Sunday, February 26

A Great Thing

We have begun a new unit study about India that should take us well into March.  Its purpose is twofold:
1. to expose the boys to a completely different culture, its inner workings and curiosities.
2.  to help me grow in knowledge for a trip there this summer.

These are my favorite studies to do; those in which we are all students together.

However, as I put my "teacher" hat on all of my lesson plan ideas were essentially me telling B what he needs to know about the country.  Yet I have never been to India.  Aside from a class in Hinduism in college, I have very little insight into the way the country thinks and works.  Yet, I embarked to teach him.

We started out with the geography of India.  B drew his own outline map of India (and did a beautiful job) and then over the next few days he filled in mountain ranges, rivers, bordering countries and bodies of water, major cities, listed all of the states, and drew the flag.  That was a fair enough assignment for a fourth grader, but he was still relying on me to give him the resources he needed and I'm not sure he was super interested in the process.  I was still at the center of the lesson and it didn't seem right to me.

As I was reading The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer, I had a brainstorm of sorts.  In his chapter on teaching in community he said this:
Passion for the subject propels that subject, not the teacher, into the center of the learning circle -- and when a great thing is in their midst, students have direct access to the energy of learning and of life.
I reviewed again the two purposes of our unit study.  What would help B and I move into the subject itself so that we both take hold of "the energy of learning and of life?"  And it hit me.  He shouldn't spend his time doing what I think is important for him to do and know.  He should explore India for himself.

I'm going to let him create and submit an itinerary for my trip.  He can research and compare plane ticket costs, find locations of religious or cultural significance, tell me how to take the train, what the money exchange looks like, and how I should respectfully dress.  He'll be my tour guide through India and present me with a little portfolio.  Anywhere within a day trip on the train from Delhi is fair game.  I'm certain the Taj Mahal will be in the mix.

We are reading YWAM's biography of Amy Carmichael aloud and will work on a journal project to go along with that.  This week we'll also begin working on some Indian embriodery  (yes, my son loves to sew).  And for a culminating activity we'll have to splurge on a little construction project:  These Nanoblock sets are perfect.

Tuesday, February 21

Lenten Eve

At Christmastime, I feel a sense of mixed anticipation when we light that first advent candle the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  As the flame ignites I feel the minor paradox of wishing it weren't so and wishing it would be tomorrow.  In that moment, all the work is ahead of me.  I had to unpack the advent wreath, find suitable candles and a book of matches. Nothing else was required in order to begin.  

At Eastertime, I have wished and wished for a way to lead my family to engage in the season.  My evangelical roots never mentioned Lent, only Easter.  It was about resurrection, yes, but also new clothes and deviled eggs and ham.  And it was just one day.  Later in my life, Good Friday practices began to creep in.  Even so, Easter still seemed to be something we bumped into as we went around a corner.

I think I've been sending up my own shoots from those roots for several years now.  I've observed Lent, but in my own way, taking up instead of giving up.   I've not felt compelled to move toward the traditional ideas of sacrifice, thinking perhaps they were overused or even irrelevant.  And just what vices did I have that I needed to break free from?  I don't drink coffee, watch t.v., eat daily doses of sugar.  It seemed that giving up wasn't what Lent wanted from this evangelical girl.  And that seemed to make perfect sense.  

This year we are going to lean in a little more.  As a family, we are going to do some giving up.  My children are intrigued.  My husband seems completely agreed.  I am expectant... of what I have no idea.  But we are moving toward resurrection together.

We are going to give up meat for 40 days.  We are not extreme carnivores.  Meat is not a stumbling block for us.  It is something of daily life.  Mundane.  Quotidian.  There is no sense of luxury in meat.  I don't feel any degree of attachment to it.  Or will I find that I do?  

I've spent the last several days looking up ideas, recipes, to help us move through this time with a sense of newness.  When giving up something we often go seeking something else to fill its space.  I have mapped out menus, watched cooking videos, asked friends for ideas.  I have shopped not once, but twice assuring my youngest that, yes, we would at some point buy salami once again.  We have slowly eaten away the vestiges of meat products as if we were moving or leaving the country for a month and knew everything would spoil if we didn't consume it now.  

And today as I moved the frozen sausage to the back of the freezer, safe to eat on those Bridegroom Sundays, and stacked the edamame and pre-cooked broccoli and cheese calzones in front of it, I reflected upon my work of preparation.  It reminded me a little of what the Jewish households do prior to Sabbath.  I sensed a bit of the sacred as I stacked cilantro, cucumbers and carrots whose day will come tomorrow.  There has been clear intention in my work.  I will do without this one thing.  I want to miss it a little, but I don't want my desire to have it back consume me.  I want to experience a new taste, but of God more than hummus made twenty ways.  

This is not about food.  It's about tension.  It's about paradox.  Paradox is that place where two profound truths can be true at once.  The same man who was savior was also decimated.  The God who loves generously exhibits bone-chilling justice.  We learn through effectiveness as well as failure.  We each need both community and isolation.  The paradox of new life is suffering.  Both are true.  But how much do I know even one of them well?

Tomorrow I'll know what tomorrow will hold.  Not today.  But I've loved the preparation. Alongside my giving up, I'm taking up daily prayers, repeating them every ten days.  Vowing to live with whatever discomfort arises.  The loving and the suffering go hand in hand.  And when celebrating Easter I will rejoice that all the work has, indeed, been done.

There is a name for the endurance we must practice until a larger love arrives:  it is called suffering.  We will not be able to teach in the power of paradox until we are willing to suffer the tension of opposites, until we understand that such suffering is neither to be avoided nor merely to be survived but must be actively embraced for the way it expands our own hearts.         Parker J. Palmer  - The Courage To Teach

Monday, February 20

Silence and Solitude

It's unusual for a homeschooling mother to say that she makes regular space for a discipline such as silence and solitude.  For all of us there are pressing needs to attend to, plans to outline, materials to find, children to guide, meals, field trips... The list could go on and on, unless we are intentional about pressing pause.

We think a lot about who we are teaching to but many days we lose sight of who we are teaching from.  We teach out of who we are and, for me, that means I teach from that point where the gospel transforms me with grace and truth.  If I try to teach from any other place, I grow weary.

And so I take a day every couple of months to practice silence and solitude.  To talk with the God who gives me life and breath, creativity and skills. To listen to what the next steps may be.  To pray with intention and thought.  To read and consider the passages that affect me.  To come to new understanding and take steps toward transformation.

The hardest part about taking a day for silence and solitude is first deciding to do it.  Some mornings as I rise early amidst sleeping boys to gather my materials I question the necessity of my plans.  There are other things I could and should be doing.  Indeed, there will always be.  And I believe that God works even while I daily accomplish, but having your best friend beside you all the time is different than looking her in the face and really hearing her.  And so, I push myself to go so that I can hear.

There is a retreat center near my home that allows me to rent a dorm room for a day.  This takes me away from all distraction.  Though I nearly convince myself that I could accomplish much devotional writing, my laptop stays home.  I cannot have that pull to go any other place. I make myself exist with little.

I begin the day in my journal, longhanding a list of what’s on my mind and heart: struggles friends are having, uncertainties about what’s next for me, unanswerable questions I’ve been asked, temptations and tendencies I can’t seem to move past.  Doing this allows me to move beyond the circumstantial in order to get to a place where I can see and sense God’s presence.  I then present my list to God in prayer and ask, “What to YOU want to do today?  Which of these will we address, or will you take me somewhere else?” 

Other days I simply ask, "What do you want me to hear?"  And throughout the day when I'm unsure where to go next, I just go back to that question. 

I bring materials that make me think more deeply about the truth of God; books with questions that pull me out of myself (a raging introvert) and more toward the person he's creating me to be.  

For a portion of the day I dive deep into a particular scripture:  the whole book of Titus, reading John for the sense of the greater story, or looking up verses about perseverance.

Incorporating the physical connects the mind to the soul and opens up new ways of seeing: walking and whispering aloud nearly always provides clarity.  Adhering photos to an album gives room to think and pray for the people within them.  Using my camera to observe the details of creation gives practice in counting gifts.  Practicing physical postures of prayer takes my thoughts to their deepest importance.

When I'm hungry I eat, but only after I ask, "Is this really what I need, or am I escaping from something hard?"  When I'm tired of sitting, I walk.  When I'm tired of walking, I rest.  And at the end of the day I try to determine: 1. What did I hear? and 2. How will this time away affect my time back with people?  Our time with God should, to some extent, change us and benefit those we love and serve.  I am refreshed and challenged.  I shouldn't go home and assume everyone else feels the same.

When choosing books to bring, I select only those that I'm currently working through.  I often begin one a few weeks ahead so that I can be in the thick of it, struggling to appropriately place it in my life. I believe in working from where God already has you.

I encourage you to give it a try.  Once a year, twice a year, once a season.  Make yourself available and see what becomes of you.

These are some of the titles I easily suggest.

Friday, February 17


Celebrating good choices today.

  • Rising early.
  • Giving (sick) dh an extra hour to sleep.
  • Oatmeal and steamed milk.
  • Working hard at the gym.
  • 3 less pounds.
  • Homemade Tuscan vegetable soup.
  • Water with lemon.
  • A daily vitamin and a fish oil capsule.
  • Braving the mammogram. (tmi but think pink)
  • Reading in the sunshine.
  • Bible study with friends.

All good things.
But tonight the boys shined brightly.

We and our oldest have struggled with food issues for literally a decade.  Simply put, he's our sensory one.  Several years ago we stopped the dinnertime fight and simply said, "If you eat, you eat.  If you don't you deal with hunger."  And for years he's chosen to deal with the hunger.  For years.

Now the other two boys have begun to mimic and as it stands none of them will try dinner anymore.  I am far beyond done.  Last weekend we said, "We will no longer buy crackers.  Snacks will now only be fruit or dairy.  You cannot subsist on eating carbs for breakfast, a meager lunch and a snack of more carbs."  And we implemented it.  I took boxes of crackers out of their hands.  I put them away.   I don't know who is going to eat them.  I will not buy more when they are gone.

We went to the store and bought fruit, veggies and dairy.

Two nights ago we made delicious homemade soup.  Each boy received his 1/2 cup in a mug to try.  There was bread to dip in it.  They all tried it.  For our oldest it was a huge step.  Bread dipped in soup was like stepping out to climb a mountain.

We shared that we'll be trying a 40 day experiment soon: giving up meat for Lent.  It's never been done in this house.  They don't eat meat hardly at all anyway.  They are intrigued.  Interested.   They see that their dad and I are making changes too.

They came to the table tonight to baked chicken, au gratin potatoes. A simple chopped salad. There was no bread.  "Everyone tries a bite of everything (yet again)."

Deep breath.

Everyone did.

They clamored for the salad bowl, picking out carrots and crunchy lettuce and cucumbers.  One tried ranch dressing and declared it good.  One wanted the last of the carrots "if no one else minded."  Brave oldest took a bite of chicken, very small.  And then he took another.  I could see his future-self rising up inside of him; that longing to be a part of the adult world.  It's there.  It just needs courage.  He requested a description of what the final dish would taste like; needed more reassurance, not drama or gushing.  We sat, trying nonchalance, but expecting him to succeed.  He did.

And the other two followed suit.

He wanted it for himself.  The best taste was the bonding; the evening of family closeness that he doesn't remember ever experiencing as the result of a meal.  Because the last time he was willing to try something new just because he wanted to he was two.

Everyone has an opinion on this.  But everyone doesn't know what we've tried, endured, experienced and mourned over.  This is just one page in our story.  And we choose to rejoice.

Saturday, February 11

Good Things As of Lately

Seeing and experiencing so many good things lately.  So, working backwards...

  • A day of silence and solitude at Mount St. Francis in Colorado Springs.  Snowing all day and hovering at 12 degrees.  Thinking through recent questions I've been asked, meditating on perseverance, working through Romans chapter 6 and praying.
  • Star Wars in 3D for dh and the boys at which B posed for a picture with a Storm Trooper who was in full costume.  A huge step forward for my boy who is deathly afraid of mascots.
  • Dinner already in process when I returned home. 
  • Good results from a cholesterol test.
  • Lunch with J who was off school.  Talking about what he'd like more of in his life.  Turns out a trip to Rome is on his wishlist.
  • An invitation for J to go to a friend's house meant I got to the gym after all.
  • Taking S out for Jamba Juice: blue-eyed five-year-old, l's slurring, pen dangling from his belt-loop carabiner, stories of his day in Friday classes.  
Days Prior
  • Making room to connect with new homeschooling friends, 6 months from Canada, for an hour of sledding.  Understanding that February can be the pits.
  • Good reports from J's teachers.  Seeing him strive to meet expectations because he wants to.
  • Getting our van repaired after an honest man's admittance that he damaged it.  
  • Feeling better after a head cold.
  • Speaking with dh on marriage.  Loving the experience.  Noticing my own growth in the two years since we last spoke about it.
  • Hosting a co-op in my home and welcoming my group's families who come from all different religious backgrounds ... finding our commonalities.  
  • B's increased spelling abilities.  Slowly, steadily making progress.