I realize it’s January and most people are busy crushing their New Year’s resolutions, but I’m still stuck on Christmas here. This Christmas was different and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Christmas usually gets me all wound up tight. While I want to be relaxed and carefree, delighting in simple joys and the wonder of the advent season, I am usually a ball of stress bouncing from one self-imposed obligation to the next.

I have to be a fun mom and fill our advent calendar with creative activities.
I have to bake a huge variety of Christmas goodies.
I have to have a magazine worthy tree.
I have to go to a million and one get-togethers.

On and on the list goes.

All the have-to’s get to be a real drain on the spirit. I’m not talking about the Christmas Spirit – that magical feeling that visibly sparkles in the crisp winter air as you and your perfect family sing holiday songs in perfect harmony. I’m talking about the spirit that was set free from the condemnation of guilt and shame by the Saviour of the world. That spirit of the free woman who, when believing the “I have to” refrain, lives as though she were captive to the law of her own making.

All those compounding “I have to” statements made me pretty Grinchy. Which actually wasn’t pretty.

I didn’t want to listen to Christmas music before December 1.
I didn’t want to put up decorations before December 1.
I basically didn’t want to think about Christmas until December.
I didn’t want to go to all the family gatherings.
And I wanted every trace of Christmas put away before January came.

This past Christmas was different. I was eagerly buying gifts for my husband and kids. I was delighting in finding them things I knew they’d love, and I was doing it in November. I had ideas about what gifts would bless people and I had time and warm weather to make it happen: shopping was enjoyable rather than a chore.

Things quickly snowballed out of control. One of my favourite artists released a Christmas album on American Thanksgiving: as if I was going to wait until December to listen! A respected author was hosting a webinar about having a peaceful and joyful Christmas, and it was at the end of November. Piano lessons were conflicting with our usual December 1 tree decorating festivities so we were either going to have to postpone, or do it in late November (which we did).

Without my consent my Christmas came early this year, and something amazing happened:

By God’s grace, all of my “I have to” obligations turned into “I get to” delights.

I get to lavish the people I love with generosity.
I get to bake delicious things.
I get to surprise my kids with fun things to do.
I get to listen to music that celebrates the miracle of God become flesh.
I get to feast my eyes on a sparse old plastic tree that was lovingly decorated by little hands.
I get to gather with family and eat meal after meal of blessing.

Rather than being weighed down by the stress from self-imposed obligations, I finally realized, these are things I get to do because I’m free. I’m free from condemnation; free from guilt and shame over not getting things perfect. I’m free to celebrate, rejoice, and relax. I’m free to look at the manger holding a holy infant King, and rest in the knowledge that he grew up to do all the God given have-to’s that I’m incapable to doing. I’m free to look at that Saviour and praise him for all I now get to do because He’s made me free.

 

January is here, and with it comes the alluring promise of fresh starts and big opportunities.

We reflect on our successes and failures from the past year and determinedly set goals for bigger and better things. Flip the calendar over and start fresh! Society promises us anew that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. We can achieve anything!

We want to reach our full potential, and we decide this year will be different from all that have come before it. With every goal or resolution we set, we’re making a conscious admission that we are not what we wish we were. We’ve got room for improvement. We are falling short of our expectations.

We can feel that we’re not what we ought to be, and we’re striving for something better; however, this is beyond our ability to fix. Our problems do not lie in our inability to be true to ourselves. The widely held belief that all we need are a few more rules to fix our problems is false. Our lives are not ours. We don’t have the power to fix this.

It is not news to God that we are not reaching our full potential. As the one who created us he fully knows our potential, for both good and evil. We’ve displayed our excellence at rejecting goodness and embracing depravity. We’ve exhaustively proven that we’re more than capable of loving ourselves.

Our belief that we’re in charge of our own lives, and our obsession with ourselves was a declaration of war against the one who created us. We entered into a battle we could never win through our own effort. We were crushed by the weight of our sin, and death would be our end.

But the God of the universe saw us – unable to follow basic moral rules, without hope of ever drawing near to God, completely unworthy of being in his presence.

Two weeks ago we were celebrating a baby in a manger: proof of the scandalous good news that Christians profess. In the tiny body of God incarnate, peace on earth was declared, and goodwill to all mankind (Luke 2:14). In his compassion and mercy, Jesus chose to enter into the mess we created and were powerless to fix. Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly glory and put on human flesh (Philippians 2:7). He entered the battle and fought: not against us but for us, his enemies (Romans 5:8-11). He came to rescue us from our inability to get things right. He entered into human history and lived the perfect life every one of us has failed to live (Hebrews 4:15).

It was our sin that made Christmas necessary.

It is sadly ironic that in the wake our celebrating Jesus’ arrival and subsequent obedience to God’s perfect law on our behalf, we ring in the new year by creating yet more laws for ourselves to follow.

I’m not advocating that we should flounder around in a purposeless existence without goals or resolutions. To be resolute is to be admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering. By all means, be resolute in your pursuit of Jesus! Do the things he calls you to with determination. Make plans, strategize, and work hard (Colossians 3:23-24, Ephesians 6:7). You are here to serve Christ, so do it with purpose and passion!

Making much of Jesus is the purpose of our existence, and we should be eager to give him glory! If you are a Christian, your goals should be bound up in Christ. He is our glorious Saviour, the perfect and spotless lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He is also Lord and King, and tells us in no uncertain terms that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), to find our lives we’re going to have to lose them (Matthew 10:39), and if we’re going to follow him we’re going to suffer like he did (John 15:20).  He humbled himself and came to serve unworthy people, and those who call him Lord and Saviour are called to be like him.

Being saved by Jesus means our lives are not our own. We were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We don’t get to set goals that centre on us. In telling us to pick up our cross and follow him, he’s essentially telling us to come and die (Luke 9:23). This is not what the world has in mind when we’re encouraged to “live our best life now”. 

If we profess faith in Jesus, our goals in life should be different from what the world is aiming for because our definition of success is different.

So what are you resolute to do this year? For whose glory and fame? What are you aiming for?

Homeschool record keeping has never been something I excel at. I begin each year hopeful that I’ll keep track of our schoolwork throughout the year. This would enable me to have an easier time with my summative report when we get to the end of the school year. Inevitably, all attempts at record keeping have failed me by October. By June I can be found in a puddle of tears as I despair that I will never, ever be able to write something about our educational gains for the year because there are none! We. did. nothing!

Obviously that’s not true. I tend to get a little carried away and sensationalize things when I’m worked up. Mountains out of molehills are a specialty of mine. We do accomplish a lot throughout the course of a year, but when you don’t write anything down it gets a little hard to remember anything at crunch time.

This year I’m trying something new. It’s October, and I’m still going strong, so this is already more successful than anything I’ve tried in the past! I opened a Goodreads account. That’s my big idea.

Goodreads

Here I can keep track of the books we read over the course of the year.  I usually love simple pen and paper notes: I should logically be able to keep a list in a binder and leave it at that. While I generally prefer low-tech solutions, my answer to poor record keeping has not been a pen and paper list. I’ve tried that, and I have failed at it.

Reading is a huge part of school this year. We’re using the Five In A Row literature based curriculum, and reading aloud plenty of chapter books during Morning Time. After we read a book, I rate it on Goodreads. That’s it. Then it shows up in my profile and at the end of the year I’ll have a list of what we read and how much we liked them (or didn’t). For our Five In A Row books, I’m also writing reviews that give an overview of what we learned and discussed in light of the story. This is helping me keep better school records, and provides me with a fun challenge of writing good reviews that sum up our experience with each story. Writing a public review makes me put more thought into it than if I scratch something down in my school binder.

**Ohhh, I love technology….always and forever**

If you want to see what we’re reading, you can check out my profile on Goodreads. Go easy on my reviews, I’m new at this! 🙂

It’s okay to quit.

books
Last year was a difficult school year. I hadn’t kept up with my three school-aged kids, and I couldn’t fathom how I would be able to get my act together to teach all four, with Deacon starting Kindergarten. I tapped out: I didn’t feel I was up to the task of homeschooling everyone.

So we enrolled Markus and Wyatt (grades 5 and 4) in an online school that would allow them some of the freedom and flexibility of home education, while taking the work of teaching off of me. It all sounded great, and I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders as I surveyed the year ahead. The school has a lot of positive reviews, and we thought it would be a good step in providing our kids with a bit more structure.

But it was honestly a terrible fit for our family.

There were too many limitations, too many activities to log hours for, the school software was painfully outdated, we encountered out of date curriculum, and I was spending so much time answering questions about assignments. They had teachers to ask, but it was easier to ask a parent who’s across the room than wait hours for a reply from a teacher.

I thought I could just grin and bear it. This was what I had signed up for, right? I should stick with it and see it through for the year. What kind of message would I be sending my kids if we quit so soon? But this wasn’t what I had signed up for. I had signed up for a progressive online school that would be flexible and interactive, teaching my kids at their own pace and engaging their strengths. One was doing okay, the other was wilting, and I was busy nailing down an education plan to submit to our homeschool liaison before the registration deadline so we could still get a little funding to help with books for the year.

I’m sure by the school’s standards we have given up prematurely, and that 2 weeks is not enough time to make a fair judgment about whether or not this is going to work. I know the system the school has created works for a lot of families, but our family is not one of them.

Four months ago I was weary and burdened by homeschooling. I felt inadequate, unequipped, unqualified, and over my head.  I was sure my kids needed something that I wasn’t able to give them, so I waved a white flag in surrender.

Today I feel more convinced than ever that the best education my kids can get is the one we give them at home. I can give my kids a rich learning environment, and and they can thrive here. What was a burden a few months ago is now a flight of freedom. I’ve been amazed already at what they are capable of when they’re given a little direction and a lot of room to discover. They’re excited about the upcoming school year, and I can’t wait to see all the good things in store.

What kind of message am I sending my kids by quitting? I hope they’re hearing loud and clear that if something isn’t working, you should find a solution that does.

 

It’s Hard

stained-glass
We moved here to plant a church.

In doing so, we left behind people in Saskatoon that we love. Of course, anyone who knows Saskatchewan geography knows that Warman is not a huge trek from Saskatoon. It’s not like we moved clear across the country. What’s the big deal about moving 20 minutes away?

The big deal is we moved our life. We didn’t just move houses. We didn’t just move from one Sunday service to another. We moved our time commitment and our heart commitment from one church body to another. We left our family in Saskatoon because Jesus called us to be part of a new church family. We moved here because Jesus is amazing and there are so many lost people who don’t know it. We moved here because He has told the people that call him Lord to go into all the world and make disciples. Warman is part of “all the world”. The lost aren’t characterized by poverty; wealth is a wasteland of its own.

When I reconnect with friends from our sending church, a quick and inevitable question I’m asked is, “So how’s it going in Warman?”

I want to say it’s great. I feel like that’s what people want to hear. A success story. A triumph. Truthfully there are triumphs, and I don’t want to diminish that at all. We have so much to be thankful for as Jesus is clearly at work.

Honestly though, when that question comes flying my way, all I can say is, “It’s hard.”

I’ve read enough about church planting to know this wouldn’t be easy. I thought it would be a little easier for me because I was prepared for it to be hard; however, nothing about this has been easy. This year has been riddled with discouragement. We have gained momentum, and then we have swung backward. We have experienced growth, and we have shrunk. We have seen integral people who committed to planting this church with us leave. Our marriage has been under attack, and so have many others within the church. There are times we leak the vision and forget why we’re here. When we lift our heads and survey the task before us, Clay has asked me a few times, “Do you still feel called to this with me?”

The answer is always yes. It’s not easy, but it’s the path Jesus has purposed for us.

So when you think of us, please pray. Pray that we would love Jesus more. Pray that we would trust the Holy Spirit to be at work in this city. Pray that our marriage would be strong. Pray that we would get to know more people in our community. Pray that we would be good neighbours. Pray that the people of our church would love Jesus enough to not keep Him to themselves. Pray that we as a church would live as family of servant missionaries. Pray that the lost would be found.

 

I paid for a homeschool planning bundle this summer, which allows me access to a collection of printable planning pages. My August evenings usually found me reading the user guide, printing charts and schedules, and scratching out ideas with my favourite pencil.

I wanted to follow the planning guide to the letter, and quickly realized this just wasn’t possible. As great as this planning system is, it’s set up to work for someone else – the woman who made it. I pitched some of the charts. I modified others. By mid August I had a pretty well crafted plan for the year, complete with a daily schedule.

“I am so going to kick school butt this year.”

Famous last summer words. Every year.

I’m thankful to have pushed through school last week, in spite of my raging sickness. I knew I’d need a small win – a “we made it through a whole week” win – because already in week 2, I’ve hit a wall.

It’s my inevitable I Must Be An Insane Person wall, otherwise known as the Homeschooling Is For Lunatics wall.

My well crafted schedule says I should be able to get the Kindergarten and Grade 2 stuff done with the littlest 2 in the morning, and get lunch on the table around noon. The big kids are enrolled in online school, and should be able to work independently throughout the morning and finish up in the afternoon if necessary. Today 4 kids were working on 4 separate things, and each of them was calling me for help at the same time, and it was past noon, and I had no idea what was for lunch.

One kid needed me to check their math, another needed me to look at their writing. One was having trouble with their online classroom, and another was freaking out about explorers and colonization. I tapped out for a moment to break the news to Clay that we would be eating hot dogs for lunch.

Is it June yet?

Breathe.
We’ll find a rhythm.  Sometimes I’ll bounce around like a ping-pong ball and serve tube steak for lunch. It’s okay. Not every day is filled with wins, but there are wins in every day. Today’s include my boys actually enjoying listening to The Penderwicks during morning time – even though it’s filled with female characters, and no one crying – not even me!

My usual tendency would be to rip up my schedule because it’s not working, and drift aimlessly for the next few months. Not this year. We’re going to keep moving in the planned direction. The schedule is a rough idea for how life works without all my variables – the people I’m actually here teaching! So when things don’t go according to plan, it’s okay.

I may not be kicking school butt, but school isn’t kicking my butt either. I’ve got this.

 

Pie Bakers

Home based education allows for a lot of freedom. It’s one of the primary reasons we were drawn to it. We’re the ones who decide what our kids will learn, and when they’ll learn it. We determine when the intentional education for the day starts. When we need or want days off, we answer to ourselves. Our kids’ most triumphantly exercised home-educational freedom is using the bathroom when they want, for as long as they want. (Honestly, one of them might not survive in public school simply because of the amount of their time spent in the bathroom…it’s a happy place, apparently.)

Being able to set our own schedule has always meant we start the year late. Because we can. I’d make a point of being a fun mom on the day all the other kids were going back-to-school. A day at the beach? Yes. Ice cream? Of course. Posting photos of these festivities online as a declaration our freedom? Naturally. How else would everyone else be able to appreciate the fact that I slept in and savoured my coffee while they were back to the grind of packing lunches? I aim to serve.

There are very few rules in home education. You really can do it any way you want. The door is wide open for anyone: from the family who essentially does school at home just like it would be in a conventional classroom, to the unschoolers who trust their kids will learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it. School bells and timetables vs. kids who can’t read until they’re teenagers. For the record, both of these extremes make me uncomfortable. Does anyone else feel itchy?

Admittedly, I am a rebel at my core. I question the status quo. I have done plenty of things in my life as reaction against what is expected of me. This is in part why my hair was purple when I was a teen, and why I married a dashingly handsome, mysterious, bearded man at 20. After all, who says hair should be neutral, and that 20 is too young to be making major life choices? I sure showed them. Sometimes, like with my hair, my rebellion is just an exercise of my autonomy, and sometimes it’s a fight against pervasive cultural norms: 20 year olds might be stupid, but they can be married and committed to being stupid together!

Homeschooling means we can start breakfast when everyone else is already starting school for the day. It means we can call baking cake a math lesson, and take a trip to the CSA farm and call it science (I’d classify that Mental Health as well). The teenage girl in me who skipped every scheduled first period class of grade 12 is triumphant to have discovered that the people who determine school timetables may have scarred my childhood, but they don’t get to mess with my kids!

So, no one is more surprised than me at the fact that this year we started school earlier than the public school system: 3 days earlier. We hit the books, I got horrifyingly sick with a throat infection, and we just kept pushing through. For days I could hardly swallow, and moved through the house at the speed of a sloth, but we didn’t take a day off.

Who am I?  What has happened to me? I have no idea, but it feels good to have week one under our belts.

 

Renegade blogger

Hi, it’s me again.

I haven’t forgotten this little online corner of mine. It haunts me in my quiet moments. I wonder if I should write; I feel I should but don’t. Then I consider taking it all down, because who am I kidding? I’m not a Blogger. But I can’t, because I’m a blogger.

I suppose I see uppercase Bloggers as professionals. They shine brightly with well crafted blog posts that have enough paragraph breaks, bold headings, 3-5 steps to achieving perfection in their area of expertise, and perfectly Photoshopped images strewn throughout their posts. There was a time in my life that I would have held a grudge toward Bloggers. “They’re better at something than me; therefore, I’m worthless.” I’ve matured enough to now be okay with who I’m not. I’m not a Blogger. I don’t think I want to be. I break too many rules to fit into that category anyway.

But I have things that swirl around in my head. Writing alone is helpful, but the work of writing for others brings more clarity than a personal journal. Even if I’m the only one reading when it’s all said and done, I find more clarity when when I hit publish. So I’ll be here breaking rules with my sporadic posts, talking about any number of things. I’ll keep on blogging, and I’m honoured if you pop in to read from time to time.

Like many people, my thoughts in January turn to building new habits and getting things done. My life seems to cycle through periods of growth and effectiveness, and stagnant laziness. I hustle really hard until I don’t. And then I don’t hustle, really hard.

Right now this looks like a wall of Post-It Notes on my bedroom wall. It’s the outline for a book whose rough draft has been on my computer for 5 months without a single edit. I pounded that first draft out hard and fast last summer, and when the time came to refine my content I came to a screeching halt.

This also looks like lazy homeschooling. We schooled so hard in September. I was totally winning! But our days are unstructured to a fault and now we cover only the bare basics. My goal to get through our history and science curricula this school year is in danger of needing to be modified to a two year plan.

My effective/lazy cycle circles around again.

It was very timely that a sermon about good works and getting things done was preached to our church a few weeks ago. It gave me so much to think about in regards to why I want to accomplish the things on my to-do list, and not just focusing on being productive. In his book Do More Better, Tim Challies says, Productivity is not what will bring purpose to your life, but what will enable you to excel in living out your existing purpose. It became very clear to me that I have been looking at productivity all wrong. I’ve made it the goal, rather than the means by which I accomplish my true goals. I am created in Christ Jesus for good works, so that I would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10) My purpose is to be a faithful follower of Jesus, which involves doing good. My purpose is not to check things off my to-do list. It’s possible to be very productive at things that don’t matter.

My seasons that seem to lack productivity actually suffer from a lack of vision. I lose sight of the point. I think I’m hustling for hustle’s sake rather than for the sake of Jesus and what He is calling me to.

As I organize my time in my new bullet journal*, I’m not expecting it to make me productive, and I’m not aiming for productivity as the end goal of every day. My goal is faithfulness to Jesus, wisely using the time He gives me to do the things in front of me. Sometimes that means I see tangible results: a clean house, drawers full of clean laundry, children up to date on their school work, and budget in check. But sometimes it means there are no tangible results: navigating the waters of raising a houseful of sinful children and pointing their hearts to Jesus, or pushing the Gospel deep into my heart as I wrestle with my own sin. Those days don’t produce measurable results, but the goal is always the same: that I would be a faithful follower of Jesus, and do what He puts before me, whether it looks good on a checklist or not. That’s the point.

*About my bullet journal: I mention it only because I came across this way of creating a custom organizer and it seems like a brilliant method. There are already way too many people sharing online what their journals look like – I’m not going to add to it. The website I linked above is more than sufficient information if you want to implement this way of personal organization. Don’t worry about what it looks like, just let it propel you to do what you need to do.

In the thick of it.

A friend asked last night how school is going at our house, to which I replied, “Good, actually,” and Clay chimed in, “This is the most organized she’s ever been.”

I was tempted to take that as a backhanded compliment, but really, it’s true.
In previous years, I have been really disorganized. I fake my way through the school year, and my kids are brilliant so they make up for my lack of planning and organization. Every year I think to myself, “We’re going to homeschool so hard this year!” Then we (I) get worn out after a couple weeks and limp along until I have to stress about what I’ll do for year end reporting.

I stumbled across this post about using spiral notebooks to stay organized and on track with school. It is almost embarrassing that something so simple can be so earth shattering, but really, this method is amazing. Essentially, each child has a notebook that I write their assignments in and they check it off when they’re done. I prepare them each night so they’re ready to go in the morning. I stay on top of what they’re working on, see where they need help and where they’re flourishing, and have a concrete record of what we actually did so that year end reporting will hopefully be a breeze.

My strategy this year is to start small, and we’ll add more as we go. We’re learning so much together and getting a lot done. My challenge at this very moment is remembering to be thankful for the gift of being able to do this.

Home education takes a lot more time these days than it did when we started 5 years ago. My kids are bigger, and I’m teaching more of them. While I used to be able to say that we get everything done in an hour before lunch, it’s now taking multiple hours, and I’m teaching multiple subjects and grade levels at the same time.

This isn’t easy, but it is worth it. When I see my oldest son reading my youngest a story, it’s worth it. When history comes alive to them and I get to share in it, it’s worth it. When we share the joy of reading good books, it’s worth it. When the older kids help the younger ones with reading and spelling, it’s worth it. When we study science together and unfold the glory of God in his creation, it’s worth it.

And when I enforce a mandatory quiet time so that I can just have a moment of peace, I can reflect on what a blessing these kids are and what a blessing it is that I get to be their teacher. It’s difficult, but so worth it.