Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Real Life Hazel

     She did not physically resemble the Hazel portrayed by Shirley Booth in the 1960‘s television series other than wearing a pull-over apron each day, but my Hazel did have qualities similar to the beloved sitcom character that made all of my friends envy my good fortune of having an “almost” live-in housekeeper. She was a woman who knew how to show love and affection to a brood of noisy children with down home cooking, childhood stories of riding cows, and the use of a well-timed switching or two. My real-life Hazel spent most of her waking hours in our home, taking care of my four older siblings and me while my parents worked long hours.
    Cooking, light cleaning, and laundry were not the only jobs that she was assigned. Besides those necessary chores, Hazel embraced the challenge of nurturing and instructing the charges left in her care with total devotion! We were five rambunctious, busy, scuffling kids who required constant dedication that was above and beyond any run-of-the-mill babysitter. Because of her undaunted commitment to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, we grew up feeling secure and confident.
    Since she cared for me from the time that I was a babe in arms, we developed an especially close relationship that would rival any mother-daughter bond. The fragrance of Jesus wafted around her as she loved me like her own child. She made me feel like I was her “favorite” by hiding fresh peanut butter cookies for me, teaching me how to sing folk songs and hand sew sock dolls, taking evening strolls around the block, grimacing while I did upside down acrobatics on the swing set, and leisurely playing rummy with me at the kitchen table. According to Hazel, the lilacs bloomed just for my enjoyment and the morning song birds were chirping my name!
    When I was ten my dad got laid off from his job.  Hazel, now seventy one  years old, was relieved of her duties since dad would be available. Besides, her baby was now a decade old and no longer needed a babysitter . I was truly sorrowful that my beloved Hazel was not going to be at my house every day. As Providence would have it, she eventually ended up going to the same church as me, so I got to sit with her, lean on her, trace the veins and age spots on her hands, and worship by her side.
    Throughout my teenage years, I would visit her, spend the night, and have long phone conversations with her. The vast age difference did not matter; she was my best friend.
    When I was nineteen and she eighty, I visited her for the last time as she lay in a hospital bed with eyes glistening with tears and unable to talk. I squeezed her hand and told her I loved her. As I walked to another part of the hospital where my terminally ill mother was rooming, I knew I would never see Hazel again. She was going to be with “our Jesus”. Two days later that is what she did.
    I am eternally grateful for the lessons of life and love taught to me by an angel in disguise, my Hazel.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dog Zapping and Such Things

      Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
James 4:11-12 (NLT)

     I have a big black hairy dog.  We appropriately named him "Bear". When we first got Bear as a roly poly puppy, he stayed right around the house, but as he began to grow in size, he also grew in courage and thought it an exciting thing to take excursions further away from the house.  My husband, Mark, happened to have a friend who offered to loan us a shock collar. We thought it might be a good way to break him (Bear, that is!) from wandering.  We heard that once a canine learns its lesson from the mild shock it receives when his watchful owner presses the "zap" button on the remote at exactly the time when the pup is crossing the boundary, the collar is no longer needed.  The dog doesn't dare leave the yard because of not-so-fond memories of receiving an unpleasant shock at each attempt.
     It turned out to work great.  We only had to press that cruel button a couple of times before our bright young dog got the message that he needed to stay in the yard.  I was pretty impressed.  We only used it on one of the lowest settings, too, so it was a very mild zap power.
     But then one day as I was washing dishes, I looked out the window and what did my eyes behold?  Far off in the distance at the edge of our neighbor's pond stood my Bear dog!  How dare he?  He left the yard? What a disobedient impertinent pup!  Well, I knew that I needed to grab the remote zapper and try to send him a message to help him to return to the straight and narrow!  Drying my hands, I clutched the zapper, noted the low setting, and pressed the button.  Bear didn't flinch.  Hmm, no response.  I turned up the power to a stronger zap.  Pressed button.  He was just standing there as if he could care less!  That was it.  I turned up my zapper to its maximum zapping capability, aimed that black electronic device right at him and held down the button.  About this time, I heard a sound.  It kind of reminded me of a whiny sound of something in pain.  It was coming from just outside my back door.  About this time, my husband came in and asked what I was doing.  I proceeded to complain to him that our zapper was not doing its job and pointed out Bear over by the pond.  He looked, squinted, and said, "That's not Bear.  That's Ranger, the neighbor's dog."
     So yes, compassionate reader. You are correct in concluding that the painful whining and yelping sound out my back door was coming from a dog named Bear who was being zapped even though he was perfectly innocent and exactly where he was supposed to be. I just know he had been doing somersaults out there, not comprehending what in God's creation was causing such discomfort. (Okay, stop that laughing and read on.)  Needless to say, I felt absolutely horrible and guilty for hurting poor Bear boy.  I even let him in the house (a smelly outside dog) and just loved on him and apologized left and right, petted him, gave him cheese.  He deserved any comfort I could give him after what he'd been through.
     I'll try not to sermonize too much as I point out that many times, we do a fair amount of zapping people as we judge their actions and behaviors.  Many times we misjudge because of our own near-sightedness. We think we know what someone is doing or why they are doing it when we really are just coming to false conclusions from our limited perspective and zapping them with harsh words, criticism, or condemnation.  Or maybe we're just talking to others about them, just "praying" that they get back on the straight and narrow (as we hypocritically gossip about them).
     The wisest and most loving response would be to pray for someone if we suspect they are outside their own healthy boundaries and try to be a friend and encourager, not a judge and jury.  Let's pull the batteries out of our zappers and instead work on our own issues. "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" Luke 6:41 (ESV).


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Captivity of Activity


  I am the vine, you are the branches: he who is in me at all times as I am in him, gives much fruit, because without me you are able to do nothing.

John 15:5 (BBE)


But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me."  But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Luke 10:40-42 (NASB)

     If there is one issue that I have struggled with for all of my years of motherhood, it would be the issue of being wise in deciding how my 24 hours will be filled.  Once we started homeschooling and adding more children to the picture, it seemed absolutely impossible to have enough time to accomplish what I considered "the necessities", let alone any extra activities that might fall under the category of fun!  

     Even though I combined many of the children's lessons, allowed a good amount of independent learning, and avoided a lot of "busy work" that can create a worksheet wasteland, I still had to examine with a fine tooth comb all the activities that took my time and precious energy so that I could accomplish those things I felt called to without sacrificing unhurried moments that foster healthy, deep relationships.  
     There was one point in time when I sat down and calculated how much time my normal daily, weekly, and even infrequent activities took up so that I could measure what commitments were realistic and what were mere fantasy!  Would I really have time to crochet an afghan for that special someone before Christmas?  Did my free time add up to enough hours to allow myself a weekly guitar lesson and a 30 minute daily practice?  Would 45 minutes each day per student in Math truly leave enough time for other topics of study? What about the time away from home to attend basketball games or violin lessons? Would my daughter's SAT prep time be less fruitful because of the energy and time she would spend at youth group functions? And would that be a higher priority or not necessarily so? Were these things that I was actively choosing (or allowing by default) be worth the sacrifice of whatever I was choosing not to do? These were such hard questions. No black and white decisions. No one-size-fits-all answers!
     So here I am.  Decades later.  Still asking similar questions.  I don't have several students that I must juggle.  But my allotted time still seems to fill up like a jar being filled with sand; each tiny area of life allowing itself to be filled with something. Housework, learning activities, computer work, clerical duties, errands, phone calls, income generation (a.k.a. part-time job). 
     This weighed-down feeling that there's just too much to do and not enough time to do it all is not something new.  Jesus addressed this inner tug-of-war in His day, too. He commended Mary for choosing the "one" thing, the better thing, that couldn't be taken from her. The one thing that brings genuine peace, discernment, strength, joy, and new energy is available to us, too.  Like Mary, our time at Jesus' feet, learning of Him and His ways, as He teaches us about ourselves, is a crucial investment of time that we should not assume is optional.
     I'm definitely more of a Martha who wants to keep all of her ducks in a row.  Well, okay - everybody else's ducks, too! It is so easy for me to hit the floor running instead of having a rich time of restoration with God before I begin my day. I long to be one who sits at Jesus' feet before I get up to serve. I yearn for clarity of mind and mission so that I can let go of the "stuff" that I'm not supposed to be doing.  I don't want to sacrifice the best on the altar of the good.  I aspire to walk in the unforced rhythms of grace that God has set before me rather than madly scrambling to the next educational seminar, sports event, or ministry opportunity just so that we can say we did it. Or just because our friends are involved in it. Or just because everybody else seems to think it's important. I most definitely want to live in freedom from the captivity of activity!  
     Please don't misunderstand me.  I thrive on worthwhile activity, but I also crave(could it be God's design?)quiet times of reflection, rest, and just "being". Regularly. Might I even say daily? Not just a couple of times a year!  This life is passing by so quickly and I don't want it to blow past in a flurry of activity (doing, doing, doing), not even knowing what I've done with the gifts of time, unique talents, and treasures that have been granted to me - to use for others.  And I definitely don't want to misuse these valuable resources on things that I am doing because of trying to live up to others' expectations that our frenzied society has created. Thank you very much!

     Instead I'm choosing to thoughtfully contemplate my calling to love, serve, teach and help those specific people that God has strategically placed around me. I pray that I will respond to the heartfelt flame that He periodically ignites in my heart to give and serve a hurting world, even those on the other side of the globe. Kindling meaningful relationships that reflect the character of our Creator and cooperate with the fulfillment of His plan (not mine) is what it's all about.  To live this way successfully, I had better be filling my tank consistently with the life-sustaining fuel of God's love directly from Him, the True Vine, through prayer and meditating in His love letter to humanity!  He is the One who will give me wisdom to let go of those unprofitable wasters of time that can never be recovered. 



Thursday, October 25, 2012

Swirling Mind and Hoping Heart

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
Col 3:23 (NLT)

     My mind is swirling with ideas that I've been gleaning from various books and articles I've been reading about homeschooling methods.  I have always labeled my style as "eclectic".  I have combined the Charlotte Mason methods with a little bit of classical and even leaned toward guided unschooling in certain seasons, intermingling unit studies for good measure.  We use actual textbooks for Math and might use other text books as sources for ideas or topics, but not as a primary source for history or literature.  Once we get to high school level, we have used parts of textbooks for higher sciences or even government, although I am setting my aims to use more original documents in our studies.

     So back to the swirls! After reviewing the possibilities of all of the truly inspiring books that can be pored over, studied, and ruminated on, I have been digging deeper into Charlotte Mason's methods of education that cover immersion in quality music and its composers, fine art and its artists, classic literature and its lofty ideas, and nature and science study that allows time to observe and understand creation in a way that flying through a textbook in a year can never do. 

     But I'm also taking another hard look at some of the traditions of the classical mode of education and realizing that I can easily implement what seems profitable without having to be a purist.  I feel pretty excited about that because up to this point, I have had a negative view of classical education, feeling that it is too structured, academic, and BORING (I might as well be honest!).  Now I'm seeing that I can allow my child (especially now that I'm down to only one that I'm homeschooling) to partake of the best of several homeschooling approaches. 

     I plan on implementing some new practices and continuing in some familiar old ones.  My young scholar will be memorizing poetry, hymns, Scripture, geography, historical events, famous speeches, and more.  She will be reading (and listening to) great literature and beautiful music of different time periods. Appreciating and learning about fine artwork will be a regular part of her week.  Narration (telling back in as much detail and in her own words after listening to an oral reading) will be a big part of assessment and developing her attention span and language skills. Of course nature study is a given and so is math. Creative lapbooking will be one way to allow my sweet girl to produce a project that can be admired for years to come.  As she progresses in maturity, she will be studying Latin and Greek, logic and writing. Hopefully her days will be balanced out with crafts, play, and exercise!

     All of these activities will definitely not be crammed into each day.  If there's one thing I've learned over these many years of home education, we must move with the ebb and flow of life.  Set goals and then be flexible. Allow for delightful surprises that come our way in the form of invigorating discussions, unexpected discoveries, and even breezy sunny afternoons that beckon us away from the books for the rest of the day! 

     Will we actually follow through on these ambitious plans with consistency and longevity?  I really hope so. All I know is that  I'd rather set high goals and not reach them than have only mediocre intentions that can be reached with only half hearted effort.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Motivating the Unmotivated

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
Heb 10:24 (ESV)

     Okay, I'll just say it at the onset.  I had trouble getting motivated to write this blog entry about motivation!  How lame is that?  Lack of motivation has been an ongoing struggle for me for awhile now.  I find myself feeling apathetic (sounds a lot better than "lazy" or "slothful") about my goals.  What's with that?  I will set goals and even break down the steps that it's going to take to reach those goals. When it's time to "take the next step", I freeze. Take a power nap. Decide to get a cup of coffee. Scrub the sink.  Those steps will only lead me to be a groggy, yet caffeinated procrastinator mama with a sparkling sink which will cause me not to want to cook supper because my beautiful sink might get dirty. You laugh.  Come on! Have you never been there?

A motivation isn't a motivation if it isn't motivating.  I know.  Another profound statement.  That's why you read my blog. What am I looking for when I set life goals?  What do I desire that my children accomplish in their life while under my roof and why do I want this?  If these achievements are not their own goals, will they be motivated to adhere to my instruction and guidance? If I don't see true value in the goals that I have for my own life or even for the day at hand, how will I stay on course until I reach the end of the road that I have been called to? If the ones under my charge don't see the worth of the tasks before them, what will keep them following my lead?

I think the wisest way to keep myself motivated (Listen up, Self!) is to be sure that I start by envisioning what I want others to remember about me when I die.  What legacy do I want to leave for my children and grandchildren?  As I write down specific qualities of character that I hope to live out and as I narrow down possible concrete activities that I want to experience (such as starting a charitable organization, teaching my granddaughter how to crochet, helping feed children in Africa, or mentoring other women in practical life skills), then I can work my way backward.  If those end-of- life ideals are 30 years away (which would make me 81 at death), where will I be on the road in twenty years?  What will I have to be doing one decade from now so that I can arrive at the goals that I have two decades from now? What would I like to see forming in my character and in my daily habits five years from now?  Now I'm starting to sense the sleeping motivation in the depths of my soul beginning to stir from its slumber.

A similar "tactic" must be used as we mothers attempt to motivate our children.  Their hopes and dreams will awaken as we wisely inspire them to look out over the horizon of their lives to see where their decisions today may end up leading them. Granted, they probably won't be able to glimpse (or even care at this young age) what their epitaph may say as an old adult.  How rich and rewarding it is, though, when we see our kids moving forward with zeal, even doing those tasks that are unpleasant to them, because of the internal motivations that are driving the goals that they have set for themselves.  What pleasure it brings to this mom's heart when I observe my child studying with delight and intensity because of an inner vitality that I could never formulate externally. She sees which stepping stones (practicing self-discipline, saving funds for a mission trip, voraciously reading to develop her mind, honing certain skills, studying today to be wiser tomorrow) will lead to her ultimate destiny. 

Effective and lasting motivation is most definitely intrinsic.  As a Christ follower, His calling upon my life will resonate with the deepest desires that were planted in me as tiny as mustard seeds waiting for germination and growth. The amazing combination of  the fertilizer of work, stirred into the soil of faith, saturated with the water of perfect timing, and shone upon with the intense sunshine of God's blessing will bring to fruition those God-ordained goals that were fully established in God's mind as He was knitting me (and you dear sister) together in my mother's womb. 

Now I may get hit by a car tomorrow and not realize the goals set before me.  But I don't want to meander my life away. I don't want to wander into the wilderness of aimlessness.  I so desperately want to hear the Shepherd's voice, even if it's only one step at a time.  I know the ultimate goal is to grow in the fruit of the Spirit which will impact the lives of others in this sea of humanity. This is also my hope and prayer for each of my kids.  That motivation is enough as long as I keep my eyes looking up, my ears poised to hear that Divine Voice, and my feet prepared to walk the walk.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


"But let all things be done decently and in order."  1 Corinthians 14:40

     It's fall break for this mom teacher!  After having an unusually busy summer and getting right into the school year without much time to clean or organize our environment, I have to admit that the clutter and piles were really getting to me.  I decided last week that fall break would be earlier than planned (huge advantage of being in charge of our home schooling schedule - flexibility!) and that I would spend much of this break decluttering and organizing every square foot of our home. Piled books?  Shelved.  Cluttered drawers?  Neat!  Moldy food and outdated canned goods?  Trashed!  Outgrown and outdated clothes?  Well, I'm kind of an outdated sort of gal (ask my kids) so I held on to my flannel button up shirts and relaxed fit jeans.  But now I can see what I have, which was my goal.  What about all of those cords, cables, chargers, and other electronic mysteries that have sat in a drawer for way too long with no one to claim them?  They've taken a trip to electronic wasteland.   
     My personality is one that craves order. Thus I cling to 1 Corinthians 14:40 when my disorderly family members seem to fall short of this glory!  After all, maybe I need to preach that verse to them (which I realize is actually addressing corporate church worship).  But do those darling mess-makers need to know that?  I think I'll keep that truth to myself! (tongue-in-cheek).  Actually,  I have learned to tolerate a certain amount of disarray and disorganization since this entire creation is in a downward spiral. A home does have to be lived in.  My children are probably the most creative and artsy kids on the planet so they will make messes.  It's a part of daily life! (I know to prove I'm a good mother that I have to say that even though inside the messes stress me.) And because I really don't want to be the one whose OCD tendencies drive my family members to the looney bin.  I'm sure you discovered many moons ago that anything that is neglected has the tendency to fall apart, multiply (like unmatched socks), and decay. That's called defaulting.  I can only live under default settings for so long until I think I will just check in to said looney bin if I don't get things "under control".  Hence, our early fall break!
My Personal Junk Drawer (Before)

My Spice Cabinet (Please don't slobber on your keyboard)

My Personal Junk Drawer (After) Yes, you can try this at home!

     Yes, I'm feeling pretty good right now.  Orderly surroundings. Clean closets.  Meats categorized. Spices accounted for.  I can bask in this, but only for awhile because I know that far more important is the recalibration of my priorities and plans as I try to live a life on purpose that will bring about dividends of blessing.
     My hope (and prayer!) is to  recalibrate our learning schedule and goals before next week rolls around.  Exactly what do I mean by recalibrate?  Here is the dictionary's definition: to check, adjust, or determine by comparison with a standard. I have recalibrated my living environment and hoping I can keep it in this shape for awhile.  Now I'm ready to work on where my time goes and analyze whether it's being spent on valuable and even eternal activities.
     So I will take time, effort, research, and reflection to compare the "standard" with what we are doing in our home school and how we're doing it.  The standard is something that I must have eyes to see. And ears to hear.  I have got to be willing to adjust my methods and my priorities in order to get a little closer to it. Notice I said closer.  I already know (after 25 years of trying to reach the standard) that I will never get there!  I only have to do my best to listen to God's voice.  Each day.  Every day.  Lead me Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time Standing Still

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. 
Eccl 3:1 (ESV)

     After wrapping my dripping hair in the towel and quickly throwing on my clothes, I walked into the kitchen to see how the little ones were doing in my temporary absence.  My oldest daughter was getting ready to leave for work, leaving my granddaughters with me for the day as planned.  My morning had already been full of morning rituals.  Breakfast, diaper changes, duplo building, coffee sipping.  All of these normal activities that seem to cause the minutes on the clock to tick by so very quickly.  My daughter, walking out the door, commented that her watch said that it was after 10:00, whereas the clock on the wall said 8:55.  I had just glanced at it a minute before and had thought to myself, "Wow, we're making good time today.  It's earlier than it feels."  Dead battery.
     So as I have continued through my day, I've  reflected on how much the tick, tick, ticking of the clock dictates what I do, how fast I move, and how much I allow myself to feel guilty because I'm not doing "something else" or accomplishing more.  How different would I live my life if time stood still like it did for me this morning? Would I feel free to sit and sip that cup of java at a much more leisurely pace, while I lounged on the floor and constructed towers from plastic blocks with the wide-eyed toddlers that surround me?  Would I bask a little longer in the soothing hot shower without feeling like I needed to get on with more important and productive things? Would my children notice that I no longer tried to impatiently rush them through their story telling so that I could get on with our Math lesson?  I wonder if I would embrace the freedom to breathe in more deeply the beauty of the yellow bean fields that are lining my street right now while I take my morning walk without being constrained to hurry back in order to get the housework started or the bills paid.  
     I am striving (and have been for countless years it seems!) to be "all there" in the moments of life.  Because that's really all we have.  When we reflect on the past, don't we just remember moments?  Snippets of time. Here and gone.  My favorite read of this year was "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voscamp.  It's really a masterpiece in my eyes.  Below is a quote from her book.

"Time is a relentless river.  It rages on, a respecter of no one.  And this, this is the only way to slow time:  When I finally enter time's swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention,I slow the torrent by being all here.  I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment.  And when I'm always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter.  And time slows.  Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time's river slows, slows, slows."

     I imagine Heaven being a place where we carry no guilt about what we "should" be doing or about how long something is taking.  I see myself bathing in beauty around me, perhaps reading timeless books, laughing with loved ones, working with joy and purpose.  No regrets, no second guessing, no comparing myself with others, no what ifs.
     I may not truly be able to make time stand still. And I may not be in Heaven yet.  But I can and will keep giving my best efforts at seeing the moments in each day as meaningful and blessed. For now, I won't even give in to that twinge of guilt that is trying to make me feel bad for taking the time to write this blog! Live fully.  Live well. Live gratefully.