Nels and I will have been married for TEN YEARS next spring.
I know that is not really a ton considering how many fabulous couples that we love who have celebrated so many years together, but at the same time it feels like a substantial number for us and a milestone! As it will coincide with my 30th birthday in the spring also, I have found myself in serious reflection/contemplation mode.
When I think back to where we were ten years ago, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with thankfulness for all that God has brought us through – good and bad. And I am thankful for all that he has taught me in my first decade as a wife and mother and homemaker.
I had very limited homemaking skills when we first moved into our teeny seminary apartment after our wedding. But God in his graciousness has taught me so much since then! I want to distill a few of my homemaking thoughts here, with other young wives in mind, hoping to encourage those who may be just setting out on this path that I have traveled on, mostly joyfully, for these ten years. I claim no expert status, but I have found some helpful things along the way…
1) Read Proverbs 31 for inspiration, not a guilt trip. You don’t have to “measure up” – you should feel inspired by her full and beautiful life, and remember that she was probably a much older woman when all of that glorious affirming text was written about her! Instead, be inspired by her meaningful, generous, world-changing impact! How are you like her? How could you become like her, in your own unique, Holy-Spirit-led way? One. step. at. a. time!
2) Know your personal priorities. There are days when you just can’t get everything done. In our earliest married years I was finishing college, raising babies and toddlers, keeping house and learning to cook while my husband worked multiple jobs and we served together in ministry. I knew that I couldn’t get everything on my overly-optimistic to-do list done, but I knew that my husband would overlook the carpet that I hadn’t vacuumed yet if there was dinner on the table and if our kids had been lovingly cared for. More could be overlooked if there was dessert. 😉 I love having a clean house, but it’s not always possible on a super-hectic day. Making my bed and having a tidy living room are my priorities on these days – it gives me so much peace!
3) Your worth has zero correlation with the number of loads of laundry you get done. Seriously. Zero. You’re okay.
4) Continue your education. Homemaking is a unique ‘career’ or ‘field’ and you don’t have a boss who is interested in your development, but you should be. Keep growing! Become the very best at your job that you can be. I’ll link to a few favorite resources at the bottom of this post.
5) Kill the comparison. As believers we ought to run our race to win! But it’s important to note that NO ONE else is in your heat. It’s all you. Glancing sideways will only puff up your pride or discourage your heart – neither of which will improve your homemaking or your life! Comparison is a trap, and only those without understanding enter into it…no one has the same kids, background, experience, paycheck, support or lack of, giving, etc that you do. Let your friends and family inspire you, but they are never to be your measure.
6) Play to your strengths. On a similar note, no one else will run a home just like you do. And that is awesome. None of us have to fit a certain mold. There is no perfect ideal or 50’s housewife standard. You are you, with unique skills and gifting and ideas! Let your strengths shine in your homemaking…and if you don’t know them, keep trying things and be patient with yourself as you build your skills. I have friends who have beautiful, fruitful, life-giving gardens for their own enjoyment and the feeding of their families plus their kids’ education! I know other people who have gorgeous, eclectic, thrifted wardrobes for themselves and their kids. Some people excel in baking or decor, photography, education, etc. Whatever it is, lean into that and rejoice that your life and your home gets to be unique to the glory of God! Your creative touch brings life to your home.
7) Meal planning schedules, etc. There are about a billion different ways to schedule your life, your cleaning, your meal plans. Keep trying different ways until you find what clicks for you. Here’s whats working for me right now:
Each day of the week has a theme, and I have a couple of options. For example, Tuesday is a chicken day. Rotisserie chicken, chicken enchiladas, and a couple of other “chicken” recipes are my options. Fridays are for grilling or homemade pizza. Mondays are pasta or main dish salad. I sit down on Sunday night and quickly pick one of my options for each day and then plug in the necessary ingredients to my shopping list. It’s fast and easy, simplified but not overly boring because I’m not too repetitive with the options. I learned this method from The Lazy Genius, and she is awesome with practical homemaking and life ideas.
8) Keep your stuff simplified. This is a big trend right now, but for really good reason. Especially when it comes to adding kids into your home life, keep the toys to a minimum. I find my peace quotient directly tied to how much ‘stuff’ chaos we have in our life at a given time. A rule of thumb for us is that if they can’t keep their things tidy or they cant pick up in a reasonable amount of time, they have too much. It sounds mean, but if you keep your kids toys minimal, you’ll actually be giving them a huge gift of peace, contentment, and more time to play outside instead of constantly cleaning up.
9) One goal per season. There are so many areas in life that we could grow in, but try to just zero in on one. For example, right now I’m working on my morning routine. Waking up earlier (aka going to bed on time), taking a walk, having my quiet time and being dressed before starting school. In some seasons I want to master a couple of recipes, spend more one-on-one time with the kids or get a couple of rooms organized. Just pick one major goal per season and keep plugging away.
10) Take a Sabbath. When your work is at home it’s really easy to feel like the work is just never-ending. But discipline yourself to have one day that is “off” for you, as much as can be. Maybe you still run a load of dishes (we’re not aiming for legalism, man!), but you also are free to let them wait for tomorrow, or to use paper. Make easy meals, have zero cleaning goals, and instead enjoy your family and extra time in God’s Word and go do something fun. You may not get a day off of being Mama when you have kids, but do what you can to embrace God’s gift for you of the Sabbath, and watch how it transforms your life and tranquility of spirit. Your soul needs filling up and your mind needs a break! This is a top priority! Don’t even look at your laundry piles today! You will return to your work with a renewed energy, joy and focus. Consider this your Mary day, when you linger at the feet of Jesus instead of being consumed by all the work that will always be there to do!
11) The Afternoon Peace. I have a daily mini-Sabbath that is life-giving for me. I love to have a morning quiet time, but it is short and often interrupted by little ones starting their day and needing Mama’s help. In our current season though we have about an hour and a half of afternoon naps/reading and it is my time for “mother culture”…when I had a baby keeping me up all night I would nap, but now that we are doing better, this is my time to be a growing human being. To read hard books, listen to sermons and podcasts, spend more time in the word or writing/journaling, or try new skills like hand-lettering. Sometimes it’s a quick work out. Whatever you do and whatever time of day it happens, do something to keep being human. Read the newspaper so you have something to talk to your husband or friends about. Light your favorite candle and make a cup of tea if you want to feel real fancy and nurtured. You nurture the soul of your husband (and your children if you have them), and you must soak up time with the Lord and grow as a person in order to have something to give.
12) You create the atmosphere. I hope your home is beautiful and comfortable and full of peace and grace. It goes so far beyond the physical elements, but it does include them. Pray for guidance as you set up and run your home, but ultimately know that your soul and its’ well-being and connection to the Holy Spirit is what fills your home up with the kind of atmosphere that tells your family and guests: Come on in. You are welcome here. You are safe, you are wanted, you can relax.
In this area, we can all be growing for the duration of our lives!
“The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career. ” – C.S. Lewis
For the Children’s Sake – Susan Schaeffer Macauley. A great starting place for considering what children need from their homes and education.
Large Family Logistics – Kim Brenneman. The title is somewhat unfortunate, because I think this is a tremendously helpful book for homemakers with families of any size! It has helped me so much and brought inspiration too…I wish I had read it very early on in my homemaking journey.
At Home with Sally & Friends Podcast – Sally Clarkson. I appreciate this podcast and Sally’s heart for home and family. She has a motherly voice, high ideals, and so much grace to offer. Check out her books too!
If I include my firstborn’s preschool and kindergarten years (and I do!), we are starting our FIFTH(!) year of home education this week! I am amazed and thankful about it.
It’s been a happy preparation for me this year, even more so than past years, even with it being a more challenging curriculum and the growing need for balancing my time between my 1st and 3rd graders and two preschoolers. Graciously, the Lord has led me to a philosophy of education (heavily influenced by Charlotte Mason and some traditional Christian classicism) that I am passionate about and find to be very biblical and inspiring, and he has led me to resources and provided for those resources that will assist in our educational goals for each of the grade levels.
I rely heavily on Ambleside Online‘s amazingly rich, robust, Charlotte Mason-model curriculum and it is the core of our studies. However, this is one of the first years that I have felt the confidence and freedom to allow that curriculum guide to serve me, rather than feeling myself a slave to it. Now, in years past I have loved using AO and maybe never truly felt subservient to it, but this year I happily cut and pasted what I will use and have had minimal anxiety about deviating from the book list when I think something will suit my learners and our home school better.
Ironically, I am probably following the heart of AO even more this year, having finally added in a timeline, more fully understanding narration and being committed to pre-reading our texts, but as I cut a few books and added a few others, I relished the freedom that I engaged – which has always been there, but seldom used – and it was a joyful thing to make it work for us.
For example, my son is doing Year 1 largely as written, but he will follow along in certain books with my daughter in Year 3. That will be more challenging but also better schedule-wise, so I dropped a book that we didn’t particularly enjoy when I taught 1st grade a few years ago.
Sarah MacKenzie says curriculum is not something we buy, it’s something we teach. I think that is a huge paradigm-shifting thought.
My obligation is to nourish the minds of my students, not to press through certain books or check certain boxes. Lord-willing I am introducing them to all that is good and true and beautiful, and helping to order their affections.
This year I have also had the least amount of spinning my wheels, second-guessing my curriculum. After starting out in this way and having read and studied various methods and philosophies, I love the certainty that I have found our niche.
While I have felt more secure in our path, I have also felt as dependent as ever on the Lord (and probably more!).
As much as I am no longer looking over my shoulder to see what everyone else is doing or if there is something better to try out – I sense ever increasingly how we labor in vain unless the Lord builds. I rely completely on the Holy Spirit for the vision and the execution of all of our plans. I have joy and courage in my dependence because I know how faithful He is and how He shows up for us!
So with that said, here’s a little bit about how I’m structuring our school this year! (I get a lot of questions about how to use Ambleside – Brandy Vencel has a simple explanation here!)…
Morning Time – I love Morning Time/Circle Time…we typically start the day all together, covering some of our most important, most fun and most-easy-to-skip subjects. I have planned for about an hour but I think we will spend more like 45 minutes on this (with little ones joining in while coloring, etc!). Bible-reading, Memory work, Hymns, Read-Aloud book, Church History, Spanish, Artist or Composer Study, Shakespeare, Poetry are some of the things we will cover (but not all of them every day!).
Daily Work – Every day my older two will have Copywork, Math Lessons, Math Drill and Piano Practice for their daily work. They can do some of this independently, at which point I will have a bit of designated time with my preschoolers.
Preschool Loop – The little ones join us for Morning Time and participate at age-appropriate levels, but each day I have a minimum of 20 minutes set aside to do some special school time with them.
For the first term we will loop through Counting, Alphabet/Letter Sounds, Reading, Workbooks and Art/Shapes/Colors. I may switch up their subjects for Terms 2 and 3.
Ambleside Readings & Narration – There are a couple of blocks throughout our days that are set aside for the assigned AO readings in Literature, History, Natural History, Science, Geography, etc.
Kaya will do some of her Y3 readings on her own this year so I will be pre-reading all of those texts each week so we can have more interesting discussions afterwards. I will be continuing Phonics lessons with Hudson and sharing the reading load with him for his Y1 studies.
The key for us with these readings is that the kids will be required to interact with the material and re-tell it in someway. Often this is a simple oral narration, sometimes its a drawing and oral narration, sometimes they will be mapping (Marco Polo’s journey for Y3!), and sometimes they will write about it or dictate to me and I will record their narration.
I’m currently reading (& loving) “Know and Tell” by Karen Glass to grow in this key area of a CM education!
Extras – There are several other subjects that are important but that won’t fit into our day, and so I’ve placed them on an afternoon loop. Drawing and Watercolors, Handicraft, Spanish, Geography, etc. Nature Study has it’s own block on the schedule (and on a nice day I don’t mind ditching our other plans for nature walk!), and so does Poetry Tea Time and our Keeping Hour (designated time for recording whatever important things they want to record on our timeline, extra things they want to draw in their nature journals, more time for drawing their narrations, etc.).
Here are some more of the details for our school year:
Picture Study – I love the portfolios from SCM. We will study 3 different artists this year. These don’t line up with the assigned artists from AO, but I appreciate the ease of using the SCM resources.
Reading – 100 Easy Lessons! Simple and straightforward. It has worked well for us.
Composer Study – deviating here from AO, using Music Study with the Masters from SCM. Ambleside has a lot of free resources and links online for Composer study, but since I don’t have internet at home it is easier for me to use CD’s and other resources.
Watercolors – I borrowed the book Everday Watercolor from the library and used it a bit over the summer and enjoyed it so I decided I wanted to buy it and try with the kids.
Drawing – I have used several different things for drawing but this year settled on the sweet and simple Dover “how to draw…” books. These are just simple line drawings, but it’s perfect for our current stage and interest. Many of these can be found at the local library, but they are only $3.99 on Amazon. We’re starting with “How to Draw Flowers” and I know the kids will enjoy “How to Draw Insects” next.
Maps – There are free printable maps online through the Ambleside forum.
Apologia Astronomy looks incredible (although rather pricey!). I love the idea of learning the skies, one of the original classical seven liberal arts. I decided not to throw it in just yet because of the expense and because I hate feeling like we have to rush through our school day when we are trying to do too much…if the schedule feels spacious and generous enough I may add this in later in the school year! Otherwise we will look forward to it next year. 🙂
My husband generously blessed us with a Kindle Fire this year for audiobooks and math fact practice for my older kiddos during quiet time and we are all excited about it!
It sounds a lot more complicated than it is…mostly I am just enjoying being a learner alongside my children, fostering a conversational atmosphere in our homeschool where we are always talking about what things mean, who God is, what is required of us, etc. It is challenging and it is a marathon, but it is so full of light and joy and I am learning and growing and finding myself more alive for engaging with the great books and ideas and new skills that we are encountering.
This passage from Pilgrim’s Progress has inspired my courage for this marathon:
“This hill, though high, I covet to ascend; the difficulty will not me offend. For I perceive the way to life lies here. Come, pluck up, heart; let’s neither faint nor fear. Better, though difficult, the right way to go, than wrong, though easy, where end is woe.”
I have great courage in this calling, because He who has called me is Faithful! He takes my small, imperfect offerings and He brings about a greater harvest than I could’ve dared to hope for. Glory to Him now and forever, Amen!
‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
‘And it shall be thateveryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
This is an incomplete, but already lengthy account of some of what we saw and did over a special week this summer in Guatemala…I am surely missing important bits, but if I keep working on this I will never get it shared, and so here it is…an imperfect account of a trip too big for words –
A bit over a year ago I felt a pressing urgency in my spirit, a need to pursue some missions work, and I felt led to take my oldest daughter (8 years old) with me to allow her to begin experiencing global ministry and the global church that God is growing. My husband encouraged me and began praying, and I mentioned this growing dream to my mom as well. We were talking about some potential options and my mom mentioned visiting Shane, our friend from Missouri who had opened an orphanage in Guatemala about 7 years earlier.
Shane had been a part of a ministry that profoundly impacted me as a teen and enlivened my faith. I reached out to him and began to gather some information about visiting Casa de mi Padre (My Father’s House) in the mountains of Guatemala. This dream and vision from the Lord began to grow, and alongside that my fears also began to grow. I was beginning to believe that we should take a team to serve with us, to get some of our friends and family involved, and the Lord began placing some names on my heart to invite. I felt as if my life would be simpler and easier if I would just put this idea to rest, but I also knew that it would be a kind of spiritual death if I tried to ignore this growing dream.
Just as the anxiety would build in my heart over the details, the expense, the maternal fears of traveling with my child, a Holy Spirit peace rose up to meet and overwhelm those thoughts. A few dear friends said “YES” to going with us, when I thought it would be such a long shot that would be able or want to go. My dad said “Yes” – his first mission trip! We gathered a team of 13 members, prayed for financial support, updated passports and started meeting and praying together, watching the Lord provide for every need, and gather a huge network of His people to encourage us, pray for us and send us!
It was more work than I anticipated – keeping dates and accounts and working with a diverse team of 13. More than that, I felt spiritually attacked profoundly for the entire year we worked on this project. Many sleepless nights were spent wrestling in prayer, and wishing I could undo everything. What have I done? Is it even worth it? There is a high price of obedience but everything has been returned to me, a hundredfold. Truly the Lord never takes anything from us except to fill up our hearts with more of Him.
Miraculously, somehow, it all came together. Two days before our trip, Shane contacted me with a list of some much-needed supplies. He knew it would be a long shot to be able to find them, afford them, and then fit them into our luggage for the trip to Guatemala. But the Lord had foreseen this need, and two families from our church had given last minute donations just a day before and I had had no idea what to do with it. Two phone calls later and I had two amazing team members shopping at Lowe’s and another willing to carry and pay for an extra bag! The airline waived the fees for our checked baggage at the last minute, so we brought that bag at no extra expense. God is so good! I believe He laughs at our ‘long shots’ and delights in surprising us, like the very best of Fathers! He makes no secret that he loves and cares for the orphans and I believe He made our path smooth several times specifially for their sake. He is the helper of the orphan, a father of the fatherless who makes a home for the lonely.
Everyone said, “You will fall in love with the kids,” and of course I knew that I would…but I had absolutely no idea how deep and full and instant that love would be, how I would feel like my heart would burst, nor had I any idea how profoundly the Lord would impact our team.
We woke just before 2am on Wednesday, July 18, to meet at the church for our bus ride to the airport. Check in and security went smoothly and we had no problems getting on our 6am flight to Atlanta. In Atlanta we found our connection rather easily but then had to sit on a hot, stuffy plane for over an hour as they attempted to make repairs to a tire and then a panel. Eventually they had us unload from that plane, wait for another hour at the gate, and then re-load onto a new plane, making us about 3 hours late in our arrival to Guatemala City. I felt awful being late (though it was out of our control!) and I had already thrown up due to motion sickness and was extremely tired from not sleeping for several nights before leaving. I was praying over and over, “God, help!”
You would never have guessed that our driver had endured a lengthy delay, because he greeted us so warmly and kindly in Guatemala City. We thought we would be meeting him for lunch, but instead we were all starving for dinner. After a quick Burger King meal in the capital city, we set out through rush hour traffic for our mountainous route up to Santa Cruz del Quiche.
I had been told we would have a 4 ½ hour bus ride from there, but in our paperwork I read that it was only 90 miles! What a relief! Wellllll….that “90 miles” must’ve been “as the crow flies…” because we were on that bus for a solid 5 hours, with a short stop at a beautiful Guatemalan restaurant about half-way up. The bus ride was beautiful and refreshing once we got out of the city traffic – the windows were open with cool mountain breezes blowing in, and my Dramamine was working it’s magic! All of us were taking in the sights – insane drivers all around, glorious natural scenery, signs of poverty, loads of cultural color and exciting things to take in, in every direction. We asked our driver a million questions as he navigated through hold-your-breath hairpin turns and wild mountain roads with steep drop offs. It was thrilling, and a little bit terrifying.
Our team of 13 – 6 women, 6 men and my 8 year old daughter – had met together several times, but seldom with the full 13. We had 7 different decades represented, ages 8-74. I wasn’t sure how everyone would get along, and we certainly didn’t always! But that bus ride was full of rioutous laughter and sweetness, and I felt the family bond we had in Christ already. There was a special joy granted to us as we worked as a family and team that week.
Rony, our driver, took us straight to the orphanage, though we were pulling in well after bed-time! The children greeted us as soon as we stepped off the bus by singing “it’s my father’s house” by Audio Adrenaline. They gave each of us a hug before they were sent to bed, and we were warmed to the heart, and ready to work hard serving these children!
We arrived to our guesthouse in the dark (we were actually in two separate guesthouses the first night, but moved to be all together after that), and so didn’t really get to take it in totally until the following morning. It was a concrete construction, like most structures in that part of the world – three bedrooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms, with a central courtyard. The roof was flat on top and had stairs up to it, and many of us enjoyed sneaking up there for our quiet times or just to enjoy the sunrise. The guesthouse was a mere couple of feet from a busy road with traffic at all hours that kept some of us awake at all hours too…but in the girls room with a loud fan and complete darkness we slept pretty decently! The razor-wire that wrapped the top of the walls was to keep us and our possessions safe, and while it was initially a bit of a concerning sight, it is so common in Guatemala (where theft is a major concern) that it became normal to me quickly.
We hit the ground running the next day, cooking three meals a day (two at the orphanage, for 18 children, our team of 13, plus various staff members and missionaries!) in a nice but still third-world kitchen without a dishwasher or hot water on tap, with slower cook times due to altitude. One day for lunch the ladies made 100 chicken quesadillas! It was quite a feat.
The men began their new routine for the week, heading out to the work site of the future Casa de mi Padre home, where they joined a team working hard to pour concrete in the new garage there. The work days were long and hard, and I think it was only love for the Lord and for the orphans that kept us all grinding! After 20 hours of travel and then working full and hard days, we were all pretty exhausted after the first 2 full days in-country. Somehow the Lord gave us grace to keep working, and to be loving and kind to one another even in our tiredness (and many of the men in quite a bit of pain).
Having lunch and dinner at the home and spending part of the evening at CDMP was gradually giving us opportunities to play with the children and get to know the staff better. The kids were in school, but arrived home around 1:30pm for lunch and the homework hour. We enjoyed their trampoline, playing basketball, soccer, exploring their orchard (pomegranates, avocados, bananas, oh my!), etc. We would work for the day, enjoy dinner and wash dishes (for.ev.er.) and then enjoy some evening time with the kids. One day a couple of us painted one of the boys’ bedrooms (Lord have mercy).
When we would go home to our guesthouse, we had debriefing and evening devotions together that were very centering. Each morning the early risers would start the coffee and we had about 7 pots before Rony came to pick us up for the days’ work.
One night we got to attend “youth group” with the kids at their church. We enjoyed a meal together and played some wild (and maybe dangerous – ha!) games together, including a crazy pillow fight and then my dad shared from the Scriptures through Rony, our translator. It was a joyful night! We all laughed so much and continued to get to know and enjoy bonding with the kids.
Some of us had the opportunity to go with Maria, the house mama, to go shopping in the market a couple of times. There is not a Costco in this part of Guatemala, and most of the fresh produce is bought in the street market and it is quite a job to shop for such a large household without being able to use a shopping cart and a car certainly wouldn’t fit in the tight spaces! Everything is carried through the market and the kids who came along to help surprised us with their strength and willingness to carry heavy loads. It was a colorful, somewhat chaotic feast for the senses – and a vivid contrast to our weekly American grocery store trip! While I don’t envy the hard work it is for Maria every couple of days, there is something heartwarming about the swarms of people all out to buy their food, and the community built through purchasing from the farmers.
I knew I wanted to bring my daughter, but I wasn’t sure how she would react to being in a different country, let alone a third-world one. But Kaya loved the whole experience – her first flight delighted her, the new sights and sounds and people were all welcomed with joy, and I was so proud of her just jumping in and making friends and playing with the kids, as if all cultural and language barriers were myths propagated by crusty old people. 😉 I was proud of her for being willing to jump in and work as well, and I was so grateful for the wonderful team of people who all cared so sweetly for her by including her in their work in the kitchen, or buying her special treats here and there and helping me keep an eye on her. I wondered if I would feel nervous traveling with her but instead I almost always was just amazed at how easily and happily she adapted to the missionary life.
One afternoon a few of us skipped cleaning up and resting before dinner and went to see some Mayan ruins about twenty minutes outside of town. It was a beautiful park location with stunning trees and views, and mind-blowing history with some structures from hundreds of years ago still standing. There was something still grievous about it as we saw some people offering burnt offerings to win favor from a god.
Sunday proved to be the favorite day for most of our team. On Sunday morning we met up with Shane and his kids at CDMP to pray and prepare for our morning evangelism outing. Shane motivated us that our lives have been changed by the gospel and so we are sharing Jesus out of love and because of how good he has been to us. We were all a little nervous but also excited to see what the Lord would do.
We drove to the town square, at the center of the downtown market area, near the large focal point of the old Spanish Catholic church. Sunday is the biggest marketing day and the area was abuzz with peddlers, shoe-shiners, shoppers, and all kinds of people everywhere. We split up into small teams of about 5 people, 2-3 Guatemalan kids with 1-3 Americans. The role for us was to pray and walk with the kids while they initiated gospel conversations and shared the story of Jesus and his death, burial and resurrection (using an Evangicube to illustrate) and told how while our sin separates us from God, God had made a way for us to be brought near to Him.
That morning I was overwhelmed by seeing the Holy Spirit overflow from a child who had, just years before, been abused, abandoned, neglected. Now not only was he loved, cared for, in school…he was passionately proclaiming the gospel to the lost in the streets of their city. It was a privilege and joy beyond words to walk with that little team and witness the conviction and boldness that he spoke with. The Lord brought several to faith through our little team that morning, and many of the other teams had prayed with the convicted and repentant that God drew as well. Though we didn’t understand the language, the Holy Spirit bonded us to one another because of our mutual love for Jesus.
So many people on our team were convicted deeply by the beautiful witness that the children were that day – convicted to follow Jesus more faithfully, to proclaim him more boldly, and for me, to disciple my chldren with a new idea of just what children are capable of, when they have truly seen the beauty of the gospel and the power of Jesus to change lives.
After our park outing, we toured the Catholic church in the main square of Santa Cruz del Quiche, and Shane explained to us some of the history and culture of the local area, and Guatemala in general. We toured the street markets, had a lovely lunch at a nearby restaurant, had a quick rest and refresh and then joined them for their Sunday evening worship at church.
That evening was so joyful. Worshipping with believers in another culture is such a thrilling foretaste of our future reality in heaven, where every tribe and tongue and nation will be united in worship of the one true God. We witnessed a baby dedication, heard from their pastor’s heart, enjoyed singing and praising God – though we didn’t know the words! – and my dad pd again with Rony translating. One of the boys from the home shared some of his reflections from his Bible reading. I felt so immediately loved and at home in their midst. The same God that we worship and depend on is actively at work in His church in Guatemala.
The next day, Monday, we were back to a somewhat normal routine of the men working at the land and the ladies preparing meals at the Casa, except we first got to stop in and visit the children’s school. The staff at CDMP were planning to make us a traditional Guatemalan meal that evening, so we had the afternoon off and went to visit the land. Several of us enjoyed the open air, riding in the back of Shane’s truck, and the views were breathtaking – mountains, farms, clouds rolling in in the distance.
The new property is just outside of town and so far they have built a wall and gate and a large garage. The men on our team were working on pouring concrete in the garage and we enjoyed seeing where they had spent so much time during the week. Shane walked us over the places and showed us what he envisioned, what the government required, explaining all that it would require. After working so hard that week to only make a small dent, the road ahead seemed rather daunting, but also with all that God had provided and done, I felt full of faith – Who can stop the Lord Almighty? We had a special time of prayer there, asking God to continue to care and nurture the children, to provide for all of their needs, to build the home, to sustain and encourage Shane and the staff. The weight of the task is heavy to us, but it is a small thing to the Lord.
Monday evening was wonderful and hard. It was our last night with the children, and I hate goodbyes so much that part of me just wanted to disappear. But we had such a special night together.
The kids and staff and CDMP had gone all out providing a beautiful, candlelight dinner for our team. We had delicious Guatemalan tea, fresh corn tortillas, black beans, a squash-like vegetable that we don’t have here, cheesy potatoes, and the best Chicken cordon bleu, followed of course with great coffee. We enjoyed sweet fellowship around that table.
After dinner Shane and the kids put on an elaborate program for us with several songs and dramas thanking us for coming, talking about what the Lord had done for them, etc. Shane shared in more detail many of the stories of the children who have come to the home. So often the conditions of their life before Casa de mi Padre were just deplorable – extreme poverty, neglect, abuse, abandonment. Knowing and treasuring the kids as we did, it was heartbreaking to learn in more detail about their painful past, and yet it brought into that much more clarity how amazing a work the Lord has done. Broken children arriving with fears and behavioral issues of all sorts, often very behind in school, then welcomed into a loving family, a secure home where they have love in abudance and discipline too – they are some of the sweetest, smartest, most wonderful children in the world. The trauma and nightmares of their former lives can melt away as the truth of God’s word and the love of God’s people builds strength and beauty instead.
Saying goodbye was tender and would be completely agonizing if not for the gratitude I felt to the Lord for bringing us together, and the hope that we would be long time friends in this life and the life to come.
The following days were a little anticlimactic – we were all exhausted from the trip, but also with hearts warmed by all that we had seen. On Tuesday, we were supposed to spend most of the day in the beautiful city of Antigua, but bus trouble delayed us several hours and we just got in with bit of time to spare for a quick market souvenir trip and dinner. Our hotel was a welcome comfort complete with (sometimes) hot showers. It was built in the 1600s and had many of the original Spanish features still in place and was decorated with incredible historical details here and there. I could’ve explored that beautiful hotel and city for a week! And yet I was so tired and ready to be back with my family.
We had a debriefing that evening with Shane in one of the larger rooms, and he asked us a few questions about when we had seen God at work and if any of us had heard God speak to us in a special, specific way during the trip. We also prayed with Shane as he was preparing to pick up four new children the following day!
The following morning it was back on the bus with Rony, back to the airport, back through customs and into the U.S., back to Atlanta and then Wichita, back to the bus with Sylvan and Suzanne picking us up, back to Hutchinson and the church and finally, back home.
There is still so much to learn and process, and I know many of our team members are working out what this experience means to them for their spiritual lives and for their connection with Casa de mi Padre and missions in general. I don’t know all the ways that this trip has impacted my daughter, but I know it has altered her worldview for good.
I am still working out all that God has taught me, and “What is next?” for me…but I treasure my time working with Shane, our team, and the children in Guatemala. I have learned about myself as a leader – good things and bad, and more than anything I have seen again – the Lord is faithful. I have every reason for faith and courage as I follow him.
Consumerism has found bountifully fertile soil in American culture, and most repulsively, in me, in my home, in my children. It is a vice, to be challenged like any other with repentance and efforts toward a contrasting virtue by God’s grace. But I wonder, could it be that we have a certain void in our hearts, lives and minds that leaves us prone to crave buying, buying, more? How to foster instead a whole contentment, a deep and satisfying gratitude?
In the past few years I have found a new and growing interest in the natural world around me. Maybe it helps that we are first-time homeowners, and have been settled in one place for a couple of years, so I have watched one little piece of land through the four seasons, three times over. I know it helps that my husband has had some successes in gardening that have caused me to wonder what beautiful or delicious things I might try my hand at growing. Our homeschooling too has turned my thoughts toward learning the stars, the planets, the native species of plants and animals, the local ecosystems, that I might pass on some knowledge to my children. What started as a straightforward search for knowledge and information has transformed from something on a practical, mind/data level into a love and gratitude on the level of the heart and soul.
This morning I stepped outside, to be refreshed by the coolness of the morning before the sun rose too high and the heat of the day pressed in. I was happy to see that the iris, imported from my grandmother’s garden, had blossomed in another color – burgundy and gold, then deep indigo blue and purple, like those from my April-wedding bouquet. Just above the iris, a bright flash of yellow caught my eye. Goldfinches! A sweet and brilliant pair of them. Three years in this home, and I had seldom seen these birds. I recently put out a bit of thistle seed, hoping to attract them back again, but I had read that it could take weeks for them to find this new food source, so I was prepared for a patient wait. But sometimes nature surprises and delights you.
Later in the morning, coffee mugs in hand, I walked with my husband down to his unruly but productive garden. We admired leafing greens, just-sprouted tomatoes, we noted how well the blackberry canes are looking this year. He showed me where he suspected a nest of baby birds. My oldest ran to greet us with a tiny bouquet of yellow wildflowers – I didn’t know what to call them, and their gracious petals seem most deserving of the dignity of a name. We decided we would try to identify them later in our wildflower guides.
Walking back the house, I noticed a couple of robins and blue jays, and another bird I didn’t know. I heard my daughter exclaim over a rabbit she spotted, darting across the driveway. And I wondered at the satisfaction of a few moments spent outdoors, barefoot on a cool morning.
For several years we have, by necessity and choice, lived on a bit of a shoestring budget, attempting to aggressively repay our debts so that we might eventually live in freedom from the stresses of those bills. Raising a family on one income while paying off debt is no simple task, and it has been a challenge that has grated against some of my desires. But this morning I noticed that a subtle shift has been taking place in the mean time…
Perhaps my desires are changing. I do love the excitement of knowing that another Amazon package of fun new things is on the way, and the happiness of some money to spend or give – but here, gift already given, from the Father of all good gifts, is the world at our feet, full of fruits and flowers and new plants to know. Sometimes I miss being able to go out and shop, coming home with an arm full of new colors and textures for the home – but this morning, just outside my door, the thrill of brilliant yellow wings! For lunch, a salad that my children harvested. In months past, there was the icy crunch and branches wrapped in crystal. Beneath my feet today, the sandy soil, cool with the dew. The coarse and the smooth feelings of the raspberry plants as I transplant them.
We were not made for accumulating, but I do think there is some core element of our consumeristic “need” for new things, for delight, that is implanted in us – and I wonder if it can be satisfied, and was intended to be satisfied, with the new things to notice, new gifts opening, every day in the spring. When I am not diligently preparing healthful meals and snacks, I find myself very quickly in a pattern of eating empty and even harmful foods. But nutritious meals, while requiring a bit of thoughtfulness and preparation, are immensely more satisfying and nourishing with none of the harmful side effects like brain fog and lack of energy. I suspect that immersion in the natural world, connection to nature in all of its vast, varying, beautiful forms, may be the more nourishing satisfaction with which we can combat our culture of over-spending and want.
I recognize in myself a need for beauty, for comforting, for release of stress, for connection, for mental occupation with something besides the problems of my life. It seems perhaps dirty fingernails, afternoons on a sandy shore, tired muscles from garden labor, and prayerful walks at dusk are better cures for what ails me, than the advertised joys of material gain.
If I knew all of the best places to find tadpoles and wildflowers, if my children know the places to find earthworms and role-polys and sweet-smelling wild honeysuckle, maybe the novelty and need for new technology, new clothes, new dishes, new toys, would begin to lose it’s luster for us. Then our healthier, life-giving appetites, for God and the good gifts from His hand, would have room to grow.
Instead of buying more (or wanting to buy) for the sake of happiness… what if we…
Took a morning to be still, watching and listening for birds (and butterflies!)
Made a ritual of searching the skies for constellations on summer nights
Plant even a small patch of herbs or veggies or flowers
Made the sunrise and sunset a marked moment of each day – a ten minute date with the Lord, just to savor His beautiful, artistic gift, too easily missed
Learn just a few of the birds’ songs, and listened for them on walks, or morning coffee time
Routinely visit parks or nature centers, just to notice what is blooming or changing, with eyes peeled for animal tracks, turtles, squirrels, etc.
Draw or paint a “weed” or wildflower, just for the sake of noticing all it’s details and the intricacies of its’ design
Awaited the migrations and seasonal changes more eagerly than we awaited upcoming sales 😉
Choose just one tree or perennial plant for our children to tend and watch grow
We live far removed from Eden, but all the devil’s designs and our own sins and failures cannot drown out the beauty of the created world – and to think of it Redeemed! There are glimpses of glory and so many gifts that we are given every day, that can satisfy the very marrow.
Contentment is not just a shutting-off of want and greed. Rather, it is satisfaction in God and thankfulness for what God has given. I think this may best be fostered through prayer and meditation on Scripture, and secondarily through an awakening to the riches of the natural world that lie at our fingertips, waiting to be known and received. So often the moments of profound emotional and spiritual healing happen in the breeze of pine trees, or near the gentle trickle of a stream, not in the comparatively empty possessions.
“The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.”
“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”
Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods
“When the despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the nights at the least sound fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
I wonder when it subsides. The dullness, the achey inward groaning.
So many others have losses that far surpass mine. I feel like I don’t really deserve to grieve, and yet it is happening in my heart and my body, regardless of my allowing permission or denying.
I feel, as Tolkien said in the loss of a beloved comrade, “…immeasurably weaker and poorer now.”
Will I see the world in full color again after October? When the would’ve been (should’ve been?), but is-no-more due date passes? Do I even want to “get over it” – when “it” is my own baby that I ache for as only a mother can ache?
I gave you that name I love, the one meaning ‘Light’…
And my Light stole away from me in somber, freezing March.
You were my small companion, fairy-sized, tucked in beneath my heart.
Your sister’s appendix burst, perhaps the same moment that you burst from this life into eternity.
Her tiny body, could it be that it ached with mine, as I ached for you? For what would never be for us?
Will I know you when I see you, in your perfect, healed state?
Will your face be familiar? Will your teeth have ‘the Carlson gap’ like your brothers and sisters?
When I’m there, will I grieve the years and the moments we never had? Will eternity be healing enough, making all these sad things Untrue?
You are my little one, my heart’s Light, stolen away from me.
I fear the darkness without you, my little Light.
The apricot-colored rose, planted for you, is budding..
I wait expectantly for it’s blooming, and I dread it too.
I’m just missing you and flowers won’t fill the void.
But that little plant that I carefully tend feels like some small connection to you, beloved Light of mine.
It is one small token, a mark in the world, a little statement on this piece of earth we should’ve shared and loved together.
It is my emblem to say – “my little Light was here.” But no more.
My Light is there – swallowed up by Life, kept safe for me.
“I have seen death fairly often and never yet been able to find it anything but extraordinary and rather incredible. The real person is so very real, so obviously living and different from what is left that one cannot believe something has turned into nothing.” – C.S. Lewis
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
I have often felt a challenging dissonance, in feeling simultaneously drawn to various ministries in the church and community and yet also being firmly convinced of the urgency of investing deeply in my home and family. Lately I have sensed the Lord leading me to hone in a bit more on my four children being my inner-circle disciples.
I’ve begun to read my Bible in a new way. What all have You commanded, Lord, that I am responsible to pass on to my children? There are many, many things we have to teach. Though perhaps ultimately we could boil it down, as Jesus did, to this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself.”
If then the aim in my child-rearing and teaching is to make disciples of my children, to help them know and follow Christ, and to obey his commands…
…Math becomes an opportunity to learn that we can do hard things, that there are really right answers and absolutes, that we are invited to taste something of the beauty and order of the created world.
…Science is an invitation to wonder at the creativity, genius and joy of the Holy One in His good creation. We learn to ask good questions, to notice details, to look beyond the surface of things to begin to understand why and how.
…Art becomes a worshipful practice, like music and – maybe all things. We seek to strengthen our skills for the joy of it, for the glory of the Lord, and as an expressive, heart-level way to love our neighbor. In acting as the artist and creating in varying ways, we emulate our mind-blowingly Creative Father and express more fully His image that we were created in.
…History is an opportunity to see what God has done, and how he has worked, and to love Him the more for it. We find our heroes to emulate, and the human weaknesses to guard against. And studying literature! Bliss! Don’t get me started! An opportunity to grow the mind and imagination, enlarging it, exposing it to the best ideas, the highest heights of thought that humanity has reached, sometimes touching on the eternal, invisible, transcendent.
On and on we could go, with the subjects in our home schools that we value most, each home with such incredible variety and independent flair. Every area of study is etched with something to experience and know about the character of God. But doesn’t it all ring hollow apart from Spirit of God moving in our hearts? Doesn’t it all fall flat if the Word of God does not go forth to accomplish it’s work? I pray that we would be grounded in the Word of God and inspired by His Spirit so that we may know what He has commanded, and what we are to teach our children.
And when I am tempted to be overwhelmed by the tasks of the day or by the big picture calling of home education, my deepest comfort is found in these words: “And lo, I am with you always…”
What do you do when your resolutions for the New Year include working to have a lot more fun in 2018, and your family spends nearly the entire first month of the year sick and absolutely miserable?
Maybe it’s best to just laugh and hope and pray for better in the rest of the year.
January/February/March is reputed to be the hardest stretch of the year for the homeschooling family, and the part of the year when quitting sounds most appealing (with February being squarely the heart of that depressing season). These past weeks of struggle to re-establish routine after the holidays, coupled with very cold weather and being cooped up, plus sick family and feeling isolated from our friends and community, and some other more personal challenges…has added up to a great struggle for me, physically, emotionally, spiritually – and practically! – how do you right the ‘ship’ of the home and family and homeschool when everything feels so frayed at the ends and motivation is at an all-year low?
But, God has met me here. As He always does. His faithfulness is never ending.
A couple of things have helped me to stay the course and keep trucking in our home and school.
Isaiah 49 – I’ve been slowly reading through Isaiah for my personal quiet times, and this chapter blew me away. The tenderness and faithfulness and love of God is so evident. “Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on his afflicted.”
The Mason Jar podcast – The CiRCE institute puts out several great podcasts. The Mason Jar with Cindy Rollins is my favorite. She raised her own very large family in a Charlotte Mason tradition and her wisdom, down-to-earth attitude and her long-vision perspective have given me so much hope. Sometimes her practical suggestions are just lifesavers too – nature journaling during Morning Time read-alouds? Game-changing. I just enjoy hearing her dialogue with David Kern too…she’s a very educated, inspiring lady, and somehow listening to her always reminds me that the mother is a person too! And I need to keep growing and learning as a student myself, and this pours over into the life of our homeschool to make it a healthy and rich environment. Check it out here.
A simple question – “How’s homeschooling going?” A friend at church asked me recently. I am not kidding when I say that I have waited for YEARS to be asked this question. No one ever asks…It seems so normal for people to ask “How is work?” etc…but I have rarely if ever been asked about how our homeschooling is going (I’m sure there are plenty of valid reasons for that!). Just recalling this quick and quiet conversation after church last week brings tears to my eyes. I felt seen and for just a few minutes – like my life and work mattered. I know, deep in my soul, that it does. But in the day-to-day, my work goes largely unnoticed. I don’t teach and train and discipline and love every day with the hope of others’ praise or notice – but it is very lonely work at times. The way this simple question touched me so deeply shows me how much people need to feel like others are interested in their lives – and I hope I will be that person for other people.
“Full-time Ministry” Mindset – Recently I’ve started considering my ministry at home and with homeschooling as my full-time ministry. It has made a huge impact on how I feel about it. Sometimes I wrestle with envy of friends who have more time and energy on their hands if their children are in school, or people who have the opportunity to make a paycheck. But this life I have chosen and been called to is one of ministry and eternal impact, and keeping the mentality of someone in full-time ministry has encouraged me. It takes a lot of time, and it’s not healthy for me to just consider it “baseline” as I have in the past. It’s the equivalent if not more than a full-time job, and I would tell all of my homeschool mama friends that – so it’s time that I started ministering to my own heart with these thoughts. I went to school to prepare for ministry, but I didn’t expect the turns that my life would take. I LOVE IT – but the transition still challenges me sometimes (often). Keeping in focus that I am raising the Carlson “arrows”/disciples to fly true helps so much.
ALL THE BOOKS. Few things are as restorative to me as immersion in a good book. I read a lot more non-fiction, and I love that, but fiction also holds a special place in my heart! I love rich and literary fiction. Stories are nice, but its the beautiful writing and insights into human nature that I crave most I think. I’ve been reading some Elizabeth Goudge (love her!), and am going to re-read Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” soon. I’m also several hours into an audio version of Eric Metaxas’s biography on Martin Luther, which has several ties to different things we’re learning in our homeschool church history – so that has been extra fun for me. The mental diversion from the real world refreshes me and I “come back” with a more peaceful spirit, and some interesting thoughts to occupy my mind rather than letting anxiety overtake me.
Happy Hymnody – I am loving learning hymns with my children around the breakfast table or during school time. Happy Hymnody has been a great resource for this! Check them out on Instagram too. 😉 “What Wondrous Love Is This” is our February hymn, and I remember loving this one as a little girl but hadn’t heard it for a long time.
last but not least…puppy love…<3
How about you? What’s helping you to keep trucking through February?