Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Joy List

As the new year falls gently like snow into our lives without slowing or hastening to fit our timetable I am left considering the reality that ready or not the second semester of schooling has arrived, the dawn of a new decade is here and the winter though frigid now will soon give way to spring. Time. We can't stop it, can't argue it out of reality, can't slow it down, and try as we might, we cannot obtain one iota more. January not only ushers in 2010. For me, it also marks the second anniversary of my homeschooling trek and so while many think long and hard as the autumn begins about where they are headed and how things are going, I find myself most intensely considering those things as I wrap in flannelly Kleenex my cranberry Christmas balls and tuck the mistletoe back into Rubbermaid bins for yet another year. Two years doesn't sound like a very long time, but I feel like I've always educated my boys at home and though I'm no veteran, I have a sense of having done this a while now. Perhaps that is because I started preparing for it 7 years ago when Nathan was only 3. Or maybe it is because the educating of my little men really began when they were snuggled cozily inside my tummy and I read to my protruding belly button and continued when they were infants and I read classics to them even then. Regardless, here I am--contemplating, considering. How is it going? Are we enjoying our journey? Have I stayed my original course? Is God directing our learning? Am I stuck in any ruts? What have I learned works well? What have I learned causes us more grief than joy? And speaking of joy--is the spirit of our school day one of joy and discovery, even awe at all God has poured into our world? In fact, it is the question of joy that, like a strobe light, flashes into my mind and heart repeatedly. Jesus did come after all so that joy might be completed in our lives. How am I, as my children's primary caregiver and teacher doing at opening the windows of my their sweet souls so that the joy of Christ can waft in like the robin's song in spring? And it is on this particular mountain--that of allowing the joy of the Lord to scent every area of our lives--that I do believe I will spend my time this year. Not that joy is something I can personally achieve; it's a fruit of the spirit after all. Scripture also insists that joy comes from following the precepts of God and that it is something we experience while in God's presence. Given those truths I am forced to examine what things just might cause me to abandon the precepts of God, to miss out on the presence of God in my life. Here are a list of a few things that the Holy Spirit has been showing me. Maybe you can relate? 1. Fear of man. It's not words of the four lettered category with which I struggle, it is just one little two letter word that seems to haunt me. Ever struggle to say NO because you are afraid of what someone will think? I can think of at least one commitment I have presently that should NOT be on my plate and yet I couldn't say the two letter word. Seems so simple here. no. NO. NO! Ultimately that stems from a fear of man and God's word is rather clear that the "fear of man brings a snare." Whether it's struggling to say no, trying to keep up with the Jones family next door, or fretting and worrying over what the rest of the world will think about your children when all is said and done, all of these things stem from an ultimate fear of man. I won't lie and pretend I don't struggle with this. I do. But this year I want to spend more time considering the thoughts my Father has towards me and less considering those of others. His are, after all, so much more pleasing to my soul. (Isaiah 51:11-13) 2. Over Scheduling. Not saying no is the precursor to the reality that most of us are convinced we have more time in each day than we really do. In fact most of us rather stubbornly persist with over scheduling our lives to the point that we are left completely unable to be still when we do in fact have a quiet evening. Before committing or renewing commitments this year for both my children and myself I am going to ask one question--can I maintain my location in the presence of God and be involved in this activity? Realistically as mothers whether we educate our children at home or work full time there simply will not be a great deal of wiggle room in our schedules if we plan to do our very best at the first stewardships God gave us--God Himself, our spouse if we are married, and our children. I have never met a pastor who told me to slow down, and I've never had someone say to me, "Sarah, you'd be great on this committee, but since you are in the mothering phase of life, I think perhaps someone else should do it." People will ask and take and request until the rapture. We have to learn to discern how much is enough. And then we must fearlessly stand our ground. Adam and Eve did not have blackberries...well, at least not the electronic kind. If the Garden of Eden was God's perfect plan for humankind then we might do well to attempt to mimic it whenever possible. (Well, not so much the naked least not in public :-) 3. Daily. Joy is kind of like manna. The Israelites had to gather it daily. And since I mentioned Adam and Eve, one habit they had was walking with God in the cool of the evening. Sort of a daily kind of activity. If life is too full to get into God's Word regularly, then in reality, it won't be long before life is empty. Joy is a fruit and if it is removed from the vine it will spoil quickly. I need to be in God's word regularly. That can be SO hard for mothers who tend to give, give, give. It can be hard for all of us because frankly, we live in a world where distractions are as plentiful as the dust in my husbands workshop. We won't go too long without food, but sometimes we'll go days, weeks, even months without spiritual food. 4. Keeping my eyes on Jesus. It's tricky. The whole mothering, parenting, wifing, teaching side of things can be a sort of tight rope act. We as women are so relational--we want to interact and discuss and mull over every aspect of our lives with someone. And though I do love talking to God, a chat over tea with a sister face to face can be SO gratifying. But here's the thing about those conversations--they need to point us to Jesus and His heart for our families. If those conversations leave us wanting to be more like another individual or comparing ourselves to another, then they were futile and will suck the joy out of our home quicker than a hoover vacuum. God doesn't do templates. Our families are not cookie cutter images of Leave it to Beaver or Married with Children for that matter. They are unique reflections of our heavenly Father's vast creativity. 5. Computer. SHUT DOWN. Yeah. I know. That's a hard one when you are home all day long or even when you are at work--the little ding indicating email is awaiting is like a shot of espresso. Woo Hoo! Something of interest besides 2 + 2 = 4 and E=MC (how do you make the squared symbol on the computer?) I love to post my status on facebook--it's how I stay connected to my sisters and my extended family in the states and in Canada. Photos have always been a passion of mine and posting them regularly keeps Nannie and Poppa in Ontario daily involved in my boys' lives. That's a gift I give them because I can't imagine how hard it would be to have my children live far away. BUT...realistically, I don't need to spend more than five or ten minutes MAX a day doing those things. Really. Do I want my relationships to be completely virtual? The thing about email and facebook and all those other sites is that they remove part of our attention. We think we are multi-tasking--teaching the kids, paying the bills online, talking on the phone, but who are we kidding? This year my computer will be off more. I can post my status, upload my new photos and pay my bills in ten minutes flat and then, unless we need it for school, I can turn my little old HP off. Sorry Hewlett! 6. Plan. I did this already and WOW! I took about two days and literally planned every single day for the rest of the year. It is NOT selfish to take time for planning. I am the kind of person who loves being with my kids. While others scream for a break and complain that they are overwhelmed and must have "me time" in order to thrive, I adore every waking moment in the presence of my sweet boys. After a busy holiday season with loads of wonderful company I turned and looked at my husband and said, "All I want to do is play with the boys." It was very hard for me to take even more time to plan, but I knew God was calling me to get organized. So, I did take time to play and then I took time to plan. I always know where we're going and lay lessons out at least a week or more in advance, but to actually sit down and take the time to map out the remainder of our school year is the most freeing and liberating feeling. Some people might say, "Well, if I planned that far in advance I'd just end up changing everything." I understand. I'm not talking about carving the lesson plans in stone. What I'm talking about is getting a really solid game plan, a framework on which to stand, so that when hectic days and weeks come along I've got some solid footing and quick references to where we need to be. Take time to plan. You'll be better for it. 7. Space. Moving into our new home I have found myself wanting to fill it with less and leave more room for the air and light to flow freely. I think my life is that way too. I need to leave some wiggle room. I am creative and I like to "go with it" when the boys take an interest in something. In December, Corton decided he wanted to learn to carve. It wasn't in my plans. And frankly, I had no idea how to go about that, nor did I have any real interest in it myself. BUT...he WAS interested. Hello? This isn't rocket science! This is why I home school. This is the beauty of homeschooling. When they say, "Mom, I want to learn to carve." We say, "Sounds great! Let's see what resources we can come up with as soon as possible." And that's what we did. The neat thing is that he carved three different Christmas presents, the most special of which was a beautiful fireman's boot for Jeff. Now he is saying that after he retires from his football career he will probably want to become a "whittler." Plan, yes. But leave gaps--leave breathing room for the things that capture the hearts of your children. And if nothing captures for a month or two, then use that wiggle room to jump on the trampoline or read a great novel that is entirely unrelated to anything else you are learning, or to just paint for painting's sake. Wiggle room is to your family experience like grace is to your spiritual experience. 8. Play We don't get tomorrow. We don't even get the promise of another minute. We have now. And our precious children will not take with them what we intended to do but never got around to. And our spouses, whom we promised to cherish deserve so much more than the mundane day to day responsibilities most of us share. We get so wrapped up in remembering to pay the mortgage, cut the grass and to pick up a gallon of milk that we forget to have fun. I am going to have fun on purpose. And I'm going to check it off my to do list every single week. Sounds cheesy, I know. But I want my kids to look back on these years and remember them as full of laughter, full of giggling, and full of fun. How it must grieve the heart of God when we forget to smile and share our smiles with the very people who live nearest us! If there's no time for fun, then I better revisit number 1 and 2 on my list this year. There are more, but for now these are the things I'd like to share with each of you. Maybe your list is different or maybe it is identical. Tomorrow I begin a new year, a new chapter, a fresh start. It's not that I was looking for a fresh start or even that things were in horrible disarray in 2009. On the contrary, for the most part, the kids and I are having a blast. But still, in the quiet of the evening God has pressed these things on my heart and I'm listening. What good am I as a mother if I ignore the voice of my heavenly Father? I'll leave you with the words of Jesus when he said, "These things I have told you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full." (John 15:11) We're half way through this academic year and I know many of you are like me in that you want to do so many things. Marthas. And yet it was Mary who chose the most excellent thing--the presence of Jesus. It is there, in the living waters of the heart of Jesus that we take in incredible fullness of joy and it is the joy of the Lord that will be our strength as we continue to mother our children and love our families. Be encouraged, my friends, in the truth that for every moment you persevere, for every whispered prayer, for every trying day, you are laying up treasure in heaven. And even more important, you are laying foundations on earth in the heart of your children. Fullness of joy. Complete joy. May it be yours in 2010. Amen.