(Almost) Autumn Hikes and Room to Breathe

It’s almost autumn. The mid-afternoon sun is hot, and in the orchard, sleepy cows rest in the shade of an apple tree. Although the tree is old and gnarled, its leaves are still green and plump fruit hangs red. Near the fence, thistles are bursting with wisps of seed waiting to be caught in the breeze. A hawk rests on a fence post then startles when we come close to snap a picture.

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My husband takes my hand and the children run ahead of us, climbing tree stumps and shouting excitedly over berries and chipmunk holes and anything else that catches their fancy. The path splits and we swerve right so we can head through the cool of the forest to the creek.

In the woods, the girls have stopped at a patch of touch-me-nots. Some of the seed pods are fat and ripe, and through semi-translucent skins you can see black seeds inside. The slightest touch will cause the pods to explode and the seeds to fly every which way, eliciting peals of startled laughter from the children. It’s a game, one that results in a handful of tiny seeds to plant in the backyard at home.

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Past signs warning of giant hogweed, the stream splashes between muddy banks. A man is standing in the water. “Over there,” he points. “There’s a big fish. A salmon.” Only the dorsal fin can be seen, and as it cuts the surface, it seems autonomous, slithering back and forth like a speckled snake.

We take off our shoes and socks and wade into the cold water, our feet slipping on algae-covered rocks. I am the first to reach the fish. I forget that last year I lectured the girls at length about the importance of staying out of the water when the salmon are spawning. Heedlessly, I snap a photo then shriek as the salmon lunges towards me with a splash. In a moment, it is past me—upstream and out of sight.

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Out here, in the beauty of creation, I also forget that I’ve been wrestling with hard questions. Sometimes it feels like the closeness of the city closes my heart. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but when I’m outside exploring, the world seems right somehow. All these things—the trees, the thistles, the wildflowers, the salmon—they remind me of just how big God is.

“We need to get back,” my husband says all too soon. I want to stay here forever but he’s right. The way we hike, it will be a while before we get to the car. Sure enough, we stop to watch a green caterpillar munch on a leaf. At the fork in the trail, we spot a wild turkey beside the path. Tiptoeing, the girls and I try unsuccessfully to sneak close. It runs down the path and into the underbrush. We head over to the cows instead, and the girls feed them fistfuls of long grass through the fence.

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When we finally arrive back at the parking lot, I look through the assortment of wild things that have been stuffed inside my camera case: the touch-me-not seeds, three prickly wild cucumbers to dissect later, one round and sticky burr that my daughter wishes to examine under a microscope, and a beautiful striped feather, presumably from a turkey.

These treasures, they make me smile. They are signs of a heart-good day.

Gifts from a big, beautiful God.

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To the moms whose kids are grown…

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“Older women … are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:3-5, NIV)

I feel it acutely. There’s my mom, of course. She is an amazing, godly woman who is filled with the kind of wisdom that can only come from the years behind her. I’m lucky to have her. But other than that? There isn’t too much interaction between generations, much of the time.

Sometimes, I wonder if the lack of older mentors is the reason my generation—the generation of young parents—seems so lost. There are parenting books, of course. Online home management courses. Sermons and podcasts.

But few pour into us on a personal level.

We discuss it amongst each other—how to love our husbands, raise our children and manage our homes.

How to be self-controlled.

Pure.

Kind.

But there is something to be said for the wisdom that comes from long-life experience. Yes, we glean from those alongside us in the trenches, but we also desperately need those who have already fought our same battles and won.

(Or even lost. Because every scar tells a story.)

Last night, I drove 30 minutes down dark country roads to a complete stranger’s house. A friend had invited me. I parked on the street and stumbled up the driveway in the inky blackness, towards windows spilling warm light.

The woman who owned the house welcomed me graciously. Although her children are grown, she opens her home on a regular basis to younger homeschooling moms. Her heart—her beautiful heart—is to pour into the next generation.

Women from all over came—some drove longer distances than I did. She put out carafes of coffee, tea and dainty, floral cups. We packed into her living room to pray and learn together.

And she explained to each new, shy face how the Lord has called her to provide support, encouragement, and to live out Titus 2:3-5.

The Church needs people like this.

Older women, we need you.

We don’t always know how to say it, but we need you to open your lives to us. To open your homes to us. To offer advice. To come alongside us and tell us that we’ll make it through the hard days. To smile with us on the joy-filled days. To teach us what it means to be good wives and mothers.

You see, there’s a lot at stake.

Our families, yes. But according to Titus 2:5, how we manage our families and homes also affects people’s perception of the Word of God.

According to Titus 2:5, the gospel is at stake.

You, who are on the other side, have so much to offer.

And we, who are in the trenches, want to learn.

 

The Queen of Sparkle

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“Wow, Mommy! You look just like a queen in that apron!”

Most queens, I bet, spend their afternoons makeupless and covered in splatters of a homeschool science experiment gone awry, while scrubbing a sink full of dishes in an apron. And this, of course, was just a couple of hours after disposing of a mouse that the girls insisted had been up all night. Which was why he was sleeping so soundly. In the mousetrap.

Because there’s nothing like sleeping off an all-nighter in a five-star sticky-trap.

(I’ll spare you a photo.)

My husband is on another work trip, and it has been an adventure to say the least. It usually is. The girls miss him, so I’ve been working hard to add a little more sparkle to their week while he’s away.

On Monday, that meant packing up our schoolwork and trekking through the rain to the coffee shop down the street. The kids spread out their books on a large table in front of the huge windows and watched the downpour while cozily munching on treats and finishing all of their least favourite subjects in record time.

Donuts for the win.

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That evening, once everyone finished dinner, I moved the coffee table out of the living room and spread out a picnic blanket. The girls brought their pillows, blankets and stuffies downstairs and we watched a movie and ate ice cream.

Yesterday, we did our schoolwork on the living room floor and then played board games on the rug. When my husband heard about how much fun we’ve been having with the extra space, he texted to suggest that we get rid of the coffee table permanently.

My husband is a keeper. The coffee table is toast.

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Today, we made popcorn. And a volcano. I’m still picking pieces of plaster out of my hair and we haven’t even erupted it yet. But hey, nothing says sparkle like popcorn and plaster volcanoes, right?

Of course, all this extra pizzazz doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten impatient.

Or yelled once or twice.

Or locked myself in the bathroom.

Or hidden under a pile of blankets (on the bed that I forgot to make) while desperately praying that no one would find me. They did in all of 0.003 nanoseconds.

There have been sibling wars, spills and paint on the kitchen floor. The bathroom cupboard broke and there was that incident with the mouse. And my four-year old may or may not have called Grandma yesterday to ask if she could move there. But I think that’s all the more reason to search for ways to make each day a little more fun.

After all, it’s the queen’s job to make things sparkle and they’ve dubbed me the queen—apron and all. In true homeschool-mom style, the girls even made me a neon pink sentence-strip crown.

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So sparkle we shall.

Here’s hoping your week sparkles too.

xo

 

Do I Have What it Takes? Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom

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Image courtesy of FreeImages.com/Cynthia Turek

It was a full-blown tantrum. A messy outburst replete with yelling and tears.

I don’t act like a two-year old often, but when I do, I do it well.

I had been talking to my husband about homeschooling—about character, of all things. “I’m just not a good enough mom to do this!” I wailed. “How am I supposed to raise children who love Jesus when I make so many mistakes? I’m not the one for this job. We should send the kids back to Christian school as soon as we can.”

I had attended the first day of a local homeschooling conference and had come home feeling completely overwhelmed. The tears flowed and, with them, the accusations.

“Why can’t I be like the other homeschooling moms in the church—who have it all together?  What craziness made me think that I could ever do this?”

Then, in the middle of the storm inside, I remembered. There is an enemy of our souls who wants to attack us where we are weakest. He wants to fill us with doubt. If he can convince us that we’ll fail, we will simply give up, and we will never see the purposes of God fulfilled in our lives or in the lives of our children.

I stopped short and turned to my husband. “I’m so sorry. I need to pray.” As he and I spent the next few minutes taking authority over every lie and speaking the truth of God’s Word into our situation, a peace began to settle over my spirit. Still, I couldn’t completely shake the question: Do I have what it takes? 

The next day was the second day of our local homeschooling conference. Lord, speak to me today, my heart cried. I need deep-down reassurance. I need truth.

From the very first session, the Lord’s voice was loud and clear. The speaker, Louise House, was an older woman, a seasoned homeschooler with a curriculum distribution company—someone with years of wisdom to offer.

“Since Adam, there has never been another you,” she told us. “Your family is a rare jewel. God has ordained and given you the children that you have. He has placed you as their parents. It is not a mistake that He has brought you together as a family.”

I fought back tears. Oh how desperately I needed this reminder! When God knit my girls together in my womb, He knew what He was doing. He gave those children to me because He knew that I had something to offer those girls that no one else in all of history could offer!

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And then this: “God doesn’t look for people who have it all together. He called Noah to build a boat when Noah had never even seen a boat. If God calls you, He will make a way for you.”

Later that afternoon, Jonathan Lewis, editor of Home School Enrichment magazine, spoke about raising world-changers. “There are people we can’t reach that our children can reach,” he said. “Our children are arrows. We don’t launch an arrow into battle before it’s equipped, but once it has been prepared, we launch it. And when we shoot it out, it reaches places we can’t reach. Our children will go out and bring about God’s purposes in their own time and place.”

I’ve heard similar wording before—a word given to me many years ago, before I had even met the amazing man who I would one day wed: “You are a bow. … God is taking His time to prepare you. Someday, God will bring along the right guy and he will be a bow right next to you. And together, you will shoot people into the bulls-eye of the purposes of God for their lives.”

I had asked the Lord to speak to me, and there was no doubt that He was speaking, reminding me of my calling—my destiny. Life gets messy and I make mistakes. Lots of them. But walking shoulder to shoulder with my husband and raising our girls? I was born for this.

It’s so easy, as parents and as homeschoolers, to focus on all the ways that we fail our children every day. After all, there are many. But God has called us to this and He will enable us to grow, mature and succeed. As Louise House put it, “God knows what we need, how we can endure, and how to grow us to be more like Him. There is nothing beyond Him.”

Never have I been so encouraged.

When we walk in the will of the Lord and according to His Word, there is only one possible outcome, and that is to accomplish all that He has called us to do. You see, the question is not, “Do I have what it takes?” The question is, “Does He have what it takes?”

And the answer to that is a resounding YES!

Dear Mama who is Home with the Little Ones

 

 

 

Dear Mama

Dear Mama who is home with the little ones,

There is something I need to share, something on my heart. You see, I have little ones too. And, when you’re home with your little ones, there seems to be much to juggle and little time. There are meals to cook and piles of laundry and dust in the corners. There are bills to pay and schedules to manage. There are diapers to change and faces to wash. (If you’re homeschooling, there’s that too.)

And there are always little voices asking for a banana or a story or a hug.

There are many demands.

There are also people. And while most people are truly supportive, there is the odd voice that tells you that you’re doing it wrong. That because your contribution to the home isn’t monetary, it doesn’t really matter. That you’re wasting your life. That what you’re doing isn’t enough.

They probably mean well, but what it feels like they’re saying is that you aren’t enough.

And what do you do all day, anyway?

I feel it too. Last week, my children were especially trying and I was especially tired. I didn’t get enough accomplished. I was grumpy with guilt. And as much as I know that I’m called to this, part of me wanted to give up. So I did the only thing I could do. I took it to Jesus. Every messy little bit of it.

As I poured it all out, the Holy Spirit breathed words into my heart and, with the words, breathed peace.

It’s okay that this is challenging. You have permission to be tired. Grace is a soft pillow for tired hearts.

His words brought instant release.

Some days will be harder than others. Some months will be harder than others. Admitting that it’s hard doesn’t mean that you’re throwing in the towel. It just means that it’s hard.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

Being home with your little ones is important. But, although this season of life is short, for those of us who thrive on immediate incentives, it can be difficult to see the bigger picture. There are no breaks; there are few pats on the back; and there is no paycheck at the end of the week.

But there is an abundance of grace.

So, dear mama, if you’re tired? That’s okay.

Grace is a soft pillow for tired hearts.

Parents, You Need More Than a Dream

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Don’t you just love to dream? Over the weekend, my pastor talked about how children don’t put limitations on the dreams they have for their lives and neither should we. He’s right. But what really struck deep was my five-year old’s reaction.

“Mommy!” she leaned over and whispered earnestly. “It’s like how, when you were little, you wanted to be a teacher. And now you are!”

Although I’m not a school teacher (dreams change), in a sense, she’s correct. I do homeschool my children.

Her comment brought me back to a conversation we had about half a year ago. We were snuggled on the couch, talking about childhood dreams.

“When I was little, I wanted to be a writer and a teacher,” I told her.

“But now you can’t do those things,” she replied. “You have kids.”

“Being a mommy doesn’t mean that I can’t do those things.” I told her. “Right now, I’m doing those things. All of them. I write every day. I teach you girls. But being a mommy is my favourite thing of all.”

It hit me then and again this weekend. It’s important for our kids to see us dream. But it’s equally important for them to see us fulfill dreams. Telling our children that God has a plan for their lives rings hollow if we are not stepping out into the plan that He has for our own.

That doesn’t mean that everything we dream will come to pass. I knew a three-year old who dreamed of becoming a flying pig. It was hilariously sweet. Even as adults, there are some dreams that might be a little left field.

But God dreams? That’s a whole different story. When God gives us dreams, there are no limitations. There are no impossibilities.

Teaching was a God-dream. It didn’t unfold the way I thought it would when I was a child, but better. I love homeschooling my children, even if it is temporary. I love watching as new concepts click. I love their eagerness to learn about the world around them. I love finding teaching methods that complement their learning styles and unique personalities.

Writing was a God-dream. There are few things more satisfying than watching thoughts unfold on a page. As I’ve watched this little blog grow over the last few years, I’ve been humbled. I write because I need to but also because it’s my expression of worship. Some use their voices to glorify God. Some use instruments. I use my words.

I have other dreams, ones still unfulfilled. I dream of short-term mission trips. I dream of Africa—Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. I dream of seeing my children fulfill their God-dreams.

As they watch me fulfill mine.

I asked my 20-month old the other day, “Who has big plans for your life?”

“GOD!” she replied emphatically.

I need her to understand this. God has big plans for her. But even as I tell her that, I’m conscious that there are three little pairs of eyes watching to see if I really believe it’s true.

So, you see, what I do with my dreams is of the utmost importance. By walking into my destiny, I encourage my children to walk into theirs.

Remembrance Day Thoughts

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We will not take the present or the future for granted when we understand the price that was paid for it in the past.

A Lancaster bomber flew low overhead, black against the grey November sky. My children covered their ears as the strains of the national anthem were swallowed up by the plane’s roaring engine. The crowd in front of the old town hall was solemn. Even the youngest seemed to sense the importance of this moment.

Some might feel that my children are still too young to fully grasp the significance of Remembrance Day—and they are right. Still, we attend the annual ceremony when we can, even if my kids don’t get it yet. As they grow up, there are things I want them to understand.

We live in a great nation. I love Canada and I want my children to love Canada. I want them to be proud of who they are and where they live. I want them to enjoy their freedom to the fullest.

But I also want them to recognize that freedom isn’t free.

The blood of countless men and women has soaked the soil of battlefields all over the world. And those that survive war have to live with their memories of it. We live in peace because others have made a great sacrifice. I pray that, even at a young age, my children recognize the cost of freedom. It’s a spiritual principle that applies here: we will not take the present or the future for granted when we understand the price that was paid for it in the past.

I want my children to also understand that freedom needs to be maintained. Those who paid the price did not do it so that we could bury our heads in the sand. We’ve been handed a responsibility.

Every morning, we start our homeschool day by praying for our country and our leaders. It might seem insignificant, but it’s important. Whether we contend for our nation at home on our knees or step out into the political arena and engage in the discourse that shapes the policies of this land, we all have a role to play.

This is our nation, our freedom.

This morning, as we stood in front of the cenotaph and raised our voices to sing “O Canada”, I could hear my daughters’ voices blending in with the rest.

Together, we sang it. Our prayer. “God, keep our land glorious and free.” Amen to that.

And may we never forget.

Embracing Where You Are

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The sky was a brilliant blue streaked with wisps of white. As we walked through the forest, red and gold leaves gently fell around us.

“Look at that!” my daughter said, pointing to an old log. “It’s beautiful!”

The log was rotting and covered in fungus. We stooped low to examine it.

“Did you know that fungus helps break down the wood and turn it back into soil?” I remarked. “The soil is filled with nutrients, which gives the new trees good food so that they can grow tall and strong.”

“That is so cool!” My daughter’s enthusiasm makes me smile.

I love wandering through the woods with my girls—exploring new trails, watching the chipmunks and squirrels scurry around, and stopping to exclaim over the little details of nature.  Those moments are precious.

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And yet…

I wish so much that I could provide them with real adventures. The opportunity to travel and see the world. The opportunity to experience other climates and cultures. The chance to splash their feet in the ocean or climb the Eiffel Tower or watch fishermen on the Yangtze River.

So many dreams.

I have friends who have done some of those things—with their kids in tow. And I can’t help but feel a twinge of envy. It’s human nature to never be satisfied with your lot in life.

Right now, we need to scrimp and save so that my husband can get through college and I can be home with the girls. Is it always easy? No. But the greatest lesson that I can teach my children has nothing to do with having the nicest things or being able to travel the world.

It’s the ability to rest happily in the knowledge that, in this moment, God has us exactly where we need to be.

My contentment is a gift to my family. My children will not grow tall and strong in the soil of my discontent. My children will grow tall and strong in the soil of my surrender.

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When You Don’t Know How to Help

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The fans whir and the sounds of the city drift through the window. Two little heads are bent close over brand new sticker books.

“I’ll trade you my blue butterfly sticker for a yellow butterfly,” the older one says. “After, do you want to colour?”

They are so sweet, so innocent. They chat quietly as they close their books and pull out crayons and paper. Soon, they are immersed in a world of colourful, abstract drawings.

I sit on the couch listening to their soft voices as I read the news. Far away, on the other side of the world, little girls are being sold for $172 USD. And women and young girls are being handed out as prizes for memorizing the Koran. My stomach twists sick and I push back the anger that demands a voice.  This evil—I can’t fathom.

My daughters have packed up their crayons now. One is dancing while the other plays the harmonica.

This is what childhood should look like.

I feel guilty, sitting here watching my children play happily while so many other mothers and little girls face unimaginable horrors every day.

I don’t feel guilty for being safe. I feel guilty for being helpless. What can I do?

So I pray.

Fervent, passionate thought-prayers. God, save them—the women, the girls, the men that are selling them. Save them. Save this world from the evil that threatens to overwhelm. You’re bigger. Save them.

There are those who fight on the front lines. There are those who come behind them bringing aid. And there are those who stay home and fall to their knees.

The girls are working on a puzzle now—a wooden one with jungle animals.

And I am on my knees.

Motherhood: Creating Peace in Your Home

My chin rests on the crown of her head as she snuggles deep into my lap. She never used to be a snuggler, not even as a newborn. She would cry if you cradled her; she wanted to be upright and looking around. But now her lanky frame is curled up awkwardly in my arms and I treasure this moment.

“When I grow up, I want to be a doctor,” she says.

“That’s great! If you want to become a doctor, you can become one.” It’s true. This one’s as smart as a whip. “You’d be a very good doctor.”

She’s a little girl with big dreams. It brings back memories.

“When I was little, I wanted to be a writer and a teacher,” I tell her.

“But now you can’t do those things,” she replies matter-of-factly. “You have kids.”

Funny. I used to feel that way. Like somehow, I had to sacrifice my hopes, my dreams—my whole life—on the altar of motherhood.

I was wrong.

“Being a mommy doesn’t mean that I can’t do those things.” I need her to understand this. “Right now, I’m doing those things. All of them. I write every day. I teach you girls. But being a mommy is my favourite thing of all.”

She looks up at me and then wriggles in a little closer. “Being a kid with a mommy is my favourite thing of all.”

It’s moments like these ones that make it all worth it.

It seems strange now that there used to be this thing under the surface—my constant sense of failure—a roiling, bubbling volcano that would manifest itself in the ugliest of ways. Resentment. Everyone felt it. My oldest child had frequent tantrums. My middle child would quietly suck her thumb and twirl her hair into knots. My husband, who was in school full time, bore the burden of the home and was stressed to the max. And marriage was rocky.

But then, there was that moment—the moment in which my perspective changed completely. (If you missed that story, I shared it here.)

It has been almost a year since the big change, and the difference in our home is marked. My oldest has stopped throwing tantrums entirely. My middle child now only twirls her hair occasionally. My husband is much more relaxed and constantly tells me how much he appreciates the things that are done around the house. And as for our marriage, the truth is, I’m kind of crushing on him big time these days.

Even on the hard days, the peace that has flooded our home is incredible.

My daughter took me into the backyard today to show me the buds on the trees. As we were about to go back inside, we spotted a tiny snowdrop emerging from a bed of last year’s dead leaves. Although it looked fragile, it is strong enough to withstand the blustery spring winds and freezing April nights. My daughter smiled wide as we bent low and examined the bloom. It was beautiful.

I saw myself in that small white flower. A miraculous life emerging, bringing beauty into my family, into my home. I’m strong because the life that flows through my veins is strong—Christ’s beauty in me.

A friend once told me that, as a mom, you set the atmosphere of your home. I think she’s right. If there is unrest in you, you will bring unrest into your home. But if you are at peace, you will bring peace into your home.

Of course, there will always be circumstances—and other people’s attitudes and actions—that are out of your control. And you’re going to make mistakes. Lots of them.

But even in chaos, you bring beauty because Christ in you is beautiful.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity…” (Proverbs 31:25).

That, right there, is what motherhood is all about.

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