"'And you've quite given [writing] up?' asked Christine.
'Not altogether...but I'm writing living epistles now,' said Anne, thinking of Jem and Co."
- Anne of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery


Counting on...

Thank you, God, for:
144. their delight in blueberries.
145. polite words. 
146.  Skidamarink beating me to the punch with "I love you!"
147.  Cap's spontaneous "I love you, brother!"
148.  that there is so much love!
149.  teeny-tiny baby socks
150.  three little sets of laundry to put away.
151.  Cap's joy in teaching his brother.
152.  young superheroes on a mission to pick up toys.
153.  a day at the playground.
154.  windows open in February.
155.  the way he helps uncomplaining.
156.  the way Skid's silly little song cheers me. ("On top of spaghetti all covered with cheese...")
157.  the way you use them to bless me - pulling me gently back when I give in to the worst parts of me.
158.  that I get to put them in jammies & tuck them in bed.
159.  that learning is play and they're so happy to play with letters & words & sounds all on their own.
160.  happy high-pitched little voices.
161.  the way Cap insisted we all give Valentines to each other - even to his unborn sister.
162.  the fun they are having making for others.
163.  unexpected positive response.
164.  his happy announcement that the grass is all covered up with snow.
165.  waking up with a love letter.
166.  smiles and excitement as the boys give and recieve homemade gifts of love.
167.  Skid knowing it's his baby sister's heart he hears at the Doctor's office.
168.  her heart beating strongly and her movements always stretching.
169.  the knowledge that there is no room for fear, even though I am measuring small.
170.  pictures of our baby girl in 2 weeks.
171.  dessert first.
172.  grace at the library - disappearing fine.
173.  the joy of sharing books together.
174.  finding my favorite kid's book (The Tale of Three Trees) in the free pile - a gift to share with a loved one.
175.  the joy of making food for my family.
176.  these people I can be so at ease with.
177.  his hug for his brother & the way he keeps on telling him how much he loves.
178.  little ones, wonder-filled, looking at snow.
180.  little boy telling me: "God love you, Mom!"
181.  the evidence in their play that they know they are loved.
182.  the way they play with the baby & adult animal set & how they've decided that all of the adults are daddies - a sign that their own Dad takes good care of them.
183.  Skidamarink's new word: "family" and everything about the way he says it.
184.  the cheese-toastie he made me - him taking time out of all he needed to do just to take care of me.
185.  grace for all the things undone & patience with my exhaustion even though it affects them.
186.  the ironic way that wiping snotty noses can bless - "teach me to run to you like they run to me for every little thing".
187.  the way once I start counting the gratitude just keeps pouring out.
188. the way they are using all of the stickers we gave them for Valentines day to make something for their Dad.


Reflecting Love Divine and "Dancing in the Minefield"

The quotes in this post are from "our song": Dancing in the Minefield by Andrew Peterson.

We said goodbye and I closed the door and all I could do was sink to the floor.  I didn't take a step. Just turned around, my back on the door and slid down and sat.  For a long time.  I sat in complete bewilderment and amazement.  I knew.  I have always been chronically indecisive.  That's why the knowing was so important, so significant.  It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever recieved - a moment of clarity like I have never experienced.

"I was nineteen, you were twenty-one
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much too young
But we did it anyway"
Really, it didn't make any sense.  It wasn't even really a date.  At least, it wasn't a date in the "we're acknowledging it out loud" kind of way.  It was more a date in the "we're going to say were just friends running in the park, but I'm pretty sure it's a date" kind of way.  I knew he felt the same way because he held my hand.  He said he was warming it up because it was cold in the chilly March air, but I saw right through his disguise.  He held my hand and I was thrilled and it was a big deal for me - I hadn't let a boy hold my hand since my sixth-grade "boyfriend". 

He dropped me off at home, we made plans to watch movies together the next day and our "not really a date" date was over.  That's when I sank.  That's when I knew.  Knew that I would marry him.  Knew that we belonged to each other.  Knew it with absolute certainty.  (If God hadn't given me that gift, me the one who can never decide, how much I would have missed!)

"We bought our rings for forty each
From a pawn shop down the road
We made our vows and took the leap
Now fifteen years ago"

I remember wanting the years to pass quickly.  Wanting to get some time logged to make what was so clear to me look a little less ridiculous to everyone else.  What business does an 18 year old girl who has never really dated have  giving her heart away forever to someone she barely knows?  We dated all of 3 months before we started talking about getting married.  It had been 6 months when he proposed.  I know it looked stupid.  People were worried.  How could it possibly last?  But, I knew.

"We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for"

We are closing in on 10 years from that run in the park.  It hasn't always been easy.  There have been plenty of storms.  Mostly they have been storms from the outside.  There were days when others wounded us deep, when we felt like expendible commodities rather than children of God.  There were days we had to make decisions that ripped us in two - choosing to leave places and people we loved because there was no was no way we could stay and be true to who God called us to be.  There were days when the future was so incredibly uncertain and there was a baby on the way and one in our arms and nothing but long, hard work days for little pay and still only peanut butter and jelly on the table.  There were days when we grieved losses and agonized over others' pain.  Hard difficult days when we clung to each other and to the cross.

"'I do' are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I've heard
Is a good place to begin"

There have been a few storms from the inside too - the struggle of two individual people learning how to be one.  Times when sparks flew as iron struck iron (Proverbs 27:17).  Times when our faults and sins were exposed and bits of us we didn't even know were held captive were redeemed. 

"'Cause the only way to find your life
Is to lay your own life down
And I believe it's an easy price
For the life that we have found"

Where would we be now without those storms?  Without those struggles and those damaged, broken pieces of our souls brought to the light by the friction of two people trying to figure out how to love and failing miserably and trying again?  Where would we be without those tough decisions, those hard times?  Who would we be if it wasn't for those storms we faced together?  Funny how God is strongest in our weakest moments and how he turns our mess into masterpiece.  Those times when the winds wailed all around us?  He has used them to re-make us, to re-fine us, to re-deem us.  I have learned to give thanks for those times.

"So when I lose my way, find me
When I loose love's chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, till the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me"

We've spent these last 10 years Dancing in the Minefield.  Even on the days when we could hardly stand to look at each other, I've never been able to pretend it wasn't the right choice.   And on the days when the storm rages wildest and the iron strikes iron and love is hard, I can't help but feel that ring on my finger and look at it and smile.  This love isn't about something easy and pretty.   It's not just a feeling.  It's a promise.  It's one I meant and one he meant and it's not going anywhere.  That's what makes it safe - that promise.  The knowledge that even when sin looms large and ugly and the worst parts of me are visible in open daylight, I am his and he is mine and that won't change.  No fear.  Only boldly dancing on, knowing that sometimes the dance will be beautiful and wonder-filled and sometimes we'll hit those mines and be dismembered.  We can do it because we know Jesus dances with us and he'll use our injury to build us up, make us stronger in our weakest places, and - most significantly - make us more and more his. 
"Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
So there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadowlands
Till the shadows disappear"

"'Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you"

The nine years we've danced the dance of marriage have been the best of my life.  God has used them to wake me up to life like I never knew it before.  Jeff, thank you for dancing with me.  Thank you for making sure I know your promise is for real.  Thank you for being gracious with my stumbling  steps and for loving me beyond belief.  You really do bring me close to home.  God speaks loudest volumes to me through your love and the little ones we share.

"Let's go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms (kicking down the doors)
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for"

And, just to be clear and in case this sounds like the road has always been long and tough and almost impassable - it hasn't.  It's been a wild, unbelievably delightful, gloriously beautiful, adventure!  So thankful God gave me you to love!


January Joy

Taking the Joy Dare from A Holy Experience.  Three gifts for each day for one year:

During the month of January:
1.  Three things about yourself that you are grateful for:
      that I get to be mother to these young ones * that I get to be wife to this husband * that He goes  with me.
2.  a gift outside, inside, on a plate: 
     cardinals playing in the yard * sweet baby niece all swaddled up * carrots from the garden roasting with dinner
3.  3 lines you overheard that were graces: 
     blood tests look good * "You're my best friend" * "Aunt Amanda"
4.  one gift old, new & blue: 
     van that's in the shop - a gift from family * my new cricut and new creative ideas * our wedding quilt - pieced and quilted by hand by very dear ones
5.  something you're reading, you're making, you're seeing: 
     Jane Austen Made Me Do It * projects for the kids' bathroom * trees all around
6.  one thing in your bag, your fridge, your heart:
    camera to capture moments * milk for my growing men * love for my best friend
7.  3 graces from people you love: 
    Jeff putting up with my craziness* Skid cuddling with his cousin * Cap watching out for the younger ones
8.  light that caught you, a reflection that surprised you, a shadow that fell lovely:
     steam turned purple in the sunrise * glass chunk mountain glittering * bright sunlight interrupted by "the broken house" (what Skid calls the dilapidated barn)
9.  a gift in your hand, a gift you walked by, a gift you sat with: 
    the ring on my finger - reminder that our love is a promise * precious boy falling asleep on the floor * his head resting on my shoulder as we sit together for lunch
10.  a gift that's sour, a gift that's sweet, a gift that's just right: 
     diapers to catch the stinky stuff * my nephew's adorable laugh * Skid singing "I can love because God loves me" as he lays in bed
11.  3 yellow things that strike you as fresh mercy: 
       sun shining unseen, keeping us warm in all this rain * yellow juice dripping from fresh oranges from Florida * lines painted & roadside signs providing guidance
12.  something above you, something below you, something beside you:
      snow falling - first of the season*  tiny bootprints and snow angels * red-cheeked men, big & little drinking hot cocoa around the table
13.  3 sounds you hear: 
      young ones leading us in spontaneous praises at the table * his absent-minded beating out of rythms * boys playing with their grandparents
14.  3 ways you glimpsed the startling grace of God:
      everything is ok even in the most down-hearted moments * love poured out even when I'm ridiculous * an invitation when I felt friend-less
15.  one thing you wore, one thing you gave away, one thing you shared: 
      pink burp rag on my shoulder * time preparing for a spur-of-the-moment party * yummy food with family and friends
16.  3 ways you witnessed happiness today: 
      son cheering on his father * boys falling asleep together on the couch * relaxing together in our jammies all day long
17.  one gift that made you laugh, one gift that made you pray, one gift that made you quiet:
       little guys chasing each other around the house * time to stroke the blonde hair in my lap * big responsibility and honor in cleaning little faces
18.  3 gifts from God's word:
      "Do not fear, for I am with you." Isaiah 41:10 * "God is love." 1 John 4:8b * "When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him...?" Psalm 8:3
19.   a grace in the kitchen, a grace in the weather, a grace that might never have been:
      a quiet kitchen from a day of celebration * dry weather when it's this cold * time for a friend to visit
20.    3 gifts you saw only when you got close-up:
     familiar words I could have skimmed over which led me to a feast * tiny seeds in a tiny hand * saucer under a tea cup - act of love
21.    one thing in the sky, one thing from your memory, on thing that's ugly-beautiful:
     geese flying overhead & Skid yelling hello * remembering them all so tiny as we look through baby clothes * stains on little outfits that tell stories
22.  one grace wrinkled, one grace smoothed, one grace unfolded:
      that newborn skin I'll cuddle soon * pages of my Bible * blankets to keep us warm
23.   3 gifts found in Christ:
      brother love * shepherd love * sacrificing love
24.   3 things blue:
     deep blue of their eyes * blue flakes of plaster cleaned off walls in preparation for rennovation * artwork he is so proud of on the fridge
25.   one grace borrowed, one grace found, one grace inherited:
     clothes for our girl, pre-loaded with memories * some thing to make them feel special * my Grandma's familiar phrases coming from my mouth
26.  a gift before nine am, a gift before noon, a gift after dark:
    extra rest while he takes care of things * time at the table with my Bible, journal & a cup of hot tea * sitting around the table with the girls
27.    3 gifts that might never have been:
     lots of quiet time to write * confirmation that we made the right choice * tent in the living room
28.    3 graces found in your friends:
       always eager to help * generous gifts * that they came down to spend the day with us
29.    a song heard, a soft word, where you saw light:
    little boys singing letter sounds * whispers and sighs to my new baby niece * sun streaming in windows
30.    3 old things seen new:
  old song sung today as a prayer just for him * the green frog in our tub - silly little reminder of our wedding night * new delight as his brother teaches him an old game
31.  a gift found on paper, in a person, in a picture:
      reminder that the next time I hear baby's heart will be Valentine's Day * Sunday School teacher concerned she hasn't seen us * picture of the boys similing together over a year ago


Reason # 6: Childhood!

I'm a big proponent of  the idea behind Nick Jr.'s motto from back in the day when I watched Nick Jr. with kids I babysat:  Play to learn.  (Is that still their motto?  It's been so long!)  Little ones learn through play.  Whether they are playing pretend or playing with toys or both, what they are really doing is exploring their environment.  Play enables kids to develop fine and gross motor skills, social skills, and many skills that we consider academic (math, science, literacy) in ways that are fun and natural.  Playing is fundamental to the work that is done in school. 

The trouble is that most kids don't have much time to play any more.  They spend approximately 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in school (and early elementary classrooms seem to be allowing less and less time for play as academic standards advance).  They are doing homework at a younger and younger age.  I know kindergarteners that are bringing home homework, 2nd graders that are spending hours a night sitting at the table with their school books, and 4th graders who do school work from the time they come home until they are in bed.  On top of that there are sports practices and music lessons and other opportunities that are genuinely good for kids, but leave little time for free play when added to school and the stacks of homework.  Kids don't have time to play because they have so much work to do. 

And it's not just that they have to do the work that creates a problem.  There is so much stress!  All this work to do puts pressure on the kids and on the parents that can be incredibly straining on their relationship.  There is the pressure to do well and the understanding that if they don't do well it will negatively impact their future or  they can choose not to do the work and have the shadow of failure hanging over their heads.  Perhaps some of this pressure is justified as kids get older and become more responsible for their lives.  But is it healthy that kids as young as kindergarten are feeling forms of this pressure? 

Another aspect of the reason that childhood is a motivator for homeschooling for us has less to do with academics and more to do with the social environment at school.  Kids seem to be growing up faster and faster.  They are experiencing grown-up issues at a younger and younger age.  While I'm not interested in wrapping my kids in a cocoon that doesn't allow them to see the world,  I do want them to experience the world with the benefit of having plenty of adults around to help them understand what is happening.  Moreover, I know there will come a day when my kids don't want to snuggle with me on the couch and a time when they are too big for certain favorite movies or toys or playing dress up, but I want them to make that decision on their own.  I don't want them rushing to put off childhood because the things they want to do are "uncool." 

Childhood is important and I want to do everything in my power to make sure that my kids get to enjoy these formative years with plenty of play and exploration!


Socialization and Real-World Opportunities

I find it incredibly ironic that one of my biggest hang-ups about homeschooling has become one of the things that most excites me.  Socialization is often cited as being among the most important reasons to send kids to school - there is the idea that kids need the social structure of the school system to learn how to function in society at large.

Yet, I think a red flag is quickly raised when we talk to kids about life "in the real world."  "One of these days," we tell them, "you'll be done with school and you'll have to face the real world."  I've never been very comfortable with that notion.  First of all, it seems to say that there is something about the way we spend the first 18 years of our lives that is artificial - that it is not a true representation of the world we live in.  If this is true, does the socialization of school really teach us how to function in our society or is it more the case that in school we learn to function within the school system and we learn a new set of rules when it's time to function as adults in society at large?

Second, this idea of school vs. real world somehow seems to underalue the worth of our kids during the +/- 13 years they spend in compulsory education.  It seems to present this idea that life begins after graduation.  And yet, as adults we tend to look back at childhood and think that those were the years for really living.

I'm excited for a different kind of socialization.  I'm glad that our decision to homeschool will allow our kids to spend time with people of all ages.  They'll learn alongside their siblings, their parents, their aunts and uncles and grandparents.  They'll learn with and from friends of all ages.  They can learn science and math from a book and they can experiment with their dad in the garage, their grandma in the kitchen and their grandpa at the job site.  They can read about sociology and they can spend time volunteering at organizations that serve the needs of people in different backgrounds.  They can read about history and we can take vacations or field trips to learn more about historical people, places and events.  We won't be confined to classrooms or desks or rules that are necessary to maintain order in a school system.  We'll be free to explore and learn in whatever setting will work best.

And there is nothing to say that life won't really start until they are 18.  Learning and work can be intertwined.  The chores they do around the house, the ideas they have to serve others and the interests they decide to pursue can be real contributions to our family and society, not just practice for when they grow up.  Really this can be true for any kid.  It's more a lifestyle decision that one of curricula.  But, homeschooling will give us the freedom to make our own priorities and choose to place emphasis on the things that are most important for our kids at any given time. 

Still, what about friends of their own ages?  There will be plenty of time for playing with friends and participating isn all kinds of activities.  No homework to get in the way!  If we decide to send our kids to school, we would have seriously limited the amount of "extra-curricular" activities we would have allowed them to be involved in.  We wanted to make sure our kids weren't stressed out from being always in a rush and always having places to go and homework piled on top of it all.  Now, because the kids will be able to get their "school work" done in a fraction of the time it would take them in a traditional school setting, they will have more time to pursue different sports, arts and other kinds of play. 

I'll post a little more later about specific plans for meeting our kids' social needs.  But, with such a social little guy leading our young pack, I think making sure our kids spend time in the social settings they need will be less of a challenge than it would seem.