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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The River and Trust

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Sheer drop off, a hundred feet down to the rushing river…perfect!

 

My children and I were recently at a homeschool co-op date at a park near the river where I was amazed at the curiosity in each child who stood on the bank, stepped from stone to stone, or shrieked at finding a crayfish in a shallow pool. The immense curiosity these kids had was so cool to watch! My nine-year-old crouched on a rock with a couple of other girls trying to catch minnows in a net. They were patient and, after many tries, had actually caught one! My six-year-old joined in at some point and I watched him balance on a rock with searching eyes and a determined smile. My two-year-old was much more interested in splashing out as far as she could with no fear of the powerful currents surging mere feet from where she was walking. I steered her toward a shallow inlet and after we climbed over fallen trees, stepped barefooted over not so smooth stones and stopped to look for those crayfish, she tipped a large stone on herself and another toddler.

It was amazing.

It was also not my best moment. I should have gathered up the two crying littles, carried them up onto the grassy bank and taken a few minutes to chill. Instead I ordered my crew back to the large flat stones to search for minnows with a stern, “that’s it!”. Even as I said it I knew I was crushing a bit of their wonder, and I hated myself for not being able to pull it together enough to let them explore properly on their own. I rest in knowing that they still had fun and they still count it as one of their best days this summer. I know there will be more moments of amazement in natural spaces, but I don’t know how I will manage it better next time. Proper footwear will definitely be part of my plan though!

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Seriously, can you see how high she is!!

When the water calls to you like it does to me, you don’t just want to sit on the shoreline and look, you want to tumble over stones, splash in the shallows, feel the sand under foot…You want to be completely immersed in the adventure. I want that type of experience for my kids, but I’m not sure we’re at that level yet. I think we may have a couple more years of short exploring trips in us. Until my tiny is four or five I anticipate days spent near the river, not in it. Yet I know those moments will come and I am going to do what I can to cultivate the desire for such experiences in my kids.

 

I know this is a dangerous world and we do have to be “constantly vigilant” (thanks to J.K. Rowling and her character Mad Eye Moody for that quote!). I make every attempt to walk the line between giving them freedom and hovering. It is a fine line and I know that on days when I send them out of puddles to save my sanity, I fall on the wrong side of it. A few days after I lost my patience at the park, two little boys from the city I live in were pulled away by the same river my kids had been playing in. It was a horrible thing to happen, one boy was safe while his brother lost his life. Could you imagine? As a mother my heart breaks for this family, the loss and grief and guilt that must be in the parent’s hearts, it overwhelms me just to think about it. Of course, the social media comments all blamed the parents for not being there, not watching their children more closely. While I wasn’t on the shoreline that day, this could very easily have been me, any one of my children could have been pulled in by the power of the river while they frolicked and I may not have been able to save them. Does this make me a bad parent? Does this make me negligent? For trying to instill a love of nature, a deeper curiosity, a desire to see the small in the vast expanse that is all of creation?

Perhaps I’ve read too many stories to my children, but I can’t help but think of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn playing pirates out on Jackson’s Island, alone for days on end. Sure it’s a different time, but the river is the same…The desire to explore, the need to be self-sufficient, the urge to prove oneself runs just as deeply in modern children as it did for Tom and Huck. If parents crush the wonder their children are born with what will be left? If I only allow my kids to read about the creatures that live in the river or watch documentaries on how the currents flow, will they grow up to seek ever widening horizons? By sheltering them couldn’t I shatter their innate curiosity? I know that keeping them safe is part of my obligation, and I know that I can provide opportunities for their imaginations to be stimulated in a safe environment, but I also know that I can’t control everything.

Ultimately that is what it boils down to for me. Control. Can I tip the scales so that my desire to control my kid’s lives is outweighed enough by my desire for them to live fully in the great wide-open? This opens me up to the potential for loss, my kids may get hurt, they may develop fear, they may be taken from this world entirely. Just typing those words makes me grasp for control. Those words make me pray hard for their safety. As I sit in prayer though, I realize that it’s not up to me, there is nothing I could do to extend any of their lives. I remember babies who’ve died in their beds. I remember my brother taken between the beat of a heart. Children who were here one minute and with God the next. The control is not mine, I must release my children to the One who created them.

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I’ll still keep watchful eyes over them, still send them to a safer place to play when I am overwhelmed, still pray for their safety. I’ll do all of this knowing that I can only hold them so tightly, I can do all of the things “right” and I still have no idea what will happen to them tomorrow. Better than waiting for the worst, I’ll live in today and soak up their laughter. I’ll present them with opportunities to be brave, so that when they are grown they will look back and see the experiences that grew them most were not the easy ones, but the difficult. I’ll let them explore places that make me just a bit nervous, so that when they encounter the big, scary world on their own they will have memories to pull from. And they’ll be better able to navigate. I will make every attempt to equip my children as the world-changing individuals they are, by the bold and often-intimidating choices I make with and for them today. This way of thinking, and ultimately living, scares me. Yet I can trust more fully in the One who created me and know that I (and my children) are safe in His care.

 

Building Community, One Kindness at a Time

 

I was at the library with my little children recently, they understand our rules and so I let them have some space to search in peace. My tiny was even chasing after her sister so I had time to look for the constellation books we wanted to pick up without needing to keep her from pulling every single book off of the shelf. We have a large library and there is always a fair amount of noise in the children’s area. On this day I could hear a baby fussing and crying, and, honestly, I was not feeling patient for it at all.

I continued my search with the hope that the child would settle down quickly. As I finished up and my kids were discussing audio book choices I found the baby, he was in a stroller and his momma was overwhelmed. As I stood there making silly faces at the boy she picked him up and continued working at a computer station with her little guy on one knee, she had a bottle out, a pacifier, plus the contents of her wallet spread out next to her. While I didn’t try to see what she was doing, I could tell she wasn’t just casually surfing the web while her baby yelled from his stroller. I thought to myself how hard that is, I remembered the days of having no internet at home and needing to use a library computer to complete important tasks. I know how difficult and stressful that can be, and I never had to try to do it while bouncing a fussy one year-old on my knee.

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I stood there at the end of the audio book aisle as my children discussed the benefits of listening to books and I was convicted. The Lord spoke into my heart asking me to help this over-stressed mother. I will admit that I was hesitant, this woman was not like me, the differences between us were evident. I had dirty knees from coming out of the garden, the gypsy just doesn’t wash out of my hair, and my kids dress themselves. I wondered if I offered, would she accept? First because of my appearance and secondly because as a mother myself I rarely take people up on their offers of kindness, feeling instead that I should be able to do it on my own. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing I gathered my courage and approached her.

I wasn’t sure what I would say so I just said “Hello, could I hold your baby for you?”

She turned from the computer screen, looked me over (probably contemplating all of the societal reasons that she should say no), thanked me and handed me her sweet boy. Can I please take a minute to tell you how completely adorable this child was! He was the sweetest, chubbiest, most squeezable baby you have ever seen and I was immediately glad that I took the risk. I sat on the floor with her baby while the woman went back to what she was doing, she had clearly been flustered trying to complete her task with this squirmy little guy in her lap so it took her awhile to find her place as she thanked me and told me she was struggling with the document that she was working on. My children would happily live at the library and so I told her to take her time.

Baby boy and I rocked and bounced and sat playing “this little piggy went to market” with his sweet little toes while his mom was able to finish her work, get help from a librarian with printing and begin to make a phone call. It wasn’t long but he was trying to escape from me too, and I could better understand why he had been buckled into his stroller earlier. Clearly the baby just wanted to move and explore, he hadn’t been being naughty or yelling for the sake of hearing his own voice, he was simply bored. I was reminded once again that I should never assume intent without first trying to understand. His mother was, of course, so thankful to me, but I thanked her when I handed her back her squirming, giggling, smiling baby. I’m sure she had no idea why I offered to help, why this strange (dirty) woman offered to hold her cranky baby while she filled out paperwork in the middle of her own personal mess.

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It was a gift and a reminder to me that we all need help sometimes, and the mother’s grace in her acceptance quieted my doubts about offering in the first place. How often do I avoid these situations where I could actually help someone based on my own uneasiness or fear? How often do I deny someone else the gift of helping by saying “no thanks, I’ve got it.”? I can’t even begin to guess at the answers to those questions, but I have made a decision that this day I will do what I can to help whoever is in my path. I briefly worried that I wouldn’t be able to help well because I have three little people in tow at all times. Then I realized that in them I have three extra sets of hands to hold doors open, three little voices reminding me to hand a bottle of water to the homeless man on the corner, three willing participants in this spreading of joy. My children don’t have to stop me helping, they have the ability to help as well.

We can’t do all of the things, and we will miss opportunities, and that’s okay. God doesn’t ask me to do all things, just the next thing. If I do that task then He’ll have another for me at the exact right moment. In my mind I can see the baby’s adorable face as I sit here typing about him, I’ve been praying for him and for his momma. I hope that they are on a good path, that she knows God treasures her above all else, that earthly situations in no way reflect the breadth of Gods love. I also hope that the fifteen minutes of my time was seen as the pouring out of God’s love for her.

I’ve wondered since we left if she had been praying before I offered to hold her sweet baby.  Had she been sitting there mumbling something like, “Lord, please shut this boys mouth so that I can get us the help that we need and finish up on this computer…”. While I’ll never know for sure, I can trust that God knew her heart and her need and used me to meet that need. Not because I’m awesome or anything, simply because I was willing. I didn’t shy away from the nudge He gave me. I often think about the village that is missing in my mothering walk, and while that is a post all in itself, I am hopeful that for a few minutes I was able to fill that role for this woman. That I was able to remind her that there is a community around her that will lift her up and help her right where she is. After all I can’t expect others to build community for me, I have to actively take part in the process.

Teacher Bees

Bees are some of my favorite creatures. They bumble around my Russian sage this time of year with lavender colored dust floating all around them, clinging to their bodies and making them look like they were dipped in frosting sugar. It is beautiful. The other day as my kids were splashing in the pool my attention was drawn over to the still uncut oregano. I was internally chastising myself for not getting to that summer task yet and reminding myself how much better baked-ziti-in-January will taste if I get the herbs drying now. So, logically, I walked over, sat down, and watched the bees.

They were uncaring of my presence in their garden and so they continued on in their required task without even a glance in my direction. As they went about their work I was able to notice how lovely their wings are, how fuzzy they are, how quickly they buzz between flowers. A person can think deep thoughts in her garden if she is able to block out the joyous noise that is her children. I found myself wondering how little the bees care for the beauty of the flowers. Yes, there are several different types of bees gathering pollen in my front garden at any given moment in early August, but is it because of its beauty? There were equally as many bees clambering around my oregano, whose flowers are not showy in any way. If beauty is not important to the bees, do I place too much emphasis on it in my own life?

I wonder what draws the bees to a particular spot, to a particular type of blossom. I know the basics of bee-related science. That they work to ensure survival of the queen who will replace each bee as they die from the exhaustion of working for her, which ensures the survival of the colony. At least for one more season. There is no care for singular well-being, rather only for the health of the hive. We also have carpenter bees in our yard, a solitary species. Their drive is not the good of the hive. No, their motivation is simply in the hope they will mate and allow the continuation of their own species. In my deep thinking I decided that if my life was simply selfless work, work that I would likely not see come to fruition, that I would seek out the beautiful as much as possible too.

It continually amazes me how all of my life lessons seem to be either learned or reinforced in my garden. One of the first verses that comes to mind when I think of bees is Proverbs 16:24; Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. I’ve helped my kids memorize this verse and I use it as an internal reminder that when I speak kind words to them I am speaking healing instead of hurt. I often think of plants as God’s words to me. He speaks to me in the color of cosmos, in the scent of lilies, sends notes of His love in small fields of daisies, reminders of His faithful care for me in early spring lilacs. He is gracious to me. And if Gracious words are a honeycomb, I easily receive His grace in my garden. I am sure that the lessons have been behavior corrections that have come in the gentlest way possible. If the flowers are the words of God, then I can believe the bees to be His messengers. They grab my attention, cause me to be still and sit in His presence, they remind me to slow down and focus on Him. Bees have one aim; continuation of the species, shouldn’t I have a similar drive? Or rather;

Shouldn’t I have a singular focus I mean. There should be one thing that causes me to do all things, or that I do all things in the name of. As the drones of bees work solely for their queen shouldn’t my motivation be my King? I believe that it should be. As I go about my daily tasks I am reminded that even though laundry, dishes, and sweeping are menial tasks they are made good in that I do them for Christ. That I do them to model a servant heart for my children and to actually be a servant to my God is what matters. You’ve probably heard that you should “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.”(Eph. 6:7), that verse never really made sense to me until I understood the bees. I could’t see how scrubbing toilets, making dinner, grocery shopping could be done for the Lord when these tasks were so clearly just drudgery.

The bees never see it as such of course, they fly from flower to flower spreading pollen, providing for their community, and ultimately ensuring the continuation of not only themselves, but of endless variety of plants, and the creatures who rely on those plants. Do I have that kind of power? If I tend my children with this type of care they can flourish and grow into the people they are meant to be. If I serve my family well and provide for their needs I am allowing them to have a safe place to explore the world and find their place in it. They needn’t worry about where their next meal will come from because they trust me. If I live my life in service to God my people will learn by example that a life of service is fulfilling. Like the bees, I may not see how the way I live will affect my children. The affect of one person is seldom felt in their lifetime, but if I am going to have an impact I want it to be for the kingdom and for good.

As the bees continue to buzz from flower to flower I watch. I sit in the chaos that is my day-to-day and wonder at the chaos that is a working bee hive. Each bee knows its place in service to the queen. As I am still learning my place and position in service to the King of kings, the bees are a good model for me. This is why I will always sit still in my garden on hot July afternoons listening to the buzz of bees and the splashing of children, being reminded that both care nothing for the higher order of the world, they simply trust that there is order. This is why the oregano is still uncut several days later and I count jars of dried herbs on my shelf trying to decide if I can just let the bees have the flowers this year. This is why when I am feeling spent or overwhelmed or too exhausted to do more, I am able to remember (sometimes) that God asks me to do only this task, this work of motherhood. That in His strength I will be able to carry on and that in His wisdom I can discern what must be done next and what can wait.

It is a constant learning and relearning of why I was put here in this place. It would be easier if I could retain these lessons on the first try. I’m very glad though, that if I have to be told multiple times, I have the bees as my teachers, the plants as my textbook and the garden as my school house.

Great(er) Plans

I’ve been thinking a lot about the upcoming homeschooling season. This will be my fifth year of choosing to keep my children at home and provide them with the gift of learning. For some parents the decision to homeschool is a difficult one. They weigh the pros and cons, pray, worry about their kids not being socialized enough due to one choice or running with the “wrong crowd” if they make the other. For others the decision can be a fight. Perhaps one parent disagrees with the other and believes keeping the children home will be a disaster. Perhaps the parent chosen to stay home regrets giving up their career and only sees what they are losing by staying home to educate. Some even battle with the Lord saying that they can not possibly be the one to lead their child through their schooling, even if it is clearly laid on their heart to do so.

For me the decision to keep our littles at home was the easiest part of homeschooling. I’d never heard the phrase “weird, unsocialized homeschoolers” until I’d been one for quite awhile, and was easily able to laugh that concern aside as my children are at least as socialized as their peers and probably more so. I do still worry about them making good friend choices though, that is not just a worry for public/private school parents. I was already staying home with my little ones and adding in some focused learning time seemed pretty natural, as those babies grew that learning time continued to grow with them. My husband was in agreement from the beginning, I do not remember having to convince him and he has trusted me over the years as my teaching philosophy has evolved into more of a leading philosophy. I know that if he were the one staying home, his way of teaching would be different than mine, but we agree that this is where they belong. There are other people who’s support is valuable in my homeschooling journey and without people on my side I would have a much harder time schooling at home. I haven’t wrestled with the Lord either, I know this is the best choice for our family and I know that God calls me daily to lay down my own life in sacrifice to leading
His children well. That is not always an easy thing, but I know it is the right thing for me.

I have taken many different routes over these few years to plan our school year out. There have been spreadsheets, curriculum choices, book lists, spelling lists, science project ingredients added on to my grocery list. This past year in particular has changed my way of thinking quite a lot though. Nearly three years ago when our last child was born I stressed too much and planned every day, trying to allow time around the birth of a new baby. As it turned out, God laughed at me and must’ve said something like, “Um…nope!” There was no way the newest addition to our family was going to make homeschool easy for the rest of us, she simply did not cooperate with my well laid plans. Proverbs 16:1, or 19:21, or James 13:15 anyone? There are several verses in the Bible reminding us that our plans are null and void if they don’t line up with God’s plan for us. We can try but we will likely be frustrated at every turn. Psalm 33:10 could be written on the front of my yearly school planner; “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations, He frustrates the plans of the peoples.”  He nullified and frustrated my plans alright! And not just that first year after her birth. When she turned two, my ability to teach came to a screeching halt. We tried every homeschooling momma trick in the book and some made up ones too, in the end we got as much formal schooling done as we could while she napped (which was not often, nor every day), I felt defeated. I could not manage a toddler and help a third grader with her multiplication and assist a five year old in building his reading skills. Why? Why, why, why?

To say I gave up wouldn’t quite be correct. Instead I’d say that I fully embraced my unschooly-ness. It had been there all along of course; we used a ton of outside time as classroom time, worked on mastering jumping jacks while memorizing poetry, and read Harry Potter or C.S. Lewis for entire days if the mood struck us. I just wasn’t quite sure we fit the unschooling model I’d read about. In my desire to ensure my kids were actually learning something everyday it occurred to me that there is no perfect model for unschooling (much later I realized that there is no perfect model for any schooling), and that is what made unschooling perfect for us. We didn’t do math for awhile, can I say that? Instead I put batteries in the graphing calculators that my big kids had accumulated over the years and my littles used them daily for all manner of games and can probably navigate them better than I can. They counted jumps off of the steps before they fell and how many seconds they could hold their breath in the pool. They made calendars and filled them with all of the activities and days out that we could come up with. I also stopped trying to teach my five-year-old how to read. The kid had basically taught himself anyway and when I gave him the freedom to just read he flew through books. He was unhindered by my insistence that he sound out every word and instead he just read! Who knew he could? Well, he did. Him and God I suppose, he didn’t need me for this, but if he did he knew he could come to me for help.

Instead of writing book reports we wrote down our daily chore lists (penmanship/spelling practice) and talked about books we loved at length. Instead of reading about scientists and their discoveries we practiced what they discovered (can you make a ball fall up?, can you melt an ice cube in cold water?). When I look back over the year I can see that we really did a lot, but not what was on my spreadsheet. I let them read for hours a day, I read to them for hours more. This time alone with characters in books proved to be the most amazing thing as they would incorporate different aspects from all of the books they were reading or had read into their daily playtime. Their imaginations were deeply enriched, their creativity exploded, they were allowed to have ideas and play them out in so many different ways. It was awesome.

As we chase the sun this summer I wonder how much planning I should do for autumn. My now nearly three-year-old is showing interest in letters and numbers, wants me to read to her endlessly and also wants to ride her bike and swim in the pool. I wonder, should I buy a few workbooks to work on letters? Should I pull out my pre-readers for her? Hmm…I don’t think I’ll jump too quickly to make plans for her.

I went back and reread Psalm 33, as I did I was reminded that God doesn’t want to frustrate me or defeat my plans. If I will come to Him in the planning and seek out His answers in the first place I will have much more success. Verse 11 reminds me “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” As I begin my planning for this coming year I have decided to allow my children to continue leading our educational journey. I’m paying attention to what they are interested in and filling our days with those opportunities. Will we do math this year? Spelling? Yes, we probably willI have great plans for my children, this year those plans are based on the purposes they were given by God. As I follow His leading I can allow them to do the same instead of forcing them in to my mold of what they “should” be learning. Do I worry about their spelling or math fact mastery? Yes, yes I do. When I get bogged down in those details it’s easy to forget the life skills they are mastering. They are learning to love learning, become people who seek out lessons in unusual places, learn from unexpected teachers.

I am trusting that there is a great plan in store for these kids and that I have a place in that plan. If I can stay out of the way God’s purpose for my babies will prevail in their lives. My spreadsheet looks a little different this year, there are more life lessons on it than history lessons. Knowing that my kids will be following their hearts makes the journey well worth it.

Naps, Quiet, and Joy

This year I have kept a “joyfulness journal”- you know, basically you write down all of the little things in your day that have made you smile. A few years ago I read Ann Voskamp’s Christmas devotional; The Greatest Gift which brought me to her blog and taught me this insightful way of looking at life. I have sporadically kept a list of what I refer to as my blessings-of-the-day ever since. It helps me when I swing toward the sadness end of the pendulum arc. As I look back through it, I’ve noticed a few repetitions and have spent some time thinking about why these things are moments that I count as joy.

First off; naps! My own, my children’s, my husband’s, it doesn’t matter. If someone was sleeping I probably made note of it. This one seemed so obvious to me, though I felt there had to be more to it than just a baby (or older child) giving me a short reprieve from caring for them. My two-year-old still naps, praise God in heaven!!, she went through a rough patch where she fought her nap and bedtime which brought about long, exhausting days! I began allowing her to nap on the sofa in the middle of our daily chaos and she has blissfully rested nearly every day since. The change for her was the power I gave her in allowing her to choose where she napped. I’ve read that around 24 months toddlers discover and begin to assert their autonomy, truly all she wanted was to have some small piece of control in her napping situation. When I see my older children struggling through a hard day my “go-to” cure is suggesting that maybe a nap would help them feel better. They rarely see the wisdom in my advice, they do however, accept my second suggestion with much more ease and even happiness-quiet time.

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Quiet time. I can say those words out loud and they cause me to take a deep breath as if I am filling not just my lungs with air but my soul with peace. My husband works hard so that we can school at home and I am very grateful for all that he does to ensure we are well cared for. His job is not the only way he provides for us though, he also strongly suggests that I take time for myself. He will take all three of our younger children to the grocery store, he will spend the afternoon with them while I go for a walk with a dear friend, he suggests time out of the house or ensures the quiet at home if that’s where I’d rather be. He is very good at this because he knows that the days of mothering are spent at an intense volume, and that I need the silence for my very sanity! It was for this reason that over the past winter I intentionally encouraged my six and nine year old to seek out their own quiet, I helped them to be aware of the times of day when they wanted things to stay quiet around them. I encouraged them to read in their beds before sleep or before coming upstairs to start their day. They are rambunctious, loud, high-energy, normal kids, but they both seek out the quiet in their days now and I count this as a great joy.

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The third item that repeats itself in many different ways on my list is outside time. There are entries about time spent weeding, flower blooms, climbing rocks, hot sunshine, walking in state parks, sitting on our deck, kids splashing in the pool… It definitely doesn’t take a deep thinker to realize that I keep a piece of myself outdoors. There is only one problem with this; I live in Minnesota. We have about five months of what I would call good weather, six if I can enjoy damp, windy, chilly May moving early perennials. If. The rest of the year I have to pressure myself into going outside, I don’t play in the snow with my littles and I’m not sorry! I invite their friends over often though and provide mugs of cocoa with marshmallows when they come inside like any good (sane) mother would. I try to find beauty in snowfalls and sparkly, frozen front yards, but it is forced. My joy is not found in MN in winter and so I soak up summer. I will sit in the heat of the day allowing the sun to pour down its goodness and concentrate on saving it up for January. You do what you can! Gardening season is good for me because of the ability to create alongside the great Creator. I plant seeds and pray for growth, I divide perennials and pray for beauty. I plan out a garden bed and entrust it’s success to the only One who can provide it. I don’t weep (much) if something doesn’t grow, I know that Gods plan is greater than mine, even if it’s a plan for wild, cold hardy roses instead of candied pink, double-full, zone six, climbing roses. I should know by now that the wild always wins out in my heart over the cultivated anyhow. This gardening/creating is my most common cause to note gifts and also the cause for my sadness when it is lacking.

Using this journal as a reminder, I look at my life a little differently. I don’t always see the good, but this book helps me to look for it. On the days when I am in cold darkness (literally or figuratively) I can look through my book and see that the peace is right here in my house, in my yard. Other people have joked that little things such as pink peony blossoms or the smile of a two-year-old are not enough to live a joyful life, but I’d argue that these are the exact moments God wants us to revel in. If we stop seeing the good in the small, we will need ever increasingly large events to provide happiness. While noticing bees buzzing in the Russian sage will cause us to focus on things outside of ourselves, things beyond our control, things that were put into place as a gift from God if we’re willing to stop and look. Is cream swirling in coffee a gift straight from God? Probably not, but it can be counted good if I choose to thank Him for my awareness, my stillness in this moment. The things themselves are not the only point, it’s the way we use those moments to remind us of God’s goodness. This day I will scroll out blessings, moments, and toddler giggles in my book. And I will live a fuller life because of it.

I’d love to know what you count today as joy.

In the One who makes me…

We are, each of us, made to follow Christ and in Him to know that He will make a way through for us.

 

This kid…she is my biggest challenge. She has taught me how to be a mother and how to (start to) do it well. This week she is at Bible camp, a place that she loves. It fills her heart up and brings her so much joy. I have a sneaking suspicion that one day she will aspire to lead other campers and then I will pray over her incessantly as she will be gone all summer long. Do you know how many days that is? I haven’t done the math, but it’s a lot! She is nine and her heart belongs to God. I know this because she often tells me, which makes me so thrilled for her. Not only this though, she walks her talk and shows with her actions that she really, truly, loves God.

I wouldn’t be being truthful if I didn’t admit that it scares me a little though. I didn’t begin chasing after God until I was thirty, even though I was raised in the church and knew about Jesus for all of my childhood. So why does it scare me that she knows and loves the Lord at this tender age? It makes me nervous as to how hard the devil will chase after her. From my own experiences I realize that the more in love with God you are the more the devil will try to trip you up. I pray that she continues to be strong in her faith and that evil never has a chance to break into her heart, but I’m pretty sure that she has difficulties ahead of her.

I know because this girl fights hard against all of the things that come easy for her. She has to really prove that she can do something. For example, I am certain she says things like; “Even though math is easy for me, lets see how many of moms hairs she’ll pull out before we get to be done today.”. Rollerblading was a piece of cake to learn so she had to learn how to skate backward. “Want to learn a foreign language girlie?” I ask. “YES!!” she replies, CHINESE!!” I’m not ashamed to say that I’m still trying to figure that one out. My point is that the girl walks the hardest line. So in her walk to meet Christ personally I feel that she will ask the hardest questions, push the most dangerous limits, and wait on God for answers longer than seems reasonable to most.

I have honestly wondered if she takes the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength…” as a personal challenge. Is she really trying to find something that He can’t or won’t help her with!? I’ve read that praying scripture back to God aids in memorizing those verses we want to hold on to. I struggle with Bible memory work myself (not my sweet girl though, she would memorize verses so quickly that I had her recite in crazy voices or while skipping rope just to make it fun for her!) and I believe that by praying it back it becomes more personal, like even more of a love song because of the relationship that I attach to it.

So since I feel that this verse defines her so well I read through it and underlined it in my Bible. I also searched its translation out from the Message Bible, I read a pretty traditional NIV Bible daily, but the message version always speaks to me so personally. Here’s the surrounding text from Philippians 4:10-14;

 I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.

When I read it here I realized that this verse is not just Paul making some off the cuff statement. I’m no Bible scholar, but in my opinion he’s saying “Look, its great that y’all have been praying for me and your help was really, well helpful. It’s just that I know you only helped me because God put it on your heart to do so.”. “Besides, I’m okay whether you help me or not, I know where all the good things come from.” My chosen verse sits there making this bold claim; “…I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”  Paul doesn’t just say that he’ll be fine. He say’s that no matter what-with little or much, beaten, starving, imprisoned-he can make it through. He must know that the devil is trying to break him with all of these hardships, Paul must see that every day until his death will be a struggle. Yet he counts it all good, not in his own power, but in the power and love of Christ.

Christ made my daughter to be this exact person, He knows what is to come for her and each day I try to entrust her to Him fully. He has given this child an exact plan to follow, He has laid out a path for her to walk and, right now, she is striding confidently on her way. He also made her to need Him, and not in a small way. He created her soul to long for a relationship with her creator. We mess that up a lot, confusing that longing-for-Christ-feeling with a longing for earthly pleasures. As she grows I will remind her that all of the gifts she has, all of the good that fills her life is from God and not her own power, that the drive she feels to do something well was placed inside her by her Father and Creator. I pray that she will never feel like she is enough. Yes you read that right. I don’t want her to be too confident in herself, but rather to trust that God is her “enough” and that in Him she will be provided for, in Him she will make it through.

She knows the NIV version of this verse but I wonder if she knows that it is “hers”, that she can make it through anything in the One who makes her who she is? Do you know that? Do I?…  Life will cause us to stumble. Only in Him will we make it through.