24 February 2015

Of Being Called Into His People

We're reading Acts now. Between mommy-ing four kids, cleaning the kitchen, Etsy orders, cleaning the kitchen, cooking dinners, bundling little ones for the snow, and cleaning the kitchen, I've been ducking into the book of Acts whenever I get a chance to just sit down for a moment. And it was worth every stolen minute and hour of just savoring it all, start to finish. The relevancy of this precious book to our world today was not lost on me.

As I read of Stephen detailing the Gospel, from nearly Creation to Christ, I longed to memorize his speech, so I, too, may be prepared to give an answer to those who ask about the hope I have. Following the death of this man of bold words, we read, "And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem . . . Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison" (Acts 8:1,3). And I cannot help but notice how similar these words sound to my own ears, accustomed to news from the Middle East of Brothers and Sisters taken in chains and enduring much worse than mere imprisonment, though relating to Stephen in their deaths.

And I am filled with hope.

Because we know how this persecution story - the one in which Saul plays his horrible part - ends.

We continue to read how he is surprised by a bright light and the voice of none other than Christ Himself on the road to continue in his work of persecution. And his heart is changed. Changed so drastically that he runs full force in the opposite direction - becoming one of the strongest voices in this movement he so opposed - against the people of the cross.

And all I can breathe is, "Do it again, Lord!"

Because only God, not politics, not retaliated violence, not even witnessing believers, ONLY GOD can so thoroughly change the hearts of those dead-set against His Way.

And God then sends Saul/Paul to the Gentiles "to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:18) - because who better to tell others about this life-changing Man than one whose life was so drastically changed?

And all I can think is, "Do it again, Lord!"

Change the heart of this "chosen leader" bringing death upon Your followers to one turning hearts from Darkness to Light.

Do it again, Lord!

And there are those working alongside and in partnership with Paul, proclaiming Jesus in boldness even among those who wish them harm and plot their deaths, yet they will not be persuaded.

Do it again, Lord!

And there is Paul, before the tribune, about to be flogged, yet again, for daring to stand in opposition to Jewish leaders who stand in opposition to the Resurrection, revealing his Roman citizenship and there is great fear by those carrying out this judgment against him, "The tribune answered, 'I bought this citizenship for a large sum,' Paul said, 'But I am a citizen by birth.'" (Acts 22:28).

And have we not, now, been born into a much greater citizenship than any on earth? We are citizens of Heaven! What can man do to us?!

"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24)

Do it in us, Lord!

Yes, in us, who are Gentiles, to whom this book of Acts - following an Old Testament and Gospels of Christ brimming with foreshadowing of the coming salvation to us, those not born of blood into His people, but now born of Blood into His people - is as precious as that promise to Abraham, to those who would be called His. This book that declares, over and over, of the salvation that has come for ALL people - even us.

Where for the first time, it is declared by those proclaiming his name, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:18)

Those who emphatically repeat, "For the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:17), who recognize that "we [the Jews] believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they [the Gentiles] will" (15:11), "that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each of us" (17:27).

So beautiful is this Light for Revelation to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32) - how great the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.

And, we His people, dared to speak with boldness this Truth, "for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).

And He, our God, changing hearts we cannot even fathom to be able to be changed.

Do it again, Lord!

21 February 2015

Of What Was Lost

It was a year ago. A bright, sunny Saturday, just like this one. I was waddling around with a burgeoning, burdensome belly, our house had just sold and my mother was in town awaiting the arrival of our new little one. Life was hectic, but good.

We were enjoying a mother-daughter day - lunch and then antique shopping. Mom ran back into a store to snag a treasured surprise - a beautiful lamp for our new nursery. I checked my phone as it buzzed with a text.

"Dad asked us to pray for Angela. They lost Maverick today."

I had just seen my cousin-in-law, the one whose name I inherited as a wedding gift, post on Facebook the day before - that adorable baby boy, only three months old, wearing the tiara his sister had placed on his head. There was no indication anything was wrong - no sickness, no birth defects, nothing that had ever raised a red flag or indicated this beautiful boy would leave this world early.

Lost him?

Like how? Like they went to the mall and mis-placed him? Because, really, they couldn't mean the other kind of lose. The kind of lose that refers to someone fighting a long battle or a foreseen ending.

My mother emerged from the store, prize in hand. Distraught, I scoured Facebook for anything that could explain this to me.

"If he's only three months old," she reasoned, "I don't think he could have wandered off . . ." my mom gently tried to prepare me for the most obvious conclusion.

But I wasn't ready to accept it. Especially not without details. I would continue to hope there was simply a misunderstanding. That there would be more photos to come and this was just a small glitch that would be ironed out.

Because there was no way that a little girl on the other side of the state had "lost" her Bubba. Or that this bright, beautiful day, the kind of day that just makes you want to get outside and glory in living, could hold anything other than that - living.

But it did.

And our hearts grieved. Grieved for a little boy we'd met only once, his tiny little body curled against his mother - I'll hold him another time, I had thought that day. I sobbed. For a mother I'd seen casually at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's - brief visits, ones where we watch the kids play and don't do much talking of our own. The one who shared my name and now shares my heart.

A year later, my heart continues to grieve. Timehop can be a treasure and a torture - and re-living those beautiful moments is such joyful sorrow. Joy for the life that was - waves of sorrow for the life that was "lost."

So today, this weekend, and, really, every time I savor the laughter of my own sweet little one, I remember. I remember Maverick. And I pray. I pray for those who held him in their arms - whose arms will ever be void of that little lucky charm.

His tiny life has forever touched ours.

12 February 2015

Of Yet Another Birthday

I had a friend tell me recently she greatly anticipates my posts on my kids' birthdays. I didn't even realize it was a thing I had done consistently, but looking back at my posts from February 12 (from 2014 and 2013 - even this one from the day before his first birthday!), sure enough. So, there's nothing like a newfound pressure of knowing someone is anticipating this post, but I'll do what I can.

Sure enough, it's been three years. And I don't even know where to start. Because reading those past birthday posts, I'd have to say, yep, he's pretty much the same.

He's still our little trouble-maker with the cutest face that gets us all in trouble. Because it's hard to be frustrated with a kid that looks up at you with big eyes and says, "I want to 'nuggle with you," even though he should be in bed. And that giggle - don't even get me started on that precious giggle that digs right down from his gut.

It's true what they say, about every child being different. And this guy, he's our tough one. Or maybe our laidback one - the one that takes what life gives him and just lets it slide. He's happy with what he's been given and rolls with the punches. I've honestly never seen this kid throw a tantrum and he only gets downright angry if a sibling is being unfair to him or if he's being disciplined for one of his many mischievous antics.

He says silly things just to watch us giggle and he covers his face when he knows he's being ridiculous. He has a strong shy streak that causes him to shut down if a stranger asks a question (not necessarily a bad quality), and, when he does so, very little will coax him out. Because once he's made a decision, he sticks with it. If he begs for dessert and then decides he's done two bites in, no amount of reverse pyschology will convince him otherwise. I taunt him by pretending to take a bite, and he shoves it right toward me, as if to say, "You go ahead. I said I'm done and I'm done."

He is our first easy potty trainer. I hesitated to ever announce we had started the process with him, because for his siblings, it seemed it never ended. In fact, he keeps his nap-time diaper clean and dry while his older brother still couldn't care less. And every time, I want to give him the biggest hug ever, because potty training has been the most horrible battle of my parenting career.

This kid is going to be a star at life - because when he has decided to succeed at something, he will do so. We have a challenge ahead of us to funnel that determined spirit in the right direction, but I look forward to seeing where it takes him.

As I "nuggled" with our little Joseph this evening after the lights were out - a rare treat for the birthday boy - I marveled at his tiny, yet big little body. This boy, this growing little person, came from my womb. He would not have existed were it not for the love between his daddy and I - he was shaped and formed in my own body and it is our privilege to raise him - to care for him, kiss his owies, snuggle his sweet face and tickle his little belly.

There's no greater reason to celebrate than that.

05 February 2015

Of Being Where He Wants Me

For the past seven and a half years, I have attended a weekly women's Bible Study. As I look around the beautiful faces in the room, I notice that in the past seven and a half years I have seen many amazing women come and go. I have enjoyed deep conversation with a small room of women and a large gathering. It has grown, shrunk and then surged again. In the past seven and a half years, only I remain, along with our beautiful, fearless leader, of all the women I first met, who first welcomed me into the fold when I was the lone young newlywed.

It has been a fun journey through pregnancies and babies and average life changes - for me. The others who have come and gone (and come back again!) have had maybe more ups and downs. It's a regular weekly meeting I wouldn't dream of missing unless absolutely necessary. It's my time for adult conversation, yummy food and a little girl talk.

But this past semester has completely wrecked me.

I've mentioned before, we are steadily pushing along through a book titled 66 Love Letters by Dr. Larry Crabb. I'm not gonna lie, it's been hard at times. And I don't always agree with how the author presents things, but I remind myself he is only the tour guide - he's not the curator and most definitely not the artist - he has come to give clear, concise information about each work, though the final analysis and interpretation for the individual visitor is up to them. The works can speak to each individual on their own - and a meandering solo visit can most certainly be the most personal and wonderful way to see it all, but sometimes a guided tour helps to flesh things out just a little more. I know through this tour I'm digging out more than I ever had on my own - even when I don't agree with the author's particular assessment. It pushes me to dig more and read deeper than ever before.

When we began this book back in August, I was in the throes of depression. Life felt empty, tasks meaningless, and I was just done. I was exactly where He wanted me. He has systematically, through the course of  the first 39 books of His Word, weeded out the unfulfilling parts of my life, pointed out the ugly (though we're still working on eradicating that) and brought me to the brink. The end of the Old Testament - when everyone is seeing the true picture, that we can't do this God relationship on our own. We will never be good enough.

And I'm in a place I have never been before.

Where I can truly say nothing - nothing - in this life satisfies my desires. He has become my only source of joy. And it's not that nothing satisfies like Him - it's honestly that nothing satisfies other than Him.

I've seen this most clearly in the past couple weeks. I have had a few opportunities (including that precious Wednesday morning time) to just be with other ladies. These are the times I have so craved in the past. Late (late!) night chats at a retreat, a gathering of girls at a friends' house just to giggle and eat and be together, and those treasured 30 minutes before Bible Study begins - the time built into the schedule just for catching up. And over these past couple of weeks, I've walked away from these times I used to so anticipate and felt, just, disappointed. Unsatisfied. Because suddenly what I crave are moments in His word. The portion of Bible Study where we delve fully into Zechariah and rejoice in the hope revealed. Deep discussions of His goodness and what He's saying to us. Basking in the glory of the moments His Grace has appeared. These are what my soul desires.

And I'm exactly where He wants me.

Because now I want nothing more than to go Home. To be with Him. And He points out my selfishness. Because I am ready - but what about them. What about my children, my neighbors, or those millions of humans of New York. Are they ready? My selfish heart bursts - oh how I want them to know Him, too.

They need this Gospel - the one we're about to break open as we head into the New Testament portion of this journey - the portion my heart has eagerly awaited. And all I want to do is curl up and read it all, devour it - this life-changing message for all who would hear (all who would hear!). To soak it in, ready to bleed it out.

Yes, I'm exactly where He wants me.

02 February 2015

Of A Homeschooling Day in the Life - with a 6-year-old, 4-year-old, 2-year-old and 10-month-old

Because my brother accused me of making my homeschool seem like more than it was in our annual Christmas letter, and because a homeschool blog I subscribe to is in the middle of a "Day in the Life" series, and because I know a lot of moms who homeschool and some who are much intimidated by the process, and, finally, because I have many other friends and family who wonder just what we actually do every day, I have decided to jump right in, rip off the happy-homeschooling mask and give everyone a better picture of what homeschool in this house looks like - what it is and what it definitely is not (mostly, it's not just a reproduction of school at home).

Honestly, I have hestitated to talk about our "routine" (note the quotation marks and know that those indicate that word has no semblance of a literal definition in this house), even with other homeschooling moms, because sometimes it just feels like maybe we're failing over here. And by failing I mean failing to "do school," because, by the way our precious six-year-old flies through a library book, I certainly know we're not failing her, in particular.

I first want to indicate that I have waffled long and hard on how I even want school to look in this house. I recognize it looks different for everyone and it has taken me awhile to settle into how it needs to look for us. After much research, I really like the idea of "unschooling" and "interest-led learning" - meaning we do a lot of "school" by living - math as part of dinner-time conversations, science while playing in the backyard, YouTube videos when that curious little scientist needs to know how something is made, and family reading (lots and LOTS of reading) of both fiction and non-fiction.

At the same time, I like the idea of a curriculum. I like knowing what kinds of standards we need to be aiming for so our kids are more or less where they should be in their knowledge base, and ideas for areas where I lack creativity (which is a lot of areas). So, we have owned a curriculum the past two years (we use My Father's World and highly recommend it, particularly if you're wanting something that takes the guesswork out of planning - it's a really well-thought out curriculum with a great daily plan), and we've "followed" (remember what those marks meant up there? yeah, they still mean that here) the curriculum better this year than we did last year, but sometimes it's hard to stay motivated when the work gets tedious. Because I don't want my kids to dread school (which, to a certain extent, will happen for all kids at some point - even if it's just one day out of a hundred). So, yes, we have a curriculum but it's a guideline and a place for good resources more than anything.

And that was a lot of introduction, so let's move on.

Here is my day, more or less (and I'm cringing as I type this because I really am insecure about sharing how things go around here). Note that this is a big generality, clearly every day can vary greatly.

7am - My husband gives me a kiss on the cheek after getting ready for work, before heading downstairs to have personal time before heading to work. Most mornings these days I don't even feel it - I'm still dead asleep. Sometimes I feel it and think it's sweet and go back to sleep. Sometimes I feel it and think, "I really need to start getting up earlier . . . but not today." And then, on the REALLY rare occasion (like today!) I decide today is the day to start new habits and I actually wake up (woohoo!).
8am - This is when I actually wake up most days. Many times it's because I can hear the kids playing in their rooms. In our house the kids (all but the baby) stay in their rooms after waking up in the morning - they play together (sometimes happily, sometimes not so much) until Mommy tells them it's time to come out. In their rooms they have plenty of books, stuffed animals and puzzles. At times I feel bad that I'm "ignoring" them during this time, but we do have monitors and I'm right down the hall, so I know everything that's happening in there and the times I've gone in there to get them pretty quickly after they wake up, I've actually had them complain that I came too quickly. This is also the time of day where they do their most imaginative playing, which I enjoy hearing. While they play I spend my time "waking up" - checking e-mail and getting in computer time for things I need to get done on there, and sometimes reading my Bible (if I don't do it at this time, I generally do so at nap time). If the baby wakes up during this time, I'll nurse her while I do these things.
9:30am - I go see the kids in their room (whichever one they happen to be in), we talk about what we're going to do today and I try whatever method works that day for getting them to clean the mess they've created in the past hour and a half. Sometimes I stay in and help them, or at least oversee them, sometimes the baby chooses this time to wake up and I ask them to clean on their own (this does not typically go well as far as their productivity, but I still want to encourage them to learn to work even when I'm not there) while I feed her, other times I'll ask them to clean while I go make breakfast (see above parenthetical).

10am - Breakfast! When I finish my food, I read to them from one of our children's Bibles (we own The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Beginning Reader's Bible). While still at the table, we do our number of the day (usually two or three numbers at a time, because I'm often behind). If the baby wakes up during breakfast (notice a lot of variance on her actual sleep/wake schedule), I will go feed her while the others finish eating. They are then free to play or read on their own until I'm done feeding her (she doesn't actually eat if anyone else is in the room, so I have to do this in my room). Often if this happens I come out to find them all huddled around a book while the six-year-old reads. It's super sweet.

10:30am - The older two will empty the dishwasher while I clean up the kitchen or start a load of laundry. This is the time when there is the most variance in our daily schedule. Sometimes at this time we'll sit down and do a few pages from workbooks - the oldest works from her curriculum, the four-year-old will do a few pages from a dollar-store or garage sale workbook (because he wants to - I don't ever force him to at this age) and the two-year-old colors. Other times we'll play a game or do a fun group learning activity, or, if it's nice outside, I'll let them go outside to play. Still other times we do housework together - folding laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.

12pm - Husband comes home for lunch (love this!). We talk, and unwind a little before making lunch for everyone and then we all sit down together to eat before he has to head back to work.

1pm - This is a tricky hour because they nap at two, so I don't want to do anything big, but I don't want to give up on doing anything at all. Sometimes we finish up "schoolwork" or housework or they go back outside to play. Most days, though, I snuggle on the couch with them and read a giant stack of library books. That's my favorite.
2pm - Naptime. I read to them from a chapter book (we've been working our way through Little House on the Prairie) first and then I typically put a new CD in our six-year-old's tv (the tv is only for listening, we just didn't have another stereo - plus it has a remote, so it can be high enough they can't reach it, but she can still at least turn it on and off). She usually listens to audiobooks from the library during naptime and/or plays quietly by herself - reading books or playing with dolls in her room. The younger three are all supposed to sleep (though the four-year-old has been doing that less - he often ends up playing quietly in his bed). During this time I do any number of things - housework (if I'm feeling ambitious), computer time (I do a lot on my computer - sometimes it's productive, like meal planning and building my grocery/couponing list, sometimes it's YouTube and facebook), or my Bible Study.
4pm - I typically let our oldest come out of her room when I feel I've had enough "me" time or gotten the things done I needed to without distractions (so it could be earlier than this, or later). Sometimes she and I listen to Anne of Green Gables on my computer (I've never read it, either, so we listen to that one together) or do a little schoolwork (stuff I couldn't get done while the other three were distracting us) or she colors while I cook dinner.
5pm - Daddy comes home! The other three wake up when they're ready and come downstairs. Then we do whatever is scheduled for that evening - or just play together, or just survive until bedtime (let's be honest).

So, see? It doesn't look much like "school," but it's working somehow because our six-year-old can read and our four-year-old can write letters and is beginning to read. Both of them can work simple math problems and both ask a lot of really good questions about the world around them. They both have a really great working knowledge of the Bible and what we believe and all of them have great imaginations.

I don't worry too much about forcing them to do the worksheets they really don't want to do, because I figure they can learn it another way and they'll get it eventually - for example, my oldest used to HATE cutting and the curriculum, in order to give kids lots of practice, had a LOT of cutting and gluing words with pictures; I finally let her stop cutting and just write the words, even though she still hadn't mastered cutting a straight line. These days she is fantastic at cutting things out - it just came naturally eventually and I didn't have to force it. There are other things, the things I know she just needs to push through, that I do encourage her to finish, but if it seems like busy work to me, I don't push it.

Overall, we have a great time together (most of the time), learn a lot and savor these growing-up years.