February 2016

“Teach me to number my days.” This discipline of recording what I’ve learned at the end of each month has been such a great blessing for recording to remember. Without the mark on time, I’m prone to become discouraged. The difference I feel this year compared to last year in February is quite the contrast. (Last year, I had hit the bottom, and the well ran dry. I learned a hard lesson.)

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1. I don’t want to quit. I love being a homeschooler.

It’s a common feeling among homeschool moms to want to throw in the towel by February (and sometimes in November too). This year has been dramatically different for me, and there have been a lot of contributing factors to our consistency and positive attitudes. One major factor has been the kids’ Bullet Journals. I talk about this so much already, so I won’t bore you. But if you don’t know what I’m referring to then read more about them here.

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2. Chicago taught me to relax and look for the fun in anything.

My husband and I went to Chicago the first weekend in February for Moody Bible Institute’s Founder’s Week. He is an alumni, and we hadn’t been there for a visit in almost a decade. (Yes, we feel old. If you were wondering.) My husband still knows the landscape well and can navigate at street level on the fly, which meant that he was the tour guide/planner/main decision maker and I was the tourist. We would discuss our options of sight seeing and dining choices and then head out. Sometimes I didn’t know where we were going or how long it would take us to walk there – but I resisted the urge to ask. I knew that if I even attempted to “know” or (worse) “control” any of the journey then I would ruin most of the fun. So, instead every once in a while, during our many, many walks I would whisper to myself “I’m having fun.” Maybe this is similar to the concept of looking for joy in every day situations or being grateful in everything, I’m not sure. All I know is that I’m learning to grow in staying present. I don’t want to miss the process because I’m caught up in controlling the outcome. And it was a bonus that we ate a lot of great food.

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3. Glasses on a toddler means a lot more attention from strangers.

My poor kids are accustomed to strangers everywhere coming up to them and touching their “adorable curly hair.” But with glasses on the little one, it’s been like an epidemic. I’ve taught the kids from the beginning that having the opportunity to make someone smile just because they like your hair or your smile means that God has given you a gift. He wants us to spread His beauty and goodness to others, which means that when someone tells you how cute they think you are, that’s your opportunity to share God’s love with them by being kind. My toddler gets a lot of practice at this.

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4. We are having a girl!

We enjoyed seeing our little one on the ultrasound screen. I have to admit that I wanted to know that the four-chambers of the heart and both sides of the brain were developing well more than I wanted to know the gender. When we did find out that our little one was a girl, I was overwhelmed. I was ready for another boy. I kind of expected that the baby would be a boy, but I also hoped that we would have another girl because I really think this baby will be our youngest. (I thought my current toddler would be my youngest, but that’s another story.) Now if only I could settle on a name… Our usual is to name the baby after the ultrasound. We usually love naming our babies, but this time it’s felt impossible. I have a feeling I’ll need to hold her first before her name comes to me.

5. Joining the gym has been such a great decision for all of us.

So…I gain a lot of weight while pregnant. I don’t eat for two, I know how to balance my diet, and I am very conscious of eating the best foods for the development of the little one inside me. That said, I still put on a lot of weight during the first trimester (when you’re only supposed to gain 1-3 pounds). What I knew I needed was regular exercise: endurance training and muscle toning. Now, I know there are many things I can do to exercise at home. But I just don’t because of the many other conflicting roles and responsibilities in my life. Without the option of going outside, the inside of my home is just too distracting to my desire to workout. The gym we chose is right around the corner, my husband gets a nice discount through his employer, and they provide a kids gym so that all of us can go together. Win win, going to the gym has been really rewarding. Not to mention how getting out of the house in the winter improves my mood dramatically.

Photo credit

Photo credit

6. I have a passion for seeing homeschool moms connect.

I’ve been researching curricula (still) and the best way I’ve found to get a handle on how the curriculum functions is to read forums. On these, moms share what they do, how it works for them, or they ask questions about how to solve certain issues they are facing. Most people are respectful, helpful, and kind – sharing in ways that leave room for personal freedom and expression while being specific about what they have faced or how they solved certain issues. There’s no pressure to take the advice found there, and there’s no shame for asking questions. I want to cultivate a safe place like this in person and online. I hope to inspire homeschool moms everywhere to celebrate their homeschool, and to support and encourage the homeschools around them. I wrote about comparison in February, sharing my past burden from comparing and my current freedom. I know I’m still learning how to apply this, but it’s so close to my heart that I hope to see others blessed.

7. Accountability is a popular topic.

I wrote about accountability this month and it generated a few great conversations. While I was in Chicago, I was reading a book that is encouraging me to pursue my passions. I had a light bulb moment right in the middle of Moody Church while waiting for the evening session to begin. I feverishly began writing in my Bullet Journal the thoughts and plans I came up with. Then I wrote the post on accountability to get a pulse on the issue, and to my delight the post proved that this topic is one that people want more of. I am so excited to be developing my plan. The goal is to see moms go from floundering in their personal goals to flourishing. I am developing a program that will take you from dependent on an accountability partner to independent and personally disciplined, reaching your goals with consistency.

The program will not be a generic video based course but a one-on-one partnership. I’m getting close to the launch and I’ll be inviting the first 3 partners to try it for free! If you think this is something you’d be interested in then sign up for the email list now! There will be more details to come.

Today’s post (see it by clicking here) is a day in our homeschool life. See how I manage our daily routine hour by hour.

Thanks for reading this months "What I'm Learning" post. I have linked up with Emily Freeman on this one, and you can read more about what she learned here. Don't forget to sign up to learn more about personal accountability! You won't want to miss what's coming soon. Click here to sign up now!

Intentional Summer: December is coming.

What a dooms day, Debbie-downer title. Right?

I don’t mean to rain snow on anyone’s summer parade, but being helpful is what I do – encouraging change and growth. So, as I write the winter portion of the seasonal planner I’m working on (mentioned here, your continued patience in the publishing of said resource is appreciated) I want to share some of the thoughts with you now – while you can still use them.

As a parent, sometimes December takes me off guard.

Usually, I have established a big “Back to School” ideal. We prioritize, plan, prepare, and purchase everything we need to set up a learning environment that suites our needs.

Kids thrive with a balance of healthy change and routinesLife feels like it could go on like this forever. We have had our fill of summer and September has brought a fresh change.

Fall arrives, the plan goes into motion and I coast. It feels right for a few weeks, but then the texts, emails, church bulletins, and family engagements start filling up the calendar.

October has slowed our pace and by November my kids are sick of the routine, they are in great need of physical exercise, and I am in need of tasting some good fruit from all my effort.

December isn’t a time for tasting fresh fruit (at least not in Michigan and not in the symbolic way either), but winter’s atmosphere can still be sweet.

I have to intentionally create an anchor atmosphere for every season, or my mindset will be carried with the wind.

Two things I need for my intentionality to continue to thrive (and for my sanity):

  1. Planning ahead
  2. Preserving
Photo credit: words added

Photo credit: words added

Planning ahead: the rebel in me doesn’t like to see “Back to School” displays in July, but that is when stores start to promote it. Sure, they are motivated by profit, but the reminder is free.

Procrastination hurts intention every-single-time. Don’t be a fool for the lie again – that you can do the work later. This is the lie that says that July is too soon for planning to change the routine. Planning ahead does require work, but a little bit of it today will go a long way when it comes time for the routine to change.

Taking time to consider the winter months today will smooth the transition. You will have already done some of the work which builds momentum.

Planning ahead allows for a different perspective. Sometimes it feels impossible to change a season’s atmosphere. So it’s important to learn from the past seasons and begin to apply the changes you’d like to see.

To do this: look at a calendar for the whole year – and next to each of the winter months, jot a single word that usually summarizes your feelings in that month. Then write one word that summarizes the deeper purpose you commit to prioritize.

For example, my December would look like this:

Feeling: Overwhelmed
Purpose: Family Time

Now, when those months start to approach begin to plan your weeks holding the second word close.

If it’s “family time” then start crossing out blocks of time that will be reserved for family – making those urgent requests for more of your time an easy “no, I already have plans.”

Or if it is, “rest” then you can start listing activities that help you relax and start penciling them into your weeks. Also, begin to take note of things that make you feel overwhelmed – try to eliminate those activities during this month by taking the time to plan to accomplish some of the important tasks now. (Like ordering Christmas cards.)

Trust me, even if you’re thinking – I have small kids, so they would be written on my list of things that are overwhelming and I can’t cross them off my list. I know it’s hard to manage self-care and child-care. But habit training is possible, and you can teach your children to be calm. It is possible for them to honor your need for rest.

Photo credit: words added

Photo credit: words added

Preservation: just as canning fruits means I can enjoy them year round, so living well in every season preserves my spirit.

A misconception of planning ahead is that one is always looking forward and not fully enjoying the present. Not if you can balance it with preservation.

The amount of time it takes to be intentional pails in comparison to the amount of time I’ve wasted on living week-to-week. What I’ve gained from discipline and follow through is a full well of memories that I can draw from when I’m feeling drained.

Preservation is another means of self-control.

If I want to have blueberry smoothies in December, then I can’t gorge on the berries that I pick in July. I have to weigh the joy these berries will give me in December as heavier than the fleeting pleasure of eating one more handful now.

Preservation is also a way of respect. I honor the choices I make today and live fully within them. Not looking back in regret, nor forward in fantasy. I measure my days, make the most of them, and save them as proof of fruit from a life lived with much sowing.

Respect has a way of balancing by setting limits.

Write a letter to your winter-self from your summer-self. No, I’m not into predicting the future – that isn’t the purpose for this. Set aside a list of things you accomplished with the time you were given in the summer. Be honest about the trials you endured – great and small. Give credit to the lessons you faced that are unique to this time of year. Preserve a little bit of the feeling of the summer months to compare and contrast the atmospheres.

Then when winter comes, make a second list of things that anchor you to this season.

No season is “perfect,” but every season has purpose. With these suggestions, I hope you can see what atmosphere you are able to create within each month and enjoy the benefits of living with satisfaction in every season.

Some resources for further reading:

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No matter what happens…

A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with a friend when the topic of conversation turned. We covered family, friends, jobs, and the like when she shared that she still felt dry spiritually. I could relate. We had talked over the course of the year about how seasons of dryness and being in the valley can be frustrating and confusing. But no matter the amount of internal positive thinking or external encouragement, the scenery of life wasn’t changing. The season of her spiritual life seemed stuck.

What do you do if the season refuses to change? When it seems like winter is going to last forever.

She said that she found herself reading Ecclesiastes and agreeing with everything the Preacher wrote. That everything is a cycle, there is a time for everything, and nothing new under the sun.

But knowing these proverbial truths and feeling at peace with them are two totally different things. Her mind seemed to be nagging at her heart for the lack of feeling. And that’s exactly what I praised God for. Right there in the front window of the cafe. The presence of the nag actually proves Ecclesiastes 3:11 to be true.

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That nagging feeling says that you were made for more than this season of dryness. You were given an imprint of your Creator that longs for more. So even while not feeling what you know to be the right spiritual feelings, it is still proof that God has a plan for you because He has put eternity within you.

And in His time He will make everything beautiful. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. So no matter what season of life you are in: dry or well watered, rejoicing or weeping, at ease or in pain, you’re going to be okay. No matter what happens, today, tomorrow, or in 30 years, you’re going to be okay because God makes all things beautiful in His time.

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Spring is coming.

I was having coffee with a dear friend who is currently in college. We were meeting for our usual “catch up” and sharing with no agenda. We have been doing this for almost 5 years now! And I can’t tell you how much I love it.

So as we were talking, I had a timeline moment :: when you’re thinking back on a stage in your own life where you can relate to someone else’s experience and then you fast forward to the present and realize how much grace God has truly given and how much closer you are to realizing God’s purpose for your life? Just like that. This is that timeline.

God’s calling to write for Him was a seed that he planted when I was much younger. The desire rose within me soon after coming to true repentant faith around the age of 15.  I remember writing poems and songs, and the value of words began to gain more weight in my soul. My senior year of high school I was dual enrolled at Hope College in order to take writing classes – best gift my parents could give me: encouraging and enabling me to become a better writer. I look back and know with confidence that my English 111 class “The Defining Gesture” had an eternal purpose for me. The professor taught me how to self-edit. How to write it all out, and then rip it all apart. How to find the hidden gems within the rough draft, and then carefully reconstruct a piece.

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And yet it took many more years for the soil of my heart to be healthy enough to write anything that would be a ministry to others. I tried many times to write for myself, and it always felt empty. I knew there was a seed within me, the desire and drive to write – but when would it ever grow? Growing restless, I would give up on writing during dry seasons in my 20’s, yet God was faithfully working on the soil of my heart. The deeper layers of who I am in Christ. My heart soil had to be dug up and turned up. To be weeded and de-thorned. So, I waited. And watered. And struggled and wrestled. And languished in the dry sun waiting. Through season after season of not enough fruit to make my life feel like it was good enough, I didn’t realize that roots were growing down deep, roots in Christ. All I had eyes for was above the ground. I wanted instant fruit from one time soil tending efforts. But oh, how this process, 15 years and still going strong, has been useful in my life.

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All the years that I mourned for the death of one seed, thinking that if it had not grown yet then I must have done something that caused me to lose God’s favor. I studied the one spot in the soil where I knew that seed was planted. I didn’t realize that the Spirit was at the same time working throughout my whole heart. Planting more and more seeds than just the one I liked the most. God lead me through many seasons of life. Summer, learning to rest in His warmth. Fall, learning to let things, people, and hopes pass. Winter, learning to live by faith when everything around me seems dead. Spring, learning that new life always comes after the cold. Dark. Night of life.

Now, in this season {heart season : spring} I stand back and see the first new shoots of life bursting forth from that soil that I thought was never going to produce. I’m surprised by joy as I turn and see a whole garden He is cultivating in my heart. Not just one plant, but many. I just stand in awe. The Gardener knows better than I, and He has fruit planned that is far better than I could ever imagine. And I’m humbled because I don’t know or understand the plans He has for me, but I trust that they are plans for hope and a future.

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So my seed, my calling, came with a vision. A hope, that when I misunderstood it and set my sights on the instant gratification of being all God wanted me to be, was dashed. But a hope that is now restored because even though it wasn’t easily seen or discerned at the time, He was building {and continues to build} my hope in Him. Showing me that I should never put my trust in a seed, but always in the Gardener.

And my dear friend? Well, she may be living in a season of waiting for fruit. I know the feeling well. And even though I can’t bring her through all of life’s seasons and fast forward her soil to show her future fruit, I can teach her to do the humble and faithful work that got me to this place of rest and trust. Of always looking for new growth. Spring is coming.