Month: March 2014

The Thrill of Routine

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thrill of routine buttonIf you know me at all, you know that I LOVE routine.  I get all giddy about making weekly schedules and to-do lists.  I thrive in knowing what’s on the agenda.  Ironically though, I also LOVE change.  I get a teensy bit bored of my routine after a while.  This probably stems from moving 13 times by the age of 18.  Or maybe it’s genetic.  I can’t tell you how many times during my childhood my mom inspired me at 8 o’clock at night to rearrange the furniture.  Mix things up a bit!  Regardless of the psychology behind it, I know this about myself: I’m at my best when I have a solid weekly routine and when I’m free to shake it up now and then.  Although, the best part about changing things is that I then get to sit down and hammer out a new routine!  Oooo!  Goosebumps.

You may not love predictability as much as I do, but I would suggest that it can be your best friend in establishing your biggest life priorities.

Here’s an interesting challenge.  If I asked you to write out your weekly schedule- what you do from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, seven days a week- what would it tell me about your priorities?  If I didn’t know you at all, and all I could see was a detailed schedule of your week, would it reveal what you’re hoping?  Could I presume your most important values based on how you’re spending your time?

Because sometimes I think we’re all talk.  We say we value our family, or our relationship with God, or our friends, or our health, or whatever.  But how much time do we spend investing in these things?  We get all caught up in what we assume are life’s most necessary activities, but we never stop to ask what daily, weekly, monthly activities will actually contribute to creating the life we’ve been called to live.  Maybe we’ve actually gotten as far as knowing what we need to do to prioritize- we know we need to have date nights with our spouse, or workout regularly, or have quiet time to pray and read our Bibles…but when?  When is it going to happen?  Because if our priorities don’t make it onto our schedules, then they’re not really our priorities.  They’re just good ideas.

If you haven’t already guessed, I went through this exercise recently.  I wrote out my top priorities.  I narrowed them down to eight.  Yes eight.  I think there should probably be less, but this is as whittled down as I could get it right now, so I’m running with it.  These are my 8 priorities, in order:

Jesus

Dwayne (husband)

Josiah & Abby (kiddos)

Friends/Extended family

Homeschooling

My church

My business

My health

So after I nailed these down, I re-worked my weekly schedule.  (Yay!)  I made sure these 8 priorities were getting my real attention.  Not that they just looked right on paper, but that I spent actual time investing in each of these things every week.  That I carved out blocks of time on my weekly schedule for these essential pieces, before I put in anything else.  So that every night when I go to bed, I’ll know that I invested my life in the things that matter most to me.  If other things fell by the wayside, but I maintained my commitment to these things, then I’ll rest easy.

I know that in the morning, when I wake up, I have a plan.  That might not sound super exciting.  But it’s a plan to spend this life- the only life I’ve got- pouring myself into the things God has called me to.  And that’s even more thrilling than a freshly printed schedule.

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5 Tips From a New Homeschooling Mom

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training wheelsIt seems strange to share tips when you’re a rookie.  It would make more sense for someone to seek advice from a traveler who’s walked the road a while.  Had more experience.  Gained long-term perspective.  And yet, I think there’s value in hearing from those who are still pretty fresh to a new venture.  Someone who, only 8 months ago had no idea where to start or what to think.  Someone who could help narrow down the priorities in what seems like a very daunting task.

I’m less than one school year into the adventures of homeschooling, but I have learned some lessons that I think would be helpful to those just getting started or those who are also still finding their way.  These are my top 5 tips for new homeschooling parents:

1. Set your face to the long haul.

If you’ve decided to home school, give it a decent shot.  It’s not always going to be easy, you will face doubts from yourself and others, and it takes time to really settle in to home education.  If you tell yourself that you’re going to give it a few months and see how it goes, your mind will already be preparing to bail.  The first sign of difficulty will affirm what your brain was already expecting.  Particularly if you are pulling your kids from traditional school, this will be a big adjustment for everyone.  Give it time.  Find the things that work and ditch the things that don’t, but don’t throw in the towel until you’ve given it a chance to blossom into a beautiful new way of life.

2. Start with a few key routines and build on those.

There is a lot to tackle in educating our kids.  So many subjects to cover, so many activities to sign up for, so many field trips and outings, so many dreams and possibilities.  Don’t try everything at once.  Choose a few essential subjects and activities, schedule them into your week, and run with that for a while.  Then, as you figure out your family’s rhythms and preferences, you can add a piece at time.  The subjects we started with, that were easiest for me to schedule, were Bible reading, math, language arts, and geography.  We added history, then science, then French, then piano.  Eventually we incorporated silent reading, memory work, typing and read alouds.  If I’d tried to tackle all of that in the first week of September, we would most likely not be still doing this today.

3. Dive into the world of homeschooling resources.

top homeschooling sitesFind blogs that resonate with you and read more about their philosophy.  Search for ideas and activities that fit well with what you’re doing.  There is no need to re-invent the wheel.  There are AMAZING resources out there, and tons of places to be inspired.  Spend a bit of time each week exposing yourself to articles, tips, and ideas so you can refine what you’re doing and add in the necessary pieces.  BUT…and this is a HUGE BUT:

4. Don’t paralyze yourself with overexposure.

It is great to look around at what others are doing and be inspired and even walk away with a new idea or two for your own family, but you need to remember that you can’t do everything!  There are hundreds of methods, styles, curriculums, and activities.  I would have great intentions to go online and look for something specific, like a great book to read aloud to the kids, and end up spending 4 hours, up waaaay too late, experiencing what I call Pinterest Paralysis.  Where all the ideas, suggestions, and possibilities leave me feeling like I’m not doing enough, am failing miserably, and couldn’t possibly find time to learn all I need to know to home school my kids well.  So instead of walking away with a list of 2 or 3 great books to sign out from the library, I’d fall into bed overtired and defeated.  So, by all means, look around.  But limit yourself to maybe once or twice a week, and shut it down when you start to think you can’t do this.  Because you absolutely can.  No single family can follow all the methods out there, so give yourself time, and the most suitable one will rise to the surface and before you know it, you’ll find you’ve all hit your stride.

5. Determine your education goals

Maybe not right at the beginning, but when you find yourself a little way into homeschooling, process or re-process what you really want your kids to learn.  Not just “in school,” but in life.  What do you really want to pass on and teach to your kids in the two decades you have them in your home?  We took some time to do this, and it was really revealing. (Click here to read our 5 goals.)  I was reminded that the subjects I spent the most time stressing over were really only a small part of the picture.  And when I keep the big picture in mind, I worry less about math, science, or the perfect writing curriculum.  I focus more on what kind of people my children are becoming and the joy of witnessing and influencing that process every day.

Our 5 Educational Goals

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A year ago, if you had asked me what my educational goals were for my kids, I would have probably said something really deep like, “Have them graduate from high school.”  Or maybe, “I hope they learn stuff.”  You know, very well thought out priorities like that.  I didn’t honestly think much about our educational goals for our children, because I was never expected to.  That’s why we send our kids to school, right?  Educators have entire conferences and planning sessions on school goals, so I figured I’d just leave that with them.  Actually, I never consciously made that decision.  I just went with the flow of our culture.  I sent my kids to school because that’s what we do.  We send our kids to school so they can graduate and either go on to get more schooling or get a job.  Hopefully they find something they like to do, and then they can have kids and send them to school so they can get jobs too.  That’s what makes the world go ’round.

plant peopleBut then I started to question this cycle.  What did I really want for my kids?  Is my top priority that they graduate from high school and get a job?  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, but is that the main thing?  Because traditional school takes a lot of time.  And if I have other goals or priorities for my children, do I have enough time to devote to those too?  Is there possibly a better way for us to approach raising our kids?  We decided there was.  For us, it started with distilling all our parenting priorities down to one.  What is our top priority in raising our kids?  What is our #1 desire?

That they would truly know who Jesus is and adore him.

That’s what we want most for our kids.  Everything else that we hope for in their lives, stems from that.  And so, based on that, we laid out 5 goals, in order of priority, that we keep before us in this journey.  If we devote our time to these 5 things in the years our kids are at home, we will consider ourselves faithful to the high call God has placed on our lives as their parents.

1. That they would have an intimate relationship with Jesus and a commitment to Christian community.

  • know and apply God’s Word, pray, serve, worship, give
  • model Jesus to the world through Christlike character

2. That they would have meaningful relationships with others.

  • be gracious, merciful, and compassionate
  • be loving, sacrificial, and thoughtful
  • enjoy, laugh, celebrate

3. That they would discover and develop their strengths and passions.

  • explore a variety of interests and pursue what they love
  • be a blessing by using their gifts to their full potential

4. That they would be competent in academic skills to both discover their interests and open doors of possibilities.

  • read, think, write, articulate
  • study history, science, english, math, geography, languages, and fine arts

5. That they would be competent in practical life skills to lay a strong foundation for success.

  • care for their physical selves
  • care for home and life (cooking, budgeting, cleaning, etc.)
  • set goals & establish good habits to reach them

We long to send out into the world, two young adults who love God, love people, and use their gifts, passions, and skills to impact the world for Jesus.  We have 7-10 years left in this phase of life, and I’m happy to use every day I’ve got to this end.

My Great Teacher

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John 11-25-26I was reading John 11 today where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  But before he does that amazing miracle, we read that he allowed Mary & Martha to endure the loss and grief that comes with losing a loved one, although he knew their suffering would be temporary.  But he allowed that grief so he could show his glory.

Jesus was not only a friend, but a great teacher to Mary and Martha.  He didn’t rush in and raise his friend Lazarus back to life.  He stopped for this essential exchange with Martha, who starts by expressing her dismay that Jesus was not there to save her brother.  And yet, she maintains her faith that Jesus could raise him back to life.  Jesus assures her that her brother will rise again, and Martha assents that of course, Lazarus will rise again on the last day.  Then Jesus shares this amazing truth with her about being the resurrection and the life, and asks her if she believes it.  “‘Yes Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'”  He then has an emotional moment with Mary, and finally goes on to call Lazarus from his tomb.  But in those first moments, with those women Jesus calls friends, he brings them to an essential place of remembering who he is and what he has promised.  He wanted them to understand clearly that he is the resurrection and the life.  That he is the Messiah, the Son of God.  That he alone brings eternal life.  He wanted them to really know because he was preparing them to spread the word.

In my own life, I can find myself hurt or suffering or at a loss, and since I know God is able, I sometimes wonder why he hasn’t yet stepped in.  But if I’m going through difficulty, one thing I can know for sure is that God is at work.  Jesus is also my great teacher.  I love this image of Jesus.  That he longs to pull me aside and be sure I understand who he is.  Because he knows me, has revealed himself to me, loves me dearly, and is preparing me to spread the word about him.  I am one of his beloved pupils.  I have been chosen by Jesus for private tutoring.  And not just me, but all of us who call ourselves his disciples.  We’ve all been given the privilege of being called to Jesus’ side for the real lesson before the lesson.  I don’t know about you, but my heart skips a beat at the thought of the God of the universe calling me out specifically to be a part of his work.  He has invested in me and is hoping that every time he’s about to show how he has been working in the circumstances of my life, that I will remember the lessons he has taught me before about who he is.  He entrusts me with the privilege of knowing him and understanding his teaching so I can see him at work in my life, apply his teaching, and share it with the world.  What an honor!  There is nothing I would rather do than bring glory to Jesus, my best friend, beautiful savior, and great teacher.

And so the syllabus for the course of  life requires that I wait on God to show himself and daily seek him in his Word.  That I create the time and space for those Jesus/Martha conversations where he reminds me of who he is.  That I let him teach me and give me understanding.  So that when the time comes for him to show me his solution for my circumstances, it will all make sense, and I will see what he was doing, and I will be empowered to proclaim his work to the world.

7 Reasons We’ll Continue to Homeschool (That Have Nothing To Do With Why We Started)

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Almost a year ago we started considering home schooling.  In case you don’t know me, this was way, way off my expected life path.  But I was really discouraged by the direction Josiah’s school experience was headed.  To be honest, Josiah’s academic needs were the primary catalyst for us choosing to home school.  Because he was on an IEP and I started to believe no teacher was ever going to have the time to get around to working on it with him.  Because he is a gifted boy with great potential (which, by the way, is what I’ve come to believe about every kid), and I felt that potential was being squandered in a class of 30 students.  Because he could have easily blended in and flown under the radar until grade 12 and come out with an average school experience.  Because by grade 4 it’s not cool to be smart and he was embarrassed by it.  Because he resented his own strengths.  And because the reality I saw unfolding for Josiah was what I believed would eventually happen with Abby.

But the thing is, I couldn’t fully define all the reasons we were choosing to home school, yet I knew in my heart that it was right for us, and I believed the rest of the reasons would reveal themselves in time.  And have they ever.  Seven months into this journey, here are 7 discoveries I’ve made.

hamster wheel1. We stepped off the hamster wheel.  The last few years of our family’s life have revolved around the demands of a traditional school schedule.  Daily, weekly, monthly, annually.  We rushed.  We squeezed in.  We ran around.  I was impatient.  I was tired.  I felt disconnected from my kids.  And it felt like it never ended.  Now our life has a new rhythm and an enjoyable pace.  By the time we start school at 9:15 or 9:30, I’ve already had 90 minutes of time alone to work out and do my devotions and get my head in the right space for the day.  We ease into our work, and we’re done school by 1 or 2 o’clock.  In that time we’ve had a recess and lunch break, and when we call it a day, my kids have truly free time.  No homework or chores, except the usual family responsibilities around dinner.  When I go to bed each night, I look forward to the next day.  That’s no small thing.

2. The kids are exposed to a variety of activities.  When the kids were in traditional school, our lives felt more hectic, so I vigilantly limited the extra-curricular activities they chose for my own sanity.  But now, because our mornings are our own, learning at a good pace, we are ready to head out into the world for fun and activity in the afternoons.  I’m happy to have my kids in these activities now and they don’t feel like the burden they once did.  This year my kids have taken part in dance, piano, choir, curling, basketball, DI, boys club, and are about to head into swimming, volleyball, and baseball.  They can enjoy so many more of these things because we can be more efficient with their school work time in the mornings.

3. I set the agenda.  We have a daily and weekly routine that is based on our priorities, but if we need to stray from it, we do.  God’s Word and prayer are important to us, so that’s how we start each day.  We have a plan, but if it’s freakishly gorgeous outside, we’re going to alter that plan and spend extra time outside.  If I get a sense one of my kids needs my undivided attention, I send the other one to play and follow my instinct to invest in that one in that moment.  I feel more free to follow the Spirit’s lead in our life.  So I guess this one is less about setting my own agenda, and more about following God’s agenda for our days.

4. More meaningful discussion.  Countless times in our week, my kids ask questions or topics come up that lend themselves to great conversations.  Because we spend unhurried time together each day, we can indulge in these chats.  There’s no rush to move to the next thing.  In fact, there is no more important thing.  One of my biggest values as a parent is to be available for my kids to discuss life and apply God’s truth.  I used to have to struggle to create those moments, but now they come naturally, on a regular basis.

5. I’m their biggest influence, and Jesus is mine.  I confess, the one thing I used to criticize about home schooling was that it pulled kids out of the real world and away frommother daughter  people who needed Christ.  I still believe we have a great responsibility to engage the world and be intentional about being in relationship with people who don’t know Jesus.  But this point is different for me.  It’s best explained through Abby.  Already, in grade 1, I could see that Abby was affected by girl drama.  I could see the beginnings of pecking order and cooler kids and how she was starting to behave to maintain her social position.  She was learning a lot of social and relational lessons at school, but not necessarily the ones I felt would serve her best in life.  The relational lessons I want Abby to learn as a 7 year old are best taught in much smaller groups than 22, and the best person to teach and model those lessons to her is her mother.  I’m not perfect, by any stretch.  But, I am the best person to teach and model life lessons to my children.  That’s how God designed it.  So, with all my heart, I seek Jesus, and then I pray they will see him in me every day.

6. We live real life together.  Because we’re not running around on the aforementioned hamster wheel, my kids take part in real life with me.  They’re more involved in house cleaning and cooking.  They know when one of my friends is having a hard time and we need to break so I can listen.  We recently had my niece and nephew stay with us for over a week while my sister-in-law was in the hospital, and my kids saw first hand what it looks like to interrupt your life to really love your family.  It feels a lot more like we’re living life together as opposed to living our own lives in the same house.

7. We’ve changed.  It took a good friend to point out this benefit, which I was slow to recognize.  My kids and I all behave differently.  We’re more calm.  Content, she called it.  I’ve noticed Josiah is more involved in grown up conversations.  He contributes.  He’s not so hard on himself when he makes a mistake.  I’ve noticed Abby is less high strung.  Less competitive.  More compassionate.  Throws fewer tantrums. And I’ve noticed that I’m more the mom I want to be.  Sometimes I think that reason alone would be enough to continue.

The One Who Gave It All

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I’ll be honest- things are tight for us right now.  I’m sure you can relate.  Our decisions over the last couple of years, which we felt were choices of obedience, have brought us to a difficult place financially.  So now, in the wake of “giving up” a bunch of things we didn’t really want to give up, we find ourselves in the face of possibly giving up more.  And I have moments of wrestling with that.  Moments of wishing that obedience to Jesus wasn’t actually hard.  Moments of wanting to cling tightly to what I have.

But what is it, really, that we have been asked, or may be asked to give up?  Jobs.  A home.  Possessions.  Reputation.  Free time.  Or the hardest one for me- proximity to family and friends.  I like those things.

philippians 2But then I read this.  “Have the same mindset at Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8.

Jesus left heaven for me.  He was separated from his Father.  The King of creation became a servant to those he created.  The sinless one took all of humanity’s sin on himself.  The One worthy of all praise and honor was beaten, cursed, and accused.  Jesus died on a cross to buy me back from the devil, whom I had willingly sold myself to.  Because I was worth it to him.  There was nothing more Jesus could have given for me.  I admit, the sacrifices I’ve been asked to make feel so small in light of the One who walked away from everything.

“So I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned, in awe of the one who gave it all.  I’ll stand, my soul Lord, to you surrendered.  All I am is yours.”

I am, indeed, in awe.  When I consider how hard it is to give up these earthly things I cling to, I cannot fathom how Jesus gave all that he did.  So, daily, I’m surrendering my desires, my plans, my things, my soul.  What Lord, can I offer you in the light of all you’ve offered me?  I’ll give you all that I am, as small as it is, and pray you will turn this life into a spotlight on your glory.