Thursday, December 8, 2011

Oh, Christmas Tree, Your Branches Tell Our Story!

Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. Food tastes better if it's served on Christmas plates, or, better yet, if it's shaped like trees or wreaths or sprinkled with red and green sugar. Rooms are cozier in the glow of the Christmas lights. Hot chocolate tastes better in a Christmas mug.

So, I was a little nervous our first Christmas together when my future husband caught a glimpse of what our Christmases would be like. Our families celebrated in similar ways, but in many others, they couldn't be more different. Neither one right or wrong. Just different.

That first Christmas I bought our 'first' ornament. I'm ashamed at how much I spent on it. I won't disclose it here. Let's just say, we're getting our money's worth out of it. When I saw the same one reduced by three-fourths, I snatched it up just in case something happened to the original.

That's how sentimental I am.

That first Christmas, I could tell that he liked the way my family 'did' Christmas. Christmas dishes, hand towels, icicle lights, trudging to the Christmas tree farm to pick out the perfect tree, most of all I think he liked the ornaments.

To this day, Momma will not decorate the tree without all us 'kids'- my sister, her soon-to-be-husband, my husband, and me. She refuses to hang a single one because she loves to watch us dig through the boxes and pull out the silly/sweet/sentimental ornaments.

There are the ones I made in Sunday school out of old Christmas cards and glitter. I think I was four. My sister loves to torture me with those. They are hideous.

There's a little stocking with my then three-year-old sister and her wild mane of curls. Delicious!

 A paper Bible featuring Luke 2 from my 5th grade year has amazingly held up the test of time, as has my gingerbread man with the glitter and googly eyes from first grade.

Then, there's the Christmas bush. My husband loves to torture my sister with that one. Painted orange with a big, green shrub, he holds it up and sings, "Oh, Christmas bush, Oh Christmas bush!" in his deepest voice. He's done this everyone of our twelve Christmases. She used to loathe that one, but now she sees it as the precious creation that it is made by her young hands.

There's the one with the 'strange baby'. My sister's first Christmas, she received an ornament that says, "Baby's 1st Christmas." We've never bothered to put her picture in there. We just hang it with the 'strange baby' in it. Last year, Momma wanted to put our baby girl's picture in there. We almost staged a revolt. All of us shouted, "NO!" in unison. We had to have the 'strange baby' on the tree. It was tradition.

We laugh until our sides hurt and tears stream down our faces. Momma sits on the couch, the best seat to watch the magic and laughter unfold. We never disappoint.

I suppose that's why every year, my husband and I make it a point to collect ornaments that tell our story and the story of our family.

The first one that was 'ours' has the year of our first Christmas. Since then, we've added many more. So much that I think when we are in our new home, that we will need another tree.

There's the one we bought on our honeymoon. We couldn't find one that said, "Just Married", so we chose the one that says, "New Home." Still appropriate.

Then two years later, when we moved into our very own home, we received two that year that said, "New Home". Those are shaped like little houses with red tin roofs. Treasures.

There's the one from our first trip together to Disney World. It is a Mickey Mouse head with an American flag pattern. We came home with another 'souvenier'- our son.

Three years later, we bought two more sets of ears- a vintage set of ears and a snowman head wearing ears when we took our son to Disney for the first time.

There are ornaments which document our pregnancies with the children- one that says 'expectant parents' and another a stork.

The balls made out of recycled Christmas cards crafted by my husband's grandma.

The chili pepper from our trip to New Orleans.

The pickle from Germany in Epcot.

The red barn "See Rock City" ones from this year- our first vacation as a family of four. 

Then we have the funny ones- the thing my sister wove. We're still not sure what that is. (Love you, Sis!) We crack up at the picture of our 20 month old son our first year of MOPS. He did NOT like being away from Momma and the picture tells the tale.

And as we hang each ornament on our own tree, we laugh and remember- the first years we were married, the fun times we've had, vacations we've been on, new homes we've enjoyed, babies we've anticipated.

This is our tenth married Christmas. Finally, our Christmas tree is really beginning to tell our story. And as we hang each ornament, it is not lost on my husband or me that we do so only by God's grace, and we can only celebrate and enjoy this life He has given us because of the most precious Gift of His Son.

His tree gives our tree meaning because His life gives our life purpose. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Pink Square of Comfort

Normally, I blog in my favorite color- red. It's my husband's favorite color, too. (Which is why we have a RED tin roof.) We are Georgia fans, so there is LOTS of RED around here.

But today, in honor of our baby girl's lost lovey, I am blogging in pink.

My sweet baby girl was never too partial to a pacifier. She took it in the hospital the three days we were in there. Let me clarify, she took it begrudgingly. When we got home, however, she got downright furious when we tried to give her one. We tried several brands. No luck.

Momma was the paci. And, at first,to tell the truth, it was exhausting, but I tried to savor every moment. They're only this little and have this need for only so long. Besides, my husband and I told each other, we wouldn't have a paci habit to break!

After her birth, our Sunday school class brought us meals. (Such a blessing! You don't know what a blessing until you've been on the receiving end!) One of our friends has four little ones. During her visit, we were discussing the paci situation. Her youngest two didn't take pacis either; like me, she was the paci. She did suggest a 'lovey' and that we start introducing it right away.

That was one of the best pieces of advise we've ever gotten. We'd received several loveys, so our baby had an abudance to choose from. For several months she showed no preference. She loved them equally.

Except the BLUE one. One morning, all the loveys needed a washing. I threw in her big brother's old lovey in the wash for good measure. As I was folding the laundry, I tossed the loveys on the floor. Our son and I laughed as we watched her crawl from one pink lovey to another. She would crawl to one, 'nurse' against it for a minute, drop it and crawl to the next. She did that with all of them except the BLUE one. She totally ignored it!

Then, one day, she picked her favorite. A pink one, no doubt, with a hot pink flower and her name embroidered on it. Oh, how she loved that thing! We carried it everywhere with us. Whenever she got upset, she would snuggle it up to her face and settle down. When given the choice, she always picked that one.

To tell the truth, we had both gotten dependent on that thing. I would get frantic if I couldn't find it. We'd left it at church once, our friend had been keeping nursery so she made sure to take it with her to give to us later that evening when we'd see her. Our daughter absolutely would not go to bed that night until Daddy brought home the left lovey.

It was then I knew we could never lose the lovey.

This week we lost the lovey.

Somewhere between Kohl's, Publix, and Aldi we lost the pink square of comfort.

I was so upset I posted it on Facebook. An awesome friend saw that post and went to those places to check before I could even get back to town. She went without telling me; I ran into her on my trek back to town once my husband got home so I wouldn't have to drag the kids back out.

The lovey was lost. Gone forever (unless a miracle happens).

I did the ugly cry all the way home. I imagined sleepless nights and naptimes bygone without the lovey. Nothing weighs so heavy as a mother's guilt over things that are beyond her control. So, my prayers went from, "LORD, please let this lovey be there!" to "LORD, forgive me for putting so much trust into a pink piece of fabric."

Truth be told, the pink square of comfort had no special quality or skill or power. It was just soft and pink.

Turns out, I took it harder than she did. Naptime had came and went with no great wailing and gnashing of teeth over the missing favorite lovey, except maybe by Momma. She took one of the 'spares' just fine. At bedtime, she did again.

Lesson learned. I put my trust in something that is fleeting; instead of where it belonged. When I changed my prayer from, "LORD, please let me find the lovey" to "LORD, forgive me for putting so much trust into a pink piece of fabric. Please, let her be able to sleep without it and release me from this guilt." He answered my prayer.

Accidents happen. Kids lose stuff. Momma gets a little side-tracked sometimes. It's ok.

What's not ok is putting my trust anywhere but God. He alone provides all the comfort I need and He cares enough to take care of the little things. Remember those extra loveys? We have plenty on hand. He took care of the need before there even was one.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Plan

Well, it's happened. Something we never really anticipated.

We have outgrown our home, our beloved "Under the Red Tin Roof."

A few weeks ago when we were in Sunday school, during prayer requests and announcements, I asked for prayer for selling our house.

When asked why we were selling, which was the nicest way and tone we'd been asked, our answer was simple. We need more room, specifically a school room.

It wasn't a thought when we built the house. It wasn't part of the plan. To my, "This was our dream house. We never wanted to move." Our comedic friend quipped, "And you wouldn't have, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids!" Ha!

This wasn't the plan. We planned for me to be a stay-at-home-mom since we began courting. We knew that was the plan. Then, when the very last baby entered kindergarten, I would be returning to work teaching. That was the plan.

Then, something happened that change the course of our lives. The test said, "Pregnant."

Something inside me triggered that said, "Five years isn't enough!" Actually, that is an understatement. Every fiber of my being seemed to scream, "Five years isn't enough!"

And, over the last almost six years, my husband has come to the same conclusion.

So, here we are, in a home that we had planned to be in until we went to our heavenly reward, but we clearly see that God is calling us to move.

We simply need more room. More room to grow. More room to learn. More room to spread out books, papers, projects. More room to create. More room to make a mess.

Somewhere we can work in, learn, and close the door on when the day is through and not have to pack up everyday.

We're in no rush. No deadline to meet. Just a calling to follow. A test of faith. Leaving what is familiar and  comfortable for the new and unknown.

And I don't like the new and unknown until it becomes familiar and comfortable. At which point, God calls us to the new and unknown. Again.

So, here we go. Letting go so that we can grow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gratitude Attitude

Well, it's mid-October. I haven't posted in three months. Although, if we're friends on Facebook and if you're on there on a regular basis, you know what's been going on UTRTR.

Still, a lot of times that is superficial fluff. Funny things the kids say or do. What dazzling feat they have mastered. Which, by the way, we have had several accounts lately- a big first birthday followed a week later by first steps, followed a week later by LOTS of steps! First grade. First goose egg. First family vacation.

Okay, I digress. It's October. I'm getting a jumpstart on my New Year's Resolutions. And I never keep them, so I'll call them my "Turning Over New Leaves" since we're in the thick of glorious fall. So, I'm going to aim to do two things- the first to blog more and the second I've already been practicing and making into a habit, with the good LORD's help.

Lately this song from my childhood keeps replaying over and over in my mind. I don't remember all the words, but it goes something like this, "Catch the gratitude attitude! Gratitude attitude, catch it everyday! Oh, give thanks to God each day for all the things He brings your way, catch the gratitude attitude everyday!"

Lots of words are missing, I know. The tune rolls round in my mind several times a day. I suppose it comes with having kids. Things I learned in childhood are forgotten, then something with my children triggers those misplaced memories and while some pieces are sketchy, others are crystal clear.

Trying to instill in my children not just manners (although, that's a post for another day!) but a genuine appreciation for their blessings weighs on my mind.

Right now they're young. Still, I desire to teach them by example to have a grateful heart for all our blessings. I caught myself probably a month or so ago, grumbling to myself about making the bed I had slept in! Silly, I know. We've taught our son how to make his own bed. (Might I add, most days it's impossible to tell who made it him or me- he makes his bed that neatly!) This day I was pulling up the covers wishing my husband had had a couple of minutes to spare so he could have done this task.

Really. What did it take out of my day? Two minutes.

It was at that moment that I remembered the "Gratitude Attitude" song.

Coincidence? Most certainly not, I am certain that it was the Holy Spirit's gentle prodding. "LORD, forgive me for my ungratefulness," I prayed. And, while I finished the task, that there was a list of several things that I was able to thank God for.

- We have a bed to sleep in and sheets and a quilt to keep us comfortable as we sleep.
- My husband usually does this task for me if he has a few minutes before work.
- That we're healthy and are able to get up.
- The blessing of work- that my husband has a good job and that God has entrusted this home and all who live here for me to minister to.

Very humbling when I think of all the blessings! This has created in me a new appreciation for counting my blessings and has totally turned my thought processes upside down!

So, I've been trying this out in all areas of my life.

When I'd like a few minutes of 'me time,' I think instead, "Thank You, God, for entrusting these little ones to me. Thank You for the time I get to spend with them. Help me to be the momma they need. Thank You that they are healthy and noisy and thriving. Thank You that You have called me to pour myself into them so they can become who You've called them to be because of and despite me. Thank You for this time; before I know it, the house will be silent and I'll have all the 'me time' in the world. Help me to be grateful for each moment."

When I've got a sink full of dishes (again)- "Thank You, LORD, that we have food to eat, that my family has a good appetite, that we have the means to cook and clean up."

When the laundry has piled up, "Thank You, God, that we have been so busy having fun that I haven't had time to wash all these clothes You've blessed us with. And thank You that my washer and dryer run smoothly!"

When there are errands to be ran and groceries to be bought- "Thank You, LORD, for a safe car to run our errands in, for money to buy groceries with, and that You always provide for us. Thank You that my kids get to go with me and learn that these things don't just magically happen. Thank You that they get to interact with the clerks at the post office, the cashier at the grocery store, and the librarians. Thank You that these people know my children by name and that my children get to see them working hard and with dignity and learn to treat them kindly."

When school needs to be done, "Thank You, LORD, for this calling in life. This is not where we thought we'd be, but there is no where we'd rather be! Thank You for this time with our children and for this time for my children to be best friends. Thank You that my husband leads, supports, and encourages us every step of the way. Give me the grace I need to teach dropping the silent e before adding -ing and -ed. Again.Thank You that we get to see all the firsts."

-When the house needs to be cleaned, "I love our home, LORD. Thank You for providing a comfortable home for us to enjoy. Thank You for bathrooms to clean, so much of the world doesn't have this. Thank You for my vaccuum and how easy it makes my life. Thank You for the ability to keep it a safe place for my family to enjoy."

Now, I shared all that, not because I'm some holier than thou Christian. I'm not. There are many times I slip up and complain. Hey, I'm not perfect. I'm forgiven!

And, especially lately when we've been studying about the Israelites complaining about manna and quail or when we've read about the disciples moaning and groaning, I see my own self there. It's mirror image. God always provided everything they needed and so often, they complained and wanted more. I read and I think, 'Tsk, tsk, tsk! They shouldn't have done that!' Only, how many times have I been guilty of the same thing?

So, instead of looking for new ways to complain when things don't go my way, I look for new ways to praise.

We're running late? God may have been providing divine protection to keep us from a bad accident.

Things didn't go as planned? No, they went better, or, it was a learning experience.

The house hasn't sold yet? (Okay, it's only been two weeks.) Well, He's just preparing the right people for our beloved RTR. Or He's getting our new home ready. Or both.

Yep, I'm coming down with the gratitude attitude, and this is certainly something I pray that my children catch, too.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Power of a Yes or a No

There's a local writer, whose work I have admired for years and whose column appears on Tuesdays in our hometown paper. She's published several books and regales us with stories of her life and what it means to be a Southerner. I look forward to her column every week and have for years. I've quoted her in conversations, and only within the last year or so learned that she's only one degree of separation away.

I said all that to say this....sometimes I finish her column with a laugh, at others with a roll of the eyes and a shake of the head- unsure if she's exaggerated a touch or because I know what she's written to be all too true. There are others that linger and make me think.

Last week's did just that.

The column had to do with how the power of a 'yes' or a 'no' could change the course of one's destiny.

The columnist recounted a story from her youth. A much-planned for school trip to the Georgia coast and a chance to meet a writer whom she admired. Then her grandmother passed away the day before she was supposed to leave for the trip. We Southerners never miss a funeral, so she presumed that she would not be going. Her parents, knowing how important this trip was to their daughter and her future, insisted she go. That 'yes' changed the course of her destiny.

Long after I laid the column aside, that story still lingered. That is the kind of parent I want to be. A parent who sees what my child is passionate about and who encourages my children to follow their passion. Even if it means breaking the 'rules.'

But even more than that I contemplated my own destiny. I wondered if someone had changed the course of my life with a simple yes or a no. I pondered this on and off for a few days.

Then it came to me.

As a freshman in college, looking for work I put in applications in virtually the only two places in our small town. I'd been interviewed at both; uncertain at which I should choose, I told my momma that I would go with whoever hired me first- small grocery store or big name shoppers' club.

I got the nod from the small town grocery store, followed by the big name shoppers' club a few hours later.

Still, I stuck with my resolve. I'd go with the first one who said 'yes.'

Fourteen years have since passed and I look back and see that, indeed, the course of my destiny was shaped with a 'yes.'

So much more than a job to make my car note came from that yes. Nine years of marriage and two kids later, I'm thankful to Hope, the woman who hired me; because it was there I met a hardworking young man who would ask me to share his life.

A destiny changed in a 'yes' or a 'no.'

PS- I do not doubt for one second that God orchestrated every detail to bring us where we are today. I find it amazing and awe-some that He allows us to be part of His plans. And with or without us, His plans will come to pass. We can shape our own destiny in a 'yes' or a 'no' to His call.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

First Year Down.....

Wow! I can't believe that it's been a month and a half since I last blogged. Then again, it's not really surprising. There has been a whirlwind of activity here- VBS, a certain baby crawling all over the place, then pulling up, now cruising, several trips to the pool, and, of course, finishing up our first official year of homeschooling. All of this in addition to everyday life.

This may seem a little unusual to some, but for our family it works. We are going to pretty much school year round. That doesn't mean no breaks. That just means shorter, more frequent breaks. When Daddy's off work, no school! When we're busy swimming and playing in the summer, no school that day. Which, in turn means that in the cold winter months, we may be having school on Saturday mornings so that we have more flexibility when the weather is better. It works for us and still allows for plenty of play time.

I digress. The intention of this post was not to inform of our school days schedule, but rather to celebrate our official year being on the books. (Pun totally intended!)

Our five year old finished kindergarten Saturday, June 26! As we approached the finish line, I reminded him, 'When we finish with this, we're going to take a break.' And take a break we have! Swimming, loafing, playing, watching movies....of course, there has been a lot of book reading going on, too. So, while the book work is on the back burner, learning is still happening.

(Sidebar- We had a little graduation celebration! A big accomplishment in such a young life! Complete with diploma, cap and gown.)

There have been lots of teachable moments to me this year. My husband and I have seen clearer and clearer the hand of God at work in our lives individually and collectively as a family. We've seen God provide in ways that we hadn't imagined were possible and in ways we didn't even know we needed. He is always, always, always ahead of us and right here with us all at the same time.

I've learned my child doesn't have to do every single cursive worksheet in the book. (Hey, the kids in 'real' school don't finish every last one, either, so I am not going to lose sleep if my kids don't do a few practice sheets in there. Provided, of course, that they know the material!)

I've also learned how to let things go. Having a pristine home isn't nearly as important as toys scattered on the floor, art projects littering the table, and the breakfast dishes still in the sink. It means we have a healthy baby who has a natural curiosity and enjoys play. It means an older child is developing his creativity, and it means we have food to eat!

Basically, my priorities are getting more, well, prioritized.

Best of all, I'm learning by putting God first, spending time with Him each morning and asking for His provision and guidance throughout the day, that He will not put more on me than I can bear. He also will give me wisdom.

I'm pleased to report that we didn't survive the first year. We THRIVED! All by the grace of God. Nothing we have done could have gotten us through this uncertainty.

Sure, there were bad days and obstacles that seemed (and still seem, at times, insurmountable). But there has been more than enough grace to cover our days.

And the really awesome thing?

There's even more grace to get us through whatever challenges await.

And even more awesome than that?

There's more than enough grace to get everyone through whatever challenges await!

And, now that we have reached the end of our first official year, we are more certain than ever that the choice we've made is the right one. It's what we've been called to do. We wouldn't have joy anywhere else.

Grace. That word sums up what we live under, what we claim, what we know to be true.

Maybe we should give our little homeschool a name now that we are 'official'.

I'm thinking Grace Christian Academy sounds about right.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Goodbye, Cubbies! Hello, Sparks!

I am, as designed by my Creator, a sentimental person. Scraps of this and that, letters and cards, deflated mylar balloons, along with pictures in albums with space for writing our adventures- all of these things tell our life story. Over the years I have learned to pare it down so that we don't have a mountain of scraps, but we treasure those things that are most precious and important.

Now to our collection I can add my son's Awana Cubbies vest. It is complete. After two years of going to Awana faithfully every Sunday night from August until late May (with the exception of 3 evenings when sickness or icy conditions kept us from our fun), our son has said every verse and earned every patch. He has hopped and jumped his way through Cubbies.

The shirt which was a little big to begin with will soon be outgrown. His bag which held his book, crafts, and dues will find a new home along with his vest. Oh, the vest which looked like it would take forever to fill with patches is now full with room for no more and has more than one stain that this momma cannot get out. Two years passed in a blink.

Funny, I didn't shed a tear nor come close to it last night. He's growing into such a fine boy; I don't feel the sadness of the time gone by. I feel joy. He's becoming who God has called him to be. He's reached another milestone. He's no longer a Cubbie, but a Spark. He was so excited at this 'graduation', how could I be anything but joyful at his accomplishment?

This is his first of many graduations, good LORD's willing, in his future. I don't see it as an end. I see this as a beginning. He's beginning his adventures of being an elementary schooler. He is continuing the adventure of who he will become.

There are times I think back to his infancy and toddlerhood and miss those days. In some ways, I miss those days; in many ways, he's still who he was then. He still loves to snuggle in my lap under a blanket and read. He still loves to work along side his daddy.

When I get too sentimental, I remind myself, "This is the best stage ever!" It helps me to remember and rejoice in the new skills that he's mastered. It keeps me in check not to hurry through this stage (as trying as it can be, another and more trying one is sure to be around the corner).

Reminding myself, "This is the best stage ever!"  helps me savor the moment.

Now, I cannot promise that I will shed no tears on the other milestones, for I am certain that I will cry. My children will have many milestones that will bring such joy that tears fill my eyes. And that's why I'll cry- not because my babies are no longer babies but because they are becoming all that God has called them to be one milestone at a time.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Now, Don't Y'all Rush Off....."

"Now, don't y'all rush off....You don't have to be in such a hurry...."

I don't know how many times my Papa said that during the thirty years that I had with him. Whether I'd stayed for days with Nana and him, which was my custom when I was a teenager or whether I'd stayed an afternoon, he'd always say those parting words.

He's in heaven now. He's been there for one year, four months, seven days and twelve hours. I wish I could hear him say them again. I know that one day I'll see him again and I won't have anywhere to go or anything to do but sit with him in the company of our LORD.

Sometimes it feels like so much longer than sixteen months since he went Home. And it seems as if he were in a rush to get there. Of course, I know the good LORD has everyone's time appointed. Still, it felt like the years with him went by too quickly.

I can honestly say that in all those years I never rushed my time with him. Listening to his stories, enjoying him playing his guitar and singing, or simply sitting in the silence next to him and just being- I loved being in his presence.

Papa is not my first grandparent who has gone on to his reward. It's just that he was the closest one that has gone on. As the years pass by, I realize my time with my other grands on this earth is slipping by, and when I say, 'grands' I am including my husband's grands, too. We've been married so long, it's easy to forget which one is 'his' and which one is 'mine.'

I really should go see them all more, should take the children to love on them and be loved by them. How precious it is to have the connection to one's grandparents, but to also be blessed enough to know one's great-grandparents, now that is truly a gift.

For some stupid reason I've worried about bringing the little ones in on the great-grands' quiet. We're loud. We're messy. We're hungry. ('We' meaning my kids.) I don't want to impose our boisterousness on them. For some reason a cloud of dust, diapers, and toys seems to follow us wherever we go. And no matter what my kids have eaten they're always ready to eat again when we go see any of the grands, especially the great-ones.

Maybe my kids know something I don't. Maybe they realize that the silence needs to be filled with their young, happy voices. Hushed tones, be gone! The great-grands appreciate the music of their little voices!

Make shift toys littering the floor- clunky purses, slippers, old hats- delight the great-grands. Perhaps it's a reminder of when they were young. Or maybe when their kids were young. Or maybe when their grandkids were young. And they get to relive those happy times, no matter how briefly again.

And, empty (or suspiciously empty) bellies are heartily welcomed and filled by great-grands. There always is something especially delicious (even if we have the same thing at home) to be enjoyed on the lap of a great-grand. Maybe that's the difference- not what they're eating but where they're eating it.

No longer will I feel guilty that we've broken the silence; that's what they want. No longer will I feel guilty that we're messy; they never mind. No longer will I feel guilty that they've made something for us to eat; they enjoy filling tummies.

No, we will go. We will be loud. We will make messes (within reason and pick up after ourselves). We will eat. Because one day they will have gone to their rewards and we will miss those times. We will linger a little longer. We will not rush at all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

If Not Us, Then Who?

The other day I received a message from a relative expressing concern over teaching our children about God and encouraging them to have a relationship with Jesus. "Wasn't I worried," the message asked, "that they would rebel against what we were teaching them?"

 I stopped and pondered that question.

Yes, I do wonder sometimes if our children will rebel against what we're teaching them and then I stop and ask my Heavenly Father, who loves them more than I ever could, to put a hedge of protection around them. I ask Him for them to find Him early in life and to love and serve Him all the days of their lives. My husband and I fervently desire for our children not to just identify themselves as a Christian. Many people claim that and don't live it out. Our goal is for them to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to identify themselves as a Christ- follower.

I do not worry because God promises that His Word will not return void. Meaning, that if we share His Word that He will take care of the rest. I also take comfort with the promise that if we train up our child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it. I claim these promises over all my children.

The very best we can do is to train our kids, to teach them- through example- that what we say we believe aligns with how we actually live our lives.  We also pray with all our might that they will desire a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A real, true, authentic, genuine relationship with Him.

We cannot NOT teach our children to have a relationship with Him. God is very clear in His Word-
   "And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates."  ~Deuteronomy 6:5-9

God cannot make it any clearer. As their parents, it is our God-given responsibility to teach them to love Him with all their hearts, souls, and might. He has given us a direct command. There are no 'maybe's' or 'shoulds' or 'you might considers'. We are to teach them every moment of the day.

That doesn't mean life is one big, long lecture of what our kids should and shouldn't do. Rather, it is a conscious effort to teach them about God every moment that we can- to look for the teachable moments.

Sometimes, it's as my son and I snuggle before his sister wakes up and Daddy's left in the morning that we pray for Daddy's safety as he goes to work. Other times, it's seeing something really cool in nature and talking about what an awesome Creator God is. Sometimes, it's a lesson in forgiveness, grace, redemption.

In our journey as a homeschooling family, we are looking for ways in which to draw even closer to God. What we're doing is contrary to most of society. And there are times this choice can be lonely. What we're doing is viewed as 'weird' or 'extreme' by many. And we want our children to identify themselves in Jesus, not the world says we are. What we are doing is a huge leap of faith. And we want our kids to learn to live by faith, not by sight.

So, we invite God into our homeschool every day. We ask Him to bless our time and our efforts. And, privately, I've been asking God to reveal more ways to teach my kids about Him.

How could I incorporate more time spent reading from His Word? The answer was quite simple- reading the Bible as we had breakfast. We've been reading a Proverb according to the day, maybe a Psalm depending on how long our son eats. We definitely read a Bible lesson (I don't like the word 'story', which implies it's made up. The Bible is absolute Truth.) before reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic begin. And for quite some time now we read the Bible before bed. (We often use a children's Bible with lots of pictures.)

This has been a really neat experience for us. First, our time is stretched so much. We are finding that we get much more done when we get our priorities straight. The tone in our home is different. We are not focused on ourselves. Our conversations are deep. (Proverbs 10:1, for example- "The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother." This lead to a five minute discussion on words such as wise, foolish, heaviness- with our five year old. I could almost see the wheels turning in his mind as he chewed on these words and their meaning as he was literally chewing his poptart.)

Exposing our children to the Bible only during church time would lead to disasterous results; they'd have a narrow view of what God is like if we only talk about Him Sunday morning. And if they only 'visited' with Him on Sundays, what would their relationship with Him be like as they become adults? Polite. Restrained. Distant. Not at all what we want for them.

We want them to have a passionate relationship with their Creator.

So, do I worry that our children will one day rebel?

No. I don't. Their future is in God's hands, not mine.

He has never let me down before, and I "[b]eing confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:" (Philippians 1:6).  I claim this over our children.

His Word promises, and He always keeps His promises.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What Matters Most

Gone, for now at least, are the days of buying gifts for every occassion. Birthdays. Mother's and Father's Days. Christmas.

My husband and I began this the first Christmas we moved in to our new home. There was nothing we needed and our home was so new the paint fumes still hung in the air. We had our own home- finally!- and we decided just to fill our stockings with little things the other would enjoy or had a need for- a bag of Starbucks for my husband or special chocolates for me.

This was actually, a good idea, because the next Christmas found us expecting our first baby and staring down the decision of whether or not I would stay at home full time. We don't buy each other anything for Christmas, although the we do let the kids get the other parent something (with a set dollar amount). Mother's and Father's Day also arrives with small but thoughtful gifts from the children. Even birthdays and anniversaries are small affairs. (Although for our 10th anniversary, we are planning on a weekend to celebrate, so Grands, if you're reading this, be on alert- plan on some bonding time with the kids!)

Why? Well, there are several reasons. We're grown-ups. We are a one income family by choice. We have everything we need. So our thought is, "Why buy stuff we don't have to have?"

And we're seeing that in our spending for extended family, too. Don't get me wrong. We love to celebrate and find a reason to enjoy every milestone (see John 10:10), but we don't do it with a big credit card bill that comes the next month.

This has been a hard lesson for me. I love to give gifts. It's not that I love to shop; it has its purpose, but it's the giving that gives me joy.

So, in our need to whittle away more spending and a need to preserve my sanity from hours of contemplating the 'perfect' gift for people who have everything they need, too, we have decided to give what matters most- time and love.

How? Well, for Christmas, we have given our parents meals- home-cooked once a month for a set number of months. My husband has given his dad the gift of mowing his lawn. For Mother's Day, I am making greeting cards for all the moms, grandmoms, and aunts in our lives. (Yes, there is a cost, but it is nominal.) F0r my Pop's birthday tomorrow, we baked a batch of cookies. Our son spent two hours decorating a ziplock bag, making a card, coloring pictures, and writing a birthday message. He could not have been more proud; he chattered the whole time about how his poppa was  gonna love his gifts.

Of all the gifts I've given in my life and of all I have received, the most precious were the ones that time and love went into. That's what we want our children to learn- what matters most- the love, time, and thought that go into giving. Whether it's store-bought or handmade, we want them to invest themselves into the giving because that's what matters most- the cost, which is the love that went into the gift.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's the Little Things

I tend to get hung up on the little things. The big stuff? No problem! I give the LORD the big stuff, and leave it in His hands. I'm smart enough to know when I have no answers, He does. And, I've grown to learn to trust that He will take care of it in His way and in His time.

It's the little things that trip me up. Perhaps I don't think it's worth God's time. Totally not true. He cares. The Bible says He knows the number of hairs on our head. (Now, with six billion folks currently on earth, plus all those who've lived in the past and who are yet to arrive, that's pretty amazing.) So, if He knows us in such minute detail, why would I think He wouldn't fill in the needs for the little things? Or that He wouldn't care about those little things? After all, I am His child. And just as I want to give good things to my children, He even moreso wants to give good things to His.

When we began to contemplate this homeschooling journey as a family, I didn't lay in bed at night and worry about teaching our son algebra or how we were going to get our unborn baby accepted to college. I didn't even worry about how to pay for college. Somehow, the LORD will provide whether it's how to explain math problems with letters in them or how our kids' college will be paid for. He has always come through and of His faithfulness I am certain.

No, I worried about the little things. Silly little things.

What about field trips? Our kids wouldn't know the joy of looking forward to a visit to a museum or fire station or planetarium with their friends, complete with slightly sweaty peanut butter sandwich and a juice box.

Class parties? What about those? No Valentines exchanges! No Christmas celebrations! No end of the year festivities!

What about field day? No three-legged or potato sack races.

Carrying a bookbag? Picking out school supplies? Yearbook?

The list, as you can see, went on and on and on. Truth be known, it still does, but the list is becoming less and less as I see the hand of God at work in even the smallest of areas.

I am finding that each of those little things that I have fretted about in the late hours of the night have been taken care of. Those things are really silly, insignificant things and have no bearing on our children's education. Still, those things are some of which childhood memories are made.

And in His perfect timing, God revealed to us how He was providing for those small things that really are insignificant in the grand scheme, but are so important to children (and their neurotic mommas!).

First of all, He provided for a large need we didn't even know we needed. He provided a support network. Church aquaintances, people in the community, e-loops, and co-ops provided an abundance of friends. This gives us a variety of people with different interests, gifts, and talents that we can learn from and in turn share our unique gifts with. He placed just the right people in our path to share in our journey as they travel in theirs.

Once that big unknown need was filled (see, He took care of it!), He began to fill in those little things that were 'wants'.

Through our local homeschooling groups, we take part in field trips. We've been to the fire station twice, a dairy, the local kids' museum more times than I can recall, and to the planetarium (hopefully, again soon!); there are more field trips on the horizon. Plus, there are park days! Gloriously beautiful Friday afternoons spent at play!

Holiday parties? Well, we have found the joy of co-ops, where those do take place. (And, if they don't, then that's what our home is for- to invite friends over for some fun.) Plus, the end of the year celebration is already on our calendar.

Field day is in about four weeks. Daddy is taking off work to come play and meet our new friends. This event is open to kids 4-18. How many field days can boast that? (Now, to practice carrying an egg with a spoon and tossing a water balloon.)

The book bag goes with us sporadically at this age. It's been to co-op a few times, to the doctor's office, to church. It serves its purpose when needed. He'll carry it until Buzz's lights no longer flash or its no longer cool, whichever comes first. And there won't be a pressing need to get a new one every year. It won't see that much wear. Still, it's a rite of passage being a kid- owning a bookbag. Now that I think about it, not really as big a deal as I once thought!

Yearbook? Well, I've come up with an idea for that. We're going to put together a scrapbook of sorts- pictures, cool stuff from the school year, projects, ticket stubs. Yearbooks will be created at home, written in my children's words. One-of-a-kind creations will recount the places we've been, the things we've seen, the lessons we've learned, the fun we've had.

So my worries about the little things really aren't worth the loss of sleep. God fills the need. He's in the here-and-now, and He's in the future.

There's nothing that escapes His notice- the big needs or the little wants.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Love is served here....

Like most newlyweds, when my husband and I started out, we had next to nothing. Well, I suppose that is not exactly an accurate statement.

We had God. We had each other. We had our extended families. In the family ties alone we had more than most. With the good LORD, we had everything.

On the day we married, my Nana told me that we had the world by the tail- we were young, we had our educations (my college graduation a scant three weeks before and my husband's one astronomy class and a capstone paper away), and we were hardworking. If we kept God first in our lives and loved each other, everything would fall into place.

Still, when it came down to it, we were young and in love and we were living on love, but we worked like crazy to get established. For two and a half years, we lived with my in-laws in a basement apartment. They graciously allowed us to live there to save for a home of our own. ("Delayed gratification," my friend and mentor called it, but that's another blog for another day.)

When the much-anticipated time finally came, God had blessed us and made a way for us to purchase furniture on time. Keep in mind, it wasn't the 'buy now, pay later' kind of deal. This was a local, family owned store who did things the old-fashioned way. We chose our furniture, put a down payment and paid on it monthly. It was ours when it was paid for. (This was another lesson in delayed-gratification. The 'having' it was so much sweeter because we had worked for it and owned it free and clear, a lesson we wish all young people knew.)
Every month I went to that oak furniture store to make our payment. I suppose I could have mailed it in, but I went to visit and admire that floor display. It sounds silly, I know, but every month I would go in, make my payment and tell the owner I was just going to take a look around. I'm sure he thought I was crazy. I'd stand and admire the long solid oak dining table with the clipped ends. I'd run my hand along one of the heavy chairs, and I'd dream of the meals we'd have at that table. I'd imagine storing the leaf turned upside down under our bed, just as my parents had done when I was a kid, and bringing it out to add table-space for Sunday suppers where our families would gather.

Only, the first meal I served at that table was not exactly the one of my daydreams. The first meal we ate at that table, surrounded by our parents and sisters on the night we moved into our home, was quick and filling. There were not many words exchanged, just comments here and there punctuated by sighs following a day of moving. No one wanted to sit their plates or red plastic cups on the freshly polished surface. Of course, for my husband and me, that would not do. Tables were for eating on. We'd scrimped, saved, worked, and dreamed. The moment we'd waited on was finally here. We were in our home and love was served (albeit, pizza and Coca-Cola), and so our dining table was christened.

I'd always heard that a kitchen was the heart of a home, and so it was in my childhood home. Growing up, the child of a world-class Southern cook, the heart of our home was our kitchen, where my momma's presence, even in her absence, seemed to linger.

So, naturally, when we chose our houseplans, we chose an 'open floor plan'- one where entry, living and dining room and kitchen were all connected, separated only by a wall for a fireplace and another for kitchen cabinetry. I wanted the heart of our home to be as large and as encompassing as possible, where those in the living room would still be connected to those in the kitchen.

Funny thing is, the heart of our home is not the kitchen, nor is it the living room- the two places I'd thought love was most likely to be found.

It's at our dining room table.

This space has become almost sacred. Yes, it's where we say grace and eat our meals. It's where we laugh, talk, share, and cry. It's where we teach our son (and where our other children, good LORD's willing, will be taught). It's where my husband and I linger over coffee on our all-too-rare-mornings together at home. It's where every Christmas Santa leaves cookie crumbs, an empty, milk-stained glass, and a letter to the children who live UTRTR, reminding them all of life is about Jesus and to keep their eyes and hearts focused on Him. It's where spring baskets are found. It's where Valentine cards are made. It's where the day's events are recounted. It's where empty bellies are filled, but, more importantly, hungry souls are satisfied.

It's where love is served.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Prayer of Jabez

In the midst of begats and names I cannot begin to pronounce in I Chronicles 4, a man stands out from the crowd.

In fact, there is a break in the begats- two verses' worth, to be exact.

I Chronicles 4:9 tells us, "Now Jabez was more honourable than his brothers: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bore him in pain."

Verse 10 goes on to say, "And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, 'Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!' So God granted him what he requested."


His name means born in sorrow. Ouch! His mom must have had a lot of sorrow if that was the name she chose for her newborn. Yet despite this dreadful moniker, the Bible tells us that he was more honorable than all his brothers. He stood out. A man among men, this man Jabez.

I became vaguely familiar with Jabez ten years or so ago. I admit that I prayed the prayer half-heartedly. Could those words uttered by a man thousands of years ago hold the same power for me? I wasn't so sure.

On and off for years, I thought of this prayer. Sadly, I didn't take the time to pray it or when I did it was half-hearted, as if God wouldn't do for me what He did for Jabez.

It wasn't until a few days before the birth of my daughter last year I brought out a stack of short devotionals and put them next to my nursing chair (aka- my husband's lounge chair). Having to sit for several hours a day would maximize my time to catch up on some reading, including the Bible. Knowing that I would need every ounce of wisdom that God's Word could afford me now that I was entrusted with two little lives, I put them within easy reach.

It was about four weeks after our baby was born that I was able to keep my eyes open long enough while nursing to read those devotionals and my Bible. And when I did, I read this prayer with fresh eyes. And, for the first time sincerely prayed these words. 

What a life changing prayer that has been for my family! Every morning when I wake up and every night before I drift off to sleep, I pray this prayer. And, several times throughout the day I will pray these words. I copied this prayer on a notecard for my husband and gave it to him. He was already praying this, only not in these exact words. How awesome that God brought me to the same prayer my husband was already praying!

What has happened as a result?

We have been blessed, indeed!

Needs are met before they're even needs.

Case in point, clothes for our baby girl. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of my sister-in-law and my girlfriends we haven't had to buy our baby any clothing. (Okay, so we've bought four outfits, which over the course of seven months is staggering!) Seasonal clothes are provided for two seasons in advance! In addition, we have been able to bless others with our abundant blessings.

Another example, my husband's assistant sent our son a kids' devotional out of the blue, just a day after telling him I wish we had a kid-friendly one to read along with the Bible during our family prayer time.

A friend cleaned out her craft closet and has sent us the extras her boys have outgrown. This provides hours of entertainment for our son. I might add, our own craft supplies were getting low. My friend had no idea of this need.

Another brought sunbonnets to our baby a day after I had been looking at some. While I was contemplating the purchase, the LORD said, "I know your needs; I will provide. Just wait." I didn't buy the sunbonnets. The next morning another friend brought me sunbonnets her little girl had outgrown. She had no idea about the day before.

My favorite nursing gown, which was a hand-me-down from my cousin when she had her oldest baby nine years ago, was no longer wearable. I thought, "LORD, I'd really love to have another one exactly like this. I know nothing is too hard for You. Please make a way for me to have one exactly like this one." A few days later as I was with my mom, nana, and aunt at a thrift store, my nana and aunt found me three new nursing gowns. One of which was the exact same one I had prayed for. It looked like it had never been worn.

Enlarging our territory? Well, we're seeing God at work on that one. He added to our family this past year. He's brought new friends into our lives for us to influence and be influenced by. He revealed to me the fact that it's not that our family needs my husband's second job, but that the people at his moonlighting gig need to see an example of a godly man who cherishes his family.

Asking God for His hand to be with us has made us even more aware of the choices we make. We want what we do to have His blessing. We fall short and make plenty of mistakes, but our motives are pure. We do what we do for Him.

Asking Him to keep us from evil is another prayer that He is answering. We're praying not only to be delivered from temptation but to be completely separated from it. Our desire? That we would not cause pain- to ourselves; to our friends, family and strangers; and most of all, to God. Whatever our stumbling blocks are, God makes it easier to avoid them or He provides a way of escape, just as His Word promises.

We've been praying this prayer for five months. Not a day goes by that we aren't blessed in some way. A need is met; a want is granted.

And it's not about what we get out of it- the material things. It's the fact that we are putting all of our trust in the LORD that He will provide what we need, that He will give us more opportunities to serve Him and others, that He will protect us, and that His protection will protect not only us from pain but others and Himself from hurt we may cause.

He has consistently provided and protected us every step of the way. Looking back, He always has. It's just that in the past five months, we have become more aware of His presence. Perhaps that's because we're asking for more and more of His presence.

And in His presence, no matter the trial, circumstances, or chaos that seems to be breaking loose around us, we have joy. We have peace. We are content. And He scoops us up closer to Himself. He keeps His hand upon us.

In short, He is granting us what we request.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hitting Our Stride

Next month will be a year since we bought the kindergarten curriculum for our son. After flipping through the k-3 and k-4 programs, we knew he was ready for kindergarten work even though he'd just turned four.

We have no regrets purchasing them then. He was ready and I was, well, honestly, less than ready. But, this is what we knew what we were called to do. With a baby on the way, I was certain this is what we were supposed to do, but so many days I just didn't have the energy to do it. Plus, I wanted to get a jumpstart. Our son was ready to begin, and I wanted to give us the opportunity to get into a routine. Only, I wasn't thinking we'd be in a whole new routine once the baby arrived. Still, it worked out exactly the way it was supposed to- he got interested in this new and exciting adventure and I got a glimpse of what hs'ing would be like.

So, on the afternoon the books arrived, we began. No reading and preparation, no preamble at all. We opened the UPS box and dove right in. We were all so excited! The books were perfect- crisp, new, and full of pages with questions waiting for answers.

On that mid-April afternoon, we took the plunge. My husband decided to give us the quiet and concentration we needed, so he cut the grass. My son and I sat at the dining room table, books scattered all over its surface. We followed a routine for a few days, but it didn't seem to work. We tried various methods over the next few months, but nothing seemed to be the right fit. Strict, not-to-be-veered-from-the-path planning what we were going to do and when just seemed to backfire on us. It became discouraging.

As the summer rocked on, the days grew longer and hotter, and all of my energy went into getting through the long, hot days, along with the glamorous tasks of a SAHM, plus readying for our soon-to-arrive baby.

Then our daughter arrived.....

Needless to say, our school lessons were sporadic, at best. As my husband's Family and Medical Leave time came to a close, he brought out the school books once again and picked up where I left off with our son's math lessons. This helped to get us focused again.

Now, let me say, that during the past six months we've been going through some adjustments. It's been a smooth, almost seemless transition from one child to two; still, it's been an adjustment. Truth be told, mostly for me.

So, when the holidays were over and the new year began, I had every intention of getting us on a schedule. I had scheduled a time to begin our new schedule. Only, I didn't really have that schedule fully figured out. Was I going to have a set day to go to the grocery store? What about co-op classes? What about their poppa who comes once a week to visit and play? How was I going to get everything accomplished?

As you can imagine, I just shut down. All thoughts and concerns just ceased when my baby got the flu. As frightening as that was, I believe the LORD allowed it to happen so that I would have time to reflect.

We have young children. We have extended family. My husband works two jobs, and we have to work in our family time. We are involved in our church. We have friends that we hang out with when time allows.

Two words came to mind- structure and flexibility.

As the momma of this family, it is my job to build in the structure. This takes discipline; it's not that I'm not disciplined. I just didn't want to commit. Which, if you know me, is a ridiculous idea- me, not commiting to something? I grew up with the mantra, "Your word is your bond." I've been married since I was twenty-two, and before that betrothed for two years while finishing our education. I have two kids. I am not a commitment-phobe. Except for this one area.

And then I asked the LORD for help. Again. This time I meant it. No excuses. I no longer wanted to be phobic about this commitment we'd made to God, each other, our children and their education.

I didn't plan it out. I didn't (and don't) write lesson plans. (We purchased a curriculum that lays out what to do. ) I just pulled ten days worth of math and writing,reading, and phonics lessons, and had them waiting for us; when we were ready, the lesson plans were ready. No excuses.

The first morning we started as soon as my husband left for work. First, we started with prayer- the key to any day! We asked for safety for Daddy as he went to and from work and for him to have a good day; we also asked for God to bless our day- for our son to be open to learning and for me to be able to teach him what he needs. Then, we moved on to reading the Bible and an activity that went along with the reading. Next, we switch it up- sometimes math first, sometimes writing and phonics. We always end with a reading lesson.

For the past two weeks, we've really hit our stride. I think the key is before I even get up in the morning I ask the LORD to sign His name to this day before I even get out of bed, then as I nurse the baby and wait for the coffee to brew, I read my Bible. Right now it's not a focused Bible study, but I am reading a book at a time and somtimes the Proverbs for the day. Still, the LORD reveals to me His grace, His mercy, His love- no matter where my eyes fall that morning.

Then, at or before 8 AM, we're off and running. By 11, we're finished with 'school' for the day. Keep in mind that we're doing kindergarten work. By no means are we finished for the day with learning, just the formal lessons. There are still books to be read, puzzles to be put together, crafts to be made, and, some days, errands to be ran. We're finding that any day we're home in the morning is a school day. This even includes Saturdays. And, most days when we aren't at home in the morning, he's asking to do his school work as soon as we get home.

We have structure- lessons prepped and ready and the determination that if we're home, we're 'doing school.' And, we have flexibility. Daddy's off? No school today! Poppa's coming up? We'll finish school before he gets here! A trip to town? School then town, then home to finish any remaining work.

In no way do we have this perfected. And this may not work for everyone. This may not even work for us next month, and we will probably go through adjustments sooner or later. But for now, we've hit our stride.

And now that we've hit our stride. I'm more certain than ever that this is exactly where the LORD wants us to be!

(PS- I would ask for you to pray for us that we continue with this stride. It's taken us a long time to get here, and we are seeing the fruits of these labors come to pass. This is just the beginning of our journey, and I know that God will bless our faithfulness. Thank you in advance for your prayers for us; we covet them!)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"The Most Important Piece of Plastic You'll Ever Own"

Going to the library is a weekly event around here.

(Okay, so it's not been a weekly event around here for the last of January and first of February. Between cold weather and sickness, we haven't made it to our local library every week, but we're getting back on track!)

Since our oldest was three, we have taken him to the library. We started with preschool story times and summer reading program events, and he loved them. Add to that the surprise of checking out books, and he has been hooked ever since!  There is something simply magical about borrowing books. Searching up one row and down another for just the right selections is a treat that we all enjoy. (Plus, I slip a few in there as surprises to find when we get home and snuggle on the couch to read his stack. This serves a few purposes- a fun surprise and to direct him to books I'd like for him to read.)

For a few weeks, I'd been entertaining the idea of him getting his own library card. Having just turned five and being halfway through his kindergarten curriculum, I thought it was time.

As I filled out the necessary paperwork, he chatted excitedly about this new grown-up thing he's being given, and later, the process of finding just the right books has taken on a new and more special meaning. The books (albeit only 2 this first time) will be checked out on his bright, shiny new card.

As he showed yet another librarian his new, white, shiny piece of plastic, she said, "That is the most important piece of plastic you'll ever own."

How right she is.

This is a big step for my little boy on his way to being a man. A library card seems like such a little thing, but it's far more than 'just' a library card. He's learning how to read, but, still, even more than that, he's learning the importance of having a good name, building a reputation of integrity- by taking care of what he's been given and returning it at or before the appointed time.

All this learned in the ownership of a library card- the most important piece of plastic he'll ever own.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Art of Relaxation

For the past year and a half or so, I've been nesting. Cleaning, of course, is part of the process. So is moving furniture around to find just the right 'home.' (By the way, there are hundreds of ways to arrange a room!!!)

But nesting has taken on a whole new meaning for the past eighteen months. It is work, yes, but it is work that has taught me how to relax.

My nesting has grown to include crafts. If you know me, you know I used to be a craft-o-phobe. I used to make fun of the very idea, and if my jabs were directed at you, I apologize. After much reflection, I have come to realize it's because I was afraid of failing.  A first-born, type A, perfectionist personality- yep! That's me. And going out on a limb is not my forte.

Now, true craftspeople will tell you that there is no such thing as failing. It's a learning process- what works, what does not work, what turns out u-g-l-y can be easily fixed by pulling said project apart and beginning again, and that sometimes 'mistakes' turn out to be treasures.

Another lesson I never would have guessed I would learn from crafting is the art of relaxation. Yes, while threading that needle can sometimes be stressful (my eyes just aren't what they used to be), once it's threaded and the project commences there is a sense of relaxation that cannot be described. Relaxing is not my forte (I seem to have a lot of those!), and it is very hard for me to do. Nonetheless, I am learning how to relax even though my hands are busy.

Over the past year and a half, I have learned to love the art of card making. While I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination, I have discovered not only is it a relaxing hobby for me to trim and fold paper, to stamp and to color, but it is a joy to fill in the card with a personal message (a passion of mine since I was a teenager). Knowing that what I am creating with plain white card stock, pretty paper, ink, and double-sided tape will bring joy to someone makes it that much more worthwhile.

And during this process of discovery, I have become a lot less afraid. So what if it turns out not quite right? The recipient won't know, unless it's a glaring error, but even then it gives the gift character. So what if I stayed up all night? A lost good night's sleep is sometimes worth the exchange for time to pursue my new-found passion.

Not only have I found the benefits for myself, but my son is enjoying a more crafty Momma! He is at the age where glue is the greatest invention ever and we are only limited by the supplies in our craft bin and our imaginations!

We have made our own Christmas wrapping paper the past two years. How fun is it for the kitchen floor to be spread with brown packing paper, given paint and brushes,(washable, of course! Momma's not that relaxed!) and given free reign to paint to his heart's content?This memory for the both of us is priceless.

And, just these past few days he has discovered the joy of making cards. The endless combinations with stickers, 'Momma's special stamps', and colorful Valentine's paper have provided hours of endless fun that we have done together. Even his daddy got in on the fun, supervising the stamping when Momma was busy getting dinner on the table.

During these times, he is allowed to be as creative as he can be. He learns that some paper won't fit on the cardstock and needs to be trimmed. He learns how to cut using scissors and how there can be such a thing as too much glue. He learns how to care for another person's belongings. He learns thoughtfulness.

All learned in the creation of a card.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, when it's all said and done these past few nights, the dining table is littered with scraps of paper, empty sticker sheets, and stacks of beautiful creations, and I am not one bit troubled about the 'mess'.

In fact, I am relaxed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creative-Crazy or Crazy-Crazy?

A couple of years ago, my parents bought our son, then two,  a miniature guitar, a 'surprise' after one of their jaunts to the mountains. Etched on the front was a ranch scene with the words, "Home, Home on the Range!" scrawled across the front. A more perfect gift they could not have brought for our son. He was enraptured by this little guitar and has strummed it every day since.

That little guitar has accompanied thousands of songs- those on the radio, those learned in church, those made up by our little musician. He has sung everything from Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire' to 'Jesus Loves Me' while strumming along.

Now, I have to admit- he sometimes sings and plays at times it's inconvenient- while I'm on the phone or trying to get his sister down for a nap. But, for the most part, the multiple-times-daily concerts are delightful. We sing songs that his beloved Mr. Tom at AWANA sings. Sometimes he plays and has me sing. Othertimes, he strums along with the music on the television or radio. And our favorite- his playing for his sister who listens with rapt attention and adoration.

Not only does he love the guitar, he loves the harmonica, and, well, anything that makes music. His poor little harmonica (another gift from his Poppa) had been so well-loved and so often-played with that it fell apart.

One day last summer, before his harmonica was no more, we attended a library reading program. A young man told stories interspersed with songs; the storyteller was playing a guitar and had a harmonica holder around his neck. Our son was mesmerized by this man who told stories, sang songs, and played two instruments at once. When I suggested maybe we should put those things on his Christmas list, he quickly agreed.

He spent the rest of the summer and into the fall, balancing his guitar on one knee and holding his harmonica with one hand, trying to re-create what that young man had done. During those months, his daddy and I would smile and nod to one another, silently agreeing that instruments were on the Christmas list. We could hardly wait for Christmas morning!

A few weeks before the Big Day, my friend and I were out shopping. She was telling me what her boys would find under the tree, and when I told her what our son was getting- a guitar with a strap and a harmonica with a holder to fit around his neck so he could play both at the same time- she said, "You're crazy!"

For a moment I paused, then asked with a smile, "Creative-crazy or crazy-crazy?" I thought it would be the former, not the latter.


"I was hoping you'd say creative-crazy."

"No, crazy- crazy!"

Maybe she's right. Maybe I'm crazy. In fact, I know I'm crazy....about my kids. I'm not alone. Their daddy is crazy about them, too. And we're dedicated to equipping them with whatever tools they need to follow their passions.

Right now our son is a budding musician. In two years, he may not be. Then again, we may be 'upgrading' to a better guitar.

Whatever his (and his siblings' passions) we hope one day, when our children are grown, that they will look back and say, "Daddy and Momma were crazy about us! They encouraged and nurtured our creativity (whatever that may be- music, art, sports,dance, language....). And they never once used earplugs!"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lights Out!

Snow is a rarity in our neck of the woods, but when it does snow, what a special event it is! Days before the snow arrives, local meteorologists get in a tizzy with predictions and possibilities of what may or may not happen.
As soon as the 's' word is dropped, folks around here go into a flurry of activity(pun totally intended)- a trip to the grocery store, stocking up on firewood, making preparations for using the grill as an all-purpose stove should power go out.

Those of us here UTRTR are no exception. In fact, my parents watch the weather dilligently and give us reports, urging us to watch the news and get prepared. When they came for a visit the other day before the storm, they were worried we weren't prepared enough and brought more provisions. (Thanks, Momma and Pop!) If it weren't for them, we probably wouldn't have given the snow predictions much thought.

When we awoke on Monday morning, the world around us was breathtaking- in beauty and in temperature! A few trips out to play in the snow, hot chocolate, hearty meals punctuated our day. I cooked all day 'just in case' we lost power. My husband urged me to stop saying that, but I kept saying, "Better safe than sorry. We can heat this up by the fire or on the grill."

Then it happened at 7:48 PM, our power went out. The first few moments, I admit were tense. When it was just the two of us, we made do. Now that there are young ones, we worried about them getting cold and how long the power outage would last.

Okay, so probably more than the first few moments were tense. Our son danced around the living room, excited for the chance to camp out in the living room, complete with roaring fire. Meanwhile, my husband and I were scooping up flashlights, candles, blankets, pillows, and a weather radio and moving furniture to accommodate all of us in the living room for however long.

While my husband added wood to the fire, I turned on the weather radio. God knows exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. The song playing said something about, "....Everyday's the 4th of July!" We could not have been experiencing anything more opposite than the 4th of July, and we enjoyed a good laugh.

After a moment, I scanned the dial and found our favorite station, a channel that plays Christian music. Something only described as peace came over all of us immediately.

On a cold, dark, snow-turned-ice night, in the warm glow of a fireplace, in the midst of worry, we felt the presence of God. The worry was gone and peace had taken its place.

This is the life! I thought as I spread blankets out.  We are all together. Our bellies our full. We have blankets and fire for warmth. We have a song on the radio reminding us that 'Our God is greater! Our God is stronger!' How blessed we are!

And in that moment I resolved- more evenings like this- lights out!

Because it was when the lights were out, the distractions of the tv and computer were gone, that we were able to focus on what mattered- the presence of God and the reassurance of having each other to make it through the dark and the cold.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Our Journey Begins.....

Five years ago when I was pregnant with our firstborn, before we knew whether we were welcoming a boy or a girl, I would tease my husband by saying, "I'm not ready to let this baby go to school yet! We're going to homeschool."

To this he would shake his head and roll his eyes and assure all the grands-to-be that we were not going to homeschool. They all seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. "He will talk some sense into her. He'll never agree to that," I could practically hear their thoughts.

Over the next few years, we gave great thought to school; we talked about it from time to time, both agreeing to pray about his (and any future children's) education.

As we watched our friends and family enroll their children in preschool programs, we waited to see what the next year would hold, then the next and the next. And every year it just seemed like for our family, traditional schooling just didn't seem to be the right fit.

Besides, our son had lots of interaction with kids his age. He and I attended a mother's group where he played alongside/with/despite his little friends while I had time with other moms. We participated in playgroups, visited playgrounds and the local kids' museum where he interacted with kids of all ages.  We became active in church, where he had a classroom-type structure.

Time marched on, and my husband and I discussed, prayed, weighed all the possible options. Public school? Christian school? Even, gulp, the teased-about homeschool option?

Every one of the options had advantages and disadvantages. There were trade-offs for each, but when we weighed all the pros and the cons, the decision was clear.

My teasing had become anything but.

So, we've taken the plunge. Two months after our son turned four, we purchased a curriculum and began.

We're thankful that we live in a country where we have this option, and we realize it's not for everyone. But, it is for us. We're living by faith, not by sight.

This is, by far, the biggest undertaking of our lives- parenting our children and being their teachers. We do not see right now why God is leading us to make this choice. In time, He will reveal His purpose; for now,  we are enjoying the start of our homeschooling journey.