When Simple Isn’t

I love the time of year when I get to reflect on the previous year of schooling and see the growth of the children and myself. Every year we have areas where we hoped for more fruit than what developed, and every year we have areas of unsuspected weakness that turned into opportunities for great fruitfulness. I hope that as I mature I realize that the greatest joy of our lives is in the daily journey, not in spite of it. Sometimes the work of homeschooling feels like aimless wandering more than anything else, but the whole point to all this is developing a sensitive ear to the Holy Spirit until my will is within His entirely.

This year more than ever before I have really struggled with what seems like the increasing loss of simplicity in my life. We are in a transition as a family into a new season, and I have yet to fully realize and embrace it. There is an uncomfortable requirement of growth to being in a place that is teeming with the excitement of the unknown yet scary because of the seeing-through-a-glass-darkly phenomenon that often accompanies those times of maturation that are hand-curated by the Lord for us.

I have many times in this past year looked back to a season in my life when simplicity was more of a given, though I didn’t realize that at the time. It was right at the very start of our homeschooling journey. I had five little ones five and under in tow and felt such tremendous pressure to make my little pupils perform to the high standard I thought was required. I want to go back and tell my energetic yet exhausted self that time would reveal itself to be slipping through my grasp at every turn and the opportunities for character development and enjoying the children would be numerous and yet nearly invisible if I wasn’t looking for them in my rush to get my children reading and writing well. I had yet to learn that I would one day miss the time when what was required of me was actually quite straightforward. I wish I could go back, even if just for a minute, and feel what it was like to have little ones begging me for a story just for enjoyment, to build a Lego city on a lazy afternoon and not be missing out on any “more important” stuff. I know that I was not present for many of those moments as they occurred because I was so busy pressing on and dragging the kids with me. I wish I would have reveled more in the pleasure of that simple time, for simple is what it truly was. Our biggest problems centered around silent e and the 9 facts. There were very few deep heart troubles and questions, and in the midst of the incredible physical toll of nursing, pregnancy, and toddlerhood all combined with venturing into home-learning, I don’t think I realized just how precious that was. My heart was in turmoil because I constantly felt as though I was not doing enough. I did not know what resting was. It has been good for my heart to look with honesty at moments previously lived so I can learn from them and see the result of not having done something well.

What I have seen is that while I have lost some of the simplicity of having tiny ones underfoot all day (I still have a 2 year old and 4 year old, so it’s not completely over!), what I have actually been seeking and which has felt elusive is the simplicity of living firmly within the grasp of the peace that passes all understanding. I’m not so much looking for less clutter and a more organized schedule (although those things have been wonderful tools) but for less turmoil in the heart – a minimalist environment where resting in faith is the color I paint on the walls. I’m seeking a quiet, joyful trust that is not marred by the chaos around me. Isn’t it so that when we crave less instead of more and quiet instead of noise that we are actually looking for something that can only be understood deep in the core of our beings? And He is offering it to us. This is the portion that is made readily available to me. All I need to do is receive it.

If I look at it this way, I have not lost simplicity at all but have only redefined it. In fact, the simplicity that Abba wants to reveal to me in this season when nothing is simple and we are facing some cold, rocky mountains on the landscape of our lives is that He provides the simple. It is He who gives the peace. It is He who carries the burdens that are so heavy compared to what they once were. It has only been recently that I have realized when looking back at my “simple” days that I wasn’t really in peaceful surrender, which is something I was unwilling to admit to myself then. I was carrying burdens in my own strength because they weren’t as heavy as they are now. Each year that passes in homeschooling and raising children, I sink more into the mud the more I try to do on my own. But what if the Lord were offering me something priceless on this journey of a new year? What if I listened and believed when He said He would take my burdens and give me that simplicity and peace in exchange? What if this year could be even sweeter than it was when I had only little ones following me around like happy ducklings? I believe that is what is in store for this new year as I prepare to lead my littles (and not-so-littles) into our 8th year of homeschooling.

In my personal quest for MORE peace, there are a few practical areas I have started to address with habits that we plan to carry forward into the new year with us.

The first area of making way for peace is by placing a greater emphasis on quality versus quantity. This seems so obvious, but I have often gotten carried away with adding this or that program or book only to realize the kids are so bogged down with STUFF. We’re de-cluttering the schedule more than ever this year.  Oh, there will be lots of rigorous learning taking place, but I’m aiming to glean more out of what we have rather than add more surface studies on top of everything. One way we’ll simplify the day is in doing Morning Time regularly with a loop of learning topics rather than every subject every day. The particulars of that are for another blog post, though!

The second area of making way for peace is by maintaining two habits that have nothing to do with school itself but have created such a positive outlook that we are going to continue to practice them. Pete calls every morning during breakfast to pray with the family over the phone. Since he leaves for work at 6:00, just before the kids get up, we started doing a conference call every morning so that the kids can have Dad’s authority re-emphasized as well as start the day with prayer and encouragement. It only takes a few minutes of our time but the connection with Pete because of these calls has really been amazing.

A couple of months ago, as I was reading a book about the love languages of kids, I realized that some of my kiddos were not really getting enough physical touch and words of affirmation. Yes, we hug them before bed and mention positive things we see in the kids, but I wanted to be even more intentional and more habitual about it. So every morning after breakfast is cleaned up, the kids line up on the stairs that head into the school room. I shake each child’s hand, welcome her/him to the school day, affirm my love for each one and the knowledge that nothing they could do would ever change my love for them, and finally give a long “squeezy hug” – the best kind according to us – with eye contact and great affection. I mean to say, I really pile on the smiles and kisses! And they LOVE it. My love language is not physical touch and closeness, so this habit was difficult for me to begin at first. But I have seen incredible benefits from this simple little routine each morning. It absolutely sets the tone for the day in the best possible way. “Morning hugs” is actually now listed on our block schedule chart. The kids don’t let me forget!

What a wonder this year has been! My gratitude for my Shepherd’s leading has filled my heart to overflowing.

The grit of feelings

It’s not often I come across an article referencing Common Core standards that doesn’t mention the catchphrase “grit” and relate it to what we must be building in our kids in the modern world. While I agree with the idea of helping our kids develop perseverance and tenacity – in essence a strong work ethic – I do not support the idea of this information being collected by the government en masse without proper oversight to ensure that kids’ “scores” don’t hinder their opportunities to pursue the futures they desire, not to mention the extreme violation of privacy of so much monitoring “non-cognitive factors” that reach far beyond mathematics and reading skills. Just how necessary is it for my elementary student to have his every social interaction monitored and filed on his permanent record? Grit and tenacity, I strongly believe, are one of those sacred responsibilities for parents to foster in their children regardless of the educational choice a family makes. The facial expression cameras and pressure mice suggested by Common Core advocates, though not widely used yet, can never replace the intimate knowledge parents have of their own kids’ personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and intelligence that is not measured on bubble tests. I know that the definitions of grit and tenacity have their place in the educational world, but I want to address a different aspect of these characteristics.

I have had the opportunity lately to broaden my own understanding of grit and perseverance with my four year old, Ketziah. If ever there was a strong-willed and determined little person, she is it! Ketziah is a very sensitive child, and she has a very particular method of dealing with her environment. She is precise and agreeable, but her sense of justice is so strong that it often leads to complete meltdowns over what I would consider to be minor issues. The way she deals with her world, both positively and negatively, is with strong emotions. When I think of all my kiddos, I actually think most of them have very strong “feelers” and are willing to pay a high price to use them. However, Ketziah has broken the mold.

God has done a lot in me over the past few years in how I relate to my children’s strong feelings. I was not raised to express my feelings despite being an extremely passionate person. I learned early on how to stuff them deep down. While the skill of hiding an emotion might be called for in certain circumstances, it has taken me a long time – decades – to figure out healthy ways of expressing feelings and to determine safe places where I can pour out my heart instead of stuffing, which is extremely unhealthy for the soul. I’m still learning. When I first started out as a mother, I was so overwhelmed by these little ones who had SO. MUCH. FEELING. I hadn’t the first clue about how to help them use their words to tell me what was going on inside in a respectful yet genuine way. My first instinct was to constantly be telling them to be quiet and stop carrying on. I didn’t allow them to share when they were truly hurt or confused because I didn’t know that it was not only okay, but extremely important for them to develop a sense of safety and confidence in their identities. Jaelah was probably about four years old before I realized that I was going to seriously damage her if I didn’t let her be herself, an independent and wildly dramatic person with feelings spilling over the edges of her heart’s cup at every turn.

My next step in learning was to help the girls know that it is always okay to tell Mom and Dad what is going on. We want to be a safe space where they can learn how to put words to their feelings, especially the negative feelings that we are often taught to fight against. The fact is, sometimes we just have to be honest about the struggle instead of pretending everything is okay. More than anything, I don’t want my girls to struggle with guilt over being straightforward about what might be a tumultuous storm inside the heart. I thought for many, many years that I could not even be honest with God about what was truly going on in my heart. Yet, He knew anyway. I have found that the easiest way to overcome being ruled by my emotions (and thus being helpless to change anything) is to find a way to give words to the struggle and thus release its power over me. Rather than stew in the negativity that I refuse to acknowledge or express (though it doesn’t disappear just because I ignore it) I have been making a concerted effort to get those things OUT so that I can see them objectively and determine with the Lord’s help how to move forward. Our efforts with helping the kids get those thoughts into words were a bit clumsy at first. After many years of practice, I am happy to say that it’s somewhat often that I will get a note from one of the girls sharing a heartful of words on a page with expressiveness, tears, and a sense of vulnerability that is beautiful and humbling to me as their mama. I think they are refreshed when they unburden their hearts.

But God wants to take me even deeper in my understanding of how my children cope with their emotions. Going back to grit and perseverance, I am coming to see that, in particular, Ketziah’s fierce determination to express what is going on in her heart is the precursor to her developing her own grit. It has been a long time since I stopped constantly trying to snuff out my children’s feelings (far from perfect here!), so Ketziah was born and has grown up in a mostly “feelings-friendly” environment right from the start. And boy, does she ever have a lot to share! Part of the development of perseverance is to give voice to the struggle. We have to acknowledge obstacles if we are ever to overcome them, and using our God-given heart understanding and strong responses to said obstacles is part of the process of overcoming. It is how we get from one valley to the next mountaintop and on again. I am not talking about teaching children to express themselves in a self-controlled way, for that is certainly part of the process since a full-blown tantrum at Costco does nothing to help children identify what is really going on inside. I am referring more to teaching children a habit of talking, putting words to their experience on a regular basis – before we ever get to meltdown territory. Sometimes, for my more internal, less verbal kiddos, drawing a picture of how they feel or whispering it in my ear when they have some embarrassment about something is an effective way to help them address their hearts. The point is getting it out in some way before it eats away at their insides and turns into really ugly things like resentment and bitterness.

My ultimate goal is to help the children know that all the things they say to me or Pete actually can be addressed to God in prayer. I won’t always be right there with them, but it is my job to help them understand first how to get words to what is going on in their hearts, then to find a safe place to express that. Sometimes, that will be a person, but more often than not, Abba Father is the only One who truly will understand. Prayer journals can be an excellent way to turn to God more and more and rely a little less on Mom with each year that passes. Jaelah and Selah have become much more comfortable sharing things with God in their prayer journals, and I truly hope that this process has started a lifetime of dealing with strong emotions in a healthy way. I still pray they will find amazing friends who will support them, and that they will become good friends who can listen well.

The freedom I have experienced is in realizing that I don’t have to control the children’s emotions. I can let go of my desire to control the environment (and the noise, if I’m being really honest) and let them stumble over words to say what they need to say even when it is inconvenient and uncomfortable for me. I still have many, many moments where everything in me wants to shout, “Just get over it, already!” But I know that is merely a fleshly response to something precious God is doing in each of my little one’s hearts. I don’t get to determine what kinds of beautiful gems will be unsurfaced as they are fashioned by their heavenly Father. Their Creator is the One who pieced them together. If there ever was a need for patience in me, it is during these times of seeing what so clearly seems to be an utter lack of grit and tenacity, yet I only need look just beyond the surface to see that Abba Father is molding my young ones into fierce lovers of Him who experience their emotions in a straightforward way and embrace them, rather than try to flee at anything scary or sad. The “grit” is being developed before my eyes, as I raise these children to not be afraid of the one thing that probably holds many of us back from more than any other external force – our own emotions. It is those times of weakness and learning to admit the need for help – first from Mom and Dad, then ultimately from the Lord. Being at peace with our weakness is so important. Realizing that dependence upon Him is of utmost significance if we are ever to truly be able to rely on His strength to accomplish anything. When I see my young daughter falling to pieces over yet one more trivial matter, being able to zip my own mouth shut (rather than belittle or ignore her) and help her both express and give her burdens to Yeshua together with me is a priceless lesson in love.

I still have a long way to go on this journey, yet I believe I have seen the light. This new understanding dawned on me so clearly in real life the other day. Just as I was tempted to keep all this new revelation unmarred in a peaceful, cerebral realm, it all came crashing down to earth in my twelve passenger van. We had planned to go to lunch at my grandma’s house. Ketziah really enjoys making cards for people and once she knew we were going wasted no time in getting out her art supplies and fashioning a beautiful two-piece card, complete with tape, markers, and sparkle. She kept telling me that she wanted to go out into the yard to pick a flower for Grandma. I overcame my irritation trying to finish school work before leaving for lunch and went out into the backyard to help her select the perfect dandelion. She was so happy. Not ten minutes later, as the kids were getting loaded into the van, everything came to a screeching halt as Ketziah tripped in the garage and face-planted at a full speed run’s pace. I could hear the shrieks all the way into my closed bathroom in the house. It took a good ten minutes just to get her calm enough for band-aids, but she still could not stop sobbing. I ended up getting her a lollipop from my secret stash, thinking that would help her calm on the drive over to Grandma’s. Nothing doing. She finally was able to choke out some words about her card being messed up when she fell. I tried to tape back the card the way I had remembered, but she was still in full meltdown mode. As I started driving, she started crying again, “my flower is gooooonnnnneeee!!!” It dawned on me that of COURSE she was upset over the very thing she had poured her entire morning into creating. But by now we were in the van and 10 minutes from home. What could I do? “It’s just a silly dandelion,” I told myself. “She has to get over it.” Yet the Lord suddenly poured on me this deep sense of compassion and understanding. It was like He personally invited me to creatively work with Him to help Ketziah heal this hurt, insignificant though it might have been in the grand scheme of things. I literally felt driven to find a way to make this right. Just before we got on the highway, I saw some flowering bushes by the entrance to a hotel parking lot. I steered our big van in and parked, feeling utterly ridiculous. I called Ketziah to come out of the van with me. She put her pudgy little fingers in my hand and with tear-streaked face walked over with me to select a perfect wildflower for her card. Immediately, all tears and sobbing stopped. I could literally see the healing of validation flooding her little body with relief. Your dandelion is important to me, Ketziah. Your card for Grandma MATTERS to me. Your tears and feelings matter. I’m going to help you bring calm to this storm inside you.

We got back in the van and drove to Grandma’s house. And of course my Grandma knows about these little girl kinds of things and she promptly put Ketziah’s flower in a cup of water on her counter. The sight of Ketziah beaming with happiness at her treasure being treasured was so special it brought me to tears. In thinking logically about this whole encounter, I realize that there will not always be a way for me to get new flowers for Ketziah in those times in her life when she loses old ones. Not everything is going to work out smoothly or have a precious ending like this one did. Yet, what did I reveal to her about her mommy’s heart in that instant? I hope it was something like what Yeshua has shown me – that He sees the little details, the sparrows that fall, those secret thoughts of the heart that are almost too insignificant to utter in prayer. He is the truest of Friends. And can I be that to my little daughter as she walks her way through these years until she is mature enough to understand His tender care over His lambs? I was so humbled to be used by Him in a way to bring truth to my daughter’s heart. How tragic it would be if I had lost the opportunity to see what was really going on! What message would I be sending if I had been more concerned with her being quiet and controlling herself? The longer I walk this harrowing path of godly motherhood, the more I see that there is a big difference between rebellion and disobedience, and the struggle, curiosity, and tears of simple childishness. I have to make the choice to see what He is doing, and join Him in it. There are times to bring discipline and boundaries, and times to bring the softest of gentle and reassuring touches. Oh, may I submit to the Holy Spirit as He guides me to the right choice in each situation, developing perseverance in me AND my children.

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!

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.

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?