This year, on the weekends, I’ll be linking up the good stuff that is currently inspiring me, convicting me, motivating me, or is otherwise too good not to share.  Plus, I’ll be giving you a sampling of what we around here are eating, reading, creating, enjoying, listening to, playing with, doing, etc.

First up…

This post from LifeinGrace ROCKED my world this week.  Completely.  

It’s what I know deep in my heart of hearts to be true, and why it feels so fulfilling to be home here with my kids, caring for their needs, and loving my husband well…and so upsetting when I don’t serve and love them from a gracious, humble heart.  Why? Because they are the neighbors I’m called to minister to every.single.day.

If you don’t follow Edie Wadsworth’s blog, you really should.  She’s an inspiration to me.  Pretty sure I’m somehow related to this deep-thinking, theology-reading, passion-filled soul sister in Jesus, and I just love her writing.  
Speaking of…somehow I missed reading this guest post from Edie over at Live Well Spend Less on 5 Tips for Raising Kids You Like.  
Read it this morning, and truly, it’s so good. And I knew right away which one I struggle most with–resisting the urge to {over} indulge my children. How about you?  
Are you Repenting, Resisting, Reading, Requiring Much and Redeeming the Time as you parent your children?  


This Week’s Good Stuff

What I’m reading aloud to the kids:
Sarah, Plain and Tall (My daughter thoroughly enjoyed it and was sad it was so short, so I’ll have to pick up the rest of the collection too. I cry every time I read this little story).
Hardy Boys – The Tower Treasure (Brought home 2 H.B. books for my boys this week from the library…and since I brought them home, my (hunting for treasure-obsessed) 5 year old brings me the book at least once a day, and begs me to please read more).


The Hobbit (on the last chapter now, and reading from this most “precious” collector’s edition that I’ve owned since college days. Almost looks like it belongs on Bilbo’s shelf, no?)


The Dig, Vol. 1. (Book of Luke)
This is what we’ll be doing for this semester for Devotions, and one week in, the kids are lovin’ it already. Each lesson begins with a “Map,” then the “Dig,” (the passage itself), then finding the “Treasure” and finally the “Display.”  I give small tokens if they can answer the trivia questions at the end of the reading, and find the “treasure” that’s hidden in the lesson.  I truly love its simplicity and that it’s straight from the WORD itself. Good stuff.



What We’re Listening to:
Laura Story – God of Every Story


And for the kids: Tarzan Soundtrack

What We’re Eating and Loving:
This amazing Marketside Asian Salad kit, available at most grocery stores. When I don’t have time to make this favorite Asian salad of ours, this shortcut salad kit does the trick.  I add avocado and red pepper to ours to jazz it up.  Best short-cut lunch I’ve found in a while, and we’ve eaten it like 3x this busy, back-to-school week. And fyi, they’re 2 for $7 at Giant Eagle right now.


What I Baked:

Our all-time favorite Banana Sour Cream Bread.


This is a pretty large recipe that makes 4 loaves, but we often do part of the batch as muffins. I like to make it at the beginning of the week and freeze what we won’t eat that first day, then I can pull it out for breakfast or snack time as the week goes on or share some with a friend. So yummy.
Here’s our favorite healthy Banana Bread recipe, which we also make a lot. And don’t know–something about the millet just makes it for me.

What we created:

An Ocean-themed school space.


Ok, really, we’ve only just begun setting up our kitchen area classroom with our new science theme. We have lots more to add and I’ll share that as we go along. The teacher in me still just yearns to {every once in a while} decorate a bulletin board or two, and my changing up my homeschool nook is the closest I come to getting to do that.  ūüėÄ
So far, I’ve been displaying books about swimming creatures, I’ve brought up our big jar of shells that we collected in Florida, and I put up the fishing net.  The kids had fun collecting sea creatures from their toy bins, and sticking them into the net and here and there around the school area, and I grabbed the sea star from the living room cabinet and stuck it up too.
I have lots more I want to add, but we’ll see how much we end up doing. 

Picture of the Week:

My 19 month old sweet-baby-love, Caleb, chatting away with his baby friends. ūüėČ
And why does he look so big these days??  They grow too fast.



That’s all I’ve got for ya tonight–Hope you’re all enjoying your weekend.
Joanna



Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to stuff I really actually do love and use.  

Just a few snapshots from life and school today.  

 This guy is feeling a bit better.  Woke up so happy and slept in his bed most of the night….we’re all coughing still, but everyone is finally fever-free.
Our 4 year old Si, working hard just after breakfast to earn some “treasure” by naming his letter sounds.
 Only allowed to take the chips off of the sound cards he knows!
 My very proud little preschooler.  He is about as interested in academics as his older brother is (who is a year and a half older than him).  The natural competition ocurring between them has been motivating for both to work hard. ūüėČ

 We built a number line on the kitchen floor today…


 And my very visual oldest, and kinesthetic 2nd had a great time adding and subtracting by moving up and down the spaces.
Here’s Eden practicing the last of her unmemorized addition facts on her number line.  
Yup. 7+4 really is 11!  
My precious girl.
 And yes, we all stayed in our pjs ALL DAY today.
Enjoying lots of visitors at our feeders still…

In science the kids brainstormed a chalkboard full of sea creatures…
And my oldest gesso-ed a black shoe box that we’ll be using as an ocean diorama all semester in our study of Ocean Creatures….
I’ll post about it as we go along.

 Meanwhile, these guys were busy building.  They called me in to see their “amazing fort.”
 Everyone had a great time playing in it until the baby wrecked it.  ūüôā  Can’t wait to send my kids outside  as the weather warms up a tiny bit (as in 40s instead of single digits).
 Today and this whole first week back at school, we’ve had some real break throughs in math, which is HUGE for my daughter.  She’s regrouping (finally) and our Math-U-See blocks and decimal street poster, below, have been so helpful (again, visual learner).  We’ve been working out of the 1st grade Abeka book for most of the year, with some Life of Fred and Math-U-See thrown in.  Today, I literally moved her up like 50 lessons from where we were working previously and she didn’t blink and eye.  We’re not totally up to pace, but I am just so thrilled to see her making some real strides in her understanding.  Thank you Lord!

 Now for some quiet snuggle time with my favorite people….

Yesterday’s post was my reflection and celebration of our successes these past several months.  Today, I bring you the the bad and the ugly side of things.

***

Not everything is rosy around here, folks.

A friend of mine once told me some advice a homeschooling mother had shared with her:
You can’t have it all, and you can’t do it all.
Truer words were never spoken.
So guess what? 
You cannot have a spotlessly clean house AND a delicious home cooked meal, AND a stellar home schooling day all in the same 24 hours.

So take your pick, cuz you ain’t no superwoman, and somethin’s gotta give.

My power and water were both shut off in the past 6 months.  During that time, we’ve also had home AND car insurance cancelled on us.  Yesterday, I called in to Comcast to pay $236 in past due bills in order to restore the internet services which make this post to you possible.  And all this not because we can’t pay our bills, but because I routinely FAIL to pay our bills.  Or open the bills. Or even get the mail.
For that matter, we’ve overfilled our (townhouse) mailbox at LEAST 5 different times in the past several months, and have had to run down to the main post office to pick up the ginormous stack.  The 2nd time this happened, the old guy who handed it to me, as I was apologizing, asked, incredulous–how do you guys pay your bills? …
um…actually, I don’t.  That often. To my husband’s absolute frustration. 

True story: 
Last year, I planned this awesome “Day in Ancient Egypt” to take place at my house.  I stayed up til 2am getting all these great homeschooling activities ready.  We were going to be making and decorating miniature sarcophagi, mummifying Ken dolls (sorry, Barbie) and dressing up in our carefully-homemade costumes.  I was just about ready for our friends to arrive when the doorbell rang–15 minutes early.  
It was some dude in a truck, hired by the electric company to come shut off our power.  
Profusely apologizing, I frantically begged him to let me pay the entire balance right then and there–just please don’t turn my power off…
Sorry, ma’am. There’s a tracking device on my truck, and they know I’m here.  I have to shut your power off.  You can call the power company to pay your bill, but service won’t be restored until tomorrow, or 3 days from now at the latest.

I cried.  

I was ashamed.  How could I be so stupid? How does someone stay up til 2am making mini sarcophagi but doesn’t have enough wisdom to take the time to pay her bills? 
My husband was so gracious and forgiving when I called him to tell him.  
My girlfriend showed up 10 minutes later and hugged me and encouraged me through my tears.
Amazing that when I share pictures of that day, what you see is a pile of smiling kids, cool costumes and hands-on activities.  What you don’t realize is that the electricity was out, and the mama taking the picture was pretty much feeling like a failure at life.  


Everything was ok, in the end.  It ended up being a beautifully sunny day, and we actually didn’t notice that we didn’t have power (except when I was confused as to why my glue gun was not heating up..) and when we still didn’t have power by the evening of the next day (after paying our bill in full), friends in the neighborhood let us stash food from our fridge and freezer at their place so it wouldn’t spoil.  

Why do I find it so difficult to pay the bills or even regularly check the mail?  Why, even when I set up auto bill pay with our bank, do I STILL somehow end up late?? (not kidding, I can’t even remember my own usernames and passwords for all these online sites that are designed to make these things easier).

The bottom line is this: each day, I feel pretty maxed out just doing those basic things I mentioned up at the top…keeping the house clean (forget spotless), keeping my people fed 3x a day (not a lot of gourmet going on around here), and caring for and educating our 4 little ones.

It’s like, I know how to do these home-making things fairly well, and I love, I mean really LOVE the home schooling bit, but I stink at just about everything else that most people manage with ease.

Am I out of balance?  Well…
Sometimes I live in denial and tell myself that it’s because I am super-committed to my children and their care and education, which is pretty much ALL consuming during these  younger years especially, but really, it’s probably a balance issue that is to blame for

bills not getting paid on time
–me not answering my phone or returning my friends’ and family members’ calls or emails for days..or weeks…or…ever?
–me not doing a stellar job at maintaining friendships outside of those in my homeschool circles.  Though…I will say that I know this is a fairly common concern when mamas take on the responsibility of homeschooling.  Friendships often suffer.
If you’re one of those friends who is on the outside, wondering what on earth happened to that person you used to hang with and why, since she began to homeschool, she doesn’t seem to care as much about you?  …can I just say, she probably never intended to lose touch with you, and I bet she still really loves you and cares for you, but carving out precious time in the day to chit-chat on the phone like she used to, or up and come for a visit….is just really hard right now with all this parenting PLUS homeschooling stuff going on.  And sometimes, your homeschooling friend feels isolated and lonely (and maybe even misunderstood or judged) and prays you will still love her when she finally comes up for air and isn’t just in “survival mode.”  
I have precious, kindred, spirit-sisters who I rarely get to see or talk with anymore, and sometimes that makes me sad. And you can bet that the moment I get into the van to go anywhere alone, and my cell phone happens to be charged and in my possession, I am speed dialing every one of their numbers, one after the other, in a desperate attempt to catch up with them while I have a spare minute.
THE laundry.  I mean. people. There is no end.  I stink so bad at this.  I put it off til no one has clean socks or underwear.  I buy new clothes for my kids because I think they have no pants or shirts or onesies..and then I find 257 when I finally get around to doing the wash.  I need a system that actually works, and I need to stick with it.
I lose giant bins of hand-me-downs in the depths of our storage unit, and dress my 4th child in random, stained, ugly, off-season articles of clothing before finding said giant bin of clothes–only to discover he has already grown out of half of them.  And I imagine how well-dressed he COULD have been the past 6 months if only I was not such a loser in this department.
Dusting, toilet cleaning, floor-scrubbing, window washing, and any other house chore beyond the daily surface stuff like redding up, vacuuming, loading and unloading the dishwasher, and making beds.  I’m serious.  I don’t do it.  I doesn’t even make the to-do list unless we’re about to have company.  Then I clean like a mad woman, and as I mingle with my guests, they ask, in admiration, how on earth do you manage to keep such a clean house amidst everything else on your plate?  

And my husband just stares at me with this look, but doesn’t actually give me away because he loves me.
-Cooking healthy food regularly.  I used to LOVE making dinner, and these days, it often feels burdensome to me.  Too often, I’m exhausted by 5pm, and so I throw together things that are easy, but not necessarily the healthiest.  Or, more often than I like to admit, we eat our or order in.  This drives the food budget WAAAY out of control in no time, and once again, I feel it all rests on me to improve, plan better, and change bad habits.


And it’s not like everything I’m doing on the homeschool front is always top-notch, while the house and relational stuff suffers.  There is much that I wanted to do that has fallen by the wayside in the school department these past months as well.

To name a few:
–Latin.  Yeah, pretty much non-existent.  Maybe next year?
–Art Appreciation and Artist Study.  Fail. We barely studied John James Audubon when we were studying birds, but all other Art Studies I had planned have slipped through the cracks.  
–Music and Worship.  There was a day (a couple kids ago) when I would awaken each morning with a desire in my spirit to worship the Lord.  I would slip downstairs, pick up my guitar and sing His praises.  It was often the first thing my kids heard when they’d wake up, and they’d come down to join in. 
These days, I often wake up later than I wanted to, and I am overwhelmed with all that I need to do.  Diaper changes, coffee, get breakfast going, help my husband get out the door to work, clean kitchen, start laundry, start homeschooling, get boys going with their play, care for baby, check email/facebook…then the guilt of not reading the word or spending time in prayer and in worship sets in.  I’ve picked up my guitar like 5 times in the past 3 months.  The kids love it when we sing and play instruments together and  I think it is wonderful to worship together as a family, regularly.  
I just wish I could say that it’s happening more.
–Arts and Crafts.  Yup.  You read it right.  The Crafty Homeschool Mama herself hasn’t really been doing a whole lot of hands-on creating with the kids this year.  Yes, there are other outlets where I’ve been creative…gardening and nature activities, plus home decorating and those Living History Events I shared about yesterday.  And maybe it’s because academics are becoming more rigorous, but I really did not enjoy a lot of relaxed arts and crafts time with my kids in the past several months…you know, the  messy kind kids love, where we gather around our table and just make stuff.  My daughter sometimes asks me if I will sit with her in the evenings and do art.  I feel badly that I don’t because that quality time together is part of her love language.  

So. 

Bottom line–please know that when I share the good stuff, the successes, there are ALWAYS other areas that are not so great.  
Do I want to do better in these areas? Of course.  But perfectionism and comparison are joy-stealers and lead to condemnation, bitterness and anxiety.  

We all have areas that need improvement in our lives.  But we also have places where we need to just rest in God’s grace…or areas where we need to admit failure, and ask someone to help us.    
Namely, Christ, whose strength is perfected in our weakness.


So for now, I’m taking it one day at a time as I learn to let go of things that don’t have eternal value, and to prioritize the workload in order to keep things more balanced.

I hope you are encouraged today, dear friend, that we’re all journeying together, learning as we go, and NONE of us has it all together!   
May you find find joy and abundant grace as you seek the Lord and serve your families in the midst of all the busyness.  


***

Linking up today with Trivium Tuesdays

Each January, I like to stop, take 5, and assess where we’ve come from and where we’re going. ¬†What worked well for us the first semester, and what didn’t.

Typing it all up helps me to get all my ducks in a row moving forward, and allows me to sort out my swirling thoughts.

(btw, if you are feeling discouraged, and need to know you’re not alone in your failures or missteps, feel free to skip this post altogether and stop back in tomorrow to hear about the bad and ugly, and I’m sure you’ll feel a lot better by the time you’re done reading).

Here’s what we did WELL these past 5 months.

1. We adopted a “Sabbath” School Schedule. ¬†
Amazingly, I have not experienced any burnout yet this year. ¬†A rough week or two, maybe, but seriously, no major burnout like I’d experienced in previous years. ¬†I know, I know, that usually happens sometime mid February, but I’m encouraged that this year, burnout will be kept to a minimum. ¬†Here’s why: We implemented and stuck to our Sabbath School Schedule.

What is it exactly? ¬†It’s 6 weeks on, one week off school schedule. ¬†So we work hard and plug away for 6 solid weeks at a time, then we take one full week (the 7th) off of school completely (that’s the Sabbath week, get it?). ¬†During that week off, I am able to catch up on the house, relax, plan ahead (which I found to be hugely beneficial), and 2 different times, we went on small family vacations during our week off.
It was awesome. ¬†Initially, I got to our first scheduled week off of school and I did not feel like stopping. ¬†I didn’t feel I actually NEEDED a break yet, and thought maybe I should “save” that week off for a time when I’d really want and need it more. ¬†But, encouraged by my girlfriend (with whom I share a schedule) to take the break anyway, we stuck with the plan to put school aside, and we took our week vacation, as planned. ¬†

And can I just say? I had no idea how much I actually DID need that week off. ¬†It was invigorating. ¬†I was able to really come to a full stop, not feel the daily added burden of formal school work, plus, I was able to take a look at where we were at, and plan clearly for the next 6 weeks. ¬†I got caught up on things that I’d been putting off, and I spent some great (non-schoolish) time with my kids and my husband. ¬†Oh, that’s another thing–once we started using this schedule, and mapped it out from the beginning of the year, I was able to share that information with my husband, and he was able to plan his time off of work to coordinate with my time off of school. ¬†
SO much better communication between us this year.  

Some people who use the Sabbath School schedule actually do school year-round, and that works great for them. ¬†I find that we still want a longer period of no-school-at-all during the summer months, but I don’t feel we need a full 3 months.

So here is how we’ve structured our year so that we meet the 180-day requirement here in PA, but also have time off when we want it most.

**We only take a 2 month vacation in summer and we begin school on August 1st.  
Now before you scoff, here me out–it’s not as bad as it seems. ¬†We basically ease slowly back into structure and routine in the mornings in August, then in the afternoons, we kick back, relax, and head outdoors to garden or play or head to the pool or whatever! ¬†We definitely don’t stop enjoying summer vacation on August 1st. ¬†

¬†School in August isn’t so bad!


It’s really like the best of both worlds. ¬†I find I am energetic about school, motivated and refocused after a 2 month summer break, and honestly, the kids are also really excited to bust open the boxes of new materials and to get fresh pencils and notebooks and journals. ¬†
There are tons of benefits for taking shorter, more frequent breaks during the school year, instead of one giant break where kids (especially younger ones or kids with special needs) experience retention issues. ¬†If you really struggle with burn-out as a home educator, I’d encourage you especially to look at how you schedule your school year. ¬†Take more frequent breaks, and shorten your summer vacation a wee bit, and you’ll be surprised how much more efficiently you can manage your work load.

I also want to mention that we do schedule in a longer break each December as well, which is about the true mid-point in our school year, and also, the busiest holiday season of the calendar year. ¬†Knowing from past experience how much we DON’T feel like keeping up a rigorous academic routine in December, this time, we purposefully planned in a 3 week break. ¬†And oh man, was it nice. ¬†I actually had a hard time even doing ONE week of school in December, and I was so grateful for this break.

From January on, we go back to our 6 weeks ON, one week OFF schedule, and we will actually be able to finish our school year right before Memorial Day, which feels appropriate, since that’s when the pool opens and all. ¬†Not gonna lie, during that last month of school each year, it is still SO.DOGGONE.HARD. for me to stay focused. ¬†That’s when everything in me just wants to put away the paper and pencils to go outdoors and explore the woods and dig in the garden and play with the children, free from any burdensome routine. ¬†So I’m sure I’ll need to get creative in order to stay the course this year. ¬†Taking learning outdoors and planning extra hands-on activities, field trips, etc sounds like the start of a good prescription.


Oh, before I forget–as you map out your school year, be careful you don’t miss counting certain days inl that really actually SHOULD count as learning. ¬†
Example: on one of our weeks OFF of school this year, we went to the PA Renaissance Faire. ¬†While this was indeed a mini family vacation, one of the main reasons why went in the first place was because we have been studying the Middle Ages this year. ¬†So you better believe that we counted that Saturday’s hands-on learning as school. ¬†
Also, whenever any of our homeschooling field trips or outings with friends, or our monthly Homeschool in the Park dates fell on a week off, I still made sure to count it. ¬†Remember, public schools still count things like “Field Day” as a school day so if you tend to be more traditional in mindset, feel free to chill out a bit and relax with what counts as a school day and what doesn’t. ¬†Really, we learn together everyday with our children, so counting up to 180 days of “school” is actually pretty silly. ¬†But that said, I also know that I will not be able to provide the type of Classically rich education to my children that I want to by slugging off all formal academics in favor of just doing life together, and learning as we go. ¬†And I need the accountability as much as they do.

Speaking of…

2. Accountability and Co-op Involvement
Another thing that has really been working well for me this year is the accountability I share with a few other fellow homeschooling moms and friends.
We did a little experiment this year by coming together (just me and a handful of my closest homeschooling friends) to form our own little cooperative, where we meet once a week for a morning of hands-on classes for our kids.  We have anywhere between 11-15 kids present each week between these few families, and so each mom takes a turn lead teaching the school aged kiddos (K-2nd), while another mama hangs with the preschoolers, and one or two moms care for the babies and toddlers.
It has worked out beautifully, and we’ve been diligently meeting together since August.

It works because we share the same core (History) and we’re all studying the period of the Middle Ages, so we’re able to plan some of our learning experiences to reinforce what we’re teaching at home with our own kids. ¬†Also, me and my girlfriend Becca share not only the same History, but the same science curriculum too, so we’re able to come together for even more.
That brings me to accountability.  The moms in our group make it a point to come together at one of our homes every 6 -8 weeks, and over coffee and dessert, we plan out specifically what we want to cover (exact chapters in both history and science for each week) and how we will work together to drive home the big ideas from the curriculum during our weekly co-op gatherings.  

We sign up to lead-teach in the areas where we feel most comfortable, and plan activities that are within our ability and interest. ¬†Example: I love love love planning the living history events. ¬†When it’s my turn to teach the K-2nds, i like to go all-out with reenactments, crafts, costumes and food that reinforces major concepts we’ve covered in history/reading with our kids at home. ¬†Another mom~my friend Hannah~ whose farmhouse we gratefully meet at once a month, stores all of our kids’ art easels in her front room, and she has a passion for leading structured art classes for the children, complete with classical music and artist appreciation activities. The kids just love it. ¬†My friend Becca enjoys creating meaningful seasonal events for our kids, like the First Thanksgiving Feast she led, where the kids dressed up as pilgrims or indians, ate a traditional thanksgiving feast she prepared, and enjoyed hearing stories and doing some awesome hands-on activities like removing pumpkin seeds for drying and roasting, or making Thanksgiving puppets. ¬†It’s really special to see how each mom comes up with special activities for the students, and as fun as it is to lead teach, it’s also pretty great when your job is just to hold babies, and not worry about any of the academics. ¬†ūüôā ¬†On the 4th week, we plan a field trip that fits with our learning. ¬†In this way, we’ve been able to create some pretty amazing learning experiences for our children, and we’ve all (moms and kids alike) benefitted from the consistent time spent together, week after week, as we build relationships, encourage each other, and learn from one another.

First Thanksgiving!
Barbarians ready to overthrow Rome
Miniature paper town~Europe in Middle Ages
The royal castle, ready for the kids…
Art Hour at my friend Hannah’s house
Creating super-sized insects!
Monk Joshua, ready to practice with his homemade quill pen.
Amazing garden cookies made by my friend Hannah
Plus flying creature- cookies to go with our science studies!  So beautiful!
The K-2nd grade kids in our co-op, having show and tell.
The ladies of the castle, playing dress-up
My sweet princess.
Another Living history event…the Golden Age of China and the Far East...
We had fun  making candy sushi when we studied the East.
And the kids got to taste-test some interesting Chinese fruits that my friend Becca brought for them…this fruit sure looked strange, but was absolutely delicious!
Then this “dragon fruit” was absolutely beautiful, but none of us enjoyed the taste…
Joshua trying on the dragon mask that one of the kids brought for show and tell. ūüôā
When we studying Vikings, we built this awesome village, and a longship out of boxes and popsicle sticks.  Took us about 2 weeks to finish it, but it was amazing and the kids still play with it.
A peek at the detailed inside of the longhouse…my 2nd grader made lots of clay food and a clay oven for the people. ¬†It was pretty cool.

Not every parent in a co-op is similarly gifted, and that’s not only ok, but it’s really such a good thing, as long as everyone is contributing. Some moms don’t even prefer to lead-teach at all, but are more comfortable providing snacks, or doing the calling and scheduling for field trips. ¬†We all have something to contribute, and when we do, it works well.

Logistical questions we’re often asked about our co-op (which we call King’s Academy):

Where do you meet?
Twice a month, we meet at a pavilion / playground at our favorite local park, Mingo Creek.
The older kids have their classes with the leading mom over in the pavilion while the moms who are in charge of babies, toddlers and preschoolers take our crew over to the playground.  

Once each month we meet at a chosen field trip destination.
And we’ve been fortunate to have a mom who has the space to accomodate all of us at her house, which is centrally located.

We always come together for a shared lunch, and unless the food is themed to fit with what we’re learning (as it often is for our History events), each mom packs lunches for her own kids. ¬†

What do you do in winter when you can’t meet at a park? ¬†
We’re still able to meet in our homes in the winter, though it’s understandably more difficult when you can’t use outdoor spaces due to the cold. ¬†Thankfully, all the moms in our group are really relaxed, and it it’s 40 degrees or higher and somewhat sunny, we bring our kids dressed to play outdoors for at least part of the day. ¬†

These 2 pictures are from one of our big Living History Events–this one was Kings, Castles, Knights and the Feudal System in the Middle Ages. ¬†The first part of the morning, the kids were simple peasants, and we had planned for them to pick vegetables from the garden at my friend Hannah’s house, then pick apples (which we strung up for the on a tree the day before), collect wood, and set up their house –the cardboard box- with straw bedding.
We got a dumping of snow the night before our event, but we still got together, and we still sent them out to do the activities. ¬†The kids had such a great time, and it made their invitation to “lunch at the castle” even more special because they were all nearly frozen when this part was done! ūüėÄ


Sometimes, if we can’t meet at a park, we just amp up our field trip outings to 2x a month, obviously choosing indoor destinations. ¬†This is where our Science Center yearly membership is really enjoyed, but the sky is really the limit when it comes to field trips, and so many places you can go are free or reasonably priced.


We also look for locations like churches or rec centers where we can meet occasionally, free of charge. ¬†I find many of our home churches are willing to let members use a room from time to time, as long as they keep it tidy and are respectful of the space. ¬†Don’t be afraid to ask ¬†your church. ¬†It can’t hurt and you have nothing to lose.

Even if you are not part of a weekly or monthly cooperative, it can make all the difference in the world to have one other person to buddy up with. ¬†I don’t know how different these past 2 years would have been if I did not have my friend Rebecca. ¬†

Sharing the same core curriculum with her means I am more motivated to stay on track in my pacing and learning. ¬†Believe me, you are less likely to blow off school for the week when you know you’ll be falling behind if you do. ¬†Not that that hasn’t happened anyway as kids get sick or life gets hectic. ¬†But in general, we stay on pace together, and we plan our schedule {for the year} so that we can journey side by side. ¬†Since our kid are best friends, it’s worked out really, really well. ¬†I also can’t tell you how wonderful and motivating it is when your homeschool buddy calls you up to tell you how awesome this week’s science experiment was, and wants to know if you’ve done it yet. It’s truly so much fun to learn side by side with others.

Since this post is getting dangerously long (what’s new?), and those really were the biggies, I’m going to give you the rest as a quick list.¬†

Here are several other things we’ve done well this school year:
…But first, please consider reading THIS POST to find out about these 3 overarching goals that are the backbone to everything else we’ve been able to do well…¬†I promise this one is worth the click. ūüôā
3. ¬†Maintained our chronological study of History. ¬†Can’t say enough about this. ¬†It just.makes.sense. ¬†Last year, we walked through the ancients, this year, we’re in the middle ages. ¬†The timeline is starting to make sense.
4. ¬†Kept History as our CORE (meaning most of our reading, writing, arts and crafts were centered on what we were learning in history). ¬†Such a time-saver, and we’re able to ¬†use living books, which sure beats a dry textbook.
5. ¬†Stuck with Apologia for Science. L O V E this curriculum. And happy to say, we completed our study of Flying Creatures and my daughter’s journal is jam-packed full of drawings, notes, photos, experiment results and learning projects. ¬†Another keepsake, no doubt. ¬†From the preschoolers to the older ones, all of our kids were pretty sad to depart from our studies of insects and birds, they all loved it so much. But I’m pretty sure this semester’s Swimming Creatures curriculum will awe them just as much. ¬†
I talk more about both our history and science curriculum in this post and why we love these approaches so much.
6. ¬†Eliminated Spelling as a “subject” this year. ¬†Woo hoo, just another workbook we DON’T have to worry about, as we teach spelling naturally, as we encounter words in daily writing, per Charlotte Mason’s recommendations for children until 3rd grade. ¬†
7. ¬†Kept up our daily devotions/ Bible reading. ¬†Ok, it still doesn’t happen daily without fail, but we are far more consistent than we’ve ever been, and the kids just devour it. ¬†More importantly, I see fruit in our lives from this time spent in the Word. ¬†We’re growing, thank you Jesus.
8. ¬†Beginning each day around the breakfast table with a read-aloud, and /or an oral routine. ¬†Right after breakfast is when we do math fact practice, calendar, clock work, sight word (or letter) practice, memory work, timeline song, and so much more. ¬†From there, the little boys run off to play, and my daughter stays put to do some independent work while I’m nearby, cleaning up kitchen, doing house stuff, having my 2nd cup of coffee, playing with the boys…
9. ¬†Beginning formal routine when baby goes down for first nap at 10:30 (this is where I actually need to sit down WITH my daughter, or both my oldest) to teach math, history, science, writing. ¬†Bottom line is that it cannot be done {well}while my 19 month old is underfoot. ¬†He is too needy and busy in this stage, and when I try to push school at that time, it simply does not work. ¬†He needs me too much. ¬†And so I don’t fight it. ¬†We begin the sit-down stuff when he goes down for nap. ¬†And then, we’re really on the clock to get it all done by lunchtime!
10. Kept on our Math Practice. ¬†I still believe kids should come pre-programed to at least know their basic math facts already. ¬†I am not really a fan of teaching math every single day. ¬†But this year, we’ve been ON IT, especially since my daughter is performing about a grade level behind where she “should be” right now (whatever that means). ¬†Even just this week, I have seen her take such huge strides and it’s just awesome to see things clicking after a lot of slow and steady effort. ¬†
11. ¬†Read Aloud. A LOT.¬†Our goal has always been 2+ hours per day of reading aloud. ¬†And before you freak out, it’s really not all that lofty of a goal. ¬†For one, we’re television free, so playing and reading have become the natural alternatives. Secondly, we’re pursing a Classical, literature-rich path of home education. That means I am really committed to reading on a daily basis with my children. ¬†But the main way that I am able to easily meet my 2 hour goal each day is that rather than reading to them in longer segments, I break up the reading aloud into specific periods during the day…first is morning, and preferably, I read them the Word, plus whatever applicable reading texts we brought home from the library that week that fit in with science or history, plus poetry or whatever we want to start the day off with…during formal school time, I spend at least 1/2 hour reading aloud from our actual history and science lessons for the day…then at tea-time, we mix it up…some picture books, and always a few chapters from whatever chapter book we’re reading at the time…and last, reading before bed. ¬†This is the longest stretch of reading, usually about an hour total, though the little boys drop off to sleep one by one, and at the end, it’s just my daughter awake, listening. ¬†Snuggling and reading aloud at bedtime is the most precious, treasured part of my day at home with my children.
That reminds me, I have been compiling our book list for this school year, and hope to share that with you later this week.

A few other things we did well:

12. ¬†Kept the homeschool station decently organized! ¬†I’m telling you, this system is money. ¬†
13. As teacher-mom, I’ve really stayed relaxed for the most part. ¬†I only made my daughter cry like 2 times this year, as opposed to numerous times ¬†previous years.¬†
14. I decided to take it easy with my Kindergartener (after seriously stressing my daughter out 2 years ago in Kind.).  
Kindergarten should full of joy and discovery. ¬†It’s that happy time when you learn your letters and numbers and learn to cut with scissors and use paste, and take lots of hands-on field trips to discover the wide world around you. ¬†At the same time, you’re still MOSTLY learning through play, so it should not be overly structured. ¬†I feel I’ve struck a nice balance of all of this with my Kindergartener this year. ¬†And when I get a wee bit stressed that he doesn’t know enough of his letter sounds or whatever, I remind myself that he’s only 5 1/2 and in most cases, wouldn’t even enter Kind. until next school year…and that he’s a boy and not necessarily ready when my daughter was. ¬†I have had ZERO stress about his progress, which I feel, has been just about perfect thus far. ¬†
16.  Pushed ourselves to memorize more, and how rewarding!!  Check out my post, Why Memorize? to read more.Ok, one more.

15. Started doing routine kid-swaps with a close friend. ¬†To date, it’s been one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve ever had. ¬†What if I could send my 4 kids over to my friends’ house to play with her 4 kids all afternoon, while I run errands, clean my filthy house, or even just stare at the wall for a few hours?!?! ¬†Then next week, I could take her 4 while she does the same. ¬†Guess what? We started doing it, and can I just say–
BEST.IDEA.EVER.  
And we’ve found that 4 to 4.5 hours in the afternoon is the maximum amt of time that our kids can handle it (if we go longer, we end up having to feed them full meals and babies start melting down, etc).
The alone time is a priceless treasure.  We will for SURE be continuing this plan in the coming months.


Well that’s it for the super-long post of the Good Stuff so far this year. ¬†

What successes are you celebrating as you journey alongside your kids? Ask the Lord for eyes of grace to see the many blessings and provisions He has given you as you teach and train your children, then give thanks, with a grateful heart.  

 

Tomorrow, I’ll be dishing out the bad and ugly of the past 5 months, so get ready.¬†

Until next time, friends~
~Joanna 










 

 

 

Hi friends.  Today’s post is really just a fun little holiday recap of all we’ve been up to the past several weeks (especially for those of you who don’t follow us on Facebook).  We had a memorable holiday season, and I wanted to share some of it here with you.
So first up…

Like many of you, we did a whole bunch of baking together in the kitchen in December~


marshmallow caramel snowmen for the kiddos
Jam filled Butter Cookies {the best}
Chocolate Crackles ~oh my.
Homemade Samoas.  …which…I’ll never do again.  WAY too much work.  I’ll be leaving those to the girl scouts from here on out.
We give it all away, and it’s always fun to box the goodies up pretty.  

 We also had our first broken bone over the holidays! Our 4 year old Siah fell and buckle-fractured his wrist.  He’s already almost 100% again. Boys will be boys.

We enjoyed doing the Jesse Tree again this year, and preparing our hearts for Advent with our crafts, devotions, nativity sets and decorations. 





We made piles of homemade goodies, from jams, cookies, and pies, to dish mats, pajamas, felt foods and beeswax candles.  It was a busy, busy month of creating, and I loved every minute of it.


 On a total whim one day {and because I could not handle, for another moment, the disaster that has been our bedroom space }, I decided to repaint the whole place white.  Then the reality that I had 4 kids hit me about half way through priming the 1st wall (which was green), and I was barely able to finish one wall of the room.  So that’s where it’s been for the past month.  One wall splotchily primed.
I also stole curtains from other places in the house to hang here in place of the tan/gold ones that were hanging stapled up previously, and these sheers won’t be staying for much longer, but are really just a test to see how much white I want and also to give us SOME degree of privacy in the mean time.  I love how bright our room is with white curtains, but I am now thinking I don’t want white walls.  I’m super indecisive like that.
Nevertheless, I am still THRILLED to have the green wall GONE and though it’s kinda hodge-podge at the moment, you can see where I’m going with color scheme based on our new duvet cover (scored for less than $30 in the as-is bin at IKEA), and all the pillows which I stole from down stairs.
The gray fabric in the 2nd photo is what I plan on using for drapes.  I think.



 This was precious~we spent a couple different evenings pouring over Compassion’s Christmas magazine and letting the kids pick out what gifts they wanted to give to the needy.  It was awesome to see what they each wanted to contribute.




 As Christmas drew closer, we made even MORE yummy stuff, including our favorite Christmas salad (this year, we added candied pecans to it which was a huge hit), and I finally tried my hand at making Sea Salt Caramels.  They were ridiculously yummy.


I also made a White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake for both sides of the family’s Christmas gatherings that my father in law says is the best cheesecake he’s ever eaten anywhere in his life.   Go here for the recipe.  And do yourself a favor and use oreos for the crust.  You’re welcome.  ūüôā




Then there was Christmas morning….




What can I say? It was awesome.  Christmas + kids? It just doesn’t get much better than that.

We had so much wonderful time together as a family over the holidays.  My husband got to take something like 17 days off of work, and we got so spoiled having him around every day.  We went to movies, out to eat, traveled to see more family and friends,but mostly, we stayed home in our jammies playing legos, playmobil, and enjoying family time.

 Not to mention lots of late-night snuggling in mom and dad’s bed to read together.

 Then we celebrated this guy’s 4th birthday on New Year’s Day.  He thinks all the New Year’s Day fuss and hubbub is all for him.  ūüôā



And for his big day, we made the best ever ice cream cake, and had a mostly all appetizer party that was fabulous.

 And finally, we finished off our last holiday weekend together by going out on a double date with good friends.  My man took us to the Pens Game dawntawn and it was so great to get out of the house and away from the kids for a few hours!


My friend Christine and I didn’t see much of the game, but we sure had fun together!
 The love of my life…

 And that brings us right up to today–Jan. 6th, and guess what? All 4 of our kids are sick, sick, sick.  The oldest 2 are finally fever-free, but the youngest 2 are still pretty miserable.  Aching ears, fevers, coughs, and the baby’s got a bad case of croup on top of cutting 4 new teeth.  So today, we more or less just E A S E D back into things since no one is 100%.  God was in it, though, and we actually had some really special teachable moments in our learning.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing a list of what’s worked for us and what hasn’t so far this school year…I’ll be sharing the good, the bad and the ugly, so you don’t want to miss it!
I’ll also give you a glimpse of where we’re headed for the 2nd half of the school year.

Blessings to you all as you get back into the swing of things!  



My son’s birthday falls on New Year’s Day.  
And while I normally LOVE planning my kids’ birthday parties, and going all-out with their cakes, I have realized that a January 1st birthday celebration is always going to make party-planning a challenge.
I’m just tired by then.  We’re ALL tired by then.  
And sadly, none of us really want another bite of anything sweet by then.

Cake is just not something anyone is craving January 1st.

Hence, the decision to make this year’s birthday cake an ice cream cake. Because it just feels lighter and more refreshing and not so rich, and most importantly, it’s so.stinkin.easy to make, which is awesome when the holidays have got ya beat.  
It’s even easier when you let your newly-turned 4 year old decorate it himself.

And when you take your first bite of this simple little cake, well, suddenly you realize you’re not completely ready to be done with sweets yet.  In fact, I dare you to only eat one piece.

The only part of this cake that requires any effort is in making the homemade fudge, which takes all of 10 minutes in a pot over the stove. But if you’re wanting to skip that step (I almost did) you can just substitute it for a jar of fudge from the ice cream isle.  

But for the record, I thought the fudge MADE the cake. And shhh, don’t tell, but I doubled the fudge layer AND the oreo cookie crust layer.  Because isn’t that the part of an ice cream cake we all want more of anyway??  

This cake was a huge hit with the kids and the adults in our family, and I am already planning on making it again for a summertime birthday, when it’s hot enough out for ice cream to be fully appreciated.

Here’s your recipe, adapted from one I found on allrecipes.com

Best Ever Ice Cream Cake

Ingredients:
50-60 oreos (about 1 1/2 packages)
2 1/2 sticks butter
4 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. veg. oil
4 eggs
1 1/2 gallons ice cream
1 container cool whip

Directions:

Add the oreo cookies to your food processor and process until crumbly.
(btw, I used reduced fat oreos and no one noticed)
Mix the cookie crumbs with one stick of melted butter (1/2 cup).
Push mixture into bottom of 9×13 pan.  
At this point, you could bake the crust for 7-10 minutes on 350, but I didn’t.  I just poured the fudge layer right over top, and it all held together nicely once it was frozen.

For the homemade fudge layer, melt 1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) of butter in a medium pot on the stove.  
Once melted, add:
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Whisk until smooth consistency.
Then add:
4 eggs beaten (add slowly, and whisk while pouring from bowl).
Stir the fudge mixture together until thickened, about 5 minutes, but do NOT let boil.

Pour hot fudge sauce over cookie crumb layer and freeze for at least 30 minutes. (I left mine overnight).

Then add 1 1/2 gallons of any ice cream of your choosing.  Our cake was actually half mint chocolate chip, and half birthday cake ice cream.  Everyone loved the contrast of the mint with the rich fudge and cookie crust best.  But use whatever ice cream you and your people love.

Over this, I spread one container of cool whip, then kept it in the freezer until party time.  You could also sprinkle the top with oreo cookie crumbs if desired.  

OR you could let your 4 year old decorate it.  With superheroes. And teenage mutant ninja turtles.  And star wars guys.  And Lord of the Rings figures.  On skateboards.


Either way, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.




 Happy New Year, friends! 


This is the first year I’ve ever picked a one-word resolution for the New Year.

And whadaya know? I couldn’t narrow it down to one word.

But I managed to get it down to two.  And that’s pretty good for me.

Ironically, the first word is FOCUS (because sheesh, obviously–it’s difficult for me to NARROW mine).

One common failure of young(ish) energetic people like me is that we tend to lack focus.

I am someone who loves to embrace life fully each and every day.  I am an optimist, and an over-achiever.  I’m pretty sure I have larger-than-normal amounts of physical and mental energy, and I am a highly motivated person in general.

However.

Put all those “good things” together with a lack of focus, and you get burn out.
Repeatedly.

I tend to dive into too many things at once.  Which means I do lots of things alright, but few things really well.

I miss doing God’s one BEST thing for my life because I’m caught up doing a whole bunch of smaller GOOD things.

This year, i really want to get focused.  What are my big goals?  Beyond the all-consuming job of mothering, how do I want to spend my limited remaining free time? Crafting? Writing? Cooking? Sewing? I notice all of my interests are creative in nature.  And I know that I feel most fulfilled when I am creating.  This is how God wired me.

However, right now, I pretty much flit around my home and my life, creatively doing a bit of this and a bit of that. I’m starting to be convinced that I have adhd.  One moment I’m vying for home school-mom-of-the-year award, next I’m writing a book, then you’ll find me crafting like a mad woman, until I’m convinced I’m a professional pastry chef, followed by days spent gardening or creating magical woodland spaces for my children…and each activity is approached with a full-steam-ahead mentality until I inevitably crash and burn {usually right about the time I realize I haven’t done laundry for 3 weeks and we’ve eaten out or ordered in the last 5 meals}.  

I desperately need to focus, and focus on what matters MOST. This year, I want to ask the Lord, daily~what would YOU have me pour my time, energy and talents into Lord?  For my time, energy and talents are nothing except gifts FROM Him, and more than anything, I want to be using them for His glory, not my own.  I want my hours and days, which add up to weeks, which add up to years and eventually to a whole lifetime, to be intentional and purposeful, and ultimately– God-glorifying.

This year, I want my focus to be on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  Col. 3:2
I want to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Matt. 6:33
I want to do my best to present myself to God as a workman approved, who needs not be ashamed, and who accurately handles the Word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15
I pray, Lord, that you would teach me YOUR way, that I may walk in YOUR truth.  Unite my (often divided) heart to fear Your name. Psalm 86:11

So that’s my first word. Focus.

The next word really represents what I most want to reach in my most personal, relational life ares: 
Gentleness.

Oh man.
I am just not a gentle person by nature. 
I am not soft spoken.
I am not quiet. 
I am often brash and proud and dogmatic and stubborn.
Shamefully, towards my husband and children it is the worst.

And I read in the Word that God TREASURES a gentle and quiet spirit.
1 Peter 3 says:
Wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the Word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.  Your adornment must not be merely external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.  

The Living Translation says it this way: 
Be beautiful inside, in your hearts, with the lasting charm of a gentle and quiet spirit that is so precious to God.  


Wow.  Yes, Lord.  I want that.  I want my spirit to be precious unto You.

From the Word, I also learn that: 

A gentle answer turns away anger. Prov. 15:1
God wants us to correct others in gentleness.  2 Tim. 2:24-26
God wants us to defend the faith with gentleness.  1 Peter 3:15  
Gentleness actually makes us great. Psalm 18:35, 2 Sam. 22;26
In gentleness, we should correct and restore one who is sinning. Gal. 6:1
God’s wisdom is first gentle.  James 3:15
Gentleness is fruit of God’s spirit working in our lives. Gal. 5:22-23
Our Lord was gentle and lowly in heart.  Matt. 11:29
Gentleness is a habit we are to intentionally PUT ON. Col. 3:12
There’s no law against gentleness.  Gal. 5:23
Christ our Lord was gentle as a lamb, even when he was falsely accused and sentenced to death. Isa. 53:7
We are called to receive the implanted Word of God with gentleness. James 1:21

Finally–
We are commanded to pursue gentleness.  1 Timothy 6:10-11 


Gentleness of spirit is something that I so long for.

I am fully aware how utterly impossible it is for me to change this area in my life with my own willpower and strength.  From beginning to end, it will have to be a God-miracle and a Spirit-work.  I am confessing this weakness to Him, and asking Him for the grace and mercy to follow Him in obedience in this area.  I need Him to transform me~to take my heart of stone and make it a soft and pliable clay in His hands.  I want His spirit to flow from me.  

Gentleness and grace really run hand in hand.  And both of them are so beautiful.  Both win hearts, where harshness and force only work to stir up anger and brittleness in relationships.


So those are my two words for 2014.

Do you have a word (or two, or three?) for 2014?
Would you mind sharing it with us in the comments? 

If not, I’d encourage you to ask the Lord to show you the areas that need His attention, and resolve to trust Him to ultimately bring the needed changes, for apart from Him, we can do nothing.

I am praying for a truly happy, Christ-centered New Year for all of us, for 

“Happy IS the man who makes the LORD his trust!” Psalm 40:4a








“Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger…”
Luke 2:12
***


I had this idea of what beautiful would look like.
Of what I wanted life to be, of how it would be shaped, of who I would become.
I could see it, almost taste it, and I longed to get there and embrace it fully.

Jesus? He was there as the center of it all, of course.
…at least that‚Äôs how it started.

It’s like Christmas.
Every child of God knows it’s really all about Jesus, right? That’s what we all say as we go about our endless decorating and shopping and baking and filling the emptiness with so many distracting things.

But is it really all about Him?
Keep Christ in Christmas, we remind ourselves.  But is He in our everything?

Oh! I said, when I saw it– how sweet would this quaint homemade manger look amidst all our Christmas decorations? Yes, let’s make one straightaway. Just look how beautiful it is, and I think we have a space here for one just like it.

We built it together, me and the kids, downsizing the original measurements so it wouldn’t take up too much room there in the living room. We stained it and set it up and I got it looking just so. I even twirled the raffia straw around like the picture showed, nice and neat.

Now let’s be careful, kids. Let’s keep the manger looking beautiful.



As all the while I’ve been striving so hard to keep my life looking as beautiful as possible too.  To manage and contain the mess.

Sometimes we don’t even notice that we’ve exchanged truth for a lie, it comes so subtly.
But we quickly reveal who we‚Äôre really ‚Äúall about‚ÄĚ when life unravels, and we desperately try so hard to keep it all together.
 We can make a full time job of trying to keep things looking neat and tidy.


Oh, I tried.
And for a while, my life looked pretty, it really did.

Shamefully, I would even sit back sometimes and stare in self-admiration, secretly proud of “how far I’d come” or how much I had grown. “My” ministry was thriving, and it seemed others were even taking notice. How exciting to be about ‚Äúthe Lord‚Äôs work!‚ÄĚ

I was quick to push and poke and move things back into place anytime things didn’t look right. To rearrange here, and fix things while no one was looking.  Who but those closest even knew there was that ugly side? I worked hard to keep things as pretty as possible, and like a nicely cropped picture, I made it look just right.

And day after day…
I keep bending to pick those stray pieces of straw up off the floor and put them back in place.


Funny thing, but life, which used to be so lovely, began to feel like such an effort, and sometimes I stop and look around and I wonder–where has my joy gone?

Because like this manger, life keeps getting bumped and tipped, and what’s inside always spills out.  All that straw gets pulled and broken and up-heaved more than a few times.

More babies are born, and life’s path twists and turns in unexpected ways, and everything is  just so utterly exhausting right now. Things that came easy at first, like kids and house duties and life’s many demands just pile up and get harder and messier, along with my heart. And as the pressures mount, the formerly-concealed sins moved painfully and starkly to center stage–
self-righteous pride, harshly spoken words, impatience, complaining, disrespect and a general absence of love, especially to those under this same roof.

And during those times, well, I guess that’s when most of us do our best to hide. No one wants to see or hear about that–after all, it’s not beautiful.
It’s ugly and dirty and messy.

I read that the righteous, they’re like a well-watered garden, or a spring that overflows and never fails.

But I’m no well-watered garden.
I’m a woman overwhelmed, and to be honest, I just don’t have the strength to try to clean it back up again. Wallowing and finger-pointing and despairing have been easier choices.

The enemy, he’s on to me.
Soon an overheard comment, passed along innocently from a stander-by–from one who knew me back in the “old days” saying he was so sure I would have done something different–missionary work, or some other ministry…oh, it stung deep.

And I believed that whisper from within that I really did not matter anymore, because, afterall, look around–what a mess your life is! Spiritually or materially, you can’t even keep the smallest things halfway presentable anymore.
And in shame, I admit failure and teeter upon regret. This mess–this was not how my life was supposed to look.  This was not the ‚Äúministry‚ÄĚ I would have chosen. I was supposed to do more–to be more‚ÄĒsomething beautiful.  And instead I’m just this.



Then, just before quiet time one day, with swaddled doll in hand, a child whispers, “mama, can’t we please put Jesus in the manger yet?”
No–I snap. And would you kids please quit messing that manger up, I bark as I shoo her out of the living room where the straw-strewn manger sits, empty. Yet another mess this life-weary mama needs to straighten up. 

The doll falls to the floor in front of me as she hurries away up to her room‚Ķ and in that moment, I am brought low.

Heaven is whisper-shouting to my jaded heart. And this time, I stop to listen.

I make all things beautiful, He breathes to my weary spirit.

But I’m such a wreck, Lord. So full of sin and self that I can hardly stand the face in the mirror anymore.

I know, He says. And still He stands at the door and knocks‚ÄĒwanting to come in.
Undone, I sink to my knees, and re-wrapping the doll, I place the babe where He belongs, right there in that mess of straw.

Right here in my mess.


And the weight of it fills my aching soul.
Had I forgotten?
Love came down!
Came right down into a messy barn, to lay his body down in a stinky, half-chewed, mussed up pile of straw in a dirty manger–to meet me where I am.

And I hear Him asking me now, asking me again…

Daughter, will you let me come into your mess?
I see it all. I know what’s there…and still, I come. Will you let me in?
Will you stop pretending you’ve given me center stage, when it’s still you, doing your best and failing to keep the mess contained?
Because only I can make all things beautiful.
Even your ugliest places.
Just. Let. Me. In.
…and the struggle can end.
In me, you are beautiful.

And I know~
My Life-Redeemer, my Heart-Rescuer, my Value-Giver–He who already has my name inscribed upon the palms of His hands, is waiting…

And I want to do more than just “make room” for Him…to add Him into my already-full-agenda, or my self-aggrandizing life-map. I need Him to be my all in all, and to fill everything. To give meaning to the mundane. To speak peace to the waves. To bring joy in the struggle. To make me holy and new.

I need Him to make this mess of me, beautiful for His glory.

So my heart cries the answer my mouth cannot even utter–

Yes, there is roomoh, there is so much emptiness for you to fill here, Lord Jesus. I invite you to come in, and I ask you, from my heart, to truly “pardon the mess” that you find, and to forgive and cleanse this heart once again, until I shine beautiful for You. I ask not that you stay a while, but that you reign here forever as my Redeemer and King.

And staring at that filled manger, I cannot help but marvel again at the wonder of this, that:
“…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us!”  Emmanuel, God with us.

Love.
Came.
Down.
into your mess and mine, to do this amazing, not-of-ourselves miracle of turning our ugliness into something pure and holy and beautiful.

And my heart wells up with joy unspeakable and full of glory, because this is how He does it: When we invite Him in, He not only cleanses and fills us with His glorious light of life, but He shines in and through and right out of all those pot-holed, broken-up places of our lives until we literally burst forth with His beautiful light. 
Can you see it?
We cannot be beautiful until we are broken…until we let Him be Lord of our shame and Lord of our sinful hearts~truly, He is our great REDEEMER.

And I don’t know about you…

but that’s the Christmas I’m ready for.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
***


{Re-posted from the 2012 archives}


I have been meditating this week on two passages of scripture dealing with planting or sowing, and what they mean for us as parents.

Psalm 126:6  “Those who weep while they plant will sing for joy while they harvest.”

and…

Hos. 8:7  “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”

The context of the second is the prophet Hosea addressing the wayward, rebellious nation of Israel, who had departed from God and fallen into idolatry, and were quickly approaching judgment.

The Pulpit Commentary has this to say about the Hosea passage:

This proverbial expression imports more than merely labor in vain; it denotes labor that has an injurious and destructive result. 

Friends, can you grasp the significance for our lives as believers, and as parents?

As believers in this world we are promised to have trouble.  We are besought with the ugliness of sin and the pull of worldliness on a daily basis as we seek to guide our children rightly.

What a holy calling has been given to such inept and unqualified vessels!  Our constant failures discourage us, and remind us of our own great need for our savior’s grace and mercy.  If he does not fill us first, how can we possibly give to our children?  If we do not return, again and again to the well, to drink of his life-giving waters, our parenting will become dry and brittle, filled more and more with the idols of sin and self, and eventually, destructive.  How terrible to think that our labor (because no matter what, it will still very much be labor), may actually be setting up our children for injury or destruction.

There is no in-between, no neutral-ground in our labor as parents.  We are either imparting LIFE or DEATH in what we sow.


Here is another scripture I have been repeatedly sobered by as a mother:


Exodus 34:5-9: ‚Äú Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation . 

Here’s what one commentator had to say about this passage:
“God makes the point to Moses about how abundant his mercy is. He has enough mercy for all of Israel.  But he will judge the unrepentant sinner that passes on his non- moral disobedient lifestyle to his children. As he promises `keeping mercy for thousands, but not always pardoning the guilty’ (Exodus 34:7). Nahum 1:3 “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked.‚ÄĚ God is merciful but he is also just and fair and must punish sin.‚ÄĚ

His promise… is that if one passes their sin down from each generation, training their children in idolatry and disobedience, God will not let His mercy continue, He will stop having mercy and bring punishment.  Those who teach what is against Him and His commands will have their children‚Äôs children acquire the practice from their parents and  be punished for it. “ 1

Immediately after these warnings, God gives this charge, regarding the training of children, a verse which many parents hold dear: 

 ‚ÄúAnd these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children‚ÄĚ (Deuteronomy 6:6-7) ‚ÄĚ



Parents, can you see how every decision, every word, every deed, matters?


How do we even respond to such responsibility?

Well, here’s what Moses did:

So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.”


Do you feel as if you are sowing with tears?  That your kids are in a difficult stage, and fighting you at every turn?  Maybe, like me, your children are still quite young, and you are simply exhausted with the day-in and day-out demands of caring for their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.
Do you feel you’ve lost yourself somewhere along the way?
Part of the reason we become to disgruntled and hurt about giving selflessly as mothers, and losing our “identity” is because our identity was not where it should have been in the first place.
I wonder~
Have I truly lost myself in the Lord Jesus?  For what else does it mean to follow after Christ but to die to self that we may live with and in Him?

This dying–this selfless giving up in order to sow life into our children (and spouses and family members and friends) is part of His grand plan.  For–

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:24 


Let’s make haste, like Moses, to bow our heads and worship before the One who supplies the grace we need–indeed, before the One who has descended to walk among us, His stiff-necked people, as we journey–who forgives our sins, and takes us as His own inheritance.

***  


Oh, Lord Jesus, help me today to live and parent intentionally so I am sowing seeds of righteousness and holiness into the lives of my children by the example I set in ALL that I say and do.  Remind me, this day, that sowing is meant to be a sacrifice~a giving up of self and worldliness, a painful release, in essence–a struggle…
and that though the promised reward is great, this holy calling is to be lived out with fear and trembling each and every day.

Give us grace, Lord Jesus, for this journey. We trust you for the harvest!



1 Excerpted from Let Us Reason website


For when I begin to believe somewhere in the recesses of my heart that mothering is a burden and not a ministry…

When my spirit recoils with resentment because all I do is cook and clean and wash and wash and clean and cook…

For the lonely moments when I struggle that my life was supposed to consist of “more than” the  wiping of noses and counters only to get up the next day, and the next, to do it all again…

For the dark days when it can feel like my home is a prison and I am the one being held captive, and I wonder if I missed my “true calling” which was surely something more exciting and more “important” than this–

For the days when despair grips me like a vice and I wonder if I can make it through this hour, let alone this day…

For the quiet sullen moments when the enemy whispers that I am a failure as a parent and wife and friend…

And all the unsettled questions and the fears and worries that I am not enough and I never will be and the realization that the “right way” is the hard way and yup– I’m pretty sure I’m not going to make it…


It’s thenthat the voice of truth tells me a different story:
that when I serve them, I’m serving Him
For–

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
The king will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.’
Matt. 25:38-40

and

“…Putting a child in the middle of the room, and cradling the little one in His arms, Jesus said, ‘Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me–God who sent me.’ ” Mark 9:37

and 

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”  Romans 8:1-6


***

The waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again, –You’ll never win!
You’ll never win.

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
And the voice of truth says, Do not be afraid!
And the voice of truth says, This is for my glory.
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

Casting Crowns, Voice of Truth

***


Praying the Spirit’s peace and rest and LIFE for all you weary mamas during this holiday season and always.