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Our Daily Rhythm

“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.

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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).

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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.

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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.  🙂

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Day in Our Home Educating Life — Spring of 2017

This post is a time capsule, a post that I will always treasure as it is how we have lived so many of our days together over the years. Yes, there is some variation from day to day and year to year, but this has been the flow of our school days for the most part.  A natural rhythm that developed over the years and became our own.  This year is looking much the same, except we are using The Good and the Beautiful curriculum for Quinn and Ellie’s Language Arts and History, (and absolutely enjoying it so far), and Gavin (15) is now taking dual-credit college classes online.  I grieved this summer over this change for Gavin, though we knew God was saying it is time, but I’m learning my role as teacher in his life is still just as crucial as I help him adjust to his new responsibilities and expectations in college.  And he shares with me about each chapter he reads, so great discussion has ensued.  Okay, enough with the introduction!  Join me as I lead you through our day; I’m so glad you are here.

 

With some difficulty (not a morning person) I rise around 7 each morning and get started on breakfast.  This morning Ellie surprised me with eggs ready.  She’s my early bird and frequently helps in this way, knowing how much it helps her morning zombie of a mama out.  (Mamas of young children – easier days – they are coming)!  By the time breakfast is ready, the younger kids are up and Gavin (15) joins us with a little help. 😉 We’ve all agreed we prefer to get going somewhat early so that we can move through our day at an unhurried pace and have time for what matters.  At breakfast, we pray together and I read a verse (currently out of Proverbs), then mostly it’s them talking and mama sipping coffee, zoning in and out.

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We do our main reading aloud time over lunch once my blood is flowing and my reading is better than monotone.  Soon as we’re done eating we tackle the kitchen together.  Half the time they do this on their own while I get the laundry moving.  I don’t feel the house needs to be perfect when we start our day, but I’ve found if there are clean kitchen counters, a swept floor, and dishes put away at the opening of our day, we are all more content and can think clearer the remainder of the day.

We can usually finish this in less than 10 minutes and we head to our own quiet spaces for ‘God Time’.  This is a peace-filled time of refueling and a way I can have that time alone to be filled at the start of the day without having to wake before I’m ready. This supports our priority of connecting to God and jumpstarting our day in gratitude.

The kids take turns caring for Willow at this time and treasure this one on one time with her.  So I’m (almost) guaranteed time alone with my Creator without my wee monkey climbing on my shoulders and ripping pages of my Bible.  After 20 minutes or so I ring our old school bell and it’s morning chore time for all.  I put on lively music, we brush teeth, make beds, get dressed, Gavin feeds the pig and sweeps under the table, Ellie wipes the table, Quinn heads to the barn to feed the dog, I dress Willow, tidy around the house, etc.

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Then, what follows just might be my favorite part of the day, morning person or not!  We head outdoors to partake of the majesty of the earth awakening.  It almost seems to whisper, ‘all things new.’  This rouses our senses as we head out, alert to what has changed around us as we listen to the birds songs.  We may find a new nest, observe earthworms after a rain, find new flowers in bloom, head over to our little pond to check on tadpoles and water bugs, watch the squirrels busily scamper from tree to tree, or check on our favorite tree ‘Big Elm’ over at the edge of our property.

We often start out with our nature journals, and after the kids have sketched or painted something of interest, they set the journals aside and swing from trees, or dig in the moist dirt. My teen will usually run laps around the property at this time to keep in shape for the Spartan races he and Dan regularly run together. Today we ventured back on our forest trails and used the Birdsong ID app to identify some of the newer birds that have nested here and tried to spy their nests as well.  One of our current read alouds is the Bird Burgess book and this has inspired Quinn (8) to start a feather collection so he’s on the hunt.

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I’ve become increasingly aware this year of the fleeting time, especially now that Gavin has surpassed me in height!  Over the last year especially, I’ve pondered what I really want their days – their memories years from now – to look like and make that the basis for our days.  It’s an effort to really seize the time (not that I haven’t had days of mere survival) but it’s a grace-filled goal. Venturing out just after chores to see what awaits adds a layer of richness to our day, fueling our curiosities. It revives us all.
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Unless the kids are involved in an epic adventure, we head inside by 9:30-10 and they begin their independent work, all of us filled to the brim.  I have struggled this year as we can’t head out on long camping trips or kayak down rivers as often as I crave.  We’re finishing up the building of our home as well as a fixer upper we bought to flip – this on top of Dan working full time.  But my eyes are being opened to the fact that we all have more nature closer to us than we realize, and it doesn’t take but a patch of grass to observe a new world with a child.  They don’t have the same wanderlust we do, and are born with a wonder we must preserve.
In the book, ‘Caught Up In a Story’, Sarah Clarkson states, “The wonder natural to childhood is precious, something many adults spend a lifetime trying to reclaim, and as such must be preserved and maintained, especially while children are young. Your role as parent is key: how will your children encounter nature?  Will they be too distracted by technologies set in their hands since birth, or will they have learned to look, to love, to hold the world around them as holy?”
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Independent studies time is generally from 10-12, but often the younger ones finish earlier and play.  During this time they do math (we have used Teaching Textbooks for years now and it’s been a game changer), scripture memorization, copywork, Grammar, spelling.  Gavin also reads Notgrass history and writes a narration daily.  (I rotate between history and nature study with Quinn and Ellie in the afternoon – more on that later).  I’m not big on workbooks as we’ve been down that road and learning transformed into drudgery for us, but I use a workbook for grammar (Easy Grammar) and it has been painless and effective.
I need to interject here and say that the little bit of curriculum we do use, I very much ‘own’ rather than letting it rule us.  I only use what I believe to be helpful for the child, and don’t pay much attention to the grade recommended.  I once stressed over fully finishing workbooks and paid more attention to completing a curriculum that in observing what the child is absorbing and possibly lacking.  Now I only use what I believe to be helpful to the child.  Other than Easy Grammar, the only workbook I use is for Quinn (8) – Horizons Phonics.  He enjoys the colorful pages and I’ve had him do a little a day since the beginning of his first grade year.  Horizons is extremely advanced so I have him doing a first grade workbook when technically he’s finishing up second grade.
While he’s working on that I stay close by to help, but the remainder of the morning the kids rarely need my assistance so I keep laundry moving, and snuggle up and read to Willow (22 mos).  And just before lunch I rock her and her 3 baby dolls as we sing ‘Old MacDonald,’ then I put ‘them’ to nap.
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Lunchtime. As soon as Willow is napping I gather the kids to help prepare lunch, usually right around noon.  This is another favorite part of my day with the rich read alouds that unite us all and much laughter. On a loop (so that they’re rotated day to day) I read a historical novel, then the following day from the Burgess Book of Birds (our current nature read aloud), then the next day is picture books, followed by poetry. Quality picture books are a large part of our book collection and combine art with story.  We do our literature read aloud each evening at dinner so dad is always a part, which he appreciates (currently reading Understood Betsy).  For our history read aloud, we completed Johnny Tremain – it was all American history this year – and I followed it with one aimed at my younger audience, Squanto.
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So we often linger long at the table at lunch and dinner.  As soon as the kids finish eating they grab their sketchbooks nearby and draw, or grab a quiet toy and play until I’m finished reading. Then I often ask one to verbally narrate.  They never know ahead of time who will be called on so this keeps them tuned in.  This has helped to sharpen listening and verbal skills as it “strengthens and challenges all the powers of the mind”  as Karen Andreola put it. This has become as natural to the kids as breathing, and it continually amazes me how accurately and in what detail they can share what they heard.
We didn’t study composers this year other than merely playing Mozart occasionally as they painted, and no official geography this year either. I knew before this school year began that I needed to be reasonable and kind to myself this year with a highly active and often clingy toddler.  We’ll jump into map work next year and maybe I’ll play Bach during their painting then.  😉  I think it’s important to be aware of what season to lighten the load and steer clear of comparisons to others.  We all have a unique set of challenges and a unique set of kids.
After lunchtime we put our dishes away and do ‘lunchtime chores’. This is a system I implemented years ago and it has worked beautifully. Each child has a different chore each day, for example Gavin washes the mirrors on Monday, while Ellie sweeps her room, and Quinn dusts his. This is separate from morning chores which are identical each day. I love this system because rather than waiting until the house is filthy and having to clean all day – overwhelming the kids and me – we take care of it one chore at a time.  The house is NEVER perfect, but it is usually halfway decent.  This takes about 5 minutes.      
Then, it’s our quiet reading hour, 40 minutes of peace-filled calm in the middle of our day.  It’s my introverted method of refueling so I’m still a nice mama come 4:00, and it’s equally beneficial to the kids.  For the first half the kids read a book that relates to their period of history, and the last half they read a book they’ve chosen from our growing library of living books.
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We don’t eat out, buy jewelry, or fancy cars – we buy books!  I take this time to feed my soul as well and don’t allow myself to tackle household tasks, but I read as much as Willow allows. I’m currently rereading ‘The Charlotte Mason Companion’, ‘Simplicity Parenting’, ‘Caught Up in a Story’, and ‘Hold on to Your Kids’. Anyone else jump between 4 books at a time?
After Read on Your Own time in the Spring, Quinn and Ellie are free to pursue their interests and usually head outside three days a week after helping to put away laundry, on the other days I snuggle up with them on the couch and read nature study one day (currently Pagoo) and history (Stories of the Pilgrims) the other. (In the Winter we do history or nature study together 4 days a week, but come Spring I encourage much more time for outdoor exploration).
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Afterward, they paint in their journals and write about what we read. They are increasingly enjoying painting and have been inspired by some YouTube videos I’ve pulled up. Once they start painting I take Willow to help me pull clothes out of the drier as she thinks this is great fun or pull out a sensory bin to keep her out of the acrylic paint! Meanwhile Gavin (15) works on his apologia Biology and coding program from Sonlight. He’s my science and tech guy and (praise God) happily conquers these subjects. Geometry, on the other hand, he won’t miss.
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Our afternoons and evenings often look like Ellie baking while Quinn plays with legos and Gavin practices guitar and Willow hangs on mama. Today it looks like all 3 of the older kids on the trampoline while Willow plays in the sandbox. (They’ve created endless trampoline games using an exercise ball. Take away the ball, and I can hardly get them to jump on it.  Just a little tip there)!  Or Quinn whittling on the back porch while Ellie plays with Willow in #elliesprairiehouse and Gavin runs with dad in preparation for the Spartan race while I do dinner prep. Or the boys arguing over something stupid and then copying scripture for a while.  It’s not always Norman Rockwell, but I believe being home together has nourished and deepened their relationships, the closeness forcing us to deal with heart issues. We’re involved in church, music lessons, and occasionally tumbling, but those are our only commitments, so for the most part we are home.
We’ve been asked why we don’t have the kids in organized sports. For us personally, considering the commitment and all we would miss out on, it didn’t feel right. We headed down that road before and our family ties grew weaker as it drained us all. I know some thrive off of it and it’s what they love. But I think many jump in blindly because it’s what you’re expected to do without stepping back to first decide what they truly want their family culture to be. Doing Spartan races has been a wonderful alternative to organized sports as we can train as a family in our own time, deciding how much time to give it. Once we decided to live counter-culturally, slow and meaningfully, to dare to say no so we can say yes to what are hearts beat for, our lives haven’t been free of challenge, but there’s a freedom and joy we feel like we’re dancing in. “Although our culture seems to worship being busy, constant activity will slowly undermine our perspective on life and kill our souls.” ~ Sally Clarkson “Consider saying no – Dare to ‘miss out,’ and find out what you really would have missed had you said ‘yes.” ~Jennifer Dukes Lee
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Each night before we tuck each child in we gather around the living room and read a bit from the Bible, the Gold Thread, or Hero Tales. It’s a calming and inspiring way to wind down together. This season of life can be exhausting, but I’ve never loved what I do more. My hope and prayer is that you too will find deep fulfillment in what you do, that you will have wisdom as to how to guide each child and run your home, that you would know what to embrace and what to say no to, that you would know you’re loved, that peace and overflowing joy would fill your hearts and home.

A Letter to My Son on His 13th Birthday

*With a house full of people gathered for Gavin’s Rite of Passage Blessing Party, I shared my letter to him just after we sang a couple worship songs (Gavin had chosen) around the piano.  Then his father read his letter to him and prayed a blessing over him.  We then presented a gift to Gavin, a leather corded cross necklace with the word ‘Radical’ stamped on the metal cross.  Then family and friends shared things that they see in Gavin and other words of encouragement.  All was recorded so it will be included in a keepsake book for him.  Our pastor then prayed a blessing over Gavin then we concluded with even more feasting and celebration!  Here is my letter:

 

How clearly I remember the sweet smell of your velvety newborn skin, your chubby 2 yr old hand in mine,  and here you are, almost my height and far beyond me in your knowledge of technology and science!

What a treasure God has placed in our hands. What an indescribable gift it has been to be your mom. Joy unspeakable.

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Your fierce love of God has not faltered. May it only increase in you. Your natural confidence, the way you can make anyone laugh and become anyone’s friend – these are gifts God has placed in you to touch the world.

You were 3 and I found you down the aisle from me chatting with an older gentleman about the weather in your very adult way, bringing a large grin to his face. Old or young, you have a gift of connecting with people.

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Don’t forget- it is through your hands and words that God wants to embrace the lost and wounded.

I pray that you will know the presence of God full well and live in it. Then joy will be your language and His intense, never-stopping love your drug. His love that runs hard after you, that will hunt you down.

Know this. His love is the most powerful and satisfying drug of all.

I pray that God will right now give you a deeper revelation of His love for you and that it will wash you to your innermost being.

When you regularly ingest the love He has for you, you will look for nothing else to satisfy. Not food or drink or friends or fame or money. You will know and feel that you already have far more than you need and it will overflow into the lives around you.

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May God deepen your love for others. I pray that you will be one who truly sees people, that you will go out of your way to help, to speak words that heal into others.

May His love be the driving force in your life and be the one thing everyone will experience while in your presence.

His love already shines in your eyes. Times when I have begun to doubt the depth of God’s love for me I often see it there. Right there in those kind green eyes of yours. A bright life-giving spark that goes right to my core. Just as it is in your sister’s heartfelt embraces and your brother’s laugh.

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I have failed at this parenting gig multiple times. Thank you for being quick to forgive, for regularly patting me on the back and surprising me with a shoulder massage, for your thoughtful ways.

How I cherish our walks and bike rides we’ve taken together. Thank you for sharing your heart with me, your concerns and loves. I pray that our relationship only grows deeper as it evolves with time. Through your teen years may there be even more laughter, more games played together, more campouts and hikes that awaken our souls.

God, help me to wake up to the gift of the here and now – these 13 years have flown by and I desperately don’t want to waste a second more. I pray that I won’t live another day with my to do list at the forefront of my mind, ignoring the precious souls right in front of me.

Remind me daily to connect with them, to sometimes leave dishes in the sink for a walk with my firstborn in the woods. To ignore the ringing phone and play Stratego with him. To share hearts and tears and belly laughter over a plate of cookies and let the emails wait. To truly listen. Help me to abandon all that is pulling at me and run wild with them in a game of hide and seek before I wake up and realize it’s too late.

Gavin, continue to expect me (from time to time) to just stare at you, as I soak up the gift of you. Expect that I will continue to squeeze you and not let go, and to share the things with you I feel so passionate about.

Thank you – for accepting that we do things differently in our family. Thank you for not being bitter, but respectful and supportive of the guidelines God has given us. You are aware that the amount of time we spend in front of the glare of screens is but a tiny fraction of the time others do. And we are incredibly thankful that you see the reasons we choose other activities over screens, as well as over hyper scheduling our lives.

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We want you to live a life that is balanced well and focused on what is important. We love how you already see it is a life that is rich.  As Ann Voskamp said in regards to all the books her family had read, “I will never regret every page we chose over screens.”

Live with eyes wide open and allow your soul to be touched by the little things. Because there really are no little things. Painted sunsets, the flight of a hawk, the roar of a jet, an embrace from your brother, the twinkle in the eyes of an old man. They are His messages of love to you. I pray that you will never miss them.

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“The sum of how you see the ordinary is what makes an extraordinary life,” Ann Voskamp says. I have no doubt.

Rebel against low expectations of the teen years. Your teen years are not a time for irresponsibility, but a time of training. A time of strengthening your self control and deepening your character. A time to be stretched so you will grow. A time to practice being alert to the voice of God and responding.

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Take this seriously. “What you will become later in life largely depends on what you become now.” This quote from the book you are reading now, “Do Hard Things,” is a fact.

These years will be the foundation for the rest of your life.

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The habits you develop now will be carried into the future. Guard your thoughts especially. Be aware of the enemy’s traps. Nothing is worth opening a door and letting evil take root.

Remember who you are in Christ. He has already approved of you. You have nothing to prove to anyone.

I pray that transforming your worries into prayers will be your unforced rhythm.

I pray, and always will, that God will be what you crave most and His voice will be what you are tuned into.

Never doubt that God is for you, that He is calling you to be a world changer.

God has placed strength within you and you have stood for what is right when it was hard. Continue to do so.

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May you be bold, and radical enough to never let the culture define how you will live. Because God will be leading you down a different path – yes often even different from what is the Christian norm. Stay alert to His voice. He is the only One you need to please. His leading and love is your greatest gift.

Don’t allow your mistakes to get you down. As long as you’re on this side of heaven you will make them. You can be so hard on yourself, like your mama.  Embrace His mercy and move on.  Swim in His grace.

Romans 12:1-2

‘So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. 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.’

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‘Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.’

Do I Dare Hope?

It is sometimes difficult to believe it ourselves.  But a gift has been promised to us from God, one that Dan and I have prayed for 5 long years now, to come this Spring.

There’s been countless tear-stained prayers uttered from my lips for this.  I’ve seen this gift given to others around me and have had to swallow the bittersweet, truly joyful for them while my ache deepened.  The vastly empty ache, the disappointments, the losses.

Then, January 17th, we are listening.  And Dan can hardly swallow what he hears.  God speaks clearly and boldly.  This Spring.

I gasp.  Then tears of relief flow as His love wraps around me.

We had come so close.  Up to the edge of letting go of hope.

Over the next several days I (at that point overflowing with hope) contact many close friends and family, sharing the promise with them.  How sweet it’s been to have friends praying and hoping alongside us.

Trusting in God’s timing is possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever practiced.  I was going to say ‘hardest thing I’ve ever learned, but that would imply I have become more proficient in this dance of trusting than I truly have.   How I love to rest in knowing God’s got this, but I have faltered often.

When I let go of how I believe it should be, and rest in His plan, oh the freedom, the calm that envelops me.

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How do you believe a promise when the circumstances shout the opposite to be true?

I look back.  And I don’t have to look far..  when I had the fear-inducing pain in my appendix region for weeks and we prayed and God told Dan it would continue until Saturday night (it was Thursday) and then stop.  That I wouldn’t need to go to the doctor.  Then that’s exactly what happened.

When Gavin’s leg was injured and he couldn’t walk for weeks, all signs pointed toward a fracture but God was whispering that he was fine.  That just so happened to be during the month his insurance lapsed.  So we desperately prayed about what to do.  He continued to tell Dan that his leg would recover, that there was no need to see a doctor.  Weeks more and he could still hardly walk on it.  Others told us we were putting his leg at risk.  We finally took him just to get an x-ray at the chiropractor and sure enough, the bone was fine.  Another week went by and his leg was completely healed.  And we felt relief as we never had before.

Even our house reminds me.  It was the house and land we longed for, and God had told Dan it was going to be ours.  But there was a contract on it already, and it was hopeless according to the realtor.  She tried to no avail to interest us in other houses.  Then Dan boldly told her (with the nudging of his wife) that we needed to relentlessly pursue this house as God said it’s the one for us!  So (with a big sigh, no doubt) she looked deeper into it.  After a couple months of drama, and for the most part things appearing against us purchasing the house, we signed the papers on what happened to be my 32nd birthday.

Then there was the time God told Dan he was going to be chosen for the principal position at his school mere weeks before he was promoted, though he was less experienced than others.

And since the very 1st of this year I’ve heard it whispered to me repeatedly, “This is the year of change.”

So here we are again.  The time is drawing near.  Do we dare believe it?

Today the circumstances don’t look good.  5 years we’ve been praying for this.

But God speaks.  And that is more than all we see.  That is more than we feel.  It is everything.

 

The Ugly Beautiful (Speech for Women’s Retreat) Part 2

So how has this worked out for us, this trusting in God?

Well, we had lived in the city of Fort Worth all our lives, but we long for the country.  It’s a dream we believe that, like many others in the city who wish for the same, will never come true.  Both Dan and I have aunts who live out in the country and have many acres to play and explore on.  When we are growing up we are never happier than when we are there.  I walk down that long gravel driveway, the crackle of the gravel underfoot, with towering pine trees rising up along one side and a cow pasture on the other, nothing but scenes of nature all around, a reflection of the tall pines in the pond, the gentle moo of the cows,  the large garden with its plump red tomatoes rising up, my aunt hanging clothes out on the line and the white sheets swaying with the breeze, my uncle always in his cowboy attire with his thick tanned skin, my aunt’s hard working hands…  Growing up, I never feel more at home than I do there.

We don’t understand then that these dreams deep down inside us, the dreams that we rarely entertain because they seem unattainable, far beyond anything we believe we can ever grasp…   These dreams are planted inside us by none other than Almighty God. I don’t understand that the longing of our hearts is none other than God’s plan for our lives.

So we push the dreams aside, calling them foolish and unlikely if not impossible.

Then, some of our friends boldly move out to the country, 100 miles away.   We go to visit them, not expecting anything more to come of it.

But then.  We start to jokingly toss around the idea of moving out there.  We laugh at the foolishness of it.  However we soon realize that when we dwell on it there is a joy, a peace, an excitement that is lacking when we think of staying in Fort Worth.  As we began to pray about it we find God is most certainly in it.  We laugh at the craziness and wonder of it all.  We know we are embarking on the adventure of our lives.

We visit Cottonwood Church and know it’s home, and I’m at peace knowing a church family awaits.

Then begins the longest 7 months of our lives as Dan searches tirelessly for a job out in the country.   I remember that May of 2010 walking across my bedroom with a feeling of discouragement all over me.  Clearer than I have ever heard God up to that point, He says, “You won’t be here long.”  I know I have heard the voice of God and the discouragement melts away.  Hope fills its place.

Within that month Dan is offered a job at the school he has loved most from the beginning of the job search, but it is only as a teacher’s aide.  This is a pay cut for us for sure, but God is saying this is the way.  I’m sure many people think we are crazy to pack up and go for such a job.  So we move in a mobile home on our friend’s land and live off of faith.

It is a sweet time of growing in trust in the Lord at a rather rapid pace.  We know God is calling me to homeschool, something just a couple years before I thought I would never do, but turns out to be something I can’t imagine living without.

We know God has brought us here and He will provide.  And He does.  Money shows up in the mailbox, and is given to us anonymously at church several times.  It is the happiest year of our lives up to that point.  And we are far far below the poverty level, but as God is the One who provides for us and not Dan’s job, we have more than enough.

The following school year he is promoted to a teaching position that has opened up.  Just before he is to begin, Dan comes across a home for sale online, a home on 11 beautiful wooded acres.  I think he’s crazy and believe there’s no way we can be approved for it.  We find that we cannot get this place out of our minds even though we’ve never seen it.  We head out on a walk, asking God that if it’s not the place for us that He will help us to let go of it.  Dan hears the Lord clearly say to Him that it is the place He has reserved for us.  Dan even struggles to believe this.  Tears come to my eyes because I know it’s ours and am overwhelmed with God’s goodness.

Then we find out there’s a contract on this place, and our realtor (believing it foolish to pursue that land) continues to send us pictures of other homes for sale.  We are not interested!  Dan tells her boldly (after some encouragement from me ;)) that God has told us this place is ours!  So finally she digs deeper into it.

Things appear hopeless for several months, but long story short, God moves and the place is finally ours.  And the day we sign the papers just happens to be on my 31st birthday.

The following year, after just one year as teacher, Dan is promoted to Principal, and still is today.  Yes, this guy who dropped out of high school as early as he could, spent years on drugs, and finally came to the Lord at 19.

God delivers.

So now we have more than we dreamed possible.  All while I am at home with my family, doing something that is more fulfilling and more full of purpose than I ever conceived.

God is the One who births dreams and so He provides a way.

He transforms marriages, delivers us from ourselves and the pressures of the world, and is the author of dreams.

Are there longings buried deep inside you because of unbelief or because you’ve listened to the world rather than God?  I believe God wants you to revisit those dreams, to talk to Him about them, to give them over to Him and trust that He will do amazing things, beyond what you can imagine.

Does your marriage need new life or to be raised from the dead?  God’s in that business too.

Is it time that you shut out the voices of the world, and bask in the freedom that comes when you listen only to God?

It requires intentional living to tune out the voices.  Everywhere we look we are told we are not enough.  Not thin enough, not smart or educated enough, not successful enough, not sexy or beautiful enough, not spiritual enough, not a good enough mom, our home is not pretty enough.

Ann says, “It’s the same lie from the very first ever told.  That one back in the garden.  The serpent spoke.  And she listened.  God is withholding from you.  You are not enough.”

These pressures will rob your peace, joy if you listen to them.  You forget who you are in God and cannot come close to freely loving Him and loving who He created you to be.

But when you begin to abide in God, delight in Him, you will hear God..  truth sinks in and freeing peace with it.

Henri Nouwen sums it up well:

“I have called you by name, from the very beginning.  You are mine and I am yours.  You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.  I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb.  I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace.  I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child.  I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.  Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch.  I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst.  I will not hide my face from you.  You know me as your own as I know you as my own.  You belong to me.  I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, and your spouse… yes, even your child… wherever you are I will be.  Nothing will ever separate us.  We are one.”

Let’s pray.

God I ask that this will sink in deep with each of these women.  That they ARE enough.  That you accept them and adore them and love them infinitely RIGHT WHERE THEY’RE AT.  Not just in the future when they’ve rid themselves of bad habits, not once they feel they are spiritual enough, not when they become more loving, but NOW.  Thank you that you take us by the hand wherever we are and love on us to our very core.  And You gently guide us.

I ask that you will open every woman’s eyes here.  That you will show us any areas of our lives in which we are listening to the world rather than your all knowing, all powerful, always loving voice.

Open our ears that we may only hear You, and change our hearts until Your voice is the only one that matters.

Amen.

Scandalous

I’m sitting here stroking the letters on my laptop, knowing what my heart longs to share, praying for this message to be translated properly into words.

Because what I long to say isn’t easy to share.  It even feels downright scandalous today.

But isn’t that as it should be?  God calls us to that which registers as scandalously radical to the world.  The path is not an easy one for people pleasers like me.

I did the responsible thing.  With plenty of time before the deadline, I registered our Elizabeth for ballet.  Because I heard it often from other mamas there and saw it myself, how talented she is.  A natural little ballerina.  A natural grace about her that has always been.  We looked forward to watching her perform in recitals over the years as her grace and ability matured.

When making such decisions I feel as though the weight of the world is on me as many mamas do, thinking of all the future implications of either adding an activity to a child’s schedule or withholding.  I don’t want her to miss out on one thing God has for her.  The mere thought of it is suffocating.

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Nor do I buy the lie that a full schedule makes a complete life, though I did once.  This hurrying around from one activity to another, this busyness has become a sort of idol today.  We say it is for our kids and often believe it’s for their good, but as Ann Voskamp says, “the hurry hurts the kids.  All our rushing ends in nothing.”

I’ve made the mistake plenty of times.  I see the extracurricular activities as good (and they often are) and so I’ve signed up, without giving thought to what it will cost our family, without seeking the Lord’s will.  Sometimes we need to say no to that which is good so we can say yes to something so much better.

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Why are we afraid?  Afraid to live slow enough so that there’s time for kids to be bored and imaginations to flow, time for us to have heart talks over a random baking session, time to gaze curiously at the path of the beetle, time for mud pies and long books read by that sunny window, time to knit and build a fort, time to soar like the wind on our bikes, time to snuggle up under the stars and discuss the greatness of God, time to pray together, time to laugh, time to love.

It almost feels scandalous.

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“To make the time to love because what else in the world is time for?”  ~Ann

Those who live simply live richly.

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I felt God’s gentle tug to pray this through.  Dan and I had talked about it.  How we knew God was calling us to run from assuming, from blindly swimming along with the flow, and to seek His will in these decisions.

To hear His heart before committing.  Then surrender.  Then bask in the freedom it brings.  Oh the peace!

We crawl into bed, hands held tight, once again praying and waiting for a response.  My mind flutters around from one distraction to another as minutes pass.  Then I study Dan’s face, as I often do at these moments, trying to discern if He is hearing anything.  I detect a curve at the edge of his mouth and he looks at me knowing what I’m up to.   I know by the light in his eyes that He has seen or heard something.  And I bite my lip, eagerly awaiting as a child at Christmas.

He saw a large thriving tree.  Then he saw someone mercilessly chopping it down.  He had wondered why, asking God to interpret.  Then he heard the Lord say that for Ellie to attend ballet last year was good and healthy.  She learned far more than just ballet, and was stretched in many ways.  And if that ‘tree’ is taken down now it can be used in building upon.   A healthy thing.  But if that tree is to remain then it would begin to deteriorate, to rot.

The answer is clear.  To remain in ballet would not be what is best.  We don’t know why nor do we need to.

We smile.  Tears fill our eyes as we’re not only grateful for an answer, but we’re touched.  Touched that this God who stretches out the universe has once again answered one of our seemingly insignificant questions as we’ve sought Him together.  Touched that He loves our little girl more than we ever could, sees the beginning from the end and knows how it will affect her heart.  The peace floods us both and we rest in God’s guidance, falling in love with God all over again.

How thankful we are that God is not some distant being, leaving us on our own to make these decisions.  No, He is this ever present lover of our souls who knows the number of hairs on our head and is always at work within us.

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“Sometimes doing the most important thing eternally – doesn’t look like you are doing anything noticeably.” – Ann

It’s another Saturday and like most Saturdays, we’re all here together, playing and working alongside each other.  There’s a breeze rustling the tall shady oak trees and I hear her laugh as she swings, tossing her golden head back and flying forward.  Joy that cannot be contained as we smile wide and our spirits soar.

And there’s this satisfaction that dives right into the deep places in which I’ve desperately needed his peace.  And this peace flows and I can’t wipe the smile off.  Peace because we have this ever present God who guides those who seek Him.  And I can rest knowing we’re doing what’s best for her, because we don’t want her to miss out on one thing God has for her.

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“In quietness and rest shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

“Simple living anchors a child’s soul and prepares the heart to know God.” ~ Sally Clarkson (and you thought it would be Ann)  🙂

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disclaimer:  Please understand that I’m not saying all extracurricular activities should be avoided.  We have our son in fencing as well as all kids in Choir and AWANA on Wednesday nights.  However, I do believe we should seek God’s guidance rather than just jumping in.  There, living intentionally, we will find peace and meaning.

Christmas Ponderings

I admit I’m a bit uncomfortable writing this.

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But this season I pondered how we celebrate Christmas.  I toiled over it sometimes to the point of agonizing over it, my spirit unsettled at the way our culture (and I do mean Christians) celebrate the coming of our Savior, the miracle of this God cloaking himself in skin and living and breathing among us.

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Does this indulging in buying as much as we can for each member of the family glorify God on His birthday?  Is that what He wants for His birthday?

I haven’t been alone in these thoughts this season.  I had several girlfriends write me or call me, asking my opinions on Christmas.

God with us.  God moving in our hearts, whispering in our midst.

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I love the exchanging of gifts.  All the learning to give.  However I am uncomfortable with how it has become the focus, and the amount given.  Whose birthday is it anyway, I would continually ask myself.

The thought came to me, let’s make the main gift of Christmas to Him.   The focus of our giving.  “When you give to the least of these, you have given to Me.”

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So the first gift of Christmas is for Jesus.  I wrapped up this tree to represent the money we sent to assist in bringing children out of slavery, the tree representing life.  A reminder to pray for these kids whenever we see the tree and a symbol of the gift we give to Jesus.

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So Christmas Eve after the feasting and the worship-filled carols around the piano, the first gift of Christmas is opened by my firstborn.  He explains to all the family gathered around what it stands for and why we give.  To hear him give his heartfelt account of it all is the best gift I could receive.  And I know God is smiling at our meager attempt to love Him.

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I certainly don’t think there’s one right way to do Christmas.  But I know I don’t ever want our family to blindly march on to the beat of the culture’s drum, oblivious to what God is calling us to, and missing out on the joy, this abundant life that springs from it.

So we gather around each evening in December, light a candle, and the kids unwrap a hope-filled Christmas book for us to share in.  Oh the anticipation to see which book it will be!  (Many are on loan from a precious friend).

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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 always green fir 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.

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We fill our home with cinnamon and spruce candles burning,  choral and instrumental Christmas music, and the aroma of pies baking in hopes of creating memories we will savor for years to come.

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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.

Please, dear friends, leave a comment as to how you make your Christmas about Christ.  I hope ours will look a little more like Him each year, so I would love to hear your ideas.

Growing Aware

I’m not usually aware of it the second it begins.  But it slices right to the core of me.  It stomps and spits all over a beautiful day and leaves me bewildered as to how we got here.

And mere minutes ago I was deliriously happy at the thought of us side by side all day.

Our tone toward each other.   Without the words changing, our tone slaps in the face or evokes love.

And I step away not knowing what to think.  Get alone with God to bring some clarity.   And I’m hurt and angry about what could have been but what happened instead.  How all the beauty that is between us is strangled.

All this when there was such unity in our decisions, laughter shared, arms wrapped around each other tight, and a firm kiss mere minutes before?

It doesn’t happen very often, but too often nonetheless.  Our tone polluting the air and driving arrows straight to the others heart.  A shadow of the dark, dangerous places we ventured to in the past.

I’m aware of the damage that a tone or sarcasm can do to a soul, to relationships, and I know.

I know that we will not allow it to define our family.

As I am praying I see a picture of a ‘tone’ chart.  We prop up this white board on the aged piano and put a mark under our name anytime a demeaning tone or insulting sarcasm is used and will continue to for 21 days.  The whole family involved because it has not only been an issue between husband and me, but brothers as well.

We decide to do whatever it takes to disable our habit and protect and nurture what we have.

Rewards to those who do well!  Awareness to those who don’t.

9 days (with almost all of us together everyday) is behind us now and it’s waking us all up to what it looks like.  To what loving each other in all situations looks like.

Big brother had several marks beside his name the first day.  He’s had none since.  Years of trying different ways to get it through to him (when it comes to speaking to his younger brother), and we just began recording it on this board, and now he gets it.

Our 6 year old daughter, who excels in patience and love, has had only one mark and she put it there herself, insisting she had earned it.  No surprise.  We can all learn something from her gentle ways.   She is by far the winner thus far.

Husband and I have had more than we care to admit.  Not between each other but it has surfaced when speaking to the kids.  When we allow that frustration to build.

The first time I let out a harsh tone was toward our sweet Ellie and I didn’t realize it until I saw that look in her eyes.  My heart melted in that second.

It wasn’t a yell, but it wreaked of frustration.  I was shocked that it slipped out even on such high alert.

I wish I could say I have it down now.  I have certainly improved, almost always catching it before it slips out, however this with great struggle and focus.

That large white board in the center of the home with those ugly marks doesn’t allow me to forget.  The thought of my marriage and our children’s hearts drive me onward.

From the dark dining room I look over at my beloved sitting on the couch with all the kids wrapped around him.  He meets my eyes quickly, a flash of love and an inkling of a smile.

Imperfect we are.  But we’re in this together, doing whatever it takes to keep our family in step with Him.

And we rely on this God who takes messed up people like us and does something beautiful.  He’s this ever present, never stopping, always working in us God.

And I smile back at Husband, twinkle in my eye, fully confident in the story God is weaving.

 
always counting the ways He loves..  some taken from my journal:

6)  how Ellie’s eyes lit up when she saw her ballet recital costume

9) Quinn and Ellie happily playing ‘house’ together in the laundry room, for days

13) a pastor who regularly seeks out time with Husband

14) a cat sleeping under the Christmas tree

25) the boys sound effects as they fly their planes around the house

33) laughter from the bathtub

37) Gav, Ellie, and I soaring all over the property on our horses (otherwise known as

our bikes)

My Heart Overflows

Before I publish the post I’ve been working on, I wanted to share some of the kisses from God in my life, some of the things currently making my heart radiate joy:

the first egg from the young hen coop..  oh how eagerly we have looked forward to it

the wonder of that first leaf pile of the season

family gathered around cracking pecans from a friend

the peace that permeates this place

the touches of scarlet

moments of childhood magic in the new tree house (yes, Gavin dressed himself :))

and a family to gather around the table, full of thankful hearts, full to the brim with His love

The Fight

We planted it this summer to no avail.  How eagerly I had awaited the bursting forth of fresh green.  I got on my knees, and stared at that dirt as if knowing I was there, expectant, would breathe life into it.

A blanket of grass to roll around on, to cushion bare feet racing and dancing, to hide Easter eggs in, to coat our yard in that lovely life color of green.  To elevate our yard from the abandoned look to one that is a cherished part of family life.

I step outside, smile at the warmth of the sunshine on my shoulders.  Then the large expanse of weeds with random spots of bare earth fills my gaze.  I let out a long sigh.

Yea, it’s grass, but it’s the foundation of our outdoor life, and the view from all my windows and I wonder if it will ever really feel like our yard.

And the frustration of how S.L.O.W.L.Y. our projects have gone around here (despite our best efforts) rises from inside of me, mixes with rage, and births a discontent monster who begins to take over my countenance.

A glimmer of light catches my eye as I spot several pieces of glass.  Since we moved here we have been picking up the pieces, thinking we’ve finally got it all until it rains and more broken glass pops up around our land.  A reminder of the alcoholic who lived here before us.

I thought about how he lived here among such glory, these oak trees, these rolling hills, this blue sky, with the cardinals by the kitchen window and the family of cottontails on the edge of the forest, the deer tracks by the pond, nothing but nature in every direction.  Only the sounds of birds and the gentle breeze swaying the branches.

And yet he missed it somehow.  I shook my head at it.  At how he polluted the beauty, left piles of whiskey bottles lying over much of the 11 acres.   Carelessly corrupting it all.

I added the glass to the garbage bin.   And, oh, if only it was that easy to get rid of my discontented self, my frustration over expectations.  To just throw it away.

Standing by the bin, it hits me.  I’m no different.

Some days my heart soars as I soak up the God that surrounds me, and I’m filled to bursting with thankfulness, overwhelming joy as I feel God’s touch.  Giggles from the kids as they jump on the trampoline.  The brilliant red of the apple bobbing.  The feel of Quinn’s chubby hand around my neck.  The smell of pumpkin muffins.  The tender smile of my beloved.   The way he gazes at our Elizabeth as if it’s the first time he’s ever looked at her.

But all too often I allow my thoughts to dwell on the things I want to change and wonder if they’re ever. going. to. happen.  Grass.  Kitchen remodel.  A barn built.  Adding on to the house and finally having more than one bathroom and more than one closet!

And my words spew filth over this beautiful land when I allow frustration to boil from my unrealistic expectations.  And joy doesn’t stand a chance.  And I miss out on living.

I latch the garbage bin and look up to see a boy happily trotting along with his hero.  And I whisper thanks to a God who provides moments like these.   And in the next breath I apologize for my discontent heart.

I’m well aware that this will be a battle.  When the bills are piled high, when the kids are snapping at each other, when I feel like I’m drowning in my responsibilities, when sickness looms.  It will come down to a choice as to what I will focus on.

I’m learning that ‘rejoicing in the Lord always’ is only possible through the channel of a thankful heart.  A heart that is still enough to see.