Abe

As we drove north the other day, past the frozen fields of Ontario, we listened for hours, to a biography of Abraham Lincoln. Even while Poppy shrieked from the crumb caked prison of her car seat, I managed to snag a few details.

It makes the preparation for Presidency sound so simple.

As a child, start off with a dirt floor and a forest way out in the boons, then play with a lot of animals, and your sister too. Wear a lot of dirt. Carry on this way for most of your childhood.

Pick berries.

Learn to plant seeds and hammer in fence posts; help your Pa.

Get your hand on every book that you can find: read them all.

Take the Bible seriously; pursue radical integrity.

Tell stories and serve people.

As you move into your twenties, apprentice yourself to intelligent, ethical people, and try your hand at farming, running a store, delivering mail, building a boat, practicing law, and more (but Poppy screamed through this part).

After riding the success/failure see-saw in the political world for many years, become president.

That’s it!

There were no private tutors, textbooks, tests, taxi-moms, or extra-curriculars to pad the resume! Life itself was one beautiful arching extra-curricular experience, as in, completely outside of a curriculum. (No one had made one to cash in on yet.)

Ah, how the raising of children changes, when we consider their needs for dirt and play and apprenticeship and God, before any other thing.

This is how they grow up whole.

Listening at Costco

IMG_2456I’m learning a lot about prayer; especially the listening side of prayer.

For most of my life prayer has felt like a one-way conversation between me and God and I just needed to wait to see what He would do with my words, as it seemed He only collected them in silence.

It’s a lonely way to pray.

God loves to communicate to us, but I have found in my own experience, that as much as I have wanted to hear from Him, I have lived in such a way that my life is drowning out His still small voice. I have been putting other things first, as is so easy to do in this rich sensory-laden existence.

Often I have either jabbered along in prayer endlessly and have not stilled myself and my spirit to wait on Him, or I have filled my brain with the noise of the newsy, busy-body world and have just kept packing on the content leaving little space for pause and meditation, or I have let the day role by without asking Him anything at all, without expecting that He would ‘show up’.

However, the more I learn to listen and obey (and sometimes it’s super hard to obey – wow, I feel like my Littles) the more God speaks to me, about big things and little things.

For a fun example, let me tell you about when I was a Costco a couple of weeks ago and my cart was full. I had forgotten my grocery list and knew that there was something the kids were adamant about me not forgetting. And I was forgetting what it was.

Complete blank.

I knew I had forgotten this item last week too, so I really didn’t want to forget again!

So there I was, standing alone in the huge baking aisle, near the chocolate chips. I paused, sensing I was in the general vicinity (give or take an aisle) of the item I was trying to remember.

As my eyes hovered over the boxes of brownie mix I whispered, “God, can you tell me what it is that I’m forgetting?”

Within seconds an audible voice said, “Don’t forget the ketchup!”

Yes!

It was ketchup that I needed, that sugar laden desert condiment that the children love! I was so thrilled to know what I needed that it took me a moment to realize that God had answered my prayer out loud!

I looked up, and way down at the end of the aisle a group of college guys were debating what to put in their cart. One of them had virtually yelled, “Don’t forget the ketchup!” And had been quickly corrected by his friend, “Don’t you remember? We got that last week, we’re fine for that.”

Seriously, God answers prayer.

Even about things that don’t matter much.

I am really hearing Him (in different ways) as I am intentionally pursuing a deeper relationship with Him. He doesn’t care about my religious devotion to traditions; He wants to connect with me, and I am learning to recognize His voice.

This is the good life: walking with God.

Wherein I Ramble and Wonder

IMG_2364One of my favourite parts of nursing a baby is the extra excuses I have to read.

Oh, sweet bliss, I am stuck on the couch and can’t do anything… guess I’ll have to crack a book.

I am loving this one right now: Essentialism, by Greg McKeown

Talk about a book I needed to read at the start of a new year… It’s not just a hum-drum reminder to focus on goals, it is a knock-you-between-the-eyes power surge of inspiration to live life with intention, focus on what is totally essential, and let the nonessentials (almost everything) go. Here are a few quotations:

“The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better” (p. 5).

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential” (p. 5).

“We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agenda’s to control our lives” (p. 16).

“What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance?” (p.26)

“A Nonessentalist approaches every trade-off by asking, “How can I do both?” Essentialists ask the tougher but ultimately more liberating question, “Which problem do I want?… Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” (pp. 55-56)

Though I’m only halfway through this book, I’ve unearthed enough nuggets to really challenge about 100 ways I am allowing nonessentials to override my time to the detriment of deeper development and contribution.

I’m finding these thoughts especially pertinent in the area of home life and education.

As I wrestle with what exactly an education is, what it is for, and how best to pursue it with the children, I am coming away generally unsatisfied by much of the current thought on the matter. There is the academic track, the character-building track, the life-skills track, the Bible study track, etc., all with their advocates and confirming statistics. Most Christian homeschool families, us included, pursue some combination of all of the above, and more.

There is a plethora of wonderful materials to support every track; deep thoughtful and philosophical reasons to support each approach (Classical, Charlotte Mason, Delight-directed learning, etc.). So, consequently, much of my homeschooling journey has been a “How can I mesh the best of each option – sort of – approach.” Which is really code for: doing nothing well and feeling like a failure.

I desire to supply my children with a reasonably helpful education that includes a Christian worldview and some skills that will prepare them for life beyond the nest, though my primary desire is that they ‘graduate’ with a living relationship with God.

Yet, there’s still a gap, some hunger within me that is searching for more than the philosophies and methods and materials that are so abundantly available in this amazing age. As I wade through the copious possibilities, I keep coming to the conclusion that though many of them have great value, none of them is ‘it’.

I believe there is more, something even better; I desire my children to have a power-encounter with the living God that will propel them into a future full of faith and adventure, and, dare I say it? Miracles. And I am beginning to suspect that much of where I have been putting my effort still falls under ‘works’ and effort and human reasoning.

And I think, over the last year, I’ve been starting to figure out what it is that I’ve been missing.

I’m honing in on the essential.

For Ben and I it is this: Jesus.

So, if the essential thrust of our life is to be spent living with and for Jesus, how does that make home life look? How does that determine an education? How does that determine our time and prioritize our efforts?

What does a life locked into the power and purposes of Jesus look like?

Does it mean we ‘do school’ for the morning the same way every day, or does it mean starting the day by asking God what He wants us to do? (Maybe it means doing some book study, but maybe today we should serve our elderly neighbour and deliver a meal instead.)

I’m beginning to suspect that Life in the Spirit involves a lot more listening and waiting and downright obedience and a lot less of the effort and busy-body research I’m always doing.  In a sense, doing is easy, it soothes my feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

But the Bible tells me to:

“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”

Big stretch here, but, what if God wanted to direct my path? What if he wanted to do miracles through my family, but we were too busy ‘studying’ and ‘doing’ to hear Him?

If Jesus is my essential, then these are the things that are also essential: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, because Jesus is these things. He is not a unit study about these things, he is not a poster on the wall describing these things, he is not a daily prayer asking for more of these things: He is the power and substance of these things.

What if I was living in the power of Jesus? What if I was pursuing what the Bible tells me is available to those who know him intimately: healing, miracles… freedom?

I suspect, if I can lock into a life fully surrendered to God, the ‘education’ of our children would take care of itself. As I allow God access to my heart and trust Him, He will lead us in the way we should go.

The Edges

001

When I flip through the brittle yellowed pages of my childhood photo album, it’s the edges that interest me often as much or more than the main subjects of the photos.

Though it’s fascinating to study the youthful faces of my family, friends, and self, and laugh at our amazing sense of style back then (though, I think for me, it’s never changed), what lingers in the dusty backgrounds and shadowed side scenes is like hidden treasure that unlocks the past.

It’s the stuff in the background – my favourite worn bedspread, the orange shag carpet, the old family station wagon, that oil painting by great-Grandpa – that force my memory to stir and shake loose the pieces of an old, forgotten puzzle; the puzzle of a life so fully mine, yet so tidily packed away as to be almost beyond my reach.

Somehow, it feels flighty, like a treasure I never really had to begin with, but I did, the pictures prove this of course.

And so I stretch back with wonder and muse over a past time where I was present and fully alive and so completely unaware that I was walking amidst future relics. The photographs transport me, conjuring up smells and impressions in my mind so totally vivid once stirred.

All of a sudden, I am lost in the memory of endless summer days spent climbing trees by the creek near our house, and the stabilizing rhythm of meals shared around the table with mom and dad, the familiar comfort of family reunions and cousins, frequent bouts of ‘dress-up’ and more than one picture of me immersed in a book, or posing at the end of a play still in full costume.

Those days are warm in my memory, dusted with the fond familiarity of an old friend.

I’m so thankful that photos weren’t edited in those days. Whatever was captured on that fragile roll of 24 shots was what we got. And because of this, now I have a treasure map to the past.

This is so unlike the many photos I take today that I tinker with, to edit out the messy sink, the wilting flowers in the vase, the unmade beds, the everlasting-living-room-disaster-zone, the other kid picking their nose in the background, oh, and another one having a tantrum upstage-left.

I think I no longer want to edit life this way all the time. Let the pictures come raw and honest and so jam packed with the real today that tomorrow will have some memory of a life filled with funky couches, cracked dish ware, silly costumes, yogurt container towers, and Dad’s favourite winter coat – the hangers upon which a memory is well stored.

Let the background be; it is the silent witness to the fact that we lived.

Last Wednesday

 

IMG_2383I woke this morning to a window-scene of white; snow on fences and trees, like dollops of whipped cream gracing the day like an angel cake.

As I clambered down the stairs with a Sweetie in each arm, I wished, all of a sudden, to make art.

We made muesli for breakfast (raw quick oats with added seeds, dried fruit and coconut), got the chores done, violins practiced, skipped everything else, and then we set up the big room for an ‘art class’.  We pulled down the big screen and set up tables, trapped Poppy in a playpen full of snacks and toys, and proceeded to follow an online watercolor tutorial together, while Poppy devoured string beans.

I nursed Cotton while starting and stopping the video, so that the children could follow.  We haven’t done this before and it proved to work quite well.  The only downside was that I couldn’t figure out how to participate in the painting!

At one point, two of the keen young painters started a familiar lament… their work was not turning out like the ‘perfect’ example on the screen, created, obviously, by a seasoned artist.

And so the metaphor stretched in my mind to include the whirlwind of hunger for growth that characterizes my days.  Some part of me feels like wailing when I can’t live out perfectly what my heart knows is possible.  I want to grow faster, to paint this life with a seasoned hand, and get to the good stuff already!

Ah, but the good stuff is only revealed in the process, that’s where it hides; subterranean jewels for those ready to get on their knees in the dirt and dig.