Stories

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Yesterday I read two-hundred plus pages of a book to my littles. Two of  my children practically begged me to continue at the end of each chapter. We have read the entire six-book series and this was the final book-the final 200 pages. While the author’s use of the word “said” caused me to print a list of words to use in its place and post it on my fridge, my children loved the books. They laugh hysterically at the silly parts, they talk about their favorite characters and incorporate them into their creative play, and they have asked more questions about this series than any other we have read so far. The books have caused them to really think about words and ideas and concepts.

 

As a homeschooling momma I worry a little when I deviate so far from my plan for the day. My schedule allowed for us to read for an hour and do math and science afterward. Then, there I was, four hours later, trying to figure out how the book was over. I am an unschooler, so I do allow for days lost down rabbit-holes, and hours absorbed in an activity that my kids have got lost in, but for some reason the days that I spend reading are the ones that make me most nervous about the plan. But, the thing is? I love these days! When my kids are so into a story that they do not want me to put it down? I am ecstatic! When every night at bedtime they jabber on about what we just read or whine that “that’s not a good stopping place!”? I know that I am growing readers and that makes me so happy.

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I remember loving to read when I was small, and then somewhere in high school losing that love. I have had periods in my adult life where I have read every book I can get my hands on, but it hasn’t been until the last few years that I have found the love for reading that I had when I was a child. Now if I find a book I love, I am that girl who will stay up late into the night until I can barely see the pages. I will steal every fifteen minutes of quiet I get to read a few pages of a great story. That word right there, “story”, that’s what I’m after. A book I can get lost in, a story that is more than just imagination, but is imagined so well it becomes real to me. I have read a lot of self-help books, and have struggled to reach the end of their 150 pages, I enjoy biographies and learning about the life someone led, but what I continue to come back to are the stories.

Works of fiction grab hold of my imagination and I become part of the story. I read Anna Karenina a few years ago, all 860 pages of it. Tolstoy’s story was told so well that even when I was struggling through the lulls in the story I could not imagine putting the book aside without knowing what happens to Anna and Vronsky and Levin and Kitty…their lives were wrapped up in my own and I felt I must see if their stories ended happily or not. I’ve read the first two books in The Name of the Wind series and began following the author, Patrick Rothfus, on Faceboook simply so I can know as soon as the final installment of the series is finished. These books were epic stories, I tell you I could feel the wind howling around me as I read under my covers at midnight. Very recently I read the Divergent trilogy-a little late to the party, I know. When I tell you that I sobbed through the second half of the final book, Allegiant, I am not exaggerating at all. I honestly felt that I was losing someone I loved. I could go on and on and on, I simply love a good story!

Yes, I am drawn to fantasy and perhaps dystopian fantasy most of all, but I will read any story that is written well enough to make me feel like I am walking alongside the characters of the book. Which, I suppose is why I will read aloud a children’s book series with roughly over 2400 pages (Land of Stories) or, for that matter, a children’s series with over 4200 pages (Harry Potter) twice. It’s because the books have such well written characters who transport me out my own life into these amazing worlds that I could not even dream up on my own. I get to the end of a great book and feel as though I can’t immediately start a new book because my mind is still wrapped up in the last world I visited. I am almost afraid to leave those characters behind, it is as though I am leaving friends or, in some cases, family if I move onto a new book.

Perhaps I am a bit crazy…but I want that type of relationship with books for my kids. I want them to cry when Dumbledore dies, I want them to feel Lucy’s frustration when her siblings don’t believe that Aslan is guiding them, I want them to be afraid of Smaug just as Thorin’s group of dwarves were! I want them to love beautifully written works of fantasy so that they don’t get too sure of their reality. I always want them to know that these stories are just as real as they would like them to be and that they can go to all of the places of their imagination simply by opening the pages of a book!

As I was reading picture books to my tiny this morning and thinking about the amount of reading that I do, I realized that I probably relearned my love of reading by reading picture books to my little ones. I definitely started reading more during my first pregnancy ten years ago and I’d say that the picture book phase of my kids lives was when I decided I’d pick up some books for myself again. I still read a ton of those stories to my youngest child, but I feel I have honestly ruined my older littles to children’s stories. We first read Harry Potter when they were 7 and 4, before that we read The Chronicles of Narnia. We’ve read the first half of the A Wrinkle in Time series, and more fantastical stories than you’d care to hear about, I say all of this to say that my kids have a heck of a hard time finding reading books that are interesting to them, but are not too intimidating (in length) for them to read to themselves. They will still sit through a few picture books from time to time, but that’s not what they want to read. They want the depth of characters and to become familiar with them. They want something deeper.

I suppose I’m not that worried about spending a day reading to my little people. I feel like the time together, the corners of their imagination that are stimulated, the parts of their minds that are challenged, are worth just as much as a day spent playing math games or figuring out why leaves change color in the Autumn. Possibly much more, as they are becoming creative thinkers, they are learning to analyze and ask deeper questions, they have intense attention spans to things they love. My kids learn about so many of societies ills and are able to process them in the safety of their family, they learn that bullies can be overcome, that while villains are real, good can defeat them. They have also learned the complexity of those evils, that people can be both good and bad. I’m grateful to have the time to read with my kids, to explore all of these realms of imagination together. I will probably read aloud with them long after the point of them needing me to, I simply love to watch them love a story by playing my small part as narrator.

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I hope that you can find a book that jump starts or restarts the love of reading in your own soul, or that of your child. When we take back the time for the quiet pursuit of reading, it is untold how much we can gain. Stories have the power to change us, grow us, and help us learn in such a unique way, I’m so grateful for all of you who take a few minutes to read the short ramblings I put down here. I’ll show my true nerdiness now and leave you with this quote from Dumbledore; “Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”.

 

What I Wish I’d Known

What did you wish you’d known before you started? This question can be asked of so many stages of life. Before I got married I wish someone had told me that I already had the power to be happy. Before I had kids I wish someone had told me to take more naps. Before I became a stay at home mom I wish someone had told me how important friendship would be to my sanity. Before I started homeschooling…that’s what I’ve been thinking about these past few days as I have been so sick I could barely keep my eyes open.

Before we started homeschooling I actually said these words to my husband; “What am I going to do all day?” In some crazy universe I thought that it would be all too easy to homeschool and mother littles and run bigs here and there, so easy that I would be bored. Clearly I was insane. It has not yet for one day been boring in the sense that I had nothing to do. Sure there have been days where I search for the thing to do that I want to do or the thing to do that is fun, so I have been bored, but never because my to do list was completely crossed off.

Before we started homeschooling I thought I would do school at home not unschool. I found desks and created a school room and researched curriculum choices. What a fool I was. We are not boxed-curriculum people. We do our best learning outdoors, we remember more by painting, We practice multiplication tables as we drive to our next adventure. I was foolish to think that we would sit in our desks and do spelling lists, that was never ever for a teensy second the type of person I am, and it’s definitely not who my kids are.

Before we started homeschooling I thought we would do school in the morning and be done by noon and have our afternoons free for adventuring. We are so not morning people! Oh how we are not. My kids may get up before six, but they don’t want to start school right after breakfast. When we do jump right into school there is so much push back that I will almost always yell. Sure, there are days when we have to do school in the morning and we struggle through them, but our best learning happens late morning to early afternoon. Forcing my people to work efficiently before they have time to play and run and move their bodies is a mistake.

Before we started homeschooling I thought my kids would be best friends and play together peacefully all day long. Okay, so I dreamed that would happen. I knew they would still bicker, but I had read that kids who are homeschooled are better friends with their siblings and I wanted that for my kids. My kids fight. They argue, they glare, they scream, they stomp off, and shout things like “I’m not playing with you ever, ever again!”. Do they like each other? Yes. Do they miss each other when one is away? Of course. Do they want to be together every waking minute of every day? No, of course not. They are human and they annoy each other, and they have their own personal boundaries-who knew? Certainly not me.

So all of these things are things that I wish I had known before I started homeschooling. I also wish I had known that I didn’t have to be the perfect teacher. As an example I’ll tell you about my yesterday. I have been sick for three days. We have pushed through and done school all of those days and I have continued on in my mothering as close to normal as I could, but yesterday I was done. I couldn’t even. I was so tired it hurt to keep my eyes open. It was painful to stand. My tiny had been sick too and she doesn’t sleep when she’s sick so I was beyond exhausted. (I am also overly dramatic when I don’t feel well.) Ideally I would have called it a sick day and let my kids play all day, but of course I had too much guilt to do that, they weren’t sick after all, they should have school. I started by asking my kids to take care of their structured reading time, they read for a long, long time by choice. Then they grabbed their printing/cursive work and finished that -on their own- I was a zombie struggling for consciousness on the sofa at the time. They did math as well, granted they didn’t learn a new concept, but they practiced stuff they have learned and then played in puzzle books as I dozed.

While that was it for our school day they also made their own nachos for lunch, took care of snacks, played quietly in their rooms, helped the tiny to the potty, listened to a ton of audio book, and had a few hours of outside time while I sat in a chair on the deck. Yesterday they learned to care for and about each other because their momma was sick and really couldn’t care for them well. They worked on how to be good humans by showing compassion and undeserved kindness. They also picked up my slack without even being asked to do so. All of this shows me that they are learning about life between our daily lessons. These kids will be able to go into the workforce one day hopefully knowing that everyday isn’t “fair” but we can all work together to get things done.

That is what I wish I had known before I started homeschooling, more than knowing I didn’t need the perfect math curriculum or that if my eight year old spelled horrifically life would still go on. That there is grace in our days. That even on not-school days learning is present. That some of our best lessons are being taught not by a book, but by our daily interactions. I wish I had known that while spelling and history and even long division are valuable skills that kids should learn, one of the best parts of our homeschooling choice is the opportunity to have real life problems handled together. This safe place to learn and mess up and try again is what I didn’t know I wanted, more than all of the other things that would’ve been great to have a heads-up on. Allowing life to be our school house and our time together to be our learning environment has started to grow some really great little people.

So, what do I wish I would have known? Nothing! Because if I would have known ahead of time the type of learners my kids were or that they weren’t morning schoolers, or that you can’t plan an effective school day around a two year old’s schedule, we wouldn’t have learned all of the things we have learned together. The lessons in patience, kindness, love, grace, understanding, so many more, have been invaluable for me as well as for my children. Yes, I am glad they are learning to spell and to subtract. They could’ve learned that anywhere though, unschooling has helped us grow a safe place to be who we truly are, here we are learning how to do life well.

That is the best part too. Because we learn together, fail together, grow together my kids get to see that in community is the best way to live life. They know that there is this whole support system around them that they can not only learn from but where they are valuable members who can help and teach and serve. I know that over the years of homeschooling I will have as many lessons taught to me as my kids do. I am grateful for that, because I know that I still have a lot to learn. Community is the one thing I would have gladly taken ahead of time. I learn so much from our group of friends and I would have been thrilled to know them before I started this journey. It would have been good to have some people to tell me to chill out. I am so thankful for all of my people, and more so because my kids have them from the start.

If there was one thing you could have had or known “before” what would it have been? I think it’s good to reflect on this sometimes, like when your nine-year-old is making lunch for her siblings because you can’t physically drag yourself off of the sofa! It’s also good to know that I don’t have to run down the path or rush to figure things out too quickly, the journey itself is the destination. The things I will one day “wish I had known” will be perfect lessons brought about in their own time. There is peace in knowing that, and that is something I am thankful to know now.

Escape

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Yep, that’s at the soccer field. But it’s the perfect image of where my heart is calling me.

I’ve been writing this post about driving and how I am able to work out my problems best when I am driving across backroads with the radio loud and the windows down.

This isn’t that post.

But it’s closely related to it. Today I had to escape my house. Isn’t that terrible? I honestly felt that if I couldn’t get away for a couple of hours to think in empty space I would quite possibly spend the week screaming at my children and having pointless arguments. I tried to garden, I tried to work on some volunteering projects, I tried to sit with my people in the sunshine. Still I was cranky, irritable, frustrated with the simple fact that they are little and they need me. I was not being a good mom or a good wife. I was not being a good person. I told my sweet husband, who always tries to understand my emotional insanity, that I needed to leave. Though I doubt he was very happy about it, he told me to go. He is endlessly supportive and I am extremely grateful for his care of me. It was something that I didn’t even know I didn’t have until I knew him. Thank God for this man who can hold it all together when I need to run.

So I left. I started the van (mini-vans are not good for your soul when you need open road and peace by the way, but we make do.). As I sit here typing away with my free coffee in the sunshine I can’t help but feel the guilt. Like I am not entitled to this break in my life. I should be able to hold it all together, right? As I think on it, I have to consciously shut down the thoughts of how all of the other moms I know can handle the constant mothering requirements. I know that they can’t really, that everyone has their own limit and we all escape in the way that is most needed to us personally. It takes effort though, to not feel like a failure when I have to get away.

So I typed for an hour or two and I drove, windows down and the heat on (this is Oct. in Minnesota after all), and I felt much more peace. I wondered just what it was that caused me to need to get away and I realized that it has a lot more to do with me than with my people or really anything that they need from me. It is the sameness, the monotony, the lack of personal-mental space. There isn’t time in my every-day for Sunday’s with the Eagles. There isn’t space in my week for getting lost on the way home from picking up Mady. There aren’t hours where I can be self-absorbed. I steal moments, sure, but the days are long.

If you know me, you know that I went against my basic nature and started getting up at 4:30 in the morning this summer. I was/am trying to steal that time back that was lost to me when I began my mothering journey. I needed to regain a piece of myself and I could not figure out how else to do it. It is hard. It is worth it. So, if I’m getting a few hours each week, why the need for escape today you might be asking? Well, the last few days have been lacking that time. First, my kids have been getting up crazy early, as an example the youngest followed me upstairs at 4:33 AM today. I had grown so used to that hour or two each day that the sudden loss of it caused me to be extremely angry. Secondly, my husband has a lot of “extra stuff” going on at work. He’s been working twelve or more hours each day and he comes home tired, mentally spent. I don’t get a break when he comes home, I feel guilty asking him to help with bedtime routines and, though I know he would (and often does) help, I try to leave those few moments at the end of his day to be his.

Another piece of my desire to run is the fading daylight. There is so much less daylight to soak up! While I am still using up all of the sunshine, I can’t fit as much in. Something has to give and it has been the time I was giving to myself. Add to these the return of the Autumnal activity load, the craziness that is our normal, my volunteer commitments and it is easy-ish to see how I could feel completely and totally overwhelmed with my day. While it may not have been rational or realistic for me to think that I deserved a few hours out of the house, it was good for my mental health.

Running away isn’t really a great way of dealing with life’s difficulties, I know. It is how I process though. As I mentioned, I’ve devoted a lot of words to this idea, and I’ll share them soon. I can justify the need to get into a car and drive to myself and I suppose that is really all that matters. I don’t feel like I’m running “away”, after all I’ve always come back. A few hours journey and it’s as if the pressure has lifted with the clouds and I can chase the sunset back home.

I’m a better person when I listen to this urge to drive. Calmer, more patient, less angry, less dramatic even. I am truly fortunate to be able to run out on a Sunday afternoon without warning, I don’t take that for granted. We should all be so lucky as to be able to take care of ourselves this well because of the love of a good man. I hope that each of you who took the time to read my rambling heart today has this kind of love and support. If you don’t, please know it is okay to ask for it, people are often happy to help if you can just give them suggestions as to how.

And now? Now I will head back home as a better person, because I have taken the time to fill myself with just what I need. Loving my people stronger and fiercer than I could have this morning.

A (tiny, little) Piece of My Story

IMG_5190.jpgI wrote a lot of words this morning. Words that are important to me and words that sort of define me. They are scary words too, words that I am not sure I want to put out into the world yet. I know that I should, that simply by putting these thoughts down on the page I am taking back some of the power the experiences hold over me. I know too that my story may help someone else, that God has been asking me to be bold and tell this story for quite some time now. That I haven’t struggled simply because of my choices rather, through my struggle others may be saved. It has been a hard walk though, and many times I’ve run, and that is what scares me I think. Sharing those fragile parts that are still exhausted from running. The pieces of my story that still weigh heavily and the pages that are tear splattered. Those are the ones that I need to share…soon. I still have a little thinking to do on them, I know some parts of the journey were just for me and I want to keep those sacred, held in my heart and my mind where they remind me of who I am.

If there were one thing I would share today, it would be this; your story matters. My life story is important. We each get to do this life not just so that we can learn from our own mistakes and difficulties and successes, but so that we can share the lessons learned with others. Part of my life, okay a lot of my life, was really hard even when I didn’t know it was. I see how my sisters lived in the same family that I was given and how they are much different than I am. I wonder about that a lot. How have I come to this point based on all the world has given me? The hardships and struggles, the joy and the pain, why weren’t we all wired to handle it in the same way? It is because my story needs telling, it is unique. My journey may help someone else, if I can conjure the courage to share it. I have decided that I will, a little bit at a time at least. My truest hope is that when I do, the words meet you where you are and that they help get you where you need to go.

More to come…

 

Patience (with myself)

Fruit of the Spirit; this was a Sunday school theme that was not lost on me…         Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) reminds me, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”. I’d always read the verse that way and I’d always looked at this list as something to strive for, a way to live that was truly Godly. I also always saw it as a little bit out of my reach. I have to intentionally seek out my joy. Kindness is something that I practice repeatedly, not something that I am. Then that last part, gentleness and self-control; I was just relating a story about a momma-tantrum I had on Wednesday to a group of friends, I was not gentle and I was not in control of myself. Can we please just leave it all as a work in progress?

I really struggle with all of this, I suppose it should be easier, I call myself a Christian after all. I read God’s word, I meditate on it, I talk with Him daily; asking for guidance in these areas. Yet, there are so many questions here. Love: Obviously I love my people. I love them deeply and fiercely and with great conviction. Do I love the unlovable though? Those who are called least, do I love them in the place I find them? Peace: Where is the peace in this season of life? Do I create it for those I am entrusted with or just crave it desperately for myself? Finally there is forbearance: defined as “patient self-control, restraint and tolerance”, ouch. Here is my greatest internal battle. I often have to literally bite my tongue to stop the hurtful words from coming out. The number of text messages I have written, deleted, and rewritten to hide my lack of patient self-control is innumerable.

I think a lot of people struggle with patience and while it is not directly mentioned in the list of spiritual fruit, it is ever so sneakily included there. Without patience it is hard to love well, difficult to be kind to all, nearly impossible to be gentle and display self-control. So why is it so very difficult to be patient? Sure, you could argue that in the times we live in we are quite able to achieve instant gratification in most things and this has contributed to our lack of patience. Or that our needs are constantly met as children and so we grow up a bit more self-centered, each generation taking more of their young-adulthood to shed the selfishness than the one before it. I can completely understand those arguments. Here is a little about me though.

When I am impatient I feel this buzzing inside, it is a reminder to me I suppose, that I am once again losing my cool. I have a hard time hitting the break and will frequently stumble forward with angry words or badly timed plans regardless of this internal cue to take a breath and rethink my strategy. It’s a part of me that I continually work toward controlling. There it is again-control-that is my ultimate issue. More than any other thing I fight for control. My mother would tell stories of how I was always in charge of the games my sisters or friends and I would play. I remember doing my best in all things so that I could be the one who was the leader of the group. As an employee I always wanted to be my very best so that I could get a better job, receive praise, and feel as though I was in control of my situation. When I am at my most impatient it is because I am railing against my lack of control over others or of situations. Funny how I don’t fight instead for control of self, isn’t it?

As a mother there are so many things beyond my control. While I can write that sentence out I secretly scoff at it, saying; “Surely this is untrue! With the right measures in place I could be in control of my family life, I am just not working hard enough toward control.”. Those words right there are actually a little painful to read… Those words hint at failing, at recklessness, ultimately at my brokenness. I can’t look back and pinpoint where this urge to control all things comes from, though I could probably cover a few defining circumstances with a broad enough brush stroke. So as I pray, I continually ask God to take control of my life. He has had to do so harshly over the years when I am stubbornly insistent that my way is best, there have been big failures and hardships that I have caused by my unwillingness to release control.

It’s quite frustrating that I haven’t learned this lesson well enough to be past it yet.

To that end, I study it, face it, focus on how to deal with it…controlling my desire to control…could that be the ultimate lunge for power or the first step in releasing it? In my study I learn that one of the antonyms for forbearance is wildness. As a girl who loves words, wildness is one of my very favorites. It brings to mind deep-green forests, crashing waves, steep cliffs, innocence, as well as a deep-understanding of life. I cannot read or speak the word without a smile on my face or a skip in the beat of my heart. Perhaps that is where my struggle with forbearance begins. If a piece of my soul is rooted in wildness-the very opposite of patient self-control- it is really no wonder that it would be hard for me. Can the two ideas co-exist inside of one person? I think I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

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I do believe that God would not have put this wildness in my spirit if He didn’t want it to work for His good. There must be a way to live wild while still living in Christ. There must be a way to live patiently, without grasping for constant control of external things. The peace that I seek is likely inside of me already, probably tucked in next to the wildness in my soul. Giving up the fight for control of circumstances will quite possibly be one of my greatest acts of wildness and one of my greatest challenges in forbearance. So perhaps the two will live peacefully inside of my heart. If I can use them together I may just move past this learning cycle and onto the next.

I remind myself to be patient this morning. Patient with my wildness and my lack of forbearance. Patient with my control issues. I sat and prayed that God would once again take my desire for control of others away, gently reminding me that controlling myself, and my responses to others is more important than simply controlling others. I looked up the verse we stared out with using the Message Bible and found it offered me much of the peace I strive for. Here is what it says;

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.   Galatians 5:22-25

In this translation I can see how my own wildness can exist peaceably within these verses. I can still see the areas where I am growing when I read them here, but I feel like I am given more grace somehow. I’m also reminded of my belief in basic holiness, of the good in people that I should look for, and that I don’t need to force my control over any of it. If I can find a way to be at peace with and in these verses perhaps I can find a way to grow those fruits of the spirit in my actual spirit. Always growing, always working toward “directing my energies wisely”, constantly adjusting to become more Christ-like.

I read once in an essay titled “The Abstract Wild” how in Thoreau’s “Walking” he did not refer to wildness as the act of being wild but rather as the past-participle of to-will, self will. The author says this “The wild, then, is the self-willed, that which lives out of its own intrinsic nature rather than bowing to some extrinsic force.”. Can you see how forbearance fits in there? Knowing my self-will, my wildness, could help me to not reach for control, by listening more to my internal voice I could keep from seeing external control as valuable because controlling oneself is of primal importance. I find this idea supremely beautiful, and hope that I can find rest in it one day.

 

You’ve read about choosing a word for your year I imagine, the tradition has been circulating for awhile now. Pick a word that could most impact your life and then keep it as a guidepost for the years events. I’m not very good at long-term commitments to small things like words, but I am choosing forbearance today, and I’m going to work on keeping it in my heart and at the top of my mind for the next thirty days. I am optimistic that by focusing on patient self-control I will not be able to concentrate on impatient other-control. I am trusting that this is the beginning of the way out of the circle, the first steps in the walk to freedom from control. I refuse to step quietly though, I will not deny my innate wildness.

I’ll leave you with a bit more of Thoreau’s “Walking”, as he says all things better than I ever could.  “…and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. …. So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”

 

 

 

Rush

 

I have this theme running through my mind and my life. This feeling that speed is required, necessary, vital to my days. Whenever I try to slow down, not rush, not run; I am late. I don’t like to be late, but I can’t seem to find the balance. If I move at my personal pace I arrive nowhere when I need to be there. If I move at the pace of life, I rush my children and feel frantic and crazed. I am constantly tipped to one extreme or the other.

I’ve been slowing more often as of late and I have stopped apologizing for it. I have reminded myself that part of the problem is that I am simply not made for this world. I mean this on at least two different levels. First, I feel that I was not made for this modern-age, I am slower, I feel overwhelmed by all-of-the-things. I can not function well in the chaos, clutter, and speed of today. When I try to run at the pace required of the modern American mother I feel rundown, worn out, exhausted. I am choosing not to live there. I’m choosing to follow my own rhythm and when I do, I feel peace in my soul. There is no sense for me in choosing to live full tilt, not because I fear the pace and not because I can’t do it, but because it isn’t me. Why should I run on the sidewalk when my very being calls to me to wander the dirt paths?

Furthermore, I feel that I was not made for this earth as I, like C.S. Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity”, have desires that this earthly life simply can not meet, and I must keep pressing on to that next place where my desire will be made whole and I will find satisfaction in the Lord. My hope is in the Lord and I know that this world will never fully be my home. That in this life I will have to push past the needs of now for the needs of eternity. This is a feeling that has been growing more and more lately, I’ve quoted         1 John 2:15 to my teenagers multiple times over the years as a reminder to them that more of the world is not what they need. To beg them to think for themselves, to walk their own road, to trust that all of the niceties of this earth are worthless. Really though this verse means something else to me, though I’ve used it with the hope that they will be guilted into being good. (I don’t need a lecture on why that’s a bad idea, I know it doesn’t work, but sometimes a momma does what she can in the moment okay?!)

When I read this verse in the Message Bible I read, “Don’t love the worlds ways. Don’t love the worlds goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world-wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important-has nothing to do with your Father. It just isolates you from Him. The world and all of its wanting is on the way out-but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” I know this is true, what the world wants from me seems to beat me down. Even though it’s packaging is shiny and the opportunities offered sound good, the more I work at the speed the world asks me to the further I feel from the Lord. The isolation becomes greater when I fill my life up with all of the opportunities this world offers.

I choose not to do this. I choose slow, I choose deliberate, I choose consciousness!

I’m trying anyway. There are still days where my large family requires that I meet the scheduled demands, and it gets a little crazy. That is to be expected I suppose. When we have those days on our calendar with no white space left, I try not to feel frantic. I look for the moments in my other days where I can borrow the slow. I beg grace from friends who seem to understand that I love them even though I am perpetually running behind. I sit still in the quiet of the morning, reading, writing, reminding myself that if this life is a race I need to run? It’s still not a race where coming to the finish line first will cause me to be called the winner. I can pace myself. I can even stop and sit awhile when I feel caught up in the pack.

Making this choice for slow gives me peace. I’ll continue in it until it no longer does. This constant re-learning, this process of becoming, this good work of knowing oneself…it is hard and holy work. I am grateful that I can walk down this back road, picking daisies as I go, trusting that I’ll get where I’m going exactly when I need to be there.

 

 

What if…?

What if we all stopped thinking of ourselves for a minute?

What if we all thought about another person’s wants before our own needs?

What if we gave to others without complaint?

What if we were more selfless?

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What if we did all of that without hope of praise or favors returned or even kind words? That is where I’m at this morning. If you’ve read a few of my other posts you are possibly sensing a theme, I hope it’s obvious that I’m doing some soul-work over here. How I got to those questions this morning requires a bit of backstory; earlier this year I committed to getting out of bed at four AM (insane, I know!…I have early risers and a husband who runs a coffee shop), while the actual time I get out of be is much closer to 4:30 I still feel pretty good about this goal. I felt like I wasn’t giving God the time He wanted with me and so I begged Him to help me actually get up. He saw it as good and here I sit at six o’clock typing away. The point? Okay, so getting up well before my children gave me an hour or more of peace to start my day, no needs to meet, no questions to answer, no constant pouring out of myself without the opportunity to fill up.

In the quiet of the morning I was able to take the time that I needed for myself and as I continued this over the course of the summer I found that I was better able to meet my children’s needs and wants. I could change a diaper as soon as the toddler woke because I’d already had coffee. I could teach my kids how to make their own eggs and oatmeal because I was more patient after having time to learn from God’s word. We were able to develop a better rhythm, one that didn’t involve so many skips and missteps. I credit this directly back to making time in my day to just “be” with God.

Then there was the more. I started feeling God ask me to do things, you may have read about holding the baby at the library? That was one of the first times I said yes to an internal nudging. There have been a lot of small things too, water bottles and cash to homeless people without caring to judge how they got to where they are-the second part of that sentence was hard for me. The giving of flowers or gift cards or chocolates-without hope of a returned favor. Helping a friend even if my schedule was screaming at me to not add that more into it.  The reading of books when I have a stack of laundry to fold-still. These things may be normal to you, but for me they were the things I wanted to do but could never quite find the time to do them. Truth was, the time was always there, I just wasn’t using it correctly.

When I started waking before the sun,  I used the morning to sit in God’s presence. I was tempted early on to use the extra time to wash dishes, fold laundry, scrub kitchen floors…but on the days I did those things my kids woke earlier, my coffee got colder, and there was no more peace than when I woke with my children. And so I sat, still and silent, breathing in and out. I read extra pages in my bible, I thought about and wrote down more and more gifts in my thankfulness journal, I prayed specific prayers over my family and friends. Then I started writing again. Something I hadn’t done in a very long time because it felt selfish. I am not a great writer, and it takes me more time than most to communicate my thoughts well on the page, and so the time required to write 1500 words was more than my schedule allowed…until I let my days start earlier. The writing still feels selfish, and so I’ve prayed about it, asking God to guide my words and only allow me to write if what I write is good and pleasing to Him. I decided that I wouldn’t worry about how many comments there were or how many people liked what I wrote. I accepted that this was a personal endeavor, and that I would follow His lead and timing.

As time went on those little things that I said yes to happened more frequently, and they made me feel good. I hoped that what I was doing was helping others, but I was deliberate in not seeking to be known, so I often didn’t hear how what I had done had affected someone. When I did receive thanks, I hope that I have given the glory back to God, not being prideful or boastful in my own ability. And so those “what ifs?” started coming up more and more often. What if I wrote that email? What if I sent that card? What if I saw her need and was able to meet it?…What if it came at a personal cost to me? I saw that I needed to say yes even more often, even when I was certain my own plan would be messed up by the yes.

That’s where I am now and it’s become a little tricky. I’m working on knowing how to communicate to my kids that (insert thing they want to do here) may not work out because I’ve said yes to the thing God has asked of me. They are adapting pretty well, and I’d say they are seeing the good that comes from my yes, though missing an activity or working when they’d rather play is difficult. I hope I am building their servant hearts, that as we all grow they will say yes on their own. I worried that I’d feel led to do more than I could or that the things I was supposed to say yes to would be too hard for me. Though they have pulled me outside of my comfort zone and have stretched my beliefs a bit, all of my yeses have been things I could do. I mean; I am able to push a vacuum, write a thank you card, or create an outline, actually offering to do them was the hard part.

God still isn’t asking me to serve outside of my present station. I’ve often wondered when I will be able to be His hands and feet to the masses, I feel like this is a calling deep inside of me, that shining God’s light to the world is a gift that He will use. This has really bothered me over the years of mothering little ones, because I felt that I was only able to work in their lives and while it is good, hard, holy work…wasn’t there more? Back to the early mornings. I see that by saying yes to all of these small tasks, easy favors, and the giving of joy, I am shining His light into a dark world. While I still work within the confines of motherhood and I still believe my greatest calling is to be a wife and mother, I can affect the world at large.

I can do all of this, because God has used my yes. It is powerful and meaningful work to put others before yourself. Even if I am still only doing small things, I know it takes only a single wave (of kindness) to start a hurricane (of good). I know that I can’t always see what will happen because of my yes to God, it too is work that I may never see the result of, much like mothering. And similarly to mothering, my yes may appear to be just one more thing on my long list, but it is a good thing. So I will continue, for now, to listen in the quiet of the morning, waiting with God for what will come of this day. I will look for my opportunities, praying that I will know what they are when I see them.

 

 

 

Giving Sacrificially

This post has nothing to do with monarch butterflies, They are beautiful though and photos of sacrificial giving are not. Sorry if they tricked you into opening this. You can back out now if you don’t want to wade through my internal struggle spilled out on the screen. No judgement.

This whole “prosperity gospel” thing has really got me questioning lately. I know that I recently posted about it and I really had no intention of writing about it again. Yet here I sit with this concept stuck in my brain and I can’t seem to move past it. Just the other day I was chatting with a mom I didn’t know, let’s call her Jane, our kids were in an activity together and so we started talking. She attends a church that we’ve been screening over the summer and she was singing it’s praises a bit. I asked her why she loves this church and how she saw the church’s mission lived out in the day to day.

Her reply was good. She talked about the outreach she’s involved with and multiple other ministry projects she and her husband either lead or are a part of.  As she talked I thought about what she was saying and wondered if I was living my life with a similar passion for Christ. Honestly, since we left our church I’ve been floundering a bit. I know my mission field begins at home and I have embraced that fully, I do long to do more though and when I come across a person so willing to give of themselves I wonder if this is “all” I should be doing. Where could I squeeze time from my week that would not negatively affect my family?, where should I be volunteering?, am I filling enough of my children’s lives with God’s Word?, and on and on and on…

While her reply was good her appearance made me wonder and again question myself. She had a large diamond ring, North Face jacket, Nikes, she had manicured nails and a new haircut. Suffice it to say that she looked well off and I certainly wouldn’t assume she was struggling to make ends meet. While I know that I shouldn’t judge others, this woman’s appearance made it difficult for me to feel like she was an obedient servant of Christ. Please understand me, based on my brief interaction with her, she is doing all of the things right. I don’t know where this woman’s treasure lies and I am reserving my judgement of her. I am presenting this picture to you as an outsider myself. If I didn’t love the Lord, if I didn’t live as Jesus has quietly asked me to, if I didn’t trust that we each have to stand before Him for our own lives, then it would be easy to make the correlation that this woman “has” because she is living “right”.

What do people see when they see me? Today I had jeans on that actually fit, converse tennies that were actually not covered in garden dirt, and I actually brushed my hair before we left the house. Actually… I suppose that I looked well taken care of, like I’m not scrounging to buy groceries or struggling to pay the mortgage. Do people see the sacrifices my family makes to live a Godly life? Should I care if they do? Should I give up all of my stuff, wear the same dress every day and devote my time to prayer? Does it matter that all of my clothes are from second-hand shops? Does it matter that I purchase only the things that I absolutely have to in order to afford the things that I have to afford? Is it meaningful to anyone other than God that I wait for all things, assuming that the Lord will provide for my wants and needs if not always in the exact way that I expect Him to?

I think not, to all of that.

I think that standing next to Jane, I would look more like the poor widow from Mark’s gospel. Giving all I have while trusting in Him. Standing next to many other women I would look like one of the wealthy. Giving from a place of abundance isn’t always challenging or heart-changing. Perspective is tricky. When I look at myself I see my own sacrifices, I see where I scrimp and where I am extravagant. I suppose that since I have lived most of my life in this place just shy of earthly abundance, I can see myself on both ends of this spectrum. Perhaps my selfishness causes me to be jealous of those who have more than me and this selfishness allows me to judge them harshly. I mentioned Mark’s gospel;

‘Sitting across from the offering box, he (Jesus) was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”   Chapter 12: verses 41-44 from the Message Bible.

When I read those words, I am convinced that I am one of the wealthy, along with Jane. We are wealthy, she and I, perhaps she is more so than me, but that doesn’t matter. We live in abundance, giving what is comfortable, what is not challenging, what doesn’t take away too much of what we enjoy. Her level of income possibly allows her to give more than mine, but I still don’t go without (even occasionally) so that babies are fed or orphans are clothed. I feel the need here to mention that we do give to organizations and we do volunteer and give back, but it is from this justification that I see that I don’t give my all. Their is no sacrifice in my giving. I see the luxuries that I live with and while they seem “normal” to me I understand that they would be extravagances to others.

So how do I remedy this? How can I give from a place of abundance as though I were a poor widow giving all she had? Can I do that and still live in my house? Can I order out pizza twice a month and still give sacrificially? Can I spoil my children on birthday’s while still ensuring that the homeless are cared for? There are more questions without answer that I will keep in my head for now. I need accountability I think, when I live in this place of ease it is easy to forget that I am just passing through. I need reminders that take-out pizza, while time and sanity saving some days, is not necessary when people all over this earth aren’t eating at all today. I need the body of the church to speak to me that I can give more and I should give more and it doesn’t matter what she’s giving or how big her engagement ring is or how new her dress is. Basically I need to hear that it doesn’t matter what the people of this world do because what I do is what matters for my salvation. I also have to be okay with living (even more) differently than I already feel I do. If I am going to give from my abundance in a sacrificial way I am going to look (even more) different than I already do from the people around me. I am going to talk about things in a way that is (even more) different than what the world is gossiping about. I am going to teach, and lead, and help in ways that are unique to me and this mission I am on to show the world more of Jesus’ good and less of all that is bad.

This will not make me popular, I know. This will cause me to trust that even though I am different-maybe even a lot different-it’s okay. This is a choice I am making today for myself because I know that I am being asked to do more and that sitting here wondering over it will not produce anything good. I’m hoping that I can stay the course and that my slip-ups become fewer and farther between. This giving my all will not come naturally to me, based simply on how I have lived everyday until this one. So if you see me sipping a Caribou latte or wearing a new pair of jeans, please give me grace (and assume the latte was a treat from my husband and that the jeans came from the Goodwill). This is my path, I may stumble on it. I know where I’m headed though, so I’ll get back up and continue on again, hopefully a little lighter this time because I was able to give something away while I was on my knees.

Life is Hard

Life is hard. There is no other way really to say it. Life. Is. Hard. I’m not talking about the life of a refugee or a flood victim, or the life of a trafficked child in Asia. These types of struggles are unimaginable to me. I can not even put those tragedies into words that will do them justice. No, what I mean to say is that first-world-problems make life hard. I am not diminishing what you are going through, I am not lessening your very real difficulties. I get it, I really do.

Our parents brought us up telling us we could do anything that we wanted but without any guidance to know what that actually was we’ve sort of drifted along. So how do we live now? Chasing the things we want, because we “deserve” them and struggling through each day to cause the ends to meet up and feeling like this can not possibly be the life we signed up for all of those years ago. We look around and everyone else seems to have it together, they don’t yell at their kids, they have two new cars in the garage, they enjoy going to work every day-or at least don’t hate their jobs. You know how it is- life viewed through the social media filters? This view is made worse if you have religion, because the religion of today, at least of mine, tells me that if I live my life in the “right” way God will bless me and certainly those blessings must be in the form of an easy life, right? Sure, a few people in your church may still run up against hard times, but they are clearly not loving God in the right way or else He’d be lining their pockets and ending their suffering as well.

All I want to say to this logic is eff that.

I’ve done life right and I’ve done life seriously wrong. I’ve broken big commandments and I’ve walked the narrow road and life is hard both ways. I will never believe that because I have God I will have happiness. Paul said “I have found contentment in little and I have found it in much…”. The road will not rise up to meet me and the sun will not be always at my back, this poetry is nonsense. If I get ten minutes in the garden alone you’d bet correctly if you bet the sun was either blazing down on me or the rain was starting to fall. And that road? It more often than not drops right out from underneath of me. Churchy people would placate me with meaningless kind words and then whisper behind my back that “she needs Jesus”.

All I want to say to these people is eff you.

We strive to do it all and be it all and have it all. Well, maybe you do, I stopped. I got off that carnival ride and I can see the loose screws. I have a house, I have a mini-van, I have a husband, and five kids, and enough money in my checking account most weeks to buy enough groceries to feed them all. In recent memory I have not. I have prayed and longed and begged for a house that is mine (let’s be honest, I prayed for a yard more than a house), I have dealt with two vehicles held together with bubble gum and duct tape, I left a man who offered all of the things without a scrap of love, I have tried to build a life that shows love at it’s core so that those five kids will know that regardless of what we do, God. is. Love. I have walked into food shelves humbly asking for help, unsure of how I will pay for more than rent this month. No one knew, no one saw (much of) this. Did my sin cause these trials? Did finding my way back to God cause the good?

again…eff that.

I have grown quite certain that God’s goal is not my happiness, not in the modern American sense of the word. His goal is also not in meeting all of my desires. Nor is it even in my safety. There is no path that I can wander on that will cause God to give me only “good” things. Mainly this is true because I have no idea what happiness or safety, or good even looks like! A few things I do know are that happiness is not in having a job you love, the biggest house on the block or fashionably dressed children. You may think it is, but it is not. Happiness is not a life lived without loss. Happiness is not often found in the walls of a church, not for long anyway. So if all of this is what happiness isn’t, and we can’t understand what it is anyway, shouldn’t we find another way?

I come back to Paul, and while his life was hard (hard when compared to the refugees, impossible when I compare it to my own), he carried on sharing what God had done for him without stop, fear, or concern for his very life. This was the lesson I needed to learn; that God only desires that I love Him. He doesn’t care much about modern American hopes and dreams. If I walk with Him, living the hard- even the impossibly hard-sharing what God has done and trusting that each day is another opportunity, I’ll find that I know Paul’s secret as well.

There was an awakening in me sometime after I left a life of okay-ness for a life fully-lived. It took a long season of anxiety and fear to come to where I am now. I still struggle with knowing that I don’t want the “good life”. I still get mired in jealousy from time to time, just like you. I still sit in tears in the pre-dawn darkness wondering why this life, this choice to live differently, is so effing hard. I’ll admit that I occasionally ask why it has to be. Knowing that happiness is not the goal is helpful though, I can go through this hard life showing what Christ has done for me and sharing His love with my people. I’ll trade happiness for a life lived close to God and trust that in that choice I will find what I most need, even if I don’t know that I need it yet. I am trusting the wandering path and the One who walks it with me.

 

The End of Summer

 

I love August.

I hate August.

There is no time for this post today as I rush to fit in one more summer task.

No time to sit on the deck with a lemonade in hand because the deck needs to be stained before the snow flies.

No time to sniff the flowers because there are wood chips to cover the earth with before the first frost.

No time to splash in the pool with the children because we must attend every planning meeting for every activity they will be a part of this Autumn.

No time to dig in the sand, no time to watch caterpillars, no time to sit in parks with friends…

I make it worse for myself by trying to accomplish every project under the sun before we fall back into our homeschooling routine which includes so many activities and so much running from place to place. Examples? I currently have a sofa in my kitchen because I’m staining the living room floor. My teenage daughter cannot park in our driveway because I have a 6×4 foot pile of mulch sitting at the end of it (which I can’t move yet because I need to divide and organize the garden on the East side of my house first.). I have raspberry bushes growing five feet outside of their bed because I had the crazy idea that I really would have time to create a living fence out of them between our yard and our neighbors property.

When I get to August this irrational fear of “the end” takes me over, like being within a hundred pages of the end of a beloved book I just cannot stop. I rush to cram in every single last summer-fun thing that I can before the crush of Autumn’s responsibility takes over. If Summer is childhood, August is my early twenties, before the adulthood of Autumn arrives. I attempt to do all of the crazy things now, before I’m tied down by my commitments. As I said, this fear is not rational. I did plenty of crazy things in my thirties and I can certainly break the schedule and go for a hike in the woods on a warm day in October. But much like the frequency of those wild times has drastically decreased with each passing year, with each passing day so will my opportunity to go exploring and to soak the sun deep into my very soul.

As the sunrise comes a few minutes later each morning I try to rise a bit earlier to sit in the silence of cricket chirps, to await the first song of birds for the day. To ensure there is time in my day to just be. Instead of running full tilt toward Autumn, I will slam on the brakes at every turn. Savor every bit of produce from the garden, wonder over every bee and butterfly. I will make full stops, not rolling through my summertime garden on the way to the next thing that must be done, rather enjoying each blossom and moment completely. I hope you will too.

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**stop**

                                                  (no really, the end is right here.)

 

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