Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Last Few Weeks in Pictures

We've played lots of dress-up and had many friends over to the house.....

We've played in the water on the warm days....

And now we're back to school.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Rooting Out Perfectionism

I'm a recovering perfectionist.
I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again.
It has taken years of God's working in my life ~
moving me overseas almost 13 years ago now, rocky days in a marriage that didn't look like anything I'd imagined, secondary infertility, the miscarriage of a baby long-prayed for, the birth of four daughters {one if which was born with a heart condition}, trying to learn a new language, ministry hardships that included lies, unjust accusations, and slander, planting a baby church from the ground up, learning disabilities, sickness, need, fear, and a continual opening of my eyes to my sinful self ~
to slowly root out the lies of perfectionism I've believed.

For too many years, my worth was wrapped up in what I could achieve, how well I performed.
Every time I failed, what I thought I was worth plummeted.
Satan preyed upon me daily.
When I did well at something, I was the greatest Christian that had ever lived!
When something didn't go as well as I'd planned, I was the worst sinner that had ever walked the earth.
I lived my life on that swinging pendulum of pride and despair.
As I'm a slow learner, it has taken me many years to grasp the truth that my worth is not in me at all.
I have worth because I'm God's own dear child.

But learning that truth was only part of my battle.
For it to make any difference in my daily life, I had to root out the perfectionist thought patterns I'd accepted and replace them with new ways of thinking.

One of the ideas that helped me most was the concept of partial solutions.
I'm not exactly sure when or where I stumbled across this notion {as I didn't actually have a name for it until just recently ~ thanks, Tsh!}, but it really was revolutionary to my thinking.
{It had been squirreling around in my brain for a while, but I'm pretty sure God gave me baby #4 to cement it in there!}
Partial solutions is simply making do with what you have until you find something better.
As a perfectionist, I used to struggle with cleaning my house, because if I didn't have six hours to scrub everything and make it look immaculate, I couldn't clean anything.
If I didn't have three hours a day to do my language studies in absolute quiet, then I couldn't study at all.
If I couldn't do my devotions first thing in the morning, feeling completely rested, with no noise, I couldn't do them.
For years I didn't have any kind of prayer life, because my prayer journal didn't look just right.
I even had a spiritual excuse: It's a sin to do less than your best.
You know, good ol' Ecclesiastes 9:10 ~ Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might...
The reality is that I was twisting Scripture.
This verse doesn't mean only do things perfectly.
It means that whatever you are supposed to do at this moment, do your best.

With the idea of partial solutions, I was able to gain victory over the lies of perfection that had bound me for many years.
Now, I've learned to take little bits of time here and there and clean what I can, when I can, and my house is actually much cleaner than it used to be.
Using even fifteen minutes to sit down and study the language has seen me progress much farther than those sporadic blocks of time ever did before.
I have a set time to do devotions, but if something happens and they don't get done then, that's okay.
I find another time to work them in, or I split them up. At times that means reading part of the Scripture in the morning, slipping away to pray after lunch, and finishing after school is done for the day.
I realized that if I was ever going to have a prayer life, I'd just have to go with what I had, even if that meant scribbly, messy pages in an old notebook.
Are partial solutions the ultimate answer?
Not necessarily, but most of the time, I've learned that doing something is better than doing nothing.
In accepting partial solutions, I've been able to tear down at least one of those destructive, sinful ways of thinking.
And anything that roots Satan's lies out of my mind is a good thing!

On that note, I'm sharing my homeschool schedule here today.
If you don't teach your children, then you may stop here {wink!}.
We follow a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, so of course, our schedule is specific to that, but I've learned over the years that seeing the way others do things often sparks something helpful in my own mind.
As I've been talking to some friends here and online about school schedules, I thought it would be easiest to share it here.
My girls are 12, 9, 4, and 2, but birthdays for all of them are just around the corner.

Almost three years ago now, my fourth daughter was born at the very beginning of our school year. That was a year of utter put it mildly.
Last year I realized that I had to have something on paper, or my kids would never get taught anything. I spent a good deal of time praying {usually late at night after I'd finished feeding baby and all was quiet}, and do believe the Lord guided me.
I don't do well with a minute-by-minute detailed schedule {they rule me, not the other way around}, but I realized that I did need a rhythm.
I learned that having "hooks" or set points for certain things throughout my day helped a lot.
Once those were set, I was able slide things into place between the hooks.
As my older girls are getting older and into more complex work, I'm adding a new student {my almost five year old}, and my almost three year old needs structure so she doesn't run wild, I knew that this year would have to be better planned.
I spent free-thinking time {washing dishes, chopping onions, switching and hanging laundry} praying and thinking about what would work for us.
I scrawled out ideas, added to them, marked them out, and moved things around a lot, until I found something that seemed to make our days run smoothly.
This year I decided to plan blocks of time for each subject, rather doing a subject and then moving to the next when finished. I got this idea from Elsie at @farmhouse_schoolhouse {she is a wealth of CM homeschooling and beauty, by the way!} The older girls have that block of time to learn their lesson, do any required work that goes along with it, and explore it further, if they wish. They can also use the time to work on other work that didn't get finished during its block. The little two have two small shelves with items they can use on their own. I'm training them to take one thing at a time, sit at their own little table, play with it, and then put it back on the shelf. I rotate the items on the shelves regularly.
So here it is {I have included links for anyone interested in what we use}:

7-9 am Mom and girls get up, make bed, get ready, do devotions {mama and big girls}, little two come with mama and make breakfast. I also decide what is for lunch and supper at this time. At breakfast we do family Bible reading, prayer time, Scripture memory, and habit training.

9-10 am We begin school. We pray, state our motto, and recite our daily rungs. I assign copywork, music practice {guitar and piano}, and their personal reading book for the older two. I have Bible planned for 30 minutes and Spell to Write and Read for 30 minutes. While I do Bible with my older two ~ we are studying the epistles right now and doodling through them, my younger two are coloring a page in their Bible story book coloring book. When I finish working with the older two, I leave them to finish doodling their page and read the littles the Bible story that goes along with their picture for the day. We do our SWR lesson {a life-saver for our dyslexic daughter} while the littles have free-play {see above}.

10-11 am Math is scheduled for one hour. While I teach the lesson to the older girls, the littles free-play or play in their room, next door to the library. After the girls are ready to do their own work, I teach/play with the littles, working on numbers. During this time I am loading or unloading the laundry and hanging it out to dry {littles go with me and we do numbers outside}.

11-noon The big girls have Science scheduled for 30 minutes and Grammar for 30 minutes. As above, I do whatever teaching the girls need for Science {though this curriculum is heavy on their own work, reading, experimenting and journaling} and assign any living Science books they will be reading, while the littles free-play. I then choose a living science book and read with the littles. I take the littles and start prepping lunch. After 30 minutes, I do or assign Grammar work for the older girls and then finish up lunch prep with the littles at my side.

Noon-1 pm Lunch, foreign language {Asante Twi, the language we minister in}, and family read aloud

1-1:30 pm Together Stuff: Monday is nature study and folksong, Tuesday is Shakespeare, Wednesday is hymn study, Thursday is our composer, Friday is Picture study.

1:30-3:00 pm History/Geography are scheduled for one hour. I teach the older girls their lesson and give living history book assignments while the littles free-play, then I learn/play with letters with the littles. When that is done, I take the littles outside and start doing personal read alouds, with each girl having her turn with me. By 3:00 the read alouds are done {they usually take 10-20 minutes for each} and everybody has picked up their own mess in the library.

The only thing not on the schedule is Art, because we mix it in as forms of narration across different subjects, and from time to time use Craftsy classes, which would usually be done during the 1:30-4:00 pm slot.

3:00-4:00 pm Snack time and everybody outside. Mom takes a break, does chores, computer work, reads {mother culture!}, etc.

4:00-5:00 This year I'm hoping to use this slot for some one-on-one time with a different girl daily, and leaving my busiest day free.

5:00 pm Family Blessing Hour! Time for everybody to pitch in and help make our home neat, tidy, and enjoyable to be in! I'm cooking supper.

6:00 pm Eat!

And there you have it!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

For the Days When You Need a Transformation...

We set the chunks of beeswax in a tin and filled the pot with water.
It bubbled and steamed, and soon we had a can full of melty, shimmery wax.
We poured the fragrant liquid into the waiting jars and dipped in the wicks over and over.
Soon we had candles to give us light through the long, dark nights.

The girls gathered scraps of material, needles, and thread.
They pulled out old craft books, found sticks, glue, and paper.
They cut and sewed, glued and tied, colored and trimmed, until they had a pile of gear to go along with their favorite book and its long-awaited sequel.

As tiles came crashing off the walls, they squirreled away broken pieces from our kitchen renovation.
With broom and scraper they smoothed the ground of their summer club house {aka rabbit warren} and added a floor to make everything neat and tidy.

We caught a spiky black and orange caterpillar.
We fed him his favorite basil and checked on him daily.
He spun a pokey cocoon and hid out of sight for a few weeks.
One morning when we went to check his progress, we found a torn cocoon and a lovely leopard moth in his place.
He sat quietly for some hours until he fluttered open his wings, danced wildly, and then crawled off to find a dark corner to sleep in until night fall.

We gathered all our dingy white cloth napkins and took them outside with a steaming tub of hot water.
We filled it with maroon dye, and then took turns twirling and swirling those stained, ugly squares of cloth round and round.
We emptied, and rinsed, and squeezed, and rinsed.......and then dumped, and rinsed, and squeezed again....and again.....and again.
When the water ran clear, we hung them up to dry.
No longer marked with grease and spot, but something we were happy to use at our table again.

I often wonder if I'm becoming the woman God wants me to be.
Am I growing spiritually? mentally? emotionally?
Am I a better child of God, wife, mother, friend, missionary than I was a year ago?
If I start comparing myself to others, I can swing between frustration and despair or self-righteous pride.
If I look at myself through my own eyes, I can be quick to lift myself up based on my good intentions or I can cast myself down while focusing on my seeming failures.

But if I look to Jesus and His Word instead, the transformation will come.
Some days slowly and quietly, like hot wax clouding into hard candle.
Some days by bits and pieces, like colored scraps of cloth and broken tile changed into something beautiful.
Some days bursting forth, like a moth freed from the confines of its metamorphosis.
Some days by heat and agitation, covering those sin stains again and again.
In the end,
always, always by His grace alone.

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Guide for the Upcoming School Year

It's Thursday night, and our lights are on.
Maybe not a big deal to you, but certainly is to me.
I'd love to share some deep and touching things about life {and the upcoming school year}, but that's simply not going to happen today!

Tumbling through my brain right now {in no specific order}....
   the end of our summer break. Yes, if you've been paying attention, we just finished school at the end of June, but we are going on furlough next year in June, so school needs to start a bit early if it is to be finished on time.
   our very slow kitchen renovation that seems to be going from messy to messier. Today included two men with chisels and hammers and lots of noise and dust. So much dust.
   the upcoming school year. Big things planned for this year as my older two girls are getting.....older. Lili is also starting school this year. She is dying to start school right now. And of course, I have my two-almost-three year old who has a moral aversion to sitting still, but cannot be left alone for ten minutes. She's smart.....too smart.

Our break has been the best.
A few outings here and there.
A bit of reading aloud.
Spending some time with friends.
Mostly lots of free time to just let my children be children:
board games, card games, Lego, building a club house, making mud pies, drawing, art, dress-up, plays, reading, gardening, sewing, really whatever has caught their fancy at each particular moment.

I finished filing away last year's school folders and straightening the craft closet today.
I'm still working through my reading to prepare myself for the upcoming year.
It won't all be finished in time, but I'm far enough to get started.

I never wanted to school my children, but over the years God has really changed my heart in this matter.
It's no longer a duty, but rather a joy.
That's not to say there aren't hard days.
There are.
But every single one is still worth the opportunity I have to pour life into my children.

Writing about schooling can be volatile.
Many homeschool mamas live in fear and doubt that they aren't doing the best by their kiddos.
Then,when people write about the "best" ways to school children, people can get offended.
Over the years I've learned that what matters most is simply finding out how God wants me to teach my kids, and then just jumping in whole-heartedly: living, loving, and learning together.

Though many of you aren't quite ready to start the school year again, I thought I'd share some guides {NOT curriculum-related} that have been a blessing to me.
Hopefully they'll bless you, too!

Want a happy home? Start reading aloud! The Read-Aloud Revival podcast is the best place to start.
Need help fostering holy imagination? Head to Story Warren.
Not quite sure how to help the littlest ones in your house? The Peaceful Preschool E-course is what you are looking for.
Have kiddos who love to draw? Join in on Sketch Tuesday.
The first homeschool book I ever read {and now reread yearly}: For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.
Why good stories are essential to a good education ~ Caught Up in a Story by Sarah Clarkson.
Don't know what your kiddos should be reading? Both Honey for a Child's Heart and Read for the Heart are excellent.
And last, but not least.....a new favorite, Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie.
I do believe every single homeschooling mother needs to read this book.
She truly understands what teaching your kiddos is all about {let me give you a hint ~ it's not all about grades or the extracurriculars}.

I hope something in this list will be a blessing to you in this upcoming school year.

*The winner of The Lifegiving Home is Dahlia!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Guide for Building Your Home & A Giveaway

She clomps into the kitchen wearing her big sister's jean skirt and her galoshes, her curls quickly drying into a frizzy mess.
It's Thursday night.
That means that we've got the language tutor on his way, a friend from church joining us for supper, and Bible study to get ready for.
I'm checking the clock as I rapidly chop carrots, stir the sizzling onions, and try to keep everybody moving in the right direction.
What is my first reaction to this little one in her amazing costume?

For many years, my response would have been anger, yelling, frustration, irritation, a harsh, barked order to "Go get your clothes on," or something along those lines.
{Sadly some days it still is.}
But today I laugh.
It just wells up inside of me as I look at my silly, self-satisfied two-year old, who really did do what mama told her to do ~ get dressed ~ sort of.

I confess that I am an idealist.
It has its good points, but it comes with a lot of bad points, too.
I'm quick to judge.
I hold to strong ideals.
I generally have high expectations.
And though setting the bar high isn't necessarily a bad thing, I'm continually reminded that it can bring death in my home.

Before I became a wife and mother, I had beautiful dreams and hopes and yes, ideals, of what my home and life would be like.
It would be a place of comfortable beauty, full of friends and family, good food, shelves of books, stimulating conversations, fun, laughter, and life.
Then I got married....moved to a foreign country.....and started having babies.
And life got hard. Really hard.
Nothing was turning out according to the way I had pictured it.

I decided that the only way to fix that would be to "make" my ideals come true.
If I worked hard enough, thought things through enough to fix all the obstacles, and trained my children just right, everything would suddenly fall together.
I'd have the life I'd always dreamed of.

But it didn't.
So I tried harder.
I tightened down the screws, so to speak.
I got up insanely early, and stayed up ridiculously late.
I had meal schedules, and cleaning schedules, and ministry schedules, and learning schedules.
Everything was perfectly planned, and every time something went awry, I'd screw everything down a bit more.
Truth is, some of my planning began to pay off.
People were doing what I wanted them to do.
But there was no joy, no beauty, no life.

About seven year ago, God took all my perfect plans and all my effort and turned it upside down in a pile at my feet.
He asked me if I would be satisfied with what He wanted for me, or if I was going to continue to run my life my way.
By His grace, I surrendered.
From that moment of letting go of my hopes and dreams and castles in the sky, He began to build a new life for me.
The life HE wanted me to live.
A life full of hope in Him, not in all I could accomplish.
As He began to change me, He began to change our home, too.

When I tried it my own way, I was robbing our home of the very things it needed to be alive.
I was bringing forth death, rather than life.
My ideals were squeezing the breath of the Holy Spirit right out of our home.
All these years later, I can testify to two things: God is a good God who gives the best gifts and a home filled with Him is a home full of life.

Since that day so many years ago, God has given me several guides to show me the path to follow to build the home He desires us to have.
We aren't perfect.
In fact we are just a house full of sinners.
But by God's grace, He has taught us and led us and shown us the way He wants us to go.
Down the path of life; following hard after Him; daily raising up one more Home for His glory.

 The works of Edith Schaeffer and her daughter Susan Schaeffer Macaulay have been invaluable to me as I've grown in my understanding of all God desires for a home to be.
The Hidden Art of Homemaking, What is a Family?, and For the Family's Sake are all wonderful books.
My new favorite, though, is by one of my favorite book-mentors, Sally Clarkson.
Her newest book, The Lifegiving Home is honest, down-to-earth, and very inspiring.
Because it's been such a blessing to me, I'd like to share it with one of you.
Simply leave a comment here or on facebook, and I'll pick one winner in the next week!

*This is available to anyone, no matter where you live, but you must have a US mailing address to receive a hard copy. If you live abroad, you may enter to receive a Kindle version.