Revising the American Dream: What Homeschooling (and my Dad) has Taught Me about Life

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It was cool in the gazebo. Flowers bloomed boldly all around, cicadas buzzed in the treetops, and a little nuthatch tap-tap-tapped on the roof, looking for seeds he had hidden away between the gritty shingles.

Despite the beauty of the day, I was a little out of sorts. My dream house was for sale—and totally out of reach. I was telling my dad about it. Complaining, really.

When I had finished, my dad leaned back in his chair and spoke. I might not be getting all of his words just right, but the gist of it was this: “I was talking to someone last night. He was telling me about how much he works. He’s already replying to e-mails at six in the morning. He works long hours. He can hardly ever make it to any of his son’s hockey games.”

My dad worked hard too, before he retired. He would get up while it was still dark, do some work at home before leaving for the job site, come back and eat dinner with the family, and then work in his home office well into the evening. He is an amazing father, but it couldn’t have been easy for him to try to balance it all. I guess that sometimes, when you own a business, it sort of owns you too.

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A red squirrel scurried into the gazebo and then darted away as I shifted in my chair.

My dad continued. “I told the neighbour about you and Dave. You might not live in as big a house or have as much money, but you have a really good quality of life. You homeschool your kids and take them all kinds of places. You’re able to spend time with them. Sometimes, giving up things can make you happier. Quality of life isn’t always measured by material things.”

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Quality of life isn’t measured by material things.

It was a gentle reprimand. You see, I wrestle with this concept. I always have. In a world where success is measured by the size of your bank account and money is everything, living as though it’s not is counter-cultural. My husband and I make ends meet—but life could be so much easier if we shifted our emphasis even a little.

But what would that look like? What if we both worked long days? What if, instead of sacrificing money for time, we sacrificed time for money?

We’d miss out on God’s plan for our lives, plain and simple. It would be impossible for me to do what I’m called to do right now—homeschooling my girls. I wouldn’t be there to celebrate as they sound out words on a page or finally grasp those hard math problems. We wouldn’t be able to learn more about history and science and nature by exploring museums and beaches and farms.  We wouldn’t be able to build solar systems in the dining room or go on hikes when we need to just breathe.

There wouldn’t be enough time for any of the things that really matter to us right now.

 

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There are hard days. I lose patience. The kids fight. There are spills and messes. Sometimes, while changing diapers and scrubbing toilets, I think about people in power suits making their mark on the world and I feel a twinge of envy. There isn’t much glamour in sweeping up Cheerios and picking up toys day after day. But right now, I have an incredible opportunity to savour the fleeting days of my daughters’ childhood.

And I’m making my mark where it matters most—right in the centre of God’s will for my life.

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This is what I’m called to do. Not everyone is called to this. But, for some reason, I am. So instead of wishing away the days, I need to be grateful. I’m right where God wants me to be, and I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because quality of life? It has nothing to do with the size of your bank account. (It doesn’t have anything to do with homeschooling either.) It’s about priorities. It’s finding out what God wants you to do—and doing it.  

(Thanks, Dad, for the reminder.)

The Gift of Community

 

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An unfamiliar car was parked out front. I could hear the sound of a vacuum through an open window. The front door was open too, and the house looked so … empty.

It’s a house accustomed to being full. Full of childish voices, full of friends popping in and out, full of life.

I’ve spent many an hour there, visiting with other moms while children play. Talking long on the front steps after Bible study. Meeting in the driveway for walks and outings. Hurriedly dropping off my girls so I could rush off to work.

It’s weird how something so small—a friend moving to another neighbourhood not far away at all—can make you think so deep. And perhaps it’s because two little girls kept me up most of the night and I’m tired, or perhaps it’s because I’m naturally prone to emotion, but I got a little misty-eyed as I walked by that empty house today.

It seems kind of silly, right?

The same thing happened when my favourite neighbourhood shop closed down. There were many memories attached to that place—story times with the kids, long chats with the owner, hours spent browsing gently-used clothing. I choked up then too.

But maybe it’s not actually all that silly.

You see, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s not about buildings or places but community. The ability to create an atmosphere of community is a special gift.

I often feel like I need to get everything perfect before I can invite people into my heart space or into my home. I’m embarrassed by the grittiness of life. But in order for people to feel free to come as they are, I need to first be free to come as I am.

It’s something that both my friend-around-the-corner and my shop-owner friend have demonstrated beautifully. My friend’s house was more than a house. It was a hub. Same with the little neighbourhood shop. There was nothing fake about their hospitality. By inviting you into their space, they invited you to live life alongside them. No excuses, no pretenses. Come as you are.

Although it has been a while since I’ve wandered over to my friend’s house, that community atmosphere is something that I’ll miss having just around the corner and something that I need to be better at creating in my own home.

If we’re honest, in a world of Instagram filters and Facebook highlights, it’s something that many of us probably need to be better at. We need to worry less about perfection and focus more on simply loving others where they’re at—and where we’re at.

So my goal this summer?

To provide a haven for the broken, the whole and everyone in between. To pretend less and love more. To open my heart space and my home space, and to offer the gift of gritty, come-as-we-are hospitality—the gift of community.

Will you join me?

 

The Importance of the Small

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Everyone was so out of sorts this morning that we almost didn’t go. It’s Wednesday, and we hadn’t been hiking yet this week – and if you know even a little about us, you know how strange that is. But the temperatures some days have been past the uncomfortable mark … and with three littles, well, you know.

Sometimes, I’m just not brave enough.

It was cool this morning, however. Cool and refreshing. And perhaps because everyone was so tired and cross, I packed the girls in the car and headed over to a local trail head.

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The older girls carried snacks, water and their nature journals in matching pink backpacks. They held hands and chatted happily as they set off down the trail. I followed behind more slowly, my youngest toddling by my side.

I used to sometimes get envious of other people’s big moments in life – big vacations, big accomplishments, big promotions. But these last two years as a stay-at-home mom have taught me something important: As wonderful as big things are, there is so much joy to be found in the little things.

blog0000RSCN9956We get so busy chasing after the big things that we often forget to stoop low and wonder at small. The intricately created insect scurrying across a leaf, for example. The butterfly sipping nectar from a wildflower. The deer hiding in the forest clearing.

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We need to slow down, breathe and just be grateful.

Life is a gift. No matter how hard it is and no matter how much we sometimes want to give up, it is a gift. Each moment is given to us by a God who loves us more deeply than we could ever imagine. And when we hurry from one big thing to the next big thing? We miss millions of little love-wrapped moments.

So let’s pause and look around sometimes.

And let’s be grateful for the small.

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Evening Meanderings

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The day is long. They often are. Being home with my girls—homeschooling them—is a huge privilege. And yet, I have to be honest.

It’s hard.

I don’t often admit that. I try to make it look easy. The truth is, as much as I love it, this is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Things worth doing usually are.

Today is particularly trying. I meet opposition at every turn and I’m exhausted.

My husband arrives home just the girls are finishing dinner, and I am out the door in a flash. I push aside a twinge of guilt—the niggling feeling that I should be doing something more meaningful with my time. I remind myself: You can’t give when you’re empty. Tonight, I’m empty. And besides, the whole reason I’m going out is to meet up with someone who can help.

And I know just where I’m going to find some uninterrupted time with Him.

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I park the car at the end of a gravel road. The sun is beginning to set and the woods are bathed in the early evening glow. I grab my camera and begin to walk. A narrow side trail leads through a bed of ferns and into the bush, and I carefully pick my way over protruding roots and rocks. At the end of the path, nestled in a small valley, is a stream.

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I crouch beside a fallen tree and watch gray field slugs feast on mushrooms. Some might find this repulsive, but I’m intrigued. I learn later that some slugs solely subsist on fungi during certain stages of their development. Nature is a fascinating thing.

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I go back to the main path, past the frog pond and towards the meadow. Another side trail leads to a bench overlooking the valley and the view leaves me breathless.

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A little further on, in another meadow, three deer eye me suspiciously. I stop to stare back. I’m in no hurry.

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As the sun slinks behind the horizon, dusk emerges bold. Something dark flaps low across the path. It lands on a branch and I peer through the thicket to see what it could be. An owl. I watch until it flies away.

The air fills with the yips and howls of coyotes—the music of the night. I slowly make my way back to the car, rested.

I’ve done what I’ve come here to do. I’ve met the One I’ve been seeking.

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These days, I often find myself scrambling over rocks, pushing my way through tall meadow grasses and wandering deep in the woods.  I often find myself needing this change of scenery—time away, just me and Jesus. No little feet creaking down the stairs when I’m trying to pray in the early morning. No demands or pressures. Just uninterrupted time with the One who can soothe away the frustrations of the day. Here, in nature, I see reflections of His glory. Here, He speaks to the deep places.

Through silken spider strands glistening in the sun, He whispers.

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Through the ebony jewelwing that rests on a cool, green leaf, He whispers.

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Through the forest carpeted with flowers, He whispers.

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Each of these things, a gift from a Father who longs to draw close. Each of these things, a whisper of love. Love expressed through beauty.

“For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:20)

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

I come home and my heart is full. I’ve met Jesus.

And I’m ready to give again.

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The First Hike of the Season

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The sky was completely cloudless and radiantly blue. And, although the air was chilly, the sun was warm on our faces as my friend and I set off down the rocky path that wound along the edge of the escarpment.

It was the first hike of the season. 

Vultures wheeled around us, so close at times that it seemed that we could touch them. Woodpeckers were hard at work tapping the trees. Chipmunks scurried through the underbrush.

And there was peace.

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We explored deep crevices in the rocks and found the ruins of an old farmhouse beside the trail. We climbed hills and slid through mud. And we paused every now and then and simply stood, wordless. This beauty, it touches the soul. 

I’ve been wrestling lately with significance. We only have one shot at this life, and I want so badly to do something and be someone that truly matters. Lately, I’ve been worrying so much about what I haven’t been doing, that I’ve forgotten something important.

But today, in the woods, I remembered.

It’s not who I am that matters. It’s who Jesus is – and who He is to me.

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The significance of creation is that its beauty reflects the glory of the Creator. I, too, am beautiful when I allow myself to reflect Him. 

Life is not about doing “big things”. It’s about reflecting Jesus well.  

It’s really quite simple.

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Today in the woods, beneath a vibrant blue sky, I remembered this. And there was peace.

 

Remembering Grandpa Ron

 

Life is a funny thing. You think that it will go on forever. That there will always be more time. Another chance.

But it doesn’t work that way.

It’s not even that I knew Grandpa Ron that well. He was my husband’s grandfather, after all. But for the last nine years, he was my grandfather too, in a way. That’s what happens when you get married. The other person’s family becomes your family.

Their Grandpa Ron becomes your Grandpa Ron.

I liked Grandpa Ron. He said whatever came to mind. In a world filled with platitudes, people like that are refreshing.

“I want to give you my dining set as a wedding gift,” he said one day. “My friends and I used to play cards at that big table. Every single friend who sat there has died.” His voice was matter-of-fact. “It’s yours if you want it.”

You see what I mean?

So now our family sits around that table. Every day. We eat there. Talk there. Pray there. Laugh there. Learn there. So much of life happens at the table.

On our wedding day, we went to a local waterfall to have our pictures taken. Across the way—in a parking lot we didn’t even know existed—a man was standing beside a car, watching us through binoculars.

That’s strange, we thought. We had a sneaky suspicion that it was Grandpa Ron. It sure looked an awful lot like him.

“Were you watching us get our photos taken? Why didn’t you just come over and join us?” we asked him later.

“I didn’t want to intrude,” he replied. Bless his heart. We would have loved it if he had come on over.

He used to stop by the house on occasion, with no warning whatsoever. Usually, he had a friend in tow. Usually, the house was a disaster. And usually, the kids were running around like crazed monkeys that had just escaped from the zoo. But he and his friend would sit and visit a while anyway.

I always liked it when they came.

One Christmas, he showed up with a beautiful, pale pink flower for my daughter. “I wanted to be the one to give Evelyn her first rose,” he said. “I thought it would be special.”

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And it was.

It has been over a year since Grandpa Ron’s last visit. I haven’t seen him at any family functions either since then. He moved into my in-law’s house two weeks ago, and I thought that we’d have the chance to visit much more often, once he settled in.

They found him the other morning on his knees beside his bed. He had slipped away in the early hours of the day.

Grandpa Ron didn’t want a funeral. He didn’t want any fuss. It’d cost too much, he reasoned.

But he deserves to be honoured.

So thank you, Grandpa Ron. Thank you for your big voice and your big smile. Thank you for the visits. Thank you for the gifts you brought. And thank you for the stories you told.

But, mostly, thank you for being you. We’ll always remember you.

You were loved.

Little Girl Dreams

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She drew this on her sixth birthday for a pastor. I’m not sure what made her think about India. We were learning about Japan and spent much of the day reading a missionary biography, in between receiving visitors and phone calls.

“When I grow up, I’m going to tell the world about Jesus,” she told me.

She’s a funny one, that kid. About once a month, she’ll pull out an old blue binder from the Thirty Days of Prayer for the Muslim World that we did back in June. “Mom, we need to pray for Muslims!” she’ll say. “They don’t know Jesus!”

On the hard days, when her strong little will clashes vehemently with mine, I sometimes lose sight of these things. Yet, with proper guidance, her feisty spirit will serve her well someday.

Right now, it can be exhausting.

We’re a lot alike, she and I. When I was little, I wanted to tell the world about Jesus too. I’ll never forget one day in Sunday school. I was four or five years old, not yet big enough for kids’ church.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” the teacher asked the class.

I stuck my hand up high. “A missionary,” I replied.

For some reason, among all my fuzzy memories of early childhood, this memory stands sharply clear. My parents had been missionaries. In Papua New Guinea, the year before I was born. I grew up seeing photos and hearing stories.

I grew up dreaming.

I don’t know what God has in store for my daughter. But, always, I want to encourage her to dream too.

“Maybe when you’re a teenager, we can start by going on some trips together,” I tell her. “Even if it’s just for a couple of weeks here and there.”

“I’d like that,” she says.

In the meantime, we’re focusing on sharing Jesus right where we are—in our own city and in our own neighbourhood. Because, the truth is, you don’t have to travel the world to be a missionary.

At home, where everything is familiar?

People need Jesus here too.