Saturday, October 13, 2018

more on the invisible line...

On crossing that invisible line,

Sometimes, when I look at them, I get glimpses of the adults they may someday be. These days, it’s happening more often, and it takes my breath away. This child I taught how to walk, how can he handle a basketball like that? That motherly smile on my daughter’s face- is that really the same face that she’d cover in pureed bananas, the same mouth that would scream when I tried to clean her with a wash rag?  The arm of my son-- the same one that hung around my neck while he wiped boogers on my shirt-- he stretches out protectively in front of me in the parking lot, reminding ME to watch for cars.

Christmas 2011
My son is wearing a tie tonight, and he's up on the highest riser. This child, who is uncomfortable in large crowds, who spent our first year at this church hiding behind my leg; he is determined, serious. I don't know if he sees me, but it's almost time for him to take the microphone. He reads, clearly, confidently, and the moment is over. But the second he finishes, he looks right at me, and he sees my proud smile. He gives a subtle nod, receiving my message, and gives his shoes a tiny, satisfied smile. And I am suddenly overwhelmed with joy, with the privilege of being the one he looks for, the one whose approval goes right down into his heart and makes him smile like that.

Advent 2017
He plays in church today, for the offering, and he acolytes, too. He has practiced; he remembered his music; he prepared himself without one reminder from me. His moment comes, and he plays well. He keeps his head down during the song, he stays focused. I am proud of him, as always, and I smile loudly. And when he’s done, he gets up, grabs his book, and he doesn’t look at me.

He doesn’t look at me.

A few days later, I happened outside, and there he is, using the snowblower for the first time. He returns my look of surprise with a proud smile, and continues, confident in his work. His snow pants reek of fumes when I find them later, balled up on the floor. Play clothes turn to work clothes, and boys become young men. 

March 2018
I get the text while I’m making lunch: “My baby has died.” My dear friend, 20 weeks pregnant, oh God please no…  I’m crying over the mac n’ cheese, and my son comes in, asks what’s wrong. I just hand him my phone; I cannot speak. Later, kids are at the table for food and I have to tell them but I can barely form the words. And my son says, “Mom, do you want me to pray?” I nod, and the tears stream while he says the words, the exact words we need in that moment.

On this side of that invisible line, it’s hard, and unfamiliar, and  more beautiful than I expected.
My plants still need to be watered and fed, but sometimes, I rest in their shade.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

every facet

“As Christians, we recognize every facet of our day as coming from the hand of God. it all passes through His fingers first, and He uses it to make sure that we lean hard on him.” Sarah Mackenzie

We discussed this quote around the table several weeks ago. Oh, that God would help us see! Every facet of our day- the little things, the big things, the pleasant moments, and the trying circumstances- our heavenly Father is never surprised. EVERY moment is an opportunity to lean on him.  “Yes, even your little brother! God sent him to you so you could lean on Him for patience, or compassion, or self control.”
I myself forget this so often! Today, for example. I had a nice list written on our whiteboard, detailing exactly what we were going to accomplish for school. As we went along, we rearranged one thing for practical reasons; then another to weather a child’s emotional tornado. We conquered math cheerfully, but things got a little hairy during independent time. After library time, I added something to help all of us cope (ice cream) but that squeezed out something else; then another child had an emotional tornado.  So I scratched my favorite (art) and decided to just get the high energy boys OUTSIDE. Of course I wanted to multitask while they played, but I couldn’t find my computer, and I was out of breath getting dinner on before we leave.  Soon I’m panting, waiting at a red light that simply SHOULD NOT BE inflicted on someone who has so much going on.  I’m enraged… at a red light: I have no space in my life for this inconvenience. 
I have forgotten my moments come from the hand of God. I have forgotten who is in control here. I have forgotten how to lean. The quote is worth repeating:

As Christians, we recognize every facet of our day as coming from the hand of God. it all passes through His fingers first, and He uses it to make sure that we lean hard on him. Sarah Mackenzie
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God, help us see this! Help us, when our list is rearranged, to lean on You!  When emotional tornados destroy our plans for the day, remind us to lean on you for strength!  Help us remember that You are the Creator and we are mere creatures.  Take into your hands what we have done and what we have left undone. Forgive what is evil, complete what is lacking, and lift the burden of those things that threaten to suffocate.  Into your hands we commend ourselves. our bodies, our souls, and our time. Amen.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Welcome, fall

Three kids are sprawled in my living room with Calvin and Hobbes, C.S. Lewis, or late night Latin. “I’m going to bed now. Don’t stay up too long, and make sure you turn off the lights.”  I have entered a season free from bedtime battles, the season where they outlast me in sports as easily as in night-time reading.

This podcast from Emily P Freeman got me thinking about this transition.  With some of the kids, we’ve crossed that invisible line from childhood to adolescence. Because of this, I am a mom in transition as well, learning to let go, and to grow along with the big kids.

When they were little, they were largely under my control. I could put boundaries in place to keep them safe. I could address those ugly outbursts with consequences, and often change their behavior. I remember how good it felt to help Lorraine stop whining by empowering her with baby signs when she was too little to talk. And, watching the toddler throw a fit got easier, the more kids I had, as I better understood that my job was simply to weather the storm, to be the wall that doesn’t budge when they bash their heads against it.

Raising little ones can make you feel big and powerful, for a little while.
Until they turn into big kids.

The transition is subtle.  Suddenly, I look around and realize I am no longer the strong wall of protection and discipline, keeping my babies safe and taming them into civilized humans by doling out controlled life-experiences mixed with tidbits of wisdom. Now, my little people are taller than me. They are young adults with sparkling ideas, quick wit, and biting sarcasm.  They carry big questions, and they fight secret battles in their hearts that I can’t fight for them.  I am no longer the director of this play (if I ever really was.)

I’m the coach on the sidelines, barking through a megaphone while the game moves along at a dizzying pace, knowing they won’t always listen to me, but still gripping that megaphone like it’s my job.

As summer turns to fall around here, I carry questions with me:

How can I love them best in their remaining days at home?
How will they fare amidst the cacophony of voices? Have I taught them to listen well?
When I see their heart-struggles, when should I speak, and when should I simply pray and remain available?
What does it mean to love them, faithfully, today?

And as summer imperceptibly turns to fall in our home, my role is changing once more:

The megaphone is going away.  I’m the mom on the bleachers, whose voice doesn’t carry like it used to- whose voice is becoming just one voice in a stadium.

I’m the mom on the four-wheeler… on the BACK of the four wheeler, rid of all illusions of control, praying desperately.
photo credit: Lorraine

But I’m also the mom drinking tea on the back porch, looking out at her garden. So much sweat and toil went into that ground early in the year: breaking up the soil, the planting, weeding, watering. Now it’s fall, and I haven’t even looked back there in weeks!  Despite my neglect there it is: a sunflower, tall and strong, blooming cheerfully, pointing its face up to the sun like it was made for this.

And I realize that sunflower will keep growing whether my hands are involved or not.
That it was never my work to begin with, not really.

Welcome, fall.

Grow me up with them, Jesus!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Peter's 8th birthday

To Peter, on your eighth birthday,

You continue to be a joy and delight to your family, as well as a constant source of laughter. This year was the year we moved from Michigan to Kentucky. This year was the year you began to be a homeschooled kid. It was also the year you fully embraced your love of birds, and you enjoy telling people you want to be an ornithologist. Your personal bird ID books is all marked up with the birds you’ve personally seen in the wild. One of my favorite memories with you this year was watching the barn swallows when we were camping at Lincoln Park (Indiana.) Remember how they brought food to the babies, and how the babies would squawk and carry on? Remember how they love to put white feathers in their nests? And remember when those babies got big enough to step out of the nest, and next day when we checked, they were gone?
Your love of nature brings me joy. I love going on walks with you, never fast, and listening to you point out every amazing bird, bug, or critter, and telling me (loudly) everything you know about each one. Sometimes when you need a break from school you ask me if you can “go outside and watch nature.” For your birthday we got you a venus flytrap plant (we only have to wait a month or two to see the seeds hatch. You are so excited!)
We often laugh at the things you say and the way you dress-- why do you pull your pants up so high, and how does your shirt always get so very dirty?  Here are a few of my favorite memories from this past year:

In Michigan, "Mom, it's sunny outside but it's cold. That's Satan tricking us."
“Wow,” I thought, “ this kid REALLY does not like the cold!”

Remember that time when dad was on a health kick and made dinner with fresh cut veggies on a plate, and he demanded every one of you eat a “bell?” As if not calling them bell peppers would trick you!  And there was sighing and fighting and even one puke and we all laughed so hard. And Peter ate three just to show them all. I don’t think daddy will pick that battle again.

Peter: “Hey mom, you know how Eldon and Rainy have double jointed fingers? Well, my butt is double jointed, watch.” *shakes hips like a crazy robot*  (He loves doing this crazy dance to the Weird Al song “white and nerdy.”)

Pete wrestling his brothers yells “get this!”
Marcus says, “peter, it's not get this, it's take that.”

We had a great time celebrating: minute to win it games, ice cream cake, gifts, and even a “family-palooza” on Monday!  

Peter, I’m so glad God put you in this family. May you always rejoice at the works of His hands in nature, and may you continue to grow in faith and love (if you didn’t, that would be lame.)

Happy eighth birthday buddy.
Love, mom

Thursday, August 16, 2018

This is my life now.

Day two of math, and day two of my pert child asking, “WHY do I even have to do this stuff? I know it already! This is for babies!” I’m feeling fiesty, so I tell him I’m happy to stop math class for an informative lecture on the basics of classical education. I move to the white board and explain the stages of learning. I tell him all about memory pegs, and how we never cover a subject just once, but we add to the pegs every time we encounter it. I draw a cyclical pattern on the board as I explain, eloquently, exactly why we do math the way we do math.

My teens are smiling as I sit down to resume our math lesson. “Mom.” They point at the board. “You just drew a poop emoji!”

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

first day of homeschool!

Today was our first day of homeschool for this year! Don't they just look so excited!? :)  They were, actually, and I definitely was.

So, what did we do today? I need to sit down and write about it... partly because I feel like it wasn't that much and WHY am I this tired?!?

Well, we began the long process of establishing the routine. And it's a flexible routine, of course, which is why I always label our schedule TENTATIVE. (Some of the kids hate that!) As an extra bonus, when packing her lunch today, my daughter found an overdue library playaway that we thought was lost forever!  (Do you know those things cost $55 if you lose them? We are NEVER checking one out again!)

We started off with "Morning Time." They are used to devotions in the morning, but this is devotions and MORE (And whatever mom wants it to be, that is.) Today, we talked about our home, and our homeschool. What kind of adjectives do we WANT to define our home and our homeschool?  "Welcoming," one says, and I write it. "You're writing crooked," Seth says, so immediately I add the word "Imperfect" to the list, and I purposely write it slanted. He rolls his eyes and decides to make his own list. I'll post his, because it is actually much nicer than the one I made.

After that we came up with some rules for our homeschool. Again, I'm showing you Seth's better version. We all agree that he has a future in coffee house chalk art.

Here's my version: 

You'll notice there's quite a bit of emphasis on conflict. 
Oh, people... we all have so much to learn just on this topic!

Map drawing is a new thing for us, and to my relief, they all thought it was fun! We also had a picnic with our homeschool co-op group. We have joined Classical Conversations this year and I think it is going to be a huge blessing for our family.

We did some reading aloud (I read to all of them). This is such an anchoring part of our day. I have always loved doing this with my kids, but after reading the Read-Aloud Family I am totally convinced that we will be doing this until the kids leave home.  We are currently reading a fantasy book called Circus Mirandus.

We are slowly getting our bearings. Classical Conversations is so... rich. I feel like we haven't been able to take it all in quite yet. We are trying to get a handle on one level at a time, one strand at a time. It's a lot like drinking from a firehose, or standing under an ancient waterfall with a small bucket!

We're off and running though, and I'm even blogging the mark the occasion! It probably won't happen often-- we'll be busy soaking up everything we can under the waterfall!

Finally, my amazing students, ready to start the year!

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Friday, June 15, 2018

lizard love

I’m up at 5am, crying over a lizard.

It’s not really over a lizard, of course. These are tears over death and disappointment and all that is broken in the world; over the way a heart can open up to love and joy and let life in and then death comes and crushes a little spirit, only 9 years old.  He’s too sweet to sit there, hunched shouldered, over a shriveled pet who can’t hold up his head.  He’s too young to hold a box of remains by the side of a hole in the ground. He’s too little to wonder why God didn’t answer his prayer for help when he prayed it. He’s too little to sleep alone after something like this. (So am I.)

Eldon was so excited to be a pet owner.  He bought his gecko with his own birthday money and has cared for him diligently. Just last weekend he wanted to put Mr. Crawley in a box to take to the hotel to show Nana the second she got to town- it’s been months, and he still acts like a proud daddy. He’d build him houses out of Jenga blocks, and he’d carry him on his shoulder. Mr Crawley was his choice for “free time” during homeschool every time.  I remember the proud way he paid for the crickets with his own money; how having Mr. Crawley taught him to love all the reptiles in the world (except the big ones that eat geckos).

And then that night, I knew it was coming. My words to soothe his worry fell flat on my own heart, and I ended up sleeping next to Eldon that night. And I laid there with anxiety about a shriveled gecko and heard to carriage of death rolling by.  In the depths of the night it felt like the carriage was coming for Eldon himself, the little gecko-like boy in my arms. It was coming for a piece of his heart.

After Mr. Crawley died, a  we decorated a box, and we had a little funeral. There were more tears than one would expect for a reptile… many of them were tears for Eldon, really.  “The whole creation groans” daddy reminded us, and we felt it then. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  And I marvel at how the loss of a tiny reptile reminds us that we stand on the edge of eternity, powerless.

Pastor-daddy can’t help but make use of these teachable moments, when the children’s hearts are tender. “Someday you’ll be putting mommy and daddy in the ground, and then … you’ll have each other.. and the hope of Jesus.” And we cry by the reptile grave, clinging hard to each other, and to those promises.

I want to skip this part Jesus; I want you to just come back and make all things new now, just like Marcus said (in muffled words from deep under the covers.)  I am bad at this waiting, this travelling in the valley with the shadows and trusting that the promised land is where you say it is.  And now the dog is snoring; it’s because she’s getting old.  I want to not like her any more, not see her, just close my heart because I know what’s coming. But I also want to go buy another lizard.

The next day Eldon kept holding my hand, pulling me aside with a “Can I talk to you?” and whispering to me about how sad his heart was. “Can we just pray?” he asked. “Will I see Mr. Crawley again?” “Are you sure he was dead? What if he’s under there in the box trying to get out?” Oh baby, didn’t you see his still form and the unnatural way that the life had gone out of him?  

Cry with him, self, and keep breathing. Just love him, and give him Jesus. Where else can we go?

It was not meant to be this way. And we will be limping foreigners here until God makes all things new. But what to do in the meantime? Try to protect a heart , close it off and just survive as long as you can? Or do you keep it open, raw, noticing and loving life in all its forms despite the sucker puch that just came and the other ones that will come?

Oh God restore Eldon’s joy again.
And keep our hearts tender.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

about that village...

"It takes a village," they say.
“I have seen the village and I don’t want it raising my children!” so say some homeschool moms.
Perhaps this is why some people seem to bristle at our choice to homeschool.

We visited our old Indiana village last weekend, oh, how I miss the village. White Creek is a great village. I am so grateful to have been a part of it. Now we breeze in and out and we share memories but we are not so much a “part.” Or we are, but a different part; a moving in and out kind of part.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

I think also of our Michigan village, and the friends we all had in that place. It was nice to be known. It was lovely to have those friends for each child, a people to call on for rides and for help with this thing and that thing.

I miss the village.
But God has removed us from villages past, and we have prayerfully chosen a new strategy.

There are many great ways to raise children. Lutheran schools are one. Homeschool is another. How blessed are we that our children will receive an experience of both.

Being around our former village did, for a moment, make the weight of that which we have chosen fall so heavily on my heart; here I am trying to do and carry that which was carried by ALL of these great people, their teachers, in years past. Who do I think I am doing this thing?  

This longing though, is it not also a longing for community? A real need for belonging, and living out the truth that we are NOT an island nor do we want to be even in homeschool? If there is more than one way to raise children well, isn’t it also true that there is more than one way to be part of a community? Our part will look different but we want to be part. But entering into community takes time, and not much has passed here. It is hard to wait for God to meet these needs.

I hope the people in our past villages know we are thankful for them; for each one who has had their fingers in the lives of our children. For us, homeschool is NOT a choice made as a rejection of community, village, church.

Homeschool, for us, is not a choice against things so much as FOR..

We're FOR reading aloud as a family, and tending a garden together, and letting that millipede inspire the next science lesson. We're for a lifestyle that lets us breathe for a season, for flexibility and travel, for leisurely morning devotions. And we're for the village here in Kentucky; we just haven't found our place in it, yet.

           We're still getting oriented in our new lifestyle- the learning curve with homeschool is huge. I read and research, I celebrate the small victories, and sometimes I take a tearful nap in the middle of the afternoon. (Hey, if they can, why can't I?)  But today we rode bikes to the park because the morning was too beautiful, and I determined to read until they wanted to stop. They didn't want to stop, even 1.5 hours later, and I love that my kids appreciate good books on a lovely spring day. We finally got distracted by a blue jay and the call of their stomachs, and we learned that math is much harder in late afternoon. 
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God help me be thankful for the gifts that have come and gone, teach me to let them go with with gratitude as the seasons pass and to stay whole-heartedly open to the gifts that come now in this season and in this place. Continue to provide for us as you always have: friends for the children, and mentors, people we can know and love, and a place in this new village. Amen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Homeschool for baboons

Home School for Baboons

You shirt is not a napkin
Your sleeve is not a kleenex
The dog is not a football
What will you do to me next?

The leash is not a lasso
Your brother is not a shield
That pancake is not a frisbee
I’ll send you to the field!

That lamp is not a swingset
The car is not a surfboard
Your bed is not a trampoline
The flute is not a sword

The trash is not your food
Bananas are not guns
The trampoline is breaking
We need another one!

I don’t care if he farted
Don’t hit him with a spoon
Mama’s getting tired of you
Acting like baboons!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

These days (Kentucky version)

These are the days (first Kentucky version.)

These are the days when spring seems to have come suddenly- moving from Michigan to Kentucky, we’ve moved away from those last long weeks of cold into the land of blooms and green (blue)grass.  We live in a neighborhood now, where magnolia trees drop their petals on the sidewalks; where parking is tight but people are friendly.

These are the days of visitors: family, friends from Indiana, and friends from Michigan have been in and out almost every week since we have been here.  These are the days when Indiana memories flood with the Michigan ones, when we feel a renewed ache for TWO places we have loved and left behind.

These are the days of feeling unable to keep up with so many long-distance friendships, of email guilt and letter guilt and phone call guilt. And yet these are the days of gratitude, when prayers for friends cover large geographical areas, and even the kids have learned to pray for “our Michigan church family and our Indiana church family and the church in all the world.”

These are the days of asking for God to help us keep our hearts open in THIS place; of battling loneliness and resentment of people with “roots,” of at least one child who has determined not to risk it again, saying “I don’t need friends anyway.”

These are no longer the days of just being “mom and the kids.” We are now “teacher and her students,” and the change is a huge one.  My checklist-making side AND my nurturing side get a constant workout.

I love it, and it makes me want to cry.

The first week I handed out “tentative” schedules, and after day one I realized I wasn’t ready to plan a whole week in advance. Tentative daily schedules followed, and even those were overruled often.  

When trampoline springs began ripping off and shooting in the air and into neighbor’s yards, we had to declare it off-limits, and the pain of that loss is acute.  But these are the days of going to the rec center, of learning to swim, dive, play racquetball, pool, and ping pong.

This house feels very small on rainy days, particularly when some are practicing piano or instruments.  Some children wear earphones just to block out the others so they can concentrate. I assure them this is a life skill that will come in handy as they grow, particularly if they end up both having children and wanting to use their brains as adults.

These are the days of silly grammar songs, nature notebooks, and a Swiss Family Robinson book club.  These are the days of dog training and walks to the library, hikes in new places, and snake identification. These are the days of writing in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, capturing and learning about worms and salamanders, and practicing multiplication facts.

These are the days of new discoveries: the joys of audiobooks, the fishing hole at the park, the inter-library loan system, the power of an evening outing as incentive for us to finish our schoolwork. These are the days of observing just how horribly the can fight, AND how wonderfully they can love each other.

These are more days of “where’s dad? He has to be gone again?” We cheer him on from home while he studies full time and works full time and then some.  He begins his studies at 4am and camps out in the library for long hours. Working at Home Depot as a small-engine tech, he comes home home sore and dirty and tired from accomplishing so much.  Despite all that, these are still the days of early morning family devotions, when daddy steps away from his list to sit with us, to anchor us in the Most Important Things.

Those are the Words that keep us.

Show me your ways, Lord,
   teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are God my Savior,
   and my hope is in you all day long.

Psalm 25

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