“We Panicked, Prayed, Praised, and Played.”

Dedicated to my precious and much-loved friend whose life currently requires living in a very difficult room. You know who you are. I am in awe of God in your life and in how you are walking with Him. And I am here to listen to the panic, join the prayers, lift the roof with the praise, and then, my friend, you will play. And I will watch you, even if the door is still closed, live in a FULLNESS and FREEDOM that you cannot imagine. And someday soon that door will open and there is a ministry there that gives me chills. Oh, the wondrous power of the cross. I believe, sweet friend.

This afternoon was eventful to say the least. I’m not sure the last time I laughed that hard, and there is quite a long version of this story that ended with me lowering myself out of a window ten or fifteen feet above concrete because my kids and I were all locked in a room together. I can sum it up in one word. Levi. Anyway, all taken care of and precautions taken so that the situation never occurs again.

At the beginning of all this excitement, my kids had been playing in the playroom and their rooms for quite some time. They were coming and going. I went to my room to take care of Mitchell and when I was finished I heard pounding on a door and yells of, “Mom!” Apparently Levi had locked all three kids into his room and they had been there a few minutes attempting their escape before calling for me.

John: “Mom, we were all locked in here and couldn’t get out! So we panicked! Then we decided to pray, and then we praised Jesus.” K: “We sang songs to Jesus but the door didn’t open!” (Incredulous looks on John V and Kailey’s faces.) J: So we panicked and prayed, and praised Jesus, then we just played, and after that we panicked again.”

First note to self, apparently you can pack a lot of action into ten minutes. After I laughed my head off for several minutes and then had my own adventure in the locked room complete with lowering myself out of the window, then laughed so hard I couldn’t even tell the story to John, I began thinking and the Lord began speaking to my heart. He said, “How often do you do that? How often do my children create their own predicaments where you have locked yourselves in bondage of your own creation. Choices you have made, thoughts you have cherished, lies you have accepted. Or more often, it is a combination of your choices and the choices of others. Circumstances that seem, and often are, completely out of your control. A Levi who in his stubborn disobedience has made his choices that also placed you in this circumstance. And the cycle begins:”

Panic: “Your first response is to panic. To rail at Me and ask why in the world I would lock you in this situation. Why do I do these things to you, why are you the victim of this awful situation? Why can’t you escape from this place where you do not want to be? And then you get a hold of yourself and decide that maybe your choices helped to put you here or that maybe I can help you, or that maybe the One who loves you perfectly isn’t exactly the right target for your anger, and maybe instead of screaming at Me, you should ask Me for help so then you move to step 2.”

Prayer: “You begin to ask for rescue. But I know that as soon as I open the door, you will make the very same choices that put you in that situation. Or that you will run far from the ones in that room when I so desperately want you to join me in the journey of their redemption. When I would love for us to share My heart for this person. Your thoughts are the same, your heart is the same, your thoughts of Me are the same, and all you desire is rescue. Your panic ultimately is due to the fact that you cannot control your situation and you don’t like doors you can’t open. Things in the room are hard, but unfortunately on this earth there are no easy rooms. Just because you hear laughter on the other side of the wall doesn’t mean her room doesn’t have its own locks. Every smile you see hides its own hurtful times because this is not the world I created for you, this is the world all of you chose with your sin. But if you stick with the prayer and listen to Me, sometimes I can work in your heart to move you to a place where freedom begins.”

Praise: “Sometimes you eventually take time to look up at Me, to see Me at work and feel the Heart I have for your ultimate freedom, not your freedom from the room, but your freedom within the room. Your freedom that walks with you into every situation. Your freedom that no one can touch. Then, the praises flow. You begin to see Me at work. Not to limit me to only certain types of movement that follow your criteria for a rescue, but instead to learn that I move in so many ways. I might look like a friend or family member loving you, or a book that blesses you and points you to Me, you might hear Me in a praise song, or feel My hand in the innermost parts of your heart and soul. You catch the tiniest glimpse of Who I AM. I can’t give you much of a glimpse because you couldn’t live through it. Someday you will be able to see and understand more. And you begin to praise me IN the situation until you find something almost unimaginable.”

Play: “Even inside of your situation, you can play. You can walk in joy, sleep in peace, provide comfort to others, and live in fullness. You can take your eyes off of the closed door, off of what you think others may have on the other side, and live in your life and only yours. Because I AM THERE. And that is honestly all you could ever ask for and more. You could dream up big, open spaces with ideal situations and circumstances that would be such a relief. People who tried to bless you and walk with you, not push you down whenever you try to get up. Rest, ease, just a break from it all. But, know this, I could let you have that and then where would WE be. Back where you didn’t require ME to breathe again. Back where you were strong and secure in providing for your own circumstances. And there is so much more here with ME, even if it’s in this room. Have you ever wondered if it is not in the locked up times that I “am so hard on you” but instead it is in the times of ease and comfort that I am really putting you to the toughest tests? Because in that comfort comes the leanness that drives you away from Me and being away from Me is the ultimate punishment. So, play my daughter. Get down on the that floor and put your heart and soul into whatever room you find yourself enduring. Leave no corner untouched, no opportunity untapped, no toy or tool unused, no tiny amazing detail unseen until the time comes for the door to open. And I wil be here the whole time. The goal is not to open the door. The goal is to be WITH ME.”

And I sat in awe of the lengths He will go to for me. I’m not even sure how many doors I have locked, how many times I have placed myself in a room. Then there are the times that miscarriage, inability to conceive, painful relationships, hard circumstances, physical struggles, or the choices of others have placed me there. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t have to be a big difficulty. Whatever the present room is will be the most difficult one because it is my present. And how often do I repeat this cycle? Some day I want to try a door, find it is locked, turn around with a smile on my face and ask God, “Well, what do You have here?!” Lord, put that heart in me and in your Church! And then I remembered how John V said that after the initial round was finished, they decided to return to panic. And my heart hurt yet again. He has opened door after door after precious times of growing with Him and yet I will still restart that cycle. When I think of times that maybe there was someone in a room with me and I was so busy at the door that I missed a heart, I have to beg forgiveness. Never again, Lord. Never again.

I don’t know where your journey is right now. My guess is that at all times in our lives there is a locked door. The room we find ourselves in might seem a little more barren at times or the people we’re in there with harder to love, but whatever your room, may we all be ready to cry out to Him in faith that deliverance will come at the perfect moment, and until then let’s not miss anyone or anything He has for us there in that place. But, most of all may we never, ever miss even the tiniest glimpse of HIM.

A Day in the Life of a Homeschool Mom – 7

Kailey working on an assignment to write the meaning of her name and then draw a picture to go with it. We're beginning a study of the names of Jesus so we started with projects about the kids' names including a letter I wrote to each of them with the story of his or her name and why it was chosen. Kailey chose a picture of herself wearing a crown because Kailey Abigail means "crown" and "joy of the Father." She is certainly those things for our family!

Community and the “S” Question

The question I was most often asked by other kids growing up as a homeschooler was, “Do you do your school in your pajamas?” No, we usually did not. The question most often asked by other adults was most definitely, “How will you be socialized?” *sigh* About the 900th time you’re asked that, I’m sure there’s a bit of a robotic tone to your answer. It’s like asking a family whose children attend a public school, “How will you keep them from doing drugs?” Yes, there are kids who are homeschooled who could have used more training in people skills, just as there are kids in public schools doing drugs, but to ask either of those questions as a first response to someone’s education decision is a bit ridiculous. The answer to both is the same. You will make decisions to equip your children, train them, develop positive relationships, and give them opportunities to avoid that negative scenario.

I always had to laugh a little to myself about that concern because I might have been the most socialized person I knew. First of all, I lived with seven other people. People that God in His infinite wisdom specifically chose to be in my life to sharpen my edges, smooth my rough spots, and be a part of molding me into the person I was created to be. And those people are in your life for the remainder of your life. Second, the ability to have flexible scheduling allowed for many opportunities to be with friends, and not when we were supposed to be getting something done, but when we could wholeheartedly throw ourselves into playing with reckless abandon. My friends and I played with dolls until we were thirteen, and then we probably only stopped because we were too busy with other activities, not because we didn’t love our dolls. My mom and the moms around us put forth great effort to encourage our relationships and to help us build friendships, and every one of those dear friends I had growing up (some starting as young as age three), I am still in contact with today. We have been in each other’s weddings, held each other’s babies, and continue to love and pray for each other today. They are lasting, beautiful friendships. Some of them are ten years older, some are ten years younger, two are my sisters-in-law, and those families are a part of who I am. As a teenager that socialization turned to traveling and opportunities to teach in other states and countries through our homeschooling program. I met even more precious friends in Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and while living in Oklahoma City and Dallas.

One of my loneliest struggles was sadly at church. This had to do with many things, and certainly did NOT have anything to do with the fact that there were not wonderful kids there to know. I was the only one of the six of us who did not have close friends at church. There were many factors that played into this, but I simply could not fit in with my peers during my teen years, and at church everything was so age-specific that I was required to be only with those exactly my age. I was self-conscious in that setting because I had acne, braces, glasses until I began wearing contacts, and certainly did not dress trendy to put it mildly. I was NOT cute at a time when being cute seemed all-important. I was trying not to be interested in boys, was a bookworm, thought history was a blast, and loved playing the piano and doing jigsaw puzzles. You can imagine how that would play out on a “do you want to be my friend” questionnaire in the 8th grade. I tried being friends with other girls who also seemed to need friends, but even they had their less popular school circles and I didn’t belong. They were never, ever mean to me, not even once that I can remember. It was just awkward and we couldn’t get past the surface where there simply wasn’t commonality. However, I was very blessed, because in “my world” those things I didn’t do and the way I didn’t look weren’t very important. The people around me loved who I was and I was quite secure in those circles. I probably seemed like a different person. I knew how much I was loved and I belonged. I always feel a bit nauseous when I watch a movie about high school struggles because I know that could have been me if my parents had not made the choices they did. I am so grateful for the protection I received during those difficult years while I grew into a hopefully more balanced woman. But during that time when I begged to go to church with my friends or just dissolve into a puddle of tears in the depths of despair (way too much Anne of Green Gables, you see), my parents gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life. They taught me that escape wasn’t the answer and to cry out to God to fill my loneliness and meet my needs for companionship as I looked around me to see what He could be calling me to do. They said that things happen in seasons and that there would be seasons of less loneliness, but I had to ask what this season was for. Oh, how many, many times since then I have been grateful for that lesson! How many times when I have struggled through a circumstance or situation have I been glad that they taught that awkward teenage girl that first response is to see what great thing God is doing. It shaped my life. So after unsuccessfully attempting to reach my peers, I began to realize that my ministry was elsewhere and I began to teach. I started with two year olds and from there spent the next decade in ministry with the kids of our church and in other places around the world. Joyous, beautiful, training years. I loved them so much. Out of that came my job in children’s ministry and relationships with the most incredible children and families. Some of those kids are having babies now which is crazy to me. And now at this season when it is difficult for me to help and give in that way, I feel grateful for those years and that I was able to give in the way that others are now giving to my children.

Community is crucial to a homeschooling family because it is an important part of any family! We all need to be investing in the lives of those around us, seeing how God might want to use us to love someone else. When I was younger it seemed more difficult to develop community between those homeschooling and those attending public or private schools. There were many reasons for this challenge and that rift was certainly caused by both groups of people. One reason for that was that we tend to respond badly toward an idea that we are reacting to – hence the homeschoolers who were leaving schools and were making choices out of reaction and fear instead of love. Another reason we can respond badly toward an idea is out of that level of fear that comes with the unknown and misunderstood – thus explaining those who were confused and put off by the idea that families would want to reject the way of life they were choosing for their families which of course made their choice for traditional schooling “bad,” right? The fact that we ever made decisions to pit ourselves on opposite sides of a battle is very sad to me. Such missed opportunities to support, grow, learn, and experience more life opportunities by being open to God doing different things in our lives. Fortunately, today this problem has greatly diminished. There tends to be much greater mutual respect between those choosing different education methods as we realize that while something might work well for us, it may be a very poor fit for another family. Homeschooling has been given its rightful place as a valued and respected educational choice (just check into the efforts colleges make to recruit homeschoolers), and many homeschoolers have come down off their defensive walls as their successes have been acknowledged. I also feel that some of this success lies in Christians of this generation seeking after a God Who does not fit into boxes and does not authorize a cookie cutter Christianity that only allows for one family’s choice to be “right” and all others who disagree to be “wrong.” We are allowing Him to do what He does best – write the story of each, individual family in a beautiful, awe-inspiring way. My precious friends have shown genuine and loving interest in what we are doing whether it mirrors their choices or not, and I am always thrilled to hear how God is working through their schools, jobs outside of the home, or anything else He is doing that may be taking them down a different road than mine.

Here in Austin our community up to this point has mostly been made up of neither homeschoolers nor people from our church. We have met people through sports, classes, and at our neighborhood pool, through a Super Bowl party down the street or someone at John’s office. I have loved this season of being pulled out of my comfort zone and challenged to seek out people around me. I love the diversity of those God is bringing us to serve and the many opportunities in our lives. In spite of the fact that the majority of John V’s friends attend the same school and he does not, those families have welcomed us in as a part of their community. Here in the small town we’re close to community trumps school and baseball trumps everything. 😉 I will continue to seek out families from all different situations and teach my children that the main reason we seek relationships is to give, not to receive. That God takes care of our needs as we strive to be like Him and shine His love to those around us. That He put our family together to meet many of our needs for fellowship and love. That precious friends come from the most unlikely sources, and that whenever we put God in a box we MISS OUT!

Today we had our first big homeschool activity with a group in our area that does P.E. The kids were so excited and within minutes of sitting down a boy of about eight or nine put his hand out and politely introduced himself to John V and then two other boys quickly sat down and began chatting. Kailey was perfectly content snuggled up at John V’s side as the little sister, and I knew he would be taking care of her since it was all ages playing together. I quickly realized I was not needed for the moment as these homeschool youngsters began “socializing” their little hearts out. God is so good to give us community all around us. Everywhere there are people, and wherever there are people there are hearts that simply need to be loved. May we reflect His heart to them!

The World of Books and When Reading is Not Enough

I’m going to go ahead and tell you that I am a bookworm DELUXE. I am the child who would pass up almost any activity to pick up my latest adventure or do a crossword puzzle. Yes, I know, this is why I married an athlete so that we can achieve some level of balance in the offspring. 🙂 I can remember as a six or seven year old lying in bed reading at all hours until someone realized I was still awake as I went through the Anne of Green Gables series, In Grandma’s Attic, Little Women, Dr. Dolittle…and my list of friends grew and grew. Of all the education I want to give my children, a love for reading is high on that list because it leads to all other learning. If you love to read you can research any topic, explore what others have discovered on any subject, and have your eyes opened to parts of creation or times in history that you might never experience any other way. Kids don’t need to memorize important dates, they need to meet the people who lived in those times so that those dates stick in their heads just like the birthday of someone they love. They need learning that is alive in their minds and allows them to participate. That is why for John V’s pre-K through 1st grade, we chose to focus our “school time” almost exclusively on character, phonics, handwriting, and basic math. I wanted that reading foundation solid before we tried too many other subjects. Then, after the small amounts of time that it took to accomplish that work each day, we read books. If he was interested in something, I tried to encourage that interest. We read amazing stories of boyish adventurers with strong character. We watched videos that brought historical figures to life. Before we ever started any official history, he made me laugh because he saw a picture of Benjamin Franklin somewhere and acted like he had just seen Justin Bieber or something. Franklin fever? 😉 “MOM, it’s BENJAMIN FRANKLIN! I know him!” I loved that response, “I know him.” That showed me that it was working and he is beginning to experience the joy I felt in discovering these new worlds opening up. And now as we continue with more subjects and diversity in our work this year, reading is still the major core of our education. Reading is lifelong delight.

There is, however, one book that I do not ever want to encourage my children to only “read” and that is the Bible. I recently heard a wise man talking on this subject and how we want to greatly differentiate with our children between the “reading” of a normal book and the interaction and relationship that comes with diving into the living Word. Obviously, I don’t think it’s crucial to argue the semantics of using the actual word “read,” but the point is that our children should understand the difference in our approach to this and other books. Do we choose a passage each day, tell them to sit still, get through it, and then close the Bible with a “Whew! We made it!” mentality, or do we open the Word, ask God to speak to us, discuss what He is telling us, and then expect our kids to hear from Him? Do we actually believe that our kids will hear from Him when they read the Bible? That is probably the most important question here. I do. I believe Heb. 4:12 – “…The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I believe He is ready and willing to speak to us EVERY, SINGLE time we listen. He might speak to us of what is clogging our ears and making it difficult to hear, or speak to us of disobedience or attitudes cutting us off from open relationship. He might speak to us of relationships that need to be mended so we can return free to worship. He might take words we have read hundreds or even thousands of times and make them the most life-changing experience we have had. But I believe He will speak and just get ready for the things He speaks to your kids. Fasten your seat belts. We are currently going through the gospels, and it is like a fresh breeze to hear their precious, innocent, faith-filled hearts discovering more and more about the Jesus they love.

I am eternally grateful for the love of reading instilled in me by wise parents. Memories of my dad reading the biographies of George Mueller or Isaac Newton or the story of Robinson Crusoe to us at night are among my warmest and fuzziest, but far above that I am grateful that I was shown that the Word of God is active. That we are not meant to peruse it and walk away. That it is not just a door to adventure or the expanding of our minds but is the Hand of God reaching out in relationship to us. I hope that my children will love to read books, but I pray that they will grab hold of the life-giving sustenance in the Bible as if their very lives depended on it…because they do.

Levi’s Book Review: Trusty Gets Off Track

Mom’s Review: Levi received this book and Trusty Tried and True for Christmas and they have become two of our all-time favorites. Lamplighter, founded by Mark Hamby, does the most beautiful job of restoring older stories, but this series is a new one that the Hamby family has written and beautifully illustrated. It is a series that teaches your children with vocabulary and a lesson that is appropriate for their ages but still pushes them to learn, grow, and develop their love for literature. I would recommend this to anyone with young boys. It is closest to Levi’s heart, but all the kids enjoy hearing it. Below is Levi’s review of the story:

I like Trusty and Papa Engineer. He crashed when he didn’t obey. He cried. He was supposed to get back on the track. He called for Papa Engineer. Papa took Trusty home.

Publisher’s Review: “Trusty is back! But instead of listening to the warning of Papá Engineer, Trusty chooses the path that looks easy and fun. Little does he know that what lies ahead is a breakdown and a crash. Why didn’t he listen? Will he ever get back on track? Little children understand how hard it is to listen and obey. The wonderful illustrations will reach their tender hearts as they join Trusty once again!”