clumsily grope through to the end.

How can we know that we are stewarding our lives well before the Lord?

How can we feel satisfied that we are obeying and honoring God from day to day?

Recently, I felt so disheartened by the distractions that blurred my life. I cried out to God for help, “Please help me out of this blundering! Must I wear these cooking mitts??”

That’s when I read “Tyranny of the Urgent,” in which Charles E. Hummel writes, “Not hard work, but doubt and misgiving produce anxiety as we review a month or a year and become oppressed by the pile of unfinished tasks. We sense uneasily our failure to do what was really important. The winds of other people’s demands, and our own inner compulsions, have driven us onto a reef of frustration.

Hummel wonders how Jesus made the astonishing claim, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17: 4).

“We wonder how Jesus could have talked about a completed work. His three-year ministry seemed all too short.” Hummel writes that Jesus’ “life showed a wonderful balance, a sense of timing.”

Nothing inhibited Jesus from doing the things that mattered in light of eternity.

Nothing distracted Him. He didn’t clumsily bounce around from idea to idea, He wasn’t pushed-and-pulled from one urgent need to another, and He wasn’t laden-down by sin.

How did Jesus live free of the encumbrances that I know all-too-well?

The answer is found in Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Hummel writes, “Jesus had no divinely drawn blueprint or schedule; he discerned the Father’s will day by day in a life of prayer. Because of this he was able to resist the urgent demands of others and do what was really important for his mission.”

These insights to Jesus’ focused and obedient life give me hope that I, too, may daily seek God’s guidance and empowerment to do (only) the work that God wants me to do.

When it comes to pursuing the Kingdom of God, cooking mitts are optional. In fact, they are highly discouraged. In Hebrews 12, we are compelled to,

“…throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

One thing is certain: Jesus did not wear cooking mitts.

So, off with the cooking mitts, my friend!

Life is not a blundering, silly game. We don’t have to grope around for the hidden meaning in each day.

Life is an intentional walk with the God of the universe; with the One who orchestrates all things, who doesn’t do a single, clumsy, misguided thing, the One who wants us to live with precision, focus, and intentionality.

That’s why we imitate Jesus, completely depending upon God.

We pray every day, asking our Heavenly Father to guide us through our day.

We ask Him for power to be and do the things He wants for us.

In the asking, we are putting ourselves in a posture of faith. God graciously grants our request.

When I begin my day by seeking God’s guidance and power, I can look back over the day and see that God did, indeed, guide me. He orchestrated work for me to do. He provided opportunities for me to obey Him, glorify Him, and love Him.

My life is freely His own.

This is just what I’ve always wanted: in my open hands is the gift of a God-guided life – one day at a time.

 

The Scurrying and Crackling of Life: Motherhood is About Being With People

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood

One of the little perks of our helter-skelter schedule this year is that I get more one-on-one time with our Lia. Once a week, we drive together to her violin lesson and then have some free time – just the two of us to do whatever we want.

This is refreshing on many levels. For example, I can give my attention to the violin lesson without vending snacks and noiseless toys to the younger siblings for 30 grueling minutes.

And, we have an hour in town that feels fairly unclaimed by groceries, meetings, or to-do’s.

To top it all off, Lia is simply a pleasant person to be around. She is enthused about everything and is a wonderful companion.

She’s also a shopper who is more invested in selecting your new shoes than she is in her own.

As I was shopping for a pair of black boots, Lia found a variety of options in my size, stood back to offer opinions, helped me weigh the costs, and agreed wholeheartedly with my selection.  As we sat side-by-side on the little leather bench at Kohl’s, pulling crinkly paper out of one of the shoe boxes, I told her that I love shopping with her.

I’ve never known how to shop with people. Shopping with people is like running with people. It’s like sharing entrees with people: I just don’t do those things very often. I must have a dormant fear that shopping, running, or sharing entrees with people will distract me, mess with my pacing, and limit me to half of the salmon I ordered just to suffer through half of the Stromboli you ordered.

Thankfully, God has surrounded me with extroverts who won’t stop inviting me to experience the beauty of “with people”.  I don’t know what I’d do without them. (Though certainly, I’d enjoy that whole salmon, no doubt about it.)

So anyway, after Lia’s music lesson, we ask ourselves what we should do with our time. Last week, we moseyed around the fairy garden display at the local floral shop. Both of our imaginations were sparked by the mossy hillsides, charming bridges, and whimsical fairy figures.

It all seemed so real.

We wanted it to be real.

We walked around slowly, side by side.

Lia talked about her plans to build her own fairy garden with gnomes who would bend over to look at their red-capped reflections in a clear, blue pond. She talked about the fairies who would put their hands on their knees and ask the hedgehogs how they were doing today?  And she shared every detail about the bunny family that would pop out from the ground and wheel carrots to an outdoor patio table.

Meanwhile, I was silently opening and closing the miniature doors on the crooked little fairy houses, wishing that just once, I’d open a door and glimpse a scurrying of someone iridescent or the crackling of a fire in a fireplace.

We arrived home with 30 minutes to spare before we had to pick up all of the youngsters from Grandmom’s house. All morning I had daydreamed about curling up on the couch with a book or – if I’m honest – just replying to a few emails, but there was Lia absolutely bubbling over with excitement about building that fairy garden.

A few pages in a book?

A few items checked off my to-do list?

An escape for my inner introvert?

But this time, instead of pulling my computer onto my lap, I pulled the hot glue gun out of the cabinet. I plugged it in, stretching its orange chord across the deck to the picnic table.

I pulled on my shabby garden gloves and mercilessly tugged at the underperforming tomato plant that had been sitting in a large pot on our deck for far too long.

The pot would be the perfect setting for Lia’s garden.

The tomato plant broke free from the soil easily and seemed ambivalent about being relocated to the pile of overgrown weeds down by the pond.

While I was down by the pond, I discovered a pile of curled bark from a locust tree that we recently cut and split for firewood. I instinctively squealed in delight and gathered the largest pieces to show Lia: it was just right.

For the next few minutes, she and I flew about the yard like robins in the spring, collecting nature’s treasures. Lia scurried about gathering sticks for fence posts, moss for carpeting, and large rocks from the driveway for stepping stones and furniture.

The warm autumn wind swept our hair from our faces as we arranged our findings on the picnic table and went at them with the hot glue gun, transforming a stack of sticks into a charming garden fence, a pile of stones into a patio table, and a bit of string into a fairy’s clothesline.

It didn’t take long for us to create a garden fit for our lone plastic fairy doll and the chubby hedgehog who has been sitting on the bookshelf by our Beatrix Potter collection for years.

The garden contains two neighboring homes: one for the fairy, with a garden in which she may grow a winter’s supply of carrots and a clothesline where she may dry her little plastic clothes. And the other where the hedgehog may sleep in late and amble down a stone path to visit the fairy and share a pot of tea.

Oh my darling girl, Lia.

I would have quickly forgotten the few pages in my book.

I would have replied to emails that have a limitless shelf life.

But those 30 minutes were precisely what I was looking for when I grasped the tiny knob of the crooked little fairy houses and peeked inside.

 

A Study in Letting Your Guard Down

LauraAll Posts, Farm Life, Marriage, Motherhood

Saturday morning I thought I’d drop Viv off at ballet, go grocery shopping, and take a few of the younger kiddos to the local Insect Fair where you can eat chocolate-covered crickets and see the model of a giant ant. Somehow, the day veered in a different direction and, instead of the Insect Fair, we welcomed two goats into the family. There we were, taking selfies with our two new goats.

Here’s how it happened in the first place:

Ryan and the children have wanted goats forever, but it has never been a reality until Friday when friends of the family offered free goats. To the kids, it seemed like heaven’s smile. To me, it was the perfect opportunity to exercise boundaries and protect our sanity: we are at-capacity with responsibilities and commitments.

“No.” I said like a good and supportive wife and mother.

“But, Mom! They’re free!” the kids replied.

They’re free?! FREE GOATS? Do you know what that means, my sweet innocent children? Free goats means evil goats. We can’t afford evil goats.”

Then, of course, the inner dialogue: How can I really say, “no” when my husband is so happy when he’s tending life – pruning apple trees, harvesting potatoes, raising chickens? I know he would just love having those goats around. He doesn’t gamble, golf, or go fishing. This would be a sliver of fun for him in a life full of responsibility. And how could I say “no” when our children have carried, fed, and sung to the chickens all these years? The opportunity to care for two goats would be good for them.

Nonetheless, I stuck with my “no” because two goats are just one-thing-too-much.

In fact, I stuck with my “no” for over 12 hours.

By the time Viv and I were walking out the door on Saturday morning – Viv with her ballet duffle bag slung on her shoulder and me with my grocery list in hand – the anticipation of goats, goats, goats had bubbled up like a glass of champagne. The kids were so excited about the possibility. I knew what I had to do. I hugged Ryan good-bye and said, “Do what you think is best. I trust you.”

I don’t need to tell you that he heard, “Get those goats, big guy!”

When Viv and I came home that afternoon, with bags of groceries to unload, there were smiles and waves from Ryan and all the children as we drove past the barnyard, down the lane. I put the cold groceries in the fridge, left a few bags in the kitchen, and walked up to the pasture fence with my camera rolling, shaking my head slightly at my husband’s happy farmer grin.

There they were: two perfectly adjusted, knobby-kneed goats munching clover and nettle like they’d been born and raised on that very ground. They clabbered onto the 2-foot high cement block and jumped off, back feet bouncing up behind them. They lounged in the sun. They looked at the chickens, bemused. They let the children lead them around by the leash.

“Meet Jack and Stanley!” the kids said.

I looked underneath the two golden bodies.

“Hm. I think they’re females, kids.”

“They are?! Well then, meet Matilda Phoebe McFee and Dawn Sandy Sal!” they announced after much debate.

I stood outside the fence with my camera. I thought, I should go into the pasture and extend a more cordial welcome. I was wearing my black flats and my lace-overlay shirt.

What if Dawn butted me with her little horns and tore my shirt?

What if Matilda pooped on my shoes?

I walked through the barn into the pasture. I tentatively pet Dawn and admired her enchanting flop-ears and sturdy little horns. I ran my fingers down Matilda’s coat, admiring her confidence despite her earless-ness. (Her confidence is note-worthy because she lives side-by-side Dawn’s remarkable ears, you know.)

We stayed with the goats for a good, long time, just getting a kick out of them. It was kind of like laying on our backs watching the clouds drift by or star-gazing on a clear, summer night. All of us meandering in the pasture together, wondering at God’s creation – Ryan feeling good about life, the kids feeling confident and creative, and me feeling surprised.

Surprised, because I like the goats.

I felt a place in my heart awaken that had never been stirred before: a place for goat-appreciation.

I thought I’d be awkward around goats. I thought they’d brood maliciously against me and attack me on my morning walks. I thought they’d chew my socks and shoes, ruin my flower beds, kick over the milk pail. I thought I’d be chasing them around the property, waving my hoe at them. I thought they’d drive me to the breaking point and I’d have to call Ryan in the middle of his work day and say, “It’s me or the goats.” (I made such a phone call 5 years ago regarding our territorial rooster. Guess who got to stay?)

But we have a fence. And a nice pasture that they will munch, saving Ryan lots of time on the tractor. We don’t have to milk them or eat them.  They’re docile and have relatively tiny poop pellets.

I think this will be a life-giver for our family.

Here we are with a weekend under our belts and I am already agreeable toward the goats. They are perfectly ambivalent about me, which is precisely how it should be.

Post script: After I published this post, the original owner of the goats let me know that Dawn is, in fact, Don. (In my defense, castrated.) We need these goats for so much more than weed-eating. They are a lesson in anatomy as well.)

I want to start blogging again…

LauraBlogging


…like “back-in-the-day” blogging when we would just write about anything and everything and it was okay. Back when “my toddler said the funniest thing” was blog post material, worthy of a full day’s attention. We’d share from our daily joys, strengths, questions, and discoveries. Photos were small and blurry – if there were photos at all. There was a sweet letter-home innocence to blogging back then. I miss it.

It’s not enough any more.

Today, the experts say that blog posts have to be content rich, reader focused, catchy, money-making, sensational, and attached to a hook as sharp and irresistible as  “58 Safety Hazards You Aren’t Thinking About” or “How to Clean Your House And Fight Cancer At the Same Time” or “An Open Letter to Donald Trump’s Stunt Double”. I’m supposed to brand myself. Find a niche. Build my readership. Influence.

The message is that blog posts have got to be amazing or no one will read them. Not. Even. Your. Grandma.

You can post your toddler quotes, home-life updates, and little tidbits on Facebook or Instagram, but that’s it.

I understand the expert advice: they’re right about almost all of it. I just can’t keep up.

Am I the only one in the blogosphere who misses the daily-little, personal-little gems that make no promises other than, “Hey, there. ‘Thought you’d get a kick out of this.”?

Am I the only one who is just a tad bit (okay, a lot bit) exhausted by amazing?

I want to go back to the days when blogging was simple, smaller, less improve-you-and-sell-you-things-ish.

Every day, cute little blog post ideas float through my mind like iridescent bubbles, looking for a soft place to land in the blogosphere. I button up my blazer and ask “Yes, but is it good enough?” “Is it share-able?” “Is it relevant?” “Could I craft 5 paragraphs out of this idea with boldface subtitles, photos, and a wide-audience appeal?”

Needless to say, too many cute little bubbles get popped by yours truly.

Don’t get me wrong: I love crafting home-run posts with links, photos, and contagious ideas.  But the truth is that I just don’t have many home-run posts in me. Nor do I have the time, energy, or brain power to beef up every little blog post that wants to meet you. I hope you understand. It’s not that I don’t love you or care about you. It’s just that I’d rather give you “steady + average” than “sporadic + amazing-I-hope”.

I think I need to take a deep breath and just be me, for both of our sakes. You are my reader-friend. I don’t need anything from you – not a share, a like, a comment, a paycheck – but to reach out through cyberspace and plain old connect with you.

I can’t keep up with amazing blogging, but I want to keep blogging.

Therefore, I officially re-begin my pursuit of average blogging. This is a poor start of it, too. It’s complainy and prickly and I’ll probably regret writing it. I’ll edit it a zillion times because I hate being complainy and prickly, but I’m going to publish it anyway, because I have this feeling deep in my gut that by saying, “I can’t keep up with amazing blogging”, you and I will connect.

BTW: got any funny toddler quotes?

 

Let’s Teach Our Kids About Jesus

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood

The heart-and-soul of our home is Jesus.

Our children are our beautiful mission field.

We want to build our daily habits, conversations, problem solving, and traditions on His gift of love and forgiveness yet so many days, I wonder if I’ve even spoken His name to our children. I find that I need to be proactive to worship and prioritize Him with my children.

I thought maybe you and I could share some ideas about how to be intentional about teaching children about Jesus from day to day. This month, here are a few ways that I am pursuing this beautifully calling of motherhood.

I am…

  1. Enjoying my own relationship with Jesus.

    Now that our baby is sleeping through the night, I can set my alarm an hour early and enjoy some time praying, reading Scripture, and exercising. After a full year of being in survival-mode, this extra hour is a luxurious blessing! My readiness in remembering and worshiping Jesus throughout the day is fueled by this hour with Him in the morning.

    I love The Diary of Private Prayer by John Baille. (Guess who recommended this one? Keith Getty – as in the guy who wrote “In Christ Alone” and so many encouraging hymns for the modern day church! I figured he must know something. Turns out he does. This is a beautiful prayer book that has enriched and strengthened my prayer life more than words can say.)I also use – and LOVE – the The One-Year Praying through the Bible for Your Kids by Nancy Guthrie.

    Some days, I pray through the Psalm of the Day. I’m also slowly working through Jen Wilkins’ study of the book of Hebrews. After years of feeling guilty – or like “devotions didn’t count” – if I did not check every box every day (prayer, Bible study, journaling, encouragement, etc.), I’m learning to discern the sweet spot between faithful consistency and what I need to do with my heart on any given day. Some days, I use all of the time in prayer. Other days, I begin with prayer and feel compelled to write an encouraging note to someone. Still other days, I invest most of the time in Bible Study.

    Most days, I’m simply seeking my daily bread, light for my next step.

    I find that when I approach my time with God with honesty – coming to Him as a real person with real burdens and real hungers – my devotional time is sweeter and more fruitful.

  2. Singing Hymns and Memorizing Scripture together.

    Every school day, from 10 – 11 a.m., I gather the older children together for Morning Time. The baby is napping and our 3-year old is happy to play with Model Magic, scribble in her own little notebook, and eat a little snack.

    (Important side note: The fact that we have had 7 peaceful – and complete – Morning Times so far this school year is is an amazing, amazing miracle. Many, many, many, many of my idillic dreams of Morning Time have been squashed by screaming babies, tantrum-throwing toddlers, tired pre-teens, and distracted little boys. For example, one year I was teaching all of the children the sweetest Children’s Christmas Carole of all time so they could sing it in the children’s choir on Christmas Eve. We’d gather around the piano to practice and invariably be a chaos of tears, melt-downs, and terror.

    After a few days of this disappointing choir practice, I decided to play right through it, hollering over the din, “This is exactly why we need this song, my dear children!”

    As it turns out, the 24-month old who was causing MOST of the terror was listening the entire time. She ended up knowing that song word-for-word and singing it daily through the rest of the year. Every evening before bed, we meant it in a whole new way when we sang, “Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven…” I learned a lot from that experience. I was encouraged to endure on the hardest days.)

    Anyway, about Morning Time: for the first 15 minutes, we use our 12-12-12 Binders and sing the same hymn every school day for a month. We work on the same passage of Scripture and memorize one poem each month. Every year, we cycle back through and work on the same set of songs, scriptures, and poems. This month, we are singing “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” memorizing The Roman’s Road, and The Apostle’s Creed.

  3. Reading Scripture and a devotional together.

    This is the part of Morning Time when the children eat a snack so peace prevails. They munch on blueberries or crackers while I read from either Scripture or a devotional. I alternate day by day. This year, we are reading through our well-loved Read-N-Grow Picture Bible and the Clarkson’s Our 24 Family Ways.

  4. Looking for opportunities to connect our daily personal lives with Jesus.

I’m a firm believer in looking for the questions, concerns, weaknesses, and celebrations that occur in each child’s heart as they learn about God’s character, hear His Word, and walk through life. Although many opportunities whizz right by me, God gives me the grace to make the most of one opportunity at a time. When I do, I grow – one step at a time – in my ability to see Jesus in all things and to talk about Him with my children all the time and everywhere, just as He wants us to.

Recently, one child was struggling with nightmares, so we all sketched giant lightbulbs on large sheets of paper and wrote the aspects of Philippians 4:8. We matched each word with a sticker that illustrated its meaning. “Noble” is a knight. “Lovely” is a rose. We hung them next to each pillow to guide our thoughts at night. Whatever is pure, whatever is true, whatever is right…

If another child is struggling with obedience, we dust off our songs about the blessing of obedience and how Jesus tells us to obey our parents because He loves us. I take that child on my lap and teach him or her to confess and to receive God’s quick and powerful forgiveness. I remind both of us that Jesus paid it all.

Whatever today’s questions are, I look for a way to answer them through Christ.

Whatever today’s celebrations are, I look for ways to rejoice with Christ.

Whatever today’s sorrows are, I look for ways to cast our cares upon Christ.

Whatever today’s sins are, I look for ways to receive forgiveness from Christ.

This is my aim, anyway. Many days I flounder. Many days I forget. But by God’s grace I will continue to learn how to fill our home with “all precious and pleasant riches”, which, of course, are Jesus Christ our Lord.

By wisdom a house is built,
and by understanding it is established;
4by knowledge the rooms are filled
with all precious and pleasant riches.

Proverbs 24:3-4

What are you teaching your children about Jesus this month?

 

Getting the School Year Off the Ground

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Motherhood

Well, here we go! A new school year is upon us. We logged two days of school before embarking on a week’s journey to New England. I wanted to try on our new schedule and make sure we had all of the supplies that we needed. Now that we’re back from a wonderful trip to Boston, Plimoth Plantation, and West Point (hopefully, I’ll write about all of that later) – AND all of the laundry is done! – we’ll put both feet on the ground and hit the books.

 

I’m grateful to begin this school year with a vision for homeschooling that was sharpened, sweetened, and expanded this summer. While driving back and forth to the swimming pool, I listened to the Wild & Free podcast, the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, and At Home with Sally and Friends. With windows open and kids playing outside, I read Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace.  (Yeah, it’s like everyone says: you should stop everything to read this one.)

All summer, I was reminded that my job is simply to faithfully tend to the work God has given me: to love and train my children who are made in the image of God. I needed that reminder. Workbooks, checklists, and the strong pull of modern day education distract me so easily.

When I consider that my children are eternal souls, I remember that my deepest desire is to spend my days demonstrating to them that “the world is worth learning about, our minds are worth cultivating, and people are worth loving.”

On a daily basis, I need to remind myself that my job is less about checking boxes and more about modeling delight, nurturing minds, and ordering loves.

With Sarah’s encouragement, I wrote our “Rule of 6”- the things that are most important to me regarding our homeschooling. If we do at least one of the things on this list each day, I can feel good about the day.

  1. Worship God – pray to Him, sing to Him, read His Word.
  2. Thrive in life’s fundamentals. (Don’t laugh. In this season of life, this just means “make the bed”, “go potty”, “eat your veggies”, and “enjoy a good night’s sleep”.)
  3. Read good books.
  4. Have good conversations.
  5. Encounter goodness, truth, and beauty.
  6. Expand our horizons. 


    I also came up with 6 personal Words to Live By – qualities that I want to practice. I want my kids to look back on their childhood and say, “My mother was…” I bring these to mind in the morning as I’m praying about the day:

    *devoted to God
    *joyful
    *building up
    * attentive
    *kind
    *vibrant

    I wrote all of these things on a notecard that I keep as the bookmark in my daily prayer book. I hope to return to these reminders each morning and take them to the Lord, asking for His lavish, vibrant, attentive help in being faithful with the children He has placed in my care.

     

3 Ways to Connect with Your Child: Share!

LauraMotherhood

When you share something from your world with your child, you open your arms and welcome her into relationship with you. Whether it’s a bite of your cupcake or the Scripture that’s been encouraging you lately, look for a way to share your personal world with your child. He’ll treasure your generosity and trust.

  1. Share a treat with him. 

    Whenever I have a little stash of chocolate, I try to share it with one of my kids. I look for a moment when it’s just the two of us and I’ll make a moment out of it. “Hey, you’re going to love this!” I say as I secretly pass along a chocolate-coated almond with Turbinado sugar and sea salt (thank you very much, Trader Joe’s!).What have you been enjoying lately? A treat in the pantry or a view from the window? An experience or a song? How can you share something that you love with your child?

  2. Write a note to her. 

    “Words of affirmation” are a love language. God communicates His love for us through words. Let’s learn from His example and write an encouraging, uplifting note to our child this week. Ask God to bring to mind just the thing that will bless your child.

  3. Share Scripture with him. 

    Of course, one of the dearest things you can share with your child is the Word of God – especially the Scriptures that are meaningful to you. Make a note of something that you’ve learned or loved in Scripture this week and tell your child. You won’t be sharing it to correct your child or even instruct him. It’ll just be from youabout you. Even if he doesn’t know what to say in response to your transparency, he’ll treasure the insight and may return the favor some day.

 

Writing Your Fall Menu? Here are Some Helpful Tips!

LauraFood, Meal Planning

As the air cools, I’m replacing our short-sleeved Summer Menu Plan for our cozier Fall Menu Plan. This simple plan – with its Crockpot Night and Egg Cups Breakfast – feels snugglier to me. It makes me want to pull on my warm socks and throw a football across the lawn.

I like to use the same weekly menu for a full season. Yep, that means week after week we tend to have the same meals with a bit of variety here and there. There are surprising benefits to keeping things simple – like enjoying a super-simple grocery-store experience, getting a handle on the budget, and being waaaaay less stressed about food.

I reworked last year’s Fall Menu Plan to make sure we were using a good strategy for our 2017 school-year schedule, including the two evenings/ week that we’re out-and-about for ballet lessons, a group violin class, and boys’ club.

I aslo added 2 great updates that are going to rock this food-challenged mama’s world.

I hope this helps you, too.

UPDATE #1: PLAN DAILY SNACKS

The word “snacks” makes my blood pressure rise and forces me into terribly compromising positions.

Last year, I took a slug at it by having a list of “go-to” snacks that I could choose from every 10 minutes when my children were hungry. But I felt like I was always compromising and letting my kids have the sugariest worst possible thing on the list every day all day long. When it comes to “snacks,” I have no backbone.

I finally  decided to stare it down. It’s not going to bully me around or catch me off guard any more.

THIS YEAR, I’m winning. I planned the day’s snacks as in, “on Monday morning, we’ll enjoy a delicious bowl of berries!” Now I know what to buy and what not to buy. I know the answer to “What’s for snacks?” and I’m not backing down. 🙂

I’m in charge. I planned ahead. So there, snacks.

UPDATE #2: PLAN THE WEEKEND WISELY

Besides our regular weeknight meals, we’ve always wanted to have a weekly Family Fun Night, a Date Night, and a regular hospitality plan. In the past, we would fly by the seat of our pants and fit things in from week to week. That meant that some weeks, the kids talked us into 3 movie nights in a row. Other weeks/ months/ years, we had no Date Night. Not one. And other times, we’d invite people over, but weren’t as intentional as we wanted to be and I never felt like I got in the groove.

THIS YEAR, I am so excited to have an intentional plan. Here’s what we’ve got:

Family Fun Night on Friday: Pizza and a fun dessert (this is a favorite memory from my own childhood!).

Date Night on Saturday: I’ll do my grocery shopping on Saturday afternoons and add a $5 rotisserie chicken (from Giant) to the order. With a bowl of applesauce and a side of veggies, that’s an easy and delicious meal that the children can eat early in the evening. Then, they’ll enjoy a movie together or play something amazing and completely absorbing like “Making a Tent out of the Dining Room Table”.

Ryan has just recently gotten back into cooking for me, so maybe he’ll take to the grill and make me some salmon with a side of roasted red potatoes from our garden. Or maybe we’ll just enjoy a special dessert over candlelight. Or maybe we’ll stroll, hand in hand, down the lane and back.

Hospitality Sunday: A friend of mine gave me the tip to invite people over on Sunday because they can usually come over for an earlier meal around 4 p.m. Brilliant. We’re doing it. I’ll know it’s coming and will have a few go-to recipes ready when I plan my grocery list.

SPEAKING OF GROCERY LISTS…

Take a look at my updated Fall Menu Plan and Grocery List. I’ve attached them here as editable documents in case you want to stand on my short-but-simple Meal Planning shoulders. Just click on the link to get started:

Fall Menu Plan

Fall Grocery List

Looking for more about meal planning?

Discover 3 Essential ways that you can find joy in food.

Download my free “Reluctant Meal Planner’s Meal Plan”.

Check out the “Five Surprising Benefits of Making the Same Meals Every Week“.

 

 

 

3 Simple (Funny) Ways to Connect with your Child This Week

LauraMotherhood

See this little girl? She loves to laugh and she has a great sense of humor.

Very few things connect human beings like laughter: it sweeps away our inhibitions and gives us common ground.

Here are a few ways to connect with your child this week that involve laughter…

  1. Laugh out loud at her jokes or efforts to be funny. Your child will feel like a million bucks when you take time to listen and laugh at her jokes, sarcasm, or off-hand comments. Look for an opportunity to affirm her efforts to be funny. Show her that you noticed and that you like it.
  2. Tell him something funny that happened to you. Pay attention during your day, looking for something funny to share with your child. (Once you have an idea, write it down or message yourself so you remember. A friend of mine keeps an index card and a pen in her back pocket for this reason. I love her intentional effort to share her life with her family.) That evening, share your “Guess what happened to me?” story. Laugh together. Your story will make you more relatable and your child will feel like your confidant.
  3. Play an active game together. When was the last time you really played Hide-and-Seek? Even if your child is older, he will love to connect with you over a classic game like “Hide-and-Seek”, a water-balloon or nerf gun battle, or a foot race. It doesn’t take much to say, “See that tree over there? I’ll race you there. Go!” And take off! It’ll get your blood pumping and the simple pleasure of it all will make you laugh together. I dare you.

Looking for more about laughter? You’ll love this post that I wrote for Revive Our Hearts, “Kids Laugh A Lot”.