Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Give Your Weaknesses a High Five

* disclaimer: this post does contain affiliate links that help to fund my efforts in supporting your homeschooling & spiritual growth *

There's a great debate about weaknesses vs. strengths. 

In college I had to read (rather, GOT to read) the book Now, Discover Your Strengths. It's all about embracing what you are naturally good at and focusing more on improving and using those traits instead of spending all your energy getting rid of your weaknesses. There's a lot of helpful advice in that! Sure, you've got to make sure your weaknesses are not wiping out your strengths, but spending priceless time and energy trying to become that much better on a skill that you will likely never be great at is just not wise.

However, it's different with Jesus (as are most things, right?). 

It's not that we can't work to improve in our areas of strength, or that we shouldn't spend some effort making sure our weaknesses aren't drowning us. It's that in Jesus, our weaknesses can be like magic.

Well, not a magic for us to harness ourselves, but they are an avenue Jesus uses to make Himself so glorious

Before I go into that, one more thing about our strengths. When we rely on them, we are going to eventually encounter some level of disappointment. After all, we are human and we have limits! If we boast in what we are skilled in or what we can accomplish, that stuff can be wiped away in an instant, putting us to shame. Thankfully, there is one thing we can confidently boast in: knowing God

In Jeremiah 9 there is a conversation going back and forth between God and Jeremiah about the people of Israel. In it he tells Jeremiah to tell the people:

"Thus says the LORD: 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight declares the LORD.'" Jeremiah 9:23-24

Knowing and understanding God is what God says we can boast about; knowing what God loves and does and delights in. I'm pretty sure that turns into us loving and doing and delighting in those same things. 

So, we boast in our understanding and knowing God, and then Paul, hundreds, of years later tells us we can boast in one more thing: our weaknesses.

Photo credit: Siora Photography @siora18

Paul has gone over this ideas several times in 1 & 2 Corinthians, that is it through weakness that Christ's power is revealed. Finally in 2 Corinthians 12 he begins to tell about his personal struggle with a "thorn in the flesh," which he saw as a weakness, something he desperately wanted to be relieved of. After much pleading, God speaks to Paul telling him "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness." 

But what does that actually look like? 

Cindy Rollins posted something about this recently, and it really spoke to my heart as a homeschooling mother since my weaknesses are constantly being revealed to my children. Head over to her blog to be encouraged by her experience of Christ showing up in her weakness during a talk she was leading. 

It's so easy to be discouraged by all of our errors, weaknesses, and potential failures. We strive so hard to give our children the best of everything, and when we can't do that, we automatically assume we must not have what it takes. We fear they will miss out, that they could get something better at a "real school" with better trained teachers or more "friends" around them. But God says it is not with the better that humans provide that He shows up. It will be through your weaknesses that your kids will see Jesus more clearly and experience His provision for themselves. 

He shows up where we cannot. He makes things happen that we have NO power to make happen. He has unlimited strength, resources, and divine love to pour into their lives, but He cannot do it when we stand in the way trying to make it happen in and of ourselves. When we become more okay with our weaknesses being on display, the Holy Spirit steps in to cover that gap and then other people get to see it happen. 

This is what will change the hearts of your children and the people who influence. Seeing the work of God in their daily lives is life-changing and it is not something you can force, but the more you embrace your weaknesses, the more you are okay with failing and going to God for help, the more the Holy Spirit can show up. The more beautiful you make Jesus look

I hope this reminder helps you to find comfort in all the ways you feel like you are not measuring up. God doesn't want you to focus on measuring up. No, this doesn't dismiss working and preparing and does your best, it just means He wants your hearts set on Him and His ability. Know Him, seek to understand Him, and pray to love what He loves. When you are pursuing this, God will meet your needs and importantly, He will become undeniably visible to your children. What a blessing our weakness can be! Let's celebrate that. Not just exulting in our failure, but being excited that when we are weak, He is seen as strong

Let's share together: comment with a time that God's strength showed up in your weakness. We can all help bless each other with the reminders of His love and power!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

What is it About Knowledge?

 There are a couple quotes or ideas about knowledge that have been bumbling about in my brain lately and I thought putting my ideas about them here on the blog might make for some interesting reading.

I've often heard people claim "People who know better, do better" but I'm fairly certain society has proved this wrong over and over again. For instance, we all know that drinking during pregnancy is dangerous, and unhealthy for a baby. Does that stop people? Often, but not always. There's also plenty of evidence to show that regularly watching TV or any type of screen before the age of 2 has negative effects on children. Does that stop us? No! Did it stop me? I'm sorry to say, no. 

Why is this? Why does knowing what is right, or better, or best, not equate to doing better? I'm not a psychologist of any sort, and I probably don't have enough experience to rightly explain all of it, but I am a thinker from birth, perhaps an over-analyzer, so I do believe my thoughts can lead to some insights that might help all of us turn our knowing into something more than just facts tumbling around in our brains.

There are endless examples of things we know are good for us that we just don't do: eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise, watching less TV, laughing more, drinking less alcohol, sleeping more, spending less money, and the list goes on. We have such an abundance of knowledge about things that are good or bad for us, but so little willingness to take action. 

Photo Credit: Yogesh Pedamkar

Mark and I often talk about the idea of an internal switch. At different points in time, we both felt like a switch was flipped in our brains that finally helped us take the initiative to lose weight. Mark lost over 30 pounds and I lost 20 pounds, each in within four months. Mark says that part of it had to do with his shirts not fitting right, and my reasons might have stemmed from a bit of envy (just being honest here) and being encouraged my other friends' results. But why did those things finally flip the switch for us? Why don't those things work for everyone, at all times, about all things?

You have likely heard the quote "Knowledge is power" but in the bible, Jesus says that if we abide in Him and become His disciples, we will know the truth, and it will set us free (John 8:31-32). What is the difference between knowledge and truth? What is the difference between power and freedom?

In case you thought I had answers to all these questions, I don't. I do want to explore them more, and I hope you do too, but what I genuinely want to understand is what is it that flips that switch? What is it that takes our knowledge and turns it into action? 

I think a lot of this has to do with belief. Knowing something is not the same as truly believing it, or rather believing ON it, and true belief in and on something will lead to action. I don't think you can really believe something is true without taking action upon it, whether that mean you oppose that truth or stand behind it. In the bible, James says something similar about faith and works: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead." (James 2:26) 

This is where we have to get a tiny bit philosophical in order to make some of these information make applicable sense to us, because this now needs to become a discussion on thinking, values, priorities, and truth. 

Sure, maybe I believe that TV is not good for my one year old, but I don't believe it's bad enough to make me want to change. It's easier to let them watch here and there, and in that way I am valuing my convenience more than the well-being of my child. I haven't looked at the studies in depth, and maybe it's more damaging than I realize, but during that phase of my life, I felt like the pros (me getting a little more peace and therefore being a nicer mom) would outweigh the cons (addiction to devices, lower attention span, etc.). I didn't believe it was bad enough, or worse than my other options, and sometimes that becomes legitimate enough for us.

We do this type of negotiating and weighing the costs over and over, every day, often without much thought. We believe eating a salad for lunch is not worth the effort of preparing the salad. We believe the walk during lunch is not worth the time and effort and discomfort it might create. I know I tend to believe that the work of waking up early, putting on workout clothes, getting sweaty, showering, and then finally getting ready for the day are not generally worth the benefit of a solid, early-morning workout. We think in our minds that these things are true, but we don't take the risk to step ON them and let them carry us to the destination they proclaim.

This might be where you are hoping I have a grand solution, or at least a method that has been working for me. This is also where you might be slightly disappointed. 

I'm sorry this post doesn't have a lot of answers, but hopefully it has enough food for thought to get you going. What do you believe in your head to be true but not believe with your actions? What do you think would be good for your life but not really believe deep down that it is worth the effort? What can you do to flip that switch? And more importantly, do you genuinely want to?

A couple years ago I wrote a post for The Joyful Life about reading Christian biographies. I value looking at the lives of other Christians so highly because it helps give me a more biblically accurate view of my own life. I see their dedication, struggles, triumphs, and habits and it all helps me better see what it means to actively follow Christ. I think the same type of principle applies for getting our hearts to take the knowledge we obtain and turn it into action. If we can see how our knowledge plays out in real life, it increases our faith in the value of that particular action. It increases our willingness to give up our comfort, energy, time, and effort for the reward on the other side of that knowledge. 

So now, I'm turning over this idea to you. As this idea continues to roll around in my head, I may come back and offer a few more insights, but for now, you need to let it roll around in your head too. What else can we do to turn our knowledge into belief? The Sunday school answers are pray, read your bible, ask God to help you, etc., and I really do believe those to be true. Maybe you'll find that the more you think about the things you know the be true, you just start to believe them. Maybe as you pursue them you'll find that God miraculously helps you to desire the rewards knowledge in action will lead you to. Who knows what all that knowledge will become! But I don't think I can ever go back to thinking that knowledge by itself will bring me anything worthwhile. Knowledge is only power if you use it as a key and actually walk through the door it opens.

What keys are you holding onto? What knowledge have you been waiting to use? And what are you going to do now?

Monday, February 1, 2021

Hello February!

 Well hello everyone. Can you believe that it is February already?! As you can imagine, January was a wild month for us. It challenged us to remember that God knows our futures and it reminded us that His plan is always good for us (even when it doesn't feel so good). 

Getting to the airport with our 9 checked bags, 5 carry-ons, 5 personal items, and our cat was quite an event! Thankfully, I am fairly gifted in figuring out that sort of thing, so while it took a bit of time, it was nothing unexpected or crazy. We got to our gate for the short flight to Seattle, armed with pastries and coffee, with a solid 20 minutes to spare. Surprisingly, it felt very normal to be leaving. During the weeks before, I wondered what it would be like to go, knowing that we weren't just hopping back sometime soon, but God must have just given us grace for all of that. The kids were a little sad, but not crying or acting out, so I know His grace extended to them as well. 

The second flight was SO turbulent. Not in spirit thankfully, just physically! Cole was probably the most disturbed by it, but it was a good time to just reiterate that God knows our futures and that we can trust Him. I guess everyone flying over the Rockies that day had quite a time with the turbulence. 

Picking up all our bags took a bit of time. Bucky must have meowed almost the entire time because when we picked him up, he didn't make a peep but seemed plenty awake. Poor thing! His voice was so gone that we only heard him make sounds a few times over the next couple days. His nose was a bit scratched up, but otherwise he seemed okay. He was eager to be pet and drank water right away too. But man, dealing with picking up the rental cars took FOREVER. Then, once we got to the apartment, we ran into more bumps. 

Getting into the secure building took some work - figuring out the keypad was interesting, as buttons didn't work quite right, and there was more than one J Armstrong on the list (called the other one the first time - oops)! Then, our apartment which was supposed to be unlocked for us, was locked. After hours. After a LONG day. With 3 hungry kids, one disturbed cat, and two hungry parents toting a ridiculous amount of luggage. Eventually, I was able to leave a message with the after hours emergency line and the maintenance man came within 30 min of our discovery! Phew!

Mark and two kids went to get food while Cole and I unwrapped the mattresses that had been delivered for us. We even unwrapped one of the sofas that was also delivered (early, thankfully). We made a late run to Target for two cart-loads of necessities and everyone got a decent night's sleep. 

What a day! I'm so proud of how the kids handled it all. We had been prepping them a lot over the previous couple months about moving and I'm really thankful for that. Just being able to know ahead that they would feel tired of waiting, tired of shopping, tired of being in limbo seemed to help them cope better and us parent better. The next week was full of errands and car-shopping, which we were all so OVER after just the first day, but we powered through, got our cars, got the rentals returned, and have managed to do more than survive our first couple weeks. 

It's hard to say how exactly I have seen God in all this. A lot of it has just been really practical. No major surprises, but lots of needing to get stuff done. We have what we need, and always a little more. We are all learning to deal with not having all the things we want, and that has been healthy for sure. We are making time to explore and are meeting new people. We LOVE getting to actually eat at restaurants - that first week we had to eat out SO much! But, even with only going out a couple times a week, we are thankful there are some options and that people are pleasant about it. 

You might be wondering about masks... and yes, people DO actually wear them here. Not much outside, but I am good with that. All the kids are making friends, and it has been wonderful to actually be with our new CC community each week. We are all learning, growing, and feeling like we are getting to live a semi-normal life, and I am definitely grateful for all of that. 

I won't comment much on Mark's work - it's so much to take in when you start a new job! But he is being stretched for sure, in all the best ways though. He was brain-dead and exhausted that first week, maybe a little less so on his second. He's on his third week now and eager to learn more. This weekend, I think we'll spend a little more time exploring as a family. There's so much to see nearby, I think it'll keep us busy for a long while. 

Thanks for checking in with me, and sorry that these updates will probably not be as thorough or frequent as you might be expecting. I always hope they will be, but, LIFE! Things get crazy fast ;) I am thankful for all our love and prayers, and we are thankful for this opportunity to do something new and different. Who knows what else God has lined up here in TN!

Enjoy a few pics from our adventures...

Everything out here is SO open! 

First night, getting things somewhat arranged so we could sleep and have at least ONE place to sit.

Hike at Preservation Park. Such a lovely day!

Our future house! We got to go inside once, but they are quickly adding things like cabinets, trim, doors, and more :) It's close enough for us to walk to, so every few days we go look from the outside.

Jovi is eager to use her roller-blades, and Bucky is becoming more and more relaxed here.

We've gotten snow on several days, but never enough to make a full-sized snowman.

Figuring out homeschooling in our small space, with no kitchen table (yet).

Only a few tears on Jovi's first day at CC. She participated well and made 9 friends!

I think the trip was SO traumatic for Bucky, he decided to allow us to sit next to him in return for rescuing him ;)

I'm thankful that while Asher had a little catch-up to do with his schoolwork, his science fair project is really coming together!

Hope to sit a give some other updates soon! But, no promises, it might be another few weeks :) Blessings to y'all ;)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Grand Adventures

Well hello again! Today's blog post is brought to you by some major family updates, super exciting stuff like we have never done before, stuff we have always wanted to do and talked about maybe doing, but this time, God has lined it all up!

As you might know, we sold our house this past summer and came to live with Mark's mom & dad for a time. With all the Covid restrictions and life-events that were cancelled or put on hold, we figured it was the prefect time to sell, spend time with them, and take advantage of Mark's working from home. It’s been beneficial for all of us, but we can’t stay forever. 

After spending SO many hours looking for houses here in Oregon, we decided to branch out a bit and explore moving somewhere we had both talked about before, a place that seemed to have events and people and an energy we wanted to be a part of. So, in September Mark began a long interview process with Ramsey Solutions in Franklin, TN. A few weeks ago we both got travel there for Mark to have his final interview, to check out the area, and for me to get any of my questions answered as well. 

The day after we got back home they offered him the job! He will be their new Director of Product Engineering. We had been waiting to make this announcement public until Mark gave his notice this past week, but now it’s officially out in the open. In fact, it’s so official, we just signed on a home that will finish being built in early March! We are still figuring out housing between when we fly out in January and that date, but we have some plans in the works.

It was an interesting trip. Traveling during Covid is weird and nice - the airports were sparse and no strangers sitting next to us! The weather was dreary one day, and snowed the next. My gut was pretty unhappy as I discovered I am probably allergic to ibuprofen the day before we left. Still, despite all that, we got to attend the church we had been tuning into on YouTube (Refuge Franklin) and the pastor and his wife there (and numerous others they have connected us with) have already been super helpful. We drove through neighborhoods, looked at the houses we could, ate at some amazing restaurants (I know, so taboo), and tried to make the most of the short daylight hours.

We don’t know how to navigate getting to see people before we leave, and since I am so great at good-byes (read my sarcasm there), it feels easier just to drop off the side of the earth and pretend it's not a problem. Of course we really would like to see people and say something, but I just don't know how to navigate that with holidays and Covid.

With all of these unknowns, we would love your prayers as we try to get all packed, live for at least 10 days out of suitcases here, then who knows what exactly after that. We are also trying to figure out taking the cat, which probably means getting mom & dad Armstrong to bring him to Delta and ship him cargo after we get at least a little settled in our first temporary place (wow, it's a good thing I am good at planning these types of things out). We would consider leaving the cat with Mark''s parents if they could stand him, or giving him to a good home, but the kids are 100% against it, and I don't know who would want a cat with such an attitude, who cries at you to come pet him while he eats, and doesn't like to cuddle... answer, only us! Ha!

Anyway, we are excited for this new and big adventure, and we know that God has been preparing us for this. Of course, we’ll be posting pictures and sharing how it goes along the way. Follow me on IG @joellen.armstrong or just tag along here on the blog. I will try to keep everyone up-to-date. It's been weird for me to be so quiet, but since I couldn't share much, I just didn't know what exactly to share. It feels SO good to have it out in the open!

I am excited to see what God will do with our family there. I honestly have no clue how our life may or may not change! I'm planning on still homeschooling and am getting connected with people there, but who knows what exactly is ahead. All I know is, God is totally worthy of my trust and I look forward to walking in His best laid plans.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Waiting for It.

 Funny thing, I've been meaning to write a post about waiting, not realizing that this week would include a lot of waiting for the ENTIRE country. Waiting for counting ballots, waiting to know what the future might hold, waiting for the reaction of the general public: we are all doing a lot of waiting over events that are fairly pivotal. At least, many people think they are.

I don't want to disparage anyone who sees this presidential election as one of the most pivotal in history; it might very well be! I'm sure that whoever is elected will make a difference in our country, for better AND worse to some extent, depending on what you see as the important or what you desire for our nation. But this is not at all what I set out to write about. 

As many of you know, with how much of our daily life was disrupted by how Oregon is handling the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to sell our home this summer. Mark was working from home full-time, all the kids' sports and activities either got cancelled or went virtual, and the housing market was great for selling. Mark's parents also were living in a home with 2 kitchens, and basically two of everything you need for two families to live together. We had lived in this home before when the boys were tiny, so we had a pretty good idea about what it would look like to move back out to McMinnville and live with them again. 

The road to selling our home was pretty uneventful. It sold above asking very quickly, with only a couple minor hiccups along the way. There was some waiting in the midst, but it all had a clear deadline, and ending point with a certain, particular reward. At first, we thought maybe we would just buy again soon after, so we were stalking Redfin and Zillow almost every hour, hoping, wishing, and dreaming. 

If you live in Oregon, you know that right now is also not the best time to buy a home. We are at an all-time low for what percentage of homes are on the market, which made the pricing great for selling our home, but not so much for buying. And being that we are fairly picky home-buyers, that has also limited our choices. So, we continue to wait, and wonder, and sometimes, when I feel really brave, I dare to dream.

But how does a person wait well when they don't know what they are waiting for? 

I dare say, it's near impossible. I've struggled to figure out what to turn my mind to, what to turn my energy to. We're living with someone who is immune-compormised, so we have been more isolated than most, and when you share a smaller living-space with three home-schooled children, that isolation can start to wear on everyone pretty quickly. We are people and we are wired for motion and movement and the company of other people, so naturally we are waiting for the opportunity to have those things to a fuller, richer, more varied degree than we do now. That wait seems like it might be farther away than most of us expected.

In all of this waiting for an unknown deadline, I have had to turn to something more definite. It's pretty funny really, because so many events lately have shown us just how little in this world is definite. Jobs, homes, safety, security: we tend to think of these as things we can obtain and hold on to, but they are as fleeting as the smoke from a match. In the current state of our world, there is almost nothing I can turn to and hope in. An end to the Covid shut-down is so far away. An end to the crazy housing market is completely unknown, or may come at the expense of a market collapse or a huge percentage of people losing their homes. There just isn't much else to hope in except for that glorious kingdom I will inherit after my death.

Maybe that sounds a bit morbid, and I want to clarify that I am not in despair or giving up on life in general. It's just that I have had to put that end-goal as my highest, most prized goal in order NOT to despair over the wide variety of things limiting all of the other pursuits I might normally look forward to. If I was hoping in the housing market, or job-security, or the success of my kids, or my own ability to be the "best mom ever," or any number of things that I am not able to ensure 100%, then my hope would be constantly thwarted. Instead, I have to hope in something so permanent and so wonderful that the circumstances of this life won't be able to crush it. 

See Hebrews 11:13-16, speaking of our forefathers of the faith:

"These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place - a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." 

The last few months have been proof that hoping in earthly circumstances and outcomes doesn't work. My hope has to lie beyond what I can attain here on earth. So many lives have been incredibly altered with this global pandemic, however severe or not severe it really is. We have all felt the impact to some degree and will likely continue to feel it for some time. We will all feel the impact of this election, we will all struggle with our children's choices and the circumstances that brings upon them, and we will always struggle with our own inability or failure to be the person we wish we could be. We don't have it in ourselves to bring about the life we wish we were living. 

Maybe Covid has made you see that more clearly for the first time, and maybe it has tempted you to despair. It has certainly brought me to that brink over and over again. However, in all the waiting, I am reminded about what it is I am really waiting for. It's not for the perfect home, the perfect job, the perfect endeavor, or the perfect children. It's not healthy for me to hope endlessly that all of these things will mostly turn out okay. If my hope is on these things, it will eventually fail. And the only safety net is the one promise that will never fail. The promise Jesus gave us when He conquered death. The promise that with Him, God will give us all things, things that no human, moth, or rust can destroy.

If you don't have that kind of hope in life after death, in a city that God is building that is completely untouched by sorrow, suffering, and disappointment, I urge you to consider Christ. It's the only promise in the world that no pandemic, election, or person can alter. It's the only thing that can possibly make all our waiting worth it. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

So, You Want to Know About Homeschooling...

 It's been a while since I've sat down to write something specifically to share here on my blog! While I have been writing fairly frequently, it's been for other projects that will hopefully come about soon. So here I am, ready to share just a few thoughts on some books that have inspired and informed me on my homeschool journey. There are affiliate links for these books too, just FYI :)

I only chose five books (I only have the physical copies of 4), which I think will keep you busy for a while. These books have all inspired or encouraged me in some way and I'm confident that at least a few will give you what you need to homeschool with more joy and less stress. Be sure to comment below and let me know if you've ready any of these and what you think!

First up, and the first legitimate homeschooling book I ever read (and finished), is For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.

If you have never heard of Charlotte Mason, or just want a general overview of the principals and reasons why she saw education the way she did, this is a great starting point! Or, if you want to refresh your mind and need to get your heart back on track toward educating this way, you will find this book highly encouraging. 

Susan gives you the perspective from her own experience as well, so there are pointers along the way of what it has looked like for their family, as well as lots of advice and input that is so gentle and beautiful. This book is worth reading many times over! Not only will it give you tangible ways to interact with your children and approach educating them at home, it will give you the hope and direction you need to help teach them how to set their hearts on Christ. 

Here is another book I read early on. Actually, I had started educating classically before reading this book, then once I read it, I was SO glad that we had chosen this path. This book is from the founder, Leigh Bortins, of the organization we homeschool with, Classical Conversations. It's called, The Core, and is the first of three books she wrote about the stages of development and educating classically, with a Christian Worldview. 

I have read this book almost every year since I have been homeschooling, and each time I gain new insights, fresh ideas, and lots of confirmation about being on this path. She lays out what it looks like to educate classically, how her family got started on this path, and how we can pursue it with our littlest learners. If you want a basic overview of educating classically that is not too "heady" or filled with words you don't understand, this is the book for you! You'll learn, get an example of what it could look like in your daily life, and have the tools you need to start. I can't say enough good things about this book!

If your kids are older and you are just jumping into homeschooling, check out her other books The Question and The Conversation. She gives a short overview of classical education in these books too, so don't worry about needing to read The Core first if you don't have the time. (Note: you CAN get these books on Amazon, but you will find them priced better at .)

Next up is a book I only read recently, and I suppose since it is relatively newer, I shouldn't be in too much trouble about that. But I think for anyone who is looking for alternative approaches to education, it is a MUST-READ! I hope you read those caps right... seriously, a MUST-READ. I had read plenty of other study from Susan Wise-Bauer before; The Well-Trained Mind, The Well-Educated Mind, her Story of the World history books "for children," plus other various curriculum she has put out. All of her stuff is so helpful, and has the perfect balance of enticing and educational. I found this exactly the case with her book Rethinking School as well. 

She goes over a lot of basics about homeschooling rights, testing needs, school's aims, and even how to go about getting your child the extra help they might need while they are in an educational system, private or public. If you are looking for the tangible, real things you can do to pursue educating at home (or supplementing in some way) and you want to make sure you have all your bases covered legally, you will find this book super helpful. There is encouragement tucked in here too, but most of it is through looking objectively at what is expected, required, and what is truly in the realm of possibility for our kids. Hint: there's a lot more out there than you think!

A couple years into my homeschooling journey I read this wonderful little book, but back then it was only available via PDF. You can now purchase a physical copy in various places and even listen to the audiobook (which is what I recently did), and this is definitely a favorite among MANY homeschooling groups. Sarah MacKenzie has quite the following with her business Read Aloud Revival, and for good reason! She has SO many great recommendations and has found an important key for connecting with our kids and helping them connect with the world. And it really does begin with rest. You'll find her book Teaching from Rest such a pleasure and balm to your soul.

Sarah has such an easy way of writing - it really is just like hearing her speak! She is gentle and thoughtful in what she recommends, and most importantly, points us toward truth. It's not in scurrying frantically, or trying to check off every single box, or creating a hectic atmosphere for our kids full of appointments and every single educational endeavor we can cram into their lives. Teaching well must come from faith in the one who sees it all, knows it all, and truly has good plans for our kids... better plans than we could ever make. I find this book centers me and helps me trust that all the interruptions in my day and in my plans have a purpose. Maybe they are all there just to shape me! No matter, her words bring me back to hope and confidence in my Maker, and that is well worth the few dollars you'll spend on her book.

Last is the book I most recently finished. Not only is the book gorgeous and filled with beautiful pictures and full-color pages, the words remind me of the immense freedom I have in educating my children. Ainsley Arment is the founder of the organization Wild + Free, and their core aim is to help parents give their children a quality education while preserving the adventure, freedom, and wonder of childhood. This organization has SO many wonderful helps, whether it is connecting with other local moms or just being inspired by beautiful projects you can do with your kids, what she has put together is truly inspirational. Her book, The Call of the Wild and Free, offers nothing less.

Whether you are more drawn to a classical approach to homeschooling, unschooling, montessori or other methods, this book still has so much good stuff to offer. It's not always just about the method or overarching plan for your schooling, but more about the mindset. What is your overall aim? If it is to expose them to beauty, have them learning and growing, and give them tools for navigating the world once they fly the coop, you will find encouragement in these pages. It's not always about how, but there are many suggestions offered here that will help point you in a direction you can start walking towards. While I tend to be pretty structured, this book helped remind me to relax a bit, plan in some open space for adventure, and recognize that my children are just that... children! They are growing, and they need some help, but maybe not always the dogmatic instruction I assume will be most clear and best. Sometimes letting them struggle and wade through difficult ideas on their own is best, sometimes they need a guide, and sometimes they need direct instruction. But being open to what they need and different ways of giving that to them will help fuel a family atmosphere that breeds hope, joy, and enthusiasm. 

It was really hard to only pick five books. I love to learn, and learning about teaching is pretty much one of my favorite topics! I won't go into details on these books, but here are a few more that maybe you might enjoy too...

- Consider This and/or Know and Tell by Karen Glass
- A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille
- Repairing the Ruins by Douglas Wilson
- The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart
- The Unhurried Homeschooler by Durenda Wilson

Plus these books that are sitting on my shelf, just waiting to be read...

- Homeschool Bravely by Jamie Erickson
- Awaking Wonder by Sally Clarkson

I hope this gives you some great places to start! If you've read some of these, leave and comment and let me know what you think! Got any others that have encouraged you lately?

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Cavities, Fillings, Root Canals - Oh my!

I have often joked recently that my biggest regret in life so far is not flossing my teeth. Or at least not brushing at night so many times in my 20's. When you consider my sugar intake (back when my metabolism was still a beast), it's no surprise that I had my fair share of dental work to take care of the last two years.

A cavity is technically any hollow place. It seems pretty obvious that a cavity in my tooth would quickly be filled with whatever food and drink I put in my mouth. Imagine letting that stuff sit for a whole day, and it's no wonder that what the future would hold would not be fun or lovely.

After many years, those cavities did more than just get filled with things that aren't good for my teeth; they began to affect the strength of my teeth, and then the nerves far deep inside. In case you have never had this problem before, this basically means I was in a lot of pain. Regular daily activities like biting and chewing became a risky dance of trying to avoid jarring pain.

When you have several teeth that are this far gone, your only options are having a root canal (which is not actually be the best long-term solution) or having the tooth extracted. So fun! As of now, I still have all my teeth, but I have had three root canals in the past 18 months and 2 of them are still giving me grief. Filling my teeth back up with something that seems strong but is not the same as my original tooth, as God made it, will never make my teeth what they ought to be.

Through all of this, I am coming to see that our hearts are a lot more like teeth than most of us care to consider.

In my opinion, C. S. Lewis says it best...

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable solution is that I was made for another world."

It seems like every human being is born with this empty space inside that we are always trying to fill. Just like our stomachs, we stand looking at a world full of delightful things and can't find a single thing that will satisfy our craving. How many songs can you name right away that express this same idea? Is it too simple to assume, like Lewis and Plum, that this hole is really God-shaped?

I don't think so at all. I think that's why the 1st Commandment is the very 1st Commandment.

"You shall have no other gods before me." Exodus 20:3

When we fill our heart-cavities with things other than what is meant to be in there, our hearts begin to feel the effects. They begin to decay, to smell bad, to grow in frailty, and to feel painful when touched in even the most tender way. A strong tap can send us to the floor in misery.

When we fill our heart-cavities with success according to the world's view, we grow weary of the constant need to be amazing all the time and start to slide down into unmotivated despair.

When we fill our heart-cavities with the hope of being valuable because of everything we give, we get tired of feeling used and eventually begin to feel useless.

When we fill our heart-cavities with all the exciting things this world has to offer, we begin to see how fruitless and temporary they are and wonder what the point really is.

Are you catching my drift? Our heart-cavities cannot be filled with anything this world has to offer.

"And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." 1 John 2:17

Filling ourselves with God's purposes and God's plans is the only thing that won't rot our hearts.

I don't think most of us do these things intentionally, just like I didn't intentionally put sugar into my cavities. I put it in my mouth, and naturally it ended up in-between my teeth and inside my cavities. Our hearts are hungry and we feed them unintentionally every day, by what we look at, who we listen to, and what we participate in. We are stuffing our hearts and not seeing the damage for many years to come. At that point, the pain of taking out all of the gunk can be unbearable. Still, it is more bearable than letting ours hearts continue to rot and fall apart.

Thankfully, our hearts are stronger than teeth, and they regrow better!

God's truth inside our hearts can regrow all the weak places, all the open cracks, and turn off the pain-points that are wreaking havoc on our souls. It's not so much a work you do start to finish, but a work you have to be willing to allow. You'll have to start taking out the harmful things you've been putting in. Whether it's the world's idea of success, other people's need of you, or all of the fun this world has to offer, you have to stop assuming that those things are going to bring you the rest you desire.

You don't have to stop enjoying the world, God made it for us! But you have to stop giving those things the position of authority over your heart. Stop longing for them and attaching them to renewal and refreshment. Stop expecting them to make you feel like the wonderful person God already knows you are. Don't let them dictate how you feel about your life, how much hope you have, or how happy you could be.

Your cavities are not your fault, but they will all need filled. Fill them with God's perspective on your life and the restoration of your heart will follow. Fill them with God's word, His promises, His love and commitment to you.

Need a starting point? Take a look at Psalm 119. Yes, it's notoriously long, and not really instructive in nature, but it was oddly refreshing to me this morning. There is a lot of talk about meditating on the law and loving God's law, which might seem weird or cold to you, but God knows what He is doing. He knows what we need in our hearts more than we do.

"This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life." Psalm 119:50