Preparing, Enriching, and Equipping a Middle Schooler to Thrive

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Sonlight6 Comments

Worried about a bored tween? Perhaps it’s time for a new challenge!


(I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion.)

I could tell by looking at her: our 12-year old daughter was languishing.

Maybe it was the 2-week humdinger of a flu that seemed to shut her down.

Maybe it was her new braces that made smiling painful and slowed her down to sloth-like motions.

Whatever it was, I did a double-take.

She wasn’t interested in anything. She seemed discouraged. When I wrapped my arms around her, I could feel that she was tightly wound and closing in. It seemed like – in every way – she was taking up as little space as possible.

I thought of Peter Pan’s lost boys who were “fitted” to their own personal hollowed-out trees in order to enter to their underground home. “Once you fit, great care must be taken to go on fitting…” That’s all fine and good in Neverland, but the miracle of growing from childhood into adulthood includes the freedom to grow out of those little childhood trees.

A pre-teen needs a big space in which to grow…

What was happening?

On the cusp of her teenage years, she should be broadening! unfolding! developing!

Her lungs should be filling with the air of inspiration, creativity, and excitement!

Yet, it felt like my girl was shrinking, striving to squeeze inside the sapling she had known as a child.  

I prayed fervently to God and laid my concerns at His feet.

As we talked, I could see that over the past few months, He had been working in a new and suprising way: He had been opening doors and inviting her to take some giant steps forward into a new, fascinating season.

He had been beckoning her out of her childhood tree… There’s so much more, daughter! It’s time to grow!

But I had been like the sapling holding her in. Stay here where it’s safe, daughter! Let’s keep things as they’ve always been.

A pre-teen’s mother needs a big space in which to grow, too…

For 12 years, I’ve been a mother of babies – called to protect, hold, and nurture, to create a safe and loving home.

For 12 years, I’ve looked to God as my divine example of Protector and as the source of grace to nurture my babies. He has been the roof on our home, the batten to our door, and the love in our midst.

But now, He’s burst the door open for Vivienne and I need to venture out with her, to encourage her along, step by step.

Motherhood suddenly requires more from me: a bigger sense of adventure, a love for challenge, and a faith-filled following after God.

I need to do my own expanding: to open my hands in surrender, to lay a richer feast, to dream bigger dreams. This will be an adventure.

What we want for our daughter…

My husband and I agree: we’d do anything to help Vivienne to be strong, smart, and loving.

We want her to know that she is able – invited – encouraged to:

speak up,

do hard things,

and tackle big problems.

We want her to walk with Jesus, to create art and music, to read deeply, to dance, and to laugh, cry, and pray with her friends.

So, we’ve given her some well-earned privileges and responsibilities at home.

We’ve joined her in saying “yes” to an upcoming grand adventure.

We’ve even uncharacteristically changed her curriculum mid-year. Right here – in the middle of February – I’ve stacked the shelves with fresh new books.

Now that the books are on the shelves and the spines are being cracked open, I can see it so clearly: she’s ready for this!

Food for the mind and heart: she needs this nourishment.

Academically, it’s time to increase the challenge, not the stress.

Most kids shut down when they are too stressed out, but our girl was shutting down because she wasn’t being challenged enough: she needed a bigger world with bigger ideas.

Around our homeschool table, we’ve been working on our second time through Sonlight B – E, including World History, Early American History, and Modern History. We’ve all enjoyed the history and read-alouds together, enjoying the reinforcement of a 2nd time around.

Although Vivienne has continued to progress in her Language Arts, Math, and Science, we haven’t purchased another Sonlight curriculum since she was in 4th grade. Because the books are so marvelous and the discussions so rich, I was oblivious to the possibility that she could benefit from a more challenging course.

Right around the time when I could see that she needed more, Sonlight contacted me and asked if I would exchange some blogging for a new curriculum.

I jumped at the opportunity and ordered Sonlight 100 American Historywhich will complement the Early American History that I’m already teaching to the younger children.

Time for a new season…

The boxes of books arrived while I was tediously unwrapping the Christmas lights from around the porch spindles. The white twinkle lights had beautifully decorated our farmhouse since November. Now, it was early February, and they were looking stale and garish. I was past due in transitioning from one season to another.

The husky UPS guy carried both boxes up at the same time and emphatically sat them down at the bottom of the steps.

I dropped the string of lights to appreciate the poignance: I was past due in transitioning from one homeschooling season to another. It was time for a change.

There are so many benefits!

I didn’t realize that by this level in the Sonlight curriculum, the student receives a very thorough Student Guide that includes the week’s assignments as well as explanations, notes, and questions. We are both thrilled about this because Vivienne is self-motivated, likes to stay on top of her assignments, and have autonomy over her work. It’s a big help to me, too, as I homeschool our 4 other children.

As of today, we have a few weeks under our belts.

To say that Vivienne is thriving is an understatement.

This was precisely what she needed!

Just this week, she has been savoring Joy Hakim’s clever and informative The History of Us, the riveting account of the gospel in Peace Child, an exciting Physical Science curriculum that enriches her weekly science co-op, the Current Events assignments, a book about prayer that the two of us  read together on the couch in the afternoons, music, art, and public speaking…

Her days are full of beauty, truth, and goodness.

A sacrifice worth making…

In exchange for this great treasure, I agreed to write monthly posts to share with you the benefits of using Sonlight. This will be a joy because we have loved Sonlight for many years and it has shaped who we are today.

However, to be honest, this commitment will require significant energy, thought, and time.

I agreed to it – first and foremost – for our daughter’s sake. I will work my tail off to enrich and encourage her. (In fact, when she saw me working diligently at writing this post, she smiled her beautiful braces smile and said, “Thank you so much for doing this for me, Mom! It’s AMAZING!”)

My husband and I see this as a wonderful way for us to invest in our precious pre-teen.

I also agreed to it because I love you – my readers – and I know that this commitment will help me to be more intentional about sharing ideas about raising children, nurturing middle school students, and building our homes for the glory of God.

I’m so grateful that our daughter is back to her bubbly, vibrant self, while growing stronger, smarter, and more loving every day.

Here’s to a bigger world! And to the God who leads us there.

 

Interested in Sonlight Curriculum? Use the Code LB20280892 to receive $5 off your first order of $50 or more. Connect with Sonlight:

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Half the Distance and Twice as Far

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood

The kids and I accompanied my husband to a tech conference. We love this conference for three big reasons:

  1. Ryan connects with the people and ideas that help him to grow professionally
  2. The older kids attend classes about robotics, 3D printing, electronics, and technology.
  3. And, well, it’s at an indoor water park.

Work + fun + family = yes, please.

The awesome part…

This year, Ryan offered a session for the kids’ track. Using a slinky to demonstrate sound waves, a needle-in-a-cone to demonstrate the physical imprint of sound on a vinyl record, and a deconstructed version of “Everything is Awesome,” he explained how physical sound waves are transformed into digital bits of 1’s and 0’s.

At the end of the class, he handed out instruments and led the kids in a Stomp Jr. experience that would’ve impressed John Bonham.

He was funny and super-smart. It was a great class.

I took photos and chased our 18-month baby around the back of the room. My heart was full of pride – in the best sense of the word – to see Ryan in his element. I thought, this guy could go far.

One of the highlights of the class happened afterward when we were cleaning up the egg shakers and sandpaper blocks. A 4-year old boy settled himself in the middle of the overturned buckets and aluminum paint-trays like a real professional drummer.  He just knew what to do.  We were mesmerized. His mom said that neither she nor her husband were musical, so they certainly hadn’t given this boy his natural sense of rhythm. In fact, they had adopted him as a baby and they often wondered what awesome heritage pulsed in his blood. We watched those dowel rods whip up and down, we felt the rhythm in our chests, we watched his soft blond curls bouncing – and said, “This guy could go far.”

The week before the conference, the kids and I helped Ryan to make those instruments –  we snipped and stretched balloons over PVC pipe, sanded dowel rods, and covered wood blocks in sand paper. Before we packed everything in the cargo box, we played a trial run of the song. I like to think that I “laid down the beat” on that 5 gallon bucket. Audrey shook a plastic egg filled with rice, Malachi kept a cool rickety rhythm on the aluminum paint tray, the other kids played their parts. We agreed unanimously: Dad would rock this class. And he certainly did.

Because Ryan offered that class, our whole family was able to stay at the indoor waterpark all week long. So, we moved into our hotel suite with bathing suits, 5 gallon buckets, egg shakers, and plenty of microwave popcorn.

The difficult part…

During the daytime, Ryan attended the conference while I, um, held down the chlorinated fort. Despite the amazing opportunity to live at an indoor waterpark for a week, I actually struggled with feeling angry about the whole arrangement. After all, it’s not easy to plan meals and snacks for 5 kiddos in a hotel room.

It’s not easy to keep everything under control in a small space,

organize the clothes,

dry the bathing suits,

help with showers,

oversee 5 kiddos at an enormous waterpark,

break up arguments,

get big kids to classes,

guide little kids from snacks to happiness to meltdowns to naps and back around again.

Not to mention that I was also wrestling with my self-doubt, which is the worst kill-joy.

It’s all because we were at a tech conference full of brilliant professionals.  There’s just something about careening a baby stroller through streams of professionals that makes me doubt my current decision to stay home with my children and not pursue a career.

I wonder, What would it be like to earn a salary? How fun would it be to network? Wouldn’t I love to teach at a conference of this caliber? Am I missing my potential?

And, of course: Shouldn’t I be farther along by now?

When I applied to college, I was “Pre-Med”. A lover of the sciences, I became a Biology major and thought I’d pursue a career in medicine and become a doctor. During the summers, I had an ongoing internship at Merck, testing their newest drugs. To balance out my science courses, I took literature classes as well. I edited the school literary magazine and thought I’d pursue a career in academia and become a professor. I went to the Natatorium as often as I could, planning to join a Master’s Swim Team some day. I sang in an a cappella group and thought I’d join a community choir or audition for the local theater. I travelled to Iceland to study arctic biology and thought for sure I’d return and work on one of their lush and ancient farms.

With the sun on my face and the wind at my back, I was like that little drummer boy: I could go far.

That was ages ago, when I only had to worry about my own potential: my own hopes, dreams, education, interests, and skills.

Since then, I’ve enfolded other people into my life: a husband, 5 children, family, friends…

Every time I love and commit to another person, I have to modify my life plan and recalculate my destination.

Every day, love demands that I lay down my own dreams, skills, and interests to help with another’s.

Love requires that I take side trips away from my own plans to accompany my loved-ones, edging them closer to their own dreams.

(I’m thinking of our recent trip to Manhattan where we snapped a photo in front of The Lincoln Center waterfall just moments before our daughter auditioned for a summer intensive at the School of American Ballet. Or when I put off some computer work to set up a LEGO table for our little builder to create wonders. I’m thinking of the hours I’ve spent at the piano, accompanying our 9 year-old’s violin practice. Or the afternoons I’ve invested in reading aloud to the babies.)

Of course, I’m not the only one sacrificing my own pursuits for the sake of loving others. Every day, my husband does the same for me. My children, friends, and family do it for me.  My parents have always done it.

I bet you’ve done it, too. You’ve laid your own dream down in order to carry a dream for someone else. You’ve rearranged your goals and modified your life plan in order to help a loved-one get closer to their own.

There’s no way around it: when we love people, we simply cannot go as far as we had hoped. 

When I’m pushing that stroller full of kids, snacks, and diaper wipes through a convention center, glancing sidelong at professionals, I resign myself

Face it,” I tell myself, “You are not going to accomplish the great trek that you had mapped out. You are not going to actualize your potential. Not with all of these people to love. Not with all of these side trips. You’ll just have to be content to go half the distance.

But then again…

There I was at my husband’s Kidz Mash session and saw those children laughing and clapping in rhythm and I thought, “If I hadn’t helped him to get here – if I weren’t standing here in the back of the room with a squirmy baby and a bag of quickly-disappearing snacks – I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know about the history of recorded music, vinyl records, or digital sound. I wouldn’t know the mystery and love behind that curly-haired drummer boy. I wouldn’t see our children delight in helping their daddy. What’s more, I wouldn’t know that man up there – that one, clapping his hands and whooping the LEGO theme song – that one, whom I love.”

Marriage hasn’t limited my potential: it has doubled it. 

Ryan has always taken me twice as far as I ever would have gone on my own. In fact, the things I experience with him are literally akin to foreign countries. (I mean, the goats! The chickens! The road trips! The kefir! The scoby! The sunsets! He invites me to wonders I never would have noticed on my own.)  And, too, he has sacrificed his own dreams to make mine come true. I mean, the piano! The children! The books! The teaching! The writing!

Considering the limitless ways my husband has promoted and nurtured me over the years… he has multiplied my life many-times-over.

Motherhood hasn’t limited my potential: it has doubled it.

Though I have denied many exciting opportunities for my children’s sakes, they have enriched me in ways that I never could have imagined with interests, humor, and creativity. Because of them, I know arabesques, Seitz concertos, nerf gun wars, minor league baseball, silly jokes, Happy Salmon, avocado-skin bracelets, Marvel superheroes, The Incorrigibles, herbal remedies, and countless delightful friends.

Simply being a mother changes me profoundly: motherhood’s every lesson, insight, and growing pain makes me more into the person I want to be.

Yes, my eyes brim with tears when dreams must fade and self must sacrifice.

Yes, I struggle against self-doubt when I push that stroller through the convention center.

But the cost of loving people is both universal and incalculable… we’re all in this together. Career or not, diaper bag or computer bag, anyone who is committed to loving another person is only ever going half the distance.

None of us will reach our potential.

Let the tears fall because the truth of the matter is that when we love people, we go half the distance… but twice as far.

 

What if You Were the One to Forgive First?

LauraAll Posts, Bible Study, Ministry

Sometimes, the greatest thing holding people together is a common enemy.

Amongst friends, it usually works like this: someone hurts us and we gather our friends for support. What starts as love and support can quickly get overtaken by our mutual hatred for the person who hurt us.

Sharing hatred gives us a sense of power over our enemy and it makes us feel like we belong.  We justify our grudge, bolstering it with our stories of “You’ll never believe what he did this time…” We use sarcasm and criticism to keep our enemy down in the dirt.

I’m guilty of this. 

Are you?

I wish this ended in middle school, but it doesn’t. Here we are, full-grown adults, nurturing our bitterness together as we mock and scorn our mutual outsider. Of course we know better. We know what happens to spiteful people – thanks to Disney movies and The Avengers – spiteful people are shortsighted and end up destroying themselves. And yet, we keep fueling our friendships with this bond of, well, hatred.

It reminds me of the crowd that gathered around the adulterous woman in the book of John, in the Bible.  She got caught in the act, and the community leaders dragged her to the temple, to ask Jesus if they should stone her, according to the law.

There she was, exposed.

Surrounded, yet quite alone.

And there they were – that group of friends – hurt, angry together.

(Sometimes I wonder if this crowd included her crushed husband? I wonder if it included his friends and family who came to his defense? I wonder if it included her own family?)

They belonged together.

They were right and they had every right.

They wanted to kill that woman together.

And they would’ve.

But God intervened.

Early in the morning, Jesus was teaching in the temple. When the community leaders presented their case to Him, He paused and drew in the sand.

He looked at that group of angry friends and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

He didn’t say don’t.

He didn’t even say, “Love your enemies”.

So who would throw it?

Who would hurl that stone through the air and smash that woman in the head?

Who would knock her feet out from under her to make her an easy target for everyone else?

Who was the ring-leader? Who was the angriest?

Me?

You?

Miraculously, no one did.

No one threw the first stone.

Instead, one person heard and wondered, “Who am I to accuse this woman – I – who, even as the sun rose this morning, have received mercy?” 

Instead of throwing the first stone, he was the first to walk away.

One brave, honest person – the older, most respected man, in fact – walked awaygiving courage to another man who walked away.

Then another, and another, and another person walked away. Each one who had gathered thick around hatred, followed one another toward forgiveness and mercy.

They had to receive forgiveness themselves. They had to trust Jesus with their desire for vengeance and trust Him to deal wisely with this woman. They had to trust Him to be both just and loving.

Consider the significant influence of that one person: the one who walked away first.

Could it be me?

You?

“…when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” – John 8

 

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22

Marriage: A Dose of Hope

LauraAll Posts, Marriage

Ten years ago, my husband and I shared a highly personal story with a congregation of Chinese-speaking people. It was about our marriage – how we broke it and how God repaired it miraculously, graciously.

Because there were few English-speakers in the audience, we spoke with an interpreter, volleying one sentence to her at a time.  I remember feeling surprisingly comfortable with the whole situation: all I had to do was to tell my story and someone else transformed it into a message that was clear and cohesive.  By helping us, the interpreter was saying, “I’ve got this. I’ll make sure that people understand exactly what you want to say.”

So we trusted her to communicate accurately, honestly, and effectively. (Come to think of it, we really had no choice but to share what we knew and leave the rest to her.) But I’m telling you, it alleviated so much pressure! For that reason, even though Ryan and I have shared the story of our marriage’s restoration in many different contexts, that day at The Chinese Church will always be amongst our favorites.

In fact, when it comes to fragile topics like marriage, I wish I could always speak with an interpreter. I wish I could share my story alongside someone who knew how to deliver it in just the right way, so that everyone could understand and be edified.

I used to share more openly – and more often – about how God redeemed our marriage.

But over the years, I’ve grown more reticent.

I think it’s because my love and appreciation for Ryan has grown as deep as a canyon and I worry that retelling the story will plant seeds of doubt or distrust in other people’s minds. I would utterly hate for that to happen.

Or maybe it’s because my respect for human frailty has grown as tender as spring’s first buds. I worry that retelling the story will accidentally smack of pride, overconfidence, or empty promises. I would never want that.

Or maybe, of course, it’s because my awe of God’s mighty work on our behalf has grown as vast as the clear, blue sky and I worry that retelling the story will accidentally focus on our hard work, when in fact, it was His all along. This would be the worst tragedy of all.

That’s why the story that used to feel so manageable to write and talk about, now swells grandly in my heart and I can hardly put it into words.

That God healed us from a whole mess of sins, weaknesses, and immaturities is one of the most life-changing stories I can tell, but I don’t tell it very often any more.  And yet, I can’t get away from it. All these years later, people reach out to us saying, “I heard about your story. Could it be true?? Could you help me? Could you help…us?”

We help as we are able.

It always makes me wonder, how many people out there may need a heartwarming dose of hope for their marriage?

How many people find themselves broken in two, as we did?

Who needs to hear that God cares about marriage and that His arm is not too short to save one that is tossed by the sea?

Tonight I feel burdened to share a few things that I have learned as God has rescued my own marriage. I am trusting the Holy Spirit to be my faithful interpreter, delivering this message directly to your heart in a way that you can hear it.

Above all, the story is never over.

With God, nothing is impossible and nothing is over.

Our Heavenly Father is able to restore all things – including you, your spouse, and your marriage. Never stop trusting the God who loves you, sees you, and walks with you.

We use words like “break up,” “separation,” and “divorce,” feeling their finality. But those words are no threat to the God who can make springs of water burst forth in the desert. You may not be able to imagine the type of restoration that He will create in your life, but believe me, you will look back and see it as an ocean of grace.

Ask, “What do you want me to do with my heart today, Lord?”

The circumstances of our marital crisis differ from yours, so the specific way God led us on our journey differs from how He will lead you. However, we share one important similarity: God wants to walk with us through our trials, sorrows, confusion, and doubt.

When our marriage fell apart, I wanted answers: books and advice. But instead, my counselor advised me to seek the Lord and to ask, “What do you want me to do with my heart today, Lord?”

It wasn’t easy.

Healing came slowly, gradually.

But now I see that the day-in-and-day-out of putting my hand in His was the most significant and unregrettable work I did on the road to recovery.

A man without pornography is a completely new man.

This profound truth applies to all of us, and to all of our sin.

When a man who used to give into pornography repents and walks – well,  flees – and yes, fights – alongside the Holy Spirit out of pornography, he is transformed in every way: his countenance, character, personality, everything changes. That man becomes stronger than he ever imagined, kinder, more handsome, more productive, less threatened. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”: on a man, that freedom looks like the Northern Lights, the winter’s first snow, and everything – everything – grand.

Do not lose hope that the man you love could be the man God intended him to be.

Sometimes – usually – loving a spouse through sin means supporting them while you take a direct bullet to your own heart. And they’ll do the same for you.

There is nothing like lay-your-life-down true love.

How marvelous that Christ has done this for us! How mysterious that He asks us to do the same.

Only through God’s power and wisdom may we say to the repentant spouse,  “I will walk with you through this struggle and do anything it takes to help you make godly choices.” All the while, despising the temptation that demeans and attacks us for,

“No weapon formed against us shall prosper and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.” Isaiah 54:17

The Lord uses the church community so extraordinarily, you must always, always seek its love and support.

When asked “What made the biggest difference in your marriage?” Ryan always answers, “People. Community. The Church.”

He’s right: when we weren’t attending a faithful church, we struggled profoundly. When God pulled our marriage back together, He also reunited us with the Church.

God used other Christians to surround us during our separation, to encourage, correct, and pray for us. They maintained great faith in God when we had very little. They gave us their time, homes, hearts, and wisdom.

We will always tell our children about the people who rallied around us during those dark and dangerous days. God used them to spare our family.

Ever since then, we have prioritized our local church and our relationships with Christian friends. We need the regular preaching of the Word, the grace of Communion, accountability, encouragement, fellowship, and prayer.

And so do you.

Cry out to God for a church family that you can love, that will love you in return.

(9 Marks is a helpful website that can direct you to a church that faithfully preaches the Bible.)

Well, the night has worn on and I’m out of words to write for now. I do hope that these few remarks are helpful to you in some way and that you are encouraged to trust the Lord with your heart, with your marriage.

May God bless you and keep you.

May He make His face to shine upon you and give you peace.

When I Can’t Stop. Being. Martha.

LauraAll Posts, Bible Study

Despite a week-long stomach bug, I am electrified by the seasonal jolt of tidying, purging, and systemizing. Even though I’m weak and can’t even think about food, I’ve been heaving boxes up and down from the basement, organizing closets/ drawers/ purses/ anything, and lugging the Christmas Tree out to the front porch where it will get a third life as a bird feeder. I am normally a tidy-up-er anyway, so put me in the week after Christmas, and wow: anything that was straggling, stagnating, or spiraling out of control is being pulled back into orbit.

Being in the midst of this season, I noticed that I often wake up with a mission to organize. Too often, I can’t begin my quiet time with the Lord without first washing some dishes, clearing my desk, or cleaning the sunroom. To be honest, some days I can’t really talk to God unless I’ve checked a few things off of my to-do list: there’s something about methodically bringing a little order to my universe that prepares my mind to think on Him and allows me to finally take a breath and say, “Hello…”.

I’ve never liked this about myself.

It feels like my priorities are out of whack.

I want my first thoughts to be of our dear Heavenly Father: I want my first words to be to Him. Yet, as my Bible waits on the desk and prayer waits in my heart, I clean up a pile of LEGOS.

Of course I think about Martha. (The biblical Martha who regretfully scurried about preparing dinner for Jesus while her sister Mary sat at His feet and listened to Him. Jesus said that Mary chose the better thing.)

I imagine the Lord addressing me in the same way that He addressed Martha, “Laura, Laura, you are concerned with many things. Choose the thing that won’t be taken from you, the one thing that will last forever. Come, sit here at my feet and read my Word.”

Humbly, I admit: I just can’t stop myself.

I just can’t stop being Martha.

It’s like I’m trapped by my desire to bring order to my little universe.

I feel like I have to tackle my to-do list (that will be undone by the time all 5 children have at it). I feel like I have to put my work first.

But there He sits, awaiting my attention: Jesus, true Order, the One who holds all things together.

(How could I have missed this all along?)

There He sits, loving to set thing aright, pull things together, and create peace in the midst of chaos. Jesus is passionate about order. He’s always hard at work, purging, organizing, cleaning, straightening out. Always. And when it comes to His beloved children, He just can’t stop Himself.

 

(Maybe that’s where I get it from?)

At the crack of dawn, He’s at it, beckoning me – and all the other Martha’s – to come into His presence so He can take a good look at us. He wants to gather us close, straighten us up, dust the worldliness from our eyes, and restore our bedraggled souls.

He wants to bring order to our universe.

So, He beckons us to sit with Him first thing in the morning.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, that bringing peace into my hazy, distracted, over-committed soul is far more important to you than organizing the toy room.

And yes, thank you for first-things-first, springing that trap.

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?