“Rest, therefore, is not the absence of work or a failure to consider and carry out a plan. It is work and leisure, properly ordered.”
– Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching From Rest
“Rhythm calms and secures children, grounding them in the earth of family so they can branch out and grow.”
“Where well-established rhythms exist, there is much less parental verbiage, less effort, and fewer problems around transitions.”
“Yes, rhythm makes children feel more secure. Absolutely. But a sense of rhythm makes adults calmer too, and less plagued by parental craziness. With consistent structures in place, you’ll feel less like a Border collie, constantly nipping at your children’s heels.”
– Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting
“Young children thrive on predictable routines, and yours will be calmer and happier if you keep your schedule uncluttered.”
– Jennifer Pepito, The Peaceful Preschool
I hesitate to share this for the same reason I often pause before sharing what curriculum I use or how what we do regarding vaccinations… because it seems there’s always someone who jumps to copy precisely what we do without researching the possibilities, without talking to the Lord about it, without taking the uniqueness of their own family into account.
So in sharing our school day rhythm that has worked for us many years now, I’m in no way proclaiming, “Copy this!” My hope is that this helps you in some way, even if it’s just to tweak one part of your day or to stir up your own ideas about what might work for you and yours in this season of life. You’ll notice our schedule flows from one harder thing to an easier, all day long. My Quinn especially, with his focusing issues, thrives with this routine, though I’ve found spacing out school throughout the day rather than cramming it all into the morning has benefited all of us. We can all enjoy it and absorb it more fully.
We start our days pretty early. I am far from a morning person, and over the years this has been a slow transition and takes all the self-motivation I can muster to get up early, but we’ve learned that the quality of our school day and therefore the quality of our lives is significantly better when we start early. We aren’t rushed to complete things.
Other than when we start our day and our mealtimes, I don’t pay attention to the clock. What I’ve laid out for you is the order in which we do things on a typical school day. Being a slave to the clock only multiplies my anxiety, because life happens.
One more thing before I share our day.. this is not a suggested day for those with only littles! (That would look far simpler… something like this: breakfast, chores, morning time on the sofa together with stories and songs, snack and play break, hands-on learning such as painting/playdough/sand tracing/puzzles/scooping and sorting, tidy and lunch, books and rest, outside play).
6:30 a.m. My alarm goes off – the swell of piano music softly grows in volume. I slowly rise, blurry-eyed and hazy all over, head to the bathroom, wash my face, and throw on the clothes I set out the night before.
I head to the kitchen at the other end of the house and make my coffee as I talk to God. I curl up with my coffee on the sofa, read any newsletters in my inbox from Sally Clarkson, scroll my favorites on Instagram for a few minutes. No, this is not my quiet time; that comes after breakfast when I’m fully awake. I discovered after years of struggle, that a screen and coffee is required for me at this point to stimulate my mind and wake, or else I’m back asleep within minutes!
7ish a.m. Ellie (13) naturally wakes up about this time (always my early bird) and after visiting for a few minutes we start working on breakfast together.
7:30ish a.m. Willow is usually up by this time, and once breakfast is ready I wake the boys and we gather around the table. We may talk about our day, the weather, what we dreamed about, etc, and then I read a passage from Acts (currently) for us to discuss.
8ish a.m. God Time. We all head to our corners and spend 20-30 minutes in peaceful quiet, alone with God. One of the big kids takes Willow (a different one each day) and they have special one on one time with her. This guarantees I will have this much-needed time connecting to the Lord and trains the kids to also begin their days with this moment of calm, handing over their concerns to God, allowing His word to strengthen them.
8:30ish a.m. Morning Chores. I ring the bell to alert everyone to begin. (Our house is about 90 feet long, so I prefer this over yelling)! We tackle the kitchen altogether, then make our beds, brush teeth, get dressed and put away PJs, take our vitamins. Loud music pulses through the house to get our bodies moving. 🙂
9:00ish a.m. Math. Gavin (17) heads to his dual credit college classes. As Ellie and Quinn need little assistance with their Teaching Textbooks Math, I use this time to do some fun preschool projects with Willow (4) or read picture books with her. I use The Peaceful Preschool for playful ideas. Willow declares that ‘school’ is her favorite part of her day.
Nature walk on Fridays before math. (no copywork or spelling Fridays).
10:00ish a.m. Snack and Break
10:30ish a.m. Willow plays on her own while I spend time with Quinn (10) in either grammar, writing, poetry, spelling, art study, or geography. Ellie (13) works on the same subjects independently for the most part.
11:15ish a.m. Outside (if possible) free play until lunch.
12:00 p.m. Lunchtime. I cherish this time. After we’ve talked for a while and laughed over various things (oh potty talk… do boys ever outgrow)?! I read aloud from either our current nature or literature read aloud, then the kids verbally narrate the reading.
1:00ish p.m. Lunchtime Chores. This may be one of the best ideas that I implemented many years ago. While I clean the kitchen, the big kids tackle one chore. On Monday one child may dust the living room while another wipes the mirrors and another cleans the toilets. They do a different chore each day and it takes them 5-10 minutes. Just taking care of a little at a time has worked beautifully for us. Many folks take Fridays as a cleaning day, but that not only overwhelms my kids, but me as well. Our house is never perfect, not even close, but this certainly helps to keep it (mostly) decent. And I don’t carry the weight of trying to figure out when the bathrooms will be cleaned and the plants watered, etc.
1:20ish p.m. Quiet Reading Time. Oh sweet glory. Without this time I’m a drained mess come 4:00. The kids find a cozy spot and read. Quinn has a difficult time focusing on reading for long, so after 20 minutes he practices his ukulele. As Willow has never been a napper, I turn on a show for her and then for the remainder of the time she rests and looks at picture books. I spend about a half-hour reading from my current stack and then I may scroll Instagram or check email.
2:00ish p.m. Snacktime and History/Nature Study. We alternate between The Kind Kingdom’s history and nature study. The curriculum includes a long list of excellent books and the kids record what they’re learning through artwork and written narrations in their notebooks. We burn candles, enjoy a snack, play my Pride and Prejudice pandora station and thoroughly enjoy this rich time learning together. Willow plays closeby (often in my lap). Once every two weeks we have a poetry tea time (with a treat) instead.
3:00ish p.m. Tidy and Free Play! While the kids are tidying around the house, this is usually when I throw in another load of laundry and pull out a drier full. We then quickly fold the towels together and everyone collects their clothing and puts it away. Then they enjoy free time until dinner, and I grab my kombucha and put my feet up (often on the back porch) for a little while.
4:00ish p.m. Dan arrives home by 4 most days (he leaves in the morning by 6!), and we take some time to catch up and relax, walking around the property or on the sofa, before we start dinner together.
This is my job. It’s the most important one I could ever have, and I’ve learned that when I lean into it wholeheartedly, there is abundant joy in it for all of us. Sure, once in a while we just need to sleep in and simply bake or enjoy books together. But when we regularly slept in, lacked a healthy predictability to our days, and I didn’t invest energy into learning together, we walked around dazed and struggled just to get the ‘basics’ taken care of. There wasn’t time or energy for the beautiful, life-giving education that weaves richness into our days.
Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to contain the subject of raising teens within one blog post, nor am I claiming to be an expert. This will likely be my first of many posts on the topic simply shared from our experiences as well as what we’ve observed and studied.
We live at a time in which I feel there’s this battle raging against childhood. There’s an influx of busyness, screens, pressures to perform, comparisons made all too easily with perpetual testing and social media, often a lack of parental boundaries and loving guidance, and in our culture especially, peer orientation has become the norm that folks accept without question. Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate cover this topic in their book, Hold On To Your Kids:
For the first time in history, young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults, but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role – their own peers. They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from adults. Instead, children are being brought up by immature persons who cannot possibly guide them to maturity. They are being brought up by each other.
Even in home educating families, this can be a devastating issue if parents aren’t intentional regarding their connection to their children and are unaware of the danger of peer-orientation.
“But aren’t we meant to let go?” many parents ask. “Aren’t our children meant to become independent of us?” Absolutely, but only when our job is done and only in order for them to be themselves. Fitting in with the immature expectations of the peer groups is not how the young grow to be independent, self-respecting adults. By weakening the natural lines of attachment and responsibility, peer orientation undermines healthy development.
Children may know what they want, but it is dangerous to assume they know what they need. To the peer-oriented child it seems only natural to prefer contact with friends to closeness with family, to be with them as much as possible, to be as much like them as possible. The child does not know best. Parenting that takes its cues from the child’s preferences can get you retired long before the job is done. To nurture our children, we must reclaim them and take charge of providing for their attachment needs.
Since our Gavin turned 16, (he’s now 17), we’ve been asked several times if he’s always gone. Is family life viewed as something to escape, rather than a place in which you are loved as you are, heard, guided; a place where you work hard and play hard and share in the rhythm of feasts and forgiveness?
I wonder, if abandoning home life is the mindset, then has it become the norm for parents to throw up their hands in surrender, giving up on cultivating family life and parenting once a teen can drive, or even as early as puberty?
Yes, I believe independence increases over time, but it is a s l o w increase – one that is dependent upon a teen’s character and level of responsibility, but home is still home.
We believe teens need our unconditional love, guidance, encouragement, boundaries, and sometimes consequences. They need to feel it deeply – that we are for them and believe in them. They feel secure, rather than restrained, within healthy boundaries.
Teens will gravitate where they feel heard and supported the most.
It’s all to easy in this age of peer orientation to believe it’s hopeless to connect to our teen’s heart. Many believe the lie that their teens don’t want to have anything to do with them, that to pursue a close relationship is pointless. But at the heart of every child and teen is the longing to have those close ties with a parent who loves them unconditionally.
Many parents, in an attempt to avoid coming off as controlling, resort to the other extreme. They retire their role as parents prematurely, often as early as the onset of the teen years when resistance swells. Possibly due to their own negative experiences with figures of authority, they view exercising authority as a power-hungry act rather than an act of love, protection, and connection.
But in allowing a young teen (or an older teen who has not proved to be responsible in maintaining a healthy balance) to determine how many hours they will spend on a screen each day, how often they will hang out with friends, and to basically manage all the details of their young lives, (in most cases) these parents are setting their kids up to be disconnected from the family.
The pressure of too many decisions and options can weigh heavily upon them.
A teen lacking strong family ties is socially and emotionally volatile, often lacking the grit to overcome challenges as well as lacking confidence. The boundaries that provide security and training as to how to live life in a healthy balance are not present.
I’m often asked what a healthy limit for screens is. I think in all areas of parenting we need to lean into the Holy Spirit for guidance as there’s not a perfect answer. It will look different in our unique families. For us, we’ve had peace with waiting until a child is driving to allow them a phone. This gives more time for their character to develop before setting such a device in their hands, more time to be free from the pull that can steal from a wonder-filled childhood.
Once they have a phone, we set an hour limit per day that includes texting, email, and social media as they are learning to balance it in their lives; Dan and I rarely spend more than this on ours, apart from Dan’s time at work. When school is demanding, it is less; when sick, it is more.
As they grow in maturity and responsibility, demonstrating they can wisely manage their time, we give them the increased freedom to do so.
If there’s a lack of kindness and respect toward siblings or parents, the phone is taken away for a while. A ‘vacation’ from the phone at this point has done a world of good, and once we see that the family connections are truly tended to and made stronger, the phone is given back. This has taken anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. We’ve seen this time ‘off’ do its beautiful, restorative work as deep connections become the focus.
Yes, dear friends are part of their lives, but not their life.
Screens are part of their lives, but they do not consume their life.
Hold on to their hearts. Bravely create a different family culture than the norm. Don’t fear healthy boundaries- they still need a parent to assist in guarding their hearts and to (gently and firmly) confront them over concerns.
Love them wildly, come alongside them in supporting their interests, and watch them flourish.
“Christmas is often seen as a season of excess. What it ought to be is a poignant season of remembrance. The point of all the food and song and gifts is not some hedonistic, once-a-year immersion in material over-indulgence. The point is to put flesh and expression to joy. If we lose sight of the Christ child’s coming, if we forget the heavenly joy we are trying to embody, then Christmas can easily become a season of mere excess. But when the incarnation is at its heart, then every song, every special meal, every planned event becomes a pageant in which the drama of the heavenly story is lived out. The Christmas festival becomes a tiny taste of eternity, rising up in time.”
Given the times we live in, it requires true intentionality on our part to make the meaning of Christmas the focus in our homes, to keep Jesus as the heartbeat of our holidays. It is all too easy to be swept up in the culture’s material lust for more, belittling Christmas to nothing more than a time of hustle and bustle and satisfying our wants. I know all too well, as this once was the nature of our Christmases. But as our family grew so did our desire to instill meaning in our holidays, to create traditions that would ground us and deepen our ties as a family, to build growing anticipation in all of our hearts as the celebration of the coming of the Christ child draws near. There are 3 courses of action we take to ensure our season is filled with the hope and joy of Christ. Doing these, we found, have been the key to truly magical Christmases, deposited in each of our hearts.
There is something about traditions that knit us as a family. They are rituals that we look forward to fondly and the kids know they can count on; they become part of our family identity and give each member a sense of belonging and pride. This may seem like a long list of traditions, but they are all very do-able. We started our parenting years with only one tradition – just reading the Nativity story on Christmas Eve. Our traditions have slowly increased over the 15 years of parenthood. For young families I recommend adopting one or two new traditions and then growing from there. Please don’t let my list overwhelm you! I’m all about baby steps.
Over the years I have collected Christmas-themed books (mostly used ones from Half Price and Amazon) that we store in the barn, only to be taken out for this season. Ellie and I wrap each one in dollar store wrapping paper in the days following Thanksgiving. This has become one of our cherished mama-daughter traditions. Then, beginning December 1st the kids take turns opening one each afternoon and we pile on the couch together as I read aloud books that resurrect old memories – the warm and fuzziest kinds. Books that point to Jesus, books that inspire us in the joy of giving, and books that are just plain fun.
Then in the dark of each evening with only the light glowing from the fire and the twinkling lights of the tree, we gather around and Dan reads a devotional from Ann Voskamp’s, “Unlocking the Greatest Gift.” I highly recommend this devotional, especially created to be read each December evening to build the anticipation of Jesus’ coming and keep our focus on Him. On Christmas Eve over a candlelit dinner, we read the story of Christ’s coming – from the book of Matthew.
When admiring the glow of the lights from our tree, we discuss all the wondrous symbolism there. The tree representing the cross He gave His all on, the lights representing the one true Light, the evergreen tree representing eternal life, and then there’s the fruit and the candy canes and the star on top of it all – a rich illustration. We fill our home with cinnamon and spruce candles burning, choral and instrumental Christmas music, and the aroma of breads and treats baking in hopes of creating memories they will savor for years to come, memories that add to the richness of home and hint at the wonder of the season.
We keep the World Vision catalog out on our coffee table and ask the kids to choose what they would like to give. Sometimes we buy a goat, and other times we take on a child to sponsor from that point on, adding another member to our family in our hearts. This is the most important gift giving we will do and is priority. We talk to the kids about how this is truly giving to Jesus, as it is indeed His birthday.
Cinnamon salt dough ornaments and garland are so simple and satisfying to make. We thoroughly enjoy rolling the dough in our hands while the cinnamon aroma fills the house and using cookie cutters to shape them while ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ or ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ plays their familiar scenes in the background.
When we travel during the holidays we listen to the audiobook of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol.’ This classic is worth listening to every year, and is written so that it captivates everyone and opens our eyes to see people and Christmas differently.
Another simple tradition of ours (usually done just days before Christmas when the kids are crazy with excitement and could seriously use a job) is to buy a gingerbread house village set and loads of white frosting, already made and ready for fun. Each of our kids are in charge of decorating one of the homes and we set them all on a piece of plywood so that a somewhat spacious neighborhood can be created complete with an ice skating pond, streets, and snowmen.
Endless geometric structures can be built just from toothpicks and green/red gumdrops! I love to sit back and watch the creativity unfold with this one. Dads get into it as much as anyone.
In order to have a meaningful Christmas season, and to have the time and energy to do any of the above, we have to be intentional in protecting our schedule. There are so many places we could go and things to see at this time, and if we’re not careful we’re racing all over only to come home frazzled and overwhelmed by all the wrapping and baking that need to be done. In order to simplify, we say yes to only one non-family party, I do almost all of the shopping online, and enlist kids as well as dad to help with the wrapping and baking. If your kids are old enough to help, this is not only more efficient, but are some of our favorite parts of the season as we work alongside each other with Christmas music filling the air.
“Don’t have guilt over saying no – because every no is saying a better yes.” ~ Ann Voskamp
“Although our culture seems to worship being busy, constant activity will slowly undermine our perspective on life and kill our own souls.” ~Sally Clarkson
Battle of Materialism
Maintaining an atmosphere of giving rather than materialism is a vital component of a Jesus-filled life, and it will likely be carried on throughout the year. Years ago we took our son to the toy stores before Christmas and birthdays, allowing him to hungrily peruse the toy aisles, planning his wish lists. As you can imagine, the lists were ridiculously long. Even though he received more than plenty of gifts, it was difficult for him to be content as other toys he longed for were lingering in the back of his mind. Once we made it a point to stop exposing him to all the things, we had a happier child. Occasionally we allow our kids to browse worthwhile toys, books, kayaks, hiking gear, swings, and board games on certain websites to have a say in what they would prefer, all while monitoring the effects on their hearts and keeping it all in check. But greed takes over when we allow them to peruse the toy catalogs and aisles.
Over the last couple years my eyes have been opened to the effect that clutter has on all of us. It increases anxiety, brain fog, and is a weight on parent and child alike, whether the child fully realizes it or not. Clutter has become less of a constant battle in our home since I’ve learned much of it is an issue of guarding our children’s hearts as well as our own – it’s more a battle of materialism. This statement hit home with me, “Possessions don’t make you rich. They make you possessive.” Once I personally had the breakthrough of realizing how much heaviness I carried from all the stuff in our home and crammed in our barn (items I thought we needed for optimal living), and donated stuff by the truckloads, I was shocked at the new level of contentment in us all. The kids are surprisingly eager to give to kids who have less once they become aware of how others live. God has placed us as gatekeepers over our homes so that they can be a restful, life-giving haven to all, and as guards over our children’s hearts over what may weigh them down.
Reading books aloud such as “Little House on the Prairie” and looking at the World Vision catalogs regularly have helped them to grasp how much is enough, and even to be turned off at the thought of too much. Regularly sending letters and gifts to the African girl we sponsor helps instill the habit of giving and awareness of others.
This is still a process for us to be sure, but for the most part we are free of the constant lust for more and that is a mighty good feeling. But most of all, we long for the way in which we celebrate to point to Him, to lavish love on Him, to bring a smile. It is – after all – His birthday.
“So Christmas, for us, was not simply a season of material experience. It was a season of renewal – because ultimately, the point of the Christian faith is that God has come to renew and redeem. The ending of the biblical story is a wedding feast, a Kingdom, a mysterious city with streets of gold and gates of pearl and jeweled foundation stones. This is the reality at which our Christmas celebrations hint. This is the real future we glimpse in the color and beauty, the feasting, laughter, and music of our most marvelous celebrations. Our remembrance is a kind of promise, our spoken hope in all the beauty that is to come. So let the feasting begin!”
~This article can also be found on http://www.cohesivehome.com – an inspiring community of intentional families ~
We were living the only way we knew. Our schedule was overwhelming. Our 6 year old, Gavin, was in baseball and Tae Kwon Do a couple nights a week, and we often brought our younger kids along. There was also heavy involvement in church activities and many responsibilities we had taken on there. With all of this piled on top of the time Gavin was away at school, there was little time remaining for us to be a family. There was an emptiness in all the busyness, and a hurt in all the hurry.
My husband, Dan, was the first to challenge the way we were living. I recall us arriving home late one school night, his hands full carrying Ellie (lying limp over his shoulder) and my hands full with Gavin’s baseball gear. Gavin was exhausted, walking alongside his father as he held on to him, his head bobbing against Dan’s side. Dan paused, released a troubled sigh, and very seriously said to me, “Why do we feel the need to live like this?” Truth be told, we were drained, but until that moment I assumed that was the only acceptable way to live. A lifestyle free from hurry seemed scandalous. We had felt the worldly obligation to over schedule and rush and had jumped in without questioning it. Life wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was a life in which we were not truly connected as a couple, nor in tune with our children’s hearts, nor grounded with purpose. We were spread a mile wide and felt an inch deep.
When Dan questioned the way we were living, I was reluctant to change initially. There were fears of our kids ‘missing out.’ After much thought and prayer a sense of relief began to wash over me as my eyes were opened to the fact that we were already missing out on what mattered, and that whether we lived in the 21st century or not, we could choose a different path.
This marked the beginning of a shift in our thoughts and a pivotal change in our lives as we began to disregard the messages of our culture and instead uncover the longings God had placed deep in our hearts. Little did we fathom then that this would eventually lead us to homeschooling, moving 100 miles from the city and everything we knew, buying a little house on 11 acres and adding chickens as well as a milk cow!
Now we were on the course to simplify our lives and to guard our time. For the first time we dared to dream of a life rich in simplicity, a life that would give our children a strong foundation and tie us together as family. A life lived open enough that we could spontaneously bake a batch of cookies together, venture on wildflower hunts, identify the constellations while lying on the grass, grab our kayaks and head to the lake on a whim, learn to build a barn and our home together, linger long over dinner as we read aloud another chapter, worship alongside each other in our home and our country church, open our home to share hearts with others, create trails on our land for exploring and go cart driving. And by the grace of God, this is our life. A life in which there is time enough for the kids to explore their interests, whether it’s learning to build a magnetic generator and reading all the great books, taking his kayak out on the lake or playing his guitar (Gavin), writing the story of our family since we’ve moved to the country, floating in her kayak, taking painting lessons from her aunt or playing the piano (Ellie), climbing yet another tree, figuring out how to build what’s in his head with his Legos as well as wood, and completing his Wild Explorer Club assignments (Quinn), or all of us out on our land playing around.
It’s often messy with all this togetherness and we screw up more than I like, but that gives us opportunities to learn to love well and practice forgiveness. Our children’s relationships with each other go deep. They truly enjoy each other as they have ample time and space to do so free from the pull of screens and distractions. There is time and space to hug, create, play, laugh, explore, share hopes, discover passions, thoroughly deal with heart issues, and be. To just be. It’s vital for our soul’s nourishment and growth, but is the most rejected activity today.
Throughout the years we’ve realized that anytime we gravitate toward a busy lifestyle (even recently) we begin to deal with our children as tasks, moving through our days giving them orders and going through the motions of family life. However, when we are living intentionally and slowly, rather than merely dealing with our children, we have found that we truly see them. At those times we have the capacity to hear their hearts and share ours. We’ve also seen a strong correlation between an over-scheduled life and negative, disrespectful attitudes in our children (and us). When our lives are cluttered it can be difficult for me to even recognize that there is an issue in my child’s heart, and even harder to take the time to get to the root of it and address it.
“It’s easy, given the times we live in and the implicit messages we absorb each day, to equate a good life with having a lot and doing a lot. So it’s also easy to fall into believing that our children, if they are to succeed in life, need to be terrific at everything, and that it’s up to us to make sure they are – to keep them on track through tougher course loads, more activities, more competitive sports, more summer programs. But in all our well-intentioned efforts to do the right thing for our children, we may be failing to provide them with something that is truly essential – the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures.” Katrina Kenison
We realized in order to maintain this kind of life in our hyper-scheduled world we would need to have a game plan. I personally love to plan and this has often been my downfall, even after we resolved to live simply and drop unnecessary commitments. I have been far too eager to fill up our calendar. This has led to no less than me crumpling under a panic attack, and bickering among the whole family as we race around attempting to keep up.
So the decision was made several years back that before we commit to anything from an extracurricular activity to hosting friends for dinner we are to pray through what we are giving a ‘yes’ to and especially what we are therefore saying no to. We question whether this commitment will be beneficial to the child 10 years from now more than time spent curled up with an inspiring book, or in the quiet schooling of nature, or time spent in lessons from a neighbor or family member. Is it a more valuable use of their time than time with siblings or “the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures,” as Kenison stated. What are the influences in the environment? Do I want to put them in an event to see them perform or to win a medal? Am I longing to see them accomplish something because I wish I had? How will it affect the whole family? Is it more important that they learn to do a back handspring in a gym on a beautiful day, or hike in the outdoors where perspective is renewed, where they are refreshed, and learn to reverence God and grow a respect for all living things?
Seven years ago after our marriage had taken a devastating turn for the worse, Dan and I developed the habit of praying together each evening after we put the kids to bed (and this has done no less than transform our marriage in amazing and surprising ways). The more we have sought the Lord together, the easier it has become to hear His voice on the matter. Early in our marriage we prayed together occasionally wrapping it up with a quick Amen, but never taking the time to listen. To be still and expectant together. This has turned into my most anticipated part of each day. When we take the time to seek Him, He doesn’t leave us in the dark. And when we turn down a commitment because God is leading us to, we carry freedom rather than guilt. We’ve never regretted a decision we made after seeking God on the matter, but I’ve uttered a thousand ‘thank you’s’ to the Lord for steering us clear of the ‘too much’ I would most certainly have signed us up for otherwise. God has led us to a life that is not void of challenges, but a life in which we can focus on what matters at the end of the day, rich in simplicity and deepening joy.
The main longing God had placed in my heart from my earliest days is to be a mom. To nurture, love, and train young souls to love God and rise to His calling. I always loved the idea of teaching, but never felt God was leading me to necessarily be a school teacher. Growing up, there is no paid occupation that I can muster the least bit of interest in.
As I grow the voices come at me from every angle.. in school, TV, magazines, movies, and yes even people from church. ‘To be a mom is not good enough. You must go to college and get a degree you can be proud of first and foremost. Then a career. At that point you can start thinking about marriage. Once you’re settled and you’re both making plenty of money, only then do you start a family. But don’t let that family get in the way of your career. Oh no. Because to be ‘just a mom’ is not good enough.”
I want to be accepted and admired more than anything growing up. So early on I get the message: to become what my heart truly longs for is not acceptable. I am constantly told to hold on to my dreams, but it is clear that this means only as long as they involve a money-making career.
I don’t realize that my longing to please people is choking the very life out of the dreams God has placed inside me.
I am instead learning that my hopes for the future are unacceptable and must be suppressed. And as I push them away, part of me dies. The deep down joy I know as a child is lost and I don’t look forward to the future. at. all. I know I don’t fit into any of the career boxes. So I only look at the future with dread. And this begins when I am 10.
This makes it difficult for me to draw near to God because I feel He is calling me to do things I will find no happiness in. Trusting God with my life sure seems unattainable and rather scary.
If only I could have heard then that a mother is the shaper of souls. That there is no higher calling.
Sally Clarkson, who has written many books on motherhood and parenting and who is my mentor, says this:
“For thousands of years the view of motherhood described in the Bible was generally respected in western culture. Motherhood was seen as a noble and important calling. Women considered themselves blessed to have many children, and it was considered normal and good for home and family to be the central focus of a woman’s life. The office of ‘mother’ was respected and revered, and it was generally assumed that entire generations were shaped during the time they spend at the mother’s knee.
Now it has become a lifestyle option – and to many a lesser option – rather than a divine calling.
Friends and teachers had encouraged me to do something important with my life, which meant choosing a career and a type of work that would make the best use of my talents and personality. I could marry and have children if I wanted but not at the expense of fulfilling my potential. Even many of my Christian friends and mentors managed to convey that being ‘just a wife and mother’ would somehow be less than God’s best for me.
God designed motherhood to be a deeply meaningful role. We have the opportunity to influence eternity by building a spiritual legacy in the lives of our children. Through our teaching and influence, morality can be learned and modeled, love and kindness are taught and received, purpose and vision for their lives are ignited and passed on if the mother’s relationships with her children are strong.”
Such truth. How I love Sally and wish I had her books when I first became a mama.
As we walk through life with our kids each day, sharing our hearts and hearing theirs, sharing in good books and good food, playing and learning together, seeking and serving God together, we are molding these eternal souls who are learning the goodness and love of God and who are being filled with His love.
Raising these souls will impact the world. When the time comes they will be shapers of souls as well.
A month after I graduate from high school I am in breathtaking Northern Ireland on a missions trip. And this is where I meet him for the first time though we are a part of the same missions team from TX. This guy pursues me, this guy who boldly shares his testimony on the streets there, this guy with the big brown eyes that fully captivate me and leave me breathless.
3 weeks after we meet, we both feel our relationship will be forever. We make a forever commitment to each other. We don’t see it so much as a boyfriend/girlfriend thing, but we see our relationship as one preparing for marriage.
So a year later on the bright green coast of Northern Ireland, towering high over the rocky blue waters below, we cross a rickety rope bridge to a small island. Dan bends his knee and asks me to be his wife, with dear friends surrounding us.
A year later, and 2 years to the date of committing to a relationship with each other, on August 5, 2000, we nervously exchange promises and rings. I am not nervous because I doubt if Dan is the right one, but because my head is filled with shame as we are getting married before our culture deems it proper. a.k.a. before we finish college, and certainly before we have money-making careers. I feel I am failing in some way. But now, looking back, I know we were married at the right time.
6 months later I am pregnant. I thought we had taken the proper precautions to prevent that. I struggle with an opposing mix of utter joy and devastation. The world is saying my life is over. I am breaking the cardinal rule, having a baby before we have finished college and have plenty of money rolling in. What should have been one of the most joyous times of our lives is drenched in grief.
Then we begin to hear God. He gently says, “I’m in this. You are blessed. It’s going to be alright.” And we try to believe it.
The world is calling us irresponsible. God is calling us blessed.
I know the Scripture. I know God calls children a gift and that nothing is created apart from His will. I know of His promises to provide, and His promises to provide don’t depend on if you stay within the acceptable 2 kids limit, nor do they depend on college degrees. But even the Christian world is telling me something different.
Once Gavin comes, my blue eyed, chunky, perfect Gerber baby, I am smitten. The role of motherhood seems a perfect fit for me and I soak up every minute, kissing those cheeks, tickling those baby rolls. Yet I still have the shadow of how the world perceives me gnawing at me.
I go back to school. Before long my world is caught up in making all A’s, even being the top of the class, and all the recognition that goes along with that. My ego is being fed. And my family is taking a backseat.
During this busy season in which we are both in school, with each of us working as well, we put our marriage on the back burner, each believing the other will understand. We each think we can just pick our marriage back up when we have more time. We fall for another one of Satan’s lies.
We don’t know then that we are giving our marriage a death sentence. And die it did.
This is a lonely time. The little time Dan and I have to be together is spent with us studying in different corners of the house. We and I are not connecting. My heart aches that I don’t get to spend the time with my toddler that I long to.
But this pressure rages on inside, the pressure to do it all. The pressure to be everything but what I truly want to be.
My days at school are long. I make a friend who is there the same hours I am in the business building. He is seven years older, hard working, mature, makes pretty perfect grades. We have much in common (but not necessarily those things) and enjoy each others company. In Business Calculus whatever I am struggling with, he excels in, and I do well in the portion he doesn’t understand. So we begin meeting together to study. It makes sense, but is one bad decision that seems innocent and small enough at the time. Satan set it up well.
Before long he is the one I am connecting to and sharing life with instead of my husband. Over time this becomes an emotional affair. This guy is truly genuine. He speaks to me in a way that makes me swoon, all the right words. At all the right moments. And says them with such depth.
I recall lingering in his car with him one time. I am looking out the window, then when I turn back toward him he is gazing at me and says, “Damn, you’re beautiful.” He holds the weight of me with these words and I melt.
He makes me feel like a goddess.
Being with him gives me such an adrenaline high. I am addicted. And my ego is thriving.
During this time I feel no attraction toward Dan. I think even God can’t fix it.
I am torn. There is a war waging inside of me between this addiction, this lust, and God’s hold on me.
I have already listened to the world so much that it is natural now and I continue to. I listen to the world say I haven’t experienced enough. I was a virgin when I married my first boyfriend. The world is saying I missed out on something.
There is a battle in me between these thoughts and what I know to be true.
And now my relationship with this guy is deepening and becoming physical. We make out in the elevator and in the car after school. But I am surprised to learn that the more I am with him the emptier I feel. This lust can’t be quenched, can not come close to being satisfied.
I eventually find myself in bed with him, but I can never go through with it. God has me. And even though parts of me want to helplessly give in to the temptation and not give a rip, for the most part I am screaming internally.
I know I can’t continue to live like this, with all the inner turmoil, without God and my family as priorities.
I know enough of God’s character by now to know He is waiting with open arms. And I am ready to run toward them.
I miss who Dan and I once were. I hope God will restore our marriage, that He will raise it from the dead, but I have a difficult time believing it possible.
Finally, I open up to Dan about it all. I know this is the only way to the healing. Heartbroken, anguished, but still full of love for me, he forgives. And I am overwhelmed by his goodness and his rich love for me that I have missed. All because of the lies I have listened to.
Dan sees how he has neglected ‘us.’ I know I have done the same. We have ignored the red flags.
We work to pick up the broken pieces of our relationship and start over. This time with new vigor, being all too aware of the fragility of marriage, and knowing it’s something we have to fiercely protect.
I have 2 early miscarriages at this time, within 4 months. As we grieve God knits our hearts together afresh.
During this time I learn that the sacrificial, unconditional love of my husband may not always bring on that adrenaline high, but is deeper, more satisfying, and far sexier than anything the world has to offer.
I learn that lust, the lust to be admired, the lust for that next adrenaline high, is nothing but a black hole that is never satisfied. It sucks you in deeper and deeper but produces nothing but darkness and emptiness.
I continue on in school but at a different campus. God gives us our daughter, Ellie. Quite a gift. I have never been happier, with 2 precious kids and long to be with them. But this pressure inside rages on and I feel I must forge on in school.
By this time I am in the senior level operations management business classes. These classes require far more than I have peace about giving. Challenging case presentations. I can’t do this and be the mom I know I need to be.
For the first time in my life I began having chest pains continually. I end up in the ER. I try to control the stress but the pain continues.
Dan and I venture out on a long walk together and I share with him how I’m trying to figure out what to do with these struggles, this unhappiness. He simply says, “What if it isn’t God’s will for you to finish school right now, or ever?”
Not God’s will! The thought had never occurred to me. I have always heard it from Christians.. so I have figured it is from God, it was always implied that you get.a.degree. This is what our world puts their faith in. No one ever said to seek the Lord on the matter.
But in that very moment I know. And I see clearly for the first time in my life. In this moment God’s peace floods me and I hear Him say, “I’m not in that. Not in that pressure to finish school, that heavy weight like chains all over you, this way of life that robs your joy and keeps you from your family. My promises to provide for you are not based on you acquiring a degree. The longing to be with your kids and the vision you have of the mother you want to be is there because I placed it inside you.”
An indescribable peace washes over me and I am released from this people-pleasing bondage I have lived in far too long.
I am set free.
Set free from the weight of it all, this hunger to be accepted by others and the fear of what will happen if I am not, set free from my dim view of God and what He is calling me to.
And in that moment I am aware that I have made pleasing and impressing people my god. I have longed for the world to validate me and it has blinded me. Blinded me from a life that is not easy, but rich and full of joy. It blocked me from an intimate, trusting relationship with God as I thought He was calling me to that which every fiber of my being found miserable.
So I stop in the middle of the road with Dan, tears in the sunshine, and there’s this sweet release. These chains all over me – this heaviness from trying to please others – is lifted. Gone! And I no longer give a rip what others think about our choices. Only what God says.
I am delivered.
I know God’s holding my hand and leading me down the path I had dreamed of all along. And I fall in love with Him all over again; joy is now attainable and a reality.
It is the sweetest surrender. I feel light as a feather and as though God and I are dancing together, rejoicing together.
So Dan and I embark on this life long journey, going against the flow of our culture. Little do we know at this point that this will affect all areas of our lives, that He will lead us to something radically different even from what we often see as the Christian norm.
Freedom comes when you listen to God’s voice and tune out all the others. As well as a rich life.
And at this point in our lives we are set free.
Romans 12:1b-2 says,
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
I spent so much of my life looking for approval, not understanding that Jesus had already accepted me.
Ann Voskamp says,
“What if the beautiful reality of His extravagant, lavish, ardent, complete acceptance became your everyday reality?
What if your complete acceptability became your complete identity?
We need to learn to live loved. This frees us into the art of life.
When identity is not drawn from a performance- but drawn toward a Person, the Person of Jesus- this is the place where a life makes music. If your performance is fueled by your need for acceptance, this is what BURNS your life OUT.
But when His already acceptance is the very fuel of your performance – this is what ignites a life into pure glory.
An erupting relief of grateful joy moves you to dance, knowing the completeness of your acceptance.”
We need to allow this to sink in, how completely He loves and accepts us now. Not when we’re spiritual enough, not once we’ve rid ourselves of our bad habits, but NOW!
When we surrender fully we are met with a life sweeter, more satisfying and fulfilling than we ever dreamed possible.
Because it is the life He has created us for.