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!)