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.

Piecing it together #5

Sixth year of homeschooling, here we go!

I cannot believe I’ve made it this far and that my kids and I are all in one piece. It says something for all the blogs and reviews I’ve read over the years that have helped me meld together a school program that works for our family’s goals, retains kid interest, and is doable for an ever-growing gaggle of goslings.

There is not much that will be brand new in our curriculum list this year, which is an added benefit of the programs we’ve used that actually work and don’t need to be changed!

Jaelah & Selah
Year 6. I refuse to call this year 6th grade because I’m in denial that we are anywhere near middle school yet. No way are my girls allowed to grow up this quickly. We are using up the last levels of elementary studies in many of these courses, which is exciting in that we’ve worked really hard to get to this point. It’s also a bit overwhelming because I’ll have to start researching great programs for the next phase of homeschooling. This will be a significant year in that we will have much review built-in without rushing ahead to new horizons. I want to flow slowly into middle school curriculum and allow the girls’ emotional maturity to catch up to where they are at academically. The nice thing is that we have plenty of time.
Bible – Discover 4 Yourself devotional studies
History & Literature – Sonlight Core E
Composition – IEW Student Writing Intensive Level B
Grammar – Fix-It! Grammar, Book 2 finish and start Book 3
Vocabulary – Vocabulary from Classical Roots, finish book 5 and start book 6
Latin – Latina Christiana, finish
Science – Apologia Chemistry & Physics, finish
Spelling – All About Spelling, Level 7 finish
Geography – Trail Guide to World Geography, Intermediate
Mathematics – Math U See, Zeta finish & Life of Fred – continue math reviews and storybook-math until ready for pre-algebra
Biblical Hebrew
Geography Through Art

Year 4. My little “steady Freddie” is chugging along without being too serious about school work. Any hands-on projects I can pull together are a tremendous inspiration to her, but I have to be very careful about pushing too hard, particularly with writing and long chapter books (both reading aloud and her own readers). Even workbooks don’t hold her interest these days. This girl needs to keep moving to feel accomplished in her day.
Bible – read her Bible each day
History & Literature – Sonlight Core C
Composition – IEW Student Writing Intensive Level A very, very slowly
Language Arts – First Language Lessons, Level 4
Latin – Latina Christiana
Science – Zoology 1
Spelling – All About Spelling, Level 4 finish and start Level 5
Reading – Sonlight Grade 4-5 Readers
Handwriting – PreScripts Cursive American Documents
Geography – Trail Guide to World Geography, Primary
Mathematics – Math U See, Gamma finish and start Delta
Biblical Hebrew
Geography Through Art

Hosannah & Noah
Year 2. These guys love school and yet I don’t have to twist any arms when it’s time for recess. We’re still focusing on math and reading this year, with some favorite read-aloud stories from Sonlight Core A for interest as well as Zoology 1 with Chavah for science.
Bible – read their early reader Bibles each day
History & Literature – Sonlight Core A
Language Arts – First Language Lessons Level 2
Science – Zoology 1
Spelling – All About Spelling, Level 1 finish and start Level 2
Reading – All About Reading Level 3
Handwriting – A Reason for Handwriting, Transitions
Mathematics – Math U See, Alpha finish and start Beta
Biblical Hebrew
Geography Through Art

What is new this year? I’ll be doing lapbooks with the twins and Chavah for science instead of notebooking, which requires a lot of writing. Chavah struggles with any amount of required writing, so I’m keeping it simple with only requiring her to write for composition class and finishing out her cursive book. Everything else gets to be cutting, drawing, and pasting. The twins are slow writers and their handwriting is only for fine motor skills anyway. Notebooking would completely overwhelm them. Enter lapbooks – minimal writing plus lots of glue. The next big change is in music. I’m at critical mass with all the music that’s going on around here. With orchestra taking such a big chunk out of our school week and five children now playing piano, I can’t keep up with a practice schedule that actually allows me to keep tabs on what everyone is doing. We are going to take the year off from additional piano training. Everyone will practice their scales and what they know so far, but I am confident that the music training they’re getting in orchestra is enough for right now. We are also taking a break from worldview studies, which we’ve been doing as a family but has gotten to be too much with the wide array of ages we have around the table after dinner. We’re going to be spending our family together time in focused intercession and Bible reading instead of going through a separate program this year.

That’s the year for Hebron Heights Academy at a glance.

Thank you, Lord, for grace that sustains me from one day to the next!