Ready, Set, School!

We are on Day 4 of our school year, which means I am already completely overwhelmed, feeling ill-equipped, and noticing that my entire house is in shambles (even worse than the norm). Honestly, I'm beginning to think this is where I have to be as a "teacher" for this thing to work. Because I *cannot* do it on my own. Praying for God's grace to cover my inadequacies and for my children to thrive in spite of me. How can I pray for *you* today, friends?
I posted this on my blog's humble Facebook page last Thursday.  It was a day not unlike any of the others.  I woke up, optimistic that things would go perfectly, hopeful that the 484 approximate items on the to-do list (that I no longer officially write down because it stresses me out too much) would all miraculously get checked off, knowing full well that these types of thoughts only cause things to derail faster than usual.

I tried a new thing this year.  We began school before I was "ready."  I didn't clean the entire house first.  I didn't organize the playroom/school room and take a cute picture of it on the first day.  I didn't even have all of the curriculum yet.  It'll be a soft start, I said to myself.  We'll ease in.  Grace is the theme of the year.  I am trying to shed this "all or nothing" mentality that I've worn like a hair shirt for my entire life.  I have to tell you, after 30 years, it doesn't come easily.  But I'm trying.

It's messy.  It's imperfect.  We're already "behind" on some things, and ahead on others.  But...BUT, it's working.  They are learning.  Willingly, on occasion.  And even though I'm a frazzled, discombobulated mess, they are making it.  The dishes accumulate faster than I can wash them.  The floor, which really ought to be clean right now so that creeping and crawling Noah won't locate every speck and eat it, is hopelessly dirty.  The clean laundry pile is only discernible from the dirty laundry pile based on its location on the laundry room floor, and they are both about to earn their own zip codes.  But...BUT, it doesn't matter.  At least, it doesn't seem to matter...to the kids.

On the docket this year, we've got the usual suspects - History, Grammar, Reading, Math, Writing, Latin, Piano, Handwriting, and Science.  Then we've a few new ventures - Spanish and Guitar.  We're tracking all progress with monthly sticker charts, from the ten year old boy to the five year old girl.  This is the first year we're schooling three kids.  And while it's no doubt going to be tough, it's not insurmountable.  Because, well, God.

There are several things I've vowed to incorporate into my thoughts and my heart this school year:

When I get proud and take credit for my kids successes, I need to remember the glory goes to God.  I'm just a proctor.

When I feel ashamed by their behavior, I need to remember we are all sinners from birth and this is not a reflection on me, but a fallen world.  Plus, there's always grace.

When I feel inadequate, I need to remember that God hand-picked me to be the mother to these children, not the fun-mom on Pinterest, not the together mom at the grocery store, not the pretty mom at the nail salon.  Me.  These kids are my responsibility, my gift, if only for a very little while.

When I get frustrated and angry and overwhelmed, I need to remember my blessings.  Count it as joy.  Because oh my goodness, I don't even know what it is to suffer.  I don't know what it means to truly be afraid.  Or hurt.  Or even overwhelmed.  Seriously.

Sometimes I like to think I'm clever enough to come up with ingenious phrases like, "Though it be madness, yet there is method in it."  But then I realize, William Shakespeare I am not.  So instead I resort to taking pictures of my kids doing wacky things, captioning said photos, and calling it a blog post.  This is what I've done to the art of writing.  And that, my friends, is how I'm going to wrap up this one.  Here's the soft opening of our 2014-2015 school year, pictorial edition:

The most frequent question I'm posed regarding homeschooling is, "What do you do with the little ones all day?"  I could write an entire post about this.  It wouldn't contain advice.  It would simply be example after example of them getting into mischief because they are given license to "explore" while we are schooling.  Aside from babyproofing the best we can, we count on the natural bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood to carry us through the day.  Of course, that often looks like this, and may include big sisters sitting on babies, babies pulling hair, sisters throwing things at babies to get a reaction out of them, babies eating school work...whatev -

And then there are those times where the two year old disappears for literally less than one minute only to reappear looking like this (that's diaper cream, folks - it doesn't wash off) -

The day our public schools started back, we took a trip to the "big city" of Macon to do some geocaching, our newest, fun, and practically free (except for gas) hobby.  We hit 100 finds that day.  So, I had to take some pictures and I'm even including a rare "treat" - one of me and Noah, who was quit literally along for the ride.  Yes, that's me attempting to hide my ample belly fat with my forearm.  Mission unsuccessful.  But, on a related note, when I told the nurse the other day at a dr's appointment how much I weighed, she said, "You DO?!  I guess your height helps you carry it well."  So, I took that as a compliment and I'm cutting myself a tiny bit of slack because, five babies.  I keep promising I'll start exercising again soon.  In all of my spare time.  Did I mention it's taken me a full week to write this one post?  Now you know.  Oh right, geocaching pictures.  Geez, girl can go on a tangent.

We have settled into a sort of frantic groove in the past week.  Still figuring things out.  It's always chaos at best to start with, methodic madness, for sure.  Our little homeschoolers are marching to the beat of their own drums, just like weird, unsocialized homeschoolers do.

Like when Leah insisted on wearing swim wings and goggles...to the SPLASH PAD at a Fun Friday homeschool gathering last week.

Or when Abby insisted she could concentrate on her math better in Noah's highchair.

I started homeschooling for my kids.  Because for a lot of different reasons we felt like it was the right thing to do for our family.  What I didn't realize was that it would impact me far more than I imagined.  Every single facet of my sin nature is challenged every moment of the day.  It's all out on the table and I spend most of my time asking for grace, not doling it out.

This is my attempt at honesty and transparency.  I'm cranky and I'm tired and I feel like I'm doing a downright lousy job, but I know that's just something the Master of Lies would have me believe.  So, in the interest of everyone else in my household, I'm off to bed.  Before I end up pulling one of these numbers in my comfy, green chair -

Even still I might have to get me one of these shirts.  Leah and I are two peas in a pod in the crabby department.

Until next time, when I'm hopefully past the frantic, overwhelmed stage and I can report to you in coherent connected thoughts.  Haha, good joke, right?  I can't do that on my best days!  Blessings, friends!!!!  Hope you're all doing great!!!

The Power of Staying Positive

Have you ever known someone who is just an all-in-all blessing to be around?  Positivity, folks.  It's not my strong suit.  (Though, I do think I deserve a little bit of credit for not being a complete pessimist these days.)  Let me take this opportunity to brag a little on someone who has had an outright tough time for the past several months.  Because this chick rocks.

This time last week, I received news that a dear friend of mine, Cindy, had been admitted to the hospital (again!) for various complications in her pregnancy with twins.  The poor woman had been suffering with hyperemesis since day one.  If you aren't aware, this is not your run-of-the-mill morning sickness.  It's morning sickness on steroids.  All day.  To the point of not being able to ingest fluids, running the risk of dehydration, and landing you in hospital, despite being on 24/7 anti-nausea meds.  It's bad, bad stuff.  You wouldn't have known it to talk to Cindy though.  She is always matter-of-fact about it, and not one, single time did I hear her utter a complaint or negative word, which, to me, is pretty incredible considering I complain pretty much non-stop, even when I'm not pregnant, and I'm certain I have no justification for any of it.  

Knowing that the doctors had been closely monitoring the developments in her health and the babies' conditions, we moved her baby shower up from Friday, August 8 to Friday, August 1, just to be "sure" the babies wouldn't arrive before we could shower them with some gifts.  Turns out, Cindy just really didn't want to hang out with me and the rest of the gals and went and got herself checked in to the hospital the day before.

There I was, lamenting the fact that I wasn't getting my much-anticipated night out with the gal pals, when we decided we'd take (at least some of) the party to her.  A handful of us were going to run up there Friday night to lift sweet Cindy's spirits.  As I texted back and forth with her to make sure she was up for company, I received this text:

"Well... The doctors have tested and evaluated, and today is Philip and Emily's birthday. Please pray for healthy deliveries by doctors with steady hands and awesome NICU nurses to take care of my babies."

Whoa.  Suddenly my girls night out seemed incredibly insignificant.  I have to tell you that not many things make you drop to your knees faster than the impending arrival of 27 week old twins.  We may not have been able to shower Cindy and her babies with gifts that day, but we definitely covered them in prayer.  It was one of those times I felt so helpless.  I wanted to do something.  To make everything okay.  

That's when it occurred to me.  Those prayers.  Those were the gifts.  In a situation like that, where there is absolutely nothing that we can do but pray?  It's not a last resort.  It's the first and only option.  It's the most powerful tool in my toolbox.  Not because I think we get what we want when we pray, but because God speaks to us, reveals Himself, calms us, conforms our will to His when we pray.

I was blessed to be able to talk to Cindy late that night after she safely delivered both of those precious babies.  I had hoped that in some way I might offer some encouragement or wisdom or cheer to her.  Pretty sure I failed at that.  I asked her, "Were you able to see the babies?"  She replied, "No, but I will tomorrow afternoon."  And after I offered my feeble, but sincere "sorry about that," she replied, "It's okay.  I look at it like this - most people don't get to see their babies until 40 weeks.  I get to see mine at 27."  See what I mean?  This is a glass is half-full woman.  She pulled the positivity number four or five more times in that same conversation, finding God's provision and protection in every facet of the events leading up to and during the delivery of those babies.  I began that phone call a nervous wreck, knowing I had no words to offer Cindy.  I hung up feeling like a million bucks after receiving encouragement from a woman who just hours before delivered twin babies at 27 weeks.  This is what a woman who dwells with the Spirit looks and sounds like, folks.  

I won't tell the story here because it's not mine to tell, but mostly because Cindy is so daggone good at telling a story!  (Go visit her, will you?  She'd love it!)  What I will tell you is that I'm blessed to know her.  And I will also ask that you keep her, Todd, their four year old, and the babies in your prayers.  Pray that the babies will grow stronger and healthier with each passing day, that Cindy can recuperate quickly and completely, and that Todd will have the fortitude to take care of them all. 

Thanks, y'all.  Remember to recognize your blessings.  I know Cindy does!  Life is so much better viewed through the lens of God's provision.  It's not just optimism.  It's hope.

Confessions of a Reforming Box Checker (I'm a work in progress, anyway)

You've all seen the articles.

12 Things to Do in Order to be Happy
12 Things to Stop Doing in Order to be Happy
10 Things to Get to Help De-stress Your Life
10 Things to Get Rid of to Help De-stress Your Life
8 Ways to Find More Time for You
8 Ways to Find More Time for Others
20 Best Pieces of Furniture to Buy for your Home
20 Reasons You Shouldn't Even Have Furniture
15 Things You Must Have for Baby's First Year
15 Things You Don't Need for Baby's First Year
11 Things Never to Say to Large Families
11 Things You Should Say to Large Families
13 Things to Do Before You Even Start Your Day
13 Things to Do Before You Can Even Consider Your Day Complete
#1 Phrase You Should Tell Your Kids
#1 Most Damaging Words You Can Say to Your Child
3 Compelling Reasons to Quit Coffee like it was Yesterday
3 Excellent Reasons to Take Up Coffee Drinking

The internet is exhausting.  Based on the response to when I wrote about this topic previously, it seems I'm not the only one who feels this way.  (Thanks, everyone.  It's nice to know that I'm not alone in my thoughts!) 

The older I get, I realize that this whole box-checking thing is just not for me.  This is kind of a big deal, considering I spent the first 30 years of my life making lists and striving day in and day out to complete them.  Mostly underachieving.  What a disheartening way to live, right? 

The older I get, I realize that goals are great, but the process of getting there is better.  I spend so much of my time working toward the end product, I miss the beginning and middle of the story.  You know what those parts are?  The majority of the whole thing. 

The older I get, the more I realize that relationships with people are more important than tasks.  Checking boxes on a to-do list is less messy, and let's face it, easier, but when your life gets tough, you can't call up your to-do list for a shoulder to cry on.

The older I get, I realize there are no formulas.  We don't fit in boxes.  As much as I used to enjoy labels, that's how much I've come to despise them.  They are either meaningless or an excuse for people to put you in a box - where none of us belong.

How does all of this fit together?  It probably won't.  That's what happens when you try to collect all of your brain clutter and dump it into one blog post, but let me give it a try.

Here's my plan for the imminent future:

To spend my days reading internet articles less and classic books, childrens literature, and my Bible more.
To keep drinking my coffee, but more often with friends over deep conversations.
To forget labels and see hearts.
To rely less heavily on my to-do lists by using them only as a memory crutch and not a means to an end.
To find joy in the mundane because it's there.  It really and truly is.
To stop comparing...especially my chapter one to others' chapter sevens.

"The internet" seems obsessed with finding happiness.  Happiness is just circumstantial anyway.  Joy.  That's what we're seeking. 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13
There's only one way to that kind of joy.  Send me an email if you want to talk more about it or if you just want to talk.  Period.  I don't do high pressure sales.

In the meantime, I'm hanging up my favorite box-checking pen, seeking meaningful conversations with the people - the ones I love and the ones I don't know I love yet, and enjoying the beginning and the middle of my story.  I hope you'll consider doing the same.

Edited to add - Disclaimer (of course I've got one of those):  If you like lists, it's cool.  Just giving you my own thoughts on the subject.  Not condemning anyone.


Nevermind. I don't want to go to school.

Because we took a 3-week adventure last fall and followed that up with a newborn in November, our 2013-2014 school year got a little...behind.  That is to say, we're still vigorously working to finish our first and fourth grade studies before they officially graduate to the next grade level.  I have it in my mind that I'm a miserable failure if it's not completed, at the very latest, one day before the local public schools go back in session.  Yes, I know one of the beauties of homeschooling is getting to set my own schedule.  I also know that it's hard to change the paradigm of a 30-year old who, for 28 years, spent her life as a slave to the public school calendar.


Today, Sarah started asking a few school-related questions.  I realize educational philosophies vary greatly from family to family and depending on the season, day, or even hour, within a family.  We have done little as far as formal learning at the preschool level for Sarah, and will begin as her interests lead in kindergarten, still allowing her to do what's most important for a five year old, in our opinion - to play.  Anyway, with that disclaimer out there, the conversation played out like this.

Sarah:  Mommy, am I old enough to go to school?
Me:  Yes, Sarah.  You are a kindergartener in the fall.
Sarah:  Okay.  I want to go to school.
Me:  What do you want to do at school?
Sarah:  Play.
Me:  Well, you probably get to play a lot more at home than you would in kindergarten.  A lot of your day is spent at a desk or table in school.
Sarah:  (Not wasting a split-second in replying)  Okay, nevermind.  I don't want to go to school.

This might not seem like a revolutionary conversation.  And it probably wasn't, but you guys.  This.  This is what gives me rest.  Reassurance that we're doing the right thing. 

I love that my play-loving, creative, free-spirit can let her hair down, take her shoes off, and swing/bounce/roll/climb all day until her heart is content.  I love that she's not confined to a chair in the classroom, because you know what?  Honestly, I'm not sure she'd stay there.  And you know what else?  That's okay.  Because she's Sarah.  And she's precious.  And she's exactly the way God created her.  Spunky, energetic, whimsical, and wiggly.

She's beautiful.  And loving.  And sweet.  My goodness, she must give me 200 hugs every day.  And I'm not even her favorite.  (It's no secret.  She's a daddy's girl.  Her second favorite is Noah.) 

She's my brave, fearless girl.  She's the one who puts on a dress to go climb a tree.  Her spirit just soars.  It's beautiful to watch.  She's everything I'm not.  I don't want to extinguish that.  If I can, I want to do everything possible to fan her unique flame.

I am not detracting from the value of formal education.  I think it's so very important.  But I also think being five is a once in a lifetime experience.  And it's okay to spend it playing and wiggling.  She's got the rest of her life to be serious and sit still. 

But...if I know Sarah, she'll find a way around it.  At least, for her sake, I hope she does.

This girl was born to fly.

Doubt, Insecurity, and McNuggets

I spend way too much time inside my own head.  Wondering, worrying, obsessing.  This is why the internet is bad for my health.  As if my overactive imagination needs any more fuel.  Opinion after well-informed opinion after misguided opinion clutter up the already over-exercised muscles of my brain.

Did you know that Dove Shampoo can cause some sort of flesh-eating disease resulting in the most nauseating growth on your shoulder that the world has ever seen?

Did you know that if you continue to shop at Hobby Lobby following the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday that you not only directly support child slavery, but you should also not even consider yourself to be a Christian for buying things made in China?

Did you know that some people think the only reason someone believes in God is because they are weak and feeble-minded, even pitiable?

Did you know that drinking out of a plastic water bottle is the same as poisoning your body from the harmful substances in the bottle that leach into the water?  Did you know it's 1000 times worse if you drink out of a plastic bottle that's been heated up (like inside of a car)?  Or microwaved?

Did you know that consuming chicken nuggets at McDonalds will cause, if not certain death, all kinds of calamitous health issues - because, that's not even close to chicken?  (Did I just spot a fingernail in there?!)

Did you know the drop-side crib we've used for all of our children is really nothing more than a child-sized mouse trap?

Did you know that hotels don't wash those glass cups they leave in the room for you to drink out of?  If you're lucky they spray them with some glass cleaner and let it ride.

Did you know that on the very same day you can read the compelling benefits of both a high-fat and low-fat diet, drinking coffee and abstaining from it, buying organic and how the whole anti-GMO movement is actually a conspiracy, going gluten-free versus eating whole grains, the necessity of dairy and its associated fats in the development of the human brain and how cow's milk is the worst thing to happen to the human diet since...sliced [enriched, bleached] white bread?

No wonder I'm confused.  And stressed out.

Because, my goodness, I'm just never going get it right.

Like, none of it.

It is exhausting to spend every second of the day second-guessing your every move.  I waver between conceding that I'm never going to get it right and feeling good about my life's decisions and wondering in which areas I'm drastically failing and needing to show improvement.  Sometimes I feel overcome with guilt or self-consciousness, and that's not a good reason to make changes.  You know, like when I'm pushing my cart through the grocery store and one of my foodie friends calls to me from down the aisle and there's no way I can hide the Cool Ranch Doritos, Capri Suns, and Twizzlers in my cart.  And then I'm feeling good because I do have lots of fresh veggies in there.  But they aren't necessarily organic.  I did make whole-wheat waffles the other day though, maybe I should tell them that?  Or I can tell them I have a 10-lb bag of organic carrots at home because they seem to keep longer than the conventional kind? 

If they're a real friend, they don't care about the contents of my grocery cart but the contents of my heart. 

And all of these questions running through my mind?  It's just doubt.  Reasonable doubt, at times, maybe.  But doubt none the less. 

Don't you know doubt is the original weapon? 
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Emphasis mine) Genesis 3:1 
All it takes is that tiny seed of doubt to get the crazy train going. 

Am I doing this wrong?  Am I inadequate?  Am I a bad wife?  A terrible friend?  Am I jeopardizing my family's health and safety? 

There are just so very many opinions that we've turned into rules.  The world has set an impossible standard, and, really, which standard do I pick?  There are four bazillion to choose from. 

This is where grace and the rest of faith come in.  I'm not going to get it right.  And trying to attain perfection will just leave me lacking and frustrated.  I can do my best, and I'll let Jesus fill in my gaps with grace and forgiveness.  I can rest knowing I don't have to be perfect, but I can strive to know where God is leading me, and pray for discernment between doubt and guilt versus real conviction.  Rest.  Peace.  Yes, please.  More of that stuff.  Less of the brain clutter. 

My standard is this -
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Matthew 26:36-39
If I'm not all wrapped up in love, all that other stuff can take a backseat. 

That's where I'm going to put it.  Won't you join me?

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