A week in December

Here we are, one week gone. A week of tree mornings, cookie making and eating, Christmas piano duets, concert prep and trying so hard so focus on school work when what we all want to do is make more cookies and wrap presents! Let the best time of the year begin!

But Christmas isn’t really magic. A string of lights, few candles, and Michael Buble in the background does not, in actuality, deliver us from our sin nature. Hardly. And so we find ourselves in the thick of attitudes and selfishness and Mama running on fumes and all of us in actuality needing Jesus.

And that, my friends, is what Christmas is about. It’s what the angels declared back then and the echo of that declaration still resounds: Jesus came to bring peace between us and a holy God. Through Him, we can find ourselves falling short of the glory of God and then repent, confess our sins, and enjoy fellowship with a loving Father.

So, if in the midst of trying so hard to make lovely memories you find yourself instead confronted with a mess of human nature, instead of yelling, “What’s wrong with you kids? Don’t you know this is supposed to be special??” — realize that this is it! This is why He came! We need Him and we can have Him in all His fullness. Pause. Guide hearts to prepare Him room, to usher Him in. Leave a few “magic” things undone and don’t worry about it so much. Turn, instead, to the miracle. That we, the people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light.

Amazing. It gets me every time. He saw my need — and became the answer.

*****


Christmas is here when the scent of nutmeg and butter fills the kitchen!


Plaid. Everywhere.


Tree. Such a beautiful tradition!


Concert night. 5,000 photos and we’ll settle for this one.


Still, still, still — you can hear the falling snow.

a morning’s rambling

I wish I had a picture from yesterday’s scene outside my windows — children bundled in all sorts of colors, laughing and tumbling after each other across the backyard, exploring every familiar corner because suddenly it was transformed and enchanting by our first real snow.

It is one of my favorite things to see, I’ve realized. A rainbow in the sky, peonies bursting into bloom, ocean’s swell crashing against rocks — all outdone by the joy and magic and brightness of a snowy playday. I could stand and watch forever.

I know it’s been said here in this little corner of the internet so many times, but my, how the days do fly by. I feel it in my soul as I manage this particular season of motherhood. There were so very many days when playing outdoors had to mean mittens and boots for me, too. Not so much anymore. They all run out to dress and play on their own and this year there’s a baby whose needs dictate my availability. It used to be that train tracks needed my expertise, and Candyland could only be played with my assistance. Piano practice required me to be standing nearby, and every single meal depended upon me.

That was an exhausting and demanding season that required so much prayer and Holy Spirit.

But just as I knew they would, those days flew by. There was a last time that Jameson needed me to lay near him as he drifted to sleep — and it was long, long ago. I did my best to be fully present and not wishing away any of those weary yet joy-filled days, and still

They go.

Now there are new demands with new joys to go along. There is the beginning of the craziness that is newborns + older children, a combination I’ve long marveled at and wondered at and have vague memories of my mother doing so well without missing a beat — but how?? My new favorite thing is laying in the dark nursing a baby to sleep (and drifting there myself!) and suddenly hearing tip-toe footsteps as Jameson quietly comes to let me know he’s home from whatever evening activity he had and to tell me how it was. He’s off doing his own thing more and more, but without me ever asking, he still comes to let me know how it all was. I know how that goes: there’s a security in knowing your mom knows.

*****

We are mapping out the next 45 days. Every one needs to count, as we approach the whirlwind of activity that is “the most wonderful time of the year.” I ask the kids each year what their favorite part of the Christmas season is, and while one might anticipate answers including parties and concerts and tree decorating and the like, the most consistent answer is, “I like all the cozy nights by the tree when you read stories and we’re together.” That is the most precious answer they could give, of course, and I am so blessed to know those quiet evenings have mattered so much — but oh, what a challenge as well. Those simple memories require one thing: TIME. Time at home, and not hurried and exhausted time at home, but slow and routine time at home. So like a tenacious guard I scan the calendar and count out the evenings and decide with determination that this many we will give, and the rest will be protected, given to them, my precious children who want nothing more than to hear a favorite book while gazing at a favorite ornament, surrounded by their favorite people.

And as I carefully map out school, cookie baking, outside commitments, shopping trips, prayerfully prioritizing, I am suddenly feeling like Elijah on Mount Carmel. As familiar as I may become with managing our days together, as skilled as I may get a figuring out what should fit where, there is an element to our days together that I am desperate for but cannot bring myself: the fire of the presence of God. So my prayer has been renewed with each glance at the calendar: Lord, would You visit our home. Engulf our hearts. This is meaningless without You. How silly is a stone-cold altar and untouched sacrifice. The whole point is You.

living life.

There is so much activity in the fall, isn’t there? After a summer that always feels full enough, I am suddenly launched into that same fullness, but with the addition of school for x number of kids, birthday parties, church routine in full swing, teaching CFA, field trips and fun trips and scrambling to be outside for one last hurrah — and all to the tune of shortening days.

This October seemed especially so, with every week requiring a planning strategy of its own, as I did my best to keep the essentials and be flexible with everything else. Some weeks or months or seasons are just like that. (Perhaps most are?) Our house has seemed extra-full, and that is my favorite kind of busyness.

But through it all, in it all, under it all, a sense of peace and provision and daily bread. Pressing needs that keep us all thinking about the faithfulness of God and praying in faith for His touch. We are busy each day but there’s also a unifying waiting, carrying happening in our hearts, down to Cecily. A text comes in with new numbers for Jack and we all stop, hearts in their eyes as they wait for new news. An email from the church prayer list with heavy news, and they all pause quietly, letting it sink in. A man they all know from church gets answers that aren’t answers from doctors, and they begin to ask for a miracle. And more. They are learning to carry one another’s burdens.

We are learning to do our chores well and to be more careful with math problems but we are learning far more.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it right, this thing called life, this task of raising up people. Most of the time I’m too busy just doing it these days, though, and have to cast even those cares on Him, trusting that He is my Shepherd and that He is their Shepherd, and He will lead us through every hill and valley.

*****

twelve; seasons; pray for Jack

This past Saturday, that adorable little boy turned 12. Twelve! There’s such a strange tangle of emotions as he grows, because I could just weep buckets of tears with sadness of the precious days I’ll never have again with a sweet first baby and a sparkly-eyed toddler and a helpful 5yo and every other day of this always-by-my-side firstborn’s life. And I most certainly would weep those buckets if I wasn’t so busy being filled with delight over the young man he is today, and how much enjoyment there is as his life unfolds.

He spent the morning of his twelfth birthday completely engrossed in writing and presenting a play with his siblings. This isn’t an everyday occurrence; most of his ideas these days have less pretend and fewer sisters involved. To say, then, that the younger set was in heaven would be an understatement. He couldn’t have planned a more special morning for them if he’d tried. What a blessing of a big brother!

Then an afternoon of playing some video games with William and two friends (oh, the hard decision of two friends! Whose idea was it to limit the birthdays in such a way? Oh yes, mine…) Ryan brought them into town for a couple of hours, and then we girls joined, carrying bags of gifts and picnic baskets of food and dishes, and of course, a chocolate cake! We closed the coffee shop a bit early and took it over: “Closed for a Private Party” — yup, that was us! Bagels and soda for the kids, salad and water for the grown ups. Gifts — such kind and thoughtful gifts those two friends gave! Again, the joy of watching young boys grow into thoughtful young men! — and voiced appreciation. Cake and milk.

Twelve.

And while it’s still just a warm-up to those [regularly regarded as infamous but difficult doesn’t need to mean bad] teen years, in our church and social circles, twelve is a pretty big milestone. Two days later, he scrambled through his dinner clean up and put on clean clothes and got himself ready for a first in our family: youth group at church. Ryan and I were one big jumble of emotion — in disbelief that we’re already here and wanting to put him back in kindergarten just one more time, and full of so much expectation for how God will meet him in these coming days.

So he joined this tribe of young men and women, and launched into a new season of life.

And in so doing, launched me, too. Here I go. Laugh-crying all the way.

Appropriately, his first night at youth, many of them wore their “Jack’s Army” t-shirts, a visible representation of their spiritual support of my nephew, Jackson Paladin. This morning, as the sun rose, so did my prayers for the nephew I love so dearly. Today that port he had installed on Monday will carry the first doses of chemotherapy to his body. This is hard for me to think about. This whole procedure of a bone marrow transplant has made me feel as I do when I’m boarding an airplane and everything in me is screaming to turn around and run from that little tiny plane that will bring feelings of claustrophobia. But there is nothing for it but to press forward, buckle in, and know that the destination is worth the difficulty between. And so this morning dawns with that same sensation of me wanting to bundle us all up and just run the other way — but no. Forward, resolute, and knowing that God is in this place. He will deliver and is delivering, as He stands guard over Jackson’s body every moment and speaks His nearness to His heart with every breath.

Pray for Jack, if you will. There is a great destination of health and strength awaiting him on the other side of this journey.

James and trials vs temptations

I’ve been getting a jump start on our fall study, slowly reading and re-reading chapter 1 of James on my own and with the kids.

It is reminding me of something I need a regular reminder of: trials and temptations are not one and the same.

That’s hard to feel when you’re in the middle of real life, though, because trials are rife with temptation. Whether it be a kid slogging through math and messing up your whole morning plan, or something far more serious, such as sickness and disease, trials bring with them a whole host of temptations that I am quick to fall headlong into.

I fall so quickly, in fact, that I end up confusing the issue at hand, and find myself saying, “The reason I’m exploding with anger every day is that my child is taking forever with their math work!” Or, “the reason I’m fearful and anxious is that this sickness is serious.”

Fortunately, those aren’t true statements. If they were, we wouldn’t be able to count trials as joy, would we? We’d be too busy losing our cool and cowering in fear to have anything like joy. No, the reason I am responding in a sinful way is that I’ve given into temptation. God wants to show me how to walk through the valleys of trials without tripping over every loose stone and falling into every chasm along the way. In the situation of slow math, He wants my sight clear enough that I can hear His wisdom for how to help and deal with my child in a constructive way. In the situation of sickness, He wants my heart free from suffocating fear and instead aware of His amazing power and the tender nearness of His presence.

The Holy Spirit wants to help sort out trial from temptation. We are not captive to our situation. When I say, “How can I have joy in this? I’m so afraid. I’m so angry. I’m so resentful. I’m so ____,” the Holy Spirit sheds light on my path and I discover that anger and fear and bitterness and whatever else were temptations I caved to — that I can also repent of, get free from, and then find my feet firmly on the path of righteousness once again.

This post, read a few years ago, articulated so well the things God had been showing me. Maybe you’ll enjoy it, too.

And totally unrelated: I love these people and am so thankful for spontaneous evenings out, enjoying sunsets.

a new start

The sun is rising. (Gloriously.) It’s Monday morning. The beginning of September.

All sorts of new happening here.

I don’t feel quite so new. I feel a bit more… old and tired and kind of wanting to go back to bed. But I’m watching this sunrise, this incredible thing that is still thrilling after thousands and thousands and thousands of times, and remember that each morning truly can be full of new because of the Spirit that lives in me.

Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

You can go ahead and put it on your calendar for this morning: “Be renewed by the Spirit of Christ.”

*****

Also new today: the official start of our school year. Fiona in kindergarten, joining the ranks of enrolled students. Jameson beginning 7th. I am definitely starting to feel less like I’m teaching one class with a bit of age variety and more like a one room schoolhouse.

We are doing some tried and true things that just seem to work for us. (An hour of Circle Time right after breakfast and morning chores. Going outside even if it’s -10. Reading out loud.) I am trying some new things. (More independence for the boys. A few points of structure in a more fluid day.) We’ll see how this all actually works once it gets off of my scribbled notes and fancier charts and into real life.

However all of those details go, what will work is being together, and learning, and growing in love for one another and for the Lord.

I was going to pray for our year last night and ask for His help, and suddenly felt so silly. Of course He’s going to help! So instead of requests, I just began to articulate thanksgiving in advance. There are some checks you can cash ahead of time. I can already know that He is going to do great things in our lives as we seek Him first this year.

So we will do:

Teaching Textbooks for the boys
BJU Math for the girls

BJU Spelling for Beatrice, William, and Jameson
BJU English for Beatrice, William, and Jameson
Explode the Code for Fiona
Cursive through Pictures for the boys
Getty-Dubay Italics for the girls
Typing for boys
Rotating the above throughout the week

Nature study for all, including reading, observing, and painting our findings.

A Literature-based study on the Underground Railroad for all. (And of course this is where I get most excited; who doesn’t love reading, writing, watching good films, and letting your heart be expanded as you grow in your understanding of people, good and bad?)

Piano, programming, letter-writing, tons of outdoor time, baking, personal and family devotions… We will have no trouble filling our days.

Those are the details and the tools I have at the ready. But the best part of this homeschool journey is being continually reminded by the Holy Spirit of the big picture, the overarching task of disciple-making. That vision is what my heart needs to be tied to, not these particular tools. So, while I’m very excited about the beautiful nature books in a basket and the crisp pages of the workbooks and how after Huck Finn is done I want to do a bunch of Shakespeare in our Circle Time, I’m not tied to those tools. (Remind me of this regularly.) Any one of them needs to be set aside happily should I find it is not helping to accomplish The Grand Plan.

Because ultimately, I am shaping hearts and investing truth and growing people, armed and equipped for their purpose here on earth.

*****

And so I am in over my head already, as anyone can see, on this fresh morning on Monday in September at the beginning of a school year. I don’t know what I’m doing, really, and the things I do know tell me that I am not equal to the task in and of myself.

But my eyes jump back a few verses and land on this:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. (2 Cor 4)

So happy Monday, happy School Year, happy New Morning. May you find yourself renewed and bursting with the treasure of His Spirit.