Thankfulness

When Spring came this year, and with it a vastly different way of living, we were reminded of the beauty of simplicity and rest. Being forced to slow down offered us a chance to take inventory of the important and the superfluous. We learned that it’s often the little or commonplace things that usher in joy. We were reminded of the privilege of gathering with loved ones, and the importance of our health.

It’s October in Canada, and we have made it to fall—to Thanksgiving.

Fall at the lake.

Even now, as we move through autumn and head into the long winter months of anticipated isolation due to the second wave of a pandemic we hoped wouldn’t last, we can find things to be thankful for. Even when Thanksgiving looks vastly different from last year, we can— and we must—choose thankfulness. Not only now, but also as a habitual discipline throughout the year.

Sometimes, when in the thick of hardships or when there seems to be no end to a lengthy struggle, it’s difficult to find things to be grateful for. But I’d go as far as to say that’s when we most need to. Being thankful reminds us that though things may not look good, there is still good to be found. Being thankful reminds us that despite our fears and sorrows, there is still rest and beauty. Being thankful reminds us of the abundance of provision amid loss.

No season lasts forever. The leaves fall and are whisked away, the snow covers the earth and recedes, the flowers burst forth, and the blazing glory of summer returns. This too shall pass, along with whatever else you may be facing. Seasons of life, or the soul, are perpetually changing. That itself is something to be thankful for—to be hopeful for. That wherever you find yourself today, if you look around, even in a dark season, there is still something to be grateful for.

Thankful for my grandson.

This week, I was reminded of the fragility of life when my girlfriend suffered a heart attack and spent several worrisome days in the hospital. Although she will need to spend the next eight weeks resting at home, we are rejoicing that she is still with us. I also learned of the passing of a fellow homeschool mom who, two days ago, lost her life to an eight-year struggle with cancer. She and I are the same age, and she too has four children. These moments fill us with sorrow and remind us how often we take our life for granted.

We don’t know the number of days we are given, only God knows that, but we can choose a posture of thankfulness and live each one as a gift. I know that mother of four did as she learned of her condition and lived out her last months. And I know my friend is more thankful than ever to have been given the gift of more days… more time.

So now, even though we find ourselves in a season we didn’t ask for and have no control over, we can practice thankfulness. Though living through a pandemic isn’t what we expected if we spend our time and energy bemoaning it, we are effectively wasting our precious days—ones we can never recapture. Why would we purposely do that? Instead, let’s be thankful and see what beauty we can sew in the storm.

You may know how much I adore lists. Well, I’ve made a thankful list below, and I encourage you to make your own. Here it is.

15 things I’m thankful for:

1.      Morning coffee with my husband.

2.      Time spent with my kids.

3.      Supportive & loving family.

4.      Good food.

5.      Words woven to impart beauty & share stories.

6.      Second chances.

7.      Plants, flowers & gardens.

8.      The way the sun highlights the trees.

9.      The way the world smells & glistens after the rain.

10.   The songs & beauty of birds.

11.   The laughter of a baby.

12.   The feel of clean sheets.

13.   Birthday cake.

14.   Friendship.

15.   Grace.

There are more. But this is enough for today because today is my husband’s birthday and Thanksgiving, so I‘d better pay attention to the sweet gifts surrounding me. Soon, my kids will all be together under one roof. We’ve already had our traditional birthday cake breakfast and the turkey is in the oven. The cranberry sauce is made, and I’m about to make the stuffing. So, I better get going. I don’t want to miss this! Happy Thanksgiving! xo

Our family together for Thanksgiving!

“Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” ~ Psalm 90:12

Ingredients For Life

Tonight, while making dinner, I realized that following a recipe is a lot like our journey through life. At first, it can feel a little overwhelming, but we just have to begin. We gather what we have and lay it out on the table. We aren’t sure about the end result and realize we can’t do everything at once (even the best chefs can’t manage that). Instead, we move through it one step at a time. 

The recipe might display a picture of the finished dish, but we don’t have the luxury of knowing in advance how our time here will play out. Wouldn’t it be nice to know in advance the precise mixture to avoid missteps, eradicate fear, and create a perfect life? We may not be handed an exact recipe, but we do have some choices regarding which ingredients we use.

Some reach for ingredients like money, degrees, friendships, or pets. Others may seek out adventure, travel, hobbies, or volunteering. While these are wonderful spices to add to life, fragrant blessings to breathe in, they shouldn’t be all there is to the mixture. If they are, the recipe will be incomplete, void of the most needed ingredient.

All the friends, toys, or travel, all the goals reached or time given for a good cause can still leave us feeling empty. If not empty, our life may not be nearly as flavourful or nourishing as it could be. No person or passion can fully satisfy our hunger. Too often we leave out the critical ingredient to our life’s mixture.

We make all the plans, go to all the places, eat all the fancy foods, but disregard the One who created everything as far as the eye can see. In our flurry to consume all we can, we overlook the most important ingredient in the recipe for life—we overlook God. 

reading

We can never ingest enough of the world’s offerings, however decadent, to make us feel full. We may listen to all the epicurean gurus, devour every good thing, add all the spices, but our lives continue to taste bland. The truth is, we often don’t even know what’s missing until we add the most important One. Only then do we wonder how we could have gone on so long never experiencing this integral ingredient—relationship with God.

For me, knowing God made all the difference. He substituted some of the ingredients I was using making the mixture exceedingly better. Even with Him, I can’t manage to concoct a perfect life, but at least I have help and guidance on the journey. Connected to Him, my taste buds have changed. Many of the delicacies I used to enjoy no longer seem quite so sweet, but the important ones taste so much better. 

With Him, I have access to ingredients such as joy, peace, and love, and others such as patience, kindness, and compassion. He hasn’t given me a whole recipe card to follow, no step-by-step guide to the perfect life, but He has given me His Word, the Bible, which helps me to navigate life. He’s also promised to never leave me. His presence has been profoundly encouraging and comforting through the difficult bits. Mess-ups still occur, but He helps me to throw out the rotten stuff and start over.

At the end of my life, I trust that whatever God helped me make will be life-giving. That the things He was a part of will nourish others and give them strength for their journey. I know I will not get away with holding out my own concoctions, however exquisite or pleasing to the eye. The only hope in heaven I’ll have is Jesus, the One who God gave to preserve us forever with Him.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ~ Psalm 23:6

To All The Teachers and Students Heading Back to School

After six months of navigating COVID-19, and a sudden pivot to at-home learning last March, this week in Canada some are returning to school. There are a host of new rules being implemented, and I suspect this stirs up a diverse mixture of emotions in both students and teachers alike. It’s always a little anxiety-provoking when navigating unknowns.

I wanted to send along some encouragement to every teacher and student this fall, whether you are learning at home or in an actual classroom. This new normal may take some adjusting to and you may not get everything right. Things won’t be perfect, mistakes will be made, but despite the challenges I believe you will beautifully rise and adjust to the new circumstances.

At my daughter’s school, the children are required to wear masks all day and there are numerous new protocols. There is certain courage that is required amid all this change, both for the students and educators. It’s because of this, I wanted to write a few words in the form of a blessing to cheer you on.

Fall Blessing to Teachers and Students

This fall, as you navigate new circumstances, may you have all you need in every situation. May your mind and soul be still, free from worry and anxiety, and may you feel God’s presence and peace surrounding you amid any uncertainty. May you be enfolded by God’s love and care, knowing that He will never leave you or forsake you throughout anything you face.

When things are difficult and you feel discouraged, may you turn to God’s ever-open arms of comfort. When there is a decision to be made and you feel uncertain, may He give you much-needed wisdom and guidance. When you feel unsteady or make a misstep, may you feel His arms surrounding you and providing stability. When you feel confused or lost, may He help you navigate your way.

May you be filled with patience for those around you who, like you, are doing their best to navigate the newness and who may at times grow weary of it all. May you offer compassion and kindness to those in your midst and freely extend the grace we each so desperately need.

May you walk in God’s rich joy ever at your disposal. May any feelings of uncertainty or fear be replaced with poise and peace. May you have an overflow of each to give back to others, aiding them in their fearful moments. May you sprinkle hope—like well-watered seeds springing up all around—that yields rich deposits of beauty.

“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!” (1 Peter 4:8)

Bless you this fall, teachers, students, and home educators, and throughout your entire school year. May you stay healthy and well. Be assured that you have everything you need in Christ.

Peace to you,

Amen

P.S. And don’t forget to smile, great big enormous smiles, the kind that reaches your eyes so that despite those masks, those around you can see you’re smiling and be warmed! xo

To All of Us Who Are Charting Unknowns

The crickets are in full chorus, and, for me, that’s always a sure sign of the approach of fall.

In all its breathtaking beauty, pristine skies, and warm color, fall overtakes summertime, yet I struggle to say goodbye to our Canadian summer. With fading flowers, shorter days, and cooler nights, September will bring with it the new school year and the added challenges due to COVID.

We’ve already seen so much change and made so many adjustments. I’m amazed at our resiliency to face unknowns and navigate countless uncharted routes. How we’ve persevered and continued to try new things is remarkable. How we’ve kept going and reaching for our dreams despite uncertainty or loss is inspiring.

Stepping into new and unknown territory, or continuing forward on the current climb, can be unnerving. We want to know the route in advance, to have all the possible unknowns nailed down, to make sure we don’t get derailed. But in truth, we can’t and don’t have to. All the planning in the world can’t ensure a perfect outcome or ideal conditions.

Being courageous or trying new things doesn’t mean a lack of fear. It means treading forward onto new ground despite fear. It means with every step forward we tramp over fear until we have reached our destination. There may be some detours, some tough climbs, some falling rocks, but we stay the course, undaunted by the fallout.

Don’t be fooled. Trying new or hard things swings the door wide on fear, but what if we renegotiate our thought life and say that fear’s proximity signals we are on the right track? Its arrival means we are stretching ourselves and reaching and learning and growing. We are moving forward, conquering the rough bits, and refusing to atrophy.

Mistakes? Bring them on! They too need to be rewired in our thought process. Our brain will expand through missteps, and we will grow more sure-footed. Mistakes—or wilderness wandering—is often preparation for future treks. Through them, we learn to trust God more fully, we grow in wisdom, and gather more grip for the next hard thing. Wrapped in His forgiveness and grace, and increasing in confidence, we will lunge forward, like a cliff climber reaching upward to grasp the smallest rocky outcrop that seems almost out of reach.

Before we know it, we are challenging others to try hard things or to join us in ours. Then one bright day, we pause to check the map and discover how far we’ve come. We smile because at that moment we realize that although it wasn’t easy or perfect, we scaled the unknowns and arrived. It was worth the climb, and more than that, we are no longer the same as when we began. We are stronger and wiser, and our character has grown.

Somewhere along the journey, fear—overshadowed by courage—became a bystander.

My courageous step forward this fall is beginning to write my third book. Fear is lurking and eager to heap on discouragement. But I’m choosing to believe that it’s a signal I’m on the right track. I’m reaching and moving forward despite imperfections and unknowns. Each written word is a step forward in my climb, my journey, and I trust its completion will be worth the effort. After all, my word of the year is Fearless! And while that may not mean a complete lack of fear, I can definitely fear-less.

As you approach this fall, with its many unknowns and invitations to fear, be reminded that with every step forward, you are not only moving ahead, but also growing, learning, and developing. It’s not about the absence of fear, or fully controlling the conditions, it’s about taking one small and courageous step at a time and enjoying the view.

May you be enfolded by the grace and mercy of the Father, trusting that one glorious day all the twists and turns of your journey will make sense.

“The way we deal with uncertainty says a lot about whether Jesus is ahead of us leading or just behind us carrying our stuff.” ~ Bob Goff

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

Charming Dogs, Chasing Dreams & Changed Minds

Three months ago, during one of those talks about our future, my husband and I agreed that our 12-year-old Shih-poo, Angel, would be our last dog. Angel (aka mom’s shadow) is our second fur baby since we were married. Two of our kids chose this wee bundle after our not-so-wee Afghan Hound passed away.

Our Shih-poo, Angel, always beside me, seated here at the foot of my lounge chair.

Sheeba, our first “baby” pre-kids, loped and draped through twelve years of our lives. With utmost patience and delicacy, she endured three dribbling and babbling humans clutching and crawling over her. She remained a faithful and unwavering companion through several of their growing up years until one heart-wrenching day; she grew too tired for this world.

Our Afghan Hound, Sheeba, with 5-year-old Elanna.

Two months ago, our 11-year-old daughter, Keira, declared she wanted a dog of her own. I use the word “declared” loosely since Keira lays out ideas rather like one might a freshly washed sheet, unfurling it to let the air catch, then allowing its billows to softly settle before smoothing it, ironing out the wrinkles if necessary. There is no force to it. Just airy, unassuming precision.

Aware there could be some push back, Keira drafted a presentation on two sheets of colorful bristol board. She invited her dad (the only real opponent to her plan since I had caved to the dog suggestions early on and promptly joined the ranks of coercion) to sit on the couch to spell out the master plan. One sheet boldly depicted the word “Care” and the other “Cost”. Below each, she listed any possible objections or questions her father might conjure and the response to each.

One month ago (as cited on the master plan under “Cost”), Keira started Sweets & Treats, a bakery serving our neighborhood, and her chosen means to save up to purchase her puppy. The first week, she went door-to-door to ask if any of our neighbors would like to buy some baking. Things went surprisingly well. Word got out, and as other neighbors caught wind of what she was up to, they contributed to the cause. By the third and fourth week, she didn’t need to knock on doors since the orders were steadily arriving through her Sweets & Treats Instagram account.

Sugar cookies from Keira’s bakery, Sweets & Treats.

Two days ago, and two-thirds of the way to her goal, Keira, her dad, and I had the pleasure of spending an hour with the expectant mother, a 6-year-old Saluki. I doubt I need to describe the smile that had settled on Keira’s face as she stroked the smooth coat of the gentle dog who, after soundlessly greeting us at the door, had climbed up on the couch and curled up directly beside her. With its similarity to our Sheeba, Ralph and I instantly warmed to this sweet dog.

A picture worth a thousand words.

In that little courtyard, with the sun dancing through the leafy canopy and the long nose of the Saluki mother gently resting beside Keira’s leg, our hearts were warmed. There are moments in life where we glimpse heaven and wrapped in the calm, quiet beauty of this moment amid creation; this was one of them.

We drove away, our thoughts and conversation circling the visit with the Saluki. We talked of little else, both in the restaurant where we stopped to enjoy an outdoor lunch and on our drive home. I can’t help but thank our determined last-born for her subtle yet strong determination. A soft smile has replaced Ralph’s initial “no” at the first mention of another dog, and it’s fair to say that we are nearly as excited as Keira at the prospect of another member of our family.

The Saluki mother during our courtyard visit.

It’s a well-known, somewhat humorous phenomenon that dogs and their owners often resemble each other. In the case of Keira and the Saluki, the resemblance is uncanny—in appearance but also behavior—both exhibiting a peaceful and deliberate demeanor and subtle yet loyal affection for those she loves. Through Keira I am reminded that determination is an asset.

Sometimes a task, project, or dream seems difficult or impossible. We have no idea how we are going to achieve it, and those around us may be handing us a solid “no”. Our resources few, things may look bleak and our dreams far from reach. But have you noticed that when a person sets their sights on a goal, is determined to achieve it, and gladly shares their dreams with others, those around them see its merit and begin cheering them on?

If strangers delight to offer their encouragement to see you reach your goals or dreams, imagine how God gets behind your efforts. Nothing is impossible with God. Not the prayers of a young child for a dog of her own, or the whispered words of an adult asking their Father in heaven for a hand. He sees us in our need and delights to help us.

“Nothing is impossible with God.” ~ Luke 1:37

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” ~ Anatole France

Pep Talk for Creators

If you’re anything like me—and it seems most creators are—you have an innate need to create and are happiest when doing so, but it’s a consistent struggle to cultivate conditions and space to create.

Life is always creeping in, like weeds in an overgrown garden that threaten to strangle out the beauty and take over the fertile soil of creativity. Our job is to take back ground and wrestle out the rubble, to continue to uncover and propagate beauty—both for ourselves and others.

Our back garden crowded with Echinacea. One of my favourite places where I get to create beauty.

Like a weedless garden, perfect conditions are an illusion. It will never happen. But you already know that. There will always be handfuls of reasons to put off starting, real or perceived hedges that form barricades too tall to peer over. But the truth is that you just need to begin. Where you are. Right now. Today.

Though ideal conditions are imaginary, the struggle to create is real and you must garner courage and silence the inner critic. Take fear hostage and dump it in the corner for a timeout. Then wade through the weeds, jump the hedge and skip off to a quiet place to create.

What is it that you’ve been putting off?

Is it that novel you’ve been thinking of writing? That painting you have in your mind to create? The garden you’ve been dreaming about designing? What is that one thing you have been imagining? The idea or concept deeply embedded in your soul like a sacred seed yet to be birthed and watered?

Here is what I’d like you to do:

  1. Pick the one thing you’d like to create
  2. Choose a realistic deadline for its completion
  3. Break it down into manageable bits
  4. Schedule time (just like appointments) to do the steps needed to tackle it
  5. Tell someone that you are going to do it
  6. Start it
  7. Keep going
  8. Finish it

That list sounds simple enough, and it is. The hardest part may be #6 followed closely by #8. The only thing standing in the way of starting right now is you… and your thought life. Everything seems more difficult before beginning, but like a garden full of weeds you’re going to need to get dirty in order to unearth beauty.

We excavate all sorts of excuses. Things like: I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I don’t want to get dirty. I need more training. It might not turn out as well as I hope. It’s too big a task. So and so is more skilled at this. I may fail (whatever that means). Not to be insensitive, but who cares?

You create for you and if you’re fortunate, it may impact another soul for good—it usually does. But even if your creation remains between you and God and never sees the light of day, that’s enough.

At my book launch. There were times I wondered if my novel would ever be published.

I believe nothing in life is wasted. Even those things that seem futile or rather unpleasant at the time. These types of uphill climbs help us to grow more sure-footed and create fertile ground for wisdom and character—priceless treasures that no amount of money can buy. But I suspect a few other priceless things will happen if you start and finish your project…

  1. You will gain a sense of pride in its completion
  2. You will learn and improve for the next project
  3. You will have greater confidence from having reached your goal
  4. You will have enjoyed the process
  5. Your creation may bring joy, beauty, and hope to yourself and others

I’m cheering for you—cheering for myself too—in the midst of the weeds and towering hedges. Despite our fears and imperfect forms, I’m encouraging us to start. To stop putting off what we could be doing this moment, or directly after reading this blog!

Schedule time to show up for your craft, to show up for yourself. Pull out the paper, the clay, the canvas. Open up the instrument case, the computer case, or the suitcase. Tell fear it’s off duty… then create!

“…and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.”

Exodus 31:3-5

The Elusiveness of Rest

Why does rest seem such an illusive state to many of us? How is it that we somehow keep pushing ourselves, sometimes to our absolute limit, without even realizing it? Why do we feel guilty if we take a break? Why do we drive ourselves so ruthlessly?

For most of my adult life, rest was a foreign concept to me. In my late thirties, my chiropractor asked me what I do to relax. I looked at him blankly and couldn’t think of a single thing. My friends used to ask me what I did for “alone time” (since I homeschooled my kids), and I would respond with something to the effect that “alone time” is more a selfish, popular notion.

I constantly ran at full tilt, thoughtlessly adding more to my already overstuffed life. It seemed my yes’s were as prolific as my state of perpetual motion. It’s not surprising that at my breakneck speed, running was one of my great loves. My mantra was, “Why walk when you can run?”

Me crossing the finish line the Casino Niagara International Marathon in 2002. I ran my first long-distance race at ten years old and won and continued running and racing until 2006 when my back pain no longer allowed it.

There was never enough time in the day, and I would drop into bed at night, my brain full of all the things I had to do the next day while berating myself for those I hadn’t managed to accomplish—or not accomplish well enough. My to-do list regularly filled an 8 1/2 x 11 page! What an exhausting and chaotic way to live!

Fortunately for me, two things made a huge impact on my journey toward rest. One arrived about about thirteen years ago when my body rebelled and forced me to a literal standstill. The other was an intentional “Year of No” where I cleared my life of every single one of my commitments except those I needed to keep for family or friends. The first decision was forced on me, the other I chose as a result of how my life had so easily refilled a few years after the first.

Our front porch has become a favorite respite of mine. It’s where I enjoy my morning coffee and soak in the beauty of the waking day, the dew-soaked garden, and the chirping birds.

It’s humbling to ponder the reasons I chose to live my life at such a frenetic pace. I suppose for different personalities, the reasons we over-extend ourselves will look a little different, but perhaps there are some common threads, some of which you may recognize below.

A lot of my harried pace was linked to performance, striving, and people-pleasing. It wasn’t enough for me to take on a project or goal, I had to accomplish it to the absolute best of my ability. While there is nothing wrong with reaching for excellence, the way in which we do has much to say about our motives. Are we doing a project to garner accolades? Competing with others to be the best? Saying yes to please others? Constantly driving ourselves with unreasonable expectations or goals?

Lack of boundaries, saying yes without restraint, and not being intentional about taking time to rest lead to burnout. Some indicators of my maxed-out state were depression, anger, anxiety, resentment, forgetfulness, feeling overwhelmed, joylessness, and trouble falling asleep. Everything grew much more difficult. The smallest request felt like an enormous burden. Simple tasks such as answering an email took special effort and responding to friends attempting to choose a date to get together was daunting.

I’ve always loved plants and gardening, but during the years my life was over-stuffed, its upkeep became a chore and I had little time to sit and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

After my intentional “Year of No”, I discovered a sense of spaciousness in my life. This more balanced, simplified pace made room for stillness and space to recognize the beauty that was always present but which I had often overlooked. I began to appreciate the little things like sitting on my front porch, the first sips of my morning coffee, actually listening to the birds chirping, and enjoying my garden.

This uncluttered approach to life meant I could also more fully partake in the big things like time with my family and friends, and the found time to reach the goals and dreams I had often pushed aside for the sake of others’ demands and expectations. I was surprised to find that this slower pace was infinitely more fulfilling.

I learned that much of the striving and people-pleasing came from “fear of people” meaning that I cared too much about what others thought of me and drove myself in an effort to coax people to think well of me. The opposite of this is being secure in your identity, being present in truth, and loving others without abandoning yourself.

I’m slowly discovering what I should have known all along—I am loved by the One who made me, who loves me no matter how much I do or don’t do, and who is infinitely kinder to me than I am to myself. In Christ, I lack nothing and am fully accepted. In this, there is great security, peace, joy, and… rest.

It’s never easy to make room for rest and you may have to fight for it. It’s not a bad idea to schedule periods of rest into your day and into your calendar. Part of doing so ensures that you show up for yourself, are kinder to yourself, and are present and fully engaged in the parts of your life that really matter. If you’re not sure what those parts are, sit down and make a list of what is most important to you. Are you living in such a way that reflects the things that made the list? If not, adjust as necessary. Life is too short and too precious to not live intentionally!

Intentionally clearing space in my life created room to fully engage with my kids and ensure I don’t miss moments like these… swimming with my grandson.

“God loves you more in a moment than anyone could in a lifetime.” ~ Author Unknown

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. ” ~ Matthew 11:28

Kids Coming & Going

Is it just me, or do other parents feel their heartstrings yanked apart when their kids leave? I know I’m not the only mom to experience that definitive ache when a child leaves for university, or moves into their own place, or gets married. But what about the incidental visits? You know, the ones that last a few days or a few hours? Why even then does my heart feel hollow after they leave?

It could be the whole enneagram four thing… I feel EVERYTHING. A LOT. It could be that we homeschooled for a bunch of years and became rather close-knit. Or it could be that somehow, despite that we homeschooled that long, my kids and I still get along shockingly well. Whatever it is, the dragging feeling that arrives on their departure can be difficult to shake.

Keira enjoying the company of her big brother.

It happened again this week. Elanna had a few days off and came home for a visit, and Konnor dropped by after a hair appointment in town. Whenever the big kids stop by it warms my heart more than I ever thought possible, and I drop everything. When we were in the thick of homeschooling, I used to dream of all the things I would do once they were launched. Hours of writing, painting, gardening, and tea-drinking floated around the fringes of my thoughts about my future. But now, when they come home, all of the things that seemed so shiny, pale in significance.

At the height of COVID, I could have chosen to begin my next novel, painted several paintings, or spent time thoroughly beautifying the garden or further decluttering, but all I really wanted to do was drink in these precious, unexpected, live-in moments with my adult kids. I mean, when was this ever going to happen again, and why would I waste it locked in a room plucking away at my computer or sorting stuff when they were once again under our roof?

Front lawn visit with Elanna, Kurt, Mariana (not pictured), and Monty.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, about four years ago I embarked on a serious decluttering of my life, both my physical possessions and my use of time. The result was beautiful, wide-open space to breathe in all the blessings and truly soak in what mattered most to me—my family, my friends, and my God.

As if it were possible, COVID ushered in a further decluttering, an even fuller simplification of life. Despite the darker reason behind the need to make our lives smaller, we learned that we can do without many luxuries and still be okay. Our siphoned-down lives forced us to find beauty in simplicity and a slower pace. In our case, and maybe yours too, that more gentle period allowed precious time with each other.

One of the most beautiful feelings in the world, cuddling my grandbaby.

And so, between that extended, unanticipated ‘COVID’ regrouping of our family, and these sporadic visits, I find my heart sighing in its attempts to both embrace and release the comings and goings of my grown kids, like inhaling and exhaling without missing a breath. But in truth, hasn’t it always been this way at every stage of our kids’ lives? The gathering in and letting go to allow them to grow? And so, I find myself struggling to do so even now. My heart turned inside out with the welcoming embrace and tucked neatly right side ’round as they drive away.

I hazard that’s just how God feels about us. We show up for a time, have a chat, then go on our way. I can’t help but think that God is delighted with those visits, that they bring him such joy. That he gives us his undivided attention as he listens intently to all we have to tell him. That he anticipates the next time, and that his heart may somehow ache a bit when we are gone too long—like a parent longing for the presence of their child again.

Us grandparenting.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

~ Isaiah 49:15-16

Looking for some uplifting and romantic summer reading? Find my novel One More Tomorrow at: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

We Were Made For More Than Getting By

Although these past few months have been challenging, living with the colossal changes COVID-19 have brought, they have also offered us perspective. They have provided us with numerous opportunities to either recoil in fear or remain in faith. To succumb to turmoil or tread in trust. To bolster own reserves or receive respite. To grow callous or proffer kindness.

COVID-19 brought the unexpected blessing of having time with our grown children at the cottage. That also meant plenty of cuddle time with our new grandson.

In the enveloping waves of life’s storms, it’s easy to become fearful, tread harder, and grow weary. With water lapping at our ears, we cry out for help amid the deafening swells. We glimpse our safety and provisions sinking and attempt to salvage the loss. In our panic, we grab for flotation devices yet sometimes fail to grasp hold of the One who answers our cries and holds us secure through every storm.

Though the water surrounds us, and the swells threaten to swallow us alive, Christ encircles us with His intimate care and love. He makes a way in our hopelessness, our fearfulness, and our exhaustion by offering us his ever-extended hand. He believes we are worth rescuing.

You can see how thrilled I was to have had extra time time with our son Konnor…
…and our daughter Elanna.

We were made for so much more than drowning in adversity or garnering little gods of our own devising—manufactured forms of strength—to keep us afloat. Once we’ve felt the touch of His hand, the security of His love, the fullness of His mercy, the waves begin to recede. The storm of our inner turmoil is quelled. Faith folds around fear, and darkness is distilled as He stills the waves.

With Christ, we don’t merely weather the storm, we watch the waves of our anxiety shrink. We no longer clutch for the nearest aid, the various pacifiers we use to get us through, we firmly take hold of His help. We grow buoyant, floating in greater freedom, filling up with His peace, fixed in His love.

Our son, Kurtis, with our grandson Montgomery, enjoying some peaceful time on the porch.

The turbulent waves of fear, oppression, doubt, guilt, and shame are pressed to the side—held back—furnishing a path through the unknown, dark waters. Such things as lockdowns and limitations, disease and distancing, and finances and freedoms aren’t as daunting. Life’s disruptions are overtaken by the swells of God’s comfort, peace, love, and an increasing desire to serve others and choose joy despite the struggle.

It isn’t that our conditions have fully changed, it’s that our perspective has. And that’s often enough, isn’t it? The storms don’t always subside but can be stilled inside of us. Life in Christ isn’t a fix-all, but a life fixed in thankfulness, palms open to receive both sunsets and storms. Like a full intake of breath. A life drenched in grace and soaked with mercy.

Ralph and I out for a hike back in May. During these past 3 1/2 months, I have spent tons of time outdoors, running, walking, and hiking daily.

It’s a miraculous transformation—the result of a transfer. One life willing to suffer wreckage for countless others—Christ’s life in place of ours. His death a ransom that bought our freedom. May we not take it for granted, neither the love offer nor the invitation to live fearless, floating freely in the cresting waves of Christ’s love.

Whether pandemics or peace, storms or safe harbors, heartaches or hope, turbulence or triumphs, we can be assured that Christ is with us through it all, helping us do more than just get by. Helping us to instead reach for the more of which we were made.

Enjoying a walk today with my grandson, daughter-in-law, and daughter.

Blessings to you and your family as we weather this storm. Stay safe. You are loved. xo

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

To All Parents Who Found Themselves Homeschooling

It’s not every day that our kids come home from school for March Break and never return. With the swift arrival of COVID-19, our collective worlds were turned upside down. Teachers and parents quickly pivoted to learning at home. Now, three months, untold meltdowns, countless tears, and numerous naggings later, we’ve crossed the finish line! It wasn’t easy, but we did it! Or at least we survived!

Looking back on my prayer journals from 2010-2011, I came across several prayers I had written as a homeschool mom. Between reading the entries and recent chats with other moms, I realized that we could all use a little encouragement. At the end of this post, I’ve included an entry from my prayer journal and a link to a video where my daughters and I offer a few tips to both parents and kids about homeschooling.

Whether you’re a full-time homeschooling parent, or you were thrown into it this spring and are dreading the possibility of potential part-time homeschooling for the fall, here are a few thoughts from our eighteen years of homeschooling to quiet any fears of inadequacy or worries of how you might cope.

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On a hike with our three eldest, Kurtis, Konnor, and Elanna circa 2003.

The following is some practical advice that I hope proves helpful. I wanted to tear down some beliefs and dispel fears that may surround homeschooling and offer some benefits to the process. Yes, boundaries need to be in place, and I’ll highlight a few, but much beauty can occur as a result of schooling at home.

Beliefs

During the years we homeschooled, I often struggled with fearful thoughts about the process which had the propensity overshadow our experience. I often felt inadequate, like I could never quite do enough (as you’ll see in the excerpt from my journal below). I had vague thoughts that I was failing my kids in some way or another. Did all the other mom’s really have it all together?

Many nights I fell into bed exhausted from doing too many things. Running the day over in my mind, instead of celebrating what we had accomplished, I bemoaned the ways I felt I had fallen short that day or the things that remained incomplete. I worried my kids wouldn’t know all they needed to know.

Years later, I see that I didn’t need to worry, and you don’t either. It is unlikely your kids will fall behind learning at home. Their education isn’t composed merely of the things they learn during this time. Learning is a life-long endeavor. You have the unique opportunity to model learning and curiosity not just for now—or for grades—but for their lifetime.

During the years we homeschooled, I was often asked about the socialization of my kids. Wasn’t I worried they wouldn’t be adequately socialized? If my idea of the socialization of a person was based solely on peer socialization, I should have been concerned. But homeschooling afforded my kids the opportunity to engage more fully with all different types of people and all different age levels.

Occasionally, I was asked if I had a teaching degree. I did not, but I do have a university degree—not to say that you need one to teach your children. If you are committed to the process and foster and facilitate a healthy learning environment, they will learn. You have strengths, gifts, and skills to extend to your child’s education regardless of whether you have a Bachelor of Education.

Don’t expect perfection. Go easy on yourself and your kids. Be patient both with them and yourself. Allow for bumps and bruises. Talk about what you can do better when you or they make a mistake. Alter your mindset or attitude, if needed, and your kids will take your cue and rise to your expectations.

kids-snake
Discovering a snake.

Boundaries

While learning at home allows for fun and flexibility, it also requires some structure, routine, and boundaries. It’s helpful to start school at a set time each day, structuring in time for breaks and lunch, and an assigned ending time. Consider designating an area where most of the schooling takes place and remove as many distractions as possible. Setting clear expectations and an agreed-upon consequence for failing to meet those expectations is invaluable. Equally important is follow-through. This will prevent untold hours of infuriation and nagging.

Once you have clearly stated your expectations (consider making timelines for the completion of schoolwork), expect your child to deliver. If they don’t finish their work, first uncover why they haven’t. Were you unavailable for a time, or does your child’s schoolteacher have yet to reply to a question to finish? If they could have completed the work but chose not to, consider how to address that behavior.

Resist nagging. If you were clear on your instructions and expectations, and they could have completed the work, calmly inform them of the consequence. Consider asking your child’s opinion ahead of time what you should do if their work isn’t completed. Often their choices are harsher than you’d pick! If they don’t finish, when it comes time for play with friends or screen time, you can calmly say, “I’m sorry, I’d love to let you play but you chose not to finish your work.”

This works well for teens too but be sure to pick something that offers enough of an ouch-factor for that child. Then, whatever you do, don’t give in to begging! In this way, you help your kids learn the concept of reaping what they sow. In addition, you’ll be encouraging them to grow in self-discipline and gain responsibility for their choices.

Remain positive and hopeful. Avoid scolding or belittling, and gently correct undesirable behavior. You want to reach your child’s heart instead of training them to be a mere rule-follower. Whenever possible, use positive, encouraging words and praise your child when you notice a job well done or work completed in a timely manner. Celebrate mastery and milestones. Use sticker charts to track achievements, or rewards such as a special treat, a trip, or a party from time to time.

As you set boundaries, consider how your child will fill their free time, especially the amount you allot for screens and phones. It’s so easy to allow the extra time to be swallowed up on devices. Instead, schedule intentional pockets of screen time, such as during a break or for a limited time after school.

Benefits

Homeschooling holds the potential to create valuable memories and close family connections. By virtue of being together, you have the opportunity to connect and speak into your kids’ lives in a way you might not have otherwise had. Be intentional about how you use this gift of time and the things on which you choose to focus the most attention.

Time spent learning at home allows space to adjust to your kids’ needs and learning styles. In the elementary years, I found I could squeeze more out of our school day when I changed locations for different subjects. They sat at a desk for subjects such as Math, Writing, and Spelling. For Bible, History, and Reading, we would move to the couch. Science would happen at the kitchen counter, and crafts might take place on the floor or at a different table.

dad-kids-reading
Ralph reading to the kids at bedtime in 2003.

In the early years, during read-aloud, the kids would often sit on the couch snuggled beside me. If they wanted to play Lego while listening, I allowed for that, occasionally checking in for comprehension. I let them choose books of their choice for free-time reading, even if they were above or below their reading level. If a certain curriculum or method of teaching wasn’t working, I changed course and tried something new.

Since schoolwork can usually be completed more quickly at home than in a classroom, the extra time affords your kids room to deeply explore an interest. If you notice curiosity toward a subject, you might consider providing materials or equipment to further engage their intrigue.

Avoid taking over or forcing the continuation of a natural bent or interest. Doing so may cause them to reject their natural curiosity. The extra time at home offers a spacious environment to independently sample various interests for the sheer joy of learning without any pressure to succeed.

Don’t feel you must fill your kids’ schedule with countless activities or endless amounts of work. Boredom fuels creativity and allows quiet space to process and refuel. There’s no need to stimulate your child’s learning at every turn, which can exhaust them or make them anxious with the never-ending flow of work. Instead, make space for free time, independent decision making, creative projects, play, reading, and relaxing.

Take opportunities to learn on the go. Hands-on experience is priceless. Get outside. Go for a walk or hike in nature. Take field trips or have a picnic in the park. Our kids loved our family trips and dedicated time apart from structured study.

Beauty

The beauty of homeschooling is the ability to be flexible, the joy of learning together, the increased time as a family, simpler moments, and the capacity to a deep dive into interests.

When our kids were little, for our morning break I used to spread our teddy bear blanket on the floor and sit on it with them to enjoy milk and cookies. I loved the hours we spent cuddled up beside each other while reading picture books and then classic literature. Sometimes I played classical music or an audiobook during art. There was ample time for extra reading and creativity.

birthday-party-teens
My son Konnor’s 16th birthday party included his homeschool and public school friends, and his siblings. The fake cigarette my son, Kurtis, is holding was a prop from their homeschool co-op play!

To make life easier, I tried to choose activities that the three eldest kids could participate in at the same time such as swimming, skating, gymnastics, and music lessons. We met with a local homeschool group for soccer, baseball, cross-country running, and field trips. We joined a homeschool co-op and for many years enjoyed learning with other homeschoolers one day per week. We played learning games, made crafts, or cooked together. We also cleaned together each week and each child was responsible for a level of the house.

Once the three big kids graduated from homeschooling, our youngest and I continued homeschooling for one more year until she enrolled in a Christian private school. During that one-on-one time, we enjoyed lunchtime picnics at the park and occasionally set up a fort in the backyard where we read together. Another homeschool mom and took turns teaching a subject to one another’s child for a semester.

family-dock-Easter
Our family – Easter 2020.

What did I hope our kids would glean from our homeschooling journey? Apart from academics, I hoped to inspire intrinsic motivation, self-confidence, compassion for others, and a life-long love of learning. If they, in addition, carried fond memories of our time together, an understanding of God, and a secure knowledge of how entirely we love them, I had fulfilled what I set out to accomplish.

Whether you are a full-time homeschooler or schooling at home is temporary, there are untold ways to make this time as joyful and memorable as possible. Even though homeschooling requires much hard work and dedication, you will never regret the time you intentionally spent on your kids and the relationships that were strengthened as a result.

Click here to watch a video of my daughters and I offering tips and encouragement for homeschooling.

Prayer Journal Entry – May 2020

I see all the years of teaching, of asking them to write (even though they disliked it for so long and often moaned), of having them read great literature and reading aloud to them so much has definitely had an impact. I praise you Lord, because it is a joy for me to see what you have done in spite of all my inadequacies, and often lack of faith, that I was doing a good job—though always feeling it was never enough, good enough, or long enough. 

So could you, Lord, level the path before us and make your way clear [concerning homeschooling for highschool]. We need you. I desperately need your wisdom to do this. Show us the way. Help me to trust you (not look too far ahead), and go your way, not mine. I am very thankful for what you have done and are doing in their lives and mine. May they be a blessing to you (as you love them so much). May they know this intimately, deeply, thoroughly. 

Amen