The Good Stuff

In 2002, Kenny Chesney sang his little heart out right to the top of the charts with the song "The Good Stuff."  If you haven't heard it (and don't want to watch the video here), I'll sum up.  Guy gets into a fight with his "lady", drives off to the bar, and asks the bartender for "the good stuff."  Bartender says, "You can't find that here."  Then the wise, old barkeep pours him a glass of milk and proceeds to rattle off a heart-wrenching list of things that actually comprise "the good stuff" - like eating burnt suppers the whole first year and asking for seconds to keep her from tearing up and holding her hand when the Good Lord calls her home.

Ugh.  Country songs.  They're brutal.  But I guess I'm a glutton for punishment because I always come back for more.  (New blogging idea - highlight sad country songs on the regular.  You're going to love it.  Maybe not...)

Even as a young girl of 19 I loved this song.  That bartender was right, of course.  Not that I know too much about finding solace in a bottle of whiskey, but I do know Good Stuff when I see it.

This weekend I went on a bit of a tirade about what the world commonly considers to be "good stuff."  I had a heart to heart with my dear eleven year old son.  He's one of the best kids I know.  Sincerely.  I'm not just saying that because he's mine, at least, I don't think I am.  Through teary eyes, I explained to him that I want so much more for him than $150 sneakers.  I want him to know that expensive possessions and a big paycheck and a prestigious college degree are meaningless.  These things aren't life.  I want him to ignore the lies that he's being inundated with that bigger and more are better.  They might seem so, but pursuing them for the sake of claiming bigger and more isn't.  It's one of those things that's really hard to teach without perspective.  I told him I'm proud of him.  That he's a fantastic kid, however imperfect he is.  He knows it.  He also knows how imperfect I am.  These things come into the light when you spend your entire days together.

Even after the conversation was long over, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I want him and all of my children to see the Good Stuff like I see it.  I can't wait until I have the luxury of the life experience and wisdom of my parents and grandparents.  I'm just 31 years old, but life is so much fuller than it was just 10 years ago.

The good stuff -
1.  Seeing the delight in my three year old's eyes when her beloved big, teddy bear of an eleven year old brother drops everything and plays pretend with her big-eyed beanie baby toys with her.
2.  Watching three sisters give each other makeovers and new hairstyles and foot rubs, having fancy drink wars (mostly apple juice with blueberries dropped into it) in the kitchen, and curled up in a single armchair reading a book or watching a movie together.
3.  Hearing the brothers, ten years apart, giggling together in an all-out wrestling match on the living room carpet.
4.  Seeing the tears in the biggest kids's eyes when he met his first brother.

And today -

Foregoing all academic activity around 3:00pm because a cold front brought through a torrential downpour and the back portion of our yard turned into a massive mud pit.

I'm not the fun mom.  And ordinarily, this might not have flown quite as well as it did today.  But for once, I let go.  There are no before pictures because one simply does not plan an epic mud fight.  These things must be spontaneous or not at all.

Folks, this is, without question, the Good Stuff.

It's not in a store or on a screen and you can't manufacture it even if you try.

It's treasuring the God-given gifts of rain, dirt, brothers and sisters, plenty of soap and water, and respite when life desperately calls for one.

Maybe I stand corrected.  This isn't good stuff.

This is Epic Stuff.

Live it well, my friends.


Hell in a Hand Basket

To the casual news observer, it would seem that everything - from our small hometowns, to our cherished cities, to our beloved states, to our entire country - is heading to hell.  In a hand basket.  Every day the news tops yesterday's on every sensational scale - bizarre, horrific, sad, demented, unconscionable.

Whether the issue de jour is a presidential candidate giving out the personal cell phone number of another candidate to the entire country, the sale of "fetal tissue", flags (confederate or half-mast), gay marriage, poverty, immigration, gun rights, I am certain you feel passionately, as I do, one way or another.  The entire country is at odds, about every little and big thing you can think of.

Read more here: http://www.macon.com/2015/07/21/3853306_bibb-county-ranks-near-bottom.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

No wonder the world seems hopeless.

And yet....

As a Christian, I hear the overwhelming cry of "Come, Lord Jesus."  How much longer can the world go on like this - we wonder.  We pray that Jesus will come and sweep us away from the despair and hopelessness.  We think this is too big a mess to make it through.

What kind of faith is that?

I'm not saying that these are the best of times.  That would be ludicrous.  Times are difficult and sad and downright scary.  But, these things are not new.  If you study history, you will see that cannibalism, slavery, child-selling, infanticide, cruel and unusual punishments, human sacrifice,  witch hunts, sexual depravity - these things are not new. In fact, I'm certain I've heard that somewhere before -
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 1:9
While we're down here on earth scratching our heads and shaking our fists, God is up there going, "Yup, saw that coming."  I don't think he's surprised.  I don't think he's happy either, but I know he's not surprised. 


We sit here saying, "This is rough.  I'd rather just call it a day...forever...and have Jesus return right now."  You know why we want that?  Because it's easier.  It's easier than doing the hard things, saying the difficult things, and being the people we are called to be - Christ's ambassadors.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  2 Corinthians 5:20
It's a lot easier to say, "Nope, too far gone.  Hopeless.  We can't do this anymore."  Guess what?  We never could do it.  Alone, we are powerless.  With God?  Unstoppable. We don't have the luxury of quitting while we still have breath.  I don't know if these are the "end times" or not, but the urgency is there, regardless. 

"But what can I do?"

I'm so glad you asked.  I don't really know either.  But here are a few ideas:

1.  Pray.  Hard.  Ask God to reveal to you ways that you can help out.  Ask God to give you courage to be bold.  Ask God to fill you with a desire to know His Word and His Will so you can "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." 

2.  Forget what you know "about" a person and get to know the actual person.  Just love people.  Get to know them.  Smile.  Make conversation.  Treat them to a coffee.  Hold the door on the elevator.  Let them in front of you in line.  Forgive them.  Don't make assumptions.  Don't judge by appearances.  Be available as an ear.  Put others first.  Can you even imagine what a different world this would be if we treated each others as individuals with unique experiences, thoughts, and feelings instead of a part of a collective evil?  It doesn't have to be like that.

3.  Admit that you don't know everything.  This might be harder for some of us than others, but really, it's okay to not know.  It's not okay to keep not knowing.  Go learn something.  Get educated.  Dig into the Word.

4.  Be sensitive.  Because people are, in fact, people, they are built uniquely and beautifully with a set of experiences and feelings only they have.  We cannot know what it is like to walk in anyone's shoes, but we can try.  We can talk.  Just...be nice.

5.  Do something.  Do anything.  When we feel ill-equipped and scared, God can use us the most. 
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Corinthians 12:9
At the end of ourselves, we find all of Jesus.  That's a great place to start.

I truly believe apathy is Satan's weapon of choice in our generation.  With a flippant "whatever" we, even as Christians, have thrown in the towel.  What kind of a witness is this to nonbelievers?  We don't trust that God can overcome our present circumstances?  We just quit? 

No.  This is not acceptable.  We have serious work to do, if not to make the world a better place, to tell the world about Jesus.  Let's live so that others can see Jesus in us.  When Jesus comes, I'll be ready, but I don't want that day or hour or minute to come before we've had a chance to do what he called us to do.  We have a message to deliver on his behalf.  Let us believe that...
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8
Because we are all sinners.  And we all need a Savior.  And with God, nothing is impossible.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 
Please, do something.

Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning's End

I was reflecting over our past (school)year in the shower a few minutes ago.  Yes, a midnight shower, because when you're 33 weeks pregnant and you can't sleep, why not?  I figured since I'm wide awake, I would take the time to chronicle some of my favorite, most important memories from the year.  Consider this our year-end review, a report card, if you will.  Instead of A's, B's, and C's, I measure our year in laughs, little moments, and accomplishments both large and small, academic and otherwise.

Sometimes it's hard to differentiate life from learning.  Sometimes I don't think I want to.  After wrapping our third (!!!) year of this grand adventure, I think we're starting to hit a stride.  Of course, this means I need to stay on my toes even more so as not to start cruising.  It's always best to be prepared for hiccups, even if it's just to roll with the punches when the hiccups come.  They are a certainty.

Because it's late, because I'm pregnant, and because this will become my first novel if I don't, I'm going to resort to a reflective calendar.  

7/31/2014:  Adventures in geocaching prevailed over starting "actual" school.  We kicked off the first day of public school by driving around finding caches and signing our names to the logs.  Found our 100th on the last day of July.  Geocaching became a fun new hobby that would ultimately lead to a lot more "adventures" later in the year, some amazing, some not as much.

August 2014
8/1/2014:  The sticker chart was implemented.  Best thing ever.  It's based on the actual number of lessons we need to complete for each subject each month, but without being tied down to a date or time for each one - because that gives me hives.  Apparently I've been cured of all Type-A tendencies.

8/3/2014:  I delegated music time/babysitting Noah/teaching the alphabet to Leah (watch the video here).  They always say you learn better when you teach something.  Let's put that theory to test.

8/4/2014:  On the bright side, I think Leah's really been paying attention to our history lessons. Clearly, she was just trying to paint herself blue and walk around naked like a Celt. Only, you know, instead of blue paint she used white diaper cream.

8/25/2014:  Abby mastered the usage of linking verbs.

8/27/2014:  Today our history lesson took us on a journey down the Silk Road to the palace of the Khan where we were rewarded with gold (Upward soccer trophies), ivory (a white mirror), and exotic animals (a stuffed polar bear). Ben's favorite part, of course, was ending up in Pee-King, because, duh, he's a ten year old boy.

9/8/2014:  The big reveal to the kids about our travel plans for October.  Should keep us busy for a while.  Because when we do field trips, we DO field trips.

9/20/2014:  We've been "practicing" hiking to get conditioned for our trip. Yesterday, I wore Leah and Ben wore Noah. It was quite a trek, during which Noah passed out on Ben's back in the Ergo and slept until we got back to the van. As I loaded everyone into their carseats, Ben unharnessed the carrier, tossed it in the back, breathed a sigh of relief, and said, "Phew, that really was a 'napsack.'"

Incidentally, this was also a geocaching adventure that quite literally took us over the river, through the woods, under and interstate, through lots of poison ivy, only to discover that the published coordinates were over 1/4 mile off.  No chance of finding it.  Total amount hiked in search of it?  3 miles, 3 times.  Good workout though.

9/30/2014:  Leave for Nashville, TN on what would be a three and half week trek across the country.

10/2/2014:  We celebrated Abby's 8th birthday Sheppard style by going to the St. Louis Zoo, Science Center, and up the Arch. But her favorite part was going to the mall for dinner at the food court and to pick out a new treat from the Disney Store.

10/7/2014:  At the gate to Zion National Park, the park ranger looked at Sam's ID and said, "Do you have any peaches in there?" Sam gave him an obligatory chuckle and said "No." Then he turned to me and under his breath he said, "I don't know, do you have any extra wives in there?" ‪#‎utah‬ ‪#‎stereotypehumor

10/11/2014:  Near Mono Lake, California...Just after Ben fell into Convict Lake, I came face to face with four Mule Deer bucks while alone in the woods. And here we thought we were returning to the hotel for a new pair of pants for Ben... ‪#‎yes‬ ‪#‎iamscaredofallanimals‬ 
10/20/2014:  The OKC Fire Department just stopped on the side of the road next to the memorial to let my kids play on their ladder truck. The driver asked if we had a chance to go in the museum yet. I told him we'd just gotten into town, and with tears in his eyes said, "You need to go. It's...emotional." 19 years later and it still hurts.

10/26/2014:  7,105 miles, 190 geocaches, 27 days, 18 hotels, 17 states, 14 museums, 10 national parks, 10 national monuments/historic sites, 3 state parks, 2 state capitol buildings, 2 lost blankies, 1 zoo (unless you count Vegas), 1 less tooth, 1 exhausted but faithful minivan, and 7 happy, tired Sheppards. It's good to be home. 

11/9/2014: Sam is trying to clear off some of the free games that Sarah has downloaded on the tablet recently. This is the best conversation I've ever heard. It's still going...he's going to be there all night.
Sam: Father's Day Quesadillas, Summer Chicken Burger, Mermaid at Doctor?
Sarah: Yes, keep those.
Sam: Baby Easter Egg Laundry Time?
Abby: That's fun.
Sam: What does that even mean?

11/21/2014:  "An ant can eat a seed. That seed is in the mud."
Ok, let's look at the picture for this story you just read, Sarah. What is the ant doing?
"Pulling a shark."

12/12/2014: The day I've been waiting for since I became a mother.
"I'll fold those towels."
That mountain of towels? Voluntarily? Without me mentioning it? Hands down, Ben wins the prize for "favorite kid" today.

12/18/2014:  Good friends go along with your spontaneous, last-minute caroling plans and don't care if the notes are perfect. Thanks for helping my heart grow a few sizes tonight. And Merry Christmas!!!

12/22/2014:  Sam had a successful eye operation to repair damage done by a thorn or twig or something during an unfortunate nighttime geocaching accident in the woods.  He's the bravest guy I know.  Results:  Nearly perfect vision once again.  Not *as* perfect, but very, very good.

1/6/15:  Oh my goodness, the conversations between these children of mine.  
Abby: (to Ben) I think you should keep your pie hole shut.
Ben: I think the saying is "Shut your pie hole."
Sarah: But what about your pee hole?
Ben: What about it?
Sarah: ....do you care about it?

1/17/15:  This is how Super Dad occupied the four littlest kids while stranded at a hotel all day waiting for Mom and the big kid to come back from bible quiz. Rock stars. My whole family.

1/27/2015:  I know everyone thinks their own kids are the best. I suppose I'm no exception. But, I would be lying if I said that I liked them all of the time. Yes, I confess. When we first started this grand homeschooling experiment three years ago, Ben drove me absolutely CRAZY, daily. Every one of his quirks and vices is crystal clear because he is a carbon copy of me. I don't know if he's grown up or I've grown up or a little bit of both, but to my great delight it is now my pleasure to spend my days with this young man. He still drives me crazy a lot of the time, but I genuinely enjoy watching him work through his frustration and anger in maturity, listening to his million spoken words each hour, and most of all, I enjoy being an active participant in his blossoming albeit goofy sense of humor. He's the best first child I've ever had. Hands down.

2/9/2015:  Reviewing today's history:
Me: What was name of the most famous king from Mali?
Ben: Moomoosa? Mimosa? Medusa?
Me: Close. Mansa Musa.
Me: After Mansa Musa got to Mecca, what four things did he do?
Ben: Prayed.
Abby: Pooped?
Ben: He probably did. Does that count?
Me: He probably did, but that was not one of the four answers I was looking for.

2/23/2015:  Over the course of three years in this grand experiment I call homeschooling, I've learned that you have to figure things out as you go along. Do what works. For instance, I recently learned that passing out lollipops before our communal history read-alouds significantly increases the number of sentences I can get through without interruption. Don't judge me.
3/2/2015:  Learning about explorers today, specifically, those in search of a better trade route to India from Europe. Ben's only commentary: "Those people must have really liked pepper."

3/7/2015:  Celebrating Leah's birthday weekend in Savannah at Fort McAllister.  Noah found the full moon on a sunny day.

3/13/2015:  Grammar lessons with Ben continue to be my favorite part of the day. 
"The visitors are they? Why wouldn't you just say 'They are the visitors?' I'm going to say it the way that doesn't make you sound like a dope." ~ Ben

Reading with Sarah -
"The dog said, 'That bug is so little I can not see him...' - how does the dog know the bug is a boy? - '...on this log.'
The bug said, 'I am big.' -No he's not. He's smaller than a newborn baby and they are not big!
The dog said, 'He is not big.' - Wait! Dogs can't talk! Neither can bugs!"

"No. I'm not doing it like that. That's not how you count. It doesn't work that way."
My apologies to anyone who gets behind future Sarah in a checkout line if she ever has to pay with coins. Apparently skip-counting is absurd.

Sarah: (Praying) Thank you for a good life with not very many troubles. And help Leah to go to sleep for heaven's sake. Amen.
Yes. Amen.

4/11/2015:  Got to go to the Teach Them Diligenty Convention in Atlanta without any kids thanks to the generosity of my parents where I gleaned a lot of practical and spiritual wisdom for our current and upcoming school years.  But mostly - this gem -
"Create a heritage of laughter in your home. Our kids say funny things. A lot of times we say, 'Shh, that's not funny.' You know what? It is. Laughter is the safety valve for all of the stress of life." -Rachael Carman
Best advice I've heard all weekend.

Leah scribbling on a sheet of paper.
Me: Did you just say, "Booty, booty, booty?"
Leah: Yes I do.
Me: Why?
Leah: Because that's what I drawed.

5/1/2015:  Because the only logical thing to do after spending two weeks busting your tails at a breakneck pace is to blow off all responsibilities and go on an adventure, complete with costume changes (Abby), dipping French fries in ice cream for the first time (Noah), tasting way too many strawberries (Leah), climbing trees (Sarah), and chivalrously lending your shoes to your mom in possibly-snake-infested terrain because, naturally, she was wearing flip flops (Ben).

5/7/2015:  Reading lessons with a toddler in the house (video here).  I guess we were really asking for it hanging out on the floor.

5/12/2015:  So, I might be grumpy, but some things are worth celebrating - like Ben determining to complete his last three math lessons in one sitting so he can call it DONE for the year. It might cheapen it to mention the 3,211 other things we have yet to finish, but we have to find successes where we can. And this certainly qualifies. Well done, son.

5/19/2015:  You know you are overly hormonal and/or Joyce's daughter when something like...finishing the final chapter in your history book...brings tears to your eyes to the complete and utter confusion of your children.

June and July were both a bit of a blur, full of adventures (and utilizing the a/c for this very pregnant mama as much as possible), and very little formal schooling save for Abby's math lessons which we are still working towards finishing.  She's a rockstar.  And we will finish.

This year has been amazing, challenging, and stretching.  We've pushed ourselves, had fun, and grown closer, all things I dreamed would happen when we started this experiment and all things I'm thrilled to see come to fruition after our third full year.  I'm so far from perfect I convinced myself the other day that if Sam nanny-cam'd me, I'd have been fired from this gig years ago, and yet, my kids get to see my imperfections...every single one of them...and I get to see theirs.  And together, we get through it.  This is our life.  And we're doing it. 

Next week (give or take) we will embark on Year 4 (how is that even possible?!).  We will have a sixth grader, a third grader, a first grader, a precocious 3-year old who might do well to sit in on her big sisters lessons, a strong-willed but oh-so-cute toddler, and a very pregnant mom/soon-to-be-newborn baby.  That's a recipe for adventure if I ever heard one.  Wish us luck, pray for us, send me coffee.  (Ha!  Just kidding.  Kind of.)

My gift to you, if you managed to stick through this long post (in spite of myself), is a couple photos of Noah and Leah shenanigans.  Here they are pilfering in Ben's room while he was away at Grammie's house.  They are partners in crime and precious, precious siblings.  (Side note - Noah has turned a corner just this week and his personality seems to be far less...disgruntled.  I really like him now.  Not just because I have to, ha!)

 He literally said, "Cheese!"

Hope you all have a wonderful Wednesday.  Let me hear from you.  Let me know how I can pray for you.  

Signing off,

He Shouldn't Have Been Standing There.

I've always laughed particularly hard at the ridiculousness of this part of the film Happy Gilmore.

(Caution: There *is* a curse word in this clip.)

But, as I live in this world and observe what's going on around me, I realize "He shouldn't have been standing there" isn't so ridiculous a statement after all.  It's what we do, isn't it?

A few years ago, our sweet Sarah had a lapse in judgment on the playground.  She crossed in front of the swings without noticing how close she was.  The result was a 2x6 to the forehead.  Literally.  Within seconds she had a goose-egg the size of a second head.  The tears were flowing.  It had to have hurt.  But in the midst of being possibly-concussed, the poor girl was lucid enough to say, "Abby needed to watch out!"  You see, to her, the fault was not of her own actions (walking directly in front of a swinger) but of the swinger (her sister) who had little to no control over the speed or direction of her swing.

A couple of weeks ago, I walked down the hallway where I could overhear my son's Skype call that was being peppered with a few "choice" words.  I walked in the room and said, "Do they talk like this a lot?"  To which the offender said, "Ben!  She wouldn't have heard if you'd been in a room where she didn't walk by!"  Because, you know, those words are well and good if only shared among friends.  Or something.

Shortly after the creation of humankind, a man and woman roamed about their beautiful garden, marveling at the gift they'd been given.  They literally had the world at their fingertips and yet...it wasn't enough.  Having been warned of the consequences of partaking of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve chose to trust the serpent's seed of doubt ("Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?" Genesis 3:1 - emphasis mine) over the clear direction from God ("You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Genesis 2:17).  She ate the fruit and gave some to Adam.  When God questioned Adam about it, he replied, "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."  Then it was Eve's turn, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

But...God said, "Because you have done this..."  And then he doled out some consequences, as was perfectly within his right.

You see, whether we were influenced by someone or not, our actions are still just that.  Our own.  Good or bad, our choices and actions have consequences, good or bad.  Instead of passing the blame, how about let's just own up? 

"Yes.  It was me.  Totally my fault.  My bad.  I'm sorry."  

Why is that so hard?

Human nature.  From the very start we've been blame-placing.  I guess that's not an easy cycle to break.  

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try.  Those words, "I accept responsibility.  I'm sorry." pack a more powerful punch than you can imagine.  Sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the right thing.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9
My prayer today is that we take ownership of our actions - good and bad, consequences and all.

Let it start with me.



I've never been an easy-going person.  I pretend a lot.  I think I've had to adapt a good bit, not necessarily by choice.  I'm learning to take things a little more in stride, but I don't know that it will ever come naturally for me.

So by virtue of my personality, I am easily overwhelmed.

Probably not a great trait for a mom of five plus kids.

It's not just the kids though.  It's life.  It's my lack of boundaries.  My inability to say no.  My non-confrontational desire to be a people-pleaser.  I heap the anxiety on myself by my own actions, and then I suffer for it.  It's really no one's fault but my own.

So today, I have a prayer.

I pray that I will be brave.  That I can be bold.  That I can say "No." to the things that detract from my ability to function so that I can give my emphatic "Yes!!!" to the things that I can do with my whole heart.  I pray that I will say only what needs to be said.  That I will stop apologizing for things for which I owe no apology.  That I will stop letting people bulldoze and take advantage of me.  I pray that I will have the fortitude to stand up for what's best for me, Sam, and my kids instead of taking for granted the grace they give me when I put others in front of them.  I pray that God will turn my heart from its natural inclination to complain and gripe and instead fill me with a grateful heart and no regrets.  I pray that my interactions with people whom I don't perfectly gel will be grace-filled.  Because I can do none of these things on my own.  I've tried.  I've tried for years.  And as usual, that hasn't worked out.  I'm giving it up.  And asking for help.  I don't want to carry this anymore.  I don't want to teach my kids that it is okay to let people run all over you.  I want to set a strong example.  I want to be able to give my best, including with my best attitude.

That's today's prayer.  One I should I have started praying a long time ago.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  James 1:5
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