Thursday, March 31, 2016

Homeschool Field Trip!

One of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling is the opportunity to explore! I love taking field trips and with the beautiful weather this week I decided a trip to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm was in order.

I've been before, but not since having children. It was only $5 to get in (kids 13 and under are free), and there were plenty of free activities for the kids to enjoy. Slides, swings, hay bales, bigger slides and more. There were several paid activities, like riding ponies, jumping on a souped-up trampoline while harnessed to bungee cords, or climbing up a giant rock wall.

My boys opted for the two-tiered stunt jump that was set up. They only went off the 15-20' ledge, onto the huge air mattress cushion-like inflated landing, but I was still pretty impressed. Asher first noticed it and asked "Can I do that?" What surprised me even more was Cole, the child you cannot even lift over your head without him squealing, crying, and clinging to you for dear life, decided he wanted to jump too! From all appearances, you would think it was no big deal for him. But afterwards, he said "I felt like I was almost going to throw up, but I just went for it." His innocent bravery might be my favorite memory from our time there.

Jovi had a great time too. She was going to ride a pony, but freaked out when the man went to adjust her on the saddle and buckle her in. She practically jumped back into my arms and couldn't bring herself to get back on the pony. Ah well, next time.

We went with friends and amazingly, all six children were wonderful! We played, roamed the tulip fields, posed for pictures (mostly willingly), ate lunch, and played some more. I could have stayed for hours longer, but the kids might have gotten bored with me squatting in front of flowers, snapping images for hours on end. Still, I might have to plan one more day out with the Tulips; it was that glorious.

Here are some pictures from our time there…

Jovi would swing for hours if you let her.

Seriously. I crack up every time.

At this point the kids were all still happy to have their pictures taken.

Love. Beauty. Happiness.

This suits him so perfectly.

Again. Can't help but laugh!

Cole was less enthusiastic about pictures at this point.


Like I said, less enthusiastic.

She was happy the entire time! Well, except the pony incident :)

Honestly, I'm not great at getting my kids outdoors. I often blame allergy season and how it wreaks havoc on all the boys in the family, including my husband. I often use Jovi as my main excuse, as she is temperamental and doesn't do well in the car. In the Winter as an excuse I just say "Oregon". We have so much rain, and mud! But I'm determined to get better at exploring nature, experiencing the weather and not just observing it. Last week, we hit up the Singer Hill Trail in Milwaukie (which is all paved), and just like this week, we all had a great time. Next week, I am hoping for more good weather and plan to take the drive up to Mt. St. Helens. I've never been, and Asher has always been incredibly interested in the geology and events surrounding the volcano.

Some other "field trips" we take revolve less around being outdoors, but we still get out of the house for more than just errands almost every week. Sometimes we take the Max down to a nearby Starbucks to do some of our schoolwork, sometimes we visit a new park, or swing by a craft store on the way home from errands. As Jovi gets better at missing a nap without torturing the family all evening and can ride in the car without wailing for more than half of the drive, I plan to venture out on longer day-trips to the Gorge, the beach, or other sites within a couple hours.

During the gloomy Winter months we've ventured out to OMSI, the Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals, the Oregon Children's Theater, and the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. During lovely Spring days, mild Summer days, and warm Fall days, we've gone to the Portland Zoo, the Singer Hill Trail (find me on instagram @jojococamo to see those pics), Cleveland High School's track, and the Rhododendron Gardens, just to name a few. I have an ever growing list of places to hit, but I want to sit down and plan out where to go when, in hopes of avoiding the crowds.

What are your favorite places to take your children? Where have you gone and vowed never to return? What is your biggest hurdle in making field trips happen more consistently?

It's a great practice for me, to go somewhere new and explore with the kids. It keeps me humble, makes that anxious feeling of not knowing what I am doing a little more familiar, and gives the kids more and more experiences. These times of exploration will enable them to relate better to the world, to literature, geography, and other people in general. I want my kids to embrace the world around them, to be unafraid of places they aren't familiar with, and to grow in their curiosity (despite all the question-answering this requires of me).

I hope this inspires you to go somewhere new with your children. It's good for them to see you branch out and go beyond your comfort zone, whether it's reading new books, trying new science activities at home, or exploring somewhere farther from home. I've only been going new places for the last couple months, but I already feel like it has become an easier task. You will love what it does for the experience of your family.

Growing together, creating memories you all participated in making, and watching everyone learn something new (including mom) is a huge part what makes homeschooling a special opportunity. It doesn't matter so much where you go, or what you do, but the fact that you did it together is what will stick with all of you. Embrace it, enjoy it, and you will be savoring those joy of those fun-filled memories much longer than the sting of anxiety, or frustration of plans gone awry.

Stay tuned for our next adventure - I'll do my best to snap a few pictures!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

All the Beautiful Things!

I love beautiful things. Like, scroll through Pinterest looking at flowers and color combinations for hours kind of love ;)

What do you gravitate toward when life gets you down? Do you head to Starbucks? The cookie jar? Your favorite band or book? I do all of the above sometimes, and when I am in a real funk, I blast Hillsong United's Zion (Deluxe Edition) to put my soul back in line.

There are a lot of great coping mechanisms we can use like working out, listening to music, doing something artistic, or meditating, but none of them can really put us back on track unless we allow God to move us. Many of my coping mechanisms are totally ineffective, probably because I don't really want a solution, I just want to feel good about my life. However, I will never feel good about my life unless I reconcile my heart to the truth, to come back to trusting in God's ways above my own. 

Meditating on Him, on His word, is a great way to settle my soul. Instead of fretting, looking for answers, or trying to find a person to blame, I just see who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing. This is what helps me surrender my selfish desires with less of a fight. Again, that Hillsong United album gets me every time. 

I know we are all drawn to beautiful, satisfying, and lovely things, but these things won't settle our souls in and of themselves. I try to see them as evidences of God, little creations that point to His beauty, His wonder, His creation. I hope you can enjoy these things I've picked out for you! These are all items I have pinned or favorited on a website, and I love to look at them and admire the person who brought them out from raw materials. When you look at these, see if you can find something to praise God about, or at least see how God evident, in every single one. If nothing else, simply enjoy the delightful things He has made. Have fun!

Like I said, Hillsong United! This album is beautiful in lyric and music. 

This beautiful bouquet of flowers. I love flowers, I love art, and this picture combines them in such a lovely way. The colors, the shapes... I'm just in awe. I accidentally pinned this post three different times on the same board! 

This pretty picture. I have a whole board on pinterest of color combinations. Back when I had time to knit, I had all kinds of plans for making pretty blankets and scarves with all of these color combos. Now, I just pin more and more, because they are all so pretty. 

I cannot find the link for this image, but I'm sure you'll enjoy the photo anyway. I could read all my books here, no problem.

I have love Creative Market and have purchased a few fonts from their site. Lovely stuff! Although, I often sit and wish I could spend a good chunk of time each week, perfecting some form of visual art. Still, there is so much beauty to soak in here. This is one of my favorites.

Like I said, I long to create visual art, and I do with my jewelry I suppose. But I really want to learn to paint well. I have so many screen-shots in my head, with very little practice in being able to pull them out. I love this site, and this particular painting. Many of my ideas revolve around my children, and the beauty I see shining from them. 

Again, this link doesn't work, but you can look at this image and feel your pulse slow, your mind relax, and your spirit breathe deep. I hope to live at the coast again someday, because it's such a beautiful, soothing place. Again, perfect reading spot, yes?

This etsy shop sells some beautiful soaps, including these super cool jewel soaps!

And this etsy shop has some BEAUTIFUL jewelry. I have been wanting to buy one of these rings, but haven't quite taken the plunge yet.

And lastly, how cool is this? Amazing art, intriguing History, a successfully determined woman, and ballet! 

Have I shown you enough beautiful things? Fun stuff, right? I might have to make this a regular thing, posting images and links of the lovely things I come across. I hope these can all lead you to a place where you admire the lovely things God has given us, the way He's made us to love what is beautiful, and be thankful for the ability to make and admire these charming items and images. 

Tell me, which is your favorite? If you could add any beautiful thing to your daily life, what would it be? 

Me? Flowers. Without a doubt! I'm trying to turn my black thumb to green... I will let you know how it goes :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Person Who Hates Ordinary.

That's definitely me. I hate to be ordinary. Most of my life, I wouldn't have said this about myself, but the older I get (and the more personality tests I take) the clearer I see my fight against being ordinary spilling into every day. Whether it is breaking the rule of wearing white after Labor day, or choosing to write with a pink pen instead of black, I just don't like to do what is normal.

There is nothing wrong with being ordinary, simple, or maybe even boring. In fact, in 1 Thessalonians, Paul calls the people living in Thessalonica to aspire to live quietly, and to mind their own affairs. Maybe this is a stretch, but I don't think Facebook stalking really counts as minding your own affairs. I am definitely guilty of this, but I also see how this constant evaluation of others is perpetuating a cycle of discontentment in my life.

I base my ideas of success, achievement, and living a life full of God's work, on the people I see. Not even the people I actually know, but people in the news, highly recognized for their efforts against poverty, homelessness, racism and more. However, the bible does not tell us to evaluate our worth based on a stranger's accomplishments. I wish I was a little more settled in knowing where my worth comes from, but I am still insecure, full of vanity, and ever desiring praise for my efforts. In reality, our job is not to sit and evaluate our efforts, or anyone else's, but to recognize God's goodness in every situation, and be content for the things that come our way.

At the same time, this doesn't excuse us from striving for excellence. What about achieving impossible accomplishments in the name of God? Shouldn't we be driven to make a difference in our world? Not to simply settle for less? To make the biggest impact we can? Yes, definitely, we should be doing these things. But first, we need to recognize this: all of our accomplishments in these endeavors are God's accomplishments. We cannot let our desire for greatness, or our ambitions for justice, cause us to look down upon a simple, seemingly normal life, or be discontent when our life seems a little more boring. We need to learn contentment in all circumstances.

This is where things get complicated in my brain. How do we balance striving to do the impossible and contentment with our roles? How do we work hard to accomplish our goals while not agonizing over being less successful than we hoped? Where do we draw the line between healthy ambition and selfish obsession? Sorry to say, I don't have all the answers, but I know there is a great balance to be found.

I truly believe our ideas of fruitfulness lie at the root of these questions. We equate being fruitful with having a visible impact. We think the more people know about what God has done through us, or the more people saved from poverty by our work, the more valuable and worthwhile our efforts have been. It is true people will know us by our fruit, by what pours out of our lives (Matthew 7), but the fruit of our lives, and the work we do for eternity, does not always have a visible, measurable outcome.

The greatest example I have of this is a woman I don't actually know. Back when I was newly married, my husband and I sometimes attended the Youth Group at our church, kind of like adult helpers (minus being incredibly helpful). One week, an elder of the church spoke about his aunt who lived much of her life in an Iron Lung. She had polio as a child, which eventually left her partially paralyzed, and unable to breath unassisted. She basically lived in a small room, inside a chamber, often by herself, while the Iron Lung used air pressure to fill and empty her lungs. Yet, this elder said his aunt was the most content, joyful person he knew. She was always reading her bible, always asking what people needed, always praying in earnest, always giving encouragement, despite the effort and time it took for her to speak a single sentence.

During this time in my life, I was constantly struggling with discontentment, and I was genuinely astonished at this woman's story. In fact, I still am! I saw the shallow puddle of faith I was standing in and desired to jump into the ocean of joy and confidence in which this woman freely swam. How could we be serving the same God? It was evident I was not serving God with a pure heart, as most of my desires revolved around my comfort, my selfish desire to have others think highly of me, or my need to be validated.

Her story altered my compass. I still drift away from True North at times, from following Jesus above my own comfort or pursuits, but I find courage in the testimony of her life to continue down the narrow path. She showed me that knowing God, blessing others, and not worrying about your potential impact is more freeing and joyful than pursuing the greatest achievement you can dream up on your own. I am constantly falling off this achievement-contentment balance beam, trying to change my circumstances to fit with my ambitions. But I know we can take this woman's example of how to balance well.

First, seek God, above all else. Study His word and pray.

Admit there are some circumstances you cannot change. Find a way to be okay with it.

Do everything you can to give the truth, love, and goodness of God to those you encounter.

Go for it! Anything else on your heart? At peace with where you are today? Then go for whatever it is God is leading you into, expecting Him to do great things.

I really do think it can be this simple. We tend to complicate situations, trying to map out where we need to go, what we need to do, or what we think we should have, instead of starting along down the path we feel called to take. We focus on changing our circumstances to enable our pursuits, instead of pursuing God and trusting the fruit He will bring out of our faithful efforts.

Ordinary does not mean we cannot be brave, accomplished, effective, or important. Many ordinary women step up to God's calling as events around them require their bravery and willingness. Many more people die without witnessing the fruit of their labors, so we would be wise to consider this outcome and find peace if our lives take this route. We cannot expect to feel validated by our achievements in this lifetime - that is not the goal. Here are Jesus' words in John 15:16, which brought me comfort (and I hope some wisdom) this week.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask in my Father's name, He may give it to you."

God is choosing us to bring forth fruit that endures. Not necessarily fruit that quickly or easily shoots up out of us, or fruit that changes the globe in exciting ways, but fruit that endures long after the world is demolished. This is what it means to be extraordinary: being a part of God's eternal plan, and bringing forth fruit in every circumstance, not just the circumstances we think are important. This kind of fruit reaches further than we can imagine, penetrating an Iron Lung, a generation of people, and the most selfish of hearts.

Believe this, we can be a part of God's eternal, important, world-changing plans in our every-day, ordinary lives. God may not call you into fame, or even out of an ordinary life, but He does call you to excellence in bearing fruit. We will never achieve it if we are wishing ourselves out of the circumstances He has placed us, even if they are sopping with uneventful monotony. When we are willing to live a simple life, we are more free to enjoy God, to pursue His plans wholeheartedly, and to witness His faithfulness every day. You will never regret this kind of achievement, as the fruit that grows out of this kind of contentment will be picked and enjoyed forever.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


My mind is a bit out of control today. It's been a weird few months, a weird school year. Random changes have tossed me into a stage of life I have long heard about, but never had to face.

It's time for me to say no.

It totally stinks, way more than I thought it would. My desire to be liked, my fulfillment in having others approve of my decisions, and my unreasonable drive to be as amazing as possible may have been digging me a grave. While I understand saying no is good for me, it has still been rough.

As some of you know, I started CrossFit summer of 2014 and really enjoyed it. I love lifting weights, and I especially loved being down two pant sizes after my third child. I dealt with the high level of intensity for a while, but it began to wear me down. I am ambitious and driven, but to give myself so wholeheartedly to CrossFit was more than I was comfortable with. I worked hard, and improved steadily, but was often treated like pushing myself just to my limit made me less awesome than if I pushed myself past my limit. I soon realized that being the best I could possibly be at CrossFit was more than I actually wanted, and more than I was able to commit to.

When I started tutoring CC in September I ended up leaving that gym. My schedule only allowed me to go two days a week, and I couldn't justify paying so much for going so little. I knew I'd gain some weight back, have to be more diligent with my eating, and need to kick my own butt every once in a while, but my decision to tutor with our Milwaukie CC has forced me into that choice. I'm not trying to make an excuse for why I don't workout as consistently anymore (that choice is still totally up to me), but it was the first time I realized how easy it is to overcommit.

Being an introvert, I hardly ever over-schedule. If I have three events on my calendar for the week, I have to tell myself to breathe, relax, and not to think about any of these events until I absolutely need to. Some of you might be laughing, but the stress is real! Around Christmas this year I was a full blown disaster. My jewelry business was crazy busy, we had gotten so far behind on homeschooling because of my craft fairs, and I had just started another new business I was totally in love with. Once Christmas was over and the dust settled, I faced the facts.  I had a lot of prioritizing to do.

Jewelry was out. Even though I still have my etsy shop, and still list items every few weeks, I had to really think through what my goals were. Did I want to make a real income with my jewelry? Sounds fun, but I didn't actually enjoy packaging up 20 or more items each week. Was the money nice? Yes, especially at Christmas, but I hated feeling so busy and was unable to relax whenever there was an order needing fulfilled. Did I want to be known for having an amazing line of products? Well, the fame sounds nice, but the reality of the effort this would take was way more than I could pursue with pure or selfless intentions. I saw clearly how my goals in my jewelry business were unrealistic for what I was willing and able to commit to.

My other side business also needed to be put on the back burner. Even though I am passionate about health and making smart choices, I realized I had no extra time to spend recruiting, leading, and so forth. Team calls, Facebook events, and following up with people was interrupting a lot of family time, and everyone was feeling the effects. So while I still use my amazing products, and willingly share with anyone, I don't carve out time to spend growing that business right now.

Tutoring CC had to be in, as I had committed for the year. It's probably good there is no one available to take my place, because one week I might have totally quit, on the spot. While I know I am gifted in teaching, I am not gifted in a small, structured, classroom setting - especially a setting with six and seven year olds. So I am gleaning what I can from it, trying to relax about how each week goes, and attempting to be patient until the end of the year, when my schedule will free up a bit again.

Working out became "as needed" or "as able." This was really hard for me to swallow. I actually kind of hate working out, but only because it's so hard to make the time when I have my kids with me all day, every day. I'm not sure if 24 Hour Fitness or someplace else offers childcare for kids over the age of six in the middle of the day (because I really have a lot of free time then, ha!), but I need to figure something out. I have a gym membership, and I can sometimes make a 6:30am workout happen, but it's nothing like going to CrossFit, where you have no choice about what you do. Once CC is over for the year, I will be committing to my 6:30am routine several days a week, and enjoying what those lovely endorphins do for my soul. Yes, I have heard all your recommendations about working out at home, with your kids, distracting them while you do whatever, or trying to get them to ride bikes alongside you as you push the screaming two-year-old in the stroller, but none of it works well enough for me (or said screaming two-year-old) to make it a regular part of our routine. My kettle bell is a dear friend, but I am also pretty lazy, and stay up late (more days than not) reading one of the ten books I am currently halfway through.

I haven't touched on how I prioritize my writing, time with my husband, homeschooling my children, reading books for Practicum this summer, reading books for fun, Church Nursery duty, Bible Study, or household chores. I'm sorry, but I don't have much fabulous advice on all that. All I really know is that I've come to a point where I absolutely have to say no sometimes, or "later", or offer a different suggestion. Not just because of time, but because of emotional availability. It's hard to tell a friend you cannot make a play-date happen, even if you have another offer that might seem less fun to them. You might be misunderstood, or unintentionally offensive, but our job is not to control our friends' responses, but to honor the Lord with the use of our time. This includes giving our full attention to the people we are with, and making effort to love well, as often as we can.

In order to love well, or engage others, we have to have some idea of why we are doing what we are doing. This is why I have titled this post "Priorities." Once we have our priorities straight, making the tough decisions about what we participate in, commit to, or schedule gets a bit easier. In my scenario, I did not really look at how tutoring would affect CrossFit, time with my husband, or my stress levels throughout the week. Would I have said no if I knew? It's hard to say at this point, but I'm thankful for the experience for many reasons, and it has been a good practice of sacrificing myself for the needs of others.  I'm also incredibly thankful to have learned this lesson about something as trivial as CrossFit, and not something where more people were relying on me.

Where are you overcommitted? Did you consider the cost before you jumped in? What can you pull yourself from without causing others harm? What can you change going forward, to give you freedom to enjoy the commitments you make?

I want to encourage you in God's ability to refresh you. There were so many times I went to evening nursery duty, feeling totally annoyed or frustrated about the preparations I had yet to finish for CC the next morning. Somehow, I always survived. Despite nursery being a great inconvenience in my mind, I still made it out alive, and not totally bonkers, still having enough energy and brain power to finish getting prepped for the next day. If you are overcommitted, take an honest look at how you got there. Decide if it is still worth it. Navigate each obligation to see if it lines up with your highest priorities. Do your best not to assume the response you might get from others, and seek to honor God in all you do.

My highest priorities right now mostly revolve around my children, my husband, and my church. In order to still go to CrossFit, I would have to alter my homeschooling schedule, go in the middle of the day, and rearrange lots of other little things like showering, meal-times, and sleep. Right now, with the needs of my little ones being so demanding, I decided my body, my ego, and my vanity could take a back seat for a while. Not completely, but just not give them priority over all those other things. It was more important for me to have my day structured in a way that keeps things simple and allows me to school the kids and cook meals at times that are convenient for all of us, not just for my CrossFit. Like I said, this was a difficult conclusion to come to, and it's still hard to live with sometimes, but I know it's not forever. I know making other parts of my life less complicated will be worth it.

With my CrossFit decision, and many other decisions, I am in the thick of it, right there with you. It can be wearisome to see the endless amount of decisions we will need to make about our lives (especially when many of those choices mean saying no to something you enjoy), but it's definitely not beyond God's ability to give us the wisdom and strength we need. Each season will bring new choices, and each experience will bring new wisdom, and perspective. Glean what you can, relax about results, and patiently wait to see what God does. Let each less-than-perfect decision guide you to making a better decision later, and be committed to being happy with it. After all, you can't change the past anyway. Better to be happy despite your decisions, than grouchy about your decisions.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Brave in Ordinary Life.

I have never considered myself a brave person. I've been told I am a few times, but I suspect my inability to keep my mouth shut is often mistaken as bravery.

I know a woman who is truly brave. She did not feel brave when her husband left, when she was raising her biological son and three adopted children who had endured trauma and neglect during their formative years. She felt scared, abandoned, confused, and unsure. My friend trudged on, totally oblivious to the work God was doing in her. Yes, she knew He was probably doing something, but she was not exactly excited about the turns her life had taken. God was uprooting many years of trauma in her own life in order to reveal His loving kindness. 

I had the amazing pleasure of meeting her the day before her husband left, and then we became the closest of friends about a year later. During the next few years, her house was foreclosed on, her ex stopped seeing the children, one of her daughters went from troubled to out of control. She moved in with a family, who later turned their backs on her and asked her to leave. She left willingly, hoping God would provide for them yet again. He did, though it wasn't a magical, suddenly ideal type of circumstance. Her daughter continued to spiral down, suffering from trauma so deep she still cannot acknowledge her pain. Today this daughter is still unable distinguish truth from lies, both from the outside and within her own mind, and wreaks havoc on the family whenever she has the chance. 

Through abandonment, debt, trauma, medical emergencies, loss of friendships, rejection, and parenting woes, my dear friend has remained steadfast in one thing: she knows God is working. 

Like I said, my friend would never call herself brave, although can now see how what she did was brave, without knowing it then. Now she knows she is truly brave, and she is unstoppable. I cannot believe I get to be her friend.

I have another friend, one whom I've only actually seen in person for a total of nine days. Three of those days, she was just a stranger in a room and I didn't even know her name. Another three of those days, I was speaking at a small conference and she was in the crowd. We only realized on day six that we had met before. The last three days, she was speaking to me, training me and a room full of others on becoming a tutor through Classical Conversations.

Over the course of the last four months, she went from being a homeschool mom getting back into a routine after a Disneyland vacation, to a mother unsure if her young son would live through emergency surgery. She went from thinking about catching up on laundry, to wondering if her son would have permanent brain damage, then to wondering what that almost certain damage would do to his life, to her life, and to her family's life.

If that wasn't enough, her and her husband decided that another young man, who also had endured a traumatic brain injury and had no family to call his own, should become a member of their family. She went from having three wild boys, to having four wild boys, two who would have special needs for a while, and very possibly forever. 

She also might not call herself brave. But through her life, and especially through the last several months, she has demonstrated a desire to see what God is doing, even if it includes circumstances she would rather not endure. 

These women exemplify a type of bravery we can all benefit from. They did not go into the world, seeking to strive against all odds, against impossible circumstances, or chances of death. They woke up, encountered something they did not expect, and still looked to God. 

I've been listening to the book Girls With Swords by Lisa Bevere (per the recommendation of friend #1 mentioned above) and I am inspired to be brave. I'm not seeking a way to make a global impact, though I hope to, but rather, a way to be brave in the regular events in my day. Bevere says if we consider ourselves daughters of the King, we are in a battle, and we are under attack. There is no middle ground, she says, we are either fighting or captive. If we think we are neither, we are captives and don't even know it. Satan wants to destroy us, not necessarily for what we are doing today, but for what we will do, for the life we will live. 

Am I living a life so opposed to the devil's work that I am a target? I often think not, but I'm beginning to wonder if I don't give Satan enough credit for the ways he attempts to undermine my spirit. I see most of my struggles as problems within myself, issues with my personality, or bad habits I have allowed to sink into my daily life. Since listening to Bevere's words of wisdom and encouragement, I am starting to wonder if these thoughts I let in are actually a ploy to make me weak, to give me doubt, and to shut me up before I help someone else turn to God in their difficulty. 

I've been thinking about this every day. When one of my children blatantly disobeys, my first reaction is usually some sort of disappointment, then frustration, usually followed by questioning my own parenting abilities or sin issues. But wait. What if I decided to remain confident in the ways God has gifted me and pursue that child with love, investing my best into them? Is there any time where this would not be a better response? Is it really humility to question everything we do, or are we succumbing to a lie, thinking confidence is a quality Christians should disdain? 

I can feel this idea and God's truth changing my heart. When I spend time acknowledging the spiritual warfare I cannot see, I suddenly see my daily woes as tiny obstacles God is able to conquer. It becomes easy to turn to God and say "Let's do it!" I have strength do endure, a willingness to suffer, and a hope that enables me to sleep well at night. In fact, seeing the eternal battle won, knowing I have a place on the winning side, almost makes me laugh at what I often feel is so difficult. 

Will this attitude land me a life like Job's? Maybe. But wasn't it worth it for him? Wasn't God honored, Satan proved wrong, and people thousands of years later encouraged? 

What do you think a brave person looks like? In what areas of your life could you act more bravely? 

Whatever thing you think you need in order to be brave, turn to God and ask Him about it. In homeschooling, living without a loved one, being more cheerful towards your family, taking flack at work, or dealing with stress from unending needs of those around you, God wants you to be brave. He wants you to look toward Him, see your circumstance clearly, and find joy in the fact that He has won over all. Big or small, impossible or ordinary, we are brave by showing up, over and over again. Whether we enter these circumstances willingly or not, when we look to Him as our source of help, we are brave warriors, fighting for the Heaven we are guaranteed to possess! 

Don't wait for a good cause, or important issue to decide to be brave. Practice being brave every day by not letting Satan discourage you. God has redeemed you, fought for you, and won. Despise discouraging thoughts, and put your mind on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Pretty much, set your mind on God, for He is all of these things, and He will strengthen your small, brave heart. You will be astonished at the circumstances you endure and your faith will grow as you see God holding you through every amazing, catastrophic, or even every ordinary day.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Keeping Sight of What We Value.

Back and forth, doubting and problem-solving.

This is how I spend too many of my days. Sometimes, the problem-solving revolves around entertaining the two-year-old, and other days I have been to all the corners of my mind in an attempt to console my worried self about Math. Lately, something seems to rear its head once a week and demand the dark side of my mind to brood and fret until I've "got it all figured out." It feels impossible to find peace in all of it, especially when kids talk back, or the toddler is whiney. My thoughts race, never finding a finish line, and there are not enough books in the world or decadent coffees that fit in my meal-plan to put my heart and mind at ease. I find myself frustrated all day long until I land somewhere, on some solution, to make this homeschooling gig more like a ride in the park, and less like a battlefield. When I get this way I really need to get grounded, to come full-circle, and go back to the place I started in order to find peace.

During the last several years, I have done enormous amounts research, made countless observations, and talked endlessly with my husband and friends. I've read hundreds of articles and far too many many books about education. We've prayed in, out, around, and about numerous opportunities, and still we have decided to homeschool. This is what we know to be best for the kids right now. I've written before about the need to be grounded, to be convinced of the path you are on, but I still need to remind myself.

When explaining math concepts feels worse than cleaning nasty toilets, I have to take a step back, recognize what I value in life, and see how this affects all of us with our choice to school at home. When I question if my kids are missing anything in their rigorous Math studies, I have to take a deep breath and admit it... Math is not my highest priority. There are days when making progress in Math is priority number one, but overall, my kids becoming Math experts is not my life's goal. Maybe if one child emerges as a Math genius, and expresses a desire to become more proficient, it might become my second goal in their schooling. But our ultimate goal has always been, and always will be, to educate my children about God and the world He made.

This doesn't mean all my curriculum is overtly Christian. It does mean everything they learn can be traced back to how God made all things, and holds the world together. It doesn't mean we do specifically "Christian" activities every day. It does mean we look to God in prayer every day, and study His word together. It means we learn about the world with the underlying goal to know Him and make Him known.

There are times when this goal is easy to pursue. It pleases my heart beyond all measure to hear my seven-year-old ask me questions about people, places, or natural things with an interest in understanding God's work in all of it. I'm happy to explain over and over again the mysteries of God's love and care for us, how we see His detailed mind in enabling us to express the concrete world with numbers. It's wonderful to talk about His consistency in each morning's sunrise, and His wonder in how the planets spin and move. To have the time to explain how a flower seed grows and sprouts is a magnificent gift I want to keep and cherish.

I wish knowing God and making Him know was more solid in my heart, especially during difficult times, because hashing it out over and over again every few weeks is quite the mental workout. I allow too many distractions and hold up endeavors higher than they deserve to be held. I have to think back to my true goal often. This is why fellowship with others on the same path is crucial. The world will tell you this "religious agenda" is a waste of time, that this is folly, sheltering, and a poor use of resources. And if you are listening to them, your long-term goal will get buried in all the dirt, needing to be dug out again, week after week. You might even have Christian friends who encourage you to bury that lofty idea. But hang tight, weary mother. Find a bag to tuck that beauty into. Carry it with you always. Don't sit back and simply compose arguments to fight on its behalf, but rather, secure the truth of God's word into your heart and mind. Allow His sovereign plans to bring peace to your soul. Trust in His ability to accomplish more than you could ever hope or dream.

Ephesians 3:30-21 says "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

Don't let Math woes, sibling drama, discouragement in your weaknesses, or worry of the future rob you of knowing the great power God is willing to display in your life and your children's lives. It takes a lot of bravery to sacrifice your life, against what others suggest, and educate your children. If you are seeking to see God glorified, and willing to call on Him in all your struggles, He will do far more than you can imagine. The way He will show Himself through your life is not something you are guaranteed to see in your lifetime, so it will require your expectant faith and hopeful diligence. Don't lose heart!

Instead, pray. And while you pray, get a teensy bit practical too. Recently, I encouraged you to start reaching out to friends, inviting a person to coffee or tea, and writing an encouraging note. Now let's take it another step further:

This time, find three women who will help shape this homeschooling journey of yours.

Find one woman ahead of you on your journey, who can enlighten and encourage you. She probably needs encouragement too, but she can offer you advice from hindsight, motivation, and more. In turn, you will be giving her hope for future generations, encouragement that her work has not been in vain, and confirmation of her calling.

Find one woman in the same place as you. Have dessert together, read books together, and pray for each other as you let your children develop friendships around learning, God's word, and childhood adventure.

Lastly, find a woman further behind you. Don't go to her assuming she admires you, or needs your advice. Go to her with a genuine interest in knowing her better. She will be encouraged to see she is not alone, and feel blessed gaining from your personal investment in her life. Recommend books, give a listening ear, and be a safe person in which she can confide.

I need to work on being invested in these kinds of women in my life too. I have a few of these relationships, but I'm not always intentional about serving them or reaching out to them. I suspect I would feel a lot better giving of myself in this way, even if I never receive anything in return.

So this week, instead of doubting your calling, or being frustrated at the cost, cling to God's promise of abundant, eternal glory and seek out women to share it with. If bringing God glory through your homeschooling is not already a part of your plan, I highly recommend it ;) You will not regret playing a part in this plan. In fact, I would never have survived this long without committing to it! Your children will reap the benefits, as will those who see your commitment.

When you have discouraging days, pull out that pearl of great beauty, that hope which obliterates other temporal goals or ideas. See God's love in providing you a reason to look to Him, even if that reason is tears and errors on a Math worksheet. He can make all things lovely, and turns ashes into beauty every day. Let today be another day where those ashes bring clarity to your vision. Teaching Math has an expiration date, but seeing God's beautiful purpose in our struggles is perpetually more rewarding the more we turn aside to see it.

It can be embarrassing to admit our how our struggles and failures have actually brought forth goodness. It feels lousy to look at our trials and confess that we didn't know best, that it was not the end of the world, and then show how it all worked out for the better. But the more often we do this, the easier it will be. In fact, we should invite every opportunity to clearly see our values proved worthy before our eyes. It may seem scary, like admitting defeat, or succumbing to failure, but every time we see God's goodness displayed in our lives is actually a time for rejoicing. If we truly value knowing God, it doesn't matter what path leads us there. Seeing and savoring Christ will be worth suffering the greatest defeat... even if it's in Math.