Walking and Not Fainting is Still Moving Forward

I’m trying something new this school year (which is a term I use loosely):  early morning times with Jesus.

Truthfully, this is an old something new. Years ago, I got up early to have my “quiet time” before starting my day with the boys and school and chores. It lasted a while, then I stopped.

Mornings are hard for me.

Then, in the fall of 2015, I decided to start fresh with morning quiet times. I enjoyed the stillness and the quiet at that time of day, sitting at the kitchen table with Bible and journal, wrapped in a blanket–not because I felt cold but because it felt comforting.

But mornings are hard for me.

blue green clothespins

I persevered valiantly, for as long as I could. But connecting with God felt nearly impossible in those dark early morning moments. I would pray and then forget what I’d just prayed. I’d keep praying but feel that my prayers were scattered, that they needed to follow a more sensible line of thought. I found myself praying and then feeling I’d gotten off track with some tangent (although still prayer) and then try to circle back to the original topic. Sometimes, I just wanted to cry about my seeming  lack of ability to meet with the Lord. I ended those times not feeling fortified for the day but feeling discouraged at having wandered and rambled for 45 minutes. The blanket would slide off my slumped shoulders as I stood up from the table feeling discouraged and alone.

Often, my struggle with a frequently-present sense of defeat, failure, and guilt looms largest in the early morning. And trying to meet with Jesus at that time of day felt like one more failure. Mornings didn’t feel difficult because of the needs of my house or my children or even lack of sleep–the boys have slept through the night for many years now. They felt (and feel) difficult because I often wake up with a vague but genuine sense that I just might (or will probably?) ruin whatever is in front of me:  parenting, teaching, walking with Jesus. {I’m working on this with my spiritual director, by the way.}

Instead of starting my days in the embrace of my Father, I felt instead I started them feeling alone even though I reached out to find Jesus.

And I always felt I was to blame for that.

So I stopped those early morning times with Jesus. I’d still pray as I got breakfast or made the bed, asking Jesus to live His life through me; and the boys and I have a morning time together before we start lessons in which we sing, pray, read verses.

I just couldn’t let time set aside to connect with Jesus be another source of defeat–perceived or real.

So, I would carve out time at night–I’m a night person, after all–or in the early afternoon while the boys had their own “down time.” That worked.

Calvin eating from a bowl

But I want to try again with mornings. I desire to start the day in intimate fellowship with the Savior. I want to take this step of faith–and it’s scarier than you might imagine–believing that the Lord’s victory is for me even when I feel weighed down at the start of another new day.

It’s scary because I don’t want to risk feeling disconnected from the Lord. It’s scary because I don’t want to risk hearing the Enemy’s lies so loudly in the early morning–when I’m at my weakest and most vulnerable–that tell me God just might need to reject me.

So…I came up with a plan. Not a formal check list of must-do items in order to declare I’ve completed a “quiet time.” But a step-by-step guide to help me, to remind me–as I see it in writing–that I AM doing what I need to do to make myself available to engage with my Lord. The real me meeting with the real Jesus. 

I’ve even been so specific as to write down a few short prayers to start the time, just words that express my heart and my needs in something a friend calls a “breath prayer.” Which I suppose means the words we breathe out as prayers…

I found a Bible reading plan to start fresh next Monday morning–a plan to read through the Bible chronologically. I’m looking forward to viewing Scripture through fresh eyes.

This could very well be the most titanic step of faith I’ll take the entire school year. It makes me cry to think of it even now. Not because I’ll need to go to bed earlier so I can wake up earlier, but because I hate the idea of feeling even more defeated by 7 AM because I set out to meet with Jesus and ended up squandering it by…well, by just being me.

The Enemy’s lies are so targeted, aren’t they? So tailor-made to poke hardest at our weak spots.

Recently, my best friend Lynn and I talked about Isaiah 40:31–but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

I shared with Lynn that I feel I’m in a perpetual state of walking and not fainting, that I don’t know if I’ll ever see a time again when I mount up with wings like an eagle. Or run and not grow weary. I know there’s no shame in walking instead of running or soaring. I know I can still obey even if I’m “just” walking.

Know what she told me?

Walking without fainting is not settling. Walking without fainting is still moving forward. It’s still obeying; it’s still following God. It’s still moving in the right direction. 

So, when we start a new school season next Monday morning, my plan is to walk to the kitchen table, to bring my whole self to meet with Jesus, and then to walk with Him throughout the day. Moving in the right direction. 

 

 

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2018 Goals: Where I Am Now

One of my January goals was to complete a scrapbook from our family vacation to New York City last fall. I finished it on January 30, and, although it’s certainly not the most artistic presentation, it reminds us all of a wonderful adventure.

For 2018 as a whole, I set myself a handful of goals and blogged about them here. Now that a month or so of the new year has passed, I’m taking a quick review of those goals.

good morning coffee

  1. Continuing on the journey of being faithfully frugal… We did go ahead and cut out Netflix, and our one-month no-Netflix venture will end mid-February. We’ve been totally content without it (and haven’t had cable in many years). The boys like to watch Popular Mechanics for Kids on Amazon Prime a few times per week, and Mike and I watched a movie on Hoopla together in January. Hoopla is a free service provided through our public library (and many others across the country), allowing us to check out more e-books, audio books, and even movies and TV shows than we could access through our library alone. We just haven’t missed Netflix, and it’s been freeing to go without it–financially and otherwise. The jury’s still out on whether we’ll reinstate it after our one-month fast finishes.
  2. Using my mid-day downtown for quiet time with Jesus… I have continued this practice, and it’s been one of THE most effective uses of my time. I have energy; I don’t feel rushed. My thinking is clear. I think I’ve found a real sweet spot with this habit.

joy candles

3. Write + submit, submit, submit! Good news to report on this front:  I learned in January that a brief article I wrote on generosity will be published in December in a magazine called Purpose. As well, a Christian magazine for girls (called SHINE brightly) will publish a piece I wrote in their summer 2018 issue. This feels like such a victory. Whereas these 2 works are non-fiction, I also wrote a short story for a magazine called Brio (published for girls by Christian ministry Focus on the Family) that is being, as one editor communicated to me, “shown to the other editors.” The 2 articles that will be published later this year will come with a small stipend, and I plan to add that to the money I’m acquiring for extra giving projects. Which brings me to my next goal of…

4.  Raising $300 to give to needs… Right around New Year’s, I connected with a person on Craigslist who needed to have assistance with proofreading a story he’d written. I spent about 5 hours working on the project and earned $50. Then I sold some excess hand-me-downs at 2 separate consignment stores, earning $75.50. Less than 2 months into 2018, I’ve seen over $125 of my giving goal met! With that, we’ve helped a woman from our former church with funds for her cancer treatments. We mailed restaurant gift cards to a family facing huge transition due to a medical situation. And I bought a Valentine’s wreath made by some teens raising funds for a mission trip to help rebuild in hurricane-affected areas of Puerto Rico.

kids playing

5. and 6. Continuing parenting with the trust that Christ is my source of unshakable peace and teaching with the trust that the work of my children’s growth is done by the power of God’s Spirit… Somebody said, “Attitude is everything.” Or, if nobody said that, somebody should have. When I am resting in Christ’s sufficiency, I experience more peace. I combined these 2 goals, which I listed separately on my “2018 goals” blog post in January. I read a book called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham over December and January, which has encouraged me in my parenting. I also recently finished an e-book titled The Homeschooling Housewife, by Amber Fox. It’s given me some good ideas to implement in our home, even if the title is a bit off-putting.

7. Creating more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts… Check. Woodrow loves taking pictures, and he often snaps photos of me for these posts featuring outfits I put together for little to no money (through hand-me-downs, gifts, and items occasionally picked up at secondhand stores or yard sales). Please don’t be fooled by these posts that I actually get dressed every day. On cold days–well, cold for central Florida–I sometimes stay in my sweat pants from the night before, throw on a zip-up jacket of my husband’s, and call it a day. Hmm…maybe I’ll need to work on that as a goal for 2019.

How’s your 2018 going so far?

2018: New Year, New Goals

2017 is now in the books, and I’m ready for a fresh new start. This past year held many triumphs for me:  I made a Power Point presentation for the first time! I know, hard to believe. The first one of these I ever created was for the talk I gave this past summer at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad project.

I also explored some caves with the boys’ Cub Scout pack this past spring, on a camp-out at Hog Island recreation area in Withlacoochee state forest. That was a first for me, too.

roller skates

2017 also held hurts and loss:  My beloved Papa died on Valentine’s Day last year. And yet another dream I held for myself came to naught when I had to close the Women of Vision/women’s stewardship group I’d previously launched.

But 2018 is still wide-open, unclaimed territory, and I relish that. Looking toward the new year, I’ve set a few goals for myself–ones that are specific and targeted (although some are more measurable than others). I didn’t list everything that is a priority that I’m already doing, that’s already part of my normal rhythm, such as exercise, reading good books, or carving out time to be with friends. I tried to list what I might need to be reminded to keep at the forefront. Check it out…

balloons on train track

2018 GOALS:  

  1. Continue on the journey of being faithfully frugal. Remember that book I read that inspired me so?  I’m captivated by the idea of living intentionally this way. One way we’re implementing this in January is by cancelling Netflix. Well, for a month, anyway…I’d like to do away with it for longer, but we’ll start with a month. Our subscription price increases by $1 per month in 2018, so we’ll save about $11 monthly by refraining from being Netflix consumers. And it cost $11 to ship the final 2 quilt tops I sewed for 2017, so that savings is meaningful.
  2. Use my middle-of-the-day down time for quiet times with Jesus on weekdays. I struggle to get up early to start the day with the Lord, and not just because I’m a night person. I sometimes feel more sad in the mornings than at any other time of day, and for a while I found myself feeling some kind of barrier in connecting with the Lord in the morning that I don’t feel at other times. I’d been having my quiet times at night, but for the last week or so of school before Christmas, I used our after-lunch down time (when the boys usually listen to an audio book) to get alone with the Lord. And those times were truly rich. I plan to continue this new practice.

shoes and flowers

3.  Write + submit, submit, submit! Notice my goal is not “get published.” I have little control over that–although by not submitting anything ever, I’m guaranteed not to get anything published. I have a few irons in the fire–meaning I’ve submitted several pieces I’m awaiting a response for–and I know most of those submissions will be rejected. That’s just how it goes. Getting a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul this year has spurred me on, and I want to continue attempting to put my work out there. Plus, if I get paying gigs this way, I’d like to use at least a portion of that money for extra giving, which absolutely motivates me.

4.  Raise $300 in 2018 (apart from our regular giving) to give to gospel-centered needs. At the end of December, I used some of the money from a recent thredUP cash-out–from selling excess hand-me-down clothing beyond what I needed for the second time–for a mom in need. Not sure yet where I’ll find $300, but that’s the reason it’s a goal, right?

5.  Continue teaching the boys from a spirit of trusting that the work is accomplished NOT by my might or power but by God’s Spirit. Zephaniah 4:6 pierced my heart recently, and I’ve sort of paraphrased the verse here. If I attempt teaching my sons as though it all depends on my best efforts and my good planning and my hard work, I’ll be frustrated and despondent when the fruit I see doesn’t reflect the labor I put in. But if I teach them trusting God’s Spirit to be at work in them, causing the knowledge to take root and develop over time, I can relax–and enjoy the process (and my children) more, not depending on my children’s academic growth to fund my sense of accomplishment.

6.  Continue parenting  with the trust that Christ is the source of my unshakable peace–not good days or nice circumstances. You probably noticed the idolatry I mentioned above (being tempted to draw a sense of validation from my children’s school success since I am their primary teacher), and there’s more to address within goal #6, too. Most days simply don’t flow smoothly from Point A to Point B, and if I depend on circumstances feeling peaceful in order to find the good in my life, I’ll end up disappointed and angry. In this world, we will have trouble; but in Him, I can take heart, because He is my peace.

allison in front of azaleas

7.  Create more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts. See? Another targeted, specific, doable goal. Look for more of these posts coming soon!

What are your new goals for 2018? I’m also contemplating learning to play the ukulele this year–we have one that Mike’s brother gave to our boys. But I didn’t list it as a goal because I’m just not sure yet. We’ll see! There’s a whole year to fill, so maybe I’ll go for it after all!

Journals: Source of Encouragement for this Season of Life

A couple months ago, back when we were still in Colorado, I posted a question on Facebook:  What books would my fellow home school parents recommend to give encouragement for a new school year? I received a few suggestions but haven’t pursued reading any of them yet.

I keep a cache of blog posts that never fails to provide the proverbial shot in the arm when it comes to my having energy and motivation for persevering with home schooling. I re-read those throughout most school years. But recently I found a home school pep talk from a different source:  journals.

typewriter in black and white

I have kept journals for decades. Over the years, those entries have progressed from statements such as “I hope my best friend and I both get our guys!” at age 16 to processing my thoughts about loneliness and eating struggles while living overseas. Apparently, regular writing has been proven to offer mental health benefits. Therapists, counselors, and social workers often encourage their patients to journal for the cathartic benefits of it.  There are many ways to journal, and no one “right” way. But I know I’ve been helped by writing down my personal stories–and even by returning to them later to read where and how I’ve grown.

I’ve also kept journals for my boys for years. I don’t create elaborate memory books for them, and most of our photographs are on the computer instead of in photo albums. But I diligently fill journal pages with stories, milestones, and prayers concerning their lives.

And it was these journals that have refreshed me in important ways for this season of life and schooling and parenting. Here’s some of what I gleaned.

dawn-nature-sunset-woman

Last year, we’d finished lessons for the day. I sat at the kitchen table jotting down what we’d accomplished before fixing lunch. Woodrow looks up to tell me that the golf ball he’d rolled across the floor had produced two shadows. I took notice of what he’d pointed out and asked if he knew why that was.

“Because there are 2 light sources–one from the kitchen window, one from the living room window. Two light sources, 2 shadows,” he explained. We’d never studied this. But he noticed, and he made connections from what he’d learned to real life. That same day, he told me at lunch that a person weighs more where gravity is stronger. He then described why and finished with this tidbit:  “Maybe the reason we all seemed to weigh more than we thought on the scale at Publix two days ago was due to a gravitational wave.” I’m not all that sure what gravitational waves do, and I don’t think Woodrow is, either. But, again, he showed me he learns things I don’t necessarily teach and makes connections between learning and life around him.

I also found this little joke Woodrow came up with that I penned in his journal:  “What did the round spoon say to the square spoon?” What? “My life is POINTLESS!” Once while I was working on laundry, he and Garfield were in the throes of a competition with a catapult I’d helped them make, flinging LEGO men with it down the hall and then measuring how far each piece had gone. During my chores and their play, Woodrow approached me and said, “The only way to fail is to give up.” This young man can teach me a thing or two about perseverance.

wooden spoons

Years ago, Woodrow cheered up his little brother (who was very distraught and angry about a notebook I’d bought at Big Lots–go figure) by reading him a story called “The Fuzzy Duckling.” Except he replaced certain words in the story with “stupid” and “dummy,” which I would never actually encourage–but I chuckled to see how Garfield laughed and laughed at his brother’s antics. And I cheered Woodrow’s taking the lead to bless his little brother in a way that would connect with him.

When Garfield was about 5, I gave him free time during a school day so I could focus on a task with Woodrow. I noticed him enter the kitchen and grab an empty cereal box from our recyclables stack, then he returned to the living room. After finishing with Woodrow, we checked on Garfield. He’d used instructions from a library book about bridges, along with some fishing line and the cereal box, to make a drawbridge. He couldn’t read, but he’d followed the schematics (a word my older son taught me) and successfully created this drawbridge from materials he could find on his own.

Last year, we discussed how wars begin and how countries establish their geographical boundaries, all over lunch one day, and the boys initiated this. Home school lunchtime conversations prove to be replete with depth at our house.

bridge

As I reflect on these stories and memories, I’m reminded that God created the human mind to learn, and my boys are learning. In fact, learning is always happening. So in two days, we’ll begin a new school year, and the learning will just continue.

And I’m encouraged.

 

 

 

 

One Last Summer Road Trip

While Mike worked in Chicago last week, I got the idea–in the midst of home school planning–to visit family in Mississippi again before we begin our new school year. One of my nephews, my sister’s oldest, started pee wee football this year. I thought it’d be special both for my boys and for my nephew if we could watch one of his games.

My boys have never seen a football game–at least, not the North American kind. But the game wasn’t the focal point; squeezing in one last family visit before we start school and Scout activities for the fall was our aim.

calvin and allison on ferris wheel
Garfield & me riding a Ferris wheel earlier this summer in Colorado.

We’d planned to leave last Friday morning, drive all day, and then stay at my parents’ home in south Mississippi that night–then driving another few hours to my sister’s home the next day. Our plans changed last minute, though, when my nephew’s game time switched from Saturday afternoon to Saturday morning. We ended up leaving Thursday afternoon, arriving in Mississippi near midnight, then driving again the next day to my sister’s house. We stayed with my sister and her family for just under 24 hours, then drove back to Mama and Daddy’s to spend Saturday night. All totaled, we spent about 27 hours in our van over a span of 4 days.

bus on beach

Even after all our previous travels this summer, even after being home for just over 2 weeks, this trip was worthwhile. Because making memories is worth it. Because relationships are worth it. Because watching my children grow a friendship with their cousins is worth it.

Also I felt brave and accomplished making such a long road trip with just the boys, no other adult to share parenting or driving responsibilities. Woodrow and Garfield really are great travelers. They listened to 4 books in the Boxcar Children series that we played over the Hoopla app. They didn’t watch any DVDs or TV shows, but we did tell stories and jokes and listen to music. And we had a couple of talks about big topics, too–after all, I had a captive audience right there in the backseat.

During some of the time in my hometown this past weekend, my boys got to pick okra with their grandmother at a fellow church member’s garden. They bought some goodies at a yard sale for their cousins. They visited with their great-grandmother. Prosaic as these acts may be, they are precious gems, too–milestones in building into my children a life of memorable experiences and family love.

map water coffee

I cherish the fact that I could give this to my children this summer, this one last road trip before schedules change for the next 10 months.

Even mini-vans can be part of an adventure.

The Anti-Spiritual Discipline

I’m planning for our new home school year this week. For the past couple of years, I did a great deal of long-term planning at the outset of the year. For example, I set up units for art {art history and art appreciation + creating some of our own art along the way} for the entire year. Last year, we studied 6 Renaissance artists, and I printed out examples of each artist’s work, put together activities corresponding to each artist, researched books, ordered supplies. Last year, I used plaster of Paris for the first time as the boys and I practiced painting frescoes.

Last year, I also set up our music study for the entire year. I wrote up math lessons, based on the program we use, that would cover several weeks for each of my sons. All this, of course, required hours of work, and I did it while Mike worked a conference in Chicago last year–while I was flying solo as a parent.

I read a book earlier in 2017 about a year in the life of a home school family. The author commented that it’s very difficult to do something besides parenting when you’re never NOT parenting. That week, I was never NOT parenting but still managed to complete tremendous amounts of work.

wooden colored pencils

For this year, this week, Mike is also in Chicago. But this year, I don’t have the stamina or wherewithal or energy to plan out activities for the entire year and print out all necessary pages and pictures of composers and put them in neatly organized folders for each unit. Right now, this week, I’m also never NOT parenting, and I just can’t do it all. In fact, while I write this, the boys have stopped me to give me a hug (always welcome!) and to talk about playing Life and to ask if they could spin in a chair that’s in the room where I’m sitting on the floor.

I’m tired from the travel to and from Colorado. I’m trying to claw my way back to the disciplines of regular exercise and regular time alone with God. I shared with a friend recently that the hardest pursuits in life to re-establish after losing one’s rhythm are the ones that require the most discipline. In May, I also received some disappointing news about a new turn I’d hoped my life could take that might open up new possibilities. Other than acknowledging this at the time (in the midst of packing and prepping to be away for 10 weeks), I didn’t give it much attention until this summer–when Woodrow and Garfield attended one week of the Cru summer programs for kids while in Colorado. That week, when I’d anticipated trying to find some equilibrium that would help draw me back to the healthy habits of time with Jesus and working out consistently (instead of sporadically), I ended up spending much of that time feeling depressed, as I now had solitude and opportunity to reflect on a disappointment that truly challenged my hope.

boy on beach pink shirt

Between drop offs and pick ups for the boys and their camp activities, along with regular chores and errands, and working on some Cru stories, I watched a series on Netflix and cried. And I did spend some time in prayer and in Scripture, but it didn’t seem to stick, because the next week, I barely prayed at all. My journal, where I write prayers, lessons learned, things for which I’m grateful, has been sorely neglected this summer. It’s evidence my own spiritual well-being has been neglected this summer, too.

So here I am…exhausterpated. I made that up, and I kind of like it–it communicates more than “exhausted,” I think. I’m content with doing ENOUGH planning for the school year for now, leaving some til later; I’m content with understanding that I’ll need to complete the rest of the planning as the school year goes on. It’s freeing to know I can take a different approach because I need to give myself a bit of a break.

clipboard and coffee cup

One of my favorite Bible verses is Galatians 5:25–“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Keeping in step with the Spirit involves receiving God’s grace, and I’m doing that by recognizing I don’t have to do everything all at once in order to prepare us for a meaningful year.

This time of year, the enemy also sends lots of accusations and temptations to compare myself and my children to others. I feel this time of year I leap over one hurdle of Satan’s lies only to find another one right in front of me. To face this, I need to keep working at renewing my priority of making the main thing the main thing:  hemming my day in with prayer, with fellowship with Christ.

We often call prayer, journaling, reading the Bible, meditating on Scripture “spiritual disciplines.” But there’s a method I’ve sometimes employed at trying to “grow” myself that is not a spiritual discipline at all:  berating myself.

chess mirror

I have never once successfully beat myself up into doing something good or into doing a good thing better. Many of us probably grew up in the era in which correcting children involved making them feel bad in hopes of getting them to do good. I just don’t believe that works. God doesn’t treat His children that way; He confronts us with our sin, yes, but He never speaks to us with words like “You’ll never get this right if you don’t try harder!” or “You just keep ruining things over and over and over!” 

This is not an approach I’ve taken with my own children, and yet it’s also a habit with myself that has taken years to break. Even now, I’d say it’s only mostly broken. But I’m saying it to myself again:  Berating myself is not a spiritual discipline. 

My 2017 word of the year was and remains “heal.” As we begin a new school year, I’m hoping for some renewed healing.

 

Something New Saturday: Homemade Dog Chew Toys

Back during Advent, when our family sought to give a gift a day, we tried a new project with old t-shirts:  dog chew toys. We gave the toys to friends with pets and also took several on our Christmas travels to share with family members who are dog owners.

The process was one that we did as a family–but the boys learned to create these on their own, as well. In fact, in a knapsack back in their closet at home, they have fabric pieces awaiting transformation into more dog chew toys. Both boys envision making a little side business out of these efforts.

five dog chew toys
Our first batch of chew toys last December:  blue, gray, and white t-shirts knotted and braided together.

Besides t-shirts, the only other tool needed to make these is a pair of scissors. We cut off the shirt sleeves and then cut the shirts into strips. We knotted together 9 strips at one end–three sections of 3 fabric strips each–and then proceeded to braid the sections. (Tip:  The tighter you make the braid, the better.) It helps if one person holds down the knot while another person does the braiding. Then knot the ends, and you have a toy. We also snipped off sections that hung longer than the other strips once we had a finished product.

Here’s a link to instructions for the DIY dog chew toy (slightly different than the ones we used). Besides presenting these as gifts to pet-owning friends and family or selling them, these toys might make great donations to animal shelters–as a project for your family, church group, Scout troop, etc.

The act of creating is always a joy. From my family to yours, may you have tons o’ fun with whatever you create this summer.