Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from School

What Am I Missing?

Doug and I started something new last year. We began using Journibles to help us make our own hand-written copies of Scripture. The whole family has worked through copying Proverbs this year, and Doug and I are also working on Psalms and John. We will probably encourage the kids to do Psalms next year.

Now, I am a homeschooling mom. We do copywork. We do dictation. That is just part of the deal, although I am not as consistent and heavy-handed with those activities as some homeschoolers are. But, you’d think that I would be very attentive to the little details of copying.

And you would be wrong.

It never ceases to amaze me just how easily I miss the little things. I look at a phrase, turn to copy it, and immediately realize that I do not know what punctuation is needed. I can’t remember which article is used in this situation. How much space will I need for the rest of the verse?

I remember the “real” words. But the little details? Not so much. Yet the little details represent significant aspects of each verse. Although punctuation did not exist in the original language, we use it now to shape our understanding of Scripture. Contemplating that comma can really make me stop and consider whether how its presence affects the text.

The little things are a very big deal.

God works in the little things all around us. But do we notice? Or do we miss them, just like I miss those commas, semi-colons, and articles. Sometimes we notice them in a second or third glance. But what happens when we are not forced to take that second or third glance?

Slowly but surely, I am training my brain to truly look at the text I am copying and get it right the first time. More importantly, though, I want to train my heart and mind to catch the little details all around me.

God works in my children’s fleeting smiles and little comments. Do I see it?

God’s hand is seen in the butterfly that flitters across my path. Do I notice?

God is speaking through the momentary expression on a needy soul’s face. Do I hear and obey?

The clutter of life often distracts us from the little things. Big things are too pressing. Too noticeable. They pull at our attention and focus. And the big things are important. I would never say otherwise! But, may we never be too quick to dismiss the little things. May we take the time to truly notice. And may we willingly partner with our heavenly Father as He works through everything, little and big.

Posted in Thoughts from School

On Michelangelo and Freedom

The kids and I recently finished reading a book about Michelangelo. I had read this book before, but something struck me rather profoundly this time around.

Many times, information about the Renaissance seems to highlight the freedom artists had to pursue their craft, thanks to generous patrons. They did not have to work in other jobs simply to feed themselves, thus stifling their creativity. They could just enjoy the freedom to create.

But as I reread Michelangelo’s story, something dawned on me. He wasn’t free. None of the artists were truly free.

Michelangelo’s passion was sculpting. He was happiest when he was alone, chiseling away at a huge slab of marble, working to free the figure he could see inside. Yet this genius of an artist is well remembered for something completely different: a massive painted project. Had he truly been free, Michelangelo would never have picked up a painter’s brush. But he was not free. He was compelled by patrons and popes. He was constrained by the wishes of others. And as his life progressed, he began to feel more enslaved to his talent than delighted by it.

Yet, what would have happened had Michelangelo been able to choose his own path? What if he had never been ordered to paint?

Scripture tells of the freedom of believers in Christ. We are free! What a glorious thought! But, then we see Paul turn around and talk about being a bond-servant of Christ. Hmmm…so which is it? Are we free, or are we enslaved?

I’d like to think we are a bit like Michelangelo. We are free from the bondage that kept us locked away from who God created us to be. Yet we are commanded to turn from following our own desires. We are told to follow the will of Christ instead.

That will is going to take us down unfamiliar paths. It is going to lead us to do things we really do not want to do. It is going to insist that we attempt what we never dreamed ourselves capable of attempting.

In the process, we are going to leave behind gifts beyond anything we could imagine.

Posted in Thoughts from Others, Thoughts from School

Homeschool Growth

A thought hit me this morning as I washed the dishes before school: Homeschooling has taught me much about spiritual growth. As I look back over six and a half years of homeschooling, I find it quite amazing how the learning curves parallel. Yet, I don’t always pay attention to the spiritual side of the lessons that are so obvious on the homeschool side. Today, though, I paid attention. Will you allow me to share a few of the thoughts that passed through my mind?

Three Spiritual Realities Homeschooling Has Taught Me

Learning is a long, slow process.

My wonderful husband preached on this yesterday, and my mind mulled over it this morning. When my children first learned to read, it was a slow, painstaking process. Well, for two of them, at least. They learned their letters quickly, but had to work hard to discover what it meant to combine those letters into sounds and then words. My middle child, on the other hand, had no such difficulty. About a month before her fifth birthday I knew she was ready to begin the process. So, we started learning letter sounds. Within four months the child was reading on a fifth grade level. I couldn’t keep up with her! But, where her siblings struggled with the mechanics of reading, she struggled with comprehension. Words never stopped her. Meanings, however, did. All three of them had to work to learn to read. And they are still working to continually strengthen their reading muscles and advance their abilities.

Meanwhile, there is an incredibly beautiful lady at church, one I consider a spiritual giant. She has seen her children and grandchildren to adulthood and is now delighting in beautiful great-grandchildren. She has been a Christian for decades. Yet still she visibly grows. Her heart and mind are curious, hungering, and constantly reaching. Just as my children slowly learn the concept of reading, she, and other spiritual giants like her, are still slowly learning spiritual truths that will more greatly conform them to the likeness of Christ. Slowly. Steadily.

No one can know everything at once.

This might seem like a repeat of the first point, but it really is different. It’s easy to look at the vast amount of information out there and want to dump it all in my children’s heads right now! As my seventh grader starts pre-algebra, a calculus lecture from her father will be incredibly overwhelming for her.

That example seems obvious, I’m sure. Yet how often do we despair because we lack a solid grasp on the entirety of what it means to be a Christian? I remember a conversation with a newly saved young mom. The enormity of all she did not know weighed heavily upon her, leaving her in tears of frustration. Relief washed over her as we discussed taking small bites of Scripture and focusing on what the Lord was teaching her right then. Just as my seventh grader should only be expected to focus on pre-algebra, building on the math she learned throughout her elementary years, so we need only focus on the foundation we have established and the truths God is placing before us right now.

I am not teaching information.

When I tell people I homeschool, one of the most frequent responses I hear is, “I could never do that! I’m not smart enough! I don’t know enough to teach my children.” My response? Neither do I! When I first began homeschooling, I felt I had to know information before I could teach it to my children. I’ve since learned differently. My job is not to feed knowledge to them. My job is to build within them a passion for learning. All three of my precious students caught the learning bug at a very young age. They hunger for it. They crave it. They seek out and heartily embrace opportunities to learn new things. It matters little what I know. I must simply teach them how to satisfy their hunger for learning. I guide them to the appropriate resources, often learning right alongside them. What a joy such learning is!

At church I teach youth girls. Several of these girls have been raised in church, yet they seem to have very little familiarity with the Bible and its contents. Why? It’s not because they haven’t been taught – I know they have! It’s more that they’ve never caught a passion for the things of God. They’ve never discovered the joy of hungering after His Word. I can’t force that onto them. None of their teachers can. But we can live it in front of them! We can exhibit such a passion of our own that they desire what we have! It’s not an easy thing to communicate to teenagers who think learning is uncool. As I walk through the Bible with them, I hunger and pray that my excitement will be contagious. I don’t want to just give them information about the Bible. I want them to catch a hunger for it!

Yes, homeschooling has taught me much about science and history and many other things. But, it has also strengthened me spiritual. What a joy that God can grow me through every aspect of my service to Him!

Posted in Thoughts from School

Old, New, and the Chaos in Between

Our homeschool plan runs on a rather odd schedule that allows us to keep all three children at grade level for things like math and language arts while still allowing us flexibility with their core subjects. We finished a set of core subjects at the end of February, took a month off, and will be starting the new core at the beginning of April.

Our new set of books arrived last week, and this week I’m finally getting to dig in and pack up the old books and pull out the new. Needless to say, the computer/school room is currently in utter chaos during the transition.

Early yesterday afternoon I packed up last year’s books. It was kind of bittersweet. It was a good year with some great books. I won’t be teaching from those books again until Steven is ready for them in about four years. But, oh what a delight it will be when I get to pull them out again that year! Steven and I will have so much fun reading those books together.

This morning I’ll be going through a new set of books. Everything that I’ll teach Olivia this year is brand new to me. It’s like meeting new friends for the first time. Most of these books are still strangers to me, but I know that by the end of the year I’ll be very familiar with them and will have mixed feelings about putting them away just as I did this year’s.

But, the sweetest experience of this whole transition was late yesterday afternoon. I opened a tub and began pulling out books from our first year of homeschooling, books that were packed away nearly five years ago. As I lifted the books from the tub, the stories we read aloud together came flooding back to my memory. With each history book came a remembrance of the sounds of Olivia and Angela acting out what they were learning as they played together. This year Angela and Steven will be going through it together, since Angela doesn’t remember much of what she learned as a four-year-old. I can only imagine the precious times they will have exploring the history and stories that are going to come alive for them this year!

Old is going. New and old are both coming. And in the middle, there is chaos.

Several thoughts come to mind as I process all of this.

  1. Sometimes we have to let go. Experiences and things learned are precious. But, if we continue to hang on to the old, we will never get to enjoy the new. The old will grow stale and we might even lose our delight in what once was very precious to us. Letting go can be the best way to hold those precious memories.

  2. Sometimes the old comes back. There are times when we get to relive the delight and the joy, often with brand new experiences along the way. But we never would have been able to enjoy such a revival were it not for letting go in the first place.

  3. New is good. It grows us. It challenges us. It opens new horizons to us. And, it allows us to appreciate the old that much more as we remember it with more open eyes. It allows us to delight more in the old that comes back for a visit now and then. Yes, we definitely need the new.

  4. The change is chaotic. Just like the room around me is a mess, walking from the old into the new is never as smooth as walking out of one room and into another. There are goodbyes. There might be uncertainty and pain. There can be a finality that we’re just not quite sure how to handle. It might be great chaos, and it might be small, but it’s going to be there. Even something as simple as changing sheets on a bed or changing clothes produces chaos for at least a few moments. Chaos and change just go hand in hand. But, chaos does not mean bad. In fact, it can be a pretty hopeful thing when we think of what good can come with the new.

As I look at the chaos of this room, I know that a good year is about to start. I don’t like the chaos, but I’m excited about what it means. If you are in the chaos of change right now, I pray that God will open your eyes to the hope that comes with the new He’s about to unfold before you.

Posted in Thoughts from Others, Thoughts from School

Loving and Losing

The kids and I just finished learning about World War II in school. We had some great books and resources to walk us through it all, but I think my favorite book of all was a wonderful children’s novel entitled The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum.

The story takes readers alongside a Dutch family in the last year or so of World War II, through the horrific winter of 1944-1945 when severe famine and lack of fuel for heat left many people dead and Holland devastated. The book strikes a wonderful balance between portraying the horrible effects of World War II on the people of Holland and protecting the innocence of children who don’t yet grasp the depths of evil that mankind can stoop to.

But, this is not a book review, so I’ll go no further with such details. Instead, I want to share a story thread from The Winged Watchman that grabbed my heart and will not let go.

Spoiler alert! I will be giving away a plot point in this post!

The story follows the Verhagen family as they live and work in one of Holland’s essential windmills and, ensuring that their polder remains unflooded. Because of this very important position, this family remains undivided during the long years of the war. But, they do not remain untouched. One day, fairly early in the war, Mrs. Verhagen is in town with the younger of her two sons when they see a Jewish family being rounded up for deportation to a concentration camp. Frantic, the Jewish mother locks eyes with Mrs. Verhagen and subtly motions back toward their now-vacated home. Once it is safe, Mrs. Verhagen rushes to the house to find a baby girl, safely hidden from the Germans. Her family takes the baby in, names her Trixie (as they do not know her real name), and loves her no less than if she had been their own flesh and blood.

Fast forward to the summer of 1945. Holland is liberated shortly before Hitler commits suicide and the war in Europe is over. Life begins to flow toward a new normal, and survivors begin to return home. Along with the survivors arrives Mrs. Groen, a Jewish woman, aged beyond her years, the sole survivor of her family. The sole survivor save one – a sweet little red-headed girl named Rachel who only knows herself as Trixie and knows no family other than the Verhagens.

Mrs. Verhagen, though completely brokenhearted, cannot deprive sweet Mrs. Groen of her beloved daughter. After a few months of growing to know and love Mrs. Groen as her mother, Trixie/Rachel says good-bye to the Verhagen family and the only home she has ever known to journey into a new life with a “new” mother.

I could not help but cry as I read the end of the story aloud to my children. I could not help but look at my own sweet five-year-old son and wonder – could I have done it? The Winged Watchman is fiction, but there is no way such things never happened. Women like Mrs. Verhagen took in children, protecting them, sacrificing for them, and loving them as their own. Families like the Verhagens accepted the responsibility, not knowing the outcome. Would the children be theirs forever? Or, when the miraculous finally happened and the war ended, would the children’s parents return for them?

We have many complaints and frustrations here in the United States of America, but we also have so many freedoms. It is hard to fathom some of the decisions that were made by everyday people in World War II. It is hard to imagine the extremes that they endured. And yet, some day those same challenges could be our own. The more our nation and this world buck against the authority of Almighty God, the more real the possibilities become.

I cannot answer the question of how I would respond in any situation such as this fictional tale of the Verhagen family. But, because of this story, I am faced with a direct challenge: I must live in such a way as to train myself to obey without question any task God calls me to, no matter how hard. I must focus on Him so intently that I have perfect wisdom in an instant. I must abide in Him so faithfully that I can draw on His strength at any moment, able to do whatever He calls me to do – even if it is to love and lose.

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others, Thoughts from School

Help!

When a discussion about homeschooling pops up, there is inevitably at least one person who says, “I could never homeschool my kids!” Then they’ll proceed to give some reason why they wouldn’t succeed. The funny thing is that all of their so-called weaknesses are things that I have struggled with at least once in my four years of homeschooling. Some of them are actually daily struggles. So, I have a tendency to promote the idea that anyone can homeschool. It’s just that not everyone chooses to.

But in order to support such an idea, I frequently lie to myself and say that I have to be able to do it all so that other people will see that it can be done. I forget sometimes that having others see me work through the difficulties is a greater testimony than some impression “having it all together” (which I don’t) could ever be.

It is always when I have that “must appear to have it all together” deception going on that God throws something in my path to show me that I really can’t handle it all on my own.

Recently, it was science. Now, I’m not the most brilliant person in the world, but I do have a decent grasp on academic concepts. But somehow the girls’ science this year is kicking my tail. There are some explanatory gaps, it seems, and I don’t have enough of a grasp on this year’s specific concepts to truly fill in those gaps. I’m clueless! The girls have been patient with me, but I’ve grown more and more concerned about my ability to teach my children science.

So, I told Doug that I was going to start hunting for a new and better science curriculum for our family. He, on the other hand, had a better idea.

“Let me teach them,” he said. He went on to explain that we’d have to do science first thing in the morning on the two days he taught so that he could get it in before work. But, he would teach them. And me. And we’d all learn together.

Now why didn’t I think of that? I’ll tell you why…I was trying to go it alone. Again. I was trying to promote this idea that homeschooling was always possible. Letting on that I needed help does not promote that idea, so I thought. Or does it?

You see, it’s not just about homeschooling. It’s about life. It’s about the fact that in Genesis 2, before sin, God looked at a perfect world and declared that there was only one thing not good. Man was alone. He remedied that by creating a woman. Adam needed help and companionship. Even in a perfect world. If Adam needed it then, how in the world can I think I can go it alone now? It’s not possible!

Whatever we do in life, we cannot do it alone. It is impossible. Whether it is homeschooling or parenting, whether it is learning how to be a wife or being discipled, we need each other. Anything we do is possible only under the condition that we find support. That we let others help us now and then. That we not go it alone.

There has been much discussion of returning to a purer method of doing church – something that much more resembles the church in Acts. Do you want to know what the Acts church had that we don’t? It’s not a specific location. It’s not a level of comfort (aka, coming in jeans and a t-shirt instead of dressing up). It’s not schedule. It’s not type of music. It’s community. They had each other day in and day out. They worked, played, and worshipped together.

We need each other.

Whatever you are trying to do in life, realize that you cannot do it successfully alone. You will never convince anyone else that they can do it, either, if you try to do it alone. So, reach out and seek help. In doing so, you will not weaken yourself. Instead, you will find out just how much stronger and more successful you can truly be.

Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from School

>Keep Sowing

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Last year in school the kids and I read a book called The Journeyman by Elizabeth Yates.  A portion of the story takes place in New Hampshire in 1815 and 1816.  After a long, very hard winter, the calendar shows that spring should be forthcoming any day.  Yet winter still refuses to release its iron grip.  Small signs of thaw and warmth finally seem to appear here and there, and anxious farmers ready their crops only for winter to return at the most inopportune time and destroy them.  Fortunately, the farmers still have seed, so they wait a little while longer and plant again.  Again frost rears its head in untimely fashion and a second crop is destroyed.  Some farmers have the resources to plant again.  And again.  Three, then four crops are destroyed by frost as summer never comes. 

Although The Journeyman is fictional, it is based on a real summer – the summer of 1816 – when there was no summer.  The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia on April 10, 1815, actually caused a temporary climate change around the world, affecting North America over a year after the eruption. 

I can only imagine what that “summer” was like for those people.  But, if they were anything like the characters in the book, many of them just kept planting, hoping that summer had finally come – what else were they to do? 

When challenges and troubles hit our lives, do we keep planting?  Do we keep sowing the Word of God in our own lives, the lives of our children, and the lives of those around us?  Even when every seed seems to be stolen from us, do we keep sowing?  Even when the crop seems dead, do we keep sowing?  Or do we give up?  Do we let the endless winter rob us of even the ability to try?

I confess that I’ve been through winters that I thought should have been summers and have given up.  I have given up on continually feeding the Word of God into the shivering portions of my soul.  When summer finally did roll around, the crop was not there.  Thankfully, a second chance was there.  But even so, I grieved the loss of the opportunity to be gathering in a late harvest – if only I’d kept sowing.

I can also say, though, that there have been other endless winters when I have persevered in the sowing.  Maybe not as fervently as I could have or should have.  Maybe with seed that seemed a little less than great.  But, at least I was sowing.  Some of those winters have ended with greater harvests that others, but those are the winters in which I’ve grown the most.  Persevered the most.  Been strengthened the most. 

When the winter of your soul seems to stretch on longer than it should, keep sowing.  Spring might bring the continued frigid winds instead of the thawing sun, but keep sowing.  Summer might be but a teasing warm breeze on an otherwise frozen ground, but keep sowing.  Those seeds are the Lords, and they will bear fruit.  Summer will come.  Harvest will happen.  Just keep sowing. 

Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from School

>Handwriting

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This year my oldest is learning to write in cursive. As I have been teaching her to write in cursive, I have realized how lax I have become in my own writing.

My mom was pretty strict in my handwriting training – every letter written just so, uniformly, and of readable size. As I grew, though, I envied the freer, more exciting handwriting of friends who hadn’t been “enslaved” to a writing style like I thought I had been.

I tried over the years to make adjustments in my handwriting. I would imitate the writing styles of others, doing funny things with some of my letters. But, I never could successfully write well, no matter how I changed my style. Why? Because I was trained in proper handwriting, and I was trying to rebel against that. My training got in the way.

Lately as I’ve been teaching Olivia, I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to write my letters properly again. It’s been amazing to watch my writing return to a level of neatness it has not seen in years! It may seem a little corny, but deciding to write correctly again has almost given me a freedom in my handwriting.

As people made in the image of God, we were created to do things the right way. God’s way. It so often seems that God’s way is too hard. To constraining. Too boring. Too overwhelming. Too dull compared to the way everyone else goes through life. So, we try to follow the examples of others. We try to blend their methodology with our own and live life with a hodge-podge of styles.

Just as in handwriting, a conglomeration of methodologies results in sloppiness and frustration. Nothing ever seems just right. Nothing blends well, and we just can’t seem to find that perfect system that really works for a successful life.

At some point, we must decide to set aside the hodge-podge lives we are living. When we do so – when we simplify and just decide to do it God’s way and God’s way only – we will find a freedom and beauty in life that has seemed to escape us for so long. It might not be an easy life, but it will be a beautiful one.

Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from School

>My Mom is Great!

>No, this is not a post about my mother, although I really should write one such post. It isn’t even about anything my kids said about me. It’s just a thought brought about by a creative writing assignment.

Angela is learning the basics of organizing thoughts to prepare her for the time when she will begin writing paragraphs. She is given a topic and she has to write three things that support the topic.

Typically these topics revolve around favorite things – favorite colors, favorite friends, favorite drinks, etc. But, last week one of her topics was “My Mom is Great.” I must confess, it felt a bit vain of me to write the topic on the whiteboard for her to develop. It was awkward. But, I did it anyway – I couldn’t just skip the assignment!

At first, it was a little awkward for Angie, too. She wasn’t sure what to say. But once, she got going, it began to run more smoothly. Her praise for my motherhood began to flow.

It made me think.

Sometimes I struggle with praise for my God. It has nothing to do with His greatness. It has to do with my tendency to not stop and pay attention to His greatness.

I wonder what would happen if in those moments I were to write my topic…

My God is great!

What if I were to then make my list? I have a feeling that, like Angie, I would begin to loosen. The praise would begin to flow. It just might be a good exercise to keep in mind!

It definitely makes not skipping the assignment a worthwhile decision!

Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from Kids, Thoughts from School, Thoughts from Scripture

>Enjoy or Bemoan?

>I’ve been going through next year’s curriculum lately. I figured fifteen to twenty minutes here and there while the girls are doing independent work might allow me to actually preview a lot more thoroughly than spending a solid week right before the new year starts. It also keeps me from neglecting the rest of life in the process and gives me more time to think through ways to truly mold the curriculum to my kids’ personalities.

As I’ve looked through it all, though, I’ve realized just how much the kids have grown! I see all that they’ve learned this year and all that they’re going to learn next year. I see how far Steven has come and how much I’ll be able to plan for his learning pleasure this coming year.

All of this realization can lead to a bit of sadness. They’re growing up! I’m about to have an eight-year-old – she’s going to be a third-grader! Not only that, but I’m about to actually have two kids in elementary school! Not only that, but my sweet toddler is almost not a toddler anymore. Although he’s still clinging to toddlerhood in many ways, his learning level really puts him more in that preschool category these days.

But the truth is that even though I miss some of the things in their lives that are gone forever, I am really, really enjoying where they are today. I’m even looking forward to where they’re going to be soon.

Often we tend to bemoan the days that are gone, whether it be the earlier childhood of our children or the “good ole days” that we love to talk about. When we do so, we miss the incredible growth that God has for us today.

Just a few days ago, I read a verse in Ecclesiastes that really drove this thought home…
Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. Eccl 7:10 (NASB)

I will always treasure the days that have gone by. I will look fondly through the thousands of pictures I have of my children, and I will enjoy the little tidbits that I’ve recorded in their baby books and on the blog. But, God has given me today with them. Yesterday is gone and I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Today is precious. I’m going to enjoy it!