What we do for Bible, Worldview, and Discipleship Studies

#teachallthethings

There have been many different Bible programs and studies we have done over the years. Some have fallen flat and been a disappointment, a waste of money and time. I won’t focus on those here. I want to share some of the very best resources we’ve found because they are so captivating and have helped me build a foundation of truth for the children. Those of you who have asked me what we do for Bible, here you go!

Sometimes, when parents start out looking into homeschooling, they feel overwhelmed at all the choices for curriculum. One place that can be a good start is to narrow down Bible choices first. It’s a wonderful freedom bestowed by the choice to homeschool that we as parents get to choose how to direct our children’s lives in ways that go far beyond education. Spiritual training directs all the way into eternity! We believe Bible should be the cornerstone of our homeschool and that’s why I’m writing a whole blog post devoted just to Bible resources. Not all of these will work for every family, and we certainly don’t do all of them in any given year. Instead, I have purposed to let Holy Spirit guide us to training that will work for any given season we walk into so we are equipped for Kingdom work. Some of the best of what we’ve tried has ended up in this post.

Of course, Scripture is woven throughout all of our school material (history, science, mathematics, literature, etc.) but here we focus on specifically learning and living out God’s Word. While there are many, many options for spiritual development out there, this post will mainly look at curriculum that can be adapted to homeschooling for Bible credit and/or family devotions, not to programs and tools for things like chore-training and character attributes (which are important too, just different from the purposes outlined here). Perhaps some of these choices will help you begin to build a curriculum to train up your children. Even if you make the decision to pursue more traditional schooling options for your kiddos, these resources can be an invaluable resource for devotional life.

Scripture Memorization

Hands-down, the very best Bible memory CDs we’ve ever used are produced by the Steve and Annie Harrow. We were first introduced to their music through Sonlight Bible cores, which we’ve used regularly since the beginning of our homeschool journey. The songs are very simple and well-done without being cheesy and annoying. In fact, Steve and Annie’s Harrow’s music is pleasant enough that I could have it playing in the background while we work on other subjects. I can’t say that for most of the children’s Scriptural music I’ve come across. All the tracks have an accompanying instrumental track for when the children have memorized the words to the verses. The only downside I see to their music is that most of the verse references are not included in the songs themselves. When I was a little girl, I remember listening to GT and the Halo Express, which had the Bible references actually sung along with the Scripture. To this day, the verses I learned back then are burned into my memory WITH the references. However, even considering this, I still prefer Harrow family productions as they are so beautiful. It’s not too much extra work to memorize the references separately. We currently have five of their seven CDs.

www.singtheword.com

 

 

 

 

 

Catechism

This is the first year we are using the Westminster Shorter Catechism in our biblical studies. There are many reasons to include catechism in our daily lessons even though we are not orthodox. The main reason is that children need to internalize the basics of Scriptural understanding. These truths are the bricks with which we build a House of Truth. The little ones cannot understand complex, abstract doctrines, but by memorizing questions and answers such as they are presented in the catechism, they will be able to build well into the future as their understanding develops. I do not believe catechism should be held above memorization of the Word itself, but it is important to be able to give an answer for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15) and put concise words to exactly WHAT we believe. We are using Holly Dutton’s Westminster Shorter Catechism songs. There are four CDs in all, and they cover all 107 questions and answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Both the questions and answers are included in each song, making it easier for the kids to have memory pegs for some of the main doctrinal points of our faith. There are several questions we will not memorize as they differ fundamentally with what we believe (i.e. infant baptism being a sacrament, the first day of the week being the God-ordained Sabbath after Christ’s resurrection, etc.). However, since the majority of the questions and answers are so eloquent and the music is so beautiful and simple, I did not want to forego the learning opportunity provided by the catechism.

www.catechismforkids.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Study

Kay Arthur’s book How to Study Your Bible revolutionized my life. I visited this book when I was in Bible college and again while part of a leadership training program in my young adult years. Kay’s method of delving into the text is so straightforward, and I really like the questions that are laid out at the beginning of a study. They can be used for any passages, anywhere in the Word. While I do not use her method for my devotional reading, those times when I just want the truth of God’s Word to wash over my spirit but I am not doing a particular exegesis, I have yet to find a better way of organizing study. A few years ago, I discovered that Kay Arthur’s Precepts Ministries International publishes a series of Bible study books for kids called Discover 4 Yourself. They have a version of How to Study Your Bible for children as well as several workbooks that students can use to go through different topics in both the Old and New Testaments. The workbooks are fabulous. They are interesting and written with an engaging narrative style that ties the adventure of Bible study with the reality that one can actually possess a deep understanding of God’s Word no matter her age. There are games, puzzles, and questions that force kids to really dig into the text. Jaelah and Selah have done several of the workbooks but are now growing out of them and are ready for the next phase of Bible study. Chavah recently finished the book for Jonah and I can’t even express the joy I feel as I look through her workbook and see her handwriting and colorful notes all over the text, displaying how she has dug into the meat of the Word. It is nice that most of the referenced Scripture is included IN the workbooks so that any mistakes made with the colorful symbols that are used in study won’t be a permanent part of the children’s personal Bibles. The material is broken up into very manageable chunks that don’t take more than about 20-30 minutes to complete per day. The teacher editions are nice but not completely necessary if a parent has an understanding of Kay Arthur’s study methods and can do the work along with the children. So far, Lord, Teach Me to Pray has been my favorite – an entire book breaking down the Lord’s Prayer.

www.precept.org

 

 

 

PictureSmart Bible has been on my backburner for several years now. I have not yet delved into the program because I wanted to be able to use it with all of the kids at the same time. Just recently, PictureSmart Bible has come out with a K-3 curriculum, so very soon we will be able to use the Grade 4-Adult curriculum for the older kids and the K-3 for the younger kids. If you want to go through the entire Bible and get the main theme from each book summarized in one picture that you color in as you go, this is the program for you. Not only do you go through and study every single book of the Bible, God’s plan of salvation is emphasized in each and every book. I don’t know of many programs, especially for young children, that take the minor prophets of the Old Testament and reveal how redemption is woven through the entire text.

www.picturesmartbible.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Veritas Press Bible is a program we are using for the first time this homeschooling year. Now that I am teaching 6 students, any subjects we can combine and easily adapt for levels of ability save a lot of time for me. A fan of the idea of “memory pegs” on which children can place knowledge as they grow, I have found VP Bible to be an excellent program for review and understanding. There are five sets of flash cards, each set made up of 32 of the most important events and people of a particular part of the Bible. On the front of each 5 ½ x 8 ½ card is an illustration or famous artwork depicting a person or event. On the back is a short summary of the event as well as Scriptural reference, dates (if applicable), as well as a list of cross-reference materials that can be used for further study (books such as the Children’s Illustrated Bible, or Journey Through the Bible, etc.). Each of the five sets has a memory song to go with it and will go through all 32 events as well as the setting and Bible reference referenced by the cards themselves. Currently, we are making our way through the Genesis to Joshua song. While not the most incredible work of musicianship I’ve ever heard, the details ARE being retained by the kids. My goal is not for them to memorize the whole memory song, but rather to get very familiar with the order of Biblical history and the important events. A teacher guide is included with each CD with printable worksheets and tests related to each flash card in the set. I use these to go through the cards, but the review portions tend to get a little redundant in my opinion after awhile, so I do not emphasize them more than on the first time or two we are looking through a particular flash card. Memory work is a foundational aspect of classical education, but I find that the time I am spending with the kids on these cards is enough for familiarity to be established, which is my ultimate goal (not word-perfect memorization of song lyrics). Especially considering all the other Bible resources we are using concurrently, I feel that we are getting enough out of this program to justify the cost of the flash cards. The five sets consist of Genesis to Joshua, Judges to Kings, Chronicles to Malachi, The Gospels, and Acts to Revelation. The bonus is that these cards DO correspond to the Veritas Press history cards, which has really helped the older two girls to place biblical events alongside ancient world history.

www.veritaspress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worldview & Apologetics

We use Apologia Worldview curriculum as the basis of our family devotions. We took a year just to go through the first book, letting the conversational bunny trails get lively and knowing that interruptions abound. After all, you can only get through so much serious discussion with a toddler and a preschooler contributing around the dinner table. This curriculum has been a family favorite thus far and we have not even gotten more than halfway through the second book. The stories, dialogue, Scripture, and beautiful illustrations and photography have added a great depth to conversation for our family. I particularly appreciate the importance placed on developing a solidly Christian worldview and acknowledging the fact that Scriptural truth simply MUST be the foundation upon which we build our entire lives. The simplicity of the gospel is laid out consistently and centrally in each book. These books do not delve into doctrinal specifics that vary greatly across congregations, denominations, and families (i.e. topics like the gifts of the Holy Spirit for believers today, or the role of women in the church, etc.) None of what we have studied has been from a divisive perspective but one that majors on some of the most important parts of what we believe. Apologia curriculum is excellent for those who like the notebooking journal style of learning. We used the Junior notebooking journals for the first level. It has lots of space for notes, activities, Scripture study, and even writing out prayers. However, we always end up going back to using the coloring books that are included with each level. Though I am sure they were intended for the younger audience, our oldest two daughters love to get out the colored pencils and color while Daddy reads aloud. The great thing about this worldview curriculum is the ability to draw in a broad range of ages without anyone feeling left out.

www.apologia.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Torah Portions

Many will agree with my opinion that one of the best Torah resources for children is Children’s Torah Club, published by First Fruits of Zion ministries. Our children have used parts of this program in Shabbat classes since they were quite small. We have never gone through the entire program as a family, but this is another one of the back-burner programs I may use with the younger crew during the next Torah reading cycle. Activities, readings, puzzles, and the like are included in each lesson. Review can be incorporated as well, but it is not a strong point in this program considering most Messianic families go through the Torah portions every single year. Each Torah portion has its own 8 page packet. One of my favorite aspects of the program is that basic Hebrew is taught alongside each lesson. It should be noted that while there are gospel portions and haftarah portions included in FFOZ Torah reading schedules available each year, the additional readings are NOT a part of the curriculum of this Torah Club program. Parents would have to add in other readings and activities even though TC is written from a Messianic perspective. FFOZ states the recommended age level of Children’s Torah Club is 6-10 years old, but I think the age is a fair amount younger – perhaps 5-8, and my almost-4-year old would be easily able to work through many of the activities with my help. By the time my kids are 9 or 10, I believe they can and should be delving into deeper truths without the need for so many activities to hold their attention, but that is only based on what I have seen in our family.

www.ffoz.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jaelah is working through the Walk! Torah devotional studies during the Torah cycle this year. This is definitely a more mature program, at least at the high school level. I like it enough to consider using it for all the kids as they prepare for bar and bat mitzvah. There is a significant amount of reading, both in Scripture and through the commentary, but it pulls a great deal out of the text. It teaches some basic Hebrew and is Messianic in perspective. Jaelah is not ready for the level of the chumash yet, but I believe she will be well-prepared for it when she is done with the Walk! books, that is, if she wants to delve into the chumash on her own. An even more in-depth study on the Torah portions, one I was turned on to over 6 years ago and my own personal favorite is written by the Rabbi’s Son. I love his perspective, language, and inspiration, but since we aren’t yet using it for homeschooling study, that is a blog post for another day! These books DO include the Haftarah and B’rit Chadashah readings.

www.logos.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discipleship

Through the relationships we’ve developed at The Church at Ellerslie, we discovered a recently-launched project called Heroic Life Discipleship. It’s a curriculum aimed at training up children in a solid foundation of the Word that they might mature fully in Christ. The curriculum will ultimately cover all Scripture from Genesis to Revelation (in 8 semester sections) but for now only the first (Foundations), seventh (Our Sure Salvation), and eighth (The Exchanged Life) semesters are available with new semesters being rolled out over the next few years. Activity guides are provided along with the leader guide for each semester, and a student book for two separate age levels (age 4-7 and age 8-13) are available for each level as well. This means another great way for me to combine multiple age levels without having to add any hours to an already busy day. I am thrilled about this program because we have seen such an abundance of fruit from the training we’ve received at Ellerslie just by being a part of the body there. I know this curriculum will grow us in many ways as a family. We are starting with Foundations. I cannot comment on ease of use through the entire program, but from the samples I’ve read of the newly-released material, it will dovetail very nicely with Apologia’s worldview studies.

One of the aspects of Heroic Life Discipleship that excites me the most is the call to intercession for young ones in a practical way. Though we pray as a family, it has been a practice that has moved along in a clunky and sometimes uninspiring way – mainly because Pete and I had not developed from a young age the practice of praying in groups (or even individually) and collectively calling the promises and realities of Heaven down to earth. It is hard to pass on a discipline to children as parents when we ourselves have struggled to create a resilient habit. If the children can start young, however, I know that they will thrive in the truth that Yeshua dwells within them and they can develop a powerful prayer life in connecting with Him at all times. The other aspect of Heroic Life that I’m very excited about is that mighty men and women of the faith will be featured throughout the semesters. We utilize biographies in all areas of our homeschool study, but I cannot wait to delve into some of the lives of incredible people who build our faith through their testimony and encouragement. This format promises to highlight some true heroes whose stories I pray will burn in our children’s hearts.

www.heroiclifediscipleship.com

First Day of School 2017 Favorite ♥ Moments #7

Here we are embarking on our eighth year of being a homeschooling family. This year will bring some new challenges and new rewards. I look forward to the many hours of discussions we’ll have and watching wisdom and understanding grow in the eyes and words of my children even as their physical bodies grow.

Our family vision word for the year centers around life, particularly Yeshua’s life in us. We visited the theme of abundant life two years ago, but this time we are going deeper in the vein of Galatians 2:20. As a homeschooling mother, one of the things that stood out to me as we prayed about this idea of Christ in us and what that is supposed to look like was how Yeshua only did the things He saw His Father doing. My prayer for myself is that I would have eyes to see and a heart to understanding what Heavenly Father is doing in each of my children’s lives. I purpose to join my strength with His, moving and guiding the tender clay of these hearts in the direction He is headed with them. This means realizing anew how important heart connection is and how much more significant the education of the spirit is than that of the mind, though both are crucial to the development of well-rounded people. Relationship with Abba absolutely must be the priority of our school days. This means greater awareness, greater humility, and a greater willingness on my part to surrender those methods, books, curriculum, and explanations that do not fit with the vessels He is trying to shape. It is the very purpose of homeschooling – the freedom to let these tender plants be given the particular nutrients and atmosphere that match their specific needs without weeds getting mixed in and choking out life. But I have seen that I have tended toward forgetting some of the reasons I began to homeschool as I found myself in the weeds several times over this past school year. It is easy to be overwhelmed by options, especially as we enter those middle school years. I felt myself getting bogged down as I considered the burden upon my shoulders, until the Lord placed the very simple words on my heart as a focus for moving ahead – see what I am doing, and follow suit. My greatest desire is to refuse to let the good (even if it’s at the top of Cathy Duffy’s review list!) be the enemy of the best in how we spend our time. Oh, let every moment be redeemed as we navigate these deep waters!

This is my prayerfully prepared list of curriculum for the various ages and stages for the year. Even as I have pored over the books and lesson plans, the thought that thrills me the most is that the scary parts of entering the years of what I have always thought of as “serious” school are seen as nothing more than a thrilling adventure to Yeshua. From His view, He gets to teach me to walk further out on the water than I have before. He gets to draw the children away to Himself ever more this year as they themselves learn to look over the edge of the boat at those tall waves, perhaps hearing for the first time the whisper to come out and trust the hand of God on their own. Press on toward His voice, little children!

Jaelah & Selah – 7th grade
One of changes this year will be laying aside Latin (after working on it for 3 years) and picking up the pursuit of Spanish. I considered having the girls learn the two languages alongside each other, but since we are not on the path of reading Cicero or Virgil in the original Latin (though I admit I thought of it in a romantic daydream or two as a young homeschooling mother starting out years ago), the Latin grammar we have learned thus far has served its purpose and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do two languages. They will be doing some vocabulary exercises separately to stay fresh. Since we are weaving a Great Books experience rather than a history focus as most highschools do, I am steering us through Veritas Press transition history and literature to brush up and fill in any gaps. We likely will be transitioning from Sonlight to Omnibus (unless I find something comparable) so that we can experience some of the great thinkers and works together as a family in the future. The other major addition this year will be the study of formal logic and the first course of Apologia’s upper level science, as well as a civics course that they will complete with Chavah.

Jaelah – Walk! Torah portion devotionals (as part of bat mitzvah preparation and Bible)
Selah – Veritas Press Bible Old Testament
Teaching Textbooks – finish Pre-Algebra, start Algebra 1 (might switch back to Math-U-See; not sure yet)
IEW Fix-It Grammar – finish book 3, start book 4
Writing With Skill – finish book 1, start book 2
IEW SICC-B composition course
Wordly Wise – book 5 & 6
Introductory Logic
Apologia General Science
Veritas Press Transition History & Literature
Uncle Sam & You
Rosetta Stone Spanish
Various health & development books

Chavah – 5th grade
This will be a challenging year for Chavah. I’ve purposely held back quite a bit to wait for her ability to really dig in to develop enough that it corresponds with what I expect of her. While she still would rather do just about anything than sit still in a desk, she has been giving hints for quite a few months now that she’s ready for more. My plan is to allow her a lot of movement and freedom in where and how she wants to learn as long as she completes what is laid out for her (i.e. under the table in a blanket fort is a favorite these days). We’ll probably have to tweak as we go along, but I’ve seen some encouraging development in Chimmy, particularly as she’s started participating more in family devotional discussions and literature talks each afternoon with me and the older girls. She simply needs the time and space to think about how she wants to express her thoughts. And she can’t WAIT to do fractions in math, which makes me giggle.

Veritas Press Bible Old Testament
Math U See – Epsilon, start Zeta
IEW Fix-It Grammar – book 1, start book 2
Writing With Ease – finish book 3, start book 4
IEW SWI-A composition course
All About Spelling – finish book 6, start book 7
Wordly Wise – book 1 & 2
Apologia science – Zoology 2, start Zoology 3
Legends & Leagues geography – north & south books
Story of the World – books 1, 2, and 3
Light Keepers – biographical reading
Uncle Sam & You
Listen in to literature read-alouds with Jaelah & Selah
Rosetta Stone Spanish

Hosannah & Noah – 3rd grade
The twins have expressed a greater interest in more history and science reading, so I am combining them with many of Chavah’s subjects to both save time and inspire them more this year. They have a great handle on reading and basic math, so need less of Mom looking right over their shoulders constantly. I look forward to letting them take a little more independent ownership of their learning this year. They are just starting their Latin journey, which I have found helps SO much in learning English grammar, albeit indirectly. We are doing First Language Lessons right alongside Prima Latina to make sure we don’t miss any language arts highlights as well.

Veritas Press Bible Old Testament
Math U See – finish Beta, start Gamma
First Language Lessons – book 3, start book 4
Writing With Ease – finish book 1, start book 2
IEW Bible Heroes composition course
All About Spelling – finish book 3, start book 4
All About Reading – finish level 4, move to Sonlight chapter readers
Prima Latina, start Latina Christiana I
Wordly Wise – book A & B
Apologia science – Zoology 2, start Zoology 3
Legends & Leagues geography – north & south books
Story of the World – books 1, 2, and 3
Copywork for Little Girls & Boys

Ketziah – preschool
Veritas Press Bible Old Testament
Usborne Wipe-Clean Books – handwriting & pen-control, alphabet, numbers
All About Reading – finish level Pre-1, start Level 1
Classical Math to music – addition & subtraction songs
Wordly Wise K & 1 – vocabulary picture cards

This year already has quite a bit of curriculum scheduled into it, but we have a lot of extracurricular learning opportunities as well. The oldest girls plan to continue with Bible Quiz Fellowship as they’ve really enjoyed being on a team and memorizing the book of Luke with a group of young people this year. All five of the older kids are still going to be doing our homeschool all day co-op classes on Fridays. We are also planning to continue doing string music with Shir Yaffeh, the youth orchestra the kids have been a part of for a couple of years. As far as family devotions, we are going very slowly through Apologia’s worldview books. They are so excellent and incredibly meaty, so it is taking us far longer to complete them than I had originally planned. No matter! Daddy loves getting to guide the children in laying foundations of truth. Another book we’re incorporating around the dinner table is Manners Made Easy, a book which covers a manner per day for 365 days. Our family lacks in some key social graces that are hard to ignore due simply to the sheer number of people in our family, and I believe an easy way to remedy this is to provide instruction that makes it fun and feasible to have manners. Bite-sized tidbits each day for a year fit the bill perfectly.

I look forward to this year’s journey. The moments are precious, the lives I touch daily infinitely more so. I’ve embraced the hum of noise that will fill my days, a cacophony that lately has sounded far less chaotic and is beginning to harmonize more like a beautiful symphony. The tones only become discordant when I take my eyes off Him, so may I live in HIS LIFE this year!

A 10th birthday blessing for my second daughter

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My precious girl, you are finally here at this day you’ve looked forward to for such a long time! I myself can hardly believe how swiftly these years with you have flown by. The way you entered the world is the way you live your life. You came to us on a windy, golden November morning with no warning, appearing within 2 hours of the first hint of your arrival and full to the brim with passion, strength, and determination.

You have never been one to let a difference of a mere 16 months between you and your older sister hold you back. I remember that even at age 2, you couldn’t bear the thought of not getting to start school with Jaelah and thus you have been right in the middle of the activity ever since. I have enjoyed se2016-11-15 17.28.27-1.jpgeing you rise to every occasion that life has brought your direction. You have a love of words and writing that is inspiring, a wisdom beyond your years, and a mind that loves to question and investigate. I am often touched by the depth you glean out of things we discuss, and I love that you have such a love for the precision of truth. I believe God is going to develop you in a great way in the years to come so that you are well-prepared to be a vessel of His glory on this earth wherever you go and whatever you do.

My prayer for you as  you enter into this very special season of your life is that you would never shy away from learning and growing – even when that process is facilitated by mistakes and those pieces of life that are often hard understand. You can trust that your heavenly Abba holds you fast in His hand. There are so many brand new experiences that await you as the world opens up to you in ways it has never revealed before. Your dad and I commit to protecting your heart and yet also allowing your creativity to take its place in the root system of who you are as you embrace this next part of growing up. I pray for contentment and rest in the deepest part of you. As second-born, most experiences will have already been had in our household by the time you get to them. I know this has been tough for you as you have such a desire to keep up and not miss a thing. Yet, always remember that they are your firsts and each one is unique because of who you are and the perspective you have that is different and a blessing in its own way. God has placed you exactly where you need to be. Trust Him!

May Yeshua continue to lead you into a deeper understanding of what it means to find your all in Him and Him alone. Truly, those who love this life will lose it, yet those who set aside what this life offers in exchange for life in the true Vine will never be disappointed. I believe that it is never too early to water this seed that we have endeavored to plant deep in your heart. Daddy and I have been given the precious and awesome responsibility of guarding your eternal soul while you journey on this earth. While we are far from perfect, I hope that you will trust us to guide you on this next part of your pilgrimage.

May your relationship with the Lord come first – before your education, your abilities, and even your future. What He can mold your life into is more beautiful than you can imagine if you entrust everything to Him and seek Him first. I love you so much!

This family prepares for bat mitzvah

We are still about two years away from Jaelah’s bat mitzvah and yet it is finally time for preparations to begin! This has been a much-anticipated time in our household. The children look at this process of being released into “grown-up-hood” as a treasured time. Though there are some fun privileges in our family that we’ve associated with bat-mitzvah season, such as finally getting to wear make-up, the heart process of a child taking ownership of her relationship with the Lord is the primary purpose of becoming a bat mitzvah, or “daughter of the commandments.”

As our spiritual and emotional preparations begin with our eldest child, I am in continual awareness that these precious souls are only loaned to us for a short time. Being released into the responsibility of one’s own walk with God for the rest of her life is a tremendous time of blessing, a journey that must be walked with a knowledge of its holiness coupled with rejoicing as we are draw nearer to that special day.

There are many books we want to read through in the coming months, and with my big stack it’s obvious that we will need every last week of the next couple of years. More than just book knowledge, however, now is a time of discovering and expressing in a greater fullness the unique gifting and personality God has equipped Jaelah with.

There are few bat/bar mitzvah programs and books I have found that emphasize the New Covenant in its fullness. A Torah-submissive lifestyle is something our family wholeheartedly embraces, yet the walk of faith and redemption all of our children must eventually choose for themselves is much more than living out commandments in a practical way. It is finding oneself utterly dependent upon Yeshua for everything and choosing to follow Him with everything, submitted in heart AND action. Technically, I suppose, we will be having a bat b’rit chadashah (daughter of the New Covenant) ceremony for Jaelah.

Here are some of the categories and resources we’ve chosen to incorporate into our family’s bar/bat mitzvah training. Some might end up left by the wayside while others will be a go-to for all seven of our kiddos. I’m sure I’ll find some other treasures along the way to add to our collection as we launch Jaelah into adulthood.

First things first. In our family, one responsibility we will require of our children before their covenant ceremonies will be to read through the entire Bible. We’ve read through most of the Bible already incorporating it into our school day, but as we are approaching a new Torah cycle we have decided to help Jaelah go deeper with it at a level not too far above her understanding yet challenging in just the right way. Daddy and Jaelah will be going through not only the weekly Scripture portions together this year, but also working through the Walk! devotional commentaries on the Torah, Haftarah, and B’rit Chadashah readings. Since this study will take a fair amount of time daily, I am going to count it as Bible credit for school as well.

Devotion to Yeshua in spite of what the world does and says is difficult, particularly for those not living with the religious freedoms we have in the US. I don’t want to overwhelm Jaelah’s extremely compassionate heart with violence unnecessarily, but the history of believers is fraught with stories of incredible conviction in the face of persecution, imprisonment, and death. These true stories can be gripping and build faith in spite of the difficulty of reading them. Missions and the persecuted church is already something we discuss regularly in homeschool, but now Jaelah will be reading through Voice of the Martyrs’ publication Extreme Devotion. It has short, daily readings, with devotional-type questions. Many of the stories are taken from Fox’s Book of Martyrs, a book I am reserving for high school.

The Hebrew roots of our faith is not a new discussion topic around here, and yet there are many specific theological and doctrinal topics that we would like to help Jaelah understand more than she does now. Hebrew roots is an extraordinarily complex subject, so we will be taking portions from the following books and presenting them to Jaelah in the “cliff notes” versions. Other than developing very basic skills of exegesis (which has been extremely successful so far with the Discover 4 Yourself series of Bible study books by Kay Arthur), my main desire is to create a framework from which she can continue to build throughout young adulthood and beyond. Even as a college student, I struggled through Samuele Bacchiochi’s From Sabbath to Sunday, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t present the bullet points to her now. Though she could technically read through all of them and maybe gain some insights, I plan to use these books as school curriculum towards the end of high school because I want her maturity to be at a level where she can more readily understand and incorporate them into her belief system: Holy Cow! by Hope Egan, Our Hands are Stained with Blood by Dr. Michael Brown, From Sabbath to Sunday by Samuele Bacchiochi, Too Long in the Sun by Richard Rives, Fellow Heirs and The Letter Writer by Tim Hegg, and The Mystery of the Gospel and Grafted In by Daniel Lancaster.

While many of the resources I just listed will give a great intro into the Hebrew roots of our faith, they assume that a basis for Christ’s divinity and identity as Savior has already been established and accepted. The framework of Messianic faith must be laid upon the foundation of Christ. To really help her solidify her understanding of God the Creator and Yeshua His Son, Jaelah will be going through Lee Strobel’s excellent “Case for…” series, which is geared toward students. We’ll read The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ, as well as The Case for a Creator.

One part of bat mitzvah training that begins now and will go on for several more years involves both purity and modesty (in body and heart) as well as godly relationships with the opposite sex. I’ve read several books on purity that devote more time to defining what types of clothing are truly modest than to developing the purity of heart and mind. Instead of slapping on a maxi skirt and billowy blouse and calling it “modest” I want Jaelah to see that there is much more to how she displays herself to the world. What motivates her? What parts of the culture does she allow to influence how she thinks about herself? How will she define beauty? Does modest begin and end with the clothing on one’s body, or does it actually pertain even to speech and attitude? How does she feed her definitions of these things – from the world or from God’s Word revealed through Holy Spirit? All these questions will continue to be asked long past a bat mitzvah ceremony, but I want to start laying the foundation even now. First, we will go through Leslie Ludy’s Lost Art of True Beauty, which is geared toward younger women. For lighter reading that provides encouragement about a variety of things related to godly young women, from modesty to devotion time to gossip, we’re subscribing to the Set Apart Girl magazine that comes out bi-monthly. These magazines are exquisitely done and are so good that we will get the hard copies instead of the electronic version so we’ll always have them at hand. When we’re ready for a bit more depth on relationship study, which probably will be much closer to when Jaelah is 13, we will read Elisabeth Elliott’s Passion and Purity. I would say it’s a timeless book on relationship and purity, though it still has some material that will not pertain for awhile yet. Another book that is a bit advanced but will be on our shelf is Before You Meet Prince Charming by Sarah Mally. Despite what the title might suggest, it’s actually a book geared toward becoming a young woman who focuses more on who she is becoming in Christ than on what young men she attracts. It’s still not really on the radar for us, but I like having resources at the ready for topics like this.

As Jaelah develops her spiritual and motivational gifts, we will go through Don and Katie Fortune’s Discover Your Child’s Gifts. This book has tests that will help both Jaelah and us as her parents to see the particular way she views the world and how to help her find the place she will fit in the Body of Messiah. Some of the things we want to incorporate for Jaelah will be service-oriented and involve mission trips and helping with different ministry tasks over the next couple of years. We’ll be looking for things that help to turn book knowledge into wisdom through life experience. While somewhat more difficult to plan out than pages to read in books, I look forward to this aspect of Jaelah’s development as a believer and soon-to-be daughter of the covenant.

Braces and a cradle swing

There’s a cradle swing laying at the foot of the cross. Next to it is an itty-bitty pair of leopard sandals with pink flowers on them, brand-new and only worn once. There’s a tiny pink baby blow-up pool. There’s a Bumbo seat and a play mat with well-loved teething toys. There’s a bassinet that won’t be used anymore, and a rocking chair that has served its purpose for many years – the permanent indentation of my rear end on the seat. All these little things, discards of a precious season of my life that is quickly slipping away. Tomorrow my eldest “baby” will be getting braces. Wasn’t it just yesterday that she lost her first tooth? I clearly remember coming home from a Yom Kippur service and breaking our fast together as a family. She came up to me with big, brave tears barely held back in her eyes, silently showing me the tiny white speck in her little hand.

I find myself trying to hold each moment of these little ones in my hands, to truly see each one before it slips through my fingers and is gone forever. I want to firmly imprint on my heart the faces of my children as they are right now; their funny little words and thoughts I want to etch deeply into my soul. I am seeking to be present with each heartache, fear, and victory. We are in the midst of an awkward stage, one that I see as a launch pad into the next season of our lives as a family. Just as pregnancy and birth can be painful and frustrating, tight and restricting, it is the picture I get when envisioning what God is doing in us right now. Because I had my first five children in four years, it seems like whenever there is a new season on the horizon, they ALL enter it at just about the same time, and then they ALL leave it at just about the same time. In one big whirlwind, they’ll ALL have driver’s licenses. They ALL grew out of the wooden train set in one summer. As I write this, they are ALL leaving the itty-bitty stage behind.

On one hand I have five children with newly-budding maturity and potential that has yet to be fully-realized but is almost bursting out at the seams. They are PEOPLE with their own ideas and gifts! No longer are we only faithfully keeping our hands to the plow, planting seeds that we know won’t show green sprouts for quite some time. Now those green shoots are starting to show! On the other hand, I have a three-year-old who wants to “do school” already, and a baby who is suddenly okay with Pete holding her even when I’m in plain sight. She’s daily adding favorite activities to what used to be a one-item list with “nursing” at the top.

Perhaps it is my perspective that has created what I see as a great chasm between “baby” and “young adult getting married and leaving home.” Is it because I have been doing this for so long that now that it’s almost over I feel like I’ve lost my footing and that there really is a huge leap between this season and the next one? I don’t think I have ever met another mother who cried when she donated her cradle swing. I did, though. I completely fell apart when I laid Tirzah in it for a nap the other day while at my grandma’s house. She slept peacefully in it for three hours. I kept sneaking in to look at her cherub cheeks while she swayed in dreamland. As I was loading the swing back into my van, I realized that was probably the last nap she’ll ever have in her swing. Technically, she has been too big for it for a few months now even though it’s been her very favorite place to sleep. We gave the swing away to a friend the very next day. Which means my days of cradle swings are over. Just like that. I was wiping tears off my cheeks, trying not to freak my children out, reminiscing over the years of how cradle swings have saved our sanity as parents. We’ve run out at 3 a.m. to get D batteries, we’ve taken the swing apart and loaded in into our tiny car trunk, dragged it from room to room, and had to replace it a time or two. Every one of our children has loved the cradle swing. And right then, I have to lay it at the foot of the cross. Surrender it willingly, with full awareness of what it represents. Can a heart burst with gratitude for sharing such a gift as creating life with my heavenly Father?

While my children are growing up before me, I’ve discovered that this new season is a birthing process for me as well. I added up all the months and years of nursing, pregnancy, and having a small baby at home and realized I’ve been doing this for nearly twelve years straight. My very body has belonged to other people for more than a decade. Because I have died so completely to myself and my own life, I almost don’t recognize the person who is starting to emerge. Looking back, I see how sometimes I’ve willingly surrendered myself to Yeshua’s purpose for me in motherhood and other times I’ve held back until He’s had to pry “me” from my hands. The woman I see coming out of this season is no longer a vessel for new life but an incubator for kingdom fruitfulness. My journey of dying to self and serving my family is far from over; the mothering yet required of me will be challenging in unimaginable ways. But I am not tethered to the same kind of vulnerability anymore. There will be a day soon when I am going about my work without a baby on my hip. Just when I was starting to get comfortable with what was being required of me, indeed had finally even embraced it with both arms, the game has changed and I must learn completely new rules.

The question that has come to mind over and over again during this past year is, “am I present enough?” Am I embracing this, experiencing it, appreciating it enough? Do I hear clearly what the Lord is saying to me in this, or am I distracted and trying to just survive it? As we are closing this door and go into the next place, is our heart posture one of trust? How many moments have I lost already “just getting by” not realizing I was witnessing a holy and sacred impartation of God’s character and creativity into my life? His fingerprints are all over my life through these children. I have only to open my eyes to see them. Because I am living with heart-eyes wide open, there is a certain necessary grief to the passing of this season. In fact, it has not been without many, many tears. Pete was praying for God to show us His heart even in the sadness and what he heard was not new, yet was revealed in an amazing way. God has invited us into the process of procreation for His own glory. Our children are not ours; they are His. He has placed us right where we are so that we can equip them to bear fruit – for HIS kingdom. In so doing, we produce fruit in our own lives and that is what prayerfully produces the hundredfold abundance we desire to see in all our lives. This is how we prove we are His disciples, as Yeshua exhorts us in John 15:8. Yeshua has asked me if I will lend Him my body, my life, for the purpose of creating fruit for His kingdom that goes far beyond what I could imagine. I have no idea what that will look like in this next season of motherhood. But as I release these little trinkets of my children’s childhood back to Him, release their very lives back to Him, I confess that it was never about me at all. This has always been about His glory. How gratitude flows when I acknowledge that He owns my life and yet has let me share in this amazing gift.

The view from the top of this mountain

We have made it. We have completed Math U See’s elementary curriculum.

Next stop: pre-algebra.

For me, that statement represents a tremendous success in my homeschooling journey.

There have been moments over the past several years when I truly wondered if we would live to see this day. It seems like an eternity ago but actually it has only been six short years since we first cracked open our Alpha student workbooks and started playing with manipulative blocks. You see, I am not a particularly gifted mathematician, and all of my children prefer language arts and science over math any day. We have climbed this mountain called elementary math with no small amount of effort, tears, scrapes, bruises, detours, backtracks, and drama. But we made it.

The perseverance I’ve seen Jaelah and Selah develop in spite of the fact that they really would rather do anything other than numbers fills my heart to the brim. They have stuck with it, they have fought the fight and finished this race. Perhaps other parents know what I mean when I say I am far more pleased by the fact that they have succeeded through much difficulty at something that often seemed an impossible feat than when they jump years ahead in subjects that they truly love and that come naturally to them. They have made great strides and are well into the upper grades in some subjects, but it seems like we didn’t really suffer as much pain with those hurdles as we did with the math ones. Victories that hurt are the ones that really reveal the character and thus are the ones that I treasure as a mother. Real life is filled with struggles in things that don’t necessarily come naturally to us. Living the life of a believer is and should be no exception. Of course, we also cultivate the girls’ strengths and allow them room to grow and put down roots of strength in the establishment of their gifts. But there is something so special about seeing them soar on the wings of achievement when I personally know the price they paid to be able to do so. We’ve all worked incredibly hard to reach this milestone, and somehow it means so much more to me that we accomplished something in an area of such great difficulty.

This is the first milestone we’ve reached in homeschooling where I actually want to put up my feet and let the girls bask in the glory of it for a few minutes before we rush off to the next textbook. We don’t have a lot of areas in school that require so much dedication in order to attain understanding. So, so, so many pencil erasers and scratch paper. There is something to be said for doing math the old-fashioned way – no calculators – and I know those math facts are cemented in! I feel like Steve Demme of Math U See is an old friend by now, and it’s largely the success of his amazing curriculum that has gotten us this far. Still, the actual teaching of math has fallen squarely on my shoulders. It has been a heavy burden to bear. Looking back, I have to laugh at all the moments over the past six years when I’ve calmly (er…not so calmly) gone into the bathroom for a silent scream in the middle of a math lesson. I have had moments of fantasizing how big a bonfire of math books we could really build in our backyard. I have sunk my head in frustration after repeating instructions and concepts over and over and over and over again in seeming futility. Yet, I persevered, and so did my girls. Paul’s words about perseverance leading to character leading to hope have stayed in the back of my mind. The Lord is faithful to accomplish His will in us and He is not above using a math workbook to do so.

There is plenty of very difficult math ahead of us. We’ll be taking a step back for a few months from formal math and reviewing the main concepts of decimals and fractions with Life of Fred before we start Math U See pre-algebra. I do not necessarily anticipate Calculus or Trigonometry with my little crew of students, but there may yet be an engineer among them! The point is, we are here on this mountain peak right now and I want to enjoy the fresh air, the heady breeze that tells us we have come much further than we ever thought we would.

The view is fabulous.

When both my feet left the ground

It was getting to be late in the evening one day last year when my husband and I both looked at each other with tears in our eyes, having just had a very painful conversation with some people we’ve loved for a very long time. We both had the same thought and spoke it out loud. “Leap for joy.” At the time, it felt utterly ridiculous.  Yet I knew with my whole heart that it was what our Abba was requiring of us.

Our family left a community last year because we knew we had grown spiritually comfortable and God was calling us to a higher level. I hold only ourselves responsible for getting to this place. There is nothing more disturbing than to have a shocking, tragic life event shake you to the core and reveal to you breaches you have in the wall surrounding your family. For us, the breaches weren’t blazing, obvious, life-dominating sins, but more subtle ones. Our love for Yeshua had come to a place of comfortable lukewarmness. We no longer saw brilliant green vines of new growth and fruit sprouting out of our hearts, but had begun going through the motions, “obeying” God but with hearts not truly and fully surrendered to Him. The slow-rotting leprosy of apathy was working away at us. It didn’t destroy us, but it left enough of a gap for the enemy to get off a fiery arrow straight into the heart of us. I don’t believe we lost our baby because it was God’s original plan for us. I believe it was because the enemy was given a small place of authority (by us) whereby he could strike at our family. Who knows how many treasures are taken from us, not by God but because of our own choices? I don’t believe that even believers are spared from the consequences of breaches in the wall. After all, we have a free will to choose our own course. We can choose to tenaciously guard our authority and not share any of it with the enemy of our souls. We can also choose to let our guard down, to settle in all cozy and warm while sinful heart attitudes slowly chip away at our defenses, unbeknownst to us.

Of course, God could stop any arrows aimed at us, and I know one day we will see just how many arrows He did stop out of mercy on our behalf when He didn’t have to. But the one aimed at Joshua Zion slipped in and struck its mark. It’s only recently, a few months from two years removed from the event, that I have come to the place of admitting out loud that God can turn a fiery arrow into a merciful rescue. He is God, after all, and we just have to allow Him to have the last word in our suffering. Sure, He could have stopped it. But the amount of growth we have experienced since “the great awakening” in our family has been sweeter, fruitier, and more dense than anything we have experienced in our lives thus far. Even knowing we were going to have to get to work right away on the breach in our wall, it still took us almost eight months to get up the courage to move in obedience to the Lord. Ultimately, we chose to do what He had been calling us to do. The price exacted from us for that one act of obedience in this past year has been high and very painful. But I would do it all over again because of the fruit it’s brought.

In Luke 6:22, Yeshua speaks to His disciples. “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” I’ve always thought Yeshua spoke these words to comfort those who are persecuted because they share the gospel with sinners. I’ve experienced this kind of reviling many times on mission trips and going around to share the gospel with people in various ministry capacities. While it’s never a comforting or rewarding experience to be scorned by an unbeliever, it’s somewhat easy to let it roll off because, hey, Jesus said to expect it. Our fellow believers all over the world experience this price to a much higher extent daily. Between Passover of last year and Passover this year, I’ve come to see a nuance in this verse that I never understood before. We are blessed when we obey Yeshua’s voice rather than men’s, especially when we know we will be rejected for it. It’s much harder to leap for joy when people who you have called brother and sister cast you aside. I don’t take a drunkard cursing me for sharing “that crazy Jesus stuff” very seriously. But I’m heartbroken when believing friends slander my family. Leaping for joy is not the first thing that comes to mind when your character and integrity are unjustly questioned. Misunderstandings abound even in the body of Christ, and when you find yourself at the heart of one and are blindsided by people you barely know accusing you of things you never did, it’s difficult to turn your eyes to the Lord.

I have been wading through a season of tremendous grief lately. It’s grief not just for myself and the friends who have walked out of my life without looking back, but for all of Yeshua’s Bride who just cannot seem to get her garments white because the discord of the Body keeps muddying its beauty. It’s mind-boggling to me that we as the Body tolerate so much bitterness, gossip, unforgiveness, and division in the church. I’m devastated that we as the Body are willing to throw out years of sweet fellowship without bothering to fight for our relationships. Why do we just lie down and give up on our brothers and sisters? For the life of me, I cannot understand it. It’s not biblical, and I believe it grieves Yeshua’s heart too.

Family is messy. When everyone knows everyone else’s business, the lack of privacy so you can be alone and lick your wounds is grating. How many times does the Lord force us together so that we can work out our differences and weave together a beautiful unity that puts the forces of darkness to shame? The Body is not just one congregation. So why do we behave like it is? Why do we act like everyone who is outside our “club” is not worth our time or effort, especially when we have invested years and years into those friendships? Who wants to start all over again and why should we? Isn’t there a way to stay connected even when our time face to face is much less frequent? Why do we outright reject people who are stepping out in obedience to God’s voice, even when that takes them away from us (maybe only for a season!) and we don’t fully understand it? Maybe I’m weird, but I would rather a friend tell me to my face that he or she is offended and hurt by something I did. Silently holding a grudge doesn’t help anyone – I am not made aware of my sin and you are holding on to unforgiveness – thus we both are damaged. It’s so destructive to true life in the Body. Yes, confronting conversations are difficult and awkward – I can’t say they are my favorite things. But the ones I’ve had that resulted in misunderstandings being dealt with, forgiveness asked, and hurts bandaged up have been some of the best growth opportunities in my believing life. I have come to be so grateful for those blundering talks I’ve had and the deeper respect for friends that I have gained after being willing to come to the table with them. And the bond of Christlike love and unity is ultimately preserved. Come to the table to talk. Get angry. Yell. Scream. Cry. Work it out. Just do something that shows you are alive and that I matter to you. I know I’m not the only one who craves relationships that are real. Don’t we all crave them? Closeness that is not destroyed on rocks of petty misunderstanding, but requires the blow of death to separate brothers? Why do we act like this life is the only one we’ll know?

These are some of the things God has shown me this past year about my own attitudes and how He wants to change them. Wow, what a short time it has taken for Him to completely upend some false foundations in me!

Limiting the pouring out of your love and heart to only people in your congregation limits your ability to grow. It keeps you from flowing in and out of people’s lives as they move where God calls them, from rejoicing with them and weeping with them as part of your flesh and blood but letting them go with a blessing and not a curse. Don’t let the temporary separation embitter you! After all, you will be together for eternity in My kingdom. Keep a kingdom perspective. 

It keeps you in bondage when you can’t let go of people for any reason, but then as soon as they look like they might be headed in a new direction you give them a quick kick in the rear end to send them on their way because it hurts less than to miss them dearly. “Hurry up and leave so I can get over you already.” It enables suspicion and misunderstanding to gain a foothold, where you eventually believe it’s okay to think the worst of people, or even that I Myself support your conclusions.

Based on the conclusions some close friends have recently come to regarding our character, I seriously wonder if Pete and I have some evil twins around here somewhere.  The accusations would be funny if they didn’t cause such sorrow. Is this how the people we’ve seen leave our community over the years have been treated? Is this loneliness and lack of mercy what has been served out on their heads from their own brothers and sisters in Christ? Yikes. I’m ashamed for any part I ever played in causing such hurt. God expects so much more of us, the Bride of His Son. If only we could gain the proper perspective.

I would rather know that verse in Luke because of what flows from the mouths of unbelievers, not my dearest soulmates. Alas, here we are, the broken and distraught Body, shooting mean looks and hateful words to each other, crossing our arms and refusing to budge in our rebellious, stubborn, prideful hearts because we think we are right and everyone else is wrong. I’ve been as guilty as the next person. It grieves me. I know our little community is not the only one that has experienced such upheaval. Not by a long shot. The sin of division runs deep and wide.

So, yes, I actually did leap that night in my living room. It was with both feet. I felt stupid. But here we were, husband and wife, losing our reputation in the eyes of man. Having been held captive to the fear of men for so long, we lost their respect anyway. What a moment of rejoicing our Savior must have had when He saw us take this first baby step of being willing to go out into the wilderness with Him, at the expense of what we had held so dear. I’m sure that He never intended for His Bride to be purified by the fires stoked by others in the Body, but for all that He does talk an awful lot about iron sharpening iron in His Word. Perhaps He anticipated the effort of working out our one anothers after all.

For my part, I am somewhat shakily taking steps into a new frontier. It’s one where I do not have to be accepted by anyone other than Yahweh. It’s a place that doesn’t let others’ opinions of me cause me to hesitate when God tells me to do something. I am being called higher and learning the discipline of the Captain of my soul. Despite the cost, this is the place of true freedom.

While I know I can’t force anyone to come to the table to reckon with us, I still stand in my heart for reconciliation and healing of brokenness with my brothers and sisters. I promise not to walk away with indifference, but I am willing to step aside if needs be until time provides some context. Let those who want to leave, leave; I will not demand that they stay. I will admit that I am aching for dear ones I’ve held close to my heart for so long. There are many. I admit it even though I feel completely foolish and people look sideways at me because I still cry over the loss. I know I’m not the only one experiencing loss, either. I’ve been on both sides of this kind of breaking. Yeshua aches for us to love one another as He loved us. He aches for us to remain in Him – unified, together, hugging close so the body odor mingles and we can’t differentiate whose it is anymore.

While I will intercede for the togetherness of the Body, I will not drink the cup of bitterness. The past few days as I have been heading toward the annual time of deliverance, my deepest prayer has been that Yeshua remove my anger and hopeless grief and replace it with only the grief that is in line with Holy Spirit’s compassionate intercession for the Bride. He is healing my heart. This Passover, I open my hands to the Lord.

Perhaps this Passover, we can all remember that mercy triumphs over judgment. Where we have not shown mercy, let us walk out our repentance in the months ahead.

If our Beloved withheld not His own life from us, how can we think He asks any less of us?

 

Beating sibling rivalry with selflessness

Sometimes without even broadcasting its presence, sibling rivalry sneaks up on our household and sucks the life and peace out of our home and family. There have been seasons where it has gotten so out of control that I have seriously wondered if I would ever see the fruit of Messiah in my children.

The first step for me whenever I see the fruit of the flesh in my children is to look at myself. Have I recently gone out of my way to be a blessing to others, or am I pretty much self-absorbed and only concerned with my own pursuits? Have I let little things fester until they boil over in rage and selfishness? If so, I’ll often see peace restored to the whole home as soon as I deal with my own heart attitudes.

There are still times, however, when children simply need to be given opportunities to practice selflessness and it is not directly related to Pete and me. Rather, it is just one more part of the children growing up God’s way. Being like Yeshua truly does not come naturally, especially to young ones whose narcissistic little tendencies are still being kneaded out of them by the very fact that they exist in a family where they are not the center of everything.

To the world, in the seemingly backwards economy of the Kingdom it doesn’t really make sense to bless those who persecute you and be last so that you can be first. Forgive seventy times seven? What? Even when my two year old sister gets into my dresser drawers for the hundredth time today and messes up my Lego set? I know plenty of adults who act like seventh graders, let alone my own babies whose brains aren’t even fully developed yet.

And we have SEVEN of these blessed little ones in our home. Seven. That makes for lots of working out one anothers, and usually at full volume. Even on good days we are well above the 60 decibels of normal conversation.

Jesus didn’t promise us His way would be easy, only that He would give us all we needed to walk it. A friend recently turned me on to a teaching specifically about sibling relationships. The thing with disciplining for constant fighting is that it focuses on the negative. “Don’t stab your sister in the arm with your pencil.” “Don’t nag your sister about how she washes dishes.” “Don’t trip the toddler on purpose.” Don’t, don’t, don’t. But what about switching the focus to the positive? What if we laid out specific requirements for how siblings should relate to one another rather than ways they shouldn’t?

The teaching we heard can be found here. I highly encourage listening to it.

I’m going to lay out exactly how we’ve been implementing the strategies suggested in Christianna’s talk. First, we had to come up with some basic Scripture verses to create the foundation for encouraging positive action rather than always focusing on stopping negative action. We kept some of the verses given in the teaching and came up with a couple of other ones ourselves.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He GAVE His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

  • Monday is GIVE DAY. Each of the children picks one other person to give something to. It can be anything, no matter how small – a pretty rock from the yard, a drawing, a hair accessory. Giving shows that we are thinking about another person and not about ourselves. The children LOVE giving to each other. Give Day has probably been the easiest day to embrace around here.

Matthew 23:11 But the greatest among you shall be your SERVANT.

  • Tuesday is SERVE DAY. Each of the children picks one other person to serve in some way during the day. They might help another child with a chore, or even do a chore for someone. They have to keep their eyes open, looking for ways to help. Serving someone helps us live out the example of washing feet that Yeshua gave us. What better way to practice how we should all behave in the body of Christ than serving? He came to serve us, and I have been very encouraged by seeing the children put service into practice.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore, encourage one another and BUILD UP one another, just as you also are doing.

  • Wednesday is Edify Day or BUILD UP DAY. This is a time to pray about how to be an encouragement. Each of the children selects a sibling who they might build up rather than criticize. An additional rule on Wednesdays is that criticism and nagging are absolutely not tolerated. We only use positive words that build and edify. This part is very much still a work in progress! This has been a challenging one to put into practice, particularly for the kiddos who like to be Holy Spirit to one another and point out all the sins and mistakes of their siblings. Building up is a difficult habit to create, but what an excellent one!

Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give PREFERENCE to one another in honor.

  • Thursday is PREFER DAY. In a family of so many children, it can be a tremendous sacrifice to prefer someone by giving up a privilege, especially something really special like sitting in the front of the van next to Tirzah or having the oatmeal with the most chocolate chips. But Thursdays are specifically for preferring someone else rather than yourself. Again, each child picks one person who they can let go first in something, no matter how big or small. I have seen the most fruit on this day as it cannot be successful without sacrificial love. It’s human nature to want to be first, so this practice is working deep in the kids.

Ephesians 6:18 With all prayer and petition PRAY at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

  • Friday is MINISTRY DAY. It is a time where each child picks another child in the family to intercede for. The exciting thing about this day is that we are encouraging the children to get words, Scriptures, and blessings for each other through prayer, which not only blesses the ones being ministered to but deepens each of the kids’ own relationships with Christ. Sometimes, one of the children will do a piece of prophetic art for another child, having prayed about something the Lord would speak to that child. It requires first praying, then listening to what God would say. We are encouraging the children to pray the Scriptures over one another, particularly if they know of an area of struggle in a sibling they can bring in petition to the Father. Oh, that we all would pray first for a problem rather than blab about it or carry it around anxiously in our hearts. Though Ministry Day is probably the most abstract practice of the week, I think it is probably one of the most significant habits we could help the children develop for their future lives.

I should mention that we don’t anticipate having to do these specific days indefinitely. My prayer is to continue doing it until I start to see some real fruit of peace in the children’s interactions with one another. We’ve been doing it for a few weeks now with some amazing results, but we have some ground to take back from the enemy as it relates to strife that has been allowed to take root. The main point of this is to practice, practice, practice until giving, serving, building up, preferring, and ministry come so naturally that we do not need to assign the virtues to a day of the week. The end goal is that these Christlike qualities would flow naturally.

I have taken a step farther in encouraging the children to specifically think of one child they are struggling with – and give to, serve, edify, prefer, or pray for that child each day. It’s easy to love on Tirzah because she hasn’t done anything irritating to anyone. But how much harder it is to show love to someone who has been bothering you lately! Pete and I sit down each night at the dinner table and ask the kids to share what they did and what they learned that day, and we’ve heard about some amazing experiences. The kids can testify with sincerity that when they make a conscious decision to love a person who has recently aggravated them, their heart attitude is changed toward that person. It becomes a little bit easier to love and let an offense slide when we proactively choose to “bless those who persecute” us. I can’t wait to see the strength these practices will bring to our family.

Tirzah’s Simchat Bat

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Simchat bat means the joy of a daughter! Oh, what sublime joy!

Her fair, creamy skin, soft and delicious in its perfection like one of those disgustingly sweet frosting-filled cannolis from Cinzettis – this is the 12 lb rolls of baby delight named Tirzah Love.

Each time we bring a daughter to her introduction to the world, I am speechless even though I desire to somehow commemorate the depth of love I feel for each one I’ve had. As they get older, the sweetness is that much deeper. I looked over at my eldest two daughters, now young ladies, and was filled with gratitude for the years God has blessed me with them. I am so blessed by their words and personalities, and to grow in the Lord right alongside them has been such a treasure.

In honor of Tirzah’s simchat bat, I wrote a poem for all my children and for myself as a mama. Perhaps these words will resonate with your heart as well.

Savor
Don’t rush the savoring
This moment but a tired breath and it will be gone
Downy head, tiny grasping fists,
Skinny kicking feet
Warm body tucked perfectly into your side in the wee hours
Memorize the weight of this baby in your arms
And savor
Nurse and pray until the stars disappear in dawn’s light
Remember the tiny moments since you first became “Mother”
Insignificant, lowly, wearisome tasks strung together
Year after year
Chunky beads stained with the fingerprints of childhood
Delight in wearing that necklace, Mommy
Don it with a deliberate, quiet peace
And savor
These moments given are priceless
Know that they are gemstones in disguise
Fill the days with the incense of faithfulness
Wear well the grace of being poured out
And savor
From morning to evening, who knows what actually got done?
Grasp that enchantment that wells over in your soul
When you are swept up in the love for this baby
For all your babies grown tall and full of life
Hardly notice your shape has changed forever
Those faces looking up at you
Don’t even know your tummy isn’t flat
Savor that you are not the same woman you were
Kneel down to wipe those eager faces stained with yogurt
Listen to their stories and music and questions again and again
Marvel as you wash those chubby knuckles covered in dirt and marker
Gaze into those sleepless eyes watching yours in the darkness
Hug that daughter whose head reaches your chin now
And savor
With a heart overflowing
Discern that in receiving them in My Name
You receive Me

-November 13, 2015

F.L.E.X.I.B.L.E.

Between having a baby, starting college, celebrating the fall festivals, and a plethora of little mishaps like a clogged kitchen sink, a leaking water heater, and an emergency trip to the dentist after Noah had a close call with the deck and lost three front teeth, the past several weeks have been a flurry of activity around our household. In the midst of it, Yeshua has held me fast and shown me some ways I need to yield even more to His guiding in our school and family life.

For those who have asked for information about Sonlight, this blog is going to be a review about the curriculum we have used as the educational spine of our entire homeschool journey and how the changes it has undergone in the recent years will affect us directly. More to the point, what mileage is God going to get out of the things I wish I could change but can’t?

Since we school year-round, the times that we finish up books and start new ones usually coincide nicely together except for when I make our biggest purchase of the year: Sonlight curriculum. We love Sonlight’s program, from the literature selections to the missions focus to the balanced approach on American history (no ethnocentrism here – yay!) It represents quite an investment but since almost every book is non-consumable, I get to use everything for all of the children and that actually saves quite a bit of money in the long run. Sonlight’s printed schedule is 36 weeks long, so schooling year-round with every Sabbath week off and about six additional weeks for the fall festivals gives us a 40 week school year. Everything else we use is an average of 25-30 weeks in length, which means we can finish a whole level of Apologia, Math-U-See, and IEW writing courses and be about a third of the way through the next level by the time I have to start new Sonlight material. This staggering works very well and it keeps the overwhelm much lower.

I originally thought I would fill up those four extra weeks by taking bunny trails for unit studies and slowing down on some of the books to savor them more. But we are actually a bit ahead of schedule because we have not been able to put books down this year! We even took the biography of Adoniram Judson and shared it as a family for story time in the evenings, giving us “two-a-day” readings for several weeks. It has been incredible. I was left with the wonderful problem of a rapidly dwindling pile of unread literature. It was time to order Core E. I am glad that we will be able to ease a bit into the new year’s books. We’re covering American history and I want to be able to help the girls glean all they can from the rich stories.

Sonlight has made some key changes in the recent years to their Instructor’s Guides. The guides are an invaluable resource filled with scheduling, discussion questions, vocabulary, maps, timeline figures, and many important author’s notes throughout the year. Each week provides 5 days’ worth of material filed behind a weekly schedule-at-a-glance.

There used to be the option to purchase Language Arts (in the same Instructor Guide format) separately from the Core curriculum (history, Bible, geography, literature – namely, what I came to Sonlight for). Then that option was done away with and it became a requirement to purchase the Language Arts curriculum packaged with the Core. This meant you would have to purchase the Language Arts whether or not you would be using them, so there is more expense each year. I could file away the Language Arts pages for Cores A through C easily though because the readers do not correspond directly to the Cores but are based on skill level. However, with Core D and above, all of the Language Arts items are fitted right into the schedule along with the other material because the readers correspond with the history and most children are fluent readers by the time they get to Core D. This has added a LOT of text to filter through each day when searching for history and literature discussion questions and information.

There used to be an option to have each book’s discussion questions, notes, history, mapping, etc. separated into a book study guide that was separate from the weekly schedule. While the schedule still provided a basic suggestion for how to flow through the books each year, having a separate book study guide would enable a homeschooling parent to pull those sheets out and work through the book at his/her own pace. Falling behind or reading ahead would not be a problem because the material for each book was extremely easy to find. Since there are no book study guides offered now, I am forced to go through each week searching for information on the books through all of the Language Arts that I don’t use to find the correct day and chapter information. It is extremely frustrating. We end up missing information because I cannot find it. We are unable to read that far ahead or fall too far behind because it will make it even more difficult flipping back and forth between weeks in search of book information. This makes Sonlight much less flexible and user-friendly. Basically, I have to do their schedule as it’s written, taking away a lot of the freedom I felt initially to schedule the books and read them the way that worked for our family. Even if I do the schedule exactly the way it is written, the amount of information I must ignore (Language Arts) to find the book notes I am looking for each time I open the schedule takes away much of my joy in teaching, especially since I am usually nursing a baby with one hand and trying to go through the schedule with my other hand.

Because Sonlight’s Language Arts are not rigorous enough, I have painted myself into a corner by piecing together LA material each year on my own. After years of scouring and experimenting, I have found so many language arts programs that I love that I simply can’t use Sonlight’s LA without seeing how much is missing. We have found what works, so essentially I have to buy TWO language arts programs each year: one that we will delve into with enthusiasm, and one that is just a waste of paper and money. I liked a lot of the Sonlight LA writing prompts and suggestions for teaching vocabulary, etc. but it jumps around so much that my children had a hard time retaining information when we were experimenting with it. Sonlight does not teach Latin and at least in the younger grades does not develop writing skills with enough direction. I have to admit that it was with a little disappointment that I ordered Core E for the oldest girls.

Disappointment or not, Box Day is still quite the event around here. The first book Jaelah picked up was the encyclopedia on the World Wars, which is a serious interest for her right now. I cried when I saw all of the amazing discussion questions and historical information added neatly into each day with nice little checkboxes next to them. I don’t want to miss even one! I have always written my own schedules when homeschooling because it enables me to work around whatever is going on in our family and to make space for any extracurricular activities my children are doing. With lower Sonlight cores (Pre-K through C) it was quite a bit easier to re-arrange items as needed. All I had to do was take a few extra weeks before the start of the school year to get my own schedule set up. I use Homeschool Tracker software to keep records of all my books and lesson plans. It is amazing and has served me well despite the parts of Sonlight’s schedule that don’t work for us. Now that we are approaching middle school, however, we are covering vast amounts of material. I thought I had found a way to overcome this hurdle this past year when we did Core D. Sonlight does not offer electronic Instructor Guides that can be copied and pasted into my own software, so I purchased a pen scanner and scanned the entire 500 plus pages of material for each book and separated that out into Word documents, essentially creating my own study guides. Yes, that is how much I wanted study guides organized by book instead of day and week. Don’t ask me how long this took. When I opened the Core E box and saw the Instructor Guide lying there in its pristine plastic wrap, I looked over at my much-used pen scanner and wondered if it would actually make it through scanning another 500 pages this year. My heart sunk at the very notion of how much time I would have to invest to make my own little study guides.

It was right then that the Holy Spirit dropped a thought into my heart.

“What if you just, you know, didn’t scan 500 pages of instructor guides?”

What if you take your idea of scheduling, flexibility, re-typing and re-organizing everything until it is just so and throw it out the window?

What if for the first time in your homeschool journey YOU become flexible instead of trying to bend everything else to your version of a schedule?

And just like that, He poked at my sense of control yet again. Lord, haven’t I given up enough control yet? Apparently, He wants to take me to the as yet undiscovered heights of trust falls this year. Again, He wants me to yield another portion that I’m holding in a death grip.

After talking to Pete and praying about my options, I came to a conclusion. When we finish up Core D books in the next couple of weeks, I am going to start Core E and use it exactly as it’s written. Gulp. No, this does not deal with any of my frustrations about the Language Arts being shoved right in there with all the nuggets of information I really want, but that is an obstacle much easier to overcome than scanning everything into my own book notes. I will actually check off the boxes of someone else’s schedule this year for the first time in my homeschool journey. Not because I don’t have a gift for creating lesson plans and guides of my own, but because there are times when having all the control actually limits me more instead of giving me the freedom I need. I have to honestly ask myself if I would rather get all of the amazing insights offered in the schedule in a different order than I would choose, or risk missing some wonderful discussion tangent just so I can have my own checkboxes. The thought of using Sonlight as an open-and-go curriculum this year instead of pinching and pulling it to my own specifications is beginning to feel like a huge relief. I will still be using all of my own Language Arts materials, but those are far easier to organize and mold into our days.

Yes, I still eagerly look forward to the day when Sonlight offers electronic guides, and I’m still going to be pushing for the book study guides to be separated for maximum flexibility for homeschoolers. It is good business sense for Sonlight to offer the two different styles of Instructor Guides – one with everything laid out precisely so all you have to do is open the notebook and start reading, and one with separate book study guides that you can use at your own family’s pace and create your own lesson plans. It would be really nice if language arts went back to being an option instead of a requirement as well, but I don’t think I’ll hold my breath for that one.

I am going to take my massive blue Sonlight notebooks and go through them page by page this year. It will be an adventure for us, and it will keep me on track as I take my own college classes. I am thrilled about all the awesome books we will read together. Oh, the talks we’ll have!

There will be no flipping back and forth between pages and pages of material, so nurse on, Tirzah!

Completion and a new beginning

My five year old son defines wealth as the cuteness of his baby sister. “Mommy, we’re SO rich.” His earnest little face looks with adoration on Tirzah, and he constantly tells me how adorable she is and how he feels like he is as rich as a king because he gets to be her brother. Literally, his mind cannot comprehend how her precious life could even be compared to money. I almost don’t want to tell him what people usually mean when they talk about being “rich.” To do so would take away his perfect innocence in believing that the people in our lives are what make us wealthy. He’s absolutely right on so many levels.

Tirzah arrived into our family in a particularly special place. She is my seventh baby to live here on earth, but is really the eighth baby in line behind a brother who went home early. She was conceived on the very day he was to be born. I rejoice that Yahweh saw fit to give life to us even as we wept on that day, taking comfort in our kiddushin. When life comes forth, it is often in the darkest of night. Seedlings start to grow in the soil, being awoken to the warmth of the sun before ever seeing its light. It reminds me that He is always life-giving, always bringing forth a fulfilled promise in some area of life even when other stormy circumstances would seek to cloud us completely from His glorious workings. It takes work to look for the hope of the rainbow.

Seven is the number of completion, and eight is the number of new beginnings. Taken together, Tirzah’s life represents both closing doors and opening doors at the same time. Her name means “God delights” and also refers to the beautiful place He brings us to. When I first heard this definition, I immediately thought of Psalm 23. He restores my soul. He leads me beside still waters. I shall not be in want because HE is my Shepherd. Her middle name is Love, which has an obvious meaning on the surface and a deeper meaning in what it represents to us as her parents. We didn’t pick the Hebrew word for her middle name because there are several words for love in Hebrew, each with a slightly different focus. Chesed is a noun and means goodness and kindness, favor and mercy. God embodies chesed because His very nature is goodness and kindness, and His covenant with His people is one of everlasting mercy and favor. Racham in verb form means to “show compassion” and is often used to refer to God and how He shows compassion on His people. It is an active word, used descriptively in how He brings His people Israel back from captivity in Babylon, how He loves those who fear Him as a father loves his children, and is pictured in how He “abundantly pardons” those who repent of their sin and turn to Him. Interestingly, racham shares the same root as the word rechem, which means womb. There is much illustrated by such a tiny word as love. The compassion we show when we care about lost souls. The life-overtaking power in what I feel towards my children and husband. The sweetness of loving friendship we share with brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s love nature must be expressed. First, through Yeshua. Then He chooses to do it through us, imperfect vessels though we are.

I believe Tirzah is the last baby I will birth. There are many reasons for this, most of them being health-related. However, I have another reason to be excited that Tirzah is both a “completion” and a “new beginning.” I believe that as the door is closing to my child-bearing, the door is opening to our family adopting or fostering. Adoption has long been something on my heart, but I’ve been content thus far having all my babies through pregnancy and have put adoption on a back shelf for when God would awaken it properly. It has only been in the last year or so that God has begun doing a work in both of us for growing our family in a different way. I still have no idea how God will accomplish this. There are probably more obstacles than there are green lights. After all, we have a huge family already, we have no money for such and endeavor, and there are many things with my kids pulling my focus and energy already. But the needs of children the world over are vast and heart-wrenching and our God is not limited if indeed He has purposed us to be a family to the orphan. We’ve asked the Lord to break our hearts over the things that break His. Toddlers running around naked, alone, and hungry and children dirty, neglected, and abused break His heart. We aren’t supposed to look away just because it is uncomfortable to acknowledge the utter darkness many millions of children endure in this world. He is moving in us to say “yes” even though we have no idea what this process will look like. Saying “yes” to Yahweh’s will is part of the reason we’ve given the middle name Love to our last baby. Will we agree with Him in how He longs to show compassion? Will we act out the divine mercy and favor we’ve been shown? Will we be kind to those who God Himself passionately exhorts us to remember and care for? We are making the first step into the next frontier of our lives, whatever ministry God has destined for us to accomplish.

I’m saying goodbye to a season that has defined so much of me that sometimes I don’t know where I begin and my children end. There is grief as I look down at the precious little body nursing at my breast, willing my heart to memorize the weight of her in my arms all the while knowing how close I am to being “baby-less.” I leave the comfort and sleep of my bed to nurse her several times a night, smiling in spite of the exhaustion because I’m realizing these quiet moments are numbered. It would be easy in many ways to continue getting pregnant and having babies. It’s what I know. Indeed, there is a large part of my heart that wants to keep on having children, despite my body rebelling against this notion. I am in a comfort zone where I know what to do, what to expect, and how to survive it. Stepping out into a brand new place where I’m not only being stretched to a capacity for what teenagers will need, but towards increasingly advanced school work, not to mention what kinds of children and situations we’ll see as we pursue being foster parents and/or adoptive parents. Much has been required of me in these ten years I’ve been a mama, but I feel like I’m on a precipice, about to dive off headfirst to an even greater degree of pouring myself out. The picture I keep getting is of me letting go of a railing as I stand right over the edge. I’ve never been very good at trust falls even when I’m falling into the Everlasting Arms. But here I am! It’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Meanwhile, as I fall into the new season I’m reminded that it’s okay to cry tears of goodbye, to know that every fiber of my being will miss the treasure of carrying and nourishing babies. Each day seems sacred to me now that I know these moments are slipping through my fingers. Many women have told me that the ache never really goes away. How can it when we get to be part of something so divinely wonderful as creating life? The thought of not bringing any more souls into the world saddens me, but there is so much life here already that I can impact. If I keep my eyes open and on Him, He will show me where He wants me to pour out my nurturing.

For today, I embrace fully the moment I’m in. It’s amazing how this new perspective means that I am actually seeing the truly meaningful experiences of motherhood instead of the superficial ones. The mundane becomes exotically beautiful. Not even a post-seven-baby-body can take away this joy.

A rainbow after the storm is past

“Pain is only pain; unless we resist it, then it becomes torment.”

I haven’t talked a lot about pain in my previous birth stories because I have always understood that the pain is truly secondary to the fact that a new life is born into the world. Yes, it’s present, but it doesn’t have to be the focus. There are a myriad of ways to work with the pain, to accept it and embrace it and overcome it. Pain never has affected me as deeply as it did with this baby. Never before this birth did I feel that my pain was out of control or that I was unable to stay ahead of it. In fact, I’ve often been able to get all the way to 8-9 cm without even calling it “pain” and then talk myself through those last 10 contractions or so until time to push. Literally, I could always look at the clock when transition seemed to be starting and tell myself that I was going to be meeting my baby in about 30 minutes because that’s how it has always gone. I know how my body works and I’ve trusted the process completely.  I wouldn’t say there is a “magical” formula to birthing this way. What I would say is that it all comes down to perspective. How do I as a mother enter my labor? Do I start labor from a place of trust, peace, and surrender or fear, anxiety, and tension?

If we are not careful, exerting diligence in something has a way of training us to expect a certain outcome. I love pursuing diligence and excellence in my life, and I believe the Lord is pleased by an attitude of chipping away at something until we see the desired result. Holy Spirit is constantly beside us working the flesh out of our lives and working His unction into us. The downside is when we create expectations that may or may not be met and base our success on the fact that we’ve been diligent, not considering that God might have a purpose for us outside the realm of our expectations. I think that I fell into this trap during my pregnancy. I expected much of the methods I used throughout pregnancy to get baby into a good position for birth and to train my body for the marathon of labor. But what do you say when you’ve done everything “right” and still don’t get the perfectly desired result? In the case of this birth, I wanted a baby in optimal fetal position ready to be born in a straightforward way without any hassle. What do you say when eating well, exercising, chiropractic care, relaxation, red raspberry leaf, proper posture, and all the supplements don’t seem to bring about what you think they should? I was diligent during this pregnancy. With God as my witness, I did not even lean back on a couch or chair after 28 weeks. There are two ways I can look at the way I prepared. I can say it was worth the effort in retrospect because I could have had a much more difficult experience, or I can say it was a total waste of time and let resentment color the memory of the birth. I do believe that my diligence paid off, but I trusted more in the methods than in the fact that God is the One who delivers during birth no matter the circumstances. I didn’t start labor from a place of peace and trust but rather in forced confidence in something that ended up not being what delivered me anyway.

Tirzah was head down but ROT for most of the third trimester. This isn’t a problem usually because babies turn during labor anyway and will find the right way to get through the pelvis, especially with mothers who have labored successfully. A baby might turn posterior or anterior, but she will find a way through most of the time. Since I’ve been so obsessive about avoiding a posterior baby (I’ve had two who turned during labor, which isn’t very much fun) I did a lot of floor work and positioning to keep her back towards my front, and it worked for the most part. I started to sense something was different in the last month of pregnancy, however, when her body turned more into what looked to the midwives like a slight oblique lie, even though her head was really low. I had at least two to three weeks of nights of laboring contractions that did not seem to be leading to labor. The strong contractions would get close together, but then taper off without moving forward. They did not feel the same as my pre-labor nights with previous pregnancies, when I could feel my cervix being opened. I entered real labor completely exhausted, not trusting myself, not trusting the process, not trusting God, and anxious about how all the uncertainty leading up to birth day was going to affect Tirzah’s entry. She started labor dilating my cervix towards my hip due to being somewhat sideways, not down and out through my pelvis. I found that I had to be much more active during this labor and was unable to rest through early contractions. They started strong and stayed strong. Her head was slightly asynclitic all the way through 8 cm and my midwife could feel her head moving around and around trying to wiggle her way down. Struggling to find her way out, my poor baby was moving her head into ligament and bone. Fortunately, my water did not break even with this strange positioning so her head was cushioned. Pete read Scriptures to me and I listened to Fernando Ortega and Young Oceans, which are forever ingrained in my mind as the music of overcoming now. My midwives were praying and speaking to the baby to get herself aligned. Wisely, they did not tell me all that was going on while I was in the midst of the labor or I would have lost faith entirely. They didn’t say until later that they expected several more hours of labor until the cervix ridge was softened and moved. We used gravity in all positioning until it simply hurt too much and I had to lie down. I couldn’t get ahead of my emotions and cried through most of the transition. I have never asked to be transported to the hospital so I could get an epidural, but I did this time. I told Pete I was finished. I remember the moment I gave up the willingness to see this through. I no longer cared about being strong, I simply didn’t want to feel any more pain. And that was when it became unbearable to even consider going through one more contraction. They were so much harder than they had ever been before in any of my labors. I was at the end of myself utterly and completely. It was a confirmation of the picture the Lord had given me in the last few weeks of pregnancy as I was exhaustedly slogging my way through each day after nights of contractions. I saw myself as though I were dust, swept out in such a fine layer that it couldn’t be spread any further. He said He was bringing me to the end of my own capacity and desired that I would press even beyond the impossible boundaries of being completely spent. He wanted to bring me to the end of myself, where I can find Him and His strength. It was right around that moment that things started to turn around. It was just then that I moved beyond my capacity into God carrying me completely. My cervix had finally aligned with my pelvis and she was on her way. At first, I thought the second stage would move really quickly along. But because of Tirzah’s tipped position, pushing was much harder than usual. I was expecting two or three pushes and she would be out like all my other babies (even my 9 lb 12 oz fatty came out in three or four pushes), but the back of her head was presenting, not the crown of her head and her chin was tucked almost too deeply. It was the strangest sensation as I couldn’t tell what was head and what was body – it just felt like this gigantic creature inside me pressing out on all sides. I was positioned almost straight up for delivery and even with gravity working with me it still took everything in me to get her out. I cannot even describe the bliss of relief when she finally slid out onto the bed. There is nothing more euphoric than taking that first deep breath and realizing you haven’t even been able to take a deep breath for months with the baby jammed into your ribs.

This is one of those times when I see how much of a benefit home birth can be in a non-textbook birth. Had I not been able to eat and move around, I can’t imagine how I could have lasted as long as I needed to. I can’t imagine not being able to deliver in the position I needed to be in for her to come out. I’m glad that I didn’t have access to an epidural because it likely would have slowed things down or perhaps even stalled them all together even if it offered temporary relief. Gravity was a stronger force for me this time as it needed to be. I am so grateful for the home births I had that weren’t as painful and difficult, but seeing how the freedom to birth despite difficult odds this time has given me a new appreciation for midwifery. The fact is, birth is difficult. I’m hardly the only woman who ever had a baby in a non-ideal position in labor. I’ve added my story to the wisdom and experience of the millions of women who have gone before me and that feels like a great accomplishment. I feel strong, not because I overcame but because God overcame through me. He brought me over the finish line in His way. Why things had to work out the way they did is up to Him, not me, but knowing I can trust Him and that He protected me through this valley is profoundly comforting.

Tirzah Love is my rainbow baby. A rainbow baby is the one that comes after a loss. When I look at the difficulty I had to press through to bring Tirzah forth, I am reminded of how often there is darkness before a storm is past. Emotionally, the pregnancy was difficult and there were many moments of fragility as I pondered the loss of a son and bringing to birth a daughter whose life would simply not be if Joshua had not left us before it was time. She is a special and beautiful promise – one that is destined to live and has a purpose beyond imagination. She is a precious gift that I appreciate with every fiber of my being. I’ve learned much about the nature of God in His faithfulness and mercy towards me in the midst of not knowing exactly how He will reveal His promises in my life. All I need to know is that He will. What a treasure He has given me.

A 10th birthday blessing for my eldest daughter

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It’s your 10th birthday! I can’t believe how fast the time has gone between now and when I first welcomed you into my arms. I love so many things about you – from your artistic side to your quirky sense of humor. I can’t wait to see the young woman you are revealed to be. As much as we share similarities, you are still your very own unique person, and I promise to do my best to always remember that. Now that you are 10, you’ll find that your focus begins to turn more and more outward from the family to the enormous world around us as you try to find your place in it. There is so much for you to look forward to! This time is full of treasures for your soul.

Being a young adult has many rewards and some painful instructions, but I know that Yeshua has and will continue to work strength in you as you navigate this path with His help. You can never go backwards in life, so my prayer is that during these next years when plenty of mistakes are made and lessons learned, you will hold on to your Savior and trust that when He hems you in it is for your ultimate good even when it might feel at times like He has no idea what He is doing.

I also pray that you will continue to embrace the principal of the first sufferer, as you are beginning to understand in your spirit. That is, that as believers who have Yeshua the Answer to everything, it is up to us to allow Him to pour out our lives for His purposes. This may not seem very wonderful in a culture that preserves self and self’s pleasures above all else. Sacrifice will never be comfortable, but God’s Word demands that we stand up for the helpless, downtrodden, and persecuted, defend the orphan and widow, evangelize the lost, and always point the way to the cross even if that way treads over our backs or traipses through our hearts. The rewards for living with eternity ever before us means that everything we do will have profound purpose and we will not succumb to wandering uselessly. If you commit to Jesus being the Lord of everything in your life, you will not be overcome by the pointlessness of worldly pursuits but instead will always have a secret delight in your heart. The point is, the glory of Christ’s kingdom yet to be revealed is beyond recognition to our little human minds.

Mom and Dad will do our utmost to continue to help you understand these things that are so counter-culture, but we also recognize that it is the Holy Spirit who will ultimately fashion you into the beautiful vessel your heavenly Abba wants you to be. We’re just your guide posts. Your faith is becoming your own and my heart is full to the brim with joy as I watch you step out into some new things and begin to trust the Lord for yourself.

I love you forever, my first-baby-grown-up.

Love, Mom

You have turned my mourning into dancing…

…YOU have put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness. Psalm 30:11

As a family, we honored the tradition of lighting a Yahrzeit candle and saying the Mourner’s Kaddish over our little boy Joshua Zion today on the one year anniversary of his death. Having had a full year to mourn and grieve has been such a healing experience for me. As I reflect on the year, I see a thread of God’s faithfulness through all the emotional ups and downs. It is good for the soul to remember Yahweh even in loss.

Perhaps there are those who would say that since Joshua didn’t have the chance to live with us, we don’t really need a full year to grieve over him. However, if I truly believe that life is sacred even in the womb (I do) and I want to honor with my whole being the life of a son that I desired and somehow express that honor to the highest heavens, to try to shorten the mourning period does not show the depth of my respect for life. There is no point in comparing this to someone else’s loss. Pain is pain and grief will look different to everyone. Having a set period of mourning is comforting in so many respects. I think of how God describes the way He designed the waves of the sea in the book of Job. “Thus far you shall come, but no farther; and here shall your proud waves stop” (Job 38:11) Mourning is meant to be complete and thorough, but it is never to take more than its share of our souls. It is not meant to destroy us, though I can think of many days in the past year where I felt like I was being ripped apart. There were days when I wanted to be anywhere other than sitting inside my body, feeling the way I was. Not just because of a death, but because of the life that will never be lived. It’s other-worldly how grief can be so intense that you feel you need to run for your life. The survival instinct can be overpowering. There is something so visceral about allowing a depth of sadness to wash over you from the depths of your soul. To me, it so keenly reflects how much love you had for someone who is now gone. You do have to allow it because those waves are coming whether you can acknowledge it or not. But if our Father can stop even the ocean waves in their rushing upon the shore, how much more will He allow us to know in the midst of our crying out that He has not destined us to be annihilated by the waves of grief over death? He will raise us up. He will sustain us. And He has conquered the evil of life’s breath being taken away.  A year gives a person enough time to settle into the idea that a baby will not be there. It’s long enough to start to live in a new normal, though there are many days of stumbling through the motions. In the case of our family, it’s long enough to conceive a rainbow baby, which is only the utter mercy of the Lord to me in the state of having a shredded heart. I don’t look at the day after the anniversary of Joshua’s death as the complete end of ever feeling saddened over his loss again. I know that every time a birthday or milestone is missed, I will feel that prick in my soul in wishing he had had the chance to experience life with me. Instead, I choose to acknowledge that God has set a time for all things under heaven. He has set a time for mourning and a time for dancing. In fact, it is the Lord Himself who removes our garments of sadness and replaces them with garments of joy.

I am looking at the rest of my life without Joshua. It starts today. Will I let my heavenly Father say to me, “Now it’s time for you to get up and go on. Now it’s time to remember My joy again. Now it’s time to walk out what I’ve fashioned in you during this season of loss.” My heart says to Him that I am ready for my sackcloth to be laid aside. I am ready for HIM to turn my mourning to dancing. I choose to take that step into whatever God has for me, scars and all, and remember with the way I live my life that He wastes no opportunities to make us more like Christ. He won’t waste one tear or one moment of heartache. All of it, every single bit, is the mortar He will use to build my life’s portion in His kingdom. Moving forward is acknowledging that I am to be a comfort to others as I myself have been comforted. There are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters the world over experiencing loss and grief of all kinds every day, and for many of them it is unbearably unimaginable. And now it’s time for me to set aside my own sadness so that I can be an instrument of healing to someone else – the hands and feet of Yeshua.

IMG_4938For the past year, one way I have chosen to honor my grief has been to refrain from cutting my hair. I have not even had a trim in this entire year! Trust me, my hair is pretty scraggly by now. Not cutting it has been my way of wearing sackcloth or wearing black to remind myself that I am in mourning and giving myself the permission to fully embrace the sadness. I have endeavored to completely allow the process of grieving to do a sanctifying work in my heart. I know that any sort of suffering in this life, though not what we would ever choose in our earthly minds, is meant to purify us of dross and make us more like our Bridegroom. Grieving is all a part of that purification process. It forces us to face the eternal, the “other-than-ness” of God on His throne. The pain of loss wakes us up in our souls and is intended to call us to a higher level – if we let it work the holy work in us. It is meant to destroy our faulty foundations and replace all of our perceptions about God and His ways with the Rock foundation of Jesus Christ. I feel more alive today than I ever have. It took a death to bring me to this place. It’s not as if God rescues us after just one period of grief and we never have to face it again. All of life is filled with these valleys of death shadows, and each one takes us deeper into His bosom. I can only pray that my heart is tender towards Him with each loss I have to face. Today, I will chop off my physical sackcloth, and in my heart I will be handing over my grief in its completeness to my heavenly Father. I trust that when I leave this day behind, He has a robe of gladness for me such that I cannot even imagine right now. My joy does not exist because I am having another baby in little while, though I acknowledge the amazing privilege of sharing creation with the Lord. My joy does not exist because I look around and see how blessed I am in my family, though I acknowledge that He is doing something incredible in all of us. My joy comes from that deep, abiding understanding that Yahweh is on His throne. My shalom is complete. In Strong’s concordance, shalom means “completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.” What a tiny word that packs such a punch! The word harmony sticks out to me as I am moving forward. I am choosing to be in harmony with God’s plans for me, trusting that He speaks the truth when He says He works all things together for my good. I walk without the agitation and discord that fear and a fleshly lack of faith would say is my portion. An even more interesting tidbit from the root word shalom is the Hebrew words “shelem” (which means to pay for) and “shulam” (which means to be fully paid). So when I say that Yeshua purchased my peace, I am ultimately recognizing that the price has been fully paid for me to live in perfect harmony with Him even when my “dusty” mind does not understand His ways.

One of the things we did as a family today was read this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote it after the loss of a daughter. It is long, but I have yet to find something that expresses more eloquently the stages of feelings I’ve walked through this past year. For me, the words of this poem are on my heart as I leave this line in the sand behind me.

Resignation

There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there!
There is no fireside, howsoe’er defended,
But has one vacant chair!

The air is full of farewells to the dying,
And mournings for the dead;
The heart of Rachel, for her children crying,
Will not be comforted!

Let us be patient!  These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise,
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume this dark disguise.

We see but dimly through the mists and vapors;
Amid these earthly damps
What seem to us but sad, funereal tapers
May be heaven’s distant lamps.

There is no Death!  What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death.

He is not dead,–the child of our affection,–
But gone unto that school
Where he no longer needs our poor protection,
And Christ himself doth rule.

In that great cloister’s stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin’s pollution,
He lives, whom we call dead.

Day after day we think what he is doing
In those bright realms of air;
Year after year, his tender steps pursuing,
Behold him grown more fair.

Thus do we walk with him, and keep unbroken
The bond which nature gives,
Thinking that our remembrance, though unspoken,
May reach him where he lives.

Not as a child shall we again behold him;
For when with raptures wild
In our embraces we again enfold him,
He will not be a child;

But a gentleman, in his Father’s mansion,
Clothed with celestial grace;
And beautiful with all the soul’s expansion
Shall we behold his face.

And though at times impetuous with emotion
And anguish long suppressed,
The swelling heart heaves moaning like the ocean,
That cannot be at rest,–

We will be patient, and assuage the feeling
We may not wholly stay;
By silence sanctifying, not concealing,
The grief that must have way.

Repetitio mater studiorum

“Repetition is the mother of learning.”

Mention this saying to my children and they will probably muster a dramatic eye roll for you. Truth be told, we memorize a lot of things in our homeschool. Not because I adhere to everything “classical education” but because repetition comes so naturally to them in this stage of learning, and being able to recall important information when studies become much more demanding saves time and enables students to apply themselves to understanding more whys instead of whats. I am not sure if Susan Wise Bauer would agree with me, but this was the main theme I gleaned from reading the Well-Trained Mind. It’s incredible to me how much better the kids are at memorizing than I am. Adult brains just aren’t as pliable, so now is the time for this very method of study.

Memorization and recitation are all well and good, but trying to add up all the information from all the subject areas we are studying for all five of my students and trying to get through it all every day or even once a week (the only way memorization will work) is quite a daunting task. We’ve got geography songs, math facts, poetry, Scripture, Latin vocabulary, parts of speech, Hebrew vocabulary, and the list goes on for each grade level! This is not even to mention the children memorizing their music and practicing their stringed instruments and piano every day. How can we possibly get to it all often enough to learn everything without burning everyone out? I don’t want memorization to be a drudgery, but I desperately want it to be a worthwhile endeavor.

Trying to fit everything into our school day has plagued me ever since we started adding memorization to the daily schedule. I could easily see just how much time we’d be spending in drilling with so many levels and interests. Right now we are memorizing Psalm 91, and it is very clear to me that Noah and Hosannah, my five year old twins, are so adept at cementing those words that I want to jump on the opportunity to get important tidbits into their little brains before my window of opportunity closes. How much easier ALL of their math will be if we just get some of those pesky facts down! Since repetition does take a chunk of the day, I don’t want to sacrifice Scripture for the sake of Latin vocabulary or geography songs for poetry but until just recently I had no idea how I was going to manage it all without making circle time go on f.o.r.e.v.e.r.

Enter mp3 players with personalized playlists. We have a few of those little players lying around that we use for working out, and they are simple enough to be kid friendly for this very task. Now, instead of keeping everyone sitting still and focused during circle time and going through each child’s songs, maps, and flashcards, something that takes an hour at best if we try to get everything for everyone in, they can disperse to wherever they want (even outside!) after Bible time every day and listen to their OWN playlists!  I can even schedule the twins’ little grammar poems three times in a row, just like First Language Lessons suggests, until they know them. Then, after a week or two (or however long) of listening to each play list and looking at the accompanying visual material, I  schedule review time with each child to continue listening to the tracks that need work, updating playlists with new stuff, and leaving occasional review songs on their playlists on a completely individualized basis. This new method is saving me a TON of time, and opening up possibilities to actually get to all the things I want them to solidify – like Latin pronunciation, which is a you-know-what. Even if we only had one mp3 player in the house, I could still make individualized playlists for each student.

I keep asking myself how in the world I didn’t think of this before. I’m sure some homeschool genius out there has been doing this for ages, but I just love it when I am desperate and earnestly ask Holy Spirit for anointed ideas that will make our young ones prosper in their studies and He drops an idea like this in my heart. I am so very blessed to have THE Teacher guiding me in all my ways.

And the QUIET that reigns in the house while everyone is on their own listening to their playlists?
That’s not too bad either.

The poetry of logical ideas

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” -Albert Einstein

Our struggle with mathematics has been particularly difficult of late. The verse “we battle not against flesh and blood” comes to mind. We battle not against Math-U-See and Steve Demme, but against the burden of finding the poetry within the logical ideas of math when our natural bent as a homeschool classroom is towards the fanciful words of great literature, the awe-inspiring nature of science, the artistic expression of our paintbrushes, and the conviction of history. The understanding of the basic concepts of math does not seem to be the problem, for we have continued to chug along faithfully through our math books without hitting any huge road blocks. Connecting math to the bigger world around us and understanding WHY it’s so important seems to be the issue we are having. Me telling the girls that I use fractions every single day in preparing meals for the family has not done enough to connect them to the relevancy of mathematics as a whole. In their world, who cares if you know how to divide fractions or add mixed numbers? If you don’t really care, it’s extremely challenging to apply yourself to a subject that demands such focus.

I’ll admit that we’ve had plenty of tears over math pages, particularly because of the lack of relevancy. My desire is to always make any school work we do relevant to the children. Most especially, I’ve tried hard to keep busywork and textbook pages OUT of our classroom as much as I can help it. However, math is singularly tough to keep within the framework of “living books” we’ve established for our other subjects. Elementary math demands repetition to gain mastery. Right now, it’s not very much fun to memorize our multiplication facts and the formula for finding the volume of a cube. The foundational skills my children are learning right now can’t really be skipped, but I find myself dreading the process of trying to convince them that we only have a little while longer before we start to see clearly just how inextricably linked math is to some of their high interest subjects like computer programming, most engineering projects, physics, and chemistry. Why? Because we haven’t done a drop of algebra yet! An academic advisor once told me that it is unwise to introduce the complexities of algebra until children have hair under their arms (i.e. their brains have developed right around that time to think abstractly, an absolutely necessary component of succeeding in algebra) I have followed that advice, and up until now we have only introduced extremely rudimentary algebraic concepts. I doubt that most people who use math on a daily basis in their adult lives are relying heavily on their foundational elementary math (hello, calculators!) but instead turn constantly to what algebra, calculus, and trigonometry taught them. Can you possibly retain those higher maths without memorizing the 9s table? I know quite a few unschoolers who would give me a resounding, “YES!” Yet I’m still not ready to throw out elementary math as a whole. I clearly see that interest is missing, but at the same time I realize that not everything in life that we must accomplish is highly interesting, or even relevant when we wish it would be. It frustrates me to think of the disconnect our basic math workbooks have with the “real world” as my children know it. We might be able to get away with teaching elementary math even though it really only garners true interest with one of my children so far. But I don’t see that highschool and college math can be successful without the component of relevance. Fortunately, however, higher mathematics are structured in such a way that one must only complete a few basic required courses unless there is a true interest and drive to dig deeper. It will be then that we can truly tailor-make a curriculum path based on exactly what kind of math the kids will need to pursue their own futures and put other things aside.

Thus, for today, math time has become more of a lesson in character development than anything else. No, math is not our favorite portion of day and dividing fractions might seem completely ridiculous right now. But pressing in and learning diligence when our flesh screams at us to find something more fun to do is going to help us develop the discipline needed for a lot of things we’ll face in this life. For the smooth- and rough-sailing days alike, I am glad I’ve found an elementary curriculum that is pretty painless when it’s all said and done. Thank the Lord for fun math books like Life of Fred, which we use when our brains need a break from worksheets and we crave some fun story-form math.

Perhaps it’s only now as an adult that I can see in part the beauty of logical ideas. I’m pretty sure I myself didn’t see it when I was my girls’ ages. I can’t wait to see that spark in them when they connect the pieces of math with the world around them, for it truly is the cornerstone of everything in our world.

A grain of wheat

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

The context of this verse is set just before the Passover. Yeshua is telling His disciples that He does not shrink back from the hour that is upon Him, for the Father’s Name is going to be glorified through Him. He explains to the men that anyone loving his life will lose it but those who give up their lives will end up gaining them. It has been my scriptural focus during this pregnancy. What does it mean to go into the ground and die so that fruit might be produced?

It is more than coincidental that a baby who comes after a loss is affectionately termed a “rainbow” baby. The word rainbow conjures up such incredible images of promise and redemption, a sure sign (to me, at least) that there will be comfort and that the time for sorrow is past. After the loss of Joshua, when my body and heart were recovering, I eagerly anticipated the time when my rainbow baby would arrive on the scene. Little did I know that my journey of grief was not ending, but only coming to fullness from the moment I got a positive pregnancy test in December.

I think we often fool ourselves into believing God has promised us something when He hasn’t. Sometimes we can go for years walking in a “truth” that actually has nothing to do with anything He has spoken. But we are convinced and so nothing can change our minds. I had a lot of ideas about what God could or should be doing in the pregnancy that would come after Joshua. At first, I didn’t even know if a baby would come; if God would even allow it. But His mercy is great and He extended a hand of life to my womb yet again. I had it in my mind that I would have a son after Joshua, and that he would be the final red bow for our family. Originally, Joshua was to be our red bow. I knew from the moment I found out I was pregnant with him that he was a boy. It felt so right and it was an answer to prayers for a brother for Noah. After experiencing the loss, I couldn’t get my heart out of the place of still desiring the completion that would be brought by a son being added to our family. It has never felt “right” or “complete” for Joshua to be gone. In my own human way of dealing with the situation, I believe I was able to set aside a good portion of my grief through the subsequent realization that indeed it was possible (and even likely!) for God to give us another son. Notice that I said “set aside” not “come to terms with, find closure, or grieve with acceptance.” No, another little boy wouldn’t exactly be able to take the place of Joshua, but he would still be the answer our prayers and a nice completion to our children, not to mention the fact that I simply wanted another boy. Every child we’ve had is so different and experiencing all the flavors of personality has been the most wonderful journey for me. Desiring another boy and seeing how different he would be from Noah was all part of it. And in my heart of hearts, I began to believe that he actually would take away the pain and bring about the restoration that I’ve so desired these many months. Surely, God could make up for the fact that one was lost by granting another one, right? He can fix this “mistake” by doing what He does best and restoring what the locusts have taken, right?

What I didn’t expect to be learning (again!) is that God cares less about what I want and more about what is good for me. And when I have no idea what that is but He does, it means there will be a struggle to get to the place of His sovereign will. Big struggle, little struggle, painful, pleasant, easy, difficult – all dependent on how strong my will is for this round. I wish I could naturally accept what He gives but this time it was like I insisted on months of vain imaginations, trying to divine what He might be saying through circumstances when I could have simply asked him. I chose not to ask because asking would mean He might tell me. And telling me means I might not like it or understand it and have to deal with how different my desires are from His. Not pleasant at all. So I comfortably remained in my ignorance for several months. But of course He will only let me get away with that way of thinking for so long before He has something to say about it. He decided to make a big statement on our gender-reveal ultrasound day.

The funny thing is that I knew in the back of my heart all along that this baby was going to be a girl. A part of me seriously suspected perhaps it could be twins causing that terrible morning sickness, but even with all the other symptoms, the only thing that really felt sure was a girl. But my hopes ran away with me. I wanted it to be a boy because I wanted to somehow replace Joshua. I wanted to move on from him because looking at him straight on is too painful even this far away from his loss. My personality can’t stand things that are undone, and his life being cut short is the very definition of undone. Like that feeling I get with a sink full of dirty dishes, a dirty house, and ten loads of laundry waiting to be washed only multiplied exponentially as a matter of the heart and never done no matter how busy I make myself. It just is. A gaping, bloody hole. It can’t BE fixed. Even with TWIN boys! Part of getting pregnant again (with a boy, I thought) was to defy the natural course that seemed to demand I sit and look at this pile of “undone” and not be able to accomplish or do enough to ever change it. I can’t look away from it. And if I can’t look away from it then my heart must begin the process of healing and acceptance. I cannot live in denial anymore. That question of “how can this just be it???” must be asked until at the very least, I know in my depths that there isn’t really a good answer on this side of eternity but God is still upon His throne. Only then will my heart find peace.

Doing pregnancy is a pretty straightforward process for me. It allows me to control something, once God has actually placed life within me, that is. It allows me to do busy projects instead of be and let God knit together. I am saddened by the fact that I still took this long to come to a place where I can actually admit to myself that I left some things unfinished beside the road back there a ways. I thought I healed more than I actually have. All this based on a hope for something I thought I needed rather than an assured promise of something that God knows I need. The thing is, Yahweh does promise to heal and to turn all things for our benefit when we walk in Him and His ways. He never promised me I could have another son so that I could be distracted and go on ignoring the state of my heart related to the loss of one. He never said a boy was going to magically make everything right and suddenly it would be as if death never touched our family at all. He never told me it would be alright to go looking for Joshua’s pale, lifeless features in the living face of a new baby boy as if to somehow resurrect him and tell myself that he isn’t really gone. I have to look to the Lord Yeshua and admit that I got it wrong on this one. I have been missing His purpose in this entire process. I don’t understand all His ways with my heart, and though I seek to understand and accept what He is trying to do, I have yet again failed to let go of the control that is the only thing He has wanted this whole time. May He work the work of surrendering anew in me.

These ponderings might sound scandalous when the beautiful reality of my life is that I am having a healthy baby – and that I can bear life at all! I am extremely grateful to be called into motherhood again. And I can’t wait to have another bright-eyed princess added to our number. One can never have too many pink sparkles, little girl hugs, frilly dresses, and black patent shoes. In fact, even though I am often rolling my eyes, I love the drama my girls bring to our family. We have so much spicy flavor and each day brings new adventures with my little women and one man. This experience is not about having a boy versus having a girl. This is simply about unmet expectations – me trying to write the script and tell God what would sound really great when He is busy working on a truly astounding second act. I am realizing anew that God chooses the ways in which He will bring redemption whether that be through no more children, a boy, a girl, or adoption. At the end of the day, all I can say is that I am so deeply grateful that He chooses to continue on weaving the tapestry of my life in the careful, brooding way He does with all His children without allowing my simplistic understanding to change His plans. Thank You for not listening to me, Abba!

I don’t get to set the terms for my own heart to experience the fullness of healing. That is up to the Lord. The closer I walk with Him, I hope that I will more and more quickly be able to give up my own expectations in exchange for His. I believe that is the only way I can truly see the fruit that comes from the ground when a little grain of wheat dies. Fruit will not appear without death and suffering, or without the God-written redemption that follows.

A Picasso study – Girl Before Mirror

We are using World’s Greatest Artists, a study compiled by Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler this year for our Fine Arts Fridays curriculum. Last year, we studied composers on Fine Arts Fridays, but decided to delve into the world of art in a different way this year. Rather than focusing our attention on the basics of drawing, we’re actually attempting to try several different styles based on the artists we study. Picasso was first! Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the biographies and lapbooks we put together, but of course the painting is what the kids are always thrilled to do.

IMG_4608Not quite there with cubism just yet. Interpretation of the Sangre De Cristos?

IMG_4609Deciding to start with the bold outlines and fill in later.

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IMG_4617I never have to drag anyone to the table for art lessons, especially if messiness is involved.

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Favorite ♥ Moments #6 A year of abundant life

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

This past year’s school theme was “hungering and thirsting for righteousness.” I had absolutely no idea when we penned those words at the start of the year just how deeply God was going to dig in my heart. This year has seen a new hunger birthed in me such as has never existed in this belly before. In an effort to put off the things of the flesh, I have found myself surprisingly successful in finding many areas that I had previously not even considered turning over to Christ’s lordship, and it appears daily as if He wants to press even further! I asked the Lord for a new appetite to replace old ones, and He gave it to me in more ways than I could have imagined. I asked Him to fill me with a hunger for His Word. I purposed to find myself at the end of 2014 with a greater desire for the things of God and less of a love for the things of the world. With the painful humility that comes from deep trial and unexpected searching, I can say with full assurance that I have met my goal. I know this is but a beginning, the tiniest scratch of an endless surface.

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This year will be our sixth year homeschooling. On one hand, it doesn’t seem that long to me and at the same time it feels like we’ve been at this “home learning” thing for an eternity already. I remember the very first box of books I received from Sonlight when Jaelah was 3. I carefully arranged each colorful tome on a tiny shelf in our living room. All of our homeschool materials put together took up less than 18 inches of space on my bookshelf. How things change! And how much the newness can seem to fade as well. As the years fly by, I’m finding that faithfulness is the hardest attitude to maintain because it requires the heart to be riding high above the sloshing waves of emotion, disappointment, or being affected by the more mundane parts of school days. My eyes must be on the goal of not only seeing my children through this season of learning, but ultimately on how my life is pleasing to the Lord. My personal verse for this year is Colossians 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” It’s easy to be beset by distractions and feel as if my life is not reaching as far as I want it to be, especially when all the hard work involved with preparing lesson plans and teaching appears to be unappreciated by my little ones. But when I remember how seriously God takes child-training, my purpose is renewed. I need to constantly recall the need to have my eyes on the One above. He sees every tiny detail from an eternal vantage point.

We are seeking the abundant life promised by Jesus for our family this year. It springboards off hungering and thirsting for righteousness. When we truly know that only He satisfies, we are experiencing abundant life. Before this year, I would often find myself rolling my eyes when anyone would say that Jesus is all you need to be truly content. It really does sound ridiculous in a culture that pursues hedonistic pleasure above all else – and these trends reach far into the church as well. But I think sometimes we have to jump in and dare ourselves to see if we can take Jesus at His word. Pete and I have been setting aside more and more of the things that we once thought would feed our spirits and finding that the Lord more than makes up for the “sacrifice.” Now that we’ve gotten rid of so many time-wasters, we have discovered that the desire for distraction and “vegging” is not nearly as strong as it used to be. That’s abundant life! How much He has to share with us, and how much of His presence do we have yet to experience!

A tradition that is quickly becoming beloved around here is the end-of-year-start-of-year family celebration dinner where Daddy hands out diplomas and achievement certificates. Those proud smiles simply can’t be faked.

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Math U See Addition Fact Family Flash Cards – Free Download

It’s no secret that we LOVE Math-U-See around here. I’ve used it for about 5 years now, and despite the vast difference in the types of learners I have, Math-U-See’s “Build It, Write It, Say It” approach works with everyone!

My search for Math-U-See addition flash cards has proven time and again to be unfruitful. Mastery of the addition fact families is an important foundation for successful advancement in the program. I have found that drilling the Alpha book lessons cannot be done often enough considering the vast amounts of time it saves now that the oldest girls are entering Epsilon. Drilling these facts from the early years has given them amazing automatic recall. That being said, we are not always at a table where we can drag out the manipulatives to build problems, and I am not always able to do the online drills that MUS offers (for FREE here) if we are out and about and find a good opportunity to run through problematic fact families. I need something in full color that shows the blocks arranged for each fact, in the unique layout MUS has to compliment the time we spend building the facts each day with the blocks.

Since I couldn’t find any Math-U-See flash cards anywhere, I decided to spend some time creating my own. I’m sharing them here with anyone and everyone who loves Math-U-See as much as I do but would like something tangible other than the blocks to keep working with their youngsters until mastery has been achieved. They aren’t gorgeous, but will do the trick of assisting with continual review and memorization. I’ll be using them with my twins as we start Primer this upcoming school year. I printed mine on scrapbook paper and laminated them so my littles can carry them around, but any 3.5 x 5 paper or cardstock would also work.

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A Fruitful Chanukah

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Isaiah 9:2

There is biblical significance to the number eight in the Bible. Eight stands for “new beginnings.” There is an interesting correlation with the nights of Chanukah and the Fruit of the Spirit, which our family will be meditating on during this year’s holiday season. For anyone who has seen a Chanukah menorah, there are obviously places for nine candles on it. The shamash candle, or “servant” candle is the one used to light all the other candles on each night of Chanukah – one for each night of the eight day celebration. The shamash is a symbol of Jesus as He came as a servant to light our hearts to Him as the path of salvation. He declared Himself to be the Messiah during the Festival of Dedication (John 10:22-42), solidifying in the hearts of His followers that He was the awaited Promised One.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

It is through love that we appropriate the fruits of the Spirit into our lives. We have love for the Father and His Son, therefore we walk in a manner pleasing to Him by putting on the other fruits. We love one another, which is the second part of the greatest commandment. We will be exploring verses related to each fruit during each night of Chanukah this year as we light the candles. Of course, there are a multitude of verses on these topics. Some of them will focus on the example God gave us to follow as He embodies each of these gifts in Himself. Others will focus on the characteristics He seeks to develop in His children by the Holy Spirit’s power.

Each night of Chanukah, as we light the first candle of love, we will read some verses about love, followed by readings for the additional gifts in order.

pomegranate-loveJohn 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Colossians 3:14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

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Mark 12:30-31 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 14:15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh,
but through love serve one another.

Ephesians 4:1-2 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

1 Peter 1:22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

John 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.

Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.

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John 15:10-11 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

James 1:2-3 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!

Proverbs 17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!

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John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Isaiah 26:3 The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.

Hebrews 12:14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

Romans 8:6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.

Psalm 119:165 Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble.

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James 5:7-8 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

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Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Proverbs 19:17 One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed.

Romans 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

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Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Galatians 6:10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

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1 Samuel 12:24 Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart, for consider what great things He has done for you.

Proverbs 28:20 A faithful man will abound with blessings, but he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished.

Deuteronomy 28:1-2 Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God.”

Proverbs 3:3-4 Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.

Luke 16:10 He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.

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Titus 3:2 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;,

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.

John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

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Proverbs 25:28 Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.

1 Peter 5:8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Proverbs 16:32 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.

James 1:20 For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Matthew 26:41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

 

Creating a workable chore chart for a big family

We’ve tried more than our share of family chore charts in this household. The moment I realized I was pregnant with twins and would have a 4 year old, a 3 year old, a 2 year old, and newborn twins all at once, I knew that my life was about to demand a level of organization that had thus far eluded me. I’ve always been able to keep a regimen of clutter-busting and a manageable laundry routine, but the homeschool year following the birth of my twins seemed to be my nemesis. How would I survive the demands? Since that year, we’ve had a variety of needs and struggles as it relates to getting everything done. Pregnancy is tough to mix with a demanding homeschool schedule. Nursing is even harder. But it doesn’t have to be impossible!

I’m certainly not a professional with all the answers, but I have learned quite a bit in our trial-and-error chore management attempts. I gleaned a great deal from Titus 2 ministries’ books Managers of Their Homes and Managers of Their Chores. These resources are an excellent tool for any large family mama’s arsenal. I used the suggested schedules exclusively for quite awhile, until I discovered that our family does particularly well with block-scheduling. That is, we get everything in an assigned block finished, then move on to the next block but we don’t assign exact times of the day to each block – they are just done in order. I don’t really look at the clock as I’ve been able to hone in to about how much time each block should take us to complete. Most days, we are able to smoothly go through our blocks one at a time without any hiccups. But some days, some blocks will take longer than others (for example the kids get their new piano theory lesson on Mondays, which takes a fair amount of time to teach and explain whereas for the rest of the week they are only doing their workbooks and flash cards to review – but it all happens within one assigned block of time). I don’t have a different schedule for Mondays just because the piano block takes longer. It seemed really labor-intensive to create a brand new schedule for every day where one task might require more time. I’d rather have one master schedule that we tweak a little in the moment as needed.

I’ve gone through years of printing chore charts on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, only to have it trashed by many little hands, or ignored because the print is too small to really get anything meaningful out of looking at it. We’ve done stickers, we’ve done jelly bean jars, money charts, nagging, and the Mom-does-everything approach. What a drag, especially Mom doing all the chores just to get them done! A recent project of mine has been to come up with a more permanent solution – one that could be adjusted as needed but that was well-thought-out enough that I could keep it for at least several months. It helps to have made a lot of mistakes in the process leading up to now when I basically have a pretty good idea of how I want my days to flow, and what kinds of chores are able to be delegated.

In order to help those mamas who have asked me to help them set up their own charts, I’m providing the following ideas as a sort of tutorial to get started. It should just be seen as a launching pad for ideas of your own, not a one-size-fits-all solution. I believe that the less we have to discuss, re-explain, and remind about the basic things that have to happen every day, the more we can accomplish, especially since each child is responsible for a variety of items. This has proven itself true over the weeks we’ve used this system. The children know what to expect, and they do it without needing to be pressed or nagged. They really enjoy knowing what comes next, and getting to move their little magnetic block from the “To Do” column to the “Done” column. Even Ketziah has her own set of magnets.

Here are the materials I used to make mine look a little more artistic and not such an eye-sore that I hate having it in a main room of the house (which is a key to actually getting everyone to use it).

8 1/2 x 11 “Pretty” Paper
A different color/design for each child (great time to use that set of scrapbook pages I’ve had for ages) with enough extra to create 1×1 squares for the magnets. These will be fed through your printer but you’ll need enough 1×1 squares for each block of time/chores you plan to have in a given day (I have 8 blocks of time per child, so 48 total 1×1 squares for our family). The squares will be glued to the magnets.

Cork Boards
I had two 24×36 boards that I didn’t want to use because push pins spell disaster for kids managing their chore sections, but I also didn’t want to buy expensive aluminum magnetic boards. Dry erase boards would work well here too.

Sheet Metal
Cut to size for the re-purposed cork boards to render them magnetic! They are inexpensive and quite thin but have sharp edges once cut. Check the HVAC section of Home Depot. Stainless steel sheets are not magnetic, so get the galvanized steel ones.

Gorilla Glue
Plenty of it – to firmly attach the metal to the cork boards.

Black Duct Tape
To cover the edges where the sheet metal meets the edge of the cork board and create a more uniformed look. It’s still not that pretty, but I don’t care as long as it’s not hideous. Black is definitely nicer-looking than the gray duct tape.

Dry Wall Anchors
Since there will be a fair amount of hands pushing and pulling on the boards on a daily basis sliding their magnets, I wanted something that wouldn’t tear out of the drywall after the first week. These need to be sturdy!

Magnets
1×1 magnets to glue to the “pretty paper” – these are what the kids will slide back and forth each day from the To Do column to the Done column. You’ll also need magnets for the back of the actual chore lists.

Clear Glass Squares
I hot-glued these 1×1 jewelers’ glass squares (also very inexpensive on Etsy) to the paper-magnet squares I’d already assembled. They make it easier for little hands to grasp. You could also look for fun fridge magnets for each child, but all the ones I found were too expensive, small (thus choking hazards), and I needed more than most sets provided. Once again, making it myself proved handy!

Laminator
I laminated everything to ensure that this chore chart lasts for quite awhile.

Digital Scrapbooking Elements
This was just for fun, but I selected a picture of each child and added some digital elements to them before printing. I think it adds a little something extra to each colorful section.

We put the items the children need to do on a daily basis on cards next to the magnets. Not everything is a chore – we have “Time with Jesus” as one of our first blocks as it’s something that just has to be part of our day. “Special Home Blessings” as we call them occur maybe once or twice a week, so they are only on the chore board as a reminder. There are several items not on the board – chores that we do on the weekends and all the things that I’m responsible for. Starting simple and measurable is key. The nice thing about the boards is that Mommy is held to it as much as the kids are. We have fresh air outside on the chart, so it happens every day regardless of weather and I have to say it has been amazing! It also doesn’t surprise the children when they come to the kitchen for their fermented cod liver oil – it’s on the chart and they only get to move their magnets once everything in the block is done. This kind of system has served to make my day much more streamlined. It’s not perfect, but there is a lot of potential here. It’s possible that some day the kiddos won’t need the reminder of a massive chore board, but until then this is the kind of thing that brings success to our school day.

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My little sparrow

Today was supposed to be a day of happy rejoicing. We should be welcoming Joshua Zion into our arms. Instead, our bassinet and blankets are empty and cold, not likely to be filled for quite some time. He probably would have been true to the form of his brother and sisters and not arrived on his due date. But the moment he was gone, the only thing I was left with was a date when he should have arrived. So that is why I am commemorating his birthday today.

The past few months have had their fill of emotional highs and lows, but mostly a dull ache has resided in the back of my heart as I’ve steeled myself for this day when I must finally and completely put Joshua’s loss behind me. Not that I will forget him or stop hurting all of the sudden. But as long as I have dwelt safely within the days leading up to his due date, it’s as though I’ve been tethered to his memory in a special way that will fade the moment I pass the day that once represented such sweet expectation. It truly is over now, even the should-have-been weeks of dwelling in my belly.

As I’ve pondered in my heart a picture to take with me as a memento of my time in this wilderness, I keep coming back to something the Lord showed me in the early weeks of fresh loss. I saw a picture of my womb, with Joshua sleeping in it. In the background, I could hear my own heartbeat, slow and steady. Then I saw Yeshua reach out His arms to get Joshua from his resting place. He said, “It’s time to go now.” Joshua woke up and immediately reached for Yeshua, but he paused for a moment. “She won’t understand,” he said out loud, as he listened intently to the sound of my heartbeat. Yeshua smiled at him and with calm sincerity whispered, “Someday, she will.” Then Joshua let the Lord pick him up and he was gone. I’ve thought quite a bit about that promise of understanding. Isn’t it true that in the midst of grief we most often want understanding? At least we want to know that somehow our tears are not going to be wasted on something that wasn’t purposeful. But even when painful things happen and we are aware of a greater purpose, somehow the understanding of the suffering still eludes us. I would have to admit that even though I have gradually felt a peace in my heart, one born of realizing anew that Yeshua will never leave me nor forsake me, I wouldn’t call it “understanding.” Perhaps acceptance would be a better word for the place I find myself in now. I have learned many important lessons over the past weeks, but still I wonder if ultimately my understanding will be gained at a time long from now when I am dwelling in the Lord’s presence. For now, my understanding of why I went through this sits on the shelf of my many unanswered questions, waiting for the time of answer all our souls are seeking – when justice finally reigns in all the earth. For now, my heart is comforted by the fact that my baby boy loved his mommy and the Lord in His mercy allowed me to see that.

I would give anything to be able to have felt the last couple of weeks of pregnancy right now. I would be massive, with puffy ankles and a sore back, but I would be glowing with the sober understanding that an eternal soul was about to enter our family. My freezer would be full of dinners. I would be washing tiny onesies and hats. My house would be sparkling from floor to ceiling in my eagerness to provide a clean nest for my baby bird. Nana would be meeting weekly with me as we prepared for a home birth. I would be dreaming about the birth itself, and what Joshua’s face would look like when he finally emerged. Would he be a good nurser or more interested in sleeping? What would his cry sound like? Would he have a whole head of hair like his sisters? After his arrival, how many hours Pete and I would spend pouring over his tiny wrinkled face, trying to figure out who he most resembled. And how many moments over the next 18 months and beyond of his life would we laugh with amazement at the personality we saw emerging? I can picture his chubby fist clutching my hair each time I would get up in the dark hours to change and feed him. He would spend what would seem like 24 hours a day in my arms, and I would probably cry and feel overwhelmed. But at the end of the day, I would be so grateful for his precious little life, heaven visiting me on earth. It’s not that he’s gone that it hurts so much, it’s the thousands upon thousands of stolen moments that I will never have.

So what am I to do with this awful ache as I close out this painful chapter of my life? Nothing I can say will bring my baby back, and even my desire to memorialize his birthday seems paltry in comparison to how permanent his death is. Hopelessness is a temptation in these dark moments of wanting so desperately something that cannot be. But I must go on. I have six other children to love and raise in the fear of the Lord. They must not see me give in to the enemy’s desire to defeat me. They must see an example of strength and faith, even when it’s the last thing I can imagine myself exhibiting. They need to see their mama full of tearful faith, facing pain with openness and trust in the Lord, even if I cry all day sometimes. Yeshua promised us struggle and hardship in this life. But He also told us in John 16:33 to take heart because He has overcome the world. Not will overcome it – but already has. What a comfort this assurance is to my soul. In spite of the questions and the longing, I keep the perspective that every injustice that is done to the weak, the poor, the orphan, the widow, the persecuted, the unjustly accused, and the helpless on a moment-to-moment basis every single day in this world will be righted by Yeshua’s work alone. One day there won’t be any more questions. Once again, in God’s complete mercy, He has been teaching me how to strengthen myself in Him alone. I cannot do anything in my own strength. It’s here at my weakest and most vulnerable place that He is carrying me along. When I of myself have not the strength to take another step, to drag myself out of the bed in the morning and serve my family in every way He has called me to, He is there holding my hands as they work. He has an infinite amount of overcoming faith that is my inheritance. All I need to do is ask for it. In the words of one of our beloved pastors, my pockets are empty but I have everything I need by faith, therefore I possess everything I need.

Today, I’m letting myself weep and grieve, though I hold tightly to the promise of joy coming to me when my time for morning is here. The other day I saw a design made by a jeweler and my heart leaped because it so poignantly expressed the sense I’ve had lately. It was pendant made of a tiny little nest crafted of silver wire. In the nest were several howlite beads, which are blue and look like tiny bird eggs. Nestled in next to the blue beads was a white pearl bead. Hovering over the nest was a tiny silver mama sparrow. The designer stated that she had created the piece from her own story of miscarriage. The blue beads represent living children while the white pearl represents a baby gone too soon. Something about the beauty of the mama sparrow hovering over her baby birds ministered profoundly to me. I see Joshua as one of my little sparrows, right there in the nest with my other babies. He safely rested under my heart for four months and even though he has flown away, he is still my baby bird and I love him. And in the mama sparrow I see myself, compassionately watching over my babies even as I myself find refuge under my heavenly Papa’s wings. For my part, I’m walking forward from this graveyard to live in the fullness of the strength of hope and faith. The Lord has not abandoned me yet, so how can I have anything but a deep, abiding joy even in my sorrow? I have found great comfort in the song written by Civilla Martin over 100 years ago. “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

We memorialized the day by releasing balloons. I felt a great release in my heart with this small memento of closure. It seems as though a brick weight has lifted off my chest. Today was the day I was able to take my first deep breath since all this transpired. Thank You, Jesus.

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A side note – releasing balloons can be a beautiful way to remember something or someone, but please use well-tied biodegradable latex only, and cut off any strings before letting balloons fly to help keep our furry and feathered friends safe.

Piecing it together #4

Our 2014 school year is quickly coming to a close. With only a few weeks left of this year, I’ve been compiling materials, planning, scheduling, and reading ahead for all the amazing things we’ll be learning in 2015. The greatest blessing I’ve gleaned this year is the understanding of Sabbath schooling, which has been a lifesaver for us. We just completed a Sabbath week a few days ago and we did nothing for the whole week. It was wonderful. With Sabbath weeks being planned, I don’t have to worry that we won’t cover everything. This coming school year, we will be able to take off all the festivals, several Sabbath weeks, and also have a little extra time off – bringing us to a full 40 weeks of school. The really nice thing about having such a long school year is that we do not have to follow any curriculum guides. We have already started some of our courses, will completely finish some books, get only partially through others, and in a few cases will get through two full levels of coursework during the 40 weeks. This keeps me from box-checking and stressing about fitting everything into a 9 month school year. We simply go through the books at each student’s pace, then pick up the next book and keep going without a beat. Plenty of rest times throughout the year mean that no one (especially me) gets too overwhelmed. I am really looking forward to enjoying our first full year of Sabbath schooling.

Hebron Heights Academy is about to start its fifth year! I’d like to think that I’ve learned quite a bit in those five years, but each year I’m astounded at how much I am learning. I am constantly learning more about the environment each child needs for learning. Jaelah and Selah will be in year 5, so I am getting them to do more and more independent learning. This year will have quite a few more projects as their interests are expanding so much. They have learned to type this past year in preparation for when I can teach them how to do some basic research online like Google and YouTube, reserve library books, and do basic desktop publishing (digital scrapbooking) for their portfolios. I can tell they will outpace me when it comes to working with the technology. Other than random odds and ends, we’ve never taken time to really focus on learning these things before. They are currently compiling a list of topics they want to research, which is hilariously interesting and I can’t wait to see how they turn out.

Chavah, my little mover and shaker, adores grammar and anything music related. I was surprised that she has taken such a liking to Rod & Staff grammar, which I had to put away after many tears over sentence diagramming with the older girls. Not wanting to waste curriculum, I thought I’d bring it out again to see if it would stick with Chimmy. It has. She absolutely loves it. My choice to move ahead with a full Sonlight core for her was the right one. We’ll be in Core B this year for her, the first of two world history cores, combined with some science courses that will require more handwriting, which is another one of her true loves.

The twins are really enjoying their school, but I’m trying to hold back on any formal curriculum just yet other than the Core P read-alouds, which are basically just beautifully-done picture books. Their math, reading, and phonics will be the focal points this year with some handwriting thrown in for fun and fine motor skills. For their vocabulary development, I kept my Wordly Wise early grade vocabulary picture cards, which we use without the twaddle books that are supposed to accompany them.

As a family, we’ll focus more on art appreciation using the Greatest Artists Vol. 1 as we thoroughly enjoyed World’s Greatest Composers during our Fine Arts Fridays this year. In addition to Latin, everyone will also be studying Biblical Hebrew this year. I struggled to find a program that would be very engaging for even the littlest kids in our house, yet simple enough for me to facilitate. A friend of mine mentioned that Psalm 78 Ministries publishes Biblical Hebrew for Kids. Based on her recommendation, I purchased the set. The DVDs and books are very well-done and very reasonably-priced. They play classical music in the background and slowly pronounce the alphabet and words so that even the youngest can understand. Psalm 78 Ministries also publishes a Biblical Greek for Kids, but I think I’ve bitten off enough foreign languages for the year!

Music has taken up much of our time during the school days, and I remain extremely grateful for the amazing opportunity the older girls have had to be a part of an orchestra. Their second concert is coming up in a week or so. We will continue to make strings part of our lives, and it is possible that the twins will be starting up some time in 2015 as well. While I like Alfred’s Basic Piano Prep Course, I have discussed moving away from position-based playing with a few piano teachers. I will keep Noah, Hosannah, and Chavah in the books I already have, but I’m transitioning Jaelah and Selah to a different Alfred’s course this year. It’s the same style of teaching, but focuses more on helping children really know their notes without being locked into a particular position. Being familiar with notes was a great weakness for me when I was a youngster learning to play, so we’ll keep working with the flash cards for memorization.

One thing I’m going to be relying on heavily this year is audio books. We do so much reading aloud in our homeschool that I cannot keep up with the demand for each level of Sonlight literature as well as science and supplemental history. It’s simply too much, so we’re going to be using our Audible account each month as well as listening to the books I’ve been able to buy on CD. It’s so much fun to listen to audio books. I find myself getting totally caught up in the stories as well. The nice thing is that you can do many things while listening to an audio book – coloring, math manipulatives, cutting, knitting, folding laundry, etc. It’s a win for everyone.

There is one big area I’m looking to fill, and that’s physical education. While we have kids’ yoga and exercise DVDs and lots of time running and playing outside, I would really like for the kids to have the experience of playing a team sport of some kind. The unfortunate reality of being Sabbath-keepers is that we would have to miss out on most sporting events as they occur almost exclusively on Saturdays. My prayer for this next year is that God would give direction for how to develop the kids’ understanding and values for healthy, active living. For the time being, however, jogging around the lake right next to our house will have to suffice.

Jaelah & Selahjaelah
Bible
Discover 4 Yourself Bible Studies for Kids John 1-10
Discover 4 Yourself Bible Studies for Kids John 11-16
Discover 4 Yourself Bible Studies for Kids John 17-21

Math
Math U See Epsilon
Math U See Zeta

Core History, Literature & Readers
Sonlight Core D

Science
Apologia Young Explorers Anatomy & Physiology
Apologia Young Explorers Chemistry & Physics

Spelling
All About Spelling 6
All About Spelling 7selah

Grammar
Fix-It! Grammar The Nose Tree
Fix-It! Grammar Robinhood

Latin
Latina Christiana I
Latina Christiana II

Composition
IEW Student Writing Intensive Continuation Course Level A

Art & Cursive
PreScripts Cursive Passages & Illuminations

Music
Alfred’s Premier Piano Course 2A
Alfred’s Premier Piano Course 2B
Jaelah – Cello
Selah – Viola
chavah

Worldview
Apologia Who Am I?
Apologia Who Is My Neighbor?

Hebrew
Biblical Hebrew for Children Levels 1-4

Chavah
Core, History & Bible
Sonlight Core B

Math
Math U See Beta
Math U See Gamma

Science
Apologia Young Explorers Astronomy
Apologia Young Explorers Botany

Spelling
All About Spelling 3
All About Spelling 4hosannah

Grammar
Rod & Staff Level 2
Rod & Staff Level 3

Handwriting
A Reason for Handwriting T Cursive

Reading
All About Reading Level 4
Memoria Press 2nd Grade Literature Guides
Geography Matters Profiles from History

Latin
Prima Latina

Composition
IEW Bible Heroes Writing Lessons

Art & Cursive
PreScripts Cursive Words & Drawing – Scripture

Musicnoah
Alfred’s Basic Piano Prep Course B
Alfred’s Basic Piano Prep Course C
Violin

Worldview
Apologia Who Am I?
Apologia Who Is My Neighbor?

Hebrew
Biblical Hebrew for Children Levels 1-4

Hosannah & Noah
Core & Literature
Sonlight Core P

Math
Math U See Primer
Math U See Alpha

Reading
All About Reading Level 1
All About Reading Level 2

Handwriting
A Reason for Handwriting T Cursive
ketziah

Art & Cursive
PreScripts Cursive Letters & Coloring – Medieval to Modern World History

Worldview
Apologia Who Am I?
Apologia Who Is My Neighbor?

Hebrew
Biblical Hebrew for Children Levels 1-4

Ketziah
All things fun, messy, and loud

 

 

A Tattle Box for a Tattley World

One of my friends from highschool is an elementary teacher. She recently re-decorated her classroom and posted pictures of it online. While I loved what she did with her room, one thing particularly stuck out to me. She had a Tattle Box along one wall. I’m not sure exactly how she uses it, but I immediately had the idea that it could prove a useful tool in my school room.

Let’s face it. There are many days where strife and discord seem to suck all joy out of the homeschool environment. Here we are trying to learn as a family and enjoy lessons in one of the best environments possible, and there are times when I truly believe I cannot handle one more snipe, bicker, or tattle. I don’t believe any family is immune to the fighting, yet we are truly pursuing a lifestyle of repentance in our family, particularly in keeping with our theme for the school year of hungering and thirsting for righteousness. There is no place in the believer’s life for a lack of peace brought on by constantly being irritated by each other, trying to be first, and taking every little offense to heart. We’ve seen a rise in the tattling this year, and it disrupts so much of our day that I’ve been praying for a solution that doesn’t take away from my focus and goals for the children.

Finally, we’ve found a practical tool that will enable every child who has been hurt to express their feelings in a healthy way. I believe it’s important for everyone, but especially children to have an outlet for extreme emotions. Anyone who has an offense that doesn’t involve bleeding from the head or being imminently run over in the street will be able to come to the tattle box (that’s only partly in jest), write out their offense, and place it in the box. Pre-readers will be able to draw a picture of what happened to them. They will not run to me every three minutes with a new offense, and I will ignore all shouts of “I’m TEEEEEELLLLLIIIIIIINNNNNGGG!!!!” and calmly point my children to the tattle box. At the end of the day, everyone will be able to go through the box and remove any tattles for which they don’t feel angry or hurt anymore. Sometimes the act of writing something and then discarding it later in forgiveness is a great way to diffuse the negative energy. If there is something that is still causing residual pain, Pete and I can look at it, get more information, provide discipline if necessary, and pray with the offender and the offendee. This gives everyone a chance to be heard, to practice forgiveness, and to learn that sometimes tattling is not worth the effort involved in writing it out – so best just practice letting things slide off your back when they aren’t that significant! The real world for them will involve many hurts and misunderstandings, often with no referee getting involved. And as an extra learning opportunity, I’ve placed right on the box in plain view 1 Peter 4:8, which admonishes us that love covers a multitude of sins. Prayerfully, it will become a verse that is memorized as anyone desiring to list their offenses will be confronted with the Word every single time. I’m also not going to allow bad language or name-calling in the tattle reports. We can all stand to learn how to talk about hurts with effective language, not stooping to the lowest levels.

Already I’ve seen angrily scrawled notes placed firmly in the box with a triumphant glare, only to get removed moments later. We just might see some real fruit coming from this, thank You, Yeshua! I would like to stay in the vein of everyone learning to stop taking everything so personally, so on the other side of the tattle box is what I’m calling a blessing box. Here is where children will be encouraged to write out notes of encouragement, love, and inspiration for family members. Everyone has gotten involved. I’ve seen such an outpouring of love between siblings with this that it brings tears of joy to my eyes. Who knew I just needed to create an obvious place with pens and markers right within reach for my babies to truly start to show love to each other? For the blessing box side, I’ve place the verse 1 Thessalonians 5:11 which exhorts us to build up one another and encourage one another. At the end of the day messages and pictures from the blessing box get distributed privately. I don’t want to necessarily let on that Ketziah gets an outpouring of cards, letters, and stories most days, while the others may only have one or two messages. My prayer is that one day the blessing box side will be overflowing, while the tattle box lies empty. But I’m keeping my hand to the plow in the meantime.

 

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Quiet and the decluttering that leads to mental clarity

I am currently reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The title itself is insightful, but I was initially intrigued when I came across a fellow homeschooler’s blog post discussing the role being a highly sensitive person has in her homeschool environment. She mentioned the book as she listed ways that have helped her avoid getting completely lost and drained in the mix of an inevitably high-noise environment – like the one a homeschooling mom may find herself in daily. Every point made was so spot-on for me that I just had to read the book for myself.

A highly-sensitive person or HSP (coined by Dr. Elaine Aron) is one who “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.” What does this mean in every day life? HSPs are more likely to be overwhelmed by visual over-stimulation, chaotic environments, violence in movies, more than one person talking at once, and clutter, among other things. HSPs also tend to be extremely empathic and moved more deeply by music and art than the average person. HSPs are not necessarily introverted, but most of them tend to be more internal and reflective. Not only was it refreshing to read something about myself that I’d not overtly recognized before, I was also greatly encouraged to hear information about some of the traits that I have noticed in several of my children. I hate to use the word disorder, but I have seen some sensory processing issues arise in both my family and my extended family. I’ve noticed some aspects of it with a few of my children, particularly the physical sensitivity to certain stimuli and the struggle with certain environments. All in all, we have found several ways to help calm the highly sensitive children in our crew. Rather than see their responses to overstimulation as irritating and something that makes them deficient, I’ve endeavored to keep a positive attitude and see their sensitivity as a gift, perhaps because I myself am so sensitive and understand how tough it can be. It’s important for me to assist them in discovering what recharges them. A few minutes spent alone in a quiet room cannot be underestimated. Reading this book has provided several opportunities for me to look at my own emotional energy, both in how I spend it and if there are ways I can wisely conserve it so as to give the best of myself to my little students each day. A couple of methods I’ve prayed about, discovered, and implemented are already paying dividends as it relates to my mental clarity.

One of the most significant take aways I’ve had from the book is realizing how much clutter and decision-making can drain me of my mental energy. It seems so obvious, yet I’ve battled for years with being able to apply myself to something serious (like teaching mathematics) when the sink is full of dirty dishes. I have a hard time relaxing if the house is a disaster and toys and clothing are disordering my visual environment. It’s tough for me to start a new book when I know I have a looming project, like sorting through clothes my kids have outgrown and mending others as they frolic around in front of me in highwaters that have huge holes. I thought my obsession with having a clean, de-cluttered, knickknack-free home was an irritating idiosyncrasy, yet it turns out that I have subconsciously been ordering my surroundings so as to keep myself from being drained. Being a mom to many small children is an exercise in constant decision-making. Many of these decisions are not even significant ones (what will the kids wear today, which read-aloud book will we start first, what will I make for breakfast, etc.) but I have become increasingly aware of how much they seem to steal from my brain all that awesome inspiration I obtained during my quiet time before the day started in full swing. We have an ordered schedule to our day, but there are lots of little inspiration-stealers mixed up with it. Early in the morning, when the only decision I have made is what color of head covering to tie on my head, my routine involves rising with my alarm, coffee, protein powder, my NASB eBible on the Kindle, and I sit in the same chair after meditating silently for five minutes outside every single day. The order of events is so straightforward and simple that it gives plenty of room for relishing in my time with the Lord. Obviously, this time of the day happens before the children are up and about, but I found myself wondering why my routine with them couldn’t be more simplified. Does the day HAVE to start chaotically just because there are six little people clamoring for clothes and food? Am I only able to keep my mind uncluttered when there are no tiny voices constantly interrupting me? What if I could streamline many of the decisions I have to deal with so that the day could progress more smoothly? Goodness knows there are p.l.e.n.t.y. of opportunities for us to get off track. One blowout in the middle of Story of the World is about all it takes for everyone to disperse and get noisily distracted. To someone who is naturally organized, it would seem like streamlining would be an obvious solution, yet I’ve seen how this goes much deeper than just having a monthly menu, shopping list, and school schedule. For me to be able to give 100% consistently and completely, I really have to look at all areas of our day that are taking away from our energy – not just mine, but that of my own dear highly-sensitive children as well. Of course, I am not advocating trying to create an environment that has to be just-so for mama to function adequately. But I do want to be very disciplined as I look at those things that I could improve but just haven’t out of sheer laziness or lack of inspiration.

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Food and clothes seems to be the thing that I always come back to that drain me far more than they should. There is always someone missing a sock or wanting a snack. These little people constantly need coats and gloves and shoes and a glass of milk and a peeled orange and help with school on top of all of that. If I want my best portion to be given to school and training in the admonition of the Lord – of course I do! – then these other small things have to be ordered in such a way as to not take away from the important things. Enter homemade fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts and oatmeal packets, a family closet, pre-assembled school lunches, and a large, pretty, permanent, very visible chore board that involves everyone. These are just a few of the things I’ve begun doing as a way to jump start our school days and I’m regularly finding areas that could use improvement. It’s amazing what kinds of things you find are draining energy when you actively look for them. We are getting to the point where unnecessary words (a concept probably completely foreign to my extroverted friends) are largely absent from our basic daily tasks. I never thought it would be possible to get everyone dressed, brushed, fed, cleaned, and starting school without my constant verbal direction. Now, when the time for read-alouds comes, we all are ready with full mental energy gas tanks. We talk a lot more about things that really matter. What’s more, the children I have who are introverts like me seem to thrive on the quieter routine.

The family closet is really a thing of beauty. I even took pictures because it has so monumentally changed my life. We’ve never had a house with enough room for it before, even though the idea has always appealed to me. Pete needed a quiet office space anyway as he has to bring work home with him a few nights a week. We transformed one of our bedrooms to an office/closet. With a few cheap racks from Walmart and some colorful bins from Big Lots, we have a place where every item of clothing, accessories, shoes, bags, gloves, hats – EVERYTHING – has its own spot. The kids get dressed in the family closet. They fold laundry in the family closet. There is enough room to make it feel like we are shopping for clothes each evening when we lay out clothes for the following day. Nothing is crammed into corners in a dark closet, never to be found again. If stuff falls off hangers, it can very easily be replaced instead of being forgotten on the floor collecting spiderwebs. Every sock has a mate and is in an easily-accessible bin. It is just so easy to keep everything in one room. Did I mention I haven’t had to use the broom to scour under the triple bunks (undignified on my belly, rear end in the air) for lost underwear one time since implementing this idea? It turns out it really is the little things that can make or break a homeschool day.

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Passing under the rod

Ezekiel 20:37 “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.”

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One need not look very hard to find the beautiful, symbolic meanings woven by God into the fabric of the Fall festivals. The days are heavy-laden with the ripe fruit of needful repentance and reflection, just as the trees and fields yield their bountiful harvests for the storehouses. Abba gave us these days because He is intimately acquainted with our dusty frames, of how we need regular, obvious reminders that we are called heavenward. In our frailty, He gives us set apart moments of looking inward, of pausing to purposely view the work He has been and is doing in our hearts. These planned interactions are my favorite time of year.

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I love  the colors and scents of Fall – the crunchy yellow and orange leaves, the bright red apples piled into my kitchen sink ready for applesauce-making, the oranges stuffed with cloves and filling the house with their spicy scent, the pumpkins and squash yielding their delicious undertones for a winter’s-worth of soups, stews, and pies, and Fall in the air, oh the crisp air coming down from the Colorado Rocky Mountains – fresh and windy on my face. I can’t seem to get enough of it. I can finally start baking bread again now that we don’t need to worry about the blazing kitchen baking the rest of the house in the summer heat. The warmth will actually be sought after as a comfortable place of congregating through the cold months ahead. It’s truly amazing the picture God gives of bounty and fruitfulness, on the heels of which will follow a long, cold, dormant season before new life will spring anew.

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In taking stock of my own life, do I see enough fruit in my harvest to carry me through the wilderness of winter? Has my fruitfulness even approached the capabilities of abundance I know are mine in Yeshua’s strength? Who am I today, right now, as the New Year begins on Yom Teruah? Do the trumpet blasts come as a shock and surprise, warning me to repent and turn back to the Lord whom I’ve been forsaking? Or have I maintained a weaned soul, ever aware of God’s kingdom and on alert for His heavenly business being accomplished in me? Each year, it’s usually a little bit of both for me. Sometimes I see in myself the labors of much growth, and some years I’ve seen an apathy in my attitude that disturbs me to the core. Either way, in God’s calendar we start the year in repentance looking forward to a year of experiencing obedience. The sound of the shofar blasts on the Day of Blowing have an unearthly quality to them. “Repent, turn back to your heavenly Abba!” “Judgement is near, humble yourselves before the Lord!” “Sin is crouching at the door! Take heed and stand guard!” The trumpet blasts train our spirits to prepare for the Ten Days of Awe, leading up to Yom Kippur. Our atonement has been sealed by the blood of the Lamb, but these days are for us to look at our lives. Have we allowed sin to increase this past year so that grace may increase? As Paul says, “May it never be!” When I gaze at the sky during harvest-time, its blue only offering its deepest hues when contrasted with the golds, my heart stirs within me and I listen for the sound of the trumpet.

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There is a picture in Rosh Hashanah that Jews discuss each year. It’s a metaphor of coming before the Lord and passing by Him as He gazes on us and “measures” us. Much like a shepherd with his rod, examining and counting each sheep as it passes under his rod, so the Lord examines us. “You have searched me, LORD, You have known me,” and “You know my thoughts from afar.” Paradoxically, Yahweh calls us to come before Him during this time of accounting and yet He knows what He will find when we approach the throne – the righteousness of a pile of dirty rags. But because of the New Covenant, we draw near under the gleaming curtain of Yeshua’s blood. The Lord examines us as we draw near through the blood of His precious Son. A traditional greeting on Yom Teruah is, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.” I could point to plenty of examples of consequences for sin and blessing for faithfulness in my own life. It’s God’s mercy that draws us to repentance, and He disciplines us because He loves us. The pages of these books play out for us through the days and years we live on this earth. But what an astounding gift that we have been inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life for all eternity! As we approach the Day of Atonement, I ask the Lord if I am living a life worthy of His high calling. Is there sin that separates me from Him even now? Am I trampling His grace by living licentiously, or do I treat His gift as the inestimable prize it is? Yom Kippur is the soberest day of the year but not because I believe that I will earn some favor by fasting and humbling my soul. No, I bow with reverence, I posture before the Great King of the universe in humility. But even as I bow my head low, my heart is light as a feather. Because my Savior has appeared. His offering has been accepted in the Holy of Holies for all generations.

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A minyan of years, a vanguard for us

We’ve made it ten whole years. It’s nothing but double digits from here on out! I can hardly believe it, not because I ever assumed we couldn’t make it, but because of how far we truly have come in so many ways that are immeasurable compared to the simple passing of years. Our ten years together increasingly feels like a very short period of time. The more I get to know you, the more I realize that I don’t know you at all. The longer I spend with you, the more I feel like I could never get enough moments with you. The longer I love you, the more I understand that what I felt on our wedding day could not even be called love if I’m defining it by what it means to me in this very moment. We have only scratched the surface of how perfect a match we are for each other.

Reaching the mark of ten years with you used to seem like a lifetime away to me. And we HAVE lived a lifetime together, but it really has only been a breath. All the things we’ve been through have knit us together into a funky, colorful, comfortable sweater that keeps each other and our children warm. I like the people our marriage is revealing us to be, as the layers of incompatibility and misunderstanding are peeled away year after year to show that actually our differences are what make us perfect halves. We are finally starting to see that it’s okay not to change each other because who we are individually is a vital part of what each of us desperately needs from the other.

Today, I let my mind lazily drift over the many, many poignant memories that make up our knitted life. I think of how many frozen coconut daiquiris we drank by the gorgeous pool at the Four Seasons in Costa Rica on our honeymoon, dreaming together of what our life would be and how we absolutely HAD TO come back to the Four Seasons for our five-year anniversary. It’s funny to think that we still haven’t made it back to any tropical locations or beaches since then. We were painfully untried and naïve, but I like to think of how we somehow found each other in the first place and then committed for better or for worse forever. I think of how we had to shop at a food bank for awhile when you couldn’t get any work and how excited we were whenever we scored Amy’s Organics canned soups. I think of how we wept with shock and joy when adding a baby to the mix after just six weeks of married life seemed like an impossibility. I think of how many evenings we’ve spent sitting on our couch talking – probably almost every one of the 3,650 nights we’ve been married. Even if we could be gallivanting around town immersing ourselves in culture and hip new restaurants every night of the week, or traveling the world to visit museums whenever we desired, I wouldn’t ever want to give up the beautiful simplicity of sharing our souls through winters and summers alike in our humble living room. What we have is the better portion. I think of the births of all our precious babies, you at my side through every moment. There have been many moments of crying when we’ve thought there’s no way we’re cut out for five children born in four years, of yelling at each other when the sleepless nights have drained every last ounce of our self-control, of whispered giggles as we cuddle in our nice, nice taco-shaped bed trying not to wake the twins, of weeping wordlessly when the loss of a baby was too much to bear alone. I think of how many jokes we share that keep us laughing when otherwise we’d crumble. I think of the growing we’ve done – both individually and together, sometimes quickly into the next season, and sometimes slowly in trials and grief, fruitfully in some seasons, faithfully despite not seeing fruit in others, easily and peacefully at times, and with much difficulty and struggle for the Promised Land at other times. Truly, Yeshua is the One who has glued us together. Ten years is enough time to start to see the fruit of our labors with Him. It’s still nothing compared to our whole lives, but we have had a great start. I make a toast to you today – my best friend, my partner in crime, my lover, my playmate, my soul mate, my sewn-to-me-with-unbreakable-stitches half. I love you with my whole life. Here’s to another fifty years.

Shir Yaffeh – Beautiful Music

God blessed our family abundantly with the opportunity to further our musical education this past summer. It’s always been a dream of mine to introduce the girls to the world of stringed instruments. However, the instruments themselves are exorbitantly expensive, not to mention the cost of private lessons. It didn’t seem like this dream would ever become a reality due to our limited budget, but I continued to offer the request to the Lord as I had previously done for our piano and piano lessons. God’s answer to this prayer blew my socks off!

A homeschooling friend of our family told me about a local community youth orchestra that was starting a session for the summer. This music program is committed to making musical education accessible to all children, regardless of which schools they attend. This meant that as a homeschooling family, we would be eligible to join. Moreover, the cost for participation was only a fraction of what I anticipated, making it possible for me to enter all three older girls. Two other homeschooling families that we know joined as well. As many instruments as we could obtain were donated from local businesses to the music program, and rentals at discounted prices were offered for the rest. Thus was born the youth orchestra group Shir Yaffeh, which is Hebrew for “beautiful music.” Jaelah selected to play the cello, while Selah chose the viola and Chavah picked the violin. Their teacher taught during 2-hour weekly sessions and then we all went home to practice, practice, practice.

It’s amazing how quickly children can pick up something and learn it. I’ve known this to be the case with piano, and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to start stringed instruments while they were still young. I didn’t realize initially just how much of a benefit it would be to the girls to already know how to read music, but since we’ve doing piano for over 2 years, they flowed quite smoothly into their various stringed instruments. All they really needed to focus on at first was how to hold their bows and getting the fingering right. While I would not describe this process as easy at all, I was impressed at the amount of skill they gained in a very short eight weeks. One of the things I am most excited about is the ear training. There are no frets on stringed instruments as there are on a guitar, so measuring the notes becomes a matter of listening very carefully for the correct pitch. Even having a finger a half-centimeter off the right location on the string can result in a horribly off-pitch note.  While this can be a frustrating process, I believe the patience the girls develop as they work hard on this skill is going to be an invaluable resource in the future. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud than when watching the girls struggle through a difficult piece over and over until getting it right. I want them to know that if they stick with the process, they will be able to create worship wherever they go, even if it’s just with their own family. The whole point of all of this is to train worshippers of Messiah both in skill and in heart. May everything we do be for Yeshua’s glory!

The families of Shir Yaffeh met together with the orchestra director at the end of the summer and decided to continue. The girls’ teacher is excited and has implemented a process of mentorship whereby the older students help the younger ones learn the basic skills. This helps relieve some of the burden of the teacher for the whole class so that everyone can keep progressing, and it builds in a great review process for the older students. The twins quite possibly can join next year if we continue to see the benefit of this training. I believe we will.

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Now faith is the substance…

Laying our son to rest is undoubtedly the hardest thing I have had to face thus far in my life. We had two weeks for me to heal physically, and during this time we had plenty of quiet moments to contemplate what we wanted Joshua’s memorial to be before we buried him. I found myself on many occasions completely lacking words – for how can I possibly say something that means anything? Some emotions run so deeply and painfully that all coherent thoughts are simply insufficient.

I’ve had to let this awfulness be exactly what it is – awful. There is no rushing grief. The outpouring of love and support from our friends and family has been astonishing and humbling. The picture of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ arms during a particularly difficult battle comes to mind. And yet, this experience has also been uniquely personal and private. In trying to think of how to express exactly what I feel, I fail and so am learning the art of quietness and the heartfelt meaning a look of loving empathy can convey.

Today as I gathered special items for the memorial service tomorrow, I remembered that I wanted to wash the blanket the baby came home from the hospital with before the process of anointing his body for burial. How entirely predictable and utterly normal throwing a load of wash into the machine is. I’ve thought nothing of it these past ten years of marriage and babies. I’ve done at least 3,000 loads. It has become one of those habits that barely breaks the moments in the day for the monotony of it. But today…today was different. That something so utterly normal could suddenly represent something precious that has been taken from me is like a stab in the gut. How can it be possible that I am robbed of all those endless washings of little boy shorts stuffed to the brim with rocks, sticks, and all manner of treasures from the backyard? His entire lifetime of laundry has been taken from me, and I want it back. I’d do just about anything to get a chance to lovingly scrub grass stains out of new Shabbat slacks, if only I could have those Shabbats with my baby. As this horribly painful realization washed over me, I grabbed his precious baby blanket and tossed it in for a quick load with all his sisters’ and brother’s stuff. Thinking about his little blankey rolling around with Ketziah’s lamb-lovey, 500 pairs of mismatched socks, and summer skirts and tee-shirts brought such comfort to me. It re-affirmed to me that he was a part of me, of us. I might never fold tiny clothes for him, but he was ours just the same. This was the only laundry I’ll ever wash for him. Folding it and squeezing the scented softness to my nose, I thought my heart would break in half with longing.

We chose a rainbow as the symbol for Joshua’s memorial service. A rainbow represents so many things – hope, promise, and trust, not to mention joy and celebration. These past several days have impacted me deeply as I’ve begun to finally realize that the truth of God’s Word cannot be affected by how I feel. It took me long enough, I suppose. My negative emotions change nothing He has said. And though this would seem to push me away from God, it’s actually pressed me in much deeper. I’ve found a thread of hope and trust that I didn’t know existed, and oh how much strength that tiny thread holds! It takes almost no effort to come up with a quick mental list of Scriptures and promises I’ve memorized and quoted to myself my whole life. But when I really NEED those promises to come through for me and the dark reality of this world threatens to suck all the hope-filled air out of my lungs, who am I going to believe? My own faulty reasoning? My extremely limited experiences?

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.”
“No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say again, rejoice.”

My baby died and I feel heartbroken. But God foreknew every moment I would cry over my beloved Joshua. Sorrow doesn’t change who He is, praise Him. God is not limited or changed by my emotions. I can’t even put into words how much a comfort His steadfastness in spite of my lacking the feeling of its truth is. I fear I have depended far too much on my feelings and experiences dictating not only my praise but my trust in the Lord. It took the loss of something dear to force me to look honestly at how little I’ve believed His own words. Who knows how long the process of grief will last? There have been and will continue to be lots of questions and wonderings in the days and months to come. There will likely always be a sharpness when I remember this baby’s short life. The biggest and most obvious question is WHY? It’s part of the healing to face these thoughts and then realize that I probably will never know what caused something like this to happen. I have to ultimately be okay with that. I trust my loving Father that if there is sin in my life keeping from receiving a blessing, He will show me.  He will not cruelly make me guess if I’m doing something wrong – He’s my Abba and will reveal what I need to know when I need to know it. I know that the testing of my faith will produce endurance. Yahweh holds me close to Him even in the scourging of my heart. My faith is the substance of all the life I hope for and will experience in Him – both now and in eternity. Sadness only makes the joy more complete.

Before burial, as a family we anointed Joshua’s tiny body with oils of frankincense and myrrh. As we wrapped him in gauze and placed him in his itty-bitty casket, I felt such a tremendous appreciation and honor for life itself. How many thousands of precious bodies like Joshua’s are thrown out in the hazardous waste bins never to be acknowledged as children, let alone grieved? Life is a priceless gift, one never to be wasted. As I looked around the room at my beautiful children grieving for their baby brother and talking about what they wished and dreamed for him, I was filled to the brim with love so deep I couldn’t breathe. Who am I to be trusted with such treasures? May I never think of them as burdens, but only remember always in the back of my heart the sting of the loss of one of them.

The full experiencing of the joy and celebration aspect of the rainbow is harder to come by, but that’s also a working out of my faith. I trust that God is working this all for my good and this is true right now as much as it will be when my feelings one day are in agreement with His promises. We all had rainbow tinsel bracelets and each of the children had a different rainbow-colored pompom to wave as we said goodbye. We all wore bright colors and blew bubbles over Joshua’s grave. The bubbles were such a perfect reminder of the innocence and beauty of childhood. I wanted them at the baby’s burial because the sheer joy and giggles they produce in all my children during their seconds-long flight into the sky is the perfect reminder that our lives are a mere breath. In essence, compared to eternity, they are no longer than Joshua’s. Life is so incredibly fragile, and then we’re home forever. I find myself wanting to squeeze every drop of this experience into my mouth as a sweet nectar of LIFE – good and bad, painful and pleasing, it’s all possible because we are alive both today and forever.

As my heart struggles with reasoning and groping through this valley, I remember two things. The first is that during a significant prayer time only a few weeks ago, the Lord gave me a picture of going into a deep, dark mineshaft. I was headed straight into darkness, but as I looked at this mountain I was rolling into (for God is the One driving the mine cart) I could not see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” I was a little concerned, but Holy Spirit impressed on my heart that I was here to dig for treasures. Even in the darkest, blackest night, He wants me to dig in the rocks to get the gemstones He has prepared for me. As painful as it is, experiencing the death of my baby is already yielding a harvest of diamonds. These are the precious jewels whose worth is far beyond what I could measure. This is the refining furnace for my soul. The second thing I meditate upon is the fact that it’s okay to not have words. In fact, silence is probably good for me right now. There are times to cry out to God, and I’ve done this many times and often in the past. But that’s not my primary response right now. I have a much deeper need to be still. “My soul waits in silence for God alone; my salvation comes from Him.” Psalm 62:1 Silence because I know I can’t really trust my feelings right now. Silence because I know what He has to say to me is much more needful than my words right now. Silence because there aren’t any words to give voice to what my heart wants to say anyway. Silence because fear would only make me want to defend myself or try to come up with explanations for something that God allowed – end of story. Silence because that’s the place of trust in His nature. Silence because I don’t need to know WHY to experience healing. I just need to know that He IS who He says He is and that my salvation comes from Him. Silence because only then does worship and praise for Him explode out of my heart from a posture of such sincerity and true love for Him that I wonder if I even knew what worship was before this valley of the shadow of death was upon me.

Extravagant Waste

Extravagant Waste

Your life and death remind me of my favorite art
Impasto paintings – acrylic slathered thick with a knife, not a brush
Three-dimensional and boldly stated
Weight and movement added with a heavy coat
A waste of paint?
No. A purposeful and defined expression
Those thickened scrapes create an effect unmatched by the smoothest brush strokes
The colors can be better mixed with the blobs of excess
Sometimes not fully cohesive at all but rather layer coated upon layer
Daubed in messy perfection across the canvas
Your passing has added depth of color to the paints used on the canvas of my life
The reds are richer, ever the speakers of my pain
Deeper blues and purples, the mouthpieces of my peace and rest
Brighter yellows and orange to tell of my mourning turned to dancing
And what an extravagant waste a life not lived truly is
Just like those paintings
God knits together precious lives whether lived out here on earth or not
His nature is to give, to create, to paint
I choose to look at you, Joshua, as a given and not a taken away
You’re now part of the heaven that spills into my realm for mere moments at a time
My pregnant belly carried those beautiful rays of hope and light for only four months
And now my empty arms and womb feel keenly a hope that will one day be satisfied
A reminder that the best is yet to come
Extravagant waste because the Creator never runs out of paint
Because He is more than willing to spill it all out for us
It’s not inappropriate lavishness to Him, but supremely purposeful
Joshua, you were not a misuse of art supplies
You were necessary for some part of me that has yet to understand
But I can trust your Father and mine
You didn’t live without meaning
Lord, don’t be stingy with Your colors as Your paint knife cuts into my life
Mix Your pigments with my blood and tears if You must
Make me a vibrant masterpiece
Chunks of stained acrylic and my heart strewn liberally across this canvas
Harmonizing with that extravagant flow of life from my Savior
Expensive. Precious.
This miscarrying of life cut from the same garment of sorrow He wore
Do I give up a drop or two of my essence?
Will this monument to You be graced with faint smears?
No, not my offer to the Master Artist
Let mine be thick with the pain of my grief, even as the splotches of the valleys of death are smoothed out
Into plains of lighthearted watercolors and colored pencils depicting seasons of my rejoicing
Not nearly as bold, but effortlessly blended with those rich hues of suffering
Extravagant waste spilled without thought of risk or cost
The same scent of spikenard spilled over those beloved feet on a night so long ago

Mourning a Life Not Lived, Celebrating a Life In Christ – Pete

“The baby is dead.” The words permeated my heart like black ink poured into clear water. If ever there were two words that should never be joined together. But here they were side by side, suddenly and unexpectedly creating a harsh reality for me whether or not I would or could face it.

The wound of a loss plants pain into a deep place. Depth can easily hide something from sight and create a distance between experience and emotion. Perhaps this is the mercy of God woven into our fragile beings: that He would give us a resting place for pain too crushing to live with at the surface. But deep ground is also where soil is fertile and life can grow. God gives us the choice whether the seed of loss will find life or decay in the depths of our heart. This letter is my choice for life.

My son, Yehoshua Tsion (Joshua Zion), lived and died in the sacred and holy place of his mother’s womb. His body was at the same time perfectly formed and still unfinished. Tiny feet and hands were folded across a chest of soft tissue without skin or the supportive structure of bones. He was a picture of life begun and life ended – a picture that in a perfect world would be left unseen except by the gray images of an ultrasound machine.

How do you mourn a life not lived? This is the question that rolls incessantly across the window of my heart. It is the question that bores down through the hard surface and into the deep soil, into the place where the pain resides. Part of me knows that I don’t have to answer it or even ask it but somehow I need to do both, for truth buried cannot be known and truth unknown cannot set us free.

Perhaps I need to start with what my son’s life represents. How do I measure it, place it in the scales? By the number of days lived outside the womb? Zero. In the womb? One-hundred and fifteen — a mere sixteen and a half weeks. Either way it doesn’t amount to much. Maybe the fact that his life was miniscule in duration is reason enough to just leave the question alone. After all, something that never really existed can’t be lost and something that can’t be lost can’t be mourned over. But as I tie an intellectual bow on this reasoning, I come undone with the tears of my wife as she mourns the diapers she’ll never change, the post-nap hugs she’ll never enjoy and the brilliantly original toddler musings that will never hit her ears.

“He’s a person! My son!” The cry comes out from deep beneath the fallow topsoil as my own tears gush forth. As I sit holding his six-inch long body that weighs a mere three ounces, I can’t deny that something was lost here – something precious beyond the sum of years lived and accomplishments achieved.

Life is inestimable in value, invisible in substance and incalculable by human measurement. We treasure it in ourselves and guard it fiercely in those we love. And yet will we acknowledge that life itself is a gift from the Creator? It doesn’t belong to us any more than we generate our own breath or cause our own hearts to beat. There is only One who can claim ownership to Life and He is the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture is clear that all things were created by Him and for Him [Col. 1:16]. “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” [Rom. 11:36]. Every single one of us exists through Him [1 Cor. 8:6] including my son. If the Lord chose to give spirit to his body, He can also choose to return that spirit unto Himself. He is the Lord and to Him be all the glory and honor and praise.

We named our son Joshua Zion because in his name is the inspiration for the lives we will lead in his memory. In the Tanakh, Joshua prefigured Messiah and even shared His name. He was the captain of the armies of Israel and by faith and courage established his people in the Promised Land. Zion is a thread woven throughout scripture and points to the dwelling place of God, first in the natural and then in the spiritual. It is the place where Yahweh laid the cornerstone of Messiah and the place from which He establishes His kingdom without end. It is the glorious mountain above all mountains to which we come by faith in the blood of the Lamb (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 14:1).

As much as I need to mourn a life not lived in my son Joshua, I grieve even more for a life “from Christ, to Christ and through Christ” that is lived on earth apart from Him. The Lord is so worthy of all the honor and glory I could ever give Him and this begins with a life of complete and total surrender to His lordship. In the past few months, God has been speaking to me a great deal about my position in Him – specifically, the extent to which I still sit on the throne of my heart. As I approach my fortieth birthday, I feel an upward call towards the heights of the Promised Land and a hunger to fully give back to Messiah the very life that He already has complete claim to. I long to enter His rest and prepare the way for my children to get there as well but He’s showing me that flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God. There is no way to conquer the giants of the land in my own strength, knowledge and power. Nothing good dwells in me apart from Him. His word is crystal clear – my flesh must be crucified to make way for the life of God to flow through me. This is what it means to be “in Christ” and this is where I want to abide in and through His grace.

My son lived every day of his life in Christ and this is a great source of joy and inspiration to my heart. He is our seventh child and the Lord in His perfect wisdom decided that he would be brought to glory and enter His rest without a journey on this earth. He gets to skip the whole board and go directly to the finish line! I’m inspired to live as he did – in Christ and for His glory alone. There is no greater joy or satisfaction that I could ever find on earth apart from this.

Bless you, my son. I will run the race with vigor until that day when we meet at last in the presence of our loving God.

“The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD”

“I’m so sorry, but I cannot find a heartbeat.”

No mother can ever prepare herself for those hideous words. The ultrasound tech gripped my hand as she gave me the news. I had gone in for a routine prenatal check-up. My pregnant belly has been big enough to require maternity clothes for several weeks now. I was well past the first trimester, when supposedly the chance of miscarriage goes way down. The whole world knows and can see that I am pregnant with my seventh baby. My children all know and are thrilled. True, I hadn’t felt the baby move in a few days, but I thought that perhaps I was just too busy to notice the flutters. My children were with me in the medical exam room when the midwife tried and tried to find the heartbeat with the Doppler. We had been able to hear it right away a few weeks ago. She asked me if I could come down to get an ultrasound just to be sure nothing was wrong. And something in me knew. As I left my six children in the room with promises of strawberry shakes if they could behave well for just a few more minutes, I walked down the long hallway and prepared myself for the worst. I had peace, and I kept saying over and over in my heart “I trust You, Lord. I trust You.” I didn’t ask Him to please make the baby okay. I didn’t demand anything from Him; I just sat with Him and waited. The baby was gone. I asked the ultrasound tech to tell me what the measurements were, and the best she could say was that the baby had passed about a week earlier, meaning we had made it about four and a half weeks into the second trimester.

My grief chokes me. I haven’t taken a full breath since I found out that my baby was dead. I know women who have experienced this kind of pain.

I know women who have gone all the way to the end of the pregnancy only to have a stillbirth. I know women who have lost children to SIDS, cancer, and cystic fibrosis. And still, compassion for others, prayers for the Lord’s comfort, even weeping tears of empathy as I’ve walked with them through their grief have not managed to prepare me for my own loss. There is really no way to compare suffering, either. Pain is pain whenever and wherever and however it comes. I’ve been extremely healthy through all of my pregnancies. God has blessed me abundantly with the fruit of the womb, and I am the joyful mother of children – many children. While thoughts of losing a baby have entered my mind with each pregnancy, I have determined over and over again to myself, even with this child, that I would choose to dwell on Abba’s goodness and walk the path He has placed me on with trust and faith. Why borrow trouble from tomorrow, right? Then, one day, tomorrow comes and that trouble forces you to your knees.

Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

I gave birth to all of my children in the beauty and peace of my home. At first, I thought I might choose to let my body go through a natural delivery in the privacy of my bedroom so that I could quietly grieve with my husband and not have anyone watching us and interrupting the sacred process. However, after discussing options with the doctor, I determined that the risks of hemorrhaging and infection outweighed the benefits of privacy since I was this far along. Besides, as soon as my spirit knew the state of the baby’s life, I believe the connection in my body was made, and I started cramping almost immediately. I carefully walked my children out to the van to drive home, and they knew something was going on. I told them that the baby had died in Mommy’s tummy and was now with Jesus. Big tears welled up in their eyes as they listened to me describe that their baby had been taken from us, never to see the light of day. Noah’s response was the most difficult to watch. Surrounded by five sisters, he was determined that this baby was a boy. He wanted a brother so badly. He wept and wept. “My baby brother is dead.” He’s only four. I told the children that it’s okay to feel sad and that we can cry as much as we want because this hurts a lot. I called Pete, who was at work and the news devastated him as well. He came home to be with me. As we lay on our bed, holding each other, we decided we would allow the process to begin naturally (as it already had, but very slowly) and then when it started to get serious, we asked God to show us it was time to go to the hospital. I have a wonderful, loving, supportive family. We ate steak, roasted asparagus, and watermelon for dinner. I had a glass of wine. All of us were crying off and on while going through the motions of dinner dishes and getting children ready for bed. The whole time, I spotted and lightly cramped. What was happening hadn’t really sunk in, but I knew it would hit me in full force when it began in earnest.

1 Peter 4:13 But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

Pete and I drove to the hospital not even having words to speak to each other. We just held hands. We checked in at Labor & Delivery. The staff was very supportive as they showed us to a private room. The midwife on call discussed the process. We would begin augmenting the labor immediately with a massive dose of Cytotec and then a Pitocin drip to keep the uterus contracting. When I needed pain medication, Fentanyl would be offered every 30 minutes, and the doctor on staff assured me I could have an epidural later on if I wanted it. She told me the process would get really intense toward the end, and that I should not expect things to really get moving until about 12 hours had passed on the heavy doses of meds. I’ve done natural childbirth with every baby, but I had no desire at that time to experience the physical pain. I thought that my heart was in enough pain and I didn’t want my body to feel anything. But as labor started progressing, I sensed from Holy Spirit that I was to embrace this with my whole being, not just my heart. It would give dignity to my baby to go about the process the way I would have if I’d carried full-term. My uterus responded almost immediately to the IV medication. I took the Ambien that was offered, but sleep was far from me as the contractions were too much to sleep with. It only made me feel like my feet weren’t attached to my body. Pete slept on the couch in the room while I tried to relax. I remembered all the relaxation techniques from the childbirth education books I’ve read over the years. Relax, open, keep my jaw relaxed, keep my fists from clenching…all of this was helpful, and yet how do you carry the tension of grief while trying to tell your body not to carry tension? It turns out that I didn’t have to wait for even close to 12 hours. Contractions came strongly every minute or so for about five hours. I cried and prayed the whole time, mostly alone in our dark room. Finally, a gush of blood came as my water broke. A nurse came in to check me and said that the baby was partly out of my cervix but most of the body was still in the womb. It wouldn’t be long. I asked for some pain medicine as my back had started to hurt quite badly. This was so different, like my body wasn’t ready somehow. I was in transition. I didn’t want an epidural because I wanted to feel the process, and the shot of Fentanyl only took the edge off. It did help me relax much better. It only took about 20 minutes of talking myself through a few more contractions before the body slipped peacefully out. I gasped and asked Pete to look and see if it was the baby. It was. The midwife and nurse came into the room, surprised that the process had gone so quickly compared to what they were expecting. They treated me with the utmost respect and dignity. They brought over a warmed blanket, just as they would have for a living baby. After the tiny body was wrapped, they asked me if I wanted to hold him. Him. It was the son we had so desired and prayed for. His body was perfect except that it was tiny. Tiny ribs, tiny hands with perfect fingerprints. Perfectly etched eyebrows. Pete’s chin and cheekbones. Noah’s nose and lips. My perfect little son. I loved him. I wanted him so badly. I wanted this baby.

Isaiah 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

The next few hours were pretty awful as my body had to be pressed, pushed, sedated, and scraped of all traces of placenta. As the baby’s body lay peacefully next to my bed, safe from the ravaging of the sacred place he had dwelt in for four months, I endured the physical surgery I had prayed wouldn’t happen. We prayed the placenta would release on it’s own, but it had to be ripped apart and taken out piece by piece. At least my baby’s body had not been desecrated in this way. Finally, when I could endure it no longer with just the Fentanyl, the doctor brought in the anesthesiologist, who would put me under, not quite like general anesthesia, but enough that I wouldn’t remember the last 15 minutes. Unfortunately, Pete did not get this relief but stayed by my side as they finished the D&C and I was blissfully unaware. I am so grateful we decided to complete this process in the hospital. I did bleed quite a bit, and it would have been tough to know what to do while at home. Just dealing with the grief was difficult enough. I was very well taken care of. When I woke up my belly was flat and empty, and only an ache resided as a reminder of what had just happened. Not even a decently-sized, post-pregnancy puffiness remained as a courtesy to my broken heart and empty arms. There was a woman who labored in the room next to mine during the night. She delivered a newborn who screamed and screamed, the beautiful sound drowning the sorrowful silence in my room. I dropped off again into exhausted, haunted sleep.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

I could compartmentalize the suffering in the hospital as long as the baby was still inside me. But we got home and it dawned on me just how real the fact was that we lost a little one. There is no trace of him anywhere, except his tiny body rests in his baby blanket, wrapped and preserved in a freezer until we bury him in his final resting place. I didn’t realize how many dreams I had for him living in our family, growing up in the loving environment of our wacky, unique weirdness and establishing himself as a brother. As Pete and I talked about grieving for a life not lived, we began to see that the grieving is for how much he will not experience. I will never nurse him, though my breasts are already filling with milk that will never be life-sustaining. He will not be sharing those cloth diapers with Ketziah that I carefully wash and dry in the sunshine every few days, the whole time thinking about wrapping his tiny butt in them come winter. He’ll never race around in his undies and cowboy boots with Noah, playing with swords. He’ll never get to practice his letters with Jaelah and Selah, or be the baby when Chavah and Hosannah force him to play house with them. He won’t ever cry, laugh, or love. His entire existence was in the secret place of the womb, where God knit him together. The hospital sent me home with a brand new, fuzzy blanket. I held it all day yesterday as I rested. The minute Ketziah felt how soft it was, she grabbed it and snuggled with it until it was time for bed. I tried to take it back, but she screamed until I let her go to bed with it. There truly isn’t anything to fill my arms with. Not when what I really want is my son. We meditate on the fact that he is with the Lord. We’ve been discussing and learning about our position in Christ for the past several weeks, and here our son is living it right now in glory. He both lived and died IN Christ, without ever living the experience of the fallenness of the world, though that is the very reason he was taken from us. He now dwells with the Lord, where Pete and I are positionally since we know Yeshua, yet we’ve not arrived there yet. Our son has gone before us.

2 Corinthians 4:17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.

I’m trying to allow myself to feel the grief and sorrow of this experience. It’s deeper than anything I’ve known. My tears fall continually, and I’m letting them without any thoughts of constraint or guilt. I think the reason I was so overwhelmed by the graciousness and dignity the staff at the hospital showed me was because they truly honored this life. No one said anything about being grateful I have six healthy children waiting for me at home. Nobody mentioned that there are plenty of women who don’t get to experience motherhood at all. No one criticized me for having “too many” children. They were there for THIS baby, and for me his mommy. And even though it’s true I have six children and the sweet blessing of motherhood, that truth doesn’t take away the pain of this moment in my life. I was allowed to have all the quiet peace and decency that this baby deserved. That I deserved. As I’ve tried to breathe deeply yesterday and today, I’ve gotten a chance to let the Lord start to minister to my heart. The first picture He gave me, and the one I’m holding to dearly, was of my son. Yeshua Himself was carrying him on His hip, walking away from me towards a glorious landscape of light and clouds. As I watched, my baby looked back at me and waved. “Bye-bye, Mommy,” he called to me. Then he turned around and faced where they were headed together, as if he was more interested in where the Lord was taking him. Probably much more glorious and amazing than anything he could have experienced with me on this earth. He hasn’t forgotten me, but he’s perfectly content in the everlasting arms. The same everlasting arms that hold me right now.

Philippians 3:10 That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.

We named our baby boy Joshua Zion Dean. Joshua means “Yahweh’s salvation” and Zion means “a mark, a sign, or an indication” (it is also a physical place referred to many times in the Word, and the heavenly Jerusalem is distinguished as Zion as well). So our baby’s name literally means “marked by Yahweh’s salvation.” His memorial stone reads “A Life In Christ” where he was while inside my womb, and where he is today, indeed, where we are with him. As we prepare to lay his body to rest, I remind myself again of God’s faithfulness and mercy to me. All the days of my life, He has been by my side. Both through suffering and rejoicing. He promised He would never leave me, and I’m holding to that promise today. The cup of suffering has been passed to me. Can I refuse it when my own Lord did not? He knows the number of my days and I will not withhold from Him my whole life as an offering. As Job says, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Perhaps there will be much fruit produced from this terrible pain. For now, though, I let the tears fall.

Psalm 63:3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You.

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A Sabbath rest and a seventh baby

This school year has been going splendidly so far and we are 18 weeks in. Surprisingly, it’s the first year that I really tried hard to cut back on unnecessary curriculum and/or workbooks that I just knew would take up lots of time and provide little benefit. The children are still on target, which is what matters in the end.

The Lord laid it on my heart a few months ago (just before we moved) to give Sabbath schooling a try. Basically, moms who use this system plan steady, thorough loads of school work for six weeks and then follow that up with a seventh whole week of rest – hence the name Sabbath schooling. This goes year-round, and ends up leaving about a month or so of extra vacation time in addition to all the Sabbath weeks. Many families use that Sabbath week for fun projects, catching up on household chores and organization, stocking the freezer with once-a-month-cooking meals, doctors’ appointments, etc. Just about anything can go during the Sabbath week, but it’s mainly a time to rest, recover, sleep in, and enjoy family time together without school work being a part of the day. I know my personality very well and I often push until complete burnout. I never considered the thought of taking a break after “just” six week so school, but we are currently going through our first Sabbath week and I have to say that it is wonderful! We seemed to hit the break right as we were all getting a little glazed over with our studies. It’s a nice difference in the routine, and of course since it’s summer we’re spending a lot of time swimming, eating watermelon, and lounging around in the cool basement on hot afternoons. I like that I have been able to save some household projects for this week that usually would burn me out even more if I tried to fit them in during regular school days. It has been a new experience to remind myself that I’m going to have plenty of time to tackle this or that odd item and it goes on a list for the Sabbath week, when we rest from our studies and let our minds and hearts get a fresh breeze through them. This new discipline has been and will continue to be a great way for me to gauge how I’m letting myself rest.

Ah, rest, that elusive thing that never seems to find itself cloaking my shoulders. We found out the very night before we moved that we are expecting our seventh baby. I’m about fourteen weeks in and have been really struggling with extreme exhaustion more so than I did in my other pregnancies, but thankfully I have had little morning sickness. My body has seemed to stop right around 5 p.m. each night and I have to collapse on my bed as I cannot express a coherent thought after then even if I tried. We have determined that this is not twins, which is honestly a bit of a relief, though it would be wonderful to have multiples again if I ever had the opportunity. Of course, Abba knew that I would be carrying another baby when He led me to try Sabbath schooling, and I believe the extra rest is going to make a huge difference in this pregnancy. As it is, I’ll just be finishing up this school year when the baby arrives, which is another tremendous blessing. I have a strong sense that God really wants me to experience entering into His rest with this baby. Seven is the number of fullness, completion, and perfection. God’s complete rest is available to every believer and extends beyond the sanctification in Egypt all the way into the Promised Land, where we actively experience His making us know we cannot do anything except by His power. The possibilities with a Sabbath school are endless as I ponder this seventh baby and the rest the Lord has for this mama’s heart. Are all these sevens and Sabbaths and rests a coincidence? I think not.

The unscrupulous milkman

Sometimes life throws us in strange situations that turn out to be the perfect opportunity for learning an important lesson. Homeschooling seems to afford me quite a bit of these timely occasions.

Ketziah is almost one year old and we usually transition to whole milk right around this time. Finding a source of healthy, natural, inexpensive milk is difficult, especially since our family goes through about two gallons of milk a week already. Providentially, or so it seemed at the time, a gentleman from a local milk delivery service stopped by to discuss his company’s dairy products the very afternoon I was heading out to stock up on a few gallons of the stuff. I quickly read the materials he provided and was thrilled to discover a budget-friendly source of fresh milk for my little ones. Before he left, he asked if I’d like to try a sample of the milk. “Sure.” Would you like to try the chocolate? Considering I had the brood of chickadees all around my feet, of course I couldn’t say no. He poured little cups of chocolate for the kids and me. It was absolutely delicious. I said as much and he assured me there was no sugar added to it; it only contained the naturally-occurring sugars found in milk. The sole ingredients in the milk, I was told, was 2% milk and African cocoa beans (whatever that means). I couldn’t believe it and didn’t bother holding myself back from gushing about the amazing flavor. My kids by this time had guzzled the cups of chocolate and were requesting samples of the strawberry milk. Just looking at the container of strawberry milk, I could practically see the molecules of Red 40 floating around in it, but what the heck? A tiny taste couldn’t hurt and it’s not like I’m ordering strawberry milk from the service. “What ingredients are in this milk?” I asked. “Only milk and organic pureed strawberries. You’ll notice the texture is a little thinner due to the water content of the fresh fruit, but it’s delicious, right?” You bet it was! I even told him I could not believe there was no sugar in it. As I am one to often try to force smoothies and shakes (those terms being defined very loosely) down the kids’ throats with no sweetener at all, I couldn’t believe something this decadent even existed. I thought perhaps he had fudged a little and there was surely some carrageenan or some kind of dye or anti-caking agent or something in it, but a salesman can’t really be relied upon to memorize an entire nutrition label, I suppose.

Once I set up my weekly order for the regular plain milk, I thought I’d check out the milk delivery service website. I couldn’t seem to let it pass until I knew exactly what was in that amazing flavored milk. Turns out the salesman was lying through is teeth the entire time. African cocoa beans my REAR END! Sugar was the first ingredient after milk, followed by cornstarch and a host of other unpronounceable ingredients. The strawberry milk had not a hint of real fruit but had plenty of white sugar and “natural stawberry flavor” and yep – carrageenan, Red 40, and an anti-caking agent. Nothing organic about it. I was so astounded that I was laughing out loud, causing a stir with the kids as they never see me this incredulous. I explained the situation to them and it turned into a conversation about how honesty is one of the most important characteristics we can have in our lives and how if we were in the same situation the salesman was in, we would have to be honest about the ingredients of the milk even if we knew it would mean losing a sale (which in my case, it would have). This led into a discussion about paying attention when something doesn’t seem right, as I had felt compelled to look up the ingredients for myself. Often things we see or hear will sound wonderful but turn out to be false, and how important it is to develop that ability to see through a sales pitch. We all had a great laugh about it because the kids had been witness to everything he said. They know I won’t allow them to have white sugar and I could see their little hopeful faces looking up at me as they listened to him explain that indeed these flavored milk products could be a healthy addition to our daily nutrition. Something about knowing he lied to my children rubs me the wrong way. Even as I think about it today, it baffles me that the salesman would go to such length to tell me something completely untrue. Why bother with such a drawn-out spiel? He could have told me he didn’t know the ingredients, pointed me in the direction of the website, or just told me the truth. To be fair, it’s possible he really didn’t know or had been given faulty information. Either way, it seemed a bit like being sold one of those magic, cure-all elixirs that were so popular in the 30s and 40s and which are seen as downright ridiculous today.

Fortunately, the information he gave me about the farm and the cow-milking process they use turned out to be true which means we’ll still be benefited. Though the children were disappointed about not getting to add any chocolate milk to our standing order, I was glad I’d gone through the whole process of verifying information and was able to teach about honesty using a real-world example. These kind of happenings are truly the sizzle of life.

Now, I wonder where I can get some African cocoa beans so I can make my own chocolate milk.

A short yet significant haggadah

This year’s Pesach seder was probably the most abbreviated one we’ve ever done. This was not without purpose. Many years past, it seems that the seders we’ve attended and hosted have been well over two hours long even with regular snacks and arranging the separate parts around the festive meal. This can be trying for adults, but attempting to keep several young children quiet, still, and attentive has proven to be a monumental task – one which we’ve never really completed successfully. As much as I love basking in the elements and the Scriptures, the specially-selected worship music, the taste of the afikomen, and getting swept up in the story of Passover, I’ve found that reducing the haggadah (which literally means “the telling”) down to the most basic element of all – Yeshua’s atonement as the Passover Lamb – has been the single most important thing I’ve managed to communicate to my children during this Passover season.

We are instructed by God to tell our children the story of Passover every year. In fact, the beautiful traditions associated with the seder meal are just that – traditions. Though wonderful and compelling in their multi-sensory flavors, they only serve as a tool to reinforce truth. In past years, I’ve found that I was losing my children’s attention because of the amount of time required to use the tools, instead of zeroing in on the foundational aspects of the festival. This year, we changed our approach. We started by narrowing the seder plate down to just the biblical elements – lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread (matzah). We brought Yeshua to the forefront by focusing on covenant and His ultimate sacrifice for us. After all, He is the only reason we can celebrate Passover with joy and hope. He gives us a future through His fulfillment as the Lamb of God. We can never spend enough time fixing our eyes on Him.

Pete led us through the service in less than 45 minutes (not that we were trying to win a blue ribbon for speed or anything) but we did not have to sacrifice any of the importance of the seder. Seeing our children come alive with excitement and answering questions, sharing Scripture, stories, and songs was such a joy to my heart. When we simplify our expectations and get back to the basics, it’s surprising how deep we can actually go into the meanings of this awesome festival. I know there will come a time when our children are ready for a more in-depth haggadah and I will be able to expect them to sit still and absorb a lot more, but this year I don’t feel like I missed out at all as we turned our hearts toward the children in order that they might truly grasp the significance of what we were doing.

Our goal to memorize Isaiah 53 as a family made this festival a special culmination of months of hard work. All of the children wanted to recite it at the seder, which blessed me because I had been concerned they wouldn’t want to stand in front of people and speak. I’m glad I was wrong. Something about the diligence they’ve had to have as they’ve memorized line after line and week after week made it seem like a small thing to stand up and say it. This chapter fit perfectly with our theme for Passover. May it remain written on our hearts in years to come, just as the words of the covenant have been etched there as well.

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Stained glass trees

After unpacking our school boxes from our recent move, one of the first things I set up was our art supplies. Creative projects seem to be a very calming activity for the children and I wanted their materials to be available to them during this tough transition period. Though we are still technically on our “moving break” from school we decided to go ahead and do our Fine Arts Fridays project today. I found this particular project in the most recent edition of Home Educating Family magazine. Pat Knepley is the Master Artist in the See the Light DVD art curriculum that we use and her project and instructions were featured in this most recent HEDUA issue.

We used art tissue paper for the “stained glass” squares because the colors bleed together nicely. I thought it would create a lovely effect, and it did when lightly brushed with the liquid glue mixture. Tissue paper squares were much easier to place than construction paper squares, though they were harder to arrange as even a slight breath would blow them off the page completely. Though the twins and Chavah struggled with the time and effort involved in covering a 12 x 18 sheet of paper with 1 x 1 squares, they really enjoyed the project. If I did this over again, I think 8.5 x 11 paper would be perfect for the younger children. The older girls didn’t seem to mind the work involved in creating their masterpieces. After covering the sheet with tissue paper squares, we used light pencils to trace a branchy-tree pattern on black construction paper, then we cut it out and glued it over the colorful background we had just created. The end result is quite eye-catching. Each tree was expressive of the children’s different artistic styles, and this is one of my favorite parts about doing art projects as a family.

I encourage you to get Pat Knepley’s article yourself and try out her project. The instructions were very easy to follow, the materials were inexpensive, and the effort involved on my part was minimal once I explained the basics.

Goodbye, little white house

Moving can bring such upheaval in life, no matter how prepared you are for the transition. We’ve been anticipating a move each year for a few years now. And each year, my husband and I have decided to try and make it one more year in our tiny little white house. We’ve happily found that it was quite possible to live in 1,000 SF with 6 children, no basement, and a few itty-bitty closets. It’s been cozy. We haven’t really outgrown our home of just over 5 years because of sleeping room, but because of needing more space for homeschool. Putting five littles in one large bedroom with triple bunks has been doable, but I found that we simply had to make a change for the sake of our learning space.

What a massive life overhaul it has been to collect, organize, pack, transport, and unpack all of our stuff! I hadn’t realized how much we had tucked away in bins and boxes out of sight. But once you plan a move, you are forced to deal with that stuff that hasn’t even been on the radar. I like the purging that I’ve been forced to undertake in my life in preparation for this move. I had determined not to collect too much over the five years we lived there, and I did a pretty good job since we simply haven’t had space for things. But even though our possessions might be fewer than many families our size, we still have a LOT. Last year we prayed about the opportunity to move in with my mom and stepdad as they finish building their retirement home in the mountains. My mom’s house is the home I lived in all through my teens and early adulthood. It is large and light, well-organized and very suitable for our big family. It also has a great room I will use for our school space. It will be special to spend the first few months of our time here with Nana and Papa before they are ready to move into their place. This opportunity to share life with them for awhile is special and I intend to make the most of it. It will be challenging and we’ll have to find a new normal living with parents after we’ve been establishing our marriage and family for almost 10 years. But it will be worth it and we’ll look back on this summer together as a sweet, memorable time.

As I cleaned our empty little white house for the last time, I was totally overcome with emotion. This move has been quite difficult for me emotionally. For the first half of our marriage, Pete and I moved six times. I wasn’t attached to any of the places we stayed, but I have become quite comfortable and settled in the house we’ve lived in for the past five years. Even with all its space problems, I’ve enjoyed having a smaller area to maintain and always knowing where my children are because there is not one quiet corner in the entire place. There is such an important work of threshing the Lord does when we are forced into tight places, not given privacy or “personal space” even when we think we desperately need it, and when we are forced to learn how to make impossible situations work for the family. I have grown so much in the past five years. It’s hard to leave a place that has been a refiner in my life. Fortunately, as my friend said, we take our memories with us. I don’t know if our family will ever be in such a small home again. Over and over when frustration at such chaos would build, Pete and I would remind each other of the fact that people all over the world would give anything to live in 1,000 SF with a non-leaky roof and running water, not to mention a large, beautiful backyard. We have been truly cared for in this place and have grown greatly in gratitude for God’s provision. I gave birth to half our children in this little place, and those memories can never be taken away no matter where we move. Already, I’m experiencing a strange sort of quiet as we have so much space now that I can go for 30 minutes at a time without seeing or hearing one of the kids even when they aren’t playing outside. It’s a little creepy. We’ve unpacked, but I wouldn’t say I’ve exactly “settled” here yet. That will take some time. I don’t know what Abba has in store for us in this new season, but we’ve both sensed an expansion in our hearts and more preparation for the season ahead as our children get older and begin to need more space for learning and living.

Part of my heart is still grieving for the loss of having friends directly across the street from us. Our dear best friends have been sad to see us go and our parting was quite painful. I think I took for granted how comforting it was to always see them right across the street. There is something so precious about having “community” on a small scale like this with like-minded believers, and it used to be what neighborhoods in America were like. People didn’t move as much as they do now but would spend decades surrounded by the same people. We’ve shared so much even when we haven’t spoken to each other for days. There came such ease with swapping recipes, food, books, and children across the street with one another. Just the other day I had something to give my friend and I texted her that I would drop it off, only to then remember that I now live half and hour away from her. I don’t know if we’ll ever live that close to dear friends again, but I can hope that the Lord continues to help us foster close relationships. We really need each other and I do not want to live in the easy default of isolation as I homeschool my kids.

With all these changes, I’m trying to find my peace again. I look forward to getting my regular quiet times again as I unpack all my books and worship music. I’m grateful for this new blessing of more space. And wouldn’t you know it but all this has happened during the preparation for the Passover season. Methinks there is a theme here. Perhaps the Lord has found us faithful with little and has decided to see what we can do with much.

It’s a blubbery, blustery day…

…for science, that is. I somehow picked the coldest day of the year (so far) to do our whale blubber science experiment. The freezing weather fit right in with the theme of our day. The idea of the experiment was to re-create the Arctic-cold temperatures of water that whales regularly swim in. We then submerged our hands into the coldness with just a rubber glove (like a layer of skin) followed by a glove slathered in Vaseline and covered with an additional glove (like a whale’s blubber that is just under the outer layer of their skin). The results were hilarious. Petroleum jelly and children do not mix, by the way. And I had just run out of paper towels the morning of the experiment. Oh well. We timed how long we could keep our hands in the ice water with just one glove. I think Jaelah made it to 23 seconds, which was by far the longest. But then when we tried with the layer of “blubber” it didn’t seem as though we’d ever have to take our hands out of the frigid water. What a wonderful way to demonstrate to the kids God’s amazing care for His special marine creatures so that they can survive in such inhospitably-cold regions.

First brave soul to test the waters

First brave soul to test the waters

"WAY too cold, Mom!"

“WAY too cold, Mom!”

"It's not THAT bad."

“It’s not THAT bad.”

Don't know how I feel about this goopy stuff

Don’t know how I feel about this goopy stuff

Blubber makes me all warm and fuzzy

Blubber makes me all warm and fuzzy

Lost our glove, making the mess complete

Lost our glove, making the mess complete

I’ll be scrubbing my sinks for a week, but it was worth it!

Apologia Swimming Creatures Ocean Box

Words fails to express how excited the girls are for this year’s major science project. Swinging from the ceiling fans would be an understatement. Having used Apologia for all of our science thus far (this is our third year with them) we have never done a project of this magnitude and duration. We are going to be creating an ocean box (diorama) that features clay creatures from each unit we study for the next 26 weeks. Not only will this help us remember details we’ve studied, but it gives the girls a very much-needed creative outlet. They will know that even if we don’t get around to doing lots of art projects in a given week, they will still get to make a marine creature and stick it in their ocean boxes.

Just last week, we spent the evening covering some old diaper boxes with blue paper to create a background of ocean personality. Yes, Pete and I did the lion’s share of the cutting and taping, but that didn’t hamper the eager jubilation one bit. Throughout the year, I’m going to post pictures here of our progress with the boxes and what we learn along the way. What a fantastic way to enhance our studies! The little girl in me can’t wait to get out the clay and start molding! Maybe some glitter paint and googly eyes too…

Here the girls are with their finished boxes. Ah, the freshness of a blank canvas and oh, the possibilities! 1/18/14

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We added toothed whales and baleen whales to our ocean box today. Jaelah fashioned a dolphin and a blue whale, while Selah chose to create an orca and a blue whale. I suspended the whales with blue pipe cleaners to make it appear that they were swimming. Of course, they are not to scale at all. 1/26/14

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For Lesson 3 in Apologia’s Swimming Creatures, we made Pinnipeds. Selah’s creature is a true seal while Jaelah made a sea lion. In this short video clip the girls explain a little about these awesome creatures. 1/6/14

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Fine Arts Fridays

What do you get when you combine music appreciation with sketchbooks and pencils? A fabulous end to the school week. I’ve started calling these days Fine Arts Fridays because we’ve been spending much of our Fridays doing creative activities. The children could not be happier. Additionally, I believe that music and art speak to the spirit and soul, so in a way these pursuits enable us to enter more completely into Shabbat. Everything slows down and we are free to listen and express. Art of all kinds is something that I will find my children engaging in whenever they have free time. If they have five minutes before a math test – they’ll pull out the sketch books. Selah takes her creative writing with her everywhere she goes. Jaelah is constantly drawing on every piece of paper she can get her hands on, even my Costco receipts. Our Doodle Pro magnetic pads have been used so much by everyone that I’ve had to replace them three times already. I’m blessed that so far all of the kids have been really excited about this aspect of our education, and we’re doing more this year than ever before because I see such a value in encouraging something that REALLY sparks their interest.IMG_2667

For our World’s Greatest Composers studies (written by Erica over at Confessions of a Homeschooler) we are currently studying Bach. I really like the composer studies because they add a wealth of information while also giving children a chance to express themselves artistically. We do puzzles, lapbooks, minibooks, and coloring galore for each lesson.

While listeninIMG_2685g to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the children were encouraged to do a free drawing on how the music made them feel. Not surprisingly, the colors they chose were dark and bold, the lines jagged and spooky – much like the piece. We have complete quiet during our listening times, and the kids get to color, cut, staple, and glue to their hearts’ content while we learn to recognize some of the best compositions ever written. It’s yielded an almost sacred peace to the home during our Friday afternoons, and I have come to really look forward to it as a bookend to the week. Erica just released Volume 2 of World’s Greatest Composers, so I’m glad that we’ll have something to move on to after we are finished with this book. I’m tempted to really draw it out. After all, can you really come to appreciate Bach’s music after only a couple of weeks?

IMG_2673For the second portion of our Fine Arts times, I am using a DVD program called Art Class. We’ve tried a variety of art programs before and I haven’t really liked any of them yet. Yes, I could teach the children the fundamentals of drawing and painting without using any sort of curriculum, for it has always been a passion of mine. There isn’t a whole lot to it, and once you understand basics of contrast and contour you’re off running. But watching these short, Christ-centered video lessons each week is really simplifying something that is hard for me to illustrate for the girls. I like how Pat Knepley lays out the basic tools, instructions, and ideas with a Scripture focus each week. It has the perfect kind of lessons at just the right pace. Everyone is really moving towards the next level in artistic expression, even Chavah, who has before now appeared to be completely uninterested in drawing or sketching. I scored some art pencil sets on a clearance sale and on a whim purchased one for her, along with a small sketchpad. Boom! That was what she needed – her own little toolkit. Every day she asks me if she can sketch now. Perhaps I am biased, but some of the original abstracts pieces she’s created just might rival Picasso.

IMG_2677A Fine Arts appreciation in our homeschool wouldn’t be complete without actually playing musical instruments. Jaelah and Selah are getting well-established in their piano playing. Chavah has just started and loves every minute of it. On Fridays, we prepare a “recital” for Pete to hear when he gets home from work and we are entering into Erev Shabbat. All they do is play the pieces they’ve been learning throughout the week, and having an audience to listen means a lot more to them than just practicing for Mom every day. The twins have gotten so excited about all these piano goings-on that they have “composed” several musical delights as well. Though they are eager right now to start playing, I want to wait a bit for their little hands to grow before we commence formal instructions as their tiny fingers can barely press down the weighted keys on our antique upright. If they continue to show an interest in music, I may look into violin for them in the future. As it is, I still haven’t found a bench that allows all three girls to have proper sitting posture at the piano but it hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm around here. And it’s amazing how much my own ear training has developed as I listen to these pieces played over and over and over again every day. I’m finally beginning to recognize notes that I never really paid attention to when I was playing piano.IMG_2683

Fine Arts Fridays have been going so well that I have no intention of changing anything for the time being. It is a motivator to finish well some of the less fun subjects during the week. And I’m not just talking about the children.

Piecing it together #3 Part 2

Planning for this year, I have to address boredom with Chavah. I originally got fearful of the idea of teaching three Sonlight Cores at one time with a young baby in the house because the read-alouds require so much time from me. I want to spend the quality time with Chavah that I spent with Jaelah and Selah when we did Core A, so I originally planned to have her wait until the twins were old enough to start Core A and do it all together. But that just isn’t going to work. Chavah has grown in leaps and bounds this year and focusing only on reading and math isn’t going to cut it for her this year. I was talking with my mother-in-law about this issue and she told me that’s exactly what Pete struggled with before he was finally placed in a class that challenged him. Chavah is tired of the Core P books that the twins are doing and I believe reading some quality literature with her will help her develop her vocabulary and self-expression. I talked about it with Pete and prayed about my reticence to set myself up for FOUR Cores eventually. We came to the conclusion that we just have to trust the Lord and not make any decisions based out of fear. We have to give our children what they need right now and allow Him to direct our paths in the future. I suppose I could go out and purchase a full boxed first-grade curriculum for Chims, but we’ve already made the investment with Sonlight and have no desire to switch from that. So we will be doing Core A with her this year. I pulled out the books and just looking at them filled me with anticipation for all the conversations we’ll have through the year reading fantastic literature together. Chavah even tried to sneak one of the books from the pile to her bed during rest time. This approach will give me the freedom to only start Core A when the twins are truly ready for it, instead of forcing them to start at 5 years old just because I’ve been holding Chavah back and can’t wait any longer. Core A provides a basic overview of world cultures, but Chavah is so hands-on that I decided to use some Evan Moor history pockets with her this year to supplement the read-alouds. They are lots of fun and will provide a very good overview of topics and allow her to express her own creativity.

I am changing science this year for Chavah. We love, love, love Apologia’s Young Explorers series and have had no problems with it for Jaelah and Selah. The books take an entire year to delve into subjects and provide a depth of understanding that most spiral science books to not provide. I want to do all of them with the girls and they truly have a love for science because of this curriculum. However, Chavah is not ready to start the way the girls were when they were 5 and 6. She needs to move her body while learning in short bursts – so I need something that has more science projects and experiments and is somewhat short and sweet for the time being until she’s able to handle longer periods of reading and writing. I have a feeling notebooking (the kind Apologia uses) is going to be something she LOVES because it’s crafty but her handwriting needs quite a bit of development first. I could do weekly trips to the library and throw together some books on interesting science topics, but honestly I need something a little more directed and regimented right now for my sake. I know myself and if we’re just reading science books for fun, I’ll be too tempted to let it slip until we’re not doing anything serious by the end of the year. Of course that wouldn’t be the end of the world since she’s only 5, but I want to slowly get her ready for the amount of reading the Apologia books will require. I don’t really like the science curriculum workbooks I’ve seen around and nothing really piqued my interest until I came across God’s Design for Science series. To be totally honest, I still don’t LOVE it (they are relentlessly dogmatic about Young Earth philosophies, but that’s another blog). However, since my main priority is to remain with Creation-based science, this fits the bill and offers several other things I need. It will be just enough of a taste of science for Chavah, I can include the twins, it can be adapted to fit in the older girls when they are interested, it has lots of simple and inexpensive hands-on activities, AND it covers a broad base of topics which I can then use to determine which Apologia book she wants to start with when the timing is right. If I had my druthers, I would use Apologia all the way through for all of my kids, but having a child who doesn’t fit the mold of the older two is forcing – no, allowing me to learn flexibility and patience. Yay. I never thought I’d be using two science curricula in this house, but that’s where we’re at.

The twins are not going to be doing much besides letters and numbers this year (they’ll still sit in for science activities) but they continue to enjoy crafts and preschool play each day. If my goal is to foster a love of learning, I have succeeded with them thus far. I have a few phonics workbooks and handwriting workbooks for them if they express interest this year, but I don’t necessarily expect them to just yet. We’re going through All About Reading Level Pre-1 and it fits perfectly for their age and stage. I like the curriculum because it allows us to go through each letter three times – first for the capital letter, then the lowercase letter, then finally the letter sounds – so that could take a full year and half if I wanted it to. We’re using the Critical Thinking Company Age 3 and Age 4 math books because the twins aren’t quite ready for Math U See Primer yet. Still, it’s preparing them and Noah in particular loves the numbers concepts. When Pete comes home from work, “maths books” is often the activity the twins want to do with him (other than pulling all the cushions off the couch and wrestling, of course).

It continues to be highly beneficial to our school day to start with the twins so they can play while I focus on the harder subjects with the older girls. Now I’m at the stage where Chavah needs my attention for just about every subject, and the older girls are more independent than ever. Allowing our schedules to be flexible will give me the best payout this year. Now all I have to do is figure out how to pack and move in the middle of the academic year.

Piecing it together #3 Part 1

I just looked at my yearly planning calendar and we only have 2 weeks left of school. WHERE has the time gone? My goodness this year flew by. We’ve had lots of wonderful life-learning this year, and I’m also very pleased with how much the kids have developed.  Having a new baby in the house for much of our school year has given me ample time to consider and reconsider and consider again the methodology and approach I have to our family education. The longer I do this “homeschool thing” the more eclectic the choices I make. I’m trying to keep an open mind to what the children need as they get older. How much am I impressing MY goals on them, and how much are they inspired to do their own learning and discovery? Am I giving them enough to spark interest, or are we getting too bogged down with workbooks to have the energy for other pursuits? Are we continually coming back to the development of godly character as being primary in importance here?

God impressed on my heart the need for the girls to take a little more ownership of their learning as I prepare for the coming year. Though we are still laying a foundation in math, science, and being able to use the English language excellently, there is plenty of time during the day for them to pursue their own interests as they are becoming more independent and don’t need me to constantly be helping them. For the past couple of weeks, we have been discussing the process of setting goals and then using daily free time to meet those goals. I’m a very goal-oriented person, and our children will eventually have to develop self-governance in whatever pursuits they take on in life. Managing time and passions well is a lifelong pursuit and takes much practice. After all, there comes a point in time when Mommy can’t MAKE you practice piano anymore – you either want to become a good musician and will have the self-discipline to achieve that status – or you don’t and won’t. When it comes to what we lay out to learn this year, I have to consider my own very limited time and resources so that we can both lay a solid foundation and begin to build individualized little rooms. I also have to keep looking back at what our original motivation and mission was when we set out to homeschool. While recognizing that there have been and will continue to be circumstances that change HOW we accomplish what we set out to do, the main heart has not changed. The two over-arching goals we have at Hebron Heights Academy is to train our children in the admonition and fear of the LORD, and to endeavor for excellence in whatever we put our hands to. Everything else is icing on the cake.

I’ve spent some one-on-one time with the girls, asking Jaelah and Selah what THEY want to learn this year. Jaelah wants to continue to develop her artistic abilities but she also is very interested in nutrition and menu planning for the family. She is captivated about what makes healthy food healthy and how to get the whole family involved in eating it. Also, she is very passionate about food presentation (which probably stems from her extremely creative nature) and she wants to begin consulting with me whenever I re-arrange furniture. Hah – she could be a budding little interior designer, and considering how often I am moving things around to accommodate our growing family, she has job security for the foreseeable future! Selah has a great love for writing and she wants to continue to pursue that this year (not surprising to me – she has authored six books already to the great delight of the twins) but she would really like to learn how to sew as well so that she can make clothes for her American Girl doll and “save money because they are so expensive on the website, Mommy, like SO many more coins than I have.” Smart girl. I haven’t been very intentional about home economics other than living it in front of the children and requiring them to do chores as part of the “Family Blessing” portions of our day. Apparently, my endless talking about how to poach eggs and make almond-flour bread and sneak pureed kale into foods has sparked some curiosity. I couldn’t be more pleased. Maybe if I make a big deal about how to get the rust-stains out of the tub using natural products, they will get excited about cleaning the bathroom too. Or not. Both girls also expressed a strong desire to study the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln this year. I don’t know what it is about the injustice of slavery that speaks to their hearts, but they just want to know all about it. In Story of the World Volume 2 we recently covered the awful exploitation of West Africans as Spanish explorers realized they would need slaves to build their great cities and empires in the New World. The girls listened with rapt attention as we read some rather sobering stories of the ways Native Americans were treated in the race to claim land and grab gold. This topic can and will take years to cover, and there are obviously many more characters to study in our discovery of the Civil War as well as modern-day slavery, but I’m excited that they want to start. I’ve sort of been dabbling in the subject to see if their emotional maturity is keeping in step with their curiosity. So far, they appear to be ready earlier than I previously predicted. So in addition to our main studies this year, we’ll be adding purposeful cooking and sewing, beefing up art and creative writing, and spending a lot of time reading biographies and stories of slavery and its part of our history as Americans. I will still be holding off on purchasing Sonlight Core D until late 2014, but we’ll be going through SOTW 3 and 4 slowly until that time so we can get both a broad overview of the early modern world and a closer look at the States for the first time in our homeschool journey.

The Lord is doing a work of liberation in my heart. I’m experiencing the freedom to take an honest look at what we’re doing and get rid of what doesn’t work and embrace things that might be unfamiliar but might work with my learners. For instance, the girls’ handwriting curriculum continues on with about four more books after the one they finished this year. Four more entire workbooks! Now, don’t get me wrong. Having neat handwriting is a lifesaver in the real world, but the girls’ have beautiful cursive and do so much writing practice throughout the day that I just don’t see the need to give them another workbook on top of everything else. Instead of completing several more years of cursive busywork we’re going to start learning how to type this year, which is an extremely necessary asset in our ever-developing technological world. I am setting myself free from any guilt that would tell me I HAVE to make them go through the four more workbooks because I have to check all of my curriculum boxes. A few other changes we’ll be making – chucking the Wordly Wise vocabulary workbooks once and for all. I need to quit trying to make something work that just doesn’t work. We’ll be doing formal Latin study this year for vocabulary as the girls wanted to have more than just memorizing Greek and Latin roots. They were having a difficult time seeing the roots in language and how they make words work together. We’ll keep our English From the Roots Up for highschool or just as a reference material because it really is better for that purpose. Once I let the girls see a video excerpt of Prima Latina, they were hooked, and Chavah will be able to watch them as well. I don’t know how far we’ll take our Latin studies, but I really do think it is a superior method to memorizing lists of words that don’t relate to one another. Another change I’m making this year is the older girls’ reading material. Sonlight provides wonderful readers, but we’ve done all the Core C readers. I want to help the girls really engage with the literature they read and rather than just going through a bunch of good books, I would like to slow way down and spend time going deep with a few great books. We’re not big fans of book reports around here but I am not opposed to some “structured” reading, so we’re going to try Memoria Press literature guides for the first time this year. Each year only covers four books. They are workbook format which isn’t my ideal, but I can easily adjust the exercises for the girls to give narrations. The best part I’ve seen in the MP guides is that they give me a launching pad for deeper discussions. For composition, the girls are now ready to go through IEW’s Student Writing Intensive Level A. I am SO glad I didn’t push them to do it before they were ready. Looking through the materials now, I am relieved to see how far they have come in such a short time. I now have no anxiety about their continued development as writers and I was completely overwhelmed at the beginning of this year. What a difference a few months makes! Apologia’s worldview curriculum has turned into our family’s favorite devotional study tool. Pete leads the kids in this program, and we’re ready to start book two this year. We take a lot more time to go through the material than is required, but I appreciate that the topics we cover are so in-depth. I believe the girls are ready to take on some Bible study of their own this year too. Rather than just reading the Word, I want them to begin to be familiar with what it means to go deep. I recently discovered that Kay Arthur (author of many fantastic resources covering the inductive Bible study method) has written a series just for kids called Discover 4 Yourself. The books cover only small pieces/topics of Scripture at a time. We’ll be slowing down our Bible reading this year so that we can do more study. The Kay Arthur books I got for Jaelah and Selah discuss in-depth God’s Name, covenant in the Bible, and how to pray. Of all the shiny new books we have for the year, I’m probably most excited about these ones.

With all the talk of what I’m going to change, I have to mention the things that we’re going to keep using. Math U See, All About Spelling, and Apologia science for the older girls are tried and true now – three years going strong. I don’t dare change what makes our days run so smoothly! Alfred’s early beginner piano books are also the perfect pace for us and the girls will begin the third book in the series this year. I won’t require the kids to take more than two years of rudimentary piano because music is an excellent discipline. Beyond that, I will let them choose if it’s a passion they want to pursue. After doing about a year and a half so far, the girls don’t show any desire to stop and Chavah actually is constantly bugging me to start her books. I decided to let the girls practice any time they want instead of making them do it at a particular time slot each day because I was coming up against some major ‘tude. As long as they learn the pieces I lay out for them every week or two, I don’t say anything about piano. Since I’ve been quiet about it, they started practicing all the time. Whenever they are bored, they head to the piano.  LOL – they have no idea this was my plan all along and it’s working for now.

We’re moving in April to a home that has much more space. With the nightmare that is moving, I feel like Abba is expanding our tent pegs and it’s a reward not a drudgery. All this energy, passion, and creativity that has been bubbling under the surface is going to be given wide berth to be expressed. I can’t wait to see some of the amazing things God has in store for all His students in our family this year.

 

Happy Thanksgivukkah

It hasn’t happened since 1918 and won’t happen again until 2070. Thanksgiving and the 1st night of Hanukkah falling on the same night is a rare phenomenon and quite a special reason to celebrate. We’ve had a great week lighting candles, playing dreidls, and being with family.  Pete usually has four days off for Thanksgiving but we almost never have time off for Hanukkah unless it falls over the week of Christmas. One reason this year’s Hanukkah celebration has been so wonderful is because the time off means we’re actually getting a real HOLIDAY!

During the month of November this year, we made a “gratefulness” tablecloth. On this tablecloth, all of us were to record with Sharpie pens what we were grateful for. My original idea was to fill the whole tablecloth up with 30 items for each person in the family and then have Thanksgiving dinner on it, but the children were so excited about it that they filled the tablecloth in a few days. Pete and I had so much fun looking over the things the kids mentioned – God, insects, family, democracy, toys, latkes, and all manner of other sporadic reasons for thanksgiving. Hey, if it’s something that blesses your life even if insignificant, why not write it down?  Kids seem to have no problem coming up with reasons to be grateful. A good lesson for us adults.

The mini globes pictured in this post have a great story behind them. My kids happen to love snow globes. L.O.V.E. them. I have no idea why, but I suppose there really is something magical to the swirling sparkles and idyllic scenes suspended in a clear glass ball. Anyway, I’ve never been able to find snow globes that don’t have the Christmas theme. Any ones with more winter-scenish were always made of glass – a big no-no with a 3 year old boy who throws everything. I decided my ideal snow globe would be 1) small enough to fit in a child’s hand 2) NOT glass and 3) not cost a fortune. I went to Bed Bath and Beyond to get some extra hanukkiah candles and what did I find but these little treasures tucked onto the bottom shelf! They met all my criteria, were Hanukkah-themed, and could light up. And since it was the day AFTER the first day of Hanukkah, I got them for 50% off. Not only have my kids had some wonderful nightlights for the whole festival of Hanukkah, the theme really fits nicely with the Festival of Lights. Add light-up snow globes to our gratefulness tablecloth, Mommy, thank you very much!

One tradition we started a few years ago was to make potato latkes (a traditional Hanukkah treat) and cranberry applesauce (full of Manishewitz wine and OH so good!) for our neighbors as a way of reaching out and sharing Yeshua’s love during a time of year that many people experience loneliness. This year it turned out to be quite welcome with everyone having just celebrated Thanksgiving. Our neighborhood isn’t exactly in the best part of town, but that doesn’t mean we have to hide in our home and fearfully ignore everyone around us. We are very blessed to have developed some great relationships over the years with the people on our street. I want my girls to learn to enjoy hospitality and the gift of service to others, and what a blast it is putting together the items and decorating them with verses and blessings for the neighbors, praying for them as we do. It always goes over so well, and who knows what God does in their hearts when they know where we come from and that we want to show them love? Yeshua is the Light of the World, and that concept should not be lost on us as we celebrate His holy announcement during the Feast of Dedication and try to be a light to those around us who are living in great darkness. I love the theme of light this year!

Happy dreidl-spinning, latke-making, menorah-lighting, and Jesus-sharing!

Repurpose an old basket to make a mini-sukkah

Since we are Messianic, many people often ask us when we celebrate the birth of Jesus since we do not celebrate Christmas.  Yes, we DO celebrate this momentous event, but we do it during the fall, during the Festival of Tabernacles, or Sukkot.  I did not celebrate Christmas with my family growing up, but there are many traditions that I want to create with my own children surrounding the event of Christ’s birth.  We spend the festival of Sukkot listening to some of the beautiful classical music that was written to honor Christ’s entry into this realm as the Light of the World.  Handel’s Messiah is one of my favorites.  We might get strange look from the neighbors as we enter into this season of joy with a weird-looking booth like thing in our backyard, but truly it is one of the most joyful and awesome festivals of the year.

As part of establishing traditions for my children to really enter into the festival of Sukkot, I decided this year to re-create the “nativity scene” as it was most likely experienced historically – in a sukkah, or temporary dwelling that the Israelites were commanded to construct each year during the festival season.  Each year we build a sukkah for our family outside where we will worship and gaze at the stars all week, but I want my children to remember that their Messiah was born in the most humble of abodes and there was honored by shepherds as angels sang “Glory to God in the highest!”  Sometimes a visual aid is the best bet in these circumstances.  I’ve been saving my pennies for a very long time to purchase some simple carved nativity scene pieces and this year is the first year that I’ve been able to assemble it completely.  But simply setting up some wooden caricatures isn’t enough.  We wanted to build a little home for them, sort of a reminder of how we make a place for Yeshua in our hearts and lives when we accept Him as our Messiah.  It was nearly impossible to find models or ideas for this kind of mini-sukkah online as most of them are the edible kind made of graham crackers, frosting, and pretzels (those are wonderful too and we’ll probably make some this year!).

Inspiration finally hit me when I saw a basket that would work perfectly when turned on its side (loosely resembling traditional three-sided sukkahs).  The only real instructions about sukkah-building involve fruits of the land and green branches, so I pretty much threw together enough to make it “pretty” as a centerpiece in our family room during this festive season, but recognizable for what it is supposed to be.  I’m putting my instructions here for any other Messianic families who might need some ideas for a mini-sukkah of their own in order to create their own traditions.

Step 1: Here are thematerials simple materials, purchased from a local craft store.  Any basket can work, but I wanted mine to have a sort of rustic look to it, as if it had been constructed of branches.  Some burlap attached with twine added a covering for the walls, plus a little greenery with “fruit” for the decoration, and some “hay” for the floor were all I needed.

Step 2:  We used Tacky Spray to attach the grass-like hay to strips of burlap, which would then be placed inside the sukkah.

grassgrass2

grass3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3:  We wove the greenery into the top of the sukkah and trimmed off the ends.

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Step 4:  This was the fun part – weaving the “fruits” onto the sides and attaching them with twine.  While it is virtually certain that there was NO sparkly eucalyptus in Yeshua’s birthplace sukkah, it looks really nice on this decorative one.  Since most of our friends will go all out (and I do mean ALL OUT in decorating their sukkahs this week) it doesn’t hurt to add some flavor!

fruit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 5:  This was Jaelah’s idea – she thought a light inside the sukkah would look good, so we found one of those little tap lights we had lying around and glued it to the “ceiling” of the sukkah.

light

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 6:  Assemble the sukkah and turn the light on.  I really like that it actually looks as though there is a bright, shining star illuminating the family in the sukkah.  I kept thinking of my grandma’s words as I helped her in her florist shop as a little girl.  “Assemble the work in triangles.”  As a result, I think this arrangement looks pretty balanced and eye-catching.  Then again, I would be proud of any effort my girls spent on something like this.

full-with light

set up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chag sameach and may all your families be blessed during this festival season, whatever traditions you establish as you build booths and remember the Son of God.